Jacob Abbott.

Famous characters of history .. (Volume 20) online

. (page 1 of 16)
Online LibraryJacob AbbottFamous characters of history .. (Volume 20) → online text (page 1 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



3 3433 08252863 3

J" T^ T "

n .


^famous Characters of tbistors










' I . > ,

, , '. , *


i ,.

' , .


MARIA ANTOINETTE and Josephine are the two most
prominent heroines of the French Revolution. The
history of their lives necessarily records all the most
interesting events of that most fearful tragedy which
man has ever enacted. Maria Antoinette beheld the
morning dawn of the Revolution and Josephine be-
held the portentous phenomenon fade away. Each of
these heroines displayed traits of character worthy of
all imitation. No one can read the history of their
lives without being ennobled by the contemplation of
the fortitude and grandeur of spirit they evinced.






















( k




Martinique. Its varied beauties. Birth of Josephine. Her parents' death.

M. Renaudin. His kind treatment of his slaves. Gratitude of the
slaves. Josephine a universal favorite. Hospitality of M. Renaudin.
Society at his house. Early education of Josephine. Her accomplish-
ments. Euphemie. She becomes Josephine's bosom companion.
Popularity of Josephine. Childhood enjoyments. Characteristic traits.

The fortune-teller. Predictions of the sibyl. Credulity. More pre-
dictions. Their fulfillment. Explanations of the predictions. How
fulfilled. Falsity of the prediction. Contemplated match. Attach-
ment between Josephine and William. Their separation. Rousseau
throwing stones. Josephine's superstition. Deception of friends.
Mutual fidelity.

THE island of Martinique emerges in tropical
luxuriance from the bosom of the Caribbean
Sea. A meridian sun causes the whole land
to smile in perennial verdure, and all the gorgeous
flowers and luscious fruits of the torrid zone adorn
upland and prairie in boundless profusion. Mountains,
densely wooded, rear their summits sublimely to the
skies, and valleys charm the eye with pictures more
beautiful than imagination can create. Ocean breezes

ever sweep these hills and vales, and temper the heat


16 JOSEPHINE [1760

of a vertical sun. Slaves, whose dusky limbs are
scarcely veiled by the lightest clothing, till the soil,
while the white inhabitants, supported by the indo-
lent labor of these unpaid menials, loiter away life in
listless leisure and in rustic luxury. Far removed
from the dissipating influences of European and Amer-
ican opulence, they dwell in their secluded island in
a state of almost patriarchal simplicity.

About the year 1760, a young French officer, Cap-
tain Joseph Gaspard Tascher, accompanied his regi-
ment of horse to this island. While here on profes-
sional duty, he became attached to a young lady from
France, whose parents, formerly opulent, in conse-
quence of the loss of property, had moved to the
West Indies to retrieve their fortunes. But little is
known respecting Mademoiselle de Sanois, this young
lady, who was soon married to M. Tascher. Jo-
sephine was the only child born of this union. In
consequence of the early death of her mother, she
was, while an infant, intrusted to the care of her
aunt. Her father soon after died, and the little orphan
appears never to have known a father's or a mother's

Madame Renaudin, the kind aunt, who now, with
maternal affection, took charge of the helpless infant,
was a lady of wealth, and of great benevolence of
character. Her husband was the owner of several
estates, and lived surrounded by all that plain and


rustic profusion which characterizes the abode of the
wealthy planter. His large possessions, and his
energy of character, gave him a wide influence over
the island. He was remarkable for his humane treat-
ment of his slaves, and for the successful manner
with which he conducted the affairs of his plantations.
The general condition of the slaves of Martinico
at this time was very deplorable; but on the planta-
tions of M. Renaudin there was as perfect a state of
contentment and of happiness as is consistent with
the deplorable institution of slavery. The slaves,
many of them but recently torn from their homes in
Africa, were necessarily ignorant, degraded, and su-
perstitious. They knew nothing of those more ele-
vated and refined enjoyments which the cultivated
mind so highly appreciates, but which are so often
also connected with the most exquisite suffering.
Josephine, in subsequent life, gave a very vivid de-
scription of the wretchedness of the slaves in general,
and also of the peace and harmony which, in strik-
ing contrast, cheered the estates of her uncle. When
the days' tasks were done, the negroes, constitution-
ally light-hearted and merry, gathered around their
cabins with songs and dances, often prolonged late
into the hours of the night. They had never known
anything better than their present lot. They com-
pared their condition with that of the slaves on the
adjoining plantations, and exulted in view of their

M, ofH.-y- 2

i8 JOSEPHINE [1765

own enjoyments. M. and Madame Renaudin often
visited their cabins, spoke words of kindness to them
in their hours of sickness and sorrow, encouraged
the formation of pure attachments and honorable
marriage among the young, and took a lively interest
in their sports. The slaves loved their kind master
and mistress most sincerely, and manifested their af-
fection in a thousand simple ways which touched
the heart.

Josephine imbibed from infancy the spirit of her
uncle and aunt. She always spoke to the slaves in
tones of kindness, and became a universal favorite
with all upon the plantations. She had no playmates
but the little negroes, and she united with them freely
in all their sports. Still, these little ebon children of
bondage evidently looked up to Josephine as to a su-
perior being. She was the queen around whom they
circled in affectionate homage. The instinctive fac-
ulty, which Josephine displayed through life, of win-
ning the most ardent love of all who met her, while,
at the same time, she was protected from any undue
familiarity, she seems to have possessed even at that
early day. The children, who were her companions
in all the sports of childhood, were also dutiful sub-
jects ever ready to be obedient to her will.

The social position of M. Renaudin, as one of the
most opulent and influential gentlemen of Martinique,
necessarily attracted to his hospitable residence much


refined and cultivated society. Strangers from Europe
visiting the island, planters of intellectual tastes, and
ladies of polished manners, met a cordial welcome
beneath the spacious roof of this abode, where all
abundance was to be found. Madame Renaudin had
passed her early years in Paris, and her manners were
embellished with that elegance and refinement which
have given to Parisian society such a world-wide
celebrity. There was, at that period, much more in-
tercourse between the mother country and the colo-
nies than at the present day. Thus Josephine, though
reared in a provincial home, was accustomed, from
infancy, to associate with gentlemen and ladies who
were familiar with the etiquette of the highest rank
in society, and whose conversation was intellectual
and improving.

It at first view seems difficult to account for the
high degree of mental culture which Josephine dis-
played, when, seated by the side of Napoleon, she
was the Empress of France. Her remarks, her letters,
her conversational elegance, gave indication of a mind
thoroughly furnished with information and trained by
severe discipline. And yet, from all the glimpses we
can catch of her early education, it would seem that,
with the exception of the accomplishments of music,
dancing, and drawing, she was left very much to the
guidance of her own instinctive tastes. But, like
Madame Roland, she was blessed with that peculiar

ao JOSEPHINE [1765

mental constitution, which led her, of her own ac-
cord, to treasure up all knowledge which books or
conversation brought within her reach. From child-
hood until the hour of her death, she was ever im-
proving her mind by careful observation and studious
reading. She played upon the harp with great skill,
and sang with a voice of exquisite melody She also
read with a correctness of elocution and a fervor of
feeling which ever attracted admiration. The morn-
ing of her childhood was indeed bright and sunny,
and her gladdened heart became so habituated to joy-
ousness, that her cheerful spirit seldom failed her
even in the darkest days of her calamity. Her pas-
sionate love for flowers had interested her deeply in
the study of botany, and she also became very skill-
ful in embroidery, that accomplishment which was
once deemed an essential part of the education of
every lady.

Under such influences Josephine became a child of such
grace, beauty, and loveliness of character as to attract
the attention and the admiration of all who' saw her.
There was an affectionateness, simplicity, and frankness
in her manners which won all hearts. Her most in-
timate companion in these early years was a young
mulatto girl, the daughter of a slave, and report said,
with how much truth it is impossible to know, that
she was also the daughter of Captain Tascher before
his marriage. Her name was Euphemie. She was a


year or two older than Josephine, but she attached
herself with deathless affection to her patroness; and,
though Josephine made her a companion and a con-
fidante, she gradually passed, even in these early years,
into the position of a maid of honor, and clung de-
votedly to her mistress through all the changes of
subsequent life. Josephine, at this time secluded from
all companionship with young ladies of her own rank
and age, made this humble but active-minded and in-
telligent girl her bosom companion. They rambled
together, the youthful mistress and her maid, in per-
feet harmony. From Josephine's more highly-cultivated
mind the lowly-born child derived intellectual stimulus,
and thus each day became a more worthy and con-
genial associate. As years passed on, and Josephine
ascended into higher regions of splendor, her humble
attendant gradually retired into more obscure positions,
though she was ever regarded by her true-hearted
mistress with great kindness.

Josephine was a universal favorite with all the little
negro girls of the plantation. They looked up to her
as a protectress whom they loved, and to whom they
owed entire homage. She would frequently collect a
group of them under the shade of the luxuriant trees
of that tropical island, and teach them the dances
which she had learned, and also join with them as a
partner. She loved to assemble them around her, and
listen to those simple negro melodies which penetrate

22 JOSEPHINE [1770

every neart which can feel the power of music. Again,
all their voices, in sweet harmony, blended with hers
as she taught them the more scientific songs of
Europe. She would listen with unaffected interest to
their tales of sorrow, and weep with them. Often
she interposed in their behalf that their tasks might be
lightened, or that a play-day might be allowed them.
Thus she was as much beloved and admired in the
cabin of the poor negro as she was in her uncle's
parlor, where intelligence and refinement were assem-
bled. This same character she displayed through the
whole of her career. Josephine upon the plantation
and Josephine upon the throne Josephine surrounded
by the sable maidens of Martinique, and Josephine
moving in queenly splendor in the palaces of Versailles,
with all the courtiers of Europe revolving around her,
displayed the same traits of character, and by her
unaffected kindness won the hearts alike of the lowly
and of the exalted.

About this time an occurrence took place which
has attracted far more attention than it deserves.
Josephine was one day walking under the shade of
the trees of the plantation, when she saw a number
of negro children gathered around an aged and with-
ered negress, who had great reputation among the
slaves as a fortune-teller. Curiosity induced Josephine
to draw near the group to hear what the sorceress
had to say. The old sibyl, with the cunning which


is characteristic of her craft, as soon as she saw Jo-
sephine approach, whom she knew perfectly, assumed
an air of great agitation, and, seizing her hand vio-
lently, gazed with most earnest attention upon the
lines traced upon the palm. The little negresses were
perfectly awe-stricken by this oracular display. Jo-
sephine, however, was only amused, and smiling,

"So you discover something very extraordinary in
my destiny?"

"Yes!' replied the negress, with an air of great

"Is happiness or misfortune to be my lot?" Jo-
sephine inquired.

The negress again gazed upon her hand, and then
replied, "Misfortune;' but, after a moment's pause,
she added, "and happiness too."

"You must be careful, my good woman," Joseph-
ine rejoined, "not to commit yourself. Your pre-
dictions are not very intelligible."

The negress, raising her eyes with an expression
of deep mystery to heaven, rejoined, "I am not per-
mitted to render my revelations more clear."

In every human heart there is a vein of credulity.
The pretended prophetess had now succeeded in fairly
arousing the curiosity of Josephine, who eagerly in-
quired, "What do you read respecting me in futu-
rity ? Tell me exactly."

24 JOSEPHINE [1772

Again the negress, assuming an air of profound
solemnity, said, "You will not believe me if I reveal
to you your strange destiny."

"Yes, indeed, I assure you that I will," Josephine
thoughtlessly replied. "Come, good mother, do tell
me what I have to hope and what to fear."

"On your own head be it, then. Listen. You
will soon be married. That union will not be happy.
You will become a widow, and then you will be
Queen of France. Some happy years will be yours,
but afterward you will die in a hospital, amid civil

The old woman then hurried away. Josephine
talked a few moments with the young negroes upon
the folly of this pretended fortune-telling, and leaving
them, the affair passed from her mind. In subse-
quent years, when toiling through the vicissitudes of
her most eventful life, she recalled the singular coin-
cidence between her destiny and the prediction, and
seemed to consider that the negress, with prophetic
vision, had traced out her wonderful career.

But what is there so extraordinary in this narra-
tive? What maiden ever consulted a fortune-teller
without receiving the agreeable announcement that
she was to wed beauty, and wealth, and rank? It
was known universally, and it was a constant sub-
ject of plantation gossip, that the guardians of Jo-
sephine were contemplating a match for her with the


son of a neighboring planter. The negroes did not
think him half worthy of their adored and queenly
Josephine. They supposed, however, that the match
was settled. The artful woman was therefore com-
pelled to allow Josephine to marry at first the undis-
tinguished son of the planter, with whom she could
not be happy. She, however, very considerately lets
the unworthy husband in a short time die, and then
Josephine becomes a queen. This is the old story,
which has been repeated to half the maidens
in Christendom. It is not very surprising that in
this one case it should have happened to prove

But, unfortunately, our prophetess went a little
farther, and predicted that Josephine would die in a
hospital implying poverty and abandonment. This
part of the prediction proved to be utterly untrue.
Josephine, instead of dying in a hospital, died in the
beautiful palace of Malmaison. Instead of dying in
poverty, she was one of the richest ladies in Europe,
receiving an income of some six hundred thousand
dollars a year. The grounds around her palace were
embellished with all the attractions, and her apart-
ments with every luxury which opulence could pro-
vide. Instead of dying in friendlessness and neglect,
the Emperor Alexander of Russia stood at her bed-
side; the most illustrious kings and nobles of Europe
crowded her court and did her homage. And though

26 JOSEPHINE [1772

she was separated from her husband, she still retained
the title of Empress, and was the object of his most
sincere affection and esteem.

Thus this prediction, upon which so much stress
has been laid, seems to vanish in the air. It surely
is not a supernatural event that a young lady, who
was told by an aged negress that she would be a
queen, happened actually to become one.

We have alluded to a contemplated match be-
tween Josephine and the son of a neighboring planter.
An English family, who had lost property and rank
in the convulsions of those times, had sought a re-
treat in the island of Martinique, and were cultivating
an adjoining plantation. In this family there was a
very pleasant lad, a son, of nearly the same age with
Josephine. The plantations being near to each other,
they were often companions and playmates. A strong
attachment grew up between them. The parents of
William, and the uncle and aunt of Josephine, ap-
proved cordially of this attachment, and were desirous
that these youthful hearts should be united, as soon
as the parties should arrive at mature age. Joseph-
ine, in the ingenuous artlessness of her nature, dis-
guised not in the least her strong affection for Wil-
liam. And his attachment to her was deep and
enduring. The solitude of their lives peculiarly tended
to promote fervor of character.

Matters were in this state, when the father of


William received an intimation from England that, by
returning to his own country, he might, perhaps, re-
gain his lost estates. He immediately prepared to
leave the island with his family. The separation was
a severe blow to these youthful lovers. They wept,
and vowed eternal fidelity.

It is not surprising that Josephine should have
been in some degree superstitious. The peculiarity of
her life upon the plantation her constant converse
with the negroes, whose minds were imbued with all
the superstitious notions which they had brought from
Africa, united with those which they had found upon
the island, tended to foster those feelings. Rousseau,
the most popular and universally-read French writer
of that day, in his celebrated "Confessions," records
with perfect composure that he was one day sitting
in a grove, meditating whether his soul would prob-
ably be saved or lost. He felt that the question was
of the utmost importance. How could he escape from
the uncertainty! A supernatural voice seemed to sug-
gest an appeal to a singular kind of augury. "I
will," said he, "throw this stone at that tree. If I
hit the tree, it shall be a sign that my soul is to be
saved. If I miss it, it shall indicate that I am to be
lost." He selected a large tree, took the precaution of
getting near to it, and threw his stone plump against
the trunk. "After that," says the philosopher, "I
never again had a doubt respecting my salvation."

28 JOSEPHINE [1774

Josephine resorted to the same kind of augury to
ascertain if William, who had become a student in
the University of Oxford, still remained faithful to her.
She not unfrequently attempted to beguile a weary
hour in throwing pebbles at the trees, that she might
divine whether William were then thinking of her.
Months, however, passed away, and she received no
tidings from him. Though she had often written,
her letters remained unanswered. Her feelings were
the more deeply wounded, since there were other
friends upon the island with whom he kept up a cor-
respondence; but Josephine never received even a
message through them.

One day, as she was pensively rambling in a
grove, where she had often walked with her absent
lover, she found carved upon a tree the names of
William and Josephine. She knew well by whose
hand they had been cut, and, entirely overcome with
emotion, she sat down and wept bitterly. With the
point of a knife, and with a trembling hand, she in-
scribed in the bark these words, peculiarly character-
istic of her depth of feeling, and of the gentleness of
her spirit: "Unhappy William! thou hast forgotten

William, however, had not forgotten her. Again
and again he had written in terms of the most ardent
affection. But the friends of Josephine, meeting with
an opportunity for a match for her which they deemed


far more advantageous, had destroyed these communi-
cations, and also had prevented any of her letters
from reaching the hand of William. Thus each, while
cherishing the truest affection, deemed the other


Alexander de Beauharnais. His character. A new suitor. Motives for the
marriage. The announcement. Feelings of Josephine. Zeal of M.
Beauharnais. The engagement. Departure from Martinique. Parting
scenes. Josephine's arrival in France. Her interview with William.
Explanation of William. Distress of Josephine. Josephine retires to a
convent. She marries the Viscount Beauharnais. Fashionable life.
Josephine is introduced at court. Maria Antoinette and Josephine.
French philosophy. Birth of a daughter. Infidelity of Beauharnais.
Birth of a son. An arch deceiver. Josephine betrayed. Application
for a divorce. Josephine triumphant. Visit to Versailles. Interview
with Maria Antoinette. Kindness of the queen. Josephine embarks
for Martinique. Hours of despondency. Josephine arrives at Marti-
nique. Her kind reception.

JOSEPHINE was about fourteen years of age when
she was separated from William. A year passed
away, during which she received not a line from
her absent friend. About this time a gentleman from
France visited her uncle upon business of great im-
portance. Viscount Alexander de Beauharnais was a
fashionable and gallant young man, about thirty years
of age, possessing much conversational ease and grace
of manner, and accustomed to the most polished
society of the French metropolis. He held a commis-
sion in the army, and had already signalized himself
by several acts of bravery. His sympathies had been
strongly aroused by the struggle of the American


colonists with the mother country, and he had already
aided the colonists both with his sword and his

Several large and valuable estates in Martinique,
adjoining the plantation of M. Renaudin, had fallen by
inheritance to this young officer and his brother, the
Marquis of Beauharnais. He visited Martinique to
secure the proof of his title to these estates. M.
Renaudin held some of these plantations on lease. In
the transaction of this business, Beauharnais spent
much time at the mansion of M. Renaudin. He, of
course, saw much of the beautiful Josephine, and was
fascinated with her grace, and her mental and phys-
ical loveliness.

The uncle and aunt of Josephine were delighted
to perceive the interest which their niece had awak-
ened in the bosom of the interesting stranger. His
graceful figure, his accomplished person, his military
celebrity, his social rank, and his large fortune, all
conspired to dazzle their eyes, and to lead them to do
every thing in their power to promote a match appar-
ently so eligible. The ambition of M. Renaudin was
moved at the thought of conferring upon his niece,
the prospective heiress of his own fortune, an estate
so magnificent as the united inheritance. Josephine,
however, had not yet forgotten William, and, though
interested in her uncle's guest, for some time allowed
no emotion of love to flow out toward him.

32 JOSEPHINE [ I7 75

One morning Josephine was sitting in the library

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryJacob AbbottFamous characters of history .. (Volume 20) → online text (page 1 of 16)