The Empress Josephine
Part 1 out of 10
Produced by Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
THE EMPRESS JOSEPHINE
AN HISTORICAL SKETCH OF THE DAYS OF NAPOLEON
BY L. MUHLBACH
AUTHOR OF DAUGHTER OF AN EMPRESS, MARIE ANTOINETTE, JOSEPH II AND
HIS COURT, FREDERICK THE GREAT AND HIS FAMILY BERLIN AND SANS-SOUCI,
TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN BY REV. W. BINET, A M.
THE VISCOUNTESS BEAUHARNAIS.
II. The Young Maid
III. The Betrothal
IV. The Young Bonaparte
V. The Unhappy Marriage
VI. Trianon and Marie Antoinette
VII. Lieutenant Napoleon Bonaparte
VIII. A Page from History
IX. Josephine's Return
X. The Days of the Revolution
XI. The 10th of August and the Letter of Napoleon Bonaparte
XII. The Execution of the Queen
XIII. The Arrest
XIV. In Prison
THE WIFE OF GENERAL BONAPARTE.
XVI. Bonaparte in Corsica
XVII. Napoleon Bonaparte before Toulon
XVIII. Bonaparte's Imprisonment
XIX. The 13th Vendemiaire
XX. The Widow Josephine Beauharnais
XXI. The New Paris
XXII. The First Interview
XXIV. Bonaparte's Love-Letters
XXV. Josephine in Italy
XXVI. Bonaparte and Josephine in Milan
XXVII. The Court of Montebello
XXVIII. The Peace of Campo Formio
XXIX. Days of Triumph
THE EMPRESS AND THE DIVORCED.
XXX. Plombieres and Malmaison
XXXI. The First Faithlessness
XXXII. The 18th Brumaire
XXXIII. The Tuileries
XXXIV. The Infernal Machine
XXXV. The Cashmeres and the Letter
XXXVII. Flowers and Music
XXXVIII. Prelude to the Empire
XXXIX. The Pope in Paris
XL. The Coronation
XLI. Days of Happiness
XLIII. The Divorced
THE VISCOUNTESS BEAUHARNAIS.
"I win the battles, Josephine wins me the hearts." These words of
Napoleon are the most beautiful epitaph of the Empress Josephine,
the much-loved, the much-regretted, and the much-slandered one. Even
while Napoleon won battles, while with lofty pride he placed his
foot on the neck of the conquered, took away from princes their
crowns, and from nations their liberty--while Europe trembling bowed
before him, and despite her admiration cursed him--while hatred
heaved up the hearts of all nations against him--even then none
could refuse admiration to the tender, lovely woman who, with the
gracious smile of goodness, walked at his side; none could refuse
love to the wife of the conqueror, whose countenance of brass
received light and lustre from the beautiful eyes of Josephine, as
Memnon's statue from the rays of the sun.
She was not beautiful according to those high and exalted rules of
beauty which we admire in the statues of the gods of old, but her
whole being was surrounded with such a charm, goodness, and grace,
that the rules of beauty were forgotten. Josephine's beauty was
believed in, and the heart was ravished by the spell of such a
gracious, womanly apparition. Goethe's words, which the Princess
Eleonore utters in reference to Antonio, were not applicable to
"All the gods have with one consent brought gifts to his cradle,
but, alas! the Graces have remained absent, and where the gifts of
these lovely ones fail, though much was given and much received, yet
on such a bosom is no resting-place."
No, the Graces were not absent from the cradle of Josephine; they,
more than all the other gods, had brought their gifts to Josephine.
They had encircled her with the girdle of gracefulness, they had
imparted to her look, to her smile, to her figure, attraction and
charm, and given her that beauty which is greater and more enduring
than that of youth, namely loveliness, that only real beauty.
Josephine possessed the beauty of grace, and this quality remained
when youth, happiness, and grandeur, had deserted her. This beauty
of grace struck the Emperor Alexander as he came to Malmaison to
salute the dethroned empress. He had entered Paris in triumph, and
laid his foot on the neck of him whom he once had called his friend,
yet before the divorced wife of the dethroned emperor the czar, full
of admiration and respect, bowed his head and made her homage as to
a queen; for, though she was dethroned, on her head shone the crown
in imperishable beauty and glory, the crown of loveliness, of
faithfulness, and of womanhood.
She was not witty in the special sense of a so-called "witty woman."
She composed no verses, she wrote no philosophical dissertations,
she painted not, she was no politician, she was no practising
artist, but she possessed the deep and fine intuition of all that
which is beautiful and noble: she was the protectress of the arts
and sciences. She knew that disciples were not wanting to the arts,
but that often a Maecenas is needed. She left it to her cousin, the
Countess Fanny Beauharnais, to be called an artist; hers was a
loftier destiny, and she fulfilled that destiny through her whole
life--she was a Maecenas, the protectress of the arts and sciences.
As Hamlet says of his father, "He was a man, take him for all in
all, I shall not look upon his like again;" thus Josephine's fame
consists not that she was a princess, an empress anointed by the
hands of the pope himself, but that she was a noble and true wife,
loving yet more than she was loved, entirely given up in unswerving
loyalty to him who rejected her; languishing for very sorrow on
account of his misfortune, and dying for very grief as vanished away
the star of his happiness. Thousands in her place, rejected,
forgotten, cast away, as she was--thousands would have rejoiced in
the righteousness of the fate which struck and threw in the dust the
man who, for earthly grandeur, had abandoned the beloved one and
disowned her love. Josephine wept over him, lamented over his
calamities, and had but a wish to be allowed to share them with him.
Josephine died broken-hearted--the misfortunes of her beloved, who
no more loved her, the misfortunes of Napoleon, broke her heart.
She was a woman, "take her for all in all"--a noble, a beautiful
woman, a loving woman, and such as belongs to no peculiar class, to
no peculiar nation, to no peculiar special history; she belongs to
the world, to humanity, to universal history. In the presence of
such an apparition all national hatred is silent, all differences of
political opinion are silent. Like a great, powerful drama drawn
from the universal history of man and represented before our eyes,
so her life passes before us; and surprised, wondering, we gaze on,
indifferent whether the heroine of such a tragedy be Creole, French,
or to what nation she may owe her birth. She belongs to the world,
to history, and if we Germans have no love for the Emperor Napoleon,
the tyrant of the world, the Caesar of brass who bowed the people
down into the dust, and trod under foot their rights and liberties--
if we Germans have no love for the conqueror Napoleon, because he
won so many battles from us, yet this does not debar us from loving
Josephine, who during her lifetime won hearts to Napoleon, and whose
beautiful death for love's sake filled with tears the eyes of those
whose lips knew but words of hatred and cursing against the emperor.
To write the life of Josephine does not mean to write the life of a
Frenchwoman, the life of the wife of the man who brought over
Germany so much adversity, shame, and suffering, but it means to
write a woman's life which, as a fated tragedy or like a mighty
picture, rises before our vision. It is to unfold a portion of the
world's history before our eyes--and the world's history is there
for our common instruction and progress, for our enlightenment and
I am not afraid, therefore, of being accused of lacking patriotism,
because I have undertaken to write the life of a woman who is not a
German, who was the wife of Germany's greatest enemy and oppressor.
It is, indeed, a portion of the universal drama which is unfolded in
the life of this woman, and amid so much blood, so much dishonor, so
many tears, so much humiliation, so much pride, arrogance, and
treachery, of this renowned period of the world's history, shines
forth the figure of Josephine as the bright star of womanhood, of
love, of faithfulness--stars need no birthright, no nationality,
they belong to all lands and nations.
THE YOUNG MAID.
On the 23d of July, 1763, to the Chevalier Tascher de la Pagerie,
ex-lieutenant of the royal troops, a resident of the insignificant
spot of the Trois Islets, on the island of Martinique, was borne by
his young, rich, and beautiful wife, a first child.
The loving parents, the relatives and friends had longed for this
child, but now that it was come, they bade it welcome without joy,
and even over the brow of the young father hung the shadow of a
cloud as he received the intelligence of the birth of his child. For
it was a girl, and not the wished-for boy who was to be the
inheritor of the valuable family-plantation, and the inheritor also
of the ancient and respectable name of Tascher de la Pagerie.
It was, however, useless to murmur against fate. What was
irrevocable had to be accepted, and welcome made to the daughter,
who, instead of the expected heir, would now lay claim to the rights
of primogeniture. As an inheritance reserved for him who had not
come, the daughter received the name which had been destined to the
son. For two hundred years the name of Joseph had been given to the
eldest son of the family of Tascher de la Pagerie, but now that
there was none to whom the Chevalier, Ex-lieutenant Joseph de la
Pagerie could leave his name as a legacy, the family had to be
satisfied to give the name to his daughter, and consequently she
received at baptism the name of Joseph Marie Rosa.
There was, however, one being who gladly and willingly forgave the
fault of her birth, and who consecrated to the daughter the same
love she would have offered to the son. This being was the mother of
the little Joseph Marie Rosa.
"Contrary to all our wishes," writes she to her husband's sister,
the beautiful Madame Renaudin, in Paris--"contrary to all our
wishes, God has given me a daughter. My joy is not therefore
diminished, for I look upon my child as a new bond which binds me
still closer to your brother, my dear husband, and to you. Why
should I have such a poor and meagre opinion of the female sex, that
a daughter should not be welcomed by me? I am acquainted with many
persons of our sex who concentrate in themselves as many good
qualities as one would only with difficulty find in the other sex.
Maternal love already blinds me and fosters in me the hope that my
daughter may be like them, and if even I cannot enjoy this
satisfaction, yet I am thankful to my child that by means of her
existence I am gathering so much happiness."
Indeed, extraordinary joy, since the birth of the child, reigned in
the house of M. Tascher de la Pagerie; joy reigned all over
Martinique, for the long war between France and England was ended,
and a few months before the birth of little Joseph Marie Rosa, the
peace which secured to France the possession of her maritime
colonies had been signed. Martinique, so often attacked, bombarded,
besieged by English ships--Martinique was again the unconditional
property of France, and on the birthday of the little Marie Joseph
Rosa the French fleet entered into the harbor of Port Royal, landed
a French garrison for the island, and brought a new governor in the
person of the Marquis de Fenelon, the nephew of the famous Bishop de
Joyously and quietly passed away the first years of the life of the
little Joseph, or little Josephine, as her kind parents called her.
Only once, in the third year of her life, was Josephine's infancy
troubled by a fright. A terrible hurricane, such as is known to
exist only in the Antilles, broke over Martinique. The historians of
that period know not how to depict the awful and calamitous events
of this hurricane, which, at the same time, seemed to shake the
whole earth with its convulsions. In Naples, in Sicily, in the
Molucca Islands, volcanoes broke out in fearful eruptions; for three
days the earth trembled in Constantinople. But it was over
Martinique that the hurricane raged in the most appalling manner. In
less than four hours the howling northwest' wind, accompanied by
forked lightning, rolling thunder, heavy water-spouts, and
tremendous earth-tremblings, had hurled down into fragments all the
houses of the town, all the sugar-plantations, and all the negro
cabins. Here and there the earth opened, flames darted out and
spread round about a horrible vapor of sulphur, which suffocated
human beings. Trees were uprooted, and the sugar and coffee
plantations destroyed. The sea roared and upheaved, sprang from its
bounds, and shivered as mere glass-work barks and even some of the
larger ships lying in the harbor of Port Royal. Five hundred men
perished, and a much larger number were severely wounded. Distress
and poverty were the result of this astounding convulsion of nature.
The estate of M. Tascher de la Pagerie was made desolate. His
residence, his sugar-plantations, were but a heap of ruins and
rubbish, and as a gift of Providence he looked upon the one refuge
left him in his sugar-refinery, which was miraculously spared by the
hurricane. There M. Tascher saved himself, with Josephine and her
younger sister, and there his wife bore him a third child. But
Heaven even now did not fulfil the long-cherished wishes of the
parents, for it was to a daughter that Madame de la Pagerie gave
birth. The parents were, however, weary with murmuring against fate,
which accomplished not their wish; and so to prove to fate that this
daughter was welcome, they named the child born amid the horrors of
this terrific hurricane, Desiree, the Desired.
Peaceful, happy years followed;--peaceful and happy, in the midst of
the family, passed on the years of Josephine's infancy. She had
every thing which could be procured. Beloved by her parents, by her
two sisters, worshipped by her servants and slaves, she lived amid a
beautiful, splendid, and sublime nature, in the very midst of wealth
and affluence. Her father, casting away all ambition, was satisfied
to cultivate his wide and immense domains, and to remain among his
one hundred and fifty slaves as master and ruler, to whom
unconditional and cheerful obedience was rendered. Her mother sought
and wished for no other happiness than the peaceful quietude of the
household joys. Her husband, her children, her home, constituted the
world where she breathed, in which alone centred her thoughts, her
wishes, and her hopes. To mould her daughters into good housekeepers
and wives, and if possible to secure for them in due time, by means
of a brilliant and advantageous marriage, a happy future--this was
the only ambition of this gentle and virtuous woman.
Above all things, it was necessary to procure to the daughters an
education suited to the claims of high social position, and which
would fit her daughters to act on the world's stage the part which
their birth, their wealth, and beauty, reserved for them. The tender
mother consented to part with her darling, with her eldest daughter;
and Josephine, not yet twelve years old, was brought, for completing
her education, to the convent of our Lady de la Providence in Port
Royal. There she learned all which in the Antilles was considered
necessary for the education of a lady of rank; there she obtained
that light, superficial, rudimentary instruction, which was then
thought sufficient for a woman; there she was taught to write her
mother tongue with a certain fluency and without too many blunders;
there she was instructed in the use of the needle, to execute
artistic pieces of embroidery; there she learned something in
arithmetic and in music; yea, so as to give to the wealthy daughter
of M. Tascher de la Pagerie a full and complete education, the pious
sisters of the convent consented that twice a week a dancing-master
should come to the convent to give to Josephine lessons in dancing,
the favorite amusement of the Creoles. [Footnote: "Histoire de
l'Imperatrice Josephine," par Joseph Aubenas. vol. i., p. 36.]
These dancing-lessons completed the education of Josephine, and,
barely fifteen years old, she returned to her parents and sisters as
an accomplished young lady, to perform the honors of the house
alongside of her mother, to learn from her to preside with grace and
ease over a large mansion, and above all things to be a good
mistress, a benefactress, and a protectress to her slaves. Under her
mother's guidance, Josephine visited the negro cabins to minister
unto the sick, to bring comfort and nourishment to the old and to
the weak, to pray with the dying, to take under her loving
guardianship the new-born babes of the negro women, to instruct in
the catechism the grown-up children, to excite them to industry, to
encourage them through kindness and friendliness, to protect them,
and to be a mediator when for some offence they were condemned to
It was a wonderfully peaceful and beautiful life that of the young
Josephine, amid a bountiful nature, in that soft, sunny clime which
clothed her whole being with that tender, pleasing grace, that
lovely quietude, that yielding complacency, and at the same time
with that fiery, passionate nature of the Creoles. Ordinarily
dressed only with the "gaule," a wide, loose garment of white
muslin, falling loosely about the waist, where no belt gathered its
folds, the beautiful head wrapped up in the many-colored madras,
which around the temples was folded up into graceful knots holding
together her chestnut-brown hair--in this dress Josephine would
swing for hours in her hammock made of homespun silk and ornamented
with borders of feathers from the variegated iridescent birds of
Round about her were her young female slaves, watching with their
brilliant dark eyes their young mistress, ever ready to read every
wish upon that dreamy, smiling countenance, and by their swarthy
tinge heightening the soft, tender whiteness of her own complexion.
Then, wearied with the stillness and with her dreams, Josephine
would spring up from the hammock, dart into the house with all the
lightness of the gazelle to enliven the family with her own
joyousness, her merry pleasantry, and accompanied by her guitar to
sing unto them with her lovely youthful voice the songs of the
Creoles. As the glowing sun was at its setting, away she hastened
with her slaves into the garden, directed their labors, and with her
own hands tended her own cherished flowers, which commingled
together in admirable admixture from all climes under the genial
skies of the Antilles. In the evening, the family was gathered
together in the light of the moon, which imparted to the nights the
brightness of day and streamed upon them her soft blue rays, upon
the fragrant terrace, in front of the house, where the faithful
slaves carefully watched the little group close one to another and
guarded their masters from the approaches of poisonous serpents,
that insidious progeny of the night.
On Sundays after Josephine had religiously and faithfully listened
to an early mass, she gladly attended in the evening the
"barraboula" of the negroes, dancing their African dances in the
glare of torches and to the monotonous sound of the tam-tam.
On festivals, she assisted her mother to put all things in order,
and to preside at the great banquets given to relatives and friends,
who afterward were visited in their turn, and then the slaves
carried their masters in hammocks, or else, what was far more
acceptable, the young maidens mounted small Spanish horses, full of
courage and daring, and whose firm, quick step made a ride to Porto
Rico simply a rushing gallop.
Amidst this dreamy, sunny, joyous existence of the young maiden
gleamed one day, as a lightning-flash, a prophetic ray of
Josephine's future greatness.
This happened one afternoon as she was walking alone and thoughtful
through the plantation. A group of negresses, in the centre of which
was an old and unknown woman, attracted her attention. Josephine
approached. It was an old negro woman from a neighboring plantation,
and she was telling the fortune of the young negro women of M.
Tascher de la Pagerie. No sooner did the old woman cast her eyes on
Josephine than she seemed to shrink into one mass, whilst an
expression of horror and wonder stole over her face. She vehemently
seized the hand of the young maiden, examined it carefully, and then
lifted up her large, astonished eyes with a searching expression to
the face of Josephine.
"You must see something very wonderful in my face and in my hand?"
inquired Josephine, laughing.
"Yes, something very wonderful," repeated the negro woman, still
intently staring at her.
"Is it a good or a bad fortune which awaits me?"
The old prophetess slowly shook her head.
"Who can tell," said she, gravely, "what is a good or a bad fortune
for human beings? In your hand I see evil, but in your face
happiness--great, lofty happiness."
"Well," cried out Josephine, laughing, "you are cautious, and your
oracle is not very clear."
The old woman lifted up her eyes to heaven with a strange
"I dare not," said she, "express myself more clearly."
"Speak on, whatever the result!" exclaimed Josephine, whose
curiosity was excited by the very diffidence of the fortune-teller.
"Say what you see in my future life. I wish it, I order you to do
"Well, if you order it, I must obey," said she, with solemnity.
"Listen, then. I read in your countenance that you are called to
high destinies. You will soon be married. But your marriage will not
be a happy one. You will soon be a young widow, and then--"
"Well, and then?" asked Josephine, passionately, as the old woman
hesitated and remained silent.
"Well, and then you will be Queen of France--more than a queen!"
shouted the prophetess, with a loud voice. "You will live glorious,
brilliant days, but at the last misfortune will come and carry you
to your grave in a day of rebellion."
Afraid of the pictures which her prophetic vision had contemplated
in the future, the old hag forced her way through the circle of
negro women around, and rushed away through the field as fast as her
feet could bear her on.
Josephine, laughing, turned to her astonished women, who had
followed with their eyes the flight of the prophetess, but who now
directed their dark eyes with an expression of awe and bewilderment
to their young mistress, of whom the fortune-teller had said she
would one day be Queen of France. Josephine endeavored to overthrow
the faith of her swarthy servants in the fortune-teller, and, by
pointing to the ridiculous prophecy in reference to herself, and
which predicted an impossible future, she tried to prove to them
what a folly it was to rely on the words of those who made a
profession of foretelling the future.
But against her will the prophetic words of the old woman echoed in
the heart of the young maiden. She could not return home to her
family and talk, laugh, and dance, as she had been accustomed to do
with her sisters. Followed by her slaves, she went into her garden
and sank in a hammock, hung amid the gigantic leaves of a palm-tree,
and, while the negro girls danced and sang round her, the young maid
was dreaming about the future, and her beating heart asked if it
were not possible that the prophecy of the negro woman might one day
She, the daughter of M. Tascher de la Pagerie--she a future "Queen
of France! More than a queen!" Oh, it was mere folly to think on
such things, and to busy herself with the ludicrous prophecies of
the old woman.
And Josephine laughed at her own credulity, and the slaves sang and
danced, and against her will the thoughts of the young maiden
returned to the prophecy again and again.
What the old fortune-teller had said, was it so very ridiculous, so
impossible? Could not that prophecy become a reality? Was it, then,
the first time that a daughter of the Island of Martinique had been
exalted to grandeur and lofty honors?
Josephine asked these questions to herself, as dreaming and
thoughtful she swung in the hammock and gazed toward the horizon
upon the sea, which, in its blue depths and brilliancy, hung there
as if heaven had lowered itself down to earth. That sea was a
pathway to France, and already once before had its waves wafted a
daughter of the Island of Martinique to a throne.
Thus ran the thoughts of Josephine. She thought of Franchise
d'Aubigne, and of her wondrous story. A poor wanderer, fleeing from
France to search for happiness beyond the seas in a foreign land, M.
d'Aubigne had landed in Martinique with his young wife. There
Franchise was born, there passed away the first years of her life.
Once, when a child of three years old, she was bitten by a venomous
serpent, and her life was saved only through the devotion of her
black nurse, who sucked alike poison and death from the wound.
Another time, as she was on a voyage with her parents, the vessel
was in danger of being captured by a corsair; and a third time a
powerful whirlwind carried into the waves of the sea the little
Francoise, who was walking on the shore, but a large black dog, her
companion and favorite, sprang after her, seized her dress with its
teeth, and carried the child back to the shore, where sobbing for
joy her mother received her.
Fate had reserved great things for Francoise, and with all manner of
horrors it submitted the child to probation to make of it a strong
and noble woman.
A severer blow came when her father, losing in gambling all the
property which he had gathered in Martinique, died suddenly, leaving
his family in poverty and want. Another blow more severe still came
when on her return to France, whither her mother was going with her,
she lost this last prop of her youth and childhood. Madame d'Aubigne
died, and her body was committed to the waves; and, as a destitute
orphan, Francoise d'Aubigne touched the soil of France.
And what became of the poor orphan of the Creole of Martinique?
She became the wife of a king, and nearly a queen! For Francoise
d'Aubigne, the widow of Scarron, the governess of the children of
Louis XIV, had caused the mother of these children, the beautiful
Madame de Montespan, to be cast away, and she became the friend, the
beloved, the secret spouse of the king: and the lofty Louis, who
could say of himself, "L'etat c'est moi" he, with all the power of
his will, with all his authority, was the humble vassal of Franchise
d'Aubigne, Marquise de Maintenon!
This was the first princess whom Martinique had given to the world!
Was it not possible that the prophecies of the old negro woman could
be realized? could not once more a daughter of the Island of
Martinique be exalted into a princess?
"You will be Queen of France!" the negress had said.
No, it was mere folly to believe in such a ridiculous prophecy. The
throne of France was now occupied. Alongside of her consort, the
good, the well-beloved Louis XVI, the young and beautiful Queen
Marie Antoinette, the daughter of the mighty Empress Maria Theresa,
sat on the throne. She was young, she was beloved throughout France,
and she had already, to the great delight of her husband and of his
people, borne an heir to the throne of France.
The throne of the lilies stood then on firm and sure foundations,
and the prophecies of the old negress belonged only to the kingdom
of fables. [Footnote: This prophecy, nearly as related above, was
told by the Empress Josephine herself to her maids of honor in the
castle of Navarra.--See "Memoires sur l'Imperatrice Josephine, la
Ville, la Cour et les Salons de Paris sous l'Empire, par Madame
Six months had barely elapsed since Josephine's return from the
convent when the family Tascher de la Pagerie received from their
relatives in Paris letters which were to be of the greatest
importance for the whole family.
The beautiful Madame de Renaudin, sister of M. Tascher de la
Pagerie, had settled in Paris after having rid herself of an unhappy
marriage with a man, coarse and addicted to gambling, and after
having, through a legal separation, reobtained her freedom. She
lived there in the closest, intimacy with the Marquis de
Beauharnais, who, for many years, at an earlier period, had resided
as governor on the Island of Martinique, and there had bound himself
to the whole family of Tascher de la Pagerie by the ties of a
cordial friendship. His wife, during her residence in Martinique,
had been the most tender friend of Madame de Renaudin, and when the
marchioness bore a second son to her husband, Madame de Renaudin had
stood as godmother, and promised to love and protect the child of
her friend as if she were his mother.
Chance brought on the opportunity of accomplishing this promise and
of fulfilling the oath made to God before the altar. The Marchioness
de Beauharnais returned to France in the year 1763 with her husband
and her two sons, but died there a short time after; and Madame de
Renaudin, true to her oath, hastened to replace the natural
guardian, the mother.
Perhaps she had but followed the dictates of her heart, perhaps
against her will a sentiment of joy had passed over her at the death
of the poor marchioness, for, by this death, one at least of the two
obstacles intervening between Madame de Renaudin and the Marquis de
Beauharnais had been removed. Both married, both of the Catholic
religion, death alone could make their hands free, and confer upon
them the right of joining hands together for all their days.
They loved one another, they had ceased long ago to make a secret of
it; they avowed it to each other and to their dependants, for their
brave, loyal, and noble hearts would not stoop to falsehood and
deception, and they had the courage to acknowledge what their
Death had then made free the hand of the Marquis de Beauharnais, but
life held yet in bondage the hand of the Baroness de Renaudin.
As long as her husband lived, she could not, though legally divorced
from him, conscientiously think of a second marriage.
But she possessed the courage and the loyalty of true love; she had
seen and experienced enough of the world to despise its judgments,
and with cheerful determination do what in her conscience she held
to be good and right.
Before God's altar she had promised to the deceased Marchioness de
Beauharnais to be a mother to her son; she loved the child and she
loved the father of this child, and, as she was now free, as she had
no duties which might restrain her footsteps, she followed the voice
of her heart and braved public opinion.
She had purchased not far from Paris, at Noisy-le-Grand, a country
residence, and there passed the summer with the Marquis de
Beauharnais, with his two sons and their tutor.
The marquis owned a superb hotel in Paris, in Thevenot Street, and
there, during winter, he resided with his two sons and the Baroness
de Renaudin, the mother, the guardian of his two orphan sons, the
friend, the confidante, the companion of his quiet life, entirely
devoted to study, to the arts, to the sciences, and to household
Thus the years passed away; the two sons of the Marquis de
Beauharnais had grown up under the care of their maternal friend:
they had been through their collegiate course, had been one year
students at Heidelberg, had returned, had been through the drill of
soldier and officer, a mere form which custom then imposed on young
men of high birth; and the younger son Alexander, the godchild of
the Baroness de Renaudin, had scarcely passed his sixteenth year
when he received his commission as sub-lieutenant.
A year afterward his elder brother married one of his cousins, the
Countess Claude Beauharnais, and the sight of this youthful happy
love excited envy in the heart of the young lieutenant of seventeen
years, and awoke in him a longing for a similar blessedness. Freely
and without reserve he communicated his wishes to his father, begged
of him to choose him a wife, and promised to take readily and
cheerfully as such her whom his father or his sponsor, his second
mother, would select for him.
A few months later reached Martinique the letters which, as already
said, were to be of the utmost importance to the family of M.
Tascher de la Pagerie.
The first of these letters was from the Marquis de Beauharnais, and
addressed to the parents of Josephine, but with a considerate and
delicate tact the marquis had not written the letter with his own
hand, but had dictated it to his son Alexander, so as to prove to
the family of his friend De la Pagerie that the son was in perfect
unison of sentiment with the father, and that the latter only
expressed what the son desired and approved.
"I cannot express," wrote the marquis, "how much satisfaction I have
in being at this moment able to give you a proof of the inclination
and friendship which I always have had for you. As you will
perceive, this satisfaction is not merely on the surface.
"My two sons," continues he, "are now enjoying an annual income of
forty thousand livres. It is in your power to give me your daughter
to enjoy this income with my son, the chevalier. The esteem and
affection he feels for Madame de Renaudin makes him passionately
desire to be united with her niece. I can assure you that I am only
gratifying his wishes when I pray you to give me for him your second
daughter, whose age corresponds at best with his. I sincerely wish
that your eldest daughter were a few years younger, for then she
would certainly have had the preference, the more so that she is
described to me under the most advantageous colors. But I confess my
son, who is but seventeen and a half years old, thinks that a young
lady of fifteen is too near him in age. This is one of those cases
in which reasonable and reflecting parents will accommodate
themselves to circumstances."
M. de Beauharnais adds that his son possesses all the qualities
necessary to make a woman happy. At the same time he declares that,
as regards his future daughter-in-law, he has no claims to a dowry,
for his son already possesses an income of forty thousand livres
from his mother's legacy, and that after his father's death he will
inherit besides an annual income of twenty-five thousand livres. He
then entreats M. de la Pagerie, as soon as practicable, to send his
daughter to France, and, if possible, to bring her himself. The
marquis then addresses himself directly to the wife of M. de la
Pagerie, and repeats to her in nearly the same words his proposal,
and endeavors also to excuse to her the choice of the second
"The most flattering things have been told me," writes he, "of your
eldest daughter, but my son finds her, with her fifteen years, too
old for him. My son is worthy of becoming your son-in-law; Nature
has gifted him with good and fine parts, and his income is
sufficiently large to share it with a wife qualified to render him
happy. Such a one I trust to find in your second daughter; may she
resemble you, madame, and I can no longer doubt of my son's
happiness! I feel extremely happy to see my long-cherished wishes
satisfied! I can not express to you how great will be my joy to see
riveted forever, by means of this union of our two families, the
inclination and the friendship which have already so long chained us
together. I trust that Mademoiselle de la Pagerie will not refuse
her consent. Allow me to embrace her and already to greet her as my
own beloved daughter." [Footnote: Aubenas, "Histoire de
l'Imperatrice Josephine," vol. i., p. 78.]
To this letter was addressed a note from Madame de Renaudin to her
brother and to her sister-in-law. She openly acknowledges that she
it was who desired this union, and who had brought the matter to its
present stage, and she endeavors to meet the objection that it would
appear strange for a young lady to undertake a long journey in
search of a future husband, whilst it would be more expedient that
the bridegroom should make the journey to his bride, to receive her
at the hands of her parents, and bring her with him to a new home.
But this bride of thirteen years must first be trained for her
future destiny; she is not to be in the house of her future father-
in-law, but in the house of Madame de Renaudin, her aunt, and she is
there to receive the completion of her education and that higher
culture which her parents, even with all the necessary means, could
not give her in Martinique.
"We are of opinion," she writes, "that the young people must see one
another and please each other, before we bring this matter to a
close, for they are both too dear to us to desire to coerce them
against their inclination. Your daughter will find in me a true and
kind mother, and I am sure that she will find the happiness of her
future life in the contemplated union, for the chevalier is well
qualified to make a wife happy. All that I can say of him exhausts
by no means the praise he deserves. He has a pleasant countenance,
an excellent figure, wit, genius, knowledge, and, what is more than
this, all the noble qualities of heart and soul are united in him,
and he must consequently be loved by all who know him."
Meanwhile, before these letters reached Martinique, chance had
already otherwise decided the fate of Mary, the second daughter of
M. de la Pagerie. With one sentence it had destroyed all the family
schemes. After three days of confinement to a bed of sickness, Mary
had died of a violent fever, and when the letter, in which the
Marquis de Beauharnais asked for her hand, reached her father, she
had been buried three months.
M. Tascher de la Pagerie hastened to announce her death to the
Marquis and to Madame de Renaudin; and to prove to them how much he
also had at heart a union of the two families, he offered to his
son, the chevalier, the hand of his third daughter, the little
twelve-year-old Desiree. Undoubtedly it would have been more
gratifying to him if the choice of the marquis had fallen upon his
eldest daughter, and he makes this known very clearly in his answer
to Madame de Renaudin.
"My eldest daughter," writes he, "Josephine, who is lately returned
from the convent, and who has often desired me to take her to
France, will, believe me, be somewhat sensitive at the preference
given to her younger sisters. Josephine has a beautiful head,
beautiful eyes and arms, and also a wonderful talent for music.
During her stay in the convent I procured her a guitar-teacher; she
has made the best of the instruction received, and she has a
glorious voice. It is a pity she has not the opportunity of
completing her education in France; and were I to have my wish, I
would bring her to you instead of my other two daughters."
Meanwhile the Marquis de Beauharnais, as well as his son, found that
the youngest daughter of M. de la Pagerie was too young for their
impatient desire to bring to a favorable issue these important
family concerns, and that the eldest of the daughters ought to have
the preference. The son of the marquis especially pronounced himself
decidedly in favor of Josephine, and father and son, as well as
Madame de Renaudin, turned imploringly to M. Tascher de la Pagerie,
praying that he would bring them his eldest daughter.
Now, for the first time, when the choice of the Beauharnais family
had irrevocably fallen upon Josephine, now for the first time was
this proposed marriage made known to her, and her consent asked.
Josephine, whose young heart was like a blank sheet of paper,
whereon love had as yet written no name, Josephine rejoiced at the
prospect of accomplishing the secret wish of her maiden heart, to go
to Paris--Paris, the burning desire of all Creoles--Paris, after all
the narratives and descriptions, which had been made to Josephine,
rose before the soul of the young maiden as a golden morning dream,
a charming fairy world; and full of gratitude she already loved her
future husband, to whom she owed the happiness of becoming
acquainted with the city of wonders and pleasures.
She therefore acquiesced without regret at being separated from her
parents and from her sister, from the home of all her sweet
reminiscences of youth, and joyously, in August of the year 1779,
she embarked on board the vessel which was to take her with her
father to France.
In the middle of October they both, after a stormy passage, touched
the soil of France and announced to their relatives their safe
arrival. Alexandre de Beauharnais, full of impatient longings to see
his unknown young bride, hastened to Brest to bid her and her father
welcome, and to accompany them to Paris.
The first meeting of the young couple decided their future.
Josephine, smiling and blushing, avowed to her father that she was
willing and ready to marry M. Alexandre Beanharnais; and, the very
first day of his meeting with Josephine, Alexandre wrote to his
father that he was enchanted with the choice made, and that he felt
strongly convinced that, at the side of so charming, sweet, and
lovely a being, he would lead a happy and sunny life.
The love of the children had crowned all the schemes of the parents,
and on the 13th of December, 1779, the marriage of the young couple
took place. On the 13th of December, Mademoiselle Josephine Tascher
de la Pagerie became the Viscountess Josephine de Beauharnais.
THE YOUNG BONAPARTE.
In the same year, 1779, in which Josephine de la Pagerie for the
first time left Martinique for Prance, a vessel which had sailed
from Corsica brought to France a boy who, not only as regards
Josephine's life, but also as regards all Europe, yea, the whole
world, was to be of the highest importance, and who, with the iron
step of fatality, was to walk through Europe to subvert thrones and
raise up new ones; to tread nations in the dust, and to lift up
others from the dust; to break tyranny's chains in which people
languished, so as to impose upon them his own chains.
This boy was Napoleon Bonaparte, the son of the advocate Charles de
From Ajaccio, the principal town of Corsica, came the ship which
brought to France the boy, his father, and his two elder brothers.
In Ajaccio the family of the Bonapartes had been settled for more
than a century. There also Napoleon had passed the first years of
his life, in the family circle with his parents, and in joyous
amusements with his five brothers and sisters.
His father, Charles de Bonaparte, belonged to one of the noble
families of Corsica, and was one of the most influential men on the
island. His mother, Letitia Ramolina, was well known throughout the
island for her beauty, and the only woman who could have been her
rival, for she was her equal in beauty, youth, and grace, was her
dearest friend, the beautiful Panonia de Comnene, afterward the
mother of the Duchess d'Abrantes.
The beautiful Letitia Ramolina was married to Charles de Bonaparte
the same year that her friend Panonia de Comnene became the wife of
M. de Permont, a high French official in Ajaccio. Corsica was then
the undisputed property of the kingdom of France, and, however proud
the Corsicans were of their island, yet they were satisfied to be
called subjects of France, and to have their beautiful island
considered as a province of France.
Napoleon Bonaparte was the fifth child of his parents, the favorite
of his beautiful mother Letitia, who was the life of the household,
the ruler of the family. She governed the house, she educated the
children; she knew, with the genuine ability of a housekeeper, of a
mother, how to spend with careful frugality the moderate income of
her husband; how to economize, and yet how to give to each what was
needed. As to the father, in the hours of leisure which business,
political debates, and amusements allowed him to give to his home
and family, his children were an agreeable recreation, an
interesting pastime; and when the children, carried away by the
sparkling fire of youth, shouted or cried too loud, the father
endeavored to palliate their misdemeanor, and obtain their pardon
from their mother. Then Letitia's eyes were fastened with a flaming
glance upon her husband, and, imperatively bidding him leave the
children, she would say: "Let them alone. Their education concerns
you not. I am the one to keep the eyes upon them."
She trained them up with the severity of a father and with the
tenderness of a mother. Inexorable against every vice of heart and
character, she was lenient and indulgent toward petty offences which
sprang up from the inconsiderateness and spiritedness of youth.
Every tendency to vulgar sentiments, to mean envy or selfishness,
she strove to uproot by galling indignation; but every thing which
was great and lofty, all sentiments of honor, of courage, of large-
heartedness, of generosity, of kindness, she nursed and cherished in
the hearts of her children. It was a glorious sight to contemplate
this young mother when with her beautiful, rosy countenance glowing
with enthusiasm and blessedness, she stood among her children, and
in fiery, expressive manner spoke to the listening group of the
great and brave of old, of the deeds of a Caesar, of a Hannibal;
when she spoke of Brutus, who, though he loved Caesar, yet, greater
than Caesar, and a more exalted Roman in his love for the republic,
sacrificed his love to the fatherland; or when she, with that
burning glow which all Corsicans, the women as well as the men,
cherish for their home and for the historical greatness of their
dear island, told them of the bravery and self-denial even unto
death with which the Corsicans for centuries had fought for the
freedom of their island; how, faithful to the ancient sacred law of
blood, they never let the misdeed pass unpunished; they never feared
the foe, however powerful he might be, but revenged on him the evil
which he had committed against sister or brother, father or mother.
And when Letitia thus spoke to her children in the beautiful and
harmonious language of her country, the eyes of the little Napoleon
were all aflame, his childish countenance suddenly assumed a grave
expression, and on the little body of the child was seen a man's
head, glowing with power, energy, and pride.
These narratives of his mother, these enthusiastic stories of heroes
of the past, which the boy, with loud-beating heart, with
countenance blanched by mental excitement, gathered from the
beautiful lips of his mother, were the highest pleasure of the
little Napoleon, and often in future years has the emperor amid his
glory thought of those days never to be forgotten, when the child's
heart and soul hung on his mother's lips, and listened to her
wondrous stories of heroes.
These narratives of Letitia, this enthusiasm which her glowing
language awoke in the heart of the child, this whole education which
Letitia gave to her children, became the corner-stone of their
future. As a sower, Letitia scattered the seed from which hero and
warrior were to spring forth, and the grain which fell into the
heart of her little Napoleon found a good soil, and grew and
prospered, and became a laurel-tree, which adorned the whole family
of the Bonapartes with the blooming crown of immortality.
Great men are ever much more the sons of their mother than of the
father, while seldom have great men seen their own greatness survive
in their sons. This is a wonderful secret of Nature, which perhaps
cannot be explained, but which cannot be denied.
Goethe was the true son of his talented and noble mother, but he
could leave as a legacy to his son only the fame of a name, and not
his genius. Henry IV., the son of a noble, spiritual and large-
hearted Jeanne de Navarre, could not leave to France, which
worshipped and loved her king, could not leave to his people, a
successor who resembled him, and who would inherit his sharp-
sightedness, his prudence, his courage, and his greatness of soul.
His son and successor was Louis XIII., a king whose misfortune it
was ever to be overruled, ever to be humbled, ever to stand in the
shade of two superior natures, which excited his envy, but which he
was never competent to overcome; ever overshadowed by the past
glories which his father's fame threw upon him, overshadowed by the
ruler and mentor of his choice, his minister, the Cardinal de
Richelieu, who darkened his whole sad existence.
Napoleon was the son of his mother, the large-hearted and high-
minded Letitia Ramolina. But how distant was the son of the hero,
who, from a poor second lieutenant, had forced his way to the throne
of France! how distant the poor little Duke de Reichstadt from his
great father! Even over the life of this son of an eminent father
weighed a shadow--the shadow of his father's greatness. Under this
shadow which the column of Vendome cast from Paris to the imperial
city of Vienna, which the steep rock of St. Helena cast even upon
the castle of Schonbrunn, under this shadow died the Duke de
Reichstadt, the unfortunate son of his eminent father.
The little Napoleon was always a shy, reserved, quiet boy. For hours
long he could hide in some obscure corner of the house or of the
garden, and sit there with head bent low and eyes closed, half
asleep and half dreaming; but when he opened his eyes, what a life
in those looks! What animation, what exuberance in his whole being,
when awaking from his childish dreams he mixed again with his
brothers, sisters, and friends!
Letitia's words and example had penetrated the soul of the child
with the highest emotions of honor and human dignity, and the little
boy of seven years exhibited oftentimes the sentiments of honor,
pride, and obstinacy of a man. Every bodily correction to which he
was submitted made him turn pale and tremble, not from pain but for
shame, filled him with indignation, and was apt to bring on
sickness. In Corsica still prevailed the custom of severe discipline
for children, and in all the classes of the school the rod was
applied as a means of punishment and reformation. To beat one's wife
was considered in Corsica, as everywhere else, an unpardonable
brutality; but parents as well as teachers whipped children to mould
them into noble, refined, honorable men.
The little Napoleon would not adapt himself to the blessings of this
education, and the mere threats of the rod-switching deprived the
child of his senses and threw him into convulsions. But though the
little Napoleon was gloomy, monosyllabic, and quiet, yet was he from
early childhood the favorite of all who knew him, and he already
wielded over brothers, sisters, and companions, a wonderful
When a boy of four years old, Letitia sent him to a sort of play-
school, where boys and girls amused themselves together and learned
the ABC. The young Napoleon was soon the soul of the little company.
The boys obeyed him, and submitted to his will; the girls trembled
before him, and yet with a smile they pressed toward him merely to
be near him and to have a place at his side. And the four-year child
already practised a tender chivalry. One of his little school-
companions had made an impression on his heart; he honored her with
special favors, sat at her side during the lessons, and when they
left school to return home, the little Napoleon never missed, with
complete gravity of countenance, to offer his arm to his favorite of
five years of age and to accompany her to her home. But the sight of
this gallant, with his diminutive, compact, and broad figure, over
which the large head, with its earnestness of expression, seemed so
incongruous, and which moved on with so much gravity, while the
socks fell from the naked calves over the heels--all this excited
the merriment of the other children; and when, arm-in-arm with his
little schoolmate, he thus moved on, the other urchins in great glee
shouted after him: "Napoleone di mezza calzetta dall' amore a
Giacominetta!" ("Napoleon in socks is the lover of the little
The boy endured these taunts with the stoic composure of a
philosopher, but never after did he offer his arm to the little
Giacominetta, and never afterward did his socks hang down over his
When from this "mixed school" he passed into a boys' school, the
little Napoleon distinguished himself above all the other boys by
his ambition, his deep jealousy, his perseverance at learning and
studying, and he soon became the favorite of the Abbe Recco,
[Footnote: Napoleon, in his testament, written at St. Helena, willed
a fixed sum of money to this Professor Recco, in gratitude for the
instruction given him in his youth.] who taught at the royal college
of Ajaccio as professor. A few times every week the worthy professor
would gather his pupils in a large hall, to read them lectures upon
ancient history, and especially upon the history of Rome; and, in
order to give to this hall a worthy and significant ornament, he had
it adorned on either side with two large and costly banners, one of
which had the initials S. P. Q. E., and represented the standard of
ancient Rome; facing it and on the opposite side of the hall was the
standard of Carthage.
Under the shadows of these standards were ranged the seats for the
scholars, and in the vacant centre of the large hall was the
professor's chair, from which the Abbe Recco dictated to his pupils
the history of the heroic deeds of ancient Rome.
The elder children sat under the larger standard, under the standard
of Rome, and the junior boys immediately opposite, under the
standard of Carthage; and as Napoleon Bonaparte was the youngest
scholar of the institution, he sat near the Carthaginian standard,
whilst his brother Joseph, his senior by five years, had his seat
facing him on the Roman side. Though at the commencement of the
lectures Napoleon's delight had been great, and though he had
listened with enthusiasm to the history of the struggles, and to the
martial achievements of the ancient Romans, the little Napoleon soon
manifested an unmistaken repugnance to attend these lectures. He
would turn pale, as with his brother he entered the hall, and with
head bowed low, and dark, angry countenance, took his seat. A few
days afterward he declared to his brother Joseph, his lips drawn in
by anguish, that he would no more attend the lectures.
"And why not?" asked Joseph, astonished. "Do you take no interest in
the Roman history? Can you not follow the lecture?"
The little Napoleon darted upon his brother a look of inexpressible
contempt. "I would be a simpleton if the history of heroes did not
interest me," said he, "and I understand everything the good
Professor Recco says--I understand it so well that I often know
beforehand what his warriors and heroes will do."
"Well, then, since you have such a lively interest in the history of
the Romans, why will you no more follow the lectures?"
"No, I will not, I cannot," murmured Napoleon, sadly.
"Tell me, at least, the reason, Napoleon," said his brother.
The boy looked straight before him, for a long time hesitating and
undecided; then he threw up his head in a very decided manner, and
gazed on his brother with flaming eyes.
"Yes," cried he, passionately, "I will tell you! I can no longer
endure the shame to sit down under the standard of the conquered and
humiliated Carthaginians. I do not deserve to be so disgraced."
"But, Napoleon," said Joseph, laughing, "why trouble yourself about
the standard of the old Carthaginians? One is just as well under it
as under the Roman standard."
"Is it, then, the same to you under which standard you sit? Do you
not consider it as a great honor to sit under the standard of the
"I look upon the one as being without honor, and upon the other as
being without shame," said Joseph, smiling.
"If it is so," cried out the little Napoleon, throwing himself on
his brother's neck, "if it is for you no great sacrifice, then, I
implore you to save me, to make me happy, for you can do it! Let us
change seats; give me your place under the standard of Rome, and
take my place instead."
Joseph declared himself ready to do so, and when the two brothers
came next time to the lecture, Napoleon, with uplifted head and
triumphant countenance, took his seat under the standard of
But soon the expression of joy faded away from his face, and his
features were overcast, and with a restless, sad look, he repeatedly
turned himself toward his brother Joseph, who sat facing him under
the standard of the conquered race.
Silent and sad he went home with Joseph, and when his mother
questioned him about the cause of his sorrow, he confessed, with
tears in his eyes, that he was a heartless egotist, that he had been
unjust and cruel toward Joseph, that he had cheated his brother of
his place of honor and had seated himself in it.
It required the most earnest assurances of Joseph that he placed no
value whatever on the seat; it required all the persuasiveness and
authority of Letitia to appease the boy, and to prevail upon him to
resume the conquered seat. [Footnote: "Memoires du Roi Joseph," vol.
As the course of instruction which the boys had received in Ajaccio
was not sufficient for the times, and for the capacities of his
sons, their father passed over to France with Joseph and Napoleon,
to take advantage of the favorable resources for a more complete
Napoleon saw the time of departure approach with an apparently
indifferent mind, only his face was somewhat paler, he was still
more monosyllabic and more reserved than before; and his eyes, full
of an indescribable expression of tenderness and admiration,
followed all the movements of his mother, as if to print deeply in
his soul the beloved image, so as to take it with him beyond the
seas, in all its freshness and beauty.
He wept not as he bade her farewell; not a word of sorrow or regret
did he speak, but he embraced his mother with impassioned fondness,
he kissed her hands, her forehead, her large black eyes, he sank
down before her and kissed her feet, then sprang up, and, after
casting upon her whole figure a deep, glowing look, he rushed away
to embark at once, without waiting for brother or father, who were
yet bidding a touching farewell to relatives and friends.
Letitia gazed after her Napoleon with glowing and wide-open eyes;
she wept not, she complained not, but she pressed her two hands on
her heart as if to keep it from breaking asunder, from bleeding to
death; then she called all her children around her, and, folding
them up in her arms, exclaimed: "Join your hands and pray with me
that our little Napoleon may return home to us a noble and great
As soon as they had prosperously landed in France, the father placed
his two sons in the college of Autun, and then travelled farther on
to Paris, there to obtain, through the influence of his patrons and
friends, a place for his daughter Marianne (afterward Elise) in St.
Cyr, an institution for the daughters of noblemen, and also a place
for Napoleon in the military school of Brienne. His efforts were
crowned with success; and whilst Joseph remained at college in
Autun, Napoleon had to part with him and go to Brienne.
When the brothers bade farewell one to another, Joseph wept
bitterly, and his sighs and tears choked the tender words of
farewell which his quivering lips would have uttered.
Napoleon was quiet, and as his eye moistened with a tear, he
endeavored to hide it, and turned aside ashamed of himself and
nearly indignant, for he did not wish the Abbe Simon, one of the
professors of the college, who was present at the parting of the
brothers, to see his unmanly tenderness.
But the Abbe Simon had seen that tear, and when Napoleon was gone he
said to Joseph: "Napoleon has shed but one tear, but that tear
proves his deep sorrow as much as all your tears." [Footnote:
"Memoires du Roi Joseph," vol. i., p.26.]
Taciturn and quiet as he had been in Ajaccio, the little Napoleon
was equally so at the military school of Brienne, where he remained
from his eleventh to his sixteenth year. His character had always
something sombre and hidden; his eye seemed turned more inwardly
than outwardly; and his fellowship with his books seemed to procure
him a more pleasant recreation than the company of his schoolmates,
whose childish joys and pleasures he despised or pretended to do so,
because his limited pecuniary resources did not allow him to share
with them pleasures of an expensive nature.
But, though still and reserved, he always was friendly and courteous
to his comrades, grateful for every mark of friendship and kindness,
and always ready to protect the young and feeble against the
overbearing and the strong, censuring with grave authority every
injustice, and with Spartan harshness throwing his contempt into the
very face of him who, according to his standard, had offended
against honor, the lofty spirit and the dignity of a freeman.
It could not fail that soon Napoleon should win over his schoolmates
a marked moral influence; that they would listen to him as if he
were their superior; that they should feel something akin to fear in
presence of the flashing eyes of this little boy of barely fourteen
years, whose pale, expressive countenance, when illumined with
anger, almost seemed to them more terrible than that of the
irritated face of the teacher, and whom they therefore more
willingly and more unconditionally obeyed than the principal of the
One day the latter had forbidden the scholars to go to the fair in a
neighboring locality, because they had lately been guilty of
excesses on a similar occasion; and, so as to be sure that the
scholars would not trespass against his orders, the principal had
the outside gate in the front yard locked.
This last circumstance kindled Napoleon's anger; he considered it as
an insult that the scholars should be treated as prisoners.
"Had we been ordered in the name of the law to remain here," cried
he, "then honor itself would have claimed from us to remain, for law
commands obedience to our superiors. But since we are treated as
slaves, who are by main force compelled to submission, then honor
claims from us to prove to our oppressors that we are free beings,
and that we desire to remain such. We are treated as prisoners of
war, kept under lock and bolt, but no one has demanded our word of
honor that we will make no effort to escape this subjection.
Whosoever has a brave heart and a soul full of honor's love, let him
All the youngsters followed him without hesitation. More submissive
to this pale, small boy of fourteen years, than to the severe,
strong, and exalted principal, none dared oppose him as he stood in
the garden, facing a remote place in the wall, and giving orders to
undermine it, so as to make an outlet. All obeyed the given orders,
all were animated with burning zeal, with cheerful alacrity; and
after an hour of earnest labor the work was done, and the passage
under the wall completed.
The scholars wanted to rush with jubilant cries through the opening,
and gain their freedom outside of the wall, but Napoleon held them
"I will go first," said he. "I have been your leader throughout this
expedition, now I will be the first to pass out, that upon me may
fall the punishment when we are discovered."
The young men fell back silently and respectfully, while, proud and
stately as a field-marshal who gives the signal for the battle,
Napoleon passed through their ranks, to be the first from the crowd
to go through the newly-made passage.
It could not fail that the daring of these "prisoners of war" should
be discovered, that the principal should be the very same day
informed that the young men had, notwithstanding his strict orders,
notwithstanding the closed gate, made a way for themselves, and had
visited the prohibited fair, while the principal believed them to be
in the garden.
A strict inquiry took place the next morning. With threatening
tones, the principal ordered the young men to name him who had
guided them to so unheard-of a deed, who had misled them into
disobedience and insubordination. But all were still; none wished to
be a traitor, not even when the principal promised to all full
pardon, full impunity, if they would but name the instigator of
their guilty action.
But as no one spoke, as no one would name him, Napoleon gave himself
up as the culpable one.
"I alone am guilty," cried he, proudly. "I alone deserve punishment.
These have done only what I commanded them--they have but followed
my orders, nothing more. The guilt and the punishment are mine
The principal, glad to know the guilty one, kept his promise, and,
forgiving the rest, decided to punish only the one who acknowledged
himself to have been the leader.
Napoleon was, therefore, sentenced to the severest and most
degrading punishment known in the institution--to the so-called
"monk's penalty." That is to say, the future young soldier, in the
coarse woollen garment of a mendicant friar, was on his knees, to
devour his meal from an earthen vessel in the middle of the dining-
room, while all the other boys were seated at the table.
A deathly pallor overspread the face of the boy when he heard this
sentence. He had been for many days imprisoned in a cell with bread
and water, and he had without a murmur submitted to this correction,
endured already on a former occasion, but this degrading punishment
broke his courage.
Stunned, as it were, and barely conscious, he allowed the costume of
the punishment to be put on, but when he had been led into the
dining-room, where all the scholars were gathered for the noonday
meal, when he was forced upon his knees, he sank down to the ground
with a heavy sigh, and was seized with violent convulsions.
The rector himself, moved with deepest sympathy for the wounded
spirit of the boy, hastened to raise up Napoleon. At the same moment
rushed into the hall one of the teachers of the institution, M.
Patrault, who had just been informed of the execution which was
about to be carried out on Napoleon. With tears in his eyes, he
hastened to Napoleon, and with trembling hands tore from his
shoulders the detestable garment, and broke out at the same time in
loud complaints that his best scholar, his first mathematician, was
to be dishonored and treated in an unworthy manner.
Napoleon, however, was not always the reserved, grave boy who took
no part in the recreations and pleasures of the rest of his young
schoolmates. Whenever these amusements were of a more serious, of a
higher nature, Napoleon gladly and willingly took a part in them.
Now and then in the institution, on festivals, theatrical
representations took place, and on these occasions the citizens of
Brienne were allowed to be present.
But to maintain respectable order, every one who desired to be
present at the representation had to procure a card of admission
signed by the principal. On the day of the exhibition, at the
different doors of the institution, were posted guards who received
the admission cards, and whose strict orders were to let no one pass
in without them. These posts, which were filled by the scholars,
were under the supervision of superior and inferior officers, and
were confided only to the most distinguished and most praiseworthy
One day, Voltaire's tragedy, "The Death of Caesar," was exhibited.
Napoleon had the post of honor of a first lieutenant for this
festivity, and with grave earnestness he filled the duties of his
Suddenly at the entrance of the garden arose a loud noise and
vehement recriminations of threatening and abusive voices.
It was Margaret Haute, the porter's wife, who wanted to come in,
though she had no card of admission. She was well known to all the
students, for at the gate of the institution she had a little stall
of fruits, eggs, milk, and cakes, and all the boys purchased from
her every day, and liked to jest and joke with the pleasant and
Margaret Haute had therefore considered it of no importance to
procure a card of admission, which thing she considered to be
superfluous for such an important and well-known personage as
herself. The greater was her astonishment and anger when admission
was refused, and she therefore began to clamor loudly, hoping by
this means to attract some of the scholars, who would recognize her
and procure her admittance. Meanwhile the post guardian dared not
act without superior orders, and the inferior officer hastened to
communicate the important event to the first lieutenant, Napoleon de
Bonaparte, and receive his decision.
Napoleon, who ordinarily was kind to the fruit-vender, and gladly
jested with the humorous and coarse woman, listened to the report of
the lieutenant with furrowed brow and dark countenance, and with
severe dignity gave his orders: "Remove that woman, who takes upon
herself to introduce licentiousness into the camp." [Footnote:
Afterward, when First Consul, Napoleon sent for this woman and her
husband to come to Paris, and he gave them the lucrative position of
porter at the castle of Malmaison, which charge they retained unto
THE UNHAPPY MARRIAGE.
While the boy Napoleon de Bonaparte pursued his studies as a student
in Brienne, she, who was one day to share his greatness and his
fame, had already appeared on the world's stage as the wife of
another. Josephine Tascher de la Pagerie was already received in the
highest society of Paris as the Viscountess de Beauharnais.
Every thing seemed to promise to the young couple a happy, secure
future, free from care. They were both young, wealthy, of good
family, and though the parents had planned this marriage and joined
together the hands of the young couple, yet it was their good
fortune that love should tie and strengthen the bond which mere
expediency had formed.
Yes, they loved one another, these young married people of sixteen
and eighteen. How could it have been otherwise, when they both met
each other with the candid and honest desire to make one another
happy; when each of them had been so well adapted to the other that
their brilliant, good, and beautiful qualities were so prominent
that their eyes were blinded to the possibility of imperfections and
vices which perchance remained in the obscure background of their
virtue and of their amiableness?
Josephine had entered upon her marriage with a pure maiden heart,
and soon this heart glowed with enthusiasm for her young husband,
who in reality was well qualified to excite enthusiasm in a young
maid and instil into her a passionate attachment. Alexandre de
Beauharnais was one of the most brilliant and most beloved
personages at the court of Versailles. His face had all the beauty
of regularity; his figure, marked by a lofty, even if somewhat heavy
form, was tall, well knit, and of wonderful elasticity and energy;
his manners were noble and prepossessing, fine and natural. Even in
a court so distinguished as that of Versailles for many remarkable
chevaliers, the Viscount de Beauharnais was considered as one of the
most lovely and most gifted: even the young Queen Marie Antoinette
honored him with special distinction. She had called him the most
beautiful dancer of Versailles, and consequently it was very natural
that up to the time of his marriage he should be invited to every
court-ball, and there should each time enjoy the pleasure of being
requested to dance with the queen.
This flattering distinction of the Queen Marie Antoinette had
naturally made the young viscount the mark of attention of all these
beautiful, young, and coquettish ladies of Versailles. They used to
say of him, that in the dancing-room he was a zephyr, fluttering
from flower to flower, but at the head of his regiment he was a
Bayard, dreaming only of war and carnage.
It was, therefore, quite natural that so brilliant and so preferred
a cavalier, a young man of so many varied accomplishments, a being
so impassioned, so gallant, should soon become the object of the
most tender and passionate fondness from a young wife, who in her
quiet native land had seen none to compare with him, and who became
for her the ideal of beauty, chivalry, elegance, and whom, in her
devoted and admiring love, she used to call her own Achilles.
Josephine loved her husband; she loved him with all the devotedness
and fire of a creole; she loved him and breathed but for him, and to
be with him seemed to her life's golden, blessed dream. Added to all
this, came the joys and raptures of a Parisian life--these new,
unknown, diversified pleasures of society, these manifold
distractions and entertainments of the great city. Josephine
abandoned herself to all this with the joy and wantonness of an
innocent, unsuspicious being. With all these glorious things round
about her, she felt as if surrounded by a sea of blessedness and
pleasure, and she plunged into it with the quiet daring of
innocency, which foresees not what breakers and abysses this sea
encloses under the shining surface.
But these breakers were there, and against them was the happiness of
Josephine's love soon to be dashed to pieces.
She loved her young husband with her whole heart, with all her soul.
But he, the young, the flattered Viscount Alexandre de Beauharnais,
he also loved his young wife, whom the wish and will of his
superiors had placed at his side.
He had not chosen her because he loved her, but only because he had
thought it expedient and advisable to become married, and because
the unknown Mademoiselle de la Pagerie had been offered to him as "a
good settlement." Perhaps, also, he had contracted this marriage to
get rid all at once of those manifold ties, intrigues, and
attachments which his open, unrestrained life of youth had woven
around him, for his marriage with the young creole had put an end to
many love-intrigues which perchance threatened to be inconvenient
At first charmed by her foreign, unaccustomed appearance,
transported by her ingenuous grace, her sweet, lovely amiableness
and freshness, he had fully decided to love his young wife, and,
with all the triumphant pride of a lover, he had led Josephine into
society, into the saloons.
But his eye was not blinded by the ravishment of a real and true
love, and in the drawing-room he saw what, in the solitude of the
residence of Noisy, where the young couple had retired for a few
weeks after their marriage, he might never have missed--he saw that
Josephine possessed not the lofty elegance and the exquisite manners
of the ladies of the Parisian saloons. She always was a charming,
artless, graceful young woman, but she lacked the striking
advantages of a real drawing-room lady; she lacked that perfect
self-possession, that pliancy of refinement, that sparkling wit, and
that penetration, which then characterized the ladies of the higher
Parisian society, and which the young viscount had but lately so
fondly and passionately admired in the beautiful and celebrated
Baroness de B.
The viscount saw all these deficiencies of his young wife's social
education, and this darkened his brow and brought on his cheek the
flush of shame. He was cruel enough to reproach Josephine, in
somewhat harsh and imperious tones, of her lack of higher culture,
and thus the first matrimonial difference clouded the skies of
marriage happiness, which the young unsuspecting wife had believed
would ever be bright with sunshine.
Josephine, however, loved her young husband too fondly not to
cheerfully comply with all his wishes, not to strive to replace what
he reproached her to be lacking.
On a sudden she left the brilliant, enchanting Paris, which had
entranced her with its many joys and its many distractions, and, as
her husband had to be for some time at Blois with his regiment, she
went to Noisy, to her aunt's residence, so as to labor at her higher
mental culture, at the side of the lovely and intellectual Madame de
Josephine had hitherto, as a simple, sentimental young lady, played
the guitar, and chirped with it, in her fresh but uncultivated
voice, her sweet songs of love. She gave up the guitar, the favorite
instrument of the creoles, and exchanged it for the harp, for which
attainment as well as for the art of singing she procured the best
and ablest masters. Even a dancing-master had to come to Noisy to
give to the young viscountess that perfection of art which would
enable her, without fear, to dance at a ball alongside of the
Viscount de Beauharnais, "the beautiful dancer of Versailles." With
her aunt she read the works of the writers and poets who were then
praised and loved, and with wonderful predilection she also studied
botany, to which science she ever clung during her life, and which
threw on her existence gleams of joy when the sun of her happiness
had long set.
Josephine, who out of pure love for her husband learned and studied
zealously, communicated to the viscount, in her letters, every
advancement she made in her studies; and she was proud and happy
when he applauded her efforts, and when in his letters he praised
her assiduity and her progress.
But evidently these letters of the viscount contained nothing of
that love and ardor which the young fiery creole longed for from her
husband; they were not the utterances of a young, anxious lover, of
an enthusiastic, worshipping husband; but they were addressed to
Josephine with the quiet, cool benignity of a considerate friend, of
a mentor, of a tutor who knows full well how much above his pupil
soars his own mind, and with what supreme deference this pupil must
look up to him.
"I am delighted," wrote he once--"delighted at your zeal to acquire
knowledge and culture; this zeal, which we must ever cherish, is
ever the source of purest enjoyments, and possesses the glorious
advantage, when we follow its dictates, of never producing any
grief. If you persevere in the resolution you have taken, if you
continue to labor with unabated zeal at your personal improvement,
be assured that the knowledge you will have acquired will exalt you
highly above all others; and whereas science and modesty will be
combined in you, you will succeed in becoming an accomplished woman.
The talents which you cultivate have their pleasant side, and if you
devote to them a portion of the day, you will unite the agreeable to
the useful." [Footnote: "Histoire de l'Imperatrice Josephine," vol.
i., p. 110.]
This is what Alexandre de Beauharnais wanted. His wife, through her
knowledge, was to be highly exalted above all others. She was to
study the sciences, and become what is now called a learned woman,
but what was then termed a philosophical woman.
The ambition of the ardent viscount required that his young wife
should be the rival of his learned, verse-writing aunt, the Baroness
Fanny de Beauharnais; that Josephine, if not the most beautiful and
most intellectual woman of Paris, should be the most accomplished.
But these extravagant expectations did not, unfortunately, coincide
entirely with the tastes and mental tendencies of Josephine. No one
was less qualified than she to be a philosophical woman, and to make
the sciences a serious study. It was far from her ambition to desire
to shine by her knowledge; and the learned and scientific Baroness
de Beauharnais only excited fear and antagonism on account of her
stiff and pretentious pedantry, which seemed to Josephine to have
but little in harmony with a woman's being.
Josephine loved the sciences and the arts, but she did not wish to
convert herself into their devoted priestess. She wished merely to
adorn herself with their blossoms, to take delight in their
fragrance, and to rejoice in their beauty. With instinctive
sentiment she did not wish to have the grace and youthful freshness
of her womanly appearance marred by knowledge; her heart longed not
for the ambition of being called a learned woman; she only wished to
be a beloved wife.
But the viscount, instead of recognizing and cherishing the tender
and sacred treasures which reposed in the heart of his young wife,
ridiculed her for her sensitiveness; allowed himself, through
displeasure at her uncultivated mind, to utter unreasonable
reproaches, and to act harshly toward his wife; and her tears were
not calculated to conciliate him or to gain his heart. He treated
Josephine with a sort of contemptuous compassion, with a mocking
superiority, and her young, deeply-wounded soul, intimidated and
bleeding, shrank back into itself. Josephine became taciturn,
embarrassed, and mute, in her husband's presence; she preferred
being silent, rather than by her conversation, which might not
appear intellectual and piquant enough for the viscount, to annoy
and irritate him.
Confidence and harmony had flown away from the household of the
young couple. From his timid, silent wife, with tears in her eyes
and a mute complaint on her trembling lips, the husband rushed away
into the world, into society, to the boisterous joys of a garrison's
life, or else to the dangerous, intoxicating amusements which the
refined world of the drawing-rooms offered him.
Scarcely after a two years' marriage, the young bridegroom was again
the zephyr of the drawing-room; and, breaking asunder the bonds with
which the marriage and the household had bound him, he fluttered
again from flower to flower, was once more the gallant cavalier of
the belles, forgot duty and wife, to pay his attentions and bring
his homage to the ladies of the court.
But this neglect which she now experienced from her husband, this
evident preference for other women, suddenly awoke Josephine from
her painful resignation, from her quiet melancholy. The young,
patient, retreating wife was changed at once into an irritated
lioness, and, amid the refinements of the French polish, with all
its gilded accompaniments, uprose the glowing, impassioned,
Josephine, wounded both in her vanity and in her love--Josephine
wished not and could not bear, as a passive, silent sufferer, the
neglect of her husband; he had insulted her as a woman, and the
wrath of a woman rose within her. She screened not her jealousy from
her husband; she reproached him for preferring other women to his
wife, for neglecting her for the sake of others, and she required
that to her alone he should do homage, that to her alone he should
consecrate love and allegiance. She wept, she complained, when she
learned that, whilst she was left at home unnoticed, he had been
here and there in the company of other women; she allowed herself to
be so carried away by jealousy as to make violent reproaches against
But tears and reproaches are not in the least calculated to bring
back to a wife the heart of a husband, and jealousy recalls not a
husband's love, when that love has unfolded his pinions and flown
away. It only causes the poor butterfly to feel that marriage had
tied its wings with a thread, and that it constantly recalls him
away, with the severe admonitions of duty, from the beautiful
flowers toward which he desires to fly.
The complaints and reproaches of Josephine, however much they proved
her love, had precisely the contrary effect from what she expected.
Through them she wanted to bring back her husband to her love, but
she repelled him further still; he flew away from her complaints to
the merry society of his friends, male and female, and left
Josephine alone at Noisy to weep over her wretchedness.
Notwithstanding all this, they were both to be again reunited one to
another in a new bond of love and happiness. On the 3d of September,
1781, Josephine presented to her husband a son, the heir of his
name, and for whom the father had already so long craved. Alexandre
came to Noisy to be present at the birth of his child, and with
true, sincere affection he embraced son and mother, and swore
everlasting love and fidelity to both.
But circumstances were stronger than the will of this young man of
twenty-two years. The monotonous life of Noisy, the quietude which
prevailed in the house on account of the young mother, could not
long retain captive the fiery young man. He endured this life of
solitude, of watching at the bedside, of listening to the child's
cries, for a whole week, and then was drawn away with irresistible
attraction to Paris; the father's tenderness could no longer
restrain the glowing ardor, the impassioned longings for distraction
in the young man; and the viscount left Noisy to lead once more in
Paris or with his garrison the free, unrestrained dissipations of
his earlier days.
Josephine was comfortless. She had hoped the son would retain the
father, but he left her alone, alone with the child, and with all
the torments of her jealousy.
It is true, he came back now and then to see his son, his little
Eugene, and also to make amends to the young, sick, and suffering
mother, by a few days' presence, for the many days of absence.
But Josephine, irritated, jealous, too young, too inexperienced to
reflect, Josephine committed the fault of receiving her husband
every time he came, with reproaches and complaints, and of meeting
him with violent scenes of jealousy and of offended dignity. The
viscount himself, so young, so impassioned, had not the patience to
go with calm indifference through the purgatory of such scenes. His
proud heart rebelled against the chains with which marriage would
bind him; he was angry with this woman who dared reproach him; he
was the more vexed that his conscience told him she was unjust
toward him, that he was the innocent one. He returned her complaints
with deriding scorn; he allowed himself to be carried away by her
reproaches to the manifestation of violent anger; and the tempest of
matrimonial discord raged through this house, which at first seemed
to have been built for a temple of peace and happiness.
The parents of the young couple saw with deep, heartfelt concern the
gap deepening between them both, and which every day widened more
and more, and as their warnings and wishes now remained fruitless,
they resolved to try if a long absence might not heal the wounds
which they both had inflicted upon their own hearts. At the request
of his father and of Madame de Renaudin, the viscount undertook a
long journey to Italy, from which he returned only after nearly nine
What the relatives had hoped from this journey seemed to be
realized. The viscount returned home to his Josephine with a
penitent, tender heart; and Josephine, enchanted with his
tenderness, with the pliant loveliness of his whole being--
Josephine, with a smile of blessedness and with happy dreams of the
future, rested once more on the bosom of the man whom, even in her
angry moods, she had never ceased to love.
But after a few months passed in happiness and harmony, the viscount
was once more obliged to separate himself from his wife, to meet his
regiment, which was now in Verdun. Absence soon broke the slender
threads which had bound together the hearts of husband and wife.
Alexandre abandoned himself to his tendencies to dissipation, and
Josephine to her jealousy. During the frequent visits which the
viscount paid to his wife in Noisy, he was received with tears and
reproaches, which always ended in violent scenes of anger and
Such an existence, full of ever-recurring storms and ceaseless
discord, weighed heavily on the hearts of both husband and wife, and
made them long for an issue from this Labyrinth of an unhappy
marriage. Yet neither of them dreamed of a separation; not only
their son, the little Eugene, kept them from such thoughts, but also
the new hopes which Josephine carried in her bosom would have made
such thoughts appear criminal. It was necessary to endeavor to bear
life as well as one could, and not allow one's self to be too much
lacerated by its thorns, even if there was no further hope of
gathering its roses.
Alexandre de Beauharnais, even if he lacked the skill of being a
faithful, devoted husband, was a noble and goodnatured man, whose
generous heart wanted to punish himself alone for the error of this
marriage, which weighed so heavily on husband and wife; and, in
order to procure peace to both, he resolved to become an exile, to
tear away pitilessly the attractive ties which society, friends, and
women, had woven around him. If he could not be a good husband, he
might at least be a good soldier; and, whereas his heart could not
adopt the resolution of devoting itself with exclusive affection to
his wife, he resolved to devote himself entirely to that love to
which he had never been disloyal, the love of fame. His ambitious
nature longed for honors and distinction; his restless, youthful
courage craved for action and battle-fields; and, as no opportunity
offered itself on land, Alexandre de Beauharnais decided to search
on the seas for what was denied him on land.
The Marquis de Bouille, governor of Martinique, had just arrived in
France, to propose to the government a new expedition against the
British colonies in the Antilles. Already this fearless and
enterprising man, since he had been in Martinique, with the forces
at his disposal, with the help of the young creoles, and supported
by the squadrons which lay in Port Royal, had conquered Dominique,
Grenada, St. Vincent, St. Christophe, Mievres, and Montserrat, and
now he contemplated an attack upon the rich and important island of
Jamaica, whose conquest he trusted would force the English into
Alexandre de Beauharnais wanted nothing more attractive than to join
this important and daring enterprise of the Marquis de Bouille. With
recommendations from his uncle, the Duke de la Rochefoucauld, the
viscount hastened to the Marquis de Bouille, begged of him instantly
the privilege of serving under him, and offered his services as
The marquis received with kindness a young man so earnestly
recommended, and gave him the hope of fulfilling his wishes. These
hopes were not, however, realized; and the viscount, no longer able
to endure the burden of uncertainty and of domestic discord, decided
to leave France on his own responsibility, to sail for Martinique,
and there to enlist as a simple volunteer, under the orders of the
In September, 1782, he left Noisy for Brest, there to embark for
Martinique. At the hour of departure the love, which for so long had
been hidden under the dark cloud of jealousy and discord, awoke in
all its glow and energy in the hearts of the young couple. With
streaming eyes Josephine embraced her husband, and in the most
touching tones entreated him to remain with her, entreated him not
to tear the father away from the son, who already recognized him and
stretched his little hands toward him, nor from the child yet unborn
in her bosom. Carried away by so much intensity of affection, by
such a fond, all-pardoning love, Alexandre was deeply moved; he
regretted the past, and the decision he had taken to leave his wife
and his family. All the sweet emotions of peace, of home, of
paternal bliss, of married life, overcame him in this hour of
farewell with, resistless power, and in Josephine's arms he wept
bitter tears of repentance, of love, of farewell.
But these tears, no more than his wife's regrets, could make him
waver in his determination.
The word of separation had been spoken, and it had to be fulfilled.
Amid the anguish of parting, he felt for himself the necessity of
breaking, by means of a long absence, with the evil practices of the
past, and to make amends for the sad errors of his youth.
He left his home to win in a distant land the happiness which he had
in vain sought at the side of his wife, of his son, and of his
family. Before the ship upon which he was to embark for his journey
weighed anchor, he took a last farewell of his family in a letter
addressed to Madame de Renaudin.
"I have," said he, "received the letter which tells of your good
wishes for the future, and I have read with the deepest interest the
assurances of your attachment. These assurances would still have
been more flattering to me, could they have convinced me that my
actual course has your approbation, and that you estimate rightly my
determination, and the sacrifice I am making. However, I have on my
side conscience, which applauds me for preferring, to the real,
actual joys of a quiet and pleasurable existence, the prospect, even
if a remote one, of preferment, which may secure me a distinguished
position and a distinction which may be of advantage to my children.
The greater have been my sacrifices, the more commendable it is to
have made them; and if chance only favors my determination, then the
laurels I will win shall make ample amends for all troubles and
hardships, and shall change all my anguish into joy!--Be kind
enough, I pray you, to embrace for me, my father, my wife, and
Eugene!" [Forward: "Histoire de l'Imperatrice Josephine," vol. i, p.
It is evident that Alexandre de Beauharnais had gone to Martinique
to win fame and to fight for laurels. But chance favored not his
resolves. He had no sooner landed in Martinique, than the news
spread that negotiations had begun between England and France. M. de
Bouille received strict orders to make no attack on Jamaica; and a
few weeks after, on the 20th of January, 1783, the preliminaries of
peace were signed at Versailles. A few months later, peace was
concluded, and all the conquests made by the Marquis de Bouille were
returned to England.
Alexandre de Beauharnais had then come in vain to Martinique. No
fame was to be won--no laurels could be gathered there.
Unfortunately, however, the viscount found another occupation for
his restless heart, for the vague cravings of his affections. He
made the acquaintance there with a young creole, who had been a
widow for the last six months, and who had returned to Martinique
from France to pass there her year's mourning. But her heart had no
mourning for her deceased husband; it longed for Paris, it craved
for the world and its joys. She was yet, though a few years older
than the viscount, a young woman; she was beautiful--of that
wondrous, enticing beauty peculiar to the creoles; she was an
accomplished mistress in the difficult art of pleasing, and she
formed the design of gaining the heart of the impulsive Viscount
Alexandre de Beauharnais. This design was not undertaken because he
seemed worthy of love, but because she wanted to revenge herself on
the family of Tascher de la Pagerie, which family had been for a
long time at enmity with her own, and had given free and open
expression against the too easy manners and light behavior of the
beautiful widow. She wanted to take vengeance for these insults by
seducing from M. de la Pagerie his own son-in-law, and by enjoying
the triumph of having charmed away the husband from his daughter.
The proverb says, "What woman will, woman can!" and what the
beautiful Madame de Gisard wanted was not so very hard to achieve.
All she wished was to hold complete sway over the heart of a young
man who felt heavily burdened with the fetters of marriage; who, now
that the schemes of ambition had failed, reproached his young wife
that she was the cause of his misfortune; that for her sake he had
exiled himself from home, and sentenced himself to the dulness and
loneliness of a village-life in Martinique. The society of the
beautiful Madame de Gisard brought at least novelty and distraction
to this loneliness; she gave occupation to the heart weary with
connubial storms; she excited his fancy and his desires.
Madame de Gisard knew how to use all these advantages; she wanted to
triumph over the family of De la Pagerie, she wanted to return to
Paris in the company of a young, handsome, and distinguished lover.
It was not enough to win the love of the viscount; she had to drive
him into the resolution of separating from his wife, of accusing her
of unfaithfulness and guilt, so as to have the right of casting her
away, in order that she herself might openly occupy her place.
Madame de Gisard had the requisite talent to carry out her plans,
and to acquire full control over the otherwise rebellious and proud
heart of the young man. She first began to lead him into open
rupture with his father and mother-in-law. Through respect for them,
the viscount had avoided appearing in public with Madame de Gisard,
and betraying the intimacy which existed between them. Madame de
Gisard ridiculed his bashfulness and submissive spirit; she
considered this servility to the head of the family as absurd, and
she drove the viscount by means of scorn and sarcasm to open revolt.
Then, after separating him from his wife's family, she attacked the
wife herself. With all the cunning and smoothness of a seducing
demon, she encompassed the young man's heart, and filled it with
mistrust against Josephine. She accused the forsaken one with levity
and unfaithfulness; she filled his heart with jealousy and rancor;
she used all the means of perfidy and calumny of which a woman is
capable, and in which she finds a refuge when her object is to ruin,
and she succeeded completely.
Alexandre de Beauharnais was now entirely hers; he was gathering
against Josephine anger and vengeance; and even when he received the
news that, on the 13th of April, 1783, his young wife had given
birth to a daughter at Noisy, his soul was not moved by soft
emotions, by milder sentiments of reconciliation.
Madame de Gisard had taught him that henceforth he need no more be
on the defensive in reference to the reproaches of Josephine, but
that he now must be the aggressor; that, to justify his own
guiltiness, he must accuse his wife of guilt. She had offered
herself as the price of his reconquered freedom; and the viscount,
overcome with love, anger, and jealousy, was anxious to become
worthy of this price.
He left Martinique and returned to Noisy, not to embrace and bless
his daughter Eugenie Hortense, but to bow down the mother's head
with the curse of shame. He accused, without listening to any
justification, and, with all the vehemence of misguided passion, he
asked for an immediate separation, an immediate divorce. Vain were
the expostulations, the prayers of his father and of Madame de
Renaudin. Vain were the tears, the assurances of innocence from
Josephine. The tears of an injured woman, the prayers of his
sorrowing relatives, were impotent against the whisperings and the
seducing smiles of the beautiful Madame de Gisard, who had secretly
accompanied him to France, and who had now over him an unconditional
The viscount brought before Parliament a complaint for separation
from his wife, and based it upon the most improbable and most
Josephine, who, for two years in loneliness and abandonment, had
awaited the return of her husband; Josephine, who had always hoped,
through the voice of her children, to recall her husband to herself,
saw herself suddenly threatened with a new, unexpected tempest. Two
years of suffering were finally to be rewarded by a scandalous
process, which exposed her person to the idle and malicious tongues
of the Parisians.
She had, however, to submit to fate; she had to bow her head to the
storm, and trust for her justification to the mercy of God and to
the justice of the Parliament. During the time of the process she
withdrew, according to custom, into a convent, and for nearly one
year hid herself with her shame and her anguish in the abbey of
Pantemont, in the street Grenelle, St. Germain. However, she was not
alone; her aunt, Madame de Renaudin, accompanied her, and every day
came the Marquis de Beauharnais, her husband's father, bringing her
the children, who, during the time of the unfortunate process, were
to remain at Noisy, under the guardianship of their grandfather and
of a worthy governess. The members of her husband's family rivalled
each other in their manifestations of affection to a woman so much
injured and so incriminated, and openly before the world they
declared themselves against the viscount, who, blinded by passion
and entirely in the chains of this ensnaring woman, was justifying
the innocency of his wife by his own indiscreet demeanor--by the
public exhibition of his passion for Madame de Gisard, and thus
caused the accusations launched against Josephine to recoil upon his
At last, after one year of debates, of careful considerations and
investigations, of receiving evidence, and of hearing witnesses, the
Parliament pronounced its decision.
Josephine was declared absolutely innocent of the crimes brought
against her, and was entirely acquitted of the accusation of
unfaithfulness. The Parliament pronounced the solemn decree: The
accusation directed against the Viscountess de Beauharnais was
simply a malicious calumny. The innocency of the accused wife was
evident, and consequently the Viscount de Beauharnais was bound to
receive again his wife into his house. However, the viscountess was
permitted and allowed not to share the same residence with her
husband, and to separate herself from him. In this case the viscount
was condemned to pay to his wife an annual pension of ten thousand
francs, and to leave with her mother his daughter Eugenie Hortense,
while he, the father, should provide for the education of the son.
Exonerated from the disgraceful imputation of faithlessness,
Josephine was again free to leave the convent and return to the life
of the world. It was her husband's family which now prepared for the
poor young woman the most beautiful and most touching triumph. The
father of her, accuser, the Marquis de Beauharnais, as well as his
elder son and wife, the Duke and Duchess de la Rochefoucauld, and
the Baroness Fanny de Beauharnais, came in their state carriages to
the abbey to receive Josephine and lead her back to Paris. They had
been joined by a great number of the most respectable and most noble
ladies of the Parisian aristocracy, all in their state carriages,
and in the splendor of their armorial trappings and liveries, as if
it were to accompany a queen returning home.
Josephine shed tears of blessed joy when quitting her small, sombre
rooms in the abbey. She entered into the reception-room to bid
farewell to the prioress, and there met all these friends and
relatives, who saluted her with looks of deepest tenderness and
sympathy, and embraced her in their arms as one found again, as one
long desired. This hour of triumph indemnified her for the sorrows
and sufferings of the unhappy year which the poor wife of scarcely
twenty years of age, and fleeing from calumny and hatred, liar!
sighed away in the desolate and lonesome convent. She was free, she
was justified; the disgrace was removed from her head; she was again
authorized to be the mother of her children; she saw herself
surrounded by loving parents, by true friends, and yet in her heart
there was a sting. Notwithstanding his cruelty, his harshness,
though he had abandoned and despised her, her heart could not be
forced into hating the husband for whom she had so much wept and
suffered. Her tears had impressed his image yet deeper in her heart.
He was the husband of her first love, the father of her children;
how could Josephine have hated him, how could her heart, so soft and
true, cherish animosity against him?
At the side of her husband's father, and holding her daughter in her
arms, Josephine entered Paris. Behind them came a long train of
brilliant equipages, of relatives and friends. The passers-by
stopped to see the brilliant procession move before them, and to ask
what it meant. Some had recognized the viscountess, and they told to
others of the sufferings and of the acquittal of the poor young
woman; and the people, easily affected and sympathizing, rejoiced in
the decision of the Parliament, and with shouts and applause
followed the carriage of the young wife.
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