L. Mühlbach.

Empress Josephine online

. (page 17 of 40)
Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 17 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

"Have I not been, since the beginning of the revolution, faithful to its

"Have I not always been seen at war with enemies at home, or as a
soldier against the foreign foe?

"I have sacrificed my residence in my country and my property to the
republic; I have lost all for her.

"By serving my country with some distinction at Toulon and in the
Italian army, I have had my share in the laurels which that army has won
at Saorgio, Queille, and Tanaro.

"At the time of the discovery of Robespierre's conspiracy, my conduct
was that of a man who is accustomed to recognize principles only.

"It is therefore impossible to refuse me the title of patriot.

"Why, then, am I declared suspect without being heard? Why am I arrested
eight days after the news of the death of the tyrant?

"I am declared suspect, and my papers are sealed!

"The reverse ought to have taken place: my papers ought to have been
unsealed; I ought to have been tried; explanations ought to have been
sought for, and then I might have been declared suspect if there were
sufficient motives for it.

"It is decided that I must go to Paris under a warrant of arrest
which declares me suspect. In Paris they will conclude that the
representatives have acted thus only after sufficient examination, and I
shall be condemned with the sympathy which a man of that class deserves.

"Innocent, patriotic, slandered, whatever may be the measures which the
committee take, I cannot complain.

"If three men were to declare that I have committed a crime, I could not
complain if the jury should declare me guilty.

"Salicetti, you know me. Have you, during the five years of our
acquaintance, found in my conduct any thing which could be suspected as
against the revolution?

"Albitte, you know me not. No one can have given you convincing
evidence against me. You have not heard me; you know, however, with what
smoothness calumny oftentimes whispers.

"Must I then be taken for an enemy of my country? Must the patriots
ruin, without any regard, a general who has not been entirely useless
to the republic? Must the representatives place the government under the
necessity of acting unjustly and impolitically?

"Mark my words; destroy the oppression which binds me down, and
re-establish me in the esteem of the patriots.

"If, then, at some future hour, the wicked shall still long for my
life, well, then I consider it of so little importance - I have so often
despised it - yes, the mere thought that it can be useful to the country,
enables me to bear its burden with courage." [Footnote: Bourienne,
"Memoires sur Napoleon," etc., vol. i., p. 63.]

Whether these energetic protestations of Bonaparte, or whether some
other motives, conduced to the result, Salicetti thought that with
Napoleon's arrest he had furnished sufficient proof of his patriotic
sentiments; it seemed to him enough to have obscured the growing fame
of the young general, and to have plunged back into obscurity and
forgetfulness him whose first steps in life's career promised such a
radiant and glorious course!

It matters not, however, what circumstances may have wrought out; the
representatives Salicetti and Albitte issued a decree in virtue of
which General Bonaparte was, after mature consideration and thorough
examination of his papers, declared innocent and free from all
suspicion. Consequently, Bonaparte was temporarily set at liberty; but
he was suspended from his command in the Italian army, and was recalled
to Paris, there to be made acquainted with his future destination.

This destination was pointed out to him in a commission as
brigadier-general of infantry in the province of Vendee, there to lead
on the fratricidal strife against the fanatical Chouans, the faithful
adherents of the king.

Bonaparte refused this offer - first, because it seemed to him an
insulting request to ask him to fight against his own countrymen; and
secondly, because he did not wish to enter the infantry service, but to
remain in the artillery.

The Committee of Safety responded to this refusal of Bonaparte by
striking his name from the list of generals appointed for promotion,
because he had declined to go to the post assigned him.

This decision fell upon the ambitious, heroic young man like a
thunderbolt. He had dreamed of brilliant war deeds, of laurels, of fame,
of a glorious future, won for him by his own sword; and now, all at
once, he saw himself dragged away from this luminous track of fame upon
which he had so brilliantly entered - he saw himself thrust back into
obscurity, forgetfulness, and inactivity.

A gloomy, misanthropic sentiment took possession of him; and, though a
prophetic voice within said that the future still belonged to him, with
its fame, its laurels, its victories, yet inactivity, care, and the
wants of the present, hung with oppressive weight upon his mind.

He withdrew from all social joys and recreations, he avoided his
acquaintances, and only to a few friends did he open his foreboding
heart; only with these did he associate, and to them alone he made his
complaints of broken hopes, of life's career destroyed.

To these few friends, whom Bonaparte in his misfortune found faithful
and unchanged, belonged the Ferment family, and above all belonged
Junot, who had come to Paris at the same time as Bonaparte, and who,
though the latter was dismissed from the service, continued to call
himself the adjutant of General Bonaparte.

In the Permont family Napoleon was received with the same friendship and
attention as in former days; Madame de Permont retained ever for the son
of the friend of her youth, Letitia, a kindly smile, a genial sympathy,
an intelligent appreciation of his plans and wishes; her husband
manifested toward him all the interest of a parental regard; her son
Albert was full of tenderness and admiration for him; and her younger
daughter Laura jested and conversed with him as with a beloved brother.

In this house every thing seemed pleasant and friendly to Bonaparte;
thither he came every day, and mixed with the social circles, which
gathered in the evening in the drawing-rooms of the beautiful, witty
Madame de Permont; and where men even of diverging political sentiments,
aristocrats and ci-devants of the first water, were to be found. But
Madame de Permont had forbidden all political discussion in her saloon;
and General Bonaparte, now compelled to inactivity, dared no more show
his anger against the Committee of Safety, or against the Convention,
than the Count de Montmorency or any of the proud ladies of the former
quarter of St. Germain.

Not only the inactivity to which he was condemned, not only the
destruction of all his ambitious hopes, burdened the mind of Bonaparte,
but also the material pressure under which he now and then found
himself, and which seemed to him a shame and a humiliation. With gloomy
grudge he gazed at those young elegants whom he met on the Boulevards
in splendid toilet, on superb horses - at these incroyables who, in the
first rays of the sun of peace, from the soil of the republic, yet moist
with blood, had sprung up as so many mushrooms of divers colors and
varied hues.

"And such men enjoy their happiness!" exclaimed Bonaparte,
contemptuously, as once in the Champs Elysees he sat before a
coffee-house, near one of those incroyables, and with violent emotion
starting up, he pushed his seat back and nearly broke the feet of his
exquisitely dressed neighbor.

To be forgotten, to be set in the background, to be limited in means,
was always to him a source of anger, which manifested itself now in
impassioned vehemence, now in vague, gloomy dreaminess, from which
he would rise up again with some violent sarcasm or some epigrammatic

But whilst he thus suffered, was in want, and had so much to endure, his
mind and heart were always busy. His mind was framing new plans to
bring to an end these days of inactivity, to open a new path of fame and
glory; his heart dreamed of a sweet bliss, of another new love!

The object of this love was the sister of his brother's wife, the
young Desiree Clary. Joseph Bonaparte, who was now in Marseilles as
war-commissioner, had married there one of the daughters of the rich
merchant Clary; and her younger sister Desiree was the one to whom
Napoleon had devoted his heart. The whole Bonaparte family was now in
Marseilles, and had decided to make their permanent residence in France,
as their return to Corsica was still impossible; for General Paoli, no
longer able to hold the island, had called the English to his help, and
the assembled Consulta, over which Paoli presided, had invited the King
of England to become sovereign of the island. The French party, at whose
head had been the Bonaparte family, was overcome, and could no longer
lift up head or voice.

Bonaparte came often to Marseilles to visit his family, which consisted
of his mother Letitia, her three daughters, her two younger sons, and
her brother, the Abbe Fesch. There, he had seen every day, in the house
of his brother, Desiree Clary, and the beautiful, charming maid had not
failed to leave in the heart of the young general a deep impression.
Desiree seemed to return this inclination, and a union of the two young
lovers might soon have taken place, if fate, in the shape of accident,
had not prevented it.

Joseph was sent by the Committee of Safety to Genoa, with instructions;
his young wife and her sister Desiree accompanied him. Perhaps the
new, variable impressions of the journey, perhaps her separation from
Bonaparte, and her association with other officers less gloomy than the
saturnine Napoleon, all this seemed to cool the love of Desiree Clary;
she no more answered Napoleon's letters, and, in writing to his brother
Joseph, he made bitter complaints: "It seems that to reach Genoa the
River Lethe must first be crossed, and therefore Desiree writes no
more." [Footnote: See "Memoires du Roi Joseph," vol. i.]

The only confidant to whom Bonaparte imparted these heart-complaints,
was Junot. He had for him no secrecy of his innermost and deepest
inclinations; to him he complained with grave and impassioned words
of Desiree's changeableness; and Junot, whose worshipful love for his
friend could not understand that any maiden, were she the most beautiful
and glorious on earth, could ever slight the inclination of General
Bonaparte, Junot shared his wrath against Desiree, who had begun the
rupture between them by leaving unanswered two of Napoleon's letters.

After having been angry and having complained in concert with Bonaparte,
Junot's turn to be confidential had come. Bewildered, and blushing like
a young maid, he avowed to his dear general that he also loved, and that
he could hope for happiness and joy only if Napoleon's younger sister,
the beautiful little Pauline, would be his wife.

Bonaparte listened to him with a frowning countenance, and when Junot
ended by asking his mediation with Pauline's mother, Napoleon asked in
a grave tone, "But, what have you to live upon? Can you support Pauline?
Can you, with her, establish a household which will be safe against

Junot, radiant with joy, told him how, anticipating this question of
Napoleon, he had written to his father, and had asked for information
in regard to his means; and that his father had just now answered his
questions, and had replied that for the present he could not give him
anything, but that after his death the inheritance of his son would
amount to twenty thousand francs.

"I shall be one day rich," exclaimed Junot, gayly, as he handed to
Napoleon the letter of his father, "for with my pay I will have an
income of twelve hundred livres. My general, I beseech you, write to
the Citoyenne Bonaparte; tell her that you have read the letter of my
father, and say a good word in my favor."

Bonaparte did not at once reply. He attentively read the letter of
Junot, senior, then returned it to his friend, and with head sunk down
upon his breast he stared gloomily, with contracted eyebrows.

"You answer not, general," exclaimed Junot, in extreme anguish. "You do
not wish to be my mediator?"

Bonaparte raised his head; his cheeks were paler than before, and a
gloomy expression was in his eyes.

"I cannot write to my mother to make her this proposition," said he, in
a rough, severe tone. "That is impossible, my friend. You say that one
day you will have an income of twelve hundred livres. That is, indeed,
very fair, but you have them not now. Besides, your father's health is
remarkably good, and he will make you wait a long time. For the present
you have nothing; for your lieutenant's epaulets can be reckoned as
nothing. As regards Pauline, she has not even that much. Let us then
sum up: you have nothing; she has nothing! What is the total amount?
Nothing. You cannot, therefore, be married now: let us wait. We shall,
perhaps, friend, outlive these evil days. Yes, we shall outlive them,
even if I have to become an exile, to seek for them in another portion
of the world! Let us, then, wait!" [Footnote: Bonaparte's words. - See
Abrantes, "Memoires," vol. i., p. 284.]

And a wondrous, mysterious brilliancy and flash filled the eyes of
General Bonaparte, as with a commanding voice he repeated, "Let us

Was this one of those few and pregnant moments in which the mind with
prophetic power gazes into the future? Had a corner of the veil which
hid the future been lifted up before the glowing eagle-eye of Napoleon,
and did he see the splendor and the glory of that future which were to
be his? However great his imagination, however ambitious his dreams,
however wide his hopes, yet they all were to be one day surpassed by
the reality. For would he not have considered a madman him, who, at this
hour, would have told him: "Smooth the furrows on your brow, Bonaparte;
be not downcast about the present. You are now in want, you are thrust
aside; forgetfulness and obscurity are now your lot; but be of good
cheer, you will be emperor, and all Europe will lie trembling at your
feet. You love the young Desiree Clary, and her indifference troubles
you; but be of good cheer, you will one day marry the daughter of
a Caesar, and the little Desiree, the daughter of a merchant from
Marseilles, will one day be Sweden's queen! You refuse to Junot, your
friend, the gratification of his wishes, because he possesses nothing
but his officer's epaulets: but be of good cheer, for you will one day
convert the little Lieutenant Junot into a duke, and give him a kingdom
for a dowry! You feel downhearted and ashamed, because your sister
Pauline is not rich, because she possesses nothing but her beauty and
her name: but be of good cheer, she will one day be the wife of the
wealthiest prince of Italy; all the treasures of art will be gathered
in her palace, and yet she will be the most precious ornament of that

Surely the General Bonaparte would have laughed at the madman, who, in
the year 1795, should have thus spoken to him - and yet a mere decade of
years was to suffice for the realization of all these prophecies, and to
turn the incredible into a reality.


The days of terror, and of blood, under which France has sighed so long,
were not to end with the fall of Robespierre. Another enemy of the rest
and peace of France had now made its entrance into Paris - hunger began
to exercise its dreary rale of horror, and to fill the hearts of men
with rage and despair.

Everywhere throughout France the crops had failed, and the republic had
too much to do with the guillotine, with the political struggles in the
interior, with the enemies on the frontier, she had been so busy with
the heads of her children, that she could have no care for the welfare
of their stomachs.

The corn-magazines were empty, and in the treasury of the republican
government there was no money to buy grain in foreign markets. Very soon
the want of bread, the cry for food, made itself felt everywhere; soon
hunger goaded into new struggles of despair the poor Parisian people,
already so weary with political storms, longing for rest, and exhausted
by conflicts. Hunger drove them again into politics, hunger converted
the women into demons, and their husbands into fanatical Jacobins. Every
day, tumults and seditious gatherings took place in Paris; the murmuring
and howling crowd threatened to rise up. Every day appeared at the bar
of the Convention the sections of Paris, entreating with wild cries for
a remedy for their distress. At every step in the streets one was met by
intoxicated women, who tried to find oblivion of their hunger in wine,
and to whom, notwithstanding their drunkenness, the consciousness of
their calamity remained. These drunken women, with the gestures of
madness, shouted: "Bread! give us bread! We had bread at least in the
year '93! Bread! Down with the republic! Down with the Convention, which
leaves us to starve!"

To these shouts responded other masses of the people: "Down with the
constitutionalists! Long live the Mountain! Long live the Convention!"

Civil war, which in its exhaustion had remained subdued for a moment,
threatened to break out with renewed rage, for the parties stood
face to face in determined hostility, and "Down with the
constitutionalists! - down with the republicans!" was the watchword of
these parties.

For a moment it seemed as if the Mountain, as if the revolution, would
regain the ascendency, as if the terrorists would once more seize
the rudder which had slipped from their blood-stained hands. But the
Convention, which for a time had remained undecided, trembling and
vacillating, rose at length from its lethargy to firm, energetic
measures, and came to the determination to restore peace at any price.

The people, stirred up by the terrorists, the furious men of the
Mountain, had to be reduced to silence, and the cry, "Long live the
constitution of '93! - down with the Convention!" - this cry, which every
day rolled on through the streets of Paris like the vague thunderings
of the war-drum, - had to be put down by armed force. Barrere,
Collot d'Herbois, Billaud Varennes, the remnant of the sanguinary
administration of Robespierre, the terrorists who excited the people
against the Convention, who pressed on the Thermidorists, and wanted
to occupy their place, these were the ones who with their adherents
and friends threatened the Convention and imperilled its existence. The
Convention rose up in its might and punished these leaders of sedition,
so as through fear and horror to disperse the masses of the people.

Barrere, Collot d'Herbois, and Billaud Varennes, were arrested and sent
to Cayenne; six of their friends, six republicans and terrorists, were
also seized, and as they were convicted of forging plots against the
Convention and the actual administration, they were sentenced to death.
A seventh had also been at the head of this conspiracy; and this seventh
one, who with the others had been sentenced to death, and whom the
Committee of Safety had watched for everywhere, to bring down upon him
the chastisement due, this seventh one was Salicetti - the same Salicetti
who after the fall of Robespierre had arrested General Bonaparte as
suspect. Bonaparte had never forgiven him, and though he often met him
in the house of Madame de Permont, and appeared to be reconciled with
him, yet he could not forget that he was the one who had stopped him
in the midst of his course of fame, that it was he who had debarred him
from his whole career.

"Salicetti has done me much harm," said Bonaparte to Madame de Permont,
and a strange look from his eyes met her face - "Salicetti has destroyed
my future in its dawn. He has blighted my plans of fame in their bud.
I repeat, he has done me much harm. He has been my evil spirit. I
can never forget it," but added he, thoughtfully, "I will now try to
forgive." [Footnote: Abrantes, vol. i, p. 300.]

And again a peculiar, searching look of his eyes met the face of Madame
de Permont.

She, however, turned aside, she avoided his look, for she dared not tell
him that Salicetti, for whom the Convention searched throughout Paris so
as to bring upon him the execution of his death-warrant - that Salicetti,
whom Bonaparte so fiercely hated, was hid a few steps from him in the
little cabinet near the drawing-room.

Like Bonaparte, Salicetti was the countryman of Madame de Permont; in
the days of his power, he had saved the husband and the son of Panonia
from the persecution of the terrorists, and lie had now come to ask
safety from those whom he had once saved.

Madame de Permont had not had the courage to refuse an asylum to
Salicetti; she kept him secreted in her house for weeks; and during all
these weeks, Bonaparte came daily to visit Madame de Permont and her
children, and every day he turned the conversation upon Salicetti, and
asked if they knew not yet where he was secreted. And every time, when
Madame de Permont answered him in the negative, he gazed at her with a
piercing look, and with his light, sarcastic smile.

Meanwhile Salicetti's danger for himself, and those who secreted him,
increased every day, and Madame de Permont resolved to quit Paris.
The sickness of her husband, who was in Toulon, furnished her with the
welcomed opportunity of a journey. She made known to the friends and
acquaintances who visited her house, and especially to Bonaparte, that
she had received a letter from the physician in Toulon, requesting her
presence at her husband's bed of sickness. Bonaparte read the letter,
and again the same strange look met the face of Madame de Permont.

"It is, indeed, important," said he, "that you should travel, and I
advise you to do so as soon as possible. Fatal consequences might ensue
to M. de Permont, were you to delay any longer in going to Toulon."

Madame de Permont made, therefore, all her arrangements for this
journey. Salicetti, disguised as a servant, was to accompany her.
Bonaparte still came as usual every day, and took great interest in
the preparations for her journey, and conversed with her in the most
friendly and pleasant manner. On the day of departure, he saluted her
most cordially, assured her of his true, unswerving attachment, and,
with a final, significant look, expressed a wish that her journey might
be accomplished without danger.

When Madame de Permont had overcome all difficulties, and she and her
daughter had left Paris and passed the barriere, as the carriage rolled
on without interruption (Salicetti, disguised as a servant, sitting
near the postilion on the driver's seat), the housemaid handed to her
a letter which General Bonaparte had given her, with positive orders to
hand it to her mistress only when they should be beyond the outer gates
of Paris.

The letter ran thus: "I have never been deceived: I would seem to be in
your estimation, if I did not tell you that, for the last twenty days, I
knew that Salicetti was secreted in your house. Remember what I told
you on the first day, Prairial, Madame de Permont - I had then the mental
conviction of this secrecy. Now it is a matter of fact. - Salicetti, you
see I could have returned to you the wrong which you perpetrated against
me, and by so doing I should have revenged myself, whilst you wronged
me without any offence on my part. Who plays at this moment the nobler
part, you or I? Yes, I could have revenged myself, and I have not done
it. You will, perhaps, say that your benefactress acted as a protecting
shield. That is true, and it also is taken into consideration. Yet,
even without this consideration, such as you were - alone, disarmed,
sentenced - your head would even then have been sacred to me. Go, seek in
peace a refuge where you can rise to nobler sentiments for your country.
My mouth remains closed in reference to your name, and will no more
utter it. Repent, and, above all things, do justice to my intentions. I
deserve it, for they are noble and generous.

"Madame de Permont, my best wishes accompany you and your daughter. You
are two frail beings, without protection. Providence and prayers will
accompany you. Be prudent, and during your journey never stop in large
towns. Farewell, and receive the assurance of my friendship." [Footnote:
Abrantes, "Memoires," vol. i., p. 351.]

The nobility of mind which Bonaparte displayed toward his enemy was
soon to receive its reward; for, whilst Salicetti, a fugitive, sick,
and sentenced to death, was compelled to remain hidden, Bonaparte was
emerging from the oblivion to which the ambitious zeal of Salicetti

Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 17 of 40)