Part 6 out of 6
city. Each hut had a little garden, flowers, and birds. In the middle of
the camp, on an elevation, stood the emperor's tent; near by, that of
Marshal Berthier. All the men-of-war on the water were drawn up in a
line, only waiting the signal of departure. In the distance we could see
England, and its beautiful ships that were cruising along the coast
seemed to form an impenetrable barrier. This grand spectacle gave us for
the first time an illustration of an unknown, hitherto not-dreamed-of
power that stood opposed to us. Here every thing was calculated to
excite the imagination. This boundless sea might soon transform itself
into a battle-field, and swallow up the _elite_ of the two greatest
nations. Our troops, proud in the feeling that there were no obstacles
for them, made impatient by two years' repose, glowing with energy and
bravery, already imagined themselves to have attained the opposite
coast. When one considered their bravery and confidence, success seemed
certain; but when the eye turned to the impenetrable forest of masts on
the hostile ships, a feeling of anxiety and fear suddenly took
possession of the heart. And yet nothing seemed to be wanting to the
expedition but a favorable wind.
"Of all the homage that a woman can receive, military homage has in the
highest degree the chivalrous character, and it is impossible not to
feel flattered by it.
"There could not be any thing more delightful or imposing than the
homage of which I was here the object, and it was only here that it made
any impression on me.
"The emperor gave me as an escort his equerry, General Defrance.
Whenever I approached a camp division, the guard was called out and
"I had interceded for several soldiers who were undergoing punishment
for breaches of discipline, and was on this account received everywhere
with the liveliest enthusiasm. The entire mounted general staff escorted
my carriage, and my approach was everywhere hailed by brilliant music.
It was on such an occasion that I saw for the first time the urn which a
grenadier wore attached to his belt; I was told that the emperor, in
order to do honor to the memory of the gallant Latour d'Auvergne,
had caused his heart to be enclosed in a leaden casket, which he had
intrusted to the oldest soldier of the regiment, commanding that his
name should always be called at the roll-call, as though he were
present. He who bore the heart replied: 'Dead on the field of honor.'
[Footnote 70: Latour d'Auvergne, a descendant of the celebrated Turenne,
was known and honored throughout the whole army on account of the
lion-hearted courage which he had exhibited on so many occasions. As he
invariably declined the many advancements and honors that were tendered
him, Napoleon appointed him first grenadier of the army. He fell in the
action at Neuburg, and the Viceroy of Italy, Eugene Beauharnais,
afterward caused a monument to be erected there in his memory.]
"One day, a breakfast was given me at the camp of Ambleteuse. I desired
to go by water, and, notwithstanding a contrary wind, the admiral took
me. I saw the English ships, and we passed so near them, that they might
easily have captured our yacht. I also visited the Dutch fleet commanded
by Admiral Versuelt, where I was received with great applause, the
sailors little dreaming that I would be their queen within the space of
[Footnote 71: In order to reach the harbor of Ambleteuse to which they
had been assigned, the Dutch had first been compelled to do battle with
the English fleet, and in this combat they had acquitted themselves with
the greatest honor.]
"On another occasion, the emperor ordered a review. The English, who
felt disquieted, by the appearance of so many troops drawn up before
them, approached nearer and nearer to our coasts, and even fired a few
cannon-shots at us; the emperor was at the head of his French columns
when they replied to these shots, and was thus placed between two fires.
As we had followed him, we were now compelled to remain at his side. To
his uncle's great joy, my son exhibited no symptom of fear whatever. But
the generals trembled at seeing the emperor exposed to such danger. The
ramrod of some awkward soldier might prove as dangerous as a ball. In
the midst of this imposing spectacle, I was struck with astonishment at
the contrast presented by the troops under different circumstances. When
drawn up in line of battle, they glowed with gallantry and
determination, but, in the days of repose, they resembled well-behaved
children, who could amuse themselves with a flower or a bird. The most
daring warrior was then often converted into the most diligent and
"For the breakfast which Marshal Davoust gave me in his tent, the
grenadiers had been preparing to entertain us with several songs, and
came forward to sing them with the bashfulness of young girls. In the
most embarrassed and timid manner, they sang a song full of the fiercest
and most daring threats against England.
"From the emperor's parlor we often saw the soldiers of his guard
assemble on the grass-plot before the castle; one of them would play the
violin and instruct his comrades in dancing. The beginners would study
the '_jetes_' and '_assembles_' with the closest attention; the more
advanced ones would execute a whole contredance. From behind the
window-blinds we watched them with the greatest pleasure. The emperor,
who often surprised us at this occupation, would laugh with us and
rejoice at the innocent amusements of his soldiers.
"Was this project of a landing in England really intended? Or was it
the emperor's purpose by these enormous preparations to divert attention
from other points, and fix it on this one only? Even to-day this is a
question which I cannot venture to decide; here, as elsewhere, I only
report what I have seen.
"Madame Ney also gave me a brilliant festival at Montreuil, where her
husband the marshal was in command. During the forenoon the troops were
manoeuvred before me, in the evening a ball took place. But this was
suddenly interrupted by the intelligence that the emperor had
"A number of young officers, who had been present at the ball, rushed
out on the road to Boulogne; I followed them with the rapidity of
lightning, escorted as usual by General Defrance, who burned with
impatience to be again at the emperor's side. I myself felt unutterable
emotion at the prospect of witnessing so great an occurrence. I imagined
myself observing the battle from the summit of the tower that stood near
the emperor's tent; beholding our fleet advance and sink down into the
waves, I shuddered in anticipation.
"At last I arrived. I inquired after the emperor, and learned that he
had actually attended the embarkation of all his troops during the
night, but that he had just returned to his villa.
"I did not see him until dinner, at which he asked Prince Joseph, who
was then colonel of a regiment, whether he had believed in this
pretended embarkation, and what effect it had had on the soldiers.
Joseph said that he, like all the world, had believed that a departure
was really intended, and that the soldiers had doubted it so little that
they had sold their watches. The emperor also often asked if the
telegraph had not yet announced the approach of the French squadron; his
adjutant, Lauriston, was with the squadron, and the emperor seemed only
to be awaiting Lauriston's arrival and a favorable wind, in order to
"The eight days' absence accorded me by my husband had expired, and I
took leave of the emperor. I journeyed through Calais and Dunkirk. I saw
troops defiling before me everywhere; and with regret and fear I left
this magnificent army, thinking that they might perhaps in a few days be
exposed to the greatest dangers.
"At St. Amand we were every day expecting to hear of the passage of our
fleet to England, when we suddenly saw the troops arriving in our
neighborhood and passing on in forced marches toward the Rhine. Austria
had broken the peace. We hastened at once to Paris, to see the emperor
once more before his departure for Germany."
[Footnote 72: La Reine Hortense en Italie, France, etc., p. 278.]
On the following morning the duchess left Boulogne with her son, in
order to wander on with him through the land of her youth and of
It was a sad and yet heart-stirring pilgrimage; for, although banished
and nameless, she was nevertheless in her own country--she still stood
on French soil. For sixteen years she had been living in a foreign land,
in a land whose language was unknown to her, and whose people she could
therefore not understand. Now, on this journey through France, she
rejoiced once more in being able to understand the conversation of the
people in the streets, and of the peasants in the fields. It was a
sensation of mingled bitterness and sweetness to feel that she was not a
stranger among this people, and it therefore now afforded her the
greatest delight to chat with those she met, and to listen to their
_naive_ and artless words.
As soon as she arrived at her hotel in any city or village in which she
purposed enjoying a day's rest, Hortense would walk out into the streets
on her son's arm. On one occasion she stepped into a booth, seated
herself, and conversed with the people who came to the store to purchase
their daily necessaries; on another occasion, she accosted a child on
the street, kissed it, and inquired after its parents; then, again, she
would converse with the peasants in the villages about their farms, and
the prospects of a plentiful harvest. The _naive_, strong, and healthy
disposition of the people delighted her, and, with the smiling pride of
a happy mother, she showed her son this great and beautiful family, this
French people, to which they, though banished and cast off,
In Chantilly, she showed the prince the palace of Prince Conde. The
forests that stood in the neighborhood had once belonged to the queen,
or rather they had been a portion of the appendage which the emperor,
since the union of Holland and France, had set apart for her second son,
Louis Napoleon. Hortense had never been in the vicinity, and could
therefore visit the castle without fear of being recognized.
They asked the guide, who had shown them the castle and the garden, who
had been the former possessor of the great forests of Chantilly.
"The step-daughter of the Emperor Napoleon, Queen Hortense," replied the
man, with perfect indifference. "The people continued to speak of her
here for a long time; it was said that she was wandering about in the
country in disguise, but for the last few years nothing has been heard
of her, and I do not know what has become of her."
"She is surely dead, the poor queen," said Hortense, with so sad a smile
that her son turned pale, and his eyes filled with tears.
From Chantilly they wandered on to Ermenonville and Morfontaine, for
Hortense desired to show her son all the places she had once seen in the
days of fortune with the emperor and her mother. These places now seemed
as solitary and deserted as she herself was. How great the splendor that
had once reigned in Ermenonville, when the emperor had visited the owner
of the place in order to enjoy with him the delights of the chase! In
the walks of the park, in which thousands of lamps had then shone, the
grass now grew rankly; a miserable, leaky boat was now the only
conveyance to the Poplar Island, sacred to the memory of Jean Jacques,
on whose monument Hortense and Louis Napoleon now inscribed their names.
Morfontaine appeared still more desolate; the allies had sacked it in
1815, and it had not been repaired since then. In Morfontaine, Hortense
had attended a magnificent festival given by Joseph Bonaparte, then its
owner, to his imperial brother.
In St. Denis there were still more sacred and beautiful remembrances for
Hortense, for here was situated the great college for the daughters of
high military officers, of which Hortense had been the protectress. She
dared not show herself, for she well knew that she was not forgotten
here; here there were many who still knew and loved her, and she could
only show herself to strangers. But she nevertheless visited the church,
and descended with Louis Napoleon into the vaults. Louis XVIII. alone
reposed in the halls which the empire had restored for the reception of
the new family of rulers, adopted by France. Alas! he who built these
halls, the Emperor Napoleon, now reposed under a weeping-willow on a
desolate island in the midst of the sea, and he who had deposed him now
occupied the place intended for the sarcophagus of the emperor.
While wandering through these silent and gloomy halls, Hortense thought
of the day on which she had come hither with the emperor to inspect the
building of the church. And that time she had been ill and suffering,
and with the fullest conviction she had said to her mother that she,
Queen Hortense, would be the first that would be laid to rest in the
vault of St. Denis. Now, after so many years, she descended into it
living and had hardly a right to visit it.
But there was another grave, another monument to her memories, beside
which Hortense desired to pray. This was the grave of the Empress
Josephine, in the church at Ruelle.
With what emotions did she approach this place and kneel down beside the
grave-mound! Of all that Josephine had loved, there remained only
Hortense and her son, a solitary couple, who were now secretly visiting
the place where Hortense's mother reposed. The number of flowers that
adorned the monument proved that Josephine was at least resting in the
midst of friends, who still held her memory sacred, and this was a
consolation for her daughter.
From Ruelle and its consecrated grave they wandered on to Malmaison.
Above all, Hortense wished to show this palace to her son! It was from
this place that Napoleon had departed to leave France forever! Here
Hortense had had the pleasure of sweetening for him, by her tender
sympathy, the moment when all the world had abandoned him--the moment
when he fell from the heights of renown into the abyss of misfortune.
But, alas! the poor queen was not even to have the satisfaction of
showing to her son the palace, sacred to so many memories that had once
been her own! The present owner had given strict orders to give
admission to the palace only upon presentation of permits that must be
obtained of him beforehand, and, as Hortense had none, her entreaties
were all in vain.
She was cruelly repelled from the threshold of the palace in which in
former days she had been so joyfully received by her devoted friends
Sorrowfully, her eyes clouded with tears, she turned away and returned
to her hotel, leaning on her son's arm.
In silence she seated herself at his side on the stone bench that stood
before the house, and gazed at the palace in which she had spent such
happy and momentous days, lost in the recollections of the past!
"It is, perhaps, natural," she murmured in a low voice, "that absence
should cause those, who have the happiness to remain in their homes, to
forget us. But, for those who are driven out into foreign lands, the
life of the heart stands still, and the past is all to them; to the
exiled the present and the future are unimportant. In France every thing
has progressed, every thing is changed, I alone am left behind, with my
sentiments of unchangeable love and fidelity! Alas! how sorrowful and
painful it is to be forgotten! How--"
Suddenly she was interrupted by the tones of a piano, that resounded in
her immediate vicinity. Behind the bench on which they were sitting,
were the windows of the parlor of the hotel. These windows were open,
and each tone of the music within could be heard with the greatest
The playing was now interrupted by a female voice, which said: "Sing us
a song, my daughter."
"What shall I sing?" asked another and more youthful voice.
"Sing the beautiful, touching song your brother brought you from Paris
yesterday. The song of Delphine Gay, set to music by M. de Beauplan."
"Ah, you mean the song about Queen Hortense, who comes to Paris as a
pilgrim? You are right, mamma, it is a beautiful and touching song, and
I will sing it!"
And the young lady struck the keys more forcibly, and began to play the
Outside on the stone bench sat she who was once Queen Hortense, but was
now the poor, solitary pilgrim. Nothing remained to her of the glorious
past, but her son, who sat at her side! Hand in hand, both breathless
with emotion, both pale and tearful, they listened until the young girl
concluded her touching song.
[Footnote 73: The duchess's own words. See Voyage en Italie, etc., p.
This sorrowful pilgrimage was at last at an end. Hortense was once more
in her mountain-home, in the charming villa overlooking the Lake of
Constance, and commanding a lovely view of the majestic lake, with its
island and its surrounding cities and villages.
Honor to the Canton Thurgau, which, when all the world turned its back
on the queen upon whom all the governments and destiny alike
frowned--when even her nearest relatives, the Grand-duke and the
Grand-duchess Stephanie of Baden, were compelled to forbid her residence
in their territory--still had the courage to offer the Duchess of St.
Leu an asylum, and to accord her, on the free soil of the little
republic, a refuge from which the ill-will and distrust of the mighty
could not drive her!
In Arenenberg, Hortense reposed from her weariness. With a bleeding
breast she returned home, her heart wounded by a fearful blow, the loss
of a noble and beloved son, broken in spirit, and bowed down by the
coldness and cruelty of the world, which, in the cowardly fear of its
egoism, had become faithless, even to the holiest and most imperishable
of all religions, the religion of memory!
How many, who had once vowed love and gratitude, had abandoned her! how
many, whom she had benefited had deserted her in the hour of peril!
In the generosity and kindliness of her heart, she forgave them all;
and, instead of nursing a feeling of bitterness, she pitied them! She
had done with the outer world! Arenenberg was now her world--Arenenberg,
in which her last and only happiness, her son, the heir of the imperial
name, lived with her--Arenenberg, which was as a temple of memory, in
which Hortense was the pious and believing priestess.
At Arenenberg Hortense wrote the sad and touching story of her journey
through Italy, France, and England, which she undertook, in the heroism
of maternal love, in order to rescue her son. The noblest womanhood, the
most cultivated mind, the proudest and purest soul, speaks from out this
book, with which Hortense has erected a monument to herself that is more
imperishable than all the monuments of stone and bronze, for this
monument speaks to the heart--those to the eyes only. Hortense wrote
this book with her heart often interrupted by the tears that dimmed her
eyes; she concludes it with a touching appeal to the French people,
which it may well be permitted us to repeat here; it is as follows:
"The renewal of the law of exile, and the assimilation made between us
and the Bourbons, testify to the sentiments and fears that are
entertained respecting us. No friendly voice has been raised in our
behalf; this indifference has doubled the bitterness of our banishment!
May they, however, still be happy--those who forget! May they, above
all, make France happy! This is my prayer!
"As for the people, it will, if it remembers its glory, its grandeur,
and the incessant care of which it was the object, ever hold our memory
dear. This is my firm conviction, and this thought is the sweetest
consolation of an exile, the sweetest consolation he can take with him
to the grave!"
Hortense still lived a few years of peaceful tranquillity; far from all
she loved--far also from the son who was her last hope, never dreaming
that destiny had so brilliant a future in store for him, and that Louis
Napoleon, whom the Bourbons had banished from France as a child, and the
Orleans as a youth--that Louis Napoleon would one day be enthroned in
Paris as emperor, while the Bourbons and Orleans languish in foreign
lands as exiles!
In the year 1837, Hortense, the flower of the Bonapartes, died!
Weary, at last, of misfortune, and of the exile in which she languished,
she bowed her head, and went home to her great dead--home to Napoleon
[Footnote 74: Voyage en Italie, etc., p. 324.]