The Empress Josephine
Part 10 out of 10
the hot soil of a volcano, must have the assurance that crime no
sooner lifts its head than swift punishment will reach it. As you
yourself have told me a thousand times: 'When once fear has been
instilled, one must not by arbitrariness, but through strict
impartiality, strive to be loved.'
"You have often used your privilege of granting pardon, but you have
more frequently proved that you would not tolerate a violation of
the laws enacted by you. Thus you have subdued and mastered the
Jacobins, quieted the royalists, and satisfied the party of
moderation. Your son will now have your example before him, and,
happier than you, will be able to go further in manifesting clemency
toward the guilty.
"I had with him a conversation which establishes the deep
sensitiveness of his heart.
"He was delighted with my charivari, and then he said to me:
"'Ah, how beautiful that is! but if it were given to a poor man he
would be rich, would he not, madame?'
"'Certainly he would,' I replied. "'Well, then,' said he, 'I have
seen in the woods a poor man; allow me to send for him. I have no
money myself, and he needs a good coat.'
"'The emperor,' I replied, 'will find a pleasure in gratifying your
wishes. Why does not your imperial highness ask him for his purse?'
"'I have asked him already, madame. He gave it to me when we left
Paris, and we have given all away. But as you look so good, I
thought you would do what was so natural.'
"I promised to be useful to that poor man, and I will certainly keep
my word. I have given orders to my courier to find the unfortunate
person, and bring him to-morrow to Malmaison, where we will see what
can be done for him. For it will indeed be sweet for me to perform a
good work counselled by a child three years old. Tell him, I pray
you, sire, that this poor man is no longer poor!
"I have thought you would be pleased to gather these details from a
conversation which passed between us in a low voice, while you were
busy at the other end of the drawing-room, examining an atlas. You
will also perceive by this, how fortunate it is for the King of Rome
to have a governess, who knows how to inspire him with such feelings
of compassion, the more touching that they are seldom found in
princes. For princes in general have been accustomed to a constant
flattery, which induces them to imagine that every thing in the
world is for them, and that they can entirely dismiss the duty of
thinking about others. In fact the eminent qualities of Madame de
Montesquiou make her worthy of the important and responsible charge
you have committed to her care, and the sentiments of the prince
justify the choice you have made. Will he not be good and
benevolent, who is brought up by goodness and benevolence
"I am, however, afraid that his imperial highness, notwithstanding
the orders made to him by you, has spoken of this interview, which
was to remain secret. I recommended him not to open his mouth, and I
assured him that if any one knew that he had come to Bagatelle it
would be impossible for him to come here again.
"'Oh, then, madame,' replied he, 'be not alarmed, I will say
nothing, for I love you; promise me, however, if I am obedient, to
come soon and visit me.'
"Ah! I assured him, that I desired this more than he did himself,
and I have never spoken more truly.
"Meanwhile, I am conscious that those interviews, which fill me with
extreme joy, cannot often be repeated, and I must not abuse your
goodness toward me by claiming your presence too often. The
sacrifice which I make to your mental quietude is another proof of
my intense desire to render you happy. This thought will comfort me
while waiting to be able to embrace my adopted son. Do you not find
this exchange of children very sweet? As regards myself, sire, what
distresses me is, that I can only give to your son this name,
without being able to be useful to him! And, again, how different is
my position from that which you held toward Eugene! The longer, the
kinder you are to him, the less can I show you my gratitude!
However, I rely upon the vice-king that he will be a comfort to you,
amid the sorrows which your family causes you. If, unfortunately,
what you surmise about the King of Naples were to happen, then
Eugene would become still more useful to you than ever, and I dare
trust he would prove worthy of you by his conduct in war as well as
by his sincere devotedness to your service.
"You have now received quite a long letter from me! The sentiment of
delight in talking about our two sons has carried me away, and this
sentiment will make me excusable for having so long intruded upon
you. As sorrow needs concentration, so joy needs expansion. This,
sire, explains this letter, long as a volume, and which I cannot
close with-out once more expressing my deepest gratitude.
"JOSEPHINE." [Footnote: Ducrest, "Memoires," vol. iii., p. 294.]
Happy the man to whom it is granted to close a beautiful and worthy
life with a beautiful and worthy death! Happy Josephine, for whom it
was not reserved like the rest of the Bonapartes to wander about
Europe seeking for a refuge where they might hide themselves from
the persecutions and hatred of the princes and people! To her alone,
of all the Napoleonic race, was reserved the enviable fate to die
under the ruins of the imperial throne, whose fragments fell so
heavily upon her heart as to break it.
For France the days of fear had come, for Napoleon the days of
vengeance. The nations of Europe had at last risen with the strength
of the lion that breaks his chains and is determined to obtain
liberty by devouring those who deprived him of it, and so those
irritated nations had with the power of their wrath forced their
princes, who had been so obediently submissive to Napoleon, to
declare war and to fight against him for life or death.
The conflicts, battles, and endless victories of the constantly
defeated Austrians, Prussians, Russians, and English, belong to
history--this everlasting tribunal where the deeds of men are
judged, and where they are written on its pages to be for ages to
come as lessons and examples of warning and encouragement.
Josephine, the lonely and rejected one, had nothing to do with those
fearful events which shook France; she played no active part in the
great drama which was performed before the walls of Paris, and which
closed with the fall of the hero whom she had so warmly and so truly
Josephine, during those days of horror and of decisive conflicts,
was in her pleasure-castle of Navarra. Her daughter, Queen Hortense,
with her two sons, Napoleon Louis and Louis Napoleon, was with her.
There she learned the treachery of the marshals, the capitulation of
Marmont, the surrender of Paris, and the entrance of the foreign foe
into the capital of France.
But where was Napoleon? Where was the emperor? Did Josephine know
anything of him? Why did he not come to the rescue of his capital,
and drive the foe away?
Such were the questions which afflicted Josephine's heart, and to
which the news, finally re-echoed through Paris, gave her the
Napoleon had come too late, and when he had arrived in Fontainebleau
with the remnants of the army defeated by Blucher, he learned there
that Marmont had capitulated, and that the allies had already
entered Paris, and all was lost.
The deputies of the senate and Napoleon's faithless marshals came
from Paris to Fontainebleau to require from him that he should
resign his crown, and that he should save France by the sacrifice of
himself and his imperial dignity. These men, lately the most humble,
devoted courtiers and flatterers of Napoleon, who owed to him
everything--name, position, fortune, and rank--had now the courage
to approach him with lofty demeanor and to request of him to depart
Napoleon, overcome by all this misfortune and treachery which fell
upon him, did what they required of him. He abdicated in favor of
his son, and left Paris, left France, to go to the small island of
Elba, there to dream of the days which had been and of the days
which were coming, when be would regain his glory and his emperor's
Amid the agonies, cares, and humiliations of his present situation,
Napoleon thought of the woman whom he had once named the "angel of
his happiness," and who he well knew would readily and gladly be the
angel of his misfortune. Before leaving Fontainebleau to retire to
the island of Elba, Napoleon wrote to Josephine a farewell letter,
telling her of the fate reserved for him, and assuring her of his
never-ending friendship and affection. He sent this letter to the
castle of Navarra by M. de Maussion, and the messenger of evil
tidings arrived there in the middle of the night.
Josephine had given orders that she should be awakened as soon as
any one brought news for her. She immediately arose from her bed,
threw a mantle over her shoulders, and bade M. de Maussion come in.
"Does the emperor live?" cried she, as he approached. "Only answer
me this: does the emperor live?"
Then, when she had received this assurance, after reading Napoleon's
letter, and learning all the sad, humiliating news, pale, and
trembling in all her limbs, she hastened to her daughter Hortense.
"Ah, Hortense," exclaimed she, overcome and falling into an arm-
chair near her daughter's bed, "ah, Hortense, the unfortunate
Napoleon! They are sending him to the island of Elba! Now he is
unhappy, abandoned, and I am not near him! Were I not his wife I
would go to him and exile myself with him! Oh, why cannot I be with
him?" [Footnote: Mlle. Cochelet, "Memoires," vol. ii.]
But she dared not! Napoleon, knowing her heart and her love, had
commissioned the Duke de Bassano expressly to tell the Empress
Josephine to make no attempt to follow him, and "to respect the
rights of another."
This other, however, had not been pleased to claim the right which
Josephine was to respect. Napoleon left Fontainebleau on the 21st of
April, 1814, to go to the island of Elba. It was his wish to meet
there his wife and his son. But Maria Louisa did not come; she did
not obey her husband's call; she descended from the imperial throne,
and was satisfied to be again an archduchess of Austria, and to see
the little King of Rome dispossessed of country, rank, father, and
even name. The poor little Napoleon was now called Frank--he was but
the son of the Archduchess Maria Louisa; he dared not ask for his
father, and yet memory ever and ever re-echoed through his heart the
sounds of other days; this memory caused the death of the Duke de
Reichstadt, the son of Napoleon.
Napoleon had gone to Elba, and there he waited in vain for Maria
Louisa, to fill whose place Josephine would have gladly poured her
But she dared not! she submitted faithfully and devotedly to
Napoleon's will. To her he was, though banished, humiliated, and
conquered, still the emperor and the sovereign; and her tearful eyes
gazed toward the solitary island which to her would have been a
paradise could she but have lived there by the side of her Napoleon!
But she had to remain in France; she had sacred duties to perform;
she had to save out of the wreck of the empire at least something
for her children! For herself she wanted nothing, she desired
nothing; but the future of her children had to be secured.
Therefore, Josephine gathered all her courage; she pressed her hands
on the mortal wounds of her heart, and kept it still alive, for it
must not yet bleed to death; her children yet claimed her care.
Josephine, therefore, left the castle of Navarra for that of
Malmaison, thus fulfilling the wishes of the Emperor Alexander, who
desired to know Josephine's wishes in reference to herself and to
her children, and who sincerely wished to become acquainted with
her, that he might offer her his homage, and transfer to her the
friendship he once cherished for Napoleon.
Josephine received in Malmaison the first visit of Alexander, and
from this time he came every day, to the great grief of the returned
Bourbons, who felt bitterly hurt at the homage thus publicly offered
before all the world by the conqueror of Napoleon to the divorced
Empress Josephine, who, in the eyes of the proud Bourbons, was but
the widow of General de Beauharnais.
Notwithstanding this, the rest of the princes of the victorious
allies followed the example of Alexander. They all came to Malmaison
to visit the Empress Josephine; so that again, as in the days of her
imperial glory, she received at her residence the conquerors of
Europe, and saw around her emperors and kings. The Emperor
Alexander, with his brothers; the King Frederick William, with his
sons; the Duke of Coburg, and many others of the little German
princes, were guests at her table, and endeavored, through the
respect they manifested to her, and the expressions of their esteem
and devotedness, to turn away from her the sad fate which had come
upon all the Bonapartes.
But her heart was mortally wounded. "I cannot overcome the fearful
sadness which has seized me," said she to Mlle. Cochelet, the friend
of her daughter Hortense; "I do all I can to hide my cares from my
children, but I suffer only the more." [Footnote: Mlle. Cochelet.
"Memoires," vol. ii.]
"You will see," said she to the Duchess d'Abrantes, who had visited
her at Malmaison, "you will see that Napoleon's misfortune will
cause my death. My heart is broken--it will not be healed."
[Footnote: Abrantes, "Memoires," vol. xvii.]
She was right, her heart was broken, it would not be healed! It
seemed at first but merely an indisposition which seized the
empress, and which obliged her to decline the announced visit of the
Emperor Alexander, nothing but a slight inflammation of the neck,
accompanied by a little fever. But the disease increased hour after
hour. On the 27th of May, Josephine was obliged to keep her bed; on
the 29th her sufferings in the neck were so serious that she nearly
suffocated, and her fever had become so intense that she had but few
moments of consciousness. In her fancy she often called aloud for
Napoleon, and the last word which her dying lips uttered was his
Josephine died on the 29th of May, 1814. That love which had
illumined her life occasioned her death, and will sanctify her name
for ever as with a saintly halo.
She was buried on the 2d of June in the church at Rueil. It was a
solemn funeral procession, to which all the kings and princes
assembled in Paris sent their substitutes in their carriages; but
the most beautiful mourning procession which followed her to the
grave were the tears, the sighs of the poor, the suffering of the
unfortunate, for all whom Josephine had been a benefactress, a good
angel, and who lost in her a comforter, a mother.
In the church of Rueil, Eugene and Hortense erected a monument to
their mother; and when in 1837 Queen Hortense, the mother of the
Emperor Napoleon III., died at Arenenberg, her corpse was, according
to her last wishes, brought to Rueil and laid at her mother's side.
Her son erected there a monument to her; and this son, the
grandchild of Josephine, is now the Emperor of the French, Napoleon
Josephine's sacrifice has been in vain. Napoleon's dynasty, for
whose sake she sacrificed happiness, love, and a crown, has not been
perpetuated through the woman to whom Josephine was sacrificed--not
through Maria Louisa, who gave to France and to the emperor a son,
but through the daughter of Josephine, who gave to Napoleon more
than a son, her love, her heart, and her life!
Providence is just! Upon the throne from which the childless empress
was rejected, sits now the grandchild of Josephine, and his very
existence demonstrates how vain are all man's calculations and
desires, and how like withered leaves they are carried away and
tossed about by the breath of destiny!
It was not the emperor's daughter who perpetuated Napoleon's
dynasty, but the widow of General Beauharnais, Josephine Tascher de
Josephine, therefore, is avenged in history; she was also avenged in
Napoleon's heart, for he bitterly lamented that he had ever been
separated from her. "I ought not to have allowed myself to be
separated from Josephine," said he, a short time before his death in
St. Helena, "no, I ought not to have been divorced from her; that
was my misfortune!"
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