The Empress Josephine
Part 3 out of 10
Assembly, and with enthusiasm had all these deputies of the third
class sworn on the 17th of June, 1789, "never to part one from the
other until they had given a constitution to France."
Alexandre de Beauharnais, deputy from Blois, had passed with his
colleagues into the ballroom, had with them taken the fatal oath; in
the decisive night of the 4th of August he, with burning enthusiasm,
had renounced all the privileges of the nobility, all his feudal
rights; and, breaking with the past, with all its family traditions
and customs, had passed, with all the passion and zest of his nine-
and-twenty years, into the hostile camp of the people and of
The revolution, which moved onward with such rash and destructive
strides, had drawn Alexandre de Beauharnais more and more into its
flood. It had converted the king's major into an enthusiastic
speaker of the Jacobins, then into the secretary of the National
Assembly, and finally into its president.
The monarchy was not yet powerless; it fought still with all the
bitterness of despair, of the pains of death, against its foes; it
still found defenders in the National Assembly, in the faithful
regiments of the Swiss and of the guards, and in the hearts of a
large portion of the people. The passions of parties were let loose
one against another; and Alexandre de Beauharnais, the president of
the National Assembly, stood naturally in the first rank of those
who were threatened by the attacks of the royalists.
Yes, Alexandre de Beauharnais was in danger! Since Josephine knew
this, there was for her but one place which belonged to her, to
which she could lay claim--the place at her husband's side.
How could she then have withstood his appeals, his prayers? How
could she then have remained in the solitude and stillness of
Martinique, when her husband was now in the fight, in the very
struggle? She had, now that fate claimed it, either to share her
husband's triumphs, or to bring him comfort if he fell.
The intercessions of her family, even the tears of her mother, could
no longer retain Josephine; at the side of her husband, the father
of her two children, there was her place! No one could deprive her
of it, if she herself wished to occupy it.
She was entitled to it, she was still the wife of the Viscount de
Beauharnais. The Parliament, which had pronounced its verdict
against the demands of a divorce from the viscount, had, in
declaring Josephine innocent, condemned her husband to receive into
his house his wife, if she desired it; or else, in case she waived
this right, to pay her a fixed annual income.
Josephine had parted voluntarily from her husband, since she had not
returned to him, but had exiled herself with her father-in-law and
her aunt in Fontainebleau; but she had never laid claims to nor
received the income which Parliament had appointed. She had never
assumed the rights of a divorced wife, but she retained still all
the privileges of a married woman, who at God's altar had bound
herself to her husband for a whole life, in a wedlock which, being
performed according to the laws of the Catholic Church, was
Now the viscount claimed his wife, and who dared keep her back if
she wished to follow this call? Who could stand between husband and
wife, when their hearts claimed and longed for this reunion?
The tears of Madame de la Pagerie had attempted it, but had not
succeeded! The soft, patient, pliant Josephine had suddenly become a
strong-minded, joyous, courageous woman; the inconveniences of a
long sea-voyage, the perils of the revolution, into whose open
crater she was to enter, affrighted her not. All the energies of her
being began to develop themselves under the first sunbeams of a
renewed love! The years of sorrow had passed away. Life, love called
Josephine again, and she listened to the call, jubilant and full of
friendly trust of undimmed hope!
In the first days of September, 1790, Josephine, with the little
Hortense, embarked from Martinique, and after a short, favorable
passage, landed in France, in the middle of October. [Footnote: If,
in the work "Queen Hortense, an Historical Sketch from the Days of
Napoleon," I have given a few different details of Josephine's
return to France and to her husband, I have followed the error
common to all the historians of that time, who represent Josephine
returning despite her husband's will, who receives her into his
house, and recognizes her as his wife, only at the instant
supplication of his family, and especially of his children. It is
only of late that all this has been satisfactorily refuted, and that
it has been proved that Josephine returned only at the instance of
her husband's pressing demands. See Aubenas, "Histoire de
l'Imperatrice Josephine," vol. i., p. 164.--L. M.]
Again a prophecy accompanied Josephine to France, and perhaps this
prophecy is to be blamed for her sudden departure and her unwavering
resolution to leave Martinique. The old negro woman who, once before
Josephine's departure, had prophesied that she would wear a crown
and be more than a Queen of France--the old Euphemia was still
living, and was still considered as an infallible oracle. A few days
before her departure, Josephine, with all the superstitious faith of
a Creole, went to ask the old prophetess if her journey would be
The old Euphemia stared long and fixedly into Josephine's smiling
countenance; then, as if overcome by a sudden thought, she
exclaimed: "Go! go as fast as possible, for death and danger
threaten you! Already are on the watch wicked and bloodthirsty
fiends, who every moment are ready to rush among us with fire and
sword, and to destroy the colony in their cruel wrath!"
"And shall I safely arrive in France?" asked Josephine. "Shall I
again see my husband?"
"You will see him again," exclaimed the prophetess, "but hasten to
go to him."
"Is he threatened with any danger?" demanded Josephine.
"Not yet!--not at once!" said the old negress. "They now applaud
your husband and recognize his services. But he has powerful
enemies, and one day they will threaten his life, and will lead him
to the scaffold and murder him!"
Before Josephine left Martinique, a portion of these prophecies of
the old negro woman were to be fulfilled. The wicked and
bloodthirsty fiends, of whom she said they were ready with fire and
sword to rush upon the colony--those fiends did light the firebrand
and destroy the peace of Martinique.
The resounding cries for freedom uttered in the National Assembly,
and which shook the whole continent, had rushed along across the
ocean to Martinique. The storm-wind of the revolution had on its
wings borne the wondrous story to Martinique--the wondrous story of
man's sacred rights, which Lafayette had proclaimed in the National
Assembly, the wondrous story that man was born free, that he ought
to remain free, that there were to be no more slaves in the land of
liberty, in France, and in her colonies.
The storm-wind which brought this great news across the ocean to
Martinique scattered it into the negro-cabins, and at first they
listened to it with wondrous delight. Then the delirium of joy came
over them; jubilant they broke their chains, and in wild madness
anticipated their human rights, their personal freedom.
The revolution, with its terrible consequences of blood and horrors,
broke loose in Martinique, and, exulting in freedom, the slaves
threw the firebrand on the roof of their former masters, rushed with
war's wild cry into their dwellings, and, in freedom's name,
punished those who so long had punished them in tyranny's name.
Amid the barbaric shouts of those dark free men, Josephine embarked
on board the ship which was to carry her and her little Hortense to
France; and the flames which rose from the roofs of the houses as so
many way-marks of fire for the new era, were Josephine's last, sad
farewell from the home which she was never to see again. [Footnote:
Le Normand, "Memoires de l'Imperatrice Josephine," vol. i., p. 147]
THE DAYS OF THE REVOLUTION.
Happiness had once more penetrated into the heart of Josephine. Love
again threw her sun-gleams upon her existence, and filled her whole
being with animation and joy. She was once more united to her
husband, who, with tears of joy and repentance, had again taken her
to his heart. She was once more with her relatives, who, in the day
of distress, had shown her so much love and faithfulness, and
finally she had also her son, her own dear Eugene, from whom she had
been separated during the sad years of their matrimonial
How different was the husband she now found from him she had
quitted! He was now a man, an earnest, thoughtful man, with a fiery
determination, with decidedness of purpose, and yet thoughtful,
following only what reason approved, even if the heart had been the
mover. The passions of youth had died away. The excitable,
thoughtless, pleasure-seeking officer of the king had become a
grave, industrious, indefatigable, moral, austere servant of the
people and of liberty. The songs of joy, of equivocal jesting, of
political satire, had died away on those lips which only opened now
in the clubs, in the National Assembly, to utter inspired words in
regard to liberty, fraternity, and equality.
The most beautiful dancer of Versailles had become the president of
the National Assembly, which made so many tears run, and awoke so
much anger and hatred in the king's palace of Versailles. He at
least belonged to the constitutional fraction of the National
Assembly; he was the friend and guest of Mirabeau and of Lafayette;
he was the opponent of Robespierre, Marat, and Danton, and of all
the fanatics of the Mountain party, who already announced their
bloody views, and claimed a republic as the object of their
Alexandre de Beauharnais was no republican, however enthusiastic he
might have been in favor of America's struggle for freedom, however
deeply he had longed to go like Lafayette to America, for the sake
of assisting the Americans to break the chains which yoked them to
England, so as to build a republic for themselves. The enthusiasm of
that day, the enthusiasm for France had driven him upon the path of
the opposition; but while desiring freedom for the people, he still
hoped that the people's freedom was compatible with the power and
dignity of the crown; that at the head of constitutional France the
throne of a constitutional king would he maintained. To bring to
pass this reunion, this balance of right between the monarchy and
the people, such was the object of the wishes of Alexandre de
Beauharnais; this was the ultimate aim of his struggles and
Josephine looked upon these tumultuous conflicts of parties, upon
this wild storm of politics, with wondering, sad looks. With all the
tact of tender womanhood she held herself aloof from every personal
interference in these political party strifes. At the bottom of her
heart a true and zealous royalist, she guarded herself carefully
from endeavoring to keep her husband back from his chosen path, and
to bring into her house and family the party strifes of the
political arena. She wanted and longed for peace, unity, and rest,
and in his home at least her husband would have no debates to go
through, no sentiments to fight against.
In silence and devotedness Josephine submitted to her husband's
will, and left him to perform his political part, while she assumed
the part of wife, mother, of the representative of the household;
and every evening opened her drawing-room to her friends, and to her
husband's associates in the same conflict.
What a mixed and extraordinary assemblage was seen in the drawing-
room of the president of the National Assembly! There were the
representatives of old France, the brilliant members of the old
nobility: the Duke de la Rochefoucauld, the Count de Montmorency,
the Marquis de Caulaincourt, the Prince de Salm-Cherbourg, the
Princess von Hohenzollern, Madame de Montesson, the wife of the old
Duke d'Orleans; and alongside of these names of the ancient regime,
new names rose up. There were the deputies of the National Assembly-
-Barnave, Mounier, Thouvet, Lafayette, and the favorite of the
people, the great Mirabeau. Old France and Young France met here in
this drawing-room of Josephine on neutral grounds, and the beautiful
viscountess, full of grace and prudence, offered to them both the
honors of her house. She listened with modest bashfulness to the
words of the great tribunes of the people, and oftentimes with a
smile or a soft word she reconciled the royalists, those old friends
who sought in this drawing-room for the Viscountess de Beauharnais,
and found there only the wife of the president of the National
The saloon of Josephine was soon spoken of, and seemed as a haven in
which the refined, elegant manners, the grace, the wit, the esprit,
had been saved from the stormy flood of political strife. Every one
sought the privilege of being admitted into this drawing-room, whose
charming mistress in her own gentleness and grace received the
homage of all parties, pleased every one by her loveliness, her
charms, the fine, exquisite tact with which she managed at all times
the sentiments of the company, and with which she knew how to guide
the conversation so that it would never dwindle into political
debates or into impassioned speeches.
However violent was the tempest of faction outside, Josephine
endeavored that in the interior of her home the serene peace of
happiness should prevail. For she was now happy again, and all the
liveliness, all the joys of youth, had again found entrance into her
mind. The anguish endured, the tears shed, had also brought their
blessing; they had strengthened and invigorated her heart; with
their grave, solemn memories they preserved Josephine, that child of
the South, of the sun, and of joy, from that light frivolity which
otherwise is so often the common heritage of the Creoles.
The viscount had now the satisfaction which ten years ago, at the
beginning of his married life, he had so intently longed for, the
satisfaction of seeing his wife occupied with grave studies, with
the culture of her own mind and talents. It was to him a ravishment
to see Josephine in her drawing-room in earnest conversation with
Buffon, and with all the aptitude of a naturalist speak of the
organization and formation of the different families of plants; he
exulted in the open praise paid to her when, with her fine, far-
reaching voice, she sang the songs of her home, which she herself
accompanied on the harp; he was proud when, in her saloon, with all
the tact and assurance of a lady of the world, she took the lead in
the conversation, and could speak with poets and authors, with
artists and savants, and that, with understanding and feeling, upon
their latest works and creations; he was made happy when, passing
from serious gravity to the most innocent gayety, she jested,
laughed, and danced, as if she were yet the sixteen-year-old child
whom ten years ago he had made his wife, and from whom he had then
so cruelly exacted that she should demean herself as a fine,
experienced, and highly-refined lady.
Life had since undertaken to mould the young Creole into an elegant,
highly-accomplished woman, but fortunately life had been impotent to
change her heart, and that heart was ever beating in all the
freshness of youth, in all the joyous warmth and faithfulness of the
young girl of sixteen years who had come to France with so many
ideal visions, so many illusions, so many dreams and hopes. It is
true this ideal had vanished away, these illusions had burst into
pieces like meteors in the skies; the dreams and hopes of the young
maiden heart had fallen into dust, but the love, the confiding,
faithful, hoping love, the love assured of the future, had remained
alive; it had overcome the storms and conflicts; it had been
Josephine's consolation in the days of sorrow; it was now her
delight in these days of happiness.
Her whole heart, her undivided love, belonged to her husband, to her
children, and often from the society gathered in her reception-
rooms, she would slip away and hasten to the bed of her little
Hortense to bid good-night to the child, who never would sleep
without bidding good-night to its mother, who would kneel at the
side of the crib with little Hortense, and utter the evening prayer,
asking of God to grant to them all prosperity and peace!
But this peace which Josephine so earnestly longed for was soon to
be imperilled more and more, was to be banished from the interior of
home and family, from its most sacred asylum, by the revolution and
its stormy factions.
An important event, pregnant with results, suddenly moved all Paris,
and filled the minds of all with the most fearful anticipations.
The king, with his wife and children, had fled! Openly and
irretrievably he had separated himself from country and people; he
had, by this flight, solemnly expressed before all Europe the
discord which existed between him and his people, between the king
and the constitution to which he had sworn allegiance.
Alexandre de Beauharnais, the president of the National Assembly,
was the first to be informed of this extraordinary event. On the
morning of the 21st of June, 1791, M. de Bailly, mayor of Paris,
came to announce to him that the king with all his family had fled
from Paris the previous evening.
It was the hour at which the sessions of the National assembly began
every morning, and Beauharnais, accompanied by Bailly, hastened to
the Assembly. The deputies were already seated when the president
took the chair with a grave, solemn countenance. This countenance
told the deputies of the people that the president had an important
and very unusual message to communicate, and a deep stillness, an
oppressive silence, overspread the whole assemblage as the president
rose from his seat to address them.
"Gentlemen," said he, with a voice which, amid the general silence,
sounded solemn and powerful--"gentlemen, I have a sad message to
bring before you. The mayor of Paris has just now informed me that
the king and his family have this night been seduced into flight by
the enemies of the people." [Footnote: Aubenas, "Histoire de
l'Imperatrice Josephine," vol i., p. 171.]
This news had a stupendous effect on the deputies. At first they sat
there dumb, as if petrified with fear; then they all rose up to make
their remarks and motions in a whirl of confusion, and it required
all the energy and determination of the president to re-establish
peace, and to control their minds.
The Assembly then, in quiet debate, resolved to declare itself in
permanent session until the termination of this crisis, and gave to
the president full power during this time to provide for the
tranquillity and security of the Assembly. Bailly and Lafayette were
by the president summoned before the deputies, to state what the
sentiments of Paris were, what was the attitude of the National
Guards, what were the precautions they had taken to preserve aright
the peace of Paris.
But this peace was not in danger, and the only one whom the Parisian
people at this moment dreaded, was he who had fled from Paris--the
king. And yet, not for a moment did the people rise in anger against
the king; actuated by a new and overpowering thought, the people in
their enthusiasm for this idea forgot their anger against him who by
his deed had kindled this thought. The thought which was uppermost
in all minds at the flight of the king was this: that the state
could subsist even if there were no king at its head; that law and
order still remained in Paris, even when the king had fled.
This law and order was the National Assembly, the living
representation and embodiment of the law; the government was there;
the king alone had disappeared. Such was the sentiment which
animated all classes, which brought the people in streaming masses
to the palace where the National Assembly held its sittings. A few
hours after the news of the king's flight had spread through Paris,
thousands were besieging the National Assembly, and shouting
enthusiastically: "Our king is here; he is in the hall of session.
Louis XVI. can go; he can do what he wills; our king is still in
Paris!" [Footnote: Prudhomme, "Histoire Parlementaire de la
Revolution," vol. x. p. 241.]
The Assembly, "the King of Paris," remained in permanent session,
waiting for the developments of events, and working out in
committees the decrees passed in common deliberation, whilst the
president and the secretary remained the whole night in the council-
room, so as to be ready at any moment to rectify fresh news and to
issue the necessary orders.
Early next morning the most important news had reached the
president, and the deputies hastened from their respective
committees into the hall of session, there to take their seats.
Amid the breathless silence of the Assembly, President Beauharnais
announced that the king, the queen, the dauphin, Madame, and divers
persons of their suite, had been arrested in Varennes.
The Assembly received this communication with dignified quietude,
for they were conscious that the king's return would in no wise
impair their own sovereignty, that the power was in their hands,
even if the king were there. In this full assurance of their dignity
the National Assembly passed a decree ordering the proper
authorities "to protect the king's return, to seize and imprison all
those who might forget, the respect they owed to the royal dignity."
At the same time the National Assembly sent from their number two
deputies, Barnave and Petion, to bring back from Varennes the
unfortunate royal family and to accompany them to Paris.
Meanwhile the news of the king's capture only increased the people's
enthusiasm for the National Assembly, the truly acknowledged
sovereign of France. Every one was anxious to give expression to
this enthusiasm; the National Guards of Paris begged for the
privilege of taking the oath of allegiance to the National Assembly,
and when at the motion of the president this was granted by the
Assembly, a whole detachment was marched into the hall so as to take
the oath of allegiance to the National Assembly with one voice, amid
the applause of the Assembly and the tribunes. This detachment was
followed by fresh companies, and the people filled the streets to
see the National Guards come and go, and like them to swear
allegiance to the National Assembly with enthusiastic shouts.
The provinces would not be a whit behind the enthusiasm of Paris;
and whilst the guards swore their oath, from all cities and
provinces came to the president of the National Assembly, addresses
congratulating the Assembly on its triumphs, and promising the most
Finally after two days of restless activity, after two days, during
which Alexandre de Beauharnais had hardly found time to quiet his
wife by a note, explaining his absence from home, finally a courier
brought the news that the captive royal family were entering Paris.
A second courier followed the first. He announced that the royal
family had reached the Tuileries surrounded by an immense crowd,
whose excitement caused serious apprehensions. Petion had,
therefore, thought it expedient not to allow the royal family to
alight, but had confined them to the two carriages, and he now sent
the keys of these two carriages to the president of the National
Assembly, as it was now his duty to adopt still further measures.
Beauharnais proposed that at once twenty deputies be chosen to speed
on to the Tuileries to deliver the royal family from their prison,
and to lead them into the palace.
The motion was carried, and the deputies reached the court of the
Tuileries yet in time to save the affrighted family from the people,
who, in their wild madness, were about to destroy the carriages, and
to take possession of the king and queen.
The presence of the deputies imposed silence on the shouts and
howlings of the people. The king had come into the Tuileries, and
before him bowed the people in dumb respect. They quietly allowed
that this their king should open the carriage wherein the other
king, the king by God's grace, Louis XVI., sat a prisoner; they
allowed that the king by the grace of the people, the National
Assembly, through its twenty deputies, should render liberty to
Louis and to his family, and lead them quietly under their
protection into the Tuileries.
But from this day the Tuileries, which for centuries had been the
palace of the kings of France, now became a prison for the King of
Louis XVI. was returned, not as the head, but as the prisoner of the
state; from the moment he left Paris, the ermine mantle of his
royalty had fallen from his shoulders upon the shoulders of the
National Assembly; King Louis XVI. had dethroned himself.
Amid these fatal storms, amid these ever-swelling revolutionary
floods, there was yet an hour of happiness for Josephine. Out of the
wild waves of rebellion was to rise, for a short time, an island of
bliss. The National Assembly, whose president, Alexandre de
Beauharnais, had once more, in the course of the sessions, been re-
elected by general acclamation, declared itself on the 3d of
September, 1791, dissolved, and its members vanished to make room
for the Legislative Assembly, which organized the very next day.
Alexandre de Beauharnais, after having so long and so zealously
discharged his duties as a citizen, returned to his Josephine, to
his children; and, weary with the storms and debates of the last
months, longed for a quiet little place, away from the turmoil of
the capital and from the attrition of parties. Josephine acquiesced
gladly in the wishes of her husband, for she felt her innermost
being shattered by these last exciting times, and perhaps she
cherished the secret hope that her husband, once removed from Paris,
would be drawn away from the dangerous arena of politics, into which
his enthusiasm had driven him. She was, and remained at heart, a
good and true royalist; and as Mirabeau, dying in the midst of
revolution's storms, had said of himself, that "he took to his grave
the mourning-badge for the monarchy," [Footnote: Mirabeau died on
the 6th of May, 1791.--See, on his death, "Count Mirabeau," by
Theodore Mundt, vol. iv.] so also Josephine's heart, since the
flight to Varennes, wore the mourning-badge for the unfortunate
royal family, who since that day had to endure so much humiliation,
so much insult, and to whom Josephine in her loyal sense of duty
consecrated the homage of a devout subject.
Josephine, therefore, gladly consented to the viscount's proposal to
leave Paris. Accompanied by their children and by the governess of
Hortense, Madame Lanoy, the viscount and his wife went to a property
belonging to one of the Beauharnais family near Solange.
Three months were granted to Josephine in the quietude, in the sweet
repose of country-life, at her husband's side, and with her
children, to gather strength from the anxieties and griefs which she
had suffered in Paris. She enjoyed these days as one enjoys an
unexpected blessing, a last sunshine before winter's near approach,
with thankful heart to God. Full of cheerful devotedness to her
husband, to her children, her lovely countenance was radiant with
joy and love; she was ever busy, with the sunshine of her smile, to
dissipate the shadows from her husband's brow, and to replace the
impassioned excitements, the honors and distinctions of his Parisian
life, by the pleasantness and joys of home.
But Alexandra de Beauharnais could no longer find satisfaction in
the quiet, harmless joys of home; he even reproached himself that he
could be cheerful and satisfied whilst France resounded with cries
of distress and complaints, whilst France was torn in her innermost
life by the disputes and conflicts of factions which, no more
satisfied with the speeches of the tribune, filled the streets with
blood and wounds. The revolution had entered into a new phase, the
Legislative Assembly had become the Constituent Assembly, which
despoiled the monarchy of the last appearance of power and degraded
it to a mere insignificancy. The Girondists, those ideal fanatics,
who wanted to regenerate France after the model of the states of
antiquity, had seized the power and the ministerial portefeuilles.
The beautiful, witty, and noble Madame Roland ruled, by means of her
husband, the Minister Roland, and was striving to realize in France
the ideal of a republic after the pattern of Greece; she was the
very soul of the new cabinet, the soul of the Girondists, the rulers
of France; in her drawing-room, during the evening, the new laws to
be proposed next day in the Constituent Assembly, were spoken of,
and the government measures discussed.
For a moment it had seemed as if the king, through his cabinet of
Girondists, would once more be reconciled with his people, and
especially with the Constituent Assembly, as if the nation and the
monarchy would once more endeavor to stand one by the other in
harmony and peace. Perhaps the Girondists had believed in this
possibility, and had regarded the king's assurances that he would
adhere to the constitution, and that he would go hand in hand with
his ministers, and accept the constitution as the faithful
expression of his will. But when they discovered that Louis was not
honorable in his assurances; that he was in secret correspondence
with the enemies of France; that in a letter to his brother-in-law,
the Emperor Leopold, he had made bitter complaints about the
constraint to which he was subjected, then the Girondists were
inflamed with animosity, and had recourse to counter-measures. They
decreed the exile of the priests, and the formation, in the vicinity
of Paris, of a camp of twenty thousand militia from all the
departments of France.
Foreign nations looked upon this decree as a sign of dawning
hostilities, and threatened France with countermeasures. France
responded to the challenge thus thrown at her, and, in a stormy
session of the Assembly, the fatherland was declared to be in
danger, the organization of an army to occupy the frontiers was
decreed, and all the children of the fatherland were solemnly called
to her defence.
This call awoke Alexandre de Beauharnais from the dreamy repose to
which he had abandoned himself during the last months. His country
called him, and he dared not remain deaf to this call; it was his
duty to tear himself from the quiet peace of the household, from the
arms of his wife and family, and place himself in the ranks of the
defenders of his country.
Josephine heard this resolution with tears in her eyes, but she
could not keep back her husband, whose countenance was beaming with
enthusiasm, and who dreamed of fame and victory. She accompanied
Alexandre to Paris, and after he had been gladly received by the
minister of war, and appointed to the Northern army, she then took
from him a last, fond farewell, entreated him with all the eloquence
of love to spare himself, and not wantonly to face danger, but to
preserve his life for his wife and children.
Deeply moved by this tender solicitude of his wife, Alexandre
promised to hold her requests as sacred. Once more they embraced
each other before they both quitted Paris on diverging roads.
Alexandre de Beauharnais went to Valenciennes, where commanded
Marshal Rochambeau, to whom he had been commissioned adjutant.
Josephine hastened with her children toward Fontainebleau, so at
least to be there united with her husband's father, and to live
under his protection until the return of her husband.
THE TENTH OF AUGUST, AND THE LETTER OF NAPOLEON BONAPARTE.
Since the death of Mirabeau, the last defender of the monarchy,
since the failure of the contemplated flight, royalty in France had
no chance of existence left; the throne had lost every prop upon
which it could find support, and it sank more and more into the
abyss which the revolution had dug under its feet.
Marie Antoinette was conscious of it; her foreboding spirit foresaw
the coming evil; her proud soul nearly broke under the humiliations
and griefs which every day brought on. She had hitherto courageously
and heroically struggled against adversity; she had concealed tears
and anguish, to smile at that people which hated her and cursed her,
which insulted and reviled her constantly. But a day was to come in
which the smile would forever depart from her lip--in which Marie
Antoinette, the daughter of the Caesars, so deeply humbled and
trodden down in the dust, would no more lift up her head, would no
more rise from the terrible blow.
This day was the 10th of August, in the year 1792. The terrible
storm, which so long had filled the air with its mutterings, and had
shaken the throne with its thunderings, was on this day with
terrific power to be let loose and to dash in pieces the monarchy.
The king furnished the occasion for this eruption by dismissing his
Girondist ministry, by not signing the decree for the organization
of a national militia, and for the exile of the priests.
This refusal was the flash which broke open the heavy clouds that so
long had hung over his head--the flash which caused the tempest to
Since that day Paris was in a state of rebellion; fresh disturbances
took place every day; and finally, on the morning of the 10th of
August, bands of people rushed to the palace of the Tuileries and
surrounded it with wild howlings and shouts. A portion of the
National Guards endeavored to force the people into a retreat; the
other portion united with the people in fierce assaults upon the
Tuileries, and on its defenders the Swiss. These were massacred by
the people armed with pikes; with jubilant howlings the armed masses
rushed over the corpses of the fallen into the king's palace.
The Procurator-General Roderer implored the king to save himself
with his family by taking refuge in the National Assembly, for there
alone was safety for him and the queen.
Louis hesitated; but Marie Antoinette felt once more the pride of a
queen awake within her; she felt it was nobler and worthier to die
as the loyal Swiss had done, to die sword in hand, than to meet
pardon and disgrace, than to bow her head under the yoke. She
entreated the king to remain with the loyal National Guards and to
fight with his soldiers and die in the palace of his fathers. She
spoke to the successor of Henry IV., to the father of the dauphin,
for whom he should maintain the inheritance received; she appealed
to the heart, to the honor of Louis; she spoke with flaming eyes,
and with the eloquence of despair.
But Louis listened not to her, but to the solicitations of Roderer,
who told him that he had but five minutes to save himself, the
queen, and his children; that in five minutes more all would be
"It cannot be helped," muttered the king; and then with louder voice
he continued: "It is my will that we be conducted into the
Legislative Assembly; I command it!"
A shriek of terror broke forth from the breast of the queen; her
proud heart resisted once more her husband's weakness, who, for his
own and for her misfortune, was not made of the stuff which moulds
"Sire," cried she, angrily and excited--"sire, you must first
command that I be nailed to the walls of this palace! I remain here.
I stir not from this spot!" [Footnote: The very words of the queen.-
-See "Memoires Secretes et Universelles," par Lafont d'Aussone.]
But Madame Elizabeth, the Princesses de Lamballe and de Tarent,
begged her with tears to consent; the good king fixed on her sad,
weeping eyes, and Roderer entreated her not to abandon, by her
delays, to the approaching executioners, her husband, her children,
Marie Antoinette offered to her husband her last and her greatest
sacrifice; she bowed her proud head to his will; she consented to
accompany the king with her children into the Assembly.
She took the dauphin in her arms, Madame Therese by the hand, and,
at the side of the king, followed by the Princesses Lamballe and
Tarent, walked out of the palace of the Tuileries to go to the
Convent des Peuillants, where the Legislative Assembly held its
What a martyrdom in this short distance from the Tuileries to the
Feuillants--what dishonor and fears were gathered on this path!
Between the deep ranks of Swiss grenadiers and National Guards was
this path; the queen stares fixedly on the ground, and she does not
see that her thin silk shoes will be torn by the hard, fallen leaves
of the trees under which they are moving.
But the king sees every thing, notices every thing. "How many
leaves," said he, gazing forward--"they fall early this year!"
Now at the foot of the terrace the advance of the royal family is
stopped by a multitude of people, who, with wild howlings, swing
their pikes and clubs, and in their madness shout: "No, they must
not enter the Assembly!--they are the cause of all our misery! Let
us put an end to all this! Down with them!--down!"
The queen pays no attention to these shouts; she sees not that the
National Guards are clearing a way by force; she walks forward with
uplifted head, with a countenance petrified like that of Medusa at
the sight of evil.
But as a man approaches her, seizes the dauphin and takes him in his
arms, the transfixed queen is aroused, and, with all the anguish of
a mother's despair, grapples the arm of the man who wants to rob her
of all she now possesses, her child!
"Be not afraid," whispered the man, "I will do him no harm, I am but
going to carry him;" and Marie Antoinette, her eyes fixed on the
child, moves forward. At their entrance into the hall of the
Assembly the man gives her back the dauphin, and she makes him sit
down near her on the seats of the ministers.
A rough voice issues from the midst of the Assembly: "The dauphin
belongs to the nation; place him at the side of the president. The
Austrian is not worthy of our confidence!"
They tear away from the queen the weeping child, who clings to her,
and who is carried to the president, at whose left hand the king has
Again a voice is heard reminding the Assembly of the law which
forbids them to deliberate in the presence of the king.
The royal family must leave the lower portion of the hall, and are
led into a small room, with iron trellis-work, behind the
The royal family, with their attendants, pressed into the small
space of this room, can here at least, away from the gaze of their
enemies, hide their dishonored heads; at least no one sees the
nervousness of despair which now and then agitates the tall figure
of the queen, the tears trembling on her eyelids when she looks to
the poor little dauphin, whose blond curly head lies in her bosom,
asleep from exhaustion, hunger, and sorrow.
No one sees the king and the queen, but they see and hear every
thing. They hear from without the howlings of the mob, the cannon's
roar, the reports of the rifles, telling them that a bloody
fratricidal strife, a terrible civil war, is raging. They hear there
in the hall, a few steps from them, the fanatical harangues of the
deputies, whose words, full of blood, are like the hands of the
murdering Marsellais there without. Marie Antoinette hears
Vergniaud's motion, "to divest the king at once of his power and
rank," and she hears the acclamations of the Assembly in favor of
the motion. She hears the Assembly by their own power reinvesting
the Girondist ministers, dismissed by the king, with their dignity
and power! She hears the Assembly decide "to invite the French
people to form a national compact."
She hears all this, and the cold perspiration of anguish and horror
covers her brow while she has yet strength enough to force hack her
tears into her heart. She asks for a handkerchief to wipe her
forehead. Not one of the attendants around can furnish a kerchief
which is not stained with the blood of the victims fallen at their
side in protecting the royal family with their lives. [Footnote:
"Memoires inedites du Comte de la Rochefoucauld."]
At last, at two o'clock in the morning, is this painful martyrdom
ended, and the royal family are led into the upper rooms of the
convent, where hastily and penuriously enough a few chambers had
The howlings of the crowd ascend to their windows. Under those of
the queen's room groups of infuriated women sing the song whose
horrible burden is, "Madame Veto avait promis de faire egorger tout
Paris." Between the sentences other voices shout and howl: "The
queen is the cause of our misery! Kill her! kill the queen, the
murderess of France! Kill Madame Veto! Throw us her head!"
Three days after, the royal family are led to the Temple. The rulers
of the state are now state prisoners. But the queen had already
found the peace which misfortune generally brings to strong souls;
and as she walked to the Temple, and saw her foot protruding from
the extremity of her shoe, she said with an affecting smile, "Who
could have believed that one day the Queen of France should be in
want of shoes!"
With the 10th of August began the last act of the great tragedy of
the revolution. Its second scene had its representation in the first
days of September, in those days of blood and tears, in which
infuriated bands of the people stormed the prisons to murder the
captive priests, aristocrats, and royalists.
Under the guillotine fell during this month the head of the queen's
friend, the Princess de Lamballe, who was followed in crowds by the
king's faithful adherents, sealing their loyalty and their love with
This loyalty and love for the royal family was during this month
branded as an unpardonable crime, for the National Convention, which
on the 21st of September had taken the place of the Constituent
Assembly, on the 25th declared France to be a republic, and the
royalists became thereby criminals, who had sinned in the respect
and love which they owed to the "republic one and indivisible."
The new republic of France celebrated her saturnalia in the
following months, and unfurled her blood-stained standard over the
nation. She was not satisfied with having brought to the guillotine
more than ten thousand aristocrats and royalists, to terrify the
faithful adherents and servants of the throne. She required,
moreover, the death of those for whose sake so many thousands had
perished--the death of the king and of the queen.
On the 5th of December began the trial of Louis Capet, ex-King of
France, now accused by the Convention. The pages of history have
illustrated this stupendous and tragical event in all its shapes and
colors. Each party has preyed upon it, the poets have sung it, and
made it the central point of tragedy and romance: but none have
painted it in so telling, in so terse, masterly traits, none have so
fully comprehended and expressed the already stupendous event, as
Lieutenant Napoleon Bonaparte, the future Emperor of France.
He happened to be in Paris during these days of terror. He had, with
all the energies of his soul, given himself up to the new state of
things, and he belonged to the most upright and zealous faction of
the republicans. He acknowledged himself won over to their ideas, he
participated in their celebrations, he was the friend of many of the
most influential and conspicuous members of the Convention, and he
was rarely absent from their meetings; but in the presence of the
awful catastrophe of the king's accusation and execution his proud
and daring soul shrank back, and, full of misgivings, shuddered
within itself. The young, enthusiastic republican, to his own great
horror, found in the depths of his soul a holy respect and awe in
the presence of this royalty which he so often in words had
despised, and the fall of the king, this enemy of the republic,
moved his heart as a calamity which had fallen upon him and upon all
France. He himself gave to one of his friends in Ajaccio a very
correct description of these days. After narrating the events of the
first days of the trial of the king, he continues:
"The day after I heard that the advocate Target had refused to
undertake the king's defence, to which he was privileged by virtue
of his office. This is what may be called, in the strictest sense of
the word, to erase one's name from history. What grounds had he for
such a low cunning? 'His life I will not save, and mine I dare not
risk!' Malherbes, Tronchet, Deseze, loyal and devoted subjects, to
imitate them in their zeal would be impossible for me; but were I a
prince I would have them sit at my right hand--united together in
the most strenuous efforts to defend the successor of St. Louis. If
they survive this deed of sublime faithfulness, never can I pass by
them without uncovering my head.
"Business detained me unavoidably in Versailles. Only on the 16th of
January did I return to Paris, and consequently I had lost three or
four scenes of this tragedy of ambition. But on the 18th of January
I went to the National Convention. Ah, my friend, it is true, and
the most infuriated republicans avow it also, a prince is but an
ordinary man! His head will as surely fall as that of another man,
but whosoever decrees his death trembles at his own madness, and
were he not urged by secret motives, his vote would die on his lips
ere it was uttered. I gazed with much curiosity at the fearless
mortals who were about deciding the fate of their king. I watched
their looks. I searched into their hearts. The exceeding weightiness
of the occasion had exalted them, intoxicated them, but within
themselves they were full of fear in the presence of the grandeur of
"Had they dared retreat, the prince had been saved. To his
misfortune, they had argued within themselves, 'If his head falls
not to-day, then we must soon give ours to the executioner's
"This was the prominent thought which controlled their vote. No pen
can adequately portray the feelings of the spectators in the
galleries. Silent, horrified, breathless, they gazed now on the
accused, now on the defenders, now on the judges.
"The vote of Orleans sounded forth--'Death!' An electric shock could
not have produced deeper impression. The whole assembly, seized with
an involuntary terror, rose. The hall was filled with the murmurs of
"Only one man remained seated, immovable as a rock, and that one was
"I ventured to reflect on the cause of such indifference (as that of
Orleans) and I found that cause grounded on ambition, but this
cannot justify the conduct of Orleans. It is only thus that I could
account for his action: he seeks a throne, though without any right
to it, and a throne cannot be won if the pretender renounces all
claims to public respect and virtue.
"I will be brief, for to unfold a mournful story is not my business.
The king was sentenced to death; and if the 21st day of January does
not inspire hatred for the name of France, a glorious name at least
will have been added to the roll-call of her martyrs.
"What a city was Paris on that day! The population seemed to be in a
state of bewilderment; all seemed to exchange but gloomy looks, and
one man hurried on to meet another without uttering a word. The
streets were deserted; houses and palaces were like graves. The very
air seemed to mirror the executioner. In a word, the successor of
St. Louis was led to the scaffold through the ranks of mourning
automatons, that a short time before were his subjects.
"If any one is at your side, my friend, when you read this, conceal
the following lines from him, even were he your father. It is a
stain on the stuff of which my character is made--that Napoleon
Bonaparte, for the sake of a human being's destruction, should have
been deeply moved and compelled to retire to his bed, is a thing
barely credible, though it is true, and I cannot confess it without
being ashamed of myself.
"On the night before the 21st of January I could not close my eyes,
and yet I could not explain to myself the cause of this unusual
excitement. I rose up early and ran everywhere to and fro where
crowds had gathered. I wondered at, or much more I despised, the
weakness of those forty thousand National Guards, of which the
nineteenth part were practically the assistants of the executioner.
At the gate of St. Denis I met Santerre; a numerous staff followed
him. I could have cut off his ears. I spat down before him--it was
all I could do. In my opinion, the Duke d'Orleans would have filled
his place better. He had set his eyes on a crown, and, as every one
knows, such a motive overcomes much hesitancy.
"Following the Boulevards, I came to the Place de la Revolution. The
guillotine, a new invention, I had not yet seen. A cold perspiration
ran over me. Near me stood a stranger, who attributed my uneasiness
and pallor to some special interest on my part for the king's fate.
'Do not be alarmed,' said he, 'he is not going to die; the
Convention is only glad to exhibit its power, and at the foot of the
scaffold the king will find his letters of pardon.' 'In this case,'
said I, 'the members of the Convention are not far from their own
ruin, and could a guilty man have more deserved his fate than they?
Whoever attacks a lion, and desires not to be destroyed by it, must
not wound but kill on the spot.'
"A hollow, confused noise was heard. It was the royal victim. I
pushed forward, making way with my elbows, and being pushed myself.
All my efforts to come closer were fruitless. Suddenly the noise of
drums broke upon the gloomy silence of the crowd. 'This is the
signal for his freedom,' said the stranger. 'It will fall back on
the head of his murderers,' answered I; 'half a crime in a case like
this is but weakness.'
"A moment's stillness followed. Something heavy fell on the
scaffold. This sound went through my heart.
"I inquired of a gendarme the cause of this sound. 'The axe has
fallen,' said he. 'The king is not saved then?' 'He is dead.' 'He is
"For ten times at least I repeated the words 'He is dead.'
"For a few moments I remained unconscious. Without knowing by whom,
I was carried along by a crowd, and found myself on the Quai des
Theatines, but could say nothing, except 'He is dead.'
"Entirely bewildered, I went home, but a good hour elapsed before I
fully recovered my senses." [Footnote: See "Edinburgh Quarterly
THE EXECUTION OF THE QUEEN.
The king's execution was the signal-fire which announced to the
horrified world the beginning of the reign of terror, and told
Europe that in France the throne had been torn down, and in its
stead the guillotine erected. Yes, the guillotine alone now ruled
over France; the days of moderation, of the Girondists, had passed
away; the terrorists, named also men of the Mountain, on account of
the high seats they occupied in the Convention, had seized the reins
of power, and now controlled the course of events.
Everywhere, in every province, in every city, the blood-red standard
of the revolution was lifted up; might had become law; death was the
rule, and in lieu of the boasted liberty of conscience was tyranny.
Who dared think otherwise than the terrorists, who presumed to doubt
the measures of the Convention, was a criminal who, in the name of
the one and indivisible republic, was to be punished with death;
whose head must fall, for he had cherished thoughts which agreed not
with the schemes of the revolutionists.
How in these days of agitation and anguish Josephine rejoiced at her
good fortune, that she had not to tremble for her husband's life;
that she was away from the crater of the revolution which raged in
Paris, and daily claimed so many victims!
Alexandre de Beauharnais was still with the army. He had risen from
rank to rank; and when, in May, General Custine was deposed by the
Committee of Public Safety from the command of the Northern army,
Alexandre de Beauharnais, who was then chief of the general's staff
of this army, was appointed in his place as commanding general of
the Army of the Rhine; and the important work now to be achieved was
to debar the besieging Prussians and Austrians from recapturing
Mayence. The Committee of Public Safety had dismissed General
Custine from his post, because he had not pressed on with sufficient
speed to the rescue of Mayence, according to the judgment of these
new rulers of France, who wanted from Paris to decide all military
matters, and who demanded victories whilst too often refusing the
means necessary for victory.
General de Beauharnais was to turn to good what General Custine,
according to the opinion of these gentlemen of the Convention, had
failed to do. This was an important and highly significant order,
and to leave it unfulfilled was to excite the anger of the Committee
of Safety; it was simply to deserve death.
General de Beauharnais knew this well, but he shrank not back from
the weighty and dangerous situation in which he was placed. To his
country belonged his life, all his energies; and it was to him of
equal importance whether his head fell on the battle-field or on the
scaffold; in either case it would fall for his country; he would do
his duty, and his country might be satisfied with him.
In this enthusiastic love for country, De Beauharnais accepted
cheerfully the offered command of the Army of the Rhine as general-
in-chief, and he prepared himself to march to the rescue of besieged
Whilst General de Beauharnais was on the French frontier, Josephine
trembled with anxious misgivings. The new dignity of her husband
filled her with fear, for she multiplied the dangers which
surrounded him and his family, for now the eyes of the terrorists
were fixed on him. An unfortunate move, an unsuccessful war
operation, could excite the wrath of these men of power, and send
Beauharnais to the guillotine. It was well known that he belonged
not to the Mountain party, but to the moderate republicans, to the
Girondists; and as the Girondists were now incarcerated, as the
Committee of Safety had brought accusations against them, and
declared them guilty of treason toward France, it was also easy, if
it pleased the terrorists, to find a flaw in the character of
General Beauharnais, and to bring accusations against him as had
been done against the Girondists.
Such were Josephine's fears, which made her tremble for her husband,
for her children. She wished at least to secure these from the
impending danger, and to save and shield them from the guillotine.
Her friend, the Princess von Hohenzollern, was on the eve of leaving
for England with her brother the Prince von Salm, and Josephine was
anxious to seize this opportunity to save her children. She brought
Eugene and Hortense to the princess, who was now waiting in St.
Martin, in the vicinity of St. Pol, in the county of Artois,
expecting a favorable moment for departure; for already was the
emigration watched, already it was considered a crime to leave
France. With bitter tears of grief, and yet glad to know her
children safe, Josephine bade farewell to her little ones, and then
returned to Paris, so as to excite no suspicion through her absence.
But no sooner had General Beauharnais heard of Josephine's plan to
send her children from the country, than in utmost speed he
dispatched to his wife a courier bearing a letter in which he
decidedly opposed the departure of the children, for by this
emigration his own position would be imperilled and his character
Josephine sighed, and, with tears in her eyes, submitted to her
husband's will; she sent a faithful messenger to St. Martin to bring
back Eugene and Hortense. But the Princess von Hohenzollern would
not trust the children to any one; she had sworn to her friend
Josephine to watch over them, never to let them go out of her sight,
and she wished to keep her oath until such time as she could restore
the children to their mother. She therefore returned herself to
Paris, to bring back Eugene and Hortense to Josephine; and this
journey, so short and so insignificant in itself, was nevertheless
the occasion that the Princess von Hohenzollern remained in France;
that her brother, the Prince von Salm, should mount the scaffold!
The favorable moment for emigration was lost through this delay; the
journey to Paris had attracted the eyes of the authorities to the
doings of the princess and of her brother, the contemplated journey
to England was discovered, and the incarceration of the Prince von
Salm and of his sister was the natural consequence. A few months
after, the prince paid with his life the contemplated attempt to
migrate; his sister, the Princess von Hohenzollern, was saved from
the guillotine through accident.
Meanwhile, Josephine had at least her children safely returned, and,
in the quietude and solitude of Fontainebleau, she awaited with
beating heart the future developments of events; she saw increase
every day the dangers which threatened her, her family, and, above
all things, her husband.
Mayence was still besieged by the Austrian and Prussian forces.
General Beauharnais had not completed the organization of his army
so as to press onward to the rescue of the besieged, whose perils
increased every day. But whilst, in unwearied activity, he urged on
the preliminary operations, a courier arrived, who brought to the
general his appointment to the office of minister of war, and
required his immediate presence in Paris, there to assume his new
Alexandre de Beauharnais had the courage to answer with a
declination the office. He entreated the Convention to make another
choice, for he considered himself more competent to serve his
country against the coalition of tyrants, among his companions-in-
arms, than to be minister of war amid revolution's storms.
The Convention pardoned his refusal for the sake of the patriotic
sentiments which he had expressed. But this refusal was to have, not
only for the general, but also for all the aristocracy of France,
the most fatal results. Some of the most fanatical members of the
Mountain party ever considered as an audacious resistance to the
commands of the Convention this refusal of Alexandre de Beauharnais,
to accept the office which the highest powers of the land offered
It was a nobleman, an aristocrat, who had dared oppose the
democratic Convention, and hence the welcome pretext was found to
begin the long-wished-for conflict against the aristocrats. One of
the deputies of the Mountain made the motion to remove from all
public offices, from the army, from the cabinet, all noblemen.
Another accused General de Beauharnais, as well as all officers from
amongst the nobility, of moderate tendencies, and requested at the
same time that a list of all officers from the nobility, and now in
the army, should be laid before the Convention.
But on this very day a letter from the general reached the
Convention. In this letter he expressed the hope of a speedy rescue
of Mayence; he announced that he had completed the organization of
his forces and all his preparations, and that soon from the camps of
Vicembourg and Lauterburg he would advance against Mayence.
This letter was received by the Convention with loud acclamations,
and so took possession of all minds that they passed over the motion
of hostility against the nobility, to the order of the day.
Had General de Beauharnais accomplished his purpose--had he
succeeded in relieving the garrison besieged in Mayence, now sorely
pressed, and in delivering them, this horrible decree which caused
so much blood to flow, this decree against the nobility, would never
have appeared, and France would have been spared many scenes of
cruelty and horror.
Beauharnais hoped still to effect the rescue. Trusty messengers from
Mayence had brought him the news that the garrison held on
courageously and bravely, and that they could hold their ground a
few days longer. Dispatch was therefore necessary; and if in a few
days they could be re-enforced, then they would be saved, provided
the other generals should advance with their troops in time to
attack the Austrian and Prussian forces lying round about Mayence.
The French had already succeeded in obtaining some advantages over
the enemy; and General de Beauharnais could triumphantly announce to
the Convention that, on the 22d of July, a warm encounter with the
Prussians had taken place at St. Anna's chapel, and that he had
forced the Prussians to a retreat with considerable loss.
The Convention received this news with jubilant shouts, and already
trusted in the sure triumph of the French armies against the united
forces of Prussia and Austria. If in these days of joyous excitement
some one had dared renew the motion to dismiss Beauharnais from his
command because he was a nobleman, the mover would undoubtedly have
been considered an enemy of his country.
How much attention in these happy days was paid to the general's
wife--how busy were even the most fanatical republicans, the dreaded
ones of the Mountain, to flatter her, to give expression to their
enthusiastic praises of the general who was preparing for the arms
of the republic so glorious a triumph!
Josephine now came every day to be present in the gallery at the
sessions of the Convention, and her gracious countenance radiated a
cheerful smile when the minister of war communicated to the Assembly
the newly-arrived dispatches which announced fresh advantages or
closer approaches of General Beauharnais. By degrees a new
confidence filled the heart of Josephine, and the gloomy
forebodings, which so long had tormented her, began to fade away.
In the session of the 28th of July, Barrere, with a grave, solemn
countenance, mounted the tribune and with a loud, sad voice
announced to the Convention, in the name of the Committee of Safety,
that a courier had just arrived bringing the news that, on the 23d
of July, Mayence, in virtue of an unjust capitulation, had fallen.
A loud, piercing shriek, which issued from the gallery, broke the
silence with which the Assembly had received this news. It was
Josephine who had uttered this cry--Josephine who was carried away
fainting from the hall. She awoke from her long swoon only to shed a
torrent of tears, to press her children to her heart, as if desirous
to screen them from the perils of death, which now, said her own
forebodings, were pressing on from all sides.
Josephine was not deceived: this calamitous news, all at once,
changed the whole aspect of affairs, gave to the Convention and to
the republic another attitude, and threw its dark shadows over the
unfortunate general who had undertaken to save Mayence, and had not
been able to fulfil his word.
Surely this was not his fault, for General Dubayet had capitulated
before it had been possible for Beauharnais to accomplish the
rescue. No one therefore ventured to accuse him, but undeserved
misfortune always remains a misfortune in the eyes of those who had
counted upon success; and the Convention could never forgive the
generals from whom they had expected so much, and who had not met
These generals had all been men of the aristocracy. As there was no
reason to accuse them on account of their unsuccessful military
operations, it was necessary to attack them with other weapons, and
seek a spot where they could be wounded. This spot was their name,
their ancestors, who in the eyes of the republican Convention rose
up like embodied crimes behind their progeny, to accuse the guilty.
The Jacobin Club, a short time after the capture of Mayence, began
again in an infuriated session the conflict against the nobility,
and the fanatical Hebert moved:
"All the noblemen who serve in the army, in the magistracy, in any
public office, must be driven away and dismissed. The people must
require this, the people themselves! They must go in masses to the
Convention, and after exposing the crimes and the treachery of the
aristocrats, must insist on their expulsion. The people must not
leave the Convention, it must remain in permanent session, there
until it is assured that its will is carried out."
The multitude with loud, jubilant tones cried, "Yes. yes, that is
what we want, let us go to the Convention! No more nobility! the
nobles are our murderers!"
The next day, the Jacobins, accompanied by thousands of shouting
women and infuriated men, went to the Convention to make known its
will in the name of the people. The Convention received their
petition and decreed the exile and the dissolution of the nobility,
and delivered to the punishment of the law the guilty subject who
would dare use the name of noble.
General de Beauharnais saw full well the blow aimed at him, and at
all the officers from the nobility in the army; he foresaw that they
would not stop at these measures; that soon he and his companions of
fate would be accused and charged with treason, as had been already
done to General Custine, and to so many others who had paid with
their lives their tried loyalty to the republic. He wanted to
anticipate the storm, and sent in his resignation. As the Convention
left his petition unanswered, he renewed it, and as it remained
still ineffective, he gladly, forced to this measure by sickness,
transferred his command to General Landremont. The Convention had
then to grant him leave of absence, and, as it maintained him in his
rank, they ordered him back to Paris.
At last Josephine saw her husband again, for whom during the last
few months she had suffered so much anxiety and pain. At last she
was enabled to bring to her children the father for whom every
evening they had prayed God to guard him from foes abroad and from
foes at home. As a gift sent again by Heaven, she received her
husband and entreated him to save himself with his family from
revolution's yawning abyss, which was ready to swallow them all, and
to go away with his own into a foreign land, as his brother had
done, who for some months past had been in Coblentz with the Prince
But Alexandre de Beanharnais rejected with something like anger
these tearful supplications of his wife. He was not blinded to the
dangers which threatened him, but he wanted to meet them bravely;
true to the oath he had taken to the republic and to his country, he
wished as a dutiful son to remain near her, even if his allegiance
had to be paid with his death.
Josephine, on the bosom of her husband, wept hot, burning tears as
he communicated to her his irrevocable decision not to leave France,
but in the depths of her heart she experienced a noble satisfaction
to find her husband so heroic and so brave, and, offering him her
hand, said with tears in her eyes:
"It is well--we remain; and if we must go to the scaffold, we will
at least die together."
The general, with his wife and children, retired to his small
property, Ferte-Beauharnais, where he longed to obtain rest during a
few happy months of quietude.
But the fearful storms which had agitated France in her innermost
life, now raged so violently that each household, each family,
trembled; there was neither peace nor rest in the home nor in the
hearts of men.
The Convention, threatened from outside by failures and defeats--for
the capture of Mayence by the Prussians and Austrians had been
followed by the capture of Toulon in September by the English--the
Convention wanted to consolidate at least its internal authority,
and to terrify by severe measures those who, on account of the
misfortunes on the frontiers, might hope for a fresh change of
affairs in the interior, and who might help it to pass.
Consequently the Convention issued a decree ordering all dismissed
or destitute soldiers to return in four-and-twenty hours to their
respective municipalities, under pain of ten years in chains, and at
the same time forbade them to enter Paris or to approach the capital
nearer than ten leagues.
A second decree ordered the formation of a revolutionary army in
Paris, to which was assigned the duty of carrying out the decrees of
Finally a third decree, which appeared on the 17th of September,
ordered the arrest and punishment of all suspected persons.
This decree thus characterized the suspected ones: "All those who,
by their conduct, their relations, their discourses, their writings,
had shown themselves the adherents of tyranny, of federalism, the
enemies of liberty, much more all the ex-nobles, men, women,
fathers, brothers, sons or daughters, sisters or brothers, or agents
of the migrated ones, all who had not invariably exhibited and
proved their adherence to the revolution."
With this decree the days of terror had reached their deepest gloom;
with this decree began the wild, bloody hunting down of aristocrats
and ci-devants; then began suspicions, accusations which needed no
evidence to bring the accused to the guillotine; then were renewed
the dragonnades of the days of Louis XIV., only that now, instead of
Protestants, the nobles were hunted down, and hunted down to death.
The night of the St. Bartholomew, the night of the murderess
Catharine de Medicis and of her mad son Charles IX., found now in
France its cruel and bloody repetition; only this night of horror
was prolonged during the day, and shrank not back from the light.
The sun beamed upon the pools of blood which flowed through the
streets of Paris, and packs of ferocious dogs in large numbers lay
in the streets, and fed upon this blood, which imparted to these
once tamed creatures their natural wildness. The sun beamed on the
scaffold, which, like a threatening monster, lifted itself upon the
Place de la Revolution, and the sun beamed upon the horrible axe,
which every day out off so many noble heads, and ever glittering,
ever menacing, rose up from the midst of blood and death.
The sun also shone upon the day in which Marie Antoinette, like her
husband, ascended the scaffold, to rest at last in the grave from
all her dishonor and from the agonies of the last years.
This day was the 16th of October, 1793. For the last four months,
Marie Antoinette had longed for this day as for a long-expected
bliss; four months ago she had been led from the prison of the
Temple into the Conciergerie, and she knew that the prisoners of the
Conciergerie only left it to obtain the freedom which men do not
give, but which God gives to the suffering ones, the freedom of
Marie Antoinette longed for this liberty, and for this deliverance
of death. How distant behind were the days of happiness, of joyous
youth, far behind in infinite legendary distance! How long since
this tall, grave figure, with its proud and yet affable countenance,
had lost all similarity to the charming Queen Marie Antoinette,
around whom had fluttered the genii of beauty, of youth, of love, of
happiness; who once in Trianon had represented the idyl of a
pastoral queen; who, in the exuberance of joy, had visited in
disguise the public opera-ball; who imagined herself so secure amid
the French people as to believe she could dispense with the
protection of "Madame Etiquette;" who then was applauded by all
France with jubilant acclamations, and who now was persecuted with
No, the queen of that day, Marie Antoinette, who, in the golden
halls of Versailles and of the Tuileries, received the homage of all
France, and who, with smiling grace and face radiant with happiness,
responded to all this homage; she had no resemblance with Louis
Capet's widow, who now stands before the tribunal of the revolution,
and gravely, firmly gives her answers to the proposed questions.
She has also made her toilet for this day; but how different is this
toilet of the Widow Capet from that which once Marie Antoinette had
worn to be admired!
Then could Marie Antoinette, the frivolous, fortunate daughter of
bliss, shut herself up in her boudoir for long hours with her
confidante the milliner, Madame Bertier, to devise some new ball-
dress, some new fichu, some new ornament for her robes; then could
Leonard, for this queen with her wondrous blond hair, tax all the
wealth of his science and of his imagination; to invent continually
new coiffures and new head-dresses wherewith to adorn the beautiful
head of the Queen Marie Antoinette, on whose towering curls
clustered tufts of white plumes; or else diminutive men-of-war
unfurled the net-work of their sails; or else, for variety's sake,
on that royal head was arranged a garden, a parterre adorned with
flowers and fruits, with butterflies and birds of paradise.
The Widow Capet needs no milliner now; she needs no friseur now for
her toilette. Her tall, slim figure is draped in a black woollen
dress, which the republic at her request has granted her to mourn
her beheaded husband; her neck and shoulders, once the admiration of
France, are now covered with a white muslin kerchief, which in pity
Bault, her attendant at the jail, has given her. Her hair is
uncovered, and falls in long natural curls on either side of her
transparent, blanched cheeks. This hair needs no powder now; the
long sleepless nights, the anxious days, have covered it with their
powder forever, and the thirty-eight-year-old widow of Louis Capet
wears on her head the gray hairs of a seventy-year-old woman.
In this toilet, Marie Antoinette stands before the tribunal of the
revolution from the 6th to the 13th day of October. There is nothing
royal about her, nothing but her look and the proud attitude of her
And the people who fill the galleries in closely-packed masses, and
who weary not to gaze on the queen in her humiliation, in her toilet
of anguish, the people claim constantly that Marie Antoinette will
rise from her rush-woven seat; that she will allow herself to be
stared at by these masses of people, whom curiosity and not
compassion have brought there.
Once, as at the call from the public in the galleries, she rose up,
the queen sighed: "Ah, will not the people soon be tired of my
sufferings?" [Footnote: Marie Antoinette's own words.--See Goncourt,
"Histoire de Marie Antoinette," p. 404.]
Another time her dry, blanched lips murmured, "I thirst." But no one
near her dares have compassion on this sigh of agony from the queen;
each looks embarrassed at his neighbor; not one dares give a glass
of water to the thirsty woman.
One of the gendarmes has at last the courage to do so, and Marie
Antoinette thanks him with a look which brings tears in the eyes of
the gendarme, and which may perchance cause his death to-morrow
under the guillotine as a traitor!
The gendarmes who guard the queen have alone the courage to show
One night, as she is led from the hall of trial to her prison, Marie
Antoinette becomes so exhausted, so overpowered, that staggering,
she murmurs, "I can see no longer! I can go no farther! I cannot
One of the gendarmes walking alongside of her offers his arm, and
supported by it Marie Antoinette totters up the three stone steps
which lead into the prison.
At last, at four o'clock in the morning, on the 15th of August, the
jury have given their verdict. It runs: "Death!--execution by the
Marie Antoinette has heard the verdict with unmoved composure,
whilst the noise from the excited crowd in the galleries is suddenly
hushed as by a magic spell, and even the faces of the infuriated
fish women turn pale!
Marie Antoinette alone has remained calm; grave and cool she rises
from her seat and herself opens the balustrade to leave the hall and
return to her prison.
And then at last, on the morning of the 16th of October, her sorrows
will end, and Marie Antoinette can find refuge in the grave! Her
soul is almost joyous and serene; she has suffered so much, and for
her to sink into death is truly blessedness!
She has passed the undisturbed hours of the night in writing to her
sister-in-law, Madame Elizabeth, and this letter is also the queen's
testament. But the widow of Louis Capet has no riches, no treasures,
no property to will; she has nothing left which belongs to her--
nothing but her love, her tears, her farewell salutations. These she
leaves behind to all those who have loved her. She takes leave of
her relatives, her brothers and sisters, and cries out to them a
"I had friends," she continues; "the thought of being forever
separated from them, and your grief for my death, are my deepest
sorrow; you will at least know that to the last moment I have
Then, when Marie Antoinette has finished this letter, some of whose
characters here and there are disfigured by her tears, she thinks of
leaving to her children a last token of remembrance--one which the
executioner's hand has not desecrated.
The only ornament which remains is her long hair, whose silver-gray
locks are the tearful history of her sufferings.
Marie Antoinette with her own hands despoils herself of this last
ornament; she cuts off her long hair behind the head, so as to leave
it as a last token to her children, to her relatives and friends.
Then, after having taken her spiritual farewell of life, she
prepares herself for the last great ceremony of her existence, for
She feels exhausted, weary unto death, and she strengthens herself
for this last toilsome journey, that she may worthily pass through
Marie Antoinette needs food, and with courageous mind she eats a
chicken's wing which has been brought to her. After having eaten,
she makes her last toilet, the toilet of death.
The wife of the jailer, at the queen's request, gives her one of her
own chemises, and Marie Antoinette puts it on. Then she clothes
herself with the garments which she has worn during her days of
trial before the tribunal of the revolution, only over the black
woollen dress, which she has often mended and patched with her own
hand, she puts on a mantle of white needlework. Around her neck she
ties a small plain kerchief of white muslin, and, as it is not
allowed her to mount the scaffold with uncovered head, she puts on
it the round linen hood which the peasant-women used to wear. Black
stockings cover her feet, and over them she draws shoes of black
Her toilet is now ended--earthly things have passed away! Ready to
meet death, the queen lays herself down on her bed and sleeps.
She still sleeps when she is notified that a priest is there, ready
to come in, if she will confess.
But Marie Antoinette has already unveiled her heart to God; she will
have none of these priests of reason, whom the republic has
ordained, after having exiled or murdered with the guillotine the
priests of the Church.
"As I cannot do as I please," she has written to Madame Elizabeth,
in her farewell letter, "so must I endure it if a priest is sent to
me; but I now declare that I will tell him not a word, that I will
consider him entirely as a stranger to me."
And Marie Antoinette held her word. She forbids not the priest
Girard to come in, but she answers in the negative when he asks her
if she will receive from him the consolations of religion.
She paces her small cell to and fro, to warm herself, for her feet
are stiff with cold. As seven o'clock strikes, the door opens.
It is the executioner of Paris, Samson, who enters.
A slight tremor runs through the queen's frame. "You come very
early, sir," murmurs she, "could you not delay somewhat?"
As Samson replies in the negative, Marie Antoinette assumes again a
calm, cold attitude. She drinks without any reluctance the cup of
chocolate which has been brought to her from a neighboring cafe.
Proudly, calmly, she allows her hands to be bound with strong ropes
behind her back.
At eleven o'clock she finally leaves her room to descend the
corridor, and to mount into the wagon which waits for her before the
gate of the Conciergerie.
No one guides her on the way; no one bids her a last farewell; no
one shows a sympathizing or sad countenance to the departing one.
Alone, between two rows of gendarmes posted on both sides of the
corridor, the queen walks forward; behind her is Samson, holding in
his hand the end of the rope; the priest and the two assistants of
the executioner follow him.
On the path of Death--such is the suite of the queen, the daughter
of an emperor!
Perchance at this hour thousands were on their knees to offer to God
their heart-felt prayers for Marie Antoinette, whom in the silence
of the soul they still call "the queen;" perchance many thousand
compassionate hearts pour out warm tears of sympathy for her who now
ascends into the miserable wagon, and sits on a plank which ropes
have made firm to both sides of the vehicle. But those who pray and
weep have retired into the solitude of their rooms, for God alone
must receive their sighs and see their tears. The eyes which follow
the queen on her last journey must not weep; the words which are
shouted at her must betray no compassion.
Paris knows that this is the hour of the queen's execution, and the
Parisian crowd is ready, it is waiting. In the streets, in the
windows of the houses, on the roofs, the people have stationed
themselves in enormous masses; they fill the whole Place de la
Revolution with their dark, destructive forms.
Now resound the drums of the National Guard posted before the
Conciergerie. The large white horse, which draws the chariot in
which Marie Antoinette sits backward, at the side of the priest, is
driven onward by the man who swings on its back. Behind her in the
wagon is Samson and his assistants.
The queen's face is white; all blood has left her cheeks and lips,
but her eyes are red; they have wept so much, unfortunate queen! She
weeps not now. Not one tear dims her eye, which pensively and calmly
soars above the crowd, then is lifted up to the very roofs of the
houses, then again is slowly lowered, and seems to stare over the
human heads away into infinite distance.
Calm and pensive as the eye is the queen's countenance, her lips are
nearly closed, no nervous movement on her face tells whether she
suffers, whether she feels, whether she notices those tens of
thousands of eyes which are fixed on her, cold, curious, sarcastic!
And yet Marie Antoinette sees every thing! She sees yonder woman who
lifts up her child; she sees how this child with his tiny hands
sends a kiss to the queen! Suddenly a nervous agitation passes over
the queen's features, her lips tremble, and her eyes are obscured
with a tear! This first, this single token of human sympathy has
revived the heart of the queen and awakened her from her torpor.
But the people are bent upon this, that Marie Antoinette shall not
reach the end of her journey with this last comfort of pity. They
press on, howling and shouting, scorning and jubilant, nearer and
nearer to the wagon; they sing sarcastic songs on Madame Veto, they
clap hands, and point at her with the finger of scorn.
She, however, is calm; her look, cold and indifferent, runs over the
crowd; only once it flames up with a last angry flash as she passes
by the Palais Royal, where Philippe Egalite, the ex-Duke d'Orleans,
resides, as she reads the inscription which he had placed at the
gate of his palace.
At noon the chariot reaches at last its destination. It stops at the
foot of the scaffold, and Marie Antoinette alights from the wagon,
and then calm and erect ascends the steps of the scaffold.
Her lips have not opened once on this awful journey; they now have
no word of complaint, of farewell! The only farewell which she has
yet to say on earth is told by her look--by a look which is slowly
directed yonder to the Tuileries--it is the farewell to past
memories--it deepens the pallor on the cheeks, it opens her lips to
a painful sigh. She then bows her head--a momentary, breathless
silence follows. Samson lifts up the white head, which once had been
the head of the Queen of France, and the people cry and shout, "Long
live the republic!"
Uninterruptedly had the guillotine for the last three months of the
year 1793 continued its destructive work of murder, and the noblest
and worthiest heads had fallen under this reaper of Death. No
personal merit, no nobility of character, no age, no youth, could
hope to escape the death-instrument of the revolution when a noble
name stood up as accuser. Before this accuser every service was
considered as nothing; it was enough to be an aristocrat, a ci-
devant, to be suspected, to be dragged as a criminal before the
tribunal of the revolution, and to be condemned.
The execution of the queen was followed by that of the Girondists;
and this brilliant array of noble and great men was followed in the
next month by names no less noble, no less great. It was an
infuriated chase of the aristocrats as well as of the officers, of
all the military persons who, in the unfortunate days of Toulon and
of Mayence, had been in the army, and who had been dismissed, or
whose resignation had been accepted.
The aristocrats were tracked in their most secret recesses, and not
only were they punished, but also those who dared screen them from
the avenging hand of the republic. The officers were recognized
under every disguise, and the very fact that they had disguised
themselves or remained silent as to their true character was a crime
great enough to be punished with the guillotine.
More than twenty generals were imprisoned during the last months of
the year 1793, and many more paid with their lives for crimes which
they had never committed, and which had existence only in the heated
imagination of their accusers. Thus had General Houchard fallen; he
was followed in the first days of the new year of 1794 by the
Generals Luckner and Biron.
Alexandre de Beauharnais had served under Luckner, he had been
Biron's adjutant, he had been united with General Houchard in the
unfortunate attempt to relieve Mayence. It was therefore natural
that he should be noticed and espied. Besides which, he was an
aristocrat, a relative of many of the emigres, the brother of the
Count de Beauharnais, who was now residing in Coblentz with the
Count d'Artois, and it had not been forgotten what an important part
Alexandre de Beauharnais had played in the National Assembly; it was
well known that he belonged to the moderate party, that he had been
the friend of the Girondists.
Had the Convention wished to forget it, the informers were there to
remind them of it. Alexandre de Beauharnais was denounced as
suspected, and this denunciation was followed, in the first days of
January, by an arrest. He was taken to Paris, and at first shut up
in the Luxemburg, where already many of his companions-in-arms were
Josephine was not in Ferte-Beauharnais when the emissaries of the
republic came to arrest her husband. She was just then in Paris,
whither she had gone to seek protection and assistance for Alexandre
at the hands of influential acquaintances; in Paris she learned the
arrest of her husband.
The misfortune, which she had so long expected and foreseen, was now
upon her and ready to crush her and the future of her children. Her
husband was arrested--that is to say, he was condemned to die.
At this thought Josephine rose up like a lioness; the indolence, the
dreamy quietude of the creole, had suddenly vanished, and Josephine
was now a resolute, energetic woman, anxious to risk every thing, to
try every thing, so as to save her husband, the father of her
children. She now knew no timidity, no trembling, no fear, no
horror; every thing in her was decision of purpose; keen, daring
action. Letters, visits, petitions, and even personal supplications,
every thing was tried; there was no humiliation before which she
shrank. For long hours she sat in the anterooms of the tribunal of
the revolution, of the ministers who, however much they despised the
aristocrats, imitated their manners, and made the people wait in the
vestibule, even as the ministers of the tyrant had done; with tears,
with all the eloquence of love, she entreated those men of blood and
terror to give her back her husband, or at least not to condemn him
before he had been accused, and to furnish him with the means of
But those new lords and rulers of France had no heart for
compassion; Robespierre, Marat, Danton, could not be moved by the
tears which a wife could shed for an accused husband. They had
already witnessed so much weeping, listened to so many complaints,
to so many cries of distress, their eyes were not open for such
things, their ears heard not.
France was diseased, and only by drawing away the bad blood could
she be restored to health, could she be made sound, could she rise
up again with the strength of youth! And Marat, Danton, Robespierre,
were the physicians who were healing France, who were restoring her
to health by thus horribly opening her veins. Marat and Danton
murdered from bloodthirsty hatred, from misanthropy and vengeance;
Robespierre murdered through principle, from the settled fanatical
conviction, that France was lost if all the old corrupt blood was
not cleansed away from her veins, so as to replenish them with
youthful, vitalizing blood.
Robespierre was therefore inexorable, and Robespierre now ruled over
France! He was the dictator to whom every thing had to bow; he was
at the head of the tribunal of revolution; he daily signed hundreds
of death-warrants; and this selfsame man, who once in Arras had
resigned his office of judge because his hand could not be induced
to sign the death-warrant of a convicted criminal [Footnote: See
"Maximilian Robespierre," by Theodore Mundt, vol. i.]--this man, who
shed tears over a tame dove which the shot of a hunter had killed,
could, with heart unmoved, with composed look, sit for long hours
near the guillotine on the tribune of the revolution, and gaze with
undimmed eyes on the heads of his victims falling under the axe.
He was now at the summit of his power; France lay bleeding,
trembling at his feet; fear had silenced even his enemies; no one
dared touch the dreaded man whose mere contact was death; whose
look, when coldly, calmly fixed on the face of any man, benumbed his
heart as if he had read his sentence of death in the blue eyes of
At the side of Robespierre sat the terrorists Fouquier-Tinville and
Marat, to whom murder was a delight, blood-shedding a joy, who with
sarcastic pleasure listened unmoved to the cries, to the tearful
prayers of mothers, wives, children, of those sentenced to death,
and who fed on their tears and on their despair.
With such men at the head of affairs it was natural that the reign
of terror should still be increasing in power, and that with it the
number of the captives in the prisons should increase.
In the month of January, 1794, the list of the incarcerated within
the prisons of Paris ran up to the number of 4,659; in the month of
February the number rose up to 5,892; in the beginning of April to
7,541; and at the end of the same month it was reckoned that there
were in Paris eight thousand prisoners. [Footnote: Thiers, "Histoire
de la Revolution Francaise," vol. vi., p. 41]
The greater the number of prisoners, the more zealous was the
tribunal of the revolution to get rid of them; and with satisfaction
these judges of blood saw the new improvements made in the
guillotine, and which not only caused the machine to work faster,
but also prevented the axe from losing its edge too soon by the
sundering of so many necks.
"It works well," exclaimed Fouquier-Tinville, triumphantly; "to-day
we have fifty sentenced. The heads fall like poppy-heads!"
And these fifty heads falling like poppy-heads, were not enough for
"It must work better still," cried he; "in the next decade, I must
have at least four hundred and fifty poppy-heads!"
And then, as if inspired by a joyous and happy thought, his gloomy
countenance became radiant with a grinning laughter, and, rubbing
his hands with delight, he continued: "Yes, I must have four hundred
and fifty! Then, if we work on so perseveringly, we will soon write
over our prison-gates, 'House to let!'" [Footnote: "Histoire de
They worked on perseveringly, and the vehicles which carried the
condemned to execution rolled every morning with a fresh freight
through the streets of Paris, where the guillotine, with its glaring
axe, awaited them.
The month of April, as already said, had brought the number of
prisoners in Paris to eight thousand; the month of April had
therefore more executions to engrave with its bloody pen into the
annals of history. On the 20th of April fell on the Place de la
Revolution the heads of fourteen members of the ex-Parliament of
Paris; the next day followed the Duke de Villeroy, the Admiral
d'Estaing, the former Minister of War Latour du Pin, the Count de
Bethune, the President de Nicolai. One day after, the well-laden
wagon drove from the Conciergerie to the Place de la Revolution; in
it were three members of the Constituent Assembly, and to have
belonged to it was the only crime they were accused of. Near these
three sat the aged Malesherbes, with his sister; the Marquis de
Chateaubriand, with his wife; the Duchess de Grammont, and Du
Chatelet. It will be seen that the turn for women had now come; for
those women who were now led to the execution had committed no other
crime than to be the wives or the relatives of emigrants or of
accused persons, than to bear names which had shone for centuries in
the history of France.
Josephine also had an ancient aristocratic name; she also was
related to the migrated ones, the wife of an accused, of a prisoner!
And she wearied the tribunal of the revolution constantly with
petitions, with visits, with complaints. They were tired of these
molestations, and it was so easy, so convenient to shield one's self
against them! There was nothing else to do but to arrest Josephine;
for once a prisoner, she could no longer--in anterooms, where she
would wait for hours; in the street before the house-door, where she
would stand, despite rains and winds--she could no longer trouble
the rulers of France, and beseech them with tears and prayers for
her husband's freedom. The prisoner could no more write petitions,
or move heaven and earth for her husband's sake.
The Viscountess de Beauharnais was arrested. On the 20th of April,
as she happened to be at the proper authority's office to obtain a
pass according to the new law, which ordered all ci-devants to leave
Paris in ten days, Josephine was arrested and led into the Convent
of the Carmelites, which for two years had served as a prison for
the bloody republic, and from which so many of its victims had
issued to mount the wagon which led them to the guillotine.
Amid this wretchedness there was one sweet joy. Alexandre de
Beauharnais had no sooner heard of the arrest of his wife, than he
asked as a favor from the tribunal of the revolution to be removed
into the same prison where his wife was. In an incomprehensible fit
of merciful humor his prayer was granted; he was transferred to the
Convent of the Carmelites, and if the husband and wife could not
share the same cell, yet they were within the same walls, and could
daily (through the turnkeys, who had to be bribed by all manner of
means, by promises, by gold, as much as could be gathered together
among the prisoners) hear the news.
Josephine was united to her husband. She received daily from him
news and messages; she could often, in the hours when the prisoners
in separate detachments made their promenades in the yard and in the
garden, meet Alexandre, reach him her hand, whisper low words of
trust, of hope, and speak with him of Eugene and Hortense, of these
dear children who, now deserted by their parents, could hope for
protection and safety only from the faithfulness and love of their
governess, Madame Lanoy. The thought of these darling ones of her
heart excited and troubled Josephine, and all the pride and courage
with which she had armed her heart melted into tears of anxiety and
into longings for her deserted children.
But Madame Lanoy with the most faithful solicitude watched over the
abandoned ones; she had once sworn to Josephine that if the
calamity, which Josephine had constantly anticipated, should fall
upon her and upon her husband, she would be to Hortense and Eugene a
second mother; she would care for them and protect them as if they
were her own children. And Madame Lanoy kept her promise.
To place them beyond the dangers which their very name made
imminent, and also perhaps to give by means of the children evidence
of the patriotic sentiments of the parents, Madame Lanoy left with
the children the viscount's house, where they had hitherto resided,
and occupied with both of them a small shabby house, where she
established herself as seamstress. The little eleven-year-old
Hortense, the daughter of the Citizeness Beauharnais, was now the
assistant of the Citizeness Lanoy, at the trade of seamstress.
Eugene was apprenticed to a cabinet-maker; a leather apron was put
on, and then with a plank under his arm, and carrying a plane in his
hand, he went through the streets to the workshop of the cabinet-
maker, and every one lauded the patriotic sentiments of the
Citizeness Lanoy, who tried to educate the brood of the ex-
aristocrats into orderly and moral beings.
Eugene and Hortense fell rapidly and understandingly into the plan
of their faithful governess; they transformed themselves in their
language, in their dress, in their whole being and appearance, into
little republicans, full of genuine patriotism. Like their cousin,
Emile de Beauharnais, whose mother (the wife of the elder brother of
the Viscount de Beauharnais) had already for a long time languished
in prison, they attended the festivals which had for its object the
glorification of the republic, and, alongside of the Citizeness
Lanoy, the little milliner Hortense followed the procession of her
quarter of the city, perhaps to awaken thereby the good-will of the
authorities in favor of her imprisoned parents.
Then, when Madame Lanoy thought this good-will had been gained, she
made a step further, and undertook to have the children present to
the Convention a petition for their parents. This petition ran thus:
"Two innocent children appeal to you, fellow-citizens, for the
freedom of their dear mother--their mother against whom no reproach
can be made but the misfortune of being born in a class from which,
as she has proven, she ever felt completely estranged, for she has
ever surrounded herself with the best patriots, the most
distinguished men of the Mountain. After she had on the 26th of
Germinal requested a pass in order to obey the law, she was arrested
on the evening of that day without knowing the cause. Citizen
representatives, you cannot be guilty of oppressing innocence,
patriotism, and virtue. Give back to us unfortunate children our
life. Our youth is not made for suffering." Signed: EUGENE
BEAUHARNAIS, aged twelve years, and HORTENSE BEAUHARNAIS, aged
eleven years. [Footnote: "Histoire de l'Imperatrice Josephine," par
To this complaint of two deserted children no more attention was
paid than to the cries of the dove which the hawk carries away in
its claws, but perhaps the innocent touching words of the petition
had awakened compassion in the heart of some father.
It is true no answer was given to the petition of the children, but
the Citizeness Lanoy was allowed to take the children of the accused
twice a week into the reception-room of the Carmelite Convent, that
there they might see and speak to their mother.
This was a sweet comfort, an unhoped-for joy, as well to Josephine
as to her husband; for if he was not permitted to come into the
lower room and see the children, yet he now saw them through the
eyes of his wife, and through her he received the wishes of their
What happiness for Josephine, who loved her children with all the
unrestrained fondness of a Creole! what happiness to see her Eugene,
her Hortense, and to be permitted to speak to them! How much they
had to say one to another, how much to communicate one to the other!
It is true much had to be passed in silence if they would not excite
the anger of the turnkey, who was always present at the meeting of
the children with their mother. Strict orders had been given that
Josephine should never whisper one word to the children, or speak to
them of the events of the day, of what was going on beyond the
prison walls. The least infringement of this rule was to be punished
by debarring the children from having any further conversation with
And yet they had so much to say; they needed her advice so much, so
as to know what future steps they might take to accomplish their
mother's freedom! They had so much to tell to Josephine about
relatives and friends, and above all so much to say about what was
going on outside of the prison! But how bring her news? how speak to
their mother? how receive her message in such a way that the
jailer's ears could not know what was said?
Love is full of invention. It turns every thing into subserviency to
its end. Love once turned the dove into a carrier; love made
Josephine's children find out a new mail-carrier--it made them
invent the lapdog mail.
Josephine, like all Creoles, had, besides her love for flowers,
botany, and birds, a great fondness for dogs. Never since the
earliest days of her childhood had Josephine been seen in her room,
at the promenade, or in her carriage, without one of these faithful
friends and companions of man, which share with the lords of
creation all their good qualities and virtues, without being
burdened with their failings. The love, the faithfulness, the
cunningness of dogs are virtues, wherewith they successfully rival
man, and the dogs boast only of one quality which amongst men is
considered a despicable vice, namely, the canine humbleness which
these animals practise, without egotism, without calculation, whilst
man practises it only when his interest and his selfishness make it
Two years before, a friend of Josephine had given her a small, young
model of the then fashionable breed of dogs, a small lapdog, and at
once Josephine had made a pet of the little animal, which had been
recommended to her as the progeny of a rare and genuine race of
lapdogs. It is true the little Fortune had not fulfilled what had
been promised; he had not grown up exactly into a model of beauty
and loveliness. With small feet, a long body of a pale yellow rather
than red, a thick, double, flat nose, this lapdog had nothing of its
race but the black face, and the tail in the shape of a corkscrew.
Besides all this, he was undoubtedly of a surly, quarrelsome
disposition, and he preferred the indolent and ease of his cushion
to either a promenade with Josephine or to a game with her children.
But since Josephine was no more there, since her beautiful hands no
more presented him his food, a change had come over Fortune's
character; he had awakened from the effeminacy of happiness to full
activity. The children had but to say, "We are going to mamma," and
at once Fortune would spring up from his cushion with a cheerful
bark, and run out into the streets, describing circles and
performing joyous leaps. Fortune, as soon as the reception-room of
the prison was opened, was always the first to rush in, barking
loudly at the jailer; then, when his spite was over, to run with all
the signs of passionate tenderness toward his mistress; then he
would surround her with caresses, and leap, bark, and whine, until
she noticed him, until she should have kissed and embraced the
children, and then taken him up in her arms.
But one day, as the door of the reception-room opened, and Eugene
and Hortense entered with Madame Lanoy, Fortune's loud barking
trumpet sounded not, and he sprang not forward toward Josephine. He
walked on gravely with measured steps at the side of Madame Lanoy,
who led him with a string which she had fastened to his collar. With
important, thoughtful mien, he gazed resignedly and gravely at his
mistress, and even for his hated foe the jailer he had but a dull
growl, which he soon repressed.
Josephine was somewhat alarmed at this change in Fortune's demeanor,
and after she had welcomed, taken to her bosom and kissed her
darling children, after she had saluted the good Madame Lanoy, she
inquired why Fortune was so sad and why he was led as a captive.
"Because he is so wild and unruly, mamma," said Eugene, with a
peculiar smile, "because he wants always to be the first to salute
you, and because he barks so loud that we cannot possibly for some
time hear what our dear mamma has to say."
"And then, in the street, he is so wicked and troublesome," cried
Hortense, with eagerness, "and he always begins quarrelling and
fighting with every dog which passes by, and we must stand there and
wait for him when we are so anxious to see our dear mamma."
"For all these reasons," resumed Madame Lanoy, with slow, solemn
intonation, "for all these reasons we have thought it necessary to
chain Fortune and to tighten up his collar."
"And you have done quite well, citizeness," growled the turnkey,
"for I had already thought of silencing forever the abominable
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