Josephine - John S. C. Abbott
Allusion has already been made to the strong attachment with which Napoleon cherished his little grandchild, the son of Hortense and of his brother Louis. The boy was extremely beautiful, and developed all those noble and spirited traits of character which peculiarly delighted the emperor. Napoleon had apparently determined to make the young prince his heir. This was so generally the understanding, both in France and in Holland, that Josephine was quite at ease, and serene days dawned again upon her heart.
Early in the spring of 1807, this child, upon whom such destinies were depending, then five years of age, was seized suddenly and violently with the croup, and in a few hours died. The blow fell upon the heart of Josephine with most appalling power. Deep as was her grief at the loss of the child, she was overwhelmed with uncontrollable anguish in view of those fearful consequences which she shuddered to contemplate. She knew that Napoleon loved her fondly, but she also knew the strength of his ambition, and that he would make any sacrifice of his affection, which, in his view, would subserve the interests of his power and his glory. For three days she shut herself up in her room, and was continually bathed in tears.
The sad intelligence was conveyed to Napoleon when he was far from home, in the midst of the Prussian campaign. He had been victorious, almost miraculously victorious, over his enemies. He had gained accessions of power such as, in the wildest dreams of youth, he had hardly imagined. All opposition to his sway was now apparently crushed. Napoleon had become the creator of kings, and the proudest monarchs of Europe were constrained to do his bidding. It was in an hour of exultation that the mournful tidings reached him. He sat down in silence, buried his face in his hands, and for a long time seemed lost in the most painful musings. He was heard mournfully and anxiously to repeat to himself again and again, "To whom shall I leave all this?" The struggle in his mind between his love for Josephine and his ambitious desire to found a new dynasty, and to transmit his name and fame to all posterity, was fearful. It was manifest in his pallid cheek, in his restless eye, in the loss of appetite and of sleep. But the stern will of Bonaparte was unrelenting in its purposes. With an energy which the world has never seen surpassed, he had chosen his part. It was the purpose of his soul—the purpose before which every thing had to bend—to acquire the glory of making France the most illustrious, powerful, and happy nation earth had ever seen. For this he was ready to sacrifice comfort, ease, and his sense of right. For this he was ready to sunder the strongest ties of affection.
Josephine knew Napoleon. She was fully aware of his boundless ambition. With almost insupportable anguish she wept over the death of this idolized child, and, with a trembling heart, awaited her husband's return. Mysterious hints began to fill the journals of the contemplated divorce, and of the alliance of Napoleon with various princesses of foreign courts.
In October, 1807, Napoleon returned from Vienna. He greeted Josephine with the greatest kindness, but she soon perceived that his mind was ill at ease, and that he was pondering the fearful question. He appeared sad and embarrassed. He had frequent private interviews with his ministers. A general feeling of constraint pervaded the court. Napoleon scarcely ventured to look upon his wife, as if apprehensive that the very sight of one whom he had loved so well might cause him to waver in his firm purpose. Josephine was in a state of the most feverish solicitude, and yet was compelled to appear calm and unconstrained. As yet she had only fearful forebodings of her impending doom. She watched, with most excited apprehension, every movement of the emperor's eye, every intonation of his voice, every sentiment he uttered. Each day some new and trivial indication confirmed her fears. Her husband became more reserved, absented himself from her society, and the private access between their apartments was closed. He now seldom entered her room, and whenever he did so, he invariably knocked. And yet not one word had passed between him and Josephine upon the fearful subject. Whenever Josephine heard the sound of his approaching footsteps, the fear that he was coming with the terrible announcement of separation immediately caused such violent palpitations of the heart that it was with the utmost difficulty she could totter across the floor, even when supporting herself by leaning against the walls, and catching at the articles of furniture.
The months of October and November passed away, and, while the emperor was discussing with his cabinet the alliance into which he should enter, he had not yet summoned courage to break the subject to Josephine. The evidence is indubitable that he experienced intense anguish in view of the separation, but this did not influence his iron will to swerve from its purpose. The grandeur of his fame and the magnitude of his power were now such, that there was not a royal family in Europe which would not have felt honored in conferring upon him a bride. It was at first contemplated that he should marry some princess of the Bourbon family, and thus add to the stability of his throne by conciliating the Royalists of France. A princess of Saxony was proposed. Some weighty considerations urged an alliance with the majestic empire of Russia, and some advances were made to the court of St. Petersburgh, having in view a sister of the Emperor Alexander. It was finally decided that proposals should be made to the court of Vienna for Maria Louisa, daughter of the Emperor of Austria.
At length the fatal day arrived for the announcement to Josephine. It was the last day of November, 1809. The emperor and empress dined at Fontainebleau alone. She seems to have had a presentiment that her doom was sealed, for all that day she had been in her retired apartment, weeping bitterly. As the dinner-hour approached, she bathed her swollen eyes, and tried to regain composure. They sat down at the table in silence. Napoleon did not speak. Josephine could not trust her voice to utter a word. Neither ate a mouthful. Course after course was brought in and removed untouched. A mortal paleness revealed the anguish of each heart. Napoleon, in his embarrassment, mechanically, and apparently unconsciously, struck the edge of his glass with his knife, while lost in thought. A more melancholy meal probably was never witnessed. The attendants around the table seemed to catch the infection, and moved softly and silently in the discharge of their duties, as if they were in the chamber of the dead. At last the ceremony of dinner was over, the attendants were dismissed, and Napoleon, rising, and closing the door with his own hand, was left alone with Josephine. Another moment of most painful silence ensued, when the emperor, pale as death, and trembling in every nerve, approached the empress. He took her hand, placed it upon his heart, and in faltering accents said, "Josephine! my own good Josephine! you know how I have loved you. It is to you alone that I owe the only few moments of happiness I have known in the world. Josephine! my destiny is stronger than my will. My dearest affections must yield to the interests of France."
Josephine's brain reeled; her blood ceased to circulate; she fainted, and fell lifeless upon the floor. Napoleon, alarmed, threw open the door of the saloon, and called for help. Attendants from the ante-room immediately entered. Napoleon took a taper from the mantel, and uttering not a word, but pale and trembling, motioned to the Count de Beaumont to take the empress in his arms. She was still unconscious of every thing, but began to murmur, in tones of anguish, "Oh, no! you can not surely do it. You would not kill me." The emperor led the way, through a dark passage, to the private staircase which conducted to the apartment of the empress. The agitation of Napoleon seemed now to increase. He uttered some incoherent sentences about a violent nervous attack; and, finding the stairs too steep and narrow for the Count de Beaumont to bear the body of the helpless Josephine unassisted, he gave the light to an attendant, and, supporting her limbs himself, they reached the door of her bed-room. Napoleon then, dismissing his male attendants, and laying Josephine upon her bed, rang for her waiting-women. He hung over her with an expression of the most intense affection and anxiety until she began to revive. But the moment consciousness seemed returning, he left the room. Napoleon did not even throw himself upon his bed that night. He paced the floor until the dawn of the morning. The royal surgeon, Corvisart, passed the night at the bed-side of the empress. Every hour the restless yet unrelenting emperor called at her door to inquire concerning her situation. "On recovering from my swoon," says Josephine, "I perceived that Corvisart was in attendance, and my poor daughter, Hortense, weeping over me. No! no! I can not describe the horror of my situation during that night! Even the interest he affected to take in my sufferings seemed to me additional cruelty. Oh! how much reason had I to dread becoming an empress!"
A fortnight now passed away, during which Napoleon and Josephine saw but little of each other. During this time there occurred the anniversary of the coronation, and of the victory of Austerlitz. Paris was filled with rejoicing. The bells rang their merriest peals. The metropolis was refulgent with illuminations. In these festivities Josephine was compelled to appear. She knew that the sovereigns and princes then assembled in Paris were informed of her approaching disgrace. In all these sounds of triumph she heard but the knell of her own doom. And though a careful observer would have detected indications, in her moistened eye and her pallid cheek, of the secret woe which was consuming her heart, her habitual affability and grace never, in public, for one moment forsook her. Hortense, languid and sorrow-stricken, was with her mother.
Eugene was summoned from Italy. He hastened to Paris, and his first interview was with his mother. From her saloon he went directly to the cabinet of Napoleon, and inquired of the emperor if he had decided to obtain a divorce from the empress. Napoleon, who was very strongly attached to Eugene, made no reply, but pressed his hand as an expression that it was so. Eugene immediately dropped the hand of the emperor, and said,
"Sire, in that case, permit me to withdraw from your service."
"How!" exclaimed Napoleon, looking upon him sadly; "will you, Eugene, my adopted son, leave me?"
"Yes, sire," Eugene replied, firmly; "the son of her who is no longer empress can not remain viceroy. I will follow my mother into her retreat. She must now find her consolation in her children."
Napoleon was not without feelings. Tears filled his eyes. In a mournful voice, tremulous with emotion, he replied, "Eugene, you know the stern necessity which compels this measure, and will you forsake me? Who, then, should I have a son, the object of my desires and preserver of my interests, who would watch over the child when I am absent? If I die, who will prove to him a father? Who will bring him up? Who is to make a man of him?"
Eugene was deeply affected, and, taking Napoleon's arm, they retired and conversed a long time together. The noble Josephine, ever sacrificing her own feelings to promote the happiness of others, urged her son to remain the friend of Napoleon. "The emperor," she said, "is your benefactor—your more than father, to whom you are indebted for every thing, and to whom, therefore, you owe a boundless obedience."
The fatal day for the consummation of the divorce at length arrived. It was the 15th of December, 1809. Napoleon had assembled all the kings, princes, and princesses who were members of the imperial family, and also the most illustrious officers of the empire, in the grand saloon of the Tuilleries. Every individual present was oppressed with the melancholy grandeur of the occasion. Napoleon thus addressed them:
"The political interests of my monarchy, the wishes of my people, which have constantly guided my actions, require that I should transmit to an heir, inheriting my love for the people, the throne on which Providence has placed me. For many years I have lost all hopes of having children by my beloved spouse, the Empress Josephine. It is this consideration which induces me to sacrifice the sweetest affections of my heart, to consult only the good of my subjects, and to desire the dissolution of our marriage. Arrived at the age of forty years, I may indulge a reasonable hope of living long enough to rear, in the spirit of my own thoughts and disposition, the children with which it may please Providence to bless me. God knows what such a determination has cost my heart; but there is no sacrifice which is above my courage, when it is proved to be for the interests of France. Far from having any cause of complaint, I have nothing to say but in praise of the attachment and tenderness of my beloved wife. She has embellished fifteen years of my life, and the remembrance of them will be forever engraven on my heart. She was crowned by my hand; she shall retain always the rank and title of empress. Above all, let her never doubt my feelings, or regard me but as her best and dearest friend."
Josephine, her eyes filled with tears, with a faltering voice, replied, "I respond to all the sentiments of the emperor in consenting to the dissolution of a marriage which henceforth is an obstacle to the happiness of France, by depriving it of the blessing of being one day governed by the descendants of that great man who was evidently raised up by Providence to efface the evils of a terrible revolution, and to restore the altar, and the throne, and social order. But his marriage will in no respect change the sentiments of my heart. The emperor will ever find in me his best friend. I know what this act, commanded by policy and exalted interests, has cost his heart, but we both glory in the sacrifices we make for the good of the country. I feel elevated in giving the greatest proof of attachment and devotion that was ever given upon earth."
Such were the sentiments which were expressed in public; but in private Josephine surrendered herself to the unrestrained dominion of her anguish. No language can depict the intensity of her woe. For six months she wept so incessantly that her eyes were nearly blinded with grief. Upon the ensuing day the council were again assembled in the grand saloon, to witness the legal consummation of the divorce. The emperor entered the room dressed in the imposing robes of state, but pallid, careworn, and wretched. Low tones of voice, harmonizing with the mournful scene, filled the room. Napoleon, apart by himself, leaned against a pillar, folded his arms upon his breast, and, in perfect silence, apparently lost in gloomy thought, remained motionless as a statue. A circular table was placed in the center of the apartment, and upon this there was a writing apparatus of gold. A vacant arm-chair stood before the table. Never did a multitude gaze upon the scaffold, the block, or the guillotine with more awe than the assembled lords and ladies in this gorgeous saloon contemplated these instruments of a more dreadful execution.
At length the mournful silence was interrupted by the opening of a side door and the entrance of Josephine. The pallor of death was upon her brow, and the submission of despair nerved her into a temporary calmness. She was leaning upon the arm of Hortense, who, not possessing the fortitude of her mother, was entirely unable to control her feelings. The sympathetic daughter, immediately upon entering into the room, burst into tears, and continued sobbing most convulsively during the whole remaining scene. The assembly respectfully arose upon the entrance of Josephine, and all were moved to tears. With that grace which ever distinguished her movements, she advanced silently to the seat provided for her. Sitting down, and leaning her forehead upon her hand, she listened to the reading of the act of separation. Nothing disturbed the sepulchral silence of the scene but the convulsive sobbings of Hortense, blending with the mournful tones of the reader's voice. Eugene, in the mean time, pale and trembling as an aspen leaf, had taken a position by the side of his mother. Silent tears were trickling down the cheeks of the empress.
As soon as the reading of the act of separation was finished, Josephine for a moment pressed her handkerchief to her weeping eyes, and then, rising, in clear and musical, but tremulous tones, pronounced the oath of acceptance. She then sat down, took the pen, and affixed her signature to the deed which sundered the dearest hopes and the fondest ties which human hearts can feel. Poor Eugene could endure this anguish no longer. His brain reeled, his heart ceased to beat, and he fell lifeless upon the floor. Josephine and Hortense retired with the attendants who bore out the insensible form of the affectionate son and brother. It was a fitting termination of this mournful but sublime tragedy.
But the anguish of the day was not yet closed. Josephine, half delirious with grief, had another scene still more painful to pass through in taking a final adieu of him who had been her husband. She remained in her chamber, in heart-rending, speechless grief, until the hour arrived in which Napoleon usually retired for the night. The emperor, restless and wretched, had just placed himself in the bed from which he had ejected his most faithful and devoted wife, and the attendant was on the point of leaving the room, when the private door of his chamber was slowly opened, and Josephine tremblingly entered. Her eyes were swollen with grief, her hair disheveled, and she appeared in all the dishabille of unutterable anguish. She tottered into the middle of the room, and approached the bed; then, irresolutely stopping, she buried her face in her hands, and burst into a flood of tears. A feeling of delicacy seemed for a moment to have arrested her steps—a consciousness that she had now no right to enter the chamber of Napoleon; but in another moment all the pent-up love of her heart burst forth, and, forgetting every thing in the fullness of her anguish, she threw herself upon the bed, clasped Napoleon's neck in her arms, and exclaiming, "My husband! my husband!" sobbed as though her heart were breaking. The imperial spirit of Napoleon was for the moment entirely vanquished, and he also wept almost convulsively. He assured Josephine of his love—of his ardent and undying love. In every way he tried to soothe and comfort her, and for some time they remained locked in each other's embrace. The attendant was dismissed, and for an hour they continued together in this last private interview. Josephine then, in the experience of an intensity of anguish which few hearts have ever known, parted forever from the husband whom she had so long, so fondly, and so faithfully loved.
After the empress had retired, with a desolated heart, to her chamber of unnatural widowhood, the attendant entered the apartment of Napoleon to remove the lights. He found the emperor so buried beneath the bed-clothes as to be invisible. Not a word was uttered. The lights were removed, and the unhappy monarch was left in darkness and silence to the dreadful companionship of his own thoughts. The next morning the death-like pallor of his cheek, his sunken eye, and the haggard expression of his countenance, attested that the emperor had passed the night in sleeplessness and suffering.
Great as was the wrong which Napoleon thus inflicted upon the noble Josephine, every one must be sensible of a certain kind of grandeur which pervades the tragedy. When we contemplate the brutal butcheries of Henry VIII., as wife after wife was compelled to place her head upon the block, merely to afford room for the indulgence of his vagrant passions; when we contemplate George IV., by neglect and inhumanity driving Caroline to desperation and to crime, and polluting the ear of the world with the revolting story of sin and shame; when we contemplate the Bourbons, generation after generation, rioting in voluptuousness, in utter disregard of all the laws of God and man, while we can not abate one iota of our condemnation of the great wrong which Napoleon perpetrated, we feel that it becomes the monarchies of Europe to be sparing in their condemnation.
The beautiful palace of Malmaison, which Napoleon had embellished with every possible attraction, and where the emperor and empress had passed many of their happiest hours, was assigned to Josephine for her future residence. Napoleon settled upon her a jointure of about six hundred thousand dollars a year. She was still to retain the title and the rank of Empress-Queen.
The ensuing day, at eleven o'clock, all the household of the Tuilleries were assembled upon the grand staircase and in the vestibule, to witness the departure of their beloved mistress from scenes where she had so long been the brightest ornament. Josephine descended, veiled from head to foot. Her emotions were too deep for utterance, and she waved an adieu to the affectionate and weeping friends who surrounded her. A close carriage, with six horses, was before the door. She entered it, sank back upon the cushions, buried her face in her handkerchief, and, sobbing bitterly, left the Tuilleries forever.
Josephine was still surrounded with all the external splendors of royalty. She was beloved throughout France, and admired throughout Europe. Napoleon frequently called upon her, though, from motives of delicacy, he never saw her alone. He consulted her respecting all his plans, and most assiduously cherished her friendship. It was soon manifest that the surest way of securing the favor of Napoleon was to pay marked attention to Josephine. The palace of Malmaison, consequently, became the favorite resort of all the members of the court of Napoleon. Soon after the divorce, Madame de Rochefoucault, formerly mistress of the robes to Josephine, deserting the forsaken empress, applied for the same post of honor in the household of Maria Louisa. Napoleon, when he heard of the application, promptly and indignantly replied, "She shall neither retain her old situation nor have the new one. I am accused of ungrateful conduct toward Josephine, but I do not choose to have any imitators, more especially among those whom she has honored with her confidence, and overwhelmed with benefits."
Josephine remained for some time at Malmaison. In deeds of kindness to the poor who surrounded her, in reading, and in receiving, with the utmost elegance of hospitality, the members of the court of Napoleon, who were ever crowding her saloons, she gradually regained her equanimity of spirit, and surrendered herself entirely to a quiet and pensive submission. Napoleon frequently called to see her, and, taking her arm, he would walk for hours, most confidentially unfolding to her all his plans. He seemed to desire to do every thing in his power to alleviate the intensity of anguish with which he had wrung her heart. His own affections clung still to Josephine, and her lovely and noble character commanded, increasingly, his homage. The empress was very methodical in all her arrangements, allotting to each hour its appointed duty. The description of the routine of any one day would answer about equally well for all.
Ten o'clock in the morning was the reception hour. These morning parties, attended by the most distinguished members of Parisian society, none appearing except in uniform or in court costume, were always very brilliant. Some ten or twelve of the visitors were always previously invited to remain to breakfast. At eleven o'clock they passed from the saloon to the breakfast-room, the empress leading, followed by her court according to their rank, she naming those who were to sit on her right and left. The repast, both at breakfast and dinner, ordinarily consisted of one course only, every thing excepting the dessert being placed upon the table at once. The empress had five attendants, who stood behind her chair; all the guests who sat down with her had one each. Seven officials of different ranks served at the table. The breakfast usually occupied three quarters of an hour, when the empress, with her ladies and guests, adjourned to the gallery, which contained the choicest specimens of painting and sculpture which the genius of Napoleon could select. The prospect from the gallery was very commanding, and, in entire freedom from constraint, all could find pleasant employment. Some examined with delight the varied works of art; some, in the embrasures of the windows, looked out upon the lovely scenery, and in subdued tones of voice engaged in conversation; while the chamberlain in attendance read aloud from some useful and entertaining volume to Josephine, and those who wished to listen with her. At two o'clock the arrival of the carriages at the door was the signal for the visitors to depart. Three open carriages, when the weather permitted, were always provided, each drawn by four horses. Madame d'Arberg, the lady of honor, one of the ladies in waiting, and some distinguished guest, accompanied the empress. Two hours were spent in riding, visiting improvements, and conversing freely with the various employees on the estate. The party then returned to the palace, and all disposed of their time as they pleased until six o'clock, the hour of dinner. From twelve to fifteen strangers were always invited to dine. After dinner the evening was devoted to relaxation, conversation, backgammon, and other games. The young ladies, of whom there were always many whom Josephine retained around her, usually, in the course of the evening, withdrew from the drawing-room to a smaller saloon opening from it, where, with unrestrained glee, they engaged in mirthful sports, or, animated by the music of the piano, mingled in the dance. Sometimes, in the buoyancy of youthful joy, they forgot the demands of etiquette, and somewhat incommoded, by their merry laughter, the more grave company in the grand apartment. The lady of honor would, on such occasions, hint at the necessity of repressing the mirth. Josephine would invariably interpose in their behalf. "My dear Madame d'Arberg," she would say, "suffer both them and us to enjoy, while we may, all that innocent happiness which comes from the heart, and which penetrates the heart." At eleven o'clock, tea, ices, and sweetmeats were served, and then the visitors took their leave. Josephine sat up an hour later conversing most freely and confidentially with those friends who were especially dear to her, and about midnight retired.
In the month of March, 1810, Maria Louisa arrived in Paris, and her marriage with Napoleon was celebrated with the utmost splendor at St. Cloud. All France resounded with rejoicing as Napoleon led his youthful bride into the Tuilleries, from whence, but three months before, Josephine had been so cruelly ejected. The booming of the cannon, the merry pealing of the bells, the acclamations of the populace, fell heavily upon the heart of Josephine. She tried to conceal her anguish, but her pallid cheek and swimming eye revealed the severity of her sufferings.
Napoleon continued, however, the frequency of his correspondence, and, notwithstanding the jealousy of Maria Louisa, did not at all intermit his visits. In a little more than a year after his marriage the King of Rome was born. The evening in which Josephine received the tidings of his birth, she wrote an affectionate and touching letter to Napoleon, congratulating him upon the event. This letter reveals so conspicuously the magnanimity of her principles, and yet the feminine tenderness of her bleeding heart, that we can not refrain from inserting it. It was dated at Navarre, at midnight, the 20th of March, 1811.
"SIRE,—Amid the numerous felicitations which you receive from every corner of Europe, from all the cities of France, and from each regiment of your army, can the feeble voice of a woman reach your ear, and will you deign to listen to her who so often consoled your sorrows, and sweetened your pains, now that she speaks to you only of that happiness in which all your wishes are fulfilled? Having ceased to be your wife, dare I felicitate you on becoming a father? Yes, sire, without hesitation, for my soul renders justice to yours, in like manner as you know mine. I can conceive every emotion you must experience, as you divine all that I feel at this moment, and, though separated, we are united by that sympathy which survives all events.
"I should have desired to have learned the birth of the King of Rome from yourself, and not from the sound of the cannon of Evreux, or from the courier of the prefect. I know, however, that, in preference to all, your first attentions are due to the public authorities of the state, to the foreign ministers, to your family, and especially to the fortunate princess who has realized your dearest hopes. She can not be more tenderly devoted to you than I am. But she has been enabled to contribute more toward your happiness by securing that of France. She has, then, a right to your first feelings, to all your cares, and I who was but your companion in times of difficulty—I can not ask more than for a place in your affections far removed from that occupied by the empress, Maria Louisa. Not till you have ceased to watch by her bed—not till you are weary of embracing your son, will you take the pen to converse with your best friend. I will wait.
"Meanwhile, it is not possible for me to delay telling you that, more than any one in the world, do I rejoice in your joy. And you will not doubt my sincerity when I here say that, far from feeling an affliction at a sacrifice necessary for the repose of all, I congratulate myself on having made it, since I now suffer alone. But I am wrong; I do not suffer while you are happy, and I have but one regret, in not having yet done enough to prove how dear you were to me. I have no account of the health of the empress. I dare to depend upon you, sire, so far as to hope that I shall have circumstantial details of the great event which secures the perpetuity of the name you have so nobly illustrated. Eugene and Hortense will write me, imparting their own satisfaction; but it is from you that I desire to know if your child be well, if he resembles you, if I shall one day be permitted to see him. In short, I expect from you unlimited confidence, and upon such I have some claims, in consideration, sire, of the boundless attachment I shall cherish for you while life remains."
She had but just dispatched this letter to Napoleon, when the folding-doors were thrown open with much state, and the announcement, "From the emperor," ushered in a page, the bearer of a letter. The fragile and beautiful youth, whom Josephine immediately recognized, had so carefully secured the emperor's billet, from fear of losing it, that it took some time for him, in his slight embarrassment, to extricate it. Josephine was almost nervously excited till she received the note, and immediately retired with it to her own private apartment. Half an hour elapsed before she again made her appearance. Her whole countenance attested the intensity of the conflicting emotions with which her soul had been agitated. Her eyes were swollen with weeping, and the billet, which she still held in her hand, was blurred with her tears. She gave the page a letter to the emperor in reply, and then presented him, as an acknowledgment of her appreciation of the tidings he had brought, with a small morocco case, containing a diamond breastpin, and a thousand dollars in gold.
She then, with a tremulous voice, and smiling through her tears, read the emperor's note to her friends. The concluding words of the note were, "This infant, in concert with our Eugene, will constitute my happiness and that of France." As Josephine read these words with emphasis, she exclaimed, "Is it possible to be more amiable! Could any thing be better calculated to soothe whatever might be painful in my thoughts at this moment, did I not so sincerely love the emperor? This uniting of my son with his own is indeed worthy of him who, when he wills, is the most delightful of men. This is it which has so much moved me."
The emperor often afterward called upon her. He soon, notwithstanding the jealousy of Maria Louisa, arranged a plan by which he presented to Josephine, in his own arms, the idolized child. These interviews, so gratifying to Josephine, took place at the Royal Pavilion, near Paris, Napoleon and Madame Montesquieu, governess to the young prince, being the only confidants. In one of Josephine's letters to Napoleon, she says, "The moment I saw you enter, leading the young Napoleon in your hand, was unquestionably one of the happiest of my life. It effaced, for a time, the recollection of all that had preceded it, for never have I received from you a more touching mark of affection."
The apartment at Malmaison which Napoleon had formerly occupied remained exactly as it was when he last left it. Josephine herself kept the key, and dusted the room with her own hands. She would not permit a single article of furniture to be moved. The book he was last reading lay open upon the table, the map he was consulting, the pen with which he wrote, the articles of clothing which he had left in his accustomed disorder, all remained untouched. Josephine's bed-chamber was very simply furnished with white muslin drapery, the only ornament being the golden toilet service which she had received from the municipality of Paris, and which, with characteristic generosity, she refused to consider as her own private property until Napoleon sent it to her. The following letter from Josephine, written at this time, pleasingly illustrates her literary polish and the refinement of her taste. It was addressed to the superintendent, ordering some alterations at Malmaison.
"Profit by my absence, dear F., and make haste to dismantel the pavilion of the acacias, and to transfer my boudoir into that of the orangery. I should wish the first apartment of the suite, and which serves for an ante-room, to be painted with light green, with a border of lilachs. In the center of the panels you will place my fine engravings from Esther, and under each of these a portrait of the distinguished generals of the Revolution. In the center of the apartment there must be a large flower-stand, constantly filled with fresh flowers in their season, and in each angle a bust of a French philosopher. I particularly mention that of Rousseau, which place between the two windows, so that the vines and foliage may play around his head. This will be a natural crown worthy of the author of Emile. As to my private cabinet, let it be colored light blue, with a border of ranunculus and polyanthus. Ten large engravings from the Gallery of the Musee, and twenty medallions, will fill up the panels. Let the casements be painted white and green, with double fillets, gilded. My piano, a green sofa, and two couches with corresponding covers, a secretaire, a small bureau, and a large toilet-glass, are articles you will not forget. In the center, place a large table, always covered with freshly-gathered flowers, and upon the mantel-shelf a simple pendule, two alabaster vases, and double-branched girandoles. Unite elegance to variety, but no profusion. Nothing is more opposed to good taste. In short, I confide to you the care of rendering this cherished spot an agreeable retreat, where I may meditate, sleep it may be, but oftenest read, which last is sufficient to remind you of three hundred volumes of my small edition."
When Josephine first retired to Malmaison, where every thing reminded her of the emperor, her grief for many months continued unabated. To divert her attention, Napoleon conferred upon her the palace of Navarre. This was formerly a royal residence, and was renowned for its magnificent park. During the Revolution it had become much dilapidated. The elegant chateau was situated in the midst of the romantic forest of Evreux. The spacious grounds were embellished by parks, whose venerable trees had withstood the storms of centuries, and by beautiful streams and crystal lakes. The emperor gave Josephine nearly three hundred thousand dollars to repair the buildings and the grounds. The taste of Josephine soon converted the scene into almost a terrestrial Eden, and Navarre, being far more retired than Malmaison, became her favorite residence.
Soon after Josephine had taken up her residence at Navarre, she wrote the following letter to Napoleon, which pleasingly illustrates the cordiality of friendship which still existed between them.
"SIRE,—I received this morning the welcome note which was written on the eve of your departure for St. Cloud, and hasten to reply to its tender and affectionate contents. These, indeed, do not in themselves surprise me, but only as being received so early as fifteen days after my establishment here, so perfectly assured was I that your attachment would search out the means of consoling me under a separation necessary to the tranquillity of both. The thought that your care follows me into my retreat renders it almost agreeable.
"After having known all the rapture of a love that is shared, and all the suffering of a love that is shared no longer—after having exhausted all the pleasures that supreme power can confer, and all the happiness of beholding the man whom I loved enthusiastically admired, is there aught else, save repose, to be desired? What illusions can now remain for me? All such vanished when it became necessary to renounce you. Thus the only ties which yet bind me to life are my sentiments for you, attachment for my children, the possibility of still being able to do some good, and, above all, the assurance that you are happy. Do not, then, condole with me on my being here, distant from a court, which you appear to think I regret. Surrounded by those who are attached to me, free to follow my taste for the arts, I find myself better at Navarre than any where else, for I enjoy more completely the society of the former, and form a thousand projects which may prove useful to the latter, and which will embellish the scenes I owe to your bounty. There is much to be done here, for all around are discovered the traces of destruction. These I would efface, that there may exist no memorial of those horrible inflictions which your genius has taught the nation almost to forget. In repairing whatever these ruffians of revolution labored to annihilate, I shall diffuse comfort around me, and the benedictions of the poor will afford me infinitely more pleasure than the feigned adulation of courtiers.
"I have already told you what I think of the functionaries in this department, but have not spoken sufficiently of the respectable bishop, M. Bourlier. Every day I learn some new trait which causes me still more highly to esteem the man who unites the most enlightened benevolence with the most amiable disposition. He shall be intrusted with distributing my alms-deeds in Evreux, and, as he visits the indigent himself, I shall be assured that my charities are properly bestowed.
"I can not sufficiently thank you, sire, for the liberty you have permitted me of choosing the members of my household, all of whom contribute to the pleasure of a delightful society. One circumstance alone gives me pain, namely, the etiquette of costume, which becomes a little tiresome in the country. You fear that there may be something wanting to the rank I have preserved should a slight infraction be allowed to the toilet of these gentlemen; but I believe that you are wrong in thinking they would for one moment forget the respect due to the woman who was once your companion. Their respect for yourself, joined to the sincere attachment they bear to me, which I can not doubt, secures me from the danger of ever being obliged to recall what it is your wish that they should remember. My most honorable title is derived, not from having been crowned, but assuredly from having been chosen by you. None other is of value. That alone suffices for my immortality.
"My circle is at this time somewhat more numerous than usual, there being several visitors, besides many of the inhabitants of Evreux and the environs, whom I see of course. I am pleased with their manners, with their admiration of you, a particular in which you know that I am not easily satisfied. In short, I find myself perfectly at home in the midst of my forest, and entreat you, sire, no longer to fancy to yourself that there is no living at a distance from court. Besides you, there is nothing there which I regret, since I shall have my children with me soon, and already enjoy the society of the small number of friends who remained faithful to me. Do not forget your friend. Tell her sometimes that you preserve for her an attachment which constitutes the felicity of her life. Often repeat to her that you are happy, and be assured that for her the future will thus be peaceful, as the past has been stormy, and often sad."
Just before Napoleon set out on his fatal campaign to Russia, he called to see Josephine. Seated upon a circular bench in the garden, before the windows of the saloon, where they could both be seen but not overheard, they continued for two hours engaged most earnestly in conversation. Josephine was apparently endeavoring to dissuade him from the perilous enterprise. His perfect confidence, however seemed to assure her that her apprehensions were groundless. At last he arose and kissed her hand. She accompanied him to his carriage, and bade him adieu. This was their last interview but one. Soon Napoleon returned, a fugitive from Moscow. Days of disaster were darkening around his path. All Europe had risen in arms against him, and were on the march toward his capital. In the midst of the terror of those dreadful days, he sought a hurried interview with his most faithful friend. It was their last meeting. As he was taking his leave of Josephine, at the close of this short and melancholy visit, he gazed upon her a moment in silence, tenderly and sadly, and then said, "Josephine! I have been as fortunate as was ever man on the face of this earth. But, in this hour, when a storm is gathering over my head, I have not, in this wide world, any one but you upon whom I can repose."
In the fearful conflict which ensued—the most terrible which history has recorded—Napoleon's thoughts ever reverted to the wife of his youth. He kept up an almost daily correspondence with her, informing her of the passing of events. His letters, written in the midst of all the confusion of the camp, were more affectionate and confiding than ever. Adversity had softened his heart. In these dark days, when, with most Herculean power, he was struggling against fearful odds, and his throne was crumbling beneath his feet, it was observed that a letter from Josephine was rather torn than broken open, so great was the eagerness of Napoleon to receive a line from her. Wherever he was, however great the emergency in which he was placed, the moment a courier brought to him a letter from Josephine, all other business was laid aside until it had been read.
The allied armies were every day approaching nearer and nearer to Paris, and Josephine was overwhelmed with grief in contemplating the disasters which were falling upon Napoleon. At Malmaison, Josephine and the ladies of her court were employed in forming bandages and scraping lint for the innumerable wounded who filled the hospitals. The conflicting armies approached so near to Malmaison that it became dangerous for Josephine to remain there, and, in great apprehension, she one morning, at eight o'clock, took her carriage for Navarre. Two or three times on the road she was alarmed by the cry, "Cossacks! Cossacks!" When she had proceeded about thirty miles, the pole of her carriage broke, and at the same time a troop of horsemen appeared in the distance, riding down upon her. They were French hussars; but Josephine thought that they were either Cossacks or Prussians, and, though the rain was falling in torrents, in her terror she leaped from the carriage, and began to fly across the fields. She had proceeded some distance before her attendants discovered the mistake. The carriage being repaired, she proceeded the rest of her way unmolested. The empress hardly uttered a word during this melancholy journey, but upon entering the palace she threw herself upon a couch, exclaiming, "Surely, surely Bonaparte is ignorant of what is passing within sight of the gates of Paris, or, if he knows, how cruel the thoughts which must now agitate his breast! Oh! if he had listened to me."
Josephine remained for some days at Navarre, in a state of most painful anguish respecting the fate of the emperor. She allowed herself no relaxation, excepting a solitary ride each morning in the park, and another short ride after dinner with one of her ladies. The Emperor Alexander had immediately sent a guard of honor to protect Josephine from all intrusion. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were swarming in all directions, and every dwelling was filled with terror and distraction. One melancholy incident we will record, illustrative of hundreds which might be narrated. Lord Londonderry, in the midst of a bloody skirmish, saw a young and beautiful French lady, the wife of a colonel, in a caleche, seized by three brutal Russian soldiers, who were carrying off, into the fields, their frantic and shrieking victim. The gallant Englishman, sword in hand, rushed forward for her deliverance from his barbarian allies. He succeeded in rescuing her, and, in the confusion of the battle still raging, ordered a dragoon to take her to his own quarters till she could be provided with suitable protection. The dragoon took the lady, half dead with terror, upon his horse behind him, and was galloping with her to a place of safety, when another ruffian band of Cossacks surrounded him, pierced his body with their sabers, and seized again the unhappy victim. She was never heard of more. The Emperor Alexander was greatly distressed at her fate, and made the utmost, though unavailing efforts to discover what had become of her. The revelations of the last day alone can divulge the horrors of this awful tragedy.
The grief of Josephine in these days of anxiety was intense in the extreme. She passed her whole time in talking about Napoleon, or in reading the letters she had lately received from him. He wrote frequently, as he escaped from place to place, but many of his letters were intercepted by the bands of soldiers traversing every road. The last she had received from him was dated at Brienne. It gave an account of a desperate engagement, in which the little band of Napoleon had been overwhelmed by numbers, and was concluded with the following affecting words: "On beholding those scenes where I had passed my boyhood, and comparing my peaceful condition then with the agitation and terrors which I now experience, I several times said, in my own mind, I have sought to meet death in many conflicts; I can no longer fear it. To me death would now be a blessing. But I would once more see Josephine."
Notwithstanding the desperate state of affairs, Josephine still cherished the hope that his commanding genius would yet enable him to retrieve his fortunes. All these hopes were, how ever, dispelled on the receipt of the following letter:
"Fontainebleau, April 16, 1814.
"DEAR JOSEPHINE,—I wrote to you on the eighth of this month, but perhaps you have not received my letter. Hostilities still continued, and possibly it may have been intercepted. At present the communications must be re-established. I have formed my resolution. I have no doubt that this billet will reach you. I will not repeat what I said to you. Then I lamented my situation, now I congratulate myself upon it. My head and spirit are freed from an enormous weight. My fall is great, but it may, as men say, prove useful. In my retreat I shall substitute the pen for the sword. The history of my reign will be curious. The world has yet seen me only in profile. I shall show myself in full. How many things have I to disclose! how many are the men of whom a false estimate is entertained! I have heaped benefits upon millions of wretches! What have they done in the end for me? They have all betrayed me—yes, all. I except from this number the good Eugene, so worthy of you and of me. Adieu! my dear Josephine. Be resigned as I am, and never forget him who never forgot, and never will forget you. Farewell, Josephine.
"P.S.—I expect to hear from you at Elba. I am not very well."
Upon reading these tidings of so terrible an overthrow, Josephine was overwhelmed with grief, and for a time wept bitterly. Soon, however, recovering her self-possession, she exclaimed, "I must not remain here. My presence is necessary to the emperor. That duty is, indeed, more Maria Louisa's than mine, but the emperor is alone—forsaken. Well, I at least will not abandon him. I might be dispensed with while he was happy; now, I am sure that he expects me." After a pause of a few moments, in which she seemed absorbed in her own thoughts, she addressed her chamberlain, saying, "I may, however, interfere with his arrangements. You will remain here with me till intelligence be received from the allied sovereigns; they will respect her who was the wife of Napoleon."
She was, indeed, remembered by them. The magnanimity of her conduct under the deep wrongs of the divorce had filled Europe with admiration. The allied sovereigns sent her assurances of their most friendly regards. They entreated her to return to Malmaison, and provided her with an ample guard for her protection. Her court was ever crowded with the most illustrious monarchs and nobles, who sought a presentation to do homage to her virtues. The Emperor Alexander was one of the first to visit her. He said to her on that occasion, "Madam, I burned with the desire of beholding you. Since I entered France, I have never heard your name pronounced but with benedictions. In the cottage and in the palace I have collected accounts of your angelic goodness, and I do myself a pleasure in thus presenting to your majesty the universal homage of which I am the bearer."
Maria Louisa, thinking only of self, declined accompanying Napoleon to his humble retreat. Josephine, not knowing her decision, wrote to the emperor:
"Now only can I calculate the whole extent of the misfortune of having beheld my union with you dissolved by law. Now do I indeed lament being no more than your friend, who can but mourn over a misfortune great as it is unexpected. Ah! sire, why can I not fly to you? Why can I not give you the assurance that exile has no terrors save for vulgar minds, and that, far from diminishing a sincere attachment, misfortune imparts to it a new force? I have been upon the point of quitting France to follow your footsteps, and to consecrate to you the remainder of an existence which you so long embellished. A single motive restrained me, and that you may divine. If I learn that I am the only one who will fulfill her duty, nothing shall detain me, and I will go to the only place where, henceforth, there can be happiness for me, since I shall be able to console you when you are there isolated and unfortunate! Say but the word, and I depart. Adieu, sire; whatever I would add would still be too little. It is no longer by words that my sentiments for you are to be proved, and for actions your consent is necessary."
A few days after this letter was written, the Emperor Alexander, with a number of illustrious guests, dined with Josephine at Malmaison. In the evening twilight, the party went out upon the beautiful lawn in front of the house for recreation. Josephine, whose health had become exceedingly precarious through care and sorrow, being regardless of herself in devotion to her friends, took a violent cold. The next day she was worse. Without any very definite form of disease, she day after day grew more faint and feeble, until it was evident that her final change was near at hand. Eugene and Hortense, her most affectionate children, were with her by day and by night. They communicated to her the judgment of her physician that death was near. She heard the tidings with perfect composure, and called for a clergyman to administer to her the last rites of religion.
Just after this solemnity the Emperor Alexander entered the room. Eugene and Hortense, bathed in tears, were kneeling at their mother's side. Josephine beckoned to the emperor to approach her, and said to him and her children, "I have always desired the happiness of France. I did all in my power to contribute to it; and I can say with truth, to all of you now present, at my last moments, that the first wife of Napoleon never caused a single tear to flow."
She called for the portrait of the emperor; she gazed upon it long and tenderly; and then, fervently pressing it in her clasped hands to her bosom, faintly articulated the following prayer:
"O God! watch over Napoleon while he remains in the desert of this world. Alas! though he hath committed great faults, hath he not expiated them by great sufferings? Just God, thou hast looked into his heart, and hast seen by how ardent a desire for useful and durable improvements he was animated. Deign to approve my last petition. And may this image of my husband bear me witness that my latest wish and my latest prayer were for him and my children."
It was the 29th of May, 1814. A tranquil summer's day was fading away into a cloudless, serene, and beautiful evening. The rays of the setting sun, struggling through the foliage of the open window, shone cheerfully upon the bed where the empress was dying. The vesper songs of the birds which filled the groves of Malmaison floated sweetly upon the ear, and the gentle spirit of Josephine, lulled to repose by these sweet anthems, sank into its last sleep. Gazing upon the portrait of the emperor, she exclaimed, "L'isle d'Elbe—Napoleon!" and died.
Alexander, as he gazed upon her lifeless remains, burst into tears, and uttered the following affecting yet just tribute of respect to her memory: "She is no more; that woman whom France named the beneficent, that angel of goodness, is no more. Those who have known Josephine can never forget her. She dies regretted by her offspring, her friends, and her cotemporaries."
For four days her body remained shrouded in state for its burial. During this time more than twenty thousand of the people of France visited her beloved remains. On the 2d of June, at mid-day, the funeral procession moved from Malmaison to Ruel, where the body was deposited in a tomb of the village church. The funeral services were conducted with the greatest magnificence, as the sovereigns of the allied armies united with the French in doing honor to her memory. When all had left the church but Eugene and Hortense, they knelt beside their mother's grave, and for a long time mingled their prayers and their tears. A beautiful monument of white marble, representing the empress kneeling in her coronation robes, is erected over her burial-place, with this simple but affecting inscription:
EUGENE AND HORTENSE