Life Of Napoleon Bonaparte With A Sketch Of Josephine
Book: Life Of Napoleon
Author: Tarbell, Ida
Life Of Napoleon Bonaparte With A Sketch Of Josephine
Book: Life Of Napoleon
Author: Tarbell, Ida
Napoleon In Paris - Lieutenant Of Artillery - Literary Work - The Revolution
It was in October, 1784, that Napoleon was placed in the Ecole
Militaire at Paris, the same school which still faces the Champ de Mars.
He was fifteen years old at the time, a thin-faced, awkward, countrified
boy, who stared open-mouthed at the Paris street sights and seemed
singularly out of place to those who saw him in the capital for the first
Napoleon found his new associates even more distasteful than those at
Brienne had been. The pupils of the Ecole Militaire were sons of soldiers
and provincial gentlemen, educated gratuitously, and rich young men who
paid for their privileges. The practices of the school were luxurious.
There was a large staff of servants, costly stables, several courses at
meals. Those who were rich spent freely; most of those who were poor ran
in debt. Napoleon could not pay his share in the lunches and gifts which
his mates offered now and then to teachers and fellows. He saw his sister
Eliza, who was at Madame de Maintenon's school at St. Cyr, weep one day
for the same reason. He would not borrow. "My mother has already too
many expenses, and I have no business to increase them by extravagances
which are simply imposed upon me by the stupid folly of my comrades." But
he did complain loudly to his friends. The Permons, a Corsican family
living on the Quai Conti, who made Napoleon thoroughly at home, even
holding a room at his disposal, frequently discussed these complaints.
Was it vanity and envy, or a wounded pride and just indignation? The
latter, said Monsieur Permon. This feeling was so profound with Napoleon,
that, with his natural instinct for regulating whatever was displeasing to
him, he prepared a memorial to the government, full of good, practical
sense, on the useless luxury of the pupils.
A year in Paris finished Napoleon's military education, and in
October, 1785, when sixteen years old, he received his appointment as
second lieutenant of the artillery in a regiment stationed at Valence.
Out of the fifty-eight pupils entitled that year to the promotion of
second lieutenant, but six went to the artillery; of these six Napoleon
was one. His examiner said of him:
"Reserved and studious, he prefers study to any amusement, and enjoys
reading the best authors; applies himself earnestly to the abstract
sciences; cares little for anything else. He is silent and loves
solitude. He is capricious, haughty, and excessively egotistical; talks
little, but is quick and energetic in his replies, prompt and severe in
his repartees; has great pride and ambitions, aspiring to anything. The
young man is worthy of patronage."
He left Paris at once, on money borrowed from a cloth merchant whom
his father had patronized, not sorry, probably, that his school-days were
over, though it is certain that all of those who had been friendly to him
in this period he never forgot in the future. Several of his old teachers
at Brienne received pensions; one was made rector of the School of Fine
Arts established at Compiegne, another librarian at Malmaison, where the
porter was the former porter at Brienne. The professors of the Ecole
Militaire were equally well taken care of, as well as many of his
schoolmates. During the Consulate, learning that Madame de Montesson,
wife of the Duke of Orleans, was still living, he sent for her to come to
the Tuileries, and asked what he could do for her. "But, General,"
protested Madame de Montesson, "I have no claim upon you."
"You do not know, then," replied the First Consul, "that I received
my first crown from you. You went to Brienne with the Duke of Orleans to
distribute the prizes, and in placing a laurel wreath on my head, you said
'May it bring you happiness.' They say I am a fatalist, Madame, so it is
quite plain that I could not forget what you no longer remember;" and the
First Consul caused the sixty thousand francs of yearly income left Madame
de Montesson by the Duke of Orleans, but confiscated in the Revolution, to
be returned. Later, at her request, he raised one of her relatives to the
rank of senator. In 1805, when emperor, Napoleon gave a life pension of
six thousand francs to the son of his former protector, the Count de
Marboeuf, and with it went his assurance of interest and good will in all
the circumstances of the young man's life. Generous, forbearing, even
tender remembrance of all who had been associated with him in his early
years, was one of Napoleon's marked characteristics.
[See Napoleon When First Consul]
His new position at Valence was not brilliant. He had an annual
income of two hundred and twenty-four dollars, and there was much hard
work. It was independence, however, and life opened gayly to the young
officer. He made many acquaintances, and for the first time saw something
of society and women. Madame Colombier, whose salon was the leading one
of the town, received him, introduced him to powerful friends, and,
indeed, prophesied a great future for him.
The sixteen-year-old officer, in spite of his shabby clothes and big
boots, became a favorite. He talked brilliantly and freely, began to find
that he could please, and, for the first time, made love a little - to
Mademoiselle Colombier - a frolicking boy-and-girl love, the object of
whose stolen rendezvous was to eat cherries together. Mademoiselle Mion-
Desplaces, a pretty Corsican girl in Valence, also received some attention
from him. Encouraged by his good beginning, and ambitious for future
success, he even began to take dancing lessons.
Had there been no one but himself to think of, everything would have
gone easily, but the care of his family was upon him. His father had died
a few months before, February, 1785, and left his affairs in a sad tangle.
Joseph, now nearly eighteen years of age, who had gone to Autun in 1779
with Napoleon, had remained there until 1785. The intention was to make
him a priest; suddenly he declared that he would not be anything but a
soldier. It was to undo all that had been done for him; but his father
made an effort to get him into a military school. Before the arrangements
were complete Charles Bonaparte died, and Joseph was obliged to return to
Corsica, where he was powerless to do anything for his mother and for the
four young children at home: Louis, aged nine; Pauline, seven; Caroline,
five; Jerome, three.
Lucien, now nearly eleven years old, was at Brienne, refusing to
become a soldier, as his family desired, and giving his time to
literature; but he was not a free pupil, and the six hundred francs a year
needful for him was a heavy tax. Eliza alone was provided for. She had
entered St. Cyr in 1784 as one of the two hundred and fifty pupils
supported there by his Majesty, and to be a demoiselle de St. Cyr was to
be fed, taught, and clothed from seven to twenty, and, on leaving, to
receive a dowry of three thousand francs, a trousseau, and one hundred and
fifty francs for travelling expenses home.
Napoleon regarded his family's situation more seriously than did his
brothers. Indeed, when at Brienne he had shown an interest, a sense of
responsibility, and a good judgment about the future of his brothers and
sisters, quite amazing in so young a boy. When he was fifteen years old,
he wrote a letter to his uncle, which, for its keen analysis, would do
credit to the father of a family. The subject was his brother Joseph's
desire to abandon the Church and go into the king's service. Napoleon is
summing up the pros and cons:
"First. As father says, he has not the courage to face the perils of
an action; his health is feeble, and will not allow him to support the
fatigues of a campaign; and my brother looks on the military profession
only from a garrison point of view. He would make a good garrison
officer. He is well made, light-minded, knows how to pay compliments, and
with these talents he will always get on well in society.
Second. He has received an ecclesiastical education, and it is very
late to undo that. Monseignor the Bishop of Autun would have given him a
fat living, and he would have been sure to become a bishop. What an
advantage for the family! Monseignor of Autun has done all he could to
encourage him to persevere, promising that he should never repent. Should
he persist, in wishing to be a soldier, I must praise him, provided he has
a decided taste for his profession, the finest of all, and the great
motive power of human affairs. . . . He wishes to be a military man. That
is all very well; but in what corps? Is it the marine? First: He knows
nothing of mathematics; it would take him two years to learn. Second: His
health is incompatible with the sea. Is it the engineers? He would
require four or five years to learn what is necessary, and at the end of
that time he would be only a cadet. Besides, working all day long would
not suit him. The same reasons which apply to the engineers apply to the
artillery, with this exception; that he would have to work eighteen months
to become a cadet, and eighteen months more to become an officer. . . . No
doubt he wishes to join the infantry. . . . And what is the slender
infantry officer? Three-fourths of the time a scapegrace. . . . A last
effort will be made to persuade him to enter the Church, in default of
which, father will take him to Corsica, where he will be under his eye."
It was not strange that Charles Bonaparte considered the advice of a
son who could write so clear-headed a letter as the one just quoted, or
that the boy's uncle Lucien said, before dying: "Remember, that if Joseph
is the older, Napoleon is the real head of the house."
Now that young Bonaparte was in an independent position, he felt
still more keenly his responsibility, and it was for this reason, as well
as because of ill-health, that he left his regiment in February, 1787, on
a leave which he extended to nearly fifteen months, and which he spent in
energetic efforts to better his family's situation, working to reestablish
salt works and a mulberry plantation in which they were concerned, to
secure the nomination of Lucien to the college at Aix, and to place Louis
at a French military school.
When he went back to his regiment, now stationed at Auxonne, he
denied himself to send money home, and spent his leisure in desperate
work, sleeping but six hours, eating but one meal a day, dressing once in
the week. Like all the young men of the country who had been animated by
the philosophers and encyclopedists, he had attempted literature, and at
this moment was finishing a history of Corsica, a portion of which he had
written at Valence and submitted to the Abbe Raynal, who had encouraged
him to go on. The manuscript was completed and ready for publication in
1788, and the author made heroic efforts to find some one who would accept
a dedication, as well as some one who would publish it. Before he had
succeeded, events had crowded the work out of sight, and other ambitions
occupied his forces. Napoleon had many literary projects on hand at this
time. He had been a prodigious reader, and was never so happy as when he
could save a few cents with which to buy second-hand books. From
everything he read he made long extracts, and kept a book of "thoughts."
Most curious are some of these fragments, reflections on the beginning of
society, on love, on nature. They show that he was passionately absorbed
in forming ideas on the great questions of life and its relations.
Besides his history of Corsica, he had already written several
fragments, among them an historical drama called the "Count of Essex," and
a story, the "Masque Prophete." He undertook, too, to write a sentimental
journey in the style of Sterne, describing a trip from Valence to Mont-
Cenis. Later he competed for a prize offered by the Academy of Lyons on
the subject: "To determine what truths and feelings should be inculcated
in men for their happiness." He failed in the contest; indeed, the essay
was severely criticised for its incoherency and poor style.
The Revolution of 1789 turned Napoleon's mind to an ambition greater
than that of writing the history of Corsica - he would free Corsica. The
National Assembly had lifted the island from its inferior relation and
made it a department of France, but sentiment was much divided, and the
ferment was similar to that which agitated the mainland. Napoleon, deeply
interested in the progress of the new liberal ideas, and seeing, too, the
opportunity for a soldier and an agitator among his countrymen, hastened
home, where he spent some twenty-five months out of the next two and a
half years. That the young officer spent five-sixths of his time in
Corsica, instead of in service, and that he in more than one instance
pleaded reasons for leaves of absence which one would have to be
exceedingly unsophisticated not to see were trumped up for the occasion,
cannot be attributed merely to duplicity of character and contempt for
authority. He was doing only what he had learned to do at the military
schools of Brienne and Paris, and what he saw practised about him in the
army. Indeed, the whole French army at that period made a business of
shirking duty. Every minister of war in the period complains of the
incessant desertions among the common soldiers. Among the officers it was
no better. True, they did not desert; they held their places and - did
nothing. "Those who were rich and well born had no need to work," says
the Marshal Duc de Broglie. "They were promoted by favoritism. Those who
were poor and from the provinces had no need to work either. It did them
no good if they did, for, not having patronage, they could not advance."
The Comte de Saint-Germain said in regard to the officers: "There is not
one who is in active service; they one and all amuse themselves and look
out for their own affairs."
Napoleon, tormented by the desire to help his family, goaded by his
ambition and by an imperative inborn need of action and achievement, still
divided in his allegiance between France and Corsica, could not have been
expected, in his environment, to take nothing more than the leaves allowed
Revolutionary agitation did not absorb all the time he was in
Corsica. Never did he work harder for his family. The portion of this
two and a half years which he spent in France, he was accompanied by
Louis, whose tutor he had become, and he suffered every deprivation to
help him. Napoleon's income at that time was sixty-five cents a day.
This meant that he must live in wretched rooms, prepare himself the broth
on which he and his brother dined, never go to a cafe, brush his own
clothes, give Louis lessons. He did it bravely. "I breakfasted off dry
bread, but I bolted my door on my poverty," he said once to a young
officer complaining of the economies he must make on two hundred dollars a
Economy and privation were always more supportable to him than
borrowing. He detested irregularities in financial matters. "Your
finances are deplorably conducted, apparently on metaphysical principles.
Believe me, money is a very physical thing," he once said to Joseph, when
the latter, as King of Naples, could not make both ends meet. He put
Jerome to sea largely to stop his reckless expenditures. (At fifteen that
young man paid three thousand two hundred dollars for a shaving case
"containing everything except the beard to enable its owner to use it.")
Some of the most furious scenes which occurred between Napoleon and
Josephine were because she was continually in debt. After the divorce he
frequently cautioned her to be watchful of her money. "Think what a bad
opinion I should have of you if I knew you were in debt with an income of
six hundred thousand dollars a year," he wrote her in 1813.
The methodical habits of Marie Louise were a constant satisfaction to
Napoleon. "She settles all her accounts once a week, deprives herself of
new gowns if necessary, and imposes privations upon herself in order to
keep out of debt," he said proudly. A bill of sixty-two francs and
thirty-two centimes was once sent to him for window blinds placed in the
salon of the Princess Borghese. "As I did not order this expenditure,
which ought not to be charged to my budget, the princess will pay it," he
wrote on the margin.
It was not parsimony. It was the man's sense of order. No one was
more generous in gifts, pensions, salaries; but it irritated him to see
money wasted or managed carelessly.
Through his long absence in Corsica, and the complaints which the
conservatives of the island had made to the French government of the way
he had handled his battalion of National Guards in a riot at Ajaccio,
Napoleon lost his place in the French army. He came to Paris in the
spring of 1792, hoping to regain it. But in the confused condition of
public affairs little attention was given to such cases, and he was
obliged to wait.
Almost penniless, he dined on six-cent dishes in cheap restaurants,
pawned his watch, and with Bourrienne devised schemes for making a
fortune. One was to rent some new houses going up in the city and to sub-
let them. While he waited he saw the famous days of the "Second
Revolution" - the 20th of June, when the mob surrounded the Tuileries,
overran the palace, put the bonnet rouge on Louis XVI.'s head, did
everything but strike, as the agitators had intended. Napoleon and
Bourrienne, loitering on the outskirts, saw the outrages, and he said, in
"Che coglione, why did they allow these brutes to come in? They
ought to have shot down five or six hundred of them with cannon, and the
rest would soon have run."
He saw the 10th of August, when the king was deposed. He was still
in Paris when the horrible September massacres began - those massacres in
which, to "save the country," the fanatical and terrified populace
resolved to put "rivers of blood" between Paris and the emigres. All
these excesses filled him with disgust. He began to understand that the
Revolution he admired so much needed a head.
In August Napoleon was restored to the army. The following June
found him with his regiment in the south of France. In the interval spent
in Corsica, he had abandoned Paoli and the cause of Corsican independence.
His old hero had been dragged, in spite of himself, into a movement for
separating the island from France. Napoleon had taken the position that
the French government, whatever its excesses, was the only advocate in
Europe of liberty and equality, and that Corsica would better remain with
France rather than seek English aid, as it must if it revolted. But he
and his party were defeated, and he with his family was obliged to flee.
The Corsican period of his life was over; the French had opened. He
began it as a thorough republican. The evolution of his enthusiasm for
the Revolution had been natural enough. He had been a devoted believer in
Rousseau's principles. The year 1789 had struck down the abuses which
galled him in French society and government. After the flight of the king
in 1791 he had taken the oath:
"I swear to employ the arms placed in my hands for the defence of the
country, and to maintain against all her enemies, both from within and
from without, the Constitution as declared by the National Assembly; to
die rather than to suffer the invasion of the French territory by foreign
troops, and to obey orders given in accordance with the decree of the
"The nation is now the paramount object," he wrote; "my natural
inclinations are now in harmony with my duties."
The efforts of the court and the emigres to overthrow the new
government had increased his devotion to France. "My southern blood leaps
in my veins with the rapidity of the Rhone," he said, when the question of
the preservation of the Constitution was brought up. The months spent at
Paris in 1792 had only intensified his radical notions. Now that he had
abandoned his country, rather than assist it to fight the Revolution, he
was better prepared than ever to become a Frenchman. It seemed the only
way to repair his and his family's fortune.
The condition of the Bonapartes on arriving in France after their
expulsion from Corsica was abject. Their property "pillaged, sacked, and
burned," they had escaped penniless - were, in fact, refugees dependent
upon French bounty. They wandered from place to place, but at last found
a good friend in Monsieur Clary of Marseilles, a soap-boiler, with two
pretty daughters, Julie and Desiree, and Joseph and Napoleon became
inmates of his house.
It was not as a soldier but as a writer that Napoleon first
distinguished himself in this new period of his life. An insurrection
against the government had arisen in Marseilles. In an imaginary
conversation called le souper de Beaucaire, Napoleon discussed the
situation so clearly and justly that Salicetti, Gasparin, and Robespierre
the younger, the deputies who were looking after the South, ordered the
paper published at public expense, and distributed it as a campaign
document. More, they promised to favor the author when they had an
It soon came. Toulon had opened its doors to the English and joined
Marseilles in a counter-revolution. Napoleon was in the force sent
against the town, and he was soon promoted to the command of the Second
Regiment of artillery. His energy and skill won him favorable attention.
He saw at once that the important point was not besieging the town, as the
general in command was doing and the Convention had ordered, but in
forcing the allied fleet from the harbor, when the town must fall of
itself. But the commander-in-chief was slow, and it was not until the
command was changed and an officer of experience and wisdom put in charge
that Napoleon's plans were listened to. The new general saw at once their
value, and hastened to carry them out. The result was the withdrawal of
the allies in December, 1793, and the fall of Toulon. Bonaparte was
mentioned by the general-in-chief as "one of those who have most
distinguished themselves in aiding me," and in February, 1794, was made
general of brigade.
It is interesting to note that it was at Toulon that Napoleon first
came in contact with the English. Here he made the acquaintance of Junot,
Marmont, and Duroc. Barras, too, had his attention drawn to him at the
The circumstances which brought Junot and Napoleon together at Toulon
were especially heroic. Some one was needed to carry an order to an
exposed point. Napoleon asked for an under officer, audacious and
intelligent. Junot, then a sergeant, was sent. "Take off your uniform
and carry this order there," said Napoleon, indicating the point.
Junot blushed and his eyes flashed. "I am not a spy," he answered;
"find some one beside me to execute such an order."
"You refuse to obey?" said Napoleon.
"I am ready to obey," answered Junot, "but I will go in my uniform or
not go at all. It is honor enough then for these - Englishmen."
The officer smiled and let him go, but he took pains to find out his
A few days later Napoleon called for some one in the ranks who wrote
a good hand to come to him. Junot offered himself, and sat down close to
the battery to write the letter. He had scarcely finished when a bomb
thrown by the English burst near by and covered him and his letter with
"Good," said Junot, laughing, "I shall not need any sand to dry the
Bonaparte looked at the young man, who had not even trembled at the
danger. From that time the young sergeant remained with the commander of