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built on the summit of a hill, mantled with olive-groves and vineyards,
afforded on all sides a view of the surrounding, smiling plains of
Lombardy - here Bonaparte wished to rest from the hardships and dangers
of his last campaign; here, he wished to organize the great Italian
republic which was then the object of his exertions, and whose iron
crown he afterward coveted to place on his head. At Montebello he wished
to enact new laws for Italy, create new institutious, reduce to silence,
with threatening voice, the opposition of those who dared to oppose to
the new law of liberty the old centennial rights of possession and of
citizenship.

Italy was to be free, such was the will of her deliverer; and he took
great care not to let any one suspect or read the secret thoughts
which he kept hid behind the pompous proclamations of his authority. He
therefore answered evasively and vaguely those who came to fathom his
designs, and to become acquainted with his plans.

The Grand-duke of Tuscany sent to Montebello for this purpose, the
Marquis Manfredini. He was instructed to ask General Bonaparte if it was
his intention to destroy the grand-duchy of Tuscany, and to incorporate
its territory into the great Italian republic. The marquis implored
Bonaparte with persuasive, touching accents, to tell him what his plans
were, and if he would allow Tuscany to subsist as an independent state.

Bonaparte, smiling, shrugged his shoulders: "Signor marquis," said he,
"you remind me of that creditor who once asked the Cardinal de Rohan
when he wished to pay him. The cardinal simply answered: 'My dear sir,
do not be so curious.' If your grand-duke will keep quiet, he will
suffer no injury."

Napoleon exhibited less friendliness and good-nature toward the republic
of Venice, which had also sent her delegates to Montebello for the
sake of reconciling the general, who had sworn vengeance against the
republic, because a sort of Sicilian Vespers had been organized there
against the French; and because, especially in Verona, and throughout
the Venetian provinces, thousands of Frenchmen had been murdered by
the revolted peasants, whom the fanatical priesthood had stirred to
sedition.

Now, that Bonaparte had defeated the Grand-duke Charles, the hope of
the rebels, Venice humbly sent her most distinguished sons to plead for
forgiveness and indulgence, and to promise full reparation. But Napoleon
received them with contempt and threatening anger, and to their humble
petitions replied in a thundering voice, "I will be an Attila to
Venice!"

Meanwhile the same general, who swore the ruin of Venice, showed himself
conciliating and lenient toward Rome, and instead of being an Attila, he
endeavored to be a preserver and a protector.

The Directory in Paris was not fully satisfied with the peace which
Bonaparte had concluded with the pope. They thought Napoleon had been
too lenient with him; that he ought to have taken Rome from him, as he
tore away Milan from the Emperor of Germany. The five rulers of France
went so far as to make reproaches against Bonaparte for his leniency,
and to require from him the downfall of the pope, and with him that of
Catholicism.

But Bonaparte had the boldness to oppose these demands of the Directory,
and to set up his will in defiance to their supreme authority.

He wrote to the Directory: "You say with reason that the Roman religion
will long be the enemy of the republic; that is very true, but it is
equally true that, on account of the great distance you are from the
scene of events, you cannot measure the amount of difficulty there is in
carrying out your orders.

"You wish to destroy the Catholic Church in a city where it has ruled so
many years. Believe me, it is useless to burden ourselves with fruitless
labor. We have already enough to do; to defeat our enemies on the field
of battle, it is not necessary to arouse all Europe against us - even the
heretics, through policy, would defend the cause of the Holy See. Are
you fully convinced that France would calmly look on? France needs a
religious worship: that which you propose cannot, on account of its
simplicity, replace this one. Follow my advice: let the pope be pope!
If you bury his earthly power, acknowledge at least his spiritual
authority. Force him not to seek refuge at a foreign court, where by his
mere presence it would gain an immense ascendency. Italy wants religion
and the pope. If she is wounded in her faith, she will be hostile to us,
while now she is peaceably inclined. I repeat, the present difficulties
are too weighty, to add new ones. Who can fathom the future? Who can
assume the responsibility of such a deed as the one you propose? I shall
not, therefore, do it, since you leave it with me to inform you on the
subject. I consider it dangerous to conjure up fanaticism. The Catholic
religion is that of the arts, and the arts are absolutely necessary
to Italy's welfare. Be sure that if you destroy the former, you give a
fatal blow to the latter, and that the Italians are good accountants.
Ponder well these matters, then, and be sure that Catholicism has ceased
to exist in France. Are you well satisfied that no one there will go
back to it?"

While in Montebello, though the sword had been laid aside, Bonaparte was
still busy with war affairs, and the quarrels of princes and nations.
Josephine at the same time passed there the honored life of a mighty
princess, whose favors and intercessions the great and the powerful of
earth endeavored to obtain by every conceivable means. The ladies of the
aristocracy of Milan were eager to pay their homage to the wife of the
deliverer; the courts of Italy, as well as other parts of Europe, sent
ambassadors to General Bonaparte; and these gentlemen were naturally
zealous in offering their incense to Josephine, in surrounding her with
courtly and flattering attentions. The Marquis de Gallo, the ambassador
of Spain at the court of Verona, came with the Austrian ambassador, the
Count von Meerfeld, to Montebello, to enter into negotiations about the
peace which was to form the precious key-stone to the preliminaries of
Leobeu; and these two gentlemen, who opposed to the plain manners of
Bonaparte's companions-in-arms the very essence of refined, polished,
and witty courtiers, rivalled each other in showing to Josephine their
highest consideration by their festivities and amusements; to win her
favor and interest through the most complacent and considerate attention
to all her views, wishes, and plans.

Josephine received all this homage with the enchanting and smiling
quietude of a woman who, without exaltation or pride, feels no surprise
at any flattery or homage, but kindly and thankfully accepts what is
due to her. Among this brilliant Italian aristocracy which surrounded
her - among the ambassadors of the powers who sued not so much for
alliance with France as for General Bonaparte's favor - among the
generals and superior officers who had shared with Bonaparte the dangers
of the battle-field and the laurels of victory - among learned
men, artists, and poets, whom Bonaparte had often invited to
Montebello - among so brilliant, so wealthy, so superior, so intelligent
a society, Josephine shone as the resplendent sun around which all
these planets moved, and from which they all received life, light, and
happiness. She received the ambassadors of sovereigns with the dignity
and affability of a princess; she conversed with the most distinguished
ladies in cheerful simplicity, and with the unaffected joyousness and
harmless innocency of a young maiden; she conversed with men of learning
and artists in profound and serious tones, about their labors, their
efforts, and success; she allowed the generals to relate the momentous
events of the late great battles, and her eye shone with deeper pride
and pleasure when from the mouth of the brave she heard the enthusiastic
praise of her husband.

Then her keen looks would be directed toward Bonaparte, who perchance
stood in a window recess, engaged in some grave, solemn conversation
with an eminent ambassador; her eyes again would glance from her husband
to her son, to this young officer of seventeen years, who now laughed,
jested, and played, as a boy, and then with respectful attention
listened to the conversation of the generals, and whose countenance
beamed with inspiration as they spoke to him of the mighty deeds of war
and the plans of battle of his step-father, whom Eugene loved with the
affection of a son, and the enthusiasm of a disciple who looks up to and
reveres his master.

Yes, Josephine was happy in these days of Montebello. The past, with
its sad memories, its deceptions and errors, had sunk behind her, and
a luminous future sent its rays upon her at the side of the man whom
jubilant Italy proclaimed "her deliverer," and whom Josephine's joyous
heart acknowledged to be her hero, her beloved. For now she loved him
truly, not with that love of fifteen years past, with the marmoreal
pulse, of which Bonaparte had spoken to her in his letters, but with
all the depth and glow of which a woman's heart is capable, with all
the passion and jealousy of which the heart of a creole alone is
susceptible.

Happy, sunny days of Montebello! days full of love, of poetry, of
beauty, of happiness! - full of the first, genial, undisturbed, mutual
communion! - days of the first triumphs, of the first homage, of the
first dawn of a brilliant future! Never could the memory of those days
fade away from Josephine's heart; never could the empress, in the long
series of her triumphs and rejoicings, point to an hour like one of
those she had, as the wife of the general, enjoyed at Montebello!

Every day brought new festivities, new joys, new receptions: balls,
official banquets, select friendly dinners, came by turns; in
brilliant soirees, they received the aristocracy of Lombardy, who, with
ever-growing zeal, struggled for the honor of being received at the
court of Montebello, and to see the doors of the drawing-room of the
wife of General Bonaparte open to them. Sometimes parties were made up
for a chase, of which Berthier acted as master, and who was not a whit
behind in organizing hunting-parties in the style of those of the former
court of Versailles, where he once had acted as page.

At times, in the warm days of May, the whole company went out together
on the large and splendid piazza which ran along the castle, on the
garden side, and which was supported by slender marble columns, and
whose roof, made of thin wire-work, was thickly shaded by the foliage of
the vine, the ivy, and the delicate leaves of the passion-flower. Here,
resting on the marble settees, one listened in blessed happiness to
the music of bands secreted in some myrtle-grove and playing military
symphonies or patriotic melodies. Then, as the evening faded away, when
the court of Montebello, as the Italians now called the residence of the
general of the republic, had no brilliant reception, they gathered in
the drawing-room, where Josephine, with all the affability of a lady
from the great world, received her guests, and with all the modesty and
grace of a simple housewife served herself the tea.

These quiet social evenings in the little drawing-room of Josephine,
away from excitement, were among Bonaparte's happiest moments; there,
for a few hours at least, he forgot the mighty cares and schemes which
occupied his mind, and abandoned himself to the joys of society, and
to a cheerful intercourse with his family and friends. In these quiet
evenings Josephine exerted all the art and refinement of her great
social nature to render Bonaparte cheerful and to amuse him. She
sometimes organized a party of vingtet-un, and Bonaparte with his
cards was as eager for the victory as in days past he had been with his
soldiers. Very often, when success did not favor him, and his cards were
not such as suited him, the great general would condescend to correct
fate (de corriger la fortune); and he was much delighted when in his
expertness he succeeded, and, thanks to his correction of fate, obtained
the victory over his play-mates. When the parti was ended, they went
out on the terrace to enjoy the balmy air and refreshing coolness of
the evening, and to take delight in witnessing the enchanting spectacle
afforded by the thousands of little stars with which the fire-flies
illumined the darkness of the summer night and encircled the lake as
with a coronet of emeralds.

When they grew tired of this, they returned to the drawing-room to
listen to Josephine's fine, full, soul-like voice singing the songs of
her island-home, or else to find amusement in the recital of fairy tales
and marvellous stories. None understood this last accomplishment better
than Bonaparte; and it required only the gracious request, the lovely
smiles of his Josephine, to convert the general into one of those
improvisatores who with their stories, more resembling a dramatic
representation than a narrative, could exalt the Italian mind into
ecstasy, and be ever sure to attract an attentive audience.

Bonaparte understood the art of holding his audience in suspense, and
keeping them in breathless attention, quite as well as an improvisator
of the Place of St. Mark or of Toledo Street. His stories were always
full of the highest dramatic action and thrilling effect; and it was his
greatest triumph when he saw his hearers turn pale, and when Josephine,
shuddering, clung anxiously to him, as if seeking from the soldier's
hand protection against the fearful ghosts he had evoked.

After the marvellous stories came grave scientific conversations with
men of learning, whom Bonaparte had invited for the sake of deriving
from their intercourse both interest and instruction. Among these were
the renowned mathematicians Maria Fontana, Monge, and Berthelet; and
the famous astronomer Oriani, whom Bonaparte, through a very flattering
autographic note, had invited to Montebello.

But Oriani, little accustomed to society and to conversation with any
one but learned men, was very reluctant to come to Montebello, and would
gladly have avoided it had he not been afraid of exciting the wrath
of the great warrior. Bonaparte, surrounded by his generals, his
staff-officers and adjutants, was in the large and splendidly-illumined
drawing-room when Oriani made his appearance.

The savant, timid and embarrassed, remained near the door, and dared not
advance a single step farther on this brilliant floor, where the lights
of the chandeliers were reflected, and which filled the savant with more
bewilderment than the star-bespangled firmament.

But Bonaparte's keen eye understood at once his newly-arrived guest; he
advanced eagerly toward him, and as Oriani, stammering and embarrassed,
was endeavoring to say something, but grew silent in the midst of his
speech, the former smilingly asked:

"What troubles you so much? You are among your friends; we honor
science, and I willingly bow to it."

"Ah, general," sighed Oriani, sorrowfully, "this magnificence dazzles
me."

Bonaparte shrugged his shoulders. "What!" said he, looking around with a
contemptuous glance on the mirrors and rich tapestries which adorned the
walls, and on the glittering chandeliers, the embroidered uniforms of
the generals, and the costly toilets of the ladies - "what, do you call
this magnificence? Can these miserable splendors blind the man who every
night contemplates the far more lofty and impressive glories of the
skies?"

The savant, recalled by these warning words of Bonaparte to the
consciousness of his own dignity, soon recovered his quiet demeanor
and conversed long and gladly with the general, who never grew tired of
putting questions to him, and of gaining from him information.

But there were also cloudy moments in Montebello, oftentimes
overshadowing the serene sunshine. They came from France - from Rome - and
there were even some which had their origin in Montebello. These clouds
which were formed in Montebello, and which caused slight showers of
tears with Josephine, and little tempests of anger with Bonaparte, were
certainly not of a very serious nature; they owed their origin to a
lapdog, and this pet dog was Fortune, the same which in days gone by had
been the letter-carrier between Josephine and her children when she
was in the Carmelite prison. Notwithstanding Fortune had become old
and peevish, Josephine and her children loved him for the sake of past
reminiscences, while Bonaparte simply hated and detested him. Bonaparte
had, however, perhaps without wishing it, erected for him an abiding
monument in the "Memorial de Ste. Helene," where he gave a report of his
hostilities with the lapdog Fortune, along with those of his wars with
the European powers.

"I was then," says Bonaparte, in his "Memorial," "the ruler of Italy,
but in my own house I had nothing to say; there Josephine's will was
supreme. There was an ugly, growling personage, at war with everybody,
whose bad qualities made him intolerable to me and to others, yet he was
an important individual, who was by Josephine and her children flattered
from morning till evening, and who was the object of their most delicate
attentions. Fortune, to me a hateful beast, was a horrible lapdog,
with crooked legs and deformed body, without the slightest beauty or
kindness, but of a most malicious disposition. I would gladly have
killed him, and often prayed Heaven to deliver me from him. This
happiness was, however, reserved for me in Montebello. A bull-dog which
belonged to my cook became tired of his churlish incivilities, and not
having the same considerateness as the rest of the inmates of the palace
of Montebello, he attacked the detestable animal so violently as to
kill him on the spot. Then began tears and sighs in the house. Josephine
could not be comforted; Eugene wept, and I myself against my will put
on a sorrowful countenance. But I gained nothing by this fortunate
accident. After Fortune had been stuffed, sung in sonnets, and made
immortal by funeral discourses, he was replaced by two setters, male
and female. Then came the amiable displays and the bickerings of this
love-couple, and afterward their progeny. So that I knew not what to do.

"Soon after this, as I was walking in the park, I noticed my cook, who,
as soon as he saw me, disappeared on a side-path.

"'Are you afraid of me?' said I. "' Ah, general,' replied he, timidly, 'you have good reason to be angry
with me.'

"'I? What have you done?'

"'My unfortunate dog has indeed killed poor little Fortune.'

"'Where is your dog?'

"'He is in the city. God have mercy on us! he dares not come here.'

"'Listen, my good fellow' (but I spoke in a low voice, for fear of being
heard), 'let your dog run about just as he likes - perhaps he may deliver
me from the others.'

"But this happiness was not in reserve for me. Josephine, not satisfied
with dogs, soon after this procured a cat, which brought me into a state
of despair; for this detestable animal was the most vicious of its race.
...." [Footnote: Memorial de Ste. Helene.]

The strifes with Fortune, with the setters, and with the cat, troubled
Bonaparte less than the intrigues which his enemies in Italy, as well
as in France, stirred up against him, and through them endeavored to
destroy him.

In Italy it was the priests who had sworn deadly enmity to Bonaparte,
and who, with all the weapons which the arsenal of the Church,
fanaticism, and superstition, furnished them, fought against the general
who had dared to break the power of the pope, and to restrict within
narrower limits the rule of the priests. It was these priests who
continually made the most furious opposition to the ascendency which
Bonaparte had won over the Italian mind, and sought constantly to rouse
up, within the minds of the people, opposition to him.

One day, Marmont announced that a certain Abbe Sergi was exciting the
peasants against the French, and especially against Bonaparte; that he
was preaching sedition and rebellion in Christ's name, and was showing
to the ignorant laborers a letter, which he had received from Christ,
in which it was declared that General Bonaparte was an atheist and a
heretic, whom one ought to destroy and drive away from Italy's sacred
soil.

Bonaparte at once ordered Marmont to arrest this Abbe Sergi, who lived
in Poncino, and to bring him to Montebello. His orders were followed,
and, after a few days, the captive abbe was brought before the general.
He seemed cheerful, unaffected, and assumed the appearance of being
unconscious of guilt.

"Are you the man," exclaimed Bonaparte, "to whom Christ writes letters
from Paradise?"

"Ah! signor general, you are joking," replied the abbe, smiling - but
one of Bonaparte's angry looks fell upon his broad, well-fed face, and
forced the priest into silence.

"I am not joking," answered Bonaparte, angrily; "you, however,
are joking with the peasants, since you are telling these poor,
superstitious men that you are in correspondence with Christ."

"Alas! signor general," sighed the abbe, with contrite mien, "I wanted
to do something in the defence of our cause, and what can a poor
clergyman do? - he has no weapons - "

"Mind that in future you procure other weapons!" interrupted Bonaparte,
vehemently. "That will be better for you than to dare use the Deity for
your schemes of wickedness. I order you to receive no more letters from
Paradise, not even from Christ. Correspond with your equals, and be on
your guard, or you will soon find that I can punish the disobedient!"

The abbe bowed penitently, and with tears in his eyes. Bonaparte turned
his back to him, and ordered him to be taken to Poncino.

From that day, however, much as he hated General Bonaparte, the Abbe
Sergi received no more letters from Paradise.

Nevertheless, the letters of the Abbe Sergi were not those which gave
the most solicitude to Bonaparte; much worse were those he received from
Paris, which gave him an account of the persevering intrigues of his
enemies, and the malicious slanders that were circulated against him by
the Directory, who were envious of his power and superiority, and which
mischievous and poisonous calumnies were re-echoed in the newspapers.

These insidious attacks of the journals, more than any thing else,
excited Bonaparte's vehement anger. The hero who, on the battle-field,
trembled not before the balls which whizzed about his head, had a
violent dislike to those insect-stings of critics who, like wasps
humming round about the laurel-wreath on his brow, ever found between
the leaves of his fame some place where with their stings they could
wound him, and who was as sensitive as a young blameless maiden would be
against the wasp-stings of slander.

This irritable sensitiveness led him to consider those detestable
attacks of the journals worth a threatening denunciation to the
Directory.

"Citizen-directors," wrote he to them, "I owe you an open confession; my
heart is depressed and filled with horror through the constant attacks
of the Parisian journals. Sold to the enemies of the republic, they
rush upon me, who am boldly defending the republic. 'I am keeping the
plunder,' whilst I am defeating them; 'I affect despotism,' whilst I
speak only as general-in-chief; 'I assume supreme power,' and yet I
submit to law! Every thing I do is turned to a crime against me; the
poison streams over me.

"Were any one in Italy to dare give utterance to the one-thousandth part
of those calumnies, I would impose upon him an awful silence!

"In Paris, this is allowed to go on unpunished, and your tolerance is an
encouragement. The Directory is thus producing the impression that it is
opposed to me. If the directors suspect me, let them say so, and I will
justify myself. If they are convinced of my uprightness, let them defend
me.

"In this circle of argument, I include the Directory with me, and cannot
go beyond it. My desire is, to be useful to my country. Must I, for
reward, drink the cup of poison?

"I can no longer be satisfied with empty, evasive arguments; and if
justice is not done to me, then I must take it myself. Therefore, I am
yours. Salutation and brotherly love. BONAPAKTE."

But all these vexations, hostilities, and calumnies, were, however,
as already said, mere clouds, which now and then obscured the bright
sunshine at the court of Montebello. At a smile or a loving word from
Josephine, they flew away rapidly, and the sunshine again in all
its splendor, the pleasures, feasts, and joys, continued in their
undisturbed course. All Italy did homage to the conqueror, and it was



Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 25 of 40)