Story of Modern France - Helene Guerber

Napoleon Deported

Although Napoleon had done great things for the country, his wars are estimated to have cost her about 1,700,000 lives. His foes had lost nearly 2,000,000 men, so all through Europe the name of Napoleon was hated by those who mourned these dead, as is vividly depicted in a painting (by Wiertz) at Brussels, representing Napoleon attacked, even in Hades, by a horde of revengeful furies, the mothers and wives of those for whose death he is responsible.

Meantime, urged to leave Paris lest his presence there endanger the city, Napoleon had taken leave of his family,—his little nephew Louis Napoleon (later Napoleon III.) clinging desperately to him, and had driven off to Malmaison, to revisit for the last time the gardens and rooms where he and Josephine had spent such happy hours. He also sought her tomb in the nearby village church (Rueil), and, last of all, entered the apartment where Josephine had died during his exile, her last words being, "Napoleon! Elba!" Taking leave of his step-daughter Hortense, he then started for the western coast, hoping to find there some vessel to convey him safely to the United States, where he meant to take up his abode. But as several English frigates were cruising up and down off Rochefort, he knew he would be captured and treated as a prisoner of war as soon as he got outside of the bar. Instead, Napoleon preferred to throw himself upon the generosity of the English, and therefore wrote the following letter to the regent of England:—


"A prey to the factions which divide my country, and to the enmity of the powers of Europe, I have terminated my public career, and I come, like Themistocles, to seat myself at the hearth of the British people. I place myself under the protection of its laws, which I claim

from your Royal Highness, as the most powerful, the most constant, and the most generous of my foes.


A free man, Napoleon stepped on board the Bellerophon,—an English man-of-war,—saying, "I have come to throw myself under the protection of the laws of England!" He was never to be free again, a fact which he must have dimly felt, for when the coasts of France faded from his view, he sadly exclaimed: "Farewell, land of the brave! Farewell, dear France. A few traitors less and you would still be a great nation, mistress of the world!" Instead of the home in England, or the United States, for which Napoleon had pleaded, he was transferred from the Bellerophon  to another vessel, and conveyed, with the few faithful followers allowed to accompany him, to the island of St. Helena, in mid-Atlantic.

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


There, hundreds of miles from other lands, he was constantly watched and spied upon, and worried by the petty persecutions of his keeper Sir Hudson Lowe, whom we must say, however, Napoleon seemed to take pleasure in annoying as much as he could. But, accustomed to life in a palace, Napoleon was now lodged in a plain one-story building, where he was deprived of many ordinary comforts. Besides, sentinels posted here and there watched every step he took, until their presence became so irksome that the emperor finally preferred to remain in his room and small garden, rather than venture abroad and be annoyed by their proximity. During one of his few walks abroad, when one of his companions was trying to make a laden peasant-woman step aside to let the emperor pass, Napoleon climbed up on the rocks himself, to leave the narrow pathway free, saying, "Respect the burden!"

The most cruel feature of Napoleon's captivity, however, was that no tidings of his wife and son were ever allowed to reach him. So far as his wife is concerned, it was as well that Napoleon never had news of her; for she was faithless both to him and to her womanhood. Even while he was still in Elba, Marie Louise had ceased to care for him, and had fallen under the influence of one of her own attendants. When the Congress of Vienna finally gave her the duchy of Parma because she was the Austrian emperor's daughter, she abandoned her son to her father's keeping, and went off, perfectly happy, to live in the new home, where this favorite attendant became her prime minister and sole adviser.

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


But the little "King of Rome," who lost that title when Napoleon abdicated the first time, continued to mourn the father whom he could scarcely remember, and whom he had not seen since he was about three years old. His fidelity is all the more remarkable, because neither his mother nor any member of her family ever mentioned Napoleon in his presence, nor would they allow any one else to do so. Besides, the child was separated, almost immediately, from all his French attendants, and handed over to German servants.

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


Meanwhile there was nothing to make life tolerable for Napoleon. Tortured by inactivity, regretting the past, having no hope for the future, nagged by small discomforts and by a constant, galling sense of restraint, Napoleon further became the victim of a cancer of the stomach which caused him untold agony. It proved, therefore, a blessed relief when, on the 5th of May, 1821, after six years of captivity, Napoleon I. passed away. He was buried in a lonely valley, under a weeping willow, where his body was to remain some nineteen years before his admirers could carry out the fervent desire expressed in his will, "I wish my remains to rest on the banks of the Seine, amidst the French people whom I loved so dearly."

Since his death at St. Helena, Napoleon's fame has been steadily growing. The "Napoleonic Legend"—it is almost impossible to ascertain the exact truth about all the deeds of such a man—is so full of incident and romance that it has fired all imaginations. Thus the emperor still has the most extravagant admirers, as he certainly had the most bitter calumniators; but his enemy Chateaubriand spoke quite justly in saying, "The giant had to fall before I could measure his greatness!"