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On the evening after the first interview the empress found that the door
of communication between her apartments and those of the emperor had
been closed. Napoleon did not, as had been his wont, bid her good-night
with a cordial and friendly kiss, but, in the presence of her ladies, he
dismissed her with a cold salutation. The next day the emperor expressly
avoided her society; and when at rare moments he was with her, he was
so taciturn, so morose and cold, that the empress had not the courage to
ask for an explanation, or to reproach him, but, trembling and afraid,
she bowed under the iron pressure of his severe, angry looks.

To prevent their being with each other alone, and to avoid this horrible
solitude, dreaded alike by Napoleon and Josephine, the emperor sent the
next day for all the princes and princesses of his family to come to
Fontainebleau. His sisters, no longer kept in control by the domineering
will of the emperor, made Josephine feel their malice and enmity; they
found pleasure in letting the empress see their own ascendency, their
secure position, and in treating her with coldness and disrespect. The
emperor, instead of guarding Josephine against these humiliations, had
the cruel courage to increase them; for, without reserve or modesty,
and in the very presence of Josephine, he offered the most familiar and
positive attentions to two ladies of his court - ladies whom he honored
with special favor. [Footnote: Thiers, "Histoire du Consulat et de
l'Empire," vol. xi., p. 323.]

It was death-like agony which Josephine suffered in those days of
Fontainebleau; it was a cruel martyrdom, which she, however, endured
with all the gentleness of her nature, with the devotedness and
uncomplaining anguish of true and genuine love.

Napoleon could not endure this. The sight of this yet beloved pale face,
with its sweet, angelic smile, lacerated his heart and tortured him with
reproaches. He wanted to have festivities and amusements, so as not to
witness this quiet, devoted anguish, so as not to read every day in the
sorrowful, red eyes of Josephine, the story of nights passed in tears.

The court returned to Paris, there to celebrate the new victorious peace
with brilliant feasts. Napoleon, so as to be delivered from the tearful
companionship of Josephine, made the journey on horseback, and never
once rode near her carriage.

In Paris had begun at once a series of festivities, at which German
princes, the Kings of Saxony, of Bavaria, and of Wurtemberg, were
present, to congratulate Napoleon on his victories in Germany. The
Empress Josephine, by virtue of her rank, had to appear at these
receptions; she had, although in the deepest despondency, to wear a
smile on her lip, to appear as empress at the side of the man who met
her with coldness and estrangement, and whom she yet loved with the true
love of a wife! She had to see the courtiers, with the keen instinct of
their race, desert her, leaving around her person an insulting void and
vacancy. Her heart was tortured with anguish and woe, and yet she could
not uproot her love from it; she did not have the courage to speak the
decisive word, and to desire the divorce which she knew hung over her,
and which at any moment might agonize her heart!

Josephine did not possess the cowardice to commit suicide; she was ready
to receive the fatal blow, but she could not plunge the dagger into her
own heart.

Napoleon, unable to endure these tortures, longed to bring them to an
end. He secretly made all the necessary arrangements, and communicated
to the first chancellor, Cambaceres, his irrevocable resolution to be
divorced from the empress. He, however, notified him that he wanted
this act of separation to be accomplished in the most respectful
and honorable form for Josephine, and he therefore, with Cambaceres,
prepared and decided upon all the details of this public divorce.

It only remained now to find some one who would announce to Josephine
her fate, who would communicate to her the emperor's determination.
Napoleon had not the courage to do it himself, and he wanted to confide
this duty to the Vice-King Eugene, whom for this purpose he had invited
to Paris.

But Eugene declined to become a messenger of evil tidings to his
mother; and when Napoleon turned to Hortense, she refused to give to
her mother's heart the mortal stroke. The emperor, deeply touched by the
sorrow manifested by the children of Josephine, was not able to repress
his tears. He wept with them over their blasted happiness - their
betrayed love. But his tears could not make him swerve from his
resolution.

"The nation has done so much for me," said he, "that I owe it the
sacrifice of my dearest inclinations. The peace of France demands that I
choose a new companion. Since, for many months, the empress has lived
in the torments of uncertainty, and every thing is now ready for a new
marriage, we must therefore come to a final explanation." [Footnote:
Lavalette, "Memoires," vol. ii., p. 44.]

But as none could be found to carry this fatal news to Josephine,
Napoleon had to take upon himself the unwelcome task.

Wearied with the tears of the slighted empress, with the reproaches of
his own conscience and with his own sufferings, Napoleon suddenly broke
the sad, gloomy silence which had been so long maintained between him
and his wife; in answer to her tears and reproaches, he told her that it
was full time now to arrive at a final conclusion; that he had resolved
to form new ties; that the interest of the state demanded from them both
an enormous sacrifice; that he reckoned on her courage and devotedness
to consent to a divorce, to which he himself acceded only with the
greatest reluctance. [Footnote: Thiers, "Histoire du Consulat," vol.
xi., p. 340.]

But Josephine did not hear the last words. At the word divorce she
swooned with a death-like shriek; and Napoleon, alarmed at the sight of
her insensibility, called out to the officers in waiting to help him to
carry the empress into her rooms upon her bed.

Such hours of despair, of bitter pain, of writhing, agonized love did
Josephine now endure! How courageous, yet how difficult, the struggle
against the wretchedness of a rejected love! How angrily and scornfully
she would rise up against her cruel fate! How lovingly, humbly, gently
she would acquiesce in it, as to a long-expected, inevitable fatality!

These were long days of pain and distress; but Josephine was not alone
in her sufferings, for the emperor's heart was also touched with her
quiet endurance, and her deep agony at this separation.

At last the empress came out victorious from these conflicts of heart
and soul, and she repressed her tears with the firm will of a noble,
loving woman! She bade her son Eugene announce to the emperor that she
assented to the divorce on two conditions: first, that her own offspring
should not be exiled or rejected, but that they should still remain
Napoleon's adopted children, and maintain their rank and position at his
court; secondly, that she should be allowed to remain in France, and,
if possible, in the vicinity of Paris, so that, as she said with a sweet
smile, she might be near the emperor, and still hope in the pleasure of
seeing him.

Napoleon's countenance manifested violent agitation when Eugene
communicated to him his mother's conditions; for a long time he paced
the room to and fro, his hands behind his back, and unable to gather
strength enough to return an answer. Then, with a trembling voice,
he said that he not only granted all these conditions, but that they
corresponded entirely with the wishes of his heart, and that he would
add to them a third condition, namely, that Josephine should still be
honored and treated by him and by the world as empress, and that she
should still be surrounded with all the honors belonging to that rank.

There was yet wanting, for the full offering of the sacrifice, the
public and solemn act of divorcement; but before that could take place
it was necessary to make the requisite preparations, to arrange the
future household of the divorced empress, and to prepare every thing for
Josephine's reception in Malmaison, whither she desired to retire
from the world. The mournful solemnity was put off until the 15th of
December, and until then Josephine, according to the rules of etiquette,
was to appear before the world as the ruling empress, the wife of
Napoleon. Twice it was necessary to perform the painful duty of
appearing publicly in all the pomp of her imperial dignity, and to wear
the heavy burden of that crown which already had fallen from her head.
On the morning of the 3d of December she had to be present at the
chanting of the Te Deum in Notre Dame, in thanksgiving for the peace
of Vienna, and to appear at the ball which the city of Paris that same
evening gave to the emperor and empress.

This ball was the last festivity which Josephine attended as empress,
but even then she received not all the honors which were due to her
as such. Napoleon himself had given orders that the ladies of Paris,
gathered in the Hotel de Ville, with the wife of the governor of the
capital, and the Duchess d'Abrantes at their head, should not, as usual,
meet the empress at the foot of the stairs, but that they should quietly
await her approach in the throne-room, while the marshal of ceremonies
would alone accompany her up the stairs.

The Duchess d'Abrantes, deeply affected by this order of the emperor,
which at once revealed the sad secret of the approaching future, had
reluctantly to submit to this arrangement, which so cruelly broke the
established etiquette. She has herself, in her memoirs, given full
particulars of this evening, and her words are so touching and so full
of sentiment that we cannot refuse to make them known here:

"We, therefore," says she, [Footnote: Abrantes, "Memoires." vol. xii.,
p. 289.] "ascended the throne-room, and were no sooner seated, than the
drums began to beat, and the empress entered. I shall never forget that
figure, in the costume which so marvellously suited her... never will
this gentle face, now wrapped in mourning crape, fade away from my
memory. It was evident that she was not prepared for the solitude which
she had found on the grand staircase; and yet Junot, in spite of the
risk of being blamed by the emperor, went to receive her, and he had
even managed that the empress should meet on the stairs a few ladies
who, it is true, did not very well know how they came and what they had
to do there. The empress, however, was not deceived; as she entered the
grand hall and approached the throne on which, in the presence of the
public of the capital, she was to sit probably for the last time....her
feet trembled and her eyes filled with tears. ....I tried to catch her
eyes; I would willingly have sunk at her feet and told her how much I
suffered....She understood me, and looked at me with the most agonizing
gaze which perhaps was ever in her eyes since that now blighted crown
had been placed on her head. That look spoke of agony - it revealed
depths of sorrow!... What must she have suffered on this awful
day!....She felt wretched, dying, and yet she smiled! Oh, what a torture
was that crown!... Junot stood by her.

"'You were not afraid of Jupiter's wrath,' said I to him afterward.

"'No,' said he, with a gloomy look, 'no, I fear him not, when he is
wrong....'

"The drums beat a second time; they announced the emperor's approach....
A few minutes after he came in, walking rapidly, and accompanied by the
Queen of Naples and the King of Westphalia. The heat was extraordinary,
though it was cold out of doors. The Queen of Naples, whose gracious,
charming smile seemed to demand from the Parisians the salutation,
'Welcome to Paris,' spoke to every one, and with the expression of
uncommon goodness. Napoleon, also, who wished to appear friendly, walked
up and down the room, talking and questioning, followed by Berthier, who
fairly skipped at his side, fulfilling more the duties of a chamberlain
than those of a connetable. A trifling circumstance in reference to
Berthier struck me. The emperor, who for some time had been seated on
his arm-chair near the empress, descended the steps of the throne to
go once more around the hall; at the moment he rose I saw him bend down
toward the empress, probably to tell her that she was to accompany
him. He rose up first; Berthier, who had stood behind him, rushed on to
follow his master; the empress was already standing up, when his feet
caught in the train of her mantle, and he nearly fell down, causing the
empress almost to fall. However, he disentangled himself, and, without
one word of excuse to the empress, he followed the emperor. Certainly
Berthier had not the intention to be wanting in respect to the empress;
but he knew the secret - he knew the whole drama soon to be performed....
and assuredly he would not have so acted one year ago as he did
to-day..... The empress had remained standing with a marvellous dignity;
she smiled as if the accident was the result of mere awkward-ness....
but her eyes were full of tears, and her lips trembled...."

At last the 15th of December had come; the day on which Josephine was
to endure the most cruel agony of her life, the day on which she was
solemnly to descend from the throne and bid farewell to her whole
brilliant past, and commence a despised, lonely, gloomy future.

In the large cabinet of ceremonies were gathered on this day, at noon,
the emperor, the Empress Josephine, the emperor's mother, the King and
Queen of Holland, the King and Queen of Westphalia, the King and Queen
of Naples, the Vice-king Eugene, the Princess Pauline Borghese, the
high-chancellor Cambaceres, and the secretary of civil affairs, St. Jean
d'Angely. Josephine was pale and trembling; her children were agitated,
and hiding their tears under an appearance of quietude, so as to instil
courage into their mother.

Napoleon, standing upright, his hand in that of the empress, read with
tremulous voice:

"My cousin, prince state-chancellor, I have dispatched you an order to
summon you hither into my cabinet for the purpose of communicating to
you the resolution which I and the empress, my much-beloved wife, have
taken. I am rejoiced that the kings, queens, and princesses, my brothers
and sisters, my brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, my daughter-in-law
and my son-in-law, who also is my adopted son, as well as my mother, are
here present to hear what I have to say.

"The policy of my empire, the interest and wants of my people, direct
all my actions, and now demand that I should leave children heirs of the
love I have for my people, and heirs of this throne to which Providence
has exalted me. However, for many years past, I have lost the hope of
having children through the marriage of my beloved wife, the Empress
Josephine; and this obliges me to sacrifice the sweetest inclinations of
my heart, so as to consult only the welfare of the state, and for that
cause to desire the dissolution of my marriage.

"Already advanced to my fortieth year, I still may hope to live long
enough to bring up in my sentiments and thoughts the children whom it
may please Providence to give me. God knows how much this resolution has
cost my heart; but there is no sacrifice too great for my courage if it
can be shown to me that such a sacrifice is necessary to the welfare of
France.

"It is necessary for me to add that, far from having any cause of
complaint, I have, contrariwise, but to praise the devotedness and
affection of my much-beloved wife; she has embellished fifteen years
of my life; the remembrance of these years will therefore ever remain
engraven on my heart. She has been crowned at my hands; it is my will
that she retain the rank and title of empress, and especially that she
never doubt my sentiments, and that she ever hold me as her best and
dearest friend."

When he came to the words "she has embellished fifteen years of my
life," tears started to Napoleon's eyes, and, with a voice trembling
through emotion, he read the concluding words.

It was now Josephine's turn. She began to read the paper which had been
prepared for her:

"With the permission of our mighty and dear husband, I must declare
that, whereas I can no longer cherish the hope of having children to
meet the wants of his policy and the wants of France, I am ready to give
the highest proof of affection and devotedness which was ever given upon
earth...."

Josephine could proceed no further; sobs choked her voice. She tried to
continue, but her trembling lips could no more utter a word. She handed
to Count St. Jean d'Angely the paper, who, with tremulous voice, read as
follows:

"I have obtained every thing from his goodness; his hand has crowned me,
and on the exaltation of this throne I have received only proofs of the
sympathy and love of the French people.

"I believe it is but manifesting my gratitude for these sentiments when
I consent to the dissolution of a marriage which is an obstacle to the
welfare of France, since it deprives her of the happiness of being
one day ruled by the posterity of a great man, whom Providence has so
manifestly favored, as through him to bring to an end the horrors of
a terrible revolution, and to re-establish the altar, the throne, and
social order. The dissolution of my marriage will not, however, alter
the sentiments of my heart; the emperor will always find in me his most
devoted friend. I know how much this action, made incumbent upon him by
policy and by the great interests in view, has troubled his heart; but
we, the one and the other, are proud of the sacrifice which we offer to
the welfare of our country."

When he had finished, Napoleon, visibly affected, embraced Josephine,
took her hand, and led her back to her apartments, where he soon left
her insensible in the arms of her children. [Footnote: Thiers, "Histoire
du Consulat," etc., vol. xi., p. 349.]

Napoleon himself, sad and silent, returned to his cabinet, where, in a
state of complete exhaustion, he fell into an easy-chair.

On the evening of the same day he again visited Josephine, to pass a few
hours with her in quiet, undisturbed communion; to speak in tenderness
and love of the future, to weep with her, and, full of deepest emotion
and sincerity, to assure her of his undying gratitude for the past, and
of his abiding friendship for the future.

Josephine passed the night in tears, struggling with her heart,
sometimes breaking into bitter complaints and reproaches, which she
immediately repressed with that gentleness and mildness so much her own,
and with that love which never for a moment departed from her breast.

There remained yet to perform the last, the most painful scene of this
great, tearful drama. Josephine had to leave the Tuileries; she had
forever to retire from the place which she so long had occupied at her
husband's side; she had to descend into the open grave of her mournful
abandonment; as a widow, to part with the corpse of her love and of the
past, and to put on mourning apparel for a husband who was not yet dead,
but who only rejected her to give his hand and his heart to another
woman.

The next day at two o'clock, the moment had come for Josephine to leave
the Tuileries, to make room for the yet unknown wife of the future.
Napoleon wanted to leave Paris at the same moment, and pass a few days
of quiet and solitude in Trianon.

The carriages of the emperor and empress were both ready; the last
farewell of husband and wife, now to part forever, had yet to be said.
M. de Meneval, who was the sole witness of those sad moments, gives of
them a most affecting description, which bears upon its face the merit
of truth and impartiality.

"When it was announced to the emperor that the carriage was ready, he
stood up, took his hat, and said: 'Meneval, come with me.'

"I followed him through the narrow winding stairs which led from his
room into that of the empress. She was alone, and seemed absorbed in
the saddest thoughts, At the noise we made in entering she rose up and
eagerly threw herself, sobbing, upon the neck of the emperor, who
drew her to his breast and embraced her several times; but Josephine,
overcome by excitement, had fainted. I hastened to ring for assistance.
The emperor, to avoid the renewal of a painful scene, which it was not
in his power to prevent, placed the empress in my arms as soon as he
perceived her senses return, and ordered me not to leave her, and then
he hurried away through the halls of the first story, at whose gate
his carriage was waiting. Josephine became immediately conscious of the
emperor's absence; her tears and sobs redoubled. Her women, who had
now entered, laid her on a sofa, and busied themselves with tender
solicitude to bring her relief. In her bewilderment she had seized my
hands, and urgently entreated me to tell the emperor not to forget her,
and to assure him of her devotedness, which would outlast every trial.
I had to promise her that at my arrival in Trianon I would wait upon the
emperor and see that he would write to her. It caused her pain to see
me leave, as if my departure tore away the last bond which united her to
the emperor. I left her, deeply affected by so true a sorrow and by so
sincere a devotion. During the whole journey I was deeply moved, and
could not but bewail the merciless political considerations which tore
violently apart the bonds of so faithful an affection for the sake
of contracting a new union, which, after all, contained but uncertain
chances.

"In Trianon I told the emperor all that had happened since his
departure, and I conveyed to him the message intrusted to me by the
empress. The emperor was still suffering from the emotions caused by
this farewell scene. He spoke warmly of Josephine's qualities, of the
depth and sincerity of the sentiments she cherished for him; he looked
upon her as a devoted friend, and, in fact, he has ever maintained for
her a heart-felt affection. The very same evening he sent her a letter
to console her in her solitude. When he learned that she was sad and
wept much, he wrote to her again, complained tenderly of her want of
courage, and told her how deeply this troubled him." [Footnote: Meneval,
"Napoleon et Marie Louise. - Souvenirs Historiques," vol. i., pp.
230-232.]

It is true Josephine's sorrow was bitter, and the first night of
solitude in Malmaison was especially distressing and horrible. But even
in these hours of painful struggle the empress maintained her gentleness
and mildness of character. Mademoiselle d'Avrillon, one of the ladies in
waiting, has given her testimony to that effect:

"I was with the empress during the greater part of the night," writes
she; "sleep was impossible, and time passed away in conversation.
The empress was moved to the very depth of her heart; it is true, she
complained of her fate, but in expressions so gentle, in so resigned a
manner, that tears would come to her eyes. There was no bitterness
in her words, not even during this first night when the blow which
destroyed her, had fallen upon her; she spoke of the emperor with the
same love, with the same respect, as she had always done. Her grief
was most acute: she suffered as a wife, as a mother, and with all the
wounded sensitiveness of a woman, but she endured her affliction with
courage, and remained unchanged in gentleness, love, and goodness."
[Footnote: Avrillon, "Memoires," vol. ii., p. 166.]




CHAPTER XLIII. THE DIVORCED.


Josephine had accepted her fate, and, descending from the imperial
throne whose ornament she had long been, retired into the solitude and
quietness of private life.

But the love and admiration of the French nation followed the empress to
Malmaison, where she had retreated from the world, and where the regard
and friendship, if not the love of Napoleon himself, endeavored to
alleviate the sufferings of her solitude. During the first days after
her divorce, the road from Paris to Malmaison presented as animated a
scene of equipages as in days gone by, when the emperor resided there
with his wife. All those whose position justified it, hastened
to Malmaison to pay their respects to Josephine, and through the
expressions of their sympathy to soften the asperities of her sorrow.
Doubtless many came also through curiosity, to observe how the empress,
once so much honored, endured the humiliation of her present situation.
Others, believing they would exhibit their devotedness to the emperor if
they should follow their master's example, abandoned the empress, as he



Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 38 of 40)