Copyright
L. Mühlbach.

Empress Josephine online

. (page 18 of 40)
Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 18 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


would have consigned him.

When Napoleon, dismissed from his position, arrived in Paris, and
appealed to Aubry, the chief of the war department, to be re-established
in his command, he was told: "Bonaparte is too young to command an army
as general-in-chief;" and Bonaparte answered: "One soon becomes old on
the battle-field, and I come from it." [Footnote: Norvins, "Histoire de
Napoleon," vol. i., p. 60.]

But Aubry, in his functions of chief of the war department, was soon
superseded by the representative Douclet de Ponte-Coulant, and this
event gave to the position of the young general a different aspect.
Ponte-Coulant had for some time followed with attention the course of
the young general, whose military talents and warlike reputation had
filled him with astonishment. He had especially been surprised at
the plan for the conduct of the war and the conquest of Italy which
Bonaparte had laid before the war committee. Now that Ponte-Coulant had
been promoted to be chief of the war department, he sent for General
Bonaparte, and attached him to the topographic committee, where the
plans of campaigns were decided and the movements of each separate corps
delineated.

The forgotten one, doomed to inactivity, General Napoleon Bonaparte, now
arose from his obscurity, and before him again opened life, the world,
and fame's pathway, which was to lead him up to a throne. But the envy
and jealousy of the party-men of the Convention ever threw obstacles
before him on his glorious course, and the war-scheme which he
now unfolded to the committee for the campaign did not receive the
approbation of the successor of Ponte-Coulant in the war department, and
it was thrust aside. A new political crisis was needed to place in the
hands of Napoleon the command of the army, the ruling authority over
France, and this crisis was at hand.

Paris, diseased, still bleeding in its innermost life with a thousand
wounds, was devoured by hunger. The unfortunate people, wretched from
want and pain, during many past years, were now driven to despair. The
political party leaders understood but too well how to take advantage of
this, and to prey upon it. The royalists were busy instilling into the
people's minds the idea that the return of the Bourbons would restore
to miserable France peace and happiness. The terrorists told the people
that the Convention was the sole obstacle to their rest and to their
peace, that it was necessary to scatter it to the winds, and to
re-establish the Constitution of 1793. The whole population of Paris was
divided and broken into factions, struggling one against the other with
infuriated passions. The royalists, strengthened by daily accessions
of emigrants, who, under fictitious names and with false passports,
returned to Paris to claim the benefit of the milder laws passed in
their favor, constituted a formidable power in that city. Whole sections
were devoted to them, and were secretly supplied by them with arms and
provisions, so as finally to be prepared to act against the Convention.
An occasion soon presented itself.

The Convention had, through eleven of its committee members, prepared
a new constitution, and had laid it before the people for adoption or
rejection, according to the majority of votes. The whole country, with
the exception of Paris, was in favor of this new constitution - she
alone in her popular assemblies rejected it, declared the Convention
dissolved, and the armed sections arose to make new elections. The
Convection declared these assemblies to be illegal, and ordered their
dissolution. The armed sections made resistance, congregated together,
and by force opposed the troops of the Convention - the National
Guards - commanded by General Menou. On the 12th Vendemiaire all Paris
was under arms again; barricades were thrown up by the people, who
swore to die in their defence sooner than to submit to the will of the
Convention; the noise of drums and trumpets was heard in every street;
all the horrors and cruelties of a civil war once more filled the
capital of the revolution, and the city was drunk with blood!

The people fought with the courage of despair, pressed on victoriously,
and won from General Menou a few streets; whole battalions of the
National Guards abandoned the troops of the Convention and went over to
the sections. General Menou found himself in so dangerous a position
as to be forced to conclude an armistice until the next day with the
Section Lepelletier, which was opposed to him, up to which time the
troops on either side were to suspend operations.

The Section Lepelletier declared itself at once en permanence, sent
her delegates to all the other sections, and called upon "the sovereign
people, whose rights the Convention wished to usurp," to make a last and
decisive struggle.

The Convention found itself in the most alarming position; it trembled
for its very existence, and already in fancy saw again the days of
terror, the guillotine rising and claiming for its first victims the
heads of the members of the Convention. A pallid fear overspread all
faces as constantly fresh news of the advance of the sections reached
them, when General Menou sent news of the concluded armistice.

At this moment a pale young man rushed into the hall of session, and
with glowing eloquence and persuasive manner entreated the Convention
not to accept the armistice, not to give time to the sections to
increase their strength, nor to recognize them as a hostile power to war
against the government.

This pale young man - whose impassioned language filled the minds of all
his hearers with animosity against General Menou, and with fresh courage
and desire to fight - was Napoleon Bonaparte.

After he had spoken, other representatives rushed to the tribune, to
make propositions to the Assembly, all their motions converging to the
same end - all desired to have General Menou placed under arrest, and
Bonaparte appointed in his place, and intrusted with the defence of the
Convention and of the legislative power against the people.

The Assembly accepted this motion, and appointed Bonaparte commanding
officer of the troops of the Convention, and, for form's sake, named
Barras, president of the Convention, commander-in-chief.

Bonaparte accepted the commission; and now, at last, after so much
waiting, so many painful months of inactivity, he found himself called
to action; he stood again at the head of an army, however small it might
be, and could again lift up the sword as the signal for the march to the
fight.

It is true this fight had a sad, horrible purpose; it was directed
against the people, against the sections which declared themselves to be
the committee of the sovereign people, and that they were fighting the
holy fight of freedom against those who usurped their rights.

General Bonaparte had refused to go to Vendee, because he wished not
to fight against his own countrymen, and could not take part in a
civil war; but now, at this hour of extreme peril, he placed himself
in opposition to the people's sovereignty, and assumed command over the
troops of the Convention, whose mission it was to subdue the people.

Every thing now assumed a more earnest attitude; during the night the
newly-appointed commanding officer sent three hundred chasseurs, under
Murat, to bring to Paris forty cannon from the park of artillery in
Sablons, and, when the morning of the 13th Vendemiaire began to dawn,
the pieces were already in position in the court of the Tuileries and
pointed against the people. Besides which, General Bonaparte had taken
advantage of the night to occupy all the important points and places,
and to arm them; even into the hall of session of the Convention he
ordered arms and ammunition to be brought, that the representatives
might defend themselves, in case they were pressed upon by the people.

As the sun of the 13th Vendemiaire rose over Paris, a terrible
street-fight began - the fight of the sovereign people against the
Convention. It was carried on by both sides with the utmost bitterness
and fierceness, the sections rushing with fanatic courage, with all the
energy of hatred, against these soldiers who dared slay their brothers
and bind their liberty in chains; the soldiers of the Convention fought
with all the bitterness which the consciousness of their hated position
instilled into them.

The cannon thundered in every street and mingled their sounds with the
cries of rage from the sectionnaires - the howlings of the women, the
whiz of the howitzers, the loud clangs of the bells, which incessantly
called the people to arms. Streams of blood flowed again through the
streets; everywhere, near the scattered barricades, near the houses
captured by storm, lay bloody corpses; everywhere resounded the cries of
the dying, the shrieks and groans of the wounded, the wild shouts of the
combatants. In the Church of St. Roche, and in the Theatre Francaise,
the sectionnaires, driven from the neighboring streets by the troops of
General Bonaparte, had gathered together and endeavored to defend these
places with the courage of despair. But the howitzers of Bonaparte soon
scattered them, and the contest was decided.

The sections were defeated; the people, conquered by the Convention, had
to recognize its authority; they were no more the sovereigns of France;
they had found a ruler before whom they must bow.

This ruler was yet called the Convention, but behind the Convention
stood another ruler - General Bonaparte!

It was he who had defeated the people, who had secured the authority to
the Convention, and it was therefore natural that it should be thankful
and exhibit its gratitude. General Bonaparte, in acknowledgment for
the great services done to his country, was by the Convention appointed
commander-in-chief of the army of the interior, and thus suddenly he
saw himself raised from degrading obscurity to pomp and influence,
surrounded by a brilliant staff, installed in a handsome palace by
virtue of his office as chief officer, entitled to and justified in
maintaining an establishment wherein to represent worthily the dignity
of his new position.

The 13th Vendemiaire, which dethroned the sovereign people, brought
General Bonaparte a step nearer to the throne.




CHAPTER XX. THE WIDOW JOSEPHINE BEAUHARNAIS.


Meanwhile Josephine had passed the first months of her newly-obtained
freedom in quiet contentment with her children in Fontainebleau, at the
house of her father-in-law. Her soul, bowed down by so much misery
and pain, needed quietness and solitude to allow her wounds to cease
bleeding and to heal; her heart, which had experienced so much anguish
and so many deceptions, needed to rest on the bosom of her children and
her relatives, so as to be quickened into new life. Only in the solitude
and stillness of Fontainebleau did she feel well and satisfied; every
other distraction, every interruption of this quiet, orderly existence
brought on a nervous trembling, which mastered her whole body, as if
some other adversity was about to break upon her. The days of terror
which she had passed in Paris, and especially the days she had outlived
in prison, were ever fresh before her mind, and tormented her with their
reminiscences alike in her vigils and in her dreams.

She wanted to hear nothing of the world's events, nothing from Paris,
the mention of which place filled her with fear and horror; and with
tears in her eyes she entreated her father-in-law to omit all mention of
the political changes and revolutions which took place there.

But, alas! the politics from which Josephine fled, to which she closed
her ears, rushed upon her against her will - they came to her in the
shape of want and privation.

Josephine, who wished to have nothing more to do with the affairs of
this world, learned, through the deprivations which she had to endure,
the want to which she and her family were exposed, that the world
had not yet been pushed back into the old grooves, out of which
the revolution had so violently lifted it up; that the republic yet
exercised a despotic authority, and was not prepared to return to the
heirs the property of the victims of the guillotine! The income
and property of General Beauharnais had all been confiscated by
the republic, for he had been executed as a state criminal, and
the procedure had this in common with the ordinary actions of the
government, that it never returned what it had once usurped. Even
Josephine's father-in-law, as well as her aunt - Madame de Renaudin,
who, after her husband's death, had been married to the Marquis de
Beauharnais - had both in the revolutionary storms lost all their
property, and saw themselves reduced to the last extremity. They lived
from day to day with the greatest economy, upon the smallest means, and
flattered themselves with the hope that justice would be done to the
innocent victims of the revolution; that at last to the widow and
children of the murdered General Beauharnais his income and property
would be returned.

Another hope remained to Josephine: reliance upon her relatives,
especially upon her mother in Martinique. She had written to her as soon
as she had obtained her liberty; she had entreated her mother, who had
been a widow for two years, to rent all her property in Martinique, and
to come to France, and at her daughter's side to enjoy a few quiet years
of domestic happiness.

But this hope also was to be destroyed, for the revolution in Martinique
had committed the same devastations as in France, and the burning houses
of their masters had been the bonfires whose flames were sent up to
heaven by the newly-freed slaves in the name of the republic and of the
rights of man. Madame Tascher de la Pagerie had experienced the same
fate as all the planters in Martinique; her house and outbuildings had
been burnt, her plantations destroyed, and a long time would be required
before the fields could again be made to produce a harvest. Until then,
Madame Tascher would be sorely limited in her means, and, if she did
not succeed in selling some of her property and raising funds, would be
without the money necessary to bring under cultivation the remnant of
her large plantation. She was, therefore, not immediately prepared to
supply her daughter with any considerable assistance, and Josephine
endured the anguish of seeing not only herself and children, but also
her dear mother, suffer through want and privation.

To the need of gold to procure bare necessaries, was soon added the very
lack of them. Famine, with all its horrors, was at hand; the people
were clamoring for food, and the land-owners as well as the rich were
suffering from the want of that prime necessary of life-bread! The
Convention had adopted no measures to satisfy the demands of the howling
populace, and it had to remain contented with making accessible to all
such provisions as were in the land. One law, therefore, ordered all
land-owners to deliver to the state their stores of meal; a second law
prohibited any person from buying more than one pound of bread on the
same day. The greatest delicacy in those days of common wretchedness
was white bread, and there were many families that for a long time were
unable to procure this luxury.

Josephine herself had with many others to endure this privation: the
costly white loaf was beyond her reach. In her depressed and sad lot the
unfortunate widowed viscountess remained in possession of a treasure
for which many of the wealthy and high-born longed in vain, and which
neither gold nor wealth could procure - Josephine possessed friends,
true, devoted friends, who forsook her not in the day of need, but stood
the more closely at her side, helping and loving.

Among these friends were, above all, Madame Dumoulin and M. Emery.
Madame Dumoulin, the wife of a wealthy purveyor of the republican army,
was at heart a true royalist, and had made it her mission, as much as
was within her power, to assist with her means the most destitute from
whom the revolution had taken their family joys and property. She aided
with money and clothing the unfortunate emigrants, who, as prominent and
influential friends of the king and of Old France, had abandoned their
country, and who now, as nameless, wretched beggars, returned home to
beg of New France the privilege at least to hunger and starve, and at
last to die in their motherland. Madame Dumoulin had always an open
house for those aristocrats and ci-devants who had the courage not to
emigrate and to bow their despised heads to all the fluctuations of the
republic, and had remained in France, though deprived by the republic of
their ancestral names, property, and rank. Those aristocrats who had
not migrated found a friendly reception in the house of the witty and
amiable Madame Dumoulin, and twice a week she gathered those friends of
the ancient regime to a dinner, which was prepared with all the luxury
of former days, and which offered to her friends, besides material
enjoyment, the pleasures of an agreeable and attractive company.

Among Madame Dumoulin's friends who never failed to be present at these
dinners was Josephine de Beauharnais, of whom Madame Dumoulin said she
was the sunbeam of her drawing-room, for she warmed and vitalized all
hearts. But this sunbeam had not the power to bring forth out of the
unfruitful soil of the fatherland a few ears of wheat to turn its flour
into white bread. As every one was allowed to buy bread only according
to the numbers in the household, Madame Dumoulin could not give to her
guests at dinner any white bread, and on her cards of invitation was the
then usual form, "You are invited to bring a loaf of white bread."

But it was beyond the means of the poor Viscountess de Beauharnais to
fulfil this invitation; her purse was not sufficient to afford her twice
a week the luxury of white bread. Madame Dumoulin, who knew this, came
kindly to the rescue of Josephine's distress, and entreated her not to
trouble herself with bringing bread, but to allow her to procure it for
her friend.

Josephine accepted this offer with tears of emotion, and she never
forgot the goodness and kindness of Madame Dumoulin. In the days of her
highest glory she remembered her, and once, when empress, radiant with
jewels and ornaments of gold, as she stood in the midst of her court,
related with a bewitching smile, to the ladies around her, that there
was a time when she would have given a year of her life to possess but
one of those jewels, not to adorn herself therewith, but to sell it, so
as to buy bread for her children, and that in those days the excellent
Madame Dumoulin had been a benefactress to her, and that she had
received at her hands the bread of charity. [Footnote: "Memoires sur
l'Imperatrice Josephine," par Mad. Ducrest, chap XXXVI.]

The same abiding friendship was shown to Josephine by M. Emery, a banker
who had a considerable business in Dunkirk, and who for many years had
been in mercantile relations with the family of Tascher de la Pagerie in
Martinique. Madame de la Pagerie had every year sent him the produce of
her sugar plantations, and he had attended to the sale to the largest
houses in Germany. He knew better than any one else the pecuniary
circumstances of the Pagerie family; he knew that, if at present Madame
de la Pagerie could not repay his advanced sums, her plantations would
soon produce a rich harvest, and even now be a sufficient security. M.
Emery was therefore willing to assist the daughter of Madame Tascher de
la Pagerie, and several times he advanced to Josephine considerable sums
which she had drawn upon her mother.

The cares of every-day life, its physical necessities, lifted Josephine
out of the sad melancholy in which she had lulled her sick, wounded
heart, within the solitude of Fontainebleau. She must not settle down in
this inactive twilight, nor wrap herself up in the gloomy gray veil of
widowhood! Life had still claims upon her; it called to her through
her children's voices, for whom she had a future to provide, as well
as through the voice of her own youth, which she must not intrust
hopelessly to the gloomy Fontainebleau.

And the young mother dared not and wanted not to close her ears to these
calls; she arose from her supineness, and courageously resolved to
begin anew life's battle, and to claim her share from the enjoyments and
pleasures of this world.

She first, by the advice of M. Emery, undertook a journey to Hamburg,
to make some arrangements with the rich and highly respectable
banking-house of Mathiesen and Sissen. Mathiesen, the banker, who had
married a niece of Madame de Genlis, had always shown the greatest
hospitality to all Frenchmen who had applied to him, and he had assisted
them with advice and deeds. To him Josephine appealed, at the request
of M. Emery, so as to procure a safe opportunity to send letters to her
mother in Martinique, and also to obtain from him funds on bills drawn
upon her mother.

M. Mathiesen met her wishes with a generous pleasure, and through him
Josephine received sufficient sums of money to protect her from further
embarrassments and anxieties, at least until her mother, who was on the
eve of selling a portion of her plantation, could send her some money.

On her return from her business-journey to Hamburg, as she was no longer
a poor widow without means, she adopted the courageous resolution of
leaving her asylum and returning to dangerous and deserted Paris, there
to prepare for her son an honorable future, and endeavor to procure for
her daughter an education suited to her rank and capacities.

At the end of the year 1795, Josephine returned with her two children
to Paris, which one year before she had left so sorrowfully and so
dispirited.

What changes had been wrought during this one year! How the face
of things had been altered! The revolution had bled to death. The
thirteenth Vendemiaire had scattered to the winds the seditious elements
of revolution, and the republic was beginning quietly and peacefully to
grow into stature. The Convention, with its Mountain, its terrorists,
its Committee of Safety, its persecutions and executions, had outlived
its power, which it had consigned to the pages of history with so many
tears and so much blood. In a strange contradiction with its own bloody
deeds, it celebrated the last day of its existence by a law which, as a
farewell to the thousand corpses it had sacrificed to the revolution,
it had printed on its gory brow. On the day of its dissolution the
Convention gave to France this last law: "Capital punishment is forever
abolished." [Footnote: Norvins, "Histoire de Napoleon," vol. i., p. 82.]

With this farewell kiss, this love-salutation to the France of the
future, to the new self-informing France, the Convention dissolved
itself, and in its stead came the Council of Elders, the Council of Five
Hundred, and lastly the Directory, composed of five members, among whom
had been elected the more eminent members of the Convention, namely,
Barras and Carnot.

Josephine's first movement in Paris was to find the lovely friend whom
she made in the Carmelite prison, and to whom she in some measure owed
her life, to visit Therese de Fontenay and see if the heart of the
beautiful, celebrated woman had in its days of happiness and power
retained its remembrances of those of wretchedness and mortal fears.

Therese de Fontenay was now the wife of Tallien, who, elected to the
Council of the Five Hundred, continued to play an influential
and important part, and therefore had his court of flatterers and
time-serving friends as well as any ruling prince. His house was one
of the most splendid in Paris; the feasts and banquets which took place
there reminded one, by their extravagant magnificence, of the days of
ancient Rome, and that this remembrance might still be more striking,
ladies in the rich, costly costumes of patrician matrons of ancient
Rome appeared at those festivities not unworthy of a Lucullus. Madame
Tallien - in the ample robe of wrought gold of a Roman empress, shod with
light sandals, from which issued the beautiful naked feet, and the toes
adorned with costly rings, her exquisitely moulded arms ornamented with
massive gold bracelets; her short curly hair fastened together by a
gold bandelet, which rose over the forehead in the shape of a diadem,
bejewelled with precious diamonds; the mantle of purple, fringed
with gold and placed on the shoulders - was in this costume of such a
wonderful beauty, that men gazed at her with astonishment and women with
envy.



Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 18 of 40)