Part 15 out of 15
of the difference in their rank, in order not to compromise military
etiquette, they had fought in their uniforms of equerry. The Emperor was
struck with the fact that the first news he received was bad news; and
with his ideas of fatality, this really excited a great influence over
him. He gave orders to have Colonel Filangieri found and brought to him,
and he came in a few moments. I did not see him, as I was in another
apartment; but the Emperor spoke to him in so loud and sharp a tone that
I heard distinctly all he said. "Duels! duels! always duels!" cried
the Emperor. "I will not allow it. I will punish it! You know how I
abhor them!"--"Sire, have me tried if you will, but hear me."--"What can
you have to say to me, you crater of Vesuvius? I have already pardoned
your affair with Saint Simon; I will not do the like again. Moreover, I
cannot, at the very beginning of the campaign, when all should be
thoroughly united! It produces a most unfortunate effect!" Here the
Emperor kept silence a moment; then he resumed, although in a somewhat
sharper tone: "Yes! you have a head of Vesuvius. See what a fine
condition of affairs I arrive and find blood in my palace!" After
another pause, and in a somewhat calmer tone: "See what you have done!
Joseph needs good officers; and here you have deprived him of two by a
single blow,--Franceschi, whom you have killed, and yourself, who can no
longer remain in his service." Here the Emperor was silent for some
moments, and then added: "Now retire, leave! Give yourself up as a
prisoner at the citadel of Turin. There await my orders, or rather place
yourself in Murat's hands; he will know what to do with you; he also has
Vesuvius in his head, and he will give you a warm welcome. Now take
yourself off at once."
Colonel Filangieri needed no urging, I think, to hasten the execution of
the Emperor's orders. I do not know the conclusion of thus adventure;
but I do know that the affair affected his Majesty deeply, for that
evening when I was undressing him he repeated several times, "Duels!
What a disgraceful thing! It is the kind of courage cannibals have!"
If, moreover; the Emperor's anger was softened on this occasion, it was
on account of his affection for young Filangieri; at first on account of
his father, whom the Emperor highly esteemed, and also, because the young
man having been educated at his expense, at the French Prytanee, he
regarded him as one of his children by adoption, especially since he knew
that M. Filangieri, godson of the queen of Naples, had refused a
regiment, which the latter had offered him while he was still only a
simple lieutenant in the Consular Guard, and further, because he had not
consented to become a Neapolitan again until a French prince had been
called to the throne of Naples.
What remains to be said on the subject of duels under the Empire, and the
Emperor's conduct regarding them which came to my knowledge, somewhat
resembles the little piece which is played on the theater after a
tragedy. I will now relate how it happened that the Emperor himself
played the role of peacemaker between two sub-officers who were enamored
of the same beauty.
When the French army occupied Vienna, some time after the battle of
Austerlitz, two sub-officers belonging to the forty-sixth and fiftieth
regiments of the line, having had a dispute, determined to fight a duel,
and chose for the place of combat a spot situated at the extremity of a
plain which adjoined the palace of Schoenbrunn, the Emperor's place of
residence. Our two champions had already unsheathed and exchanged blows
with their short swords, which happily each had warded off, when the
Emperor happened to pass near them, accompanied by several generals.
Their stupefaction at the sight of the Emperor may be imagined. Their
arms fell, so to speak; from their hands.
The Emperor inquired the cause of their quarrel, and learned that a woman
who granted her favors to both was the real motive, each of them desiring
to have no rival.
These two champions found by chance that they were known to one of the
generals who accompanied his Majesty, and informed him that they were two
brave soldiers of Marengo and Austerlitz, belonging to such and such
regiments, whose names had already been put on the list for the Cross of
Honor; whereupon the Emperor addressed them after this style: "My
children, woman is capricious, as fortune is also; and since you are
soldiers of Marengo and Austerlitz, you need to give no new proofs of
your courage. Return to your corps, and be friends henceforth, like good
knights." These two soldiers lost all desire to fight, and soon
perceived that their august peacemaker had not forgotten them, as they
promptly received the Cross of the Legion of Honor.
In the beginning of the campaign of Tilsit, the Emperor, being at Berlin,
one day took a fancy to make an excursion on foot to the quarter where
our soldiers in the public houses indulged in the pleasures of the dance.
He saw a quartermaster of the cavalry of his guard walking with a coarse,
rotund German woman, and amused himself listening to the gallant remarks
made by this quartermaster to his beautiful companion. "Let us enjoy
ourselves, my dear," said he; "it is the 'tondu' who pays the musicians
with the 'kriches' of your sovereign. Let us take our own gait; long
live joy! and forward"--"Not so fast," said the Emperor, approaching
him. "Certainly it must always be forward, but wait till I sound the
charge." The quartermaster turned and recognized the Emperor, and,
without being at all disconcerted, put his hand to his shako, and said,
"That is useless trouble. Your Majesty does not need to beat a drum to
make us move." This repartee made the Emperor smile, and soon after
gained epaulets for the sub-officer, who perhaps might have waited a long
while except for this fancy of his Majesty. But, at all events, if
chance sometimes contributed thus to the giving of rewards, they were
never given until after he had ascertained that those on whom he bestowed
them were worthy.
At Eylau provisions failed; for a week, the bread supply being exhausted,
the soldiers fed themselves as they could. The evening before the first
attack, the Emperor, who wished to examine everything himself, made a
tour of the bivouacs, and reaching one where all the men were asleep, saw
some potatoes cooking, took a fancy to eat them, and undertook to draw
them out of the fire with the point of his sword. Instantly a soldier
awoke, and seeing some one usurping part of his supper, "I say, you are
not very ceremonious, eating our potatoes!"--"My comrade, I am so hungry
that you must excuse me."--"Well, take one or two then, if that is the
case; but get off." But as the Emperor made no haste in getting off, the
soldier insisted more strongly, and soon a heated discussion arose
between him and the Emperor. From words they were about to come to
blows, when the Emperor thought it was time to make himself known. The
soldier's confusion was indescribable. He had almost struck the Emperor.
He threw himself at his Majesty's feet, begging his pardon, which was
most readily granted. "It was I who was in the wrong," said the Emperor;
"I was obstinate. I bear you no illwill; rise and let your mind be at
rest, both now and in the future."
The Emperor, having made inquiries concerning this soldier, learned that-
he was a good fellow, and not unintelligent. On the next promotion he
was made sub-lieutenant. It is impossible to give an idea of the effect
of such occurrences on the army. They were a constant subject of
conversation with the soldiers, and stimulated them inexpressibly. The
one who enjoyed the greatest distinction in his company was he of whom it
could be said: "The Emperor has spoken to him."
At the battle of Essling the brave General Daleim, commanding a division
of the fourth corps, found himself during the hottest part of the action
at a spot swept by the enemy's artillery. The Emperor, passing near him,
said: "It is warm in your locality!"--"Yes, Sire; permit me to extinguish
the fire."--"Go." This one word sufficed; in the twinkling of an eye the
terrible battery was taken. In the evening the Emperor, seeing General
Daleim, approached him, and said, "It seems you only had to blow on it."
His Majesty alluded General Daleim's habit of incessant whistling.
Among the brave general officers around the Emperor, a few were not
highly educated, though their other fine qualities recommended them; some
were celebrated for other reasons than their military merit. Thus
General Junot and General Fournier were known as the best pistol shots;
General Lasellette was famous for his love of music, which he indulged to
such an extent as to have a piano always in one of his baggage wagons.
This general drank only water; but, on the contrary, it was very
different with General Bisson. Who has not heard of the hardest drinker
in all the army? One day the Emperor, meeting him at Berlin, said to
him, "Well, Bisson, do you still drink much?"--"Moderately, Sire; not
more than twenty-five bottles." This was, in fact, a great improvement,
for he had more than once reached the number of forty without being made
tipsy. Moreover, with General Bisson it was not a vice, but an imperious
need. The Emperor knowing this, and being much attached to him, allowed
him a pension of twelve thousand francs out of his privy purse, and gave
him besides frequent presents.
Among the officers who were not very well educated, we may be permitted
to mention General Gros; and the manner in which he was promoted to the
grade of general proves this fact. But his bravery was equal to every
proof, and he was a superb specimen of masculine beauty. The pen alone
was an unaccustomed weapon to him, and he could hardly use it to sign his
name; and it was said that he was not much more proficient in reading.
Being colonel of the guard, he found himself one day alone at the
Tuileries in an apartment where he waited until the Emperor could be
seen. There he delighted himself with observing his image reflected in
the glass, and readjusting his cravat; and the admiration he felt at his
own image led him to converse aloud with himself or rather with his
reflection. "Ah!" said he, "if you only knew 'bachebachiques'
(mathematics), such a man as you, with a soldier's heart like yours, ah!
the Emperor would make you a general!"--"You are one," said the Emperor,
striking him on the shoulder. His Majesty had entered the saloon without
being heard, and had amused himself with listening to the conversation
Colonel Gros had carried on with himself. Such were the circumstances of
his promotion to the rank of general, and what is more to be a general in
I have now arrived at the end of my list of military anecdotes. I have
just spoken of a general's promotion, and will close with the story of a
simple drummer, but a drummer renowned throughout the army as a perfect
buffoon, in fact, the famous Rata, to whom General Gros, as we shall see;
was deeply attached.
The army marched on Lintz during the campaign of 1809. Rata, drummer of
the grenadiers of the fourth regiment of the line, and famous as a
buffoon, having learned that the guard was to pass, and that it was
commanded by General Gros; desired to see this officer who had been his
chief of battalion, and with whom he had formerly taken all sorts of
liberties. Rata thereupon waged his mustache, and went to salute the
general, addressing him thus: "Ah, here you are, General. How are you?"
--"Very well, indeed, Rata; and you?"--"Always well, but not so well as
you, it seems to me. Since you are doing so very well, you no longer
think of poor Rata; for if he did not come to see you, you would not even
think of sending him a few sous to buy tobacco." While saying, "You do
so well," Rata had quickly seized General Gross hat, and put it on his
head in place of his own. At this moment the Emperor passed, and seeing
a drummer wearing the hat of a general of his guard, he could hardly
believe his eyes. He spurred up his horse, and inquired the cause.
General Gros then said, laughing, and in the frank speech he so often
used even to the Emperor, "It is a brave soldier from my old battalion,
accustomed to play pranks to amuse his comrades. He is a brave fellow,
Sire, and every inch a man, and I recommend him to your Majesty.
Moreover, Sire, he can himself do more than a whole park of artillery.
Come, Rata, give us a broad side, and no quarter." The Emperor listened,
and observed almost stupefied what was passing under his very eyes, when
Rata, in no wise intimidated by the presence of the Emperor, prepared to
execute the general's order; then, sticking his finger in his mouth, he
made a noise like first the whistling and then the bursting of a shell.
The imitation was so perfect that the Emperor was compelled to laugh, and
turning to General Gros, said, "Come, take this man this very evening
into the guard, and remind me of him on the next occasion." In a short
while Rata had the cross, which those who threw real shells at the enemy
often had not; so largely does caprice enter into the destiny of men!
(BY THE EDITOR OF THE FRENCH EDITION OF 1830.)
The life of any one who has played a distinguished part offers many
points of view, the number of which increases in proportion to the
influence he has wielded upon the movement of events. This has been
greater in the case of Napoleon than of any other personage in history.
The product of an era of convulsions, in all of whose changes he took
part, and which he at last closed by subjecting all ideas under a rule,
which at one time promised to be lasting, he, like Catiline, requires a
Sallust; like Charlemagne, an Eginhard; and like Alexander, a Quintus
Curtius. M. de Bourrienne has, indeed, after the manner of Commines,
shown him to us undisguised in his political manipulations and in the
private life of his Court. This is a great step towards a knowledge of
his individuality, but it is not enough. It is in a thorough
acquaintance with his private life that this disillusioned age will find
the secret springs of the drama of his marvelous career. The great men
of former ages were veiled from us by a cloud of prejudice which even the
good sense of Plutarch scarcely penetrated. Our age, more analytical and
freer from illusions, in the great man seeks to find the individual. It
is by this searching test that the present puts aside all illusions, and
that the future will seek to justify its judgments. In the council of
state, the statesman is in his robe, on the battlefield the warrior is
beneath his armor, but in his bedchamber, in his undress, we find the
It has been said that no man is, a hero to his valet. It would give wide
latitude to a witty remark, which has become proverbial, to make it the
epigraph of these memoirs. The valet of a hero by that very fact is
something more than a valet. Amber is only earth, and Bologna stone only
a piece of rock; but the first gives out the perfume of the rose, and the
other flashes the rays of the sun. The character of a witness is
dignified by the solemnity of the scene and the greatness of the actor.
Even before reading the manuscript of M. Constant, we were strongly
persuaded that impressions so unusual and so striking would raise him to
the level of the occasion.
The reader can now judge of this for himself. These are the memoirs of
M. Constant,--autographic memoirs of one still living, who has written
them to preserve his recollections. It is the private history, the
familiar life, the leisure moments, passed in undress, of Napoleon, which
we now present to the public. It is Napoleon taken without a mask,
deprived of his general's sword, the consular purple, the imperial
crown,--Napoleon resting from council and from battle, forgetful of power
and of conquest, Napoleon unbending himself, going to bed, sleeping the
slumber of a common man, as if the world did not hang upon his dreams.
These are striking facts, so natural and of such simplicity, that though
a biased judgment may, perhaps, exaggerate their character, and amplify
their importance, they will furnish to an impartial and reflective mind a
wealth of evidence far superior to the vain speculations of the
imagination or the prejudiced judgments of political parties.
In this light the author of these memoirs is not an author, but simply a
narrator, who has seen more closely and intimately than any one else the
Master of the West, who was for fifteen years his master also; and what
he has written he has seen with his own eyes.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Most charming mistresses and the worst wives
No man is, a hero to his valet
The pear was ripe; but who was to gather it?