"Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown." - SHAKESPEARE
"Farewell, a long farewell, to all my greatness." - SHAKESPEARE
Stranger than fiction are the facts of history ; and nowhere, among the imaginary characters of romance and poetry, can be found a story of a life more marvellously varied in experience, more weirdly strange in its many thrilling scenes of unutterable misery or dazzlingly triumphant splendour, than the history of the Empress Josephine affords.
But remarkable as were the events of her life, her character was still more remarkable. With no early advantages of education, outside of the fashionable accomplishments of music, drawing, and dancing; by her self-taught Acquirements, and diligent study, together with an intuitive perception and aptitude, which enabled her mind to grasp the gravest questions, she was in after-life a most brilliant conversationalist; and by her comprehensive genius and marvellous political foresight, she became the safest, wisest, and most far-seeing of all Napoleon's advisers and counsellors. When influenced by her persuasive voice, prompted by a heart incapable of any motive but that of the sternest rectitude, and most exalted and unselfish devotion, Napoleon's acts were always to be commended; and so highly did he prize her counsel, that he called her his “Mentor."
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Never did she advise him to a false step; and history has shown that, regarding those plans and deeds of Napoleon, which results have proved to have been unwise or grievous mistakes, the gentle voice of Josephine had never failed to give prophetic warning.
As Napoleon stands forth pre-eminent amongst the famous men of history, so does the name of Josephine shine with undying lustre among those of the most celebrated heroines of the world. We are dazzled by her gorgeous state and magnificence as empress. We admire her keen intellect and exquisite tact, which never failed to suggest the most perfect and pleasing demeanour, under every emergency, in a time of many unsettled political opinions and tottering thrones. But we love the gentle, unselfish woman, whose heart ever responded to every call for sympathy; whose hand was ever open to bestow benefits; and whose marvellous heroism could support her in the midst of such terrible reverses and peculiar trials as only a woman's heart could suffer, and only a woman's love could endure.
In writing the history of Josephine, we are forced to look upon the darker side of Napoleon's character. From the time he ceased to heed her loving voice, the persuasive sweetness of which, he himself acknowledged ; declaring, "that the first applause of the French people sounded to my ear sweet as the voice of Josephine," from that time, the hitherto invincible Napoleon made one false step after another, allowing himself to be influenced by ambitious flatterers and deceived by evil counsellors ; following the ingest fatuous of an overweening ambition and thirst for power, which had taken the place of the noble spirit of aspiring to the uplifting of his country- men and defending the sacred rights of the people, which had actuated his former deeds, and covered his name with the splendid glory and well-deserved honour which he had before achieved. But now even his transcendent genius and glorious deeds of valour are to be tarnished by grievous mistakes, and even crime.
The first false step taken, his downfall was as terrible and rapid as his uprising had been sudden and glorious. Already evil counsellors are whispering in his ear their diabolical advice. Just here, with all our admiration for Napoleon, we are amazed at him. That a man possessing such great genius, and with such far-reaching intuitions, should have allowed his mind and deeds to be influenced by the base flatterers who surrounded him, is strange indeed. That Napoleon should not have discovered the Mephistopheles, in Fouche, is surprising ; equally amazing, that he should have become so blinded as to turn from his truest friends and most unselfish advisers, and have bared his breast to the poisonous fangs of the wily serpents, who hissed around him like a nest of rattlesnakes.
That steadfastness of purpose which made Napoleon so invincible in overcoming the most stupendous difficulties when his cause was righteous, and which made him the wonder of the world, became the greatest obstacle in his way when his cause was wrong and his resolves pernicious. The very element in his nature which made him transcendent for good, rendered him also powerful for evil, when his resolution had once been taken in a wrong direction. His unconquerable will, which bore him upward through the most overwhelming difficulties, and crowned him with well-merited success, when his aspirations were inspired by true patriotism and the laudable desire to benefit his country, that same unconquerable will became his bane, and led him into the most lamentable errors when his former high aspirations had been supplanted by personal ambition and inordinate desire for power.
We cannot give a consecutive history of Napoleon's errors and downfall in this sketch, but they will appear from time to time, as we trace a short outline of the life of Josephine. We do not pretend to say that Josephine always consciously guided Napoleon's career and moulded the events of his life. His own genius raised him to his exalted position, we admit; but we do contend that with Josephine he prospered, and without her he fell. And according to many authorities, it was Josephine's bridal soft to him that gave him the command of the army of Italy; for it was Barras who recommended Bonaparte to the convention; and it was Barras who assured Madame de Beauharnais that if she married General Bonaparte he would contrive to have him appointed to that command.
We have space but to give two scenes in the life of Josephine before she became Madame Bonaparte. The former occurred upon the island of Martinique, when Josephine was a young girl; the latter, after she had become Vicomtesse de Beauharnais. One day, when Josephine was about fifteen years at age, she was walking through the spacious grounds of her uncle's West Indian plantation, in the island of Martinique, when she observed a number of negro girls gathered around an old woman who was engaged in telling their fortunes. Josephine, with girlish curiosity, drew near; whereupon, the old sibyl seized her hand, and, reading the lines there, appeared to be greatly moved.
“What do you see?" inquired Josephine. "You will not believe me if I speak," answered the fortune-teller. "Speak on, good mother," said Josephine; "what have I to fear or hope ? ' ”On your own head be it then; listen," said the old sibyl. "You will be married soon; that union will not be happy; you will become a widow, and then, you will be queen of France! Some happy years will be yours; but you will die in a hospital, amid civil commotion; ”after saying which, the old woman speedily disappeared. Josephine thought little of this matter at the time, and only laughed about it with her friends; and when she was residing at Navarre, after the divorce, she thus commented upon it:
“On account of the seeming absurdity of this ridiculous prediction, I thought little of the affair. But afterwards, when my husband had perished on the scaffold, in spite of my better judgement this prediction forcibly recurred to ray mind; and though I was then myself in prison, the transaction assumed a less improbable character, and when I, myself, had been also condemned to die, I comforted my companions, who were weeping around me, by smilingly exclaiming: " 'That not only should I not die, but that I should become Queen of France.'" ' Why then do you not appoint your household ? ' asked Madame d'Aiguillon, who was also one of the prisoners of the Revolution. " ' Ah! That is true, I had forgotten. Well, my dear, you shall be maid of honour; I promise you the situation.' "Upon this the tears of those ladies flowed more abundantly; for they thought, on seeing my coolness at such a crisis, that misfortune had affected my reason. Such, ladies, is the truth about this so celebrated prophecy. The end gives me but little in quietude. I live here peacefully in retirement; I have no concern with politics; I endeavour to do all the good in my power; and thus I hope to die calmly in my bed."
After the death of the Vicomte de Beauharnais on the scaffold, his wife Josephine, who had also been imprisoned by the Jacobins, was at length condemned to die. A few days before her terrible doom was to have been sealed, Josephine and Madame de Fontenay, also a prisoner, were standing together at the barred window of their prison. M. Tallien, a man of much influence with the rising power which was opposing the tyranny of Robespierre, was in love with Madame de Fontenay, and daily walked past the convent of the Carmelites, where Josephine and the other ladies of high birth were imprisoned. Observing M. Tallien, Madame de Fontenay made a sign for him to draw near, and she then dropped from the window a piece of cabbage-leaf, in which she had enclosed the following note :-
“My trial is decreed ; the result is certain. If you love me as you say', urge every means to save France and me." Roused by the danger of her whom he loved, M. Talien proceeded to the convention, and making an impassioned and eloquent speech, denouncing Robespierre, he turned the tide of popular opinion against the tyrant, and in a short time Robespierre's head fell under the bloody guillotine, where he had already- caused so many thousands to perish. The manner in which Josephine received the news of her enemy's death was strange and interesting. It was the day before that upon which it had been decreed that Madame de Beauharnais should be put to death. Josephine
was standing at the window of her prison, calmly gazing upon the outward world, while her fellow-prisoners were weeping around, overcome with the thought of the terrible doom which awaited their loved friend. But Josephine's fortitude did not desert her, and she was endeavouring to comfort her mourning companions, when her attention was arrested by a woman in the street below, who seemed trying to give her some information by various strange signs.
At first the woman held up her robe, pointing to it several times. Josephine called out through the grated window, "Robe?" and the woman eagerly made a sign of assent; and picking up a stone, which in French is pierre, she held it up. Josephine cried out, "Pierre?" and the woman joyfully nodded, and then pointed first to her robe and then to the stone. Whereupon Josephine wondering^ exclaimed, "Robespierre?" and the woman again assented with every mark of delight, and continued to draw her hand around her throat, making the signs of cutting off a head. The glad cry soon resounded through the prison, ”Robespierre is dead!' Thus was the axe lifted from the neck of Josephine, and she soon walked forth free, saying smilingly to her friends: "You see I am not guillotined ; and I shall yet be queen of France ! " Thus not only had the life of the future empress of France, but the fate of that great kingdom itself, depended at one time upon a tiny cabbage-leaf, thrown by the hand of a feeble woman.
After Josephine de Beauharnais was betrothed to General Bonaparte, on one occasion she requested him to accompany her to the residence of M. Raguideau, an old lawyer, who had long been her confidential friend and adviser, that she might inform him of her coming marriage. On arriving at the lawyer's office, Josephine withdrew her hand from the arm of Bonaparte, and requested him to wait for her in the outer apartment until she had spoken with her old friend alone. Neglecting, however, to close the door which separated the two offices, Bonaparte was able to overhear the conversation between his intended bride and the old lawyer.
" M. Raguideau," said Madame de Beauharnais, "I have come to inform you of my approaching marriage." "And with whom, Madame?' exclaimed the astonished lawyer. " I am about to marry General Bonaparte, sir." ”General Bonaparte, do you say? Pshaw, Madame! A soldier of fortune, who has his way to make." mi "He will make it, my good friend! " replied Josephine, with flushed cheeks. ”When, and how?" was the incredulous retort. "But first, what is he worth at present?" ”Nothing save his house in the Rue Chantereine." "A shed! A likely fortune, indeed! And so you are really resolved to marry this adventurer?' "I am." "So much the worse for you, Madame." ”Explain yourself, sir ! " said Josephine, with offended dignity. "Because, Madame, you had much better remain a widow than marry a paltry general, without either name or prospects. You must assuredly be mad! Will your Bonaparte ever be a Dumouriez or a Picbegru ? Will he ever be the equal of our great republican generals? I have a right to doubt it. Moreover, let me tell you that the profession of arms is worthless now and I would much rather know that you were about to many an army contractor than General Bonaparte."
"Every one to his taste, monsieur," disdainfully replied Josephine, stung to the quick by the contemptuous tone of the old man, who had always heretofore been fatherly to her. " You, sir, it would appear, regard marriage merely as an affair of finance ; " and she rose with queenly dignity to take her leave.
"And you, Madame," broke in the excited and angry old man, " von see in it only a matter of sentiment, and what you, no doubt, call love. Again I repeat, all the worse for you, Madame! all the worse for you ! I had given you more credit for good sense than to suspect that you would allow yourself to be dazzled by a pair of gold epaulets. Reflect before you make such a sacrifice; for rest assured, that if you are rash enough to persist in this foolish scheme, you will repent your folly all the days of your life. Who ever heard of a rational woman throwing herself away upon a man whose whole fortune consists in his sword and his great-coat?''
General Bonaparte had listened to this extraordinary conversation with rising excitement ; and when he heard the words " sword" and "great-coat" so contemptuously uttered, he sprang from his chair, with blazing eyes, forgetting the presence of the astonished clerks ; but, recovering himself instantly, he sat down again, determined not to expose himself to ridicule. Josephine soon appeared, looking highly annoyed and indignant, followed by the irate old lawyer ; but Bonaparte, giving him no time for further insult, drew the hand of his betrothed within his arm, and, making a silent and contemptuous bow, withdrew.
Josephine had no idea that Bonaparte had been an unwilling listener ; but she noticed his marked increase of kind and courtly attention on the way home ; and not until the day of the coronation did either Josephine or Raguideau entertain the slightest suspicion that their conversation had been overheard by Bonaparte. On the day of the coronation, when the emperor and empress were about to proceed to the palace of the archbishop, Napoleon sent one of his chamberlains to M. Raguideau, with the command that the emperor desired his immediate presence at the Tuileries. The astonished lawyer, arriving with breathless haste, overwhelmed with mingled feelings of fear and hope at such unexpected summons, was ushered into the grand salon, where Napoleon, attired in his royal robes, was conversing with Josephine, who was also arrayed in her gorgeous coronation costume.
"Ah! here you are at last, M. Raguideau!' said Napoleon, with a quizzical smile upon his imposing countenance ; " I am very happy to see you ! " " Sire," began the trembling old man, not knowing whether that august smile betokened promotion or decapitation. " My good sir," continued the emperor, not giving him time to reply, " do you remember a day in 1796, when I accompanied to Tour house Madame de Beauharnais, now empress of the French?" emphasizing the word "empress" with all the depth of his magnetic voice. " Do you remember the eulogy which you uttered on the military profession, and the personal panegyric of which I was the object? Well, what say you now? Were you a true prophet? You declared that my fortune would always consist of my sword and my great-coat ; that I should never make a name nor position, like Dumouriez or Pichegru ; and that Madame de Beauharnais was insane to sacrifice herself to a ' mere general.' I have made my way, nevertheless, as you perceive, and in despite of your sagacious predictions. Think you that the ' army-contractor' would have bestowed a brighter boon upon his wife, after eight years of marriage, than a crown, and that crown the imperial diadem of France ?"
As he ceased speaking, Napoleon lovingly raised the hand of Josephine to his lips, while she looked with amazement upon this bewildering scene. The poor old lawyer, overwhelmed with consternation, stood trembling in dumb despair ; his eyes were cast upon the floor, and his limbs shook as with an ague fit ; while the emperor gazed upon him with an amused smile, highly enjoying his discomfiture At last the frightened man stammered:- " Sire, I could not foresee. Sire, did you really overhear ? " "Every word, M. Raguideau. You are aware that walls have years, and I owe you a severe reprisal ; for, if my excellent Josephine had listened to your advice, it would have cost her a throne, and me the best of wives. You are a great culprit, M. Raguideau ! ' At those terrible words "reprisal" and "culprit," the poor old man turned pale as a corpse ; his tottering limbs almost refused to support his agitated form. " How could I tell? how could I imagine?" he gasped
out; "I thought only of her, of her fatherless children. I had loved them for years. I was anxious to see them once more restored to prosperity and happiness."
" I believe you," said the emperor, touched by the emotion of the gray-haired old man, who had been a friend to his wife in her days of need; "you could not tell ; you could not foresee ; " and for a moment Napoleon paused, and then continued in more solemn tones, "the future is beyond the grasp of any living man." Then, resuming his bantering way : "So, now, we will return to the present ; and, as I cannot altogether overlook the injury which you sought to inflict upon me, I condemn you to go this day to N6tre Dame, and to witness the ceremony of my coronation. Not in a corner, not behind a pillar, which will prevent my having ocular evidence of your obedience, but in the seat that I shall cause to be retained for you. Do you hear, sir? I must see you both in the cathedral and in the line of the procession."
Transported with the overwhelming relief and the ecstatic joy of such an honour, the poor old lawyer was hardly able to express his gratitude, and could scarcely maintain his dignity as he bowed himself from the royal presence, and hastened to prepare for the coming august ceremony.
Napoleon having jested with his wife over the abject terror of the trembling culprit, the emperor and empress entered their carriage, and proceeded to the archbishopric. As they left the cathedral after the magnificent ceremony of the coronation, Napoleon recognized the old lawyer in the crowd ; and as their eyes met the Emperor smiled graciously upon his former enemy. The smile was answered by so profound a bow, that Napoleon afterwards laughingly declared to Josephine, " that for several seconds he was in doubt whether the sage prophet of 1796 would ever be able again to assume the perpendicular."
During Napoleon's campaigns, Josephine was at all times in receipt of news from the army, brought to her by couriers from Bonaparte. No matter at what time the despatches arrived, day or night, she always received them with her own hands, and made inquiries of the courier of all in the army whom she knew. She would always say some pleasant thing to him, and reward him with a more or less costly gift, according to the importance of the news received.
At one time, when Bourrienne had remarked to Josephine, "Madame, I really believe that in spite of yourself you will be made queen or empress," Josephine exclaimed : " Bourrienne, such ambition is far from my thoughts. That I may always continue the wife of the First Consul, is all that I desire."
During the Prussian campaign, nothing was talked of throughout Germany but Napoleon's generous conduct with respect to Prince Hatzfeld. Among the letters seized at Berlin, and delivered to Napoleon, was one from the prince to the king of Prussia, in which he revealed the condition and strength of the French army. The prince was arrested, and tried as a spy, and condemned to death. The remainder of the scene is described in Napoleon's letter to Josephine, which is as follows :
"I have received your letter, in which you seem to reproach me for speaking ill of women. It is true that I dislike female intriguers above all things. I am used to kind, gentle, and conciliatory women. I love them, and if they have spoiled me, it is not my fault, but yours. However, you will see that I have done an act of kindness to one deserving woman. I allude to Madame de Hatzfeld. When I showed her husband's letter, she stood weeping, and in a tone of mingled grief and ingenuousness, said, ' It is indeed his writing !' This went to my heart, and I said : ' Well, Madame, throw the letter into the fire, and then I shall have no proof against your husband.' She burned the letter, and was restored to happiness. Her husband now is safe ; two hours later, and he would have been lost. You see, therefore, that I like women who are simple, gentle, and amiable ; because they alone resemble you."
Josephine's kindness and consideration for the comfort of every one in her household, even down to the lowest menial, was proverbial. When travelling with Napoleon, a picket-guard was appointed by the emperor for her service. One cold night, in the early dawn, she heard marching and coughing under her window. She wondered who could be out so late in the chill of that hour; and upon inquiry, she learned that it was the sentinel posted there. She thereupon sent for the officer of the guard, and said to him, " Sir, I have no need of a sentinel at night ; these brave men have endured enough in the army when they followed it to the wars ; they must rest while in my service. I don't want them to catch cold." The officer, smiling at the apprehensive solicitude of the empress, and touched by her unexpected kindness, dismissed the sentinel, and his place was not supplied.
Napoleon is said to have talked but little. When out of his own house, if he chanced to stop and speak with any one, it was considered of enough importance to be remarked and reported. The following is Josephine's portrait of Napoleon at home : "He had a fine intellect, a sensible and grateful heart, simple tastes, and the qualities of an amiable man ; to the sentiments of an honest man, he united a prodigious local memory."
When Josephine spoke of her husband, she always said, "The emperor says," "the emperor wishes," "the emperor orders," etc. She very rarely called him by name in public, and in private she called him Bonaparte ; while her tender name for him was monami. When speaking of her, Napoleon usually called her the empress, or he would say, " I am going to see my wife" ; but in addressing her he called her Josephine, unless he spoke with severity or on some serious occasion, when he called her Madame, without other title or name.
It cannot be denied that Josephine had a great weakness for extravagant jewels and adornments ; but as she dressed always with perfect taste and elegance, and as she was as lavish in her bounties as she was in her personal expenditures, she may be pardoned this feminine weakness. She at least never offended the eyes of admirers of good taste, and her pleasing person, so becomingly adorned, was one of the most charming sights of the court of the empire.
This was another cause of the jealousy of her sisters-in law ; and even Pauline, the Bonaparte beauty, was often most sorely chagrined to find her own boasted charms thrown in the shade by the refined elegance and queenly bearing of the emperor's wife.
An amusing story is told of the mortification of this proud beaut}' upon one grand occasion, when she had resolved for once to outshine her hated sister-in-law. Pauline, Madame Le Clerc, after wearing her widow's weeds for as short a time as possible after the death of her first husband, General Le Clerc, had wedded a real prince, and was accordingly to make her debut at court as Princess Borghese. Pauline has kept her own counsel about her Grande toilette for that momentous occasion ; but the rumour is afloat that she intends to make a grand coup with her gorgeous appearance, and quite extinguish her august sister-in-law.
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Josephine, having heard that she was to be crushed into utter insignificance by the vain beauty, quietly determined a little stratagem of her own. Confident of being mistress in the art of dress, she accordingly resolved to assume a costume which should delight by its very simplicity. But a simplicity so artistically arranged that the very splendour of her rival should but heighten the effect of her own toilet. Her dress was of the finest Indian muslin, bordered with gold and embroidery, and gracefully draped to show the perfect elegance of her figure. Her hair was dressed d, la grecque, and banded with pearls, while antique gems and pearls formed her sole ornaments. " Bavissante ! ' exclaimed her ladies, as she entered the salon; and even Napoleon's usual gravity relents, as he cries : " Josephinei je suis jaloux! Tu es divine!' and he kisses her on the forehead, pinching her ear laughingly, which was his favourite manner of bestowing a gracious caress. The time passes, but no princess. Napoleon impatiently retires from the salon; his time is too precious to wait longer the "official visit," as he calls it, of the prince and princess. At length the clatter of horses' hoofs is heard. A carriage grand enough, with its gilding and emblazonry, to have borne the Grand Monarque himself, dashes into the Cour d'Honneur of St. Cloud. Six gayly caparisoned horses are harnessed to this gorgeous vehicle, and a large retinue of outriders surround it, bearing torches. On the grand staircase are stationed the entire staff of domestics to receive their princely guests.
Presently the huissier opens the doors of the salon, and announces with becoming grandiloquence : " Monseigneur le Prince, and Madame la Princesses Borghese." The Grande entree is made with imposing hauteur, and Pauline sees with satisfaction that she has made a sensation. But her vain heart is ruffled because she is obliged to cross the room to Josephine, instead of being met by her, as la Grande princesses had of course expected. But she comforted her wounded pride with the thought that this promenade would give her the opportunity to display her velvet train embroidered with diamonds.
Pauline was indeed magnificent. Her costume was a pale green velvet embroidered with gold, and thickly sprinkled with flashing brilliants. The front of her dress was a tablier of diamonds, with diamond stomacher, and the same glistening jewels upon her sleeves. Her handsome
head was adorned with a diadem of emeralds and diamonds, and the same gems sparkled upon snowy arms, wrists, and throat. In fact, she was loaded with the entire wealth of diamonds possessed by the princely family of Borghese ; and as it was reported that when she came back from St. Domingo, where her former husband died, she had guarded carefully a coffin, containing the supposed remains of her late husband, but in reality filled with diamonds and other precious stones. If this was true, Pauline doubtless had diamonds of her own to add to the vaunted store of the family of her second princely husband.
Be that as it may, Pauline flashed in diamonds from head to foot ; nay more, even to the end of her gorgeous train, where the same rich jewels also sparkled. She was indeed dazzling !
Josephine and Pauline are at length seated side by side. The proud princess is forced to acknowledge that Josephine's toilet is charming ; and all beholders are confirmed in their opinion that Madame Bonaparte's taste is faultless.
But horrors! What has happened? Pauline, la princesses, has grown pale as death. Is she ill? Oh! worse than that. Oh, awful catastrophe ! Pauline, gazing into a large mirror before her, expecting to be ravished with her own beauty, perceives this dreadful fact. The furniture and draperies of the newly furnished salon, while giving full effect to Josephine's costume, actually transform herself into a hideous spectacle. Wearing a green velvet gown, she has seated herself upon a blue velvet sofa! It is positively too shocking for her nerves to endure. Had her boasted triumph encountered such ignominious defeat? Hastily rising, she made her adieus, and departed to weep in mortified chagrin and baffled pride. Poor Pauline ! kind-hearted Josephine had not intended to achieve such an unexpected triumph.
The Empress Josephine was very generous to her attendant ladies, often making them costly presents. As she frequently gave them handsome costumes and pretty novelties which she had worn but once or twice, the ladies at length entered into quite a trade with certain Jews, who came to the court to display their merchandise. As the robes of the empress were often too rich for the ladies who received them to wear themselves, they exchanged them for piece-goods, which the Jewish merchants brought for sale. These garments of the empress became quite the rage ; and at one ball, Josephine might have beheld the ladies in an entire quadrille, arrayed in her cast-off robes. Even princesses were frequently the purchasers of these gowns from the Jews, who had obtained them in exchange for the merchandise with which they had supplied the ladies of Josephine's court.
At one time an ambassador arrived from Persia, bringing very magnificent presents to the Emperor Napoleon and costly cashmeres to Josephine. For some time his Persian Excellency was all the rage, and the ladies of the French court vied with each other in endeavouring to show attention to these eastern guests. The parties given by the Persian ambassador and his suite, at their residences, were largely attended, and much curiosity was evinced to partake of the foreign tea and queer cakes offered by their Persian hosts.
The empress at length determined to attend one of their parties incognito, being accompanied by several of her ladies. On being introduced to the ambassador, Josephine received a gracious smile, and the Persian presented her with a small bottle of attar of roses, a kind of present which, among the Persians, denoted a mark of high honour and respect. Josephine tasted several mysterious Persian dishes, and expressed admiration of his Excellency's pipe, which was brought to him by two slaves, who kneeled when they offered it to their august master. Josephine noticed that the tips of his Excellency's finger-nails were colored with different tints.
The ambassador being impressed with the manner and grace of the empress, invited her to be seated by his side on his divan. She graciously declined the attention, saying that such an honour belonged only to privileged persons, fearing that her identity would be made known. The Persian then asked, through his interpreter, if she would be willing to go and reside with him in Persia, promising that he would give her a high position.
Scarcely restraining her mirth, Josephine replied that she was married and had two children, and that her duty and interests would keep her in France. And with as much haste as courtesy would allow, the empress and her ladies retired from the presence of their Persian host. On the day of the ambassador's public presentation at court, Josephine, arrayed in all her imperial magnificence, received him with a gracious smile. The poor, dumfounded Persian, who recognized in the empress the woman whom he had vainly tried to captivate, was completely amazed, and his manner and attitude expressed his astonished mortification.
But Josephine, with winning smile, quickly relieved him of his embarrassment, saying, in her sweet persuasive tones : " You must admit, Monsieur 1'Ambassadeur, that I had good reason for telling you that I preferred to remain in France. If you think well of me, you will remain faithful to that beautiful wife of yours." And with a sign of respect, the humiliated Persian withdrew.
At Josephine's early receptions as wife of the First Consul, the costumes of the guests were very heterogeneous in style. The fashions of the Republic had been copied after ancient Greek and Roman styles ; and the ladies of the Republic flaunted their Grecian tunics and Roman sandals with great pride. But after a time it was remarked "that military boots and pantaloons, clanking swords and cockades, were in a considerable minority, and that silk stockings, shoes with buckles, dress swords, and chapeaux sous le bras were the rule. Some of the
company had, however, endeavoured to spare their feelings too complete a shock, by an attempt to unite the past and the present. While returning to powder and embroidery, lace ruffles and cravats, they contrived to retain in their costumes some reminiscence of the fast vanishing and much regretted ' sans-culottism ' of the Republic. This resulted in amusing and startling incongruities."
But during the empire, Napoleon was particular about the etiquette of his court. He regarded it as the chief barrier of the throne, and of great importance. He caused an exact account of all the ceremonies in use at the courts of Louis XIV. and Louis XV. to be drawn up, and he directed the most scrupulous attention to be paid to their performance. Josephine was sufficiently a daughter of the Revolution to smile at too strict etiquette ; she said : " It was perhaps appropriate for princesses, born to the throne and accustomed to the restraints it imposes ; but she, who had lived so many years as a private person, ought, she considered, to be less exacting, less severely punctilious in her intercourse with those who knew and remembered the circumstances of her former life." " And although she learned to wear her crown and mantle of state and to sit on her throne right royally, she was ever unfailingly indulgent in the matter of etiquette, and always pleased to throw aside its restraints."
After the imperial decree had ennobled many to whom the mysteries of the court had hitherto been sealed books, very amusing incidents occurred. The Faubourg St. Germain resented the indignity which had been offered to their patrician prejudices ; and the newly created nobles were often treated with superb disdain by those entitled to such rank from birth. " The Duchesse de Chevreuse desired her waiting woman to inform her laundress that she should no longer intrust her with her linen, until she became a countess ; and the Comte de Brissac addressed a note to his boot maker as follows :
"My dear baron ! do not fail to bring me my boots tomorrow.' And when on the next day the astonished tradesman assured him that he had been the recipient of no such title, De Brissac exclaimed with elegant impertinence : ' Can this be possible ? You really astonish me ! Console yourself, however, Maizenat ; for rest assured that you will be included in the next baking.'
But it was hardly to be wondered at, perhaps, that the old nobles sneered at some of these new-titled persons, whose own presumptuous pride made them fit subjects for mirth. This throng of new courtiers, most of whom had sworn eternal hatred to kings and royalty, now danced attendance at the levees of the emperor, and vied with each other to obtain a look or word from his imperial highness, that they might repay him for it with the pompous titles of " Sire," and " Your Majesty," which they did with an air of self-granulation, which appeared as if the individual considered himself to be ennobled by the privilege of merely uttering the magic words. Among the strange actions related of some of these ' ' newly baked dignitaries ," one or two are quite amusing.
The wife of a marshal purchased several dresses of old brocade, such as were worn at the Court of Louis XV., and kept them spread out upon chairs in the hall leading to her bedroom, as if placed there to air. When her curious visitors asked her what she was going to do with them, she replied with apparent carelessness, under which lurked much pompous pride: "Do with them? Oh ! nothing at all ; but they belonged to my grandmother, and I wish to keep them as long as I can for her sake."
Books on heraldry brought fabulous prices ; and the father behind his counter, and the mother at her wash-tub, were entertained by their pretty daughters, endeavouring to master the high-bred French titles of the ancient regime. One soap-dealer, whose daughter had married an office in the army, and had embellished the panels of her carriage with a gloved hand grasping a sword, the military crest of her husband, innocently thanked his daughter for having tried to copy the golden arm which figured above his shop-door ; though he regretted that she should have had it painted to look like iron, and generously stated that had he known of it, he would willingly have paid the difference of cost himself.
The return to Paris of several grandes dames promised a gradual reorganization of " la bonne compagnie," and several of the contractors' wives were ambitious to be received in the Faubourg St. Germain ; and one of them, Madame Privas, who was desirous of opening her salon to the beau monde, having read Madame de Genlis' work, " Adele et Theodore," at once exclaimed to her husband : "Privas! this is the lady for us." Whereupon Madame Privas arrayed herself in resplendent robes, and attended by a negro servant in Moorish costume, she entered her gorgeous carriage and proceeded to take Madame de Genlis by storm.
She had not the least doubt of the success of her errand, which was no less than the attempt to secure Madame de Genlis, who had returned to Paris in pinched circumstances, to come to her magnificent hotel in the Rue St. Dominique, and as a lady, receive for her : in short, put her in the way of learning the old etiquette with which she should honour people who were quite comme il faut. And so with pompous brusqueness she announces the object of her visit to Madame de Genlis. She would give her a salary of twelve thousand francs. She would promise not to tyrannize over her, and even if she had a deaf friend she also would be welcome. What more could she require ?
" Madame, I thank you for your obliging offer, which I have the honour to inform you it is not in my power to accept," replied Madame de Genlis, rising with the courtly manner of a Grande dame of the court of the Grand Monarque. "You refuse it!' cried Madame Privas in astonishment. Why, I offer much more than you can get for your books. And besides, you would have friends in us ; friends with a fortune of five millions. C'est beau, ca! eh?" "Madame," replied Madame de Genlis, "I have answered you. It is impossible."
"Well, adieu then, mv bonne dame. Privas and made sure you would jump at the offer. In case you should change your mind, I'll leave you my address. Write me, if you think better of it." And with her plumes waving in ruffled pride, and her velvets and satins rustling in their gorgeous costliness, Madame Privas bounced out of the room, forgetting her assumed elegance of manner at the affront offered to her darling dollars.
Josephine's manners, " en representation" were charming. She appeared a very queen at the emperor's public receptions. Her air and attitude were dignified, graceful, and yet natural. She conversed with ease and fluency, employing the choicest terms of expression ; and the spectator could not resist a pleased astonishment at the gracious bearing which charmed all classes of society, and at her alluring tact which enabled her to address crowds of persons in quick succession, and yet with a pleasing and appropriate word to each, turning with equal ease from a tradesman to a monarch.
The emperor was one day about to undertake some important business, when Josephine besought him to put it off for a time, remarking that it was Friday, which was regarded as an unlucky day. Napoleon replied: " 'Tis so perhaps to you, Madame, but it is the most fortunate in my life. I never shall forget that it was the day of our marriage." The empress was deeply touched at this mark of devotion from her husband, and she ceased to enforce her request.
The time for the coronation ceremony had arrived. Josephine felt the solemnity as well as the grandeur of the occasion, as is evinced from these few lines written to Pope Pius VII. at this time : " Ah ! truly do I feel, that in becoming empress of the French, I ought also to become to them as a mother at the same time. What would it avail to bear them in my heart, if I proved cry affections for them only by my intentions? Deeds are what the people have a right to demand from those who govern them." And truly, Josephine exemplified her words by her actions. On the 2d of December, 1804, all was stir in Paris and the Tuileries from an early hour.
" On this morning, which was to witness the completion of her greatness, Josephine rose about eight o'clock, and immediately commenced her momentous Grande toilette. The body drapery of the empress was of white satin, beautifully embroidered in gold, and ornamented on the breast with diamonds. The mantle was of crimson velvet, lined with satin and ermine, studded with golden bees, and fastened by an aigrette of diamonds. "The coronation jewels consisted of a crown, a diadem, and a ceinture. The first used for the actual crowning, and worn only on state occasions, consisted of eight branches, four wrought in palm, and four in myrtle leaves of gold, incrusted with diamonds ; round the circlet ran a corded fillet set with eight very large emeralds, and the bandeau which immediately enclosed the head, shone with resplendent amethysts.
"The diadem worn before the coronation, and on the more ordinary state occasions, was composed of four rows of the finest pearls interlaced with foliage of diamonds, the workmanship of which equalled the materials ; in front were several brilliants, the largest weighing one hundred and forty-nine grains. The ceinture was of gold, so pure as to be quite elastic, enriched with thirty-nine rose-colored diamonds.
"Napoleon's coronation robes were equally magnificent. His close dress was of white velvet, embroidered in gold, with diamond buttons ; his stockings of white silk, the gussets wrought in gold, harmonized with the buskins of white velvet laced and bordered with gold ; his upper garment, as also the short mantle, were of crimson velvet, richly embroidered in gold, with diamond fastenings. This mantle was similar to that of the empress, but much heavier, weighing upwards of eighty pounds. " ' All very fine, Monsieur le Drole,' said Napoleon, to his favourite valet, playfully pinching his ear ; ' all very fine ; but we shall see the accounts.'
"At eleven precisely the cavalcade moved from the Tuileries towards N6tre Dame. The imperial carriage, drawn by eight bays, had been constructed with the entire panelling of glass, a circumstance which accounts for the mistake made by their Majesties, who first seated themselves, like criminals, with their backs to the horses. Josephine was the first to discover this error, which she instantly rectified by lightly assuming the proper position saying at the same time to the emperor : " ' Mon ami, unless you prefer riding ws-a-w's, this is your seat,' pointing to the rich cushion on the right. Napoleon, laughing heartily at his blunder, moved to the place indicated.
"The procession advanced, attended by ten thousand horsemen, the flower of ' Gallic chivalry,' who defiled between double lines of infantry, selected from the bravest soldiers, and extending above a mile and a half ; while more than four hundred thousand spectators filled up every space whence a -lance could be obtained.
" The thunders of innumerable artillery, the acclamations of the assembled multitude, expressed the general enthusiasm ; and, as if to light up the gorgeous spectacle, the sun suddenly broke through the mists which till then had hung heavily over the city. The cortege stopped at the archiepiscopal palace, whence a temporary covered gallery, hung with the banners of the sixteen cohorts of the Legion of Honour, conducted into the interior of the cathedral and to the throne. " To this latter was an ascent of twenty-two semi-circular steps, covered with blue cloth, gemmed with golden bees, and crowded with the grand officers of the empire. " On the throne itself, hung with crimson velvet, under a canopy of the same, appeared Napoleon, with Josephine on his left, attended by the princesses of the empire, and on his right his two brothers, with the archchaucellor and arch treasurer.
" The religious ceremony continued nearly four hours, enlivened by music composed for the occasion, and sung by more than three hundred performers. The martial band was still more numerous, which executed in the intervals marches afterwards adopted and still used in the armies of France.
"Napoleon, in the midst of the ceremony, stood up and laid his hand upon the imperial crown, a simple diadem of gold wrought into a chaplet of interwoven oak and hiurel, and placed it on his own head. Afterward, Napoleon took the crown destined for the empress, and, first putting it for an instant on his own, placed it upon his consort's brow, as she knelt before him on the platform of the throne.
"The appearance of Josephine was at this moment most touching. Even then she had not forgotten that she was once an ' obscure woman ' ; tears of deep emotion fell from her eyes ; she remained for a moment kneeling, with hands crossed upon her bosom, then, slowly and gracefully rising, fixed upon her husband a look of gratitude and tenderness. Napoleon returned the glance. It was a silent but conscious interchange of the hopes, the promises, and the memories of years.
" Cardinal Fesch, as grand almoner of France, now placed the Gospels on the throne ; Napoleon stood up, laid his hand on the sacred volume, and in his deep and solemn tones pronounced the oaths with such firmness and elevation of voice, that each word was distinctly heard by the vast assembly. " Shouts of 'Long live the emperor! God bless the empress ! ' resounded through the cathedral, and were, caught and repeated by the multitude without ; the organ pealed forth Te Deum, and the imposing ceremony was over.
"The cortege re-entered the palace at half-past six in the evening. Josephine retired to her closet to give vent in secret to the fullness of her heart, and to implore the protection of Him by whom kings reign."
Josephine's mode of life after she became empress is thus described : " At the Tuileries, at St. Cloud, and during the grand journeys of the court, her habit was to rise at eight in the morning, and commence her toilet. While her hair was being dressed, she would glance over half a dozen journals, and receive her modesties, or such other persons as she could not admit into the salon. When she was fully dressed, which operation lasted ordinarily about an hour, she would pass into the salon at ten or eleven o'clock, where she found the dames de service and those whom she had invited to breakfast with her. At noon she sat at table at least an hour. Breakfast was in some sort her only meal, for, on leaving her bed, she was in the habit of taking nothing but a cup of tea with a little citron. I do not speak of her breakfasting with the emperor ; for he was always so engaged that he scarcely had time to eat. After breakfast, if the weather was good, she would ride out in a caleche, and go to Malmaison or on a hunting party.
" In case she did not go out, she received calls from all such persons as had obtained the promise of a meeting, of which she was advised either by the dame d'honneur, or the chamberlain de service. These two functionaries could introduce only such persons as the empress was unacquainted with, or knew but slightly, whilst all the ladies who were admitted to her court came whenever they pleased, without a card of invitation, unless there was a concert or a spectacle, a matter appertaining to the emperor's chief chamberlain. " From breakfast until four o'clock, Josephine would receive two or three private visits in her separate apartment, or repose upon a sofa ; at four she retired to her cabinet, undressed, went to reading, and took a little refreshment. This lasted till five, when a second toilet commenced. She rarely received a call at this time, because it was the hour at which the emperor came, unless ended in council."
M'lle Avrillion, femme de chambre of the Empress Josephine, tells several amusing stories regarding these visits of Napoleon while his wife was making her Grande toilette; and the many suggestions he made as to the becomingness of certain attire, and his marked antipathy to some styles. The poor femme de chambre dreaded these visits as much as Josephine enjoyed them, for the emperor would always turn the entire wardrobe topsy-turvy in making the selections of his favourite costumes, and the jewel-caskets would suffer equal disarrangement. On one occasion, when Josephine had unconsciously donned an attire displeasing to the taste of her husband, he ruthlessly spattered ink upon the obnoxious gown, so that the amiable empress was obliged to remove the offending robe, and array herself to please her particular lord.
The emperor and empress usually dined together alone at six o'clock, and afterwards Josephine again entered the salon, where she found the dames de service. In the evening, the ministers, marshals, generals, and others made their calls. Josephine conversed with ease with every one, now and then playing a game of backgammon or whist. If the emperor came in, which was never before nine o'clock, he remained only about a quarter of an hour, unless he wished to form a party at play, and then he would appoint the persons to compose it. His party always consisted of ladies, never of gentlemen. But woe betide his partner ! for such was the preoccupation of his mind that he paid no attention to the card he was playing, and did not notice his mistakes. No one dared to make any remark upon his mode of playing. After going through with this kind of game, the emperor left the apartment, Josephine meanwhile remaining in the salon until it was time to retire.
At Malmaison, the only difference in her mode of life was that she saw somewhat less company, and spent much time in walking through the delightful grounds of this rustic retreat. She had established at Malmaison a botanical garden, a menagerie, and a school of agriculture. Josephine preserved her simple tastes and her love for rural life even after she became empress. One of her greatest delights was the embellishment of her beautiful gardens. She was well versed in botany and natural history, and France and Europe are indebted to her for the camellia. Napoleon's happiest days were spent at Malmaison ; and after the divorce, he continued to visit Josephine at this retreat. He would lead her into the park, remain an hour or two, bring her back to the salon, and then get into his carriage. She received him with perfect politeness and dignity of manner, going forward to meet him ; and when he left, accompanying him to the door of the vestibule.
The appearance of Josephine after she became empress, is thus described: "Her features were small and finely modelled, the curves tending rather to fullness and the profile inclining to Grecian, but without any statue-like coldness of outline. The habitual character of her countenance was a placid sweetness, which perhaps would have given at first an impression of lack of energy. But this could have been for an instant only, for the real charm of this mild countenance resided in its power of varied expression, changing with each vicissitude of thought and sentiment. ' Never,' says a very honest admirer, ' did any woman better justify the saying, The eyes are the mirror of the soul.' Josephine's were of a deep blue, clear and brilliant, even imposing in their expression when turned fully upon any one ; but in her usual manner they lay half concealed beneath their long and silky eyelashes. She had a habit of looking thus with a mild, subdued glance upon those she loved, throwing into her regard such winning tenderness as might not easily be resisted ; and even in his darkest moods, Napoleon confessed its tranquillizing power. Josephine's long hair ' was glossy chestnut brown,' whose sunny richness harmonized delightfully with a clear and transparent complexion and neck of almost dazzling whiteness. Her eyebrows were a shade darker, arching regularly, and pencilled with extreme delicacy. The perfect modulation of her voice constituted one of her most pleasing attractions, and rendered her conversation extremely captivating."
It was difficult for Napoleon ever to resist the persuasive voice of Josephine. On the eve of Napoleon's departure for Germany, in April, 1809, having taken leave of Josephine, she had retired to her apartment, and thrown herself upon her bed in deep distress, because she could not obtain his consent to allow her to accompany him to Strasburg. The emperor, returning unexpectedly to her room at the last moment, said to Josephine : "You have played the part of empress long enough; you must now become again the wife of a general. I leave immediately ; you will accompany me to Strasburg." Josephine herself thus tells the story :
" I was not at all prepared for the journey, for only a few days before he had refused to permit me to accompany him on the campaign. At three o'clock in the morning we were travelling speedily on the Alsace road. My husband scarcely gave me time to throw on a night cloak, and all my women had left the chateau en desha bille; so that when morning came, the officers who accompanied us could scarcely preserve their gravity at seeing us in such a plight. Napoleon was extreme in every thing, and it was never until the decisive moment came that he expressed his final resolution. I had been so long accustomed to his singular character, that I ceased to be astonished at the striking contrasts which it exhibited. Our journey was full of gayety ; we met sundry original characters on the way , who furnished us abundance of amusement. We arrived at Strasburg. My husband had a secret presentiment that he should return victorious. He said to me, on leaving me :
"Josephine watches over all that I love, and my guardian angel will never cease to utter her prayers for the safety and success of her husband.' " He knew me well, that mortal whose astonishing destiny had opened to him the road to the most splendid throne on earth. I cherished not a thought, I formed not a wish, which was not directed to his glory. If certain political drones have dared accuse me of levity in my conduct, let those unjust censors remember that it was under the mask of sincere friendship that I sought to overawe certain powerful personages. Had I regarded them with an eye of indifference, they might have surrounded Napoleon with perils from which no human prudence could have rescued him. Often did I, in concert with him. carry on a correspondence. I flattered all parties, for I love to do justice to all. When Napoleon supposed he had grounds of complaint against any of his military officers, I warmly pleaded their cause. He would tell me :
" ' It depends only on me whether I will be rid of that officer. I have only to pronounce his doom.' " ' You are right,' I would reply ; ' you are right ; but such language does not become your generous and noble nature.' ' And who can oppose me in it ! ' was his quick reply. ' Yourself, Napoleon. 'Would arm against your person a multitude of brave men who are necessary to you. Certainly, a great man should fear nothing ; but he captivates all hearts when he pardons. The first function of kings and the firmest pillar of a throne is justice."
Thus Josephine's influence was always on the side of mercy and justice. She possessed the most perfect tact, which rendered her address irresistibly winning when partisans were to be gained for Napoleon. She was entirely engrossed in the welfare and glory of him to whom her heart was most unselfishly devoted and loyal. She gained for him friends on every side ; as Napoleon himself acknowledged, saying, " I conquer empires ; but Josephine wins hearts." Bonaparte was never so prosperous, so well-served, and so well-beloved, as during the years when he was blessed with the counsels and aided by the adoring love of the faithful woman, who was always his best adviser and most constant friend. When on one occasion Josephine warned Napoleon to be on his guard against the advice which might be given him by his flatterers, he replied :
" You are right, Madame, I know how to guard myself against all their influences. You are my wife and friend. I want none other. Your lot is bound to mine forever ; and woe to that one of us who shall be the first to break our oath." And yet in 1809, he could not guard himself against the " bees " of his court, who hummed in his ears : " You must separate from the Empress Josephine. A princess of the blood of the Caesars will esteem it a glory to give heirs to the great Napoleon. Then will his dynasty be established forever."
The divorce in 1809 was brought about by the joint efforts of all the members of the Bonaparte family, aided by some of Napoleon's most confidential servants, whom Josephine, either as Madame Bonaparte, or empress, had failed to make her friends, notwithstanding her ceaseless endeavour’s to harmonize all the hostile elements around her. Even as earl}' as the time when Napoleon was in Egypt, these intriguers first tried to lay snares for the unsuspicious and magnanimous Josephine, and various scandals were originated and reported to the -absent Bonaparte.
Junot was made their tool either willingly or unwillingly, and the evil whispers became louder and louder. During the first months of the Egyptian expedition, Bonaparte's letters to his wife were affectionate and confiding. But the poison was soon at work, and the rumours which Junot had repeated to Bonaparte roused his jealous anger. Poor Josephine knew naught of these dread scandals, until the letters received from her husband, accusing her of errors of which she was guiltless, stabbed her to the heart. Her appeals against these injurious aspersions were in accordance with her own noble nature. We can only quote a few lines from her letter to Napoleon :
" Can it be possible, my friend? Is the letter indeed yours which I have just received ? Scarcely can I give it credence, on comparing the present with those now before me, and to which your love gave so many charms ! My eyes cannot doubt that those pages which rend my heart are too surety yours; but my soul refuses to admit that yours could have dictated those lines, which to the ardent joy experienced on hearing from you have caused to succeed the mortal grief of reading the expressions of a displeasure, the more afflicting to me that it must have proved a source of fearful pain to you.
" I am entirely ignorant in what I have offended, to create an enemy so determined to ruin my repose by interrupting yours ; but surely it must be a great reason which can thus induce some one unceasingly to renew against me calumnies of such a specious nature as to be admitted, even for a moment, by one who hitherto has deemed me worth}' of his entire affection and confidence.
" Oh, my friend ! in place of lending an ear to impostors, who, from motives which I cannot explain, seek to ruin our happiness, why do you not rather reduce them to silence by the recital of your benefits to a woman whose character has never incurred the suspicion of ingratitude? On hearing what you have done for me and for my children, my traducers would be silent. Your conduct, admired as it has been throughout the whole of Europe, has in my heart but awakened deeper adoration of the husband who made choice of me, poor as I was, and unhappy. Every step which you take adds to the splendour of the name I bear and is such a moment seized to persuade you that I no longer love you? What absurdity, or rather what vileness, on the part of your companions, jealous as they are of your marked superiority ! I tremble when I think of the dangers which surround you. God knows when or where this letter may reach you. May it restore to you a repose which you ought never to have foregone, and more than ever give you an assurance, that while I live you will be dear to me as on the day of our last separation. Farewell, my only friend ! Confide in me, love me, and receive a thousand tender caresses."
This touching letter, from which we have only quoted a few lines, was probably not received by Bonaparte until after his return to France. And Napoleon returning to Paris found Josephine absent, for she had started to meet him in wild impatience to welcor him ; but missing him on the road, he arrived home first and found his house deserted : but his mother, sisters, and sisters-in-law, and in short every member of his family, except Louis, who had attended Madame Bonaparte to Lyons, came to him immediately, and insinuated the basest scandals about his .' ' devoted wife, who was only absent because she had flown to meet him. But the impression made upon him by his deserted home and the false accusations of his family were profound and terrible ; and nine years afterwards, when the tie between himself and Josephine was broken, he showed that he had not forgotten that time. From not finding his wife with his family, he inferred that she felt herself unworthy of his presence and feared to meet the man she had wronged ; and he considered her journey to Lyons a mere pretence, so cruelly had these evil slanderers blackened her lovely and devoted character. After the reconciliation which followed, Bonaparte seemed for a time to have forgotten these evil lies ; but his family were intensely chagrined.
Madame Pauline Le Clerc was most vexed at the pardon which Napoleon had granted his wife. Bonaparte's mother was also very ill-pleased, for she had never liked Josephine. Madame Bacchiocchi gave free vent to her ill-humour and disdain , and Bonaparte's brothers were at open war with Josephine. No wonder that with such a host of evil-minded, envious relations, poor Josephine was most terribly maligned ! Bonaparte's brothers, desirous of obtaining entire dominion over Napoleon, strenuously endeavoured to lessen the influence which Josephine possessed over him.
Napoleon would probably have adhered to his first idea of adopting Eugene de Beauharnais as his successor, had it not been for his own family, all eager for wealth and honours, all jealous of any favours shown to Josephine or her children, all of them constantly urging a divorce. " Divorce her at once," Joseph Bonaparte exclaimed ; "you are not married to her. The woman may die, and it will then be said you have poisoned her, that you found it to your interest to do so."
Napoleon was staggered at these monstrous suggestions. His countenance became of a deathlike paleness as these terrible insinuations fell upon his ear. After a moment or two of silence he murmured : " You have forced on me an idea which would never have occurred to me, and with it the possibility of a divorce." Thus was the evil working, which should end in the cruel blow to Josephine and the downfall of Napoleon. Years elapsed before Napoleon was induced to act upon these suggestions, but the tempters had begun their diabolical work.
As Napoleon's marriage with Josephine had at first been onlv a civil ceremony, the religious service having been only performed at the time of the coronation, when religious worship had been reinstated in France, -Joseph Bonaparte basely insinuated that the tie between them was not binding ; and as by some mistake the necessary witnesses had not been present at the after religious ceremony, and a signature was said to be wanting to make the certificate of marriage complete, these circumstances were afterwards laid stress upon, in declaring that their marriage had been irregular and could therefore be annulled. And either by evil intent or inadvertence a notice of the religious ceremony did not appear in the Moniteur, which described the coronation at great length. Thus was the web spun by the political spiders closer and closer around their poor innocent victim, Josephine, and she became the subject of their vilest plots.
Napoleon's attachment to Josephine withstood all suggestions during the period preceding the Empire, and Josephine herself afterwards declared, u that unless urged by others, he would not of himself have thought of a separation." But at length, instigated by Fouche and his own relations and other evil advisers, Napoleon determined to divorce Josephine. This same wily Fouch hinted to Josephine her coming doom, and advised that she should first broach the subject to the emperor ; but Josephine indignantly refused.
" It was on Sunday, on returning from church, that Fouche", the minister of the police, leading Josephine to the embrasure of a window in the chateau at Fontainebleau, gave her the first shock on the subject of the divorce, which did not take place until two years after." The family of Bonaparte became more openly hostile to Josephine. One of the writers of her memoirs says : " Joseph could not endure her, while on the other hand. his wife rendered her the fullest justice. As to Madame Murat, she was by no means careful to conceal her thoughts, and on many occasions sought to humiliate Napoleon's wife. Madame Bacchiocchi, Napoleon's eldest sister, considered Josephine as the earliest instrument of her brother's greatness. 'But,' said she, 'the moment her power becomes too great it must be broken down, and that without pity.' She was one of the first to advise that unrighteous separation, which worked so much prejudice to the emperor and his whole family. Madame Letitia, Napoleon's mother, occasioned real trouble and vexation to her daughter-in-law. Their feelings were in perpetual opposition. The one was remarkable for her acts of benevolence ; the other for her extreme parsimony. The mother loudly disapproved of the luxury which reigned at her son's court, and charged the fault to Josephine."
When Joseph Bonaparte became king of Naples, his sister Caroline, then Grand Duchess of Berg, avoided as much as possible her modest sister-in-law, the queen of Naples. But finding herself obliged to give her the title of " Your Majesty," she dared at length to complain to Napoleon that he had not yet given her a crown. Napoleon replied : " Your complaint astonishes me, Madame! To hear you, one might suppose I had deprived you of your right of succession to the throne of your ancestor." No one of Napoleon's evil advisers was more crafty, insidious, and unscrupulous than Fouche". Like a Mephistopheles, with sardonic smile he held his fingers on the keys which played the tune of politics. Through his minions, the police, he entered even the closed doors of his Majesty's cabinet, and caught the rumours which dropped in idle gossip from the rosy lips of the beauties of the court.
After his cool affront to Josephine, in endeavouring to persuade her that she should herself suggest to Napoleon the divorce, she begged the emperor to remove Pouche" from his office of minister of police ; but Bonaparte, with strange blindness, kept the wily serpent near him, and banished from his presence his own guardian angel. And when at last he had been stung himself by the treacherous fangs of the insidious viper, and Napoleon became at length convinced that Fouche was maintaining a correspondence with England, through his spies, the emperor dismissed him ; but it was too late.
The same Fouche who had thrust the dagger into the heart of Josephine, afterwards proved to be one of the chief instigators of the plots which caused the second abdication of Napoleon. Bourrienne thus pithily describes him:-
"Fouche had opinions, but he belonged to no party; and his political success is explained by the readiness with which he always served the part}' he knew must triumph, and which he himself overthrew in its turn. He maintained himself in favour, from the days of blood and terror until the time of the second restoration, only by abandoning and sacrificing those who were attached to him. In all things he looked only to himself ; and to this egotism he sacrificed both subjects and governments. " Such were the secret causes of the sway exercised by Fouche during the Convention, the Directory, the Empire, and after the return of the Bourbons. He helped to found and to destroy every one of these successive governments."
Napoleon afterwards realized some of the treachery of this arch traitor, and thus spoke of him at St. Helena : " Fouche" is a miscreant of all colours; a priest, a Terrorist, and one who took an active part in many bloody scenes of the Revolution. He is a man who can worm all your secrets out of you with an air of calmness and of unconcern." What wonder that poor unsuspicious Josephine was betrayed by such a Judas ! This smiling Mephistopheles might thus have counselled with his crafty soul :
"And so her Majesty beseeches that I be dismissed! We'll see, my lady, whether you or I shall conquer in this contest ! You think you hold your husband's heart ; but I hold the ear of his proud ambition. Which, think you, will prevail? You are surrounded by his relations, who hate you with envious and jealous hatred, than which there is none more bitter. I am their confidant. Ha ! methinks my cards in hand shall win the game, even against the Queen of Hearts!' Bourrienne relates the following conversation with Fouche, which bears upon this point :
"I said a few words to him about Bonaparte's regret at not having children. My object was to learn Fouche's opinion on this subject ; and it was not without a feeling of indignation I heard him say, "It is to be hoped the empress will soon die. Her death will remove many difficulties. Sooner or later he must take a wife who will bear him a child ; for as long as he has no direct heir, there is every chance that his death will be the signal for a revolution. His brothers are perfectly incapable of filling his place, and a new party would rise up in favour of the Bourbons, which must be prevented above all things.' " And yet this same Fouche afterwards intrigued for the return of the Bourbons.
Just before Napoleon signed his second abdication, a provisions government was established with Fouche at the head. This crafty schemer was at that time the agent of Louis XVIII. and of the Duke of Wellington ; and so it was Fouche, who, as a leader in the Chamber of Deputies, forced Napoleon to sign the second abdication. The Marquis de Bonnay wrote concerning his intrigues : " I know for a certainty that M. de M., who was sent to Vienna by Fouch, has taken part in a dialogue to the following effect : " ' Do not go to war with us, and we will rid you of that man" ' Well, then ; rid us of him at once" ' Would you like the king of Rome, or a regency? ' "'No!' " ' The Duke of Orleans?' " 'No!' " ' Well, Louis XVIII. ? since it must be so. But no nobility, no priestcraft, and above all, no Blacas.'
" ' Begin by ridding us of Bonaparte and all his race." And rid them of Bonaparte, Fouche did ; and again this wily diplomat, or base traitor, according as the reader sides with one or the other party, came once more to the front, and received again the office of minister of police under Louis XVIII. Thus Fouche had played his cards and won, and Josephine and Napoleon had lost. Surely the title which Lanfrey applies to Napoleon would most fittingly describe Fouche', "an incorrigible gambler"
During their private conferences, previous to the direct announcement of his determination, Napoleon endeavoured to persuade Josephine of the political necessity of a separation ; veiling his real intentions, so that they should appear only hints of the measure. Sometimes these vague hints would he met by Josephine with tears and supplications ; at other times she would rise in calm dignity and defend her claims with unanswerable facts and predictions. There are several most interesting- accounts given of various conversations between them at different times, before the final announcement. The following is perhaps the most impressive.
On one occasion Josephine dared predict to him, that the day he separated himself from her his bright star of destiny should fade, and that their parting hour would be the beginning of his downfall. " You need," she said, " a friend, and you have nothing but flatterers. Do you believe that your generals are truly attached to you ? No ! the most of them only wait a propitious moment to turn their arms against you. Do you think they will, with unconcern, see the Emperor Napoleon searching for a wife among the daughters of kings ? No ! they have been bred in the same school as yourself ; they have earned true nobility, at the price of their blood ; and the blazonry upon their armour, of which
they are so justly proud, is but the evidence of valour which has given them the prodigious power they now enjoy in Europe.
" But remember ! in you they but behold their equal. If they sustain the glory of your throne, it is only because your elevation seems their work. They believe you great, because the rays of your grandeur are reflected by themselves. If they burn incense to you, they breathe with delight the incense of a power which they share. But the moment a foreign wife shall come and seat herself at our side, the court will cease to be directed by the same influence. You are too new a man to attach to your person the ancient families. You may load them with favours ; you have it in your power, and it is your duty to make them forget the wrongs inseparable from the Revolution. But beware you do not humble the old generals who served their country before you. Banish from your halls that too severe etiquette which was not made for them. Their wives and children ought not to be made to blush, either in your presence or in that of your future companion. The sword of the brave will ever be your surest safeguard. I myself have ever been careful to conciliate all parties, and to be indulgent to all opinions ; so much so, that, since your fortunes have become so wonderful, I have in a manner taught your officers to forget the immense distance which exists between General Bonaparte and the Emperor Napoleon."
Some days before the divorce, Josephine is reported to have thus addressed Napoleon : " Bonaparte, even now you have no confidence in the stability of your power. You want an ally ; and the very sovereign whom you have lately vanquished, the sovereign who has just grounds to hate you, sees himself flattered by the very man who has so lately overrun his country. If such an enormous sacrifice as the giving his daughter to you in marriage be necessary to give peace to his subjects, you cannot but know that he will secretly despise you, and say to himself:-
" ' The man who so lately made me tremble, who imposed such cruel conditions upon me, is on the eve of some dreadful catastrophe. Did he suppose himself firmly seated upon his throne, he would not need to resort to a foreign alliance ; and the very circumstance that the mighty conqueror is so anxious to obtain a companion of illustrious birth, is evidence that he intends, should a storm ever arise, to lean upon that foreign support.'"
It was indeed strange that the cry of the Revolution, "Down with the Autricliienne ! " did not warn Napoleon that it would be an impolitic action to place another Austrian woman upon the throne of France. The Empress Josephine, after having long dreaded the terrible misfortune which at length overwhelmed her, was totally unprepared for the shock when it fell. She had for a time been lulled into a fancied security, and had regained tranquillity just as the blow came. Nothing had been done to prepare her for it. Even when all Europe was talking of this probable event, and after negotiations had been entered into regarding her successor, still no direct word had been spoken to the poor victim of this atrocious cruelty and perfidious crime.
The letter in which Napoleon told her of his approaching arrival at Fontainebleau still exists. Its tone is particularly affectionate ; and he thus wrote : " lam feasting on the thought of seeing thee again; I embrace thee. Ever thane." These were his words sent from Nymphenburg, Oct. 21, 1809. When he arrived at Fontainebleau, however, Josephine perceived that he was constrained and cold, which alarmed her ; and the triumphant airs of her sworn enemies, his sisters and brothers and mother, who hastened to greet him with officious homage, betokened that some new eftront would soon be offered her. While she was obliged to conceal beneath a smiling countenance her consuming anxieties, in the midst of the brilliant fates of the court, she found that the communication between her suite of apartments and those of the emperor had been closed by his orders, which announced to her that her dreaded doom was nigh.
The Duchesse D'Abrantes gives this account of a visit to Josephine just previous to the public announcement of the divorce: "I had an interview with the empress at Malmaison. I had sent her a plant from the Pyrenees, and she wished me to see it in the hot-house. But in vain she attempted to employ herself with those objects which pleased her the most ; her eyes were frequently suffused with tears ; she was pale, and her whole manner marked indisposition. ' It is very cold ! ' she said, drawing her shawl about her ; but, alas ! it was the chill of grief creeping about her heart, like the cold hand of death. ' Madame Junot,' she said, ' remember what I say to you this day here, in this hot-house, this place which is now a paradise, but which may soon become a desert to me, remember that this separation will be my death, and it is they who will have killed me ! I shall be driven in disgrace from him who has given me a crown ! Yet God is my witness that I love him more than mv life, and much more than that throne, that crown, which he has given me.' The empress may have appeared more beautiful, but never more attractive than at that moment. If Napoleon had seen her then, surely he could never have divorced her."
Lanfrey thus comments upon this event: "On the evening of Nov. 30, the prefect of the palace was on duty in an apartment adjoining the drawing-room where the emperor and Josephine were sitting, when he heard piercing cries, and with amazement recognized the voice of the empress. A few moments afterwards the door opened, and Napoleon having called him in, he beheld the empress suffering from a violent nervous attack, and uttering exclamations of distress and despair. He then helped Napoleon to carry her into her own apartment. In fact, the much-dreaded explosion had taken place. The emperor had at first determined to await the arrival of the Prince Eugene in Paris, in order that the presence and consolations of the son whom Josephine so tenderly loved might soften the bitterness of his intended communication. When he announced the terrible news to her who alone was ignorant of it, to the woman who, by having brought him among her wedding presents the chief command of the army in Italy, had so eminently contributed towards his exalted fortune, eight days had already elapsed since he had desired Champagny to ask for him the hand of the Emperor Alexander's sister. It was Russia, his ally, not Austria, whom he thought it better to address first.
"As the sad scene which had revealed the domestic trouble in the imperial family was soon publicly known, the divorce became the subject of conversation at the court and throughout the nation. The unfortunate Josephine was supported, it is true, by the affection of her children, who felt the blow scarcely less keenly than herself ; but being convinced of the absolute futility of resistance, she had, after the deepest anguish, submitted, rather than resigned herself to that strong will which henceforward became inflexible.
u In order to feign consent, it was necessary that she should show herself in public. Hence she was dragged about to all the grand official receptions, and the scandal loving public watched her closely, in order to note the extent and progress of her misfortune. The echoes of the
palace more than once repeated her sobs and complaints ; but it was desirable that this victim of pride and policy should appear content to sacrifice herself, and she was not allowed the satisfaction even of a display of grief. In the fetes given at the commencement of December, to celebrate the anniversary of the coronation, Paris beheld her, with death in her heart and a smile on her lips, bearing the despair which was a torture to her, with grace playing her part of sovereign for the last time ; surrounded by her children, who, to use the expression of a contemporary, were dancing at their mother's funeral." Upon his arrival in Paris, after the blow had fallen upon poor Josephine, Prince Eugene had a mournful interview with his afflicted mother.
" 'Tis not," said that noble woman in the agony of her heart, " 'tis not that I regret the throne, my sou, but I feel that I am leaving the emperor a prey to the evil-minded men who seek his ruin. I shall be no longer here to warn him against their false-hearted counsels. The task reserved for me henceforth will be to pity him, and to pray for him and the French people whom I love. My children will imitate my example." Bourrienne gives the following words of Josephine, regarding her divorce : "I was ushered into the drawing-room at Malmaison, where I found Josephine and Hortense. When I entered, Josephine stretched out her hand to me, saying, ' Ah, my friend ! ' These words she pronounced with deep emotion, and tears prevented her from continuing She threw herself on the ottoman on the left of the fireplace, and beckoned me to sit down beside her. Hortense stood by the fireplace, endeavouring to conceal her tears. After a struggle to overcome her feelings, Josephine said : " I have drained my cup of misery. He has cast me off ! forsaken me ! He conferred upon me the vain title of empress only to render my fall the more marked. Ah ! I knew the destiny that awaited me ; for what would he not sacrifice to his ambition ! ' As she finished these words, one of Queen Hortense's ladies entered with a message to her ; Hortense withdrew, so that I was left alone with Josephine.
"She seemed to wish for the relief of disclosing her sorrows. Josephine confirmed what Duroc had told me respecting the two apartments at Fontainebleau ; then, coming to the period when Bonaparte had declared to her the necessity of a separation, she said : " ' My dear Bourrienne, during all the years you were with us you know I made you the confidant of my thoughts, and kept you acquainted with my sad forebodings. They are now cruelly fulfilled. I acted the part of a good wife to the very last. I have suffered all, and I am resigned !
" ' What fortitude did it require latterly to endure my situation, when, though no longer his wife, I was obliged to seem so in the eyes of the world ! With what eyes do courtiers look upon a repudiated wife ! I was in a state of vague uncertainty worse than death, until the fatal day when he at length avowed to me what I had long before read in his looks !
" ' On the 30th of November, 1809, we were dining together as usual. I had not uttered a word during that sad dinner, and he had broken silence only to ask one of the servants what it was o'clock. As soon as Bonaparte had taken his coffee, he dismissed all the attendants, and I remained alone with him. I saw in the expression of his countenance what was passing in his mind, and I knew that my hour was come.
"'He stepped up to me, he was trembling, and I shuddered ; he took my hand, pressed it to his heart, and after gazing at me a few moments in silence, he uttered these fatal words : " ' " Josephine ! my dear Josephine ! You know how I have loved you ! . . . To you, to you alone, I owe the only moments of happiness I have tasted in this world.
But, Josephine, my destiny is not to be controlled by my will. My dearest affections must yield to the interests of France. "Say no more ! ' I exclaimed, " I understand you : I expected this ; but the blow is not the less mortal." " ' I could not say another word,' continued Josephine. ' I know not what happened after. I seemed to lose my reason; I became insensible, and when I recovered I found myself in my chamber. Your friend Corvisart and my poor daughter were with me. Bonaparte came to see me in the evening ; and oh ! Bourrienne, how can I describe to you what I felt at sight of him ! even the interest he evinced for me seemed an additional cruelty. Alas ! I had good reason to fear ever becoming an empress !'"
The 15th of December, 1809, was the fatal day appointed for the consummation of the divorce. The imperial council of state was convened, and the official announcements of the coming separation were made. Napoleon's address on this occasion is well known. The prepared response which Josephine attempted to read in acceptation of this cruel decree, was too much for even her marvellous fortitude to endure ; and Eugene was obliged to take the paper from his weeping mother, and finish for her the heart-breaking avowal which her quivering lips refused to utter. Upon the following day the council was again assembled with the imperial family in the grand salon at the Tuileries, to witness the legal consummation of the divorce. All were in court costume. Napoleon entered the apartment, clothed in the imposing robes of state. Pale as a corpse, he stood leaning against a pillar, with folded arms, motionless as a statue.
Again the poor victim of this cruel sacrifice must appear. The keen-edged knife of the political guillotine of blind ambition must this day perform its final act of political decapitation. The door opens ; a sad figure appears. Some reports clothe this sorrowful, weeping woman in white muslin ; others in black satin. As the latter seems more fittinog to this funereal scene, we incline to that supposition, which would surely appear more appropriate than bridal white for this moment of public repudiation.
The graceful woman, bending like a weeping-willow before the storm of sorrow which is crushing her to the earth, walks slowly to the seat prepared for her, followed by her son and daughter. The pallor of death is upon her brow. A coffin would have seemed less cruel than the mocking chair of state waiting for her. Had she been Marie Antoinette upon the scaffold, she could scarcely have suffered more ; for Marie Antoinette could at least love her dead husband without reproach ; while the living husband of poor Josephine holds in his hand the cruel dagger which is piercing her bleeding heart, and his word tears from her brow her rightful royal diadem of wifehood.
The iniquitous decree is read. The quivering victim must pronounce her own sentence. Pressing her handkerchief to her streaming eyes for a moment, she slowly rises, and the oath of acceptance passes her pallid lips. The pen is handed to her, and she signs her own death warrant; and then glides like a mournful spectre from the grand salon of state, the imperial grandeur of which, together with the presence of her triumphant foes, mock her unutterable woe.
It is the evening of the same day. The weeping woman has still another heart-rending duty to perform. She must take her final farewell of the man who has stabbed her tc the heart ; of the husband whom she still adores with every heart-beat of her loyal, loving soul; of the emperor who has crowned her, only to tear from her brow his royal gift and bestow it upon another. Was ever woman's soul torn with such conflicting emotions ? Pride and love have fought a terrible battle within her heart, since the cruel public sacrifice of the morning. But love has conquered ; yes, so royally conquered, that there is no place left in her soul for aught but overpowering devotion to the adored husband of her heart.
Napoleon had retired to his apartments. His valet was about to be dismissed for the night when the door opens, and upon the threshold stands Josephine ! more irresistible in her infinite sorrow than in her most imperial robes of dazzling splendour. Her tender eyes are glistening through her tears ; her hair falls in disordered locks around her quivering face ; her hands are clasped in agonizing despair. For one moment she gazes upon the face of him who has been her life and happiness; then, forgetting all but her overpowering love, she throws herself into his arms, exclaiming, in tones of commingled tenderness and heart-broken anguish, " My husband ! My husband !"
Napoleon was overpowered at last. With streaming eves he beckoned to his valet to retire, and the husband and wife were left alone for their last sad interview. When an hour afterwards Josephine retired from the apartment, still sobbing with irresistible emotion, the valet entered to remove the lights, and found Napoleon with face buried in the pillow and form convulsed with choking sobs. The next morning, at eleven o'clock, Josephine was to bid a last adieu to the Tuileries. At the appointed hour she appeared, heavily veiled and leaning upon the arm of one of her lady attendants. Silently she walked through the spacious halls, where all the household had assembled to take final leave of their loved mistress. Not a word was spoken ; and as Josephine entered the close carriage she waved an adieu to the weeping friends around her, and without another glance at the grand palace which had witnessed her proud happiness and unutterable woe, she was driven rapidly to her future sad retreat at Malmaison.
But the envious hate of the Bonaparte family received its just reward on the occasion of the marriage of Napoleon to Maria Louisa ; and they were then obliged to swallow a more bitter pill of mortified pride than any which had been administered to them during the reign of Josephine.
Madame Mere Bonaparte and the queens of Holland and Naples, the princesses Eliza and Pauline, and the kings Louis and Jerome, were gathered to discuss the coming marriage ceremony of the future empress. Murat, the handsome king of Naples, entered, attired in his rich gala dress of fawn-colored satin embroidered with silver, and wearing a purple mantle lined with ermine and clasped with jewels. The hilt and sheath of his sword sparkled with gems, and his belt was covered with rubies. He wore a sort of cap, of purple, surrounded by an open crown of precious stones, while his boots were of purple velvet edged with fur, and his knee-breeches and vest were of white satin. As he entered the apartment, so proud and so handsome, all of his family exclaimed : " What a handsome dress !"
"Yes, I flatter myself! ' said Murat, gazing into the long mirror before which la Princesses Borghese was paying court to her own beauty ; "but do you know, fair ladies, that you are about to be disgraced in the eyes of aft Europe?" continued Murat, holding up a printed paper. " What is it? " exclaimed all in a breath. "Read! mesdames les reins!' replied Murat, " and you will learn that all, queens as you are, you will to-morrow, in the chapel of the Louvre, during the marry'. age ceremony, have the honour of bearing the train of the imperial mantle of your august sister-in-law." " Napoleon can never request of us such an insulting office," said one. "It is no request," said Jerome, "the emperor commands it." "As for me," cried la Princesses Borghese, "I would like to see myself touch her odious mantle ! ' " Do not excite yourself, sister," said the queen of Naples, " this matter does not concern either you or the Grande duchesse; you are neither of you queens." " But I am more than a parvenu queen," gasped Pauline, between her sobs, " my husband was a noble from birth." "I, for one, will not officiate as the waiting-woman of my sister-in-law," said the queen of Naples haughtily. " I could not venture to hint at such a degradation to my wife, the daughter of the king of Wurttemberg," declared Jerome. "Sons and daughters, son-in-law and daughter-in-law," said Madame Mere, " bear in mind that Napoleon" is accustomed to be obeyed. He is entirely wrong in this matter ; but if he is resolved, you will obey."" The others may do as they like ; but not I, Madame Mere," said the spoiled beauty, Pauline. " You, like the rest," replied Madame Bonaparte, with decision.
At that moment the doors were thrown open, and the usher announced, " The Emperor ! ' It was in vain that Pauline tried to conceal her tears of rage ; or that the queen of Naples endeavoured to smoothed her ruffled brow ; or that Murat hastily sheathed his splendid sword, which he had just drawn in mock defiance to the imperial command. "Madame la Princesses BorgMse! explain what all this means," said Napoleon, with severity. " My sisters and I do not think it proper to carry the mantle of your wife," Pauline exclaimed defiantly. " What ! do you all refuse?" asked the emperor. " I cannot disgrace my crown," sobbed Caroline Murat. "I will not publicly outrage my unhappy mother!"
bravely said Hortense.
" And you, Eliza? " remarked Napoleon ; "you probably dread the reproaches of your husband. Ladies, what did I owe to you when I was called upon to reign over France ? I have placed you all on such a giddy elevation that it has turned your heads. I have bestowed upon your husbands and yourselves kingdoms, principalities, and splendid establishments ; I have overwhelmed you with wealth and honours. What are you without me? Which of you could sustain yourself, if I did not stretch out my hand to support you ? Oh ! so this is the tone that you assume ! Your thrones belong to you by feudal right? Mark me, ladies; the arch chancellor of state shall make to you, or rather to your husbands, an official declaration ; and whichever one among you ventures to disobey my commands, shall be considered as a culprit, and shall be put under the ban of the empire. And as regards you, Madame Borghese, who honour us by your alliance, as soon as the marriage fetes have terminated you will leave Paris ; and as you first gave the signal of resistance, so you shall be the first to obey. It is my express determination that the empress, archduchess of Austria, shall receive all the homage due to her birth and rank."
The emperor then haughtily withdrew. The poor Princess Borghese fell upon the floor in violent hysterics ; and Napoleon, having been apprised of the fact, sent his physician to attend her, bearing also the information to her, that it was the command of the emperor that she should be perfectly recovered before the next day. So Pauline could not feign sickness, and was obliged to resign herself to her fate. But even Napoleon himself could not conquer women's tears ; and although his unwilling relations were forced to obey his imperial command, that fatal train of the empress, measuring twelve yards in length, was borne by weeping queens and princesses, who did not even try to conceal their tears of mortification ; and they doubtless then realized that an empress of royal birth was not after all such a desirable acquisition to their family as they had supposed. If poor Josephine had not been too generous to be spiteful, and too sad to note aught but her own humiliation and woe, she might have felt herself somewhat avenged by her unconscious successor. As the gorgeous spectacle passed through the magnificent gallery which connected the Tuileries with the Louvre, a child exclaimed to its mother:
"Mamma, why does the queen of Holland cry? I thought queens were always laughing." Poor Hortense ! It was indeed cruel in the extreme, that she should have been forced to bear the mantle of the woman who was so unjustly supplanting her own mother.
Whenever Josephine's friends conversed in her presence regarding the woman who had taken her place, slot was careful to avoid the slightest remark which could be construed into a censure of Maria Louisa, though her sorrow could not be concealed. " He will never love her," she exclaimed with deep feeling ; "he has sacrificed everything to his politics; but his first wife yes, his first wife, will forever possess his confidence." And she did not deceive herself in this belief, for the ex-empress had reason upon many occasions to exult in the irresistible ascendency she still exercised over Napoleon.
On hearing of the birth of the king of Rome, Josephine evinced her generous sympathy by making a present to the baby archduke of a little carriage drawn by two superb merinos. The emperor was much pleased with this kind attention, but when he spoke of it to Maria Louisa, the Austrian was offended ; for she could never endure to hear a word of praise regarding the woman who had preceded her, and she always tried to prevent Napoleon's visits to his former wife. But the emperor never ceased to honour Josephine by frequent letters, hurried visits, and constant delicate attentions. Josephine was never forgotten by him, and he always spoke of her with new and increasing interest. He was displeased with certain of his courtiers who affected to forget the forsaken Josephine. "Have you been to Malmaison?' he would inquire of them. "How does the empress?' and these fickle courtiers perceived that if they would please the emperor, they must pay their respects to Josephine. Often when returning from a hunt, Napoleon would go and surprise Josephine at Malmaison with a visit, and walk with her in the garden, conversing with the greatest interest about all his affairs ; she was still his most intimate confidant. To Josephine alone could he confide his inmost thoughts, sure of never being betrayed, and always receiving her most devoted interest. The emperor would often send word to the grand ecuyer to detain the Empress Maria Louisa at the riding-school ; and then took advantage of the moment of liberty- to go and surprise Josephine at Malraaison. It is said that Napoleon was much displeased with Madame de la R., because, having been in Josephine's service, she proposed to fulfil the same duties for the Empress Maria Louisa. " No," said he with indignation; "she shall not. Although I am charged with ingratitude towards my wife, I will have no imitators, especially among the persons whom she has honoured with her confidence and loaded with her favours."
After her divorce, Josephine passed her time alternately at Malmaison and the chateau of Navarre. She here dispensed daily bounty to multitudes, of poor families, who were the recipients of her generous benevolence and the objects of her personal care. The following touching incident is said to have occurred just before Napoleon set out on his fatal campaign to Russia.
The Empress Josephine was seated in her gallery of paintings, when the emperor came upon her unawares, and found her reading that passage in the life of Diocletian relating to his abdication: "O ye, who have seen me seated on a throne, come now and see the lettuce which I have planted with my own hands ! ' Napoleon appeared to be singularly impressed by these words, and said to Josephine with unusual tenderness: "My wife " (for so he continued to call her), "I shall, perhaps, terminate my course in the same way, and take pride in showing the beautiful fruits of your gardens, cultivated by my own hands, to the envoys of the different nations who may come to visit Napoleon the Philosopher."
"So much the better," answered Josephine; "then should we be happy indeed." But soon her eyes filled with tears, and she said with inexpressible sadness : " My friend, you have a new wife and a son ; I desire hence forth only to aid you by my counsels. But should you ever be free, or should the blast of adversity ever deliver you to your enemies, come, come, O Bonaparte, to my cherished asylum ! ' Josephine was very desirous to behold the young king of Rome. Madame Montesquieu, by the order of the emperor, went to Trianon with her august eleven. Hither Josephine went, and when she beheld the young prince, the lavished her caresses upon his baby face, exclaiming
with streaming eyes: "I now pardon her freely for the wrong she did me in coming to usurp my place. I am now willing to overlook all my husband's errors, and concern myself solely about the happiness of a father."
Napoleon's overthrow was the result of political errors, into which he was led by evil advisers. They were : "1. The unjust war in Spain ; an almost insupportable draught upon the blood and treasure of France, and utterly unproductive of profit or glory. " 2. The divorce of his wife Josephine, a matter of cold-blooded calculation ; a wrong determination as to the results to arise from the respective positions of the objects upon the political chessboard. It was discarding a French woman for an Austrian princess. It offended France ; it shocked all hearts by an apparent indifference to the love of a noble-minded, innocent, faithful, and beautiful woman. "3. The unfortunate campaign to Russia, an effort which France was not then strong enough to sustain ; though it was one of the grandest displays of military power in the history of the world." And yet, with all Napoleon's plans, it was not his son who afterwards sat upon the French throne, but the grandson of Josephine, the son of Hortense and Louis Bonaparte who subsequently reigned over France as Emperor Napoleon III. What had the cruel and iniquitous divorce availed after all? Thus a wise Providence seems to declare to the sons of men through the sequences resulting from such historical events, Ye shall not do evil, presuming to imagine that thereby good may arise !
Napoleon's unfortunate and unjust war with Spain proved in the end to have been an enterprise regarding which the keen intuitions of Josephine had not deceived her. She was endowed with an instinct so perfect, which enabled her to foresee the future with such marvellous skill, that it amounted with her almost to a gift of genius ; and she was seldom deceived respecting the good or evil tendency of any of Napoleon's measures. When informed that the emperor intended to place Joseph Bonaparte upon the throne of Spain, she declared that " she was seized with a feeling of indescribable alarm."
" When Bonaparte separated from Josephine, he left the woman who had exercised a great influence upon his destinies. It was she who had in a manner launched him upon fortune's car, who knew how to uphold him in spite of envy, who was the guardian angel sent by Providence upon the earth to repair a thousand wrongs ; and from the moment he repudiated her, Napoleon, the invincible Napoleon, began to be a prey to fearful forebodings. This false step was a triumph to his enemies, and all Europe was amazed that a man whose former achievements had covered him with glory, should thus, with a sort of ostentation, run after the daughter of a sovereign whom he had subdued by force of arms. "From that moment ' (such was the general exclamation) ' that Napoleon shall start this scandalous project of a divorce, and, not content with severing the bonds which are for him not less sacred than advantageous, shall dare aspire to the hand of the august daughter of the Caesars, Napoleon is no longer anything of himself ; he is but an ambitious man. He will tremble for the result of the part he is acting, for he will seek to sustain himself by force and not by popular favour.'"
As the disasters of his last days gathered around Napoleon, he said to Josephine on one occasion, when paying her a visit at Malmaison : "Josephine, when my soul is filled with pain, I feel the need of a true friend into whose bosom I may pour my sorrows. What astonishes me is, that men should study every other science except that of happiness. 'Tis only in retirement that I have found it, and that I may, perhaps, hereafter meet with it ! ' Josephine said, regarding the taking of Paris by the allied sovereigns :
"My courtiers could not long conceal from me the occupation of the capital. I found myself almost in the sad condition of the family of Darius. Should I await the orders of my husband's conquerors, or should I go and implore their generosity ? The melancholy state to which
Bonaparte was reduced wholly engrossed my feelings and my thoughts. I was resolved to share his death, or to follow him into exile." "Noble-hearted woman! What a contrast does this feeling present to that which actuated his second wife, who abandoned him as readily and with as little compunction or concern, as though her child had been the son of a German boor, and not of one as great as Caesar or Alexander !"
While Josephine was at Navarre, and anxiously awaiting the next news from the captured city, she received word from the minister Talleyrand, inviting her to return to Malmaison, to meet there the Emperor Alexander and the king of Prussia, who had expressed a wish to see the queen of that palace of enchantments. Of her interview with these sovereigns, Josephine says :
" I thanked those magnanimous princes for having had the generosity to honour with their presence the forsaken wife of Bonaparte ; I recommended to their kind consideration that brave army which had long displayed such prodigies of valour ; I pleaded the cause of those brave soldiers who still formed a bulwark around the hero of Austerlitz ; and I claimed, earnestly claimed, the liberty of the man whom I still loved. I forgot all his wrongs towards me, and thought only of his misfortunes."
The Emperor Alexander of Russia said to Josephine : " I congratulate you on having reigned over the French, a nation so worthy to be well governed ; I congratulate you on having known how to make friends while on the throne, friends who have followed you into retirement. 'Tis to you, Madame, that France is in a great measure indebted for the tranquillity she enjoyed during the first years of your husband's reign. Had Napoleon continued to listen to your advice, he would probably now have reigned over a great and generous people. All the sovereigns in Europe, and myself the first, would ultimately have applauded the wisdom of his institutions and the strength of his government."
When Napoleon returned from Elba to Paris, and was once more receiving the acclamations of his adherents at the Tuileries, he is said to have fallen into a " melting mood," a few nights after his return thither, and he sent for M. Horan, one of the physicians who had attended Josephine in her last illness. After talking about his former wife with much feeling, to whom he certainly was attached even when he so cruelly abandoned her, he said to the physician : " So, Monsieur Horan, you did not leave the empress during her malady?' "No, sire." " What was the cause of that malady?" " Uneasiness of mind grief." " You believe that?" and Napoleon laid a strong emphasis on the word believe, looking steadfastly in the doctor's face. He then asked, "Was she long ill? Did she suffer much ? " " She was ill a week, sire; her Majesty suffered little pain." "Did she see that she was dying? Did she show courage ?"
"A sign her Majesty made when she could no longer express herself, leaves me no doubt that she felt her end approaching ; she seemed to contemplate it without fear." "Well! well!' and then Napoleon, much affected, drew close to M. Horan, and added, "You say that she was in grief ; from what did that arise ?' : " From passing events, sire, from your Majesty's position last year." " Ah ! she used to speak of me, then ? " Often ; very often." Here Napoleon drew his hand across his eyes, which were filled with tears. He then said :
" Good woman ! My excellent Josephine! She loved me truly, did she not? Ah ! she was a Frenchwoman ! ' " Oh yes, sire ! she loved you, and she would have proved it, had it not been for dread of displeasing you ; she had conceived an idea." " How? What would she have done? ' " She one day said that as empress of the French she would drive through Paris, with eight horses to her coach, and all her household in gala livery, to go and rejoin you at Fontainebleau, and never quit you more."
" She would have done it! She was capable of doing it ! ' exclaimed Napoleon, with deep emotion and eyes full of tears ; and then he asked the physician the most minute questions about the last hours of Josephine : the nature of her disease, the friends and attendants who were around her at the hour of her death, and the conduct of her two children Eugene and Hortense. How different was Josephine's fidelity to the man who had even cut her to the heart by his cruel desertion when he was at the height of his glory, but whom in his dire misfortunes she did not cease to love and desire to aid, from the cold apathy of the woman who had taken her rightful place !
After the fall of the emperor, and his departure to the island of Elba, Josephine fell into a profound melancholy. For several days she preferred to remain alone. Her ladies noticed that she often perused a letter which the emperor had written to her from Brienne, in which he said : " Josephine, while revisiting the spot where I passed my early childhood, and comparing the peaceful hours I then enjoyed with the agitations which I now experience, I am constrained to say to myself, I fear death no longer to me it would this day be a blessing, but I would once more see Josephine."
Speaking of Napoleon at this time, she is reported to have said : " I am the only one to whom he intrusted all his secrets all except the one which has caused his ruin ; and had he communicated that to me in season, I should still have enjoyed his presence ; and by means of my counsels he would perhaps have escaped these new calamities."
Among the last words uttered by the faithful Josephine, were these, regarding Napoleon, whose loved portrait she then gazed upon: "Banished to an island under a foreign sky, torn from France, from a wife and a beloved son, from all his friends ; fallen from the palaces of kings, among the hills of Elba, overcome by cares and fatigues, sad and melancholy, alone amidst the dwellers upon that island, there still remains to him one faithful Pylades, and a few warriors who have voluntarily shared his exile. Bonaparte can never find consolation in his deep misfortunes, except in the reflection that there still remains to him one true friend who hath never ceased to watch over his precious life. But, alas ! she is lost for him."
"Josephine, Bonaparte's last friend; Josephine, the first object of his ambition, and the only woman whom he truly loved. Bonaparte was fortunate while her lot was connected with his. His after-life was less miserable while she survived. Dying, she still wished to press his hand ; his name was the last word she uttered, and her last tear fell upon his portrait." Time destroys great reputations, but that of Napoleon's first wife will be deathless while woman's self-sacrificing love remains. At least," said Josephine, with dying breath; "at least I shall carry with one some regrets. I have aimed at the good of the French people ; I have done all in my power to promote it, and I may say with truth to all who
attend me in my last moments, that never, no, never, did the first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte cause a tear to flow."
Beautiful May had already clothed the gardens of Malmaison with verdure and adorned them with radiant flowers. The sunset tints crimsoned the western horizon, and tipped the white clouds with purple and gold. The birds in the groves were softly carolling their vesper songs, and the gentle breeze, swaying the delicate leaves, fanned with caressing touch the fevered cheek of the dying Josephine, who, with eyes fast dimming in death, gazed once more through the open window upon the loved beauties of her favourite Malmaison, which on this 29th of May, 1814, seemed to have put on new loveliness to comfort the gentle spirit so soon to take a fond and last farewell. As the shadows of twilight deepened, and the dying empress looked once more on the portrait of her idolized husband, the emperor, she exclaimed, "L'isle d'Elbe Napoleon!" and closed her eyes on earth, and passed beyond the portals of mortal life.
"The death of Josephine threw all France into tears, and even strangers shared in the general sorrow. They witnessed the universal regrets her death occasioned, and it may be truly said, to the praise of both the friends and foes of Bonaparte, that, on this mournful occasion, nil united to scatter flowers upon the tomb of the woman who had adorned the happy days of the illustrious exile."
On the 2d of June, the funeral honours were paid to the mortal remains of the Empress Josephine, in the parish church at Ruel. Commissioners from the sovereigns of Russia and Prussia headed the procession, which proceeded from Malmaison to Ruel. Many foreign princes, marshals, generals, and officers of the French and allied armies escorted the renowned remains.
The military consisted of Russian Hussars and the National Guards of France. The chief mourners were Prince Eugene, the Grand Duke of Baden, Marquis de Beauharnais (brother-in-law), Count de Tascher (nephew), Count de Beauharnais (cousin), and the grandchildren of the deceased empress.
The funeral oration was pronounced by the Archbishop of Tours, while the bishops of Evreux and Versailles assisted in the religious ceremonies. The body of the empress was enclosed in a leaden coffin, which was afterwards placed in one of sycamore wood covered with black cloth. The casket was deposited in a vault in the church at Ruel, over which was raised a chapelle ardente formed of funeral hangings ; the altar, richly decorated in the form of a tomb, and the altar-piece, representing a cross, were surmounted by a canopy. On the right was placed a statue of Immortality, on the left that of Religion. A sepulchral lamp was suspended in the middle of the chapelle ardente.
Queen Hortense, who had been conveyed to the church before the funeral obsequies, knelt for a long time beside the tomb, with her brother, after the other mourners had left the church. The spot is now marked by a monument of white marble, representing the empress kneeling in her coronation robes, and bears this simple and touching inscription :
EUGENE AND HORTENSE TO JOSEPHINE. The widow and the orphan went daily to weep by her tomb. Many of her faithful friends continued to make visits to the last resting-place of her whose memory was honoured by universal respect and sincere mourning. The poor and the rich alike honoured her life and mourned her death. " What now remains to Josephine is the recollection of her good deeds," a more fitting memorial than costly monument or marble sarcophagus of most elaborate art.
As an empress, none can claim a more exalted place, as the personification of grace, beauty, and queenly dignity. But it is as a woman as a wife and a mother that the brightest halo of glory crowns the pure brow of Josephine ; and as Love's Martyr, she has gained the highest place amongst the self-sacrificing women of historic fame.