Copyright
L. Mühlbach.

Empress Josephine online

. (page 34 of 40)
Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 34 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


memory! You know that this is an amusement to me! You see that these
performances enliven Malmaison and make it cheerful! Josephine is so
fond of them! Rise a little earlier!'

"'It is a fact - I sleep a great deal!'

"'Allons, Bourrienne, do it to please me; you do make me laugh so
heartily! Deprive me not of this pleasure. You know well that otherwise
I have but few recreations.'

"'Ah, parbleu! I will not deprive you of it. I am happy to be able to
contribute something to your amusement.' Consequently I rose earlier, to
learn my parts.

"On the theatre days the company at Malmaison was always very large.
After the performance a brilliant crowd undulated like waves in the
halls of the first story. The most animated and varied conversation took
place, and I can truly affirm that cheerfulness and sincerity were the
life of those conversations, and their principal charm. Refreshments of
all kinds were distributed, and Josephine performed the honors of those
gatherings with so much amiableness and complacency that each one might
believe she busied herself more with him than with any one else. At the
end of the delightful soirees, which generally closed after midnight,
we returned to Paris, where the cares of life awaited us." [Footnote:
Bourrienne, "Memoires," vol. v., p. 26.]

Time was spent not only in festivities and amusements at Malmaison, but
sciences and arts also formed there a serious occupation, and it was
Josephine who was the prime mover. She invited to the chateau painters,
sculptors, musicians, architects, and savants of every profession, and
thus to the Graces she added the Arts for companions.




CHAPTER XXXVII. FLOWERS AND MUSIC.


Above all things, Josephine, in her retreat, devoted her time and
leisure hours to botany and to her dear flowers. Alexander Lenoir, the
famous architect of that day, had to assist her in enlarging the little
castle of Malinaison, and to open more suitable halls for the arts
and sciences. Under Josephine's direction there arose the splendid
library-room resting upon columns; it was Josephine who had the
beautiful gallery of paintings constructed, and also with remarkable
judgment purchased a selection of the finest paintings of the great
masters to adorn this gallery. Besides which, she gave to living
painters orders of importance, and encouraged them to originate new
pieces, that art itself might have a part in the new era of peace and
prosperity, which, under the consulate, seemed to spread over France.

Alongside of the paintings Josephine adorned this gallery with the
finest antique statues, with a collection of the rarest painted vases
of Pompeii, and with ten paintings on cement, memorials of Grecian art,
representing the nine Muses and Apollo Mersagetos. These last splendid
subjects were a present which the King of Naples had given to Josephine
during her residence in Italy. Always attentive not only to promote the
arts, but also to help the artists and to increase their reputation,
Josephine would buy some new pieces of sculpture, and give them a
place in Malmaison. The two most exquisite masterpieces of Canova, "The
Dancing-Girl" and "Paris," were purchased by Josephine at an enormous
price for her gallery, whose chief ornament they were.

Her fondness for flowers was such that she spared neither expense
nor labor to procure those worthy of Malmaison. She caused also large
green-houses and hot-houses to be constructed, the latter suited to
the culture of the pineapple and of the peach. In the green-houses were
found flowers and plants of every zone, and of all countries. People,
knowing her taste for botany, sent her from the most remote places the
choicest plants. Even the prince regent of England, the most violent
and bitter enemy of the first consul, had high esteem for this taste of
Josephine; and during the war, when some French ships, captured by the
English, were found to have on board a collection of tropical plants for
her, he had them carried with all dispatch to Madame Bonaparte.

Josephine had a lofty aim: she wanted to gather into her hot-houses all
the species and families, all the varieties of the tropical plants,
and she strove to accomplish this with a perseverance, a zeal, and an
earnestness of which no one would have thought her indolent, soft Creole
nature capable. To increase her precious collection, she spared neither
money nor time, neither supplications nor efforts. All travellers, all
seafaring men, who came into her drawing-room were entreated to send
plants to Malmaison; and even the secretary of the navy did not fail
to give instructions to the captains of vessels sailing to far-distant
lands to bring back plants for the wife of the first consul. If it were
a matter of purchase, nothing was too expensive, and when, through her
fondness for beautiful objects, Josephine's purse was exhausted, and her
means curtailed, she sooner gave up the purchase of a beautiful ornament
than that of a rare plant.

The hot-houses of Malmaison caused, therefore, a considerable increase
in her expenses, and were a heavy burden to her treasury; and for their
sake, when the day of payment came, Josephine had to receive from her
husband many severe reproaches, and was forced to shed many a bitter
tear. But this, perhaps, made them still dearer; no sooner were the
tears dried up and the expenses covered, than Josephine again abandoned
herself with renewed zeal to her passion for collecting plants and
costly studies in botany, especially since she had succeeded in winning
to her person the renowned botanist and learned Bonpland, and in having
him appointed superintendent of her gardens and hot-houses. It was
Bonpland who cultivated Josephine's inclination for botany, and exalted
her passion into a science. He filled the green-houses of Malmaison
with the rarest plants, and taught Josephine at the same time their
classifications and sexes, and she quickly proved herself to be a
zealous and tractable pupil. She soon learned the names of the plants,
as well as their family names, as classified by the naturalists; she
became acquainted with their origin and their virtues, and was extremely
sad and dejected when, in one of her families, a single species was
wanting. But what a joy when this gap was filled! No price was too
exorbitant, then, to procure the missing species; and one day she paid
for a small, insignificant plant from Chili the high price of three
thousand francs, filling Bonpland with ecstasy, but the emperor with
deep wrath as soon as he heard it. [Footnote: Avrillon, "Memoires sur
l'Imperatrice Josephine."]

Next to botany, it was music which Josephine delighted in and
cultivated. Since the cares and the numerous relations of her
diversified life claimed so much of her time, she had abandoned the
exercises of music; and it was only at the hour of unusual serenity of
mind, or of more lively recollections of the past, that she was
heard singing softly one of the songs of her own native isle, even as
Bonaparte himself, when he was meditating and deciding about some new
campaign, would betray the drift of his thoughts by singing louder and
louder the favorite melody of the day, Marlborough s'en va-t-en guerre.
But Josephine had the satisfaction that Hortense was not only an
excellent performer on the piano and the harp, but that she could also
write original compositions, whose softness and harmonious combinations
made them popular throughout France. Another satisfaction was, that
Eugene sang, in a fine clear voice, with great talent, and that
frequently he would by his excellent singing draw even the first consul
into loud expressions of admiration.

Bonaparte was not easily satisfied as regards singing; it was seldom
that music elicited any commendation from him. The Italian music alone
could excite his enthusiasm, and through its impassioned fervor rouse
him up, or its humorous passages enliven him. Therefore Bonaparte, when
consul or emperor, always patronized the Italian music in preference to
any other, and he constantly and publicly expressed this liking, without
considering how much he might thereby wound the French artistes in their
ambition and love of fame. He therefore appointed an Italian to be first
singer at the opera. It is true this was Maestro Paesiello, whose operas
were then making their way through Europe, and everywhere meeting with
approbation. Bonaparte also was extremely fond of them, and at every
opportunity he manifested to the maestro his good-will and approbation.
But one day this commendation of Paesiello was changed to the most
stinging censure. It was on the occasion of the first representation
of Paesiello's Zingari in Fiera. The first consul and his wife were in
their loge, and to show to the public how much he honored and esteemed
the composer, he had invited Paesiello to attend the performance in his
loge.

Bonaparte followed the performance with the most enthusiastic
demonstrations of gratification; he heartily applauded each part, and
paid to Paesiello compliments which were the more flattering since every
one knew that the lips which uttered them were not profuse in their use.
A tenor part had just ended, and its effect had been remarkable. The
audience was full of enthusiasm. Bonaparte, who by his hearty applause
had given the signal to a storm of cheers, turned toward Paesiello, and,
offering him his hand, exclaimed:

"Truly, my dear friend, the man who has composed this melody can boast
of being the first composer in Europe!"

Paesiello became pale, his whole body trembled, and, with stammering
voice, he said:

"General, this melody is from Cimarosa. I have placed it in my opera
merely to please the singers."

The first consul shrugged his shoulders.

"I am sorry, my dear sir," said he, "but I cannot recall what I have
said."

The next day, however, he sent to the composer of the opera, as an
acknowledgment of his esteem, a magnificent present, with which he
no doubt wished to heal the pain which he had unwittingly caused the
maestro. But Paesiello possessed a temper easily wounded, and the more
so since he considered himself as the first and greatest composer in
the world, and was sincere in the opinion that others could compose good
music, but that his alone was grand and distinguished.

Bonaparte's present could not, therefore, heal the wound which the
praise of Cimarosa's melody had inflicted, and this wound was soon to
be probed deeper, and become fatal to Paesiello. Another new opera from
Paesiello, Proserpina, was to be represented. The first consul, who was
anxious to secure for his protege a brilliant success, had given
orders to bring it out in the most splendid style; the most beautiful
decorations and the richest costumes had been provided, and a stage
erected for a ballet, on which the favorite ballet-leaders of Paris were
to practise their art.

The mighty first consul was, on the evening of the first performance of
the opera of Proserpina, to learn the lesson, that there exists a power
which will not be bound in fetters, and which is stronger and more
influential than the dictates of the mighty - the power of public
opinion. This stood in direct opposition to the first consul, by the
voiceless, cold silence with which it received Paesiello's piece.
Bonaparte might applaud as heartily as he pleased, and that might
elicit an echo from the group of his favorites, but the public
remained unmoved, and Bonaparte had the humiliation to see this opera,
notwithstanding his approbation, prove a complete failure. He felt as
nervous and excited as the composer himself, for he declared loudly
and angrily that the French knew nothing about music, and that it was
necessary to teach them that the Italians alone understood the art of
composition.

To teach this to the French the opera of Proserpina was to be repeated
until the mind of the public should have been educated to its beauty,
and they had been forced to acknowledge it. A decided warfare ensued
between this opera and the public, each party being determined to
have its own way; the authorities persevered in having the performance
repeated, and the public kept away from it with equal obstinacy. The
latter, however, had the advantage in this case, for they could not be
forced to attend where they were unwilling to go, and so they won the
victory, and the authorities had to yield.

Paesiello, touched to the quick by the failure of Proserpina, resigned
his position as leader, and left Paris to return to Italy. The question
now was, how to fill this important and honorable position. The
Parisians were excited about this nomination, and divided into two
parties, each of which defended its candidate with the greatest zeal,
and maintained that he would be the one who would receive Bonaparte's
appointment. The candidates of these two parties were the Frenchman
Mehul and the Italian Cherubini. Those who formed the party of Cherubini
calculated especially on Bonaparte's well-known preference for Italian
music. They knew that, though he was much attached to Mehul, whom he had
known before the expedition to Egypt, and had shown him many favors, yet
he had often expressed his contempt for French music, and was committed
against him by the very fact of his maintaining that the Italians alone
understood the art of musical composition.

Mehul had for a long time endured in silence the criticisms of
Bonaparte; he had patiently returned no answer when he repeated to him:
"Science, and only science - that is all the French musicians understand;
my dear sir, grace, melody, and joyousness, are unknown to you Frenchmen
and to the Germans; the Italians alone are masters here."

One day Mehul, having become tired of these constant discouraging
remarks, resolved to let the first consul, who so often gave him bitter
pills to swallow, have a taste of them himself.

He went, therefore, to his friend, the poet Marsollier, and begged him
to write an extremely lively and extravagant piece, whose design
would be absurd enough to make it pass as the work of some Italian
pamphlet-writer, and at the same time he enjoined the most profound
secrecy.

Marsollier complied willingly with the wishes of his friend, and after
a few days he brought him the text for the small opera Irato. With the
same alacrity did Mehul sit down to the task of composing, and when the
work was done, Marsollier went to the committee of the comic opera to
tell them he had just received from Italy a score whose music was
so extraordinary that he was fully convinced of its success, and
had therefore been to the trouble, notwithstanding the weakness and
foolishness of the libretto, to translate the text into French. The
committee tried the score, was enchanted with the music, and was fully
convinced of the brilliant success of the little opera, inasmuch as the
strange and lively text was well adapted to excite the hilarity and the
merriment of the public. The first singers of the opera were rivals for
the parts; all the newspapers published the pompous advertisement that
in a short time would be performed at the Opera Comique a charming,
entrancing opera, the maiden piece of a young Italian.

Finally its first performance was announced; the first consul declared
that he and his wife would attend, and he invited Mehul, whom he liked
to tease and worry, because he loved him from his heart, to attend the
performance in his loge.

"It will undoubtedly be a mortification to you, my poor friend," said
he, laughing; "but perhaps when you hear this enchanting music, so
different from that of the French, you will imitate it, and cease
composing."

Mehul replied with a bow; he then began to excuse himself from
accompanying the first consul to the theatre; and it was only after
Bonaparte and Josephine had pressed him very much, that he accepted the
invitation, and went with them to their loge.

The opera began, and, immediately after the first melody, Bonaparte
applauded and expressed his admiration. There never had been any
thing more charming - never had the French written music with so much
freshness, elegance, or so naturally. Bonaparte continued his praise,
and often-times repeated: "It is certain there is nothing superior to
Italian music."

At last the opera ended amid a real storm of applause; and, with their
enthusiasm at the highest pitch, the audience claimed to know the names
of the poet and of the composer. After a long pause the curtain rose and
the registrar appeared; he made the three customary bows, and in a loud
voice named Marsollier as the author and Mehul as the composer of the
opera Irato.

The audience received this news with an unceasing storm of applause.
They, like the consul and the singers who had taken part in the opera,
knew nothing of the mystification, so well had the secret been kept.

Josephine turned smilingly to Bonaparte, and with her own charming grace
offered her hand to Mehul and thanked him for the twofold enjoyment he
had that day prepared for her, by furnishing her his entrancing opera,
and by having prepared a little defeat of Bonaparte, that traitor to his
country, who dared prefer the Italian music to the French.

Bonaparte himself looked at the affair on its bright side; he had
enjoyed the opera; he had laughed; he was satisfied, and consequently he
overlooked the deceitful surprise.

"Conquer me always in this manner!" said he, laughing, to Mehul, "and I
shall enjoy both your fame and my amusement."

The friends of Cherubini thought of this little event when the question
arose as to the appointment to the situation of first singer at the
Grand Opera, and they therefore did not hesitate to wager that Cherubini
would be appointed, since he was an Italian.

But they knew not that Bonaparte had pardoned Mehul, and frequently
joked with him, whilst he ever grumbled at Cherubini on account of an
expression which the latter had once allowed himself to use against
General Bonaparte.

Bonaparte had conversed with Cherubini after a representation of one of
his operas, and, while he congratulated him, he however added that this
opera did not please him as much as the other pieces of Cherubini - that
he thought it somewhat sober and scientific, and that he missed in
it the accustomed richness of the maestro's melodies. This criticism
wounded Cherubini as if pierced by a dagger, and with the irritable
vehemence of an Italian he replied:

"General, busy yourself in winning battles - that is your trade; but
leave me to practise mine, about which you know nothing."

The Consul Bonaparte had neither forgotten nor pardoned Cherubini's
answer; and, despite his fondness for Italian music, he was resolved to
give to Mehul the position vacated by Paesiello.

Josephine approved entirely of this choice, and, in order to witness
Mehul's joy, she invited him to Malmaison, that the consul might
there inform him of his appointment. How great, however, was her and
Bonaparte's surprise, when Mehul, instead of being delighted with this
distinguished appointment, positively refused to accept it!

"I can accept this position only under one condition," said Mehul,
"which is, that I may be allowed to divide it with my friend Cherubini."

"Do not speak to me about him," exclaimed Bonaparte, with animation; "he
is a coarse man, and I cannot tolerate him."

"He may have had the misfortune to displease you," replied Mehul,
eagerly, "but he is a master to us all, and especially as regards sacred
music. He now is in a very inferior position; he has a large family, and
I sincerely desire to reconcile him to you."

"I repeat to you that I do not wish to know any thing about him."

"In that case I must decline the position," said Mehul, gravely,
"and nothing will alter my resolution. I am a member of the
Institute - Cherubini is not; I do not wish it to be said that I
have misused the good-will with which you honor me for the sake of
confiscating to my profit every situation, and of despoiling a man of
reputation of the reward to which he is most justly entitled."

And Mehul, notwithstanding Josephine's intercession and Bonaparte's
ill-will, remained firm in his decision; he would not accept the
honorable and distinguished position of first singer at the Grand Opera;
and Bonaparte, after expressing his determination, would not change it.
Neither would he confer upon Cherubini the honor refused by Mehnl. He
therefore commissioned Josephine to name a successor to Paesiello; and
she went to Madame de Montesson, to confer with her on the matter.

Madame de Montesson could suggest no definite plan, but she told
Josephine of a French composer, of the name of Lesueur, who,
notwithstanding his great talents, lived in his native city of Paris
poor and unknown, and who had not succeeded in having his opera, "The
Bards," represented at the Grand Opera, simply on the ground that he
was a Frenchman, and that every one knew Bonaparte's strange aversion to
French music.

Josephine's generous heart at once took sides with Lesueur; her
exquisite tact taught her that the public ought to know that the first
consul would not consult his own personal gratification, when the
question was to render justice to a Frenchman. She therefore recommended
to her husband, with all her ability, the poor composer Lesueur, who was
unknown to fame, and lost in obscurity; she represented his appointment
as such an act of generosity and of policy, that Bonaparte acceded to
her wishes at once, and appointed Lesueur to the office of first master
of the Grand Opera.

And Josephine had the pleasure of seeing that the new opera-leader
justified her expectations. His opera, "The Bards," was naturally
brought into requisition; it had a brilliant and unexampled success,
and even Bonaparte, at the first representation, forgot his prejudices
against French music, and applauded quite as heartily as if it had been
Italian.




CHAPTER XXXVIII. PRELUDE TO THE EMPIRE.


The sun of happiness which for Josephine seemed to shine so brightly
over Malmaison, had nevertheless its long shadows and its dark specks;
even her gracious countenance was obscured, her heart filled with
sad forebodings, and her bosom stung as if by scorpions hidden under
flowers.

Josephine had in her immediate circle violent and bitter enemies, who
were ever busy in undermining the influence which she possessed over her
husband, to steal from his heart the love he cherished for her, and to
remove from his side the woman who, by her presence, kept them in the
shade, and who wielded or destroyed the influence which they desired to
have over him.

These enemies were the brothers and especially the sisters of
Bonaparte. Among the brothers of the first consul, Lucien showed to his
sister-in-law the most violent and irreconcilable enmity. He left no
means untried to do her injury, and to convert her into an object of
suspicion, and this because he was convinced that Josephine was the
prime cause of the hostile sentiments of Napoleon against him, and
because he believed that, Josephine once out of the way, Napoleon's
ear would be open to conviction, and that he, Lucien, the most powerful
citizen, next to his brother, would be the second "first consul." He
was not aware that Napoleon's keen eagle eye had fathomed his ambitious
heart; that he was the one who kept Lucien away, because he mistrusted
him, because he feared his ambition, and even looked upon him as capable
of the bold design of casting Napoleon aside, and setting himself up
in his place. Lucien was unaware of the influence which Josephine
frequently exerted over the mind of the first consul, in favor of
himself; that it was she who had pacified Napoleon's anger at Lucien's
marriage, contracted without his consent, and prevented him from
annulling it violently. The other brothers of Napoleon, influenced,
perhaps, by the enmity of Lucien, were also disaffected toward their
sister-in-law, and of them all, only Louis, the youngest, the one who
loved the first consul most tenderly and most sincerely, showed toward
her due respect and affection.

His three sisters were still more active in their opposition. Constantly
quarrelling among themselves, they, however, united heartily in the
common feeling of hatred to Josephine. It was she who stood in their
way, who every day excited anew their anger by the position she held at
Napoleon's side, and in virtue of which the three sisters were thrust
into the background. Josephine, the wife of the first consul, was the
one to whom France made obeisance, upon whom the ambassadors of foreign
powers first waited, and afterward upon the sisters of the first consul.



Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 34 of 40)