THE EMPRESS JOSEPHINE
AN HISTORICAL SKETCH OF THE DAYS OF NAPOLEON
BY L. MUHLBACH
AUTHOR OF DAUGHTER OF AN EMPRESS, MARIE ANTOINETTE, JOSEPH II AND HIS COURT, FREDERICK THE GREAT AND HIS FAMILY BERLIN AND SANS-SOUCI, ETC.
TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN BY REV. W. BINET, A M.
THE VISCOUNTESS BEAUHARNAIS.
I. Introduction II. The Young Maid III. The Betrothal IV. The Young Bonaparte V. The Unhappy Marriage VI. Trianon and Marie Antoinette VII. Lieutenant Napoleon Bonaparte VIII. A Page from History IX. Josephine's Return X. The Days of the Revolution XI. The 10th of August and the Letter of Napoleon Bonaparte XII. The Execution of the Queen XIII. The Arrest XIV. In Prison XV. Deliverance
THE WIFE OF GENERAL BONAPARTE.
XVI. Bonaparte in Corsica XVII. Napoleon Bonaparte before Toulon XVIII. Bonaparte's Imprisonment XIX. The 13th Vendemiaire XX. The Widow Josephine Beauharnais XXI. The New Paris XXII. The First Interview XXIII. Marriage XXIV. Bonaparte's Love-Letters XXV. Josephine in Italy XXVI. Bonaparte and Josephine in Milan XXVII. The Court of Montebello XXVIII. The Peace of Campo Formio XXIX. Days of Triumph
THE EMPRESS AND THE DIVORCED.
XXX. Plombieres and Malmaison XXXI. The First Faithlessness XXXII. The 18th Brumaire XXXIII. The Tuileries XXXIV. The Infernal Machine XXXV. The Cashmeres and the Letter XXXVI. Malmaison XXXVII. Flowers and Music XXXVIII. Prelude to the Empire XXXIX. The Pope in Paris XL. The Coronation XLI. Days of Happiness XLII. Divorce XLIII. The Divorced XLIV. Death
THE VISCOUNTESS BEAUHARNAIS.
"I win the battles, Josephine wins me the hearts." These words of Napoleon are the most beautiful epitaph of the Empress Josephine, the much-loved, the much-regretted, and the much-slandered one. Even while Napoleon won battles, while with lofty pride he placed his foot on the neck of the conquered, took away from princes their crowns, and from nations their liberty—while Europe trembling bowed before him, and despite her admiration cursed him—while hatred heaved up the hearts of all nations against him—even then none could refuse admiration to the tender, lovely woman who, with the gracious smile of goodness, walked at his side; none could refuse love to the wife of the conqueror, whose countenance of brass received light and lustre from the beautiful eyes of Josephine, as Memnon's statue from the rays of the sun.
She was not beautiful according to those high and exalted rules of beauty which we admire in the statues of the gods of old, but her whole being was surrounded with such a charm, goodness, and grace, that the rules of beauty were forgotten. Josephine's beauty was believed in, and the heart was ravished by the spell of such a gracious, womanly apparition. Goethe's words, which the Princess Eleonore utters in reference to Antonio, were not applicable to Josephine:
"All the gods have with one consent brought gifts to his cradle, but, alas! the Graces have remained absent, and where the gifts of these lovely ones fail, though much was given and much received, yet on such a bosom is no resting-place."
No, the Graces were not absent from the cradle of Josephine; they, more than all the other gods, had brought their gifts to Josephine. They had encircled her with the girdle of gracefulness, they had imparted to her look, to her smile, to her figure, attraction and charm, and given her that beauty which is greater and more enduring than that of youth, namely loveliness, that only real beauty. Josephine possessed the beauty of grace, and this quality remained when youth, happiness, and grandeur, had deserted her. This beauty of grace struck the Emperor Alexander as he came to Malmaison to salute the dethroned empress. He had entered Paris in triumph, and laid his foot on the neck of him whom he once had called his friend, yet before the divorced wife of the dethroned emperor the czar, full of admiration and respect, bowed his head and made her homage as to a queen; for, though she was dethroned, on her head shone the crown in imperishable beauty and glory, the crown of loveliness, of faithfulness, and of womanhood.
She was not witty in the special sense of a so-called "witty woman." She composed no verses, she wrote no philosophical dissertations, she painted not, she was no politician, she was no practising artist, but she possessed the deep and fine intuition of all that which is beautiful and noble: she was the protectress of the arts and sciences. She knew that disciples were not wanting to the arts, but that often a Maecenas is needed. She left it to her cousin, the Countess Fanny Beauharnais, to be called an artist; hers was a loftier destiny, and she fulfilled that destiny through her whole life—she was a Maecenas, the protectress of the arts and sciences.
As Hamlet says of his father, "He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again;" thus Josephine's fame consists not that she was a princess, an empress anointed by the hands of the pope himself, but that she was a noble and true wife, loving yet more than she was loved, entirely given up in unswerving loyalty to him who rejected her; languishing for very sorrow on account of his misfortune, and dying for very grief as vanished away the star of his happiness. Thousands in her place, rejected, forgotten, cast away, as she was—thousands would have rejoiced in the righteousness of the fate which struck and threw in the dust the man who, for earthly grandeur, had abandoned the beloved one and disowned her love. Josephine wept over him, lamented over his calamities, and had but a wish to be allowed to share them with him. Josephine died broken-hearted—the misfortunes of her beloved, who no more loved her, the misfortunes of Napoleon, broke her heart.
She was a woman, "take her for all in all"—a noble, a beautiful woman, a loving woman, and such as belongs to no peculiar class, to no peculiar nation, to no peculiar special history; she belongs to the world, to humanity, to universal history. In the presence of such an apparition all national hatred is silent, all differences of political opinion are silent. Like a great, powerful drama drawn from the universal history of man and represented before our eyes, so her life passes before us; and surprised, wondering, we gaze on, indifferent whether the heroine of such a tragedy be Creole, French, or to what nation she may owe her birth. She belongs to the world, to history, and if we Germans have no love for the Emperor Napoleon, the tyrant of the world, the Caesar of brass who bowed the people down into the dust, and trod under foot their rights and liberties— if we Germans have no love for the conqueror Napoleon, because he won so many battles from us, yet this does not debar us from loving Josephine, who during her lifetime won hearts to Napoleon, and whose beautiful death for love's sake filled with tears the eyes of those whose lips knew but words of hatred and cursing against the emperor.
To write the life of Josephine does not mean to write the life of a Frenchwoman, the life of the wife of the man who brought over Germany so much adversity, shame, and suffering, but it means to write a woman's life which, as a fated tragedy or like a mighty picture, rises before our vision. It is to unfold a portion of the world's history before our eyes—and the world's history is there for our common instruction and progress, for our enlightenment and encouragement.
I am not afraid, therefore, of being accused of lacking patriotism, because I have undertaken to write the life of a woman who is not a German, who was the wife of Germany's greatest enemy and oppressor. It is, indeed, a portion of the universal drama which is unfolded in the life of this woman, and amid so much blood, so much dishonor, so many tears, so much humiliation, so much pride, arrogance, and treachery, of this renowned period of the world's history, shines forth the figure of Josephine as the bright star of womanhood, of love, of faithfulness—stars need no birthright, no nationality, they belong to all lands and nations.
THE YOUNG MAID.
On the 23d of July, 1763, to the Chevalier Tascher de la Pagerie, ex-lieutenant of the royal troops, a resident of the insignificant spot of the Trois Islets, on the island of Martinique, was borne by his young, rich, and beautiful wife, a first child.
The loving parents, the relatives and friends had longed for this child, but now that it was come, they bade it welcome without joy, and even over the brow of the young father hung the shadow of a cloud as he received the intelligence of the birth of his child. For it was a girl, and not the wished-for boy who was to be the inheritor of the valuable family-plantation, and the inheritor also of the ancient and respectable name of Tascher de la Pagerie.
It was, however, useless to murmur against fate. What was irrevocable had to be accepted, and welcome made to the daughter, who, instead of the expected heir, would now lay claim to the rights of primogeniture. As an inheritance reserved for him who had not come, the daughter received the name which had been destined to the son. For two hundred years the name of Joseph had been given to the eldest son of the family of Tascher de la Pagerie, but now that there was none to whom the Chevalier, Ex-lieutenant Joseph de la Pagerie could leave his name as a legacy, the family had to be satisfied to give the name to his daughter, and consequently she received at baptism the name of Joseph Marie Rosa.
There was, however, one being who gladly and willingly forgave the fault of her birth, and who consecrated to the daughter the same love she would have offered to the son. This being was the mother of the little Joseph Marie Rosa.
"Contrary to all our wishes," writes she to her husband's sister, the beautiful Madame Renaudin, in Paris—"contrary to all our wishes, God has given me a daughter. My joy is not therefore diminished, for I look upon my child as a new bond which binds me still closer to your brother, my dear husband, and to you. Why should I have such a poor and meagre opinion of the female sex, that a daughter should not be welcomed by me? I am acquainted with many persons of our sex who concentrate in themselves as many good qualities as one would only with difficulty find in the other sex. Maternal love already blinds me and fosters in me the hope that my daughter may be like them, and if even I cannot enjoy this satisfaction, yet I am thankful to my child that by means of her existence I am gathering so much happiness."
Indeed, extraordinary joy, since the birth of the child, reigned in the house of M. Tascher de la Pagerie; joy reigned all over Martinique, for the long war between France and England was ended, and a few months before the birth of little Joseph Marie Rosa, the peace which secured to France the possession of her maritime colonies had been signed. Martinique, so often attacked, bombarded, besieged by English ships—Martinique was again the unconditional property of France, and on the birthday of the little Marie Joseph Rosa the French fleet entered into the harbor of Port Royal, landed a French garrison for the island, and brought a new governor in the person of the Marquis de Fenelon, the nephew of the famous Bishop de Fenelon.
Joyously and quietly passed away the first years of the life of the little Joseph, or little Josephine, as her kind parents called her. Only once, in the third year of her life, was Josephine's infancy troubled by a fright. A terrible hurricane, such as is known to exist only in the Antilles, broke over Martinique. The historians of that period know not how to depict the awful and calamitous events of this hurricane, which, at the same time, seemed to shake the whole earth with its convulsions. In Naples, in Sicily, in the Molucca Islands, volcanoes broke out in fearful eruptions; for three days the earth trembled in Constantinople. But it was over Martinique that the hurricane raged in the most appalling manner. In less than four hours the howling northwest' wind, accompanied by forked lightning, rolling thunder, heavy water-spouts, and tremendous earth-tremblings, had hurled down into fragments all the houses of the town, all the sugar-plantations, and all the negro cabins. Here and there the earth opened, flames darted out and spread round about a horrible vapor of sulphur, which suffocated human beings. Trees were uprooted, and the sugar and coffee plantations destroyed. The sea roared and upheaved, sprang from its bounds, and shivered as mere glass-work barks and even some of the larger ships lying in the harbor of Port Royal. Five hundred men perished, and a much larger number were severely wounded. Distress and poverty were the result of this astounding convulsion of nature.
The estate of M. Tascher de la Pagerie was made desolate. His residence, his sugar-plantations, were but a heap of ruins and rubbish, and as a gift of Providence he looked upon the one refuge left him in his sugar-refinery, which was miraculously spared by the hurricane. There M. Tascher saved himself, with Josephine and her younger sister, and there his wife bore him a third child. But Heaven even now did not fulfil the long-cherished wishes of the parents, for it was to a daughter that Madame de la Pagerie gave birth. The parents were, however, weary with murmuring against fate, which accomplished not their wish; and so to prove to fate that this daughter was welcome, they named the child born amid the horrors of this terrific hurricane, Desiree, the Desired.
Peaceful, happy years followed;—peaceful and happy, in the midst of the family, passed on the years of Josephine's infancy. She had every thing which could be procured. Beloved by her parents, by her two sisters, worshipped by her servants and slaves, she lived amid a beautiful, splendid, and sublime nature, in the very midst of wealth and affluence. Her father, casting away all ambition, was satisfied to cultivate his wide and immense domains, and to remain among his one hundred and fifty slaves as master and ruler, to whom unconditional and cheerful obedience was rendered. Her mother sought and wished for no other happiness than the peaceful quietude of the household joys. Her husband, her children, her home, constituted the world where she breathed, in which alone centred her thoughts, her wishes, and her hopes. To mould her daughters into good housekeepers and wives, and if possible to secure for them in due time, by means of a brilliant and advantageous marriage, a happy future—this was the only ambition of this gentle and virtuous woman.
Above all things, it was necessary to procure to the daughters an education suited to the claims of high social position, and which would fit her daughters to act on the world's stage the part which their birth, their wealth, and beauty, reserved for them. The tender mother consented to part with her darling, with her eldest daughter; and Josephine, not yet twelve years old, was brought, for completing her education, to the convent of our Lady de la Providence in Port Royal. There she learned all which in the Antilles was considered necessary for the education of a lady of rank; there she obtained that light, superficial, rudimentary instruction, which was then thought sufficient for a woman; there she was taught to write her mother tongue with a certain fluency and without too many blunders; there she was instructed in the use of the needle, to execute artistic pieces of embroidery; there she learned something in arithmetic and in music; yea, so as to give to the wealthy daughter of M. Tascher de la Pagerie a full and complete education, the pious sisters of the convent consented that twice a week a dancing-master should come to the convent to give to Josephine lessons in dancing, the favorite amusement of the Creoles. [Footnote: "Histoire de l'Imperatrice Josephine," par Joseph Aubenas. vol. i., p. 36.]
These dancing-lessons completed the education of Josephine, and, barely fifteen years old, she returned to her parents and sisters as an accomplished young lady, to perform the honors of the house alongside of her mother, to learn from her to preside with grace and ease over a large mansion, and above all things to be a good mistress, a benefactress, and a protectress to her slaves. Under her mother's guidance, Josephine visited the negro cabins to minister unto the sick, to bring comfort and nourishment to the old and to the weak, to pray with the dying, to take under her loving guardianship the new-born babes of the negro women, to instruct in the catechism the grown-up children, to excite them to industry, to encourage them through kindness and friendliness, to protect them, and to be a mediator when for some offence they were condemned to severe punishment.
It was a wonderfully peaceful and beautiful life that of the young Josephine, amid a bountiful nature, in that soft, sunny clime which clothed her whole being with that tender, pleasing grace, that lovely quietude, that yielding complacency, and at the same time with that fiery, passionate nature of the Creoles. Ordinarily dressed only with the "gaule," a wide, loose garment of white muslin, falling loosely about the waist, where no belt gathered its folds, the beautiful head wrapped up in the many-colored madras, which around the temples was folded up into graceful knots holding together her chestnut-brown hair—in this dress Josephine would swing for hours in her hammock made of homespun silk and ornamented with borders of feathers from the variegated iridescent birds of Cayenne.
Round about her were her young female slaves, watching with their brilliant dark eyes their young mistress, ever ready to read every wish upon that dreamy, smiling countenance, and by their swarthy tinge heightening the soft, tender whiteness of her own complexion.
Then, wearied with the stillness and with her dreams, Josephine would spring up from the hammock, dart into the house with all the lightness of the gazelle to enliven the family with her own joyousness, her merry pleasantry, and accompanied by her guitar to sing unto them with her lovely youthful voice the songs of the Creoles. As the glowing sun was at its setting, away she hastened with her slaves into the garden, directed their labors, and with her own hands tended her own cherished flowers, which commingled together in admirable admixture from all climes under the genial skies of the Antilles. In the evening, the family was gathered together in the light of the moon, which imparted to the nights the brightness of day and streamed upon them her soft blue rays, upon the fragrant terrace, in front of the house, where the faithful slaves carefully watched the little group close one to another and guarded their masters from the approaches of poisonous serpents, that insidious progeny of the night.
On Sundays after Josephine had religiously and faithfully listened to an early mass, she gladly attended in the evening the "barraboula" of the negroes, dancing their African dances in the glare of torches and to the monotonous sound of the tam-tam.
On festivals, she assisted her mother to put all things in order, and to preside at the great banquets given to relatives and friends, who afterward were visited in their turn, and then the slaves carried their masters in hammocks, or else, what was far more acceptable, the young maidens mounted small Spanish horses, full of courage and daring, and whose firm, quick step made a ride to Porto Rico simply a rushing gallop.
Amidst this dreamy, sunny, joyous existence of the young maiden gleamed one day, as a lightning-flash, a prophetic ray of Josephine's future greatness.
This happened one afternoon as she was walking alone and thoughtful through the plantation. A group of negresses, in the centre of which was an old and unknown woman, attracted her attention. Josephine approached. It was an old negro woman from a neighboring plantation, and she was telling the fortune of the young negro women of M. Tascher de la Pagerie. No sooner did the old woman cast her eyes on Josephine than she seemed to shrink into one mass, whilst an expression of horror and wonder stole over her face. She vehemently seized the hand of the young maiden, examined it carefully, and then lifted up her large, astonished eyes with a searching expression to the face of Josephine.
"You must see something very wonderful in my face and in my hand?" inquired Josephine, laughing.
"Yes, something very wonderful," repeated the negro woman, still intently staring at her.
"Is it a good or a bad fortune which awaits me?"
The old prophetess slowly shook her head.
"Who can tell," said she, gravely, "what is a good or a bad fortune for human beings? In your hand I see evil, but in your face happiness—great, lofty happiness."
"Well," cried out Josephine, laughing, "you are cautious, and your oracle is not very clear."
The old woman lifted up her eyes to heaven with a strange expression.
"I dare not," said she, "express myself more clearly."
"Speak on, whatever the result!" exclaimed Josephine, whose curiosity was excited by the very diffidence of the fortune-teller. "Say what you see in my future life. I wish it, I order you to do so."
"Well, if you order it, I must obey," said she, with solemnity. "Listen, then. I read in your countenance that you are called to high destinies. You will soon be married. But your marriage will not be a happy one. You will soon be a young widow, and then—"
"Well, and then?" asked Josephine, passionately, as the old woman hesitated and remained silent.
"Well, and then you will be Queen of France—more than a queen!" shouted the prophetess, with a loud voice. "You will live glorious, brilliant days, but at the last misfortune will come and carry you to your grave in a day of rebellion."
Afraid of the pictures which her prophetic vision had contemplated in the future, the old hag forced her way through the circle of negro women around, and rushed away through the field as fast as her feet could bear her on.
Josephine, laughing, turned to her astonished women, who had followed with their eyes the flight of the prophetess, but who now directed their dark eyes with an expression of awe and bewilderment to their young mistress, of whom the fortune-teller had said she would one day be Queen of France. Josephine endeavored to overthrow the faith of her swarthy servants in the fortune-teller, and, by pointing to the ridiculous prophecy in reference to herself, and which predicted an impossible future, she tried to prove to them what a folly it was to rely on the words of those who made a profession of foretelling the future.
But against her will the prophetic words of the old woman echoed in the heart of the young maiden. She could not return home to her family and talk, laugh, and dance, as she had been accustomed to do with her sisters. Followed by her slaves, she went into her garden and sank in a hammock, hung amid the gigantic leaves of a palm-tree, and, while the negro girls danced and sang round her, the young maid was dreaming about the future, and her beating heart asked if it were not possible that the prophecy of the negro woman might one day be realized.
She, the daughter of M. Tascher de la Pagerie—she a future "Queen of France! More than a queen!" Oh, it was mere folly to think on such things, and to busy herself with the ludicrous prophecies of the old woman.
And Josephine laughed at her own credulity, and the slaves sang and danced, and against her will the thoughts of the young maiden returned to the prophecy again and again.
What the old fortune-teller had said, was it so very ridiculous, so impossible? Could not that prophecy become a reality? Was it, then, the first time that a daughter of the Island of Martinique had been exalted to grandeur and lofty honors?
Josephine asked these questions to herself, as dreaming and thoughtful she swung in the hammock and gazed toward the horizon upon the sea, which, in its blue depths and brilliancy, hung there as if heaven had lowered itself down to earth. That sea was a pathway to France, and already once before had its waves wafted a daughter of the Island of Martinique to a throne.
Thus ran the thoughts of Josephine. She thought of Franchise d'Aubigne, and of her wondrous story. A poor wanderer, fleeing from France to search for happiness beyond the seas in a foreign land, M. d'Aubigne had landed in Martinique with his young wife. There Franchise was born, there passed away the first years of her life. Once, when a child of three years old, she was bitten by a venomous serpent, and her life was saved only through the devotion of her black nurse, who sucked alike poison and death from the wound. Another time, as she was on a voyage with her parents, the vessel was in danger of being captured by a corsair; and a third time a powerful whirlwind carried into the waves of the sea the little Francoise, who was walking on the shore, but a large black dog, her companion and favorite, sprang after her, seized her dress with its teeth, and carried the child back to the shore, where sobbing for joy her mother received her.
Fate had reserved great things for Francoise, and with all manner of horrors it submitted the child to probation to make of it a strong and noble woman.
A severer blow came when her father, losing in gambling all the property which he had gathered in Martinique, died suddenly, leaving his family in poverty and want. Another blow more severe still came when on her return to France, whither her mother was going with her, she lost this last prop of her youth and childhood. Madame d'Aubigne died, and her body was committed to the waves; and, as a destitute orphan, Francoise d'Aubigne touched the soil of France.
And what became of the poor orphan of the Creole of Martinique?
She became the wife of a king, and nearly a queen! For Francoise d'Aubigne, the widow of Scarron, the governess of the children of Louis XIV, had caused the mother of these children, the beautiful Madame de Montespan, to be cast away, and she became the friend, the beloved, the secret spouse of the king: and the lofty Louis, who could say of himself, "L'etat c'est moi" he, with all the power of his will, with all his authority, was the humble vassal of Franchise d'Aubigne, Marquise de Maintenon!
This was the first princess whom Martinique had given to the world!
Was it not possible that the prophecies of the old negro woman could be realized? could not once more a daughter of the Island of Martinique be exalted into a princess?
"You will be Queen of France!" the negress had said.
No, it was mere folly to believe in such a ridiculous prophecy. The throne of France was now occupied. Alongside of her consort, the good, the well-beloved Louis XVI, the young and beautiful Queen Marie Antoinette, the daughter of the mighty Empress Maria Theresa, sat on the throne. She was young, she was beloved throughout France, and she had already, to the great delight of her husband and of his people, borne an heir to the throne of France.
The throne of the lilies stood then on firm and sure foundations, and the prophecies of the old negress belonged only to the kingdom of fables. [Footnote: This prophecy, nearly as related above, was told by the Empress Josephine herself to her maids of honor in the castle of Navarra.—See "Memoires sur l'Imperatrice Josephine, la Ville, la Cour et les Salons de Paris sous l'Empire, par Madame Georgette Ducrest."]
Six months had barely elapsed since Josephine's return from the convent when the family Tascher de la Pagerie received from their relatives in Paris letters which were to be of the greatest importance for the whole family.
The beautiful Madame de Renaudin, sister of M. Tascher de la Pagerie, had settled in Paris after having rid herself of an unhappy marriage with a man, coarse and addicted to gambling, and after having, through a legal separation, reobtained her freedom. She lived there in the closest, intimacy with the Marquis de Beauharnais, who, for many years, at an earlier period, had resided as governor on the Island of Martinique, and there had bound himself to the whole family of Tascher de la Pagerie by the ties of a cordial friendship. His wife, during her residence in Martinique, had been the most tender friend of Madame de Renaudin, and when the marchioness bore a second son to her husband, Madame de Renaudin had stood as godmother, and promised to love and protect the child of her friend as if she were his mother.
Chance brought on the opportunity of accomplishing this promise and of fulfilling the oath made to God before the altar. The Marchioness de Beauharnais returned to France in the year 1763 with her husband and her two sons, but died there a short time after; and Madame de Renaudin, true to her oath, hastened to replace the natural guardian, the mother.
Perhaps she had but followed the dictates of her heart, perhaps against her will a sentiment of joy had passed over her at the death of the poor marchioness, for, by this death, one at least of the two obstacles intervening between Madame de Renaudin and the Marquis de Beauharnais had been removed. Both married, both of the Catholic religion, death alone could make their hands free, and confer upon them the right of joining hands together for all their days.
They loved one another, they had ceased long ago to make a secret of it; they avowed it to each other and to their dependants, for their brave, loyal, and noble hearts would not stoop to falsehood and deception, and they had the courage to acknowledge what their sentiments were.
Death had then made free the hand of the Marquis de Beauharnais, but life held yet in bondage the hand of the Baroness de Renaudin.
As long as her husband lived, she could not, though legally divorced from him, conscientiously think of a second marriage.
But she possessed the courage and the loyalty of true love; she had seen and experienced enough of the world to despise its judgments, and with cheerful determination do what in her conscience she held to be good and right.
Before God's altar she had promised to the deceased Marchioness de Beauharnais to be a mother to her son; she loved the child and she loved the father of this child, and, as she was now free, as she had no duties which might restrain her footsteps, she followed the voice of her heart and braved public opinion.
She had purchased not far from Paris, at Noisy-le-Grand, a country residence, and there passed the summer with the Marquis de Beauharnais, with his two sons and their tutor.
The marquis owned a superb hotel in Paris, in Thevenot Street, and there, during winter, he resided with his two sons and the Baroness de Renaudin, the mother, the guardian of his two orphan sons, the friend, the confidante, the companion of his quiet life, entirely devoted to study, to the arts, to the sciences, and to household pleasures.
Thus the years passed away; the two sons of the Marquis de Beauharnais had grown up under the care of their maternal friend: they had been through their collegiate course, had been one year students at Heidelberg, had returned, had been through the drill of soldier and officer, a mere form which custom then imposed on young men of high birth; and the younger son Alexander, the godchild of the Baroness de Renaudin, had scarcely passed his sixteenth year when he received his commission as sub-lieutenant.
A year afterward his elder brother married one of his cousins, the Countess Claude Beauharnais, and the sight of this youthful happy love excited envy in the heart of the young lieutenant of seventeen years, and awoke in him a longing for a similar blessedness. Freely and without reserve he communicated his wishes to his father, begged of him to choose him a wife, and promised to take readily and cheerfully as such her whom his father or his sponsor, his second mother, would select for him.
A few months later reached Martinique the letters which, as already said, were to be of the utmost importance to the family of M. Tascher de la Pagerie.
The first of these letters was from the Marquis de Beauharnais, and addressed to the parents of Josephine, but with a considerate and delicate tact the marquis had not written the letter with his own hand, but had dictated it to his son Alexander, so as to prove to the family of his friend De la Pagerie that the son was in perfect unison of sentiment with the father, and that the latter only expressed what the son desired and approved.
"I cannot express," wrote the marquis, "how much satisfaction I have in being at this moment able to give you a proof of the inclination and friendship which I always have had for you. As you will perceive, this satisfaction is not merely on the surface.
"My two sons," continues he, "are now enjoying an annual income of forty thousand livres. It is in your power to give me your daughter to enjoy this income with my son, the chevalier. The esteem and affection he feels for Madame de Renaudin makes him passionately desire to be united with her niece. I can assure you that I am only gratifying his wishes when I pray you to give me for him your second daughter, whose age corresponds at best with his. I sincerely wish that your eldest daughter were a few years younger, for then she would certainly have had the preference, the more so that she is described to me under the most advantageous colors. But I confess my son, who is but seventeen and a half years old, thinks that a young lady of fifteen is too near him in age. This is one of those cases in which reasonable and reflecting parents will accommodate themselves to circumstances."
M. de Beauharnais adds that his son possesses all the qualities necessary to make a woman happy. At the same time he declares that, as regards his future daughter-in-law, he has no claims to a dowry, for his son already possesses an income of forty thousand livres from his mother's legacy, and that after his father's death he will inherit besides an annual income of twenty-five thousand livres. He then entreats M. de la Pagerie, as soon as practicable, to send his daughter to France, and, if possible, to bring her himself. The marquis then addresses himself directly to the wife of M. de la Pagerie, and repeats to her in nearly the same words his proposal, and endeavors also to excuse to her the choice of the second daughter.
"The most flattering things have been told me," writes he, "of your eldest daughter, but my son finds her, with her fifteen years, too old for him. My son is worthy of becoming your son-in-law; Nature has gifted him with good and fine parts, and his income is sufficiently large to share it with a wife qualified to render him happy. Such a one I trust to find in your second daughter; may she resemble you, madame, and I can no longer doubt of my son's happiness! I feel extremely happy to see my long-cherished wishes satisfied! I can not express to you how great will be my joy to see riveted forever, by means of this union of our two families, the inclination and the friendship which have already so long chained us together. I trust that Mademoiselle de la Pagerie will not refuse her consent. Allow me to embrace her and already to greet her as my own beloved daughter." [Footnote: Aubenas, "Histoire de l'Imperatrice Josephine," vol. i., p. 78.]
To this letter was addressed a note from Madame de Renaudin to her brother and to her sister-in-law. She openly acknowledges that she it was who desired this union, and who had brought the matter to its present stage, and she endeavors to meet the objection that it would appear strange for a young lady to undertake a long journey in search of a future husband, whilst it would be more expedient that the bridegroom should make the journey to his bride, to receive her at the hands of her parents, and bring her with him to a new home. But this bride of thirteen years must first be trained for her future destiny; she is not to be in the house of her future father- in-law, but in the house of Madame de Renaudin, her aunt, and she is there to receive the completion of her education and that higher culture which her parents, even with all the necessary means, could not give her in Martinique.
"We are of opinion," she writes, "that the young people must see one another and please each other, before we bring this matter to a close, for they are both too dear to us to desire to coerce them against their inclination. Your daughter will find in me a true and kind mother, and I am sure that she will find the happiness of her future life in the contemplated union, for the chevalier is well qualified to make a wife happy. All that I can say of him exhausts by no means the praise he deserves. He has a pleasant countenance, an excellent figure, wit, genius, knowledge, and, what is more than this, all the noble qualities of heart and soul are united in him, and he must consequently be loved by all who know him."
Meanwhile, before these letters reached Martinique, chance had already otherwise decided the fate of Mary, the second daughter of M. de la Pagerie. With one sentence it had destroyed all the family schemes. After three days of confinement to a bed of sickness, Mary had died of a violent fever, and when the letter, in which the Marquis de Beauharnais asked for her hand, reached her father, she had been buried three months.
M. Tascher de la Pagerie hastened to announce her death to the Marquis and to Madame de Renaudin; and to prove to them how much he also had at heart a union of the two families, he offered to his son, the chevalier, the hand of his third daughter, the little twelve-year-old Desiree. Undoubtedly it would have been more gratifying to him if the choice of the marquis had fallen upon his eldest daughter, and he makes this known very clearly in his answer to Madame de Renaudin.
"My eldest daughter," writes he, "Josephine, who is lately returned from the convent, and who has often desired me to take her to France, will, believe me, be somewhat sensitive at the preference given to her younger sisters. Josephine has a beautiful head, beautiful eyes and arms, and also a wonderful talent for music. During her stay in the convent I procured her a guitar-teacher; she has made the best of the instruction received, and she has a glorious voice. It is a pity she has not the opportunity of completing her education in France; and were I to have my wish, I would bring her to you instead of my other two daughters."
Meanwhile the Marquis de Beauharnais, as well as his son, found that the youngest daughter of M. de la Pagerie was too young for their impatient desire to bring to a favorable issue these important family concerns, and that the eldest of the daughters ought to have the preference. The son of the marquis especially pronounced himself decidedly in favor of Josephine, and father and son, as well as Madame de Renaudin, turned imploringly to M. Tascher de la Pagerie, praying that he would bring them his eldest daughter.
Now, for the first time, when the choice of the Beauharnais family had irrevocably fallen upon Josephine, now for the first time was this proposed marriage made known to her, and her consent asked.
Josephine, whose young heart was like a blank sheet of paper, whereon love had as yet written no name, Josephine rejoiced at the prospect of accomplishing the secret wish of her maiden heart, to go to Paris—Paris, the burning desire of all Creoles—Paris, after all the narratives and descriptions, which had been made to Josephine, rose before the soul of the young maiden as a golden morning dream, a charming fairy world; and full of gratitude she already loved her future husband, to whom she owed the happiness of becoming acquainted with the city of wonders and pleasures.
She therefore acquiesced without regret at being separated from her parents and from her sister, from the home of all her sweet reminiscences of youth, and joyously, in August of the year 1779, she embarked on board the vessel which was to take her with her father to France.
In the middle of October they both, after a stormy passage, touched the soil of France and announced to their relatives their safe arrival. Alexandre de Beauharnais, full of impatient longings to see his unknown young bride, hastened to Brest to bid her and her father welcome, and to accompany them to Paris.
The first meeting of the young couple decided their future. Josephine, smiling and blushing, avowed to her father that she was willing and ready to marry M. Alexandre Beanharnais; and, the very first day of his meeting with Josephine, Alexandre wrote to his father that he was enchanted with the choice made, and that he felt strongly convinced that, at the side of so charming, sweet, and lovely a being, he would lead a happy and sunny life.
The love of the children had crowned all the schemes of the parents, and on the 13th of December, 1779, the marriage of the young couple took place. On the 13th of December, Mademoiselle Josephine Tascher de la Pagerie became the Viscountess Josephine de Beauharnais.
THE YOUNG BONAPARTE.
In the same year, 1779, in which Josephine de la Pagerie for the first time left Martinique for Prance, a vessel which had sailed from Corsica brought to France a boy who, not only as regards Josephine's life, but also as regards all Europe, yea, the whole world, was to be of the highest importance, and who, with the iron step of fatality, was to walk through Europe to subvert thrones and raise up new ones; to tread nations in the dust, and to lift up others from the dust; to break tyranny's chains in which people languished, so as to impose upon them his own chains.
This boy was Napoleon Bonaparte, the son of the advocate Charles de Bonaparte.
From Ajaccio, the principal town of Corsica, came the ship which brought to France the boy, his father, and his two elder brothers. In Ajaccio the family of the Bonapartes had been settled for more than a century. There also Napoleon had passed the first years of his life, in the family circle with his parents, and in joyous amusements with his five brothers and sisters.
His father, Charles de Bonaparte, belonged to one of the noble families of Corsica, and was one of the most influential men on the island. His mother, Letitia Ramolina, was well known throughout the island for her beauty, and the only woman who could have been her rival, for she was her equal in beauty, youth, and grace, was her dearest friend, the beautiful Panonia de Comnene, afterward the mother of the Duchess d'Abrantes.
The beautiful Letitia Ramolina was married to Charles de Bonaparte the same year that her friend Panonia de Comnene became the wife of M. de Permont, a high French official in Ajaccio. Corsica was then the undisputed property of the kingdom of France, and, however proud the Corsicans were of their island, yet they were satisfied to be called subjects of France, and to have their beautiful island considered as a province of France.
Napoleon Bonaparte was the fifth child of his parents, the favorite of his beautiful mother Letitia, who was the life of the household, the ruler of the family. She governed the house, she educated the children; she knew, with the genuine ability of a housekeeper, of a mother, how to spend with careful frugality the moderate income of her husband; how to economize, and yet how to give to each what was needed. As to the father, in the hours of leisure which business, political debates, and amusements allowed him to give to his home and family, his children were an agreeable recreation, an interesting pastime; and when the children, carried away by the sparkling fire of youth, shouted or cried too loud, the father endeavored to palliate their misdemeanor, and obtain their pardon from their mother. Then Letitia's eyes were fastened with a flaming glance upon her husband, and, imperatively bidding him leave the children, she would say: "Let them alone. Their education concerns you not. I am the one to keep the eyes upon them."
She trained them up with the severity of a father and with the tenderness of a mother. Inexorable against every vice of heart and character, she was lenient and indulgent toward petty offences which sprang up from the inconsiderateness and spiritedness of youth. Every tendency to vulgar sentiments, to mean envy or selfishness, she strove to uproot by galling indignation; but every thing which was great and lofty, all sentiments of honor, of courage, of large- heartedness, of generosity, of kindness, she nursed and cherished in the hearts of her children. It was a glorious sight to contemplate this young mother when with her beautiful, rosy countenance glowing with enthusiasm and blessedness, she stood among her children, and in fiery, expressive manner spoke to the listening group of the great and brave of old, of the deeds of a Caesar, of a Hannibal; when she spoke of Brutus, who, though he loved Caesar, yet, greater than Caesar, and a more exalted Roman in his love for the republic, sacrificed his love to the fatherland; or when she, with that burning glow which all Corsicans, the women as well as the men, cherish for their home and for the historical greatness of their dear island, told them of the bravery and self-denial even unto death with which the Corsicans for centuries had fought for the freedom of their island; how, faithful to the ancient sacred law of blood, they never let the misdeed pass unpunished; they never feared the foe, however powerful he might be, but revenged on him the evil which he had committed against sister or brother, father or mother.
And when Letitia thus spoke to her children in the beautiful and harmonious language of her country, the eyes of the little Napoleon were all aflame, his childish countenance suddenly assumed a grave expression, and on the little body of the child was seen a man's head, glowing with power, energy, and pride.
These narratives of his mother, these enthusiastic stories of heroes of the past, which the boy, with loud-beating heart, with countenance blanched by mental excitement, gathered from the beautiful lips of his mother, were the highest pleasure of the little Napoleon, and often in future years has the emperor amid his glory thought of those days never to be forgotten, when the child's heart and soul hung on his mother's lips, and listened to her wondrous stories of heroes.
These narratives of Letitia, this enthusiasm which her glowing language awoke in the heart of the child, this whole education which Letitia gave to her children, became the corner-stone of their future. As a sower, Letitia scattered the seed from which hero and warrior were to spring forth, and the grain which fell into the heart of her little Napoleon found a good soil, and grew and prospered, and became a laurel-tree, which adorned the whole family of the Bonapartes with the blooming crown of immortality.
Great men are ever much more the sons of their mother than of the father, while seldom have great men seen their own greatness survive in their sons. This is a wonderful secret of Nature, which perhaps cannot be explained, but which cannot be denied.
Goethe was the true son of his talented and noble mother, but he could leave as a legacy to his son only the fame of a name, and not his genius. Henry IV., the son of a noble, spiritual and large- hearted Jeanne de Navarre, could not leave to France, which worshipped and loved her king, could not leave to his people, a successor who resembled him, and who would inherit his sharp- sightedness, his prudence, his courage, and his greatness of soul. His son and successor was Louis XIII., a king whose misfortune it was ever to be overruled, ever to be humbled, ever to stand in the shade of two superior natures, which excited his envy, but which he was never competent to overcome; ever overshadowed by the past glories which his father's fame threw upon him, overshadowed by the ruler and mentor of his choice, his minister, the Cardinal de Richelieu, who darkened his whole sad existence.
Napoleon was the son of his mother, the large-hearted and high- minded Letitia Ramolina. But how distant was the son of the hero, who, from a poor second lieutenant, had forced his way to the throne of France! how distant the poor little Duke de Reichstadt from his great father! Even over the life of this son of an eminent father weighed a shadow—the shadow of his father's greatness. Under this shadow which the column of Vendome cast from Paris to the imperial city of Vienna, which the steep rock of St. Helena cast even upon the castle of Schonbrunn, under this shadow died the Duke de Reichstadt, the unfortunate son of his eminent father.
The little Napoleon was always a shy, reserved, quiet boy. For hours long he could hide in some obscure corner of the house or of the garden, and sit there with head bent low and eyes closed, half asleep and half dreaming; but when he opened his eyes, what a life in those looks! What animation, what exuberance in his whole being, when awaking from his childish dreams he mixed again with his brothers, sisters, and friends!
Letitia's words and example had penetrated the soul of the child with the highest emotions of honor and human dignity, and the little boy of seven years exhibited oftentimes the sentiments of honor, pride, and obstinacy of a man. Every bodily correction to which he was submitted made him turn pale and tremble, not from pain but for shame, filled him with indignation, and was apt to bring on sickness. In Corsica still prevailed the custom of severe discipline for children, and in all the classes of the school the rod was applied as a means of punishment and reformation. To beat one's wife was considered in Corsica, as everywhere else, an unpardonable brutality; but parents as well as teachers whipped children to mould them into noble, refined, honorable men.
The little Napoleon would not adapt himself to the blessings of this education, and the mere threats of the rod-switching deprived the child of his senses and threw him into convulsions. But though the little Napoleon was gloomy, monosyllabic, and quiet, yet was he from early childhood the favorite of all who knew him, and he already wielded over brothers, sisters, and companions, a wonderful influence.
When a boy of four years old, Letitia sent him to a sort of play- school, where boys and girls amused themselves together and learned the ABC. The young Napoleon was soon the soul of the little company. The boys obeyed him, and submitted to his will; the girls trembled before him, and yet with a smile they pressed toward him merely to be near him and to have a place at his side. And the four-year child already practised a tender chivalry. One of his little school- companions had made an impression on his heart; he honored her with special favors, sat at her side during the lessons, and when they left school to return home, the little Napoleon never missed, with complete gravity of countenance, to offer his arm to his favorite of five years of age and to accompany her to her home. But the sight of this gallant, with his diminutive, compact, and broad figure, over which the large head, with its earnestness of expression, seemed so incongruous, and which moved on with so much gravity, while the socks fell from the naked calves over the heels—all this excited the merriment of the other children; and when, arm-in-arm with his little schoolmate, he thus moved on, the other urchins in great glee shouted after him: "Napoleone di mezza calzetta dall' amore a Giacominetta!" ("Napoleon in socks is the lover of the little Giacominetta!")
The boy endured these taunts with the stoic composure of a philosopher, but never after did he offer his arm to the little Giacominetta, and never afterward did his socks hang down over his heels.
When from this "mixed school" he passed into a boys' school, the little Napoleon distinguished himself above all the other boys by his ambition, his deep jealousy, his perseverance at learning and studying, and he soon became the favorite of the Abbe Recco, [Footnote: Napoleon, in his testament, written at St. Helena, willed a fixed sum of money to this Professor Recco, in gratitude for the instruction given him in his youth.] who taught at the royal college of Ajaccio as professor. A few times every week the worthy professor would gather his pupils in a large hall, to read them lectures upon ancient history, and especially upon the history of Rome; and, in order to give to this hall a worthy and significant ornament, he had it adorned on either side with two large and costly banners, one of which had the initials S. P. Q. E., and represented the standard of ancient Rome; facing it and on the opposite side of the hall was the standard of Carthage.
Under the shadows of these standards were ranged the seats for the scholars, and in the vacant centre of the large hall was the professor's chair, from which the Abbe Recco dictated to his pupils the history of the heroic deeds of ancient Rome.
The elder children sat under the larger standard, under the standard of Rome, and the junior boys immediately opposite, under the standard of Carthage; and as Napoleon Bonaparte was the youngest scholar of the institution, he sat near the Carthaginian standard, whilst his brother Joseph, his senior by five years, had his seat facing him on the Roman side. Though at the commencement of the lectures Napoleon's delight had been great, and though he had listened with enthusiasm to the history of the struggles, and to the martial achievements of the ancient Romans, the little Napoleon soon manifested an unmistaken repugnance to attend these lectures. He would turn pale, as with his brother he entered the hall, and with head bowed low, and dark, angry countenance, took his seat. A few days afterward he declared to his brother Joseph, his lips drawn in by anguish, that he would no more attend the lectures.
"And why not?" asked Joseph, astonished. "Do you take no interest in the Roman history? Can you not follow the lecture?"
The little Napoleon darted upon his brother a look of inexpressible contempt. "I would be a simpleton if the history of heroes did not interest me," said he, "and I understand everything the good Professor Recco says—I understand it so well that I often know beforehand what his warriors and heroes will do."
"Well, then, since you have such a lively interest in the history of the Romans, why will you no more follow the lectures?"
"No, I will not, I cannot," murmured Napoleon, sadly.
"Tell me, at least, the reason, Napoleon," said his brother.
The boy looked straight before him, for a long time hesitating and undecided; then he threw up his head in a very decided manner, and gazed on his brother with flaming eyes.
"Yes," cried he, passionately, "I will tell you! I can no longer endure the shame to sit down under the standard of the conquered and humiliated Carthaginians. I do not deserve to be so disgraced."
"But, Napoleon," said Joseph, laughing, "why trouble yourself about the standard of the old Carthaginians? One is just as well under it as under the Roman standard."
"Is it, then, the same to you under which standard you sit? Do you not consider it as a great honor to sit under the standard of the victorious Romans?"
"I look upon the one as being without honor, and upon the other as being without shame," said Joseph, smiling.
"If it is so," cried out the little Napoleon, throwing himself on his brother's neck, "if it is for you no great sacrifice, then, I implore you to save me, to make me happy, for you can do it! Let us change seats; give me your place under the standard of Rome, and take my place instead."
Joseph declared himself ready to do so, and when the two brothers came next time to the lecture, Napoleon, with uplifted head and triumphant countenance, took his seat under the standard of victorious Rome.
But soon the expression of joy faded away from his face, and his features were overcast, and with a restless, sad look, he repeatedly turned himself toward his brother Joseph, who sat facing him under the standard of the conquered race.
Silent and sad he went home with Joseph, and when his mother questioned him about the cause of his sorrow, he confessed, with tears in his eyes, that he was a heartless egotist, that he had been unjust and cruel toward Joseph, that he had cheated his brother of his place of honor and had seated himself in it.
It required the most earnest assurances of Joseph that he placed no value whatever on the seat; it required all the persuasiveness and authority of Letitia to appease the boy, and to prevail upon him to resume the conquered seat. [Footnote: "Memoires du Roi Joseph," vol. i., p.40.]
As the course of instruction which the boys had received in Ajaccio was not sufficient for the times, and for the capacities of his sons, their father passed over to France with Joseph and Napoleon, to take advantage of the favorable resources for a more complete education.
Napoleon saw the time of departure approach with an apparently indifferent mind, only his face was somewhat paler, he was still more monosyllabic and more reserved than before; and his eyes, full of an indescribable expression of tenderness and admiration, followed all the movements of his mother, as if to print deeply in his soul the beloved image, so as to take it with him beyond the seas, in all its freshness and beauty.
He wept not as he bade her farewell; not a word of sorrow or regret did he speak, but he embraced his mother with impassioned fondness, he kissed her hands, her forehead, her large black eyes, he sank down before her and kissed her feet, then sprang up, and, after casting upon her whole figure a deep, glowing look, he rushed away to embark at once, without waiting for brother or father, who were yet bidding a touching farewell to relatives and friends.
Letitia gazed after her Napoleon with glowing and wide-open eyes; she wept not, she complained not, but she pressed her two hands on her heart as if to keep it from breaking asunder, from bleeding to death; then she called all her children around her, and, folding them up in her arms, exclaimed: "Join your hands and pray with me that our little Napoleon may return home to us a noble and great man."
As soon as they had prosperously landed in France, the father placed his two sons in the college of Autun, and then travelled farther on to Paris, there to obtain, through the influence of his patrons and friends, a place for his daughter Marianne (afterward Elise) in St. Cyr, an institution for the daughters of noblemen, and also a place for Napoleon in the military school of Brienne. His efforts were crowned with success; and whilst Joseph remained at college in Autun, Napoleon had to part with him and go to Brienne.
When the brothers bade farewell one to another, Joseph wept bitterly, and his sighs and tears choked the tender words of farewell which his quivering lips would have uttered.
Napoleon was quiet, and as his eye moistened with a tear, he endeavored to hide it, and turned aside ashamed of himself and nearly indignant, for he did not wish the Abbe Simon, one of the professors of the college, who was present at the parting of the brothers, to see his unmanly tenderness.
But the Abbe Simon had seen that tear, and when Napoleon was gone he said to Joseph: "Napoleon has shed but one tear, but that tear proves his deep sorrow as much as all your tears." [Footnote: "Memoires du Roi Joseph," vol. i., p.26.]
Taciturn and quiet as he had been in Ajaccio, the little Napoleon was equally so at the military school of Brienne, where he remained from his eleventh to his sixteenth year. His character had always something sombre and hidden; his eye seemed turned more inwardly than outwardly; and his fellowship with his books seemed to procure him a more pleasant recreation than the company of his schoolmates, whose childish joys and pleasures he despised or pretended to do so, because his limited pecuniary resources did not allow him to share with them pleasures of an expensive nature.
But, though still and reserved, he always was friendly and courteous to his comrades, grateful for every mark of friendship and kindness, and always ready to protect the young and feeble against the overbearing and the strong, censuring with grave authority every injustice, and with Spartan harshness throwing his contempt into the very face of him who, according to his standard, had offended against honor, the lofty spirit and the dignity of a freeman.
It could not fail that soon Napoleon should win over his schoolmates a marked moral influence; that they would listen to him as if he were their superior; that they should feel something akin to fear in presence of the flashing eyes of this little boy of barely fourteen years, whose pale, expressive countenance, when illumined with anger, almost seemed to them more terrible than that of the irritated face of the teacher, and whom they therefore more willingly and more unconditionally obeyed than the principal of the establishment.
One day the latter had forbidden the scholars to go to the fair in a neighboring locality, because they had lately been guilty of excesses on a similar occasion; and, so as to be sure that the scholars would not trespass against his orders, the principal had the outside gate in the front yard locked.
This last circumstance kindled Napoleon's anger; he considered it as an insult that the scholars should be treated as prisoners.
"Had we been ordered in the name of the law to remain here," cried he, "then honor itself would have claimed from us to remain, for law commands obedience to our superiors. But since we are treated as slaves, who are by main force compelled to submission, then honor claims from us to prove to our oppressors that we are free beings, and that we desire to remain such. We are treated as prisoners of war, kept under lock and bolt, but no one has demanded our word of honor that we will make no effort to escape this subjection. Whosoever has a brave heart and a soul full of honor's love, let him follow me!"
All the youngsters followed him without hesitation. More submissive to this pale, small boy of fourteen years, than to the severe, strong, and exalted principal, none dared oppose him as he stood in the garden, facing a remote place in the wall, and giving orders to undermine it, so as to make an outlet. All obeyed the given orders, all were animated with burning zeal, with cheerful alacrity; and after an hour of earnest labor the work was done, and the passage under the wall completed.
The scholars wanted to rush with jubilant cries through the opening, and gain their freedom outside of the wall, but Napoleon held them back.
"I will go first," said he. "I have been your leader throughout this expedition, now I will be the first to pass out, that upon me may fall the punishment when we are discovered."
The young men fell back silently and respectfully, while, proud and stately as a field-marshal who gives the signal for the battle, Napoleon passed through their ranks, to be the first from the crowd to go through the newly-made passage.
It could not fail that the daring of these "prisoners of war" should be discovered, that the principal should be the very same day informed that the young men had, notwithstanding his strict orders, notwithstanding the closed gate, made a way for themselves, and had visited the prohibited fair, while the principal believed them to be in the garden.
A strict inquiry took place the next morning. With threatening tones, the principal ordered the young men to name him who had guided them to so unheard-of a deed, who had misled them into disobedience and insubordination. But all were still; none wished to be a traitor, not even when the principal promised to all full pardon, full impunity, if they would but name the instigator of their guilty action.
But as no one spoke, as no one would name him, Napoleon gave himself up as the culpable one.
"I alone am guilty," cried he, proudly. "I alone deserve punishment. These have done only what I commanded them—they have but followed my orders, nothing more. The guilt and the punishment are mine alone."
The principal, glad to know the guilty one, kept his promise, and, forgiving the rest, decided to punish only the one who acknowledged himself to have been the leader.
Napoleon was, therefore, sentenced to the severest and most degrading punishment known in the institution—to the so-called "monk's penalty." That is to say, the future young soldier, in the coarse woollen garment of a mendicant friar, was on his knees, to devour his meal from an earthen vessel in the middle of the dining- room, while all the other boys were seated at the table.
A deathly pallor overspread the face of the boy when he heard this sentence. He had been for many days imprisoned in a cell with bread and water, and he had without a murmur submitted to this correction, endured already on a former occasion, but this degrading punishment broke his courage.
Stunned, as it were, and barely conscious, he allowed the costume of the punishment to be put on, but when he had been led into the dining-room, where all the scholars were gathered for the noonday meal, when he was forced upon his knees, he sank down to the ground with a heavy sigh, and was seized with violent convulsions.
The rector himself, moved with deepest sympathy for the wounded spirit of the boy, hastened to raise up Napoleon. At the same moment rushed into the hall one of the teachers of the institution, M. Patrault, who had just been informed of the execution which was about to be carried out on Napoleon. With tears in his eyes, he hastened to Napoleon, and with trembling hands tore from his shoulders the detestable garment, and broke out at the same time in loud complaints that his best scholar, his first mathematician, was to be dishonored and treated in an unworthy manner.
Napoleon, however, was not always the reserved, grave boy who took no part in the recreations and pleasures of the rest of his young schoolmates. Whenever these amusements were of a more serious, of a higher nature, Napoleon gladly and willingly took a part in them. Now and then in the institution, on festivals, theatrical representations took place, and on these occasions the citizens of Brienne were allowed to be present.
But to maintain respectable order, every one who desired to be present at the representation had to procure a card of admission signed by the principal. On the day of the exhibition, at the different doors of the institution, were posted guards who received the admission cards, and whose strict orders were to let no one pass in without them. These posts, which were filled by the scholars, were under the supervision of superior and inferior officers, and were confided only to the most distinguished and most praiseworthy students.
One day, Voltaire's tragedy, "The Death of Caesar," was exhibited. Napoleon had the post of honor of a first lieutenant for this festivity, and with grave earnestness he filled the duties of his office.
Suddenly at the entrance of the garden arose a loud noise and vehement recriminations of threatening and abusive voices.
It was Margaret Haute, the porter's wife, who wanted to come in, though she had no card of admission. She was well known to all the students, for at the gate of the institution she had a little stall of fruits, eggs, milk, and cakes, and all the boys purchased from her every day, and liked to jest and joke with the pleasant and obliging woman.
Margaret Haute had therefore considered it of no importance to procure a card of admission, which thing she considered to be superfluous for such an important and well-known personage as herself. The greater was her astonishment and anger when admission was refused, and she therefore began to clamor loudly, hoping by this means to attract some of the scholars, who would recognize her and procure her admittance. Meanwhile the post guardian dared not act without superior orders, and the inferior officer hastened to communicate the important event to the first lieutenant, Napoleon de Bonaparte, and receive his decision.
Napoleon, who ordinarily was kind to the fruit-vender, and gladly jested with the humorous and coarse woman, listened to the report of the lieutenant with furrowed brow and dark countenance, and with severe dignity gave his orders: "Remove that woman, who takes upon herself to introduce licentiousness into the camp." [Footnote: Afterward, when First Consul, Napoleon sent for this woman and her husband to come to Paris, and he gave them the lucrative position of porter at the castle of Malmaison, which charge they retained unto their death.]
THE UNHAPPY MARRIAGE.
While the boy Napoleon de Bonaparte pursued his studies as a student in Brienne, she, who was one day to share his greatness and his fame, had already appeared on the world's stage as the wife of another. Josephine Tascher de la Pagerie was already received in the highest society of Paris as the Viscountess de Beauharnais.
Every thing seemed to promise to the young couple a happy, secure future, free from care. They were both young, wealthy, of good family, and though the parents had planned this marriage and joined together the hands of the young couple, yet it was their good fortune that love should tie and strengthen the bond which mere expediency had formed.
Yes, they loved one another, these young married people of sixteen and eighteen. How could it have been otherwise, when they both met each other with the candid and honest desire to make one another happy; when each of them had been so well adapted to the other that their brilliant, good, and beautiful qualities were so prominent that their eyes were blinded to the possibility of imperfections and vices which perchance remained in the obscure background of their virtue and of their amiableness?
Josephine had entered upon her marriage with a pure maiden heart, and soon this heart glowed with enthusiasm for her young husband, who in reality was well qualified to excite enthusiasm in a young maid and instil into her a passionate attachment. Alexandre de Beauharnais was one of the most brilliant and most beloved personages at the court of Versailles. His face had all the beauty of regularity; his figure, marked by a lofty, even if somewhat heavy form, was tall, well knit, and of wonderful elasticity and energy; his manners were noble and prepossessing, fine and natural. Even in a court so distinguished as that of Versailles for many remarkable chevaliers, the Viscount de Beauharnais was considered as one of the most lovely and most gifted: even the young Queen Marie Antoinette honored him with special distinction. She had called him the most beautiful dancer of Versailles, and consequently it was very natural that up to the time of his marriage he should be invited to every court-ball, and there should each time enjoy the pleasure of being requested to dance with the queen.
This flattering distinction of the Queen Marie Antoinette had naturally made the young viscount the mark of attention of all these beautiful, young, and coquettish ladies of Versailles. They used to say of him, that in the dancing-room he was a zephyr, fluttering from flower to flower, but at the head of his regiment he was a Bayard, dreaming only of war and carnage.
It was, therefore, quite natural that so brilliant and so preferred a cavalier, a young man of so many varied accomplishments, a being so impassioned, so gallant, should soon become the object of the most tender and passionate fondness from a young wife, who in her quiet native land had seen none to compare with him, and who became for her the ideal of beauty, chivalry, elegance, and whom, in her devoted and admiring love, she used to call her own Achilles.
Josephine loved her husband; she loved him with all the devotedness and fire of a creole; she loved him and breathed but for him, and to be with him seemed to her life's golden, blessed dream. Added to all this, came the joys and raptures of a Parisian life—these new, unknown, diversified pleasures of society, these manifold distractions and entertainments of the great city. Josephine abandoned herself to all this with the joy and wantonness of an innocent, unsuspicious being. With all these glorious things round about her, she felt as if surrounded by a sea of blessedness and pleasure, and she plunged into it with the quiet daring of innocency, which foresees not what breakers and abysses this sea encloses under the shining surface.
But these breakers were there, and against them was the happiness of Josephine's love soon to be dashed to pieces.
She loved her young husband with her whole heart, with all her soul. But he, the young, the flattered Viscount Alexandre de Beauharnais, he also loved his young wife, whom the wish and will of his superiors had placed at his side.
He had not chosen her because he loved her, but only because he had thought it expedient and advisable to become married, and because the unknown Mademoiselle de la Pagerie had been offered to him as "a good settlement." Perhaps, also, he had contracted this marriage to get rid all at once of those manifold ties, intrigues, and attachments which his open, unrestrained life of youth had woven around him, for his marriage with the young creole had put an end to many love-intrigues which perchance threatened to be inconvenient and burdensome.
At first charmed by her foreign, unaccustomed appearance, transported by her ingenuous grace, her sweet, lovely amiableness and freshness, he had fully decided to love his young wife, and, with all the triumphant pride of a lover, he had led Josephine into society, into the saloons.
But his eye was not blinded by the ravishment of a real and true love, and in the drawing-room he saw what, in the solitude of the residence of Noisy, where the young couple had retired for a few weeks after their marriage, he might never have missed—he saw that Josephine possessed not the lofty elegance and the exquisite manners of the ladies of the Parisian saloons. She always was a charming, artless, graceful young woman, but she lacked the striking advantages of a real drawing-room lady; she lacked that perfect self-possession, that pliancy of refinement, that sparkling wit, and that penetration, which then characterized the ladies of the higher Parisian society, and which the young viscount had but lately so fondly and passionately admired in the beautiful and celebrated Baroness de B.
The viscount saw all these deficiencies of his young wife's social education, and this darkened his brow and brought on his cheek the flush of shame. He was cruel enough to reproach Josephine, in somewhat harsh and imperious tones, of her lack of higher culture, and thus the first matrimonial difference clouded the skies of marriage happiness, which the young unsuspecting wife had believed would ever be bright with sunshine.
Josephine, however, loved her young husband too fondly not to cheerfully comply with all his wishes, not to strive to replace what he reproached her to be lacking.
On a sudden she left the brilliant, enchanting Paris, which had entranced her with its many joys and its many distractions, and, as her husband had to be for some time at Blois with his regiment, she went to Noisy, to her aunt's residence, so as to labor at her higher mental culture, at the side of the lovely and intellectual Madame de Renaudin.
Josephine had hitherto, as a simple, sentimental young lady, played the guitar, and chirped with it, in her fresh but uncultivated voice, her sweet songs of love. She gave up the guitar, the favorite instrument of the creoles, and exchanged it for the harp, for which attainment as well as for the art of singing she procured the best and ablest masters. Even a dancing-master had to come to Noisy to give to the young viscountess that perfection of art which would enable her, without fear, to dance at a ball alongside of the Viscount de Beauharnais, "the beautiful dancer of Versailles." With her aunt she read the works of the writers and poets who were then praised and loved, and with wonderful predilection she also studied botany, to which science she ever clung during her life, and which threw on her existence gleams of joy when the sun of her happiness had long set.
Josephine, who out of pure love for her husband learned and studied zealously, communicated to the viscount, in her letters, every advancement she made in her studies; and she was proud and happy when he applauded her efforts, and when in his letters he praised her assiduity and her progress.
But evidently these letters of the viscount contained nothing of that love and ardor which the young fiery creole longed for from her husband; they were not the utterances of a young, anxious lover, of an enthusiastic, worshipping husband; but they were addressed to Josephine with the quiet, cool benignity of a considerate friend, of a mentor, of a tutor who knows full well how much above his pupil soars his own mind, and with what supreme deference this pupil must look up to him.
"I am delighted," wrote he once—"delighted at your zeal to acquire knowledge and culture; this zeal, which we must ever cherish, is ever the source of purest enjoyments, and possesses the glorious advantage, when we follow its dictates, of never producing any grief. If you persevere in the resolution you have taken, if you continue to labor with unabated zeal at your personal improvement, be assured that the knowledge you will have acquired will exalt you highly above all others; and whereas science and modesty will be combined in you, you will succeed in becoming an accomplished woman. The talents which you cultivate have their pleasant side, and if you devote to them a portion of the day, you will unite the agreeable to the useful." [Footnote: "Histoire de l'Imperatrice Josephine," vol. i., p. 110.]
This is what Alexandre de Beauharnais wanted. His wife, through her knowledge, was to be highly exalted above all others. She was to study the sciences, and become what is now called a learned woman, but what was then termed a philosophical woman.
The ambition of the ardent viscount required that his young wife should be the rival of his learned, verse-writing aunt, the Baroness Fanny de Beauharnais; that Josephine, if not the most beautiful and most intellectual woman of Paris, should be the most accomplished.
But these extravagant expectations did not, unfortunately, coincide entirely with the tastes and mental tendencies of Josephine. No one was less qualified than she to be a philosophical woman, and to make the sciences a serious study. It was far from her ambition to desire to shine by her knowledge; and the learned and scientific Baroness de Beauharnais only excited fear and antagonism on account of her stiff and pretentious pedantry, which seemed to Josephine to have but little in harmony with a woman's being.
Josephine loved the sciences and the arts, but she did not wish to convert herself into their devoted priestess. She wished merely to adorn herself with their blossoms, to take delight in their fragrance, and to rejoice in their beauty. With instinctive sentiment she did not wish to have the grace and youthful freshness of her womanly appearance marred by knowledge; her heart longed not for the ambition of being called a learned woman; she only wished to be a beloved wife.
But the viscount, instead of recognizing and cherishing the tender and sacred treasures which reposed in the heart of his young wife, ridiculed her for her sensitiveness; allowed himself, through displeasure at her uncultivated mind, to utter unreasonable reproaches, and to act harshly toward his wife; and her tears were not calculated to conciliate him or to gain his heart. He treated Josephine with a sort of contemptuous compassion, with a mocking superiority, and her young, deeply-wounded soul, intimidated and bleeding, shrank back into itself. Josephine became taciturn, embarrassed, and mute, in her husband's presence; she preferred being silent, rather than by her conversation, which might not appear intellectual and piquant enough for the viscount, to annoy and irritate him.
Confidence and harmony had flown away from the household of the young couple. From his timid, silent wife, with tears in her eyes and a mute complaint on her trembling lips, the husband rushed away into the world, into society, to the boisterous joys of a garrison's life, or else to the dangerous, intoxicating amusements which the refined world of the drawing-rooms offered him.
Scarcely after a two years' marriage, the young bridegroom was again the zephyr of the drawing-room; and, breaking asunder the bonds with which the marriage and the household had bound him, he fluttered again from flower to flower, was once more the gallant cavalier of the belles, forgot duty and wife, to pay his attentions and bring his homage to the ladies of the court.
But this neglect which she now experienced from her husband, this evident preference for other women, suddenly awoke Josephine from her painful resignation, from her quiet melancholy. The young, patient, retreating wife was changed at once into an irritated lioness, and, amid the refinements of the French polish, with all its gilded accompaniments, uprose the glowing, impassioned, threatening creole.
Josephine, wounded both in her vanity and in her love—Josephine wished not and could not bear, as a passive, silent sufferer, the neglect of her husband; he had insulted her as a woman, and the wrath of a woman rose within her. She screened not her jealousy from her husband; she reproached him for preferring other women to his wife, for neglecting her for the sake of others, and she required that to her alone he should do homage, that to her alone he should consecrate love and allegiance. She wept, she complained, when she learned that, whilst she was left at home unnoticed, he had been here and there in the company of other women; she allowed herself to be so carried away by jealousy as to make violent reproaches against her husband.
But tears and reproaches are not in the least calculated to bring back to a wife the heart of a husband, and jealousy recalls not a husband's love, when that love has unfolded his pinions and flown away. It only causes the poor butterfly to feel that marriage had tied its wings with a thread, and that it constantly recalls him away, with the severe admonitions of duty, from the beautiful flowers toward which he desires to fly.
The complaints and reproaches of Josephine, however much they proved her love, had precisely the contrary effect from what she expected. Through them she wanted to bring back her husband to her love, but she repelled him further still; he flew away from her complaints to the merry society of his friends, male and female, and left Josephine alone at Noisy to weep over her wretchedness.