Madame De Maintenon
Mary The Mother Of Washington
Read More Articles About: Famous Women
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
A. D. 1763-1814
FIRST WIFE OF NAPOLEON BONAPARTE
There was a heart so kind in the Famous Woman of whom we are now to speak that the world, viewing her life carefully, has called her "La Bonne Joséphine" the Good Josephine. It sometimes happens that the attendance of the grateful poor at the funeral ceremonies of the benevolent is the only true measure of the good that the deceased did while living; and, by this measure, the Empress Josephine took on great fame, because her death happened at a moment when popular opinion was running strongly against Napoleon, and yet two thousand of the poor whom in life she had befriended, surrounded the little church at Rueil and silently paid the tribute of affectionate memory that few receive.
Josephine was as fond of display as Cleopatra, but she was less able than Catherine II, yet the conduct of an Empire never fell to her lot. She was one of the very few of the Napoleon people who died in a palace, with wealth, title, and social standing intact. So amiable had been her career, so gentle her birth, so lofty her titles, that the triumphant sovereigns of the Holy Alliance, when they arrived in Paris, in 1814, found her palace of Malmaison neutral ground, and, by their visits and councils, gave to her salon a prestige that perhaps no other woman has won in history. She was Napoleon's true friend to the last, securing Elba for him and a duchy for her daughter.
When Josephine married Napoleon as her second husband, she made an alliance beneath her social station, but there was then good reason to believe that all social barriers had been swept away in France, and that merit would assure good manners and courtly bearing. As the event proved to be different, it fell to the lot of Josephine to form around her that nucleus of the ancient nobility by which Napoleon might restore the usages, etiquette, meetings and greetings of a monarch's household. It was entirely through Josephine that Napoleon was enabled to separate himself from the Terrorists who had guillotined Josephine's first husband and imprisoned her in the Carmelite. She fulfilled her task easily, because she was, by common consent, the most graceful and tactful person whom the entire French Court has produced. If Napoleon had listened to her, he would not have shot the Duke of Enghien; he would not have gone to Bayonne; he would not have gone to Russia.
Those kind readers who have perused the pages here devoted to Madame de Maintenon, cannot fail to muse upon the coincidence that the little Island of Martinique, on our side of the ocean, should have been the home of both Maintenon and Josephine, two women who were to disburse vast sums of public money in France, and be intimately connected with the government of the leading nation of their time.
Madame de Maintenon wrought on Louis XIV always through deception; never did she let him know her real thoughts. But there was a side to Napoleon's nature that appreciated at its full value the attainments and ability of Josephine. She could not, and to gain her way, she did not try to deceive him. She was opposed, during her married life with him, by a large group of his relatives, who hated her with Italian rancor, and sought her downfall in his good opinion by every art that ingenious minds could devise. Yet it required a weighty state question to sunder the great couple, and even then, Napoleon proved a tenderer friend than ever. Her unshaken hold upon the confidence of the most distrustful of men is a testimony of her fortitude and a tribute to his good judgment.
A very strange fact confronts us in the history of the pair. After the close of the Reign of Terror, whose atmosphere we have just left on the previous pages, there were strange fashions for a time. At dance-halls "balls of victims" would be given, where the relatives of guillotined persons would dance away the hours ; in rivalry, the other faction would rent a hall on another floor, and hold "balls of the butchers, to which only apologists for the guillotine were invited. Josephine was a directress of a "ball of victims," at the Hotel de Richelieu (whither we saw Madame de Maintenon going) ; the dancers were at-tired in black; the violins were tied with black ribbons. On the floor above, at the same hour, Barras and Bona-parte danced at a "ball of butchers" (executioners), both in red costumes, with red ribbons on the instruments of the orchestra which furnished the music of the festival.
We are not able to learn that the father of Josephine was certainly of a noble family, although it is probable. He was reduced in fortune and emigrated to the West Indies, where he became the manager of a plantation. His brother, also an emigrant, was no more fortunate as to wealth. But a sister, living in France, Madame de Renaudin, appears to have sustained both the pride and fortunes of the house, as will be seen.
Marie Rose Josèphe Tascher dela Pagerie(Josephine) , the eldest of three sisters, was born at St. Pierre (some say Trois-Ilets), Island of Martinique, West Indies, June 23, 1763. Napoleon was five years yet unborn. Her pet name was Yeyette. She seems to have been sent to a convent to head off or hush up an affair with William Stuart, heir to Lord Lovat, who could not marry her, but ensnared her affections, and annoyed not only Josephine's first and second husbands, but appeared on the scene at the end, in Malmaison. The Beauharnais family had also emigrated to the island colony, holding the Governorship, and there was a son, the Viscount Alexander, who had obtained the office of second major in a regiment by dancing well at Versailles, but was heavily in debt. The aunt Renaudin and Alexander were in France. She arranged to pay the dower of a Tascher for his wife, and the bargain was settled in solemn French style. The second sister was chosen; she died; the younger one was next selected, when Josephine asserted her own interests; the younger sister refused to leave her mother, and Josephine, who was considered a little too old for the market in which she was sold, or the class in which the entry had been made, was shipped to Havre in the thick of English pirates. In fact, three female cousins were shipped in three vessels —one became the Empress Josephine; another Madame de Peyronnet, wife of Charles X's Minister; the third, falling among the pirates, was sold as a slave at Constantinople, and became the Sultana Valida, favorite of Sultan Mustapha. At the same time, Napoleon was landing in France on the southern shore.
Josephine was married to the Viscount Alexander de Beauharnais, son of a poor Marquis, at Noisy-le-Grand, December 13, 1779. The couple soon went to court at Versailles, and Josephine was twice received at the Trianon Palace by Marie Antoinette. A son, Eugene, was born in 1781. The pair quarreled, and the William Stuart story came to the surface William Stuart himself came to the surface. With this, Alexander set sail for Martinique as a volunteer, but with a desire to look up Josephine's past. Hortense, his daughter, was born while he was gone. At Martinique he fell in love with another woman, who tactfully gave him a melancholy account of Josephine. On this the indignant Tascher offered to take back his poor daughter, and wrote a fine letter of indignation to Alexander : "This, then, is the fruit of your voyage, and the brilliant campaign you were to fight against the enemies of your country. It has ended in a war against the reputation of your wife, and the tranquillity of her family."
Beauharnais returned to France and brought suit for divorce before the Parliament of Paris. A year later the court decreed a separation, with a verdict of faults on both sides. The husband kept the son, and paid alimony of $2,000 a year. Josephine went to a convent to board. Some of her husband's relatives sided with her.
In 1788 Josephine returned to Martinique, and stayed three years. Her husband went into politics, and took the side of the discontented nobility, derisively called "Frondeurs" by Marie Antoinette. In three years Josephine fled out of Martinique, and thoroughly restored her-self as the wife of Beauharnais. In 1791 they went to live-on his estate in Sologne. He was elected to the National Assembly, and was presiding the day it was announced that Louis XVI and the Queen had escaped and were on their way to Varennes. He took the matter so coolly that the good patriots at once recalled the fact that he was a heretofore-Viscount. He went off to fight the Germans, and failed. There was a large military difference between the two husbands of Josephine.
When the Law of Suspect was passed both Alexander and his wife were thrown into prison. Josephine went to the Carmelite, where she was a cellmate with Cabarrus-Fontenay-Tallien (afterward Our Lady of Thermidor, that is, the woman who destroyed Robespierre). Beauharnais was guillotined, after a noble defense as a lover of constitutional reform, and Josephine cut her hair off, made her will, distributed souvenirs, wrote a courageous letter, and, when the executioners came after her, was so mortally ill that the doctor certified she could live but two days. She therefore escaped. As Tallien saw the murder of his beloved Fontenay approaching so swiftly, he hastened with his tragic dagger-avowal, and Robespierre was forced to flee out of the Assembly.
The eloquent Barère called it "coining money on the Place de la Revolution (guillotine)," so of course Beauharnais' farm was lost. The Widow Beauharnais came out of prison with two children and without money. A Madame de Moulin sheltered them. Eugene, the son, was apprenticed to a carpenter, and Hortense to a milliner. Madame Tallien was able to come to the social rescue of her noble friend, and soon the Tallien salon, to which Josephine was a thrice-welcome guest, was the center of the social circle that surrounded the Directory. France was now ruled by five Directors, of whom Barras, a remarkable man, was the leading spirit. We have the following memoir of a lady of the time : "We went to see Barras, and found Madame de Staël, Talleyrand, Bernadotte, and a crowd of generals present. Barras was not in the salon, and we were told that he was in his study with Madame Tallien. An hour afterward he made his appearance with one arm passed round that lady's waist. My father was so indignant that he made me leave the house at once, and I never returned to this compromising official residence." The Revolution had slaughtered the nobility, and now its graces were missed. Remnants, however small, were welcome to a noble like Barras for his house in Provence was old as French history. Of all the women who could cajole, gossip, pass the hours, Josephine was easily the mildest, best-natured until aroused, difficult to displease, and welcome to Barras. He accordingly established her in the house of Talma, the actor, now deceased. There she set up a democratic salon of her own; yet when the born democrats had all gone, the heretofore-nobles would say : "Let us take a stroll to Versailles," and then they would talk over the dear old days of the Diamond Necklace and the Count of Cagliostro. To this house came Bonaparte.
Beauty having been a crime, and nobility of birth treason, Josephine did not have many surviving competitors. She was reckoned the most attractive woman in Paris. She was elegant, simple, supple, neutral, superstitious (having studied all the African Sibylline books through the slaves of Martinique). She was soft, tender, loving, indolent. She was well liked, even by women, and for a considerable time after acquaintance. In prison she had been a reigning favorite her irrepressible good spirits lightening every heart. She stood for the ancien regime, and people wished they had it back.
At this time Bonaparte was young, thin, yellow, stiff, unhappy. Terrorists were out of vogue, and he had been appointed to his former office by the younger Robespierre. The events that had saved Josephine had apparently ruined Bonaparte. He had sold his books probably he had not over two. He had resigned in a pet, and now he needed the aid of Barras, for his brother Joseph was supporting him. He (Bonaparte) wrote to Talma, the actor: "Barras makes me fine promises, but will he keep them? I doubt it. In the meantime I am at my last sou. Canst thou place a few crowns at my service?"
Barras said he liked Bonaparte because he looked like Marat. Bonaparte did not get through worrying, from January to October, 1795. October 5 he put down the insurrection. His military eye had once watched the loth of August (three years before). He knew how to pre-vent such affairs. Now the royalists called him Vendémiaire.. "They wish me to marry Vendémiaire !" Josephine wrote. Vendémiaire was the month in which the riot was suppressed. She said it "fatigued her creole nonchalance." Her son was horrified. It was like Marie Antoinette marrying Robespierre. But Barras promised her, if she would marry Bonaparte he would put Bonaparte in command against the Austrians in Italy. It could not be a bad thing for even a noble widow in distress and want to be the wife of the commander in Italy not though her son and daughter opposed the marriage. Tallien approved it. Yet she had several times feared she had lost her general. At such moments she angled for him with skill, and caught him again. But did she really want him in her basket? Ah, not if the noble Barras were a lover: She felt too old. She read her general's character. He was the wildest egotist she had ever seen. Yet she more than half believed he might go to Asia, reveal a religion, and found an empire.
Our Madame Campan of the previous article, was now proprietor of a school at St. Germain, a beautiful resort with a palace (Louis XIV born there), a few miles out of Paris on the Seine. To this Josephine brought Hortense and a niece, and, a little later, came to tell the daughter that "Vendémiaire" was to be her papa. Hortense wept. In the meantime the yellow young Italian, who spoke French ill and wrote it worse, had offered himself to many other women. He was a foreigner and not a charmer. He was too rough. Women feared him. He signed his name, "Nabulione Buonaparte." Josephine, who could love anyone who claiming no talent herself, had a genius for talent in others,-took pity on him. He married her, old as she was, because her dot was an army, and to him an army was the world.
Between 8 and 9 o'clock p. m., of March 9, 1796, Josephine and her friends arrived at the office of the mayor in the town hall of the second ward of Paris. Bonaparte had enjoyed command of an army for over two weeks, and was a busy man. The mayor put on his scarf, and went to sleep in his chair. Josephine was certain the affair would fall through. Nine, the quarter, half, third quarter, io o'clock came, with the mayor sweetly dreaming of the days when he was drawing a smaller salary. Then hurriedly entered Bonaparte, Barras and others. Tallien and a lawyer, Calmelet, supporting Josephine, approached the bar. "Come, Mr. Mayor," harshly cried Bonaparte, slapping him on the shoulder, "wake up and marry us quickly !" The terrified mayor had them married by the time he was awake. In the certificate, Josephine had cautiously inserted her maiden name, and her age as only one year more than Bonaparte's she was five or six years older. Tallien signed for Josephine; Barras for Bonaparte all present affixed their signatures. "Poor Josephine!" said Napoleon at St. Helena, "she exposed herself to great inconvenience, for the marriage might have been annulled." Bonaparte's mother considered-Josephine too old, but approved the marriage after it was over.
There were two days of honeymoon, with the house full of maps, spurs, councils Bonaparte at the door, to hurriedly kiss his bride once in a while. The last time he put a letter u in his name was in his epistle to the government, announcing his marriage. Josephine probably Gallicised his spelling.
The yellow husband went off to war, and Josephine found it necessary to terrify him. He wrote : "The fear of not being loved by Josephine, the idea of finding her inconstant but I am forging pain !" A little later she has chastised him sufficiently. A courier comes from Italy and waits for an answer. If Europe had only owned this Delilah ! See how she has clipped this Samson's mane : "I no longer live. You are ill. You love me. I have pained you, and I shall not see you. I shall never recover."
Josephine used to laugh at these letters. She was wanted at Milan. It would be much pleasanter to play the Queen in Paris, while France was wild with enthusiasm of Bonaparte. "You who know how to inspire love without loving in return, can you tell me how to cure love???" this on the evening of a great victory. "You love everyone better than your husband." He meanwhile wrote hundreds, thousands, of dispatches couched in sedate language, and dictated high-sounding bulletins to his army.
At last Bonaparte had Milan. He took a chateau near by and established a kingly court, with Frederick the Great (his hero) for model. He dined in public, the people coming in to see him feed; his officers could not sit down. He sent Junot for Josephine, and she left Paris weeping. The painter Gros was brought to paint the Caesar, and Josephine had to hold Bonaparte on her lap to keep him quiet. The painter was always highly embarrassed. Bonaparte had now fetched his troubles nearer to him. He sent away several of Josephine's lovers, says Sismondi, a panegyrist, "but he deprived none of them of either life or liberty." "Perhaps it would have been well," said Madame de Rémusat, "had he been more or better loved." He left her as Regent, and went off to win other victories. "Be less lovely," he wrote, "less graceful, less tender, and above all less good; never be jealous, never weep. Your tears deprive me of my reason and burn my blood."
Josephine wrote home to old Aunt Renaudin : "I am bored to death." Nobody could deceive Josephine. Nor did she try to deceive others. But Bonaparte had been well ensnared. The Austrians believed his infatuation made him invincible arousing his genius for war. He loved the battlefield. At Lodi, a scene of carnage. Three dogs howling by their dead masters-horses, men, slaughter. "This," said Bonaparte to a painter for whom he had sent, "ought to make a great picture !" He was enthusiastic. The painter looked at him, and grew sick with fear and horror.
After the treaty of Campo Formio, Bonaparte returned to Paris a conqueror, leaving Josephine at Milan. His brothers were now busy with plots to injure the wife. The expedition to Egypt was undertaken, and Bonaparte went to the Pyramids as a prophet of the Mohammedan order. There he lived openly with a young woman and was well lost sight of at Paris, to which city Josephine returned and began a career of extravagance prophetic of her future miracles in that direction. Bonaparte's star went down. At last the prescient Talleyrand did not deem it to be necessary to speak to Josephine at a banquet, though she was next beside him, and she withdrew in tears, judging that the general must be dead. Bonaparte appeared like a ghost in France. She flew to meet him, not having him now at her feet. She took the wrong road. When she got back to the house, he was inside, the door locked. He laughed her siege to scorn. He would have a divorce. She invested the place and it capitulated in forty-eight hours. She had much evidence against him; he had plenty against her. Very well, call it even and start again. Further terms that Madame Tallien, the friend, and all the Terrorists, should be forsaken, and Josephine should figure only as a Royalist, her true condition. Bonaparte aimed at imperial power. Josephine was to command the Versailles wing of his army. They were now a twain of conspirators, drinking deeply out of the intoxicating flagon of ambition, rather than sipping from an insipid cup of love, and voicing their hollow transports. Their condition was more tolerable was joyful to Josephine.
These two great actors, having failed to deceive each other or themselves permanently, now set out to renew the assurances of their distinguished consideration for freedom, religion, the throne, the army, the guillotine a panemotional martyrdom, which they desired. It was certain there could be no other hypocrites, usurpers, upstarts, so verbose, so tragic, so anxious to die for others. Bonaparte had about $700,000 to pay, and $700,000,000,000 to promise, should he succeed for he openly said he wanted to be Emperor. His brothers could all be princes; his brothers' wives' sisters' husbands could be Kings. By the usurpation of the 18th Brumaire he became First Consul, or Dictator. This was November 10, 1799. Josephine had been an efficient factor in the plot.
They now moved into the palace of Luxembourg, in the southern part of Paris, and thus left the modest house that Barras had gotten for Josephine. Bonaparte sent nearly forty Congressmen to the pestilential shore of South America, and Josephine set out to spend money. It was her chief joy. As for Bonaparte, he announced that he loved no one, and knew he had not a true friend. Josephine possessed one secret of his character. He was neat, and thought women should be still more nice. If she could outdo others in dress, she could maintain her political sway. Other women could not afford to dress three times a day, and never wear the same thing twice; neither would Bonaparte willingly pay the bills. She mended his logic. Bourrienne tells how the pearl necklace astonished him. She had put off wearing it, until she concluded she had better lose her lord than wait another day. He came up to it suspiciously. She assured him it was old the Cis-Alpine Republic's gift. He was quieted. She had been in an agony for weeks. It was over. "When I beheld the easy confidence of Madame Bonaparte," says Bourrienne, "I could not help recollecting Suzanne's reflection on the facility with which well-bred ladies can tell false-hoods without appearing to do so." The "Citoyenne" Bonaparte had now become "Madame," it is seen, and the wonderful general could even be addressed as Monseigneur, if it were well done. As early as February, 1,800 the Government having outgrown the Luxembourg Palace, the Consuls, drawn by six white horses, with three thousand soldiers, marched in splendid procession to the Tuileries, the people crying, "Long live the First Consul !" The carriage entered through a passage over which was inscribed: "The loth of August, 1792. Royalty is abolished in France, and shall never be re-established."
At this period Josephine made some rash personal attacks on the Consul, or on women of whom she was justly jealous. The husband and wife, when they had quarreled, had not infrequently used violence; it was an argument which both feared. Although the brothers thought this would ruin her, it seemed to increase her opportunity to spend money, a performance wherein she was a whirlwind a dream. While Bonaparte is off at Marengo, it may be well to bring this matter, once for all, before the reader.
She spent three hours daily at her toilette, and made three different dress-apparitions. She bathed every morning, and, with the aid of a dame d'atour and four women of the wardrobe, proceeded to the make-up of her face. The skin having been prepared, a filler was introduced into the seams of time (as time went on), and on the smooth surface an ideal complexion, with eyebrows, eye-lashes, lips, ears was constructed with grease paints, rouge, powders, and the genius of the pencil. She paid $670 for rouge alone in one year. Bonaparte despised a woman without her make-up, his early and formative impressions evidently following the dressing-rooms of the stage. A German pedicure named Tobias Cohen, in uniform, armed with sword of office, now arrived to examine her feet. Of her muslin undergarments, all embroidered and garnished with rare laces, the maids chose from 500 sets. The maids put on her stockings generally white, sometimes pink; 958 pairs of white silk stockings, 32 pink silk, and 18 flesh-colored, running as high as $14 the pair. In one year she bought 520 pairs of very light and heelless shoes, which seemed, when a pair of them was on, to be a part of the foot. Her gowns cost her, in a certain three years, $314,730. The great parures of diamonds for grand ceremonies were charged to extra accounts. She spent $220,000 more for her toilet each year, including jewelry, of which she was childishly fond. Her own jewels soon accumulated, but she had at command sets in diamonds, rubies, pearls, and turquoises of the following ornaments : Crown, diadem, comb, earrings, necklace, bracelet, rings and buckles. She loved to change three times a day was none too often. Napoleon himself might supervise the evening toilette, upsetting jewel caskets, harassing the women by advice and suggestions, or making love to them for the sake of doing them injury in Josephine's mind. The appearance of his wife her superiority in grace, ease, dress, appearance, to all other women, he considered a state desideratum, and this policy, of course, gave his sisters emotions which were by no means silent, nor did he blame them in their envy and woe.
If Napoleon were in the palace, Josephine left her apartment, wearing a hat and carrying a lace handkerchief in her gloved hand. Arriving at the yellow drawing-room she took breakfast her only regular meal in company with women. If Napoleon arrived in good humor, he sat down and made his jokes: "How red your arms are!" "Go put on some paint!" "I've seen you in that dress till I'm tired of the sight of you!" this by way of favor to the ladies. If he were out of humor, he spoke to nobody, and Josephine arose and withdrew with him.
She went hunting, which bored and discommoded her. She played billiards with gentlemen. She played the harp, did needlework, or received. She had tea served to her before the dinner toilette. Dressed for dinner, she often waited one, two, three hours for her lord, but this was more trying to the cooks than to her, for she never came to dinner hungry. Napoleon might forget the matter altogether. When he arrived he ate so quickly that he required the setting of the table all at once no courses. Coffee was served in another room.
After the battle of Marengo, when Bonaparte had made peace with the church, Josephine appeared at Notre Dame Cathedral to aid in the celebration of the Concordat, with eighty women in her train. Bonaparte was looked on by the multitude as a true magician, and his wife, with her grace and finery, took on much of his majesty.
On the morning when Bonaparte consummated his usurpation, and Napoleon and Josephine were to be crowned Emperor and Empress, Madame de Rémusat, before starting for Notre Dame, was ushered into the apartments of Josephine. "Our toilets," she says, "were very brilliant, but they paled before those of the imperial family. The Empress especially glittered with diamonds. Her hair was done in a thousand little curls, as in the time of Louis XIV, and she did not appear more than twenty-five years old (instead of forty-one). She was attired in a court-dress and mantle of white satin, embroidered with silver and gold. She had a bandeau of diamonds, a necklace, earrings and girdle of great value, and all this she wore with her usual grace. The Emperor, examining us one by one, smiled at this luxury, the creation of his will." At the Cathedral, "the moment when the Empress was crowned excited a movement of general admiration, not on account of the act itself, but owing to the grace with which she walked to the altar, and the ele gant and simple manner in which she knelt down."
These scenes of majesty and this glitter of diamonds may dazzle the eyes, but need not stir the apprehensions of liberty-lovers. We see the good stage manager and cos-turner rounding-up his people at Paris preparing to make the grand entrée with his troupe; yet there are other event? as well authenticated that went hand-in-hand. Almost this same week Josephine made a public descent on her husband and another woman, and personally attacked her enemy, whereat the hero of Marengo, by way of indemnity, broke some furniture and ordered Josephine to Martinique. As this change in the programme would disturb the spectacle of the Coronation, and the Pope was in Paris, a peace of the Tuileries was made, and Bonaparte confessed to Josephine many of the villainies of his family, practised on her. At the very Coronation, the sisters, holding her train, in Corsican fury found they could choke her, and did not fail to indulge their desire for revenge.
Again : Napoleon, now Emperor, appeared unexpectedly in the salon leading to the inner apartments of Josephine. There he saw Mademoiselle Despeaux (noted milliner) with the room piled full of bandboxes. He had come to complain of past extravagances. "Who are you? Who are you?" he cried, stamping, and falling directly into the Napoleonic ragé. The milliner explained. Josephine was taking a foot-bath; and, at the same time, was having her hair dressed. The Emperor came on, roaring and kicking furniture. "Who sent for this woman? Who made her come here?" Nobody answered. The tire-women fled; the hair-dresser hid. Even Josephine trembled. "I must know the guilty person. You shall be sent to prison !" The enemy was in complete rout, leaving camp and baggage. The victor sent for reinforcements ; and, when General Savary arrived, he ordered the capture and arrest of Despeaux, who was at once sent to the prison of La Force, whither a great number of fashionable people arrived to express their astonishment to her. She was terrified, and fell ill, but her imprisonment lasted only one night. The conqueror, coming entirely out of his anger, two days afterward, considered it a good joke, and was of course, applauded for his keen sense of humor, especially by the milliner.
Josephine's accounts were straightened once a year. She was robbed right and left, and the deficit was always enormous. Once, as the date of settlement arrived, Napoleon noticed that Josephine and her women had been crying. He said to Duroc, his confidential man : "Those women have tears in their eyes. It is debts. Find it out." Duroc, who was Josephine's friend, urged her to let him know. In a copious flow of grief, Josephine admitted that she had spent all her allowance, and owed $80,000. "Ah," said Duroc, "the Emperor feared it was at least double that sum." "No! I swear it is not double.
Yet, if I must confess to it all, it is $120,000." Duroc carried word to Napoleon. "She weeps bitterly, does she?" asked he. "Then she feels her crime. It must be $200,000. Find it out." But Josephine had told it all. Napoleon made a loud ado, and threatened a scene with her. When he entered for supper, she was in violent distress. He did not address her. She seated herself sobbing. He went behind her chair and whispered in her ear: "Madame, I hear you are heavily in debt." She sobbed. "Is it $200,000 ?" ("a million"). "No, sire, I assure you, I owe only $120,000 in all." "Only that? A mere trifle?" his anger was rising. She fell sobbing very violently. He whispered in the other ear : "Come, Josephine, my little one. Don't cry ! Don't cry !" The incident was over. The millinery bills were straight for that year.
Napoleon was a manager, a saver, an economist. Josephine was a money-spender, like Cleopatra, Nero, Potemkin. Napoleon flattered himself that because he did not publicly keep a favorite, he was giving a better example than other Kings. What he considered to be fairly secret, was openly scandalous. The hatred borne to Josephine by the Bonaparte family; her tendency to spend all the money in France, and the close watch that had to be kept on her to prevent some awful deficit; her overwhelming jealousy when in close contact with the many temporary favorites of her husband; her failure to bear an heir these were the causes of her divorce. She won many a battle. Many times Napoleon advanced, receded, laid his head on her laces and confessed to her the names of her chief enemies. But the man and woman were alike. Their moods passed in a day. Neither believed in the other. Each admired the artifice of the other. Their moral canons were the same. Fouché, the Terrorist, companion-spirit of Carrier, Lebon and the other dead monsters, had delivered up his unguillotined brothers to Napoleon. Josephine, his true friend, he now delivered. He started the divorce as a State question. When Napoleon seized the crown he pitied the people. Now he had come to think the people were better off under a monarch, thirsty for "gloire." They would perish if there did not come a Napoleon-cub. The entire court deserted Josephine. She had not a flatterer. She wrought on his superstitions. She again had him in her lap. They went together to Bayonne, where he was to play one of his most artful games of deception on the old King of Spain. The Spanish war brought on the effort of Austria to shake off his grasp. Josephine next went with Napoleon to Strasburg, and lived there while her husband was at Vienna in 1809. Spies now reported her every act and speech to her husband daily. The news of the defeat of Aspern and Essling reached her, and while it was disastrous to the Empress, it was consoling to the threatened wife. When, a month later, Austria was in the dust, Josephine knew she must abdicate. Even then, at Schónbrunn Palace, the victorious Emperor was planning to marry the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperors. When he got back to the Tuileries, he at once permanently closed the secret door to Josephine's apartment. Fifteen days after his return, the news of the contemplated divorce was communicated to Josephine. The scene is described by Constant, valet. The husband and wife were left alone. Constant heard screams; the Emperor opened the door; Josephine, lying on the floor, was gasping and crying : "No! you will not do it ! You would not kill me !" M. de Bausset, Prefect of the Palace, was called. Josephine had now swooned. She was to be carried down a winding staircase and placed on a bed. De Bausset was charged with the bust; the Emperor took the legs. De Bausset's sword was in the way. His hold was slipping. He felt sure he should drop his heavy load. He there-upon took a very firm grip on the arms of what he supposed to be the inanimate body. "Don't squeeze me so tight !" whispered Josephine. De Bausset, vastly relieved on this, understood that he was assisting at a comedy. But the Emperor wept, and declared he had done violence to his heart. Probably if De Bausset had been hurting him, he too would have given a stage whisper.
Josephine was now in anguish, but the red paint effaced the pallor of her face from the public. She was dressed in the diamonds of the Napoleonic spectacle, and sat at the great feasts of the anniversary of the Coronation. When the Austrian marriage was agreed on, she wrote to Napoleon : "This, then, is the result of, I will not say how many, sacrifices, for they were sweet to me, but of a friendship without limit on my side, and the most solemn oaths on yours."
The evening before she left the Tuileries, she presided at a soirée. Her action was admired and indorsed by European statesmen not at war with France. She was assured of a high place in the opinions of diplomatists, and here, for the first time, entered the true sphere of Napoleonic politics.
The act of separation was read to the Bonaparte family December 16, 1809. Josephine entered with Hortense and Eugene, her children. She was plainly dressed in white. The document was read aloud by the Count Regnault. "For several years the Emperor had given up all hope of having children by his marriage with his dearly beloved spouse, and it was this which induced him to sacrifice the most tender affections of his heart, and in dissolving his marriage only to listen to the welfare of the State." Josephine, in her turn, endeavored to read her act of abdication, but failed, and it was read for her. She signed it with a firm hand. She then retired. Her son Eugene had stood beside the Emperor, and, when he passed out of "the presence," swooned away. Napoleon did not speak during the business.
Constant relates that Bonaparte was cast down badly all day. At night, when he was in bed, the door opened, and Josephine entered in disheveled hair, distorted features, rouge off, and age painted on with the artistic hand of nature. Constant was ordered out, and a scene of tears, caresses, promises and encouragements ensued. It was a trying epoch for Josephine, and even Napoleon suffered somewhat, as he thought he ought to, for such a prize as he had now torn from the gory field of Wagram.
Josephine had not made a bad bargain. She knew her Napoleon better than anybody else in-Europe. He learned nothing. He changed little. She was as much his wife as she had ever been. Nobody dared to slight her now, and Napoleon was still her warm friend. She was to retain the official title and state of Empress. She had the palace of Malmaison on the Seine near St. Germain, out of Paris, and the castle of Navarre at Evreux, fifty-three miles north-northwest of Paris. All magnates of the Empire paid homage to her. She was not permitted to dispense with the etiquette of an Empress. She carried to Malmaison her entire écrin, her jewels, for which she, or others, had paid about $12,500,000. This enormous collection was shown with pleasure to her guests, especially young women. She was allowed $120,000 a year. A cashier was sent to keep that figure from reaching $120,000,000, as Josephine was charmingly unable to under-stand ciphers, but Napoleon, listening to the reports, commented ; "I expressly warn you not to make her cry;"— the only humane speech, not obviously dictated by Corsican hypocrisy, that we can record of him. Napoleon's treatment of Josephine at Malmaison was gentle, and astonishingly unlike him. He was evidently grateful if such a word can be used in discussing Napoleon Bonaparte grateful to her for her abdication. It had put him on a civilized footing with Europe. His kindness to Eugene increased. He wrote five letters or notes to her in the next month. She pined some. He visited her. He was soon to be married to the she-Austrian a name that Josephine had heard harsh off the lips of the Municipals, but a couple of decades before. Yet she was a Parisian why not once more enjoy life spend money dance with the victims. A day after Napoleon had visited her, in January, 1810, he began to fix up her accounts. He wrote in good humor: "I to-day accorded you an extraordinary credit of $20,000 for Malmaison; plant as much as you like; Esteve is to pay $20,000 into Julien's bank when the contract is completed. I have given directions for the payment of your ruby ornaments [purchased in secret at several prices, and confessed, as usual], which shall be valued by the Administration [threats of dungeons], for I shall not tolerate the robberies of the jewelers. This affair has already cost me $80,000. I have ordered the $200,000 which the civil list owes you, to be placed at the disposal of your man of business to pay your debts [so poor Josephine will get none of that, having already spent it]. You ought to find in the caisse at Malmaison from $100,000 to $120,000, which you can take in order to purchase plate and linen. I have ordered a handsome service of porcelain for you."
Josephine resided a good deal of the time at the castle of Navarre. She found comfort in the society of others of the cast-off women of Napoleon, especially of Madame Walewska, the lady of the Eylau campaign, and Madame Grazani, once an almost open adviser of the Emperor. Walewska's son was the image of Napoleon, and was fondly caressed by Josephine. Marie Louise, the Austrian wife, would not go to see Josephine, and was desirous of keeping Napoleon away from Malmaison. But Napoleon took the King of Rome to Bagatelle, where Josephine passed two hours with the child. Josephine had spent money on the deserving poor. She knew how to have it done. Marie Louise was kept a close prisoner until she gave birth to a son, and had no opportunity to know that her alms officially twice as great had been stolen by the secretaries. She was cold and immovable phlegmatic, jealous of Josephine, who could not be mentioned in her presence as Scarron could not be named in the presence of Louis XIV. The poor missed the imperial alms. At once the epithet "the good Josephine" attached to the ousted Empress, who had bowed and smiled and danced and wasted in true Parisian fashion.
No sooner was Napoleon a father than he determined on his Russian campaign. Josephine was the truly anxious one. She believed he never more would have any luck. When the allies penetrated to France, he wrote her a letter from Brienne, the scene of his boyhood. He had slain all his close companions save Eugene. An outraged world was snuffing him out gradually. He thought of her. She could forgive him when all others turned away. She possessed the power to condone, because she herself was so frail. The triumphant Kings, coming to Paris, declared her exempt from their forays, and called on her, addressing her with great respect. She did what she could to soften the fall of the whilom conqueror. She wrote to him at Elba, telling him she would come to him as soon as Marie Louise deserted him. It was a joy to accuse the Austrian Archduchess of want of fidelity.
A month after writing this letter to Napoleon, King of little Elba, she was seized with fatal illness, but in the stress of the excitement, concealed her true condition. Her palace, as we said, had been a sort of neutral ground, where the Emperor of Russia and the King of Prussia found it convenient to be seen. Her grounds were worthy of study. She had struggled to secure a duchy for Hortense, and when the Czar told her he had succeeded, she gave way. The returning Bourbons now began to show their hatred of Napoleon, and, in so doing, dealt her a sad blow. The son of Hortense, whose death had precipitated the divorce, was buried in Notre Dame. The Bourbon Minister Blacas, ordered the removal of the body to a common cemetery. Hortense read the news in a daily paper; she hastened to Paris, to superintend the removal. Josephine herself told the Czar of the studied insult, and fell ill. The Czar hastened to Paris, and sent back his own doctor, who reported that she was fatally prostrated.
She was ill in bed but two days, and died May 29, 1814. Hortense was out of the death-chamber. Josephine was in the arms of Eugene. She received the sacrament from the Abbé Bertrand. As Hortense re-entered, she saw her mother with outstretched arms, vainly endeavoring to speak to them. Hortense fainted at the bedside, and Josephine was no more.
The Bourbons had worried over Josephine and the Czar's civility. "Alas!" cried King Louis XVIII's mistress, "Alas ! how interesting a lady was 'this good Josephine.' What tact ! How well she knew how to do everything! to die just at this moment!" Now the royalists, whom she had ever befriended, could show their good will.
Eugene and Hortense both fell ill. Josephine was followed to the grave by her two little grandchildren (one of them Napoleon III) ; next to these, the Russian general, Von Sacken, representing the Czar; then the equipages of the other foreign sovereigns; then two thousand of the poor, who blessed "the good Josephine," and shed tears over her name. She was buried in the ancient church of the village of Rueil, near Malmaison. Hortense and Eugene erected a beautiful white marble monument, by the sculptor Cartellier, to her memory. Under an arch, supported by four columns, resting on a basement, the Empress is kneeling in the act of prayer. On the basement is an inscription : "A Josephine : Eugène et Hortense." Hortense was also buried there in turn, and Napoleon III, her son, erected another monument of similar design.
It was easy in Paris to revere "the good Josephine." She had tried to enjoy life. She had striven to relieve poverty. Her sins were Parisian sins. Her taste, grace, good humor, were softening influences with Bonaparte. Imagine Lady Macbeth or Catherine de' Medici as his wife! The Archbishop of Tours, on June 2, 1814, preached a funeral sermon on Josephine. "Blessed are the merciful," said he, in his text, "for they shall obtain mercy." "Amen !" said all Paris all France. "Amen !" let us believe, say we, fervently in our own hearts. "Josephine was not only charitable," continued the eloquent prelate, "but if it were permitted for a minister of God, at the altar, to talk of worldly qualities, I should speak to you, my brothers, of the nobility and grace of her manners, and of that extreme politeness, which never deserted her which touched us all the more as it had long ceased to be allied with power."
While this grave was almost new, there pounced upon Europe once more, "like eagle in a dove-cote," the outlaw Napoleon Bonaparte, the declared enemy of his race, not less the greatest of his sad kind. While Holy Alliance was sounding its wide mass, and the armies of the earth were moving with vengeful tread, this man, before he cast the fatal die of Waterloo, stood over the grave of the frail fellow-mortal whom he had sacrificed to the Moloch of his ambition.
And when, a little later, he had fruitlessly hurled the sons of France three deep, dead, into the gullies near Brussels, and a world, rescued from his tyranny, was shouting hosannas to God in the highest, and bells were ringing from every steeple in every Caucasian land, the hunted out-law, for five days, walked alone in the groves of Josephine at Malmaison, and felt himself less hateful where her loving forgiveness had so often sounded its sweet syllables.
Today he sleeps and tomorrow until the ideals of forceful men rise to the heights of George Washington's career he shall sleep in the richest couch, deepest within the citadel of civilization and the arts. His arches, monuments, public works, cover the face of Europe. His acts, words, mandates the acts of those who saw him act, speak, command all these things, written in books, compose the largest of our libraries touching the life of a single man. But Josephine, his mate, who, in the little house of Barras, helped to plan the death of liberty's hopes, lies all forgotten in the village church. Excepting there, her many monuments have been swept away. Her Malmaison has almost disappeared. Yet she forgave him we cannot forgive; she loved him we cannot love; she pitied those he ostracised, and wept for them he slew; she trembled because she had bought so much from the poor, and sobbed because she had given so much to the needy.