L. Mühlbach.

Empress Josephine online

. (page 19 of 40)
Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 19 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

And this beautiful woman, often worshipped and adored, though sometimes
slandered, had amid her triumphs kept a faithful remembrance of the
past. She received Josephine with the affection of a true friend. In
her generosity she allowed her no time to proffer any request, but came
forward herself with offers to intercede for her friend, and to use all
the means at her disposal, omitting nothing that would help Josephine to
recover her fortune, her lost property. With all the eagerness of true
love she took the arm of her friend and led her to Tallien, and with the
enchanting smile and attitude of a commanding princess she told him that
he must help Josephine to become happy again, that every thing he could
do for her would be rewarded by an increasing love; that if he did not
do justice to Josephine, she would punish him by her anger and coldness.

Tallien listened with complacency to the praiseworthy commands of
his worshipped Therese, and promised to use all his influence to have
justice done to the will of the sacrificed General de Beauharnais. He
himself accompanied Josephine to Barras, that she might present her
application to him personally and request at his hands restitution of
her property. She was received by Barras, as well as by the other four
directors, with the greatest politeness; each promised to attend to
her case and to return to the widow and to the children of Alexandre de
Beauharnais the property which had been so unjustly taken from them.

It is true, weeks and months of waiting and uncertainty passed away,
but Josephine had hope for a comforter; she had, besides, her beautiful
friend Therese Tallien, who with affectionate eloquence endeavored to
instil courage into Josephine, and by her constant petitions and
prayers did not allow the Directory, amid its many important affairs
of government, to forget the case of the poor young widow. Therese took
care also that Josephine should appear in society at the receptions and
balls given by the members of the new government; and when made timid
through misfortune, and depressed at heart by the uncertainty of her
narrow lot, she desired to keep aloof from these rejoicings, Therese
knew how to convince her that she must sacrifice her love of retirement
to her children; that it was her duty to accept the invitations of the
Directory, so as to keep alive their interest and favor in her behalf;
and that, were she to retreat into solitude and obscurity, she would
thereby imperil her future and that of her children.

Josephine submitted to this law of necessity, and appeared in society.
She screened her cares and her heartsores under the covert of smiles,
she forced herself into cheerfulness, and when now and then the smile
vanished from her lip and tears filled her eyes, she thought of her
children, and, mastering her sorrows, she was again the beautiful,
lovely woman, whose elegant manners and lively and witty conversation
charmed and astonished every one.

At last, after long months of uncertainty, Therese Tallien, her face
beaming with joy, came one morning to visit her friend Josephine, and
presented to her a paper with a large seal, which Tallien had given her
that very morning.

It was an order, signed by the five directors, instructing the
administrator of the domains to relieve the capital and the property of
General Beauharnais from the sequestration laid upon them, and also to
remove the seals from his furniture and his movables, and to reinstate
the Widow Beauharnais in possession of all the property left by her

Josephine received this paper with tears of joy, and, full of religious,
devout gratitude, she fell on her knees and cried:

"I thank Thee, my God! I thank Thee! My children will no more suffer
from want, and now I can give them a suitable education."

She then fell upon her friend's neck, thanking her for her faithfulness,
and swore her everlasting friendship and affection.

The dark clouds which had so long overshadowed Josephine's life were now
gone, and in its place dawned day, bright and clear.

But the sun which was to illumine this day with wondrous glory had
not yet appeared. Therese at this hour reminded her friend of a day in
prison when Josephine had assured her friends trembling for her life
that she was not going to die, that she would one day be Queen of

"Yes," said Josephine, smiling and thoughtful, "who knows if this
prophecy will not be fulfilled? To-day begins for me a new life. I have
done with the past, and it will sink behind me in the abyss of oblivion.
I trust in the future! It must repay me for all the tears and anxieties
of my past life, and who knows if it will not erect me a throne?"


Yes, they were now ended, the days of sufferings and privations! The
wife of General Beauharnais was no more the poor widow who appeared as
a petitioner in the drawing-rooms of the members of the Directory, and
often obliged, even in the worst kind of weather, to go on foot to the
festivals of Madame Tallien, because she lacked the means to pay for
a cab; she was no longer the poor mother who had to be satisfied to
procure inferior teachers for her children, because she could not
possibly pay superior ones.

Now, as by a spell, all was changed, and gold was the magic wand which
had produced it. Thanks to this talisman, the Viscountess de Beauharnais
could now quit the small, remote, gloomy dwelling in which she had
hitherto resided, and could again procure a house, gather society round
about her, and, above all things, provide for the education of her

This was her dearest duty, her most important obligation, with which
she busied herself even before she rented a modestly-furnished room.
Her Eugene, the darling of her heart, desired like his father to devote
himself to a military life, and his mother took him to a boarding-school
in St. Germain, where young men of distinguished families received their
education. Her twelve-year-old daughter Hortense, of whom Josephine had
said, "She is my angel with the gold locks, who alone can smile away
the tears from my eyes and sorrow from my heart" - Hortense entered
the newly-opened educational establishment of Madame Campan, once the
lady-in-waiting of Marie Antoinette. Josephine wept hot tears as she
accompanied her Hortense into the boarding-school, and, embracing her
blond curly-haired angel, she closely pressed her to her heart, and

"Judge how much I love you, my daughter, since I have the courage to
leave you and to deprive myself of the greatest of my life's enjoyments!
Ah, I shall be very lonesome, Hortense, but my thoughts will be with you
continually - with you and your brother Eugene. Live to be an honor to
your father, grow and prosper to be your mother's happiness!"

Then with a kiss she took leave of her daughter, and comfortless and
alone she returned to her solitary apartments in Paris.

During the next eight days her doors were shut; she opened them to none,
not even to her friend Therese, and not once did Josephine leave her
dwelling during this time, nor did she accept any of the invitations
which came to her from all sides.

Her heart was yet wrapped in mourning for her separation from her
children, and, with all the intensity of an affectionate mother's love,
she preferred leaving her anguish to die out of itself than to suppress
it with amusements and pleasures.

But after this last sorrow had been overcome, Josephine, with serenity
and a smile of cheerfulness, came again from her solitude into the
world which called her forth with all its voices of joy, pleasure,
and flattery. And Josephine no longer closed her ears to these sweet
attractive voices. She had long enough suffered, wept, fasted; now
she ought to reap enjoyments, and gather her portion of this life's
pleasures; now she must live! The past had set behind her, and, as one
new-born or risen from the dead, Josephine walked into the world with a
young maiden heart, and a mind opened to all that is beautiful, great,
and good; her soul filled with visions, hopes, desires, and dreams.
Out of the widow's veil came forth the young, charming Creole, and her
radiant eyes saluted the world with intelligent looks and an expression
of the most attractive goodness.

Her next care was to procure a pleasant, convenient home suited to her
rank. She purchased from the actor Talma a house which he possessed
in the Street Chautereine, and where he had, during the storms of the
revolution, received his friends as well as all the literary, artistic,
and political notables of the day with the kindest hospitality. It
was not a brilliant, distinguished hotel, no splendid building, but a
small, tastefully and conveniently arranged house, with pretty rooms, a
cheerful drawing-room, lovely garden, exactly suited to have therein a
quiet, agreeable, informal pastime. Josephine possessed in the highest
degree the art of her sex to furnish rooms with elegance and taste,
so as to make every one in them comfortable, satisfied, at ease, and

The drawing-room of the widow of General Beauharnais became soon the
central point where all her friends of former days found themselves
together again, and all the remnants of the good old society found
reception; where the learned, the artist, the poet, met with a refuge,
there to rest for a few hours from political strife, to put aside the
serpent's skin of assumed republican manners, and again assume the
tone and forms of the higher society. Such drawing-rooms in these
revolutionary days were extremely few; no one dared to become
conspicuous; every one was reserved and quiet; every one shrank from
making himself suspected of being a ci-devant, even if under the
republican toga he left visible his dress-coat of the upper society with
its embroidery of gold. Men had entirely broken with the past, wishing
to deny it, and not be under the yoke of its forms and rules; it was
therefore necessary, out of the chaos of the republic, to create a
new world, a new society, new forms of etiquette, and new fashions.
Meanwhile, until these new fashions for republican France should be
found, men had recourse (so as not to go back to the days of the late
monarchy of France) to the republics of olden times; the ladies dressed
according to the patterns of the old statues of the deities of Greece
and Rome, giving receptions in the style of ancient Greece, and banquets
laid out in all the extravagant splendors of a Lucullus.

The members of the republican Directory, whose residence was in the
palace of the Luxemburg, took the lead in all these neo-Grecian and
neo-Roman festivities; and, whereas they loudly proclaimed that it was
necessary to furnish opportunities to the working-classes and laborers
to gain money, and that it was incumbent on all to promote industry,
they rivalled each other in their efforts to exhibit an extravagant
pomp and a brilliant display. On reception-days of the members of the
Directory the public streamed in masses toward the Luxemburg, there to
admire the splendors of the five monarchs, and to rejoice that the days
of the carmagnoles, the sans-culottes, the dirty blouse, and the bonnet
rouge were at least gone by. The five directors, to the delight of the
Parisian people, wore costly silk and velvet garments embroidered
with gold, and on their hats, trimmed also with gold lace, waved large

Luxury celebrated its return to Paris, after having had to secrete
itself, so long from the blood-stained hands of the sans-culottes,
in the most obscure corners of the deserted palaces of St. Germain.
Pleasure, which had fled away horrified from the guillotine and from the
terrorists, dared once more to show its rose-wreathed brow and smiling
countenance, and here and there make its cheerful festivities resound.

Men became glad, and dared to laugh again; they came out from the
stillness of their homes, which anxiety had kept closed, to search for
amusement, pleasure, and recreation; but no citizen dared to be select,
none dared to assume aristocratic exclusiveness. One had to be pleased
with a dinner at a tavern; with a glass of ice-water in a cafe, or to
take part in a public ball which was opened to every one who could pay
his fee of admission; and especially in the evening the public rushed to
the theatre with the same eagerness that was exhibited in the morning
to reach the shops of the bakers and butchers, where each received
his portion of meat or bread by producing a card signed by the circuit
commissioners. In front of these shops, as well as in front of the
theatres, the pressure was so great that for hours it was necessary to
fall into line, and sometimes go away dissatisfied; for the republic
had yet retained the system of equality, so that the rich and the
influential were not served any sooner than the poor and the unknown;
there was only one exception: only one condition received distinction
before the baker's shop and the theatre: it was that of the mothers of
the future, those women whose external appearance revealed that they
would soon bring forth a future citizen, a new soldier for the republic,
which had lost so many of its sons upon the scaffold and on the

It was so long that one had been deprived of laughter and merriment, and
had walked with sad countenance and grave solemnity through the days
of blood and terror, that now every occasion for hilarity was received
eagerly and thankfully, and every opportunity for mirth and amusement
sought out. The theatres were therefore filled every evening with an
attentive, thankful audience; every jest of the actor, every part well
performed, elicited enthusiastic approbation. It is true no one yet
dared act any other pieces than those which had reference to the
revolution, and in some shape or other celebrated the republic, accusing
and vilifying the royalists. The pieces represented were - "The Perfect
Equality," or else "Thee and Thou," "The Last Trial of the Queen,"
"Tarquin, or the Fall of the Monarchy," "Marat's Apotheosis," and
similar dramas, all infused with republicanism; still, men faint at
heart and satiated with the republic, hastened notwithstanding to the
theatre, to enjoy an hour of recreation and merriment.

To be cheerful, happy, and joyous, seemed now to the Parisians the
highest duty of life, and every thing was made subservient to it.
The people had wept and mourned so long, that now, to shake off this
oppressive heaviness of mind, they rushed with fanatical precipitancy
into pleasure; they gave themselves up to the wildest orgies and
bacchanals, and without disgust or shame abandoned themselves to the
most immoral conduct. All tears were dried up as if by magic; honest
poverty began to be ashamed of itself; and the wealth so carefully hid
until now, was again brought to light; even those who in the days
of revolutionary terror had become rich through the property of the
sacrificed victims, exposed themselves to public gaze with impunity
and without shame. They plundered and adorned themselves with a wealth
acquired only through cunning, treachery, and murder. Everywhere feasts,
banquets, and balls, were organized; and it was an ordinary event to
find in the same company the accuser and the accused, the executioner
and his victim, the murderer near the daughter of the man whose head he
had given over to the guillotine!

This was especially the case at the so-called victim balls (bals a la
victime) which were given by the heirs, the sons and fathers of
those who had perished by the guillotine. People gathered together
in brilliant entertainments and balls to the honor and memory of the
executed ones. Every one who could pay the large fee of admission to
these bals a la victime were permitted to enter. Those who came there,
not for pleasure, but to honor their dead, showed this intention by
their clothing, and especially by the arrangement of their hair. To
remind them that those who had been led to the guillotine had had their
hair cut close, gentlemen now had theirs cut short, and the dressing
of the hair a la victime was for gentlemen as much a fashion as the
dressing of the hair a la Titus (the Roman emperor) was for the ladies.
Besides this, the heirs of the victims wore some token of the departed
ones, and ladies and gentlemen were seen in the blood-stained garments
which their relatives had worn on their way to the scaffold, and which
they had purchased with large sums of money from the executioner, that
lord of Paris. It often happened that a lady in the blood-stained dress
of her mother danced with the son of the man who had delivered her
mother to the guillotine; that a son of a member of the Convention of
1793 led, in the minuet, the graceful "pas de chale," with the daughter
of an emigrant marquis. The most fanatical men of the days of terror,
now exalted into wealthy land-owners, led on in the gay waltz the
daughters of their former landlords; and these women pressed the hand
soiled with the blood of their relatives because now, as amends for
their traffic in blood, they could offer future wealth and distinction.

It seemed that all Paris and all France had gone mad - that the whole
nation was drunk with blood as with intoxicating wine, and wanted
to stifle the voice of conscience in the horrible revelry of the

Josephine never took part in these public balls and festivities;
never did the widow of General Beauharnais, one of the victims of the
revolution, attend these bals a la victime, where man prided himself on
his misfortune and gloried in his sorrows. The Moniteur - which then gave
daily notices of the balls and amusements that were to take place in
Paris, so as to let the world know how cheerful and happy every one
felt there, and which made it its business to publish the names of the
ci-devants and ex-nobles who had partaken in these festivities - never
in its long and correct list mentions the name of the widow of General

Josephine kept aloof from all these wild dissipations - these balls and
banquets. She would neither dance, nor adorn herself in the memory of
her husband; she would not take a part in the splendid festivities of
a republic which had murdered him, and had pierced her loyal heart with
the deepest wounds.


In the midst of these joys and amusements of the new-growing Paris,
the storm of the thirteenth Vendemiaire launched forth its destructive
thunderbolts, and another rent was made in the lofty structure of the
republic. The royalists, who had cunningly frequented these bals a
la victime, to weave intrigues and conspiracies, found their webs
scattered, and the republic assumed a new form.

Napoleon with his sword had cut to pieces the webs and snares of the
royalists as well as of the revolutionists, and France had to bow to the
constitution. In the Tuileries now sat the Council of the Elders; in
the Salle du Manege sat the Five Hundred; and in the palace of Luxemburg
resided the five directors of the republic.

On the thirteenth Vendemiaire Paris had passed through a crisis of its
revolutionary disease; and, to prevent its falling immediately into
another, it permitted the newly-appointed commander-in-chief of the army
of the interior of France, General Napoleon Bonaparte, to have every
house strictly searched, and to confiscate all weapons found.

Even into the house of the Viscountess de Beauharnais, in the rue
Chantereine, came the soldiers of the republic to search for secreted
weapons. They found there the sword of Alexandre de Beauharnais, which
certainly Josephine had not hidden, for it was the chief ornament of her
son's room. When Eugene, on the next Saturday, came to Paris from St.
Germain, as he did every week, to pass the Sunday in his mother's house,
to his great distress he saw vacant on the wall the place where the
sword of his father had been hanging. With trembling voice and tears
in her eyes his mother told him that General Bonaparte, the new
commander-in-chief, had ordered the sword to be carried away by his

A cry of anger and of malediction was Eugene's answer; then with
flaming eyes and cheeks burning with rage he rushed out, despite the
supplications of his affrighted and anxious mother. Without pausing,
without thinking - conscious only of this, that he must have again his
father's sword, he rushed on. It was impossible, thought he, that the
republic which had deprived his father of the honors due to him, his
property, his money - that now, after his death, she should also take
away his sword.

He must have this sword again! This was Eugene's firm determination,
and this made him bold and resolute. He rushed into the palace where the
general-in-chief, Bonaparte, resided, and with daring vehemence demanded
an interview with the general; and, as the door-keeper hesitated, and
even tried to push away the bold boy from the door of the drawing-room,
Eugene turned about with so much energy, spoke, scolded, and raged so
loudly and so freely, that the noise reached even the cabinet where
General Bonaparte was. He opened the door, and in his short, imperious
manner asked the cause of this uproar; and when the servant had told
him, with a sign of the hand he beckoned the young man to come in.

Eugene de Beauharnais entered the drawing-room with a triumphant
smile, and the eye of General Bonaparte was fixed with pleasure on the
beautiful, intelligent countenance, on the tall, powerful figure of the
fifteen-year-old boy. In that strange, soft accent which won hearts to
Napoleon, he asked Eugene his business. The young man's cheeks became
pallid, and with tremulous lips and angry looks, the vehement eloquence
of youth and suffering, Eugene spoke of the loss he had sustained, and
of the pain which had been added to it by despoiling him of the sword of
his father, murdered by the republic.

At these last words of Eugene, Bonaparte's brow was overshadowed, and an
appalling look met the face of the brave boy.

"You dare say that the republic has murdered your father?" asked he, in
a loud, angry voice.

"I say it, and I say the truth!" exclaimed Eugene, who did not turn away
his eyes from the flaming looks of the general. "Yes, the republic has
murdered my father, for it has executed him as a criminal, as a traitor
to his country, and he was innocent; he ever was a faithful servant of
his country and of the republic."

"Who told you that it was so?" asked Bonaparte, abruptly.

"My heart and the republic itself tell me that my father was no
traitor," exclaimed Eugene, warmly. "My mother loved him much, and she
regrets him still. She would not do so had he been a traitor, and then
the republic would not have done what it has done - it would not have
returned to my mother the confiscated property of my father, but would,
had he been considered guilty, have gladly kept it back."

The grave countenance of Bonaparte was overspread by a genial smile, and
his eyes rested with the expression of innermost sympathy on the son of

"You think, then, that the republic gladly keeps what it has?" asked he.

"I see that it gladly takes what belongs not to it," exclaimed Eugene,
eagerly. "It has taken away my father's sword, which belonged to me, his
son, and my mother has made me swear on that sword to hold my father's
memory sacred, and to strive to be like him."

"Your mother is, it seems, a very virtuous old lady," said Bonaparte, in
a friendly tone.

"My mother is a virtuous, young, and beautiful lady," said Eugene,
sturdily; "and I am certain, general, that if you knew her, you would
not in your heart have caused her so much pain."

"She has, then, suffered much on account of this sword being taken
away?" asked Bonaparte, interested.

"Yes, general, she has wept bitterly over this our loss, as I have.
I cannot bear to see my mother weep; it breaks my heart. I therefore
implore you to give me back my father's sword; and I swear to you that
when I am a man, I will carry that sword only for the defence of my
country, as my father had done."

General Bonaparte nodded kindly to the boy. "You are a brave defender of
your cause," said he, "and I cannot refuse you - I must do as you wish."

He gave orders to an ordnance officer present in the room to bring
General de Beauharnais's sword; and when the officer had gone to fetch
it, Bonaparte, in a friendly and sympathizing manner, conversed with the
boy. At last the ordnance officer returned, and handed the sword to the

With solemn gravity Bonaparte gave it to Eugene. "Take it, young man,"

Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 19 of 40)