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strike some bargain at trade, to be the hero of a fist-fight, even if
it ended by the stout workmen throwing down the aristocrats who had
despised them. To be thrown down was no more considered by the nobility
as a disgrace, and they applauded these affrays as once they had
applauded duelling.

The aristocracy mixed with the people, adopted their manners and usages,
even much of their mode of thinking, of their democratic opinions, and,
by divesting themselves of their external dignity, of their halo, the
nobility threw down the barrier of separation which stood between them
and the democracy; that respect and esteem which the man of the people
had hitherto maintained toward the nobleman vanished away.

The principle of equality, which was to have such fatal consequences for
France, arose from the folly of the aristocracy; and Marie Antoinette
was the one who, with her taste for simplicity, with her opposition to
etiquette and ceremony, had called this principle into life.

Not only was the queen imitated in her simplicity, she was also imitated
in her love of comedy. These theatrical amusements of the queen were
a subject of reproach, and yet these private recreations of Marie
Antoinette were the fashion of the day. The taste for theatrical
representations made its way into all classes of society; soon there was
no nobleman, no banker, not even a respectable, well-to-do merchant,
who had not in his house a small theatre, and who, with his family and
friends, endeavored not to emulate on his own narrow stage the manners
of the celebrated actors.

Before these days, a nobleman would have considered himself insulted and
dishonored if he had been supposed to have become a comedian, or even
to have assumed a comedian's garb, were it but in the home-circle. The
queen by her example had now destroyed this prepossession, and it was
now so much bon ton to act a comedy that even men of gravity, even the
first magistrate of Paris, could so much forget the dignity of position
as to commit to memory and even to act some of the parts of a buffoon.
[Footnote: Montjoie, "Histoire de Marie Antoinette, Reine de France."]

It was also soon considered to be highly fashionable to set one's self
against the prejudice which had been hitherto fostered against
actors; and, whereas the queen took lessons in singing from Garat, the
opera-singer, and even sang duets with her, she threw down the wall of
partition which had hitherto separated the artistes of the stage from
good society.

Unfortunate queen, who, with the best qualities of the heart, was
preparing her own ruin; who understood not that the freedom and license
which she herself granted, would soon throw on the roof of the Tuileries
the firebrand which reduced to dust and ashes the throne of the
Bourbons! - unfortunate queen, who in her modesty would so gladly forget
her exaltation and her majesty, and who thereby taught her subjects to
make light of majesty and to despise the throne!

She saw not yet the abyss opening under her feet; the flowers of Trianon
hid it from her view! She heard not the distant mutterings of the public
mind, which, like the raging wave of the storm, swelled up nearer and
nearer the throne to crush it one day under the howling thunders of the
unshackled elements of the unloosed rage of the people!

The skies, arching over the fragrant blossoms of the charming Trianon,
and over the cottages of the farming queen, were yet serene and
cloudless, and the voice of public opinion was yet drowned in the joyous
laughter which echoed from the cottages of Trianon, or in the sweet
harmonies which waved in the concert-hall, when the queen, with Garat,
or with the Baron de Vaudreuil, the most welcome favorite of the ladies,
and the most accomplished courtier of his day, sang her duets.

Repose and peace prevailed yet in Trianon, and the loyal subjects of the
King of France made their pilgrimages to Trianon, there to admire the
idyls of the queen and to watch for the favorable opportunity of espying
the queen, Marie Antoinette, in her rustic costume, with a basket of
eggs on her arm, or the spindle in hand, and to be greeted by her with
a salutation, a friendly word. For Marie Antoinette in Trianon was only
the lady of the mansion, or the farming-lady - so much so, that she had
allowed the very last duties of etiquette, which separated the subject
from the queen, to be abandoned, that even when with her gay company she
was in Trianon, the gates of the park and of the castle were not closed
to visitors, but were opened to any one who had secured from the keeper
a card of admission; the benefit arising from these cards was applied by
order of the queen to the relief of the poor of Versailles. It is true,
one condition of small importance was attached, "by order of the queen,"
to the obtaining of such a card. It was necessary to belong to the
nobility, or to the higher magistracy, so as to be entitled to purchase
a card of admission into the Trianon, and this sole insignificant
condition contained the germ of much evil and of bitter hatred. The
merchant, the spicier, was conscious of a bitter insult in this order,
which banished him from Trianon, which made it impossible for him to
satisfy his curiosity, and to see the queen as a shepherdess, and the
king as a farmer. This order only whetted more and more the hatred and
the contempt for the preferred classes, for the aristocrats, and turned
the most important class of the population, the burgesses, into enemies
of the queen. For it was the queen who had given this order which kept
away from Trianon the tradesmen; it was the queen alone who ruled in
Trianon: and, to vent vengeance on the queen's order, she was blamed
for assuming a right belonging only to the King of France. Only he, the
king, was entitled to give laws to France, only he could set on the very
front of the law this seal: "DE PAR LE ROI."

And now the queen wanted to assume this privilege. In the castles of
pleasure presented by the king to the queen, in Trianon as well as in
St. Cloud, was seen at the entrance of the gardens a tablet, containing
the regulations under which admission was granted to the public, and
these two tablets began with the formula, "DE PAR LA HEINE!" This
unfortunate expression excited the ill-will and the anger of all France;
every one felt himself injured, every one was satisfied to see therein
an attack on the integrity of the monarchy, on the sovereignty of the
king.

"It is no more the king alone who enacts laws," they said, "but the
queen also assumes this right; she makes use of the formalities of the
state, she issues laws without the approbation of the Parliament. The
queen wants to place our king aside and despoil us of our rights, so as
to take the king's place!"

And these complaints, these reproaches became so vehement, so loud, that
their echoes resounded in the chambers of the king, so that even one of
the ministers could make observations to the king on that subject, and
say: "It is certainly immoral and impolitic for a queen of France to own
castles for her own private use" [Footnote: Campan, "Memoires," vol. i.,
p. 274.]

The good Louis therefore ventured to speak to his consort on this
subject, and to ask of her to remove this expression which gave so much
offence, and which had so violently excited the public sentiment.

But the pure heart of Marie Antoinette rebelled against such a
supposition; her pride was stirred up that she, a queen, the daughter of
the Caesars, should make concession to public opinion; that she should
submit to this imaginary and invisible power, which dared despise her as
a queen, which she recognized not and would not recognize!

This power, the public opinion, stood yet behind Marie Antoinette as an
invisible, an unobserved phantom, which soon was to be transformed into
a cruel monster, whose giant hand would pitilessly crush the happiness
and the peace of the queen.

The prayers and expostulations of the king were in vain. Marie
Antoinette would not bow to the public sentiment; she would not depart
from her regulations, she would not strike off her "De par la reine" for
the sake of "De par le peuple"

"My name is there in its right place," said she, with a countenance
beaming with resolution and pride; "these gardens and castles are my
property, and I can very well issue orders in them, without interfering
with state rights."

And the "De par la reine" remained on the regulation-tablets in Trianon
as well as in St. Cloud; and the people, who, through birth or through
official position, were not entitled to enter Trianon, came thither at
least to read the tablets of rules at the gate of entrance, and to
fill up their hearts with scorn and contempt, and to utter loud curses
against this presumptuous and daring "De par la reine."

And this woman, whose pride and imperiousness kept away and scorned away
the burgesses from the gates of Trianon, came to Trianon there to rest
from the unbending majesty of her sovereignty, and she herself used to
say to her ladies, with her own enchanting smile, "To forget that she
was queen."

The numberless fairy-tales related about the enchanted castle of the
queen had found their way to Fontainebleau, and had been re-echoed in
the quiet, lonely house where lived the Marquis de Beauharnais and
his family. The marquis, always extremely attentive to procure for his
beloved daughter-in-law some distraction and some recreation, proposed
to Josephine to visit this Trianon, which furnished so much material
for admiration and slander, and to make thither with a few friends a
pleasure excursion.

Josephine gladly accepted the invitation; she longed for diversion and
society. Her young, glowing heart had been healed and strengthened after
the deep wound which the ever-beloved husband had inflicted; she had
submitted to her fate; she was a divorced woman, but Parliament had by
its judgment kept her honor free from every shadow; public opinion had
pronounced itself in her favor; the love of her parents, of the father
of him who had so shamefully accused her, so cruelly deserted her,
endeavored to make compensation for what she had lost. Josephine could
not trouble, with her sorrows, with her sad longings of soul, those who
so much busied themselves in cheering her up. She had, therefore, so
mastered herself as to appear content, as to dry here tears; and her
youth, the freshness and elasticity of her mind, had come to the help
of her efforts. She had at first smiled through effort, she soon did
it from the force of youthful pleasure; she had at first repressed her
tears by the power of her will, soon her tears were dried up and her
eyes irradiated again the fire of youth and hope, of the hope once
more to win her husband's heart, to return her two graceful and beloved
children to their father, whom their youth needed, for whom every
evening she raised to the God of love the prayers which their mother
with low, trembling voice and tears in her eyes made them say after her.

Josephine, then, in company with her aunt Madame de Renaudin and
with her father-in-law the Marquis de Beauharnais, undertook this
pleasure-excursion to Trianon. The sight of these glorious parks, these
gardens so artistically laid out, charmed her and filled her with the
sweet reminiscences of the loved home, of the beautiful gardens in
Martinique, which she herself with her slaves had cultivated, in which
she had planted those beautiful flowers whose liveliness of color and
whose fragrance of blossom were here in hot-houses so much praised. The
love of plants and flowers had ever remained fresh amid the storms
and sorrows which in the last years had passed over her heart, and
oftentimes she had sought in the study of botany forgetfulness and
refreshment. With a vivacity and a joyfulness such as had not been seen
in her for a long time, Josephine wandered about this beautiful park,
these hot-houses and gardens, and, transported with joy and admiration,
she exclaimed: "Oh, how happy must the queen be to call this paradise
her own!"

The sound of approaching voices interrupted her in her observations and
in her admiration, which, perchance, was not entirely free from envy.
Through the foliage of the trees was seen a large company approaching
the queen's farm-house, before which stood Josephine with her escort. At
the curve of the path near the grove where Josephine stood, appeared
a woman. A white muslin dress, not expanded by the stiff, ceremonious
hoop-petticoat, but falling down in ample folds, wrapped up her tall,
noble figure, a small lace kerchief covered the beautiful neck, and
in part the splendid shoulders. The deep-blond unpowdered hair hung
in heavy, curly locks on either side of the rosy cheeks; the head was
covered with a large, round straw hat, adorned with long, streaming silk
ribbons; on the arm, partly covered with a black knit glove, hung an
ornamented woven basket, which was completely filled with eggs.

"The queen!" murmured Josephine, trembling within herself, and,
frightened at this unexpected meeting, she wanted to withdraw behind the
grove, in the hope of being unnoticed by the farmer's wife passing by.

But Marie Antoinette had already seen her, and on her beautiful, smiling
countenance was not for a moment expressed either surprise or concern at
this unexpected meeting with uninvited strangers. She was so accustomed
to see curiosity-seekers in her lovely Trianon, and to meet them,
disturbed not in the least her unaffected serenity. A moment only she
stood still, to allow her followers, the Duchesses de Polignac, the
Princess de Lamballe, and the two Counts de Coigny, to draw near; then
lightly and smilingly she walked toward the house near which Josephine
bewildered and blushing stood, whilst the marquis bowed profoundly and
reverentially.

The queen, who was about to pass by and enter into the house, stood
still. Her large dark-blue eye was for a moment fixed with questioning
expression upon Josephine, then a smile illumined her beautiful
countenance. She had recognized the Viscountess de Beauharnais, though
she had seen her only twice. Although, through her husband's rank and
station, Josephine was entitled to appear at court, yet she had always,
with all the retreating anxiety of inexperienced youth, endeavored to
evade the solemnity of an official presentation. The young, lively,
unaffected Creole had cherished an invincible horror for the stiff
court-etiquette, for the ceremonial court-dress of gold brocade, with
the court-mantle strictly embroidered after the established pattern, and
which terminated in a long, heavy train, for the majestic head-gear of
feathers, flowers, laces, and veils, all towering up nearly a yard high,
and, above all things, for those rules and laws which regulated and
fixed every word, every step, every movement, at a solemn presentation
at court.

Marie Antoinette had had compassion on the timidity of the young
Creole, and to spare her the solemnity of a rigid presentation had twice
received at a private audience the young Viscountess de Beauharnais, and
had then received also her homage. [Footnote: Le Normand, "Histoire de
l'Imperatrice Josephine," vol. i., p. 97.]

The youthful, charming appearance of Josephine, her peculiar and at
the same time ingenuous and graceful attitude, had not been without
impression on the queen; and with the most sympathizing interest, she
had heard of the sad disturbances which had clouded the matrimonial
happiness of the young Creole.

No longer, as before, had Marie Antoinette requested the Viscount de
Beauharnais, the beautiful dancer of Versailles, to dance with her;
and when Parliament had given its sentence, and openly and solemnly had
proclaimed the innocency of Josephine, the accused wife, the queen also
had loudly expressed her satisfaction at this judgment, and the Viscount
de Beauharnais was no more invited to the court festivities.

About to enter into the house, the queen had recognized the young
viscountess, and with a friendly movement of the head she beckoned her
to approach, welcomed the marquis, whom her short-sightedness had not at
once recognized, to her beloved Trianon, and she requested them both
to visit her little kingdom as often as they would wish, and to examine
every thing attentively.

In the goodness and generosity of her heart, the queen gladly desired
to make amends to the young, timid woman, who, embarrassed and blushing,
stood before her, for the sufferings she had endured, for the disgrace
under which she had had to bow her head; she wanted to give the accused
innocent one a reparation of honor such as Parliament and public
sentiment had already done.

She was consequently all goodness, all condescension, all confidence;
she spoke to Josephine, not as a queen to her favored subjects, but as
a young woman to a young woman, as to her equal. With sympathetic
friendliness she made inquiries concerning the welfare of the
viscountess and her family; she invited her to come often to Trianon,
and, with a flattering allusion to the vast knowledge of the viscountess
in botany, she asked her if she was satisfied with the arrangements of
garden and hot-houses.

Josephine, with the sensitiveness and fine tact natural to her, felt
that the trivial flattery of a courtier would but be a wretched and
inappropriate return for so much goodness and loving-kindness; she
felt that frankness and truth were the thanks due to the queen's
large-heartedness.

She therefore answered the queen's questions with impartial sincerity,
and, encouraged by the kindness of the queen, she openly and clearly
gave her opinion concerning the arrangement of the hot-houses, and drew
the attention of the queen to some precious and choice plants which she
had noticed in the hot-houses.

Marie Antoinette listened to her with lively interest, and at parting
extended to her in a friendly manner her beautiful hand.

"Come soon again, viscountess," said she, with that beautiful smile
which ever won her true hearts; "you are worthy to enjoy the beauty
of my beloved Trianon, for you have eyes and sense for the beautiful.
Examine everything closely, and when we see one another again, tell
me what you have observed and what has pleased you. It will ever be a
pleasure to see you." [Footnote: The very words of the queen. - See Le
Normand, "Histoire," &c., vol. i., p. 135.]

But Josephine was no more to see the beautiful queen, so worthy of
compassion; and these kind words which Marie Antoinette had spoken to
her were the last which Josephine was ever to hear from her lips.

A few days after this visit to Trianon, Josephine received from her
parents in Martinique letters which had for their object to persuade her
with the tenderness of love, with all the reasons of wisdom, to
return to her home, to the house of her parents, to withdraw with
bold resolution from all the inconveniences and humiliations of her
precarious and dangerous situation, and, instead of living in humble
solitude as a divorced, despised woman, sooner to come to Martinique,
and there in her parents' home be again the beloved and welcomed
daughter.

Josephine hesitated still. She could not come to the resolution of
abandoning the hope of a reunion with Alexandre de Beauharnais; she
dreamt yet of the happiness of seeing the beloved wanderer return to his
wife, to his children.

But her aunt and her father-in-law knew better than she that there was
no prospect of such an event; they knew that the viscount was still the
impassioned lover of the beautiful Madame de Gisard; that she held him
too tightly in her web to look for a possibility of his returning to his
legitimate affection.

If any thing could rouse him from this love-spell, and bring him back to
duty and reason, it would be that sudden, unexpected departure; it would
be the conviction which would necessarily be impressed upon him,
that Josephine desired to be forever separated from him; that she was
conscious of being divorced from him forever, and that, in the pride of
her insulted womanhood, she wished to withdraw herself and her daughter
from his approaches, and from the scandal which his passion for Madame
de Gisard was giving.

Such were the reasons with which her relatives, even the grandfather
of her two children, sought to persuade her to a voyage to
Martinique - bitter though the anguish would be for them to be deprived
of the presence of the gentle, lovely young woman, whose youthful
freshness and grace had like sunshine cheered the lonely house in
Fontainebleau; to see also part from them the little Hortense, whose
joyous voice of childhood had now and then recalled the faithless son
to the father's house, and which was still a bond which united Josephine
with her husband and with his family.

Josephine had to give way before these arguments, however much her heart
bled. She had long felt how much of impropriety and of danger there was
in the situation of a young woman divorced from her husband, and how
much more dignified and expedient it would be for her to return to
her father's home and to the bosom of her family. She therefore took a
decided resolution; she tore herself away from her relatives, from her
beloved son, whom she could not take with her, for he belonged to the
father. With a stream of painful tears she bade farewell to the love of
youth, to the joys of youth, from which naught remained but the wounds
of a despised heart, and the children who gazed at her with the beloved
eyes of their father.

In the month of July of the year 1788, Josephine, with her little
five-year-old daughter Hortense, left Fontainebleau, went to Havre,
whence she embarked for Martinique.




CHAPTER VII. LIEUTENANT NAPOLEON BONAPARTE.


While the Viscountess Josephine de Beauharnais was, during long years of
resignation, enduring all the anguish, humiliations, and agonies of an
unhappy marriage, the first pain and sorrow had also clouded the days of
the young Corsican boy who, in the same year as Josephine, had embarked
from his native land for France.

In the beginning of the year 1785, Napoleon Bonaparte had lost his
father. In Montpellier, whither he had come for the cure of his diseased
breast, he died, away from home, from his Letitia and his children.
Only his eldest son Joseph stood near his dying couch, and, moreover,
a fortunate accident had brought to pass that the poor, lonely sufferer
should meet there a friendly home, where he was received with the most
considerate affection. Letitia's companion of youth, the beautiful
Panonia Comnene, now Madame de Permont, resided in Montpellier with
her husband, who was settled there, and with all the faithfulness and
friendship of a Corsican, she nursed the sick husband of her Letitia.

But neither the skill of the renowned physicians of Montpellier, nor the
tender care of friends, nor the tears of the son, could keep alive the
unfortunate Charles de Bonaparte. For three days long he struggled with
death; for three days long his youth, his manhood's powers, resisted the
mighty foe, which already held him in its chains; then he had to submit
to the conqueror. Exhausted with death's pallor, Charles de Bonaparte
sank back on his couch, and as Death threw his dark shadows on his
face bathed in cold perspiration, Charles de Bonaparte, with stammering
tongue, in the last paroxysms of fancy, exclaimed: "It is in vain!
Nothing can save me! Even Napoleon's sword, which one day is to triumph
over all Europe, even that sword cannot frighten away the dragon of
death which crouches on my breast!" [Footnote: See "Memoires du Roi
Joseph," vol. i., p. 29.]

Wonderful vision of a dying man! The dimmed eye of the dying father
saw his son Napoleon's sword, "which one day was to triumph over all
Europe;" as he prophesied its power, he sighed at the same time over the
impotency which holds all mankind in its bands, and leaves even the hero
as a powerless child in the hands of fate. The sword which was to be a
yoke to all Europe could not terrify from the breast of his father the
dragon of death!

Napoleon received the news of his father's decease whilst at the
military school of Paris, where he had been placed for the last six
months, to the joy and satisfaction of his teachers as well as to that
of his schoolmates in Brienne. For the reserved, taciturn, proud boy,
who, rugged and blunt, stood aloof from his comrades, who even dared
speak rude and bitter words against his teachers and against the whole
military institution at Brienne, was oftentimes an inconvenience and a



Online LibraryL. MühlbachEmpress Josephine → online text (page 6 of 40)