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In silence and devotedness Josephine submitted to her husband's will,
and left him to perform his political part, while she assumed the part
of wife, mother, of the representative of the household; and every
evening opened her drawing-room to her friends, and to her husband's
associates in the same conflict.

What a mixed and extraordinary assemblage was seen in the
drawing-room of the president of the National Assembly! There were
the representatives of old France, the brilliant members of the old
nobility: the Duke de la Rochefoucauld, the Count de Montmorency, the
Marquis de Caulaincourt, the Prince de Salm-Cherbourg, the Princess von
Hohenzollern, Madame de Montesson, the wife of the old Duke d'Orleans;
and alongside of these names of the ancient regime, new names rose up.
There were the deputies of the National Assembly - Barnave, Mounier,
Thouvet, Lafayette, and the favorite of the people, the great Mirabeau.
Old France and Young France met here in this drawing-room of Josephine
on neutral grounds, and the beautiful viscountess, full of grace and
prudence, offered to them both the honors of her house. She listened
with modest bashfulness to the words of the great tribunes of the
people, and oftentimes with a smile or a soft word she reconciled the
royalists, those old friends who sought in this drawing-room for
the Viscountess de Beauharnais, and found there only the wife of the
president of the National Assembly.

The saloon of Josephine was soon spoken of, and seemed as a haven in
which the refined, elegant manners, the grace, the wit, the esprit, had
been saved from the stormy flood of political strife. Every one sought
the privilege of being admitted into this drawing-room, whose charming
mistress in her own gentleness and grace received the homage of all
parties, pleased every one by her loveliness, her charms, the fine,
exquisite tact with which she managed at all times the sentiments of the
company, and with which she knew how to guide the conversation so
that it would never dwindle into political debates or into impassioned

However violent was the tempest of faction outside, Josephine endeavored
that in the interior of her home the serene peace of happiness should
prevail. For she was now happy again, and all the liveliness, all the
joys of youth, had again found entrance into her mind. The anguish
endured, the tears shed, had also brought their blessing; they had
strengthened and invigorated her heart; with their grave, solemn
memories they preserved Josephine, that child of the South, of the sun,
and of joy, from that light frivolity which otherwise is so often the
common heritage of the Creoles.

The viscount had now the satisfaction which ten years ago, at the
beginning of his married life, he had so intently longed for, the
satisfaction of seeing his wife occupied with grave studies, with the
culture of her own mind and talents. It was to him a ravishment to see
Josephine in her drawing-room in earnest conversation with Buffon, and
with all the aptitude of a naturalist speak of the organization and
formation of the different families of plants; he exulted in the open
praise paid to her when, with her fine, far-reaching voice, she sang
the songs of her home, which she herself accompanied on the harp; he was
proud when, in her saloon, with all the tact and assurance of a lady of
the world, she took the lead in the conversation, and could speak
with poets and authors, with artists and savants, and that, with
understanding and feeling, upon their latest works and creations; he
was made happy when, passing from serious gravity to the most innocent
gayety, she jested, laughed, and danced, as if she were yet the
sixteen-year-old child whom ten years ago he had made his wife, and from
whom he had then so cruelly exacted that she should demean herself as a
fine, experienced, and highly-refined lady.

Life had since undertaken to mould the young Creole into an elegant,
highly-accomplished woman, but fortunately life had been impotent to
change her heart, and that heart was ever beating in all the freshness
of youth, in all the joyous warmth and faithfulness of the young girl of
sixteen years who had come to France with so many ideal visions, so many
illusions, so many dreams and hopes. It is true this ideal had vanished
away, these illusions had burst into pieces like meteors in the skies;
the dreams and hopes of the young maiden heart had fallen into dust, but
the love, the confiding, faithful, hoping love, the love assured of the
future, had remained alive; it had overcome the storms and conflicts; it
had been Josephine's consolation in the days of sorrow; it was now her
delight in these days of happiness.

Her whole heart, her undivided love, belonged to her husband, to her
children, and often from the society gathered in her reception-rooms,
she would slip away and hasten to the bed of her little Hortense to
bid good-night to the child, who never would sleep without bidding
good-night to its mother, who would kneel at the side of the crib with
little Hortense, and utter the evening prayer, asking of God to grant to
them all prosperity and peace!

But this peace which Josephine so earnestly longed for was soon to be
imperilled more and more, was to be banished from the interior of home
and family, from its most sacred asylum, by the revolution and its
stormy factions.

An important event, pregnant with results, suddenly moved all Paris, and
filled the minds of all with the most fearful anticipations.

The king, with his wife and children, had fled! Openly and irretrievably
he had separated himself from country and people; he had, by this
flight, solemnly expressed before all Europe the discord which existed
between him and his people, between the king and the constitution to
which he had sworn allegiance.

Alexandre de Beauharnais, the president of the National Assembly, was
the first to be informed of this extraordinary event. On the morning of
the 21st of June, 1791, M. de Bailly, mayor of Paris, came to announce
to him that the king with all his family had fled from Paris the
previous evening.

It was the hour at which the sessions of the National assembly began
every morning, and Beauharnais, accompanied by Bailly, hastened to the
Assembly. The deputies were already seated when the president took
the chair with a grave, solemn countenance. This countenance told the
deputies of the people that the president had an important and very
unusual message to communicate, and a deep stillness, an oppressive
silence, overspread the whole assemblage as the president rose from his
seat to address them.

"Gentlemen," said he, with a voice which, amid the general silence,
sounded solemn and powerful - "gentlemen, I have a sad message to bring
before you. The mayor of Paris has just now informed me that the king
and his family have this night been seduced into flight by the
enemies of the people." [Footnote: Aubenas, "Histoire de l'Imperatrice
Josephine," vol i., p. 171.]

This news had a stupendous effect on the deputies. At first they sat
there dumb, as if petrified with fear; then they all rose up to make
their remarks and motions in a whirl of confusion, and it required all
the energy and determination of the president to re-establish peace, and
to control their minds.

The Assembly then, in quiet debate, resolved to declare itself in
permanent session until the termination of this crisis, and gave to the
president full power during this time to provide for the tranquillity
and security of the Assembly. Bailly and Lafayette were by the president
summoned before the deputies, to state what the sentiments of Paris
were, what was the attitude of the National Guards, what were the
precautions they had taken to preserve aright the peace of Paris.

But this peace was not in danger, and the only one whom the Parisian
people at this moment dreaded, was he who had fled from Paris - the king.
And yet, not for a moment did the people rise in anger against the
king; actuated by a new and overpowering thought, the people in their
enthusiasm for this idea forgot their anger against him who by his deed
had kindled this thought. The thought which was uppermost in all minds
at the flight of the king was this: that the state could subsist even
if there were no king at its head; that law and order still remained in
Paris, even when the king had fled.

This law and order was the National Assembly, the living representation
and embodiment of the law; the government was there; the king alone had
disappeared. Such was the sentiment which animated all classes, which
brought the people in streaming masses to the palace where the National
Assembly held its sittings. A few hours after the news of the king's
flight had spread through Paris, thousands were besieging the National
Assembly, and shouting enthusiastically: "Our king is here; he is in the
hall of session. Louis XVI. can go; he can do what he wills; our king
is still in Paris!" [Footnote: Prudhomme, "Histoire Parlementaire de la
Revolution," vol. x. p. 241.]

The Assembly, "the King of Paris," remained in permanent session,
waiting for the developments of events, and working out in committees
the decrees passed in common deliberation, whilst the president and
the secretary remained the whole night in the council-room, so as to
be ready at any moment to rectify fresh news and to issue the necessary

Early next morning the most important news had reached the president,
and the deputies hastened from their respective committees into the hall
of session, there to take their seats.

Amid the breathless silence of the Assembly, President Beauharnais
announced that the king, the queen, the dauphin, Madame, and divers
persons of their suite, had been arrested in Varennes.

The Assembly received this communication with dignified quietude, for
they were conscious that the king's return would in no wise impair their
own sovereignty, that the power was in their hands, even if the king
were there. In this full assurance of their dignity the National
Assembly passed a decree ordering the proper authorities "to protect
the king's return, to seize and imprison all those who might forget, the
respect they owed to the royal dignity."

At the same time the National Assembly sent from their number
two deputies, Barnave and Petion, to bring back from Varennes the
unfortunate royal family and to accompany them to Paris.

Meanwhile the news of the king's capture only increased the people's
enthusiasm for the National Assembly, the truly acknowledged sovereign
of France. Every one was anxious to give expression to this enthusiasm;
the National Guards of Paris begged for the privilege of taking the oath
of allegiance to the National Assembly, and when at the motion of the
president this was granted by the Assembly, a whole detachment was
marched into the hall so as to take the oath of allegiance to the
National Assembly with one voice, amid the applause of the Assembly and
the tribunes. This detachment was followed by fresh companies, and the
people filled the streets to see the National Guards come and go, and
like them to swear allegiance to the National Assembly with enthusiastic

The provinces would not be a whit behind the enthusiasm of Paris; and
whilst the guards swore their oath, from all cities and provinces came
to the president of the National Assembly, addresses congratulating
the Assembly on its triumphs, and promising the most unconditional

Finally after two days of restless activity, after two days, during
which Alexandre de Beauharnais had hardly found time to quiet his wife
by a note, explaining his absence from home, finally a courier brought
the news that the captive royal family were entering Paris. A second
courier followed the first. He announced that the royal family had
reached the Tuileries surrounded by an immense crowd, whose excitement
caused serious apprehensions. Petion had, therefore, thought it
expedient not to allow the royal family to alight, but had confined them
to the two carriages, and he now sent the keys of these two carriages to
the president of the National Assembly, as it was now his duty to adopt
still further measures.

Beauharnais proposed that at once twenty deputies be chosen to speed on
to the Tuileries to deliver the royal family from their prison, and to
lead them into the palace.

The motion was carried, and the deputies reached the court of the
Tuileries yet in time to save the affrighted family from the people,
who, in their wild madness, were about to destroy the carriages, and to
take possession of the king and queen.

The presence of the deputies imposed silence on the shouts and howlings
of the people. The king had come into the Tuileries, and before him
bowed the people in dumb respect. They quietly allowed that this their
king should open the carriage wherein the other king, the king by God's
grace, Louis XVI., sat a prisoner; they allowed that the king by the
grace of the people, the National Assembly, through its twenty deputies,
should render liberty to Louis and to his family, and lead them quietly
under their protection into the Tuileries.

But from this day the Tuileries, which for centuries had been the palace
of the kings of France, now became a prison for the King of France!

Louis XVI. was returned, not as the head, but as the prisoner of the
state; from the moment he left Paris, the ermine mantle of his royalty
had fallen from his shoulders upon the shoulders of the National
Assembly; King Louis XVI. had dethroned himself.

Amid these fatal storms, amid these ever-swelling revolutionary floods,
there was yet an hour of happiness for Josephine. Out of the wild waves
of rebellion was to rise, for a short time, an island of bliss. The
National Assembly, whose president, Alexandre de Beauharnais, had
once more, in the course of the sessions, been re-elected by general
acclamation, declared itself on the 3d of September, 1791, dissolved,
and its members vanished to make room for the Legislative Assembly,
which organized the very next day.

Alexandre de Beauharnais, after having so long and so zealously
discharged his duties as a citizen, returned to his Josephine, to his
children; and, weary with the storms and debates of the last months,
longed for a quiet little place, away from the turmoil of the capital
and from the attrition of parties. Josephine acquiesced gladly in the
wishes of her husband, for she felt her innermost being shattered by
these last exciting times, and perhaps she cherished the secret hope
that her husband, once removed from Paris, would be drawn away from the
dangerous arena of politics, into which his enthusiasm had driven
him. She was, and remained at heart, a good and true royalist; and
as Mirabeau, dying in the midst of revolution's storms, had said
of himself, that "he took to his grave the mourning-badge for the
monarchy," [Footnote: Mirabeau died on the 6th of May, 1791. - See,
on his death, "Count Mirabeau," by Theodore Mundt, vol. iv.] so also
Josephine's heart, since the flight to Varennes, wore the mourning-badge
for the unfortunate royal family, who since that day had to endure so
much humiliation, so much insult, and to whom Josephine in her loyal
sense of duty consecrated the homage of a devout subject.

Josephine, therefore, gladly consented to the viscount's proposal to
leave Paris. Accompanied by their children and by the governess of
Hortense, Madame Lanoy, the viscount and his wife went to a property
belonging to one of the Beauharnais family near Solange.

Three months were granted to Josephine in the quietude, in the sweet
repose of country-life, at her husband's side, and with her children, to
gather strength from the anxieties and griefs which she had suffered in
Paris. She enjoyed these days as one enjoys an unexpected blessing, a
last sunshine before winter's near approach, with thankful heart to God.
Full of cheerful devotedness to her husband, to her children, her lovely
countenance was radiant with joy and love; she was ever busy, with the
sunshine of her smile, to dissipate the shadows from her husband's brow,
and to replace the impassioned excitements, the honors and distinctions
of his Parisian life, by the pleasantness and joys of home.

But Alexandra de Beauharnais could no longer find satisfaction in the
quiet, harmless joys of home; he even reproached himself that he could
be cheerful and satisfied whilst France resounded with cries of distress
and complaints, whilst France was torn in her innermost life by the
disputes and conflicts of factions which, no more satisfied with the
speeches of the tribune, filled the streets with blood and wounds. The
revolution had entered into a new phase, the Legislative Assembly had
become the Constituent Assembly, which despoiled the monarchy of the
last appearance of power and degraded it to a mere insignificancy. The
Girondists, those ideal fanatics, who wanted to regenerate France after
the model of the states of antiquity, had seized the power and the
ministerial portefeuilles. The beautiful, witty, and noble Madame Roland
ruled, by means of her husband, the Minister Roland, and was striving to
realize in France the ideal of a republic after the pattern of Greece;
she was the very soul of the new cabinet, the soul of the Girondists,
the rulers of France; in her drawing-room, during the evening, the new
laws to be proposed next day in the Constituent Assembly, were spoken
of, and the government measures discussed.

For a moment it had seemed as if the king, through his cabinet
of Girondists, would once more be reconciled with his people, and
especially with the Constituent Assembly, as if the nation and the
monarchy would once more endeavor to stand one by the other in harmony
and peace. Perhaps the Girondists had believed in this possibility,
and had regarded the king's assurances that he would adhere to the
constitution, and that he would go hand in hand with his ministers, and
accept the constitution as the faithful expression of his will. But when
they discovered that Louis was not honorable in his assurances; that
he was in secret correspondence with the enemies of France; that in a
letter to his brother-in-law, the Emperor Leopold, he had made bitter
complaints about the constraint to which he was subjected, then
the Girondists were inflamed with animosity, and had recourse to
counter-measures. They decreed the exile of the priests, and the
formation, in the vicinity of Paris, of a camp of twenty thousand
militia from all the departments of France.

Foreign nations looked upon this decree as a sign of dawning
hostilities, and threatened France with countermeasures. France
responded to the challenge thus thrown at her, and, in a stormy session
of the Assembly, the fatherland was declared to be in danger, the
organization of an army to occupy the frontiers was decreed, and all the
children of the fatherland were solemnly called to her defence.

This call awoke Alexandre de Beauharnais from the dreamy repose to which
he had abandoned himself during the last months. His country called
him, and he dared not remain deaf to this call; it was his duty to tear
himself from the quiet peace of the household, from the arms of his
wife and family, and place himself in the ranks of the defenders of his

Josephine heard this resolution with tears in her eyes, but she
could not keep back her husband, whose countenance was beaming with
enthusiasm, and who dreamed of fame and victory. She accompanied
Alexandre to Paris, and after he had been gladly received by the
minister of war, and appointed to the Northern army, she then took from
him a last, fond farewell, entreated him with all the eloquence of love
to spare himself, and not wantonly to face danger, but to preserve his
life for his wife and children.

Deeply moved by this tender solicitude of his wife, Alexandre promised
to hold her requests as sacred. Once more they embraced each other
before they both quitted Paris on diverging roads.

Alexandre de Beauharnais went to Valenciennes, where commanded Marshal
Rochambeau, to whom he had been commissioned adjutant.

Josephine hastened with her children toward Fontainebleau, so at least
to be there united with her husband's father, and to live under his
protection until the return of her husband.


Since the death of Mirabeau, the last defender of the monarchy, since
the failure of the contemplated flight, royalty in France had no chance
of existence left; the throne had lost every prop upon which it could
find support, and it sank more and more into the abyss which the
revolution had dug under its feet.

Marie Antoinette was conscious of it; her foreboding spirit foresaw
the coming evil; her proud soul nearly broke under the humiliations and
griefs which every day brought on. She had hitherto courageously and
heroically struggled against adversity; she had concealed tears and
anguish, to smile at that people which hated her and cursed her, which
insulted and reviled her constantly. But a day was to come in which the
smile would forever depart from her lip - in which Marie Antoinette, the
daughter of the Caesars, so deeply humbled and trodden down in the dust,
would no more lift up her head, would no more rise from the terrible

This day was the 10th of August, in the year 1792. The terrible storm,
which so long had filled the air with its mutterings, and had shaken the
throne with its thunderings, was on this day with terrific power to be
let loose and to dash in pieces the monarchy. The king furnished the
occasion for this eruption by dismissing his Girondist ministry, by not
signing the decree for the organization of a national militia, and for
the exile of the priests.

This refusal was the flash which broke open the heavy clouds that so
long had hung over his head - the flash which caused the tempest to burst

Since that day Paris was in a state of rebellion; fresh disturbances
took place every day; and finally, on the morning of the 10th of August,
bands of people rushed to the palace of the Tuileries and surrounded
it with wild howlings and shouts. A portion of the National Guards
endeavored to force the people into a retreat; the other portion united
with the people in fierce assaults upon the Tuileries, and on its
defenders the Swiss. These were massacred by the people armed with
pikes; with jubilant howlings the armed masses rushed over the corpses
of the fallen into the king's palace.

The Procurator-General Roderer implored the king to save himself with
his family by taking refuge in the National Assembly, for there alone
was safety for him and the queen.

Louis hesitated; but Marie Antoinette felt once more the pride of a
queen awake within her; she felt it was nobler and worthier to die as
the loyal Swiss had done, to die sword in hand, than to meet pardon and
disgrace, than to bow her head under the yoke. She entreated the king to
remain with the loyal National Guards and to fight with his soldiers and
die in the palace of his fathers. She spoke to the successor of Henry
IV., to the father of the dauphin, for whom he should maintain the
inheritance received; she appealed to the heart, to the honor of Louis;
she spoke with flaming eyes, and with the eloquence of despair.

But Louis listened not to her, but to the solicitations of Roderer, who
told him that he had but five minutes to save himself, the queen, and
his children; that in five minutes more all would be lost.

"It cannot be helped," muttered the king; and then with louder voice
he continued: "It is my will that we be conducted into the Legislative
Assembly; I command it!"

A shriek of terror broke forth from the breast of the queen; her proud
heart resisted once more her husband's weakness, who, for his own and
for her misfortune, was not made of the stuff which moulds kings.

"Sire," cried she, angrily and excited - "sire, you must first command
that I be nailed to the walls of this palace! I remain here. I stir not
from this spot!" [Footnote: The very words of the queen. - See "Memoires
Secretes et Universelles," par Lafont d'Aussone.]

But Madame Elizabeth, the Princesses de Lamballe and de Tarent, begged
her with tears to consent; the good king fixed on her sad, weeping
eyes, and Roderer entreated her not to abandon, by her delays, to the
approaching executioners, her husband, her children, and herself.

Marie Antoinette offered to her husband her last and her greatest

Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 10 of 40)