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
Opposition To The Centralization Of The Government - General Prosperity
The centralization of France in Napoleon's hands was not to be
allowed to go on without interference. Jacobinism, republicanism,
royalism, were deeply-rooted sentiments, and it was not long before they
began to struggle for expression.
Early in the Consulate, plots of many descriptions were unearthed.
The most serious before 1803 was that known as the "Opera Plot," or "Plot
of the 3d Nivose" (December 24, 1800), when a bomb was placed in the
street, to be exploded as the First Consul's carriage passed. By an
accident he was saved, and, in spite of the shock, went on to the opera.
Madame Junot, who was there, gives a graphic description of the way
the news was received by the house:
"The first thirty measures of the oratorio were scarcely played, when
a strong explosion like a cannon was heard.
"'What does that mean?'exclaimed Junot with emotion. He opened the
door of the loge and looked into the corridor. . . . 'It is strange; how
can they be firing cannon at this hour?' And then 'I should have known it.
Give me my hat; I am going to find out what it is. . . .'
"At this moment the loge of the First Consul opened, and he himself
appeared with Generals Lannes, Lauriston, Berthier, and Duroc. Smiling,
he saluted the immense crowd, which mingled cries like those of love with
its applause. Madame Bonaparte followed him in a few seconds. . . .
"Junot was going to enter the loge to see for himself the serene air
of the First Consul that I had just remarked, when Duroc came up to us
with troubled face.
"'The First Consul has just escaped death,' he said quickly to Junot.
'Go down and see him; he wants to talk to you.'. . . But a dull sound
commenced to spread from parterre to orchestra, from orchestra to
amphitheatre, and thence to the loges.
"'The First Consul has just been attacked in the Rue Saint Nicaise,'
it was whispered. Soon the truth was circulated in the salle; at the same
instant, and as by an electric shock, one and the same acclamation arose,
one and the same look enveloped Napoleon, as if in a protecting love.
"What agitation preceded the explosion of national anger which was
represented in that first quarter of an hour, by that crowd whose fury for
so black an attack could not be expressed by words! Women sobbed aloud,
men shivered with indignation. Whatever the banner they followed, they
were united heart and arm in this case to show that differences of opinion
did not bring with them differences in understanding honor."
It was such attempts, and suspicion of like ones, that led to the
extension of the police service. One of the ablest and craftiest men of
the Revolution became Napoleon's head of police in the Consulate, Fouche.
A consummate actor and skilful flatterer, hampered by no conscience other
than the duty of keeping in place, he acted a curious and entertaining
part. Detective work was for him a game which he played with intense
relish. He was a veritable amateur of plots, and never gayer than when
Napoleon admired Fouche, but he did not trust him, and, to offset
him, formed a private police to spy on his work. He never succeeded in
finding anyone sufficiently fine to match the chief, who several times was
malicious enough to contrive plots himself, to excite and mislead the
The system of espionage went so far that letters were regularly
opened. It was commonly said that those who did not want their letters
read, did not send them by post; and though it was hardly necessary, as in
the Revolution, to send them in pies, in coat-linings, or hat-crowns, yet
care and prudence had to be exercised in handling all political letters.
It was difficult to get officials for the post-office who could be
relied on to intercept the proper letters; and in 1802, the Postmaster-
General, Monsieur Bernard, the father of the beautiful Madame Recamier,
was found to be concealing an active royalist correspondence, and to be
permitting the circulation of a quantity of seditious pamphlets. His
arrest and imprisonment made a great commotion in his daughter's circle,
which was one of social and intellectual importance. Through the
intercessions of Bernadotte, Monsieur Bernard was pardoned by Napoleon.
The cabinet noir, as the department of the post-office which did this work
was called, was in existence when Napoleon came to the Consulate, and he
rather restricted than increased its operations. It has never been
entirely given up, as many an inoffensive foreigner in France can testify.
The theatre and press were also subjected to a strict censorship. In
1800 the number of newspapers in Paris was reduced to twelve; and in three
years there were but eight left, with a total subscription list of
eighteen thousand six hundred and thirty. Napoleon's contempt for
journalists and editors equalled that he had for lawyers, whom he called a
"heap of babblers and revolutionists." Neither class could, in his
judgment, be allowed to go free.
The salons were watched, and it is certain that those whose habitues
criticised Napoleon freely were reported. One serious rupture resulted
from the supervision of the salons, that with Madame de Stael. She had
been an ardent admirer of Napoleon in the beginning of the Consulate, and
Bourrienne tells several amusing stories of the disgust Napoleon showed at
the letters of admiration and sentiment which she wrote him even so far
back as the Italian campaign. If the secretary is to be believed, Madame
de Stael told Napoleon, in one of these letters, that they were certainly
created for each other, that it was an error in human institutions that
the mild and tranquil Josephine was united to his fate, that nature
evidently had intended for a hero such as he, her own soul of fire.
Napoleon tore the letter to pieces, and he took pains thereafter to
announce with great bluntness to Madame de Stael, whenever he met her, his
own notions of women, which certainly were anything but "modern."
As the centralization of the government increased, Madame de Stael
and her friends criticized Napoleon more freely and sharply than they
would have done, no doubt, had she not been incensed by his personal
attitude towards her. This hostility increased until, in 1803, the First
Consul ordered her out of France. "The arrival of this woman, like that
of a bird of omen, has always been the signal for some trouble," he said
in giving the order. "It is not my intention to allow her to remain in
In 1807 this order was repeated, and many of Madame de Stael's
friends were included in the proscription:
"I have written to the Minister of Police to send Madame de Stael to
Geneva. This woman continues her trade of intriguer. She went near Paris
in spite of my orders. She is a veritable plague. Speak seriously to the
Minister, for I shall be obliged to have her seized by the gendarmerie.
Keep an eye upon Benjamin Constant; if he meddles with anything I shall
send him to his wife at Brunswick. I will not tolerate this clique."
But when one compares the policy of restriction during the Consulate
with what it had been under the old regime and during the Revolution, it
certainly was far in advance in liberty, discretion, and humanity. The
republican government to-day, in its repression of anarchy, and socialism
has acted with less wisdom and less respect for freedom of thought than
Napoleon did at this period of his career; and that, too, in circumstances
less complicated and critical. If there were still dull rumors of
discontent, a cabinet noir, a restricted press, a censorship over the
theatre, proscriptions, even imprisonments and executions, on the whole
France was happy.
"Not only did the interior wheels of the machine commence to run
smoothly," says the Duchesse d'Abrantes, "but the arts themselves, that
most peaceful part of the interior administration, gave striking proofs of
the returning prosperity of France. The exposition at the Salon that year
(1800) was remarkably fine. Guerin, David, Gerard, Girodet, a crowd of
great talents, spurred on by the emulation which always awakes the fire of
genius, produced works which must some time place our school at a high
The art treasures of Europe were pouring into France. Under the
direction of Denon, that indefatigable dilettante and student, who had
collected in the expedition in Egypt more entertaining material than the
whole Institute, and had written a report of it which will always be
preferred to the "Great Work," the galleries of Paris were reorganized and
opened two days of the week to the people. Napoleon inaugurated this
practice himself. Not only was Paris supplied with galleries; those
department museums which today surprise and delight the tourist in France
were then created at Angers, Antwerp, Autun, Bordeaux, Brussels, Caen,
Dijon, Geneva, Grenoble, Le Mans, Lille, Lyons, Mayence, Marseilles,
Montpellier, Nancy, Nantes, Rennes, Rouen, Strasburg, Toulouse, and Tours.
The prix de Rome, for which there had been no money in the treasury for
some time, was reestablished.
Every effort was made to stimulate scientific research. The case of
Volta is one to the point. In 1801 Bonaparte called the eminent physicist
to Paris to repeat his experiments before the Institute. He proposed that
a medal should be given him, with a sum of money, and in his honor he
established a prize of sixty thousand francs, to be awarded to any one who
should make a discovery similar in value to Volta's.^* An American -
Robert Fulton - was about the same time encouraged by the First Consul.
Fulton was experimenting with his submarine torpedo and diving boat, and
for four years had been living in Paris and besieging the Directory to
grant him attention and funds. Napoleon took the matter up as soon as
Fulton brought it to him, ordered a commission appointed to look into the
invention, and a grant of ten thousand francs for the necessary
[Footnote *: The Volta prize has been awarded only three or four times.
An award of particular interest to Americans was that made in 1880 to Dr.
Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. The amount of the
prize was a little less than ten thousand dollars. Dr. Bell, being
already in affluent circumstances upon receiving this prize, set it apart
to be used for the benefit of the deaf, in whose welfare he had for many
years taken a great interest. He invested it in another invention of his,
which proved to be very profitable, so that the fund came to amount to one
hundred thousand dollars. This he termed the Volta Fund. Some of this
fund has been applied by Dr. Bell to the organization of the Volta Bureau,
which collects all valuable information that can be obtained with
reference to not only deaf-mutes as a class, but to deaf-mutes
individually. Twenty-five thousand dollars has been given to the
Association for the Promotion of Teaching Speech to the Deaf. Napoleon is
thus indirectly the founder of one of the most interesting and valuable
present undertakings of the country.]
The Institute was reorganized, and to encourage science and the arts
he founded, in 1804, twenty-two prizes, nine of which were of ten thousand
francs each, and thirteen of five thousand francs each. They were to be
awarded every ten years by the emperor himself, on the 18th Brumaire. The
first distribution of these prizes was to have taken place in 1809, but
the judges could not agree on the laureates; and before a conclusion was
reached, the empire had fallen.
In literature and in music, as in art and science, there was a
renewal of activity. A circle of poets and writers gathered about the
First Consul. Paisiello was summoned to Paris to direct the opera and
conservatory of music. There was a revival of dignity and taste in strong
contrast to the license and carelessness of the Revolution. The
incroyable passed away. The Greek costume disappeared from the street.
Men and women began again to dress, to act, to talk, according to
conventional forms. Society recovered its systematic ways of doing
things, and soon few signs of the general dissolution which had prevailed
for ten years were to be seen.
Once more the traveller crossed France in peace; peasant and laborer
went undisturbed about their work, and slept without fear. Again the
people danced in the fields and "sang their songs as they had in the days
before the Revolution." "France has nothing to ask from Heaven," said
Regnault de Saint Jean d'Angely, "but that the sun may continue to shine,
the rain to fall on our fields, and the earth to render the seed