Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne.

Memoirs of Napoleon — Volume 04 online

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France was ever present in his thoughts. As Alexander at Arbela pleased
himself less in having conquered Darius than in having gained the
suffrage of the Athenians, so Bonaparte at Marengo was haunted by the
idea of what would be said in France. Before he fought a battle
Bonaparte thought little about what he should do in case of success, but
a great deal about what he should do in case of a reverse of fortune.
I mention this as a fact of which I have often been a witness, and leave
to his brothers in arms to decide whether his calculations were always
correct. He had it in his power to do much, for he risked everything and
spared nothing. His inordinate ambition goaded him on to the attainment
of power; and power when possessed served only to augment his ambition.
Bonaparte was thoroughly convinced of the truth that trifles often decide
the greatest events; therefore he watched rather than provoked
opportunity, and when the right moment approached, he suddenly took
advantage of it. It is curious that, amidst all the anxieties of war and
government, the fear of the Bourbons incessantly pursued him, and the
Faubourg St. Germain was to him always a threatening phantom.

He did not esteem mankind, whom, indeed, he despised more and more in
proportion as he became acquainted with them. In him this unfavourable
opinion of human nature was justified by many glaring examples of
baseness, and he used frequently to repeat, "There are two levers for
moving men, - interest and fear." What respect, indeed, could Bonaparte
entertain for the applicants to the treasury of the opera? Into this
treasury the gaming-houses paid a considerable sum, part of which went to
cover the expenses of that magnificent theatre. The rest was distributed
in secret gratuities, which were paid on orders signed by Duroc.
Individuals of very different characters were often seen catching the
little door in the Rue Rameau. The lady who was for a while the
favourite of the General-in-Chief in Egypt, and whose husband was
maliciously sent back by the English, was a frequent visitor to the
treasury. On an occasion would be seen assembled there a distinguished
scholar and an actor, a celebrated orator and a musician; on another, the
treasurer would have payments to make to a priest, a courtesan, and a

One of Bonaparte's greatest misfortunes was, that he neither believed in
friendship not felt the necessity of loving. How often have I heard him
say, "Friendship is but a name; I love nobody. I do not even love my
brothers. Perhaps Joseph, a little, from habit and because he is my
elder; and Duroc, I love him too. But why? Because his character
pleases me. He is stern and resolute; and I really believe the fellow
never shed a tear. For my part, I know very well that I have no true
friends. As long as I continue what I am, I may have as many pretended
friends as I please. Leave sensibility to women; it is their business.
But men should be firm in heart and in purpose, or they should have
nothing to do with war or government."

In his social relations Bonaparte's temper was bad; but his fits of ill-
humour passed away like a cloud, and spent themselves in words. His
violent language and bitter imprecations were frequently premeditated.
When he was going to reprimand any one he liked to have a witness
present. He would then say the harshest things, and level blows against
which few could bear up. But he never gave way to those violent
ebullitions of rage until be acquired undoubted proofs of the misconduct
of those against whom they were directed. In scenes of this sort I have
frequently observed that the presence of a third person seemed to give
him confidence. Consequently, in a 'tête-à-tête' interview, any one who
knew his character, and who could maintain sufficient coolness and
firmness, was sure to get the better of him. He told his friends at St.
Helena that he admitted a third person on such occasions only that the
blow might resound the farther. That was not his real motive, or the
better way would have been to perform the scene in public. He had other
reasons. I observed that he did not like a 'tête-à-tête'; and when he
expected any one, he would say to me beforehand, "Bourrienne, you may
remain;" and when any one was announced whom he did not expect, as a
minister or a general, if I rose to retire he would say in a half-
whisper, "Stay where you are." Certainly this was not done with the
design of getting what he said reported abroad; for it belonged neither
to my character nor my duty to gossip about what I had heard. Besides,
it may be presumed, that the few who were admitted as witnesses to the
conferences of Napoleon were aware of the consequences attending
indiscreet disclosures under a Government which was made acquainted with
all that was said and done.

Bonaparte entertained a profound dislike of the sanguinary men of the
Revolution, and especially of the regicides. He felt, as a painful
burden, the obligation of dissembling towards them. He spoke to me in
terms of horror of those whole he called the assassins of Louis XVI, and
he was annoyed at the necessity of employing them and treating them with
apparent respect. How many times has he not said to Cambacérès, pinching
him by the ear, to soften, by that habitual familiarity, the bitterness
of the remark, "My dear fellow, your case is clear; if ever the Bourbons
come back you will be hanged!" A forced smile would then relax the livid
countenance of Cambacérès, and was usually the only reply of the Second
Consul, who, however, on one occasion said in my hearing, "Come, come,
have done with this joking."

One thing which gave Bonaparte great pleasure when in the country was to
see a tall, slender woman, dressed in white, walking beneath an alley of
shaded trees. He detested coloured dresses, and especially dark ones.
To fat women he had an invincible antipathy, and he could not endure the
sight of a pregnant woman; it therefore rarely happened that a female in
that situation was invited to his parties. He possessed every requisite
for being what is called in society an agreeable man, except the will to
be so. His manner was imposing rather than pleasing, and those who did
not know him well experienced in his presence an involuntary feeling of
awe. In the drawing-room, where Josephine did the honours with so much
grace and affability, all was gaiety and ease, and no one felt the
presence of a superior; but on Bonaparte's entrance all was changed, and
every eye was directed towards him, to read his humour in his
countenance, whether he intended to be silent or talkative, dull or

He often talked a great deal, and sometimes a little too much; but no one
could tell a story in a more agreeable and interesting way. His
conversation rarely turned on gay or humorous subjects, and never on
trivial matters. He was so fond of argument that in the warmth of
discussion it was easy to draw from him secrets which he was most anxious
to conceal. Sometimes, in a small circle, he would amuse himself by
relating stories of presentiments and apparitions. For this he always
chose the twilight of evening, and he would prepare his hearers for what
was coming by some solemn remark. On one occasion of this kind he said,
in a very grave tone of voice, "When death strikes a person whom we love,
and who is distant from us, a foreboding almost always denotes the event,
and the dying person appears to us at the moment of his dissolution."
He then immediately related the following anecdote: "A gentleman of the
Court of Louis XIV. was in the gallery of Versailles at the time that the
King was reading to his courtiers the bulletin of the battle of
Friedlingen gained by Villars. Suddenly the gentleman saw, at the
farther end of the gallery, the ghost of his son, who served under
Villars. He exclaimed, 'My son is no more!' and next moment the King
named him among the dead."

When travelling Bonaparte was particularly talkative. In the warmth of
his conversation, which was always characterised by original and
interesting ideas, he sometimes dropped hints of his future views, or, at
least, he said things which were calculated to disclose what he wished to
conceal. I took the liberty of mentioning to him this indiscretion, and
far from being offended, he acknowledged his mistake, adding that he was
not aware he had gone so far. He frankly avowed this want of caution
when at St. Helena.

When in good humour his usual tokens of kindness consisted in a little
rap on the head or a slight pinch of the ear. In his most friendly
conversations with those whom he admitted into his intimacy he would say,
"You are a fool" - "a simpleton" - "a ninny" - "a blockhead." These, and a
few other words of like import, enabled him to vary his catalogue of
compliments; but he never employed them angrily, and the tone in which
they were uttered sufficiently indicated that they were meant in

Bonaparte had many singular habits and tastes. Whenever he experienced
any vexation, or when any unpleasant thought occupied his mind, he would
hum something which was far from resembling a tune, for his voice was
very unmusical. He would, at the same time, seat himself before the
writing-table, and swing back in his chair so far that I have often been
fearful of his falling.

He would then vent his ill-humour on the right arm of his chair,
mutilating it with his penknife, which he seemed to keep for no other
purpose. I always took care to keep good pens ready for him; for, as it
was my business to decipher his writing, I had a strong interest in doing
what I could to make it legible.

The sound of bells always produced in Bonaparte pleasurable sensations,
which I could never account for. When we were at Malmaison, and walking
in the alley leading to the plain of Ruel, how many times has the bell of
the village church interrupted our most serious conversations!

He would stop, lest the noise of our footsteps should drown any portion
of the delightful sound. He was almost angry with me because I did not
experience the impressions he did. So powerful was the effect produced
upon him by the sound of these bells that his voice would falter as he
said, "Ah! that reminds me of the first years I spent at Brienne! I was
then happy!" When the bells ceased he would resume the course of his
speculations, carry himself into futurity, place a crown on his head, and
dethrone kings.

Nowhere, except on the field of battle, did I ever see Bonaparte more
happy than in the gardens of Malmaison. At the commencement of the
Consulate we used to go there every Saturday evening, and stay the whole
of Sunday, and sometimes Monday. Bonaparte used to spend a considerable
part of his time in walking and superintending the improvements which he
had ordered. At first he used to make excursions about the
neighbourhood, but the reports of the police disturbed his natural
confidence, and gave him reason to fear the attempts of concealed
royalist partisans.

During the first four or five days that Bonaparte spent at Malmaison he
amused himself after breakfast with calculating the revenue of that
domain. According to his estimates it amounted to 8000 francs. "That is
not bad!" said he; "but to live here would require an income of 30,000
livres!" I could not help smiling to see him seriously engaged in such a

Bonaparte had no faith in medicine. He spoke of it as an art entirely
conjectural, and his opinion on this subject was fired and
incontrovertible. His vigorous mind rejected all but demonstrative

He had little memory for proper names, words, or dates, but he had a
wonderful recollection of facts and places. I recollect that, on going
from Paris to Toulon, he pointed out to me ten places calculated for
great battles, and he never forgot them. They were memoranda of his
first youthful journeys.

Bonaparte was insensible to the charms of poetic harmony. He had not
even sufficient ear to feel the rhythm of poetry, and he never could
recite a verse without violating the metre; yet the grand ideas of poetry
charmed him. He absolutely worshipped Corneille; and, one day, after
having witnessed a performance of 'Cinna', he said to me, "If a man like
Corneille were living in my time I would make him my Prime Minister. It
is not his poetry that I most admire; it is his powerful understanding,
his vast knowledge of the human heart, and his profound policy!" At St.
Helena he said that he would have made Corneille a prince; but at the
time he spoke to me of Corneille he had no thought of making either
princes or kings.

Gallantry to women was by no means a trait in Bonaparte's character.
He seldom said anything agreeable to females, and he frequently addressed
to them the rudest and most extraordinary remarks. To one he would say,
"Heavens, how red your elbows are!" To another, "What an ugly headdress
you have got!" At another time he would say, "Your dress is none of the
cleanest..... Do you ever change your gown? I have seen you in that
twenty times!" He showed no mercy to any who displeased him on these
points. He often gave Josephine directions about her toilet, and the
exquisite taste for which she was distinguished might have helped to make
him fastidious about the costume of other ladies. At first he looked to
elegance above all things: at a later period he admired luxury and
splendour, but he always required modesty. He frequently expressed his
disapproval of the low-necked dresses which were so much in fashion at
the beginning of the Consulate.

Bonaparte did not love cards, and this was very fortunate for those who
were invited to his parties; for when he was seated at a card-table, as
he sometimes thought himself obliged to be, nothing could exceed the
dulness of the drawing-room either at the Luxembourg or the Tuileries.
When, on the contrary, he walked about among the company, all were
pleased, for he usually spoke to everybody, though he preferred the
conversation of men of science, especially those who had been with him in
in Egypt; as for example, Monge and Berthollet. He also liked to talk
with Chaptal and Lacépède, and with Lemercier, the author of 'Agamemnon'.

Bonaparte was seen to less advantage in a drawing-room than at the head
of his troops. His military uniform became him much better than the
handsomest dress of any other kind. His first trials of dress-coats were
unfortunate. I have been informed that the first time he wore one he
kept on his black cravat. This incongruity was remarked to him, and he
replied, "So much the better; it leaves me something of a military air,
and there is no harm in that." For my own part, I neither saw the black
cravat nor heard this reply.

The First Consul paid his own private bills very punctually; but he was
always tardy in settling the accounts of the contractors who bargained
with Ministers for supplies for the public service. He put off these
payments by all sorts of excuses and shufflings. Hence arose immense
arrears in the expenditure, and the necessity of appointing a committee
of liquidation. In his opinion the terms contractor and rogue were
synonymous. All that he avoided paying them he regarded as a just
restitution to himself; and all the sums which were struck off from their
accounts he regarded as so much deducted from a theft. The less a
Minister paid out of his budget the more Bonaparte was pleased with him;
and this ruinous system of economy can alone explain the credit which
Decrès so long enjoyed at the expense of the French navy.

On the subject of religion Bonaparte's ideas were very vague.
"My reason," said he, "makes me incredulous respecting many things; but
the impressions of my childhood and early youth throw me into
uncertainty." He was very fond of talking of religion. In Italy, in
Egypt, and on board the 'Orient' and the 'Muiron', I have known him to
take part in very animated conversations on this subject.

He readily yielded up all that was proved against religion as the work of
men and time: but he would not hear of materialism. I recollect that one
fine night, when he was on deck with some persons who were arguing in
favour of materialism, Bonaparte raised his hand to heaven and, pointing
to the stars, said, "You may talk as long as you please, gentlemen, but
who made all that?" The perpetuity of a name in the memory of man was to
him the immortality of the soul. He was perfectly tolerant towards every
variety of religious faith.

Among Bonaparte's singular habits was that of seating himself on any
table which happened to be of a suitable height for him. He would often
sit on mine, resting his left arm on my right shoulder, and swinging his
left leg, which did not reach the ground; and while he dictated to me he
would jolt the table so that I could scarcely write.

Bonaparte had a great dislike to reconsider any decision, even when it
was acknowledged to be unjust. In little as well as in great things he
evinced his repugnance to retrograde. An instance of this occurred in
the affair of General Latour-Foissac. The First Consul felt how much he
had wronged that general; but he wished some time to elapse before he
repaired his error. His heart and his conduct were at variance; but his
feelings were overcome by what he conceived to be political necessity.
Bonaparte was never known to say, "I have done wrong:" his usual
observation was, "I begin to think there is something wrong."

In spite of this sort of feeling, which was more worthy of an ill-
humoured philosopher than the head of a government, Bonaparte was neither
malignant nor vindictive. I cannot certainly defend him against all the
reproaches which he incurred through the imperious law of war and cruel
necessity; but I may say that he has often been unjustly accused. None
but those who are blinded by fury will call him a Nero or a Caligula.
I think I have avowed his faults with sufficient candour to entitle me to
credit when I speak in his commendation; and I declare that, out of the
field of battle, Bonaparte had a kind and feeling heart. He was very
fond of children, a trait which seldom distinguishes a bad man. In the
relations of private life to call him amiable would not be using too
strong a word, and he was very indulgent to the weakness of human nature.
The contrary opinion is too firmly fixed in some minds for me to hope to
root it out. I shall, I fear, have contradictors, but I address myself
to those who look for truth. To judge impartially we must take into
account the influence which time and circumstances exercise on men; and
distinguish between the different characters of the Collegian, the
General, the Consul, and the Emperor.



Bonaparte's laws - Suppression of the festival of the 21st of
January - Officials visits - The Temple - Louis XVI. and Sir Sidney
Smith - Peculation during the Directory - Loan raised - Modest budget
- The Consul and the Member of the Institute - The figure of the
Republic - Duroc's missions - The King of Prussia - The Emperor
Alexander - General Latour-Foissac - Arbitrary decree - Company of
players for Egypt - Singular ideas respecting literary property -
The preparatory Consulate - The journals - Sabres and muskets of
honour - The First Consul and his Comrade - The bust of Brutus -
Statues in the gallery of the Tuileries - Sections of the Council of
State - Costumes of public functionaries - Masquerades - The opera-
balls - Recall of the exiles.

It is not my purpose to say much about the laws, decrees, and 'Senatus-
Consultes', which the First Consul either passed, or caused to be passed,
after his accession to power, what were they all, with the exception of
the Civil Code? The legislative reveries of the different men who have
from time to time ruled France form an immense labyrinth, in which
chicanery bewilders reason and common sense; and they would long since
have been buried in oblivion had they not occasionally served to
authorise injustice. I cannot, however, pass over unnoticed the happy
effect produced in Paris, and throughout the whole of France, by some of
the first decisions of the Consuls. Perhaps none but those who witnessed
the state of society during the reign of Terror can fully appreciate the
satisfaction which the first steps towards the restoration of social
order produced in the breasts of all honest men. The Directory, more
base and not less perverse than the Convention, had retained the horrible
21st of January among the festivals of the Republic. One of Bonaparte's
first ideas on attaining the possession of power was to abolish this; but
such was the ascendency of the abettors of the fearful event that he
could not venture on a straightforward course. He and his two
colleagues, who were Sieyès and Roger Ducos, signed, on the 5th Nivôse,
a decree, setting forth that in future the only festivals to be
celebrated by the Republic were the 1st Vendemiaire and the 14th of July,
intending by this means to consecrate provisionally the recollection of
the foundation of the Republic and of liberty.

All was calculation with Bonaparte. To produce effect was his highest
gratification. Thus he let slip no opportunity of saying or doing things
which were calculated to dazzle the multitude. While at the Luxembourg,
he went sometimes accompanied by his 'aides de camp' and sometimes by a
Minister, to pay certain official visits. I did not accompany him on
these occasions; but almost always either on his return, after dinner, or
in the evening, he related to me what he had done and said. He
congratulated himself on having paid a visit to Daubenton, at the Jardin
des Plantes, and talked with great self-complacency of the distinguished
way in which he had treated the contemporary of Buffon.

On the 24th Brumaire he visited the prisons. He liked to make these
visits unexpectedly, and to take the governors of the different public
establishments by surprise; so that, having no time to make their
preparations, he might see things as they really were. I was in his
cabinet when he returned, for I had a great deal of business to go
through in his absence. As he entered he exclaimed, "What brutes these
Directors are! To what a state they have brought our public
establishments! But, stay a little! I will put all in order. The
prisons are in a shockingly unwholesome state, and the prisoners
miserably fed. I questioned them, and I questioned the jailers, for
nothing is to be learned from the superiors. They, of course, always
speak well of their own work! When I was in the Temple I could not help
thinking of the unfortunate Louis XVI. He was an excellent man, but too
amiable, too gentle for the times. He knew not how to deal with mankind!
And Sir Sidney Smith! I made them show me his apartment. If the fools
had not let him escape I should have taken St. Jean d'Acre! There are
too many painful recollections connected with that prison! I will
certainly have it pulled down some day or other! What do you think I did
at the Temple? I ordered the jailers' books to be brought to me, and
finding that some hostages were still in confinement I liberated them.
'An unjust law,' said I, 'has deprived you of liberty; my first duty is
to restore it to you.' Was not this well done, Bourrienne? "As I was, no
less than Bonaparte himself, an enemy to the revolutionary laws, I
congratulated him sincerely; and he was very sensible to my approbation,
for I was not accustomed to greet him with "Good; very good," on all
occasions. It is true, knowing his character as I did, I avoided saying
anything that was calculated to offend him; but when I said nothing, he
knew very well how to construe my silence. Had I flattered him I should
have continued longer in favour.

Bonaparte always spoke angrily of the Directors he had turned off. Their
incapacity disgusted and astonished him. "What simpletons! what a
government!" he would frequently exclaim when he looked into the measures
of the Directory. "Bourrienne," said he, "can you imagine anything more
pitiable than their system of finance? Can it for a moment be doubted
that the principal agents of authority daily committed the most
fraudulent peculations? What venality! what disorder! what
wastefulness! everything put up for sale: places, provisions, clothing,
and military, all were disposed of. Have they not actually consumed
75,000,000 in advance? And then, think of all the scandalous fortunes

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Online LibraryLouis Antoine Fauvelet de BourrienneMemoirs of Napoleon — Volume 04 → online text (page 2 of 9)