Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Recollections of Maximilian by Marie de la Fère: A Rare English Language Eyewitness Memoir

The historian Robert Ryal Miller mentioned this rare manuscript, a circa 1910 English language handwritten eyewitness memoir of Maximilian, in a letter to me some years ago. He had found it at the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, and was preparing an edited and annotated version for publication. Alas, Miller died in 2004 without, as far as I know, having published it. I have not seen what Miller wrote, I am sad to say, for I understand he had identified the author whose name was not — as I too, immediately suspected -- "Marie de la Fère." When I visited the Bancroft as part of my own research for my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, I dutifully looked up this manuscript. I was glad I did, for, among so many other things, it gave me insight into the strong feelings of the monarchists and Maximilian's character.

After Miller's death, as I felt this memoir deserved more readers than we intrepid few who have eyes for microfiches, I wrote to the Bancroft for permission to print it here. This was granted in 2006.

Would that I could offer a more detailed introduction, but this extraordinary memoir has been waiting in my files long enough. (For those of you looking for a basic introduction to Maximilian and the Second Mexican Empire, I can suggest my book, as well as others on the "Maximilian" webpage's links and my own bibliography. Also, Robert Ryal Miller's Mexico: A History gives a brief but fine and very readable overview of the French Intervention / Second Empire.) I have corrected some misspellings and punctuation, though in some places, where it reveals the author's charming linguistic melange, I have left it intact. A few notes appear in brackets rather than footnotes, for ease in reading on-line. In a few places the handwriting was unreadable; these I have noted with brackets around a question mark.

Aside from such very minor blemishes, here, dear reader, is a true literary treasure of the Second Empire.

It seems almost impossible that forty three years have passed since I was a witness and participator in the events connected with Maximilian's reign three brief years in Mexico. My father was a retired American banker and while traveling in Mexico had met and married my mother, who is of Spanish and French descent. When Maximilian landed at Veracruz, I was but seventeen years old. I was old enough to realize and know that Mexican affairs both political and financially were in terrible straights. My father conversed very freely to us in English regarding the status of affairs. His money he trusted to no Mexican bank; everything we had was in New Orleans and he lived on the income accruing from his investments there. When Juarez left the city and we learned that the French troops were steadily advancing in [?] first Orizaba, Puebla and were almost in Mexico City, father wished us to all leave and embark either for New Orleans or Europe, but my mother would not listen to it. Monseñor Labastida, who was always a welcome visitor, had thoroughly imbued her with his ideas of Mexico's coming greatness as soon as the Church party got control of affairs and she was determined to see it out. And again a letter from France notified us that our relative, Mama's uncle, an officer, was coming with the "Interventionists."

On June 10th 1863 my father came home in a hurry saying that the French troops were entering the city, which he had scarcely finished before the cannon commenced their salutes, also the bells of all the churches began ringing, the crowds in the streets were [?] Triumphal arches with pictures of Napoleon and Eugenia wreathed in flowers were in Plateros and San Francisco streets at the Cathedral a Te Deum was chanted in honor of the entrance of General Forey and Saligny with the French troops. In the evening a large reception was given by the Ayuntamiento at the Nacional [sic] Palace in honor of the French officers. CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING


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