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he, the young, the flattered Viscount Alexandre de Beauharnais, he also
loved his young wife, whom the wish and will of his superiors had placed
at his side.

He had not chosen her because he loved her, but only because he had
thought it expedient and advisable to become married, and because the
unknown Mademoiselle de la Pagerie had been offered to him as "a good
settlement." Perhaps, also, he had contracted this marriage to get rid
all at once of those manifold ties, intrigues, and attachments which his
open, unrestrained life of youth had woven around him, for his marriage
with the young creole had put an end to many love-intrigues which
perchance threatened to be inconvenient and burdensome.

At first charmed by her foreign, unaccustomed appearance, transported by
her ingenuous grace, her sweet, lovely amiableness and freshness, he had
fully decided to love his young wife, and, with all the triumphant pride
of a lover, he had led Josephine into society, into the saloons.

But his eye was not blinded by the ravishment of a real and true love,
and in the drawing-room he saw what, in the solitude of the residence
of Noisy, where the young couple had retired for a few weeks after their
marriage, he might never have missed - he saw that Josephine possessed
not the lofty elegance and the exquisite manners of the ladies of the
Parisian saloons. She always was a charming, artless, graceful young
woman, but she lacked the striking advantages of a real drawing-room
lady; she lacked that perfect self-possession, that pliancy of
refinement, that sparkling wit, and that penetration, which then
characterized the ladies of the higher Parisian society, and which the
young viscount had but lately so fondly and passionately admired in the
beautiful and celebrated Baroness de B.

The viscount saw all these deficiencies of his young wife's social
education, and this darkened his brow and brought on his cheek the flush
of shame. He was cruel enough to reproach Josephine, in somewhat harsh
and imperious tones, of her lack of higher culture, and thus the first
matrimonial difference clouded the skies of marriage happiness, which
the young unsuspecting wife had believed would ever be bright with
sunshine.

Josephine, however, loved her young husband too fondly not to cheerfully
comply with all his wishes, not to strive to replace what he reproached
her to be lacking.

On a sudden she left the brilliant, enchanting Paris, which had
entranced her with its many joys and its many distractions, and, as her
husband had to be for some time at Blois with his regiment, she went
to Noisy, to her aunt's residence, so as to labor at her higher mental
culture, at the side of the lovely and intellectual Madame de Renaudin.

Josephine had hitherto, as a simple, sentimental young lady, played the
guitar, and chirped with it, in her fresh but uncultivated voice, her
sweet songs of love. She gave up the guitar, the favorite instrument of
the creoles, and exchanged it for the harp, for which attainment as well
as for the art of singing she procured the best and ablest masters. Even
a dancing-master had to come to Noisy to give to the young viscountess
that perfection of art which would enable her, without fear, to dance at
a ball alongside of the Viscount de Beauharnais, "the beautiful dancer
of Versailles." With her aunt she read the works of the writers and
poets who were then praised and loved, and with wonderful predilection
she also studied botany, to which science she ever clung during her
life, and which threw on her existence gleams of joy when the sun of her
happiness had long set.

Josephine, who out of pure love for her husband learned and studied
zealously, communicated to the viscount, in her letters, every
advancement she made in her studies; and she was proud and happy when he
applauded her efforts, and when in his letters he praised her assiduity
and her progress.

But evidently these letters of the viscount contained nothing of that
love and ardor which the young fiery creole longed for from her
husband; they were not the utterances of a young, anxious lover, of an
enthusiastic, worshipping husband; but they were addressed to Josephine
with the quiet, cool benignity of a considerate friend, of a mentor, of
a tutor who knows full well how much above his pupil soars his own mind,
and with what supreme deference this pupil must look up to him.

"I am delighted," wrote he once - "delighted at your zeal to acquire
knowledge and culture; this zeal, which we must ever cherish, is ever
the source of purest enjoyments, and possesses the glorious advantage,
when we follow its dictates, of never producing any grief. If you
persevere in the resolution you have taken, if you continue to labor
with unabated zeal at your personal improvement, be assured that the
knowledge you will have acquired will exalt you highly above all others;
and whereas science and modesty will be combined in you, you will
succeed in becoming an accomplished woman. The talents which you
cultivate have their pleasant side, and if you devote to them a portion
of the day, you will unite the agreeable to the useful." [Footnote:
"Histoire de l'Imperatrice Josephine," vol. i., p. 110.]

This is what Alexandre de Beauharnais wanted. His wife, through her
knowledge, was to be highly exalted above all others. She was to study
the sciences, and become what is now called a learned woman, but what
was then termed a philosophical woman.

The ambition of the ardent viscount required that his young wife should
be the rival of his learned, verse-writing aunt, the Baroness Fanny
de Beauharnais; that Josephine, if not the most beautiful and most
intellectual woman of Paris, should be the most accomplished.

But these extravagant expectations did not, unfortunately, coincide
entirely with the tastes and mental tendencies of Josephine. No one was
less qualified than she to be a philosophical woman, and to make the
sciences a serious study. It was far from her ambition to desire to
shine by her knowledge; and the learned and scientific Baroness de
Beauharnais only excited fear and antagonism on account of her stiff and
pretentious pedantry, which seemed to Josephine to have but little in
harmony with a woman's being.

Josephine loved the sciences and the arts, but she did not wish to
convert herself into their devoted priestess. She wished merely to adorn
herself with their blossoms, to take delight in their fragrance, and to
rejoice in their beauty. With instinctive sentiment she did not wish to
have the grace and youthful freshness of her womanly appearance marred
by knowledge; her heart longed not for the ambition of being called a
learned woman; she only wished to be a beloved wife.

But the viscount, instead of recognizing and cherishing the tender and
sacred treasures which reposed in the heart of his young wife, ridiculed
her for her sensitiveness; allowed himself, through displeasure at her
uncultivated mind, to utter unreasonable reproaches, and to act harshly
toward his wife; and her tears were not calculated to conciliate him
or to gain his heart. He treated Josephine with a sort of contemptuous
compassion, with a mocking superiority, and her young, deeply-wounded
soul, intimidated and bleeding, shrank back into itself. Josephine
became taciturn, embarrassed, and mute, in her husband's presence; she
preferred being silent, rather than by her conversation, which might not
appear intellectual and piquant enough for the viscount, to annoy and
irritate him.

Confidence and harmony had flown away from the household of the young
couple. From his timid, silent wife, with tears in her eyes and a mute
complaint on her trembling lips, the husband rushed away into the world,
into society, to the boisterous joys of a garrison's life, or else to
the dangerous, intoxicating amusements which the refined world of the
drawing-rooms offered him.

Scarcely after a two years' marriage, the young bridegroom was again the
zephyr of the drawing-room; and, breaking asunder the bonds with which
the marriage and the household had bound him, he fluttered again from
flower to flower, was once more the gallant cavalier of the belles,
forgot duty and wife, to pay his attentions and bring his homage to the
ladies of the court.

But this neglect which she now experienced from her husband, this
evident preference for other women, suddenly awoke Josephine from her
painful resignation, from her quiet melancholy. The young, patient,
retreating wife was changed at once into an irritated lioness, and,
amid the refinements of the French polish, with all its gilded
accompaniments, uprose the glowing, impassioned, threatening creole.

Josephine, wounded both in her vanity and in her love - Josephine wished
not and could not bear, as a passive, silent sufferer, the neglect of
her husband; he had insulted her as a woman, and the wrath of a woman
rose within her. She screened not her jealousy from her husband; she
reproached him for preferring other women to his wife, for neglecting
her for the sake of others, and she required that to her alone he should
do homage, that to her alone he should consecrate love and allegiance.
She wept, she complained, when she learned that, whilst she was left
at home unnoticed, he had been here and there in the company of other
women; she allowed herself to be so carried away by jealousy as to make
violent reproaches against her husband.

But tears and reproaches are not in the least calculated to bring back
to a wife the heart of a husband, and jealousy recalls not a husband's
love, when that love has unfolded his pinions and flown away. It only
causes the poor butterfly to feel that marriage had tied its wings
with a thread, and that it constantly recalls him away, with the severe
admonitions of duty, from the beautiful flowers toward which he desires
to fly.

The complaints and reproaches of Josephine, however much they proved her
love, had precisely the contrary effect from what she expected. Through
them she wanted to bring back her husband to her love, but she repelled
him further still; he flew away from her complaints to the merry society
of his friends, male and female, and left Josephine alone at Noisy to
weep over her wretchedness.

Notwithstanding all this, they were both to be again reunited one to
another in a new bond of love and happiness. On the 3d of September,
1781, Josephine presented to her husband a son, the heir of his name,
and for whom the father had already so long craved. Alexandre came to
Noisy to be present at the birth of his child, and with true, sincere
affection he embraced son and mother, and swore everlasting love and
fidelity to both.

But circumstances were stronger than the will of this young man of
twenty-two years. The monotonous life of Noisy, the quietude which
prevailed in the house on account of the young mother, could not long
retain captive the fiery young man. He endured this life of solitude, of
watching at the bedside, of listening to the child's cries, for a whole
week, and then was drawn away with irresistible attraction to Paris;
the father's tenderness could no longer restrain the glowing ardor, the
impassioned longings for distraction in the young man; and the viscount
left Noisy to lead once more in Paris or with his garrison the free,
unrestrained dissipations of his earlier days.

Josephine was comfortless. She had hoped the son would retain the
father, but he left her alone, alone with the child, and with all the
torments of her jealousy.

It is true, he came back now and then to see his son, his little Eugene,
and also to make amends to the young, sick, and suffering mother, by a
few days' presence, for the many days of absence.

But Josephine, irritated, jealous, too young, too inexperienced to
reflect, Josephine committed the fault of receiving her husband every
time he came, with reproaches and complaints, and of meeting him
with violent scenes of jealousy and of offended dignity. The viscount
himself, so young, so impassioned, had not the patience to go with
calm indifference through the purgatory of such scenes. His proud heart
rebelled against the chains with which marriage would bind him; he was
angry with this woman who dared reproach him; he was the more vexed
that his conscience told him she was unjust toward him, that he was the
innocent one. He returned her complaints with deriding scorn; he allowed
himself to be carried away by her reproaches to the manifestation of
violent anger; and the tempest of matrimonial discord raged through this
house, which at first seemed to have been built for a temple of peace
and happiness.

The parents of the young couple saw with deep, heartfelt concern the gap
deepening between them both, and which every day widened more and more,
and as their warnings and wishes now remained fruitless, they resolved
to try if a long absence might not heal the wounds which they both had
inflicted upon their own hearts. At the request of his father and of
Madame de Renaudin, the viscount undertook a long journey to Italy, from
which he returned only after nearly nine months' absence.

What the relatives had hoped from this journey seemed to be realized.
The viscount returned home to his Josephine with a penitent, tender
heart; and Josephine, enchanted with his tenderness, with the pliant
loveliness of his whole being - Josephine, with a smile of blessedness
and with happy dreams of the future, rested once more on the bosom of
the man whom, even in her angry moods, she had never ceased to love.

But after a few months passed in happiness and harmony, the viscount
was once more obliged to separate himself from his wife, to meet his
regiment, which was now in Verdun. Absence soon broke the slender
threads which had bound together the hearts of husband and wife.
Alexandre abandoned himself to his tendencies to dissipation, and
Josephine to her jealousy. During the frequent visits which the viscount
paid to his wife in Noisy, he was received with tears and reproaches,
which always ended in violent scenes of anger and bitterness.

Such an existence, full of ever-recurring storms and ceaseless discord,
weighed heavily on the hearts of both husband and wife, and made them
long for an issue from this Labyrinth of an unhappy marriage. Yet
neither of them dreamed of a separation; not only their son, the little
Eugene, kept them from such thoughts, but also the new hopes which
Josephine carried in her bosom would have made such thoughts appear
criminal. It was necessary to endeavor to bear life as well as one
could, and not allow one's self to be too much lacerated by its thorns,
even if there was no further hope of gathering its roses.

Alexandre de Beauharnais, even if he lacked the skill of being a
faithful, devoted husband, was a noble and goodnatured man, whose
generous heart wanted to punish himself alone for the error of this
marriage, which weighed so heavily on husband and wife; and, in order
to procure peace to both, he resolved to become an exile, to tear away
pitilessly the attractive ties which society, friends, and women, had
woven around him. If he could not be a good husband, he might at least
be a good soldier; and, whereas his heart could not adopt the resolution
of devoting itself with exclusive affection to his wife, he resolved
to devote himself entirely to that love to which he had never been
disloyal, the love of fame. His ambitious nature longed for honors
and distinction; his restless, youthful courage craved for action and
battle-fields; and, as no opportunity offered itself on land, Alexandre
de Beauharnais decided to search on the seas for what was denied him on
land.

The Marquis de Bouille, governor of Martinique, had just arrived in
France, to propose to the government a new expedition against the
British colonies in the Antilles. Already this fearless and enterprising
man, since he had been in Martinique, with the forces at his disposal,
with the help of the young creoles, and supported by the squadrons which
lay in Port Royal, had conquered Dominique, Grenada, St. Vincent, St.
Christophe, Mievres, and Montserrat, and now he contemplated an attack
upon the rich and important island of Jamaica, whose conquest he trusted
would force the English into peace.

Alexandre de Beauharnais wanted nothing more attractive than to join
this important and daring enterprise of the Marquis de Bouille. With
recommendations from his uncle, the Duke de la Rochefoucauld, the
viscount hastened to the Marquis de Bouille, begged of him instantly the
privilege of serving under him, and offered his services as adjutant.

The marquis received with kindness a young man so earnestly recommended,
and gave him the hope of fulfilling his wishes. These hopes were not,
however, realized; and the viscount, no longer able to endure the burden
of uncertainty and of domestic discord, decided to leave France on his
own responsibility, to sail for Martinique, and there to enlist as a
simple volunteer, under the orders of the governor.

In September, 1782, he left Noisy for Brest, there to embark for
Martinique. At the hour of departure the love, which for so long had
been hidden under the dark cloud of jealousy and discord, awoke in all
its glow and energy in the hearts of the young couple. With streaming
eyes Josephine embraced her husband, and in the most touching tones
entreated him to remain with her, entreated him not to tear the father
away from the son, who already recognized him and stretched his little
hands toward him, nor from the child yet unborn in her bosom. Carried
away by so much intensity of affection, by such a fond, all-pardoning
love, Alexandre was deeply moved; he regretted the past, and the
decision he had taken to leave his wife and his family. All the sweet
emotions of peace, of home, of paternal bliss, of married life, overcame
him in this hour of farewell with, resistless power, and in Josephine's
arms he wept bitter tears of repentance, of love, of farewell.

But these tears, no more than his wife's regrets, could make him waver
in his determination.

The word of separation had been spoken, and it had to be fulfilled. Amid
the anguish of parting, he felt for himself the necessity of breaking,
by means of a long absence, with the evil practices of the past, and to
make amends for the sad errors of his youth.

He left his home to win in a distant land the happiness which he had
in vain sought at the side of his wife, of his son, and of his family.
Before the ship upon which he was to embark for his journey weighed
anchor, he took a last farewell of his family in a letter addressed to
Madame de Renaudin.

"I have," said he, "received the letter which tells of your good wishes
for the future, and I have read with the deepest interest the assurances
of your attachment. These assurances would still have been more
flattering to me, could they have convinced me that my actual course has
your approbation, and that you estimate rightly my determination, and
the sacrifice I am making. However, I have on my side conscience, which
applauds me for preferring, to the real, actual joys of a quiet
and pleasurable existence, the prospect, even if a remote one,
of preferment, which may secure me a distinguished position and a
distinction which may be of advantage to my children. The greater have
been my sacrifices, the more commendable it is to have made them; and if
chance only favors my determination, then the laurels I will win shall
make ample amends for all troubles and hardships, and shall change all
my anguish into joy! - Be kind enough, I pray you, to embrace for me,
my father, my wife, and Eugene!" [Forward: "Histoire de l'Imperatrice
Josephine," vol. i, p. 133.]

It is evident that Alexandre de Beauharnais had gone to Martinique to
win fame and to fight for laurels. But chance favored not his resolves.
He had no sooner landed in Martinique, than the news spread that
negotiations had begun between England and France. M. de Bouille
received strict orders to make no attack on Jamaica; and a few weeks
after, on the 20th of January, 1783, the preliminaries of peace were
signed at Versailles. A few months later, peace was concluded, and all
the conquests made by the Marquis de Bouille were returned to England.

Alexandre de Beauharnais had then come in vain to Martinique. No fame
was to be won - no laurels could be gathered there.

Unfortunately, however, the viscount found another occupation for his
restless heart, for the vague cravings of his affections. He made the
acquaintance there with a young creole, who had been a widow for the
last six months, and who had returned to Martinique from France to
pass there her year's mourning. But her heart had no mourning for her
deceased husband; it longed for Paris, it craved for the world and its
joys. She was yet, though a few years older than the viscount, a young
woman; she was beautiful - of that wondrous, enticing beauty peculiar to
the creoles; she was an accomplished mistress in the difficult art
of pleasing, and she formed the design of gaining the heart of the
impulsive Viscount Alexandre de Beauharnais. This design was not
undertaken because he seemed worthy of love, but because she wanted to
revenge herself on the family of Tascher de la Pagerie, which family had
been for a long time at enmity with her own, and had given free and
open expression against the too easy manners and light behavior of
the beautiful widow. She wanted to take vengeance for these insults by
seducing from M. de la Pagerie his own son-in-law, and by enjoying the
triumph of having charmed away the husband from his daughter.

The proverb says, "What woman will, woman can!" and what the beautiful
Madame de Gisard wanted was not so very hard to achieve. All she wished
was to hold complete sway over the heart of a young man who felt heavily
burdened with the fetters of marriage; who, now that the schemes of
ambition had failed, reproached his young wife that she was the cause of
his misfortune; that for her sake he had exiled himself from home, and
sentenced himself to the dulness and loneliness of a village-life in
Martinique. The society of the beautiful Madame de Gisard brought at
least novelty and distraction to this loneliness; she gave occupation
to the heart weary with connubial storms; she excited his fancy and his
desires.

Madame de Gisard knew how to use all these advantages; she wanted to
triumph over the family of De la Pagerie, she wanted to return to Paris
in the company of a young, handsome, and distinguished lover.

It was not enough to win the love of the viscount; she had to drive
him into the resolution of separating from his wife, of accusing her of
unfaithfulness and guilt, so as to have the right of casting her away,
in order that she herself might openly occupy her place. Madame de
Gisard had the requisite talent to carry out her plans, and to acquire
full control over the otherwise rebellious and proud heart of the young
man. She first began to lead him into open rupture with his father
and mother-in-law. Through respect for them, the viscount had avoided
appearing in public with Madame de Gisard, and betraying the intimacy
which existed between them. Madame de Gisard ridiculed his bashfulness
and submissive spirit; she considered this servility to the head of
the family as absurd, and she drove the viscount by means of scorn and
sarcasm to open revolt.

Then, after separating him from his wife's family, she attacked the wife
herself. With all the cunning and smoothness of a seducing demon, she
encompassed the young man's heart, and filled it with mistrust against
Josephine. She accused the forsaken one with levity and unfaithfulness;
she filled his heart with jealousy and rancor; she used all the means of
perfidy and calumny of which a woman is capable, and in which she finds
a refuge when her object is to ruin, and she succeeded completely.

Alexandre de Beauharnais was now entirely hers; he was gathering against
Josephine anger and vengeance; and even when he received the news that,
on the 13th of April, 1783, his young wife had given birth to a daughter
at Noisy, his soul was not moved by soft emotions, by milder sentiments
of reconciliation.

Madame de Gisard had taught him that henceforth he need no more be on
the defensive in reference to the reproaches of Josephine, but that he
now must be the aggressor; that, to justify his own guiltiness, he must
accuse his wife of guilt. She had offered herself as the price of his
reconquered freedom; and the viscount, overcome with love, anger, and



Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 4 of 40)