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Life Of Napoleon Bonaparte With A Sketch Of Josephine

Book:        Life Of Napoleon

Author:      Tarbell, Ida

 

 

 

 

Chapter XVII.

 

The Divorce - A New Wife - An Heir To The Crown

 

     To further the universal peace he desired, to prevent plots among his

subordinates who would aspire to his crown in case of his sudden death,

and to assure a succession, Napoleon now decided to take a step long in

mind - to divorce Josephine, by whom he no longer hoped to have heirs.

 

     In considering Napoleon's divorce of Josephine, it must be remembered

that stability of government was of vital necessity to the permanency of

the Napoleonic institutions.  Napoleon had turned into practical realities

most of the reforms demanded in 1789.  True, he had done it by the

exercise of despotism, but nothing but the courage, the will, the audacity

of a despot could have aroused the nation in 1799.  Napoleon felt that

these institutions had been so short a time in operation that in case of

his death they would easily topple over, and his kingdom go to pieces as

Alexander's had.  If he could leave an heir, this disaster would, he

believed, be averted.

 

     Then, would not a marriage with a foreign princess calm the fears of

his Continental enemies?  Would they not see in such an alliance an effort

on the part of new, liberal France to adjust herself harmoniously to the

system of government which prevailed on the Continent?

 

     Thus, by a new marriage, he hoped to prevent at his death a series of

fresh revolutions, save the splendid organization he had created, and put

France in greater harmony with her environment.  It is to misunderstand

Napoleon's scheme, to attribute this divorce simply to a gigantic egotism.

To assure his dynasty, was to assure France of liberal institutions.  His

glorification was his country's.  In reality there were the same reasons

for divorcing Josephine that there had been for taking the crown in 1804.

 

     Josephine had long feared a separation.  The Bonapartes had never

cared for her, and even so far back as the Egyptian campaign had urged

Napoleon to seek a divorce.  Unwisely, she had not sought in her early

married life to win their affection any more than she had to keep

Napoleon's; and when the emperor was crowned, they had done their best to

prevent her coronation.  When, for state reasons, the divorce seemed

necessary, Josephine had no supporters where she might have had many.

 

     Her grief was more poignant because she had come to love her husband

with a real ardor.  The jealousy from which he had once suffered she now

felt, and Napoleon certainly gave her ample cause for it.  Her anxiety was

well known to all the court, the secretaries Bourrienne and Meneval, and

Madame de Remusat being her special confidants.  Since 1807 it had been

intense, for it was in that year that Fouche, probably at Napoleon's

instigation, tried to persuade the empress to suggest the divorce herself

as her sacrifice to the country.

 

     After Wagram it became evident to her that at last her fate was

sealed; but though she beset Meneval and all the members of her household

for information, it was only a fortnight before the public divorce that

she knew her fate.  It was Josephine's own son and daughter, Eugene and

Hortense, who broke the news to her; and it was on the former that the

cruel task fell of indorsing the divorce in the Senate in the name of

himself and his sister.

 

     Josephine was terribly broken by her disgrace, but she bore it with a

sweetness and dignity which does much to make posterity forget her earlier

frivolity and insincerity.

 

     "I can never forget [says Pasquier] the evening on which the

discarded empress did the honors of her court for the last time.  It was

the day before the official dissolution.  A great throng was present, and

supper was served, according to custom, in the gallery of Diana, on a

number of little tables.  Josephine sat at the centre one, and the men

went around her, waiting for that particularly graceful nod which she was

in the habit of bestowing on those with whom she was acquainted.  I stood

at a short distance from her for a few minutes, and I could not help being

struck with the perfection of her attitude in the presence of all these

people who still did her homage, while knowing full well that it was for

the last time; that in an hour she would descend from the throne, and

leave the palace never to reenter it.  Only women can rise superior to

such a situation, but I have my doubts as to whether a second one could

have been found to do it with such perfect grace and composure.  Napoleon

did not show so bold a front as did his victim."

 

     There is no doubt but that Napoleon suffered deeply over the

separation.  If his love had lost its illusion, he was genuinely attached

to Josephine, and in a way she was necessary to his happiness.  After the

ceremony of separation, he was to go to Saint Cloud, she to Malmaison.

While waiting for his carriage, he returned to his study in the palace.

For a long time he sat silent and depressed, his head on his hand.  When

he was summoned he rose, his face distorted with pain, and went into the

empress's apartment.  Josephine was alone.

 

     When she saw the emperor, she threw herself on his neck, sobbing

aloud.  He pressed her to his bosom, kissed her again and again, until

overpowered with emotion, she fainted.  Leaving her to her women, he

hurried to his carriage.

 

     Meneval, who saw this sad parting, remained with Josephine until she

became conscious.  When he left, she begged him not to let the emperor

forget her, and to see that he wrote her often.

 

     "I left her," that naive admirer and apologist of Napoleon goes on,

"grieved at so deep a sorrow and so sincere an affection.  I felt very

miserable all along my route, and I could not help deploring that the

rigorous exactions of politics should violently break the bonds of an

affection which had stood the test of time, to impose another union full

of uncertainty."

 

     Josephine returned to Malmaison to live, but Napoleon took care that

she should have, in addition, another home, giving her Navarre, a chateau

near Evreux, some fifty miles from Paris.  She had an income of some four

hundred thousand dollars a year, and the emperor showed rare

thoughtfulness in providing her with everything she could want.  She was

to deny herself nothing, take care of her health, pay no attention to the

gossip she heard, and never doubt of his love.  Such were the

recommendations of the frequent letters he wrote her.  Sometimes he went

to see her, and he told her all the details of his life.  It is certain

that he neglected no opportunity of comforting her, and that she, on her

side, finally accepted her lot with resignation and kindliness.

 

     Over two years before the divorce a list of the marriageable

princesses of Europe had been drawn up for Napoleon.  This list included

eighteen names in all, the two most prominent being Marie Louise of

Austria, and Anna Paulowna, sister of Alexander of Russia.  At the Erfurt

conference the project of a marriage with a Russian princess had been

discussed, and Alexander had favored it; but now that an attempt was made

to negotiate the affair, there were numerous delays, and a general

lukewarmness which angered Napoleon.  Without waiting for the completion

of the Russian negotiations, he decided on Marie Louise.

 

     The marriage ceremony was performed in Vienna on March 12, 1810, the

Archduke Charles acting for Napoleon.  The emperor first saw his new wife

some days later on the road between Soissons and Compiegne, where he had

gone to meet her in most unimperial haste, and in contradiction to the

pompous and complicated ceremony which had been arranged for their first

interview.  From the beginning he was frankly delighted with Marie Louise.

In fact, the new empress was a most attractive girl, young, fresh, modest

well-bred, and innocent.  She entirely filled Napoleon's ideal of a wife,

and he certainly was happy with her.

 

     Marie Louise in marrying Napoleon had felt that she was a kind of

sacrificial offering, for she had naturally a deep horror of the man who

had caused her country so much woe; but her dread was soon dispelled, and

she became very fond of her husband.  Outside of the court the two led an

amusingly simple life, riding together informally early in the morning, in

a gay Bohemian way; sitting together alone in the empress's little salon,

she at her needlework, he with a book.  They even indulged now and then in

quiet little larks of their own, as one day when Marie Louise attempted to

make an omelet in her apartments.  Just as she was completely engrossed in

her work, the emperor came in.  The empress tried to conceal her culinary

operations, but Napoleon detected the odor.

 

     "What is going on here?  There is a singular smell, as if something

was being fried.  What, you are making an omelet!  Bah!  you don't know

how to do it.  I will show you how it is done."

 

     And he set to work to instruct her.  They got on very well until it

came to tossing it, an operation Napoleon insisted on performing himself,

with the result that he landed it on the floor.

 

     On March 20, 1811, the long-desired heir to the French throne was

born.  It had been arranged that the birth of the child should be

announced to the people by cannon shot; twenty-one if it were a princess,

one hundred and one if a prince.  The people who thronged the quays and

streets about the Tuileries waited with inexpressible anxiety as the

cannon boomed forth; one - two - three.  As twenty-one died away the city

held its breath; then came twenty-two.  the thundering peals which

followed it were drowned in the wild enthusiasm of the people.  For days

afterward, enervated by joy and the endless fetes given them, the French

drank and sang to the King of Rome.

 

     In all these rejoicings none were so touching as at Navarre, where

Josephine, on hearing the cannon, called together her friends and said,

"We, too, must have a fete.  I shall give you a ball, and the whole city

of Evreux must come and rejoice with us."

 

     Napoleon was the happiest of men, and he devoted himself to his son

with pride.  Reports of the boy's condition appear frequently in his

letters; he even allowed him to be taken without the empress's knowledge

to Josephine, who had begged to see him.

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