Laure Junot Abrantès.

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

. (page 7 of 24)
Online LibraryLaure Junot AbrantèsMemoirs of Madame Junot (Duchesse D'Abrantès) (Volume 3) → online text (page 7 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

moiselle Clairon received material assistance from Lucien,
but it was not till the Ministry of Chaptal that she was
effectually relieved from want. In a collection of auto-
graphs of celebrated persons, two curious papers on this
subject are preserved ; the one, in some very energetic
words of Mailemoiselle Clairon, requests bread from the
Minister of the Interior ; the other has the two equally
expressive lines which follow :

" Good for two thousand francs, paijaUe at sight to
Mademoiselle Clairon. — CHAriAL."

I saw her occasionally. She was fond of me, but Talma
and Mademoiselle Mars caused perpetual disputes between
us. I was angry, because, as she did not see their per-
formance, she could not appreciate all the talent of these
two beings endowed with dramatic genius. Talma might
be criticised, but Mademoiselle Mars was even then a
diamond of the first water, without spot or defect. At
length I was one day much surprised to find my old friend
quite softened towards my favourite actress, and never
could attribute the sudden change to any other cause than
her havinor seen Mademoiselle Mars in one of her char-
acters ; she did not admit it, but I am almost certain of
the fact. I had spoken so much of her that it was scarcely
possible she should not wish to see her to judge for

In The Pupil, Mademoiselle Mars, in the simple action
of letting fall a nosegay, unveils at once the secret of a
young heart. This expressive touch is one which could
not be described, and yet Mademoiselle Clairon spoke to
me as if she had seen it ; nor do I think that she would
have imbibed from' any other source opinions sufficiently
strong to overcome her prejudices, though I know that an
old M. Antoine, a friend of Lekain, gave her frequent
accounts of all that passed at the ComSdie Frangaise. I


have, however, no doubt that she had been carried thither
herself in a sedan-chair, and had seen and admired our
charming actress. I have often seen Mademoiselle Mars
off the stage since that time, but I do not remember to
liave ever mentioned the circumstance to her — she could
not but have been flattered by it.

It is well known that Mademoiselle Clairon was the
cause, the innocent cause it is said, of the suicide of a
man, who killed himself by a pistol-shot. Ever after-
wards she heard that shot every night at one o'clock,
whether asleep or at a ball, on a journey or at an inn —
it was the same thing ; it penetrated the music of a fete,
it awoke her from repose, and it resounded equally in the
court of a postliouse or of a palace. I cannot answer for
it that there was no exaggeration in all this ; but she who
usually spoke in an exaggerated strain here laid aside all
that could give any suspicion of seeking after effect.
Albert, who believed in magnetism, wished after hearing
Mademoiselle Clairon's relation to demonstrate to me
that the thing was possible.^ I laughed then. . . . Alas !
since that time I have myself had a terrible lesson to
cure me of incredulity.

^ A part only of her Memoirs, written by herself, has been printed.


Those who were much about the person of Napoleon
can never forget the winning expression of his features
when he smiled ; his eyes then became truly eloquent,
their expression softened ; and if the sentiment which
produced the smile had anything truly noble in it, its
effect was infinitely heightened ; it was then that his
countenance became almost more than that of man.

Well do I remember one of those fleeting but sublime
moments when the combat of Algeciras roused the emotion
of his soul ; his countenance, as he recounted the circum-
stances of this action, and dwelt complacently upon his
words, became truly interesting. The valour of Eear-
Admiral Linois excited the sympathetic love of glory in
Napoleon, and more especially when it caused the triumph
of our flag over that of the Three Leopards.

Admiral Linois, with two ships of the line — one of
eighty guns, one of sixty-four — and a frigate of forty,
fought Sir James Saumarez, who commanded two ships
of eighty guns, four of sixty-four, two frigates of thirty-
six guns, and a lugger, in the Bay of Gibraltar, before
Algeciras, and took one of his sixty-fours, called the
Hannibal} All the glory of this action belonged to

1 [The errors in the narrative above are so numerous that it is impossible
to correct them seriatim. For instance, this sentence should read in
reality — " Admiral Linois, with THREE ships of the line, TWO of eighty
guns, one of SEVEN TY-four, a frigate of THIRTY-EIGHT guns', and
SEVERAL SPANISH GUNBOATS.fought Sir James Saumarez, who


Admiral Linois, for he received very slight assistance
from the Spanish land batteries. This success was fol-
lowed by another equally brilliant ; Captain Troude, who
commanded the Formidahle, one of Admiral Linois's
two eighty-gun ships, was separated from the squadron a
few days afterwards, and fell in with Sir James Saumarez
and his three sixty-fours, to which he gave battle, and
compelled Sir James to abandon one of them.

These facts Napoleon related ; but it is impossible to
describe the expression of his countenance while he
invoked blessings on Eear-Admiral Linois for having
attached a gleam of glory to our fleet. Naval victories
were rare at that time, and the First Consul took the
most lively interest in this ; I can affirm it, because I saw
it. I saw it when he was only Chief of the Government,
not yet even Consul for life — much less Emperor ! But
he was General Bonaparte, the conqueror of Areola, of
Lodi, of Marengo, the true patriot. He loved his country
then, and he always loved it ! But at that time,
happy in being the first of men, he wished for no other

The Eear-Admiral received the only recompense which
then made the heart of a Frenchman beat — a sword of
honour. But his grateful country multiplied that recom-

commanded ONE ship of eightij guns, FIVE of SEVENTY-four, and a
lugger, etc." No English frigates were present on this occasion. The
Hannibal, an English seventy-ioui, was captured through grounding under
the guns of the Spanish batteries.

Sir James Saumarez's force was undeniably repulsed on this occasion
(July 6, 1801), but his ill success was more than retrieved a few days later
in the open ocean iu an engagement with the same ships, reinforced by
the Hannibal (which had been got afloat by great exertions) and several
line of battle-shij)s from Cadiz, three of the latter being three-deckers.
Vide .Tames's Xaval Histortj (crown 8vo. edition), vol. iii., pp. 96-118,
for further details.

The gallantry of Captain Troude is probably based upon the partially
mythical account which appeared in Victoires et Comjuetes (tome xiv.
p. 168). ]


pense a thousandfold in the praises she still bestows on
him who gained a triumph for our flag.

Since the Treaty of Luneville, Napoleon had resumed
in all their activity his views of an invasion of England.
He had laid them aside to give his whole attention to
more important affairs; but since the pacification of
nearly the whole continent had become certain, and Eng-
land appeared to be the sole impediment to a universal
peace, the First Consul openly stated that he would stake
everything to compel her to treat with the French Republic.
All who had an opportunity of closely studying the char-
acter of Napoleon knew that the predominating desire of
his mind was the humiliation of England, It was his
constant object, and during the fourteen years of his
power, when 1 was always able to observe his actions and
their motives, I knew his determination to be firmly fixed
upon giving to France the glory of conquering a rival
who never engaged upon equal terms ; and all his meas-
ures had reference to the same end.

Boulogne was selected in the year 1801 as the chief
station of the enterprise against England. The greatest
activity suddenly prevailed in all the ports of the Chan-
nel ; camps were formed on the coast, divisions of light
vessels were organized, and multitudes were built. The
flotilla, as it was called, created apparently with the
greatest exertion, and all the apparatus of preparation,
spread, as was intended, alarm on the opposite shore.
The Boulogne flotilla was composed of extremely light
boats, so small that at Paris, where everything forms
the subject of a jest, they were called walnut-shells.

Brunet, who at this time was a truly comic actor, per-
forming in some piece which I do not remember, was
eating walnuts, the shells of which, after a little prepar-
ation, he launched upon some water in a tub by his side.
" What are you doing ? " said his fellow-actor. "Making


penichcs" replied Brunet. [This was the name by which
the flat-bottomed boats of the flotilla were known at
Paris.] But poor Brunet had to atone by twenty-four
hours' imprisonment for his unseasonable joke on the
Government ; and the day after his release the same
piece was performed. When Brunet should have made
the interdicted reply he was silent. The other actor
repeated the inquiry as to what he was doing. Still
Brunet made no answer, and the other with an air
of impatience proceeded : " Perhaps you do not know
what you are about?" "Oh yes!" said Brunet, "I
know very well what I am about, but I know better
than to tell." The laugh was general, and so was the
applause ; and, in truth, nothing could be more droll
than the manner in which this was uttered ; Brunet's
countenance was of itself sufficient to provoke universal

A very curious incident occurred to me about this
time, which is connected with other circumstances that
give a striking colour to the character of the period.
This was the immense number of libellous pamphlets
current in the second year of the Consulate, directed
especially against the First Consul and his family.
Bonaparte at last became violently provoked with Fouchd
upon the subject ; and his displeasure burst out in several
curious scenes, the more annoying to the Minister be-
cause they did not occur privately between himself and
the First Consul, but before fifteen or twenty persons ;
I was myself present at two of them, one at Malmaison
and the other at the Tuileries.

These pamphlets Bonaparte greatly suspected to pro-
ceed from the foreigners in Paris, and even from the
Diplomatic Corps, that of Prussia especially, for the ob-
sequious bows and language of the Marquis de Luc-
chesini, whose character was calculated to displease the

VOL. III. — 6


head of the Government, were very much at variance
with the opinions he used to inculcate.

The Eevolution with him was inseparable from the
horrors of 1793 ; he would admit none of the benefits
which these misfortunes had procured for us, and held
liberal principles of all kinds in the most supreme con-
tempt. He had much sense and wit, and could be agree-
able when he pleased, notwithstanding a very ugly face.
I never liked, however, his measured phrases, his cold
politeness, and his eternal ironical smile ; and I always
thought his excess of cunning anything but sagacious.

We met him one day at dinner at the house of Madame
Divoff, a Eussian lady, established at Paris, and wliolly
French in her feelings. He was in one of those moods
of frankness which, unless intended to serve a particular
purpose, are not, I think, quite advisable in a diplomatist.
Junot, who was always open and unsuspecting m his
conversation, entered into much disputation with him
upon some very singular questions ; the Concordat, for
example, in which, strangely enough, M. de Lucchesini
defended the First Consul's proceedings against the ob-
jections of Junot; and the nomination of the King of
Etruria, of which also the Ambassador approved, and
which the republican principles of Junot looked upon as
the first blow to our liberties.

Though very moderate in his language, M. de Luc-
chesini certainly in this debate exceeded the limits of his
instructions; and Junot said much which would have
been more suitably confined to his own closet than ut-
tered at the table of a stranger amongst a mixed com-
pany. It was, however, a singular spectacle to see the
dispute between, these two parties so oddly supported :
the one the adorer of Bonaparte, blaming his wish to
reign ; the other his enemy, rejoicing to see him take up
sceptres and crowns as playthings, perhaps already fore-


seeing the embarrassments they would occasion, and
hoping they might ultimately prove the rock on which
his power would be wrecked.

The First Consul heard the particulars of this conver-
sation the following day ; but it was not until some
months after that Junot learned that his General had
been dissatisfied with the dinner and the discussion ;
Napoleon did not like to be blamed by a friend, any more
than by other people, and this dinner was not without

These pamphlets which inundated us with their venom
were supposed to be chiefly concocted by persons at-
tached to the Northern Embassies, and Madame de
Lucchesini was even said to be active in superintending
them. She was not present at the dinner I have spoken
of above, or her husband would have received a hint to
be more prudent, for she had quite sense enough to
understand that his ambassadorial functions were not in
keeping with such unreserved discourse. She was, how-
ever, very ridiculous, affecting at forty-five the airs of a
coy maiden of sixteen ; speaking like a child, and pro-
fessing incapacity to pronounce the letter r, unless, in-
deed, when she forgot herself.

I think myself that the First Consul was rather unjust
in laying the dissemination of these pamphlets so much
to the account of the recognized representatives of the
Northern Courts. The two Counts von Cobentzel were
incapable of such treachery, and if M. de Lucchesini and
M. Markoff could have sanctioned it, it must have been
unknown to their Governments. The Emperor Alexan-
der, whose young heart beat with the chivalrous honour
peculiar to the morning of life, did not, it is true, love
Napoleon in 1802, but he already began to feel, notwith-
standing the storm which rose soon after, a portion of
that admiration on which the friendship of the Niemen


was founded, and the soul which admires greatness is
incapable of a base action,

I am disposed to believe that those scandalous libels
and personal invectives were the productions of many-
unaccredited agents, who came amongst us for the double
purpose of sowing discord and seeking pleasure. The
First Consul was never able to unravel the whole mys-
tery of this iniquitous manoeuvre. Two hundred speci-
mens of these atrocious writings were seized in the
boudoir of a young and pretty woman ; in a perfumed
and ornamented retreat, which should have harboured
only romances, flowers, and billets-doux. The First Con-
sul laughed when this fact was reported to him, but it
was with a laugh of bitterness.

In relating the occurrence which connected me with
these detestable pamphlets, I must observe that comfort
had not then reached its present pitch amongst us, es-
pecially in the interior arrangement of our houses. A
private bathroom was a luxury which appertained to very
few ; but the deficiency in this respect was in a great
degree remedied by the convenience offered to the public
by the baths of Tivoli, of Albert, and of Vigier, which
were frequented by ladies of distinction. I was in the
habit of using Albert's; and was one day in the bath
when the young woman who usually attended me gave
to my maid a large packet directed to Madame Junot the
Younger. It was brought, she said, by a respectable
man dressed in black and advanced in years, but of
whom I knew no more by her description than of a
Chinese mandarin.

On opening it a multitude of little sheets of note-
paper flew about, which on inspection proved to be
covered over the four sides with very small and fine
writing in a perfectly legible hand — the whole of them
copies of three different pamphlets, and a few of one


number of a Royalist journal, which, Fouche's active
police having suppressed it in print, was now dissemi-
nated in written copies to the amount of several hundred.
One of the pamphlets was particularly scandalous, and
was entitled A Fortnight of the Great Alcander. It ap-
peared every fortnight, professing to give a journal of
the First Consul's proceedings, and was filled with such
stupid absurdities that it was a subject for neither
laughter nor anger, but very fit to excite disgust. The
First Consul was preposterously accused of lavishing
extravagant sums on his mistresses ; and poor Bellilotte
was attacked with a rancour which she certainly did not

The first time Napoleon heard of this scandalous
journal he paid little attention to it, except to inquire
what was meant by the Great Alcander. When he was
informed that it was Louis XIV. he became seriously
angry. " To Louis XIV. ! " he exclaimed. " Ah ! those
people know very little of me to compare me to him — to
Louis XIV.!" Then, taking up the libel again, he con-
tinued reading, occasionally striking the floor with his
foot, and exclaiming, " Louis XIV. ! " He would have
an explanation of how and when the Great King, who
was not great, obtained the title of the Great Alcander.
He had never read the works of Bussy de Eabutin ; he
asked for them, looked them through in one night, and
they offended him. " Your Comte de Bussy-Eabutin,"
said he to Junot the next morning at breakfast, " was
a bad man." The speciality of the pronoun referred to
the circumstance of Junot's having been born in the
village of which Bussy-Rabutin had been Sieur, and
where his mansion stood in very good condition in the
year 1802.1

1 In a tower attached to this mansion there was a collection of ill-
painted portraits, but curious on account of the persons they represented.


But to return to my packet ; I examined all these in-
numerable little sheets to find some note or notice by
which I might imagine to whom I was indebted for so
singular a present, but in vain ; they were but endless
reduplications of the same three pamphlets and the
Boyalist Journal. One only clue could I gather, and
that so very slight that I dared not affix much import-
ance to it, or even speak of it ; it was a very peculiar

Before I left the bath I closely questioned the girl
who had taken in the packet, but with no effect ; she
evidently knew nothing of the person who delivered it ;
and I was obliged to return, wondering who could be so
absurd as to place in the hands of a young woman so
giddy as I was a collection of papers which might com-
promise so many people.

Who could have so strange an idea of my situation as
to choose me, the wife of General Junot, the most devoted
of the First Consul's friends, to be the depositary of
libels against him, and against his sisters, one of whom
was my particular and beloved friend ! For a moment
I thought of going to my mother for advice, but my
good angel made me prefer applying to Junot, which I
did without loss of time.

I found him on the point of setting out for the
Tuileries to receive the order of the day, as he regularly
did at twelve o'clock, whenever the First Consul was at

They were executed by Bussy-Rabutin during the periods of his various
exiles, and were likenesses of most of the ladies of the Court of
Louis XIV. In each picture was an emblem of the character of the
woman, intended to express his own opinion of them. Madame de la
Valliere had a violet; Madame de Montespan was represented as one
of the seven capital sins. Madame de Se'vigne, cousin of Rabutin, and
whom he never forgave because she would not yield to his wishes, was
placed in a scale; in the other was a chubby-cheeked zephyr, blowing
with all his strength against her ; beneath these scales was written,
" Lighter than air."


Paris. I related my adventure to him, and lie seemed
surprised like myself ; but he had much more experience
of the world than I had, and immediately imbibed sus-
picions which directed his researches, and led him to the
belief, afterwards confirmed, that this singular expedient
was adopted to injure him.

" But why," said I, " did they take this packet to the
baths ? you see it must be a mistake." " That is precisely
the circumstance which convinces me that there is no
mistake in the case. The man, the gentleman as you call
him, who delivered this packet, had no inclination to
meet a face which would not have been so forgetful as
the servant of the baths. There he has left no trace ;
here it would have been quite another thing ; he might
have fallen in with me at the door ; for the same reason
he did not go to your mother's house."

" Then it is really true that these venomous papers
were intended for me," said I, weeping. " But why was
I chosen ? I could but do two things with them : either
throw them into the fire or distribute them. The writers
could hardly be so absurd as to intend the one or expect
the other. All this puzzles me. The First Consul pre-
tends that my drawing-room and my mother's are full
of his enemies ; a fine disturbance it would create if he
should learn that I have here a whole edition of libels
against him. I can hear him now ! He would say
directly that the authors knew very well whom they
were applying to ; or else, ' They certainly came from
your mother.'"

Alas ! my poor mother was then very ill, and was
thinking upon very different and much higher subjects.
Junot, however, did not hear me lightly ; he was struck
by the words, " They came from your mother." He em-
braced me, took up all the papers in the envelope and
set out for the Tuileries. As soon as the order of the


day was given he requested an audience of the First
Consul, and, presenting the papers, related their history
■with perfect simplicity. As I had foreseen, Napoleon's
first words were an accusation against my mother and

" It is impossible," said he to Junot, " that these papers
should have been sent to your wife without the knowl-
edge that they would be well received — if only for the
sake of amusing her mother." Junot made no answer;
he knew the First Consul's prejudice, or rather mistake,
respecting my mother, and he wished to convince him
that neither she nor I could be in any way interested in
the disagreeable affair ; but he could not without proofs.
He hoped to obtain some clue to the affair by means
of one Fouillon, who was known to him as the editor
of these pamphlets ; he also had cognizance of several
other persons who were concerned in this base proceed-
ing ; and he set to work in earnest to find out the
motive which led them to choose for their agent a young
woman much more disposed to laugh and dance than
to read newspapers, still less libels.

Junot had good sense, a rapid and acute judgment ; his
coup d'ceil was prompt, and his reasoning almost always
right, notwithstanding his hastiness and vehemence. The
maid of the bath was sent for, but her renewed examina-
tion threw no light on the subject ; she knew only that
the packet was directed to me, and, further, that the old
gentleman had desired her to deliver it to Madame

" Perhaps my sister-in-law," said I. Junot shrugged
his shoulders ; in fact, that could not be ; but the choice
they had made of- me for a political agent appeared so
eccentric that I imagined everything rather than the
possibility that I was upon the scene in my own indi-
vidual capacity. Junot, seeing me affected to melan-


choly, if not indisposition, resolved to consult my mother
that she might scold me. But what was his astonish-
ment when she immediately said, " I have received just
such another packet, my dear son."

" Let me see it, then," cried Junot ; " let me compare
the envelope with ours." " The packet ! " answered my
mother. "Do you really believe, then, that I should
keep such low trash, conceptions fit only for the perusal
of chambermaids ? Truly not I ! " " Then what have
you done with them ? " " Burned them all. When M.
de Bois-Cressy, after unsealing the packet, had read some
of the horrors it contained, I did not choose that my
table should any longer be stained with such vile produc-

Online LibraryLaure Junot AbrantèsMemoirs of Madame Junot (Duchesse D'Abrantès) (Volume 3) → online text (page 7 of 24)