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The wife of General Bonaparte online

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for her part, had had plenty of experience. Like most
men who marry coquettes and think they are acting of
their own free will, whereas they are only the victims of
persuasion and personal interest, Bonaparte was nothing
but the man whom the lovely widow had chosen to serve
her own purposes and to carry out her own plans. The
Corsican's inflexible character became pliant in the
hands, or arms, if you prefer the term, of the coquettish
Creole. Things were going very smoothly. The laws of
propriety were somewhat set at defiance ; but what
did the beautiful widow care as long as she got what she
wanted ?

Brought up in the principles, or rather in the lack of
principles, for which the royal court had always been
famous, and especially so during the last days of the
monarchy, undismayed by the pernicious example set
by the still more corrupt court of the Directoire, ignorant
of duty, seldom tormented by scruples, devoted to pleasure
and dissipation, every means which could further her
interests and give her what she wanted seemed right to
her. General Bonaparte was a frequent visitor at her
house ; she often went with her friend, Mme. Tallien,
to the sumptuous dejeuners to which he invited them
in his magnificent house in the rue des Capucines.^ The
13th vendémiaire was not so very far away, and twenty-

^ Bourrienne, Mémoires, Vol. I, p. 82.


three days later we find Mme. de Beauhamais writing
to young General Bonaparte :

" You no longer come to see a friend who loves you ;
you have quite forsaken her ; you are very wrong, for
she is passionately devoted to you.

" Come to-morrow, septidi, and breakfast with me ;
I want to see you and to chat with you upon matters
concerning your interest.

" Good night, my friend, I embrace you.

" Veuve Beauharnais.

" This 6th brumaire."'^

Does not this letter show us once and for all that it
was Mme. de Beauharnais who took the first steps in the
matter ? Does it not seem to indicate the existence
of a plan which the opposite party does not seem so
anxious to adopt as the beautiful widow could wish ?

And then it contains a positive confession : " You no
longer come to see a friend who loves you." When a
young man of twenty-six years of age receives such a
kind invitation from a pretty woman, how can he keep
his head, especially when he is still such a novice at the
game of love as General Bonaparte was in those days ?
On the other hand, this confession is only the written
confirmation of a certain verbal confession made not so
very long ago — that is certain. When a woman of thirty-
six years of age writes in these terms to a young man
and tells him that she is passionately devoted to him,
we may take it that she is ready to grant his wishes,
if she has not already done so, and that she is extremely
anxious that matters shall not stop there. Besides, the

^ De Coston, Premières années de Napoléon, Vol. I, p. 433.


words : " chat with you upon matters concerning your
interest " indicate that the general had already mentioned
his plans for the future and that Mme. de Beauharnais,
if she cannot persuade him to come and see her for her
own sake, mentions her interest in his career and her
interest in his person in order to make more sure of his
coming : was she not on most intimate terms with
Mmes. Tallien and Barras ? did not her friendship with
these two persons make her a powerful protectress ?
And then the widow concludes by saying : "I embrace
you." And this friendship was of but recent date : it
had been quick work ! So this letter proves that they
were on most intimate terms with each other. Although
this conquest was involuntary at first, General Bonaparte
seldom won a battle in less time.

But was Bonaparte loved, as the beautiful widow was
pleased to write and tell him ? We may be allowed to
doubt that fact after reading Barras' memoirs in which
he informs us that she told him that she did not feel
drawn towards her fiancé, and also after reading that
other letter which Mme. de Beauharnais wrote to one
of her friends in which she declares once and for all
that she does not love him. She accepted him as her
lover because she knew that was the best, or rather the
surest way, to make him marry her ; as to loving him,
that is another matter. Read this :

" You have met General Bonaparte at my house.
Well, he wishes to act the part of a father to Alexandre de
Beauharnais' orphans, and of husband to his widow !
Do you love him ? you will ask me. Oh ! dear, no.
Then you dislike him ? No, but I feel disagreeably
indifferent to him, and that is worse than anything


as religious folk know when they begin to find their
devotions irksome."

Although Mme. de Beauharnais had not quite made
up her mind to marry General Bonaparte — for she did
not love him and " she felt disagreeably indifferent to
him," she left no stone unturned in her endeavours to
get him to propose to her ; after all, supposing she were
to change her mind during the interval preceding the
marriage, was she not free to do so, notwithstanding
the fact that she had done everything in her power to
bring him to the point ?

Let us now read General Bonaparte's letter ; the widow
had certainly managed to make him fall violently in
love with her.

" I awake and my thoughts are all of you. Your
portrait and the intoxicating evening spent in your com-
pany yesterday have left my senses in a curious state of
unrest. Sweet and incomparable Josephine, what a
strange effect you produce upon my heart ! Are you
angry, do I see you sad, are you anxious ? — then my
heart straightway feels as if it would break, and your
friend cannot rest. But am I in better plight when,
abandoning myself to the passion which throbs in my
breast, I endeavour to awaken in your heart and on
your lips the flame of love ? x\h ! I saw full well last
night that your portrait was not like the original. You
are starting at midday, so I shall see you before three
hours have elapsed. Meanwhile, mio dolce amor, I send
a miUion kisses ; but do not kiss me, for your kisses set
my blood on fire."^

^ Letter from Napoleon to Josephine : De Coston, Premières années
de Napoléon, Vol I, p. 436 ; Th. Jung, Bonaparte et son temps, Vol. Ill,


Bonaparte, like all the young men of that time, had
read Rousseau ; this letter might have been written by
Saint-Preux. It gives a very good idea of the terms of
intimacy existing between the pair of lovers, and it
shows what progress General Bonaparte had made in
the widow's good graces. The latter had obtained her
first wish : Bonaparte had fallen head foremost into the
trap and was madly in love with her ; she held him fast
like a spider which had just pounced upon the fly which
it has been watching for a long time and round which it
proceeds to wind thousands and thousands of silken
threads ; she had got him fast ; she knew how to make
him marry her whenever she wanted him to do so. Mean-
while Mme. de Beauharnais seemed to take keen pleasure
in prolonging the engagement, a time of indifference for
her, not very distasteful to her, although she asserts the
contrary, a time of amorous exaltation for Bonaparte.
In short, she bore the situation without much discom-
fort to herself, and did not seem over anxious to hasten
the end. Was she expecting another proposal of marriage
from some richer lover ? Her reluctance to name the
happy day causes us to think that we have guessed aright.

But the young general, now that his affections were
seriously engaged, did not leave her much peace. He
wanted her to be always with him. The beautiful widow
neglected her children and her home and took her meals
in the same restaurant where General Bonaparte took
his. Bourrienne says :^ " He called my attention one

p. 122. This letter shows that General Philippe de Ségur is mistaken
when he says : " Notwithstanding the loose morals of the time, he
never became the widow's husband until entitled to do so by the bonds
of holy matrimony " {Histoire et Mémoires, Vol. I, p. 178).
1 Bourrienne, Mémoires, Vol. I, p. loo-i.


day to a young lady who was seated nearly exactly
opposite him, and asked me what I thought of her ; my
reply seemed to give him much pleasure. He then told
me a good deal about her, her family and her amiable
disposition ; he told me that he should probably marry
her, because he was quite sure that the young widow
would make him happy."

He was evidently very much in earnest. He therefore
made her a proposal of marriage during the month of
January, 1796 ; and a favourable reply, after rather a
lengthy delay however, put the finishing touch to the
happiness of the young lover, who foresaw a long vista of
bliss consequent on this union.

Bourrienne says that Bonaparte's marriage was one of
ambition rather than one of inclination. " I could quite
see from his conversation," says he, " that this marriage
would be very useful, in that it would further his am-
bitions. His ever-increasing intimacy with the woman
whom he loved, brought him into touch with the most
influential people of the time, and helped him on in his
career."^ It is quite possible that Bonaparte said this.
Young men are proud to let their friends see that they
are loved, but they think it weak to say that they
themselves are in love : among themselves they affect
to treat real love as if it were only a passing fancy.

^ Bourrienne, Mémoires, Vol. I, p. 102. Lucien Bonaparte says
much the same with great bitterness, and yet he must have known that
this was not true. When the First Consul sent Cambacérès to him in
order to persuade him to break off his marriage with Mme. Jouberthon,
he replied, " What a ridiculous request ! How can he dare to sup-
pose that he has power to make me desert my wife ? — the \viie whom
I chose of my own free will, who brought mc neither dowry nor pro-
motion when I married her ! " (Th. Jung, Lucien et ses Mémoires,
Vol. II. p. 314).


" Men," said Montaigne once upon a time, with much
truth, " men always try to make themselves out worse
than they really are."

Perhaps Bonaparte wanted to pose before Bourrienne,
his old schoolfellow, or else he wished to hide the fact
that he was in love — he was sometimes ashamed of his
mother because she did not speak French correctly —
some feeling of false shame may have made him anxious
to hide his real feelings from his friend, and so he spoke
of the strange marriage he was about to contract as if
it would help him on in the world. But that is a mistake
which many other authors besides Bourrienne have
made : we shall see why.

Barras had tried to make Mme. de Beauharnais believe
that if she married General Bonaparte, he would give
him the command of the armée d'Italie. The following
lines from her pen will prove this fact : these lines con-
clude the letter which we have just quoted in which she
confesses that she does not love her fiancé and " feels
disagreeably indifferent to him." Here they are :

" Barras assures me that if I marry the general, he
will get the command of the armée d'Italie for him.
Yesterday Bonaparte, while talking to me of this favour
which, although it has not been accorded yet, has already
made his brother-offtcers murmur, said : ' Do they think
that I need interest in order to reach the goal of my
desires ? Some day the whole lot of them will be only
too glad to be patronized by me. My sword is by my
side and with it I shall go far afield.' "^

This letter proves that Barras really said certain things

^ Letter from Josephine : De Coston, Premieres années de Napoléon,
Vol. II, p. 347 ; Th. Jung, Bonaparte et son temps. Vol. Ill, p. 117.


to Mme, de Beauharnais, but it does not prove that he
helped her to obtain the post she was anxious to get for
her fiancé. He probably wanted her to think that she
owed this nomination to him, thus show his friendship
for her and free himself from all obligation to this young
officer whose masterful taking of Toulon he himself,
when commissioner to the Convention, had witnessed, and
who had been of great use to him on the 13th vendémiaire.
But he was only promising what he could not perform.
Carnot loudly claims the honour of having placed General
Bonaparte at the head of the armée d'Italie. It was only
after the brilliant victories which marked Bonaparte's
first campaign that Barras, in order to get praise for what
he had not done, determined to tell his gang of courtiers
that people owed the very happy choice of the com-
mander of the army to him, to his sagacity and to his
knowledge of human nature. What proofs did he furnish ?
Read these lines : they were written by Carnot :

" It is not true that it was Barras who suggested that
the command of the armée d'Italie should be given to
Bonaparte ; it was I who proposed him ; some time was
then allowed to elapse in order to see how the young
officer would succeed ; and it was only among Barras'
most intimate friends that he boasted of the fact that it
was he who had proposed Bonaparte to the Directoire.
If Bonaparte had failed, all the blame would have fallen
upon me, and I should have been told that I had pro-
posed a young, inexperienced fellow, or an intriguer, to
occupy this post : I should have been accused of be-
traying my fatherland. The others did not trouble them-
selves about the war ; all the responsibility would have
fallen upon my shoulders. Bonaparte was victorious ;


Barras immediately declared that it was he who had got
the post for Bonaparte, so we owed everything to Barras ;
he was his patron, he had defended him against my
attacks ; it was said that I was jealous of Bonaparte, and
that I tried to thwart his plans, that I persecuted him,
disparaged him ; I refused to help him, so it was evident
that I wished to ruin him. Such were the scandalous
reports with which Barras' allies, the newspapers, were
filled in those days."^

That is conclusive. We find ^^et another proof in the
assertions of the honest La Revellière-Lépeaux, who said :
" The careful study which Bonaparte seemed to have
made of Italy and Italian matters in general, his clear-
sightedness and the success which seemed likely to attend
his campaign, made us determine to intrust the command
of the armée d'Italie to him."^

It is therefore highly probable, as each one wanted to
get the praise for himself, that Carnot proposed Bona-
parte to the Directoire, and that the four other members,
already predisposed in the young general's favour, gave
him their support. Nevertheless a rumour was not only
spread but beheved in which it was said that Barras alone
had been astute enough to guess Bonaparte's genius and
had been able to persuade the Directoire to give him the
post ; in short, we are always reading that Bonaparte
owed the command of the armée d'Italie to Barras. More-
over, General Thiébault, at that time Captain Thiébault,
who joined the army at the same time as the commander-
in-chief and who in his memoirs tells us all the military

1 Mémoires historiques et militaires sur Carnot, taken from his manu-
scripts, his writings and his hitherto unpubhshed correspondence, by
P. F. Tissot, Paris, 1824, p. 252 (Carnot's reply to Bailleul's statement).

* La RevelUère-Lépeaux, Mémoires, Vol. II, p. 23.


gossip of the day, says that : " People declared that this
appointment was made more in order to please Mme.
Bonaparte than for the good of the fatherland."^

This is absolutely untrue.

However, the events of the 13th ve?idémiaire had
brought General Bonaparte into public notice. His
brother-ofhcers foresaw, not without a few twinges of
jealousy, that he would soon obtain an important post,
which accounts for the sentence in Josephine's letter :
" this favour, although it has not been accorded yet,
has already made his brother-offtcers murmur." We
must not forget that laurels gathered on the bloody battle-
field of civil warfare have never been popular in the army ;
and it was for this reason, rather than on account of
Bonaparte's youth, that his brother-ofhcers grumbled.
Hoche, Moreau and Marceau were all younger than he
when they were promoted to similar posts.

Mme. de Beauharnais' coquettish wiles worked like
magic. Bonaparte, in love for the first time in his life,
and madly in love (as is always the case on that occasion)
not with, as it has been said, Mme. de Beauharnais'
family connections and fortune — they were of no account
— but with the woman, spent all the time he could spare
from his military duties by the side of his lackadaisical

So we see that this very commonplace adventure of

1 Thiébault, Mémoires, Vol. II, p. 5. Barras, in his Mémoires,
published since writing the above lines, ascribes to himself all the
honour and merit of having suggested to Carnot that Bonaparte should
be appointed to command the armée d'Italie. There is no doubt about
the fact that Carnot, notwithstanding the unkind things which La
Revellière says of him in his Mémoires, can be believed, whereas we
cannot trust Barras' assertions.


an inexperienced young man who knows nothing of the
ways of the world and of artful women, who has allowed
himself to be entrapped by the extremely simple and
well-known tricks of a heartless flirt, differs in many
respects from the romantic and touching — if you like to
consider it so — story which was invented after the
marriage, which story declared that when, in consequence
of the events of the 13th vendémiaire, the Parisians were
forbidden to keep fire-arms in their houses and were
ordered to carry them to the town halls of their respective
arrondissements, the young Eugène de Beauharnais went
to beg General Bonaparte to give him back the sword
of his father, formerly a general in the army of the
Republic. The lad,^ so runs the legend, had been very
kindly received by General Bonaparte, and on the
morrow of this visit, Mme. de Beauharnais went in
person to thank the general. He was quite fascinated
by her Creole charm and Parisian manners. The general
then asked to be allowed to call upon her from time to
time, and so their friendship began.

What must we think of this story ? Nothing, except
that it was invented from beginning to end by somebody
whose interest or wish it was to cast a halo of romance
and refinement over the very commonplace reality.

Thanks to the Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène and to prince
Eugene's Mémoires, this story has been perpetuated by
different authors for different reasons.^ We can leave

^ Prince Eugène de Beauharnais, Mémoires, Vol. I, p. 32 ; Mémorial
de Sainte-Hélène, Vol. I, p. 467 ; baron de Barante, Histoire du Direc-
toire de la République française. Vol. I, p. 182. La Valette, Mémoires,
Vol. I, p. 174, etc. etc.

2 " We find another proof given by one of Josephine's friends, J. C.
Bailleul, who says : ' I never heard this anecdote mentioned at the


Barras' formal denial of the report out of the question ;
the widow Beauharnais' letter and that of Bonaparte
quoted elsewhere, destroy this legend ; as to domiciliary
visits, Barras' friends had no need to fear any such annoy-

There is one story, however, which is not an invention,
although it sounds very much like one, and that is the
well-known prediction made to Josephine when a child
announcing to her that she would ascend the throne of
France. Josephine repeated this story so often, that at
last people began to doubt it. And yet it was quite true :
General Lamarque reproduces the story in his Mémoires ;
and as this story gives certain details which we find in
no other work, as it confirms once and for all what,
otherwise, might be considered as an invention of Jose-
phine's fertile brain, we will reproduce it here ; no
biographer, hitherto, has taken the trouble to look for
this prediction in the Mémoires of the hero of Fontarabia
and Capri : " In my childhood," says General Lamarque,
" I often met Josephine at the house of an American,
Mme. de Hostein, with whom she had been brought up ;
she was then the wife of Alexandre de Beauharnais who
was much remarked at the Assemblée constituante for his
wit, his charming manners and his patriotic principles.
I saw her some years later when I was ordered to carry
to Paris the banners won from Spain at the battle of

time, and the marriage was already an accomplished fact when people
heard of it for the first time' " (J. C. Bailleul, Etudes sur les causes de
l'élévation de Napoléon, Paris, 1834, Vol. I, p. 126 ; Arthur Levy,
Napoléon intime, p. 98). The existence of relations before this so-
called episode is again proved by Ouvrard in his Mémoires, Vol. L,
p. 19 and 20.

^ Mémoires de Barras, Vol. I, p. 264 and 358.


Saint-Martial and at the taking of Fontarabia ; she,
together with good Mme. de Hostein, had only just been
released from prison, and we dined with the celebrated
General Santerre, who had shared these ladies' captivity
and had shown them all manner of little attentions. It
was then that I heard mentioned for the first time
[thermidor, 1794) the prediction which a gipsy had once
made : ' that she would be queen of France some day
but that she would not die a queen ' — ' Robespierre
almost prevented that prediction coming true ! ' said she
with a httle laugh.

" Josephine married Bonaparte ; he was commanding
the armée d'Italie at that time ; his name was in every-
body's mouth, and Mme. de Hostein, when on her death-
bed, said to me in a feeble voice : ' Well ! my friend,
the gipsy was out in her geography ; Josephine will not
be queen of France but queen of Italy.' "

" I repeat these details," General Lamarque adds,
" because they relate to the strangest stroke of good-
luck which perhaps ever befell any woman. "^

When we consider this marriage, we cannot help think-
ing that General Bonaparte was not a very likely person
to captivate the fashionable, frivolous Mme. de Beau-
harnais. It was more easy to understand how he allowed
himself to be caught in her wiles. He, owing to his
reserved nature and his more brusque than polished
manners, was far from being what the fashionable world
terms : a pleasant fellow ; he was nothing but a good-
hearted creature — and a genius : the sort of man one
seldom sees in fashionable drawing-rooms, and who is
not much appreciated as long as he wears no laurels :

^ Général Lamarque, Mémoires, Vol. I, p. 405.


oh ! when such a man becomes celebrated, how he is
run after and feted ! but if such a man never obtains
recognition, if he does not learn how to hide his superiority
as carefully as other men learn to hide their faults or
show their stupidity under that varnish of fashionable
manners which makes genius and idiot seem exactly alike
to people of no discrimination, he does not count, he is
a nobody. The world, whenever it can see at all, only
looks on the surface ; the world cares less for quality
than for quantity, less for merit than for success : those
who are the sharpest and the least burdened with scruples
are the cleverest ; that is how so many fools manage to
scale the ladder of social fame in such a short time.
When a woman is in the case, men again only look on
the surface. If a face is pretty, if it pleases them, don't
they immediately think that the owner of the pretty
face possesses every virtue and every good quality ?
A man thinks because he loves a woman that that woman
is bound to love him in return. And so it was very
natural that Bonaparte should fall in love with Mme. de
Beauharnais ; but what is less natural is that she should
have consented to marry a man who had nothing to offer
her but his youth, his intellect and his heart. It is true
that he also brought her his rank as general, a key which
opened the doors of aU official salons to her, and brought
her endless invitations and something even better, for it
brought her her daily bread — W'hich last fact made her
decide to accept him.

However, General Bonaparte had not much time to
devote to his fiancée while waiting for the happy day ;
nevertheless he spent all his spare hours with her. And
yet his happiness was not altogether unclouded. His


mother, whose wishes he had not consulted — no doubt

Online LibraryJoseph TurquanThe wife of General Bonaparte → online text (page 3 of 27)