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have accepted me as their King and who would
have been to me as one great family. Do you
think that even fifty thousand of the Allied troops
would have ventured to attack me there ? And
even if they had, to what end — to gain what ? "

Are the Corsicans to be numbered among the
racial puzzles of the w^orld ? They are said to
have sprung originally from some remote Iberian
stock, and characteristics which have been found
among the people of Albania, of the Basque
countries and the Berbers of Northern Africa,
are admitted by anthropologists to be common


to the inhabitants of the island. In the course
of the early ages, the Phoenicians — as in Ireland,
be it noted, which is famous for its reproduction
of the Napoleonic type — the Carthaginians, the
Ligurians and the Iberians founded smkll and
nomadic colonies, until the Greeks finally estab-
lished a civilisation there some six centuries
before Christ. Subsequently, on account of their
piratical practices, they were driven thence by
the people of Etruria, who succeeded in finally
and permanently impressing their cachet on the
islanders. The Bonapartes, as we have seen,
were of Ligurian origin, and in the earliest days
of Roman civilisation, the people of Liguria were
held to be of Germano-Gallic rather than Italic
stock, which was short and broad-headed, while
the Ligurians were tall and long-headed — the
family type of the Napoleons, to which their
great chief proved, however, an exception. All
writers, ancient as well as modern, agreed in
attributing one salient characteristic to the
Corsicans — namely, that they appeared to con-
sider themselves superior to other races, and
would voluntarily engage in no servile or menial
work ; the native was sober, obliging, hospitable,
grateful, a firm friend, a terrible enemy, logical,
practical, inclined to be sultanic in his treatment
of women, intriguing and always very curious to
know what the other man was doing, expansive
with his friends, silent and reserved ^\4th strangers.
A German writer, Razel, declares that until the
eighteenth century no Corsican generation had


existed which had not known either invasion or
civil wai' — an important point.

Diodorus Siculus said of these islanders that
the hardest Roman slave-masters dared not
subject them to the ordinary tasks of other
helots on account of their rebellious and intract-
able character. "They will not live in slavery,"
says Strabo, " and if they do not kill themselves
before submitting to the degradation of low
menial work, they so conduct themselves as to
make their masters regret the money expended
on their purchase." After the fall of the Roman
Empire, Corsica, in the seventh century, they
teach, came under the domination of Constan-
tinople and then received that strong religious
impress which informs the general character of
the native with a mysticism that is hardly to
be differentiated from superstition. Charlemagne
handed them over to the Popes in the tenth
century, and the Saracens carried fire and sword
through the island in the eleventh, after which a
feudalism of a Germanic type settled for some
centuries upon the country, administered and
inspired in the main by high Ligurian officials.
Nevertheless the spirit of the clan was ever so
powerful a characteristic of Corsican society, that
the feudal lords practised a larger liberalism in
their exactions from, and their dealings with,
the proud islanders than was customary, under
the system, with less independent races. Every
Corsican became a rebel at the first sign of
oppression on the part of his lord, and so there


grew up a society of men who would acknowledge
no masters — another important point.

It is not surprising, therefore, to find them in
1730 declaring an entire independence of Genoa
and, at the outbreak of hostilities, inaugurating
a theological council which, by assertixig that
justice was on the side of the revolting islanders,
gave to the who'e uprising the character of a
holy war. The Genoese called in the help of
several corps of German troops of the Emperor
Charles VI., under the command of the Prince
of Wurtembcrg, who was only too pleased to sign
a treaty of peace with the invincible islanders in
1732. In 1736 a German adventurer of noble
birth. Baron Theodore von Neuhof, arrived in
the port of Aleria, and having assured the popular
leaders of his possession of great influence at the
courts of Europe, offered to undertake the final
liberation of the island from Genoese tyranny.
Eventually, after the distribution of considerable
largess, Theodore was named King of Corsica,
and besides founding a nobility, also inaugur-
ated many civic reforms, invited foreign in-
dustrialists to take up residence in Corsica,
disciplined the army and ultimately attacked
Genoa. Success did not attend on his extra-
insular military expeditions, however, and he
soon found himself obliged to have recourse to
his great diplomatic and political friends on the
mainland. He left the island, appointing a
regency of four persons, one of whom was
Jacopo Ornano, a blood relation of the Bonapartes.


Theodore came back in 1738, but only for a
short while, and left again for the Continent,
entrusting all interests to his great-nephew Baron
Drost, who afterwards, be it noted, married a
lady of the Bonaparte tribe. The King again
returned to the island in 1743, provided with
plenty of arms and munitions ; he had grown
despotic, however, during his exile, and being
badly received by the popular leaders, went back
to London, where he was arrested for debt and
spent several years in the Fleet, until released by
the good offices of Horace Walpole. All of which
we mention only to show that the adventure of
bold and successful usurpation was certainly
not lacking among the inspirations which sub-
sequently moved the young soldier of Italy to
exalted self- promotion.

In the stirring days when Paoli took command
of affairs in Corsica, he employed the services
of Charles Bonaparte, father of Napoleon, as
personal secretary. This gentleman had married,
at the age of eighteen, a beautiful girl of fifteen,
Letitia Ramolino. It is worth noting that apart
from the fact that this alliance was a genuine
love match — always an important condition for
the children issuing — it contained many other
elements of a Romeo-and-Juliet type, since the
Ramolini were really of the Genoese faction, while
the Bonapartes were of the insurgent side —
Guelphs and Ghibellines, again, on a minor scale,
or Capulets and Montagues of Verona. Like the
honourable wife and mother she ever proved


herself, Letitia gave up her life with singular
devotion to the interests of her husband's
people, and ruled the family home at Ajaccio
with the impartial severity and justice of a Roman
matron. The old home of the Bonapartes no
longer exists, it may be said, for all the venal
assurances of the local ciceroni. The actual
house, near the site of the present one, was much
smaller, and the Bonaparte family rented only
half of it at that— some indication, we may
presume, that their means were of a limited
extent.^ In 1771 Charles Bonaparte, who was
a Doctor of Law, had been appointed a kind
of executive judge [giudice assesore) to the high
court of Ajaccio, a town which boasted at that
time a population of 3000 inhabitants. The
name Napoleon was common enough in Corsica
in several families with which the Bonapartes
were connected, and w^as spelled impartially
Napoleone, Nabulione, Lapulione, Napollone, and
was probably derived from the old Genoese
patronymic Nebulone.

The Bonapartes had relatives in nearly all
classes of the local society, but the majority of
the allied families were small landowners who also
engaged in the wine and corn trades. Charles
Bonaparte, as a member of the high court — with
£40 a year as a stipend ! — was admittedly the

^ It has been estimated that the Bonapartes lived for several years
on less than ^loo a year. Those who are at all acquainted with the
tndnages of provincial Italy are well aware that such a sum is often
made to go to very respectable lengths — for middle-class Italians.


head of the family aUiance, more particularly
when he had been chosen member of the com-
mission of twelve representative Corsican nobles.
There is no doubt whatever, we think, that though
Bonaparte yere was disposed to be something
of a spendthrift and a high liver, he was a man
of considerable refinement, great literary tastes,
ever looking to the advancement of his family.
To this end, indeed, he engaged in several schemes
which caused his integrity to be called in question
more than once, and like the good time-server he
was, saw no harm in making the public treasury pay
the limit for his services. So we find him writing
to M. de Calonne, in 1784, asking for assistance :

" I am the father of seven children, Monseigneur,
the eighth already on its way, and being almost
without fortune for the reasons herein mentioned,
have the honour to solicit your protection and
your justice in favour of my poor family. . . ."

In no country in the world is the principle of
equality and fraternity carried into practice to the
same extent as in Corsica, says Prosper de Merimee
in his work En Corse, and if real democracy has
a home anywhere, it is certainly in this island
where the employers and employed live on terms
of tribal famiharity, the result being that "rich
and poor," to quote the Frenchman, " hold the
same ideas, since they are always exchanging
them." The wealthiest man in Ajaccio in those
days was, it is recorded, worth about £8000 — a
certain Signor Baciocchi, of whose family the
world has also heard.


It is fairly well established now that the
Bonapartes of Ajaccio had but few documents
going to prove that their line had once been
•"Nk^ either a very ancient or a very splendid one. The
alliances which the family had made since their
J arrival on the island were in all probability what
the French term " tres honorables," meaning
very respectable, but by no means very exalted.
Charles Bonaparte would appear to have been
highly proud of his connection with the minor
squires Bozzi and Ornano, through which con-
nections the oldest Corsican blood was trans-
mitted to the Napoleons. By Letizia's side, they
claimed descent from the mighty Colonna gens
of the twelfth century, and in the days of his
own greatness Napoleon emphasised this claim
on behalf of his then exalted tribe. With regard
to the many expedients to which Bonaparte
pere resorted in order to establish beyond question
the nobility of his blood, it has to be remembered
in his lasting favour that by proving a patrician
ancestry, he not only guarded against the possi-
bility of seeing his patent revoked — an unconscion-
able dishonour to a Corsican — but also assured to
his sons and daughters the best possible education
at governmental expense, as so-called King's
scholars. If, as we are assured on high authority,
the Corsicans were genuine democrats to a man,
we may be certain that Charles Bonaparte was
moved to make his ancestral pretensions rather
that his children might benefit, than for any
advantage he was likely to derive himself from


doing so. We are not aware, at all events, that \
anyone has ever accused a single member of the
Imperial family of having shown traits of that
social meanness which goes by the name of
snobbery. The patent of nobility granted to
the House of Bonaparte by the Government of
Louis XVI. was made out, it may be said, not so
very long ago, as family pedigrees count — namely,
in 1771 — a year which, Scotsmen will hardly require
to be told, saw the birth of the author of Waverley.
We express a personal view, of course, when
we venture the opinion that it is only the really
new families that ever produce phenomenal types.^
And by the term new we mean those families
which have up til] their production of a rare
entity — nigroque simillima cycno — remained in
quiet obscurity, unknown, not unhonoured, but un-
sung. Very old and well-known races of the world
must necessarily have gathered in the process of
the ages, not only experience, but also all the
philosophic outlook — mostly sceptical, if not con-
temptuous and altogether pessimist — with which
experience, in the long run, cannot fail to invest
the wisdom of reflective men. Such a philosophy
of scepticism is wholly adverse, however, to great

^ We admit a certain vagueness here. Our opinion is based on
the assumption that blood has no absolute standard, or specific type,
but that the varieties of its quality must be as the number of human
kinds and characters. Consequently the fusion, or combination,
which is likely to produce a human phenomenon — and mankind has
produced but a few, historically considered — would normally recur
about once in every two or more cycles, as History has shown, we
think. Assuming certain figures, it is a simple "probability" sum.


performance in any domain of human activity,
seeing that in the longest space of time allotted
to man, hardly more than the bases of any
enduring fame can be securely laid. Who had
heard — apart from Marius, himself not a Csesar
— of the family of Julius before the conqueror
of Gaul had brought the Julian gens into promi-
nence ? What sort of men did Cromwell come
from ? Who was Luther's grandfather ? How
long were Aristotle's ancestors resident at Stagira ?
What were the Habsburgs doing before Rudolph's
day ? Or who, apart from a few musicians, ever
heard of the Wellesleys before Wellington's age ?
Or of the Churchills before the days of Marlborough?
We are of opinion, consequently, that Nature
provides her portents from especial fusions of
new blood based on the selective principle. This
idea leads, of course, to the conclusion that no
man who is not especially called to great perform-
ance can by any labour of his own achieve a high
destiny, or renown. Nor do we think that oppor-
tunity, or environment, or luck, or any other of
many moot conditions can explain the advent
of an overwhelming personality in the world.
Blood — the wonderful juice, as Goethe called it —
seems to us to provide the key to the mystery
of individual phenomenalism on the earth, and it
appears to be new blood at that. All of which
leads us to the view that there is really nothing
subjective in creation, and that man is merely
an instrument through which nature expresses
itself and its design.


The story of the Bonapartes and their origin
appears to be a case in point. It seems to be
established that the tribe of Buonaparte cannot
trace a clear descent, under that name, before the
twelfth century. It was only during the quarrels
of the Guelphs and GhibelHnes that families came
to be known either as members of the good side
or Imona parte, or as members of the mala parte
or bad side, entirely according to the political
point of view of the particular partisan. The
Bonapartes, as a result of these quarrels, issued
with the patronymic Buona Parte for their family
name. What it had been before those days no
one apparently knows for certain, though, of
course, conjecture is not wanting ; some genealo-
gists tracing their origin to the hereditary Roman
Caesars, others to the Byzantine Caesars, some
giving them affiliation with the Orsini and
Colonna houses, while others go back the whole
way to the great House of Macedon. But if the
original family had been of high standing or great
antiquity, there would have been no possibility
of its concealing itself, for any political reason,
under the generic sobriquet of a faction. Hence
we are inclined to the view^ that the original
Bonaparte tribe was either of the modest middle
classes, or else of the nameless or foundling type,
and consequently belonged to the new tyjDC which
we have tried to suggest. All honest attempts
to trace their ascent before the twelfth century
to the Janfelds, podesia at San Stefano, or to
Castruccio Castracani, the dictator of Lucca,


have been unsuccessful. Indeed we have nothing
positively certain of the Bonaparte family until
they had become fairly settled in Corsica, and
the first public document which bears the signa-
ture of a Bonaparte is dated 14th May 1485 —
about the time when Richard III. was making
his last stand for the crown of England.

The Bonapartes moved to Ajaccio about the
first decade of the sixteenth century, where a
certain Francis Bonaparte was generally kno^vn
to his fellow-citizens as the Moor, whether from
his bronzed complexion, or from the fact that
he had served under Ludovico Moro, we know
not. He had a son Gabriel who served in the
Genoese mercenaries and afterwards became a
priest and subsequently a canon of the diocese.
An illegitimate half-brother of this gentleman,
Luca by name, once had his face severely slapped
by an Ornano in the streets of Ajaccio. He
waited some years for his vendetta and then
murdered the assailant on the steps of his home,
affixing the offending hand, pierced by a dagger, to
a panel of the hall-door. Blood of this particular
cuvee cannot but have contributed to the for-
midable personality of the great descendant.
Even up to 1550 the Bonapartes considered them-
selves, as immigrants from Liguria, to be of much
superior stock to the islanders, and one Jerome
Bonaparte, a son of the aforesaid Gabriel, the
priest — whom we may charitably suppose to
have become a widower before he took Orders —
appears about 1579 as a strenuous supporter of


a kind of social and political Pale which was
established to the exclusion of the islanders and
in favour of the immigrants from the mainland.
One Pozzo di Borgo took up the cause of the
islanders, and thus prepared the way for a political
vendetta which was to declare itself on a higher
level, more than two centuries later, between
descendant members af the same two clans.

This Jerome Bonaparte, a lawyer by the way,
married the daughter of a prosperous landed
proprietor, whose inheritance he added to by
lucky speculations as well as by successful claims
to property formerly in the possession of his bride's
family. It is about the time of this worthy that
we find the Bonaparte tribe engaged in the wine
and corn trades, among them Augustus Bona-
parte, brother of Jerome, who w^as also an elder
of the community of Ajaccio, and once dis-
tinguished himself by cornering the bread supplies
to his own personal profit. For the most part,
however, the Bonarpartes engaged in the pro-
fession of attorney, a business calculated, we
suppose, to give its practitioners more than
ordinary opportunities for studying human
nature. The Corsican attorney of the sixteenth,
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was, more-
over, a man of considerable prominence in his
community and corresponded, in a large measure,
to the municipal solicitor of our own time, his
role being socially, politically and commercially of
first-class importance within his own environment.

The profession required much energy in those


days, for the local attorney counted for some-
thing in little things as well as big. Even the
hiring out of a dun cow or the sale of a little
patch of land required a contract. However
modest their means, a Corsican couple would
scorn to enter into the marriage contract without
first visiting a lawyer. And even promises of
marriage were registered at his office, for the
failure of one of the two contracting parties to
keep the plighted word would inevitably mean
a bloody family feud. Then the office of
the lam^er was the especial rendezvous of the
parolanti, or interveners, the people who under-
took to settle matters, to talk the other fellow
over, or to compromise a quarrel, or even to bring
together the parties to a vendetta, in order to
debate the question whether, after all, there was
any real motive for vengeance on either side —
the results of all such matters being duly recorded
by the essentially impartial pettifogger who, of
course, did not fail to collect his honorarium.
He also it was who engrossed the petitions sent
up to the higher powers by the little people, and
if a man thought his forte was that of street-
sweeping, the lawyer drew up his formal request
to the municipal authorities and forwarded it
with his own recommendation to the proper
quarter. A notorious bandit of veteran standing,
anxious to make his soul, as the saying is, and
desirous of seeing the old home before he died,
would send an agent to the lawyer from his
mountain lair, offering to surrender to the civic


powers a portion of his plunder, provided his
previous offences were condoned and the ban of
legal excommunication removed. On another
occasion the attorney might draw up a deed after
the following fashion : —

" The noble and magnificent Giuseppe Carbone
having on May 5 slain a bandit, and having
therefore acquired the right, according to the
civil and criminal statutes of the island of Corsica,
to designate for reprieve any other bandit now
under sentence of death, desires that clemency
shall be extended to Carolo Perfetto recently
convicted of murder and perjury."

The noble and magnificent Carbone, having
performed this act of justice, returns home with
a clear conscience, not unmindful of the fact that
he has assured himself a firm ally in Carolo
Perfetto, should he ever require assistance in a
little matter of blood-letting, or even in a case
where well-considered perjury would be likely to
help his fortunes over the rough spots.

Francis Bonaparte succeeded Jerome as the
lawyer of Ajaccio, but does not appear to have
added to the family wealth, and it would appear
that from 1625, when this ancestor sold the
property of La Villetta, near Ajaccio, the terri-
torial possessions of the Bonapartes began to
dwindle very rapidly. In 1632, indeed, the
record shows that he was forced to pledge a small
golden relic, with his arms engraven on the same,
for about twelve shillings. Francis was, in due
course, succeeded by his son, Sebastian Bonaparte,


whose eldest, Charles, became the father of
Joseph Bonaparte. This worthy married a
daughter of the squirearchic Corsican family of
Bozzi in which the baptismal name Napoleon
was common and whose ancestors had served
under the French King Henri II. when the English
lost Calais in the middle of the sixteenth century.
This is the point at which the Italian Bonaparte
stock receives its first infiltration of pure Corsican
blood : by the small but ancient territorial
properties which enter into the family with that
alliance, the Napoleons become Corsicans of
Corsica, and the old prejudices of the Genoese
Pale pass for ever. A son of this marriage,
Sebastian Nicholas, became the husband of Maria
Tusoli, a daughter of one of the fiery factionaries
of the island and also a Corsican of the purest
blood. They had three children, Joseph, Napoleon
and Lucien, and from the marriage of the first
of these, Joseph, with Maria Paravisino. sprang
Charles Bonaparte, the father of the mighty
Napoleon. Letitia, his wife, was of the Ramolini
tribe, whose ancestors were squires of Istria and
officers in the armies of Venice.

It is clear, therefore, from all which precedes
that at no point of the known line do there
appear to be any conditions which might contri-
bute to a transmission of artistic leanings in the
Bonaparte family. On the contrary, everything
seems to mark the men out for professions which
are the extreme opposite of anything artistic ;
while the women, wholly unlettered and in the


main somewhat jmysannes in speech, in manner
and in their meticulous housewifery, seem to be
chosen for their " points " and as hkely in all cases
to " throw " healthy children. All their men,
indeed, are apt and clever animals and all their
women unfailing breeders, the only spiritual
tendency observable in any of the stock being
the insistence with which each father decides that
the sons shall have the best possible scholarly
education, without which, they are fully well
aware, no inferior can climb to higher social rank.

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Online LibraryHamil GrantThe soul of Napoleon → online text (page 2 of 17)