The Empress Josephine
Part 5 out of 10
But Aubry, in his functions of chief of the war department, was soon
superseded by the representative Douclet de Ponte-Coulant, and this
event gave to the position of the young general a different aspect.
Ponte-Coulant had for some time followed with attention the course
of the young general, whose military talents and warlike reputation
had filled him with astonishment. He had especially been surprised
at the plan for the conduct of the war and the conquest of Italy
which Bonaparte had laid before the war committee. Now that Ponte-
Coulant had been promoted to be chief of the war department, he sent
for General Bonaparte, and attached him to the topographic
committee, where the plans of campaigns were decided and the
movements of each separate corps delineated.
The forgotten one, doomed to inactivity, General Napoleon Bonaparte,
now arose from his obscurity, and before him again opened life, the
world, and fame's pathway, which was to lead him up to a throne. But
the envy and jealousy of the party-men of the Convention ever threw
obstacles before him on his glorious course, and the war-scheme
which he now unfolded to the committee for the campaign did not
receive the approbation of the successor of Ponte-Coulant in the war
department, and it was thrust aside. A new political crisis was
needed to place in the hands of Napoleon the command of the army,
the ruling authority over France, and this crisis was at hand.
Paris, diseased, still bleeding in its innermost life with a
thousand wounds, was devoured by hunger. The unfortunate people,
wretched from want and pain, during many past years, were now driven
to despair. The political party leaders understood but too well how
to take advantage of this, and to prey upon it. The royalists were
busy instilling into the people's minds the idea that the return of
the Bourbons would restore to miserable France peace and happiness.
The terrorists told the people that the Convention was the sole
obstacle to their rest and to their peace, that it was necessary to
scatter it to the winds, and to re-establish the Constitution of
1793. The whole population of Paris was divided and broken into
factions, struggling one against the other with infuriated passions.
The royalists, strengthened by daily accessions of emigrants, who,
under fictitious names and with false passports, returned to Paris
to claim the benefit of the milder laws passed in their favor,
constituted a formidable power in that city. Whole sections were
devoted to them, and were secretly supplied by them with arms and
provisions, so as finally to be prepared to act against the
Convention. An occasion soon presented itself.
The Convention had, through eleven of its committee members,
prepared a new constitution, and had laid it before the people for
adoption or rejection, according to the majority of votes. The whole
country, with the exception of Paris, was in favor of this new
constitution--she alone in her popular assemblies rejected it,
declared the Convention dissolved, and the armed sections arose to
make new elections. The Convection declared these assemblies to be
illegal, and ordered their dissolution. The armed sections made
resistance, congregated together, and by force opposed the troops of
the Convention--the National Guards--commanded by General Menou. On
the 12th Vendemiaire all Paris was under arms again; barricades were
thrown up by the people, who swore to die in their defence sooner
than to submit to the will of the Convention; the noise of drums and
trumpets was heard in every street; all the horrors and cruelties of
a civil war once more filled the capital of the revolution, and the
city was drunk with blood!
The people fought with the courage of despair, pressed on
victoriously, and won from General Menou a few streets; whole
battalions of the National Guards abandoned the troops of the
Convention and went over to the sections. General Menou found
himself in so dangerous a position as to be forced to conclude an
armistice until the next day with the Section Lepelletier, which was
opposed to him, up to which time the troops on either side were to
The Section Lepelletier declared itself at once en permanence, sent
her delegates to all the other sections, and called upon "the
sovereign people, whose rights the Convention wished to usurp," to
make a last and decisive struggle.
The Convention found itself in the most alarming position; it
trembled for its very existence, and already in fancy saw again the
days of terror, the guillotine rising and claiming for its first
victims the heads of the members of the Convention. A pallid fear
overspread all faces as constantly fresh news of the advance of the
sections reached them, when General Menou sent news of the concluded
At this moment a pale young man rushed into the hall of session, and
with glowing eloquence and persuasive manner entreated the
Convention not to accept the armistice, not to give time to the
sections to increase their strength, nor to recognize them as a
hostile power to war against the government.
This pale young man--whose impassioned language filled the minds of
all his hearers with animosity against General Menou, and with fresh
courage and desire to fight--was Napoleon Bonaparte.
After he had spoken, other representatives rushed to the tribune, to
make propositions to the Assembly, all their motions converging to
the same end--all desired to have General Menou placed under arrest,
and Bonaparte appointed in his place, and intrusted with the defence
of the Convention and of the legislative power against the people.
The Assembly accepted this motion, and appointed Bonaparte
commanding officer of the troops of the Convention, and, for form's
sake, named Barras, president of the Convention, commander-in-chief.
Bonaparte accepted the commission; and now, at last, after so much
waiting, so many painful months of inactivity, he found himself
called to action; he stood again at the head of an army, however
small it might be, and could again lift up the sword as the signal
for the march to the fight.
It is true this fight had a sad, horrible purpose; it was directed
against the people, against the sections which declared themselves
to be the committee of the sovereign people, and that they were
fighting the holy fight of freedom against those who usurped their
General Bonaparte had refused to go to Vendee, because he wished not
to fight against his own countrymen, and could not take part in a
civil war; but now, at this hour of extreme peril, he placed himself
in opposition to the people's sovereignty, and assumed command over
the troops of the Convention, whose mission it was to subdue the
Every thing now assumed a more earnest attitude; during the night
the newly-appointed commanding officer sent three hundred chasseurs,
under Murat, to bring to Paris forty cannon from the park of
artillery in Sablons, and, when the morning of the 13th Vendemiaire
began to dawn, the pieces were already in position in the court of
the Tuileries and pointed against the people. Besides which, General
Bonaparte had taken advantage of the night to occupy all the
important points and places, and to arm them; even into the hall of
session of the Convention he ordered arms and ammunition to be
brought, that the representatives might defend themselves, in case
they were pressed upon by the people.
As the sun of the 13th Vendemiaire rose over Paris, a terrible
street-fight began--the fight of the sovereign people against the
Convention. It was carried on by both sides with the utmost
bitterness and fierceness, the sections rushing with fanatic
courage, with all the energy of hatred, against these soldiers who
dared slay their brothers and bind their liberty in chains; the
soldiers of the Convention fought with all the bitterness which the
consciousness of their hated position instilled into them.
The cannon thundered in every street and mingled their sounds with
the cries of rage from the sectionnaires--the howlings of the women,
the whiz of the howitzers, the loud clangs of the bells, which
incessantly called the people to arms. Streams of blood flowed again
through the streets; everywhere, near the scattered barricades, near
the houses captured by storm, lay bloody corpses; everywhere
resounded the cries of the dying, the shrieks and groans of the
wounded, the wild shouts of the combatants. In the Church of St.
Roche, and in the Theatre Francaise, the sectionnaires, driven from
the neighboring streets by the troops of General Bonaparte, had
gathered together and endeavored to defend these places with the
courage of despair. But the howitzers of Bonaparte soon scattered
them, and the contest was decided.
The sections were defeated; the people, conquered by the Convention,
had to recognize its authority; they were no more the sovereigns of
France; they had found a ruler before whom they must bow.
This ruler was yet called the Convention, but behind the Convention
stood another ruler--General Bonaparte!
It was he who had defeated the people, who had secured the authority
to the Convention, and it was therefore natural that it should be
thankful and exhibit its gratitude. General Bonaparte, in
acknowledgment for the great services done to his country, was by
the Convention appointed commander-in-chief of the army of the
interior, and thus suddenly he saw himself raised from degrading
obscurity to pomp and influence, surrounded by a brilliant staff,
installed in a handsome palace by virtue of his office as chief
officer, entitled to and justified in maintaining an establishment
wherein to represent worthily the dignity of his new position.
The 13th Vendemiaire, which dethroned the sovereign people, brought
General Bonaparte a step nearer to the throne.
THE WIDOW JOSEPHINE BEAUHARNAIS.
Meanwhile Josephine had passed the first months of her newly-
obtained freedom in quiet contentment with her children in
Fontainebleau, at the house of her father-in-law. Her soul, bowed
down by so much misery and pain, needed quietness and solitude to
allow her wounds to cease bleeding and to heal; her heart, which had
experienced so much anguish and so many deceptions, needed to rest
on the bosom of her children and her relatives, so as to be
quickened into new life. Only in the solitude and stillness of
Fontainebleau did she feel well and satisfied; every other
distraction, every interruption of this quiet, orderly existence
brought on a nervous trembling, which mastered her whole body, as if
some other adversity was about to break upon her. The days of terror
which she had passed in Paris, and especially the days she had
outlived in prison, were ever fresh before her mind, and tormented
her with their reminiscences alike in her vigils and in her dreams.
She wanted to hear nothing of the world's events, nothing from
Paris, the mention of which place filled her with fear and horror;
and with tears in her eyes she entreated her father-in-law to omit
all mention of the political changes and revolutions which took
But, alas! the politics from which Josephine fled, to which she
closed her ears, rushed upon her against her will--they came to her
in the shape of want and privation.
Josephine, who wished to have nothing more to do with the affairs of
this world, learned, through the deprivations which she had to
endure, the want to which she and her family were exposed, that the
world had not yet been pushed back into the old grooves, out of
which the revolution had so violently lifted it up; that the
republic yet exercised a despotic authority, and was not prepared to
return to the heirs the property of the victims of the guillotine!
The income and property of General Beauharnais had all been
confiscated by the republic, for he had been executed as a state
criminal, and the procedure had this in common with the ordinary
actions of the government, that it never returned what it had once
usurped. Even Josephine's father-in-law, as well as her aunt--Madame
de Renaudin, who, after her husband's death, had been married to the
Marquis de Beauharnais--had both in the revolutionary storms lost
all their property, and saw themselves reduced to the last
extremity. They lived from day to day with the greatest economy,
upon the smallest means, and flattered themselves with the hope that
justice would be done to the innocent victims of the revolution;
that at last to the widow and children of the murdered General
Beauharnais his income and property would be returned.
Another hope remained to Josephine: reliance upon her relatives,
especially upon her mother in Martinique. She had written to her as
soon as she had obtained her liberty; she had entreated her mother,
who had been a widow for two years, to rent all her property in
Martinique, and to come to France, and at her daughter's side to
enjoy a few quiet years of domestic happiness.
But this hope also was to be destroyed, for the revolution in
Martinique had committed the same devastations as in France, and the
burning houses of their masters had been the bonfires whose flames
were sent up to heaven by the newly-freed slaves in the name of the
republic and of the rights of man. Madame Tascher de la Pagerie had
experienced the same fate as all the planters in Martinique; her
house and outbuildings had been burnt, her plantations destroyed,
and a long time would be required before the fields could again be
made to produce a harvest. Until then, Madame Tascher would be
sorely limited in her means, and, if she did not succeed in selling
some of her property and raising funds, would be without the money
necessary to bring under cultivation the remnant of her large
plantation. She was, therefore, not immediately prepared to supply
her daughter with any considerable assistance, and Josephine endured
the anguish of seeing not only herself and children, but also her
dear mother, suffer through want and privation.
To the need of gold to procure bare necessaries, was soon added the
very lack of them. Famine, with all its horrors, was at hand; the
people were clamoring for food, and the land-owners as well as the
rich were suffering from the want of that prime necessary of life-
bread! The Convention had adopted no measures to satisfy the demands
of the howling populace, and it had to remain contented with making
accessible to all such provisions as were in the land. One law,
therefore, ordered all land-owners to deliver to the state their
stores of meal; a second law prohibited any person from buying more
than one pound of bread on the same day. The greatest delicacy in
those days of common wretchedness was white bread, and there were
many families that for a long time were unable to procure this
Josephine herself had with many others to endure this privation: the
costly white loaf was beyond her reach. In her depressed and sad lot
the unfortunate widowed viscountess remained in possession of a
treasure for which many of the wealthy and high-born longed in vain,
and which neither gold nor wealth could procure--Josephine possessed
friends, true, devoted friends, who forsook her not in the day of
need, but stood the more closely at her side, helping and loving.
Among these friends were, above all, Madame Dumoulin and M. Emery.
Madame Dumoulin, the wife of a wealthy purveyor of the republican
army, was at heart a true royalist, and had made it her mission, as
much as was within her power, to assist with her means the most
destitute from whom the revolution had taken their family joys and
property. She aided with money and clothing the unfortunate
emigrants, who, as prominent and influential friends of the king and
of Old France, had abandoned their country, and who now, as
nameless, wretched beggars, returned home to beg of New France the
privilege at least to hunger and starve, and at last to die in their
motherland. Madame Dumoulin had always an open house for those
aristocrats and ci-devants who had the courage not to emigrate and
to bow their despised heads to all the fluctuations of the republic,
and had remained in France, though deprived by the republic of their
ancestral names, property, and rank. Those aristocrats who had not
migrated found a friendly reception in the house of the witty and
amiable Madame Dumoulin, and twice a week she gathered those friends
of the ancient regime to a dinner, which was prepared with all the
luxury of former days, and which offered to her friends, besides
material enjoyment, the pleasures of an agreeable and attractive
Among Madame Dumoulin's friends who never failed to be present at
these dinners was Josephine de Beauharnais, of whom Madame Dumoulin
said she was the sunbeam of her drawing-room, for she warmed and
vitalized all hearts. But this sunbeam had not the power to bring
forth out of the unfruitful soil of the fatherland a few ears of
wheat to turn its flour into white bread. As every one was allowed
to buy bread only according to the numbers in the household, Madame
Dumoulin could not give to her guests at dinner any white bread, and
on her cards of invitation was the then usual form, "You are invited
to bring a loaf of white bread."
But it was beyond the means of the poor Viscountess de Beauharnais
to fulfil this invitation; her purse was not sufficient to afford
her twice a week the luxury of white bread. Madame Dumoulin, who
knew this, came kindly to the rescue of Josephine's distress, and
entreated her not to trouble herself with bringing bread, but to
allow her to procure it for her friend.
Josephine accepted this offer with tears of emotion, and she never
forgot the goodness and kindness of Madame Dumoulin. In the days of
her highest glory she remembered her, and once, when empress,
radiant with jewels and ornaments of gold, as she stood in the midst
of her court, related with a bewitching smile, to the ladies around
her, that there was a time when she would have given a year of her
life to possess but one of those jewels, not to adorn herself
therewith, but to sell it, so as to buy bread for her children, and
that in those days the excellent Madame Dumoulin had been a
benefactress to her, and that she had received at her hands the
bread of charity. [Footnote: "Memoires sur l'Imperatrice Josephine,"
par Mad. Ducrest, chap XXXVI.]
The same abiding friendship was shown to Josephine by M. Emery, a
banker who had a considerable business in Dunkirk, and who for many
years had been in mercantile relations with the family of Tascher de
la Pagerie in Martinique. Madame de la Pagerie had every year sent
him the produce of her sugar plantations, and he had attended to the
sale to the largest houses in Germany. He knew better than any one
else the pecuniary circumstances of the Pagerie family; he knew
that, if at present Madame de la Pagerie could not repay his
advanced sums, her plantations would soon produce a rich harvest,
and even now be a sufficient security. M. Emery was therefore
willing to assist the daughter of Madame Tascher de la Pagerie, and
several times he advanced to Josephine considerable sums which she
had drawn upon her mother.
The cares of every-day life, its physical necessities, lifted
Josephine out of the sad melancholy in which she had lulled her
sick, wounded heart, within the solitude of Fontainebleau. She must
not settle down in this inactive twilight, nor wrap herself up in
the gloomy gray veil of widowhood! Life had still claims upon her;
it called to her through her children's voices, for whom she had a
future to provide, as well as through the voice of her own youth,
which she must not intrust hopelessly to the gloomy Fontainebleau.
And the young mother dared not and wanted not to close her ears to
these calls; she arose from her supineness, and courageously
resolved to begin anew life's battle, and to claim her share from
the enjoyments and pleasures of this world.
She first, by the advice of M. Emery, undertook a journey to
Hamburg, to make some arrangements with the rich and highly
respectable banking-house of Mathiesen and Sissen. Mathiesen, the
banker, who had married a niece of Madame de Genlis, had always
shown the greatest hospitality to all Frenchmen who had applied to
him, and he had assisted them with advice and deeds. To him
Josephine appealed, at the request of M. Emery, so as to procure a
safe opportunity to send letters to her mother in Martinique, and
also to obtain from him funds on bills drawn upon her mother.
M. Mathiesen met her wishes with a generous pleasure, and through
him Josephine received sufficient sums of money to protect her from
further embarrassments and anxieties, at least until her mother, who
was on the eve of selling a portion of her plantation, could send
her some money.
On her return from her business-journey to Hamburg, as she was no
longer a poor widow without means, she adopted the courageous
resolution of leaving her asylum and returning to dangerous and
deserted Paris, there to prepare for her son an honorable future,
and endeavor to procure for her daughter an education suited to her
rank and capacities.
At the end of the year 1795, Josephine returned with her two
children to Paris, which one year before she had left so sorrowfully
and so dispirited.
What changes had been wrought during this one year! How the face of
things had been altered! The revolution had bled to death. The
thirteenth Vendemiaire had scattered to the winds the seditious
elements of revolution, and the republic was beginning quietly and
peacefully to grow into stature. The Convention, with its Mountain,
its terrorists, its Committee of Safety, its persecutions and
executions, had outlived its power, which it had consigned to the
pages of history with so many tears and so much blood. In a strange
contradiction with its own bloody deeds, it celebrated the last day
of its existence by a law which, as a farewell to the thousand
corpses it had sacrificed to the revolution, it had printed on its
gory brow. On the day of its dissolution the Convention gave to
France this last law: "Capital punishment is forever abolished."
[Footnote: Norvins, "Histoire de Napoleon," vol. i., p. 82.]
With this farewell kiss, this love-salutation to the France of the
future, to the new self-informing France, the Convention dissolved
itself, and in its stead came the Council of Elders, the Council of
Five Hundred, and lastly the Directory, composed of five members,
among whom had been elected the more eminent members of the
Convention, namely, Barras and Carnot.
Josephine's first movement in Paris was to find the lovely friend
whom she made in the Carmelite prison, and to whom she in some
measure owed her life, to visit Therese de Fontenay and see if the
heart of the beautiful, celebrated woman had in its days of
happiness and power retained its remembrances of those of
wretchedness and mortal fears.
Therese de Fontenay was now the wife of Tallien, who, elected to the
Council of the Five Hundred, continued to play an influential and
important part, and therefore had his court of flatterers and time-
serving friends as well as any ruling prince. His house was one of
the most splendid in Paris; the feasts and banquets which took place
there reminded one, by their extravagant magnificence, of the days
of ancient Rome, and that this remembrance might still be more
striking, ladies in the rich, costly costumes of patrician matrons
of ancient Rome appeared at those festivities not unworthy of a
Lucullus. Madame Tallien--in the ample robe of wrought gold of a
Roman empress, shod with light sandals, from which issued the
beautiful naked feet, and the toes adorned with costly rings, her
exquisitely moulded arms ornamented with massive gold bracelets; her
short curly hair fastened together by a gold bandelet, which rose
over the forehead in the shape of a diadem, bejewelled with precious
diamonds; the mantle of purple, fringed with gold and placed on the
shoulders--was in this costume of such a wonderful beauty, that men
gazed at her with astonishment and women with envy.
And this beautiful woman, often worshipped and adored, though
sometimes slandered, had amid her triumphs kept a faithful
remembrance of the past. She received Josephine with the affection
of a true friend. In her generosity she allowed her no time to
proffer any request, but came forward herself with offers to
intercede for her friend, and to use all the means at her disposal,
omitting nothing that would help Josephine to recover her fortune,
her lost property. With all the eagerness of true love she took the
arm of her friend and led her to Tallien, and with the enchanting
smile and attitude of a commanding princess she told him that he
must help Josephine to become happy again, that every thing he could
do for her would be rewarded by an increasing love; that if he did
not do justice to Josephine, she would punish him by her anger and
Tallien listened with complacency to the praiseworthy commands of
his worshipped Therese, and promised to use all his influence to
have justice done to the will of the sacrificed General de
Beauharnais. He himself accompanied Josephine to Barras, that she
might present her application to him personally and request at his
hands restitution of her property. She was received by Barras, as
well as by the other four directors, with the greatest politeness;
each promised to attend to her case and to return to the widow and
to the children of Alexandre de Beauharnais the property which had
been so unjustly taken from them.
It is true, weeks and months of waiting and uncertainty passed away,
but Josephine had hope for a comforter; she had, besides, her
beautiful friend Therese Tallien, who with affectionate eloquence
endeavored to instil courage into Josephine, and by her constant
petitions and prayers did not allow the Directory, amid its many
important affairs of government, to forget the case of the poor
young widow. Therese took care also that Josephine should appear in
society at the receptions and balls given by the members of the new
government; and when made timid through misfortune, and depressed at
heart by the uncertainty of her narrow lot, she desired to keep
aloof from these rejoicings, Therese knew how to convince her that
she must sacrifice her love of retirement to her children; that it
was her duty to accept the invitations of the Directory, so as to
keep alive their interest and favor in her behalf; and that, were
she to retreat into solitude and obscurity, she would thereby
imperil her future and that of her children.
Josephine submitted to this law of necessity, and appeared in
society. She screened her cares and her heartsores under the covert
of smiles, she forced herself into cheerfulness, and when now and
then the smile vanished from her lip and tears filled her eyes, she
thought of her children, and, mastering her sorrows, she was again
the beautiful, lovely woman, whose elegant manners and lively and
witty conversation charmed and astonished every one.
At last, after long months of uncertainty, Therese Tallien, her face
beaming with joy, came one morning to visit her friend Josephine,
and presented to her a paper with a large seal, which Tallien had
given her that very morning.
It was an order, signed by the five directors, instructing the
administrator of the domains to relieve the capital and the property
of General Beauharnais from the sequestration laid upon them, and
also to remove the seals from his furniture and his movables, and to
reinstate the Widow Beauharnais in possession of all the property
left by her husband.
Josephine received this paper with tears of joy, and, full of
religious, devout gratitude, she fell on her knees and cried:
"I thank Thee, my God! I thank Thee! My children will no more suffer
from want, and now I can give them a suitable education."
She then fell upon her friend's neck, thanking her for her
faithfulness, and swore her everlasting friendship and affection.
The dark clouds which had so long overshadowed Josephine's life were
now gone, and in its place dawned day, bright and clear.
But the sun which was to illumine this day with wondrous glory had
not yet appeared. Therese at this hour reminded her friend of a day
in prison when Josephine had assured her friends trembling for her
life that she was not going to die, that she would one day be Queen
"Yes," said Josephine, smiling and thoughtful, "who knows if this
prophecy will not be fulfilled? To-day begins for me a new life. I
have done with the past, and it will sink behind me in the abyss of
oblivion. I trust in the future! It must repay me for all the tears
and anxieties of my past life, and who knows if it will not erect me
THE NEW PARIS.
Yes, they were now ended, the days of sufferings and privations! The
wife of General Beauharnais was no more the poor widow who appeared
as a petitioner in the drawing-rooms of the members of the
Directory, and often obliged, even in the worst kind of weather, to
go on foot to the festivals of Madame Tallien, because she lacked
the means to pay for a cab; she was no longer the poor mother who
had to be satisfied to procure inferior teachers for her children,
because she could not possibly pay superior ones.
Now, as by a spell, all was changed, and gold was the magic wand
which had produced it. Thanks to this talisman, the Viscountess de
Beauharnais could now quit the small, remote, gloomy dwelling in
which she had hitherto resided, and could again procure a house,
gather society round about her, and, above all things, provide for
the education of her children.
This was her dearest duty, her most important obligation, with which
she busied herself even before she rented a modestly-furnished room.
Her Eugene, the darling of her heart, desired like his father to
devote himself to a military life, and his mother took him to a
boarding-school in St. Germain, where young men of distinguished
families received their education. Her twelve-year-old daughter
Hortense, of whom Josephine had said, "She is my angel with the gold
locks, who alone can smile away the tears from my eyes and sorrow
from my heart"--Hortense entered the newly-opened educational
establishment of Madame Campan, once the lady-in-waiting of Marie
Antoinette. Josephine wept hot tears as she accompanied her Hortense
into the boarding-school, and, embracing her blond curly-haired
angel, she closely pressed her to her heart, and said:
"Judge how much I love you, my daughter, since I have the courage to
leave you and to deprive myself of the greatest of my life's
enjoyments! Ah, I shall be very lonesome, Hortense, but my thoughts
will be with you continually--with you and your brother Eugene. Live
to be an honor to your father, grow and prosper to be your mother's
Then with a kiss she took leave of her daughter, and comfortless and
alone she returned to her solitary apartments in Paris.
During the next eight days her doors were shut; she opened them to
none, not even to her friend Therese, and not once did Josephine
leave her dwelling during this time, nor did she accept any of the
invitations which came to her from all sides.
Her heart was yet wrapped in mourning for her separation from her
children, and, with all the intensity of an affectionate mother's
love, she preferred leaving her anguish to die out of itself than to
suppress it with amusements and pleasures.
But after this last sorrow had been overcome, Josephine, with
serenity and a smile of cheerfulness, came again from her solitude
into the world which called her forth with all its voices of joy,
pleasure, and flattery. And Josephine no longer closed her ears to
these sweet attractive voices. She had long enough suffered, wept,
fasted; now she ought to reap enjoyments, and gather her portion of
this life's pleasures; now she must live! The past had set behind
her, and, as one new-born or risen from the dead, Josephine walked
into the world with a young maiden heart, and a mind opened to all
that is beautiful, great, and good; her soul filled with visions,
hopes, desires, and dreams. Out of the widow's veil came forth the
young, charming Creole, and her radiant eyes saluted the world with
intelligent looks and an expression of the most attractive goodness.
Her next care was to procure a pleasant, convenient home suited to
her rank. She purchased from the actor Talma a house which he
possessed in the Street Chautereine, and where he had, during the
storms of the revolution, received his friends as well as all the
literary, artistic, and political notables of the day with the
kindest hospitality. It was not a, brilliant, distinguished hotel,
no splendid building, but a small, tastefully and conveniently
arranged house, with pretty rooms, a cheerful drawing-room, lovely
garden, exactly suited to have therein a quiet, agreeable, informal
pastime. Josephine possessed in the highest degree the art of her
sex to furnish rooms with elegance and taste, so as to make every
one in them comfortable, satisfied, at ease, and cheerful.
The drawing-room of the widow of General Beauharnais became soon the
central point where all her friends of former days found themselves
together again, and all the remnants of the good old society found
reception; where the learned, the artist, the poet, met with a
refuge, there to rest for a few hours from political strife, to put
aside the serpent's skin of assumed republican manners, and again
assume the tone and forms of the higher society. Such drawing-rooms
in these revolutionary days were extremely few; no one dared to
become conspicuous; every one was reserved and quiet; every one
shrank from making himself suspected of being a ci-devant, even if
under the republican toga he left visible his dress-coat of the
upper society with its embroidery of gold. Men had entirely broken
with the past, wishing to deny it, and not be under the yoke of its
forms and rules; it was therefore necessary, out of the chaos of the
republic, to create a new world, a new society, new forms of
etiquette, and new fashions. Meanwhile, until these new fashions for
republican France should be found, men had recourse (so as not to go
back to the days of the late monarchy of France) to the republics of
olden times; the ladies dressed according to the patterns of the old
statues of the deities of Greece and Rome, giving receptions in the
style of ancient Greece, and banquets laid out in all the
extravagant splendors of a Lucullus.
The members of the republican Directory, whose residence was in the
palace of the Luxemburg, took the lead in all these neo-Grecian and
neo-Roman festivities; and, whereas they loudly proclaimed that it
was necessary to furnish opportunities to the working-classes and
laborers to gain money, and that it was incumbent on all to promote
industry, they rivalled each other in their efforts to exhibit an
extravagant pomp and a brilliant display. On reception-days of the
members of the Directory the public streamed in masses toward the
Luxemburg, there to admire the splendors of the five monarchs, and
to rejoice that the days of the carmagnoles, the sans-culottes, the
dirty blouse, and the bonnet rouge were at least gone by. The five
directors, to the delight of the Parisian people, wore costly silk
and velvet garments embroidered with gold, and on their hats,
trimmed also with gold lace, waved large ostrich-plumes.
Luxury celebrated its return to Paris, after having had to secrete
itself, so long from the blood-stained hands of the sans-culottes,
in the most obscure corners of the deserted palaces of St. Germain.
Pleasure, which had fled away horrified from the guillotine and from
the terrorists, dared once more to show its rose-wreathed brow and
smiling countenance, and here and there make its cheerful
Men became glad, and dared to laugh again; they came out from the
stillness of their homes, which anxiety had kept closed, to search
for amusement, pleasure, and recreation; but no citizen dared to be
select, none dared to assume aristocratic exclusiveness. One had to
be pleased with a dinner at a tavern; with a glass of ice-water in a
cafe, or to take part in a public ball which was opened to every one
who could pay his fee of admission; and especially in the evening
the public rushed to the theatre with the same eagerness that was
exhibited in the morning to reach the shops of the bakers and
butchers, where each received his portion of meat or bread by
producing a card signed by the circuit commissioners. In front of
these shops, as well as in front of the theatres, the pressure was
so great that for hours it was necessary to fall into line, and
sometimes go away dissatisfied; for the republic had yet retained
the system of equality, so that the rich and the influential were
not served any sooner than the poor and the unknown; there was only
one exception: only one condition received distinction before the
baker's shop and the theatre: it was that of the mothers of the
future, those women whose external appearance revealed that they
would soon bring forth a future citizen, a new soldier for the
republic, which had lost so many of its sons upon the scaffold and
on the battle-field.
It was so long that one had been deprived of laughter and merriment,
and had walked with sad countenance and grave solemnity through the
days of blood and terror, that now every occasion for hilarity was
received eagerly and thankfully, and every opportunity for mirth and
amusement sought out. The theatres were therefore filled every
evening with an attentive, thankful audience; every jest of the
actor, every part well performed, elicited enthusiastic approbation.
It is true no one yet dared act any other pieces than those which
had reference to the revolution, and in some shape or other
celebrated the republic, accusing and vilifying the royalists. The
pieces represented were--"The Perfect Equality," or else "Thee and
Thou," "The Last Trial of the Queen," "Tarquin, or the Fall of the
Monarchy," "Marat's Apotheosis," and similar dramas, all infused
with republicanism; still, men faint at heart and satiated with the
republic, hastened notwithstanding to the theatre, to enjoy an hour
of recreation and merriment.
To be cheerful, happy, and joyous, seemed now to the Parisians the
highest duty of life, and every thing was made subservient to it.
The people had wept and mourned so long, that now, to shake off this
oppressive heaviness of mind, they rushed with fanatical
precipitancy into pleasure; they gave themselves up to the wildest
orgies and bacchanals, and without disgust or shame abandoned
themselves to the most immoral conduct. All tears were dried up as
if by magic; honest poverty began to be ashamed of itself; and the
wealth so carefully hid until now, was again brought to light; even
those who in the days of revolutionary terror had become rich
through the property of the sacrificed victims, exposed themselves
to public gaze with impunity and without shame. They plundered and
adorned themselves with a wealth acquired only through cunning,
treachery, and murder. Everywhere feasts, banquets, and balls, were
organized; and it was an ordinary event to find in the same company
the accuser and the accused, the executioner and his victim, the
murderer near the daughter of the man whose head he had given over
to the guillotine!
This was especially the case at the so-called victim balls (bals a
la victime) which were given by the heirs, the sons and fathers of
those who had perished by the guillotine. People gathered together
in brilliant entertainments and balls to the honor and memory of the
executed ones. Every one who could pay the large fee of admission to
these bals a la victime were permitted to enter. Those who came
there, not for pleasure, but to honor their dead, showed this
intention by their clothing, and especially by the arrangement of
their hair. To remind them that those who had been led to the
guillotine had had their hair cut close, gentlemen now had theirs
cut short, and the dressing of the hair a la victime was for
gentlemen as much a fashion as the dressing of the hair a la Titus
(the Roman emperor) was for the ladies. Besides this, the heirs of
the victims wore some token of the departed ones, and ladies and
gentlemen were seen in the blood-stained garments which their
relatives had worn on their way to the scaffold, and which they had
purchased with large sums of money from the executioner, that lord
of Paris. It often happened that a lady in the blood-stained dress
of her mother danced with the son of the man who had delivered her
mother to the guillotine; that a son of a member of the Convention
of 1793 led, in the minuet, the graceful "pas de chale," with the
daughter of an emigrant marquis. The most fanatical men of the days
of terror, now exalted into wealthy land-owners, led on in the gay
waltz the daughters of their former landlords; and these women
pressed the hand soiled with the blood of their relatives because
now, as amends for their traffic in blood, they could offer future
wealth and distinction.
It seemed that all Paris and all France had gone mad--that the whole
nation was drunk with blood as with intoxicating wine, and wanted to
stifle the voice of conscience in the horrible revelry of the
Josephine never took part in these public balls and festivities;
never did the widow of General Beauharnais, one of the victims of
the revolution, attend these bals a la victime, where man prided
himself on his misfortune and gloried in his sorrows. The Moniteur--
which then gave daily notices of the balls and amusements that were
to take place in Paris, so as to let the world know how cheerful and
happy every one felt there, and which made it its business to
publish the names of the ci-devants and ex-nobles who had partaken
in these festivities--never in its long and correct list mentions
the name of the widow of General Beauharnais.
Josephine kept aloof from all these wild dissipations--these balls
and banquets. She would neither dance, nor adorn herself in the
memory of her husband; she would not take a part in the splendid
festivities of a republic which had murdered him, and had pierced
her loyal heart with the deepest wounds.
THE FIRST INTERVIEW.
In the midst of these joys and amusements of the new-growing Paris,
the storm of the thirteenth Vendemiaire launched forth its
destructive thunderbolts, and another rent was made in the lofty
structure of the republic. The royalists, who had cunningly
frequented these bals a la victime, to weave intrigues and
conspiracies, found their webs scattered, and the republic assumed a
Napoleon with his sword had cut to pieces the webs and snares of the
royalists as well as of the revolutionists, and France had to bow to
the constitution. In the Tuileries now sat the Council of the
Elders; in the Salle du Manege sat the Five Hundred; and in the
palace of Luxemburg resided the five directors of the republic.
On the thirteenth Vendemiaire Paris had passed through a crisis of
its revolutionary disease; and, to prevent its falling immediately
into another, it permitted the newly-appointed commander-in-chief of
the army of the interior of France, General Napoleon Bonaparte, to
have every house strictly searched, and to confiscate all weapons
Even into the house of the Viscountess de Beauharnais, in the rue
Chantereine, came the soldiers of the republic to search for
secreted weapons. They found there the sword of Alexandre de
Beauharnais, which certainly Josephine had not hidden, for it was
the chief ornament of her son's room. When Eugene, on the next
Saturday, came to Paris from St. Germain, as he did every week, to
pass the Sunday in his mother's house, to his great distress he saw
vacant on the wall the place where the sword of his father had been
hanging. With trembling voice and tears in her eyes his mother told
him that General Bonaparte, the new commander-in-chief, had ordered
the sword to be carried away by his soldiers.
A cry of anger and of malediction was Eugene's answer; then with
flaming eyes and cheeks burning with rage he rushed out, despite the
supplications of his affrighted and anxious mother. Without pausing,
without thinking--conscious only of this, that he must have again
his father's sword, he rushed on. It was impossible, thought he,
that the republic which had deprived his father of the honors due to
him, his property, his money--that now, after his death, she should
also take away his sword.
He must have this sword again! This was Eugene's firm determination,
and this made him bold and resolute. He rushed into the palace where
the general-in-chief, Bonaparte, resided, and with daring vehemence
demanded an interview with the general; and, as the door-keeper
hesitated, and even tried to push away the bold boy from the door of
the drawing-room, Eugene turned about with so much energy, spoke,
scolded, and raged so loudly and so freely, that the noise reached
even the cabinet where General Bonaparte was. He opened the door,
and in his short, imperious manner asked the cause of this uproar;
and when the servant had told him, with a sign of the hand he
beckoned the young man to come in.
Eugene de Beauharnais entered the drawing-room with a triumphant
smile, and the eye of General Bonaparte was fixed with pleasure on
the beautiful, intelligent countenance, on the tall, powerful figure
of the fifteen-year-old boy. In that strange, soft accent which won
hearts to Napoleon, he asked Eugene his business. The young man's
cheeks became pallid, and with tremulous lips and angry looks, the
vehement eloquence of youth and suffering, Eugene spoke of the loss
he had sustained, and of the pain which had been added to it by
despoiling him of the sword of his father, murdered by the republic.
At these last words of Eugene, Bonaparte's brow was overshadowed,
and an appalling look met the face of the brave boy.
"You dare say that the republic has murdered your father?" asked he,
in a loud, angry voice.
"I say it, and I say the truth!" exclaimed Eugene, who did not turn
away his eyes from the flaming looks of the general. "Yes, the
republic has murdered my father, for it has executed him as a
criminal, as a traitor to his country, and he was innocent; he ever
was a faithful servant of his country and of the republic."
"Who told you that it was so?" asked Bonaparte, abruptly.
"My heart and the republic itself tell me that my father was no
traitor," exclaimed Eugene, warmly. "My mother loved him much, and
she regrets him still. She would not do so had he been a traitor,
and then the republic would not have done what it has done--it would
not have returned to my mother the confiscated property of my
father, but would, had he been considered guilty, have gladly kept
The grave countenance of Bonaparte was overspread by a genial smile,
and his eyes rested with the expression of innermost sympathy on the
son of Josephine.
"You think, then, that the republic gladly keeps what it has?" asked
"I see that it gladly takes what belongs not to it," exclaimed
Eugene, eagerly. "It has taken away my father's sword, which
belonged to me, his son, and my mother has made me swear on that
sword to hold my father's memory sacred, and to strive to be like
"Your mother is, it seems, a very virtuous old lady," said
Bonaparte, in a friendly tone.
"My mother is a virtuous, young, and beautiful lady," said Eugene,
sturdily; "and I am certain, general, that if you knew her, you
would not in your heart have caused her so much pain."
"She has, then, suffered much on account of this sword being taken
away?" asked Bonaparte, interested.
"Yes, general, she has wept bitterly over this our loss, as I have.
I cannot bear to see my mother weep; it breaks my heart. I therefore
implore you to give me back my father's sword; and I swear to you
that when I am a man, I will carry that sword only for the defence
of my country, as my father had done."
General Bonaparte nodded kindly to the boy. "You are a brave
defender of your cause," said he, "and I cannot refuse you--I must
do as you wish."
He gave orders to an ordnance officer present in the room to bring
General de Beauharnais's sword; and when the officer had gone to
fetch it, Bonaparte, in a friendly and sympathizing manner,
conversed with the boy. At last the ordnance officer returned, and
handed the sword to the general.
With solemn gravity Bonaparte gave it to Eugene. "Take it, young
man," said he, "but never forget that you have sworn to carry it
only for the honor and defence of your country."
Eugene could not answer: tears started from his eyes, and with deep
affection he pressed to his lips the recovered sword of his father.
This manifestation of true childish emotion moved Bonaparte to
tender sympathy, and an expression of affectionate interest passed
over his features as he offered his hand to Eugene.
"By Heaven, you are a good son," exclaimed he from his heart, "and
you will be one day a good son to your country! Go, my boy, take to
your mother your father's sword. Tell her that I salute her, though
unknown to her--that I congratulate her in being the mother of so
good and brave a son."
Such was the beginning of an acquaintance to which Josephine was
indebted for an imperial crown, and, for what is still greater, an
undying fame and an undying love.
Beaming with joy, Eugene returned to Josephine with his father's
sword, and with all the glowing sentiments of thankfulness he
related to her how kindly and obligingly General Bonaparte had
received him, what friendly and affectionate words he had spoken to
him, and how much forbearance and patience he had manifested to his
Josephine's maternal heart was sensitive and grateful for every
expression of sympathy toward her son, and the goodness and
forbearance of the general affected her the more, that she knew how
bold and wild the boy, smarting under pain, must have been. She
therefore hastened to perform a duty of politeness by calling the
next day on General Bonaparte, to thank him for the kindness he had
For the first time General Bonaparte stood in the presence of the
woman who one day was to share his fame and greatness, and this
first moment was decisive as to his and her future. Josephine's
grace and elegance, her sweetness of disposition, her genial
cheerfulness, the expression of lofty womanhood which permeated her
whole being, and which protected her securely from any rough
intrusion or familiarity; her fine, truly aristocratic bearing,
which revealed at once a lady of the court and of the great world;
her whole graceful and beautiful appearance captivated the heart of
Napoleon at the first interview, and the very next day after
receiving her short call he hastened to return it.
Josephine was not alone when General Bonaparte was announced; and
when the servant named him she could not suppress an inward fear,
without knowing why she was afraid. Her friends, who noticed her
tremor and blush, laughed jestingly at the timidity which made her
tremble at the name of the conqueror of Paris, and this was,
perhaps, the reason why Josephine received General Bonaparte with
less complacency than she generally showed to her visitors.
Amid the general silence of all those present the young general
(twenty-six years old) entered the drawing-room of the Viscountess
de Beauharnais; and this silence, however flattering it might be to
his pride, caused him a slight embarrassment. He therefore
approached the beautiful widow with a certain abrupt and perplexed
manner, and spoke to her in that hasty, imperious tone which might
become a general, but which did not seem appropriate in a lady's
saloon. General Pichegru, who stood near Josephine, smiled, and even
her amiable countenance was overspread with a slight expression of
scorn, as she fixed her beautiful eyes on this pale, thin little
man, whose long, smooth hair fell in tangled disorder on either side
of his temples over his sallow, hollow cheeks; whose whole sickly
and gloomy appearance bore so little resemblance to the majestic
figure of the lion to which he had been so often compared after his
success of the thirteenth Vendemiaire.
"I perceive, general," suddenly exclaimed Josephine, "that you are
sorry it was your duty to fill Paris once more with blood and
horror. You would undoubtedly have preferred not to be obliged to
carry out the bloody orders of the affrighted Convention?"
Bonaparte shrugged his shoulders somewhat. "That is very possible,"
said he, perfectly quiet. "But what can you expect, madame? We
military men are but the automatons which the government sets in
motion according to its good pleasure; we know only how to obey; the
sections, however, cannot but congratulate themselves that I have
spared them so much. Nearly all my cannon were loaded only with
powder. I wanted to give a little lesson to the Parisians. The whole
affair was nothing but the impress of my seal on France. Such
skirmishes are only the vespers of my fame." [Footnote: Napoleon's
words.--See Le Normand, vol. i., p. 214.]
Josephine felt irritated, excited by the coldness with which
Napoleon spoke of the slaughter of that day; and her eyes, otherwise
so full of gentleness, were now animated with flashes of anger.
"Oh," cried she, "if you must purchase fame at such a price, I would
sooner you were one of the victims!"
Bonaparte looked at her with astonishment, but as he perceived her
flushed cheeks and flashing eyes, the sight of her grace and beauty
ravished him, and a soft, pleasant smile suddenly illumined his
countenance. He answered her violent attack by a light pleasantry,
and with gladsome unaffectedness he gave to the conversation another
turn. The small, pale, gloomy general was at once changed into a
young, impassioned, amiable cavalier, whose countenance grew
beautiful under the sparkling intelligence which animated it, and
whose enchanting eloquence made his conversation attractive and
lively, carrying with it the conviction of a superior mind.
After the visitors who had met that morning in Josephine's drawing-
room had departed the general still remained, notwithstanding the
astonished and questioning looks of the viscountess, paying no
attention to her remarks about the fine weather, or her intention to
enjoy a promenade. With rapid steps, and hands folded behind his
back, he paced a few times to and fro the room, then standing before
Josephine he fixed on her face a searching look.
"Madame," said he, suddenly, with a kind of rough tone, "I have a
proposition to make: give me your hand. Be my wife!"
Josephine looked at him, half-astonished, half-irritated. "Is it a
joke you are indulging in?" said she.
"I speak in all earnestness," said Bonaparte, warmly. "Will you do
me the honor of giving me your hand?"
The gravity with which Bonaparte spoke, the deep earnestness
imprinted on his features, convinced Josephine that the general
would not condescend to indulge in a joke of so unseemly a
character, and a lovely blush overspread the face of the
"Sir," said she, "who knows if I might not be inclined to accept
your distinguished offer, if, unfortunately, fate stood not in the
way of your wishes?"
"Fate?" asked Bonaparte, with animation.
"Yes, fate! my general," repeated Josephine, smiling. "But let us
speak no more of this. It is enough that fate forbids me to be the
wife of General Bonaparte. I can say no more, for you would laugh at
"But you would laugh at me if you could turn me away with so vague
an answer," cried Bonaparte, with vivacity. "I pray you, explain the
meaning of your words."
"Well, then, general, I cannot be your wife, for I am destined to be
Queen of France--yes, perhaps more than queen!"
It was now Bonaparte's turn to appear astonished and irritated, and
using her own words he said, shrugging his shoulders, "Madame, is it
a joke you are indulging in?"
"I speak in all earnestness," said Josephine, shaking her head.
"Listen, then: a negro-woman in Martinique foretold my fortune, and
as her oracular words have thus far been all fulfilled, I must
conclude that the rest of her prophecies concerning me will be
"And what has she prophesied to you?" asked Bonaparte, eagerly.
"She has told me: 'You will one day be Queen of France! you will be
still more than queen!'"
The general was silent. He had remained standing; but now slowly
paced the room a few times, his hands folded on his back and his
head inclined on his breast. Then again he stood before the
viscountess, and his eyes rested upon her with a wondrous bright and
"I bid defiance to fate," said he, somewhat solemnly. "This prophecy
does not frighten me away, and in defiance of your prophetic negro-
woman, I, the republican general, address my prayer to the future
Queen of France: be my wife!--give me your hand."
Josephine felt almost affrighted at this pertinacity of the general,
and a sentiment of apprehension overcame her as she looked into the
pale, decided countenance of this man, a stranger to her, and who
claimed her for his wife.
"Oh, sir," exclaimed she, with some anguish, "you offer me your hand
with as much carelessness as if the whole matter were merely for a
contra-dance. But I can assure you that marriage is a very grave
matter, which has no resemblance whatever to a gay dance. I know it
is so. I have had my sad experience, and I cannot so easily decide
upon marrying a second time."
"You refuse my hand, then?" said Bonaparte, with a threatening tone.
Josephine smiled. "On the contrary, general," said she, "give me
your hand and accompany me to my carriage, which has been waiting
for me this long time."
"That means you dismiss me! You close upon me the door of your
drawing-room?" exclaimed Bonaparte, with warmth.
She shook her head, and, bowing before him with her own irresistible
grace, she said in a friendly manner: "I am too good a patriot not
to be proud of seeing the conqueror of Toulon in my drawing-room.
To-morrow I have an evening reception, and I invite you to be
From this day Bonaparte visited Josephine daily; she was certain to
meet him everywhere. At first she sought to avoid him, but he always
knew with cunning foresight how to baffle her efforts, and to
overcome all difficulties which she threw in his way. Was she at her
friend Therese's, she could safely reckon that General Bonaparte
would soon make his appearance and come near her with eyes beaming
with joy, and in his own energetic language speak to her of his love
and hopes. Was she to be present at the receptions of the five
monarchs of Paris, it was General Bonaparte who waited for her at
the door of the hall to offer his arm, and lead her amid the
respectful, retreating, and gently applauding crowd to her seat,
where he stood by her, drawing upon her the attention of all. Did
she take a drive, at the accustomed hour, in the Champs Elysees, she
was confident soon to see General Bonaparte on his gray horse gallop
at her side, followed by his brilliant staff, himself the object of
public admiration and universal respect; and finally, if she went to
the theatre, General Bonaparte never failed to appear in her loge,
to remain near her during the performance; and when she left, to
offer his arm to accompany her to her carriage.
It could not fail that this persevering homage of the renowned and
universally admired young general should make a deep and flattering
impression on Josephine's heart, and fill her with pride and joy.
But Josephine made resistance to this feeling; she endeavored to
shield herself from it by maternal love.
She sent for her two children from their respective schools, and
with her nearly grown-up son on one side and her daughter budding
into maidenhood on the other, she thus presented herself to the
general, and with an enchanting smile said: "See, general, how old I
am, with a grown-up son and daughter who soon can make of me a
But Bonaparte with heart-felt emotion reached his hand to Eugene and
said, "A man who can call so worthy a youth as this his son, is to
A cunning, smiling expression of the eye revealed to Josephine that
he had understood her war-stratagem--that neither the grown-up son
nor the marriageable daughter could deter him from his object.
Josephine at last was won by so much love and tenderness, but she
could not yet acknowledge that the wounds of her heart were closed;
that once more she could trust in happiness, and devote her life to
a new love, to a new future. She shrank timidly away from such a
shaping of her destiny; and even the persuasions of her friends and
relatives, even of the father of her deceased husband, could not
bring her to a decision.
The state of her mind is depicted in a letter which Josephine wrote
to her friend Madame de Chateau Renaud, and which describes in a
great measure the strange uncertainty of her heart:
"You have seen General Bonaparte at my house! Well, then, he is the
one who wishes to be the father of the orphans of Alexandre de
Beauharnais and the husband of his widow. 'Do you love him?' you
will ask. Well, no!--"Do you feel any repugnance toward him?' No,
but I feel in a state of vacillation and doubt, a state very
disagreeable to me, and which the devout in religious matters
consider to be the most scandalizing. As love is a kind of worship,
one ought in its presence to feel animated by other feelings than
those I now experience, and therefore I long for your advice, which
might bring the constant indecision of my mind to a fixed
conclusion. To adopt a firm course has always appeared to my Creole
nonchalance something beyond reach, and I find it infinitely more
convenient to be led by the will of another.
"I admire the courage of the general; I am surprised at his ample
knowledge, which enables him to speak fluently on every subject; at
the vivacity of his genius, which enables him to guess at the
thoughts of others before they are expressed; but I avow, I am
frightened at the power he seems to exercise over every one who
comes near him. His searching look has something strange, which I
cannot explain, but which has a controlling influence even upon our
directors; judge, therefore, of his influence over a woman. Finally,
the very thing which might please--the violence of his passion--of
which he speaks with so much energy, and which admits of no doubt,
that passion is exactly what creates in me the unwillingness I have
so often been ready to express.
"The first bloom of youth lies behind me. Can I therefore hope that
this passion, which in General Bonaparte resembles an attack of
madness, will last long? If after our union he should cease to love
me, would he not reproach me for what he had done? Would he not
regret that he had not made another and more brilliant union? What
could I then answer? What could I do? I could weep. 'A splendid
remedy!' I hear you say. I know well that weeping is useless, but to
weep has been the only resource which I could find when my poor
heart, so easily wounded, has been hurt. Write to me a long letter,
and do not fear to scold me if you think that I am wrong. You know
well that everything which comes from you is agreeable to me."
[Footnote: "Memoires sur l'Imperatrice Josephine," par Madame
Ducrest p. 362.]
While Josephine was writing this letter to her friend, General
Bonaparte received one which produced upon him the deepest
impression, though it consisted only of a few words. But these words
expressed the innermost thought of his soul, and revealed to him
perhaps for the first time its secret wishes.
One evening as the general, returning home from a visit to the
Viscountess Josephine, entered into his drawing-room, followed by
some of his officers and adjutants, he observed on a large
timepiece, which stood on the mantel-piece, a letter, the deep-red
paper and black seal of which attracted his attention.
"Whence this letter?" asked he, with animation, of the servant-man
walking before him with a silver candlestick, as he pointed to the
But the waiter declared that he had not seen the letter, and that he
knew not where it came from.
"Ask the other servants, or the porter, who brought this red letter
with the black seal," ordered Bonaparte.
The servant hurried from the room, but soon returned, with the news
that no one knew any thing about the letter; no one had seen it, no
one knew who had placed it there.
"Well, then, let us see what it contains," said Bonaparte, and he
was going to break the seal, when Junot suddenly seized his hand and
tore the letter away from him.
"Do not read it, general," implored Junot; "I beseech you do not
open this letter. Who knows if some of your enemies have not sent
you a letter a la Catharine de Medicis? Who knows if it is not
poisoned--that the mere touch of it may not produce death?"
Bonaparte smiled at this solicitude of his tender friend, yet he
listened to his pressing alarms, and, instead of opening and reading
the letter, he passed it to Junot.
"Read it yourself, if you have the courage to do so," said be,
familiarly shaking his head.
Junot rapidly broke the black seal and tore the red paper. Then,
fixing his eyes on it, he threw it aside, and broke into loud, merry
"Well," asked Bonaparte, "what does the letter contain?"
"A mystery, my general--nothing more than a mystery," cried Junot,
presenting the letter to Bonaparte.
The letter contained but these words:
"Macbeth, you will be king.
"THE RED MAN."
Junot laughed over this mysterious note, but Bonaparte shared not in
his merriment. With compressed lips and frowning brow he looked at
these strange, prophetic words, as if in their characters he wanted
to discover the features of him who had dared to look into the most
hidden recesses of his soul; then he threw the paper into the
chimney-fire, and slowly and thoughtfully paced the room, while in a
low voice he murmured, "Macbeth, you will be king."
At last the conqueror of Toulon conquered also the heart of the
young widow who had so anxiously struggled against him; at last
Josephine overcame all her fears, all her terror, and, with joyous
trust in the future, was betrothed to General Bonaparte. But even
then, after having taken this decisive step, after love had cast
away fear, even then she had not the courage to reveal to her
children that she had contracted a new marriage-tie, that she was
going to give to the orphans of the Viscount de Beauharnais a new
father. Ashamed and timid as a young maid, she could not force
herself into acknowledging to the children of her deceased husband
that a new love had grown in her heart--that the mourning widow was
to become again a happy woman.
Josephine, therefore, commissioned Madame de Campan to communicate
this news to her Eugene and Hortense; to tell them that she desired
not only to have a husband, but also to give to her children a
faithful, loving father, who had promised to their mother with
sacred oaths to regard, love, and protect them as his own children.
The children of General Beauharnais received this news with tears in
their eyes; they complained loudly and sorrowfully that their mother
was giving up the name of their father and changing it for another;
that the memory of their father would be forever lost in their
mother's heart. But, through pure love for their mother, they soon
dried up these tears; and when next day Josephine, accompanied by
General Bonaparte, came to St. Germain, to visit Madame de Campan's
institution, she met there her daughter and son, who both embraced
her with the most tender affection, and, smiling under their tears,
offered their hands to General Bonaparte, who, with all the
sincerity and honesty of a deep, heart-felt emotion, embraced them
in his arms, and solemnly promised to treat them as a father and a
All Josephine's friends did not gladly give their approbation to her
marriage with this small, insignificant general, as yet so little
known, whose success before Toulon was already forgotten, and whose
victory of the thirteenth Vendemiaire had brought him but little
fame and made him many enemies.
Among the friends who in this union with Bonaparte saw very little
happiness for Josephine was her lawyer, the advocate Ragideau, who
for many years had been her family's agent, whose distinguished
talent for pleading and whose small figure had made him known
through all Paris, and of whom it was said that as a man he was but
a dwarf; but as a lawyer, he was a giant.
One day, in virtue of an invitation from the Viscountess de
Beauharnais, Ragideau came to the small hotel of the rue
Chautereine, and sent his name to the viscountess. She received his
visit, and at his entrance into her cabinet all those present
retreated into the drawing-room contiguous thereto, as they well
knew that Josephine had some business transactions with her lawyer.
Only one small, pale man, in modest gray clothing, whom Ragideau did
not condescend to notice, remained in the cabinet, who retired
quietly within the recess of a window.
Josephine received her business agent with a friendly smile, and
spoke long and in detail with him concerning a few important
transactions which had reference to her approaching marriage. Then
suddenly passing from the coldness of a business conversation to the
tone of a friendly one, she asked M. Ragideau what the world said of
her second marriage.
Ragideau shrugged his shoulders and assumed a thoughtful attitude.
"Your friends, madame," said he, "see with sorrow that you are going
to marry a soldier, who is younger than yourself, who possesses
nothing but his salary, and therefore cannot leave the service; or,
if he is killed in battle, leaves you perhaps with children, and
without an inheritance."
"Do you share the opinion of my friends, my dear M. Ragidean?" asked
"Yes," said the lawyer, earnestly, "yes, I share them--yes. I am not
satisfied that you should contract such a marriage. You are rich,
madame; you possess a capital which secures you a yearly income of
twenty-five thousand francs; with such an income you had claims to a
brilliant marriage; and I feel conscientiously obliged, as your
friend and business agent, in whom you have trusted, and who has for
you the deepest interest, to earnestly remonstrate with you while
there is yet time. Consider it well, viscountess; it is a reckless
step you are taking, and I entreat you not to do it. I speak to your
own advantage. General Bonaparte may be a very good man, possibly
quite a distinguished soldier, but certain it is he has only his hat
and his sword to offer you."
Josephine now broke into a joyous laugh, and her beaming eyes turned
to the young man there who, with his back turned to the party, stood
at the window beating the panes with his fingers, apparently
heedless of their conversation.
"General," cried out Josephine, cheerfully, "have you heard what M.
Bonaparte turned slowly round, and his large eyes fell with a
flaming look upon the little advocate.
"Yes," said he, gravely, "I have heard all. M. Ragideau has spoken
as an honest man, and every thing he has said fills me with esteem
for him. I trust he will continue to be our agent, for I feel
inclined to give him full confidence."
He bowed kindly to the little lawyer, who stood there bewildered and
ashamed, and, offering his arm to Josephine, Bonaparte led her into
the drawing-room. [Footnote: The little advocate Ragideau remained
after this Josephine's agent. When Bonaparte had become emperor, he
appointed Ragideau notary of the civil list, and always manifested
the greatest interest in his behalf, and never by a word or a look
did he remind him of the strange circumstance which brought about
their acquaintance.--See Meneval. "Napoleon et Marie Louise," vol.
i., p. 202.]
The decisive word had been spoken: Josephine de Beauharnais was now
the bride of General Bonaparte. His hitherto pale, gloomy
countenance was all radiant with the bright light of love and
happiness. The days of solitude and privations were forgotten; the
young, beautiful Desiree Clary, whom Bonaparte so much loved a few
months ago, and the amiable Madame Permont, were also forgotten (and
yet to the latter, in her loge at the theatre, as a farce between
acts, he had offered his hand); all the little love-intrigues of
former days were forgotten; to Josephine alone belonged his heart,
her alone he loved with all the impassioned glow and depth of a
first exclusive love.
But yet, now and then, clouds darkened his large pensive brow; even
her smile could not always illumine the gloomy expression on his
features; it would happen that, plunged in deep, sad cogitations, he
heard not the question which she addressed him in her remarkably
soft and clear voice which Bonaparte so much loved.
His lofty pride felt humiliated and disgraced by the part he was now
He was the general of the army of the interior, but beyond the
frontiers of France there stood another French army, whose soldiers
had not the sad mission to maintain peace and quietness at home, to
fight against brothers; but an army seeking for the foe, whose blood
and victories were to secure them laurels.
General Bonaparte longed to be with this army, and to obliterate the
remembrance of the 13th Vendemiaire and its sad victory by brilliant
exploits beyond the Alps. It was also to him a humiliating and
depressing feeling to become the husband of a wealthy woman, and not
bring her as a glorious gift or a wedding-present the fame and
laurels of a husband.
It has often been said that Josephine obtained for her husband, as a
wedding-gift, his appointment of commanding general of the army in
Italy; that she procured this appointment from Barras, with whom,
before her acquaintance with Bonaparte, she had been in closer
relationship than that of mere friendship. Even such historians as
Schlosser have accepted this calumny as truth, without taking pains
to investigate whether the facts justified this supposition. In the
great historical events which have shaken nations, it is really of
little importance if, under the light which illumines and brings out
such events, a shadow should fall and darken an individual. Even the
hatred and scorn with which a nation, trodden down in the dust,
curses a tyrant, and endeavors to take vengeance on his fame, ask
not if the stone flung at the hated one falls upon other heads than
the one aimed at.
Not Josephine, but Bonaparte, did they wish to injure when stating
she had been the beloved of Barras. It was Bonaparte whom they
wished to humble and mortify, when historians published that, not to
his merits, but to the petitions of his wife, he was indebted for
his commission as general of the army in Italy.
But truth justifies not this calumny; and when with the light of
truth the path of the widow of General Beauharnais is lighted, it
will be found that this path led to solitude and quietness; that at
none of the great and brilliant banquets which Barras then gave, and
which in the Moniteur are described with so much pomp, not once is,
the name of Viscountess de Beauharnais mentioned; that in the
numerous pasquinades and lampoons which then appeared in Paris and
in all France, and in which all private life was fathomed, not once
is the name of Josephine brought out, neither is there any indirect
allusion to her.
Calumny has placed this stain on Josephine's brow, but truth takes
it away. And that truth is, that not Josephine, but Bonaparte, was
the friend of Barras; that it was not Barras, but Carnot, who
promoted Bonaparte to the rank of commanding general of the army in
Carnot, the minister of war of the republic, the noble,
incorruptible republican, whose character, pure, bright, and true as
steel, turned aside all the darts of wickedness and calumny, which
could not inflict even a wound, or leave a stain on the brilliancy
of his spotless character, has given upon this point his testimony
in a refutation. At a later period, when the hatred of parties, and
the events of the 18th Fructidor, had forced him to flee from
France, he defended himself against the accusation launched at him
in the Council of the Five Hundred, which pointed him out as a
traitor to the republic; and this defence gave a detailed account of
the whole time of his administration, and especially what he
achieved for the republic, claiming as one of his services the
appointment of Bonaparte.
"It is not true," says he, "that Barras proposed Bonaparte for the
chief command of the army in Italy. I myself did it. But time was
allowed to intervene, so as to ascertain whether Bonaparte would
succeed before Barras congratulated himself, and then only to his
confidants, that it was he who had made this proposition to the
Directory. Had Bonaparte not answered the expectations, then I
should have been the one to blame: then it would have been I who had
chosen a young, inexperienced, intriguing man; and I who had
betrayed the nation, for the other members did not interfere in war-
matters; upon me all responsibility would have fallen. But as
Bonaparte is victorious, then it must be Barras who appointed him!
To Barras alone are the people indebted for this nomination! He is
Bonaparte's protector, his defender against my attacks! I am jealous
of Bonaparte; I cross him in all his plans; I lower his character; I
persecute him; I refuse him all assistance; I, in all probability,
am to plunge him into ruin!"--such were the calumnies which at that
time filled the journals bribed by Barras. [Footnote: "Response de
L. N. M. Carnot, citoyen francais, l'un des fondateurs de la
republique, et membre constitutionnel du Directoire executif an
rapport fait sur la conjuration du 18 Fructidor an conseil des Cinq
To Carnot, the secretary of war of the republic, did Bonaparte go,
to ask of him the command of the army in Italy. But Carnot answered
him, as he had already before Aubry, the minister of war, "You are
"Let us put appearances and age aside," said Bonaparte, impatiently.
"Alexander, Scipio, Conde, and many others, though still younger
than I, marched armies to brilliant conquests, and decided the fate
of whole kingdoms. I believe I have given a few proofs of what I can
achieve, if I am set at the right place; and I burn with great
longing to serve my country, to obtain victories over despots who
hate France because they fear, calumniate, and envy her!"
"I know you are a good patriot," said Carnot, slowly turning his
head; "I know and appreciate your services, and you may rest assured
that the obstacles which I place in your path are not directed
against you personally. But do you know the situation of our army?
It is devoured by the quartermaster; betrayed and sold, I fear, by
its general, and demoralized, notwithstanding its successes! That
army needs every thing, even discipline, whilst the enemy's army has
all that we need. We want nearly a miracle to be victorious. Whoever
is to lead to success our disordered, famished, disorganized army
must, above all things, possess its full confidence. Besides which,
without further events, I cannot dismiss the commanding general,
Scherer, but I must wait until some new disgrace furnishes me the
right to do so. You know all. Judge for yourself."
"I have already made all these objections within my own mind,"
replied Bonaparte, quietly; "yet I do not despair that if you will
give me your advice and assistance, I will overcome all these
difficulties. Listen to me, and I will let you know my plan for the
arrangement of the war, and I am convinced you will give it your
With glowing eloquence, complete clearness and assurance, and the
convincing quietude of a persuaded, all-embracing, all-weighing
mind, Bonaparte unfolded the daring and astounding plan of his
campaign. As he spoke, his face brightened more and more, his eyes
glowed with the fire of inspiration, his countenance beamed with
that exalted, wondrous beauty which is granted to genius alone in
the highest moments of its ecstasy; the small, insignificant, pale
young man became the bold, daring hero, who was fully prepared
gladly to tread a world under his feet.
Carnot, who had looked on in astonishment, was finally carried away,
inspired by the persuasive eloquence of the young general, who in a
few words understood how to map out battle-fields, to measure whole
engagements, and to give to every one the needful and appropriate
"You are right," cried Carnot, delighted, and offering his hand to
Bonaparte. "This plan must be carried out, and then we shall conquer
our enemies. I no longer doubt of the result, and from this moment
you can rely upon me. You shall be commander-in-chief of the army in
Italy. I will myself propose you to the Directory, and I will so
warmly speak in your favor, that my request will be granted."
[Footnote: "Memoires historiques et militaires, sur Carnot," vol.
On this day the face of General Bonaparte was irradiated with a
still deeper lustre than when Josephine avowed that his love was
returned, and when she consented to be his.
Josephine's affianced, in the depths of his heart, retained a deep,
unfulfilled desire, an unreached aim of his existence. The
commanding general of the army in Italy had nothing more to wish, or
to long for; he now stood at hope's summit, and saw before him the
brilliant, glorious goal of ambition toward which the path lay open
Love alone could not satisfy the heart of Napoleon; the larger
portion of it belonged to ambition--to the lust for a warrior's
"I am going to live only for the future," said Bonaparte, that day,
to Junot, as he related to him the successful result of his
interview with Carnot. "None of you know me yet, but you will soon.
You will see what I can do: I feel within me something which urges
me onward. Too long has the war been limited to a single district; I
will take it into the heart of the continent, I will bring it on
fresh soil, and so carry it out that the men of habit will lose
their footing, and the old officers their heads, so that they will
no more know where they are. The soldiers will see what one man,
with a will of iron, can accomplish. All this I will do--and from
this day I strike out from the dictionary the word 'impossible!'"
Carnot was true to his word. On the 23d day of February, 1796,
Bonaparte was appointed by the Directory commander-in-chief of the
army of Italy.
From the face of the young general beamed forth the smile of
victory; he was now certain of the future! He now knew that to his
Josephine he could offer more than a hat and a sword, that he would
bring her undying fame and victory's brilliant crown. This was to be
the dowry before which the twenty-five thousand francs' yearly
income, which the little giant Ragideau had so highly prized, would
fall into the background.
On the 9th of March the marriage between General Bonaparte and the
widow Viscountess Josephine de Beauharnais took place. Barras, as
member of the government, was Bonaparte's first witness; his second
was Captain Lemarrois, his adjutant; and the choice of this witness
was a delicate homage which Napoleon paid to his dear Josephine: for
Lemarrois was the one who had first led the boy Eugene to Bonaparte,
and had thus been the means of his acquaintance with Josephine.
The two witnesses of Josephine were Tallien, who had delivered her
from prison, and to whom she owed the restoration of her property,
and a M. Calmelet, an old friend and counsellor of the Beauharnais
family. [Footnote: "Souvenirs historiques du Baron de Meneval," vol.
i., p. 340.]
In the pure modesty of her heart, Josephine had not desired that the
two children of her deceased husband should be the witnesses of her
second marriage, and Bonaparte was glad that Josephine's bridal
wreath would not be bedewed with the tears of memory.
On this happy day of Bonaparte's marriage, so much of the past was
set aside, that the certificate of baptism of the betrothed was
forgotten, and the number of years which made Josephine older than
Bonaparte was struck out.
The civil record, which M. Leclerc received of the marriage of
Bonaparte and Josephine, describes them as being nearly of the same
age, for it ran thus: "Napoleon Bonaparte, born in Ajaccio, on the
5th of February, 1768; and Marie Josephe Rosa Tascher de la Pagerie,
born in Martinique, the 23d of June, 1767."
Bonaparte's glowing and impassioned love led him--in order to spare
his Josephine the smallest, degree of humiliation--to alter and
destroy the dates of the certificate of their baptism; for Bonaparte
was born on the 15th of August, 1769, and Josephine on the 23d of
June, 1763. She was consequently six years older than he; but she
knew not that these six years would, one day, be the abyss which was
to swallow her happiness, her love, her grandeur.
Two days after his marriage with Josephine, Bonaparte left Paris for
the army, to travel in haste, an uninterrupted journey toward Italy.
"I must hasten to my post," said he smiling to Josephine, "for an
army without a chief is like a widow who can commit foolish deeds
and endanger her reputation. I am responsible for the army's conduct
from the moment of my appointment."
Carnot had told Bonaparte the truth concerning the state of the army
in Italy. His statements were sustained by the proclamation which
the new commander-in-chief of the army in Italy addressed to his
soldiers, as for the first time he welcomed them at Nice.
"Soldiers," said he, "you are naked and badly fed; the government
owes you much, and can give you nothing. Your patience and the
courage you have exhibited amid these rocks are worthy of
admiration; but you gain no fame: no glory falls upon you here. I
will lead you into the fertile plains of the world; rich provinces
and large cities will fall into your power; there you will find
honor, fame, and abundance. Soldiers of Italy, would you fail in
courage and perseverance?" [Footnote: Norvins, "Histoire de
Napoleon," vol. i., p. 89.]
The mangled, ragged, half-starved soldiers answered with loud
enthusiastic shouts. When the vivats had died away, an old veteran
came out of the ranks, and with countenance half-defiant, half-
smiling, looking at the little general, he asked: "General, what
must we do that the roasted partridges, which are promised to us,
may fly into our mouths?"
"Conquer," cried Bonaparte, with a loud resounding voice--"conquer!
To the brave, glory and good repasts! To the coward, disgrace! To
the faint-hearted, misery! I will lead you into the path of victory.
Will you follow?"
"We will, we will!" shouted the soldiers. "Long live the little
general who is to deliver us from our wretchedness, who is to lead
us into victory's path!"
Bonaparte kept his word. He led them to Voltri, to the bridge of
Arcola, to Lodi.
But amid his wild career of fights, hardships, vigils, studies, and
perils, the thought of Josephine was the guiding star of his heart.
His mind was with her amid the battle's storm; he thought of her in
the camp, on the march, in the greatest conflict, and after the most
brilliant victories. This was shown in the letters he wrote every
day to Josephine; and in the brilliant hymns which the warrior, amid
the carnage of war, sung with the enthusiastic fervor of a poet to
his love and to his happiness.
It is the mission of eminent historians, when describing his
victorious campaign of Italy, to narrate his conquests; our mission
is simply to observe him in his conduct toward Josephine, and to
show how under the uniform of the warrior beat the heart of the
The letters which Bonaparte then wrote to Josephine are consequently
what concerns us most, and from which we will select a few as a
proof of the impassioned love which Napoleon felt for his young
LETTERS OF GENERAL BONAPARTE TO JOSEPHINE.
"PORT MAURICE, the 14th Germinal (April 3), 1796.
"I have received all your letters, but none has made so much
impression on me as the last one. How can you, my adored friend,
speak to me in that way? Do you not believe that my situation here
is already horrible enough, without your exciting my longings, and
still more setting my soul in rebellion? What a style! what emotions
you describe! They glow like fire, they burn my poor heart! My own
Josephine, away from you, there is no joy; away from you, the world
is a wilderness in which I feel alone, and have no one in whom I can
confide. You have taken from me more than my soul; you are the only
thought of my life. When I feel weary with the burden of affairs,
when I dread some inauspicious result, when men oppose me, when I am
ready to curse life itself, I place my hand upon my heart, your
image beats there; I gaze on it, and love is for me absolute bliss,
and everything smiles except when I am away from my beloved.
"By what art have you been able to enchain all my powers, and to
concentrate in yourself all my mental existence? It is an
enchantment, my dear friend, which is to end only with my life. To
live for Josephine, such is the history of my life! I am working to
return to you, I am dying to approach you! Fool that I am, I see not
that I am more and more drifting away from you! How much space, how
many mountains separate us! how long before you can read these
words, the feeble expression of a throbbing soul in which you rule!
Ah, my adored wife, I know not what future awaits me, but if it
keeps me much longer away from you, it will be intolerable; my
courage reaches not that far. There was a time when I was proud of
my reputation; and sometimes when I cast my eyes on the wrong which
men could have done me, on the fate which Providence might have in
reserve for me, I prepared myself for the most unheard-of
adversities without wrinkling the brow or suffering fear; but now
the thought that my Josephine should be uncomfortable, or sick, or,
above all, the cruel, horrible thought that she might love me less,
makes my soul tremble, and my blood to remain still, bringing on
sadness, despondency, and taking away even the courage of anger and
despair. In times past I used to say, 'Men have no power over him
who dies without regret.' But now to die without being loved by you,
to die without the certainty of being loved, is for me the pains of
hell, the living, fearful feeling of complete annihilation. It is as
if I were going to suffocate! My own companion, you whom fate has
given me, to make life's painful journey, the day when no more I can
call your heart mine, when nature will be for me without warmth,
without vitality. ... I will give way, my sweet friend (ma douce
amie); my soul is sorrowful, my body languishes; men weary me. I
have a good right to detest them, for they keep me away from my
"I am now in Port Maurice, near to Oneglia; to-morrow I go to
Albenga. Both armies are moving forward; we are endeavoring to
deceive each other. Victory belongs to the swiftest. I am well
satisfied with General Beaulieu, he manoeuvres well; he is a
stronger man than his predecessor. I trust to beat him soundly. Be
without care; love me as your eyes; but no, that is not enough, as
yourself, more than yourself, as your thoughts, as your spirit, your
life, your all! Sweet friend, pardon me; I am beyond myself; nature
is too weak for him who feels with passion, for him whom you love.
"To Barras, Sucy, Madame Tallien, my heart-felt friendship; to
Madame Chateau Renaud, kindest regards; for Eugene and Hortense, my
true love. N. B."
"ALBENGA, the 18th Germinal (April 7), 1796 [Footnote: The three
following letters have never been published until recently, and are
not to be found in any collection of letters from Napoleon and
Josephine, not even among those published by Queen Hortense:
"Lettres de Napoleon a Josephine, et de Josephine a Napoleon." They
are published for the first time in the "Histoire de l'Imperatrice
Josephine," by Aubenas, and were communicated to this author in
Napoleon's manuscript by the well-known and famous gatherer of
autographs, Feuillet de Couches.]
"I have just now received your letter, which you break off, as you
say, to go to the country; and then, you assume a tone as if you
were envious of me, who am here nearly overwhelmed by affairs and by
exertion! Ah, my dear friend, ... it is true, I am wrong. In the
spring it is so pleasant in the country; and then the beloved one of
eighteen years will be so happy there; how would it be possible to
lose one moment for the sake of writing to him who is three hundred
miles away from you, who lives, breathes, exists only in remembering
you, who reads your letters as a man, after hunting for six hours,
devours a meal he is fond of.
"I am satisfied. Your last letter is cold, like friendship. I have
not found in it the fire which glows in your eyes, the fire which I
have at least imagined to be there. So far runs my fancy. I found
that your first letters oppressed my soul too much; the revolution
which they created in me disturbed my peace and bewildered my
senses. I wanted letters more cold, and now they bring on me the
chill of death. The fear of being no more loved by Josephine--the
thought of having her inconstant--of seeing her ... But I martyrize
myself with anguish! There is enough in the reality, without
imagining any more! You cannot have inspired me with this
immeasurable love without sharing it; and with such a soul, such
thoughts, such an understanding as you possess, it is impossible
that, as a reward for the most glowing attachment and devotion, you
should return a mortal blow. ...
"You say nothing of your bodily sufferings; they have my regret.
Farewell till to-morrow, mio dolce amor. From my own wife a thought-
-and from fate a victory; these are all my wishes: one sole,
undivided thought from you, worthy of him who every moment thinks of
"My brother is here. He has heard of my marriage with pleasure. He
longs to become acquainted with you. I am endeavoring to persuade
him to go to Paris, His wife has recently given birth to a daughter.
They send you a box of bonbons from Genoa as a present. You will
receive oranges, perfumes, and water of orange-flowers, which I send
you. Junot and Murat send their best wishes.
The victory which Bonaparte implored from his destiny was soon to
take place; and the battle of Mondovi, which followed the
capitulation of Cherasco, made Bonaparte master of Piedmont and of
the passes of the Alps. He sent his brother Joseph to Paris, to lay
before the Directory pressing considerations concerning the
necessity and importance of concluding a permanent peace with the
King of Sardinia, so as to isolate Austria entirely in Italy. At the
same time Junot was to take to the Directory the conquered
standards. Joseph and Junot travelled together from Nice by means of
post-horses, and they made so rapid a journey that in one hundred
and twenty hours they reached Paris.
The victor's messengers and the conquered flags were received in
Paris with shouts of rapture, and with a glowing enthusiasm for
General Bonaparte. His name was on every tongue. In the streets and
on the squares crowds gathered together to talk of the glorious
news, and to shout their acclamations to the brave army and its
general. Even the Directory, the five monarchs of France, shared the
universal joy and enthusiasm. They received Joseph and Junot with
affable complacency, and communicated to the army and to its general
public eulogies. In honor of the messengers who had brought the
standards and the propositions of peace, they gave a brilliant
banquet; and Carnot, proud of having been the one who had brought
about Bonaparte's appointment, went so far in his enthusiasm as at
the close of the banquet to tear his garments open and exhibit to
the assembled guests Napoleon's portrait which he carried on his
"Tell your brother," cried he to Joseph, "that I carry him here on
my heart, for I foresee he will be the deliverer of France, and
therefore he must know that in the Directory he has only admirers
and friends." [Footnote: "Memoires du Roi Joseph," vol. i., p. 62.]
But something else, more glorious than these salutations of love
from France and from the Directory, was to be brought back by his
messengers to the victorious commander-his wife, his Josephine; he
claimed her as the reward of battles won. Joseph was not only the
messenger of the general, he was also the messenger of the lover;
and before delivering his papers to the Directory, he had first, as
Bonaparte had ordered him, to deliver to Josephine his letter which
called her to Milan. Napoleon had thus written to her:
"TO MY SWEET FRIEND!
"CAEN, the 3rd Floreal (May 24), 1796.
"My brother will hand you this letter. I cherish for him the most
intimate friendship. I trust he will also gain your affection. He
deserves it. Nature has gifted him with a tender and inexhaustibly
good character; he is full of rare qualities. I write to Barras to
have him appointed consul to some Italian port. He desires to live
with his little wife away from the world's great stream of events. I
recommend him to you.
"I have received your letters of the 16th and of the 21st. You have
indeed for many days forgotten to write. What, then, are you doing?
Yes, my dear friend, I am not exactly jealous, but I am sometimes
uneasy. Hasten, then, for I tell you beforehand that if you delay I
shall be sick. So great exertion, combined with your absence, is too
"Your letters are the joys of my days, and my happy days are not too
many. Junot takes to Paris twenty-two standards. You will come back
with him, will you not? .... Misery without remedy, sorrow without
comfort, unmitigated anguish, will be my portion if it is my
misfortune to see him come back alone, my own adored wife! He will
see you, he will breathe at your shrine, and perhaps you will even
grant him the special and unsurpassed privilege of kissing your
cheeks, and I, I will be far, far away! You will come here, at my
side, to my heart, in my arms! Take wings, come, come! Yet, journey
slowly; the road is long, bad, fatiguing! If your carriage were to
upset, if some calamity were to happen, if the exertion. ... Set out
at once, my beloved one, but travel slowly!
"I have received a letter from Hortense, a very acceptable one
indeed. I am going to answer it. I love her much, and will soon send
her the perfumes she desires. N. B."
But Josephine could not meet at once the ardent wishes of her
husband. She had, on the receipt of his letter, made with Joseph all
the necessary preparations for the journey; but the ailment which
had so long troubled her, broke out, and a violent illness
Bonaparte's suffering and anger at this news were unbounded; a
terrible restlessness and anxiety took possession of him, and, to
obtain speedy and reliable news from Josephine, he sent from Milan
to Paris a special courier, whose only business it was to carry a
letter to Josephine.
The general had nothing to communicate to the Directory; it was only
the lover writing to his beloved! What fire, what energy of passion,
penetrated him, is evident from the following letter:
"TORTONA, at noon, the 27th Prairial,
"In the Year IV. of the Republic (15th June, 1796).
"To Josephine: My life is a ceaseless Alpine burden. An oppressive
foreboding prevents me from breathing. I live no more, I have lost
more than life, more than happiness, more than rest! I am without
hope. I send you a courier. He will remain only four hours in Paris,
and return with your answer. Write me only ten lines; they will be
some comfort to me. ... You are sick, you love me, I have troubled
you; you are pregnant, and I cannot see you. This thought bewilders
me. I have done you so much wrong, that I know not how to make
amends for it. I found fault because you remained in Paris, and you
were sick! Forgive me, my beloved. The passion you have inspired in
me has taken my reason away; I cannot find it again. One is never
cured of this evil. My contemplations are so horrible, that it would
be a satisfaction to see you; to press you for two hours to my
heart, and then, to die together! Who takes care of you? I imagine
that you have sent for Hortense. I love this child a thousand times
more, when I think she can comfort you somewhat. As regards myself,
there will be no solace, no rest, no hope, before the courier whom I
have sent to you has returned, and you have told me in a long letter
the cause of your illness, and how serious it is. I tell you
beforehand that if it is dangerous I will at once go to Paris. My
presence would be called for by your sickness. I have always been
fortunate. Never has Fate stood against my wishes, and to-day it
strikes me where only wounds are possible. Josephine, how can you
delay so long in writing to me? Your last laconic note is dated the
3d of this month, and this adds to my sorrow. Yet I have it always
in my pocket. Your portrait and your letters are always under my
"I am nothing without you. I can scarcely understand how I have
lived without knowing you. Ah, Josephine, if you know my heart,
could you remain without writing from the 29th of May to the 16th of
June, and not travel hither? Have you lent an ear to faithless
friends, who wish to keep you away from me? I am angry with the
whole world; I accuse every one round about you. I had calculated
that you would leave on the 5th, and be at Milan on the 15th.
"Josephine, if you love me, if you believe that all depends on the
recovery of your health, take good care of yourself. I dare not tell
you not to undertake so long a journey--not to travel in the heat,
if you possibly can move. Make small journeys; write to me at every
stopping-place, and send me each time your letters by a courier. ...
Your sickness troubles me by night and by day. Without appetite or
sleep, without regard for friendship, reputation, or country!--you
and you alone! The rest of the world exists no more for me than if
it were sunk into oblivion. I still cling to honor, for you hold to
it; to fame, for it is a joy to you; if it were not for this, I
would have abandoned every thing to hasten to your feet.
"Sometimes, I say to myself: 'I trouble myself without cause, she is
already well, she has left Paris and is on the way, she is perhaps
in Lyons.' ... Fruitless deception! You are in your bed, suffering--
more interesting--more worthy of adoration; you are pale, and your
eyes are more languishing than ever! when you are well again, if one
of us is to be sick, cannot I be the one? for I am stronger, I have
more vital power, and would therefore sooner conquer sickness. Fate
is cruel, it strikes me through you.
"What sometimes comforts me is to know that on fate depends your
sickness, but that it depends on no one to oblige me to outlive you.
"Be careful, my dearly-beloved one, to tell me in your letter that
you are convinced that I love you above all that can be conceived;
that never has it come to me to think of other women; that they are
all in my eyes without grace, beauty, or wit; that you, you
entirely, you as I see you, as you are, can please me and fetter all
the powers of my soul; that you have grasped it in all its
immeasurableness; that my heart has no folds closed from your eyes,
no thoughts which belong not to you; that my energies, arms, mind,
every thing in me, is subject to you; that my spirit lives in your
body; that the day when you will be inconstant or when you will
cease to live, will be the day of my death, and that nature and
earth are beautiful to my eyes only because you live in them. If you
do not believe all this, if your soul is not convinced of it,
penetrated with it, then I am deceived in you, then you love me no
more. A magnetic fluid runs between persons who love one another.
You know that I could never see, much less could I endure, a lover:
to see him and to tear his heart would be one and the same thing;
and then I might even lay hands on your sacred person. ... no, I
would never dare do it, but I would fly from a world where those I
deem the most virtuous have deceived me.
"But I am certain of your love, and proud of it. Accidents are
probations which keep alive all the energies of our mutual
affections. My adored one, you will give birth to a child resembling
his mother; it will pass many years in your arms. Unfortunate that I
am, I would be satisfied with one day! A thousand kisses on your
eyes and lips! .... adored wife, how mighty is your spell! I am ill
on account of your illness. I have a burning fever. Retain the
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