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which, in its blue depths and brilliancy, hung there as if heaven had
lowered itself down to earth. That sea was a pathway to France, and
already once before had its waves wafted a daughter of the Island of
Martinique to a throne.

Thus ran the thoughts of Josephine. She thought of Franchise d'Aubigne,
and of her wondrous story. A poor wanderer, fleeing from France to
search for happiness beyond the seas in a foreign land, M. d'Aubigne
had landed in Martinique with his young wife. There Franchise was born,
there passed away the first years of her life. Once, when a child of
three years old, she was bitten by a venomous serpent, and her life was
saved only through the devotion of her black nurse, who sucked alike
poison and death from the wound. Another time, as she was on a voyage
with her parents, the vessel was in danger of being captured by a
corsair; and a third time a powerful whirlwind carried into the waves of
the sea the little Francoise, who was walking on the shore, but a large
black dog, her companion and favorite, sprang after her, seized her
dress with its teeth, and carried the child back to the shore, where
sobbing for joy her mother received her.

Fate had reserved great things for Francoise, and with all manner of
horrors it submitted the child to probation to make of it a strong and
noble woman.

A severer blow came when her father, losing in gambling all the property
which he had gathered in Martinique, died suddenly, leaving his family
in poverty and want. Another blow more severe still came when on her
return to France, whither her mother was going with her, she lost this
last prop of her youth and childhood. Madame d'Aubigne died, and her
body was committed to the waves; and, as a destitute orphan, Francoise
d'Aubigne touched the soil of France.

And what became of the poor orphan of the Creole of Martinique?

She became the wife of a king, and nearly a queen! For Francoise
d'Aubigne, the widow of Scarron, the governess of the children of Louis
XIV, had caused the mother of these children, the beautiful Madame de
Montespan, to be cast away, and she became the friend, the beloved,
the secret spouse of the king: and the lofty Louis, who could say of
himself, "L'etat c'est moi" he, with all the power of his will, with all
his authority, was the humble vassal of Franchise d'Aubigne, Marquise de

This was the first princess whom Martinique had given to the world!

Was it not possible that the prophecies of the old negro woman could be
realized? could not once more a daughter of the Island of Martinique be
exalted into a princess?

"You will be Queen of France!" the negress had said.

No, it was mere folly to believe in such a ridiculous prophecy. The
throne of France was now occupied. Alongside of her consort, the
good, the well-beloved Louis XVI, the young and beautiful Queen Marie
Antoinette, the daughter of the mighty Empress Maria Theresa, sat on the
throne. She was young, she was beloved throughout France, and she had
already, to the great delight of her husband and of his people, borne an
heir to the throne of France.

The throne of the lilies stood then on firm and sure foundations,
and the prophecies of the old negress belonged only to the kingdom of
fables. [Footnote: This prophecy, nearly as related above, was told by
the Empress Josephine herself to her maids of honor in the castle of
Navarra. - See "Memoires sur l'Imperatrice Josephine, la Ville, la Cour
et les Salons de Paris sous l'Empire, par Madame Georgette Ducrest."]


Six months had barely elapsed since Josephine's return from the convent
when the family Tascher de la Pagerie received from their relatives in
Paris letters which were to be of the greatest importance for the whole

The beautiful Madame de Renaudin, sister of M. Tascher de la Pagerie,
had settled in Paris after having rid herself of an unhappy marriage
with a man, coarse and addicted to gambling, and after having, through
a legal separation, reobtained her freedom. She lived there in the
closest, intimacy with the Marquis de Beauharnais, who, for many
years, at an earlier period, had resided as governor on the Island of
Martinique, and there had bound himself to the whole family of Tascher
de la Pagerie by the ties of a cordial friendship. His wife, during her
residence in Martinique, had been the most tender friend of Madame de
Renaudin, and when the marchioness bore a second son to her husband,
Madame de Renaudin had stood as godmother, and promised to love and
protect the child of her friend as if she were his mother.

Chance brought on the opportunity of accomplishing this promise and of
fulfilling the oath made to God before the altar. The Marchioness de
Beauharnais returned to France in the year 1763 with her husband and
her two sons, but died there a short time after; and Madame de Renaudin,
true to her oath, hastened to replace the natural guardian, the mother.

Perhaps she had but followed the dictates of her heart, perhaps against
her will a sentiment of joy had passed over her at the death of the
poor marchioness, for, by this death, one at least of the two obstacles
intervening between Madame de Renaudin and the Marquis de Beauharnais
had been removed. Both married, both of the Catholic religion, death
alone could make their hands free, and confer upon them the right of
joining hands together for all their days.

They loved one another, they had ceased long ago to make a secret of it;
they avowed it to each other and to their dependants, for their brave,
loyal, and noble hearts would not stoop to falsehood and deception, and
they had the courage to acknowledge what their sentiments were.

Death had then made free the hand of the Marquis de Beauharnais, but
life held yet in bondage the hand of the Baroness de Renaudin.

As long as her husband lived, she could not, though legally divorced
from him, conscientiously think of a second marriage.

But she possessed the courage and the loyalty of true love; she had seen
and experienced enough of the world to despise its judgments, and with
cheerful determination do what in her conscience she held to be good and

Before God's altar she had promised to the deceased Marchioness de
Beauharnais to be a mother to her son; she loved the child and she loved
the father of this child, and, as she was now free, as she had no duties
which might restrain her footsteps, she followed the voice of her heart
and braved public opinion.

She had purchased not far from Paris, at Noisy-le-Grand, a country
residence, and there passed the summer with the Marquis de Beauharnais,
with his two sons and their tutor.

The marquis owned a superb hotel in Paris, in Thevenot Street, and
there, during winter, he resided with his two sons and the Baroness de
Renaudin, the mother, the guardian of his two orphan sons, the friend,
the confidante, the companion of his quiet life, entirely devoted to
study, to the arts, to the sciences, and to household pleasures.

Thus the years passed away; the two sons of the Marquis de Beauharnais
had grown up under the care of their maternal friend: they had
been through their collegiate course, had been one year students at
Heidelberg, had returned, had been through the drill of soldier and
officer, a mere form which custom then imposed on young men of high
birth; and the younger son Alexander, the godchild of the Baroness de
Renaudin, had scarcely passed his sixteenth year when he received his
commission as sub-lieutenant.

A year afterward his elder brother married one of his cousins, the
Countess Claude Beauharnais, and the sight of this youthful happy love
excited envy in the heart of the young lieutenant of seventeen years,
and awoke in him a longing for a similar blessedness. Freely and without
reserve he communicated his wishes to his father, begged of him to
choose him a wife, and promised to take readily and cheerfully as such
her whom his father or his sponsor, his second mother, would select for

A few months later reached Martinique the letters which, as already
said, were to be of the utmost importance to the family of M. Tascher de
la Pagerie.

The first of these letters was from the Marquis de Beauharnais, and
addressed to the parents of Josephine, but with a considerate and
delicate tact the marquis had not written the letter with his own hand,
but had dictated it to his son Alexander, so as to prove to the family
of his friend De la Pagerie that the son was in perfect unison of
sentiment with the father, and that the latter only expressed what the
son desired and approved.

"I cannot express," wrote the marquis, "how much satisfaction I have
in being at this moment able to give you a proof of the inclination and
friendship which I always have had for you. As you will perceive, this
satisfaction is not merely on the surface.

"My two sons," continues he, "are now enjoying an annual income of forty
thousand livres. It is in your power to give me your daughter to enjoy
this income with my son, the chevalier. The esteem and affection he
feels for Madame de Renaudin makes him passionately desire to be united
with her niece. I can assure you that I am only gratifying his wishes
when I pray you to give me for him your second daughter, whose age
corresponds at best with his. I sincerely wish that your eldest daughter
were a few years younger, for then she would certainly have had the
preference, the more so that she is described to me under the most
advantageous colors. But I confess my son, who is but seventeen and a
half years old, thinks that a young lady of fifteen is too near him
in age. This is one of those cases in which reasonable and reflecting
parents will accommodate themselves to circumstances."

M. de Beauharnais adds that his son possesses all the qualities
necessary to make a woman happy. At the same time he declares that, as
regards his future daughter-in-law, he has no claims to a dowry, for
his son already possesses an income of forty thousand livres from his
mother's legacy, and that after his father's death he will inherit
besides an annual income of twenty-five thousand livres. He then
entreats M. de la Pagerie, as soon as practicable, to send his daughter
to France, and, if possible, to bring her himself. The marquis then
addresses himself directly to the wife of M. de la Pagerie, and repeats
to her in nearly the same words his proposal, and endeavors also to
excuse to her the choice of the second daughter.

"The most flattering things have been told me," writes he, "of your
eldest daughter, but my son finds her, with her fifteen years, too old
for him. My son is worthy of becoming your son-in-law; Nature has gifted
him with good and fine parts, and his income is sufficiently large to
share it with a wife qualified to render him happy. Such a one I trust
to find in your second daughter; may she resemble you, madame, and I can
no longer doubt of my son's happiness! I feel extremely happy to see my
long-cherished wishes satisfied! I can not express to you how great
will be my joy to see riveted forever, by means of this union of our two
families, the inclination and the friendship which have already so long
chained us together. I trust that Mademoiselle de la Pagerie will not
refuse her consent. Allow me to embrace her and already to greet her as
my own beloved daughter." [Footnote: Aubenas, "Histoire de l'Imperatrice
Josephine," vol. i., p. 78.]

To this letter was addressed a note from Madame de Renaudin to her
brother and to her sister-in-law. She openly acknowledges that she
it was who desired this union, and who had brought the matter to its
present stage, and she endeavors to meet the objection that it would
appear strange for a young lady to undertake a long journey in search of
a future husband, whilst it would be more expedient that the bridegroom
should make the journey to his bride, to receive her at the hands of
her parents, and bring her with him to a new home. But this bride of
thirteen years must first be trained for her future destiny; she is
not to be in the house of her future father-in-law, but in the house of
Madame de Renaudin, her aunt, and she is there to receive the completion
of her education and that higher culture which her parents, even with
all the necessary means, could not give her in Martinique.

"We are of opinion," she writes, "that the young people must see one
another and please each other, before we bring this matter to a close,
for they are both too dear to us to desire to coerce them against their
inclination. Your daughter will find in me a true and kind mother, and
I am sure that she will find the happiness of her future life in the
contemplated union, for the chevalier is well qualified to make a wife
happy. All that I can say of him exhausts by no means the praise he
deserves. He has a pleasant countenance, an excellent figure, wit,
genius, knowledge, and, what is more than this, all the noble qualities
of heart and soul are united in him, and he must consequently be loved
by all who know him."

Meanwhile, before these letters reached Martinique, chance had already
otherwise decided the fate of Mary, the second daughter of M. de la
Pagerie. With one sentence it had destroyed all the family schemes.
After three days of confinement to a bed of sickness, Mary had died of a
violent fever, and when the letter, in which the Marquis de Beauharnais
asked for her hand, reached her father, she had been buried three

M. Tascher de la Pagerie hastened to announce her death to the Marquis
and to Madame de Renaudin; and to prove to them how much he also had at
heart a union of the two families, he offered to his son, the chevalier,
the hand of his third daughter, the little twelve-year-old Desiree.
Undoubtedly it would have been more gratifying to him if the choice of
the marquis had fallen upon his eldest daughter, and he makes this known
very clearly in his answer to Madame de Renaudin.

"My eldest daughter," writes he, "Josephine, who is lately returned from
the convent, and who has often desired me to take her to France, will,
believe me, be somewhat sensitive at the preference given to her younger
sisters. Josephine has a beautiful head, beautiful eyes and arms, and
also a wonderful talent for music. During her stay in the convent I
procured her a guitar-teacher; she has made the best of the instruction
received, and she has a glorious voice. It is a pity she has not the
opportunity of completing her education in France; and were I to have my
wish, I would bring her to you instead of my other two daughters."

Meanwhile the Marquis de Beauharnais, as well as his son, found that the
youngest daughter of M. de la Pagerie was too young for their impatient
desire to bring to a favorable issue these important family concerns,
and that the eldest of the daughters ought to have the preference. The
son of the marquis especially pronounced himself decidedly in favor of
Josephine, and father and son, as well as Madame de Renaudin, turned
imploringly to M. Tascher de la Pagerie, praying that he would bring
them his eldest daughter.

Now, for the first time, when the choice of the Beauharnais family
had irrevocably fallen upon Josephine, now for the first time was this
proposed marriage made known to her, and her consent asked.

Josephine, whose young heart was like a blank sheet of paper, whereon
love had as yet written no name, Josephine rejoiced at the prospect
of accomplishing the secret wish of her maiden heart, to go to
Paris - Paris, the burning desire of all Creoles - Paris, after all the
narratives and descriptions, which had been made to Josephine, rose
before the soul of the young maiden as a golden morning dream, a
charming fairy world; and full of gratitude she already loved her future
husband, to whom she owed the happiness of becoming acquainted with the
city of wonders and pleasures.

She therefore acquiesced without regret at being separated from
her parents and from her sister, from the home of all her sweet
reminiscences of youth, and joyously, in August of the year 1779, she
embarked on board the vessel which was to take her with her father to

In the middle of October they both, after a stormy passage, touched
the soil of France and announced to their relatives their safe arrival.
Alexandre de Beauharnais, full of impatient longings to see his unknown
young bride, hastened to Brest to bid her and her father welcome, and to
accompany them to Paris.

The first meeting of the young couple decided their future. Josephine,
smiling and blushing, avowed to her father that she was willing and
ready to marry M. Alexandre Beanharnais; and, the very first day of
his meeting with Josephine, Alexandre wrote to his father that he was
enchanted with the choice made, and that he felt strongly convinced
that, at the side of so charming, sweet, and lovely a being, he would
lead a happy and sunny life.

The love of the children had crowned all the schemes of the parents,
and on the 13th of December, 1779, the marriage of the young couple took
place. On the 13th of December, Mademoiselle Josephine Tascher de la
Pagerie became the Viscountess Josephine de Beauharnais.


In the same year, 1779, in which Josephine de la Pagerie for the first
time left Martinique for Prance, a vessel which had sailed from Corsica
brought to France a boy who, not only as regards Josephine's life,
but also as regards all Europe, yea, the whole world, was to be of the
highest importance, and who, with the iron step of fatality, was to
walk through Europe to subvert thrones and raise up new ones; to tread
nations in the dust, and to lift up others from the dust; to break
tyranny's chains in which people languished, so as to impose upon them
his own chains.

This boy was Napoleon Bonaparte, the son of the advocate Charles de

From Ajaccio, the principal town of Corsica, came the ship which brought
to France the boy, his father, and his two elder brothers. In Ajaccio
the family of the Bonapartes had been settled for more than a century.
There also Napoleon had passed the first years of his life, in the
family circle with his parents, and in joyous amusements with his five
brothers and sisters.

His father, Charles de Bonaparte, belonged to one of the noble families
of Corsica, and was one of the most influential men on the island. His
mother, Letitia Ramolina, was well known throughout the island for her
beauty, and the only woman who could have been her rival, for she was
her equal in beauty, youth, and grace, was her dearest friend, the
beautiful Panonia de Comnene, afterward the mother of the Duchess

The beautiful Letitia Ramolina was married to Charles de Bonaparte the
same year that her friend Panonia de Comnene became the wife of M.
de Permont, a high French official in Ajaccio. Corsica was then the
undisputed property of the kingdom of France, and, however proud the
Corsicans were of their island, yet they were satisfied to be called
subjects of France, and to have their beautiful island considered as a
province of France.

Napoleon Bonaparte was the fifth child of his parents, the favorite of
his beautiful mother Letitia, who was the life of the household, the
ruler of the family. She governed the house, she educated the children;
she knew, with the genuine ability of a housekeeper, of a mother, how to
spend with careful frugality the moderate income of her husband; how
to economize, and yet how to give to each what was needed. As to the
father, in the hours of leisure which business, political debates, and
amusements allowed him to give to his home and family, his children were
an agreeable recreation, an interesting pastime; and when the children,
carried away by the sparkling fire of youth, shouted or cried too loud,
the father endeavored to palliate their misdemeanor, and obtain their
pardon from their mother. Then Letitia's eyes were fastened with a
flaming glance upon her husband, and, imperatively bidding him leave the
children, she would say: "Let them alone. Their education concerns you
not. I am the one to keep the eyes upon them."

She trained them up with the severity of a father and with the
tenderness of a mother. Inexorable against every vice of heart and
character, she was lenient and indulgent toward petty offences which
sprang up from the inconsiderateness and spiritedness of youth. Every
tendency to vulgar sentiments, to mean envy or selfishness, she strove
to uproot by galling indignation; but every thing which was great and
lofty, all sentiments of honor, of courage, of large-heartedness, of
generosity, of kindness, she nursed and cherished in the hearts of her
children. It was a glorious sight to contemplate this young mother
when with her beautiful, rosy countenance glowing with enthusiasm and
blessedness, she stood among her children, and in fiery, expressive
manner spoke to the listening group of the great and brave of old, of
the deeds of a Caesar, of a Hannibal; when she spoke of Brutus, who,
though he loved Caesar, yet, greater than Caesar, and a more exalted
Roman in his love for the republic, sacrificed his love to the
fatherland; or when she, with that burning glow which all Corsicans, the
women as well as the men, cherish for their home and for the historical
greatness of their dear island, told them of the bravery and self-denial
even unto death with which the Corsicans for centuries had fought for
the freedom of their island; how, faithful to the ancient sacred law of
blood, they never let the misdeed pass unpunished; they never feared the
foe, however powerful he might be, but revenged on him the evil which he
had committed against sister or brother, father or mother.

And when Letitia thus spoke to her children in the beautiful and
harmonious language of her country, the eyes of the little Napoleon
were all aflame, his childish countenance suddenly assumed a grave
expression, and on the little body of the child was seen a man's head,
glowing with power, energy, and pride.

These narratives of his mother, these enthusiastic stories of heroes
of the past, which the boy, with loud-beating heart, with countenance
blanched by mental excitement, gathered from the beautiful lips of his
mother, were the highest pleasure of the little Napoleon, and often in
future years has the emperor amid his glory thought of those days never
to be forgotten, when the child's heart and soul hung on his mother's
lips, and listened to her wondrous stories of heroes.

These narratives of Letitia, this enthusiasm which her glowing language
awoke in the heart of the child, this whole education which Letitia gave
to her children, became the corner-stone of their future. As a sower,
Letitia scattered the seed from which hero and warrior were to spring
forth, and the grain which fell into the heart of her little Napoleon
found a good soil, and grew and prospered, and became a laurel-tree,
which adorned the whole family of the Bonapartes with the blooming crown
of immortality.

Great men are ever much more the sons of their mother than of the
father, while seldom have great men seen their own greatness survive in
their sons. This is a wonderful secret of Nature, which perhaps cannot
be explained, but which cannot be denied.

Goethe was the true son of his talented and noble mother, but he could
leave as a legacy to his son only the fame of a name, and not his
genius. Henry IV., the son of a noble, spiritual and large-hearted
Jeanne de Navarre, could not leave to France, which worshipped and loved
her king, could not leave to his people, a successor who resembled him,
and who would inherit his sharp-sightedness, his prudence, his courage,
and his greatness of soul. His son and successor was Louis XIII., a king
whose misfortune it was ever to be overruled, ever to be humbled, ever
to stand in the shade of two superior natures, which excited his envy,
but which he was never competent to overcome; ever overshadowed by the
past glories which his father's fame threw upon him, overshadowed by the
ruler and mentor of his choice, his minister, the Cardinal de Richelieu,
who darkened his whole sad existence.

Napoleon was the son of his mother, the large-hearted and high-minded
Letitia Ramolina. But how distant was the son of the hero, who, from a
poor second lieutenant, had forced his way to the throne of France! how
distant the poor little Duke de Reichstadt from his great father! Even
over the life of this son of an eminent father weighed a shadow - the

Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 2 of 40)