Copyright
Laure Junot Abrantès.

Memoirs of Madame Junot (Duchesse D'Abrantès) (Volume 3) online

. (page 4 of 24)
Online LibraryLaure Junot AbrantèsMemoirs of Madame Junot (Duchesse D'Abrantès) (Volume 3) → online text (page 4 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


quently, indeed, have I seen reports given in by the old
Adjutant Laborde, which Junot has made him transcribe
in order to omit certain names, or some words which
might compromise the parties concerned in them, and
were of no importance to the safety of the First Consul.
On this subject I will cite an anecdote.

A lady of some importance in good society was involved
in the reports concerning some conspiracy under the
Consulate (I do not remember whether it was the infernal
machine or that of Chevalier), but the fact was that this
lady, perfectly innocent, had been induced by the giddi-
ness of a young fool to give him an asylum against the
political proscription he had incurred, while he represented
the cause of his danger to her as totally different from
the fact. The gendarmerie traced him, and took him
from under the wing of Madame de Montesson. The
lady no sooner discovered the real state of the case than
in great alarm she hastened to visit Junot. She was held
in much consideration by the First Consul: Ma-
dame Bonaparte was attached to her; she felt herself

and he composed impromptu the following couplets, which he sang in
conclusion :

" Against one, two hundred rise,

Assail and smite him till he dies;

Yet blood, say they, we spare to spill ;

And patriots we account them still 1

" Urged by martial ardour on,
In the wave their victim 's thrown,
Their fanatic joy to fill !
Yet these men are patriots still ! "

Little did he suppose himself prophesying, and yet with what strange
accuracy are the details of his horrible death here related in anticipation !

VOL. III. — 3



34 MEMOIRS OF THE DUCHESSE D'ABRANTfcS.

deserving of their good-will, and the bare idea of figuring
in an afiair which must come under the cognizance of the
tribunals distressed her exceedingly.

Junot immediately perceived that she had committed
no intentional error, and the report was altered; the
name of Madame de Montesson did not appear in it, —
there was no occasion that it should ; the young man was
arrested, which was the required point. Some time after-
wards the First Consul asked Junot : " In what house
was the young Lieutenant of the 12th arrested?" For
a moment Junot was embarrassed, but he remembered
that it had been stated in the report that he had been
taken when walking in the Champs-Elys^es, and he
answered accordingly. The First Consul answered Junot,
pulling him by the ear : —

" You have a bad memory, Junot ; he was arrested at
Madame de Montesson's house." He then added more
seriously : " You were right, my dear Junot, in listening
to Madame de Montesson's request ; I have a respect for
her, and I am glad you did not insert her name in the
report, but you should have mentioned it verbally to me,
and not have entirely overlooked the circumstance."

In this little trait the character of Napoleon is very
conspicuous. He would always know everything, and was
offended by the smallest concealment. Junot discovered
Fouchd to have been the channel by which the First
Consul became acquainted with this affair.

I have reported this little story to prove that Junot
suppressed whatever tended to scandal, if it had no
immediate reference to the Emperor's safety. Many
of these reports are to this day among his papers ; they
are purely military, but in these times of trouble were
the depositories of many name^ connected with affairs
into which the police were prying, but which, fortunately
for their proprietors, fell into the hands of a man of hon-



JUNOT'S AGENTS NOT SPIES. 35

our. With respect to the large sums which Junot re-
ceived for the secret police of the capital, and of which
he remitted an annuity of 3,000 francs to a reporter/ I
know nothing of them.

I suppose, however, that the First Consul, unwilling to
charge all the appointments of the Commandant of Paris
upon the military funds, gave Junot a pension upon the
extraordmary revenue raised by the Minister of Police,
and which was solely at his own disposal ; the daily
reports were drawn up at the office of the Military Staff
of Paris, or the Quai de Voltaire, and were brought to
Junot by the Chief of the Staff, the Adjutant-General
Doucet, under whose orders several district adjutants
exercised a close surveillance over the peace and good
order of Paris; these were Junot's agents and bulletin-
ists, but they were not police spies. I may add that
never did Junot, nor Marshal Mortier, who, in his quality
of General Commanding the First Military Division, was
his chief, in the performance of their duty compromise one
innocent person. But I can easily conceive that there
are men whose crooked policy, wishing always to remain
in shadow, would endeavour to the utmost to frustrate
the object of all these cares, and, failing to do so, would
spare no slander which might bring those cares into dis-
repute. Hence I apprehend the origin of the animosity
with which the Military Staff of Paris has been pursued.

1 The exact expression in the original is not altogether complimentary,
" ct un mauvais bulletiniste."



CHAPTER IV.

Count Louis von Cobentzel, who had just signed, at
Liiueville, the treaty of peace between Austria and
France, was the greatest lover of spectacles, fetes, and all
kinds of merry diversion, that I have ever met with in
my life. The Emperor, his master, had made a judicious
selection in appointing him envoy for signing a treaty of
peace. He interested himself in the programmes of all
the intended fetes ; enjoyed them by anticij^ation, and
gave his opinion on the preparations.

I frequently saw him, for, as he was passionately fond
of plays, and I had a box at all the theatres, he preferred
going privately with Junot and me to appearing in the
official box of the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Count Louis was middle-aged, very ugly, and is truly
reported to have resembled Mirabeau. He had the same
sallow face, and his eyes, which, however, bore no other
resemblance to those of Mirabeau, were equally small.
He had also the same enormous head of hair, which gave
so singular an effect to Mirabeau's countenance. Count
Louis was lively and sensible, but withal had plenty of
follies, — follies which he is said to have only adopted in
imitation of Prince Kaunitz. He had been for a long
time Austrian Ambassador at the Court of the great
Catherine, and retained a profound and enthusiastic
admiration for that Sovereign, who kept a theatre,
played herself, and carried the condescension so far as to
write comedies for the amusement of her Court. When



THE CZARINA CATHERINE. 37

Count von Cobentzel was once launched on this favourite
topic it was a vain hope to extract a word from him that
did not bear reference to the theatre at the Hermitage, in
which his frightful person would certainly not set off his
dramatic talents to the best advantage.

The First Consul related to us one evening that
M. de Cobentzel had had a temporary stage constructed
in the palace of the Austrian Ambassador at St. Peters-
burg, prhicipally with the object, as you may suppose,
of acting himself. One day the Ambassador was to
assume the character of the Comtesse d'Escarbagnas.
The Empress had promised to be present, and the Count-
Countess was dressed early to. be in readiness for appear-
ing on the stage the moment the Czarina had taken her
seat. She arrived, and the Ambassador was sought for,
but neither he nor the Countess could be found.

At length, after a tiresome search, he was discovered
in his cabinet, in male attire indeed, but with his hair
puffed, in high-heeled shoes, and so suffocated with pas-
sion that he could scarcely articulate the words, " Hang
that villain for me ! " pointing to a man who was praying
all the saints in heaven to defend him from the supposed
madman.

This was a special courier from Vienna arrived in
haste, with very important despatches, and specially
ordered to deliver them into the Ambassador's own
hands ; for Catherine II. made no scruple of violating the
seals, not only of her own subjects, but of foreigners, and
even Ambassadors, whose diplomatic character is sacred
amongst the most savage nations. M. de Beausset, when
Ambassador from France, made serious complaints of this
gross breach of international law. The courier was a
young man, recently attached to the Foreign Office, and
had never even seen the Count von Cobentzel. He
arrived at seven in the evening, just as the Count, having



38 MEMOIRS OF THE DUCHESSE D'ABRANTfeS.

finished his toilet as Comtesse d'Escarbagnas, was com-
placently contemplating the reflection in a large looking-
glass of a figure which has perhaps never since been
paralleled; smiling at his whimsical visage, adding
a patch, flirting his fan, enlarging his hoop, and repeating
the most striking passages of his part. At this moment
the courier from Vienna was announced. The Count
replied that he would see him the next morning, but at
present he was otherwise occupied; recommending that
he should repose himself for the night, and leave business
till the morning.

But the young man was a novice in diplomacy, and
scrupulously conscientious in discharging his commission.
His orders were to use all diligence and at whatever cost
to reach St. Petersburg before midnight on this very day.
He had arrived, and loudly and pertinaciously insisted on
seeing the Ambassador. One of the secretaries informed
M. de Cobentzel of the courier's orders. "Why, what
does the obstinate fellow want ? Is he possessed ? Well,
send him in ! "

The secretary, accustomed to the fooleries of his mas-
ter, without an instant's reflection on the necessity of
preparing a stranger for the interview, introduced him
into the cabinet, saying, "There is the Ambassador."
And the courier found himself in the presence of a
woman dressed in the fashion of his grandmother's days,
who advanced affectedly to meet him, and while putting
with one hand an extra patch on a round cheek, already
concealed behind a thick coat of rouge, stretched out the
other to receive the packet, saying : " Well, sir, let us see
these important despatches." The courier turned round
instead of answering, to request an explanation of the
strange spectacle that thus presented itself. But the
secretary had vanished, the door was shut, and he found
himself alone with the burlesque vision.



AN AMBASSADOR EXTRAORDINARY. 39

"I wished to speak to the Ambassador," cried the
young man, whose brain, somewhat heated by the fatigue
of several days' rapid travelling, was nearly overset upon
seeing a feminine figure seize the Mmisterial packet and
endeavour to snatch it from him, saying all the while,
" Here is the Ambassador ! I am the Ambassador ! "

The young Austrian was strong, and retained a firm
hold of the despatches confided to him ; but, beginning
to be frightened, he called for help, insisting on seeing
the Ambassador, and refusing to recognise him under
this disguise. In vain Count von Cobentzel ran after him
round the cabinet, explaining why on this particular oc-
casion he was dressed in his fine brocaded gown and
velvet petticoat. Greek would have been more intelli-
gible to his companion. At length the Count exclaimed
in despair :

"Well, blockhead, you shall see him, you shall see
your Ambassador," and, entering his bedchamber, he
threw off his gown and petticoat, and returned to the
obstinate courier in white silk stockings, high-heeled
shoes, black breeches, and puffed hair, — another edition
of my dragoon's dress and white satin shoes.

Accordingly, the young courier, more than ever per-
suaded of his insanity, persisted in refusing to surrender
the Imperial packet, until the Ambassador was growing
seriously angry, when, to complete his fury, the Empress's
arrival was announced to him. The secretary of the em-
bassy explained this strange scene to the diplomatic
messenger, and persuaded him at length to give his
despatches into the hands of Count Louis von Cobentzel.
The Count read them, and found them indeed a singular
prologue to the comedy he was about to perform.

They announced to him that Beaulieu and Wurmser
had no better fortune in Italy than the Archduke Charles
upon the Rhine. That General Bonaparte, then twenty-



40 MEMOIRS OF THE DUCHESSE D'ABRANTfeS.

six years of age, was taking possession of Italy at the
head of 36,000 Frenchmen, and was beating General
Beaulieu, notwithstanding (and very probably on account
of) his seventy-six years, though he had 50,000 men
under his orders. They also warned the Ambassador
that it was of the utmost importance to induce the
Czarina to give effect to her promises, so long since made,
of placing an armament by sea and land at the disposal
of the Allies, and pressed him not to lose a moment in
communicating this intelligence to the Empress, and in
entering upon the question of the armament.

This order admitted of no delay in its execution;
Count von Cobentzel felt it, and I may say painfully.
England was at this moment about to sign a treaty of
subsidy and alliance with Russia ; Austria was deeply
interested in avoiding the smallest offence to England,
and the Count felt that it would be an agreeable compli-
ment to the British Ambassador to consult him on this
important occasion. Lord Whitworth was sent for and
came. To form a just conception of this interview the
two personages should be known.

Lord Whitworth (who was educated at Tonbridge
School) was tall, perfectly well made, and handsome,
with a countenance and manner of the highest distinction.
I have never known a man better calculated to represent
a nation, great, prosperous, and haughty ; always magnifi-
cently dressed, even at the Consular Court, it may be
imagined how particular he would be at that of Catherine
II., where Eastern luxury prevailed to a magical extent.
Imagine, then, the contrast he would present to the
countenance, figure, and manners of M. de Cobentzel,
always a little burlesque, and decorated on this occasion,
for the amusement of the persons who witnessed the
conversation, in the absurd accoutrements of the Comtesse
d'Escarbagnas.



LORD WHITWORTH AND COUNT VON COBENTZEL. 41

The English peer received the Count's communication
with the cold politeness habitual to him, and, recommend-
in» him not to keep the Empress waiting, went to apolo-
gize for a delay which admitted of no apology but the
truth. I believe, though I am not quite sure of it, that
the Empress, in her impatience to be informed more at
length of the details of events of which the English
Ambassador could only give the outline, required the
immediate presence of the Count von Cobentzel, who
came in his gown, hoop, and puffs to the audience.

Count Louis von Cobentzel, though really agreeable,
was much less so than he would have been had he per-
mitted his own good sense and information to direct his
manners, instead of servilely copying those of Prince
Kaunitz and Prince Potemkin, to both of whom he af-
fected to bear a personal resemblance, and whose frivolity
and morality, both of the school of Louis XV., he as-
sumed together with an exclusive predilection for the
great world. This world was the Court, beyond the
luminous circle of which all to him was chaos.

His good sense made him understand that a generation
had sprung up in which were to be found names bearing
a lustre of renown fully equal to that of heraldic blazonry.
He knew this, but to his aristocratic ears the sound of
the word " citizen," applied to the Head of the Govern-
ment, produced discord in all social harmony; and he
could not reconcile himself to the necessity of addressing
Madame Lannes without the title of Princess. He had
talent, however, and was, as I have said, agreeable ; he
related multitudes of anecdotes about the Court of Kussia,
all very amusing; that of the Comtesse d'Escarbagnas
did not come from himself, but was told me at a later
period by the Count's cousin, Count Philip von Cobent-
zel, who very soon succeeded him as Ambassador at Paris,
and remained here till our rupture with the Austrians in
1804.



42 MEMOIRS OF THE DUCHESSE D'ABRANTfeS.

In 1801 also a treaty of peace was signed at Florence
between France and Naples. It is worthy of remark that
in this treaty the Isle of Elba was made over to France,
although not as an object of much consideration, for it
was always regarded as a barren and savage rock ;
thirteen years later it became the only asylum of the
monarch to whom it belonged.



CHAPTER V.

Louis von Cobentzel was fond of joking, especially
when he was, as he called it, incognito ; that is to say,
when he left two dozen ribands and medals in his car-
riage, and retained but two or three ; which, with his
black coat, almost French, his silk stockings, diamond
shoe-buckles and full-dressed head, made him a personage
not very likely to diminish the merriment of such of the
frequenters of the Montansier and the Vaudeville as
should chance to meet him in the corridors. Our box at
the Vaudeville having a private entrance and staircase
from the Rue de Chartres, made it particularly agreeable
to the Ambassador, and his frequent presence there was
an additional attraction and amusement to us.

In the seasons of 1800, 1801, and 1802, the Vaude-
villes resumed the gaiety which the stern events of the
preceding years had greatly diminished ; song was re-
sumed, and farce did not seek its subjects in Plutarch,
Livy, or the State Trials. Pero and his friends, Scar-
ron's marriage, and a thousand other such subjects, were
more suitable to this temple of gaiety than ambitious
names, the very sound of which is sufficient to chase
away mirth. At this moment the companies of the
Vaudeville and the Thd§,tre de Montansier were particu-
larly well chosen.

The Comedie Frangaise was also in its glory. Talma,
Lafont, St. Prix, Monvel — what an admirable constella-



44 MEMOIRS OF THE DUCHESSE D'ABRANTES.

tion of talent! Then Mademoiselle Eaucourt, Madame
Vestris, Monsieur Fleury, Mademoiselle Georges, Made-
moiselle Duchesnois, Mademoiselle Volnais, and Made-
moiselle Bourgoin ; the recent debuts of the four last still
divided the society of Paris into rival factions ; but greater
than all these was Mademoiselle Mars, already the queen
of comedy.

Fleury was one of the performers at this theatre who
pleased me best ; I never heard him assume any character
without giving it full effect, by his excellent judgment
and good sense. His manners were those of a perfect gen-
tleman, fully imbued with the ton of good company,
with none of the affectation of the present day.

I must especially speak of the triumph of his art in the
character of Frederick in The Two Pages. Many persons
can yet remember the astonishment of Prince Henry
when he saw his brother upon the stage, speaking, walk-
ing, blowing his nose — in all points Frederick himself.
And that mask, as it may be called, with which, at his
pleasure, he assumed another face, was wholly furnished
by a play of the muscles altogether his own, and for
which he was in no degree indebted to any theatrical con-
trivance. This was proved to me in a singular manner
by the Comte de Perigord.

This nobleman was thrown into prison during the Eeign
of Terror, when not ostracism only, but imprisonment and
death were frequently the reward of genius, as well as
of aristocracy of whatever kind; even success in the
lowest grades of life was not exempt. For example, the
Due d' Orleans had for a companion in death a black-
smith, who had been denounced and condemned because
the president of his Section was also a blacksmith and
had hung fewer bells than his neighbour. ^



"O



1 Referring to the bells then used on the peaked collars of the
horses !



PAUL I. AND GENERAL SPRENGPORTEN. 45

The entire company of the Comcdie Frangaise were for

i similar reasons under lock and key, and M. de Perigord

i was painfully surprised at meeting in prison so many

persons who had contributed to his enjoyment in the days

'. of happiness. But a Frenchman, it is well known, can

be gay even in the presence of death, and the friend and

companion of Marshal Saxe was not very likely to be

otherwise. Every time, therefore, that the old Count

met Fleury in the gloomy galleries of their prison he

stopped, made a low obeisance, and said, " How does your

Majesty do ? "

" At the instant, " continued M. de Perigord, " the
King of Prussia stood before me, such as we have seen
him in The Two Pages, such as he was at Potsdam
two years before his death: his back bowed, but his
carriage imposing nevertheless, the same air, and the
same play of countenance. And this total change ef-
fected in a few seconds, in a damp dungeon, by the
light of a grated casement, and when a turnkey might
interrupt this dramatic entertainment by marching us
before the revolutionary tribunal, that is to say, to
death ! "

There is great talent, no dovibt, in this active and
ever ready play of the features and alteration of the
whole person; but I think the mental firmness of
the man, which will permit him to exercise these
faculties in the midst of the most imminent danger,
is still more worthy of admiration than the powers of
the actor.

The Austrian Embassy was not the only one which
at this period enlivened Paris ; the Emperor of Eussia,
if he had not an actual representative at the Consular
Court, had at least a medium of communication with
the First Consul in the person of General Sprengporten.
Charmed with the generosity with which Napoleon had



46



MEMOIRS OF THE DUCHESSE D'ABliANTES.



treated Eussia, in sending home without ransom or ex-
change, well clothed and provided for, the eight thousand
prisoners taken at Alkmaar on the surrender of the Anglo-
Eussian Army, Paul had charged General Sprengportei^
with a letter of thanks to the First Consul, but without!
giving him any diplomatic status.^

This General gave charming fetes ; and though himself I
of a disposition habitually melancholy, arising from his
exile from his native country, to which his engagements
in the Eussian service were a bar to his ever returning,
he so frankly testified his desire to see his guests well!
amused that it was impossible to avoid being so. He
was, moreover, a bachelor ; and this circumstance contrib-
uted to the freedom of intercourse and mirth which hisi
house offered.

It was here that I first saw Madame Eecamier; I
had heard her much spoken of, and I acknowledge
that my mother had prejudiced my judgment con-
cerning her, in persuading herself, and consequently
me, that Madame Eecamier 's reputation was exagge-
rated, and that she must necessarily be a person of
overbearing pretensions.

Great, then, was my surprise when I beheld that
lovely face, so blooming, so childish, and yet so beauti-
ful ! and still greater when I observed the timid uneasi-
ness she experienced in her triumph. No doubt it was
pleasing to be proclaimed the unrivalled beauty of the
fete ; but it was evident that she was pained by the envi-
ous glances of the females, who could not wholly sup-

1 General Sprengporten was not a Eussian, but born in Finland of
an ancient family. At the period of the famous revolution in Sweden in
1776, he was much attached to the cause of Gustavus III., but he arrived
at Stockholm too late to assist the young King ; the chapeaux had beaten
the bonnets, and Gustavus was the conqueror. Sprengporten afterwards
passed into the Russian service, and although not formally Ambassador at
Paris he was treated and listened to as such.



HOME OF MADAME KECAMIER. 47

press the ill-will with which they witnessed her monop-
oly of adoration.

Madame Eecamier truly deserved that homage; she
was really a pretty woman ! The expression of her
eyes was mild and intellectual, her smile was gra-
cious, her language interesting ; her whole person pos-
sessed the charm of native grace, goodness, and
intelligence. She reminded me at first sight of the
Madonnas of the Italian painters ; but the resemblance
consisted wholly in expression — not in regularity of
features.

It was the mind which animated her eyes and blushed
in her cheek ; the smile which so frequently played upon
her rosy lips expressed the unaffected joy of a young
heart, happy in pleasing and in being beloved. When
Madame Eecamier was in England she excited the same
enthusiasm in the multitudes who thronged to see her,
because there is in grace and goodness a charm which
exercises its power, without appeal, over the people of
every country.

At the time when I first met Madame Eecamier she
was in the prime of her beauty and of her brilliant exist-



Online LibraryLaure Junot AbrantèsMemoirs of Madame Junot (Duchesse D'Abrantès) (Volume 3) → online text (page 4 of 24)