William Chambers.

Historical and literary celebrities; being biographical sketches selected from Chambers's Papers for the People online

. (page 1 of 81)
Online LibraryWilliam ChambersHistorical and literary celebrities; being biographical sketches selected from Chambers's Papers for the People → online text (page 1 of 81)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook














^3 30 3^^00


Edinburgh :
Printed by W. and R. Chambyrs.






















*^^ffll HE last relic of the Buonapartes was found in the person of an
Ki^Vi old ecclesiastic, a wealtliy canon of the Abbey of San-:\iiniato.
m^ The chief of the stock took refuge in tlie small island of Corsica,
W\^ ^"'^ settled at Ajaccio, among whose rude nobility his descend-
/^^ '^""-^ ""'^^'^ enrolled, and even admitted to all the privileges then
^V/"S) accorded to that jealous distinction. In spite of the heroic
efforts of the celebrated Paoli to preserve the independence
of Corsica, it passed under the dominion of the crown of France,
after which it was assimilated in its internal administration to
the other provinces of France, and had provincial states composed of
the three orders of nobility, clergy, and commonalty or tliird estate. It



likewise pi'eservecl a supreme magistracy of twelve nobles, in whom the govern-
ment of the country was vested ; and to this high tribunal Charles Buonaparte
was attached as assessor, a place preparatory to his elevation into the Council.
This Charles was the only son of Joseph Buonaparte, the eldest of three
brothers, the two other of whom died without male issue. He inherited the
family property, which was not very considerable, consisting of a house in
Ajaccio, and a small estate on the shore of the island, where a dilapidated
villa served as a summer residence. As is usual in southern climates, he
married at the early age of nineteen, and won for his wife from numerous
competitors the reigning beauty of the world of Corsica, the young Letitia
Eamolino, who was remarkable not only for her personal charms, but also for
the courage and fortitude of her character. In 1779 the noblesse elected him
the deputy of their order to the court of Versailles, and in this capacity he
was obliged to make frequent journeys into France, which, notwithstanding
the liberal grants he received from the government of Louis XVI., appear to
have reduced his fortune within the narrowest limits ; for upon his death at
Montpellier in 1785, Avhither he had repaired in the vain hope of being re-
lieved from the malady which afflicted him — cancer in the stomach ; a disease
often hereditary in families — he left his widow in very straitened circumstances,
and dependent in a great measure for the suj)port and education of her
children on their uncle the Archdeacon Lucien, who was head of the chajDter
of Ajaccio, and who cheerfully undertook to perform the part of father to the
bereaved orphans.

These were no fewer than eight in number, the survivors of thirteen whom
the fruitful Letitia had borne to her husband, although, at the time of his
death, she had not completed her thirty-fifth year. Five were sons, and three
daughters, the eldest of whom, Joseph, was seventeen years old, and the
youngest, Jerome, only two months. The second son was Napoleon, the
third Lucien, and the fourth Louis ; the three daughters were jMarianna Eliza,
Pauline, and Caroline, also called Annonciada, who was nearly three years
old at the death of her father. In his visits to France, Charles Buonaparte
had taken with him his two eldest sons for the benefit of their education ;
Joseph being placed in a school at Autun, with the view of following the
ecclesiastical profession under the patronage of Marboeuf, Archbishop of
Lyons, brotlier of the governor of Corsica, who, as a friend of the family, was
on liis part instrumental in procuring the introduction of Napoleon into the
military school of Brienne, whence he was afterwards removed to that of
Paris. This second son was always a favourite with his fathoi', who delighted
to regard him as the fixture hero of his race ; and the young Napoleon himself
was fondly attached to an indulgent parent, whose loss he long deplored,
regretting, above all, that the mournful consolation of attending liis deathbed
had been denied to him, which fell, on the contrary, to the lot of Joseph and
the Abbe Fesch, a half-brother of their mother. In the succeeding years,
Lucien likewise received his education at Brienne and at Aix in Provence ;
and when the mighty era of 1789 dawned, all the sons were assembled in
Corsica, where the cause of the Kevolution was from the first embraced by
its inhabitants with the greatest ardour. Tlic young Buonapartes were
among its most eager partisans; and Lucien, in particular, who was only six-
teen years of age, distinguished himself as an orator in the popular clul)S of
the island. Joseph had abjured the priestly calling, and having entered into
the civil service of the department, was enabled to assist his motlier in
^ 2


tlic management and maintenance of the family. Napoleon held a com-
mission from the king of France as a lieutenant of artillery, and was re-
markable chiefly for his love of solitude and the laborious studies in which
he passed his time. Already he had ceased to look upon Corsica as his
country ; France opened to him a wider theatre for the play of his aspiring
spirit, and he readily merged his feelings of patriotism in the ambition of
partaking the dangers and the glories of the new competition about to arise
from the crash of feudalism.

It was very dificrent with the old patriot of the island — Paoli. As a
venerated cliampion of freedom, the National Assembly of France had
invited him to return from his long exile in England ; and in 1792 he re-
appeared among his countrymen with all the lustre of a name endeared to
them by his services and his suiferings. He was hailed with a boundless
enthusiasm, especially by the mountaineers, who revered him as then-
tutelary chief. In Ajaccio he was received with triumph, and Lucien
Buonaparte records with exultation that he pronounced a discourse before
him which, by its touching pathos, drew tears from the honoured veteran.
So lively, indeed, was the impression made npon him by this fei'vent orator,
that Paoli took him to his residence of Rostino, and kept him near his
person for many months, during which he sought to instil into the mind of
his pupil, as the latter himself relates with grief, that England was the only
land of real freedom, and the British constitution far superior to any which
the legislators of France were likely to frame. Notwithstanding his vene-
ration for the patriotic sage, Lucien was too zealous for the credit of France
and the virtue of republicanism to admit the force of this doctrine, and he
began to entertain suspicions of the orthodoxy of Paoli in the precepts of
the revolutionary code. This first alarm was verified when the execution
of Louis XVI. aroused the indignation of the vu'tuous patriot, and stirred
him to an open denunciation of the sanguinary monsters who were dis-
gracing the sacred cause of liberty. Paoli declared he would no longer
belong to France, neither he nor his brave mountaineers ; and he called
upon the sons of his old companion in the war of independence, Charles
Buonaparte, to join him in a fresh struggle against a more terrible tyranny
than had ever yet oppressed the island. But to this appeal the Buona-
partes were deaf, for their ambition lay in the very opposite direction ; and
Paoli having summoned around him an army of mountaineers, prepared to
march on Ajaccio, which was the only town that had refused, at his com-
mand, to lower the tricolour flag. His rage, if we are to credit Lucien,
was principally dkected against the Buonapartes, and he ordered them to
be taken dead or alive. Joseph and Napoleon were both absent at this
critical moment ; Lucien had proceeded to France as the head of a deputa-
tion to crave succours from the Jacobins ; but the heroic Letitia, who had
in earlier days fought by the side of her husband, was fully equal to the
task of providing for the safety of her younger progeny. In the dead of
niglit she was aroused by intelligence of the approach of her exasperated
enemy, Avho was intent, above all, to seize her person as a hostage for the
submission of her sons ; and, escorted by a village chieftain named Costa,
she hastened from the city to seek refuge in the fastnesses of the hills
and forests. Under the shade of darkness, amidst a small band of faithful
followers, she marched with her young children, and before daylight reached



a secluded spot on the sea-shore, whence from an elevation she could
see her house in flames. Undaunted by the sad spectacle, she exclaimed,
* Never mind, we will build it up again much better : Vive la France ! '
After a concealment of two days and niglits in the recesses of the woods,
the fugitives were at length gladdened by the sight of a French frigate, on
board of which were Joseph and Napoleon with the deputies of the Con-
vention on a mission to Corsica. In this vessel the whole party at once
embai'ked, and as no hope remained of finding security in Corsica, it was
straightway steered for France. Marseilles was its i^ort of destination,
and there it accordingly landed the family of exiles, destitute of every
remnant of property, but unbroken, it would seem, in coiirage and health.
Madame Buonapai'te was fain to receive with thankfuhiess the rations
of bread distributed by the municipality to refugee patriots. Joseph
speedily received an appointment as a commissary of war; and he and
Napoleon contributed to the support of the family from their scanty
allowances ; but there is no doubt that, during the first years of theii-
residence in France, these obscure exiles, who even spoke the language of
their adopted country with difficulty, suffered all the inconveniences of a
sordid penury.

France was at this time a prey to all the horrors of civil war, as well as
to the dangers of a foreign invasion. The principal cities of the Republic
had revolted against the central authority of Paris and the bloody domina-
tion of the Jacobins, and among the rest Marseilles was distinguished in
the great federalist movement. But the reduction of Lyons, and the ter-
rible vengeance inflicted on it, restored the supremacy of the redoubtable
Committee of Public Safety. Many thousands of the inhabitants of Mar-
seilles fled in terror on the approach of the Jacobin forces, and sought
protection in Toulon, which had not only cast off the yoke of the Conven-
tion, but called in the aid of the British and Spanish fleets to uphold the
desperate cause of royalty. In this general flight, liowever, the Buona-
partes did not participate, since they in truth belonged to the triumphant

This was a connection which may principally be ascribed to Lucien,
who was by far the most hot-headed of the family, and who, by dint
of inflammatory harangues, had recommended himself to an adminis-
trative appointment at St Maximin, a small to'svn a few leagues distant
from Marseilles. Here he assumed the name of Brutus, and in conjunc-
tion with a renegade monk, who styled himself Epaminondas, exeixised a
petty dictatorship, filling the prisons with unfortunate victims, as suspected
royalists and aristocrats. But it is his boast that, with unlimited power
in his hands, and at so youthful an age, he shed no blood, notwithstanding
the influence of the examples around him. He even opposed the mandate
of the commissioners, sent by the Convention to restore its authority at
JIarseilles, for the removal of his prisoners to be tried or ratlier guillo-
tined at Orange — an act which exposed him to the anger of the com-
missioners, Barras and Freron, and nevertheless failed to save him from
the imputation of being a Terrorist when the day of reaction arrived.
In this revolutionary career Lucien was of service to his family : Joseph,
wlio continued to reside at Marseilles with his mother, was of too mild and
unobtrusive a character to gain credit with the powers of Jacobhiism,


whilst Napoleon was as yet an unkno-wn subaltern, jostling among the
crowd of rivals for preferment. In the person of the Abbe Feseli, who
had accompanied liis sister in her exile, the positive danger was incurred
of harbouring a priest, then the most obnoxious to popular wrath of all
delinquents. However, when the portents of the storm were gathering,
the abbe prudently discarded his clerical robe, and sought a safer calling
as a keeper of stores in the army of General Montesquiou, who, in the
autumn of 1793, overran the country of Savoy. It was at a later period of
the same year that an event occurred which laid the foundation of mighty
changes, involving not only the fortunes of the Corsican refugees, but
deranging the destinies of all tlic nations of Christendom.

Toulon alone of all the revolted cities still held out against the victorious
banner of the Republic. The energies of the goveiuiment were directed
against it witli the greater virulence, that the flag of England, the most hated
of the foes of France, floated on its traitorous ramparts. General Carteaux
■was despatched to undei'take the siege at the head of a force amount-
ing to 30,000 men of all arms ; but carrying on the operations with less
vigom' than suited the impatience of the sovereign Committee, he was
displaced, and succeeded by Dugommier, who had been provided by the
celebrated Carnot with a detailed plan for his guidance in the reduction of
the place. During the temporary absence of the senior officer in com-
mand, and in a happy moment of inspiration, Dugommier confided the
charge of the artillery to the young engineer of Ajaccio, who had been
recently promoted to a colonelcy of brigade, and who recommended a plan
of operation so much more feasible than the one dictated by the Committee,
that it was at once adopted, with the preliminary sanction, nevertheless, of
the Representatives on mission with the army. This plan consisted in
carrying the more distant forts which commanded the harbour of Toulon^
instead of pursuing the attack against the main body of the place. It was
calculated that they would thus insure either the destruction of the hostile
fleet, or its hasty removal out of range of the guns. In either case, the
reduction of Toulon Avas certain and immediate without much waste of blood,
since it would be no longer tenable by the foreign garrison, which consti-
tuted the chief means of its defence. The plan being finally determined
upon, Napoleon applied himself to its execution with his characteristic ar-
dour ; and such was his exercise of scientific skill, combined with a personal
heroism remarkable even in those days of matchless daring, that on the
eighteenth day from unmasking his batteries he was enabled to carry by
assault the fort called Little Gibraltar, the possession of which gave the
republican arms that decisive predominance he had contemplated. Lord
Hood immediately evacuated the harbour with his ships ; the garrison pre-
pared for a gradual abandonment of the defensive posts; the wretched
inhabitants flocked to the quays, imploring protection from their fugitive
aUies; the galley-slaves burst from then- chains, and commenced a general
plunder; the arsenal was set on fire, and the huge vessels of war roared with
the flames of devastation ; the raging conquerors rushed into the devoted
city, and then was consummated a scene of horror which it is impossible for
the pen to describe.

Such was the achievement by which Napoleon Buonaparte first emerged
from among that swarm of youthful heroes who in this famous era had flung



themselves into the sei-vice of France. Li this early stage of his career he
met two young soldiers, still struggling against the frowns of fortune, whom
he attached to himself by the notice he took of their cool intrepidity in the
midst of danger. These were Junot and Duroc, who retained for him ever
afterwards an affection and admiration which were wholly independent of
his waxing fortunes. The Eepresentatives of the Convention and Dugom-
mier freely acknowledged the value of Napoleon's services ; and the Com-
mittee of Public Safety, which rewarded and punished with equal promp-
titude, at once elevated him to the rank of general of brigade. He was
henceforth attached to the army of the Alps under Dumorbion, who, bemg
old, and diffident of hhnself, willingly relincpished to his more vigorous lieu-
tenant the conduct of a campaign which, owing to the rugged nature of the
country and the absolute destitution of the soldiers, was beset with unusual
difficulties. To this army were delegated the same commissioners who
had superintended the siege of Toulon, all men of note and influence in the
Republic at the time, and two of whom at least manifested a perfect appre-
ciation of the merits of the new commandant of artillery. One of these
was the younger Robespierre, brother of the chief dictator among the ruling
decemvirs ; the other was Barras, who affected military knowledge, and was
fresh from the massacres of Marseilles: the thii-d commissioner was Sali-
cetti, himself a Corsicau, but nourishing a bitter envy of his rising country-
man. The first, indeed, formed with Napoleon an intimacy which had
nearly led to momentous consequences. Although the atrocities of the
Jacobins were extremely revolting to him — for his temperament was ut-
terly averse to their horrible system of government — Napoleon was not
insensible to the advantage of cultivating a friendship with the brother of
their most potential leader, whose favour was the surest avenue to distinc-
tion. Moreover, the younger Robespierre, who was really estimable for
many virtues, laboured to convince him that Maximilian was far from being
the bloody tyrant his actions seemed to indicate. It is not singular,
therefore, that Napoleon tm-ned his eyes with some predilection towards
one so capable of promoting his interests, and whom he might sujipose an
involuntary agent of bloodshed, or at least not so vulgar and complete a
vHlaiu as some of his colleagues. Thus he became connected with Robes-
pierre, who entertained the idea of conferring on him the command of the
Parisian sans-culottes m lieu of the miserable Henriot, whose blustering
incompetence he had the sagacity to detect. The proposition was even
made to hun by the younger brother, who repeatedly urged him to accom-
pany him to Paris, whither he himself was recalled by the perils bcgmning to
threaten the contmuance of the existing dominion. But Napoleon resolutely
resisted all such solicitations, for however Robespierre might have unposed
on hun by professions of moderation, he could not consent to wear the actual
livery of such a master, whose character of sternness and implacability he
was not anxious to encounter too closely. ' There is no honourable place
for me at present but tlie army ; the time is not yet come, hut it icill come,
when I shall command at Paris,^ are the prophetic words which Lucicn does
not hesitate to put into his moutli on this occasion. Yet notwithstanding
his refusal to identify himself with Robespierre, he was involved in the
downfall of that monster; and after the glorious 9th of Thcrmidor ('27th
of July 1794), he was arrested as an adherent and partisan of the fallen


tyrant.* Being cast into prison witli other more avowed Terrorists,
he narrowly escaped the death which awaited them under tlie violence of
reaction; but he was eventually set at liberty tlu-ough the force of his
o^vn remonstrances and tlie plaintive pleadmgs of his humble friend Junot.
Nevertheless tliis release did not jirevent the loss of his rank in the army,
and of all the other fruits of the brilliant reputation he had won : at the age
of twenty-five he was thrown as an outcast upon the world, ignominiously
expelled from tlie profession in which he had ah-cady begun to gather laurels*
His brothers shared in the reverses of the ilfcmeut : Joseph saved himself
by a temporary retreat to Genoa, but Lucien incurred the hoiTors of the
incarceration he had so liberally admmistered to others, albeit he protested
against so ungrateful a return for the boon of life he had usually granted to
his victims.

This may be considered the second i:)hase in the calamities of the illus-
trious House of Buonaparte. "Whilst all France was ringing with the j oy
of its deliverance from the detestable tlu-aldom of mm-derers, tlie heaviest
gloom hung upon the hopes of those forlorn strangers in the land. Pro-
scription and degradation Avere now their lot, in addition to the poverty from
Avhich they had partially emerged. In this extremity Joseph became the
prop and support of the family, by his maniage with the daughter of a
wealthy merchant of ^Marseilles named Clary. By the dowiy he got with
his wife, he was raised into almost affluent cu-cumstances, and obtained a
position which enabled him to be of essential benefit to his mother and the
children still remainiug under her charge. Lucien had been liberated from
the prison of Aix after a detention of six weeks, during which he escaped
almost miraculously the massacres then perpetrating by the Eoyalists on
the imprisoned Jacobins in the southern departments of France, and he re-
tm-ned to Marseilles from liis incarceration in very dismal plight. He, too,
had contracted fnatrimony during his residence at St Maximin, where the
daughter of an innkeeper called Boyer had fixed his wayward affections.
Unlike his eldest brother, however, he received no fortime with his partner;
and m the existuig condition of his finances she proved rather an inoppor-
time encumbrance. But he was fondly attached to her, portionless as she
was, for she was very beautiful and very amiable, and his sangume temper
foimd consolation for present indigence in visions of future prosperity.

After his discharge from the army and from captivity, Napoleon had pro-
ceeded to Paris, with the 'S'iew of claimmg from the new government repara-
tion of the wi'ongs he had suffered. His fonner friend Barras was now in
an influential station, in consequence of the unportant part he had borne in
the overthrow of Eobespien-e. But although he experienced from that per-
sonage a friendly reception, he derived no advantage from his advocacy, if
it were ever sincerely exerted, which it probably was not, since Barras might
well dread to implicate himself by too earnest a recommendation of one
involved in the odium of tei-rorism. Being, as is well kno'svn, imsuccessful
in his suit, and denied further employment, the extraordmary youth
who earned with him the destinies of Europe fell into the condition of an

* Napoleon accused Salieetti of provoking his arrest by his vile machinations,
and he subsequently revenged the perfidious deed by facilitating that personage's
escape from the vengeance of the Convention after the event of the 1st Prairial
(•20th May 1795).

Chambers's papers for the people.

almost houseless -wanderer of the streets, and even contemplated at one
time making an escape from his wretchedness by flinging himself into the
Seine. It was not tUl public affairs took a new turn that fortmie once
more stood his friend. The Convention was about to close its stormy ex-
istence after promulgating a new constitution for France, by which an exe-
cutive government was created of five directors, with a legislature divided
into two chambers, one to be called the Chamber of Ancients, the other the
Chamber of Five Hundred. By supplemental statutes, two-thirds of the
old Conventionalists were to form part of the new legislature, and against
this provision the Reactionists protested with vehemence. The sections of
Paris were furious in their opposition; and failing to intimidate the Con-
vention by menaces, they resolved to coerce it by an armed insurrection.
To meet this threatened danger, the Convention appointed Barras to com-
mand the forces at its disposal, which consisted of about 6000 troops of
the regular army; and he, calling to mind that energetic officer whom he

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersHistorical and literary celebrities; being biographical sketches selected from Chambers's Papers for the People → online text (page 1 of 81)