The Private Life of Napoleon Bonaparte, Complete

Part 10 out of 15

friends with all the abandon of her young heart, then haughtiness and
constraint vanished, or reappeared only on occasions of ceremony.
Marie Louise was of a calm, thoughtful character; it took little to
arouse her sensitive spirit; and yet, although easily moved, she was by
no means demonstrative. The Empress had received a very careful
education, her mind was cultivated and her tastes very simple, and she
possessed every accomplishment.

She detested the insipid hours passed in idleness, and liked occupation
because it suited her tastes, and also because in a proper employment of
her time she found the only means of driving away ennui. I think she
was, in fact, a most congenial wife for the Emperor. She was too much
interested in the concerns of her own private life to ever mingle in
political intrigues, and, although she was both Empress and Queen, very
often was in entire ignorance of public affairs, except what knowledge
she obtained from the journals. The Emperor at the end of days filled
with agitation could find a little relaxation only in a quiet domestic
hearth, which restored to him the happiness of family life; and,
consequently, an intriguing woman or a talkative politician would have
annoyed him exceedingly.

Nevertheless, the Emperor sometimes complained of the want of affability
the Empress showed to the ladies of her court, and said that this
excessive reserve was injurious to him in a country where the opposite
extreme is most common.

This was because he was recalling the past somewhat, and thinking of the
Empress Josephine, whose constant gayety was the chief charm of the
court. He was necessarily struck by the contrast; but was there not some
injustice at the foundation of this? The Empress Marie Louise was the
daughter of an Emperor, and had seen and known only courtiers, and,
having no acquaintance with any other class, knew nothing of any world
outside the walls of the palace of Vienna. She arrived one fine day at
the Tuileries, in the midst of a people whom she had never seen except as
soldiers; and on this account the constraint of her manner towards the
persons composing the brilliant society of Paris seems to me to a certain
point excusable. It seems to me, besides, that the Empress was expected
to show a frankness and simplicity which were entirely misplaced; and,
by being cautioned over and over again to be natural, she was prevented
from the observance of that formality also suitable on the part of the
great, who should be approached only when they themselves give the
signal. The Empress Josephine loved the people because she had been one
of them; and in mounting a throne her expansive nature had everything to
gain, for she found it was only extending her friendship among a larger
circle. Inspired by her own kind heart, the Empress Marie Louise sought
to make those around her happy; and her benevolent deeds were long the
subject of conversation, and, above all, the delicate manner in which
they were performed. Each month she took from the sum allotted for her
toilet ten thousand francs for the poor, which was not the limit of her
charities; for she always welcomed with the greatest interest those who
came to tell her of distresses to be alleviated. From the eagerness with
which she listened to those soliciting aid, it would seem that she had
been recalled suddenly to a duty; and yet it was simply an evidence that
the chords of her sensitive heart had been touched. I do not know if any
one ever received from her a refusal of a demand of this sort. The
Emperor was deeply touched each time that he was informed of a benevolent
act of the Empress. At eight o'clock in the morning the curtains and
blinds were half opened in the apartments of the Empress Marie Louise,
and the papers were handed her; after reading which, chocolate or coffee
was served, with a kind of pastry called tongue. This first breakfast
she took in bed. At nine o'clock Marie Louise arose, made her morning
toilet, and received those persons privileged to attend at this hour.
Every day in the Emperor's absence, the Empress ascended to the apartment
of Madame de Montebello, her lady of honor, followed by her service,
composed of the chevalier of honor, and some of the ladies of the palace;
and on her return to her apartments, a light breakfast was served,
consisting of pastry and fruits. After her lessons in drawing, painting,
and music, she commenced her grand toilet. Between six and seven o'clock
she dined with the Emperor, or in his absence with Madame de Montebello,
the dinner comprising only one course. The evening was spent in
receptions, or at concerts, plays, etc.; and the Empress retired at
eleven o'clock. One of her women always slept in the room in front of
her bedroom, and it was through this the Emperor was obliged to pass when
he spent the night in his wife's room.

This customary routine of the Empress was changed, however, when the
Emperor was at the chateau; but when alone she was punctual in all her
employments, and did exactly the same things at the same hours. Her
personal domestics seemed much attached to her; for though cool and
distant in her manner, they always found her good and just.

In the Emperor's absence the portrait of the Duchess of Montebello
ornamented the Empress's room with those of the entire Imperial family of
Austria; but when the Emperor returned, the portrait of the duchess was
removed; and during the war between Napoleon and the Emperors of Austria
and Russia, the portrait of Francis II. was removed from his daughter's
room, by order of his Majesty, and was, I think, consigned to some secret

The King of Rome was a very fine child; and though he resembled the
Emperor less than the son of Hortense had done, his features were an
agreeable union of those of his father and mother. I never knew him
except in his infancy, and what was most remarkable in him at that age
was the great kindness and affection he showed to those around him. He
was much devoted to a young and pretty person named Fanny Soufflot,
daughter of the first lady of the bedchamber, who was his constant
companion; and, as he liked to see her always well dressed, he begged of
Marie Louise, or his governess, Madame the Countess of Montesquiou, any
finery that struck his fancy, which he wished to give to his young
friend. He made her promise to follow him to the war when he was grown,
and said many charming things which showed his affectionate disposition.

There was chosen as companion for the little king (as he styled himself)
a young child named Albert Froment, I think, the son of one of the ladies
of honor. One morning as they were playing together in the garden on
which the apartments of the king opened at Saint-Cloud, Mademoiselle
Fanny was watching them without interfering with their games, Albert
tried to take the king's wheelbarrow; and, when the latter resisted,
Albert struck him, whereupon the king exclaimed, "Oh, suppose some one
had seen you! But I will not tell!" I consider this a fine evidence of

One day he was at the windows of the chateau with his governess, amusing
himself by looking at the passers-by, and pointing out with his finger
those who attracted his attention. While standing there he saw below a
woman in deep mourning, holding by the hand a little boy also dressed in
mourning. The little child carried a petition, which he waved from a
distance to the prince, and seemed to be entreating him to receive.
Their black clothing made a deep impression on the prince, and he asked
why the poor child was dressed all in black. "Doubtless because his papa
is dead," replied the governess, whereupon the child expressed an earnest
desire to speak to the little petitioner. Madame de Montesquiou, who
especially desired to cultivate in her young pupil this disposition to
mercy, gave orders that the mother and child should be brought up. She
proved to be the widow of a brave man who had lost his life in the last
campaign; and by his death she had been reduced to poverty, and compelled
to solicit a pension from the Emperor. The young prince took the
petition, and promised to present it to his papa. And next day when he
went as usual to pay his respects to his father, and handed him all the
petitions presented to him the evening before, one alone was kept apart;
it was that of his little protege. "Papa," said he, "here is a petition
from a little boy whose father was killed on your account; give him a
pension." Napoleon was deeply moved, and embraced his son, and orders
for the pension were given that day. This conduct in so young a child
gives undeniable evidence of an excellent heart.

His early training was excellent; as Madame de Montesquiou had an
unbounded influence over him, owing to the manner at once gentle and
grave in which she corrected his faults. The child was generally docile,
but, nevertheless, sometimes had violent fits of anger, which his
governess had adopted an excellent means of correcting, which was to
remain perfectly unmoved until he himself controlled his fury. When the
child returned to himself, a few severe and pertinent remarks transformed
him into a little Cato for the remainder of the day. One day as he was
rolling on the floor refusing to listen to the remonstrances of his
governess, she closed tie windows and shutters; and the child, astonished
by this performance, forgot what had enraged him, and asked her why she
did this. "I did it because I was afraid you would be heard; do you
suppose the French people would want you as their prince, if they knew
that you gave way to such fits of anger?"--"Do you think they heard me?"
he inquired; "I would be very sorry if they had. Pardon, Mamma Quiou
[this was his name for her], I will not do it again."

The Emperor was passionately devoted to his son; took him in his arms
every time he saw him, and jumped him up and down most merrily, and was
delighted with the joy he manifested. He teased him by carrying him in
front of the glass and making grimaces, at which the child laughed till
he cried. While at breakfast he took him on his knee, dipped his finger
in the sauce and made him suck it, and smeared his face with it; and when
the governess scolded, the Emperor laughed still more heartily, and the
child, who enjoyed the sport, begged his father to repeat it. This was
an opportune moment for the arrival of petitions at the chateau; for they
were always well received at such times, thanks to the all-powerful
credit of the little mediator.

The Emperor in his tender moods was sometimes even more childish than his
son. The young prince was only four months old when his father put his
three-cornered hat on the pretty infant.

The child usually cried a good deal, and at these times the Emperor
embraced him with an ardor and delight which none but a tender father
could feel, saying to him,

"What, Sire, you crying! A king weeping; fie, then, how ugly that is!"
He was just a year old when I saw the Emperor, on the lawn in front of
the chateau, place his sword-belt over the shoulders of the king, and his
hat on his head, and holding out his arms to the child, who tottered to
him, his little feet now and then entangled in his father's sword; and it
was beautiful to see the eagerness with which the Emperor extended his
arms to keep him from falling.

One day in his cabinet the Emperor was lying on the floor, the king
riding horseback on his knee, mounting by jumps up to his father's face,
and kissing him. On another occasion the child entered the council
chamber after the meeting had ended, and ran into his father's arms
without paying attention to any one else, upon which the Emperor said to
him, "Sire, you have not saluted these gentlemen." The child turned,
bowed most gracefully, and his father then took him in his arms.
Sometimes when going to visit the Emperor, he ran so fast that he left
Madame de Montesquiou far behind, and said to the usher, "Open the door
for me, I want to see papa." The usher replied, "Sire, I cannot do it."
--"But I am the little king."--"No, Sire, I cannot open it." At this
moment his governess appeared; and strong in her protection he proudly
repeated, "Open the door, the king desires it."

Madame de Montesquiou had added to the prayers which the child repeated
morning and evening, these words: "My God, inspire papa to make peace for
the happiness of France." One evening the Emperor was present when his
son was retiring, and he made the same prayer, whereupon the Emperor
embraced him in silence, smiling most kindly on Madame de Montesquiou.

The Emperor was accustomed to say to the King of Rome when he was
frightened at any noise or at his grimaces, "Come, come! a king should
have no fear."

I recall another anecdote concerning the young son of the Emperor, which
was related to me by his Majesty himself one evening when I was
undressing him as usual, and at which the Emperor laughed most heartily.
"You would not believe," said he, "the singular reward my son desired of
his governess for being good. Would she not allow him to go and wade in
the mud?" This was, true, and proves, it seems to me, that the greatness
which surrounds the cradle of princes cannot eradicate from their minds
the singular caprices of childhood.


All the world is familiar with the name of the Abbe Geoffroy of satirical
memory, who drove the most popular actors and authors of the time to
desperation. This pitiless Aristarchus must have been most ardently
enamored of this disagreeable profession; for he sometimes endangered
thereby, not his life, which many persons would have desired earnestly
perhaps, but at any rate his health and his repose. It is well,
doubtless, to attack those who can reply with the pen, as then the
consequences of the encounter do not reach beyond the ridicule which is
often the portion of both adversaries. But Abbe Geoffroy fulfilled only
one of the two conditions by virtue of which one can criticise,--he had
much bitterness in his pen, but he was not a man of the sword; and every
one knows that there are persons whom it is necessary to attack with both
these weapons.

An actor whom Geoffroy had not exactly flattered in his criticisms
decided to avenge himself in a piquant style, and one at which he could
laugh long and loud. One evening, foreseeing what would appear in the
journal of the next day, he could think of nothing better than to carry
off Geoffroy as he was returning from the theater, and conduct him with
bandaged eyes to a house where a schoolboy's punishment would be
inflicted on this man who considered himself a master in the art of

This plan was carried out. Just as the abbe regained his lodging,
rubbing his hands perhaps as he thought of some fine point for tomorrow's
paper, three or four vigorous fellows seized him, and conveyed him
without a word to the place of punishment; and some time later that
evening, the abbe, well flogged, opened his eyes in the middle of the
street, to find himself alone far from his dwelling. The Emperor, when
told of this ludicrous affair, was not at all amused, but, on the
contrary, became very angry, and said that if he knew the authors of this
outrage, he would have them punished. "When a man attacks with the pen,"
he added, "he should be answered with the same weapon." The truth is also
that the Emperor was much attached to M. Geoffroy, whose writings he did
not wish submitted to censure like those of other journalist. It was
said in Paris that this predilection of a great man for a caustic critic
came from the fact that these contributions to the Journal of the Empire,
which attracted much attention at this period, were a useful diversion to
the minds of the capital. I know nothing positively in regard to this;
but when I reflect on the character of the Emperor, who wished no one to
occupy themselves with his political affairs, these opinions seem to me
not devoid of foundation.

Doctor Corvisart was not a courtier, and came rarely to the Emperor,
except on his regular visit each Wednesday and Saturday. He was very
candid with the Emperor, insisted positively that his directions should
be obeyed to the letter, and made full use of the right accorded to
physicians to scold their negligent patient. The Emperor was especially
fond of him, and always detained him, seeming to find much pleasure in
his conversation.

After the journey to Holland in 1811, M. Corvisart came to see the
Emperor one Saturday, and found him in good health. He left him after
the toilet, and immediately went to enjoy the pleasures of the chase, of
which he was exceedingly fond. He was in the habit of not announcing
where he was going, solely in order that he might not be interrupted for
some slight cause, as had happened to him sometimes, for the doctor was
most obliging and considerate. That day after his breakfast, which,
according to custom, he had devoured rapidly, the Emperor was taken
suddenly with a violent colic, and was quite ill. He asked for M.
Corvisart, and a courier was dispatched for him, who, not finding him in
Paris, hastened to his country house; but the doctor was at the chase, no
one knew where, so the courier was obliged to return without him. The
Emperor was deeply vexed, and as he continued to suffer extremely, at
last went to bed, and Marie Louise came and spent a few moments with him;
at last M. Yvan was summoned, and administered remedies which soon
relieved the Emperor.

M. Corvisart, somewhat anxious perhaps, came on Monday instead of
Wednesday; and when he entered Napoleon's room, the latter, who was in
his dressing-gown, ran to him, and taking him by both ears, said, "Well,
Monsieur, it seems that if I were seriously ill, I should have to
dispense with your services." M. Corvisart excused himself, asked the
Emperor how he had been affected, what remedies he had used, and promised
always to leave word where he could be found, in order that he might be
summoned immediately on his Majesty's orders, and the Emperor was soon
appeased. This event was really of advantage to the doctor; for he thus
abandoned a bad habit, at which it is probable his patients rejoiced.

M. Corvisart had a very great influence with the Emperor, so much so that
many persons who knew him gave him the soubriquet of doctor of petitions;
and it was very rarely he failed to obtain a favorable answer to his
requests. Nevertheless, I often heard him speak warmly in favor of M. de
Bourrienne, in order to impress upon the Emperor's mind that he was much
attached to his Majesty; but the latter always replied, "No, Bourrienne
is too much of an Englishman; and besides, he is doing very well; I have
located him at Hamburg. He loves money, and he can make it there."

It was during the year 1811 that Cardinal Fesch came most frequently to
the Emperor's apartments, and their discussions seemed to me very
animated. The cardinal maintained his opinions most vehemently, speaking
in a very loud tone and with great volubility. These conversations did
not last more than five moments before they became very bitter, and I
heard the Emperor raise his voice to the same pitch; then followed an
exchange of harsh terms, and each time the cardinal arrived I felt
distressed for the Emperor, who was always much agitated at the close of
these interviews. One day as the cardinal was taking leave of the
Emperor, I heard the latter say to him sharply, "Cardinal, you take
advantage of your position."

A few days before our departure for Russia the Emperor had me summoned
during the day, and ordered me to bring from the treasury the box of
diamonds, and place it in his room, and not to go far away, as he had
some important business for me. About nine o'clock in the evening I was
again summoned, and found M. de Lavalette, director-general of the post,
in the Emperor's room. His Majesty opened the box in my presence, and
examined the contents, saying to me, "Constant, carry this box yourself
to the count's carriage, and remain there till he arrives." The carriage
was standing at the foot of the grand staircase in the court of the
Tuileries; and I opened it, took my seat, and waited until half-past
eleven, when M. de Lavalette arrived, having spent all this time in
conversation with the Emperor. I could not understand these precautions
in delivering the diamonds to M. de Lavalette, but they were certainly
not without a motive.

The box contained the sword, on the pommel of which was mounted the
regent diamond, the handle also set with diamonds of great value; the
grand collar of the Legion of Honor; the ornaments, hatcord,
shoulder-piece, and buttons of the coronation robes, with the
shoe-buckles and garters, all of which were of immense value.

A short time before we set out for the Russian campaign, Josephine sent
for me, and I went at once to Malmaison, where this excellent woman
renewed her earnest recommendations to watch most carefully over the
Emperor's health and safety; and made me promise that if any accident,
however slight, happened to him, I would write to her, as she was
exceedingly anxious to know the real truth concerning him. She wept
much; talked to me constantly about the Emperor, and after a conversation
of more than an hour, in which she gave full vent to her emotions,
presented me with her portrait painted by Saint on a gold snuff-box. I
felt much depressed by this interview; for nothing could be more touching
than to see this woman disgraced, but still loving, entreating my care
over the man who had abandoned her, and manifesting the same affectionate
interest in him which the most beloved wife would have done.

On entering Russia, a thing of which I speak here more according to the
order of my reminiscences than in the order of time, the Emperor sent
out, on three different roads, details of select police to prepare in
advance lodgings, beds, supplies, etc. These officers were Messieurs
Sarrazin, adjutant-lieutenant, Verges, Molene, and Lieutenant Pachot. I
will devote farther on an entire chapter to our itinerary from Paris to

A short time before the battle of La Moskwa, a man was brought to the
camp dressed in the Russian uniform, but speaking French; at least his
language was a singular mixture of French and Russian. This man had
escaped secretly from the enemy's lines; and when he perceived that our
soldiers were only a short distance from him, had thrown his gun on the
ground, crying in a very strong Russian accent, "I am French," and our
soldiers had at once taken him prisoner.

Never was prisoner more charmed with his change of abode. This poor
fellow, who seemed to have been forced to take arms against his will in
the service of the enemies of his country, arrived at the French
camp, called himself the happiest of men in finding again his
fellow-countrymen, and pressed the hand of all the soldiers with an
ardor which delighted them. He was brought to the Emperor, and appeared
much over-awed at finding himself in the presence of the King of the
French, as he called his Majesty. The Emperor questioned him closely,
and in his reply he declared that the noise of the French cannon had
always made his heart beat; and that he had feared only one thing, which
was that he might be killed by his compatriots. From what he told the
Emperor it appeared that he belonged to that numerous class of men who
find themselves transplanted by their family to a foreign land, without
really knowing the cause of their emigration. His father had pursued at
Moscow an unremunerative industrial profession, and had died leaving him
without resources for the future, and, in order to earn his bread, he
had become a soldier. He said that the Russian military discipline was
one of his strongest incentives to desert, adding that he had strong
arms and a brave heart, and would serve in the French army if the
general permitted. His frankness pleased the Emperor, and he endeavored
to obtain from him some positive information on the state of the public
mind at Moscow; and ascertained from his revelations, more or less
intelligent, that there was much disturbance in that ancient capital.

He said that in the street could be heard cries of, "No more of Barclay!

[Prince Michael Barclay de Tolly, born in Livonia, 1755, of
Scottish extraction; distinguished himself in wars against Sweden,
Turkey, and Poland, 1788 and 1794, and against the French, 1806;
commanded Russian army against Napoleon in 1812, until superseded,
after battle of Smolensk, by Kutusoff, and commanded the right wing
at Borodino; afterwards commanded at Bautzen and Leipsic; died

Down with the traitor! dismiss him! Long live Kutusoff!" The merchant
class, which possessed great influence on account of its wealth,
complained of a system of temporizing which left men in uncertainty, and
compromised the honor of the Russian arms; and it was thought
unpardonable in the Emperor that he had bestowed his confidence on a
foreigner when old Kutusoff, with the blood and the heart of a Russian,
was given a secondary position. The Emperor Alexander had paid little
attention to these energetic complaints, until at last, frightened by the
symptoms of insurrection which began to be manifest in the army, he had
yielded, and Kutusoff had been named generalissimo, over which important
event there had been rejoicings and illuminations at Moscow. A great
battle with the French was talked of; enthusiasm was at its height in the
Russian army, and every soldier had fastened to his cap a green branch.
The prisoner spoke with awe of Kutusoff, and said that he was an old man,
with white hair and great mustaches, and eyes that struck him with
terror; that he lacked much of dressing like the French generals; that he
wore very ordinary clothes--he who could have such fine ones; that he
roared like a lion when he was angry; that he never started on a march
without saying his prayers; and that he crossed himself frequently at
different hours of the day. "The soldiers love him because they say he
so much resembles Suwarrow. I am afraid he will do the French much
harm," said he. The Emperor, satisfied with this information, dismissed
the prisoner, and gave orders that he should be allowed the freedom of
the camp; and afterwards he fought bravely beside our soldiers. The
Emperor made his entrance into Gjatsk with a most singular escort.

Some Cossacks had been taken in a skirmish; and his Majesty, who was at
this time very eager for information from every quarter, desired to
question these savages, and for this purpose had two or three brought to
his headquarters. These men seemed formed to be always on horseback, and
their appearance when they alighted on the ground was most amusing.
Their legs, which the habit of pressing their horses' sides had driven
far apart, resembled a pair of pincers, and they had a general air of
being out of their element. The Emperor entered Gjatsk, escorted by two
of these barbarians on horseback, who appeared much flattered by this
honor. I remarked that sometimes the Emperor could with difficulty
repress a smile as he witnessed the awkward appearance made by these
cavaliers from the Ukraine, above all when they attempted to put on airs.
Their reports, which the interpreter of the Emperor had some difficulty
in comprehending, seemed a confirmation of all his Majesty had heard
concerning Moscow. These barbarians made the Emperor understand by their
animated gestures, convulsive movements, and warlike postures, that there
would soon be a great battle between the French and the Russians. The
Emperor had brandy given them, which they drank like water, and presented
their glasses anew with a coolness which was very amusing. Their horses
were small, with cropped manes and long tails, such as unfortunately can
be seen without leaving Paris.

It is a matter of history that the King of Naples made a most favorable
impression on these barbarians. When it was announced to the Emperor one
day that they desired to appoint him their hetman, the Emperor was much
amused by this offer, and said jestingly that he was ready to indorse
this choice of a free people. The King of Naples had something
theatrical in his appearance which fascinated these barbarians, for he
always dressed magnificently. When his steed bore him in front of his
column, his beautiful hair disordered by the wind, as he gave those grand
saber strokes which mowed down men like stubble, I can well comprehend
the deep impression he made on the fancy of these warlike people, among
whom exterior qualities alone can be appreciated. It is said that the
King of Naples by simply raising this powerful sword had put to flight a
horde of these barbarians. I do not know how much truth there is in this
statement, but it is at least possible.

The Cossacks, in common with all races still in their infancy, believe in
magicians. A very amusing anecdote was told of the great chief of the
Cossacks, the celebrated Platoff. Pursued by the King of Naples, he was
beating a retreat, when a ball reached one of the officers beside him, on
which event the hetman was so much irritated against his magician that he
had him flogged in presence of all his hordes, reproaching him most
bitterly because he had not turned away the balls by his witchcraft.
This was plain evidence of the fact that he had more faith in his art
than the sorcerer himself possessed.

On the 3d of September, from his headquarters at Gjatsk, the Emperor
ordered his army to prepare for a general engagement. There had been for
some days much laxity in the police of the bivouacs, and he now redoubled
the severity of the regulations in regard to the countersigns. Some
detachments which had been sent for provisions having too greatly
prolonged their expedition, the Emperor charged the colonels to express
to them his dissatisfaction, adding that those who had not returned by
the next day could not take part in the battle. These words needed no

The country surrounding Gjatsk was very fertile, and the fields were now
covered with rye ready for the sickle, through which we saw here and
there broad gaps made by the Cossacks in their, flight. I have often
since compared the aspect of these fields in November and September.
What a horrible thing is war! A few days before the battle, Napoleon,
accompanied by two of his marshals, made a visit of inspection on foot in
the outskirts of the city.

On the eve of this great event he discussed everything in the calmest
manner, speaking of this country as he would have done of a beautiful,
fertile province of France. In hearing him one might think that the
granary of the army had here been found, that it would consequently
furnish excellent winter quarters, and the first care of the government
he was about to establish at Gjatsk would be the encouragement of
agriculture. He then pointed out to his marshals the beautiful windings
of the river which gives its name to the village, and appeared delighted
with the landscape spread before his eyes. I have never seen the Emperor
abandon himself to such gentle emotions, nor seen such serenity
manifested both in his countenance and conversation; and at the same time
I was never more deeply impressed with the greatness of his soul.

On the 5th of September the Emperor mounted the heights of Borodino,
hoping to take in at a glance the respective positions of the two armies;
but the sky was overcast. One of those fine, cold rains soon began to
fall, which so often come in the early autumn, and resemble from a
distance a tolerably thick fog. The Emperor tried to use his glasses;
but the kind of veil which covered the whole country prevented his seeing
any distance, by which he was much vexed. The rain, driven by the wind,
fell slanting against his field-glasses, and he had to dry them over and
over again, to his very great annoyance. The atmosphere was so cold and
damp that he ordered his cloak, and wrapped himself in it, saying that as
it was impossible to remain there, he must return to headquarters, which
he did, and throwing himself on the bed slept a short while. On awaking
he said, "Constant, I hear a noise outside; go see what it is." I went
out, and returned to inform him that General Caulaincourt had arrived; at
which news the Emperor rose hastily, and ran to meet the general, asking
him anxiously, "Do you bring any prisoners?" The general replied that
he had not been able to take prisoners, since the Russian soldiers
preferred death to surrender. The Emperor immediately cried, "Let all
the artillery be brought forward." He had decided that in his
preparations to make this war one of extermination, the cannon would
spare his troops the fatigue of discharging their muskets.

On the 6th, at midnight, it was announced to the Emperor that the fires
of the Russians seemed less numerous, and the flames were extinguished at
several points; and some few said they had heard the muffled sound of
drums. The army was in a state of great anxiety. The Emperor sprang
wildly from his bed, repeatedly exclaiming, "It is impossible!"

I tried to hand him his garments, that he might clothe himself warmly, as
the night was so cold; but he was so eager to assure himself personally
of the truth of these statements, that he rushed out of the tent with
only his cloak wrapped around him. It was a fact that the fires of the
bivouac had grown paler, and the Emperor had reason for the gravest
suspicions. Where would the war end if the Russians fell back now? He
re-entered his tent much agitated, and retired to bed again, repeating
many times, "We will know the truth to-morrow morning."

On the 7th of September, the sun rose in a cloudless sky, and the Emperor
exclaimed, "It is the sun of Austerlitz!" These words of the Emperor were
reported to the army, and repeated by them amid great enthusiasm. The
drums were beaten, and the order of the day was read as follows:

SOLDIERS,--Behold the battle you have so long desired! Henceforth
that victory depends on you which is so necessary to us, since it
will furnish us abundant provisions, good winter quarters, and a
prompt return to our native land. Conduct yourselves as at
Austerlitz, at Friedland, at Witepsk, at Smolensk, and let the most
remote posterity refer with pride to your conduct on this day; let
it be said of you, "He took part in the great battle under the walls
of Moscow."

The army replied by reiterated acclamations. The Emperor, a few hours
before the battle, had dictated this proclamation, and it was read in the
morning to the soldiers. Napoleon was then on the heights of Borodino;
and when the enthusiastic cries of the army struck his ear, he was
standing with folded arms, the sun shining full in his eyes, reflected
from the French and Russian bayonets. He smiled, then became more
serious until the affair was terminated.

On that day the portrait of the King of Rome was brought to Napoleon. He
needed some gentle emotion to divert his mind from this state of anxious
suspense. He held this portrait long on his knees, contemplating it with
delight, and said that it was the most agreeable surprise he had ever
received, and repeated several times in a low tone, "My good Louise!
This is a charming attention!" On the Emperor's countenance there rested
an expression of happiness difficult to describe, though the first
emotions excited were calm and even melancholy. "The dear child," was
all that he said. But he experienced all the pride of a father and an
Emperor when by his orders officers, and even soldiers, of the old guard
came to see the King of Rome. The portrait was placed on exhibition in
front of the tent; and it was inexpressibly touching to see these old
soldiers uncover themselves with respect before this image, in which they
sought to find some of the features of Napoleon. The Emperor had at this
moment the expansive joy of a father who knows well that next to him his
son has no better friends than his old companions in endurance and glory.

At four o'clock in the morning, that is to say one hour before the battle
opened, Napoleon felt a great exhaustion in his whole person, and had a
slight chill, without fever, however, and threw himself on his bed.
Nevertheless, he was not as ill as M. de Segur states. He had had for
some time a severe cold that he had somewhat neglected, and which was so
much increased by the fatigue of this memorable day that he lost his
voice almost entirely. He treated this with the soldier's prescription,
and drank light punch during the whole night, which he spent working in
his cabinet without being able to speak. This inconvenience lasted two
days; but on the 9th he was well, and his hoarseness almost gone.

After the battle, of every six corpses found, one would be French and
five Russian. At noon an aide-de-camp came to inform the Emperor that
Count Auguste de Caulaincourt, brother of the Duke of Vicenza, had been
struck by a ball. The Emperor drew a deep sigh, but said not a word; for
he well knew that his heart would most likely be saddened more, than once
that day. After the battle, he expressed his condolences to the Duke of
Vicenza in the most touching manner.

Count Auguste de Caulaincourt was a young man full of courage, who had
left his young wife a few hours after his marriage to follow the French
army, and to find a glorious death at the battle of La Moskwa. He was
governor of the pages of the Emperor, and had married the sister of one
of his charges. This charming person was so young that her parents
preferred that the marriage should not take place until he returned from
the campaign, being influenced in this decision by the fate of Prince
Aldobrandini after his marriage with Mademoiselle de la Rochefoucault
before the campaign of Wagram. General Auguste de Caulaincourt was
killed in a redoubt to which he had led the cuirassiers of General
Montbrun, who had just been fatally wounded by a cannon-ball in the
attack on this same redoubt.

The Emperor often said, in speaking of generals killed in the army,
"Such an one is happy in having died on the field of honor, while I shall
perhaps be so unfortunate as to die in my bed." He was less
philosophical on the occasion of Marshal Lannes's death, when I saw him,
while at breakfast, weeping such large tears that they rolled over his
cheeks, and fell into his plate. He mourned deeply for Desaix,
Poniatowski, and Bessieres, but most of all for Lannes, and next to him

During the whole of the battle of the Moskwa the Emperor had attacks
resembling stone in the bladder. He had been often threatened with this
disease unless he was more prudent in his diet, and suffered much,
although he complained little, and only when attacked by violent pain
uttered stifled groans. Now, nothing causes more anxiety than to hear
those complain who are unaccustomed to do so; for then one imagines the
suffering most intense, since it is stronger than a strong man. At
Austerlitz the Emperor said, "Ordener is worn out. There is only one
time for military achievement in a man's life. I shall be good for six
years longer, and after that I shall retire."

The Emperor rode over the field of battle, which presented a horrible
spectacle, nearly all the dead being covered with wounds; which proved
with what bitterness the battle had been waged. The weather was very
inclement, and rain was falling, accompanied by a very high wind. Poor
wounded creatures, who had not yet been removed to the ambulances, half
rose from the ground in their desire not to be overlooked and to receive
aid; while some among them still cried, "Vive l'Empereur!" in spite of
their suffering and exhaustion. Those of our soldiers who had been
killed by Russian balls showed on their corpses deep and broad wounds,
for the Russian balls were much larger than ours. We saw a color-bearer,
wrapped in his banner as a winding-sheet, who seemed to give signs of
life, but he expired in the shock of being raised. The Emperor walked
on and said nothing, though many times when he passed by the most
mutilated, he put his hand over his eyes to avoid the sight. This calm
lasted only a short while; for there was a place on the battlefield where
French and Russians had fallen pell-mell, almost all of whom were wounded
more or less grievously. And when the Emperor heard their cries, he
became enraged, and shouted at those who had charge of removing the
wounded, much irritated by the slowness with which this was done. It was
difficult to prevent the horses from trampling on the corpses, so thickly
did they lie. A wounded soldier was struck by the shoe of a horse in the
Emperor's suite, and uttered a heartrending cry, upon which the Emperor
quickly turned, and inquired in a most vehement manner who was the
awkward person by whom the man was hurt. He was told, thinking that it
would calm his anger, that the man was nothing but a Russian. "Russian
or French," he exclaimed, "I wish every one removed!"

Poor young fellows who were making their first campaign, being wounded to
the death, lost courage, and wept like children crying for their mothers.
The terrible picture will be forever engraven on my memory.

The Emperor urgently repeated his orders for removing the wounded
quickly, then turned his horse in silence, and returned to his
headquarters, the evening being now far advanced. I passed the night
near him, and his sleep was much disturbed; or, rather, he did not sleep
at all, and repeated over and over, restlessly turning on his pillow,
"Poor Caulaincourt! What a day! What a day!"


As I have announced previously, I shall endeavor to record in this
chapter some recollections of events personal to the Emperor which
occurred during the journey between the frontiers of France and Prussia.
How sad a contrast results, alas! as we attempt to compare our journey to
Moscow with that of our return. One must have seen Napoleon at Dresden,
surrounded by a court of princes and of kings, to form an idea of the
highest point which human greatness can reach. There more than ever
elsewhere the Emperor was affable to all; fortune smiled upon him,
and none of those who enjoyed with us the spectacle of his glory could
even conceive the thought that fortune could soon prove unfaithful to him
and in so striking a manner. I remember, among other particulars of our
stay at Dresden, a speech I heard the Emperor make to Marshal Berthier,
whom he had summoned at a very early hour. When the marshal arrived,
Napoleon had not yet risen, but I received orders to bring him in at
once; so that while dressing the Emperor, I heard between him and his
major-general a conversation of which I wish I could remember the whole,
but at least I am sure of repeating correctly one thought which struck
me. The Emperor said in nearly these words:--

"I wish no harm to Alexander; it is not on Russia that I am making war,
no more than on Spain; I have only one enemy,--England, and it is her I
am striving to reach in Russia; I will pursue her everywhere." During
this speech the marshal bit his nails, as was his constant habit. On
that day a magnificent review was held, at which all the princes of the
Confederation were present, surrounding their chief as great vassals of
his crown.

When the various army-corps marshaled from the other side of the Elbe had
advanced to the confines of Poland, we left Dresden, meeting everywhere
the same enthusiasm on the advent of the Emperor. We were as a result
sumptuously entertained in every place at which we halted, so anxious
were the inhabitants to testify their regard for his Majesty, even in the
person of those who had the honor of serving him.

At this time there was a general rumor in the army, and among the persons
of the Emperor's household, that his intention was to re-establish the
kingdom of Poland. Ignorant as I was, and from my position should
naturally be, of all political matters, I heard no less than others the
expression of an opinion which was universal, and which was discussed
openly by all. Sometimes the Emperor condescended to ask me what I
heard, and always smiled at my report, since I could not tell the truth
and say anything that would have been disagreeable to him; for he was
then, and I do not speak too strongly, universally adored by the Polish

On the 23d of June we were on the banks of the Niemen, that river already
become so famous by the interview between the two Emperors, under
circumstances very different from those in which they now found

The passage of the army began in the evening, and lasted for forty-eight
hours, during which time the Emperor was almost constantly on horseback,
so well he knew that his presence expedited matters. Then we continued
our journey to Wilna, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and on
the 27th arrived in front of this town, occupied by the Russians; and it
may truly be said that there, and there alone, military operations began,
for up to this time the Emperor had traveled as he would have done in the
departments of the interior of France. The Russians, being attacked,
were beaten and fell back, so that two days after we entered Wilna, a
town of considerable size, which seemed to me to contain about thirty
thousand inhabitants. I was struck with the incredible number of
convents and churches which are there. At Wilna the Emperor was much
gratified by the demand of five or six hundred students that they should
be formed into a regiment. It is needless to say that such solicitations
were always eagerly granted by his Majesty.

We rested for some time at Wilna; the Emperor thence followed the
movement of his armies, and occupied himself also with organizing the
Grand Duchy of Lithuania, of which this town, as is well known, is the
capital. As the Emperor was often on horseback, I had sufficient leisure
to acquaint myself thoroughly with the town and its environs. The
Lithuanians were in a state of enthusiasm impossible to describe; and
although I have seen during my life many fetes, I shall never forget the
joyous excitement of the whole population when the grand national fete of
the regeneration of Poland was celebrated, which owing either to a
singular coincidence, or the calculation of the Emperor, was appointed
for the 14th of July. The Poles were still uncertain as to the ultimate
fate which the Emperor reserved for their country; but a future bright
with hope shone before their eyes, until these visions were rudely
dispelled by the Emperor's reply to the deputation from the Polish
confederation established at Warsaw. This numerous deputation, with a
count palatine at its head, demanded the integral re-establishment of the
ancient kingdom of Poland. This was the Emperor's reply:--

"Messieurs, deputies of the Confederation of Poland, I have heard with
interest what you have just said. Were I a Pole, I should think and act
as you have done, and I should have voted like you in the assembly at
Warsaw; for love of country is the first virtue of civilized man.

"In my position I have many opposing interests to reconcile, and many
duties to fulfill. If I had reigned at the time of the first, second,
or third division of Poland, I would have armed all my people to sustain
you. As soon as victory permitted me to restore your ancient laws to
your capital and to a part of your provinces, I have done so readily,
without, however, prolonging a war which would have shed the blood of my

"I love your nation. For sixteen years I have seen your soldiers by my
side on the fields of Italy as on those of Spain.

"I applaud all that you have done; I authorize the efforts you wish to
make; and all that depends on me to carry out your resolutions shall be

"If your efforts are unanimous, you may indulge the hope of forcing your
enemies to recognize your rights. But in these countries, so distant and
so extensive, any hope of success can be founded only on the unanimous
efforts of the population which occupies them.

"I have maintained the same position since my first appearance in Poland.
I should add here that I have guaranteed to the Emperor of Austria the
integrity of his States, and I could authorize no movement tending to
disturb him in the peaceful possession of what remains to him of the
Polish provinces. Let Lithuania, Samogitia, Witepsk, Polotsk, Mohilow,
Wolhynia, Ukraine, and Podolia be animated by the same spirit I have seen
in great Poland, and Providence will crown with success the holiness of
your cause; it will recompense this devotion to your native country which
has made you such an object of interest, and has obtained for you the
right to my esteem and protection, on which you may rely under all

I have thought it best to give here the entire reply of the Emperor to
the deputies of the Polish confederation, as I was a witness of the
effect it produced at Wilna. A few Poles with whom I was associated
spoke to me of it with sorrow; but their consternation was not loudly
expressed, and the air did not the less resound with cries of "Vive
l'Empereur!" each time the Emperor showed himself in public, which is to
say almost every day.

During our stay at Wilna some hopes were entertained that a new peace was
about to be concluded, as an envoy had arrived from the Emperor
Alexander. But these hopes were of short duration; and I have since
ascertained that the Russian officer, M. Balochoff, fearing, like almost
all of his nation, a reconciliation between the two emperors, delivered
his message in such a manner as to rouse the pride of his Majesty, who
sent him back after a cool reception. Everything smiled on the Emperor.
He was then at the head of the most numerous as well as most formidable
army he had ever commanded. On M. Balachoff's departure everything was
set in order for the execution of his Majesty's plans.

When on the point of penetrating into the Russian territory, his Majesty
no longer maintained his customary serenity; at least, I had occasion to
remark that he was unusually silent at the hours I had the honor to
approach him; and, nevertheless, as soon as his plans were made, and he
had brought his troops from the other side of the Vilia, the river on
which Wilna is situated, the Emperor took possession of the Russian
territory with the enthusiastic ardor one would expect in a young man.
One of the escort which accompanied him related to me that the Emperor
spurred his horse to the front, and made him run at his utmost speed
nearly a league through the woods alone, and notwithstanding the numerous
Cossacks scattered through these woods which lie along the right bank of
the Vilia.

I have more than once seen the Emperor much annoyed because there was no
enemy to fight. For instance, the Russians had abandoned Wilna, which we
had entered without resistance; and again, on leaving this town scouts
announced the absence of hostile troops, with the exception of those
Cossacks of whom I have spoken. I remember one day we thought we heard
the distant noise of cannon, and the Emperor almost shuddered with joy;
but we were soon undeceived, the noise was the sound of thunder, and
suddenly the most frightful storm I have ever seen burst over the army.
The land for a space of more than four leagues was so covered with water
that the road could not be seen; and this storm, as fatal as a battle
could have been, cost us a large number of men, several thousand horses,
and a part of the immense equipments of the expedition.

It was known in the army that the Russians had done an immense amount of
work at Drissa, where they had constructed an enormous intrenched camp;
and the number of troops collected there, the considerable sums expended
in the works, all gave reason to believe that the Russian army would
await the French at this point; and this belief was all the more
reasonable since the Emperor Alexander, in his numerous proclamations
disseminated through the army, and several of which fell into our hands,
boasted of conquering the French at Drissa, where (said these
proclamations) we should find our grave. It was otherwise ordained by
destiny; for the Russians, constantly falling back towards the heart of
Russia, abandoned this famous camp of Drissa on the approach of the
Emperor: I heard it said by many general officers that a great battle
would have been at that time a salutary event for the French army, in
which discontent was beginning to increase, first, for want of enemies to
fight, and second; because privations of every kind became each day more
unendurable. Whole divisions lived, so to speak, by pillage. The
soldiers devastated the dwellings and cottages found at rare intervals in
the country; and, in spite of the severe orders of the Emperor against
marauding and pillaging, these orders could not be executed, for the
officers themselves lived for the most part on the booty which the
soldiers obtained and shared with them.

The Emperor affected before his soldiers a serenity which he was far from
feeling; and from a few detached words which I heard him pronounce in
this grave situation, I am authorized to believe that the Emperor desired
a battle so ardently, only in the hope that the Emperor Alexander would
make him new overtures leading to peace. I think that he would then have
accepted it after the first victory; but he would never have consented to
retrace his steps after such immense preparations without having waged
one of those great battles which furnish sufficient glory for a campaign;
at least, that is what I heard him say repeatedly. The Emperor also
often spoke of the enemies he had to combat with an affected disdain
which he did not really feel; his object being to cheer the officers and
soldiers, many of whom made no concealment of their discouragement.

Before leaving Wilna, the Emperor established there a kind of central
government, at the head of which he had placed the Duke of Bassano, with
the object of having an intermediate point between France and the line of
operations he intended to carry on in the interior of Russia.
Disappointed, as I have said, by the abandonment of the camp of Drissa by
the Russian army, he marched rapidly towards Witepsk, where the greater
part of the French forces were then collected: but here the ire of the
Emperor was again aroused by a new retreat of the Russians; for the
encounters of Ostrovno and Mohilev, although important, could not be
considered as the kind of battle the Emperor so ardently desired. On
entering Witepsk, the Emperor learned that the Emperor Alexander, who a
few days before had his headquarters there, and also the Grand Duke
Constantine, had quitted the army, and returned to St. Petersburg.

At this period, that is to say, on our arrival at Witepsk, the report was
spread abroad that the Emperor would content himself with taking position
there, and organizing means of subsistence for his army, and that he
would postpone till the next year the execution of his vast designs on
Russia. I could not undertake to say what his inmost thoughts were on
this subject; but what I can certify is that, being in a room adjoining
his, I one day heard him say to the King of Naples, that the first
campaign of Russia was ended, and that he would be the following year at
Moscow, the next at St. Petersburg, and that the Russian war was a three
years' campaign. Had it pleased Providence that his Majesty had executed
this plan, which he outlined to the King of Naples so earnestly, so many
of the brave would not have laid down their lives a few months after in
the frightful retreat, the horrors of which I shall hereafter describe.

During our stay at Witepsk, the heat was so excessive that the Emperor
was much exhausted, and complained of it incessantly; and I have never
seen him under any circumstances so oppressed by the weight of his
clothing. In his room he rarely wore his coat, and frequently threw
himself on his bed to rest. This is a fact which many persons can attest
as well as I; for he often received his general officers thus, though it
had been his custom never to appear before them without the uniform which
he habitually wore. Nevertheless, the influence which the heat had on
his physical condition had not affected his great soul; and his genius
ever on the alert embraced every branch of the administration. But it
was easily seen by those whose positions enabled them best to know his
character that the source of his greatest suffering at Witepsk was the
uncertainty whether he should remain in Poland, or should advance without
delay into the heart of Russia. While he was hesitating between these
two decisions he was nearly always sad and taciturn.

In this state of vacillation between repose and motion, the Emperor's
preference was not doubtful; and at the end of a council where I heard it
said that his Majesty met with much opposition, I learned that we were to
move forward and advance on Moscow, from which it was said that we were
only twenty days' march distant. Among those who opposed most vehemently
this immediate march on Moscow, I heard the names cited of the Duke of
Vicenza and the Count of Lobau; but what I can assert of my own
knowledge, and which I learned in a manner to leave no room for doubt, is
that the grand marshal of the palace tried on numerous occasions to
dissuade the Emperor from this project. But all these endeavors were of
no avail against his will.

We then directed our course towards the second capital of Russia, and
arrived after a few days march at Smolensk, a large and beautiful city.
The Russians, whom he thought he had caught at last, had just evacuated
it, after destroying much booty, and burning the greater part of the

We entered by the light of the flames, but it was nothing in comparison
to what awaited us at Moscow. I remarked at Smolensk two buildings which
seemed to me of the greatest beauty,--the cathedral and the episcopal
palace, which last seemed to form a village in itself, so extensive are
the buildings, and being also separated from the city.

I will not make a list of the places with barbarous names through which
we passed after leaving Smolensk. All that I shall add as to our
itinerary during the first half of this gigantic campaign is that on the
5th of September we arrived on the banks of the Moskwa, where the Emperor
saw with intense satisfaction that at last the Russians were determined
to grant him the great battle which he so ardently desired, and which he
had pursued for more than two hundred leagues as prey that he would not
allow to escape him.


THE day after the battle of the Moskwa, I was with the Emperor in his
tent which was on the field of battle, and the most perfect calm reigned
around us. It was a fine spectacle which this army presented, calmly
re-forming its columns in which the Russian cannon had made such wide
gaps, and proceeding to the repose of the bivouac with the security
which conquerors ever feel. The Emperor seemed overcome with fatigue.
From time to time he clasped his hands over his crossed knees, and I
heard him each time repeat, with a kind of convulsive movement, "Moscow!
Moscow!" He sent me several times to see what was going on outside, then
rose himself, and coming up behind me looked out over my shoulder. The
noise made by the sentinel in presenting arms each time warned me of his
approach. After about a quarter of an hour of these silent marches to
and fro, the sentinel advanced and cried, "To arms!" and like a
lightning flash the battalion square was formed around the Emperor's
tent. He rushed out, and then re-entered to take his hat and sword. It
proved to be a false alarm, as a regiment of Saxons returning from a
raid had been mistaken for the enemy.

There was much laughter over this mistake, especially when the raiders
came in sight, some bearing quarters of meat spitted on the ends of their
bayonets, others with half-picked fowls or hams which made the mouth
water. I was standing outside the tent, and shall never forget the first
movement of the sentinel as he gave the cry of alarm. He lowered the
stock of his gun to see if the priming was in place, shook the barrel by
striking it with his fist, then replaced the gun on his arm, saying,
"Well, let them come; we are ready for them." I told the occurrence to
the Emperor, who in his turn related it to Prince Berthier; and in
consequence the Emperor made this brave soldier drink a glass of his best
Chambertin wine.

It was the Duke of Dantzic who first entered Moscow, and the Emperor came
only after him. This entry was made in the night, and never was there a
more depressing scene. There was something truly frightful in this
silent march of an army halted at intervals by messages from inside the
city, which seemed to be of a most ominous character. No Muscovite
figures could be distinguished except those of a few beggars covered with
rags, who watched with stupid astonishment the army file past; and as
some few of these appeared to be begging alms, our soldiers threw them
bread and a few pieces of money. I cannot prevent a sad reflection on
these unfortunate creatures, whose condition alone remains unchanged
through great political upheavals, and who are totally without affection
and without national sympathies.

As we advanced on the streets of the faubourgs, we looked through the
windows on each side, and were astonished to perceive no human being; and
if a solitary light appeared in the windows of a few houses, it was soon
extinguished, and these signs of life so suddenly effaced made a terrible
impression. The Emperor halted at the faubourg of Dorogomilow, and spent
the night there, not in an inn, as has been stated, but in a house so
filthy and wretched that next morning we found in the Emperor's bed, and
on his clothes, vermin which are by no means uncommon in Russia. We were
tormented by them also to our great disgust, and the Emperor did not
sleep during the whole night he passed there. According to custom, I
slept in his chamber; and notwithstanding the precaution I had taken to
burn vinegar and aloes wood, the odor was so disagreeable that every
moment the Emperor called me.

"Are you asleep, Constant?"--"No, Sire."--"My son, burn more vinegar, I
cannot endure this frightful odor; it is a torment; I cannot sleep."
I did my best; but a moment after, when the fumes of the vinegar were
evaporated, he again recommended me to burn sugar or aloes wood.

It was two o'clock in the morning when he was informed that a fire had
broken out in the city. The news was received through Frenchmen residing
in this country, and an officer of the Russian police confirmed the
report, and entered into details too precise for the Emperor to doubt the
fact. Nevertheless, he still persisted in not believing it. "That is
not possible. Do you believe that, Constant? Go, and find out if it is
true." And thereupon he threw himself again on his bed, trying to rest a
little; then he recalled me to make the same inquiries.

The Emperor passed the night in extreme agitation, and when daylight came
he knew all. He had Marshal Mortier called, and reprimanded both him and
the young guard. Mortier in reply showed him, houses covered with iron
the roofs of which were uninjured, but the Emperor pointed out to him the
black smoke which was issuing from them, pressed his hands together, and
stamped his heels on the rough planks of his sleeping-room.

At six o'clock in the morning we were at the palace of the Kremlin, where
Napoleon occupied the apartment of the Czars, which opened on a vast
esplanade reached by a broad stone staircase. On this same esplanade
could be seen the church in which were the tombs of the ancient
sovereigns, also the senatorial palace, the barracks, the arsenal, and a
splendid clock tower, the cross on which towers above the whole city.
This is the gilded cross of Ivan. The Emperor threw a satisfied glance
over the beautiful scene spread out before him; for no sign of fire was
yet seen in all the buildings which surrounded the Kremlin. This palace
is a mixture of Gothic and modern architecture, and this mingling of the
two styles gives it a most singular appearance.

Within these walls lived and died the old dynasties of the Romanoff and
Ruric; and this is the same palace which has been so often stained with
blood by the intrigues of a ferocious court, at a period when all
quarrels were settled with the poniard. His Majesty could not obtain
there even a few hours of quiet sleep.

In fact, the Emperor, somewhat reassured by the reports of Marshal
Mortier, was dictating to the Emperor Alexander words of peace, and a
Russian flag of truce was about to bear this letter, when the Emperor,
who was promenading the length and breadth of his apartment, perceived
from his windows a brilliant light some distance from the palace. It was
the fire, which had burst out again fiercer than ever; and as the wind
from the north was now driving the flames in the direction of the
Kremlin, the alarm was given by two officers who occupied the wing of the
building nearest the fire. Wooden houses of many various colors were
devoured in a few moments, and had already fallen in; magazines of oil,
brandy, and other combustible materials, threw out flames of a lurid hue,
which were communicated with the rapidity of lightning to other adjoining
buildings. A shower of sparks and coals fell on the roofs of the
Kremlin; and one shudders to think that one of these sparks alone falling
on a caisson might have produced a general explosion, and blown up the
Kremlin; for by an inconceivable negligence a whole park of artillery had
been placed under the Emperor's windows.

Soon most incredible reports reached the Emperor; some said that Russians
had been seen stirring the fire themselves, and throwing inflammable
material into the parts of houses still unburned, while those of the
Russians who did not mingle with the incendiaries, stood with folded
arms, contemplating the disaster with an imperturbability which cannot be
described. Except for the absence of cries of joy and clapping of hands
they might have been taken for men who witness a brilliant display of
fireworks. It was soon very evident to the Emperor that it was a
concerted plot laid by the enemy.

He descended from his apartment by the great northern staircase made
famous by the massacre of the Strelitz. The fire had already made such
enormous progress that on this side the outside doors were half burned
through, and the horses refused to pass, reared, and it was with much
difficulty they could be made to clear the gates. The Emperor had his
gray overcoat burned in several places, and even his hair; and a moment
later we were walking over burning firebrands.

We were not yet out of danger, and were obliged to steer clear of the
burning rubbish which encumbered our path. Several outlets were tried,
but unsuccessfully, as the hot breezes from the fire struck against our
faces, and drove us back in terrible confusion. At last a postern
opening on the Moskwa was discovered, and it was through this the Emperor
with his officers and guard succeeded in escaping from the Kremlin, but
only to re-enter narrow streets, where the fire, inclosed as in a
furnace, was increased in intensity, and uniting above our heads the
flames thus formed a burning dome, which overshadowed us, and hid from us
the heavens. It was time to leave this dangerous place from which one
means of egress alone was open to us,--a narrow, winding street
encumbered with debris of every kind, composed of flaming beams fallen
from the roofs, and burning posts. There was a moment of hesitation
among us, in which some proposed to the Emperor to cover him from head to
foot with their cloaks, and transport him thus in their arms through this
dangerous passage. This proposition the Emperor rejected, and settled
the question by throwing himself on foot into the midst of the blazing
debris, where two or three vigorous jumps put him in a place of safety.

Then ensued a touching scene between the Emperor and the Prince of
Eckmuhl, who, wounded at the Moskwa, had himself borne back in order to
attempt to save the Emperor, or to die with him. From a distance the
marshal perceived him calmly emerging from so great a peril; and this
good and tender friend by an immense effort hastened to throw himself
into the Emperor's arms, and his Majesty pressed him to his heart as if
to thank him for rousing such gentle emotions at a moment when danger
usually renders men selfish and egotistical.

At length the air itself, filled with all these flaming masses, became so
heated that it could no longer be breathed. The atmosphere itself was
burning, the glass of the windows cracked,' and apartments became
untenable. The Emperor stood for a moment immovable, his face crimson,
and great drops of perspiration rolling from his brow, while the King of
Naples, Prince Eugene, and the Prince de Neuchatel begged him to quit the
palace, whose entreaties he answered only by impatient gestures. At this
instant cries came from the wing of the palace situated farthest to the
north, announcing that the walls had fallen, and that the fire was
spreading with frightful rapidity; and seeing at last that his position
was no longer tenable, the Emperor admitted that it was time to leave,
and repaired to the imperial chateau of Petrovskoi.

On his arrival at Petrovskoi the Emperor ordered M. de Narbonne to
inspect a palace which I think had belonged to Catherine. This was a
beautiful building, and the apartments handsomely furnished. M. de
Narbonne returned with this information; but almost immediately flames
burst from every side, and it was soon consumed.

Such was the fury of these wretches who were hired to burn everything,
that the boats which covered the Moskwa laden with grain; oats, and other
provisions, were burned, and sunk beneath the waves with a horrible
crackling sound. Soldiers of the Russian police had been seen stirring
up the fire with tarred lances, and in the ovens of some houses shells
had been placed which wounded many of our soldiers in exploding.

In the streets filthy women and hideous, drunken men ran to the burning
houses and seized flaming brands, which they carried in every direction,
and which our soldiers were obliged repeatedly to knock out of their
hands with the hilts of their swords before they would relinquish them.
The Emperor ordered that these incendiaries when taken in the act should
be hung to posts in the public squares; and the populace prostrated
themselves around these gallows, kissing the feet of those executed,
praying, and signing themselves with the sign of the cross. Such
fanaticism is almost unparalleled.

One incident of which I was a witness proves that those hired to carry
out this vast plot acted, evidently, according to instructions given by
higher authorities. A man covered with a sheepskin, old and tattered,
with a miserable capon his head, boldly mounted the steps of the Kremlin.
Under this filthy disguise an elegant costume was concealed; and when a
stricter surveillance was instituted, this bold beggar himself was
suspected, arrested, and carried before the police, where he was
questioned by the officer of the post. As he made some resistance,
thinking this proceeding somewhat arbitrary, the sentinel put his hand
on his breast to force him to enter; and this somewhat abrupt movement
pushing aside the sheepskin which covered him, decorations were seen,
and when his disguise was removed he was recognized as a Russian officer.
He had on his person matches which he had been distributing to the men of
the people, and when questioned admitted that he was specially charged to
keep alive the fire of the Kremlin. Many questions were asked, each
eliciting new confessions, all of which were made in the most indifferent
manner, and he was put in prison, and was, I think, punished as an
incendiary; but of this I am not certain. When any of these wretches
were brought before the Emperor, he shrugged his shoulders, and with
gestures of scorn and anger ordered that they should be removed from his
sight, and the grenadiers sometimes executed justice on them with their
bayonets; but such exasperation can be well understood in soldiers thus
driven by these base and odious measures from a resting-place earned by
the sword.

In Petrovskoi, a pretty residence belonging to one of Alexander's
chamberlains, a man was found concealed in one of the apartments his
Majesty was to occupy; but not being armed he was released, as it was
concluded that fright alone had driven him into this dwelling. The
Emperor arrived during the night at his new residence, and waited there
in intense anxiety till the fire should be extinguished at the Kremlin,
intending to return thither, for the pleasure house of a chamberlain was
no suitable place for his Majesty. Thanks to the active and courageous
actions of a battalion of the guard, the Kremlin was preserved from the
flames, and the Emperor thereupon gave the signal for departure.

In order to re-enter Moscow it was necessary to cross the camp, or rather
the several camps, of the army; and we wended our way over cold and miry
ground, through fields where all was devastation and ruin. This camp
presented a most singular aspect; and I experienced feelings of bitter
melancholy as I saw our soldiers compelled to bivouac at the gates of a
large and beautiful city of which they were the conquerors, but the fire
still more than they. The Emperor, on appointing Marshal Mortier
governor of Moscow, had said to him, "Above all, no pillage; you will
answer for it with your head." The order was strictly enforced up to the
moment the fire began; but when it was evident that the fire would devour
everything, and that it was useless to abandon to the flames what would
be of much value to the soldiers, liberty was given them to draw largely
from this great storehouse of the north.

It was at once sad and amusing to see around poor plank sheds, the only
tents our soldiers had, the most magnificent furniture, silk canopies,
priceless Siberian furs, and cashmere shawls thrown pell-mell with
silver dishes; and then to see the food served on these princely
dishes,--miserable black gruel, and pieces of horseflesh still bleeding.
Good ammunition-bread was worth at this time treble all these riches,
and there came a time when they had not even horseflesh.

On re-entering Moscow the wind bore to us the insufferable odor of
burning houses, warm ashes filled our mouths and eyes, and frequently we
drew back just in time before great pillars which had been burned in two
by the fire, and fell noiselessly on this calcined soil. Moscow was not
so deserted as we had thought. As the first impression conquest produces
is one of fright, all the inhabitants who remained had concealed
themselves in cellars, or in the immense vaults which extend under the
Kremlin; and driven out by the fire like wolves from their lairs, when we
re-entered the city nearly twenty thousand inhabitants were wandering
through the midst of the debris, a dull stupor depicted on faces
blackened with smoke, and pale with hunger; for they could not comprehend
how having gone to sleep under human roofs, they had risen next morning
on a plain. They were in the last extremity of want; a few vegetables
only remained in the gardens, and these were devoured raw, while many of
these unfortunate creatures threw themselves at different times into the
Moskwa, endeavoring to recover some of the grain cast therein by
Rostopchin's orders;

[Count Feodor Rostopchin, born 1765; died 1826. He denied that
Moscow was burnt by his authority. He claimed that it was burnt
partly by the French, and partly by Russians without orders.]

and a large number perished in the water in these fruitless efforts.
Such was the scene of distress through which the Emperor was obliged to
pass in order to reach the Kremlin.

The apartments which he occupied were spacious and well lighted, but
almost devoid of furniture; but his iron bedstead was set up there, as in
all the chateaux he occupied in his campaigns. His windows opened on the
Moskwa, and from there the fire could still be plainly seen in various
quarters of the city, reappearing on one side as soon as extinguished on
the other. His Majesty said to me one evening with deep feeling, "These
wretches will not leave one stone upon another." I do not believe there
was ever in any country as many buzzards as at Moscow. The Emperor was
annoyed by their presence, and exclaimed, "Mon Dieu! will they follow us

There were a few concerts during our stay at the Emperor's residence in
Moscow; but Napoleon seemed much dejected when he appeared at them, for
the music of the saloons made no impression on his harassed mind, and the
only kind that ever seemed to stir his soul was that of the camp before
and after a battle.

The day after the Emperor's arrival, Messieurs Ed---- and V---- repaired
to the Kremlin in order to interview his Majesty, and after waiting some
time without seeing him, were expressing their mutual regret at having
failed in this expectation, when they suddenly heard a shutter open above
their heads, and, raising their eyes, recognized the Emperor, who said,
"Messieurs, who are you?"--"Sire, we are Frenchmen!" He requested them
to mount the stairs to the room he occupied, and there continued his
questions. "What is the nature of the occupation which has detained you
in Moscow?"--"We are tutors in the families of two Russian noblemen,
whom the arrival of the French troops have driven from their homes. We
have submitted to the entreaties made by them not to abandon their
property, and we are at present alone in their palaces." The Emperor
inquired of them if there were still other Frenchmen at Moscow, and asked
that they should be brought to him; and then proposed that they should
charge themselves with maintaining order, appointing as chief, M. M----,
whom he decorated with a tri-colored scarf. He recommended them to
prevent the pillage of the French soldiers in the churches, and to have
the malefactors shot, and enjoined them to use great rigor towards the
galley-slaves, whom Rostopchin had pardoned on condition that they would
set fire to the city.

A part of these Frenchmen followed our army in its retreat, seeing that a
longer stay at Moscow would be most disagreeable to them; and those who
did not follow their example were condemned to work on the streets.

The Emperor Alexander, when informed of the measures of Rostopchin,
harshly rebuked the governor, and ordered him at once to restore to
liberty these unfortunate Frenchmen.


We re-entered the Kremlin the morning of the 18th of September. The
palace and the hospital for foundlings were almost the only buildings
remaining uninjured. On the route our carriages were surrounded by a
crowd of miserable Muscovites begging alms. They followed us as
far as the palace, walking through hot ashes, or over the heated stones,
which crumbled beneath their feet. The poorest were barefoot; and it was
a heart-rending sight to see these creatures, as their feet touched the
burning debris, give vent to their sufferings by screams and gestures of
despair. As the only unencumbered part of the street was occupied by our
carriages, this swarm threw themselves pell-mell against the wheels or
under the feet of our horses. Our progress was consequently very slow,
and we had so much the longer under our eyes this picture of the greatest
of all miseries, that of a people burned out of their homes, and without
food or the means to procure it. The Emperor had food and money given

When we were again established at the Kremlin, and had resumed our
regular routine of living, a few days passed in perfect tranquillity.
The Emperor appeared less sad, and in consequence those surrounding him
became somewhat more cheerful. It seemed as if we had returned from the
campaign, and taken up again the customary occupations of city life; but
if the Emperor sometimes indulged in this illusion, it was soon dispelled
by the sight Moscow presented as seen from the windows of his apartments,
and each time Napoleon's eyes turned in that direction it was evident
that he was oppressed by the saddest presentiments, although he no longer
manifested the same vehement impatience as on his first stay at the
palace, when he saw the flames surrounding him and driving him from his
apartments. But he exhibited the depressing calm of a careworn man who
cannot foresee how things will result. The days were long at the Kremlin
while the Emperor awaited Alexander's reply, which never came. At this
time I noticed that the Emperor kept constantly on his table Voltaire's
history of Charles XII.

The Emperor was a prey to his genius for administration, even in the
midst of the ruins of this great city; and in order to divert his mind
from the anxiety caused by outside affairs, occupied himself with
municipal organization, and had already arranged that Moscow should be
stocked with provisions for the winter.

A theater was erected near the Kremlin, but the Emperor never attended.
The troupe was composed of a few unfortunate French actors, who had
remained in Moscow in a state of utter destitution; but his Majesty
encouraged this enterprise in the hope that theatrical representations
would offer some diversion to both officers and soldiers. It was said
that the first actors of Paris had been ordered to Moscow, but of that I
know nothing positively. There was at Moscow a celebrated Italian singer
whom the Emperor heard several times, but only in his apartments, and he
did not form part of the regular troupe.

Until the 18th of October the time was spent in discussions, more or less
heated, between the Emperor and his generals, as to the best course to be
pursued. Every one well knew that retreat had now become inevitable, and
the Emperor was well aware of this fact himself; but it was plainly
evident that it cost his pride a terrible struggle to speak the decisive
word. The last days preceding the 18th were the saddest I have ever
known. In his ordinary intercourse with his friends and counselors his
Majesty manifested much coldness of manner; he became taciturn, and
entire hours passed without any one present having the courage to begin a
conversation. The Emperor, who was generally so hurried at his meals,
prolonged them most surprisingly. Sometimes during the day he threw
himself on a sofa, a romance in his hand which he simply pretended to
read, and seemed absorbed in deep reverie. Verses were sent to him from
Paris which he read aloud, expressing his opinion in a brief and
trenchant style; he spent three days writing regulations for the French
comedy at Paris. It is difficult to understand this attention to such
frivolous details when the future was so ominous. It was generally
believed, and probably not without reason, that the Emperor acted thus
from motives of deep policy, and that these regulations for the French
comedy at this time, when no bulletin had yet arrived to give information
of the disastrous position of the French army, were written with the
object of making an impression on the inhabitants of Paris, who would not
fail to say, "All cannot be going so badly, since the Emperor has time to
occupy himself with the theater."

The news received on the 18th put an end to all uncertainty. The Emperor
was reviewing, in the first court of the Kremlin palace, the divisions of
Ney, distributing the cross to the bravest among them, and addressing
encouraging words to all, when an aide-de-camp, young Beranger, brought
the news that a sharp engagement had taken place at Winkowo between Murat
and Kutusoff, and that the vanguard of Murat had been overwhelmed and our
position taken. Russia's intention to resume hostilities was now plainly
evident, and in the first excitement of the news the Emperor's
astonishment was at its height. There was, on the contrary, among the
soldiers of Marshal Ney an electric movement of enthusiasm and anger
which was very gratifying to his Majesty. Charmed to see how the shame
of a defeat, even when sustained without dishonor, excited the pride and
aroused a desire to retrieve it in these impassioned souls, the Emperor
pressed the hand of the colonel nearest to him, continued the review, and
ordered that evening a concentration of all the corps; and before night
the whole army was in motion towards Woronowo.

A few days before quitting Moscow, the Emperor had the churches of the
Kremlin stripped of their finest ornaments. The ravages of the fire had
relaxed the protection that the Emperor had extended to the property of
the Russians.

The most magnificent trophy in this collection was the immense cross of
the great Ivan. It was necessary to demolish a part of the tower on
which it stood in order to take it down, and it required stupendous
efforts to break this vast mass of iron. It was the Emperor's intention
to place it upon the dome of the Invalides, but it was sunk in the waters
of Lake Semlewo.

The evening before the Emperor was to hold a review, the soldiers were
busily employed polishing their arms and putting everything in order, to
conceal as far as possible the destitute condition to which they were
reduced. The most imprudent had exchanged their winter clothing for
provisions, many had worn out their shoes on the march, and yet each one
made it a point of honor to make a good appearance on review; and when
the glancing rays of the sun shone on the barrels of the well-polished
guns, the Emperor felt again in witnessing this scene some slight return
of the emotions with which his soul was filled on the glorious day of his
departure for the campaign.

The Emperor left twelve hundred wounded at Moscow, four hundred of whom
were removed by the last corps which quitted the city. Marshal Mortier
was the last to go. At Feminskoe, ten leagues from Moscow, we heard the
noise of a frightful explosion; it was the Kremlin which had been blown
up by the Emperor's orders. A fuse was placed in the vaults of the
palace, and everything arranged so that the explosion should not take
place within a certain time. Some Cossacks came to pillage the abandoned
apartments, in ignorance that a fire was smoldering under their feet, and
were thrown to a prodigious height in the air. Thirty thousand guns were
abandoned in the fortress. In an instant part of the Kremlin was a mass
of ruins. A part was preserved, and a circumstance which contributed no
little to enhance the credit of their great St. Nicholas with the
Russians was that an image in stone of this saint remained uninjured by
the explosion, in a spot where almost everything else was destroyed.
This fact was stated to me by a reliable person, who heard Count
Rostopchin himself relate it during his stay in Paris.

On the 28th of October the Emperor retraced his way to Smolensk, and
passed near the battle-field of Borodino. About thirty thousand corpses
had been left on this vast plain; and on our approach flocks of buzzards,
whom an abundant harvest had attracted, flew away with horrible
croakings. These corpses of so many brave men presented a sickening
spectacle, half consumed, and exhaling an odor which even the excessive
cold could not neutralize. The Emperor hastened past, and slept in the
chateau of Oupinskoe which was almost in ruins; and the next day he
visited a few wounded who had been left in an abbey. These poor fellows
seemed to recover their strength at the sight of the Emperor, and forgot
their sufferings, which must have been very severe, as wounds are always
much more painful when cold weather first begins. All these pale
countenances drawn with suffering became more serene. These poor
soldiers also rejoiced to see their comrades, and questioned them with
anxious curiosity concerning the events which had followed the battle of
Borodino. When they learned that we had bivouacked at Moscow, they were
filled with joy; and it was very evident that their greatest regret was
that they could not have been with the others to see the fine furniture
of the rich Muscovites used as fuel at the bivouac fires. Napoleon
directed that each carriage of the suite should convey one of these
unfortunates; and this was done, everybody complying with the order with
a readiness which gratified the Emperor exceedingly; and the poor wounded
fellows said in accents of most ardent gratitude, that they were much
more comfortable on these soft cushions than in the ambulances, which we
could well believe. A lieutenant of the cuirassiers who had just
undergone an amputation was placed in the landau of the Emperor, while he
traveled on horseback.

This answers every accusation of cruelty so gratuitously made against the
memory of a great man who has passed away. I have read somewhere with
intense disgust that the Emperor sometimes ordered his carriage to pass
over the wounded, whose cries of agony made not the slightest impression
on him; all of which is false and very revolting. None of those who
served the Emperor could have been ignorant of his solicitude for the
unfortunate victims of war, and the care he had taken of them.
Foreigners, enemies, or Frenchmen,--all were recommended to the surgeon's
care with equal strictness.

From time to time frightful explosions made us turn our heads, and glance
behind us. They were caissons which were being exploded that we might no
longer be encumbered with them, as the march became each day more
painful. It produced a sad impression to see that we were reduced to
such a point of distress as to be compelled to throw our powder to the
winds to keep from leaving it to the enemy. But a still sadder
reflection came into our minds at each detonation,--the grand army must
be rapidly hastening to dissolution when the material remaining exceeded
our needs, and the number of men still left was so much short of that
required to use it. On the 30th, the Emperor's headquarters were in a
poor hovel which had neither doors nor windows. We had much difficulty
in enclosing even a corner sufficient for him to sleep. The cold was
increasing, and the nights were icy; the small fortified palisades of
which a species of post relays had been made, placed from point to point,
marked the divisions of the route, and served also each evening as
Imperial headquarters. The Emperor's bed was hastily set up there, and a
cabinet arranged as well as possible where he could work with his
secretaries, or write his orders to the different chiefs whom he had left
on the road and in the towns.

Our retreat was often annoyed by parties of Cossacks. These barbarians
rushed upon us, lance in hand, and uttering rather howls of ferocious
beasts than human cries, their little, long-tailed horses dashing against
the flanks of the different divisions. But these attacks, though often
repeated, had not, at least at the beginning of the retreat, serious
consequences for the army. When they heard this horrible cry the
infantry was not intimidated, but closed ranks and presented bayonets,
and the cavalry made it their duty to pursue these barbarians, who fled
more quickly than they came.

On the 6th of November, before leaving the army, the Emperor received
news of the conspiracy of Malet and everything connected with it. He was
at first astonished, then much dissatisfied, and ended by making himself
very merry over the discomfiture of the chief of police, General Savary;
and said many times that had he been at Paris no one would have budged,
and that he could never leave at all without every one losing their heads
at the least disturbance; and from this time he often spoke of how much
he was needed in Paris.

Speaking of General Savary recalls to my memory an affair in which he was
somewhat nonplussed. After quitting the command of the gendarmerie, to
succeed Fouche in the office of minister of police, he had a little
discussion with one of the Emperor's aides-de-camp. As he went so far as
to threaten, the latter replied, "You seem to think you have handcuffs
always in your pockets."

On the 8th of November the snow was falling, the sky covered with clouds,
the cold intense, while a violent wind prevailed, and the roads were
covered with sleet. The horses could make no progress, for their shoes
were so badly worn that they could not prevent slipping on the frozen

The poor animals were emaciated, and it was necessary that the soldiers
should put their shoulders to the wheels in order to lighten their

There is something in the panting breath which issues from the nostrils
of a tired horse, in the tension of their muscles, and the prodigious
efforts of their loins, which gives us, in a high degree, the idea of
strength; but the mute resignation of these animals, when we know them to
be overladen, inspires us with pity, and makes us regret the abuse of so
much endurance.

The Emperor on foot in the midst of his household, and staff in hand,
walked with difficulty over these slippery roads, meanwhile encouraging
the others with kind words, each of whom felt himself full of good-will;
and had any one then uttered a complaint he would have been badly
esteemed by his comrades. We arrived in sight of Smolensk. The Emperor
was the least fatigued of all; and though he was pale, his countenance
was calm, and nothing in his appearance indicated his mental sufferings;
and indeed they must needs have been intense to be evident to the public.
The roads were strewn with men and horses slain by fatigue or famine; and
men as they passed turned their eyes aside. As for the horses they were
a prize for our famished soldiers.

We at last reached Smolensk on the 9th, and the Emperor lodged in a
beautiful house on the Place Neuve. Although this important city had
suffered since we had passed through before, it still had some resources,
and we found there provisions of all kinds for the Emperor's household
and the officers; but the Emperor valued but little this privileged
abundance, so to speak, when he learned that the army needed food for man
and beast. When he learned of this his rage amounted to frenzy, and I
have never seen him so completely beside himself. He had the commissary
in charge of the provisions summoned, and reproached him in such
unmeasured terms that the latter turned pale, and could find no words to
justify himself, whereupon the Emperor became still more violent, and
uttered terrible threats. I heard cries from the next room; and I have
been told since that the quartermaster threw himself at the feet of his
Majesty, beseeching pardon, and the Emperor, when his rage had spent
itself, pardoned him. Never did he sympathize more truly with the
sufferings of his army; never did he suffer more bitterly from his
powerlessness to struggle against such overwhelming misfortunes.

On the 14th we resumed the route which we had traversed a few months
before under far different auspices. The thermometer registered twenty
degrees, and we were still very far from France. After a slow and
painful march we arrived at Krasnoi. The Emperor was obliged to go in
person, with his guard, to meet the enemy, and release the Prince of
Eckmuhl. He passed through the fire of the enemy, surrounded by his old
guard, who pressed around their chief in platoons in which the shell made
large gaps, furnishing one of the grandest examples in all history of the
devotion and love of thousands of men to one. When the fire was hottest,
the band played the air, 'Where can one be better than in the bosom of
his family?' Napoleon interrupted them, exclaiming, "Play rather, 'Let
us watch over the safety of the Empire.'" It is difficult to imagine
anything grander.

The Emperor returned from this combat much fatigued. He had passed
several nights without sleeping, listening to the reports made to him on
the condition of the army, expediting orders necessary to procure food
for the soldiers, and putting in motion the different corps which were to
sustain the retreat. Never did his stupendous activity find more
constant employment; never did he show a higher courage than in the midst
of all these calamities of which he seemed to feel the weighty

Between Orcha and the Borysthenes those conveyances for which there were
no longer horses were burned, and the confusion and discouragement became
so great that in the rear of the army most of the stragglers threw down
their arms as a heavy and useless burden. The officers of the armed
police had orders to return by force those who abandoned their corps, and
often they were obliged to prick them with their swords to make them
advance. The intensity of their sufferings had hardened the heart of the
soldier, which is naturally kind and sympathizing, to such an extent that
the most unfortunate intentionally caused commotions in order that they
might seize from some better equipped companion sometimes a cloak,
sometimes food. "There are the Cossacks!" was their usual cry of alarm;
and when these guilty tricks became known, and our soldiers recovered
from their surprise, there were reprisals, and the confusion reached its

The corps of Marshal Davoust was one of those which suffered most in the
whole army. Of the seventy thousand men with which it left France, there
only remained four or five thousand, and they were dying of famine. The
marshal himself was terribly emaciated. He had neither clothing nor
food. Hunger and fatigue had hollowed his cheeks, and his whole
appearance inspired pity. This brave marshal, who had twenty times
escaped Russian bullets, now saw himself dying of hunger; and when one of
his soldiers gave him a loaf, he seized it and devoured it. He was also
the one who was least silent; and while thawing his mustache, on which
the rain had frozen, he railed indignantly against the evil destiny which
had thrown them into thirty degrees of cold. Moderation in words was
difficult while enduring such sufferings.

For some time the Emperor had been in a state of great anxiety as to the
fate of Marshal Ney, who had been cut off, and obliged to clear for
himself a passage through the midst of the Russians, who followed us on
every side.

As time passed the alarm increased. The Emperor demanded incessantly if
Ney had yet been seen, accusing himself of having exposed this brave
general too much, asking for him as for a good friend whom one has lost.
The whole army shared and manifested the same anxiety, as if this brave
soldier were the only one in danger. A few regarding him as certainly
lost, and seeing the enemy threaten the bridges of the Borysthenes,
proposed to cut them; but the army was unanimous in their opposition to
this measure.

On the 20th, the Emperor, whom this idea filled with the deepest
dejection, arrived at Basanoni, and was dining in company with the Prince
of Neuchatel and the Duke of Dantzic, when General Gourgaud rushed in
with the announcement that Marshal Ney and his troops were only a few
leagues distant. The Emperor exclaimed with inconceivable joy, "Can it
be true?" M. Gourgaud gave him particulars, which were soon known
throughout the camp. This news brought joy to the hearts of all, each of
whom accosted the other eagerly, as if each had found a long-lost
brother; they spoke of the heroic courage which had been displayed; the
talent shown in saving his corps in spite of snows, floods, and the
attacks of the enemy. It is due Marshal Ney, to state here, that
according to the opinion I have heard expressed by our most illustrious
warriors, his safe retreat is a feat of arms to which history furnishes
no parallel. The heart of our soldiers palpitated with enthusiasm, and
on that day they felt the emotions of the day of victory! Ney and his
division gained immortality by this marvelous display of valor and
energy. So much the better for the few survivors of this handful of
braves, who can read of the great deeds they have done, in these annals
inspired by them. His Majesty said several times, "I would give all the
silver in the vaults of the Tuileries to have my brave Ney at my side."

To Prince Eugene was given the honor of going to meet Marshal Ney, with a
corps of four thousand soldiers. Marshal Mortier had disputed this honor
with him, but among these illustrious men there were never any but noble
rivalries. The danger was immense; the cannon of Prince Eugene was used
as a signal, understood by the marshal, to which he replied by platoon
fires. The two corps met, and even before they were united, Marshal Ney
and Prince Eugene were in each other's arms; and it is said that the
latter wept for joy. Such scenes make this horrible picture seem
somewhat less gloomy. As far as the Beresina, our march was only a
succession of small skirmishes and terrible sufferings.

The Emperor passed one night at Caniwki, in a wooden cabin containing
only two rooms. The one at the back was selected by him, and in the
other the whole service slept pell-mell. I was more comfortable, as I
slept in his Majesty's room; but several times during the night I was
obliged to pass into this room, and was then compelled to step over the
sleepers worn out by fatigue. Although I took care not to hurt them,
they were so close together that it was impossible not to place my feet
on their legs or arms.

In the retreat from Moscow, the Emperor walked on foot, wrapped in his
pelisse, his head covered with a Russian cap tied under the chin. I
marched often near the brave Marshal Lefebvre, who seemed very fond of
me, and said to me in his German-French, in speaking of the Emperor,
"He is surrounded by a set of who do not tell the truth; he does not
distinguish sufficiently his good from his bad servants. How will he get
out of this, the poor Emperor, whom I love so devotedly? I am always in
fear of his life; if there were needed to save him only my blood, I would
shed it drop by drop; but that would change nothing, and perhaps he may
have need of me."


The day preceding the passage of the Beresina was one of terrible
solemnity. The Emperor appeared to have made his decision with the cool
resolution of a man who commits an act of desperation; nevertheless,
councils were held, and it was resolved that the army should strip itself
of all useless burdens which might harass its march. Never was there
more unanimity of opinion, never were deliberations more calm or grave.
It was the calm of men who decide to make one last effort, trusting in
the will of God and their own courage. The Emperor had the eagles
brought from each corps and burned, since he thought that fugitives had
no need of them. It was a sad sight to see these men advancing from the
ranks one by one, and casting in the flames what they valued more than
their lives, and I have never seen dejection more profound, or shame more
keenly felt; for this seemed much like a general degradation to the brave
soldiers of the battle of La Moskwa. The Emperor had made these eagles
talismans, and this showed only too plainly he had lost faith in them.
And although the soldiers realized that the situation of affairs must be
desperate to have come to this, it was at least some consolation to think
that the Russians would have only the ashes. What a scene was presented
by the burning of these eagles, above all to those who like myself had
been present at the magnificent ceremonies attending their distribution
to the army in the camp of Boulogne before the campaign of Austerlitz!

Horses were needed for the artillery, and at this critical moment the
artillery was the safeguard of the army. The Emperor consequently gave
orders that the horses should be impressed, for he estimated the loss of
a single cannon or caisson as irreparable. The artillery was confided to
the care of a corps composed entirely of officers, and numbering about
five hundred men. His Majesty was so much touched at seeing these brave
officers become soldiers again, put their hand to the cannon like simple
cannoneers, and resume their practice of the manual of arms in their
devotion to duty, that he called this corps his sacred squadron. With
the same spirit which made these officers become soldiers again, the
other superior officers descended to a lower rank, with no concern as to
the designation of their grade. Generals of division Grouchy and
Sebastiani took again the rank of simple captain.

When near Borizow we halted at the sound of loud shouts, thinking
ourselves cut off by the Russian army. I saw the Emperor grow pale; it
was like a thunderbolt. A few lancers were hastily dispatched, and we
saw them soon returning waving their banners in the air. His Majesty
understood the signal, and even before the cuirassiers had reassured us,
so clearly did he keep in mind even the possible position of each corps
of his army, he exclaimed, "I bet it is Victor." And in fact it was
Marshal Victor, who awaited us with lively impatience. It seemed that
the marshal's army had received very vague information of our disasters,
and was prepared to receive the Emperor with joy and enthusiasm. His
soldiers still fresh and vigorous, at least compared with the rest of the
army, could hardly believe the evidence of their own eyes when they saw
our wretched condition; but the cries of "Vive l'Empereur" were none the
less enthusiastic.

But a different impression was made when the rear guard of the army filed
before them; and great confusion ensued, as each one of the marshal's
army who recognized a friend rushed out of the ranks and hastened to him,
offering food and clothing, and were almost frightened by the voracity
with which they ate, while many embraced each other silently in tears.
One of the marshal's best and bravest officers stripped off his uniform
to give it to a poor soldier whose tattered clothing exposed him almost
naked to the cold, donning himself an old cloak full of holes, saying
that he had more strength to resist the freezing temperature. If an
excess of misery sometimes dries up the fountains of the heart, sometimes
also it elevates men to a great height, as we see in this instance. Many
of the most wretched blew out their brains in despair; and there was in
this act, the last which nature suggests as an end to misery,
a resignation and coolness which makes one shudder to contemplate. Those
who thus put an end to their lives cared less for death than they did to
put an end to their insupportable sufferings, and I witnessed during the
whole of this disastrous campaign what vain things are physical strength
and human courage when the moral strength springing from a determined
will is lacking. The Emperor marched between the armies of Marshal
Victor and Marshal Oudinot; and it was a depressing sight to see these
movable masses halt sometimes in succession,--first those in front, then
those who came next, then the last. And when Marshal Oudinot who was in
the lead suspended his march from any unknown cause, there was a general
movement of alarm, and ominous rumors were circulated; and since men who
have seen much are disposed to believe anything, false rumors were as
readily credited as true, and the alarm lasted until the front of the
army again moved forward, and their confidence was somewhat restored.

On the 25th, at five o'clock in the evening, there had been thrown across
the river temporary bridges made of beams taken from the cabins of the
Poles. It had been reported in the army that the bridges would be
finished during the night. The Emperor was much disturbed when informed
that the army had been thus deceived; for he knew how much more quickly
discouragement ensues when hope has been frustrated, and consequently
took great pains to keep the rear of the army informed as to every
incident, so that the soldiers should never be left under cruel
delusions. At a little after five the beams gave way, not being
sufficiently strong; and as it was necessary to wait until the next day,
the army again abandoned itself to gloomy forebodings. It was evident
that they must endure the fire of the enemy all the next day. But there
was no longer any choice; for it was only at the end of this night of
agony and suffering of every description that the first beams were
secured in the river. It is hard to comprehend how men could submit to
stand up to their mouths in water filled with ice, and rallying all the
strength which nature had given them, with all that the energy of
devotion furnished, and drive piles several feet deep into a miry bed,
struggling against the most horrible fatigue, pushing back with their
hands enormous blocks of ice, which would have submerged and sunk them
with their weight; in a word, warring even to the death with cold, the
greatest enemy of life. This marvelous feat was accomplished by our
French pontoon corps. Many perished, borne away by the current or
benumbed by the cold. The glory of this achievement, in my opinion,
exceeds in value many others.

The Emperor awaited daylight in a poor hut, and in the morning said to
Prince Berthier, "Well, Berthier, how can we get out of this?" He was
seated in his room, great tears flowing down his cheeks, which were paler
than usual; and the prince was seated near him.

They exchanged few words, and the Emperor appeared overcome by his grief.
I leave to the imagination what was passing in his soul. At last the
King of Naples opened his heart to his brother-in-law, and entreated him,
in the name of the army, to think of his own safety, so imminent had the
peril become. Some brave Poles had offered themselves as escort for the
Emperor; he could cross the Beresina higher up, and reach Wilna in five
days. The Emperor silently shook his head in token of refusal, which the
king understood, and the matter was no longer considered.

Amid overwhelming disasters, the few blessings which reach us are doubly
felt. I observed this many times in the case of his Majesty and his
unfortunate army. On the banks of the Beresina, just as the first
supports of the bridge had been thrown across, Marshal Ney and the King
of Naples rushed at a gallop to the Emperor, calling to him that the
enemy had abandoned his threatening position; and I saw the Emperor,
beside himself with joy, not being able to believe his ears, go himself
at a run to throw a searching glance in the direction they said Admiral
Tschitzakoff had taken. This news was indeed true; and the Emperor,
overjoyed and out of breath from his race, exclaimed, "I have deceived
the admiral." This retrograde movement of the enemy was hard to
understand, when the opportunity to overwhelm us was within his reach;
and I doubt whether the Emperor, in spite of his apparent satisfaction,
was very sure of the happy consequences which this retreat of the enemy
might bring to us.

Before the bridge was finished, about four hundred men were carried part
of the way across the river on two miserable rafts, which could hardly
sustain themselves against the current; and we saw them from the bank
rudely shaken by the great blocks of ice which encumbered the river.
These blocks came to the very edge of the raft, where, finding an
obstacle, they remained stationary for some time, then were suddenly
ingulfed under these frail planks with a terrible shock, though the
soldiers stopped the largest with their bayonets, and turned their course
aside from the rafts.

The impatience of the army was at its height. The first who reached the
opposite bank were the brave Jacqueminot, aide-de-camp of Marshal
Oudinot, and Count Predzieczki, a brave Lithuanian, of whom the Emperor
was very fond, especially since he had shared our sufferings with such
fidelity and devotion. Both crossed the river on horseback, and the army
uttered shouts of admiration as they saw that the chiefs were the first
to set the example of intrepidity. They braved enough dangers to make
the strongest brain reel. The current forced their horses to swim
diagonally across, which doubled the length of the passage; and as they
swam, blocks of ice struck against their flanks and sides, making
terrible gashes.

At one o'clock General Legrand and his division were crossing the bridge
constructed for the infantry, while the Emperor sat on the opposite bank,
and some of the cannon becoming entangled had for an instant delayed the
march. The Emperor rushed on the bridge, put his hand to the work, and
assisted in separating the pieces. The enthusiasm of the soldiers was at
its height; and it was amid cries of "Vive l'Empereur" that the infantry
set foot on the opposite bank.

A short time after, the Emperor, learning that General Partonneaux had
laid down his arms, was deeply affected by this news, and gave vent to
reproaches which were somewhat unjust to the general. Later, when he had
received more correct information, he understood perfectly the part which
necessity and despair had played in this surrender.

It is a fact that the brave general did not come to this decision till he
had done all that a brave man could under the circumstances; for it is
permitted a man to recoil when there is nothing left but to let himself
be killed to no purpose.

When the artillery and baggage-wagons passed, the bridge was so
overloaded that it fell in; and instantly a retrograde movement took
place, which crowded together all the multitude of stragglers who were
advancing, like a flock being herded, in the rear of the artillery.
Another bridge had been constructed, as if the sad thought had occurred
that the first might give way. But the second was narrow and without a
railing; nevertheless, it at first seemed a very valuable makeshift in
such a calamity. But how disasters follow each other! The stragglers
rushed there in crowds. The artillery, the baggage-wagons, in a word,
all the army material, had been in the front on the first bridge when,
it was broken; and when, from the sudden panic which seized on those in
the rear of this multitude, the dreadful catastrophe was learned, the
last there found themselves first in gaining the other bridge. It was
urgent the artillery should pass first, consequently it rushed
impetuously towards the only road to safety which remained. No pen can
describe the scene of horror which now ensued; for it was literally over
a road of trampled human bodies that conveyances of all sorts reached the
bridge. On this occasion could be seen how much brutality, and even
cold-blooded ferocity, can be produced in the human mind by the instinct
of self-preservation. There were some stragglers most frantic of all,
who wounded, and even killed, with their bayonets, the unfortunate horses
which obeyed the lash of their guides; and several caissons were left on
the road in consequence of this slaughter.

As I have said, the bridge had no railing; and crowds of those who forced
their way across fell into the river and were ingulfed beneath the ice.
Others in their fall tried to stop themselves by grasping the planks of
the bridge, and remained suspended over the abyss until their hands,
crushed by the wheels of the vehicles, lost their grasp, and they went to
join their comrades as the' waves closed over them. Entire caissons,
with drivers and horse were precipitated into the water.

Poor women were seen holding their children out of the water in the
effort to delay for a few instants their death, and death in such a
frightful form, a truly admirable maternal incident, which the genius of
the painter has divined in painting scenes from the Deluge, and which we
saw in all its heartrending and frightful reality! The Emperor wished to
retrace his steps, believing that his presence might restore order; but
he was dissuaded from this project so earnestly, that he withstood the
promptings of his heart and remained, though certainly it was not his
elevated rank which kept him on the bank. All the suffering he endured
could be seen when he inquired every instant where the crossing was, if
they could still hear cannon rolling over the bridge, if the cries had
not ceased somewhat in that direction. "The reckless creatures! Why
could they not wait a little?" said he.

There were fine examples of devotion under these distressing
circumstances. A young artilleryman threw himself into the water to save
a poor mother with two children, who was attempting to gain the other
shore in a little canoe. The load was too heavy; an enormous block of
ice floated against and sunk the little boat. The cannoneer seized one
of the children, and, swimming vigorously, bore it to the bank; but the
mother and the other child perished. This kind young man adopted the
orphan as his son. I do not know if he had the happiness of regaining

Officers harnessed themselves to sleds to carry some of their companions
who were rendered helpless by their wounds. They wrapped these
unfortunates as warmly as possible, cheered them from time to time with a
glass of brandy when they could procure it, and lavished on them most
touching attentions.

There were many who behaved in this manner, many of whose names we are
ignorant; and how few returned to enjoy in their own country the
remembrance of the most admirable deeds of their lives.

The bridge was burned at eight o'clock in the morning.

On the 29th the. Emperor quitted the banks of the Beresina, and we slept
at Kamen, where his Majesty occupied a poor wooden building which the icy
air penetrated from all sides through the windows; nearly all the glass
of which being broken, we closed the openings as well as we could with
bundles of hay. A short distance from us, in a large lot, were penned up
the wretched Russian prisoners whom the army drove before it. I had much
difficulty in comprehending this delusion of victory which our poor
soldiers still kept up by dragging after them this wretched luxury of
prisoners, who could only be an added burden, as they required their
constant surveillance.

When the conquerors are dying of famine, what becomes of the conquered?
These poor Russians, exhausted by marches and famine, nearly all perished
this night. In the morning they were found huddled pell-mell against
each other, striving thus to obtain a little warmth. The weakest had
succumbed; and their stiffened bodies were propped the whole night
against the living without their even being aware of it. Some in their
hunger ate their dead companions. The hardihood with which the Russians
endure pain has often been remarked. I can cite one instance which
surpasses belief. One of these fellows, after being separated from his
corps, had been struck by a cannonball which had cut off both his legs
and killed his horse. A French officer on a reconnoitering tour on the
bank of the river where this Russian had fallen, perceived at some
distance an object which appeared to be a dead horse, and yet he could
see that it moved.

He approached, and saw the bust of a man whose extremities were concealed
in the stomach of the horse.

This poor creature had been there four days, inclosing himself in his
horse as a shelter against the cold, and feeding upon infected morsels
torn from this horrible retreat.

On the 3d of December we arrived at Malodeczno. During the whole day the
Emperor appeared thoughtful and anxious. He had frequent confidential
conversations with the grand equerry, M. de Caulaincourt, and I suspected
some extraordinary measure. I was not deceived in my conjectures. At
two leagues from Smorghoni, the Duke of Vicenza summoned me, and told me
to go on in front and give orders to have the six best horses harnessed
to my carriage, which was the lightest of all, and keep them in constant
readiness. I reached Smorghoni before the Emperor, who did not arrive
till the following night. The cold was excessive; and the Emperor
alighted in a poor house on a square, where he established his
headquarters. He took a light repast, wrote with his own hand the
twenty-ninth bulletin of the army, and ordered all the marshals to be

Nothing had yet transpired as to the Emperor's plans, but in great and
desperate measures there is always something unusual which does not
escape the most clear-sighted. The Emperor was never so amiable nor so
communicative, and one felt that he was endeavoring to prepare his most
devoted friends for some overwhelming news. He talked for some time on
indifferent subjects, then spoke of the great deeds performed during the
campaign, referring with pleasure to the retreat of General Ney whom they
had at last found.

Marshal Davoust appeared abstracted; and the Emperor said to him, "At
least say something, Marshal." There had been for some time a little
coolness between him and the Emperor, and his Majesty reproached him with
the rarity of his visits, but he could not dissipate the cloud which
darkened every brow; for the Emperor's secret had not been as well kept
as he had hoped. After supper the Emperor ordered Prince Eugene to read
the twenty-ninth bulletin, and spoke freely of his plan, saying that his
departure was essential in order to send help to the army. He gave his
orders to the marshals, all of whom appeared sad and discouraged. It was
ten o'clock when the Emperor, saying it was time to take some repose,
embraced all the marshals and retired. He felt the need of withdrawing;
for he had been oppressed by the constraint of this interview, as could
easily be seen by the extreme agitation his countenance manifested at its
close. About half an hour after, the Emperor called me into his room and
said, "Constant, I am about to leave; I thought I should be able to take
you with me, but I have taken into consideration the fact that several
carriages would attract attention; it is essential that I experience no
delay, and I have given orders that you are to set out immediately upon
the return of my horses, and you will consequently follow me at a short
distance." I was suffering greatly from my old malady; hence the Emperor
would not allow me to go with him on the boot as I requested, in order
that he should receive his customary attentions from me. He said, "No,


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