Life Of Napoleon Bonaparte With A Sketch Of Josephine
Book: Life Of Napoleon
Author: Tarbell, Ida
Ruler Of Island Of Elba - Return To Paris - Hundred Days - Second Abdication
A week after bidding his Guard farewell, Napoleon sent from Frejus
his first address to the inhabitants of Elba:
"Circumstances having induced me to renounce the throne of France,
sacrificing my rights to the interests of the country, I reserved for
myself the sovereignty of the island of Elba, which has met with the
consent of all the powers. I therefore send you General Drouot, so that
you may hand over to him the said island, with the military stores and
provisions, and the property which belongs to my imperial domain. Be good
enough to make known this new state of affairs to the inhabitants, and the
choice which I have made of their island for my sojourn in consideration
of the mildness of their manners and the excellence of their climate. I
shall take the greatest interest in their welfare.
The Elbans received their new ruler with all the pomp which their
means and experience permitted. The entire population celebrated his
arrival as a fete. The new flag which the emperor had chosen - white
ground with red bar and three yellow bees - was unfurled, and saluted by
the forts of the nation and by the foreign vessels in port. The keys of
the chief town of the island were presented to him, a Te Deum was sung.
If these honors seemed poor and contemptible to Napoleon in comparison
with the splendor of the fetes to which he had become accustomed, he gave
no sign, and played his part with the same seriousness as he had when he
received his crown.
His life at Elba was immediately arranged methodically, and he worked
as hard and seemingly with as much interest as he had at Paris. The
affairs of his new state were his chief concern, and he set about at once
to familiarize himself with all their details. He travelled over the
island in all directions, to acquaint himself with its resources and
needs. At one time he made the circuit of his domain, entering every
port, and examining its condition and fortifications. Everywhere that he
went he planned and began works which he pushed with energy. Fine roads
were laid out; rocks were levelled; a palace and barracks were begun.
From his arrival his influence was beneficial. There was a new atmosphere
at Elba, the islanders said.
The budget at Elba was administered as rigidly as that of France had
been, and the little army was drilled with as great care as the Guards
themselves. After the daily review of his troops, he rode on horseback,
and this promenade became a species of reception, the islanders who wanted
to consult him stopping him on his route. It is said that he invariably
listened to their appeals.
Elba was enlivened constantly during Napoleon's residence by tourists
who went out of their way to see him. The majority of these curious
persons were Englishmen; with many of them he talked freely, receiving
them at his house, and letting them carry off bits of stone or of brick
from the premises as souvenirs.
His stay was made more tolerable by the arrival of Madame mere and of
the Princess Pauline and the coming of twenty-six members of the National
Guard who had crossed France to join him. But his great desire that Marie
Louise and the King of Rome should come to him was never gratified. It is
told by one of his companions on the island, that he kept carefully
throughout his stay a stock of fireworks which had fallen into his
possession, planning to use them when his wife and boy should arrive, but,
sadly enough, he never had an occasion to celebrate that event.
While to all appearances engrossed with the little affairs of Elba,
Napoleon was, in fact, planning the most dramatic act of his life. On the
26th of February, 1815, the guard received an order to leave the island.
With a force of eleven hundred men, the emperor passed the foreign ships
guarding Elba, and on the afternoon of the 1st of March landed at Cannes
on the Gulf of Juan. At eleven o'clock that night he started towards
Paris. He was trusting himself to the people and the army. If there
never was an example of such audacious confidence, certainly there never
was such a response. The people of the South received him joyfully,
offering to sound the tocsin and follow him en masse. But Napoleon
refused; it was the soldiers upon whom he called.
"We have not been conquered [he told the army]. Come and range
yourselves under the standard of your chief; his existence depends upon
you; his interests, his honor, and his glory are yours. Victory will
march at double-quick time. The eagle with the national colors will fly
from steeple to steeple to the towers of Notre Dame. Then you will be
able to show your scars with honor; then you will be able to boast of what
you have done; you will be the liberators of the country. . . .
At Grenoble there was a show of resistance. Napoleon went directly
to the soldiers, followed by his guard.
"Here I am; you know me. If there is a soldier among you who wishes
to kill his emperor, let him do it."
"Long live the emperor!" was the answer; and in a twinkle six
thousand men had torn off their white cockades and replaced them by old
soiled tricolors. They drew them from the inside of their caps, where
they had been concealing them since the exile of their hero. "It is the
same that I wore at Austerlitz," said one as he passed the emperor.
"This," said another, "I had at Marengo."
From Grenoble the emperor marched to Lyons, where the soldiers and
officers went over to him in regiments. The royalist leaders who had
deigned to go to Lyons to exhort the army found themselves ignored; and
Ney, who had been ordered from Besancon to stop the emperor's advance, and
who started out promising to "bring back Napoleon in an iron cage,"
surrendered his entire division. It was impossible to resist the force of
popular opinion, he said. From Lyons the emperor, at the head of what was
now the French army, passed by Dijon, Autun, Avallon, and Auxerre, to
Fontainebleau, which he reached on March 19th. The same day Louis XVIII.
fled from Paris.
The change of sentiment in these few days was well illustrated in a
French paper which, after Napoleon's return, published the following
calendar gathered from the royalist press.
February 25. - "The exterminator has signed a treaty offensive and
defensive. It is not known with whom."
February 26. - "The Corsican has left the island of Elba."
March 1. - "Bonaparte has debarked at Cannes with eleven hundred
March 7. - "General Bonaparte has taken possession of Grenoble."
March 10. - "Napoleon has entered Lyons."
March 19. - "The emperor reached Fontainebleau today."
March 19. - "His Imperial Majesty is expected at the Tuileries to-
morrow, the anniversary of the birth of the King of Rome."
Two days before the flight of the Bourbons, the following notice
appeared on the door of the Tuileries:
"The emperor begs the king to send him no more soldiers; he has
"What was the happiest period of your life as emperor?" O'Meara asked
Napoleon once at St. Helena.
"The march from Cannes to Paris," he replied immediately.
His happiness was short-lived. The overpowering enthusiasm which had
made that march possible could not endure. The bewildered factions which
had been silenced or driven out by Napoleon's reappearance recovered from
their stupor. The royalists, exasperated by their own flight,
reorganized. Strong opposition developed among the liberals. It was only
a short time before a reaction followed the delirium which Napoleon's
return had caused in the nation. Disaffection, coldness, and plots
succeeded. In face of this revulsion of feeling, the emperor himself
underwent a change. The buoyant courage, the amazing audacity which had
induced him to return from Elba, seemed to leave him. He became sad and
preoccupied. No doubt much of this sadness was due to the refusal of
Austria to restore his wife and child, and to the bitter knowledge that
Marie Louise had succumbed to foreign influences and had promised never
again to see her husband.
If the allies had allowed the French to manage their affairs in their
own way, it is probable that Napoleon would have mastered the situation,
difficult as it was. But this they did not do. In spite of his promise
to observe the treaties made after his abdication, to accept the
boundaries fixed, to abide by the Congress of Vienna, the coalition
treated him with scorn, affecting to mistrust him. He was the disturber
of the peace of the world, a public enemy; he must be put beyond the pale
of society, and they took up arms, not against France, but against
Napoleon. France, as it appeared, was not to be allowed to choose her own
The position in which Napoleon found himself on the declaration of
war was of exceeding difficulty, but he mastered the opposition with all
his old genius and resources. Three months after the landing at Cannes he
had an army of two hundred thousand men ready to march. He led it against
at least five hundred thousand men.
On June 15th, Napoleon's army met a portion of the enemy in Belgium,
near Brussels, and on July 16th, 17th, and 18th were fought the battles of
Ligny, Quatre Bras, and Waterloo, in the last of which he was completely
defeated. The limits and nature of this sketch do not permit a
description of the engagement at Waterloo. The literature on the subject
is perhaps richer than that on any other subject in military science.
Thousands of books discuss the battle, and each succeeding generation
takes it up as if nothing had been written on it. But while Waterloo
cannot be discussed here, it is not out of place to notice that among the
reasons for its loss are certain ones which interest us because they are
personal to Napoleon. He whose great rule in wars was, "Time is
everything," lost time at Waterloo. He who had looked after everything
which he wanted well done, neglected to assure himself of such an
important matter as the exact position of his enemy. He who once had been
able to go a week without sleep, was ill. Again, if one will compare
carefully the Bonaparte of Guerin (page 108) with the Napoleon of Girodet
(page 240), he will understand, at least partially, why the battle of
Waterloo was lost.
[See After Waterloo]
The defeat was complete; and when the emperor saw it, he threw
himself into the battle in search of death. As eagerly as he had sought
victory at Arcola, Marengo, Austerlitz, he sought death at Waterloo. "I
ought to have died at Waterloo," he said afterwards; "but the misfortune
is that when a man seeks death most he cannot find it. Men were killed
around me, before, behind - everywhere. But there was no bullet for me."
He returned immediately to Paris. There was still force for
resistance in France. There were many to urge him to return to the
struggle, but such was the condition of public sentiment that he refused.
The country was divided in its allegiance to him; the legislative body was
frightened and quarrelling; Talleyrand and Fouche were plotting. Besides,
the allies proclaimed to the nation that it was against Napoleon alone
that they waged war. Under these circumstances Napoleon felt that loyalty
to the best interest of France required his abdication; and he signed the
act anew, proclaiming his son emperor under the title of Napoleon II.
Leaving Paris, the fallen emperor went to Malmaison, where Josephine
had died only thirteen months before. A few friends joined him - Queen
Hortense, the Duc de Rovigo, Bertrand, Las Cases, and Meneval. He
remained there only a few days. The allies were approaching Paris, and
the environs were in danger. Napoleon offered his services to the
provisional government, which had taken his place, as leader in the
campaign against the invader, promising to retire as soon as the enemy was
repulsed, but he was refused. The government feared him, in fact, more
than it did the allies, and urged him to leave France as quickly as
possible. In his disaster he turned to America as a refuge, and gave his
family rendezvous there.
Various plans were suggested for getting to the United States. Among
the offers of aid to carry out his desire which were made to Napoleon, Las
Cases speaks of one coming from an American in Paris, who wrote:
"While you were at the head of a nation you could perform any
miracle, you might conceive any hopes; but now you can do nothing more in
Europe. Fly to the United States! I know the hearts of the leading men
and the sentiments of the people of America. You will there find a second
country and every source of consolation."
Mr. S. V. S. Wilder, an American shipping merchant who lived in
France during the time of Napoleon's power, and who had been much
impressed by the changes brought about in society and politics under his
rule, offered to help him to escape. He proposed that the emperor
disguise himself as a valet for whom he had a passport. On board the ship
the emperor was to conceal himself in a hogshead until the danger-line was
crossed. This hogshead was to have a false compartment in it. From the
end in view, water was to drip incessantly. Mr. Wilder proposed to take
Napoleon to his own home in Bolton, Massachusetts, when they arrived in
America. It is said that the emperor seriously considered this scheme,
but finally declined, because he would leave his friends behind him, and
for them Mr. Wilder could not possibly provide. Napoleon explained one
day to Las Cases at St. Helena what he intended to do if he had reached
America. He would have collected all his relatives around him, and thus
would have formed the nucleus of a national union, a second France. Such
were the sums of money he had given them that he thought they might have
realized at least forty millions of francs. Before the conclusion of a
year, the events of Europe would have drawn to him a hundred millions of
francs and sixty thousand individuals, most of them possessing wealth,
talent, and information.
"America [he said] was, in all respects, our proper asylum. It is an
immense continent, possessing the advantage of a peculiar system of
freedom. If a man is troubled with melancholy, he may get into a coach
and drive a thousand leagues, enjoying all the way the pleasures of a
common traveller. In America you may be on a footing of equality with
everyone; you may, if you please, mingle with the crowd without
inconvenience, retaining your own manners, your own language, your own
On June 29th, a week after his return to Paris from Waterloo,
Napoleon left Malmaison for Rochefort, hoping to reach a vessel which
would carry him to the United States; but the coast was so guarded by the
English that there was no escape.