Hortense - John S. C. Abbott

Life at Arenemberg


It must be confessed that the position of Louis Philippe was painful when he received the note from Hortense announcing that she and her son were in Paris. An insurrection in the streets of Paris had overthrown the throne of the Bourbons, and with it the doctrine of legitimacy. Louis Philippe had been placed upon the vacant throne, not by the voice of the French people, but by a small clique in Paris. There was danger that allied Europe would again rouse itself to restore the Bourbons. Louis Philippe could make no appeal to the masses of the people for support, for he was not the king of their choice. Should he do any thing indicative of friendship for the Bonapartes, it might exasperate all dynastic Europe; and should the French people learn that an heir of the Empire was in France, their enthusiasm might produce convulsions the end of which no one could foresee.

Thus unstably seated upon his throne, Louis Philippe was in a state of great embarrassment. He felt that he could not consult the impulses of his heart, but that he must listen to the colder dictates of prudence. He therefore did not venture personally to call upon Queen Hortense, but sent Casimir Périer, president of his council, to see her. As Périer entered her apartment, Hortense said to him:

"Sir, I am a mother. My only means of saving my son was to come to France. I know very well that I have transgressed a law. I am well aware of the risks we run. You have a right to cause our arrest. It would be just."

"Just?" responded the minister, "no; legal? yes." The result of some anxious deliberation was that, in consideration of the alarming sickness of the young prince, they were to be permitted, provided they preserved the strictest incognito, to remain in the city one week. The king also granted Hortense a private audience. He himself knew full well the sorrows of exile. He spoke feelingly of the weary years which he and his family had spent in banishment from France.

"I have experienced," said he to Hortense, "all the griefs of exile. And it is not in accordance with my wishes that yours have not yet ceased." Hortense also saw the queen and the king's sister. There were but these four persons who were allowed to know that Hortense was in Paris. And but two of these, the king and his minister, knew that Prince Louis Napoleon was in the city. But just then came the 5th of May. It was the anniversary of the death of the Emperor at St. Helena. As ever, in this anniversary, immense crowds of the Parisian people gathered around the column on the Place Vendéme with their homage to their beloved Emperor, and covering the railing with wreaths of immortelles and other flowers. Had the populace known that from his window an heir of the great Emperor was looking upon them, it would have created a flame of enthusiasm which scarcely any earthly power could have quenched.

The anxiety of the king, in view of the peril, was so great, that Hortense was informed that the public safety required that she should immediately leave France, notwithstanding the continued sickness of her son. The order was imperative. But both the king and the minister offered her money, that she might continue her journey to London. But Hortense did not need pecuniary aid. She had just cashed at the bank an order for sixteen thousand francs. Before leaving the city, Louis Napoleon wrote to the king a very eloquent and dignified letter, in which he claimed his right, as a French citizen, who had never committed any crime, of residing in his native land. He recognized the king as the representative of a great nation, and earnestly offered his services in defense of his country in the ranks of the army. He avowed that in Italy he had espoused the cause of the people in opposition to aristocratic usurpation, and he demanded the privilege of taking his position, as a French citizen, beneath the tri-color of France.

No reply was returned to this letter. It is said that the spirit and energy it displayed magnified the alarm of the king, and increased his urgency to remove the writer, as speedily as possible, from the soil of France.

On the 6th of May Hortense and her son left Paris, and proceeded that day to Chantilly. Travelling slowly, they were four days in reaching Calais, where they embarked for England. Upon their arrival in London, both Hortense and her son met with a very flattering reception from gentlemen of all parties. For some time they were the guests of the Duke of Bedford, at Woburn Abbey. Talleyrand, who was then French ambassador at the Court of St. James, with characteristic diplomatic caution called himself, and by means of an agent sought to ascertain what were the secret plans and purposes of Queen Hortense.

Several months were passed very profitably in England, and as pleasantly as was possible for persons who had been so long buffetted by the storms of adversity, who were exiles from their native land, and who knew not in what direction to look for a home of safety. While in this state of perplexity, both mother and son were exceedingly gratified by receiving from the Canton of Thurgovia the following document, conferring the rights of citizenship upon the young prince. The document bore the date of Thurgovia, April 30th, 1832.

"We, the President of the Council of the Canton of Thurgovia, declare that, the Commune of Sallenstein having offered the right of communal citizenship to his highness, Prince Louis Napoleon, out of gratitude for the numerous favors conferred upon the canton by the family of the Duchess of St. Leu, since her residence in Arenemberg; and the grand council having afterwards, by its unanimous vote of the 14th of April, sanctioned this award, and decreed unanimously to his highness the right of honorary burghership of the canton, with the desire of proving how highly it honors the generous character of this family, and how highly it appreciates the preference they have shown for the canton; declares that his highness, Prince Louis Napoleon, son of the Duke and Duchess of St. Leu, is acknowledged as a citizen of the Canton of Thurgovia."

The prince, in the response which he made in the name of his mother and himself, expressed their gratitude for the kindness with which they had ever been treated, and thanked them especially for the honor which they had conferred upon him, in making him the "citizen of a free nation." As a testimonial of his esteem he sent to the authorities of the canton two brass six-pounder cannon, with complete trains and equipage. He also founded a free school in the village of Sallenstein.

Encouraged by these expressions of kindly feeling, both Hortense and her son were very desirous to return to their quiet and much-loved retreat at Arenemberg. The prince, however, who never allowed himself to waste a moment of time, devoted himself, during this short visit to England, assiduously to the study of the workings of British institutions, and to the progress which the nation had attained in the sciences and the arts. It was not easy for Hortense and her son to return to Arenemberg. The Government of Louis Philippe would not permit them to pass through France. Austria vigilantly and indignantly watched every pathway through Italy. They made application for permission to pass through Belgium, but this was denied them. The Belgian throne, which was afterwards offered to Leopold, was then vacant. It was feared that the people would rally at the magic name of Napoleon, and insist that the crown should be placed upon the brow of the young prince.

In this sore dilemma, Louis Philippe at last consented, very reluctantly, that they might pass hurriedly through France, Hortense assuming the name of the Baroness of Arenemberg, and both giving their pledge not to enter Paris. Having obtained the necessary passports, Hortense, with her son, left London in August, and, crossing the Channel, landed at Calais, thus placing their feet once more upon the soil of their native land, from which they were exiled by Bourbon power simply because they bore the name of Bonaparte, which all France so greatly revered. In conformity with their agreement they avoided Paris, though they visited the tomb of Josephine, at Ruel.

They had scarcely reached Switzerland when a deputation of distinguished Poles called upon the young prince, urging him to place himself at the head of their nation, then in arms, endeavoring to regain independence. The letter containing this offer was dated August 31, 1831. It was signed by General Kniazewiez, Count Plater, and many other of the most illustrious men of Poland.

"To whom," it was said, "can the direction of our enterprise be better intrusted than to the nephew of the greatest captain of all ages? A young Bonaparte appearing in our country, tri-color in hand, would produce a moral effect of incalculable consequences. Come, then, young hero, hope of our country. Trust to the waves, which already know your name, the fortunes of Caesar, and what is more, the destinies of liberty. You will gain the gratitude of your brethren in arms and the admiration of the world."

The chivalric spirit of the young prince was aroused. Notwithstanding the desperation of the enterprise and the great anxiety of his mother, Louis Napoleon left Arenemberg to join the Poles. He had not proceeded far when he received the intelligence that Warsaw was captured and that the patriots were crushed. Sadly he returned to Arenemberg. Again, as ever, he sought solace for his disappointment in intense application to study. In August, 1832, Madame Récamier with M. de Chateaubriand made a visit to Hortense, at the chateau of Arenemberg. The biographer of Madame Récamier in the following terms records this visit:

"In August, 1832, Madame Récamier decided to make a trip to Switzerland, where she was to meet M. de Chateaubriand, who was already wandering in the mountains. She went to Constance. The chateau of Arenemberg, where the Duchess of St. Leu passed her summers, and which she had bought and put in order, overlooks Lake Constance. It was impossible for Madame Récamier not to give a few days to this kind and amiable person, especially in her forlorn and isolated position. The duchess, too, had lost, the year previous, her eldest son, Napoleon, who died in Italy.

"When M. de Chateaubriand joined Madame Récamier at Constance, he was invited to dine with her at the castle. Hortense received him with the most gracious kindness, and read to him some extracts from her own memoirs. The establishment at Arenemberg was elegant, and on a large though not ostentatious scale. Hortense's manners, in her own house, were simple and affectionate. She talked too much, perhaps, about her taste for a life of retirement, love of nature, and aversion to greatness, to be wholly believed. After all these protestations, her visitor could not perceive without surprise the care the duchess and her household took to treat Prince Louis like a sovereign. He had the precedence of every one.

"The prince, polite, accomplished, and taciturn, appeared to Madame Récamier to be a very different person from his elder brother, whom she had known in Rome, young, generous, and enthusiastic. The prince sketched for her, in sepia, a view of Lake Constance, overlooked by the chateau of Arenemberg. In the foreground a shepherd, leaning against a tree, is watching his flock and playing on the flute. This design, pleasantly associated with Madame Récamier's visit, is now historically interesting. For the last ten years the signature of the author has been affixed to very different things."

But a month before this visit, in July, 1832, Napoleon's only son, the Duke of Reichstadt, died at the age of twenty-one years. All concur in testifying to his noble character. He died sadly, ever cherishing the memory of his illustrious sire, who had passed to the grave through the long agony of St. Helena. The death of the Duke of Reichstadt brought Louis Napoleon one step nearer to the throne of the Empire, according to the vote of the French. There were now but two heirs between him and the crown—his uncle Joseph and his father Louis. Both of these were advanced in life, and the latter exceedingly infirm. The legitimists denied that the people had any right to establish a dynasty; but it was clear that whatever rights popular suffrage could confer would descend to Louis Napoleon upon the death of Joseph and of Louis Bonaparte. Louis Napoleon had no doubt that the immense majority of the French people would improve the first possible opportunity to re-establish the Empire; and consequently the conviction which he so confidently cherished, that he was destined to be the Emperor of France, was not a vague and baseless impression, but the dictate of sound judgment.

The Holy Alliance now contemplated Louis Napoleon with great anxiety, and kept a very close watch upon all his movements. The Government of Louis Philippe was even more unpopular in France than the Government of the elder branch of the Bourbons had been. The crown had not been placed upon his brow either by legitimacy or by popular suffrage, and there were but few whom he could rally to his support.

With never-flagging zeal the prince prosecuted his studies in the peaceful retreat at Arenemberg, that he might be prepared for the high destiny which he believed awaited him. He published several very important treatises, which attracted the attention of Europe, and which gave him a high position, not merely as a man of letters, but as a statesman of profound views. The Spectateur Militaire, in the review of the "Manual of Artillery," by Prince Louis Napoleon, says:

"In looking over this book, it is impossible not to be struck with the laborious industry of which it is the fruit. Of this we can get an idea by the list of authors, French, German, and English, which he has consulted. And this list is no vain catalogue. We can find in the text the ideas, and often the very expressions, of the authorities which he has quoted. When we consider how much study and perseverance must have been employed to succeed in producing only the literary part (for even the illustrations scattered through the work are from the author's own designs) of a book which requires such profound and varied attainments, and when we remember that this author was born on the steps of a throne, we can not help being seized with admiration for the man who thus bravely meets the shocks of adversity."

A gentleman, in a work entitled "Letters from London," in the following language describes the prince's mode of life at Arenemberg:

"From his tenderest youth Prince Louis Napoleon has despised the habits of an effeminate life. Although his mother allowed him a considerable sum for his amusements, these were the last things he thought of. All this money was spent in acts of beneficence, in founding schools or houses of refuge, in printing his military or political works, or in making scientific experiments. His mode of life was always frugal, and rather rude. At Arenemberg it was quite military.

"His room, situated not in the castle, but in a small pavilion beside it, offered none of the grandeur or elegance so prevalent in Hortense's apartment. It was, in truth, a regular soldier's tent. Neither carpet nor arm-chair appeared there; nothing that could indulge the body; nothing but books of science and arms of all kinds. As for himself, he was on horseback at break of day, and before any one had risen in the castle he had ridden several leagues. He then went to work in his cabinet. Accustomed to military exercises, as good a rider as could be seen, he never let a day pass without devoting some hours to sword and lance practice and the use of infantry arms, which he managed with extraordinary rapidity and address."

Napoleon III


His personal appearance at that time is thus graphically sketched. "He is middle-sized, of an agreeable countenance, and has a military air. To personal advantages he joins the more seductive distinction of manners simple, natural, and full of good taste and ease. At first sight I was struck with his resemblance to Prince Eugene, and to the Empress Josephine, his grandmother. But I did not remark a like resemblance to the Emperor. But by attentively observing the essential features, that is those not depending on more or less fullness or on more or less beard, we soon discover that the Napoleonic type is reproduced with astonishing fidelity. It is, in fact, the same lofty forehead, broad and straight, the same nose, of fine proportions, the same gray eyes, though, the expression is milder. It is particularly the same contour and inclination of the head. The latter especially, when the prince turns, is so full of the Napoleon air, as to make a soldier of the Old Guard thrill at the sight. And if the eye rests on the outline of these forms, it is impossible not to be struck, as if before the head of the Emperor, with the imposing grandeur of the Roman profile, of which the lines, so defined, so grave, I will even add and so solemn, are, as it were, the soul of great destinies.

"The distinguishing expression of the features of the young prince is that of nobleness and gravity. And yet, far from being harsh, his countenance, on the contrary, breathes a sentiment of mildness and benevolence. It seems that the maternal type which is preserved in the lower part of his face has come to correct the rigidity of the imperial lines, as the blood of the Beauharnais seems to have tempered in him the southern violence of the Napoleon blood. But what excites the greatest interest is that indefinable tinge of melancholy and thoughtfulness observable in the slightest movement, and revealing the noble sufferings of exile.

"But after this portrait you must not figure to yourself one of those elegant young men, those Adonises of romance who excite the admiration of the drawing-room. There is nothing of effeminacy in the young Napoleon. The dark shadows of his countenance indicate an energetic nature. His assured look, his glance at once quick and thoughtful, every thing about him points out one of those exceptional natures, one of those great souls that live by meditating on great things, and that alone are capable of accomplishing them."

About this time the young prince wrote as follows to his friend, the poet Belmontet: "Still far from my country, and deprived of all that can render life dear to a manly heart, I yet endeavor to retain my courage in spite of fate, and find my only consolation in hard study. Adieu. Sometimes think of all the bitter thoughts which must fill my mind when I contrast the past glories of France with her present condition and hopeless future. It needs no little courage to press on alone, as one can, towards the goal which one's heart has vowed to reach. Nevertheless I must not despair, the honor of France has so many elements of vitality in it."

Some months later he wrote to the same friend: "My life has been until now marked only by profound griefs and stifled wishes. The blood of Napoleon rebels in my veins, in not being able to flow for the national glory. Until the present time there has been nothing remarkable in my life, excepting my birth. The sun of glory shone upon my cradle. Alas! that is all. But who can complain when the Emperor has suffered so much? Faith in the future, such is my only hope; the sword of the Emperor my only stay; a glorious death for France my ambition. Adieu! Think of the poor exiles, whose eyes are ever turned towards the beloved shores of France. And believe that my heart will never cease to beat at the sound of country, honor, patriotism, and devotion."

Hortense deeply sympathized in the sorrows of her son. Like the caged eagle, he was struggling against his bars, longing for a lofty flight. On the 10th of August, 1834, she wrote to their mutual friend, Belmontet as follows:

"The state of my affairs obliges me to remain during the winter in my mountain home, exposed to all its winds. But what is this compared with the dreadful sufferings which the Emperor endured upon the rock of St. Helena? I would not complain if my son, at his age, did not find himself deprived of all society and completely isolated, without any diversion but the laborious pursuits to which he is devoted. His courage and strength of soul equal his sad and painful destiny. What a generous nature! What a good and noble young man! I am proud to be his mother, and I should admire him if I were not so. I rejoice as much in the nobleness of his character, as I grieve at being unable to render his life more happy. He was born for better things. He is worthy of them. We contemplate passing a couple of months at Geneva. There he will at least hear the French language spoken. That will be an agreeable change for him. The mother-tongue, is it not almost one's country?"

It every day became more and more evident that the throne of Louis Philippe, founded only upon the stratagem of a clique in Paris, could not stand long. Under these circumstances, one of the leading Republicans in Paris wrote to the prince as follows:

"The life of the king is daily threatened. If one of these attempts should succeed, we should be exposed to the most serious convulsions; for there is no longer in France any party which can lead the others, nor any man who can inspire general confidence. In this position, prince, we have turned our eyes to you. The great name which you bear, your opinions, your character, every thing induces us to see in you a point of rallying for the popular cause. Hold yourself ready for action, and when the time shall come your friends will not fail you."

The Government of Louis Philippe had been constrained by the demand of the French people to restore to the summit of the column in the Place Vendéme the statue of Napoleon, which the Allies had torn from it. As the colossal image of the Emperor was raised to its proud elevation on that majestic shaft, the utmost enthusiasm pervaded not only the streets of the metropolis, but entire France. Day after day immense crowds gathered in the place, garlanding the railing with wreaths of immortelles, and exhibiting enthusiasm which greatly alarmed the Government.

Hortense and Louis, from their place of exile, watched these popular demonstrations with intensest interest. All France seemed to be honoring Napoleon. And yet neither Hortense nor her son were allowed by the Government to touch the soil of France under penalty of death, simply because they were relatives of Napoleon. The completion of the Arc de l'Etoile, at the head of the avenue of the Champs Elysee, a work which Napoleon had originated, was another reminder to the Parisians of the genius of the great Emperor.

The Emperor, with dying breath, had said at St. Helena, "It is my wish that my ashes may repose on the banks of the Seine, in the midst of the French people whom I have loved so well." All France was now demanding that this wish should be fulfilled. The Government dared not attempt to resist the popular sentiment. The remains were demanded of England, and two frigates were sent to transport them to France. And the whole kingdom prepared to receive those remains, and honor them with a burial more imposing than had ever been conferred upon a mortal before.

Louis Napoleon and his friends thought that the time had now arrived in which it was expedient for him to present himself before the people of France, and claim their protection from the oppression of the French Government. It was believed that the French people, should the opportunity be presented them, would rise at the magic name of Napoleon, overthrow the throne of Louis Philippe, and then, by the voice of universal suffrage, would re-establish the Empire.

This would place Joseph Bonaparte on the throne, and would at once annul the decree of banishment against the whole Bonaparte family. Hortense and Louis Napoleon could then return to their native land. As Louis Napoleon was in the direct line of hereditary descent, the re-establishment of the Empire would undoubtedly in the end secure the crown for Louis Napoleon. The ever-increasing enthusiasm manifested for the memory of Napoleon I., and the almost universal unpopularity of the Government of Louis Philippe, led Louis Napoleon and his friends to think that the time had come for the restoration of the Empire, or rather to restore to the people the right of universal suffrage, that they might choose a republic or empire or a monarchy, as the people should judge best for the interests of France.

It so happened that there was, at that time, in garrison at Strasburg the same regiment in which General Bonaparte so brilliantly commenced his career at the siege of Toulon, and which had received him with so much enthusiasm at Grenoble, on his return from Elba, and had escorted him in his triumphant march to Paris. Colonel Vaudrey, a very enthusiastic and eloquent young man who had great influence over his troops, was in command of the regiment. It was not doubted that these troops would with enthusiasm rally around an heir of the Empire. In preparation for the movement, Louis Napoleon held several interviews with Colonel Vaudrey at Baden. In one of these interviews the prince said to the colonel:

"The days of prejudice are past. The prestige of divine right has vanished from France with the old institutions. A new era has commenced. Henceforth the people are called to the free development of their faculties. But in this general impulse, impressed by modern civilization, what can regulate the movement? What government will be sufficiently strong to assure to the country the enjoyment of public liberty without agitations, without disorders? It is necessary for a free people that they should have a government of immense moral force. And this moral force, where can it be found, if not in the right and the will of all? So long as a general vote has not sanctioned a government, no matter what that government may be, it is not built upon a solid foundation. Adverse factions will constantly agitate society; while institutions ratified by the voice of the nation will lead to the abolition of parties and will annihilate individual resistances.

"A revolution is neither legitimate nor excusable except when it is made in the interests of the majority of the nation. One may be sure that this is the motive which influences him, when he makes use of moral influences only to attain his ends. If the Government have committed so many faults as to render a revolution desirable for the nation, if the Napoleonic cause have left sufficiently deep remembrances in French hearts, it will be enough, for me merely to present myself before the soldiers and the people, recalling to their memory their recent griefs and past glory, for them to flock around my standard.

"If I succeed in winning over a regiment, if the soldiers to whom I am unknown are roused by the sight of the imperial eagle, then all the chances will be mine. My cause will be morally gained, even if secondary obstacles rise to prevent its success. It is my aim to present a popular flag—the most popular, the most glorious of all,—which shall serve as a rallying-point for the generous and the patriotic of all parties; to restore to France her dignity without universal war, her liberty without license, her stability without despotism. To arrive at such a result, what must be done? One must receive from the people alone all his power and all his rights."

The man who should undertake in this way to overthrow an established government, must of course peril his life. If unsuccessful, he could anticipate no mercy. Hortense perceived with anxiety that the mind of her son was intensely absorbed in thoughts which he did not reveal to her. On the morning of the 25th of October, 1836, Louis Napoleon bade adieu to his mother, and left Arenemberg in his private carriage, ostensibly to visit friends at Baden. A few days after, Hortense was plunged into the deepest distress by the reception of the following letter:

MY DEAR MOTHER,—You must have been very anxious in receiving no tidings from me—you who believed me to be with my cousin. But your inquietude will be redoubled when you learn that I made an attempt at Strasburg, which has failed. I am in prison, with several other officers. It is for them only that I suffer. As for myself, in commencing such an enterprise, I was prepared for every thing. Do not weep, mother. I am the victim of a noble cause, of a cause entirely French. Hereafter justice will be rendered me and I shall be commiserated.

"Yesterday morning I presented myself before the Fourth Artillery, and was received with cries of Vive l'Empereur! For a time all went well. The Forty-sixth resisted. We were captured in the court-yard of their barracks. Happily no French blood was shed. This consoles me in my calamity. Courage, my mother! I shall know how to support, even to the end, the honor of the name I bear. Adieu! Do not uselessly mourn my lot. Life is but a little thing. Honor and France are every thing to me. I embrace you with my whole heart. Your tender and respectful son,

"Strasburg, November 1, 1836."

Hortense immediately hastened to France, to do whatever a mother's love and anguish could accomplish for the release of her son, though in crossing the frontiers she knew that she exposed herself to the penalty of death. Apprehensive lest her presence in Paris might irritate the Government, she stopped at Viry, at the house of the Duchess de Raguse. Madame Récamier repaired at once to Viry to see Hortense, where she found her in great agony. Soon, however, a mother's fears were partially relieved, as the Government of Louis Philippe, knowing the universal enthusiasm with which the Emperor and the Empire were regarded, did not dare to bring the young prince to trial, or even to allow it to be known that he was upon the soil of France. With the utmost precipitation they secretly hurried their prisoner through France, by day and by night, to the seaboard, where he was placed on board a frigate, whose captain had sealed instructions respecting the destination of his voyage, which he was not to open until he had been several days at sea.

Poor Hortense, utterly desolate and heart-broken, returned to Arenemberg. She knew that the life of her son had been spared, and that he was to be transported to some distant land. But she knew not where he would be sent, or what would be his destiny there. It is however probable that ere long she learned, through her numerous friends, what were the designs of the Government respecting him. She however never saw her son again until, upon a dying bed, she gave him her last embrace and blessing. The hurried journey, and the terrible anxiety caused by the arrest and peril of her son, inflicted a blow upon Hortense from which she never recovered. Weary months passed away in the solitude of Arenemberg, until at last the heart-stricken mother received a package of letters from the exile. As the narrative contained in these letters throws very interesting light upon the character of the mother as well as of the son, we shall insert it in the next chapter.