Copyright
L. Mühlbach.

Empress Josephine online

. (page 5 of 40)
Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 5 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


jealousy, was anxious to become worthy of this price.

He left Martinique and returned to Noisy, not to embrace and bless his
daughter Eugenie Hortense, but to bow down the mother's head with the
curse of shame. He accused, without listening to any justification, and,
with all the vehemence of misguided passion, he asked for an immediate
separation, an immediate divorce. Vain were the expostulations, the
prayers of his father and of Madame de Renaudin. Vain were the tears,
the assurances of innocence from Josephine. The tears of an injured
woman, the prayers of his sorrowing relatives, were impotent against the
whisperings and the seducing smiles of the beautiful Madame de Gisard,
who had secretly accompanied him to France, and who had now over him an
unconditional sway.

The viscount brought before Parliament a complaint for separation from
his wife, and based it upon the most improbable and most shameless
accusations.

Josephine, who, for two years in loneliness and abandonment, had awaited
the return of her husband; Josephine, who had always hoped, through the
voice of her children, to recall her husband to herself, saw herself
suddenly threatened with a new, unexpected tempest. Two years of
suffering were finally to be rewarded by a scandalous process, which
exposed her person to the idle and malicious tongues of the Parisians.

She had, however, to submit to fate; she had to bow her head to the
storm, and trust for her justification to the mercy of God and to the
justice of the Parliament. During the time of the process she withdrew,
according to custom, into a convent, and for nearly one year hid herself
with her shame and her anguish in the abbey of Pantemont, in the street
Grenelle, St. Germain. However, she was not alone; her aunt, Madame
de Renaudin, accompanied her, and every day came the Marquis de
Beauharnais, her husband's father, bringing her the children, who,
during the time of the unfortunate process, were to remain at Noisy,
under the guardianship of their grandfather and of a worthy governess.
The members of her husband's family rivalled each other in their
manifestations of affection to a woman so much injured and so
incriminated, and openly before the world they declared themselves
against the viscount, who, blinded by passion and entirely in the chains
of this ensnaring woman, was justifying the innocency of his wife by
his own indiscreet demeanor - by the public exhibition of his passion
for Madame de Gisard, and thus caused the accusations launched against
Josephine to recoil upon his own head.

At last, after one year of debates, of careful considerations and
investigations, of receiving evidence, and of hearing witnesses, the
Parliament pronounced its decision.

Josephine was declared absolutely innocent of the crimes brought against
her, and was entirely acquitted of the accusation of unfaithfulness. The
Parliament pronounced the solemn decree: The accusation directed against
the Viscountess de Beauharnais was simply a malicious calumny. The
innocency of the accused wife was evident, and consequently the Viscount
de Beauharnais was bound to receive again his wife into his house.
However, the viscountess was permitted and allowed not to share the same
residence with her husband, and to separate herself from him. In this
case the viscount was condemned to pay to his wife an annual pension of
ten thousand francs, and to leave with her mother his daughter Eugenie
Hortense, while he, the father, should provide for the education of the
son.

Exonerated from the disgraceful imputation of faithlessness, Josephine
was again free to leave the convent and return to the life of the world.
It was her husband's family which now prepared for the poor young
woman the most beautiful and most touching triumph. The father of her,
accuser, the Marquis de Beauharnais, as well as his elder son and wife,
the Duke and Duchess de la Rochefoucauld, and the Baroness Fanny de
Beauharnais, came in their state carriages to the abbey to receive
Josephine and lead her back to Paris. They had been joined by a great
number of the most respectable and most noble ladies of the Parisian
aristocracy, all in their state carriages, and in the splendor of their
armorial trappings and liveries, as if it were to accompany a queen
returning home.

Josephine shed tears of blessed joy when quitting her small, sombre
rooms in the abbey. She entered into the reception-room to bid farewell
to the prioress, and there met all these friends and relatives, who
saluted her with looks of deepest tenderness and sympathy, and embraced
her in their arms as one found again, as one long desired. This hour of
triumph indemnified her for the sorrows and sufferings of the unhappy
year which the poor wife of scarcely twenty years of age, and fleeing
from calumny and hatred, liar! sighed away in the desolate and lonesome
convent. She was free, she was justified; the disgrace was removed from
her head; she was again authorized to be the mother of her children; she
saw herself surrounded by loving parents, by true friends, and yet in
her heart there was a sting. Notwithstanding his cruelty, his harshness,
though he had abandoned and despised her, her heart could not be forced
into hating the husband for whom she had so much wept and suffered.
Her tears had impressed his image yet deeper in her heart. He was
the husband of her first love, the father of her children; how could
Josephine have hated him, how could her heart, so soft and true, cherish
animosity against him?

At the side of her husband's father, and holding her daughter in
her arms, Josephine entered Paris. Behind them came a long train of
brilliant equipages, of relatives and friends. The passers-by stopped to
see the brilliant procession move before them, and to ask what it meant.
Some had recognized the viscountess, and they told to others of the
sufferings and of the acquittal of the poor young woman; and the people,
easily affected and sympathizing, rejoiced in the decision of the
Parliament, and with shouts and applause followed the carriage of the
young wife.

The marquis, her father-in-law, turned smilingly to Josephine.

"Do you see, my daughter," said he, "what a triumph you enjoy, and how
much you are beloved and recognized?"

Josephine bent down toward the little Hortense and kissed her.

"Ah," said she, in a low voice, "we are returning home, but the father
of my children will not bid us welcome. For a pressure of his hand,
for a kind word from him, I would gladly give the lofty triumph of this
hour."

No, Alexandre de Beauharnais did not bid welcome to Josephine in his
father's house, which they had occupied together. Ashamed and irritated,
he had sped away from Paris, and returned to his regiment at Verdun.

On the arm of the Marquis de Beauharnais, Josephine traversed the
apartments in which she had lived with her husband, and which she now
saw again as a widow, whom not death but life had separated from her
husband. Her father-in-law saw the tears standing in her eyes, and,
with the refined sympathy of a sensitive mind, he understood the painful
thoughts which agitated the soul of the young wife.

He fondly folded her in his arms, and laid his blessing hand on the head
of the little Hortense.

"I have lost my son Alexandre," said he, "but I have found in his stead
a daughter. Yes, Josephine, you are and will remain my daughter, and to
you and to your children I will be a true father. My son has parted from
us, but we remain together in harmony and love, and as long as I live my
daughter Josephine will never want a protector."




CHAPTER VI. TRIANON AND MARIE ANTOINETTE.


Whilst the Viscountess Josephine de Beauharnais, the empress of the
future, was living in enforced widowhood, the life of Marie Antoinette,
the queen of the present, resembled a serene, golden, sunny dream; her
countenance, beaming with youth, beauty, and grace, had never yet been
darkened with a cloud; her large blue eyes had not yet been dimmed with
tears.

In Fontainebleau, whither Josephine had retired with her father-in-law,
who through unfortunate events had lost the greatest part of his
fortune - in Fontainebleau lived the future Empress of France in sad
monotony; in Versailles, in Trianon, lived the present Queen of France
in the dazzling splendor of her glory, of her youth, and of her beauty.
In Trianon - this first gift of love from the king to his wife - the Queen
of France dreamed life away in a pleasant idyl, in a joyous pastoral
amusement; there, she tried to forget that she was queen, that is to
say, that she was the slave of etiquette; there she tried to indemnify
herself for the tediousness, the emptiness, the heartlessness of the
great festivals in the Tuileries and in Versailles.

In Trianon, Marie Antoinette desired to be the domestic wife, the
pleasant, youthful woman, as in the Tuileries and at Versailles she was
the proud and lofty queen. Marie Antoinette felt her days obscured by
the splendors of royalty; the crown weighed heavily on her beautiful
head, which seemed made for a crown of myrtle and roses; life's
earnestness had not yet cast its breath on those rosy cheeks and robbed
of youth's charm the smile on those crimson lips.

And why should not Marie Antoinette have smiled and been joyous? Every
thing shone round about her; every thing seemed to promise an enduring
harvest of felicity, for the surface of France was calm and bright, and
the queen's vision had not yet been made keen enough by experience to
penetrate below this shining surface and see the precipices already
hidden underneath.

These precipices were yet covered with flowers, and the skies floating
above them seemed yet cloudless. The French people appeared to retain
yet for the royal family that enthusiastic devotedness which they had
manifested for centuries; they fondly proclaimed to the queen, whenever
she appeared, their affection, their admiration; they were not weary
with the expressions of their rapture and their worship, and Marie
Antoinette was not weary of listening to these jubilant manifestations
with which she was received in the theatre, on the streets, in the
gardens of the Tuileries, on the terraces of Versailles; she was not
weary of returning thanks with a friendly nod or with a gracious smile.

All the Parisians seemed still to be, as once, at the arrival of the
Dauphin, they had been called by the Baron de Vesenval, "the queen's
lovers," and also to rival one another in manifesting their allegiance.

Even the fish-women of Paris shared the general enthusiasm; and when,
in 1781, the queen had given to her husband a son, and to his people
a future monarch, the ladies of "the Halls" were amongst the most
enthusiastic friends of the queen. They even came to Versailles to
congratulate the royal couple on the dauphin's birth, to salute the
young dauphin as the heir to the crown of France, and to sing under the
window of the king some songs, one of which so pleased the king that
oftentimes afterward, in his quiet and happy hours, he used to sing
a verse of it with a smile on his lip. This Terse, which even Marie
Antoinette sang, ran thus:

"Ne craignez pas, cher papa,
D' voir augmenter vot' famille,
Le bon Dieu z'y pourvoira:
Faits-en taut qu' Versailles en fourmille;
Yeut-il cent Bourbons cheu nos
Ya du pain, du laurier pour tous."

[Footnote: Madaine ile Carapan, "Histoire de Marie Antoinette," vol. i.,
p. 218.]

In Trianon, Marie Antoinette passed her happiest hours and days; there,
the queen changed herself into a shepherdess; there, vanished from her
the empty splendors of purple and ermine, of etiquette and ceremonial;
there, she enjoyed life in its purity, in its innocency, in its
naturalness; such was the ideal Marie Antoinette wished to realize in
Trianon.

A simple dress of white muslin, a light kerchief of gauze, a straw hat
with a gayly-colored ribbon, such was the attire of the queen and of the
princesses whom Marie Antoinette invited. For the only etiquette which
prevailed at Trianon was this: that no one from the court, even princes
or princesses, should come to Trianon without having received an
invitation from the queen to that effect. Even the king submitted to
this ceremonial, and had expressly promised his consort never to come to
Trianon without an invitation, and, so as to please the queen, no sooner
did she announce her intention of retiring to her country-residence,
than he was always the first who hastened to obtain the favor of an
invitation.

In Trianon, Louis ceased to be king as well as Marie Antoinette ceased
to be queen. There Louis XVI. was but the farmer of the lady of the
castle; the Count d'Artois was the miller, and the learned Count de
Provence, the schoolmaster. For each of them had been erected in
the gardens of Trianon a separate house suited to their respective
avocations.

The farmer Louis had his farm-house built in Swiss style, with a balcony
of finely-carved wood at the gable-end, and with stalls attached to the
house, and where bellowed the stately red cows of Switzerland; behind
the house was a small garden in which the variegated convolvulus and the
daisy shed their fragrance.

The Count d'Artois had, near the stream which flowed through the park,
his miller's house, with an enormous wheel, made of wooden spokes joined
together, and which moved lustily in the water, and adorned the clear
brook with wavelets of foam.

The Count de Provence had, under the shadow of a mulberry-tree,
his house, with a large school-room in it; and oftentimes the whole
court-society were converted into scholars of both sexes, who took their
seats on the benches of the school-room, whilst the Count de Provence,
in a long coat with lead buttons and with an immense rod in his hand,
ascended the cathedra and delivered to his school-children a humorous
and piquant lecture, all sparkling with wit.

The princesses also had in this "grove of Paradise," as Marie Antoinette
called the woods of Trianon, their cottages, where they milked cows,
made butter, and searched for eggs in the hens' nests. In the midst of
all these cottages and Swiss houses stood the cottage of the farming
Marie Antoinette; it was the finest and the most beautiful one of all,
adorned with vases full of fragrant blossoms and surrounded by flowering
plants and by cozy bowers of verdure. This cottage was the highest
delight of the queen's life, the enchanting toy of her happiness. Even
the little castle of Trianon, however simple and modest, seemed too
splendid for the taste of the pastoral queen. For in Trianon one
was always reminded that the lady of this castle was a queen; there,
servants were in livery; there, officials and names and titles were to
be found, even when etiquette was forbidden entrance into the halls of
the little castle of Trianon. Marie Antoinette was no more queen there,
it is true, but she was the lady of the palace to whom the highest
respect was shown, and who therefore had been constrained expressly and
strictly to order that at her entrance into the drawing-rooms the ladies
would not interrupt the piece begun on the piano, nor stand up if seated
at their embroidery, and that the gentlemen would keep on undisturbed
their billiard-party or their game at trictrac.

But in her cottage all rank disappeared; there, was no distinction;
there, ceased the glory of name and title, and no sooner was the castle
abandoned for the cottages than each named the other with some Arcadic,
pastoral appellation, and each busied himself with his rural avocations.
How lustily the laughter, how merrily the song sounded from these
cottages amid these bowers and groves; how the countenance of the
farming-lady was lighted up with happiness and joy; with what delight
rested upon her the eye of the farmer Louis, who in his blue blouse,
with a straw hat on his head, with a rosy, fleshy, good-natured face,
was exactly fitted for his part, and who found it no difficult task to
hide under the farmer's garment the purple of the king!

How often was Marie Antoinette seen in her simple white dress, her
glowing countenance shaded by a straw hat, bounding through the garden
as light as a gazelle, and going from the barn to the milk-room,
followed by the company she had invited to drink of her milk and eat of
her fresh eggs! How often, when the farmer Louis had secreted himself
in a grove for the sake of reading, how often was he discovered there by
the queen, torn away from his book and drawn to a dejeuner on the
grass! When that was over, and Louis had gone back to his book, Marie
Antoinette hastened to her cows to see them milked, or she went into the
rocking-boat to fish, or else reposed on the lawn, busy as a peasant,
with her spindle.

But this quiet occupation detained not long the lively, spirited
farming-lady; with a loud voice, she called to her maids or companions
from the cottages, and then began those merry, unrestrained amusements
which the queen had introduced into society, and which since then have
been introduced not only into the drawing-rooms of the upper classes,
but also into the more austere circles of the wealthy burghers.

Then the queen with her court played at blindman's bluff, at pampam,
or at a game invented by the Duke de Chartres, the future Duke Philippe
d'Orleans, Egalite, and which game was called "descamper," a sort of
hide-and-seek amusement, in which the ladies hid themselves in the shady
bushes and groves, to be there discovered by the gentlemen, and then
to endeavor by flight to save themselves, for if once caught and seized
they had to purchase their liberty with a kiss.

When evening came all left the cottages for the little castle, and
the pastoral recreations gave way to the higher enjoyments of refined
society. Marie Antoinette was not in the castle of Trianon queen again,
but she was not either the simple lady of the farm, she was the lady of
the castle, and - the first amateur in the theatrical company which twice
a week exhibited their pieces in the theatre of Trianon.

These theatrical performances were quite as much the queen's delight as
her pastoral occupations in her farm cottages, and Marie Antoinette
was unwearied in learning and studying her parts. She had chosen for
teachers two pensioned actors, Caillot and Dazincourt, who had to come
every day to Trianon to teach to the noble group of actors the
small operas, vaudevilles, and dramas, which had been chosen for
representation, and in which the queen naturally always played the
part of first amateur, while the princesses, the wives of the Counts de
Provence and Artois, the two Countesses de Polignac, undertook the other
parts, even those of gentlemen, when the two brothers of the king, the
only male members of this theatrical company, could not assume all the
gentlemen's parts.

At first the audience at these representations was very limited. Only
the king, the princes and the princesses of the royal household, not
engaged in the performance, constituted the audience; but afterward it
was found that to encourage the actors a little, a larger audience
was needed; then the boxes were filled with the governesses of the
princesses, the queen's waiting-women, whose sisters and daughters with
a few other select ladies had been invited.

It was natural that those who had been thus preferred, and who enjoyed
the privilege of seeing the Queen of France, the princes and princesses,
appear as actors, should be full of admiration and applause at the
talents displayed by the royal troupe; and as they alone formed the
select audience, whose presence had for object to animate the artistes,
they had also assumed the duty to excite and to vitalise the zeal
and the fire of the players by their enthusiasm and by their liberal
praises.

This applause of a grateful public blinded the royal actors as to their
real merits, and excited in them the ambition to exhibit their artistic
talents before a larger audience and to be admired. Consequently, the
queen granted to the officers of the lifeguard and to the masters of the
king's stalls and to their brothers, admittance into the theatre; the
gentlemen and ladies of the court had seats in the gilt boxes; a larger
number of ladies were invited, and soon from all sides came requests for
tickets of admission to the theatrical performances in the Trianon.

The same privileges which had been allowed to a few could not be, and
it was not desirable that they should be, granted to all; those who were
purposely refused revenged themselves of this refusal by an unsparing
criticism on the performers and by bitter sarcasm at the Queen of
France, who so far forgot her dignity as to play comedies before her
subjects, and who played her part not always in such a manner as to give
to a sharp criticism no reason for blame.

The queen possessed, it is true, the desire, but not the ability, to be
an actress or a songstress. When she played the part of a comedian, no
one felt tempted to laugh; but contrariwise it might often happen that,
when her part was tragical, impressive and touching even to tears, the
faces of her auditors brightened with involuntary laughter.

Once even it happened that a person from the audience, when the queen
had not yet left the stage, cried aloud, and perhaps with the intention
of being heard by her: "One must confess that royal acting is bad
acting!"

Though she understood the words, yet the smile on her lips vanished not
away; and as the Countess Diana de Polignac wished to persuade her to
allow the impertinent one who had spoken these words, to be sought out
and punished, the queen, shrugging her shoulders answered: "My friend, I
say as Madame de Maintenon: 'I am upon the stage, and must therefore be
willing to be applauded or hissed.'"

Yes, she had to endure the applause or the hissing. Unfortunately, the
number of those who hissed grew every day. The queen had provoked public
expression since she bade it defiance. On the day she banished etiquette
from its watchful duty at the apartments of the Queen of France, the
public expression with its train of slanders and maliciousness entered
in through the open portals. The queen was blamed for her theatricals as
well as for her simple, unadorned toilet, yet she was imitated in these
two things, as even before the costly and luxurious toilet, the high
head-gears of the queen, and also blindman's buff and descamper, had
been imitated. Every woman now wanted such a simple negligee, such a
headdress, such a feather as Marie Antoinette. As once before, Madame
Bertin, the celebrated milliner of the queen, had been circumvented to
furnish a pattern of the queen's coiffure, so now all the ladies rushed
upon her in flocks to procure the small caps, fichus, and mantelets,
after the queen's model. The robes with long trains, the court-dresses
of heavy silk, jewels and gold ornaments, were on a sudden despised;
every thing which could add brilliancy and dignity to the toilet was
banished, the greatest simplicity and nonchalance were now the fashion;
every lady strove, if possible, to resemble a shepherdess of Watteau,
and it was soon impossible to distinguish a duchess from an actress.

Not only the ladies but also the gentlemen were carried away by this
flood of novelty. They gave up the boots with red heels, the embroidered
garments, as already before they had given up laces, bandelets, gold
fringes, and diamond buttons on the hats; they put on simple coats of
cloth as the burgher and the man of the people wore; they abandoned
their equipages, with their brilliant armorial trappings and the golden
liveries, and found satisfaction in promenading the streets, with cane
in hand, and with boots instead of buckled shoes.

It is true these street promenadings of the nobility were not oftentimes
without inconvenience and molestation. As without the insignia of their
rank and position they mixed with the society of the streets, entered
into taverns and cafes, the people took them for what they seemed to be,
for their equals, and instead of respectfully making way for them,
the people claimed as much attention from them as they themselves were
willing to give. Often enough disputes and scuffles took place between
the disguised nobleman and the man of the people, the laborer, or the
commissionnaire, and at such experiments of hand to hand the victory was
not to the nobleman, but to the fist of the man, of the people.

The novelty of such scenes excited the fastidious aristocracy; it became
a sort of passion to mix with the people, to frequent the cabarets, to



Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 5 of 40)