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Empress Josephine online

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shadow of his father's greatness. Under this shadow which the column of
Vendome cast from Paris to the imperial city of Vienna, which the steep
rock of St. Helena cast even upon the castle of Schonbrunn, under this
shadow died the Duke de Reichstadt, the unfortunate son of his eminent

The little Napoleon was always a shy, reserved, quiet boy. For hours
long he could hide in some obscure corner of the house or of the garden,
and sit there with head bent low and eyes closed, half asleep and half
dreaming; but when he opened his eyes, what a life in those looks! What
animation, what exuberance in his whole being, when awaking from his
childish dreams he mixed again with his brothers, sisters, and friends!

Letitia's words and example had penetrated the soul of the child with
the highest emotions of honor and human dignity, and the little boy of
seven years exhibited oftentimes the sentiments of honor, pride, and
obstinacy of a man. Every bodily correction to which he was submitted
made him turn pale and tremble, not from pain but for shame, filled him
with indignation, and was apt to bring on sickness. In Corsica still
prevailed the custom of severe discipline for children, and in all the
classes of the school the rod was applied as a means of punishment and
reformation. To beat one's wife was considered in Corsica, as everywhere
else, an unpardonable brutality; but parents as well as teachers whipped
children to mould them into noble, refined, honorable men.

The little Napoleon would not adapt himself to the blessings of this
education, and the mere threats of the rod-switching deprived the child
of his senses and threw him into convulsions. But though the little
Napoleon was gloomy, monosyllabic, and quiet, yet was he from early
childhood the favorite of all who knew him, and he already wielded over
brothers, sisters, and companions, a wonderful influence.

When a boy of four years old, Letitia sent him to a sort of play-school,
where boys and girls amused themselves together and learned the ABC. The
young Napoleon was soon the soul of the little company. The boys obeyed
him, and submitted to his will; the girls trembled before him, and yet
with a smile they pressed toward him merely to be near him and to have
a place at his side. And the four-year child already practised a tender
chivalry. One of his little school-companions had made an impression on
his heart; he honored her with special favors, sat at her side during
the lessons, and when they left school to return home, the little
Napoleon never missed, with complete gravity of countenance, to offer
his arm to his favorite of five years of age and to accompany her to her
home. But the sight of this gallant, with his diminutive, compact,
and broad figure, over which the large head, with its earnestness of
expression, seemed so incongruous, and which moved on with so much
gravity, while the socks fell from the naked calves over the heels - all
this excited the merriment of the other children; and when, arm-in-arm
with his little schoolmate, he thus moved on, the other urchins in
great glee shouted after him: "Napoleone di mezza calzetta dall' amore
a Giacominetta!" ("Napoleon in socks is the lover of the little

The boy endured these taunts with the stoic composure of a philosopher,
but never after did he offer his arm to the little Giacominetta, and
never afterward did his socks hang down over his heels.

When from this "mixed school" he passed into a boys' school, the little
Napoleon distinguished himself above all the other boys by his ambition,
his deep jealousy, his perseverance at learning and studying, and he
soon became the favorite of the Abbe Recco, [Footnote: Napoleon, in his
testament, written at St. Helena, willed a fixed sum of money to this
Professor Recco, in gratitude for the instruction given him in his
youth.] who taught at the royal college of Ajaccio as professor. A few
times every week the worthy professor would gather his pupils in a large
hall, to read them lectures upon ancient history, and especially upon
the history of Rome; and, in order to give to this hall a worthy and
significant ornament, he had it adorned on either side with two large
and costly banners, one of which had the initials S. P. Q. E., and
represented the standard of ancient Rome; facing it and on the opposite
side of the hall was the standard of Carthage.

Under the shadows of these standards were ranged the seats for the
scholars, and in the vacant centre of the large hall was the professor's
chair, from which the Abbe Recco dictated to his pupils the history of
the heroic deeds of ancient Rome.

The elder children sat under the larger standard, under the standard of
Rome, and the junior boys immediately opposite, under the standard of
Carthage; and as Napoleon Bonaparte was the youngest scholar of the
institution, he sat near the Carthaginian standard, whilst his brother
Joseph, his senior by five years, had his seat facing him on the Roman
side. Though at the commencement of the lectures Napoleon's delight had
been great, and though he had listened with enthusiasm to the history
of the struggles, and to the martial achievements of the ancient Romans,
the little Napoleon soon manifested an unmistaken repugnance to attend
these lectures. He would turn pale, as with his brother he entered the
hall, and with head bowed low, and dark, angry countenance, took his
seat. A few days afterward he declared to his brother Joseph, his lips
drawn in by anguish, that he would no more attend the lectures.

"And why not?" asked Joseph, astonished. "Do you take no interest in the
Roman history? Can you not follow the lecture?"

The little Napoleon darted upon his brother a look of inexpressible
contempt. "I would be a simpleton if the history of heroes did not
interest me," said he, "and I understand everything the good Professor
Recco says - I understand it so well that I often know beforehand what
his warriors and heroes will do."

"Well, then, since you have such a lively interest in the history of the
Romans, why will you no more follow the lectures?"

"No, I will not, I cannot," murmured Napoleon, sadly.

"Tell me, at least, the reason, Napoleon," said his brother.

The boy looked straight before him, for a long time hesitating and
undecided; then he threw up his head in a very decided manner, and gazed
on his brother with flaming eyes.

"Yes," cried he, passionately, "I will tell you! I can no longer endure
the shame to sit down under the standard of the conquered and humiliated
Carthaginians. I do not deserve to be so disgraced."

"But, Napoleon," said Joseph, laughing, "why trouble yourself about the
standard of the old Carthaginians? One is just as well under it as under
the Roman standard."

"Is it, then, the same to you under which standard you sit? Do you not
consider it as a great honor to sit under the standard of the victorious

"I look upon the one as being without honor, and upon the other as being
without shame," said Joseph, smiling.

"If it is so," cried out the little Napoleon, throwing himself on his
brother's neck, "if it is for you no great sacrifice, then, I implore
you to save me, to make me happy, for you can do it! Let us change
seats; give me your place under the standard of Rome, and take my place

Joseph declared himself ready to do so, and when the two brothers came
next time to the lecture, Napoleon, with uplifted head and triumphant
countenance, took his seat under the standard of victorious Rome.

But soon the expression of joy faded away from his face, and his
features were overcast, and with a restless, sad look, he repeatedly
turned himself toward his brother Joseph, who sat facing him under the
standard of the conquered race.

Silent and sad he went home with Joseph, and when his mother questioned
him about the cause of his sorrow, he confessed, with tears in his
eyes, that he was a heartless egotist, that he had been unjust and cruel
toward Joseph, that he had cheated his brother of his place of honor and
had seated himself in it.

It required the most earnest assurances of Joseph that he placed no
value whatever on the seat; it required all the persuasiveness and
authority of Letitia to appease the boy, and to prevail upon him to
resume the conquered seat. [Footnote: "Memoires du Roi Joseph," vol. i.,

As the course of instruction which the boys had received in Ajaccio was
not sufficient for the times, and for the capacities of his sons, their
father passed over to France with Joseph and Napoleon, to take advantage
of the favorable resources for a more complete education.

Napoleon saw the time of departure approach with an apparently
indifferent mind, only his face was somewhat paler, he was still more
monosyllabic and more reserved than before; and his eyes, full of an
indescribable expression of tenderness and admiration, followed all the
movements of his mother, as if to print deeply in his soul the beloved
image, so as to take it with him beyond the seas, in all its freshness
and beauty.

He wept not as he bade her farewell; not a word of sorrow or regret
did he speak, but he embraced his mother with impassioned fondness,
he kissed her hands, her forehead, her large black eyes, he sank down
before her and kissed her feet, then sprang up, and, after casting upon
her whole figure a deep, glowing look, he rushed away to embark at once,
without waiting for brother or father, who were yet bidding a touching
farewell to relatives and friends.

Letitia gazed after her Napoleon with glowing and wide-open eyes; she
wept not, she complained not, but she pressed her two hands on her heart
as if to keep it from breaking asunder, from bleeding to death; then she
called all her children around her, and, folding them up in her arms,
exclaimed: "Join your hands and pray with me that our little Napoleon
may return home to us a noble and great man."

As soon as they had prosperously landed in France, the father placed
his two sons in the college of Autun, and then travelled farther on
to Paris, there to obtain, through the influence of his patrons and
friends, a place for his daughter Marianne (afterward Elise) in St.
Cyr, an institution for the daughters of noblemen, and also a place for
Napoleon in the military school of Brienne. His efforts were crowned
with success; and whilst Joseph remained at college in Autun, Napoleon
had to part with him and go to Brienne.

When the brothers bade farewell one to another, Joseph wept bitterly,
and his sighs and tears choked the tender words of farewell which his
quivering lips would have uttered.

Napoleon was quiet, and as his eye moistened with a tear, he endeavored
to hide it, and turned aside ashamed of himself and nearly indignant,
for he did not wish the Abbe Simon, one of the professors of the
college, who was present at the parting of the brothers, to see his
unmanly tenderness.

But the Abbe Simon had seen that tear, and when Napoleon was gone he
said to Joseph: "Napoleon has shed but one tear, but that tear proves
his deep sorrow as much as all your tears." [Footnote: "Memoires du Roi
Joseph," vol. i., p.26.]

Taciturn and quiet as he had been in Ajaccio, the little Napoleon was
equally so at the military school of Brienne, where he remained from
his eleventh to his sixteenth year. His character had always something
sombre and hidden; his eye seemed turned more inwardly than outwardly;
and his fellowship with his books seemed to procure him a more pleasant
recreation than the company of his schoolmates, whose childish joys
and pleasures he despised or pretended to do so, because his limited
pecuniary resources did not allow him to share with them pleasures of an
expensive nature.

But, though still and reserved, he always was friendly and courteous to
his comrades, grateful for every mark of friendship and kindness, and
always ready to protect the young and feeble against the overbearing
and the strong, censuring with grave authority every injustice, and with
Spartan harshness throwing his contempt into the very face of him who,
according to his standard, had offended against honor, the lofty spirit
and the dignity of a freeman.

It could not fail that soon Napoleon should win over his schoolmates
a marked moral influence; that they would listen to him as if he were
their superior; that they should feel something akin to fear in presence
of the flashing eyes of this little boy of barely fourteen years, whose
pale, expressive countenance, when illumined with anger, almost seemed
to them more terrible than that of the irritated face of the teacher,
and whom they therefore more willingly and more unconditionally obeyed
than the principal of the establishment.

One day the latter had forbidden the scholars to go to the fair in a
neighboring locality, because they had lately been guilty of excesses
on a similar occasion; and, so as to be sure that the scholars would not
trespass against his orders, the principal had the outside gate in the
front yard locked.

This last circumstance kindled Napoleon's anger; he considered it as an
insult that the scholars should be treated as prisoners.

"Had we been ordered in the name of the law to remain here," cried
he, "then honor itself would have claimed from us to remain, for law
commands obedience to our superiors. But since we are treated as slaves,
who are by main force compelled to submission, then honor claims from us
to prove to our oppressors that we are free beings, and that we desire
to remain such. We are treated as prisoners of war, kept under lock and
bolt, but no one has demanded our word of honor that we will make no
effort to escape this subjection. Whosoever has a brave heart and a soul
full of honor's love, let him follow me!"

All the youngsters followed him without hesitation. More submissive to
this pale, small boy of fourteen years, than to the severe, strong,
and exalted principal, none dared oppose him as he stood in the garden,
facing a remote place in the wall, and giving orders to undermine it,
so as to make an outlet. All obeyed the given orders, all were animated
with burning zeal, with cheerful alacrity; and after an hour of earnest
labor the work was done, and the passage under the wall completed.

The scholars wanted to rush with jubilant cries through the opening, and
gain their freedom outside of the wall, but Napoleon held them back.

"I will go first," said he. "I have been your leader throughout this
expedition, now I will be the first to pass out, that upon me may fall
the punishment when we are discovered."

The young men fell back silently and respectfully, while, proud and
stately as a field-marshal who gives the signal for the battle, Napoleon
passed through their ranks, to be the first from the crowd to go through
the newly-made passage.

It could not fail that the daring of these "prisoners of war" should be
discovered, that the principal should be the very same day informed that
the young men had, notwithstanding his strict orders, notwithstanding
the closed gate, made a way for themselves, and had visited the
prohibited fair, while the principal believed them to be in the garden.

A strict inquiry took place the next morning. With threatening tones,
the principal ordered the young men to name him who had guided them
to so unheard-of a deed, who had misled them into disobedience and
insubordination. But all were still; none wished to be a traitor, not
even when the principal promised to all full pardon, full impunity, if
they would but name the instigator of their guilty action.

But as no one spoke, as no one would name him, Napoleon gave himself up
as the culpable one.

"I alone am guilty," cried he, proudly. "I alone deserve punishment.
These have done only what I commanded them - they have but followed my
orders, nothing more. The guilt and the punishment are mine alone."

The principal, glad to know the guilty one, kept his promise, and,
forgiving the rest, decided to punish only the one who acknowledged
himself to have been the leader.

Napoleon was, therefore, sentenced to the severest and most degrading
punishment known in the institution - to the so-called "monk's penalty."
That is to say, the future young soldier, in the coarse woollen garment
of a mendicant friar, was on his knees, to devour his meal from an
earthen vessel in the middle of the dining-room, while all the other
boys were seated at the table.

A deathly pallor overspread the face of the boy when he heard this
sentence. He had been for many days imprisoned in a cell with bread and
water, and he had without a murmur submitted to this correction, endured
already on a former occasion, but this degrading punishment broke his

Stunned, as it were, and barely conscious, he allowed the costume of the
punishment to be put on, but when he had been led into the dining-room,
where all the scholars were gathered for the noonday meal, when he was
forced upon his knees, he sank down to the ground with a heavy sigh, and
was seized with violent convulsions.

The rector himself, moved with deepest sympathy for the wounded spirit
of the boy, hastened to raise up Napoleon. At the same moment rushed
into the hall one of the teachers of the institution, M. Patrault, who
had just been informed of the execution which was about to be carried
out on Napoleon. With tears in his eyes, he hastened to Napoleon, and
with trembling hands tore from his shoulders the detestable garment, and
broke out at the same time in loud complaints that his best scholar,
his first mathematician, was to be dishonored and treated in an unworthy

Napoleon, however, was not always the reserved, grave boy who took
no part in the recreations and pleasures of the rest of his young
schoolmates. Whenever these amusements were of a more serious, of a
higher nature, Napoleon gladly and willingly took a part in them. Now
and then in the institution, on festivals, theatrical representations
took place, and on these occasions the citizens of Brienne were allowed
to be present.

But to maintain respectable order, every one who desired to be present
at the representation had to procure a card of admission signed by the
principal. On the day of the exhibition, at the different doors of the
institution, were posted guards who received the admission cards, and
whose strict orders were to let no one pass in without them. These
posts, which were filled by the scholars, were under the supervision
of superior and inferior officers, and were confided only to the most
distinguished and most praiseworthy students.

One day, Voltaire's tragedy, "The Death of Caesar," was exhibited.
Napoleon had the post of honor of a first lieutenant for this festivity,
and with grave earnestness he filled the duties of his office.

Suddenly at the entrance of the garden arose a loud noise and vehement
recriminations of threatening and abusive voices.

It was Margaret Haute, the porter's wife, who wanted to come in, though
she had no card of admission. She was well known to all the students,
for at the gate of the institution she had a little stall of fruits,
eggs, milk, and cakes, and all the boys purchased from her every day,
and liked to jest and joke with the pleasant and obliging woman.

Margaret Haute had therefore considered it of no importance to procure a
card of admission, which thing she considered to be superfluous for such
an important and well-known personage as herself. The greater was her
astonishment and anger when admission was refused, and she therefore
began to clamor loudly, hoping by this means to attract some of the
scholars, who would recognize her and procure her admittance. Meanwhile
the post guardian dared not act without superior orders, and the
inferior officer hastened to communicate the important event to the
first lieutenant, Napoleon de Bonaparte, and receive his decision.

Napoleon, who ordinarily was kind to the fruit-vender, and gladly
jested with the humorous and coarse woman, listened to the report of
the lieutenant with furrowed brow and dark countenance, and with severe
dignity gave his orders: "Remove that woman, who takes upon herself
to introduce licentiousness into the camp." [Footnote: Afterward, when
First Consul, Napoleon sent for this woman and her husband to come to
Paris, and he gave them the lucrative position of porter at the castle
of Malmaison, which charge they retained unto their death.]


While the boy Napoleon de Bonaparte pursued his studies as a student in
Brienne, she, who was one day to share his greatness and his fame, had
already appeared on the world's stage as the wife of another. Josephine
Tascher de la Pagerie was already received in the highest society of
Paris as the Viscountess de Beauharnais.

Every thing seemed to promise to the young couple a happy, secure
future, free from care. They were both young, wealthy, of good family,
and though the parents had planned this marriage and joined together
the hands of the young couple, yet it was their good fortune that love
should tie and strengthen the bond which mere expediency had formed.

Yes, they loved one another, these young married people of sixteen and
eighteen. How could it have been otherwise, when they both met each
other with the candid and honest desire to make one another happy; when
each of them had been so well adapted to the other that their brilliant,
good, and beautiful qualities were so prominent that their eyes were
blinded to the possibility of imperfections and vices which perchance
remained in the obscure background of their virtue and of their

Josephine had entered upon her marriage with a pure maiden heart, and
soon this heart glowed with enthusiasm for her young husband, who in
reality was well qualified to excite enthusiasm in a young maid and
instil into her a passionate attachment. Alexandre de Beauharnais was
one of the most brilliant and most beloved personages at the court
of Versailles. His face had all the beauty of regularity; his figure,
marked by a lofty, even if somewhat heavy form, was tall, well knit,
and of wonderful elasticity and energy; his manners were noble and
prepossessing, fine and natural. Even in a court so distinguished as
that of Versailles for many remarkable chevaliers, the Viscount de
Beauharnais was considered as one of the most lovely and most gifted:
even the young Queen Marie Antoinette honored him with special
distinction. She had called him the most beautiful dancer of Versailles,
and consequently it was very natural that up to the time of his marriage
he should be invited to every court-ball, and there should each time
enjoy the pleasure of being requested to dance with the queen.

This flattering distinction of the Queen Marie Antoinette had naturally
made the young viscount the mark of attention of all these beautiful,
young, and coquettish ladies of Versailles. They used to say of him,
that in the dancing-room he was a zephyr, fluttering from flower to
flower, but at the head of his regiment he was a Bayard, dreaming only
of war and carnage.

It was, therefore, quite natural that so brilliant and so preferred
a cavalier, a young man of so many varied accomplishments, a being
so impassioned, so gallant, should soon become the object of the most
tender and passionate fondness from a young wife, who in her quiet
native land had seen none to compare with him, and who became for her
the ideal of beauty, chivalry, elegance, and whom, in her devoted and
admiring love, she used to call her own Achilles.

Josephine loved her husband; she loved him with all the devotedness and
fire of a creole; she loved him and breathed but for him, and to be with
him seemed to her life's golden, blessed dream. Added to all this,
came the joys and raptures of a Parisian life - these new, unknown,
diversified pleasures of society, these manifold distractions and
entertainments of the great city. Josephine abandoned herself to all
this with the joy and wantonness of an innocent, unsuspicious being.
With all these glorious things round about her, she felt as if
surrounded by a sea of blessedness and pleasure, and she plunged into it
with the quiet daring of innocency, which foresees not what breakers and
abysses this sea encloses under the shining surface.

But these breakers were there, and against them was the happiness of
Josephine's love soon to be dashed to pieces.

She loved her young husband with her whole heart, with all her soul. But

Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 3 of 40)