RECOLLECTIONS OF THE PRIVATE LIFE OF NAPOLEON, Complete
PREMIER VALET DE CHAMBRE
TRANSLATED BY WALTER CLARK
Though this work was first published in 1830, it has never before been translated into English. Indeed, the volumes are almost out of print. When in Paris a few years ago the writer secured, with much difficulty, a copy, from which this translation has been made. Notes have been added by the translator, and illustrations by the publishers, which, it is believed, will enhance the interest of the original work by Constant.
"To paint Caesar in undress is not to paint Caesar," some one has said. Yet men will always like to see the great 'en deshabille'. In these volumes the hero is painted in undress. His foibles, his peculiarities, his vices, are here depicted without reserve. But so also are his kindness of heart, his vast intellect, his knowledge of men, his extraordinary energy, his public spirit. The shutters are taken down, and the workings of the mighty machinery are laid bare.
The late Prince Napoleon (who was more truly "the nephew of his uncle" than was Napoleon III.), in his Napoleon and His Detractors, bitterly assails this work of Constants attacking both its authenticity and the correctness of its statements. But there appears no good reason to doubt its genuineness, and the truthfulness of many of its details is amply supported by other authorities. Notwithstanding its excesses and follies, the great French Revolution will ever have an absorbing interest for mankind, because it began as a struggle for the advancement of the cause of manhood, liberty, and equal rights. It was a terribly earnest movement; and, after the lapse of a century, interest continues unabated in the great soldier who restored order, and organized and preserved the new ideas by means of his Civil Code and a firm government.
Countless memoirs have been published by those who lived in those heroic times. Yet everything which will cast new light upon the chief actors in that great drama of humanity is still seized upon with avidity, especially whatever concerns the Emperor.
This is not merely because he was a great conqueror; for such were, after their fashion, Genghis Khan and Timour, and hundreds of others. But it is because of the human interest which attaches to the wonderful career of Napoleon and the events of which he was the central figure.
Never did poet or novelist imagine scenes so improbable. The son of an obscure lawyer in an unimportant island becomes Emperor of the French and King of Italy. His brothers and sisters become kings and queens. The sons of innkeepers, notaries; lawyers, and peasants become marshals of the empire. The Emperor, first making a West India Creole his wife and Empress, puts her away, and marries a daughter of the haughtiest and oldest royal house in Europe, the niece of a queen whom the people of France had beheaded a few years before. Their son is born a king—King of Rome. Then suddenly the pageantry dissolves, and Emperor, kings, and queens become subjects again. Has imagination ever dreamed anything wilder than this? The dramatic interest of this story will always attract, but there is a deeper one. The secret spring of all those rapid changes, and the real cause of the great interest humanity will always feel in the story of those eventful times, is to be found in Napoleon's own explanation—"A career open to talents, without distinction of birth." Till that day the accident of birth was the key to every honor and every position. No man could hold even a lieutenancy in the army who could not show four quarterings on his coat of arms.
It was as the "armed apostle of democracy" that Napoleon went forth conquering and to conquer. He declared at St. Helena that he "had always marched supported by the opinions of six millions of men."
The old woman who met him incognito climbing the hill of Tarare, and replying to his assertion that "Napoleon was only a tyrant like the rest," exclaimed, "It may be so, but the others are the kings of the nobility, while he is one of us, and we have chosen him ourselves," expressed a great truth. As long as Napoleon represented popular sovereignty he was invincible; but when, deeming himself strong enough to stand alone, he endeavored to conciliate the old order of things, and, divorcing the daughter of the people, took for a bride the daughter of kings and allied himself with them—at that moment, like another Samson, "his strength departed from him." Disasters came as they had come to him before, but this time the heart of the people was no longer with him. He fell.
This man has been studied as a soldier, a statesman, an organizer, a politician. In all he was undeniably great. But men will always like to know something about him as a man. Can he stand that ordeal? These volumes will answer that question. They are written by one who joined the First Consul at the Hospice on Mt. St. Bernard, on his way to Marengo, in June, 1800, and who was with him as his chief personal attendant, day and night, never leaving him "any more than his shadow" (eight days only) excepted until that eventful day, fourteen years later, when, laying aside the sceptre of the greatest empire the world had known for seventeen centuries, he walked down the horseshoe steps at Fontainebleau in the presence of the soldiers whom he had led to victory from Madrid to Moscow, once more a private citizen.
That men of Anglo-Saxon speech may have an opportunity to see and judge the Emperor from "close at hand," and view him as he appeared in the eyes of his personal attendants, these volumes have been translated, and are now submitted to the public. Though the remark of Frederick the Great that "No man is a hero to his valet" is not altogether borne out in this instance, still it will be seen that there is here nothing of that "divinity which doth hedge a king." In these volumes Napoleon appears as a man, a very great man, still a mere man, not, a demigod. Their perusal will doubtless lead to a truer conception of his character, as manifested both in his good and in his evil traits. The former were natural to him; the latter were often produced by the exceptional circumstances which surrounded him, and the extraordinary temptations to which he was subjected.
Certainly a truer and fuller light is cast by these volumes, upon the colossal figure which will always remain one of the most interesting studies in all human history.
The career of a man compelled to make his own way, who is not an artisan or in some trade, does not usually begin till he is about twenty years of age. Till then he vegetates, uncertain of his future, neither having, nor being able to have, any well-defined purpose. It is only when he has arrived at the full development of his powers, and his character and bent of mind are shown, that he can determine his profession or calling. Not till then does he know himself, and see his way open before him. In fact, it is only then that he begins to live.
Reasoning in this manner, my life from my twentieth year has been thirty years, which can be divided into equal parts, so far as days and months are counted, but very unequal parts, considering the events which transpired in each of those two periods of my life.
Attached to the person of the Emperor Napoleon for fifteen years, I have seen all the men, and witnessed all the important events, which centered around him. I have seen far more than that; for I have had under my eyes all the circumstances of his life, the least as well as the greatest, the most secret as well as those which are known to history,—I have had, I repeat, incessantly under my eyes the man whose name, solitary and alone, fills the most glorious pages of our history. Fifteen years I followed him in his travels and his campaigns, was at his court, and saw him in the privacy of his family. Whatever step he wished to take, whatever order he gave, it was necessarily very difficult for the Emperor not to admit me, even though involuntarily, into his confidence; so that without desiring it, I have more than once found myself in the possession of secrets I should have preferred not to know. What wonderful things happened during those fifteen years! Those near the Emperor lived as if in the center of a whirlwind; and so quick was the succession of overwhelming events, that one felt dazed, as it were, and if he wished to pause and fix his attention for a moment, there instantly came, like another flood, a succession of events which carried him along with them without giving him time to fix his thoughts.
Succeeding these times of activity which made one's brain whirl, there came to me the most absolute repose in an isolated retreat where I passed another interval of fifteen years after leaving the Emperor. But what a contrast! To those who have lived, like myself, amid the conquests and wonders of the Empire, what is left to-day? If the strength of our manhood was passed amid the bustle of years so short, yet so fully occupied, our careers were sufficiently long and fruitful, and it is time to give ourselves up to repose. We can withdraw from the world, and close our eyes. Can it be possible to see anything equal to what we have seen? Such scenes do not come twice in the lifetime of any man; and having seen them, they suffice to occupy his memory through all his remaining years, and in retirement he can find nothing better to occupy his leisure moments than the recollections of what he has witnessed.
Thus it has been with me. The reader will readily believe that I have had no greater pleasure than that of recalling the memories of the years passed in the service of the Emperor. As far as possible, I have kept myself informed as to everything that has been written of my former master, his family, and his court; and while listening to these narrations read by my wife and sister at our fireside, the long evenings have passed like an instant! When I found in these books, some of which are truly only miserable rhapsodies, statements which were incorrect, false, or slanderous, I, took pleasure in correcting such statements, or in showing their absurdity. My wife, who lived, as I did, in the midst of these events, also made her corrections, and, without other object than our own satisfaction, made notes of our joint observations.
All who came to see us in our retreat, and took pleasure in having me narrate what I had seen, were astonished and often indignant at the falsehoods with which ignorance or malevolence had calumniated the Emperor and the Empire, and expressing their gratitude for the correct information I was able to give them, advised me also to furnish it to the public. But I attached no importance to the suggestion, and was far from dreaming that some day I should be the author of a book, until M. Ladvocat came to our hermitage, and urged me earnestly to publish my memoirs, offering himself to become the publisher.
At the very time my wife and I received this unexpected visit, we were reading together the Memoirs of Bourrienne, which the Ladvocat publishing-house had just issued; and we had remarked more than once how exempt these Memoirs were from both that spirit of disparagement and of adulation which we had noticed with disgust in other books on the same subject. M. Ladvocat advised me to complete the sketch of the Emperor, which, owing to his elevated position and habitual occupations, Bourrienne had been able to make only from a political point of view; and in accordance with his advice, I shall relate in simple words, and in a manner suited to my relations with the Emperor, those things which Bourrienne has necessarily omitted, and which no one could know so well as I.
I candidly admit that my objections to M. Ladvocat's advice were entirely overcome when he called my attention to this passage in the introduction to Bourrienne's memoirs: "If every one who had any relations with Napoleon, whatever the time and place, will accurately and without prejudice record what he saw and heard, the future historian of his life will be rich in materials. I hope that whoever undertakes that difficult task will find in my notes some information which may be useful in perfecting his work."
Having re-read these lines attentively, I said to myself that I could furnish memoranda and information which would refute errors, brand falsehoods, and bring to light what I knew to be the truth. In a word, I felt that I could give in my testimony, and that it was my duty to do so, in the long trial which has been held ever since the overthrow of the Emperor; for I had been an eye-witness, had seen everything, and could say, "I was there." Others also have been close to the Emperor and his court, and I may often repeat what they have said, for the feats which they describe I had the same opportunity of witnessing; but, on the other hand, whatever I know of private matters, and whatever I may reveal which was secret and unknown, no one till this time could possibly have known, or consequently have related.
From the departure of the First Consul for the campaign of Marengo, whither I went with him, until the departure from Fontainebleau, when I was compelled to leave him, I was absent only twice, once for three days and once for seven or eight days. Excepting these short leaves of absence, the latter of which was on account of my health, I quitted the Emperor no more than his shadow.
It has been said that no one is a hero to his valet de chambre. I beg leave to dissent from this. The Emperor, as near as I was to him, was always a hero; and it was a great advantage also to see the man as he was. At a distance you were sensible only of the prestige of his glory and his power; but on getting closer to him you enjoyed, besides, the surprising charm of his conversation, the entire simplicity of his family life, and I do not hesitate to say, the habitual kindliness of his character.
The reader, if curious to learn beforehand in what spirit these Memoirs are written, will perhaps read with interest this passage of a letter that I wrote to my publisher:
"Bourrienne had, perhaps, reason for treating Napoleon, as a public man, with severity. But we view him from different standpoints, and I speak only of the hero in undress. He was then almost always kind, patient, and rarely unjust. He was much attached to those about him, and received with kindness and good nature the services of those whom he liked. He was a man of habit. It is as a devoted servant that I wish to speak of the Emperor, and in no wise as a critic. It is not, however, an apotheosis in several volumes that I wish to write: for I am on this point somewhat like fathers who recognize the faults of their children, and reprove them earnestly, while at the same time they are ready to make excuses for their errors."
I trust that I shall be pardoned the familiarity, or, if you will, the inappropriateness of this comparison, for the sake of the feeling which dictates it. Besides, I do not propose either to praise or blame, but simply to relate that which fell within my knowledge, without trying to prejudice the opinion of any one.
I cannot close this introduction without a few words as to myself, in reply to the calumnies which have not spared, even in his retirement, a man who should have no enemies, if, to be protected from malice, it were sufficient to have done a little good, and no harm to any one. I am reproached with having abandoned my master after his fall, and not having shared his exile. I will show that, if I did not follow the Emperor, it was because I lacked not the will but the power to do so. God knows that I do not wish to undervalue the devotion of the faithful servants who followed the fortunes of the Emperor to the end. However, it is not improper to say that, however terrible the fall of the Emperor was for him, the situation (I speak here only of the personal advantages), in the island of Elba, of those who remained in his service, and who were not detained in France by an inexorable necessity, was still not without its advantages; and it was not, therefore, my personal interests which caused me to leave him. I shall explain hereafter my reasons for quitting his service.
I shall also give the truth as to the alleged abuse of confidence, of which, according to others, I was guilty in respect to the Emperor. A simple statement of the mistake which gave rise to this falsehood, I trust, will clear me of every suspicion of indelicacy; but if it is necessary to add other proofs, I could obtain them from those who lived nearest to the Emperor, and who were in a condition to both know and understand what passed between us; and lastly, I invoke fifty years of a blameless life, and I can say: "When I was in a situation to render great services, I did so; but I never sold them. I could have derived advantages from the petitions that I made for people, who, in consequence of my solicitations, have acquired immense fortunes; but I refused even the proper acknowledgment which in, their gratitude (very deep at that time) they felt compelled to offer me, by proposing an interest in their enterprises. I did not seek to take advantage, for my own benefit, of the generosity with which the Emperor so long deigned to honor me, in order to enrich or secure places for my relatives; and I retired poor after fifteen years passed in the personal service of the richest and most powerful monarch of Europe."
Having made these statements, I shall await with confidence the judgment of my readers.
RECOLLECTIONS OF THE PRIVATE LIFE OF NAPOLEON
I shall refer to myself very little in these memoirs, for I am aware the public will examine them only for details concerning the great man to whom fortune attached me for sixteen years, and whom I scarcely quitted during the whole of that time. Notwithstanding, I ask permission to say a few words as to my childhood, and the circumstances which made me valet de chambre of the Emperor.
I was born Dec. 2, 1778, at Peruelz, a town which became French on the annexation of Belgium to the Republic, and which then belonged to the Department of Jemmapes. Soon after my birth at the baths of Saint Amand, my father took charge of a small establishment called the Little Chateau, at which visitors to the waters were boarding, being aided in this enterprise by the Prince de Croi, in whose house he had been steward. Business prospered beyond my father's hopes, for a great number of invalids of rank came to his house. When I attained my eleventh year, the Count de Lure, head of one of the chief families of Valenciennes, happened to be one of the boarders at the Little Chateau; and as that excellent man had taken a great fancy to me, he asked my parents permission that I should become a companion to his son, who was about. the same age. My family had intended me for the church, to gratify one of my uncles, who was Dean of Lessine, a man of great wisdom and rigid virtue; and thinking that the offer of the Count de Lure would not affect my intended destination, my father accepted it, judging that some years passed in a family so distinguished would give me a taste for the more serious studies necessary to fit me for the priesthood. I set out, therefore, with the Count de Lure, much grieved at leaving my parents, but pleased also at the same time, as is usual with one at my age, with new scenes. The count took me to one of his estates near Tours, where I was received with the greatest kindness by the countess and her children, with whom I was placed on a footing of perfect equality.
Unfortunately I did not profit very long by the kindness of the count and the lessons. I was taught at his house, for hardly a year had passed at the chateau when we learned of the arrest of the king at Varennes. The count and his family were in despair; and child as I was, I remember that I was deeply pained at the news, without knowing why, but doubtless because it is natural to share the sentiments of those with whom you live, when they treat you with as much kindness as the count and countess had treated me. However, I continued to enjoy the happy freedom from care natural to youth, till one morning I was awakened by a loud noise, and was immediately surrounded by a great number of people, none of whom I knew, and who asked me countless questions which I could not answer. I then learned that the count and his family had emigrated. I was carried to the town hall, where the same questions were renewed, with the same fruitless result; for I knew nothing of the intentions of my late protectors, and could only reply by a flood of tears when I saw myself abandoned and left to my own resources, at a great distance from my family.
I was too young then to reflect on the conduct of the count; but I have since thought that his abandonment of me was an act of delicacy on his part, as he did not wish to make me an emigre without the consent of my parents. I have always believed that, before his departure, the count had committed me to the care of some one, who subsequently did not dare to claim me, lest he should compromise himself, which was then, as is well known, exceedingly dangerous. Behold me, then, at twelve years of age, left without a guide, without means of support, without any one to advise me, and without money, more than a hundred leagues from my home, and already accustomed to the comforts of a luxurious life. It is hardly credible that in this state of affairs I was regarded almost as a suspect, and was required each day to present myself before the city authorities for the greater safety of the Republic. I remember well that whenever the Emperor was pleased to make me relate these tribulations of my childhood, he never failed to repeat several times, "the fools," referring to these same city authorities. However that may be, the authorities of Tours, coming to the conclusion, at last, that a child of twelve was incapable of overthrowing the Republic, gave me a passport, with the injunction to leave the city within twenty-four hours, which I proceeded to do with a hearty good-will, but not without deep grief also at seeing myself alone, and on foot, with a long journey before me. After much privation and many hardships I arrived at last in the neighborhood of Saint-Amand, which I found in the possession of the Austrians, and that it was impossible for me to reach the town, as the French surrounded it. In my despair I seated myself on the side of a ditch and was weeping bitterly, when I was noticed by the chief of squadron, Michau,
[I afterwards had the happiness of obtaining for him, from the Emperor, a position he wished, as a place of retirement, having lost the use of his right arm.—CONSTANT.]
who afterwards became colonel and aide-de-camp to General Loison. Michau approached me, questioned me with great interest, and made me relate my sad adventures, which touched him deeply, while he did not conceal his inability to send me back to my family. He had just obtained leave of absence, which he was going to spend with his family at Chinon, and proposed to me to accompany him, which invitation I accepted with gratitude. I cannot say too much of the kindness and consideration shown me by his household during the three or four months I spent with them. At the end of that time he took me to Paris, where I was soon after placed in the house of M. Gobert, a rich merchant, who treated me with the greatest, kindness.
I lately visited M. Gobert; and he recalled to me that, when we traveled together, he gave up to me one of the seats of his carriage, upon which I was permitted to stretch myself out and sleep. I mention this circumstance, otherwise unimportant, to show the kindness he always showed me.
Some years later I made the acquaintance of Carrat, who was in the service of Madame Bonaparte while the general was absent on the Egyptian expedition. Before relating how I came to enter her household, it is proper to mention how Carrat himself came into her service, and at the same time narrate some anecdotes in regard to him, which will show what were the pastimes of the inhabitants of Malmaison at that date.
Carrat happened to be at Plombieres when Madame Bonaparte
[Madame Bonaparte, nee Marie Joseph Rose Tascher de la Pagerie, was born in Martinique, 1763; became the widow of Viscount Alexander de Beauharnais, 1794; married Napoleon Bonaparte March, 1796; became Empress May 18, 1804; was divorced Dec. 16, 1809; died at Malmaison, May 20, 1814.—TRANS.]
went there to take the waters. Every day he brought her bouquets, and addressed to her little complimentary speeches, so singular and so droll, that Josephine was much diverted, as were also the ladies who accompanied her, among whom were Mesdames de Cambis and de Criguy, and especially her own daughter Hortense, who was convulsed at his oddities. The truth is, he was exceedingly amusing, by reason of a certain simplicity and originality of character, which, however, did not prevent him from being a person of intelligence; and his eccentricities did not displease Madame Bonaparte. A sentimental scene took place when this excellent lady left the springs. Carrat wept, bemoaned himself, and expressed his lasting grief at not being able to see Madame Bonaparte daily, as he had been accustomed; and Madame Bonaparte was so kind-hearted that she at once decided to carry him to Paris with her. She taught him to dress hair, and finally appointed him her hair-dresser and valet, at least such were the duties he had to perform when I made his acquaintance. He was permitted a most astonishing freedom of speech, sometimes even scolding her; and when Madame Bonaparte, who was extremely generous and always gracious towards every one, made presents to her women, or chatted familiarly with them, Carrat would reproach her. "Why give that?" he would say, adding, "See how you do, Madame; you allow yourself to jest with your domestics. Some day they will show you a want of respect." But if he thus endeavored to restrain the generosity of his mistress towards those around her, he did not hesitate to stimulate her generosity towards himself; and whenever he took a fancy to anything, would simply say, "You ought to give me that."
Bravery is not always the inseparable companion of wit, and Carrat gave more than once proof of this. Being endowed with a kind of simple and uncontrollable poltroonery, which never fails in comedies to excite the laughter of the spectators, it was a great pleasure to Madame Bonaparte to play on him such pranks as would bring out his singular want of courage.
It should be stated, first of all, that one of the greatest pleasures of Madame Bonaparte, at Malmaison, was to take walks on the road just outside the walls of the park; and she always preferred this outside road, in spite of the clouds of dust which were constantly rising there, to the delightful walks inside the park. One day, accompanied by her daughter Hortense, she told Carrat to follow her in her walk; and he was delighted to be thus honored until he saw rise suddenly out of a ditch; a great figure covered with a white sheet, in fact, a genuine ghost, such as I have seen described in the translations of some old English romances.
It is unnecessary to say, that the ghost was some one placed there by order of these ladies, in order to frighten Carrat; and certainly the comedy succeeded marvelously well, for as soon as Carrat perceived the ghost, he was very much frightened, and clutching Madame Bonaparte, said to her in a tremor, "Madame, Madame, do you see that ghost? It is the spirit of the lady who died lately at Plombieres."—"Be quiet, Carrat, you are a coward."—"Ah, but indeed it is her spirit which has come back." As Carrat thus spoke, the man in the white sheet advanced toward him, shaking it; and poor Carrat, overcome with terror, fell backwards in a faint, and it required all the attentions which were bestowed upon him to restore him to consciousness.
Another day, while the general was still in Egypt, and consequently before I was in the service of any member of his family, Madame Bonaparte wished to give some of her ladies an exhibition of Carrat's cowardice; and for this purpose there was concerted among the ladies of Malmaison a plot, in which Mademoiselle Hortense
[Hortense Beauharnais, born at Paris, 1783, was then just sixteen years of age. Married Louis Bonaparte and became Queen of Holland, 1806. Died 1837. She was the mother of Napoleon III. —TRANS.]
was chief conspirator. This incident has been so often narrated in my presence by Madame Bonaparte, that I am familiar with the ludicrous details. Carrat slept in a room adjoining which there was a closet. A hole was made in the wall between these rooms, and a string passed through, at the end of which was tied a can filled with water, this cooling element being suspended exactly over the head of the patient's bed. This was not all, for they had also taken the precaution to remove the slats which supported the mattress; and as Carrat was in the habit of going to sleep without a light, he saw neither the preparations for his downfall, nor the can of water provided for his new baptism. All the members of the plot had been waiting for some moments in the adjoining closet; when he threw himself heavily upon his bed, it crashed in, and at the same instant the play of the string made the can of water do its effective work. The victim at the same time of a fall, and of a nocturnal shower-bath, Carrat cried out against his double misfortune. "This is horrible," he yelled at the top of his voice; while Hortense maliciously said aloud to her mother, Madame de Crigny (afterwards Madame Denon), Madame Charvet, and to several others in the room, "Oh, Mamma, those toads and frogs in the water will get on him." These words, joined to the utter darkness, served only to increase the terror of Carrat, who, becoming seriously frightened, cried out, "It is horrible, Madame, it is horrible, to amuse yourself thus at the expense of your servants."
I do not say that the complaints of Carrat were entirely wrong, but they. served only to increase the gayety of the ladies who had taken him for the object of their pleasantries.
However that may be, such was the character and position of Carrat, whom I had known for some time, when General Bonaparte returned from his expedition into Egypt, and Carrat said to me that Eugene de Beauharnais had applied to him for a confidential valet, his own having been detained in Cairo by severe illness at the time of his departure. He was named Lefebvre, and was an old servant entirely devoted to his master, as was every one who knew Prince Eugene; for I do not believe that there has ever lived a better man, or one more polite, more considerate, or indeed more attentive, to those who served him.
Carrat having told me that Eugene de Beauharnais
[Born 1781, viceroy of Italy 1805. In 1806 married the daughter of the King of Bavaria. Died 1824. Among his descendants are the present King of Sweden and the late Emperor of Brazil.—TRANS.]
desired a young man to replace Lefebvre, and having recommended me for the place, I had the good fortune to be presented to Eugene, and to give satisfaction; indeed, he was so kind as to say to me that my appearance pleased him, and he wished me to enter upon my duties immediately. I was delighted with this situation, which, I know not why, painted itself to my imagination in the brightest colors, and without loss of time, went to find my modest baggage, and behold me valet de chambre, ad interim, of M. de Beauharnais, not dreaming that I should one day be admitted to the personal service of General Bonaparte, and still less that I should become the chief valet of an Emperor.
It was on Oct. 16, 1799, that Eugene de Beauharnais arrived in Paris on his return from Egypt; and almost immediately thereafter I had the good fortune to be taken into his service, M. Eugene being then twenty-one years of age. I soon after learned a few particulars, which I think are little known, relative to his former life, and the marriage of his mother with General Bonaparte.
His father, as is well known, was one of the victims of the Revolution; and when the Marquis de Beauharnais had perished on the scaffold, his widow, whose property had been confiscated, fearing that her son, although still very young, might also be in danger on account of his belonging to the nobility, placed him in the home of a carpenter on the rue de l'Echelle where, a lady of my acquaintance, who lived on that street, has often seen him passing, carrying a plank on his shoulder. It seems a long distance from this position to the colonelcy of a regiment of the Consular guards, and the vice-royalty of Italy.
I learned, from hearing Eugene himself relate it, by what a singular circumstance he had been the cause of the first meeting between his mother and his step-father. Eugene, being then not more than fourteen or fifteen years of age, having been informed that General Bonaparte had become possessor of the sword of the Marquis de Beauharnais, took a step which seemed hazardous, but was crowned with success. The general having received him graciously, Eugene explained that he came to beg of him the restoration of his father's sword. His face, his bearing, his frank request, all made such a pleasant impression on Bonaparte, that he immediately presented him with the sword which he requested. As soon as this sword was in his hands he covered it with kisses and tears; and the whole was done in so artless a manner, that Bonaparte was delighted with him.
Madame de Beauharnais, being informed of the welcome the general had given her son, thought it her duty to make him a visit of gratitude. Bonaparte, being much pleased with Josephine in this first interview, returned her visit. They met again frequently; and as is well known, one event led to another, until she became the first Empress of the French; and I can assert from the numerous proofs that I have had of this fact, that Bonaparte never ceased to love Eugene as well as if he, had been his own son.
The qualities of Eugene were both attractive and solid. His features were not regular, and yet his countenance prepossessed every one in his favor. He had a well-proportioned figure, but did not make a distinguished appearance, on account of the habit he had of swinging himself as he walked. He was about five feet three or four inches [About five feet six or seven inches in English measurement.—TRANS.] in height. He was kind, gay, amiable, full of wit, intelligent, generous; and it might well be said that his frank and open countenance was the mirror of his soul. How many services he has rendered others during the course of his life, and at the very period when in order to do so he had often to impose privations on himself.
It will soon be seen how it happened that I passed only a month with Eugene; but during this short space of time, I recall that, while fulfilling scrupulously his duties to his mother and his step-father, he was much addicted to the pleasures so natural to his age and position. One of his greatest pleasures was entertaining his friends at breakfast; which he did very often. This amused me much on account of the comical scenes of which I was often a witness. Besides the young officers of Bonaparte's staff, his most frequent guests, he had also frequently at his table the ventriloquist Thiemet, Dugazon, Dazincourt, and Michau of the Theatre Francais, and a few other persons, whose names escape me at this moment. As may be imagined, these reunions were extremely gay; these young officers especially, who had returned like Eugene from the expedition to Egypt, seemed trying to indemnify themselves for the recent privations they had had to suffer. At this time ventriloquists, among whom Thiemet held a very distinguished position, were the fashion in Paris, and were invited to private gatherings. I remember on one occasion, at one of these breakfasts of Eugene's, Thiemet called by their names several persons present, imitating the voices of their servants, as if they were just outside the door, while he remained quietly in his seat, appearing to be using his lips only to eat and drink, two duties' which he performed admirably. Each of the officers called in this manner went out, and found no one; and then Thiemet went out with them, under the pretext of assisting them in the search, and increased their perplexity by continuing to make them hear some well-known voice. Most of them laughed heartily at the joke of which they had just been the victims; but there was one who, having himself less under control than his comrades, took the thing seriously, and became very angry, whereupon Eugene had to avow that he was the author of the conspiracy.
I recall still another amusing scene, the two heroes of which were this same Thiemet, of whom I have just spoken, and Dugazon. Several foreigners were present at a breakfast given by Eugene, the parts having been assigned, and learned in advance, and the two victims selected. When each had taken his place at table, Dugazon, pretending to stammer, addressed a remark to Thiemet, who, playing the same role, replied to him, stammering likewise; then each of them pretended to believe that the other was making fun of him, and there followed a stuttering quarrel between the two parties, each one finding it more and more difficult to express himself as his anger rose. Thiemet, who besides his role of stammering was also playing that of deafness, addressed his neighbor, his trumpet in his ear:
"Wha-wha-what-do-does he say?"—"Nothing," replied the officious neighbor, wishing to prevent a quarrel, and to supply facts while defending the other stammerer.—"So-so-he-he-he-he's mamaking fun of me!" Then the quarrel became more violent still; they were about to come to blows, when each of the two stammerers seizing a carafe of water, hurled it at the head of his antagonist, and a copious deluge of water from the bottles taught the officious neighbors the great danger of acting as peacemakers. The two stammerers continued to scream as is the custom of deaf persons, until the last drop of water was spilt; and I remember that Eugene, the originator of this practical joke, laughed immoderately the whole time this scene lasted. The water was wiped off; and all were soon reconciled, glass in hand. Eugene, when he had perpetrated a joke of this sort, never failed to relate it to his mother, and sometimes to his stepfather, who were much amused thereby, Josephine especially.
I had led for one month a very pleasant life with Eugene, when Lefebvre, the valet de chambre whom he had left sick at Cairo, returned in restored health, and asked to resume his place. Eugene, whom I suited better on account of my age and activity, proposed to him to enter his mother's service, suggesting to him that he would there have an easier time than with himself; but Lefebvre, who was extremely attached to his master, sought Madame Bonaparte, and confided to her his chagrin at this decision.
Josephine promised to assist him; and consoled him by assurances that she would suggest to her son that Lefebvre should reassume his former position, and that she would take me into her own service. This was done according to promise; and one morning Eugene announced to me, in the most gratifying manner, my change of abode. "Constant," he said to me, "I regret very much that circumstances require us to part; but you know Lefebvre followed me to Egypt, he is an old servant, and I feel compelled to give him his former position. Besides, you will not be far removed, as you will enter my mother's service, where you will be well treated, and we will see each other often. Go to her this morning; I have spoken to her of you. The matter is already arranged, and she expects you."
As may be believed, I lost no time in presenting myself to Madame Bonaparte. Knowing that she was at Malmaison, I went there immediately, and was received by her with a kindness which overwhelmed me with gratitude, as I was not then aware that she manifested this same graciousness to every one, and that it was as inseparable from her character as was grace from her person. The duties required of me, in her service, were altogether nominal; and nearly all my time was at my own disposal, of which I took advantage to visit Paris frequently. The life that I led at this time was very pleasant to a young man like myself, who could not foresee that in a short while he would be as much under subjection as he was then at liberty.
Before bidding adieu to a service in which I had found so much that was agreeable, I will relate some incidents which belong to that period, and which my situation with the stepson of General Bonaparte gave me the opportunity of learning.
M. de Bourrienne has related circumstantially in his memoirs the events of the 18th Brumaire; [The 18th Brumaire, Nov. 9, 1799, was the day Napoleon overthrew the Directory and made himself First Consul.—TRANS.] and the account which he has given of that famous day is as correct as it is interesting, so that any one curious to know the secret causes which led to these political changes will find them faithfully pointed out in the narration of that minister of state. I am very far from intending to excite an interest of this, kind, but reading the work of M. Bourrienne put me again on the track of my own recollections. These memoirs relate to circumstances of which he was ignorant, or possibly may have omitted purposely as being of little importance; and whatever he has let fall on his road I think myself fortunate in being permitted to glean.
I was still with Eugene de Beauharnais when General Bonaparte overthrew the Directory; but I found myself in as favorable a situation to know all that was passing as if I had been in the service of Madame Bonaparte, or of the general himself, for my master, although he was very young, had the entire confidence of his stepfather, and, to an even greater degree, that of his mother, who consulted him on every occasion.
A few days before the 18th Brumaire, Eugene ordered me to make preparations for a breakfast he wished to give on that day to his friends, the number of the guests, all military men, being much larger than usual. This bachelor repast was made very gay by an officer, who amused the company by imitating in turn the manners and appearance of the directors and a few of their friends. To represent the Director Barras, he draped himself 'a la grecque' with the tablecloth, took off his black cravat, turned down his shirt-collar, and advanced in an affected manner, resting his left arm on the shoulder of the youngest of his comrades, while with his right he pretended to caress his chin. Each person of the company understood the meaning of that kind of charade; and there were uncontrollable bursts of laughter.
He undertook then to represent the Abbe Sieyes, by placing an enormous band of paper inside of his neckcloth, and lengthening thus indefinitely a long, pale face. He made a few turns around the room, astraddle of his chair, and ended by a grand somersault, as if his steed had dismounted him. It is necessary to know, in order to understand the significance of this pantomime, that the Abbe Sieges had been recently taking lessons in horseback, riding in the garden of the Luxembourg, to the great amusement of the pedestrians, who gathered in crowds to enjoy the awkward and ungraceful exhibition made by this new master of horse.
The breakfast ended, Eugene reported for duty to General Bonaparte, whose aide-de-camp he was, and his friends rejoined the various commands to which they belonged.
I went out immediately behind them; for from a few words that had just been dropped at my young master's, I suspected that something grave and interesting was about to take place. M. Eugene had appointed a rendezvous with his comrades at Pont-Tournant; so I repaired to that spot, and found a considerable gathering of officers in uniform and on horseback, assembled in readiness to escort General Bonaparte to Saint-Cloud.
The commandant of each part of the army had been requested by General Bonaparte to give a breakfast to their corps of officers; and they had done so like my young master. Nevertheless, the officers, even the generals, were not all in the secret; and General Murat himself, who rushed into the Hall of the Five Hundred at the head of the grenadiers, believed that it was only a question of exemption, on account of age, that General Bonaparte intended to propose, in order that he might obtain the place of director.
I have learned from an authoritative source, that when General Jube, who was devoted to General Bonaparte, assembled in the court of the Luxembourg, the guard of the directors of which he was commander, the honest M. Gohier, president of the Directory, put his head out of the window, and cried to Jube: "Citizen General, what are you doing down there?"—"Citizen President, you can see for yourself I am mustering the guard."—"Certainly, I see that very plainly, Citizen General; but why are you mustering them?"—"Citizen President, I am going to make an inspection of them, and order a grand maneuver. Forward—march!" And the citizen general filed out at the head of his troop to rejoin General Bonaparte at Saint-Cloud; while the latter was awaited at the house of the citizen president, and the breakfast delayed to which General Bonaparte had been invited for that very morning.
General Marmont had also entertained at breakfast the officers of the division of the army which he commanded (it was, I think, the artillery). At the end of the repast he addressed a few words to them, urging them not to alienate their cause from that of the conqueror of Italy, and to accompany him to Saint-Cloud. "But how can we follow him?" cried one of his guests. "We have no horses."—"If that alone deters you, you will find horses in the court of this hotel. I have seized all those of the national riding-school. Let us go below and mount." All the officers present responded to the invitation except General Allix, who declared he would take no part in all this disturbance.
I was at Saint-Cloud on the two days, 18th and 19th Brumaire. I saw General Bonaparte harangue the soldiers, and read to them the decree by which he had been made commander-in-chief of all the troops at Paris, and of the whole of the Seventeenth Military Division. I saw him come out much agitated first from the Council of the Ancients, and afterwards from the Assembly of the Five Hundred. I saw Lucien Bonaparte brought out of the hall, where the latter assembly was sitting, by some grenadiers, sent in to protect him from the violence of his colleagues. Pale and furious, he threw himself on his horse and galloped straight to the troops to address them; and when he pointed his sword at his brother's breast, saying he would be the first to slay him if he dared to strike at liberty, cries of "Vive Bonaparte! down with the lawyers!" burst forth on all sides; and the soldiers, led by General Murat, rushed into the Hall of the Five Hundred. Everybody knows what then occurred, and I will not enter into details which have been so often related.
The general, now made First Consul, installed himself at the Luxembourg, though at this time he resided also at Malmaison. But he was often on the road, as was also Josephine; for their trips to Paris when they occupied this residence were very frequent, not only on Government business, which often required the presence of the First Consul, but also for the purpose of attending the theater, of whose performances General Bonaparte, was very fond, giving the preference always to the Theatre Francais and the Italian Opera. This observation I make in passing, preferring to give hereafter the information I have obtained as to the tastes and habits of the emperor.
Malmaison, at the period of which I speak, was a place of unalloyed happiness, where all who came expressed their satisfaction with the state of affairs; everywhere also I heard blessings invoked upon the First Consul and Madame Bonaparte. There was not yet the shadow of that strict etiquette which it was necessary afterwards to observe at Saint-Cloud, at the Tuileries, and in all the palaces in which the Emperor held his court. The consular court was as yet distinguished by a simple elegance, equally removed from republican rudeness and the luxuriousness of the Empire. Talleyrand was, at this period, one of those who came most frequently to Malmaison. He sometimes dined there, but arrived generally in the evening between eight and nine o'clock, and returned at one, two, and sometimes three in the morning.
All were admitted at Madame Bonaparte's on a footing of equality, which was most gratifying. There came familiarly Murat, Duroc, Berthier, and all those who have since figured as great dignitaries, and some even as sovereigns, in the annals of the empire.
The family of General Bonaparte were assiduous in their attentions; but it was known among us that they had no love for Madame Bonaparte, of which fact I had many proofs. Mademoiselle Hortense never left her mother, and they were devotedly attached to each other.
Besides men distinguished by their posts under the government or in the army, there gathered others also who were not less distinguished by personal merit, or the position which their birth had given them before the Revolution. It was a veritable panorama, in which we saw the persons themselves pass before our eyes. The scene itself, even exclusive of the gayety which always attended the dinings of Eugene, had its attractions. Among those whom we saw most frequently were Volney, Denon, Lemercier, the Prince of Poix, de Laigle, Charles Baudin, General Beurnonville, Isabey, and a number of others, celebrated in science, literature, and art; in short, the greater part of those who composed the society of Madame de Montesson.
Madame Bonaparte and Mademoiselle Hortense often took excursions on horseback into the country. On these occasions her most constant escorts were the Prince de Poix and M. de Laigle. One day, as this party was reentering the court-yard at Malmaison, the horse which Hortense rode became frightened, and dashed off. She was an accomplished rider, and very active, so she attempted to spring off on the grass by the roadside; but the band which fastened the end of her riding-skirt under her foot prevented her freeing herself quickly, and she was thrown, and dragged by her horse for several yards. Fortunately the gentlemen of the party, seeing her fall, sprang from their horses in time to rescue her; and, by extraordinary good fortune, she was not even bruised, and was the first to laugh at her misadventure.
During the first part of my stay at Malmaison, the First Consul always slept with his wife, like an ordinary citizen of the middle classes in Paris; and I heard no rumor of any intrigue in the chateau. The persons of this society, most of whom were young, and who were often very numerous, frequently took part in sports which recalled college days. In fact, one of the greatest diversions of the inhabitants of Malmaison was to play "prisoners' base." It was usually after dinner; and Bonaparte, Lauriston, Didelot, de Lucay, de Bourrienne, Eugene, Rapp, Isabey, Madame Bonaparte, and Mademoiselle Hortense would divide themselves into two camps, in which the prisoners taken, or exchanged, would recall to the First Consul the greater game, which he so much preferred. In these games the most active runners were Eugene, Isabey, and Hortense. As to General Bonaparte, he often fell, but rose laughing boisterously.
General Bonaparte and his family seemed to enjoy almost unexampled happiness, especially when at Malmaison, which residence, though agreeable at that time, was far from being what it has since become. This estate consisted of the chateau, which Bonaparte found in bad condition on his return from Egypt, a park already somewhat improved, and a farm, the income of which did not with any certainty exceed twelve thousand francs a year. Josephine directed in person all the improvements made there, and no woman ever possessed better taste.
From the first, they played amateur comedy at Malmaison, which was a relaxation the First Consul enjoyed greatly, but in which he took no part himself except that of looker-on. Every one in the house attended these representations; and I must confess we felt perhaps even more pleasure than others in seeing thus travestied on the stage those in whose service we were.
The Malmaison Troupe, if I may thus style actors of such exalted social rank, consisted principally of Eugene, Jerome, Lauriston, de Bourrienne, Isabey, de Leroy, Didelot, Mademoiselle Hortense, Madame Caroline Murat, and the two Mademoiselles Auguie, one of whom afterwards married Marshal Ney,
[Michel Ney, Styled by Napoleon the "bravest of the brave," was born 1769, at Sarre-Louis (now in Prussia), son of a cooper. Entered the army as a private 1787, adjutant-general 1794, general of brigade 1796, general of division 1799, marshal 1804, Duke of Elchingen 1805, Prince of Moskwa 1812, and commanded the rear-guard in the famous retreat from Russia. On the return from Elba he went over to Napoleon; was at Waterloo. Was afterwards taken, and in spite of the terms of the surrender of Paris was tried for treason, and shot in the gardens of the Luxembourg, Dec. 8, 1815.—TRANS.]
and the other M. de Broc. All four were very young and charming, and few theaters in Paris could show four actresses as pretty. In addition to which, they showed much grace in their acting, and played their parts with real talent; and were as natural on the stage as in the saloon, where they bore themselves with exquisite grace and refinement. At first the repertoire contained little variety, though the pieces were generally well selected. The first representation which I attended was the "Barber of Seville" in which Isabey played the role of Figaro, and Mademoiselle Hortense that of Rosine—and the "Spiteful Lover." Another time I saw played the "Unexpected Wager," and "False Consultations." Hortense and Eugene played this last piece perfectly; and I still recall that, in the role of Madame le Blanc, Hortense appeared prettier than ever in the character of an old woman, Eugene representing Le Noir, and Lauriston the charlatan. The First Consul, as I have said, confined himself to the role of spectator; but he seemed to take in these fireside plays, so to speak, the greatest pleasure, laughed and applauded heartily, though sometimes he also criticised.
Madame Bonaparte was also highly entertained; and even if she could not always boast of the successful acting of her children, "the chiefs of the troupe," it sufficed her that it was an agreeable relaxation to her husband, and seemed to give him pleasure; for her constant study was to contribute to the happiness of the great man who had united her destiny with his own.
When the day for the presentation of a play had been appointed, there was never any postponement, but often a change of the play; not because of the indisposition, or fit of the blues, of an actress (as often happens in the theaters of Paris), but for more serious reasons. It sometimes happened that M. d'Etieulette received orders to rejoin his regiment, or an important mission was confided to Count Almaviva, though Figaro and Rosine always remained at their posts; and the desire of pleasing the First Consul was, besides, so general among all those who surrounded him, that the substitutes did their best in the absence of the principals, and the play never failed for want of an actor.
[Michau, of the Comedie Francaise, was the instructor of the troupe. Wherever it happened that an actor was wanting in animation, Michau would exclaim. "Warmth! Warmth! Warmth!" —Note by CONSTANT.]
I had been only a very short time in the service of Madame Bonaparte when I made the acquaintance of Charvet, the concierge of Malmaison, and in connection with this estimable man became each day more and more intimate, till at last he gave me one of his daughters in marriage. I was eager to learn from him all that he could tell me concerning Madame Bonaparte and the First Consul prior to my entrance into the house; and in our frequent conversations he took the greatest pleasure in satisfying my curiosity. It is to him I owe the following details as to the mother and daughter.
When General Bonaparte set out for Egypt, Madame Bonaparte accompanied him as far as Toulon, and was extremely anxious to go with him to Egypt. When the general made objections, she observed that having been born a Creole, the heat of the climate would be more favorable than dangerous to her. By a singular coincidence it was on 'La Pomone' that she wished to make the journey; that is to say, on the very same vessel which in her early youth had brought her from Martinique to France. General Bonaparte, finally yielding to the wishes of his wife, promised to send 'La Pomone' for her, and bade her go in the meantime to take the waters at Plombieres. The matter being arranged between husband and wife, Madame Bonaparte was delighted to go to the springs of Plombieres which she had desired to visit for a long time, knowing, like every one else, the reputation these waters enjoyed for curing barrenness in women.
Madame Bonaparte had been only a short time at Plombieres, when one morning, while occupied in hemming a turban and chatting with the ladies present, Madame de Cambis, who was on the balcony, called to her to come and see a pretty little dog passing along the street. All the company hastened with Madame Bonaparte to the balcony, which caused it to fall with a frightful crash. By a most fortunate chance, no one was killed; though Madame de Cambis had her leg broken, and Madame Bonaparte was most painfully bruised, without, however, receiving any fracture. Charvet, who was in a room behind the saloon, heard the noise, and at once had a sheep killed and skinned, and Madame Bonaparte wrapped in the skin. It was a long while before she regained her health, her arms and her hands especially being so bruised that she was for a long time unable to use them; and it was necessary to cut up her food, feed her, and, in fact, perform the same offices for her as for an infant.
I related above that Josephine thought she was to rejoin her husband in Egypt, and consequently that her stay at the springs of Plombieres would be of short duration but her accident led her to think that it would be prolonged indefinitely; she therefore desired, while waiting for her complete recovery, to have with her her daughter Hortense, then about fifteen years of age, who was being educated in the boarding-school of Madame Campan. She sent for her a mulatto woman to whom she was much attached, named Euphemie, who was the foster-sister of Madame Bonaparte, and passed (I do not know if the supposition was correct) as her natural sister. Euphemie, accompanied by Charvet, made the journey in one of Madame Bonaparte's carriages. Mademoiselle Hortense, on their arrival, was delighted with the journey she was about to make, and above all with the idea of being near her mother, for whom she felt the tenderest affection. Mademoiselle Hortense was, I would not say, greedy, but she was exceedingly fond of sweets; and Charvet, in relating these details, said to me, that at each town of any size through which they passed the carriage was filled with bonbons and dainties, of which mademoiselle consumed a great quantity. One day, while Euphemie and Charvet were sound asleep, they were suddenly awakened by a report, which sounded frightful to them, and caused them intense anxiety, as they found when they awoke that they were passing through a thick forest. This ludicrous incident threw Hortense into fits of laughter; for hardly had they expressed their alarm when they found themselves deluged with an odoriferous froth, which explained the cause of the explosion. A bottle of champagne, placed in one of the pockets of the carriage, had been uncorked; and the heat, added to the motion of the carriage, or rather the malice of the young traveler, had made it explode with a loud report.
When mademoiselle arrived at Plombieres, her mother's health was almost restored; so that the pupil of Madame Campan found there all the distractions which please and delight at the age which the daughter of Madame Bonaparte had then attained.
There is truth in the saying that in all evil there is good, for had this accident not happened to Madame Bonaparte, it is very probable she would have become a prisoner of the English; in fact, she learned that 'La Pomone', the vessel on which she wished to make the voyage, had fallen into the power of the enemies of France. General Bonaparte, in all his letters, still dissuaded his wife from the plan she had of rejoining him; and, consequently, she returned to Paris.
On her arrival Josephine devoted her attention to executing a wish General Bonaparte had expressed to her before leaving. He had remarked to her that he should like, on his return, to have a country seat; and he charged his brother to attend to this, which Joseph, however, failed to do. Madame Bonaparte, who, on the contrary, was always in search of what might please her husband, charged several persons to make excursions in the environs of Paris, in order to ascertain whether a suitable dwelling could be found. After having vacillated long between Ris and Malmaison, she decided on the latter, which she bought from M. Lecoulteux-Dumoley, for, I think, four hundred thousand francs. Such were the particulars which Charvet was kind enough to give me when I first entered the service of Madame Bonaparte. Every one in the house loved to speak of her; and it was certainly not to speak evil, for never was woman more beloved by all who surrounded her, and never has one deserved it more. General Bonaparte was also an excellent man in the retirement of private life.
After the return of the First Consul from his campaign in Egypt, several attempts against his life had been made; and the police had warned him many times to be on his guard, and not to risk himself alone in the environs of Malmaison. The First Consul had been very careless up to this period; but the discovery of the snares which were laid for him, even in the privacy of his family circle, forced him to use precautions and prudence. It has been stated since, that these pretended plots were only fabrications of the police to render themselves necessary to the First Consul, or, perhaps, of the First Consul himself, to redouble the interest which attached to his person, through fear of the perils which menaced his life; and the absurdity of these attempts is alleged as proof of this. I could not pretend to elucidate such mysteries; but it seems to me that in such matters absurdity proves nothing, or, at least, it does not prove that such plots did not exist. The conspirators of that period set no bounds to their extravagance; for what could be more absurd, and at the same time more real, than the atrocious folly of the infernal machine?
Be that as it may, I shall relate what passed under my own eyes during the first month of my stay at Malmaison. No one there, or, at least, no one in my presence, showed the least doubt of the reality of these attempts.
In order to get rid of the First Consul, all means appeared good to his enemies: they noted everything in their calculations, even his absence of mind. The following occurrence is proof of this:
There were repairs and ornamentations to be made to the mantel in the rooms of the First Consul at Malmaison. The contractor in charge of this work had sent marblecutters, amongst whom had slipped in, it seems, a few miserable wretches employed by the conspirators. The persons attached to the First Consul were incessantly on the alert, and exercised the greatest watchfulness; and it was observed that among these workmen there were men who pretended to work, but whose air and manner contrasted strongly with their occupation. These suspicions were unfortunately only too well founded; for when the apartments had been made ready to receive the First Consul, and just as he was on the eve of occupying them, some one making a final inspection found on the desk at which he would first seat himself, a snuff-box, in every respect like one of those which he constantly used. It was thought at first that this box really belonged to him, and that it had been forgotten and left there by his valet; but doubts inspired by the suspicious manner of a few of the marble-cutters, leading to further investigation, the tobacco was examined and analyzed. It was found to be poisoned.
The authors of this perfidy had, it is said, at this time, communication with other conspirators, who engaged to attempt another means of ridding themselves of the First Consul. They promised to attack the guard of the chateau (Malmaison), and to carry off by force the chief of the government. With this intention, they had uniforms made like those of the consular guards, who then stood sentinel, day and night, over the First Consul, and followed him on horseback in his excursions. In this costume, and by the aid of signals, with their accomplices (the pretended marble-cutters) on the inside, they could easily have approached and mingled with the guard, who were fed and quartered at the chateau. They could even have reached the First Consul, and carried him off. However, this first project was abandoned as too uncertain; and the conspirators flattered themselves that they would succeed in their undertaking more surely, and with less danger, by taking advantage of the frequent journeys of the First Consul to Paris. By means of their disguise they planned to distribute themselves on the road, among the guides of the escort, and massacre them, their rallying-point being the quarries of Nanterre; but their plots were for the second time foiled. There was in the park at Malmaison a deep quarry; and fears being entertained that they would profit by it to conceal themselves therein, and exercise some violence against the First Consul on one of his solitary walks, it was decided to secure it with an iron door.
On the 19th of February, at one in the afternoon, the First Consul went in state to the Tuileries, which was then called the Government palace, to install himself there with all his household. With him were his two colleagues; one of whom, the third consul, was to occupy the same residence, and be located in the Pavilion de Flore. The carriage of the consuls was drawn by six white horses, which the Emperor of Germany had presented to the conqueror of Italy after the signature of the treaty of peace of Campo-Formio. The saber that the First Consul wore at this ceremony was magnificent, and had also been presented to him by this monarch on the same occasion.
A remarkable thing in this formal change of residence was that the acclamations and enthusiasm of the crowd, and even of the most distinguished spectators, who filled the windows of rue Thionville and of the quai Voltaire, were addressed only to the First Consul, and to the young warriors of his brilliant staff, who were yet bronzed by the sun of the Pyramids or of Italy. At their head rode General Lannes and Murat; the first easy to recognize by his bold bearing and soldierly manners; the second by the same qualities, and further by a striking elegance, both of costume and equipments. His new title of brother-in-law of the First Consul contributed, also, greatly to fix upon him the attention of all. As for myself, all my attention was absorbed by the principal personage of the cortege, whom, like every one around me, I regarded with something like a religious reverence; and by his stepson, the son of my excellent mistress, himself once my master,—the brave, modest, good Prince Eugene, who at that time, however, was not yet a prince. On his arrival at the Tuileries, the First Consul took possession at once of the apartments which he afterwards occupied, and which were formerly part of the royal apartments. These apartments consisted of a bed-chamber, a bathroom, a cabinet, and a saloon, in which he gave audience in the forenoon; of a second saloon, in which were stationed his aides-de-camp on duty, and which he used as a dining-room; and also a very large antechamber. Madame Bonaparte had her separate apartments on the ground floor, the same which she afterwards occupied as Empress. Beneath the suite of rooms occupied by the First Consul was the room of Bourrienne, his private secretary, which communicated with the apartments of the First Consul by means of a private staircase.
Although at this period there were already courtiers, there was not, however, yet a court, and the etiquette was exceedingly simple. The First Consul, as I believe I have already said, slept in the same bed with his wife; and they lived together, sometimes at the Tuileries, sometimes at Malmaison. As yet there were neither grand marshal, nor chamberlains, nor prefects of the palace, nor ladies of honor, nor lady ushers, nor ladies of the wardrobe, nor pages. The household of the First Consul was composed only of M. Pfister, steward; Venard, chief cook; Galliot, and Dauger, head servants; Colin, butler. Ripeau was librarian; Vigogne, senior, in charge of the stables. Those attached to his personal service were Hambard, head valet; Herbert, ordinary valet; and Roustan, mameluke of the First Consul. There were, beside these, fifteen persons to discharge the ordinary duties of the household. De Bourrienne superintended everything, and regulated expenses, and, although very strict, won the esteem and affection of every one.
He was kind, obliging, and above all very just; and consequently at the time of his disgrace the whole household was much distressed. As for myself, I retain a sincerely respectful recollection of him; and I believe that, though he has had the misfortune to find enemies among the great, he found among his inferiors only grateful hearts and sincere regrets.
Some days after this installation, there was at the chateau a reception of the diplomatic corps. It will be seen from the details, which I shall give, how very simple at that time was the etiquette of what they already called the Court.
At eight o'clock in the evening, the apartments of Madame Bonaparte, situated, as I have just said, on the ground floor adjoining the garden, were crowded with people. There was an incredible wealth of plumes, diamonds, and dazzling toilets. The crowd was so great that it was found necessary to throw open the bedroom of Madame Bonaparte, as the two saloons were so full there was not room to move.
When, after much embarrassment and difficulty, every one had found a place as they could, Madame Bonaparte was announced, and entered, leaning on the arm of Talleyrand. She wore a dress of white muslin with short sleeves, and a necklace of pearls. Her head was uncovered; and the beautiful braids of her hair, arranged with charming negligence, were held in place by a tortoise-shell comb. The flattering murmur which greeted her appearance was most grateful to her; and never, I believe, did she display more grace and majesty.
[Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, born at Paris, 1754, was descended from the counts of Perigord. Rendered lame by an accident, he entered the clergy, and in 1788 became Bishop of Autun. In the States-General he sided with the Revolution. During the Reign of Terror he visited England and the United States. Recalled in 1796, he became minister of foreign affairs under the Directory, which post he retained under the Consulate. In 1806 he was made Prince of Benevento. He soon fell into disgrace. Sided with the Bourbons in 1814, and was minister at the congress of Vienna, president of the council, and minister under the king. Died 1838. —TRANS.]
giving his hand to Madame Bonaparte, had the honor of presenting to her, one after another, the members of the Diplomatic Corps, not according to their names, but that of the courts they represented. He then made with her the tour of the two saloons, and the circuit of the second was only half finished when the First Consul entered without being announced. He was dressed in a very plain uniform, with a tricolored silk scarf, with fringes of the same around his waist. He wore close-fitting pantaloons of white cassimere, and top-boots, and held his hat in his hand. This plain dress, in the midst of the embroidered coats loaded with cordons and orders worn by the ambassadors and foreign dignitaries, presented a contrast as striking as the toilette of Madame Bonaparte compared with that of the other ladies present.
Before relating how I exchanged the service of Madame Bonaparte for that of the chief of state, and a sojourn at Malmaison for the second campaign of Italy, I think I should pause to recall one or two incidents which belong to the time spent in the service of Madame Bonaparte. She loved to sit up late, and, when almost everybody else had retired, to play a game of billiards, or more often of backgammon. It happened on one occasion that, having dismissed every one else, and not yet being sleepy, she asked if I knew how to play billiards, and upon my replying in the affirmative, requested me with charming grace to play with her; and I had often afterwards the honor of doing so. Although I had some skill, I always managed to let her beat me, which pleased her exceedingly. If this was flattery, I must admit it; but I would have done the same towards any other woman, whatever her rank and her relation to me, had she been even half as lovely as was Madame Bonaparte.
The concierge of Malmaison, who possessed the entire confidence of his employers, among other means of precaution and watchfulness conceived by him in order to protect the residence and person of the First Consul from any sudden attack, had trained for the chateau several large dogs, among which were two very handsome Newfoundlands. Work on the improvements of Malmaison went on incessantly, and a large number of workmen lodged there at night, who were carefully warned not to venture out alone; but one night as some of the watchdogs were with the workmen in their lodgings, and allowed themselves to be caressed, their apparent docility encouraged one of these men to attempt the imprudence of venturing out. Believing that the surest way to avoid danger was to put himself under the protection of one of those powerful animals, he took one of them with him, and in a very friendly manner they passed out of the door together; but no sooner had they reached the outside, than the dog sprang upon his unfortunate companion and threw him down. The cries of the poor workman brought some of the guard, who ran to his aid. Just in time; for the dog was holding him fast to the ground, and had seized him by the throat. He was rescued, badly wounded. Madame Bonaparte, when she was informed of this accident, had him nursed till perfectly cured, and gave him a handsome gratuity, but recommended him to be more prudent in the future.
Every moment that the First Consul could snatch from affairs of state he passed at Malmaison. The evening of each decadii
[Under the Republic, Sunday was abolished. A decade of ten days was substituted for the week; and the decadi, or tenth day, took the place of the Sabbath.—TRANS.]
was a time of expectation and joy at the chateau. Madame Bonaparte sent domestics on horseback and on foot to meet her husband, and often went herself, accompanied by her daughter and her Malmaison friends. When not on duty, I went myself and alone: for everybody felt for the First Consul the same affection, and experienced in regard to him the same anxiety; and such was the bitterness and boldness of his enemies that the road, though short, between Paris and Malmaison was full of dangers and snares. We knew that many plans had been laid to kidnap him on this road, and that these attempts might be renewed. The most dangerous spot was the quarries of Nanterre, of which I have already spoken; so they were carefully examined, and guarded by his followers each day on which the First Consul was to pass, and finally the depressions nearest the road were filled up. The First Consul was gratified by our devotion to him, and gave us proofs of his satisfaction, though he himself seemed always free from fear or uneasiness. Very often, indeed, he mildly ridiculed our anxiety, and would relate very seriously to the good Josephine what a narrow escape he had on the road; how men of a sinister appearance had shown themselves many times on his way; how one of them had had the boldness to aim at him, etc. And when he saw her well frightened, he would burst out laughing, give her some taps or kisses on her cheek and neck, saying to her, "Have no fear, little goose; they would not dare." On these "days of furlough," as he called them, he was occupied more with his private affairs than with those of state; but never could he remain idle. He would make them pull down, put up again, build, enlarge, set out, prune, incessantly, both in the chateau and in the park, while he examined the bills of expenses, estimated receipts, and ordered economies. Time passed quickly in all these occupations; and the moment soon came when it was necessary to return, and, as he expressed it, put on again the yoke of misery.
Towards the end of March, 1800, five or six months after my entrance into the service of Madame. Bonaparte, the First Consul while at dinner one day regarded me intently; and having carefully scrutinized and measured me from head to foot, "Young man," said he, "would you like to go with me on the campaign?" I replied, with much emotion, that I would ask nothing better. "Very well, then, you shall go with me!" and on rising from the table, he ordered Pfister, the steward, to place my name on the list of the persons of his household who would accompany him. My preparations did not require much time; for I was delighted with the idea of being attached to the personal service of so great a man, and in imagination saw myself already beyond the Alps. But the First Consul set out without me. Pfister, by a defect of memory, perhaps intentional, had forgotten to place my name on the list. I was in despair, and went to relate, with tears, my misfortune to my excellent mistress, who was good enough to endeavor to console me, saying, "Well, Constant, everything is not lost; you will stay with me. You can hunt in the park to pass the time; and perhaps the First Consul may yet send for you." However, Madame Bonaparte did not really believe this; for she thought, as I did, although out of kindness she did not wish to say this to me, that the First Consul having changed his mind, and no longer wishing my services on the campaign, had himself given the counter orders. However, I soon had proof to the contrary. In passing through Dijon, on his way to Mt. St. Bernard, the First Consul asked for me, and learning that they had forgotten me, expressed his dissatisfaction, and directed Bourrienne to write immediately to Madame Bonaparte, requesting her to send me on without delay.
One morning, when my chagrin was more acute than ever, Madame Bonaparte sent for me, and said, holding Bourrienne's letter in her hand, "Constant, since you have determined to quit us to make the campaign, you may rejoice, for you are now about to leave. The First Consul has sent for you. Go to the office of Maret, and ascertain if he will not soon send a courier. You will accompany him." I was inexpressibly delighted at this good news, and did not try to conceal my pleasure. "You are very well satisfied to leave us," said Madame Bonaparte with a kind smile. "It is not leaving Madame, but joining the First Consul, which delights me."—"I hope so," replied she. "Go, Constant; and take good care of him." If any incentive had been needed, this injunction of my noble mistress would have added to the zeal and fidelity with which I had determined to discharge my new duties. I hurried without delay to the office of Maret, secretary of state, who already knew me, and had shown his good-will for me. "Get ready at once," said he; "a courier will set out this evening or to-morrow morning." I returned in all haste to Malmaison, and announced to Madame Bonaparte my immediate departure. She immediately had a good post-chaise made ready for me, and Thibaut (for that was the name of the courier I was to accompany) was directed to obtain horses for me along the route. Maret gave me eight hundred francs for the expenses of my trip, which sum, entirely unexpected by me, filled me with wonder, for I had never been so rich. At four o'clock in the morning, having heard from Thibaut that everything was ready, I went to his house, where the post-chaise awaited me, and we set out.
I traveled very comfortably, sometimes in the postchaise, sometimes on horseback; I taking Thibaut's place, and he mine. I expected to overtake the First Consul at Martigny; but his traveling had been so rapid, that I caught up with him only at the convent of Mt. St. Bernard. Upon our route we constantly passed regiments on the march, composed of officers and soldiers who were hastening to rejoin their different corps. Their enthusiasm was irrepressible,—those who had made the campaign of Italy rejoiced at returning to so fine a country; those who had not yet done so were burning with impatience to see the battlefields immortalized by French valor, and by the genius of the hero who still marched at their head. All went as if to a festival, and singing songs they climbed the mountains of Valais. It was eight o'clock in the morning when I arrived at headquarters. Pfister announced me; and I found the general-in-chief in the great hall, in the basement of the Hospice. He was taking breakfast, standing, with his staff. As soon as he saw me, he said, "Here you are, you queer fellow! why didn't you come with me?" I excused myself by saying that to my great regret I had received a counter order, or, at least, they had left me behind at the moment of departure. "Lose no time, my friend; eat quickly; we are about to start." From this moment I was attached to the personal service of the First Consul, in the quality of ordinary valet; that is to say, in my turn. This duty gave me little to do; Hambard, the head valet of the First Consul, being in the habit of dressing him from head to foot.