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Empress Josephine online

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22d of July, a warm encounter with the Prussians had taken place at St.
Anna's chapel, and that he had forced the Prussians to a retreat with
considerable loss.

The Convention received this news with jubilant shouts, and already
trusted in the sure triumph of the French armies against the united
forces of Prussia and Austria. If in these days of joyous excitement
some one had dared renew the motion to dismiss Beauharnais from his
command because he was a nobleman, the mover would undoubtedly have been
considered an enemy of his country.

How much attention in these happy days was paid to the general's
wife - how busy were even the most fanatical republicans, the dreaded
ones of the Mountain, to flatter her, to give expression to their
enthusiastic praises of the general who was preparing for the arms of
the republic so glorious a triumph!

Josephine now came every day to be present in the gallery at the
sessions of the Convention, and her gracious countenance radiated a
cheerful smile when the minister of war communicated to the Assembly
the newly-arrived dispatches which announced fresh advantages or closer
approaches of General Beauharnais. By degrees a new confidence filled
the heart of Josephine, and the gloomy forebodings, which so long had
tormented her, began to fade away.

In the session of the 28th of July, Barrere, with a grave, solemn
countenance, mounted the tribune and with a loud, sad voice announced to
the Convention, in the name of the Committee of Safety, that a courier
had just arrived bringing the news that, on the 23d of July, Mayence, in
virtue of an unjust capitulation, had fallen.

A loud, piercing shriek, which issued from the gallery, broke the
silence with which the Assembly had received this news. It was Josephine
who had uttered this cry - Josephine who was carried away fainting from
the hall. She awoke from her long swoon only to shed a torrent of tears,
to press her children to her heart, as if desirous to screen them from
the perils of death, which now, said her own forebodings, were pressing
on from all sides.

Josephine was not deceived: this calamitous news, all at once, changed
the whole aspect of affairs, gave to the Convention and to the republic
another attitude, and threw its dark shadows over the unfortunate
general who had undertaken to save Mayence, and had not been able to
fulfil his word.

Surely this was not his fault, for General Dubayet had capitulated
before it had been possible for Beauharnais to accomplish the rescue. No
one therefore ventured to accuse him, but undeserved misfortune always
remains a misfortune in the eyes of those who had counted upon success;
and the Convention could never forgive the generals from whom they had
expected so much, and who had not met these expectations.

These generals had all been men of the aristocracy. As there was
no reason to accuse them on account of their unsuccessful military
operations, it was necessary to attack them with other weapons, and
seek a spot where they could be wounded. This spot was their name, their
ancestors, who in the eyes of the republican Convention rose up like
embodied crimes behind their progeny, to accuse the guilty.

The Jacobin Club, a short time after the capture of Mayence, began again
in an infuriated session the conflict against the nobility, and the
fanatical Hebert moved:

"All the noblemen who serve in the army, in the magistracy, in any
public office, must be driven away and dismissed. The people must
require this, the people themselves! They must go in masses to the
Convention, and after exposing the crimes and the treachery of the
aristocrats, must insist on their expulsion. The people must not leave
the Convention, it must remain in permanent session, there until it is
assured that its will is carried out."

The multitude with loud, jubilant tones cried, "Yes. yes, that is what
we want, let us go to the Convention! No more nobility! the nobles are
our murderers!"

The next day, the Jacobins, accompanied by thousands of shouting women
and infuriated men, went to the Convention to make known its will in the
name of the people. The Convention received their petition and decreed
the exile and the dissolution of the nobility, and delivered to the
punishment of the law the guilty subject who would dare use the name of

General de Beauharnais saw full well the blow aimed at him, and at all
the officers from the nobility in the army; he foresaw that they would
not stop at these measures; that soon he and his companions of fate
would be accused and charged with treason, as had been already done to
General Custine, and to so many others who had paid with their lives
their tried loyalty to the republic. He wanted to anticipate the
storm, and sent in his resignation. As the Convention left his petition
unanswered, he renewed it, and as it remained still ineffective, he
gladly, forced to this measure by sickness, transferred his command
to General Landremont. The Convention had then to grant him leave of
absence, and, as it maintained him in his rank, they ordered him back to

At last Josephine saw her husband again, for whom during the last
few months she had suffered so much anxiety and pain. At last she was
enabled to bring to her children the father for whom every evening they
had prayed God to guard him from foes abroad and from foes at home. As a
gift sent again by Heaven, she received her husband and entreated him to
save himself with his family from revolution's yawning abyss, which was
ready to swallow them all, and to go away with his own into a foreign
land, as his brother had done, who for some months past had been in
Coblentz with the Prince d'Artois.

But Alexandre de Beanharnais rejected with something like anger these
tearful supplications of his wife. He was not blinded to the dangers
which threatened him, but he wanted to meet them bravely; true to the
oath he had taken to the republic and to his country, he wished as a
dutiful son to remain near her, even if his allegiance had to be paid
with his death.

Josephine, on the bosom of her husband, wept hot, burning tears as he
communicated to her his irrevocable decision not to leave France, but in
the depths of her heart she experienced a noble satisfaction to find her
husband so heroic and so brave, and, offering him her hand, said with
tears in her eyes:

"It is well - we remain; and if we must go to the scaffold, we will at
least die together."

The general, with his wife and children, retired to his small property,
Ferte-Beauharnais, where he longed to obtain rest during a few happy
months of quietude.

But the fearful storms which had agitated France in her innermost life,
now raged so violently that each household, each family, trembled; there
was neither peace nor rest in the home nor in the hearts of men.

The Convention, threatened from outside by failures and defeats - for the
capture of Mayence by the Prussians and Austrians had been followed by
the capture of Toulon in September by the English - the Convention wanted
to consolidate at least its internal authority, and to terrify by severe
measures those who, on account of the misfortunes on the frontiers,
might hope for a fresh change of affairs in the interior, and who might
help it to pass.

Consequently the Convention issued a decree ordering all dismissed
or destitute soldiers to return in four-and-twenty hours to their
respective municipalities, under pain of ten years in chains, and at the
same time forbade them to enter Paris or to approach the capital nearer
than ten leagues.

A second decree ordered the formation of a revolutionary army in Paris,
to which was assigned the duty of carrying out the decrees of the

Finally a third decree, which appeared on the 17th of September, ordered
the arrest and punishment of all suspected persons.

This decree thus characterized the suspected ones: "All those who, by
their conduct, their relations, their discourses, their writings, had
shown themselves the adherents of tyranny, of federalism, the enemies
of liberty, much more all the ex-nobles, men, women, fathers, brothers,
sons or daughters, sisters or brothers, or agents of the migrated ones,
all who had not invariably exhibited and proved their adherence to the

With this decree the days of terror had reached their deepest gloom;
with this decree began the wild, bloody hunting down of aristocrats and
ci-devants; then began suspicions, accusations which needed no
evidence to bring the accused to the guillotine; then were renewed
the dragonnades of the days of Louis XIV., only that now, instead of
Protestants, the nobles were hunted down, and hunted down to death. The
night of the St. Bartholomew, the night of the murderess Catharine de
Medicis and of her mad son Charles IX., found now in France its cruel
and bloody repetition; only this night of horror was prolonged during
the day, and shrank not back from the light.

The sun beamed upon the pools of blood which flowed through the streets
of Paris, and packs of ferocious dogs in large numbers lay in the
streets, and fed upon this blood, which imparted to these once tamed
creatures their natural wildness. The sun beamed on the scaffold,
which, like a threatening monster, lifted itself upon the Place de la
Revolution, and the sun beamed upon the horrible axe, which every day
out off so many noble heads, and ever glittering, ever menacing, rose up
from the midst of blood and death.

The sun also shone upon the day in which Marie Antoinette, like her
husband, ascended the scaffold, to rest at last in the grave from all
her dishonor and from the agonies of the last years.

This day was the 16th of October, 1793. For the last four months, Marie
Antoinette had longed for this day as for a long-expected bliss; four
months ago she had been led from the prison of the Temple into the
Conciergerie, and she knew that the prisoners of the Conciergerie only
left it to obtain the freedom which men do not give, but which God gives
to the suffering ones, the freedom of death.

Marie Antoinette longed for this liberty, and for this deliverance of
death. How distant behind were the days of happiness, of joyous youth,
far behind in infinite legendary distance! How long since this tall,
grave figure, with its proud and yet affable countenance, had lost
all similarity to the charming Queen Marie Antoinette, around whom had
fluttered the genii of beauty, of youth, of love, of happiness; who once
in Trianon had represented the idyl of a pastoral queen; who, in the
exuberance of joy, had visited in disguise the public opera-ball; who
imagined herself so secure amid the French people as to believe she
could dispense with the protection of "Madame Etiquette;" who then was
applauded by all France with jubilant acclamations, and who now was
persecuted with mad anger!

No, the queen of that day, Marie Antoinette, who, in the golden halls of
Versailles and of the Tuileries, received the homage of all France, and
who, with smiling grace and face radiant with happiness, responded to
all this homage; she had no resemblance with Louis Capet's widow, who
now stands before the tribunal of the revolution, and gravely, firmly
gives her answers to the proposed questions.

She has also made her toilet for this day; but how different is this
toilet of the Widow Capet from that which once Marie Antoinette had worn
to be admired!

Then could Marie Antoinette, the frivolous, fortunate daughter of bliss,
shut herself up in her boudoir for long hours with her confidante the
milliner, Madame Bertier, to devise some new ball-dress, some new fichu,
some new ornament for her robes; then could Leonard, for this queen with
her wondrous blond hair, tax all the wealth of his science and of his
imagination; to invent continually new coiffures and new head-dresses
wherewith to adorn the beautiful head of the Queen Marie Antoinette, on
whose towering curls clustered tufts of white plumes; or else diminutive
men-of-war unfurled the net-work of their sails; or else, for variety's
sake, on that royal head was arranged a garden, a parterre adorned with
flowers and fruits, with butterflies and birds of paradise.

The Widow Capet needs no milliner now; she needs no friseur now for
her toilette. Her tall, slim figure is draped in a black woollen dress,
which the republic at her request has granted her to mourn her beheaded
husband; her neck and shoulders, once the admiration of France, are now
covered with a white muslin kerchief, which in pity Bault, her attendant
at the jail, has given her. Her hair is uncovered, and falls in long
natural curls on either side of her transparent, blanched cheeks. This
hair needs no powder now; the long sleepless nights, the anxious days,
have covered it with their powder forever, and the thirty-eight-year-old
widow of Louis Capet wears on her head the gray hairs of a
seventy-year-old woman.

In this toilet, Marie Antoinette stands before the tribunal of the
revolution from the 6th to the 13th day of October. There is nothing
royal about her, nothing but her look and the proud attitude of her

And the people who fill the galleries in closely-packed masses, and
who weary not to gaze on the queen in her humiliation, in her toilet
of anguish, the people claim constantly that Marie Antoinette will rise
from her rush-woven seat; that she will allow herself to be stared at by
these masses of people, whom curiosity and not compassion have brought

Once, as at the call from the public in the galleries, she rose up, the
queen sighed: "Ah, will not the people soon be tired of my sufferings?"
[Footnote: Marie Antoinette's own words. - See Goncourt, "Histoire de
Marie Antoinette," p. 404.]

Another time her dry, blanched lips murmured, "I thirst." But no one
near her dares have compassion on this sigh of agony from the queen;
each looks embarrassed at his neighbor; not one dares give a glass of
water to the thirsty woman.

One of the gendarmes has at last the courage to do so, and Marie
Antoinette thanks him with a look which brings tears in the eyes of the
gendarme, and which may perchance cause his death to-morrow under the
guillotine as a traitor!

The gendarmes who guard the queen have alone the courage to show pity!

One night, as she is led from the hall of trial to her prison, Marie
Antoinette becomes so exhausted, so overpowered, that staggering, she
murmurs, "I can see no longer! I can go no farther! I cannot move!"

One of the gendarmes walking alongside of her offers his arm, and
supported by it Marie Antoinette totters up the three stone steps which
lead into the prison.

At last, at four o'clock in the morning, on the 15th of August, the
jury have given their verdict. It runs: "Death! - execution by the

Marie Antoinette has heard the verdict with unmoved composure, whilst
the noise from the excited crowd in the galleries is suddenly hushed as
by a magic spell, and even the faces of the infuriated fish women turn

Marie Antoinette alone has remained calm; grave and cool she rises from
her seat and herself opens the balustrade to leave the hall and return
to her prison.

And then at last, on the morning of the 16th of October, her sorrows
will end, and Marie Antoinette can find refuge in the grave! Her soul is
almost joyous and serene; she has suffered so much, and for her to sink
into death is truly blessedness!

She has passed the undisturbed hours of the night in writing to her
sister-in-law, Madame Elizabeth, and this letter is also the queen's
testament. But the widow of Louis Capet has no riches, no treasures, no
property to will; she has nothing left which belongs to her - nothing but
her love, her tears, her farewell salutations. These she leaves behind
to all those who have loved her. She takes leave of her relatives, her
brothers and sisters, and cries out to them a farewell.

"I had friends," she continues; "the thought of being forever separated
from them, and your grief for my death, are my deepest sorrow; you will
at least know that to the last moment I have remembered you."

Then, when Marie Antoinette has finished this letter, some of whose
characters here and there are disfigured by her tears, she thinks of
leaving to her children a last token of remembrance - one which the
executioner's hand has not desecrated.

The only ornament which remains is her long hair, whose silver-gray
locks are the tearful history of her sufferings.

Marie Antoinette with her own hands despoils herself of this last
ornament; she cuts off her long hair behind the head, so as to leave
it as a last token to her children, to her relatives and friends. Then,
after having taken her spiritual farewell of life, she prepares herself
for the last great ceremony of her existence, for death.

She feels exhausted, weary unto death, and she strengthens herself for
this last toilsome journey, that she may worthily pass through it.

Marie Antoinette needs food, and with courageous mind she eats a
chicken's wing which has been brought to her. After having eaten, she
makes her last toilet, the toilet of death.

The wife of the jailer, at the queen's request, gives her one of her own
chemises, and Marie Antoinette puts it on. Then she clothes herself
with the garments which she has worn during her days of trial before the
tribunal of the revolution, only over the black woollen dress, which she
has often mended and patched with her own hand, she puts on a mantle
of white needlework. Around her neck she ties a small plain kerchief of
white muslin, and, as it is not allowed her to mount the scaffold
with uncovered head, she puts on it the round linen hood which the
peasant-women used to wear. Black stockings cover her feet, and over
them she draws shoes of black woollen stuff.

Her toilet is now ended - earthly things have passed away! Ready to meet
death, the queen lays herself down on her bed and sleeps.

She still sleeps when she is notified that a priest is there, ready to
come in, if she will confess.

But Marie Antoinette has already unveiled her heart to God; she will
have none of these priests of reason, whom the republic has ordained,
after having exiled or murdered with the guillotine the priests of the

"As I cannot do as I please," she has written to Madame Elizabeth, in
her farewell letter, "so must I endure it if a priest is sent to me; but
I now declare that I will tell him not a word, that I will consider him
entirely as a stranger to me."

And Marie Antoinette held her word. She forbids not the priest Girard
to come in, but she answers in the negative when he asks her if she will
receive from him the consolations of religion.

She paces her small cell to and fro, to warm herself, for her feet are
stiff with cold. As seven o'clock strikes, the door opens.

It is the executioner of Paris, Samson, who enters.

A slight tremor runs through the queen's frame. "You come very early,
sir," murmurs she, "could you not delay somewhat?"

As Samson replies in the negative, Marie Antoinette assumes again
a calm, cold attitude. She drinks without any reluctance the cup
of chocolate which has been brought to her from a neighboring cafe.
Proudly, calmly, she allows her hands to be bound with strong ropes
behind her back.

At eleven o'clock she finally leaves her room to descend the corridor,
and to mount into the wagon which waits for her before the gate of the

No one guides her on the way; no one bids her a last farewell; no one
shows a sympathizing or sad countenance to the departing one.

Alone, between two rows of gendarmes posted on both sides of the
corridor, the queen walks forward; behind her is Samson, holding in
his hand the end of the rope; the priest and the two assistants of the
executioner follow him.

On the path of Death - such is the suite of the queen, the daughter of an

Perchance at this hour thousands were on their knees to offer to God
their heart-felt prayers for Marie Antoinette, whom in the silence
of the soul they still call "the queen;" perchance many thousand
compassionate hearts pour out warm tears of sympathy for her who now
ascends into the miserable wagon, and sits on a plank which ropes have
made firm to both sides of the vehicle. But those who pray and weep have
retired into the solitude of their rooms, for God alone must receive
their sighs and see their tears. The eyes which follow the queen on
her last journey must not weep; the words which are shouted at her must
betray no compassion.

Paris knows that this is the hour of the queen's execution, and the
Parisian crowd is ready, it is waiting. In the streets, in the windows
of the houses, on the roofs, the people have stationed themselves in
enormous masses; they fill the whole Place de la Revolution with their
dark, destructive forms.

Now resound the drums of the National Guard posted before the
Conciergerie. The large white horse, which draws the chariot in which
Marie Antoinette sits backward, at the side of the priest, is driven
onward by the man who swings on its back. Behind her in the wagon is
Samson and his assistants.

The queen's face is white; all blood has left her cheeks and lips, but
her eyes are red; they have wept so much, unfortunate queen! She weeps
not now. Not one tear dims her eye, which pensively and calmly soars
above the crowd, then is lifted up to the very roofs of the houses, then
again is slowly lowered, and seems to stare over the human heads away
into infinite distance.

Calm and pensive as the eye is the queen's countenance, her lips
are nearly closed, no nervous movement on her face tells whether she
suffers, whether she feels, whether she notices those tens of thousands
of eyes which are fixed on her, cold, curious, sarcastic! And yet Marie
Antoinette sees every thing! She sees yonder woman who lifts up her
child; she sees how this child with his tiny hands sends a kiss to the
queen! Suddenly a nervous agitation passes over the queen's features,
her lips tremble, and her eyes are obscured with a tear! This first,
this single token of human sympathy has revived the heart of the queen
and awakened her from her torpor.

But the people are bent upon this, that Marie Antoinette shall not reach
the end of her journey with this last comfort of pity. They press on,
howling and shouting, scorning and jubilant, nearer and nearer to the
wagon; they sing sarcastic songs on Madame Veto, they clap hands, and
point at her with the finger of scorn.

She, however, is calm; her look, cold and indifferent, runs over the
crowd; only once it flames up with a last angry flash as she passes
by the Palais Royal, where Philippe Egalite, the ex-Duke d'Orleans,
resides, as she reads the inscription which he had placed at the gate of
his palace.

At noon the chariot reaches at last its destination. It stops at the
foot of the scaffold, and Marie Antoinette alights from the wagon, and
then calm and erect ascends the steps of the scaffold.

Her lips have not opened once on this awful journey; they now have no
word of complaint, of farewell! The only farewell which she has yet to
say on earth is told by her look - by a look which is slowly directed
yonder to the Tuileries - it is the farewell to past memories - it deepens
the pallor on the cheeks, it opens her lips to a painful sigh. She then
bows her head - a momentary, breathless silence follows. Samson lifts up
the white head, which once had been the head of the Queen of France, and
the people cry and shout, "Long live the republic!"


Uninterruptedly had the guillotine for the last three months of the
year 1793 continued its destructive work of murder, and the noblest
and worthiest heads had fallen under this reaper of Death. No personal
merit, no nobility of character, no age, no youth, could hope to escape
the death-instrument of the revolution when a noble name stood up as
accuser. Before this accuser every service was considered as nothing;
it was enough to be an aristocrat, a ci-devant, to be suspected, to be
dragged as a criminal before the tribunal of the revolution, and to be

The execution of the queen was followed by that of the Girondists; and
this brilliant array of noble and great men was followed in the next
month by names no less noble, no less great. It was an infuriated chase
of the aristocrats as well as of the officers, of all the military
persons who, in the unfortunate days of Toulon and of Mayence, had been
in the army, and who had been dismissed, or whose resignation had been

Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 12 of 40)