Part 2 out of 2
In January, 1793, King Louis XVI. met his death upon the scaffold;
and the queen was thrust into a foul prison. This was a signal for
activity among the Girondists in Normandy, and especially at Caen,
where Charlotte was present at their meetings and heard their
fervid oratory. There was a plot to march on Paris, yet in some
instinctive way she felt that such a scheme must fail. It was then
that she definitely formed the plan of going herself, alone, to
the French capital to seek out the hideous Marat and to kill him
with her own hands.
To this end she made application for a passport allowing her to
visit Paris. This passport still exists, and it gives us an
official description of the girl. It reads:
Allow citizen Marie Corday to pass. She is twenty-four years of
age, five feet and one inch in height, hair and eyebrows chestnut
color, eyes gray, forehead high, mouth medium size, chin dimpled,
and an oval face.
Apart from this verbal description we have two portraits painted
while she was in prison. Both of them make the description of the
passport seem faint and pale. The real Charlotte had a wealth of
chestnut hair which fell about her face and neck in glorious
abundance. Her great gray eyes spoke eloquently of truth and
courage. Her mouth was firm yet winsome, and her form combined
both strength and grace. Such is the girl who, on reaching Paris,
wrote to Marat in these words:
Citizen, I have just arrived from Caen. Your love for your native
place doubtless makes you wish to learn the events which have
occurred in that part of the republic. I shall call at your
residence in about an hour. Be so good as to receive me and give
me a brief interview. I will put you in such condition as to
render great service to France.
This letter failed to gain her admission, and so did another which
she wrote soon after. The fact is that Marat was grievously ill.
His disease had reached a point where the pain could be assuaged
only by hot water; and he spent the greater part of his time
wrapped in a blanket and lying in a large tub.
A third time, however, the persistent girl called at his house and
insisted that she must see him, saying that she was herself in
danger from the enemies of the Republic. Through an open door
Marat heard her mellow voice and gave orders that she should be
As she entered she gazed for a moment upon the lank figure rolling
in the tub, the rat-like face, and the shifting eyes. Then she
approached him, concealing in the bosom of her dress a long
carving-knife which she had purchased for two francs. In answer to
Marat's questioning look she told him that there was much
excitement at Caen and that the Girondists were plotting there.
To this Marat answered, in his harsh voice:
"All these men you mention shall be guillotined in the next few
As he spoke Charlotte flashed out the terrible knife and with all
her strength she plunged it into his left side, where it pierced a
lung and a portion of his heart.
Marat, with the blood gushing from his mouth, cried out:
His cry was meant for one of the two women in the house. Both
heard it, for they were in the next room; and both of them rushed
in and succeeded in pinioning Charlotte Corday, who, indeed, made
only a slight effort to escape. Troops were summoned, she was
taken to the Prison de l'Abbaye, and soon after she was arraigned
before the revolutionary tribunal.
Placed in the dock, she glanced about her with an air of pride, as
of one who gloried in the act which she had just performed. A
written charge was read. She was asked what she had to say.
Lifting her head with a look of infinite satisfaction, she
answered in a ringing voice:
"Nothing--except that I succeeded!"
A lawyer was assigned for her defense. He pleaded for her
earnestly, declaring that she must he regarded as insane; but
those clear, calm eyes and that gentle face made her sanity a
matter of little doubt. She showed her quick wit in the answers
which she gave to the rough prosecutor, Fouquier-Tinville, who
tried to make her confess that she had accomplices.
"Who prompted you to do this deed?" roared Tinville.
"I needed no prompting. My own heart was sufficient."
"In what, then, had Marat wronged you?"
"He was a savage beast who was going to destroy the remains of
France in the fires of civil war."
"But whom did you expect to benefit?" insinuated the prosecutor.
"I have killed one man to save a hundred thousand."
"What? Did you imagine that you had murdered all the Marats?"
"No, but, this one being dead, the rest will perhaps take
Thus her directness baffled all the efforts of the prosecution to
trap her into betraying any of her friends. The court, however,
sentenced her to death. She was then immured in the Conciergerie.
This dramatic court scene was the beginning of that strange, brief
romance to which one can scarcely find a parallel. At the time
there lived in Paris a young German named Adam Lux. The continual
talk about Charlotte Corday had filled him with curiosity
regarding this young girl who had been so daring and so patriotic.
She was denounced on every hand as a murderess with the face of a
Medusa and the muscles of a Vulcan. Street songs about her were
dinned into the ears of Adam Lux.
As a student of human nature he was anxious to see this terrible
creature. He forced his way to the front of the crowded benches in
the court-room and took his stand behind a young artist who was
finishing a beautiful sketch. From that moment until the end of
the trial the eyes of Adam Lux were fastened on the prisoner. What
a contrast to the picture he had imagined!
A mass of regal chestnut hair crowned with the white cap of a
Norman peasant girl; gray eyes, very sad and serious, but looking
serenely forth from under long, dark lashes; lips slightly curved
with an expression of quiet humor; a face the color of the sun and
wind, a bust indicative of perfect health, the chin of a Caesar,
and the whole expression one of almost divine self-sacrifice. Such
were the features that the painter was swiftly putting upon his
canvas; but behind them Adam Lux discerned the soul for which he
gladly sacrificed both his liberty and his life.
He forgot his surroundings and seemed to see only that beautiful,
pure face and to hear only the exquisite cadences of the wonderful
voice. When Charlotte was led forth by a file of soldiers Adam
staggered from the scene and made his way as best he might to his
lodgings. There he lay prostrate, his whole soul filled with the
love of her who had in an instant won the adoration of his heart.
Once, and only once again, when the last scene opened on the
tragedy, did he behold the heroine of his dreams.
On the 17th of July Charlotte Corday was taken from her prison to
the gloomy guillotine. It was toward evening, and nature had given
a setting fit for such an end. Blue-black thunder-clouds rolled in
huge masses across the sky until their base appeared to rest on
the very summit of the guillotine. Distant thunder rolled and
grumbled beyond the river. Great drops of rain fell upon the
soldiers' drums. Young, beautiful, unconscious of any wrong,
Charlotte Corday stood beneath the shadow of the knife.
At the supreme moment a sudden ray from the setting sun broke
through the cloud-wrack and fell upon her slender figure until she
glowed in the eyes of the startled spectators like a statue cut in
burnished bronze. Thus illumined, as it were, by a light from
heaven itself, she bowed herself beneath the knife and paid the
penalty of a noble, if misdirected, impulse. As the blade fell her
lips quivered with her last and only plea:
"My duty is enough--the rest is nothing!"
Adam Lux rushed from the scene a man transformed. He bore graven
upon his heart neither the mob of tossing red caps nor the glare
of the sunset nor the blood-stained guillotine, but that last look
from those brilliant eyes. The sight almost deprived him of his
reason. The self-sacrifice of the only woman he had ever loved,
even though she had never so much as seen him, impelled him with a
sort of fury to his own destruction.
He wrote a bitter denunciation of the judges, of the officers, and
of all who had been followers of Marat. This document he printed,
and scattered copies of it through every quarter in Paris. The
last sentences are as follows:
The guillotine is no longer a disgrace. It has become a sacred
altar, from which every taint has been removed by the innocent
blood shed there on the 17th of July. Forgive me, my divine
Charlotte, if I find it impossible at the last moment to show the
courage and the gentleness that were yours! I glory because you
are superior to me, for it is right that she who is adored should
be higher and more glorious than her adorer!
This pamphlet, spread broadcast among the people, was soon
reported to the leaders of the rabble. Adam Lux was arrested for
treason against the Republic; but even these men had no desire to
make a martyr of this hot-headed youth. They would stop his mouth
without taking his life. Therefore he was tried and speedily found
guilty, but an offer was made him that he might have passports
that would allow him to return to Germany if only he would sign a
retraction of his printed words.
Little did the judges understand the fiery heart of the man they
had to deal with. To die on the same scaffold as the woman whom he
had idealized was to him the crowning triumph of his romantic
love. He gave a prompt and insolent refusal to their offer. He
swore that if released he would denounce his darling's murderers
with a still greater passion.
In anger the tribunal sentenced him to death. Only then he smiled
and thanked his judges courteously, and soon after went blithely
to the guillotine like a bridegroom to his marriage feast.
Adam Lux! Spirit courtship had been carried on silently all
through that terrible cross-examination of Charlotte Corday. His
heart was betrothed to hers in that single gleam of the setting
sun when she bowed beneath the knife. One may believe that these
two souls were finally united when the same knife fell sullenly
upon his neck and when his life-blood sprinkled the altar that was
still stained with hers.
NAPOLEON AND MARIE WALEWSKA
There are four women who may be said to have deeply influenced the
life of Napoleon. These four are the only ones who need to be
taken into account by the student of his imperial career. The
great emperor was susceptible to feminine charms at all times; but
just as it used to be said of him that "his smile never rose above
his eyes," so it might as truly be said that in most instances the
throbbing of his heart did not affect his actions.
Women to him were the creatures of the moment, although he might
seem to care for them and to show his affection in extravagant
ways, as in his affair with Mlle. Georges, the beautiful but
rather tiresome actress. As for Mme. de Stael, she bored him to
distraction by her assumption of wisdom. That was not the kind of
woman that Napoleon cared for. He preferred that a woman should be
womanly, and not a sort of owl to sit and talk with him about the
theory of government.
When it came to married women they interested him only because of
the children they might bear to grow up as recruits for his
insatiate armies. At the public balls given at the Tuileries he
would walk about the gorgeous drawing-rooms, and when a lady was
presented to him he would snap out, sharply:
"How many children have you?"
If she were able to answer that she had several the emperor would
look pleased and would pay her some compliment; but if she said
that she had none he would turn upon her sharply and say:
"Then go home and have some!"
Of the four women who influenced his life, first must come
Josephine, because she secured him his earliest chance of
advancement. She met him through Barras, with whom she was said to
be rather intimate. The young soldier was fascinated by her--the
more because she was older than he and possessed all the practised
arts of the creole and the woman of the world. When she married
him she brought him as her dowry the command of the army of Italy,
where in a few months he made the tri-color, borne by ragged
troops, triumphant over the splendidly equipped hosts of Austria.
She was his first love, and his knowledge of her perfidy gave him
the greatest shock and horror of his whole life; yet she might
have held him to the end if she had borne an heir to the imperial
throne. It was her failure to do so that led Napoleon to divorce
Josephine and marry the thick-lipped Marie Louise of Austria.
There were times later when he showed signs of regret and said:
"I have had no luck since I gave up Josephine!"
Marie Louise was of importance for a time--the short time when
she entertained her husband and delighted him by giving birth to
the little King of Rome. Yet in the end she was but an episode;
fleeing from her husband in his misfortune, becoming the mistress
of Count Neipperg, and letting her son--l'Aiglon--die in a land
that was far from France.
Napoleon's sister, Pauline Bonaparte, was the third woman who
comes to mind when we contemplate the great Corsican's career.
She, too, is an episode. During the period of his ascendancy she
plagued him with her wanton ways, her sauciness and trickery. It
was amusing to throw him into one of his violent rages; but
Pauline was true at heart, and when her great brother was sent to
Elba she followed him devotedly and gave him all her store of
jewels, including the famous Borghese diamonds, perhaps the most
superb of all gems known to the western world. She would gladly
have followed him, also, to St. Helena had she been permitted.
Remaining behind, she did everything possible in conspiring to
secure his freedom.
But, after all, Pauline and Marie Louise count for comparatively
little. Josephine's fate was interwoven with Napoleon's; and, with
his Corsican superstition, he often said so. The fourth woman, of
whom I am writing here, may be said to have almost equaled
Josephine in her influence on the emperor as well as in the pathos
of her life-story.
On New-Year's Day of 1807 Napoleon, who was then almost Emperor of
Europe, passed through the little town of Bronia, in Poland.
Riding with his cavalry to Warsaw, the ancient capital of the
Polish kingdom, he seemed a very demigod of battle.
True, he had had to abandon his long-cherished design of invading
and overrunning England, and Nelson had shattered his fleets and
practically driven his flag from the sea; but the naval disaster
of Trafalgar had speedily been followed by the triumph of
Austerlitz, the greatest and most brilliant of all Napoleon's
victories, which left Austria and Russia humbled to the very
ground before him.
Then Prussia had dared to defy the over-bearing conqueror and had
put into the field against him her armies trained by Frederick the
Great; but these he had shattered almost at a stroke, winning in
one day the decisive battles of Jena and Auerstadt. He had stabled
his horses in the royal palace of the Hohenzollerns and had
pursued the remnant of the Prussian forces to the Russian border.
As he marched into the Polish provinces the people swarmed by
thousands to meet him and hail him as their country's savior. They
believed down to the very last that Bonaparte would make the Poles
once more a free and independent nation and rescue them from the
tyranny of Russia.
Napoleon played upon this feeling in every manner known to his
artful mind. He used it to alarm the Czar. He used it to
intimidate the Emperor of Austria; but more especially did he use
it among the Poles themselves to win for his armies thousands upon
thousands of gallant soldiers, who believed that in fighting for
Napoleon they were fighting for the final independence of their
Therefore, with the intensity of patriotism which is a passion
among the Poles, every man and every woman gazed at Napoleon with
something like adoration; for was not he the mighty warrior who
had in his gift what all desired? Soldiers of every rank swarmed
to his standards. Princes and nobles flocked about him. Those who
stayed at home repeated wonderful stories of his victories and
prayed for him and fed the flame which spread through all the
country. It was felt that no sacrifice was too great to win his
favor; that to him, as to a deity, everything that he desired
should be yielded up, since he was to restore the liberty of
And hence, when the carriage of the emperor dashed into Bronia,
surrounded by Polish lancers and French cuirassiers, the enormous
crowd surged forward and blocked the way so that their hero could
not pass because of their cheers and cries and supplications.
In the midst of it all there came a voice of peculiar sweetness
from the thickest portion of the crowd.
"Please let me pass!" said the voice. "Let me see him, if only for
The populace rolled backward, and through the lane which they made
a beautiful girl with dark blue eyes that flamed and streaming
hair that had become loosened about her radiant face was
confronting the emperor. Carried away by her enthusiasm, she
"Thrice welcome to Poland! We can do or say nothing to express our
joy in the country which you will surely deliver from its tyrant."
The emperor bowed and, with a smile, handed a great bouquet of
roses to the girl, for her beauty and her enthusiasm had made a
deep impression on him.
"Take it," said he, "as a proof of my admiration. I trust that I
may have the pleasure of meeting you at Warsaw and of hearing your
thanks from those beautiful lips."
In a moment more the trumpets rang out shrilly, the horsemen
closed up beside the imperial carriage, and it rolled away amid
the tumultuous shouting of the populace.
The girl who had so attracted Napoleon's attention was Marie
Walewska, descended from an ancient though impoverished family in
Poland. When she was only fifteen she was courted by one of the
wealthiest men in Poland, the Count Walewska. He was three or four
times her age, yet her dark blue eyes, her massive golden hair,
and the exquisite grace of her figure led him to plead that she
might become his wife. She had accepted him, but the marriage was
that of a mere child, and her interest still centered upon her
country and took the form of patriotism rather than that of
wifehood and maternity.
It was for this reason that the young Countess had visited Bronia.
She was now eighteen years of age and still had the sort of
romantic feeling which led her to think that she would keep in
some secret hiding-place the bouquet which the greatest man alive
had given her.
But Napoleon was not the sort of man to forget anything that had
given him either pleasure or the reverse. He who, at the height of
his cares, could recall instantly how many cannon were in each
seaport of France and could make out an accurate list of all his
military stores; he who could call by name every soldier in his
guard, with a full remembrance of the battles each man had fought
in and the honors that he had won--he was not likely to forget so
lovely a face as the one which had gleamed with peculiar radiance
through the crowd at Bronia.
On reaching Warsaw he asked one or two well-informed persons about
this beautiful stranger. Only a few hours had passed before Prince
Poniatowski, accompanied by other nobles, called upon her at her
"I am directed, madam," said he, "by order of the Emperor of
France, to bid you to be present at a ball that is to be given in
his honor to-morrow evening."
Mme. Walewska was startled, and her face grew hot with blushes.
Did the emperor remember her escapade at Bronia? If so, how had he
discovered her? Why should he seek her out and do her such an
"That, madam, is his imperial majesty's affair," Poniatowski told
her. "I merely obey his instructions and ask your presence at the
ball. Perhaps Heaven has marked you out to be the means of saving
our unhappy country."
In this way, by playing on her patriotism, Poniatowski almost
persuaded her, and yet something held her back. She trembled,
though she was greatly fascinated; and finally she refused to go.
Scarcely had the envoy left her, however, when a great company of
nobles entered in groups and begged her to humor the emperor.
Finally her own husband joined in their entreaties and actually
commanded her to go; so at last she was compelled to yield.
It was by no means the frank and radiant girl who was now
preparing again to meet the emperor. She knew not why, and yet her
heart was full of trepidation and nervous fright, the cause of
which she could not guess, yet which made her task a severe
ordeal. She dressed herself in white satin, with no adornment save
a wreath of foliage in her hair.
As she entered the ballroom she was welcomed by hundreds whom she
had never seen before, but who were of the highest nobility of
Poland. Murmurs of admiration followed her, and finally
Poniatowski came to her and complimented her, besides bringing her
a message that the emperor desired her to dance with him.
"I am very sorry," she said, with a quiver of the lips, "but I
really cannot dance. Be kind enough to ask the emperor to excuse
But at that very moment she felt some strange magnetic influence;
and without looking up she could feel that Napoleon himself was
standing by her as she sat with blanched face and downcast eyes,
not daring to look up at him.
"White upon white is a mistake, madam," said the emperor, in his
gentlest tones. Then, stooping low, he whispered, "I had expected
a far different reception."
She neither smiled nor met his eyes. He stood there for a moment
and then passed on, leaving her to return to her home with a heavy
heart. The young countess felt that she had acted wrongly, and yet
there was an instinct--an instinct that she could not conquer.
In the gray of the morning, while she was still tossing
feverishly, her maid knocked at the door and brought her a hastily
scribbled note. It ran as follows:
I saw none but you, I admired none but you; I desire only you.
Answer at once, and calm the impatient ardor of--N.
These passionate words burned from her eyes the veil that had
hidden the truth from her. What before had been mere blind
instinct became an actual verity. Why had she at first rushed
forth into the very streets to hail the possible deliverer of her
country, and then why had she shrunk from him when he sought to
honor her! It was all clear enough now. This bedside missive meant
that he had intended her dishonor and that he had looked upon her
simply as a possible mistress.
At once she crushed the note angrily in her hand.
"There is no answer at all," said she, bursting into bitter tears
at the very thought that he should dare to treat her in this way.
But on the following morning when she awoke her maid was standing
beside her with a second letter from Napoleon. She refused to open
it and placed it in a packet with the first letter, and ordered
that both of them should be returned to the emperor.
She shrank from speaking to her husband of what had happened, and
there was no one else in whom she dared confide. All through that
day there came hundreds of visitors, either of princely rank or
men who had won fame by their gallantry and courage. They all
begged to see her, but to them all she sent one answer--that she
was ill and could see no one.
After a time her husband burst into her room, and insisted that
she should see them.
"Why," exclaimed he, "you are insulting the greatest men and the
noblest women of Poland! More than that, there are some of the
most distinguished Frenchmen sitting at your doorstep, as it were.
There is Duroc, grand marshal of France, and in refusing to see
him you are insulting the great emperor on whom depends everything
that our country longs for. Napoleon has invited you to a state
dinner and you have given him no answer whatever. I order you to
rise at once and receive these ladies and gentlemen who have done
you so much honor!"
She could not refuse. Presently she appeared in her drawing-room,
where she was at once surrounded by an immense throng of her own
countrymen and countrywomen, who made no pretense of
misunderstanding the situation. To them, what was one woman's
honor when compared with the freedom and independence of their
nation? She was overwhelmed by arguments and entreaties. She was
even accused of being disloyal to the cause of Poland if she
refused her consent.
One of the strangest documents of that period was a letter sent to
her and signed by the noblest men in Poland. It contained a
powerful appeal to her patriotism. One remarkable passage even
quotes the Bible to point out her line of duty. A portion of this
letter ran as follows:
Did Esther, think you, give herself to Ahasuerus out of the
fulness of her love for him? So great was the terror with which he
inspired her that she fainted at the sight of him. We may
therefore conclude that affection had but little to do with her
resolve. She sacrificed her own inclinations to the salvation of
her country, and that salvation it was her glory to achieve. May
we be enabled to say the same of you, to your glory and our own
After this letter came others from Napoleon himself, full of the
most humble pleading. It was not wholly distasteful thus to have
the conqueror of the world seek her out and offer her his
adoration any more than it was distasteful to think that the
revival of her own nation depended on her single will. M. Frederic
Masson, whose minute studies regarding everything relating to
Napoleon have won him a seat in the French Academy, writes of
Marie Walewska at this time: Every force was now brought into play
against her. Her country, her friends, her religion, the Old and
the New Testaments, all urged her to yield; they all combined for
the ruin of a simple and inexperienced girl of eighteen who had no
parents, whose husband even thrust her into temptation, and whose
friends thought that her downfall would be her glory.
Amid all these powerful influences she consented to attend the
dinner. To her gratification Napoleon treated her with distant
courtesy, and, in fact, with a certain coldness.
"I heard that Mme. Walewska was indisposed. I trust that she has
recovered," was all the greeting that he gave her when they met.
Every one else with whom she spoke overwhelmed her with flattery
and with continued urging; but the emperor himself for a time
acted as if she had displeased him. This was consummate art; for
as soon as she was relieved of her fears she began to regret that
she had thrown her power away.
During the dinner she let her eyes wander to those of the emperor
almost in supplication. He, the subtlest of men, knew that he had
won. His marvelous eyes met hers and drew her attention to him as
by an electric current; and when the ladies left the great dining-
room Napoleon sought her out and whispered in her ear a few words
of ardent love.
It was too little to alarm her seriously now. It was enough to
make her feel that magnetism which Napoleon knew so well how to
evoke and exercise. Again every one crowded about her with
congratulations. Some said:
"He never even saw any of US. His eyes were all for YOU! They
flashed fire as he looked at you."
"You have conquered his heart," others said, "and you can do what
you like with him. The salvation of Poland is in your hands."
The company broke up at an early hour, but Mme. Walewska was asked
to remain. When she was alone General Duroc--one of the emperor's
favorite officers and most trusted lieutenants--entered and placed
a letter from Napoleon in her lap. He tried to tell her as
tactfully as possible how much harm she was doing by refusing the
imperial request. She was deeply affected, and presently, when
Duroc left her, she opened the letter which he had given her and
read it. It was worded thus:
There are times when all splendors become oppressive, as I feel
but too deeply at the present moment. How can I satisfy the
desires of a heart that yearns to cast itself at your feet, when
its impulses are checked at every point by considerations of the
highest moment? Oh, if you would, you alone might overcome the
obstacles that keep us apart. MY FRIEND DUROC WILL MAKE ALL EASY
FOR YOU. Oh, come, come! Your every wish shall be gratified! Your
country will be dearer to me when you take pity on my poor heart.
Every chance of escape seemed to be closed. She had Napoleon's own
word that he would free Poland in return for her self-sacrifice.
Moreover, her powers of resistance had been so weakened that, like
many women, she temporized. She decided that she would meet the
emperor alone. She would tell him that she did not love him, and
yet would plead with him to save her beloved country.
As she sat there every tick of the clock stirred her to a new
excitement. At last there came a knock upon the door, a cloak was
thrown about her from behind, a heavy veil was drooped about her
golden hair, and she was led, by whom she knew not, to the street,
where a finely appointed carriage was waiting for her.
No sooner had she entered it than she was driven rapidly through
the darkness to the beautifully carved entrance of a palace. Half
led, half carried, she was taken up the steps to a door which was
eagerly opened by some one within. There were warmth and light and
color and the scent of flowers as she was placed in a comfortable
arm-chair. Her wrappings were taken from her, the door was closed
behind her; and then, as she looked up, she found herself in the
presence of Napoleon, who was kneeling at her feet and uttering
Wisely, the emperor used no violence. He merely argued with her;
he told her over and over his love for her; and finally he
declared that for her sake he would make Poland once again a
strong and splendid kingdom.
Several hours passed. In the early morning, before daylight, there
came a knock at the door.
"Already?" said Napoleon. "Well, my plaintive dove, go home and
rest. You must not fear the eagle. In time you will come to love
him, and in all things you shall command him."
Then he led her to the door, but said that he would not open it
unless she promised to see him the next day--a promise which she
gave the more readily because he had treated her with such
On the following morning her faithful maid came to her bedside
with a cluster of beautiful violets, a letter, and several
daintily made morocco cases. When these were opened there leaped
out strings and necklaces of exquisite diamonds, blazing in the
morning sunlight. Mme. Walewska seized the jewels and flung them
across the room with an order that they should be taken back at
once to the imperial giver; but the letter, which was in the same
romantic strain as the others, she retained.
On that same evening there was another dinner, given to the
emperor by the nobles, and Marie Walewska attended it, but of
course without the diamonds, which she had returned. Nor did she
wear the flowers which had accompanied the diamonds.
When Napoleon met her he frowned upon her and made her tremble
with the cold glances that shot from his eyes of steel. He
scarcely spoke to her throughout the meal, but those who sat
beside her were earnest in their pleading.
Again she waited until the guests had gone away, and with a
lighter heart, since she felt that she had nothing to fear. But
when she met Napoleon in his private cabinet, alone, his mood was
very different from that which he had shown before. Instead of
gentleness and consideration he was the Napoleon of camps, and not
of courts. He greeted her bruskly.
"I scarcely expected to see you again," said he. "Why did you
refuse my diamonds and my flowers? Why did you avoid my eyes at
dinner? Your coldness is an insult which I shall not brook." Then
he raised his voice to that rasping, almost blood-curdling tone
which even his hardiest soldiers dreaded: "I will have you know
that I mean to conquer you. You SHALL--yes, I repeat it, you
SHALL love me! I have restored the name of your country. It owes
its very existence to me."
Then he resorted to a trick which he had played years before in
dealing with the Austrians at Campo Formio.
"See this watch which I am holding in my hand. Just as I dash it
to fragments before you, so will I shatter Poland if you drive me
to desperation by rejecting my heart and refusing me your own."
As he spoke he hurled the watch against the opposite wall with
terrific force, dashing it to pieces. In terror, Mme. Walewska
fainted. When she resumed consciousness there was Napoleon wiping
away her tears with the tenderness of a woman and with words of
The long siege was over. Napoleon had conquered, and this girl of
eighteen gave herself up to his caresses and endearments, thinking
that, after all, her love of country was more than her own honor.
Her husband, as a matter of form, put her away from him, though at
heart he approved what she had done, while the Polish people
regarded her as nothing less than a national heroine. To them she
was no minister to the vices of an emperor, but rather one who
would make him love Poland for her sake and restore its greatness.
So far as concerned his love for her, it was, indeed, almost
idolatry. He honored her in every way and spent all the time at
his disposal in her company. But his promise to restore Poland he
never kept, and gradually she found that he had never meant to
"I love your country," he would say, "and I am willing to aid in
the attempt to uphold its rights, but my first duty is to France.
I cannot shed French blood in a foreign cause."
By this time, however, Marie Walewska had learned to love Napoleon
for his own sake. She could not resist his ardor, which matched
the ardor of the Poles themselves. Moreover, it flattered her to
see the greatest soldier in the world a suppliant for her smiles.
For some years she was Napoleon's close companion, spending long
hours with him and finally accompanying him to Paris. She was the
mother of Napoleon's only son who lived to manhood. This son, who
bore the name of Alexandre Florian de Walewski, was born in Poland
in 1810, and later was created a count and duke of the second
French Empire. It may be said parenthetically that he was a man of
great ability. Living down to 1868, he was made much of by
Napoleon III., who placed him in high offices of state, which he
filled with distinction. In contrast with the Duc de Morny, who
was Napoleon's illegitimate half-brother, Alexandre de Walewski
stood out in brilliant contrast. He would have nothing to do with
stock-jobbing and unseemly speculation.
"I may be poor," he said--though he was not poor--"but at least I
remember the glory of my father and what is due to his great
As for Mme. Walewska, she was loyal to the emperor, and lacked the
greed of many women whom he had made his favorites. Even at Elba,
when he was in exile and disgrace, she visited him that she might
endeavor to console him. She was his counselor and friend as well
as his earnestly loved mate. When she died in Paris in 1817, while
the dethroned emperor was a prisoner at St. Helena, the word
"Napoleon" was the last upon her lips.
THE STORY OF PAULINE BONAPARTE
It was said of Napoleon long ago that he could govern emperors and
kings, but that not even he could rule his relatives. He himself
"My family have done me far more harm than I have been able to do
It would be an interesting historical study to determine just how
far the great soldier's family aided in his downfall by their
selfishness, their jealousy, their meanness, and their
There is something piquant in thinking of Napoleon as a domestic
sort of person. Indeed, it is rather difficult to do so. When we
speak his name we think of the stern warrior hurling his armies up
bloody slopes and on to bloody victory. He is the man whose steely
eyes made his haughtiest marshals tremble, or else the wise, far-
seeing statesman and lawgiver; but decidedly he is not a household
model. We read of his sharp speech to women, of his outrageous
manners at the dinner-table, and of the thousand and one details
which Mme. de Remusat has chronicled--and perhaps in part
invented, for there has always existed the suspicion that her
animus was that of a woman who had herself sought the imperial
favor and had failed to win it.
But, in fact, all these stories relate to the Napoleon of courts
and palaces, and not to the Napoleon of home. In his private life
this great man was not merely affectionate and indulgent, but he
even showed a certain weakness where his relatives were concerned,
so that he let them prey upon him almost without end.
He had a great deal of the Italian largeness and lavishness of
character with his family. When a petty officer he nearly starved
himself in order to give his younger brother, Louis, a military
education. He was devotedly fond of children, and they were fond
of him, as many anecdotes attest. His passionate love for
Josephine before he learned of her infidelity is almost painful to
read of; and even afterward, when he had been disillusioned, and
when she was paying Fouche a thousand francs a day to spy upon
Napoleon's every action, he still treated her with friendliness
and allowed her extravagance to embarrass him.
He made his eldest brother, Joseph, King of Spain, and Spain
proved almost as deadly to him as did Russia. He made his youngest
brother, Jerome, King of Westphalia, and Jerome turned the palace
into a pigsty and brought discredit on the very name of Bonaparte.
His brother Louis, for whom he had starved himself, he placed upon
the throne of Holland, and Louis promptly devoted himself to his
own interests, conniving at many things which were inimical to
France. He was planning high advancement for his brother Lucien,
and Lucien suddenly married a disreputable actress and fled with
her to England, where he was received with pleasure by the most
persistent of all Napoleon's enemies.
So much for his brothers--incompetent, ungrateful, or openly his
foes. But his three sisters were no less remarkable in the
relations which they bore to him. They have been styled "the three
crowned courtesans," and they have been condemned together as
being utterly void of principle and monsters of ingratitude.
Much of this censure was well deserved by all of them--by Caroline
and Elise and Pauline. But when we look at the facts impartially
we shall find something which makes Pauline stand out alone as
infinitely superior to her sisters. Of all the Bonapartes she was
the only one who showed fidelity and gratitude to the great
emperor, her brother. Even Mme. Mere, Napoleon's mother, who
beyond all question transmitted to him his great mental and
physical power, did nothing for him. At the height of his splendor
she hoarded sous and francs and grumblingly remarked:
"All this is for a time. It isn't going to last!"
Pauline, however, was in one respect different from all her
kindred. Napoleon made Elise a princess in her own right and gave
her the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. He married Caroline to Marshal
Murat, and they became respectively King and Queen of Naples. For
Pauline he did very little--less, in fact, than for any other
member of his family--and yet she alone stood by him to the end.
This feather-headed, languishing, beautiful, distracting morsel of
frivolity, who had the manners of a kitten and the morals of a
cat, nevertheless was not wholly unworthy to be Napoleon's sister.
One has to tell many hard things of her; and yet one almost
pardons her because of her underlying devotion to the man who made
the name of Bonaparte illustrious for ever. Caroline, Queen of
Naples, urged her husband to turn against his former chief. Elise,
sour and greedy, threw in her fortunes with the Murats. Pauline,
as we shall see, had the one redeeming trait of gratitude.
To those who knew her she was from girlhood an incarnation of what
used to be called "femininity." We have to-day another and a
higher definition of womanhood, but to her contemporaries, and to
many modern writers, she has seemed to be first of all woman--
"woman to the tips of her rosy finger-nails," says Levy. Those who
saw her were distracted by her loveliness. They say that no one
can form any idea of her beauty from her pictures. "A veritable
masterpiece of creation," she had been called. Frederic Masson
She was so much more the typical woman that with her the defects
common to women reached their highest development, while her
beauty attained a perfection which may justly be called unique.
No one speaks of Pauline Bonaparte's character or of her
intellect, but wholly of her loveliness and charm, and, it must be
added, of her utter lack of anything like a moral sense.
Even as a child of thirteen, when the Bonapartes left Corsica and
took up their abode in Marseilles, she attracted universal
attention by her wonderful eyes, her grace, and also by the utter
lack of decorum which she showed. The Bonaparte girls at this time
lived almost on charity. The future emperor was then a captain of
artillery and could give them but little out of his scanty pay.
Pauline--or, as they called her in those days, Paulette--wore
unbecoming hats and shabby gowns, and shoes that were full of
holes. None the less, she was sought out by several men of note,
among them Freron, a commissioner of the Convention. He visited
Pauline so often as to cause unfavorable comment; but he was in
love with her, and she fell in love with him to the extent of her
capacity. She used to write him love letters in Italian, which
were certainly not lacking in ardor. Here is the end of one of
I love you always and most passionately. I love you for ever, my
beautiful idol, my heart, my appealing lover. I love you, love
you, love you, the most loved of lovers, and I swear never to love
any one else!
This was interesting in view of the fact that soon afterward she
fell in love with Junot, who became a famous marshal. But her love
affairs never gave her any serious trouble; and the three sisters,
who now began to feel the influence of Napoleon's rise to power,
enjoyed themselves as they had never done before. At Antibes they
had a beautiful villa, and later a mansion at Milan.
By this time Napoleon had routed the Austrians in Italy, and all
France was ringing with his name. What was Pauline like in her
maidenhood? Arnault says:
She was an extraordinary combination of perfect physical beauty
and the strangest moral laxity. She was as pretty as you please,
but utterly unreasonable. She had no more manners than a school-
girl--talking incoherently, giggling at everything and nothing,
and mimicking the most serious persons of rank.
General de Ricard, who knew her then, tells in his monograph of
the private theatricals in which Pauline took part, and of the
sport which they had behind the scenes. He says:
The Bonaparte girls used literally to dress us. They pulled our
ears and slapped us, but they always kissed and made up later. We
used to stay in the girls' room all the time when they were
Napoleon was anxious to see his sisters in some way settled. He
proposed to General Marmont to marry Pauline. The girl was then
only seventeen, and one might have had some faith in her
character. But Marmont was shrewd and knew her far too well. The
words in which he declined the honor are interesting:
"I know that she is charming and exquisitely beautiful; yet I have
dreams of domestic happiness, of fidelity, and of virtue. Such
dreams are seldom realized, I know. Still, in the hope of winning
And then he paused, coughed, and completed what he had to say in a
sort of mumble, but his meaning was wholly clear. He would not
accept the offer of Pauline in marriage, even though she was the
sister of his mighty chief.
Then Napoleon turned to General Leclerc, with whom Pauline had for
some time flirted, as she had flirted with almost all the officers
of Napoleon's staff. Leclerc was only twenty-six. He was rich and
of good manners, but rather serious and in poor health. This was
not precisely the sort of husband for Pauline, if we look at it in
the conventional way; but it served Napoleon's purpose and did not
in the least interfere with his sister's intrigues.
Poor Leclerc, who really loved Pauline, grew thin, and graver
still in manner. He was sent to Spain and Portugal, and finally
was made commander-in-chief of the French expedition to Haiti,
where the famous black rebel, Toussaint l'Ouverture, was heading
an uprising of the negroes.
Napoleon ordered Pauline to accompany her husband. Pauline flatly
refused, although she made this an occasion for ordering
"mountains of pretty clothes and pyramids of hats." But still she
refused to go on board the flag-ship. Leclerc expostulated and
pleaded, but the lovely witch laughed in his face and still
persisted that she would never go.
Word was brought to Napoleon. He made short work of her
"Bring a litter," he said, with one of his steely glances. "Order
six grenadiers to thrust her into it, and see that she goes on
And so, screeching like an angry cat, she was carried on board,
and set sail with her husband and one of her former lovers. She
found Haiti and Santo Domingo more agreeable than she had
supposed. She was there a sort of queen who could do as she
pleased and have her orders implicitly obeyed. Her dissipation was
something frightful. Her folly and her vanity were beyond belief.
But at the end of two years both she and her husband fell ill. He
was stricken down by the yellow fever, which was decimating the
French army. Pauline was suffering from the results of her life in
a tropical climate. Leclerc died, the expedition was abandoned,
and Pauline brought the general's body back to France. When he was
buried she, still recovering from her fever, had him interred in a
costly coffin and paid him the tribute of cutting off her
beautiful hair and burying it with him.
"What a touching tribute to her dead husband!" said some one to
The emperor smiled cynically as he remarked:
"H'm! Of course she knows that her hair is bound to fall out after
her fever, and that it will come in longer and thicker for being
Napoleon, in fact, though he loved Pauline better than his other
sisters--or perhaps because he loved her better--was very strict
with her. He obliged her to wear mourning, and to observe some of
the proprieties; but it was hard to keep her within bounds.
Presently it became noised about that Prince Camillo Borghese was
exceedingly intimate with her. The prince was an excellent
specimen of the fashionable Italian. He was immensely rich. His
palace at Rome was crammed with pictures, statues, and every sort
of artistic treasure. He was the owner, moreover, of the famous
Borghese jewels, the finest collection of diamonds in the world.
Napoleon rather sternly insisted upon her marrying Borghese.
Fortunately, the prince was very willing to be connected with
Napoleon; while Pauline was delighted at the idea of having
diamonds that would eclipse all the gems which Josephine
possessed; for, like all of the Bonapartes, she detested her
brother's wife. So she would be married and show her diamonds to
Josephine. It was a bit of feminine malice which she could not
The marriage took place very quietly at Joseph Bonaparte's house,
because of the absence of Napoleon; but the newly made princess
was invited to visit Josephine at the palace of Saint-Cloud. Here
was to be the triumph of her life. She spent many days in planning
a toilet that should be absolutely crushing to Josephine. Whatever
she wore must be a background for the famous diamonds. Finally she
decided on green velvet.
When the day came Pauline stood before a mirror and gazed at
herself with diamonds glistening in her hair, shimmering around
her neck, and fastened so thickly on her green velvet gown as to
remind one of a moving jewel-casket. She actually shed tears for
joy. Then she entered her carriage and drove out to Saint-Cloud.
But the Creole Josephine, though no longer young, was a woman of
great subtlety as well as charm. Stories had been told to her of
the green velvet, and therefore she had her drawing-room
redecorated in the most uncompromising blue. It killed the green
velvet completely. As for the diamonds, she met that maneuver by
wearing not a single gem of any kind. Her dress was an Indian
muslin with a broad hem of gold.
Her exquisite simplicity, coupled with her dignity of bearing,
made the Princess Pauline, with her shower of diamonds, and her
green velvet displayed against the blue, seem absolutely vulgar.
Josephine was most generous in her admiration of the Borghese
gems, and she kissed Pauline on parting. The victory was hers.
There is another story of a defeat which Pauline met from another
lady, one Mme. de Coutades. This was at a magnificent ball given
to the most fashionable world of Paris. Pauline decided upon
going, and intended, in her own phrase, to blot out every woman
there. She kept the secret of her toilet absolutely, and she
entered the ballroom at the psychological moment, when all the
guests had just assembled.
She appeared; and at sight of her the music stopped, silence fell
upon the assemblage, and a sort of quiver went through every one.
Her costume was of the finest muslin bordered with golden palm-
leaves. Four bands, spotted like a leopard's skin, were wound
about her head, while these in turn were supported by little
clusters of golden grapes. She had copied the head-dress of a
Bacchante in the Louvre. All over her person were cameos, and just
beneath her breasts she wore a golden band held in place by an
engraved gem. Her beautiful wrists, arms, and hands were bare. She
had, in fact, blotted out her rivals.
Nevertheless, Mme. de Coutades took her revenge. She went up to
Pauline, who was lying on a divan to set off her loveliness, and
began gazing at the princess through a double eye-glass. Pauline
felt flattered for a moment, and then became uneasy. The lady who
was looking at her said to a companion, in a tone of compassion:
"What a pity! She really would be lovely if it weren't for THAT!"
"For what?" returned her escort.
"Why, are you blind? It's so remarkable that you SURELY must see
Pauline was beginning to lose her self-composure. She flushed and
looked wildly about, wondering what was meant. Then she heard Mme.
"Why, her ears. If I had such ears as those I would cut them off!"
Pauline gave one great gasp and fainted dead away. As a matter of
fact, her ears were not so bad. They were simply very flat and
colorless, forming a contrast with the rosy tints of her face. But
from that moment no one could see anything but these ears; and
thereafter the princess wore her hair low enough to cover them.
This may be seen in the statue of her by Canova. It was considered
a very daring thing for her to pose for him in the nude, for only
a bit of drapery is thrown over her lower limbs. Yet it is true
that this statue is absolutely classical in its conception and
execution, and its interest is heightened by the fact that its
model was what she afterward styled herself, with true Napoleonic
pride--"a sister of Bonaparte."
Pauline detested Josephine and was pleased when Napoleon divorced
her; but she also disliked the Austrian archduchess, Marie Louise,
who was Josephine's successor. On one occasion, at a great court
function, she got behind the empress and ran out her tongue at
her, in full view of all the nobles and distinguished persons
present. Napoleon's eagle eye flashed upon Pauline and blazed like
fire upon ice. She actually took to her heels, rushed out of the
ball, and never visited the court again.
It would require much time to tell of her other eccentricities, of
her intrigues, which were innumerable, of her quarrel with her
husband, and of the minor breaches of decorum with which she
startled Paris. One of these was her choice of a huge negro to
bathe her every morning. When some one ventured to protest, she
"What! Do you call that thing a MAN?"
And she compromised by compelling her black servitor to go out and
marry some one at once, so that he might continue his
ministrations with propriety!
To her Napoleon showed himself far more severe than with either
Caroline or Elise. He gave her a marriage dowry of half a million
francs when she became the Princess Borghese, but after that he
was continually checking her extravagances. Yet in 1814, when the
downfall came and Napoleon was sent into exile at Elba, Pauline
was the only one of all his relatives to visit him and spend her
time with him. His wife fell away and went back to her Austrian
relatives. Of all the Bonapartes only Pauline and Mme. Mere
remained faithful to the emperor.
Even then Napoleon refused to pay a bill of hers for sixty-two
francs, while he allowed her only two hundred and forty francs for
the maintenance of her horses. But she, with a generosity of which
one would have thought her quite incapable, gave to her brother a
great part of her fortune. When he escaped from Elba and began the
campaign of 1815 she presented him with all the Borghese diamonds.
In fact, he had them with him in his carriage at Waterloo, where
they were captured by the English. Contrast this with the meanness
and ingratitude of her sisters and her brothers, and one may well
believe that she was sincerely proud of what it meant to be la
soeur de Bonaparte.
When he was sent to St. Helena she was ill in bed and could not
accompany him. Nevertheless, she tried to sell all her trinkets,
of which she was so proud, in order that she might give him help.
When he died she received the news with bitter tears "on hearing
all the particulars of that long agony."
As for herself, she did not long survive. At the age of forty-four
her last moments came. Knowing that she was to die, she sent for
Prince Borghese and sought a reconciliation. But, after all, she
died as she had lived--"the queen of trinkets" (la reine des
colifichets). She asked the servant to bring a mirror. She gazed
into it with her dying eyes; and then, as she sank back, it was
with a smile of deep content.
"I am not afraid to die," she said. "I am still beautiful!"
THE STORY OF THE EMPRESS MARIE LOUISE AND COUNT NEIPPERG
There is one famous woman whom history condems while at the same
time it partly hides the facts which might mitigate the harshness
of the judgment that is passed upon her. This woman is Marie
Louise, Empress of France, consort of the great Napoleon, and
archduchess of imperial Austria. When the most brilliant figure in
all history, after his overthrow in 1814, was in tawdry exile on
the petty island of Elba, the empress was already about to become
a mother; and the father of her unborn child was not Napoleon, but
another man. This is almost all that is usually remembered of her
--that she was unfaithful to Napoleon, that she abandoned him in
the hour of his defeat, and that she gave herself with readiness
to one inferior in rank, yet with whom she lived for years, and to
whom she bore what a French writer styled "a brood of bastards."
Naturally enough, the Austrian and German historians do not have
much to say of Marie Louise, because in her own disgrace she also
brought disgrace upon the proudest reigning family in Europe.
Naturally, also, French writers, even those who are hostile to
Napoleon, do not care to dwell upon the story; since France itself
was humiliated when its greatest genius and most splendid soldier
was deceived by his Austrian wife. Therefore there are still many
who know little beyond the bare fact that the Empress Marie Louise
threw away her pride as a princess, her reputation as a wife, and
her honor as a woman. Her figure seems to crouch in a sort of
murky byway, and those who pass over the highroad of history
ignore it with averted eyes.
In reality the story of Napoleon and Marie Louise and of the Count
von Neipperg is one which, when you search it to the very core,
leads you straight to a sex problem of a very curious nature.
Nowhere else does it occur in the relations of the great
personages of history; but in literature Balzac, that master of
psychology, has touched upon the theme in the early chapters of
his famous novel called "A Woman of Thirty."
As to the Napoleonic story, let us first recall the facts of the
case, giving them in such order that their full significance may
In 1809 Napoleon, then at the plenitude of his power, shook
himself free from the clinging clasp of Josephine and procured the
annulment of his marriage to her. He really owed her nothing.
Before he knew her she had been the mistress of another. In the
first years of their life together she had been notoriously
unfaithful to him. He had held to her from habit which was in part
a superstition; but the remembrance of the wrong which she had
done him made her faded charms at times almost repulsive. And then
Josephine had never borne him any children; and without a son to
perpetuate his dynasty, the gigantic achievements which he had
wrought seemed futile in his eyes, and likely to crumble into
nothingness when he should die.
No sooner had the marriage been annulled than his titanic ambition
leaped, as it always did, to a tremendous pinnacle. He would wed.
He would have children. But he would wed no petty princess. This
man who in his early youth had felt honored by a marriage with the
almost declassee widow of a creole planter now stretched out his
hand that he might take to himself a woman not merely royal but
At first he sought the sister of the Czar of Russia; but Alexander
entertained a profound distrust of the French emperor, and managed
to evade the tentative demand. There was, however, a reigning
family far more ancient than the Romanoffs--a family which had
held the imperial dignity for nearly six centuries--the oldest and
the noblest blood in Europe. This was the Austrian house of
Hapsburg. Its head, the Emperor Francis, had thirteen children, of
whom the eldest, the Archduchess Marie Louise, was then in her
Napoleon had resented the rebuff which the Czar had given him. He
turned, therefore, the more eagerly to the other project. Yet
there were many reasons why an Austrian marriage might be
dangerous, or, at any rate, ill-omened. Only sixteen years before,
an Austrian arch-duchess, Marie Antionette, married to the ruler
of France, had met her death upon the scaffold, hated and cursed
by the French people, who had always blamed "the Austrian" for the
evil days which had ended in the flames of revolution. Again, the
father of the girl to whom Napoleon's fancy turned had been the
bitter enemy of the new regime in France. His troops had been
beaten by the French in five wars and had been crushed at
Austerlitz and at Wagram. Bonaparte had twice entered Vienna at
the head of a conquering army, and thrice he had slept in the
imperial palace at Schonbrunn, while Francis was fleeing through
the dark, a beaten fugitive pursued by the swift squadrons of
The feeling of Francis of Austria was not merely that of the
vanquished toward the victor. It was a deep hatred almost
religious in its fervor. He was the head and front of the old-time
feudalism of birth and blood; Napoleon was the incarnation of the
modern spirit which demolished thrones and set an iron heel upon
crowned heads, giving the sacred titles of king and prince to
soldiers who, even in palaces, still showed the swaggering
brutality of the camp and the stable whence they sprang. Yet, just
because an alliance with the Austrian house seemed in so many ways
impossible, the thought of it inflamed the ardor of Napoleon all
"Impossible?" he had once said, contemptuously. "The word
'impossible' is not French."
The Austrian alliance, unnatural though it seemed, was certainly
quite possible. In the year 1809 Napoleon had finished his fifth
war with Austria by the terrific battle of Wagram, which brought
the empire of the Hapsburgs to the very dust. The conqueror's rude
hand had stripped from Francis province after province. He had
even let fall hints that the Hapsburgs might be dethroned and that
Austria might disappear from the map of Europe, to be divided
between himself and the Russian Czar, who was still his ally. It
was at this psychological moment that the Czar wounded Napoleon's
pride by refusing to give the hand of his sister Anne.
The subtle diplomats of Vienna immediately saw their chance.
Prince Metternich, with the caution of one who enters the cage of
a man-eating-tiger, suggested that the Austrian archduchess would
be a fitting bride for the French conqueror. The notion soothed
the wounded vanity of Napoleon. From that moment events moved
swiftly; and before long it was understood that there was to be a
new empress in France, and that she was to be none other than the
daughter of the man who had been Napoleon's most persistent foe
upon the Continent. The girl was to be given--sacrificed, if you
like--to appease an imperial adventurer. After such a marriage,
Austria would be safe from spoliation. The reigning dynasty would
remain firmly seated upon its historic throne.
But how about the girl herself? She had always heard Napoleon
spoken of as a sort of ogre--a man of low ancestry, a brutal and
faithless enemy of her people. She knew that this bold, rough-
spoken soldier less than a year before had added insult to the
injury which he had inflicted on her father. In public
proclamations he had called the Emperor Francis a coward and a
liar. Up to the latter part of the year Napoleon was to her
imagination a blood-stained, sordid, and yet all-powerful monster,
outside the pale of human liking and respect. What must have been
her thoughts when her father first told her with averted face that
she was to become the bride of such a being?
Marie Louise had been brought up, as all German girls of rank were
then brought up, in quiet simplicity and utter innocence. In
person she was a tall blonde, with a wealth of light brown hair
tumbling about a face which might be called attractive because it
was so youthful and so gentle, but in which only poets and
courtiers could see beauty. Her complexion was rosy, with that
peculiar tinge which means that in the course of time it will
become red and mottled. Her blue eyes were clear and childish. Her
figure was good, though already too full for a girl who was
younger than her years.
She had a large and generous mouth with full lips, the lower one
being the true "Hapsburg lip," slightly pendulous--a feature which
has remained for generation after generation as a sure sign of
Hapsburg blood. One sees it in the present emperor of Austria, in
the late Queen Regent of Spain, and in the present King of Spain,
Alfonso. All the artists who made miniatures or paintings of Marie
Louise softened down this racial mark so that no likeness of her
shows it as it really was. But take her all in all, she was a
simple, childlike, German madchen who knew nothing of the outside
world except what she had heard from her discreet and watchful
governess, and what had been told her of Napoleon by her uncles,
the archdukes whom he had beaten down in battle.
When she learned that she was to be given to the French emperor
her girlish soul experienced a shudder; but her father told her
how vital was this union to her country and to him. With a sort of
piteous dread she questioned the archdukes who had called Napoleon
"Oh, that was when Napoleon was an enemy," they replied. "Now he
is our friend."
Marie Louise listened to all this, and, like the obedient German
girl she was, yielded her own will.
Events moved with a rush, for Napoleon was not the man to dally.
Josephine had retired to her residence at Malmaison, and Paris was
already astir with preparations for the new empress who was to
assure the continuation of the Napoleonic glory by giving children
to her husband. Napoleon had said to his ambassador with his usual
"This is the first and most important thing--she must have
To the girl whom he was to marry he sent the following letter--an
odd letter, combining the formality of a negotiator with the
veiled ardor of a lover:
MY COUSIN: The brilliant qualities which adorn your person have
inspired in me a desire to serve you and to pay you homage. In
making my request to the emperor, your father, and praying him to
intrust to me the happiness of your imperial highness, may I hope
that you will understand the sentiments which lead me to this act?
May I flatter myself that it will not be decided solely by the
duty of parental obedience? However slightly the feelings of your
imperial highness may incline to me, I wish to cultivate them with
so great care, and to endeavor so constantly to please you in
everything, that I flatter myself that some day I shall prove
attractive to you. This is the end at which I desire to arrive,
and for which I pray your highness to be favorable to me.
Immediately everything was done to dazzle the imagination of the
girl. She had dressed always in the simplicity of the school-room.
Her only ornaments had been a few colored stones which she
sometimes wore as a necklace or a bracelet. Now the resources of
all France were drawn upon. Precious laces foamed about her.
Cascades of diamonds flashed before her eyes. The costliest and
most exquisite creations of the Parisian shops were spread around
her to make up a trousseau fit for the princess who was soon to
become the bride of the man who had mastered continental Europe.
The archives of Vienna were ransacked for musty documents which
would show exactly what had been done for other Austrian
princesses who had married rulers of France. Everything was
duplicated down to the last detail. Ladies-in-waiting thronged
about the young archduchess; and presently there came to her Queen
Caroline of Naples, Napoleon's sister, of whom Napoleon himself
once said: "She is the only man among my sisters, as Joseph is the
only woman among my brothers." Caroline, by virtue of her rank as
queen, could have free access to her husband's future bride. Also,
there came presently Napoleon's famous marshal, Berthier, Prince
of Neuchatel, the chief of the Old Guard, who had just been
created Prince of Wagram--a title which, very naturally, he did
not use in Austria. He was to act as proxy for Napoleon in the
preliminary marriage service at Vienna.
All was excitement. Vienna had never been so gay. Money was
lavished under the direction of Caroline and Berthier. There were
illuminations and balls. The young girl found herself the center
of the world's interest; and the excitement made her dizzy. She
could not but be flattered, and yet there were many hours when her
heart misgave her. More than once she was found in tears. Her
father, an affectionate though narrow soul, spent an entire day
with her consoling and reassuring her. One thought she always kept
in mind--what she had said to Metternich at the very first: "I
want only what my duty bids me want." At last came the official
marriage, by proxy, in the presence of a splendid gathering. The
various documents were signed, the dowry was arranged for. Gifts
were scattered right and left. At the opera there were gala
performances. Then Marie Louise bade her father a sad farewell.
Almost suffocated by sobs and with her eyes streaming with tears,
she was led between two hedges of bayonets to her carriage, while
cannon thundered and all the church-bells of Vienna rang a joyful
She set out for France accompanied by a long train of carriages
filled with noblemen and noblewomen, with ladies-in-waiting and
scores of attendant menials. The young bride--the wife of a man
whom she had never seen--was almost dead with excitement and
fatigue. At a station in the outskirts of Vienna she scribbled a
few lines to her father, which are a commentary upon her state of
I think of you always, and I always shall. God has given me power
to endure this final shock, and in Him alone I have put all my
trust. He will help me and give me courage, and I shall find
support in doing my duty toward you, since it is all for you that
I have sacrificed myself.
There is something piteous in this little note of a frightened
girl going to encounter she knew not what, and clinging almost
frantically to the one thought--that whatever might befall her,
she was doing as her father wished.
One need not recount the long and tedious journey of many days
over wretched roads, in carriages that jolted and lurched and
swayed. She was surrounded by unfamiliar faces and was compelled
to meet at every town the chief men of the place, all of whom paid
her honor, but stared at her with irrepressible curiosity. Day
after day she went on and on. Each morning a courier on a foaming
horse presented her with a great cluster of fresh flowers and a
few lines scrawled by the unknown husband who was to meet her at
her journey's end.
There lay the point upon which her wandering thoughts were
focused--the journey's end! The man whose strange, mysterious
power had forced her from her school-room, had driven her through
a nightmare of strange happenings, and who was waiting for her
somewhere to take her to himself, to master her as he had mastered
generals and armies!
What was marriage? What did it mean? What experience still lay
before her! These were the questions which she must have asked
herself throughout that long, exhausting journey. When she thought
of the past she was homesick. When she thought of the immediate
future she was fearful with a shuddering fear.
At last she reached the frontier of France, and her carriage
passed into a sort of triple structure, the first pavilion of
which was Austrian, while the middle pavilion was neutral, and the
farther one was French. Here she was received by those who were
afterward to surround her--the representatives of the Napoleonic
court. They were not all plebeians and children of the Revolution,
ex-stable boys, ex-laundresses. By this time Napoleon had gathered
around himself some of the noblest families of France, who had
rallied to the empire. The assemblage was a brilliant one. There
were Montmorencys and Beaumonts and Audenardes in abundance. But
to Marie Louise, as to her Austrian attendants, they were all
alike. They were French, they were strangers, and she shrank from
Yet here her Austrians must leave her. All who had accompanied her
thus far were now turned back. Napoleon had been insistent on this
point. Even her governess, who had been with her since her
childhood, was not allowed to cross the French frontier. So fixed
was Napoleon's purpose to have nothing Austrian about her, that
even her pet dog, to which she clung as a girl would cling, was
taken from her. Thereafter she was surrounded only by French
faces, by French guards, and was greeted only by salvos of French
In the mean time what was Napoleon doing at Paris. Since the
annulment of his marriage with Josephine he had gone into a sort
of retirement. Matters of state, war, internal reforms, no longer
interested him; but that restless brain could not sink into
repose. Inflamed with the ardor of a new passion, that passion was
all the greater because he had never yet set eyes upon its object.
Marriage with an imperial princess flattered his ambition. The
youth and innocence of the bride stirred his whole being with a
thrill of novelty. The painted charms of Josephine, the mercenary
favors of actresses, the calculated ecstasies of the women of the
court who gave themselves to him from vanity, had long since
palled upon him. Therefore the impatience with which he awaited
the coming of Marie Louise became every day more tense.
For a time he amused himself with planning down to the very last
details the demonstrations that were to be given in her honor. He
organized them as minutely as he had ever organized a conquering
army. He showed himself as wonderful in these petty things as he
had in those great strategic combinations which had baffled the
ablest generals of Europe. But after all had been arranged--even
to the illuminations, the cheering, the salutes, and the etiquette
of the court--he fell into a fever of impatience which gave him
sleepless nights and frantic days. He paced up and down the
Tuileries, almost beside himself. He hurried off courier after
courier with orders that the postilions should lash their horses
to bring the hour of meeting nearer still. He scribbled love
letters. He gazed continually on the diamond-studded portrait of
the woman who was hurrying toward him.
At last as the time approached he entered a swift traveling-
carriage and hastened to Compiegne, about fifty miles from Paris,
where it had been arranged that he should meet his consort and
whence he was to escort her to the capital, so that they might be
married in the great gallery of the Louvre. At Compiegne the
chancellerie had been set apart for Napoleon's convenience, while
the chateau had been assigned to Marie Louise and her attendants.
When Napoleon's carriage dashed into the place, drawn by horses
that had traveled at a gallop, the emperor could not restrain
himself. It was raining torrents and night was coming on, yet,
none the less, he shouted for fresh horses and pushed on to
Soissons, where the new empress was to stop and dine. When he
reached there and she had not arrived, new relays of horses were
demanded, and he hurried off once more into the dark.
At the little village of Courcelles he met the courier who was
riding in advance of the empress's cortege.
"She will be here in a few moments!" cried Napoleon; and he leaped
from his carriage into the highway.
The rain descended harder than ever, and he took refuge in the
arched doorway of the village church, his boots already bemired,
his great coat reeking with the downpour. As he crouched before
the church he heard the sound of carriages; and before long there
came toiling through the mud the one in which was seated the girl
for whom he had so long been waiting. It was stopped at an order
given by an officer. Within it, half-fainting with fatigue and
fear, Marie Louise sat in the dark, alone.
Here, if ever, was the chance for Napoleon to win his bride. Could
he have restrained himself, could he have shown the delicate
consideration which was demanded of him, could he have remembered
at least that he was an emperor and that the girl--timid and
shuddering--was a princess, her future story might have been far
different. But long ago he had ceased to think of anything except
his own desires.
He approached the carriage. An obsequious chamberlain drew aside
the leathern covering and opened the door, exclaiming as he did
so, "The emperor!" And then there leaped in the rain-soaked, mud-
bespattered being whose excesses had always been as unbridled as
his genius. The door was closed, the leathern curtain again drawn,
and the horses set out at a gallop for Soissons. Within, the
shrinking bride was at the mercy of pure animal passion, feeling
upon her hot face a torrent of rough kisses, and yielding herself
in terror to the caresses of wanton hands.
At Soissons Napoleon allowed no halt, but the carriage plunged on,
still in the rain, to Compiegne. There all the arrangements made
with so much care were thrust aside. Though the actual marriage
had not yet taken place, Napoleon claimed all the rights which
afterward were given in the ceremonial at Paris. He took the girl
to the chancellerie, and not to the chateau. In an anteroom dinner
was served with haste to the imperial pair and Queen Caroline.
Then the latter was dismissed with little ceremony, the lights
were extinguished, and this daughter of a line of emperors was
left to the tender mercies of one who always had about him
something of the common soldier--the man who lives for loot and
lust. ... At eleven the next morning she was unable to rise and
was served in bed by the ladies of her household.
These facts, repellent as they are, must be remembered when we
call to mind what happened in the next five years. The horror of
that night could not be obliterated by splendid ceremonies, by
studious attention, or by all the pomp and gaiety of the court.
Napoleon was then forty-one--practically the same age as his new
wife's father, the Austrian emperor; Marie Louise was barely
nineteen and younger than her years. Her master must have seemed
to be the brutal ogre whom her uncles had described.
Installed in the Tuileries, she taught herself compliance. On
their marriage night Napoleon had asked her briefly: "What did
your parents tell you?" And she had answered, meekly: "To be yours
altogether and to obey you in everything." But, though she gave
compliance, and though her freshness seemed enchanting to
Napoleon, there was something concealed within her thoughts to
which he could not penetrate. He gaily said to a member of the
"Marry a German, my dear fellow. They are the best women in the
world--gentle, good, artless, and as fresh as roses."
Yet, at the same time, Napoleon felt a deep anxiety lest in her
very heart of hearts this German girl might either fear or hate
him secretly. Somewhat later Prince Metternich came from the
Austrian court to Paris.
"I give you leave," said Napoleon, "to have a private interview
with the empress. Let her tell you what she likes, and I shall ask
no questions. Even should I do so, I now forbid your answering
Metternich was closeted with the empress for a long while. When he
returned to the ante-room he found Napoleon fidgeting about, his
eyes a pair of interrogation-points.
"I am sure," he said, "that the empress told you that I was kind
Metternich bowed and made no answer.
"Well," said Napoleon, somewhat impatiently, "at least I am sure
that she is happy. Tell me, did she not say so?"
The Austrian diplomat remained unsmiling.
"Your majesty himself has forbidden me to answer," he returned
with another bow.
We may fairly draw the inference that Marie Louise, though she
adapted herself to her surroundings, was never really happy.
Napoleon became infatuated with her. He surrounded her with every
possible mark of honor. He abandoned public business to walk or
drive with her. But the memory of his own brutality must have
vaguely haunted him throughout it all. He was jealous of her as he
had never been jealous of the fickle Josephine. Constant has
recorded that the greatest precautions were taken to prevent any
person whatsoever, and especially any man, from approaching the
empress save in the presence of witnesses.
Napoleon himself underwent a complete change of habits and
demeanor. Where he had been rough and coarse he became attentive
and refined. His shabby uniforms were all discarded, and he spent
hours in trying on new costumes. He even attempted to learn to
waltz, but this he gave up in despair. Whereas before he ate
hastily and at irregular intervals, he now sat at dinner with
unusual patience, and the court took on a character which it had
never had. Never before had he sacrificed either his public duty
or his private pleasure for any woman. Even in the first ardor of
his marriage with Josephine, when he used to pour out his heart to
her in letters from Italian battle-fields, he did so only after he
had made the disposition of his troops and had planned his
movements for the following day. Now, however, he was not merely
devoted, but uxorious; and in 1811, after the birth of the little
King of Rome, he ceased to be the earlier Napoleon altogether. He
had founded a dynasty. He was the head of a reigning house. He
forgot the principles of the Revolution, and he ruled, as he
thought, like other monarchs, by the grace of God.
As for Marie Louise, she played her part extremely well. Somewhat
haughty and unapproachable to others, she nevertheless studied
Napoleon's every wish. She seemed even to be loving; but one can
scarcely doubt that her obedience sprang ultimately from fear and
that her devotion was the devotion of a dog which has been beaten
Her vanity was flattered in many ways, and most of all by her
appointment as regent of the empire during Napoleon's absence in
the disastrous Russian campaign which began in 1812. It was in
June of that year that the French emperor held court at Dresden,
where he played, as was said, to "a parterre of kings." This was
the climax of his magnificence, for there were gathered all the
sovereigns and princes who were his allies and who furnished the
levies that swelled his Grand Army to six hundred thousand men.
Here Marie Louise, like her husband, felt to the full the
intoxication of supreme power. By a sinister coincidence it was
here that she first met the other man, then unnoticed and little
heeded, who was to cast upon her a fascination which in the end
This man was Adam Albrecht, Count von Neipperg. There is something
mysterious about his early years, and something baleful about his
silent warfare with Napoleon. As a very young soldier he had been
an Austrian officer in 1793. His command served in Belgium; and
there, in a skirmish, he was overpowered by the French in superior
numbers, but resisted desperately. In the melee a saber slashed
him across the right side of his face, and he was made prisoner.
The wound deprived him of his right eye, so that for the rest of
his life he was compelled to wear a black bandage to conceal the
From that moment he conceived an undying hatred of the French,
serving against them in the Tyrol and in Italy. He always claimed
that had the Archduke Charles followed his advice, the Austrians
would have forced Napoleon's army to capitulate at Marengo, thus
bringing early eclipse to the rising star of Bonaparte. However
this may be, Napoleon's success enraged Neipperg and made his
hatred almost the hatred of a fiend.
Hitherto he had detested the French as a nation. Afterward he
concentrated his malignity upon the person of Napoleon. In every
way he tried to cross the path of that great soldier, and, though
Neipperg was comparatively an unknown man, his indomitable purpose
and his continued intrigues at last attracted the notice of the
emperor; for in 1808 Napoleon wrote this significant sentence:
The Count von Neipperg is openly known to have been the enemy of
Little did the great conqueror dream how deadly was the blow which
this Austrian count was destined finally to deal him!
Neipperg, though his title was not a high one, belonged to the old
nobility of Austria. He had proved his bravery in war and as a
duelist, and he was a diplomat as well as a soldier. Despite his
mutilation, he was a handsome and accomplished courtier, a man of
wide experience, and one who bore himself in a manner which
suggested the spirit of romance. According to Masson, he was an
Austrian Don Juan, and had won the hearts of many women. At thirty
he had formed a connection with an Italian woman named Teresa
Pola, whom he had carried away from her husband. She had borne him
five children; and in 1813 he had married her in order that these
children might be made legitimate.
In his own sphere the activity of Neipperg was almost as
remarkable as Napoleon's in a greater one. Apart from his exploits
on the field of battle he had been attached to the Austrian
embassy in Paris, and, strangely enough, had been decorated by
Napoleon himself with, the golden eagle of the Legion of Honor.
Four months later we find him minister of Austria at the court of
Sweden, where he helped to lay the train of intrigue which was to
detach Bernadotte from Napoleon's cause. In 1812, as has just been
said, he was with Marie Louise for a short time at Dresden,
hovering about her, already forming schemes. Two years after this
he overthrew Murat at Naples; and then hurried on post-haste to
urge Prince Eugene to abandon Bonaparte.
When the great struggle of 1814 neared its close, and Napoleon,
fighting with his back to the wall, was about to succumb to the
united armies of Europe, it was evident that the Austrian emperor
would soon be able to separate his daughter from her husband. In
fact, when Napoleon was sent to Elba, Marie Louise returned to
Vienna. The cynical Austrian diplomats resolved that she should
never again meet her imperial husband. She was made Duchess of
Parma in Italy, and set out for her new possessions; and the man
with the black band across his sightless eye was chosen to be her
escort and companion.
When Neipperg received this commission he was with Teresa Pola at
Milan. A strange smile flitted across his face; and presently he
remarked, with cynical frankness:
"Before six months I shall be her lover, and, later on, her
He took up his post as chief escort of Marie Louise, and they
journeyed slowly to Munich and Baden and Geneva, loitering on the
way. Amid the great events which were shaking Europe this couple
attracted slight attention. Napoleon, in Elba, longed for his wife
and for his little son, the King of Rome. He sent countless
messages and many couriers; but every message was intercepted, and
no courier reached his destination. Meanwhile Marie Louise was
lingering agreeably in Switzerland. She was happy to have escaped
from the whirlpool of politics and war. Amid the romantic scenery
through which she passed Neipperg was always by her side,
attentive, devoted, trying in everything to please her. With him
she passed delightful evenings. He sang to her in his rich
barytone songs of love. He seemed romantic with a touch of
mystery, a gallant soldier whose soul was also touched by
One would have said that Marie Louise, the daughter of an imperial
line, would have been proof against the fascinations of a person
so far inferior to herself in rank, and who, beside the great
emperor, was less than nothing. Even granting that she had never
really loved Napoleon, she might still have preferred to maintain
her dignity, to share his fate, and to go down in history as the
empress of the greatest man whom modern times have known.
But Marie Louise was, after all, a woman, and she followed the
guidance of her heart. To her Napoleon was still the man who had
met her amid the rain-storm at Courcelles, and had from the first
moment when he touched her violated all the instincts of a virgin.
Later he had in his way tried to make amends; but the horror of
that first night had never wholly left her memory. Napoleon had
unrolled before her the drama of sensuality, but her heart had not
been given to him. She had been his empress. In a sense it might
be more true to say that she had been his mistress. But she had
never been duly wooed and won and made his wife--an experience
which is the right of every woman. And so this Neipperg, with his
deferential manners, his soothing voice, his magnetic touch, his
ardor, and his devotion, appeased that craving which the master of
a hundred legions could not satisfy.
In less than the six months of which Neipperg had spoken the
psychological moment had arrived. In the dim twilight she listened
to his words of love; and then, drawn by that irresistible power
which masters pride and woman's will, she sank into her lover's
arms, yielding to his caresses, and knowing that she would be
parted from him no more except by death.
From that moment he was bound to her by the closest ties and lived
with her at the petty court of Parma. His prediction came true to
the very letter. Teresa Pola died, and then Napoleon died, and
after this Marie Louise and Neipperg were united in a morganatic
marriage. Three children were born to them before his death in
It is interesting to note how much of an impression was made upon
her by the final exile of her imperial husband to St. Helena. When
the news was brought her she observed, casually:
"Thanks. By the way, I should like to ride this morning to
Markenstein. Do you think the weather is good enough to risk it?"
Napoleon, on his side, passed through agonies of doubt and longing
when no letters came to him from Marie Louise. She was constantly
in his thoughts during his exile at St. Helena. "When his faithful
friend and constant companion at St. Helena, the Count Las Casas,
was ordered by Sir Hudson Lowe to depart from St. Helena, Napoleon
wrote to him:
"Should you see, some day, my wife and son, embrace them. For two
years I have, neither directly nor indirectly, heard from them.
There has been on this island for six months a German botanist,
who has seen them in the garden of Schoenbrunn a few months before
his departure. The barbarians (meaning the English authorities at
St. Helena) have carefully prevented him from coming to give me
any news respecting them."
At last the truth was told him, and he received it with that high
magnanimity, or it may be fatalism, which at times he was capable
of showing. Never in all his days of exile did he say one word
against her. Possibly in searching his own soul he found excuses
such as we may find. In his will he spoke of her with great
affection, and shortly before his death he said to his physician,
"After my death, I desire that you will take my heart, put it in
the spirits of wine, and that you carry it to Parma to my dear
Marie Louise. You will please tell her that I tenderly loved her--
that I never ceased to love her. You will relate to her all that
you have seen, and every particular respecting my situation and
The story of Marie Louise is pathetic, almost tragic. There is the
taint of grossness about it; and yet, after all, there is a lesson
in it--the lesson that true love cannot be forced or summoned at
command, that it is destroyed before its birth by outrage, and
that it goes out only when evoked by sympathy, by tenderness, and