Story of Modern France - Helene Guerber

Farewells at Fontainebleau

Meantime, Napoleon was at Fontainebleau, where, after signing his abdication, he is said to have made a vain attempt to commit suicide by taking a poison whose strength was spent. The allies decided to allow him to retain his title of emperor, and to give him the island of Elba, with a yearly allowance of $1,000,000, while his wife was to have the duchy of Parma as long as she lived, in exchange for the dazzling imperial crown bestowed upon her at her marriage.

The usual sudden and cruel revulsion of feeling having taken place, Napoleon, the once adored, was now so execrated that elaborate preparations had to be made to convey him safely to a southern port. Before starting, Napoleon went down into the great court of Fontainebleau, to select the small force allowed to escort him to Elba, and to bid farewell to the remainder of his men. His parting speech was: "Soldiers, my old companions in arms, whom I have always found on the road to glory, we must at length part! I could have remained with you longer, but it must have been at the price of a cruel struggle; of the addition, probably, of a civil war to a foreign war; and I could not resolve to distract any longer the bosom of France. Enjoy the repose which you have so justly earned, and be happy. As for me, do not pity me. I have a mission still to perform, and to fulfill it I consent to live. This mission is to recount to posterity the great thing which we have done together. Adieu, my children. I would willingly press each of you to my heart, but I can at least embrace your general and your flag!"

After this dramatic and touching embrace, and in the midst of the tearful farewells of his men, Napoleon stepped into his traveling carriage and, escorted by commissioners sent by the allies, made his way southward. In the days of his prosperity Napoleon had realized how fickle people can be, for he had said: "For my part, I know very well I have no true friends. As long as I continue what I am, I may have as many friends as I please." But even he had no conception of what people could say and do to a fallen idol. The farther Napoleon proceeded, the more excited he found the people; and at Aix thousands were ready to stone him when he passed! To enable him to escape such violence, and to spare *him some of the cruel jibe's and insults, the commissioners disguised Napoleon as an Austrian officer for a time, and made haste to reach the port whence they set sail for Elba.

On first beholding his island empire, Napoleon ruefully exclaimed, "You must acknowledge that my island is pretty small!" It was, indeed, restricted space for one who had been master of nearly all Europe, and who had further aimed to become master of the world. Still, Napoleon entered his new realm cheerfully, and immediately set to work to reorganize and improve it, so as to make, it a model of its kind, keeping the while, as he expressed it, "an eye on France and on the Bourbons." He was, besides, very busy preparing a suitable home for his wife and child, whom he expected in the fall, but who were now visiting the Emperor of Austria in Vienna.

Meanwhile, Louis XVIII. was installing himself comfortably in the Tuileries, where many of the émigrés hastened to join him, expecting, of course, the highest positions in reward for their fidelity to the royal cause. Thus many changes were effected at court and elsewhere, and it proved very hard for some of Napoleon's tried officers to make room for men who had little or no experience in warfare, or who, worse still, had borne arms against France! Besides an unwelcome change of officers, the soldiers had another great grievance, which was the substitution of the white fleur-de-lis for the glorious red, white, and blue flag of the Revolution and Empire, and the suppression of the eagles which they had guarded so many years at the cost of their lives.

The old émigrés also did not hesitate to demand as a right the restoration of their former estates, and as most of these had been confiscated and sold since the Revolution began, their new owners were justly indignant at the thought that they might be dispossessed of lands they had not only paid for, but greatly improved.

The change of government from empire to monarchy necessitating a new constitution, Louis XVIII. sorely offended the nation by "vouchsafing" the Charter of 1814, which Frenchmen claimed as their due. Besides, his utter disregard of all that had been done, and of France's glorious history since his nephew's death, proved another grievance, of which people were constantly reminded by his mania for dating state documents "in the nineteenth year of our reign," and for closing them with the offensive old-time formula, "for such is our good pleasure."

On the 30th of May, 1814, the peace of Paris was concluded, which left France with the boundaries it had had in 1792; thus depriving her of some of the conquests made during the Republic and of all those made during the Empire. This peace also provided that Switzerland and the Netherlands should be independent countries, the latter including both Holland and Belgium; but as Napoleon had changed the map of Europe in so many places during his rule, the question how to rearrange it in Germany, Italy, and elsewhere was left to be settled at a congress to meet in Vienna, for which each power appointed delegates. The five great powers—Austria, France, Great Britain, Prussia, and Russia—and the many lesser states at first disagreed among themselves, because Russia and Prussia wished to enlarge their boundaries too greatly. It therefore took much negotiating to settle things, so that the congress was in session a long time.