Newspaper Accounts of the Trial and Execution of Marshal Michel Ney: November 21
By Susan Howard
These articles are taken from the archives of the The Times of London of 1815. They are mainly translations from the French newspapers with some private correspondence and leader articles. The articles were printed uncensored, though possibly shortened. There are places where the translation is clumsy: they were usually translated and printed within 24 hours of the papers being received from France. Some of the print quality is poor and I have had to guess at some words; where I have been unable to do this, I have marked them [illegible]. I have preserved the archaic punctuation and inconsistent spelling but have altered the layout to make it easier to read - the original was compressed into narrow columns. Any notes of mine are in italics in square brackets: all other italics are in the text.
Trial of Marshal Ney
At half past ten, and before the Peers had met, Messieurs Berrier and Dupin, the Marshal's defenders, took their seat at a table placed in the angle formed by the bureau, and one of the extremities of the seats of the Peers. There was distributed among the strangers who were there assembled, a printed paper signed Dupin and Berrier, and entitled. Question prejudicielle dans l'affaire du Marechal Ney.
Some minutes after, the Chancellor entered followed by the Peers. The sitting was then opened.
The Chancellor, as President of the Chamber, spoke as follows:-
Monsieur the Marshal Ney, accused of high treason against the King and against the state, is about to make his appearance. I have to remind the public, that witnesses now for the first time of a trial so solemn, it is its duty not to show any mark of approbation or disapprobation. I order the Military Commandant to arrest instantly any person who shall deviate from that respect that is due to this assembly, or from that attention which misfortune claims. Let the witnesses be called in: the accused will afterwards be introduced.
The witnesses then came in, and with them the Commissaries for the King, among whom were their Excellencies the Keeper of the Seals, the minister of Marine, and M. Bellart, Attorney General at the Royal Courtof Paris. they took their places on the seats under the bureau of the President.
At precisely, the accused entered, and took his seat
between his counsel; he was dressed in a blue frock coat, with two General's
epaulettes, the Badge of the Legion of Honour, and the little ribbon
of the Order of
The Secretary, Keeper of the Archives, performing the functions of Register, then called over the names of the Peers. They heard with emotion, resounding in the hall, ancient and new names, consecrated by military glory, by the glory of tried fidelity, and by recollections dear to all French hearts.
The Chancellor then asked the accused, his names, titles, &c.
Answer. - Michael Ney, born at Sarre-Louis, in 1769, Marshal, Peer of France, Duke of Elchingen, Prince of the Moskwa, Chevalier of Saint Louis, Great Eagle of the Legion of Honour, Commander of the Order of Christ.
The Chancellor. - I warn the counsel for the accused, that they ought not to allow themselves to say any thing contrary to their conscience, contrary to decency, or contrary to truth. Secretary, read the two ordinances of the King, and the act of accusation.
The Secretary then read the two ordinances, and the act of accusation which follows :-
The Commissioners for the King, charged by the ordinances of his Majesty of the 11th and 12th of this month, to bring forward and prosecute before the Chamber of Peers, the accusation of high treason, and an attempt against the safety of the state, against Marshal Ney,
Declare that from the documents before them, and from the information that has been communicated to them, in consequence of the ordinance of the 15th of this month, delivered by Baron Seguier, Peer of France, Counsellor of State, First President of the Royal Court of Paris, Commissary appointed by the Chancellor, the President of the Chamber, the following facts are the result:
On being informed of the debarkation effected at Cannes, the 1st of March last, by Buonaparte, at the head of a band of brigands of many nations, it appears that Marshal Soult, then Minister of War, sent by one of his Aid-de-camps to Marshal Ney, who was then at his estate at Condreaux, near Chateaudun, an order to repair ro his government of Besancon, where he would receive instructions.
Marshal Ney arrived at
What is less plausible is, that by the
Marshal's account, he was ignorant, at the time of his arrival at Paris,
both of the fact of Buonaparte's debarkation at
The Marshal, however, wishes this supposition
to be admitted, and maintains, that he only learned this important news
Has the Marshal believed, that by affecting this long continued ignorance of the fact of Buonaparte's debarkation, he would cause it to be more easily believed, that he had no part in the measures which prepared it, since he would not in that case have been so indifferent about the result of the plot? We cannot tell, but this we know, that such ignorance is not natural, and that it is more likely to increase than to dissipate suspicions of the possibility of the Marshal having himself been in the manoeuvres, of which this debarkation was the fatal result.
These suspicions as to the participation which the Marshal himself may have had in those manoeuvres, are considerably augmented by the depositions of a great number of witnesses, who have reported different conversations attributed to this Marshal, from which it would appear that he had been informed of his arrival.
It is thus that the Sieur Beausire deposes, that shortly after his defection, the Marshal told him that when he, Beausire, had treated with the government of the King about a pecuniary supply, he ought to have foreseen that he was treating for the legitimate sovereign (Buonaparte)
Count de la Genetiere deposes, that after the reading of the proclamation, which will be adverted to hereafter, the Marshal said to the persons who surrounded him, that the return of Buonaparte had been arranged three months before.
The Count de Faverney deposes, that he was informed by General Lecourbe, that the the Marshal had told him, that he had taken all the measures to render the defection of his troops necessary and unavoidable, which would be determined by the reading of his proclamation.
Other witnesses, as well as the Sieurs Magin, Perroche, and Pantin, affirm, that they have been told that the Marshal had positively declared, in an inn at Montereau, that the return of Buonaparte had been concerted for a long time. To those witnesses might be added many men, such as the Baron Capelle, the Marquis de Vaulchier. the Sieur Beauregard, and the Sieur Garnier, mayor of Dole, who have been heard on interrogatories during the trial before the Council of War. But those witnesses being no longer present, it was thought not necessary to have them again examined. Their depositions already taken by the public officers, remain, however, at least as documents containing some information on the question.
Justice, however, requires it to be said, that many other witnesses who saw the Marshal's conduct in the days preceding the reading of the proclamation, appear to believe that till then he had acted with good faith, and depose to facts which would announce, unless the Marshal was acting with profound dissimulation, that he was till then in a disposition to be faithful to the King.
However that may be, whether this disposition
was real or feigned, or, if real, what was its duration, the Marshal,
before his quitting
It was either the 8th or the 9th that the
Marshal set out from
He found at
It may be seen, that after the opposite statements of certain witnesses, of whom some repeat discourses of the Marshal which would seem to imply that he was for a long time informed of what the enemy of France was meditating, and others again declare that they remarked in his measures and discourses nothing but sincerity, it is at least permitted to entertain many doubts upon that point.
But that upon which all opinions are agreed, is the conduct of the Marshal at Lons le Saulnier on the 14th of March.
The Marshal had directed upon this town all the forces that were scattered through the district under his command. Some officers, who were good observers, and even some local administrators, who had conceived just uneasiness respecting the dispositions of many of the different ranks of the army, and the perfidious insinuations made to the soldiers, had pointed out to the Marshal, as a likely means of weakening this bad spirit, the mixture that might be made of good and faithful servants of the King, chosen from the National Guards, with those troops, who, by their example and advice, might be kept within their duty. The Marshal immediately rejected those propositions witha sort of disdain, and said, "that he did not wish for any hypocritical whimperers male or female," and although he afterwards relaxed from that idea, yet it was so slowly, and with so much repugnance, that the measure, unfortunately, could neither be realised, nor prevent the evil, which the Marshal appeared to foresee without much uneasiness.
This blindness, or the secret bad disposition of the Marshal, soon produced those bad consequences, which the Marshal, if his intentions had been good, ought to have dreaded.
Some witnesses think, that up to the 13th
of March at night, the Marshal was faithful. In admitting this favourable
opinion, the effort was not considerable. the Marshal had set out from
Five days, only, after such promises made to his master, who had loaded him with marks of affection and confidence, and whom he had deceived by an exaggerated expression of a sentiment, of which the Monarch did not desire such proofs as he had offered, Marshal Ney betrayed his former glory, as well as his King, his country, and Europe, by a desertion the most criminal, if one considers the gulf of evils in which it has plunged France, the utter ruin of which he risked, as far as in him lay, at the same time that he certainly consummated the ruin of his own glory. Let us add, that he betrayed his own army, which, till that time, had remained fathful, in which the greater part of the soldiers knew still how to resist the evil-minded, if there were any attempt to agitate them; his own army, which, it is evident would have still persevered in its loyal conduct, if it had been happy enough to see itself confirmed in it by the example of a chief, whose name and military exploits commanded the confidence of the soldiers; his own army, in short, that he constrained, in a manner, by the provocations that will be detailed to you, to quit the best resolutions and to follow their chief in the career of perjury into which he led them.
It had been said that Marshal Ney had not seen the enemy. This was a mistake. he had seen him too often: not on the way that becomes the brave, in day light and in the field of honour, to fight him and to destroy him, but according to the character of traitors, he had seen him in his own house, and in the secrecy of the night, for the purpose of contracting with him a shameful alliance, and of delivering up to him his King, his country, and his own honour.
An emissary of this artizan of the miseries
If it be true that, until then, the Marshal had not entered into any plot, at least no more than this was wanting to make him consent to be false to his oaths. His vanity was flattered; his ambition was roused; the crime was agreed to; and it was not later than the next day that it was put into execution
The next day,
"officers, Non-commissioned officers, and soldiers,
"The cause of the Bourbons is lost for ever! The legitimate dynasty which the French nation has adopted is going to re-ascend the throne: it is to the Emperor Napoleon, our sovereign, that it belongs to reign over our fine country! Let the Bourbon noblesse take the resolution of again expatriating themselves, or let them consent to live among us, what does it signify? The sacred cause of liberty, and of our independence shall suffer no more by their fatal influence. They have wished to degrade our military glory, but they have deceived themselves: this glory is the fruit of labours too noble, for us ever to lose the remembrance of them.
"Soldiers, the times are now past, when nations were governed by extinguishing their rights. liberty triumphs at last, and our Emperor Napoleon is going to secure it for ever. From henceforth let this glorious cause be our's, and that of all Frenchmen. Let all the brave men that I have the honour of commanding, be penetrated with this great truth,
"Soldiers, I have often led you to victory; now I wish to conduct you to that immortal phalanx that the Emperor Napoleon conducts to Paris, and that will be there in a few days; and then, our hopes and our happiness shall be realised for ever, Vive l'Empereur.
"Lons le Saulnier,
"The Marshal of the Empire,
(signed) "Prince of MOSKWA"
One may judge of the effects which were likely to be produced on the majority of the soldiers from such conduct, and such orders coming from a chief that they revered.
Surprise might also have produced those bad effects, which there can be no doubt but that other means had been taken to prepare. These means, however, had been so far from having complete success, and the troops would have been so easily kept to that duty, which the hearts of Frenchmen are made to preserve, if not led away by treachery, that, according to the evidence of a witness before the Court-Martial, (Beauregard, Chief of a Squadron,) while the soldiers who were nearest the General, led away by the seductions of obedience, repeated the rebellious cry which he had uttered, of vive l'Empereur! the soldiers who were at a greater distance, faithful to the emotions of their own hearts, and of French honour, and who were far from suspecting the execrable intentions of Marshal Ney, cried out, vive le Roi! The departure from duty was in fact so far from being at first universal, that, according to the same witness, many officers and soldiers indignantly left the ranks.
While consternation, according to the evidence of three witnesses (Viscounts Bourmont, de la Genetiere, and de Grivel) existed in the minds of the Generals, and a great number of officers and soldiers, every pains was taken to complete the error of the troops, to offer them that bait which was the most alluring to men without education, - that of licentiousness, pillage, and intoxication. Under the pretext of destroying the signs of royalty, of which Marshal Ney had just proclaimed the extinction, the soldiers were permitted to spread themselves about the town, and to give themselves up to those excesses which ended in depriving them of their reason, and confirming them in their faults, by the shame of returning to their duty after the faults they had committed.
This false shame, in spite of the influence of such a chief, did not however, long restrain some elevated minds and pure hearts: it is therefore permitted us to believe, that if Marshal Ney had himself been faithful, an army in which the whole power of his example found so much resistance, would, but for his perfidious provocation, have become, by its devotion to the King, the honour of France; so that the whole disgrace of its conduct falls in truth, on that perjured chief who misled the reason and the instinctive loyalty of his soldiers!
A great number of officers, stupified at no longer having a Chief, retired, much as Lt-General Delort, General Jarry, Colonel Duballin, &c. Messrs. Bourmont and La Genetiere, separated with a sort of despair from a General who no longer acted towards his subordinates any other part but that of a corruptor. Count de la Genetiere wrote him at the same time the following severe letter, which it is proper to record as a circumstance calculated to diminish the sort of disgrace inflicted on the troops by a defection, of which it is easy to perceive that surprise was one of the not least effective causes:-
"Incapable of compromising my honour,
or of believing myself disengaged from the solemn promises whcih I made
to the King, through Monsieur, when he received me as a Knight
of St. Louis: incapable, from principle, of longer continuing to exercise
functions injurious to the interest of my Prince, I quit the general
staff, and proceed to
Such was the exclamation of French honour! Such was the conduct which consoles, both for the errors of other officers, and for errors committed even by thoes who knew how to repair them so nobly and so quickly! Such are the sentiments which reveal the brave men whose courage only looked to their country in the wars in which they were engaged, and whose glory, in truth, when accompanied with such rectitude, must be adopted by the Monarch, though it was not always acquired in defence of his cause!
M. de la Genetiere immediately placed himself
under the orders of M. Gaetan de la Rochefoucault, to pronounce whose
name is alone sufficient to awake the recollection of his devotedness.Other
officers also departed from being under the command of the Marshal.
Messrs. Bourmont and Lecourbe returned to
Bitter lessons these, which were given to a chief by his inferiors, and by which he ought to have profited, in order to repair his faults by a prompt return to the paths of honour! That, however, was what Marshal Ney did not do. He plunged deeper and deeper into treason. The very day on which he read his proclamation to his troops, he issued written orders to put the whole of them in march, in order to unite them with those of Buonaparte.
The night following he sent M. Passinges, Baron de Prechamp, to Buonaparte, to inform him what he had done. The day after, to accomplish the seduction of M. de la Genetiere, he showed him the letter of Bertrand, which he told him contained the assurance that all was agreed upon with the cabinet of Vienna.
The same day he caused to be printed and placed in the orderly books, the proclamation which he had read the evening before that, the poison might be propagated with facility, and extend to those who had been happy enough not to hear it read.
From the 14th the Marshal had wished to corrupt the Marquis de Vaulchier, Prefect of the Jura, and to engage him to act for Buonaparte. On that faithful magistrate testifying to him his horror at such a [illegible] he read to him [two lines illegible] that written order which, that Prefect shewed to M. de [illegible]. The following days he employed himself in exciting to insurrection the whole country through which he passed, and in printing his proclamation: there was an edition of it at Dole.
The 19th of March, he issued an order of arrest against those of the General officers and Magistrates whose opposition had been most marked, and whom he did not pardon, either for having abandoned him, or for having resisted his orders; these were Messrs. Bourmont, Lecourbe, Delort, Jarry, la Genetiere, Durand, Duballin, his aide-de-camp Clouet, Count de Secy, and the Commandant of Auxonne.
He wrote to the Duke of Bassano, by order
of Buonaparte, to suspend all measures at
He had even the audacity to write to the Marshals Dukes of Reggio and Albufera, in order to transmit to them the orders of Bertrand.
He gave orders to the Commandant of Auxonne to surrender that town to the troops of Buonaparte; and in punishment of that officer's indocility, he a few days afterewards inscribed his name in the list of those whom he ordered to be deprived of their liberty.
But we must stop here.
We must rather avert our eyes from them, because the spectacle is intolerable: we must avert our eyes from them, without however being able to suppress the cruel reflection, that all the calamities for whch the country mourns are ascribable to a handful of men,who because they are distinguished by some brilliant military exploits, thought that they were entitled to place thenselves above the laws, to sport with the most sacred sentiments, even with fidelity to their King and country; and to effect with impunity all the revolutions which their inconsiderate ambition might advise; persuaded as they seemed to have been, that because they were brave soldiers, they were entitled to be, in the face of the nation and of Europe, traitorous subjects and bad citizens: deplorable doctrine, but it is happily the doctrine of this handful of wickedly ambitious men exclusively: doctrine disavowed by true military honour, and by that crowd of brave men, whose eyes, at last unfilmed, can no longer recognise glory in those whom they once beheld in fields of honour, if they do not now find them in the paths of fidelity to their King and country, and if they do not shew themselves at once great citizens as well as great captains, and honest men no less than valiant warriors.
In consequence of all these different facts,
Michel Ney, Marshal of France, Duke of Elchingen, Prince of the Moskwa,
The Chancellor. - You have heard, Marshal, the facts of which you are accused: you are charged with having employed against the King a command confided to you by the King; of having drawn up a seditious proclamation, and read it before your army; of having thus excited its insurrection against legitimate authority, and drawn upon France all the calamities of which it has since been the victim. It is not, however, before the Chamber of Peers that you will have to dread the impressions of these melancholy recollections; your judges will rather have to guard themselves against recollections of your warlike exploits; but before entering on the business before us, I have to ask you whether you have to propose any exceptions in arrest of proceedings, upon which the Chamber must previously decide.
The Marshal rose, and after having thrice bowed to the assembly, he read from a paper, in a rather firm tone, the following words:-
"My Lord, and Peers of France, - The Chamber being pleased to allow me my exceptions in arrest of proceedings, I beg you will permit my defender to develop them."
M.Berrier, upon a sign to that effect from the Chancellor, opened his speech, and began by stating the point which he wished to establish. it was to this effect: that, considering that law is still necessary for completing the organisation of the Chamber of Peers into a Court of Justice, all proceedings against Marshal Ney, should be stayed, until that organisation.
In confirmation of this doctrine, M. Berryer entered into reasonings founded partly on the Charter, partly on the laws relative to the instruction of criminal process, and the establishment of special courts. (It seemed to be generally felt by the audience, that this advocate would have produced more effect by greater compression, and that his arguments, drowned in a flow of useless words and tedious repetitions, lost in depth what they gained in surface.)
The defender remarked two singularities in the ordinances assigning the investigation of this business to the Chamber; the first was, that they were issued only for a particular case; the second, that they were the work of the Ministers of his Majesty, who were at the same time the accusers.
The object was, said he, to regularise the exercise of your competence, which was disputed by no one. Let not posterity have it in their power to say, that this law was passed for a single individual. Think of this also, that the Ministers of the King are at once accusers and legislators. The organisation of the Peerage into a tribunal can only be effected by a law, which completes it for all citizens and for all times. It is necessary that your functions as judges should be regularised: that you should know whether you are judges of the intention, whether you can pay attention to circumstances of alleviation; it is necessary you should be able to appreciate, whether, when some are left unpunished who co-operated in the invasion long before Marshal Ney yielded to the empire of circumstances, he might not have claims on your indulgence.
"My client," said M. Berryer, "hopes to find in a tribunal so respectable as your's a generous home; so to express myself, a crucible in which all parties shall be neutralised; such was the hope of Marshal Ney; else would he have changed the terrible Court-martial for a sort of Prevotal tribunal?
"It is asked, by whom could the exercise of your judicial functions be duly regularised? By the union of the three powers necessary to make a law.
"Tribunals, whose names can not be pronounced without horror, required a majority of two-thirds to condemn; the same is the case in respect to juries. Have you adopted the same? You must surely allow that a question so serious should be resolved by a law. If, however, you reject the exceptions which I have endeavoured to enforce, I shall have to present you with reasons to show the invalidity of the instruction ; I shall have to claim hearing for witnesses in discharge; and, in fine, I shall have to ask of your indulgence an interval sufficient to enable me to prepare my defence, - a defence so considerable and important."
M. Bellart. - The defender of Marshal Ney has just delivered before you a pleading of enormous length, to prove to you that you cannot go to trial. Other pleadings are annnounced, on the supposed invalidity of the instruction; and on the witnesses; does not all this positively prove a settled system, to elude the action of the law? Let the defenders of Marshal Ney bring forward all their exceptions at once. It is too late now to seek this safety, in endeavours to elude the law; the term of this scandalous process must have at length arrived. Let all the time necessary for preparing the defence of the accused, for producing his witnesses, be asked. God forbid that I should oppose it; I should be the first to ask it for the accused; but then the business must be fairly met. I demand, in the name of the King, that the exceptions be set aside, and that the opening of the discussions be immediately proceeded to.
M. Dupin, for the accused. - It is asserted, that our system is adopted for the purpose of gaining time. Such is not our intention, we wish the termination of this unfortunate business; and such termination would have been reached much sooner, if instead of two ordinances, the Constitutional forms had been followed. in place of the two ordinances which we attack, a law might have passed, this would not have taken longer time and the accused would not now have had to ask more delays.
The Lord Chancellor. - The Chamber is about to deliberate, let the accused withdraw.
The Peers withdrew to the [illegible] gallery. After about an hour's deliberation, they returned, and the Chancellor said, "call in the accused." The latter having resumed his place, the President announced, that the Chamber would hear the King's Attorney General.
M. Bellart then spoke in substance as follows - The career now opened before us we feel to be doubly painful: on the one hand it is impossible to contemplate former distinction in this situation without feeling real pain; on the other, the heart is not less torn on contemplating the calamities whcih have desolated our unhappy country. From this latter topic, however, I must abstain, while coolly discussing the objections that have been made. This much, however, I must observe, that the accused, who, it might have been hoped, on appearing before judges such as you, would have felt the most lively gratitude, and thought only of the beneficence of a Prince who consigned to you the cognisanze of the frightful crime with which he was charged; - it might have been expected that the accused would not have contested your powers."
After a variety of observations on some secondary points, M. Bellart proceeded as follows: - "I come now to the objection for which the prisoner's counsel reserved all his strength; he laid down divisions and subdivisions; he lost himself in digressions; but all this waste of logic, centered in this objection : You are not legally constituted a tribunal; in what shape do you exist? In reply you must open the Charter, arts 33 and 34.
"The Charter gives you all the means of exercising your powers. How then will you exercise them? I may cite to you the example of a people who cannot be reproached with want of liberty: the House of Peers, in England, proceeds as circumstances require; there is there no originating law in trials for high treason; and probably it will not be absurd in France to pursue the course followed in England.
"But I confess I feel a difficulty in recovering from the surprise whichsuch objections excite in me. What! there exists a sovereign court, a court of peers, where the accused has probably not a few friends, certainly many old colleagues; it is before150 or 160 persons of the highest distinction that he has to appear, persons whom any person accused would be happy to have for judges; and yet it is from them that guarantees are demanded, when the most noble and the most sacred already exist! Certainly if these are not sufficient, one should hav enothing to do but to retire from a country where the first men of the nation were no longer worthy of confidence.
"You have been told, that a law is necessary to constitute you a court. to a law, however, the assent of the three Powers is necessary, and in particular, that of the two Chambers. Suppose, for a moment, that one of the two Chambers did not choose that a person accused should be tried, it might refuse its assent to the law, and the accused would never be put on his trial. you must feel all that there is in this of ridiculous and absurd.
"I sum up in a few words, and I say: the King has the right, by the Charter, to make regulations and ordinances for the execution of laws; the Charter also enacts, that the Chamber of Peers shall sit as Judges in certain cases. Circumstances demonstrate the necessity of executing this fundamental law of the state. The King has issued ordinances to that effect; these ordinances regulate the form of your deliberations: nothing is wanting, then to enable you to commence. The Commissioners of the King claim, that without being stopped by the exceptions proposed by the Counsel of the accused, the trial commence as soon as the Chamber shall deem it convenient."
M.Dupin replied in behalf of the accused. his client was entitled to claim a legal course of proceeding, and a mere delay of the process would not paralyse the course of justice. The Chamber of Peers had not only jurisdiction over its own members; but also jurisdiction over every individual whatever accused of high treason. If, however, it depended on that Chamber alone, or on its simple approbation of an ordinance of the King to fix the forms of process to be followed before it, and to establish the formalities of regularity, then the legislative authority would be concentrated in one or two branches of the legislature, contrary to the formal meaning of the Charter.
The Chancellor then ordered the accused to be withdrawn, and the Chamber passed into the hall of its deliberations; after an hour and a quarter's deliberation, Marshal Ney was again brought to the bar, and the Chancellor pronounced the following resolution: -
"The Chamber, while it pays due attention to the claims of the King's Attorney General, waiving decision on the exceptions proposed in this day's sitting by the accused, orders that he be bound to present in cumulo and within the interval of twenty-four hours his other exceptions, and to summon his witnesses, under pain of default, in which case it will proceed to the principal discussions; and with this view adjourns till Thursday, the 23rd inst. at 10 o'clock."
After the reading of the resoution.M. Berryer rose and said, "my Lord Chancellor, the interval for summoning the witnesses is not sufficient."
The Chancellor. -"You have heard the resolution of the Chamber. Cause the accused and the public to withdraw." The Chamber then rose.
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