RECOLLECTIONS OF THE PRIVATE LIFE OF NAPOLEON, V7
PREMIER VALET DE CHAMBRE
TRANSLATED BY WALTER CLARK
His Majesty remained only ten days at Saint-Cloud, passed two or three of these in Paris at the opening of the session of the Corps Legislatif, and at noon on the 29th set out a second time for Bayonne.
The Empress, who to her great chagrin could not accompany the Emperor, sent for me on the morning of his departure, and renewed in most touching accents the same recommendations which she made on all his journeys, for the character of the Spaniards made her timid and fearful as to his safety.
Their parting was sad and painful; for the Empress was exceedingly anxious to accompany him, and the Emperor had the greatest difficulty in satisfying her, and making her understand that this was impossible. Just as he was setting out he returned to his dressing-room a moment, and told me to unbutton his coat and vest; and I saw the Emperor pass around his neck between his vest and shirt a black silk ribbon on which was hung a kind of little bag about the size of a large hazel-nut, covered with black silk. Though I did not then know what this bag contained, when he returned to Paris he gave it to me to keep; and I found that this bag had a pleasant feeling, as under the silk covering was another of skin. I shall hereafter tell for what purpose the Emperor wore this bag.
I set out with a sad heart. The recommendations of her Majesty the Empress, and fears which I could not throw off, added to the fatigue of these repeated journeys, all conspired to produce feelings of intense sadness, which was reflected on almost all the countenances of the Imperial household; while the officers said among themselves that the combats in the North were trifling compared with those which awaited us in Spain.
We arrived on the 3d of November at the chateau of Marrac, and four days after were at Vittoria in the midst of the French army, where the Emperor found his brother and a few grandees of Spain who had not yet deserted his cause.
The arrival of his Majesty electrified the troops; and a part of the enthusiasm manifested, a very small part it is true, penetrated into the heart of the king, and somewhat renewed his courage. They set out almost immediately, in order to at once establish themselves temporarily at Burgos, which had been seized by main force and pillaged in a few hours, since the inhabitants had abandoned it, and left to the garrison the task of stopping the French as long as possible.
The Emperor occupied the archiepiscopal palace, a magnificent building situated in a large square on which the grenadiers of the Imperial Guard bivouacked. This bivouac presented a singular scene. Immense kettles, which had been found in the convents, hung, full of mutton, poultry, rabbits, etc., above a fire which was replenished from time to time with furniture, guitars, or mandolins, and around which grenadiers, with pipes in their mouths, were gravely seated in gilded chairs covered with crimson damask, while they intently watched the kettles as they simmered, and communicated to each other their conjectures on the campaign which had just opened.
The Emperor remained ten or twelve days at Burgos, and then gave orders to march on Madrid, which place could have been reached by way of Valladolid, and the road was indeed safer and better; but the Emperor wished to seize the Pass of Somo-Sierra, an imposing position with natural fortifications which had always been regarded as impregnable. This pass, between two mountain peaks, defended the capital, and was guarded by twelve thousand insurgents, and twelve pieces of cannon placed so advantageously that they could do as much injury as thirty or forty elsewhere, and were, in fact, a sufficient obstacle to delay even the most formidable army; but who could then oppose any hindrance to the march of the Emperor?
On the evening of the 29th of November we arrived within three leagues of this formidable defile, at a village called Basaguillas; and though the weather was very cold, the Emperor did not lie down, but passed the night in his tent, writing, wrapped in the pelisse which the Emperor Alexander had given him. About three o'clock in the morning he came to warm himself by the bivouac fire where I had seated myself, as I could no longer endure the cold and dampness of a cellar which had been assigned as my lodging, and where my bed was only a few handfuls of straw, filled with manure.
At eight o'clock in the morning the position was attacked and carried, and the next day we arrived before Madrid.
The Emperor established his headquarters at the chateau of Champ-Martin, a pleasure house situated a quarter of a league from the town, and belonging to the mother of the Duke of Infantado; and the army camped around this house. The day after our arrival, the owner came in tears to entreat of his Majesty a revocation of the fatal decree which put her son outside the protection of the law; the Emperor did all he could to reassure her, but he could promise her nothing, as the order was general.
We had some trouble in capturing this town; in the first place, because his Majesty recommended the greatest moderation in making the attack, not wishing, as he said, to present to his brother a burned-up city; in the second place, because the Grand Duke of Berg during his stay at Madrid had fortified the palace of Retiro, and the Spanish insurgents had intrenched themselves there, and defended it most courageously. The town had no other defense, and was surrounded only by an old wall, almost exactly similar to that of Paris, consequently at the end of three days it was taken; but the Emperor preferred not to enter, and still resided at Champ-Martin, with the exception of one day when he came incognito and in disguise, to visit the queen's palace and the principal districts.
One striking peculiarity of the Spaniards is the respect they have always shown for everything relating to royalty, whether they regard it as legitimate or not. When King Joseph left Madrid the palace was closed, and the government established itself in a passably good building which had been used as the post-office. From this time no one entered the palace except the servants, who had orders to clean it from time to time; not a piece of furniture even, not a book, was moved. The portrait of Napoleon on Mont St. Bernard, David's masterpiece, remained hanging in the grand reception hall, and the queen's portrait opposite, exactly as the king had placed them; and even the cellars were religiously respected. The apartments of King Charles had also remained untouched, and not one of the watches in his immense collection had been removed.
The act of clemency which his Majesty showed toward the Marquis of Saint- Simon, a grandee of Spain, marked in an especial manner the entrance of the French troops into Madrid. The Marquis of Saint-Simon, a French emigrant, had been in the service of Spain since the emigration, and had the command of a part of the capital. The post which he defended was exactly in front of that which the Emperor commanded at the gates of Madrid, and he had held out long after all the other leaders had surrendered.
The Emperor, impatient at being so long withstood at this point, gave orders to make a still more vigorous charge; and in this the marquis was taken prisoner. In his extreme anger the Emperor sent him to be tried before a military commission, who ordered him to be shot; and this order was on the point of being executed, when Mademoiselle de Saint-Simon, a charming young person, threw herself at his Majesty's feet, and her father's pardon was quickly granted.
The king immediately re-entered his capital; and with him returned the noble families of Madrid, who had withdrawn from the stirring scenes enacted at the center of the insurrection; and soon balls, fetes, festivities, and plays were resumed as of yore.
The Emperor left Champ-Martin on the 22d of December, and directed his march towards Astorga, with the intention of meeting the English, who had just landed at Corunna; but dispatches sent to Astorga by a courier from Paris decided him to return to France, and he consequently gave orders to set out for Valladolid.
We found the road from Benavente to Astorga covered with corpses, slain horses, artillery carriages, and broken wagons, and at every step met detachments of soldiers with torn clothing, without shoes, and, indeed, in a most deplorable condition. These unfortunates were all fleeing towards Astorga, which they regarded as a port of safety, but which soon could not contain them all. It was terrible weather, the snow falling so fast that it was almost blinding; and, added to this, I was ill, and suffered greatly during this painful journey.
The Emperor while at Tordesillas had established his headquarters in the buildings outside the convent of Saint-Claire, and the abbess of this convent was presented to his Majesty. She was then more than sixty-five years old, and from the age of ten years back never left this place. Her intelligent and refined conversation made a most agreeable impression on the Emperor, who inquired what were her wishes, and granted each one.
We arrived at Valladolid the 6th of January, 1809, and found it in a state of great disorder. Two or three days after our arrival, a cavalry officer was assassinated by Dominican monks; and as Hubert, one of our comrades, was passing in the evening through a secluded street, three men threw themselves on him and wounded him severely; and he would doubtless have been killed if the grenadiers of the guard had not hastened to his assistance, and delivered him from their hands. It was the monks again. At length the Emperor, much incensed, gave orders that the convent of the Dominicans should be searched; and in a well was found the corpse of the aforesaid officer, in the midst of a considerable mass of bones, and the convent was immediately suppressed by his Majesty's orders; he even thought at one time of issuing the same rigorous orders against all the convents of the city. He took time for reflection, however, and contented himself by appointing an audience, at which all the monks of Valladolid were to appear before him. On the appointed day they came; not all, however, but deputations from each convent, who prostrated themselves at the Emperor's feet, while he showered reproaches upon them, called them assassins and brigands, and said they all deserved to be hung. These poor men listened in silence and humility to the terrible language of the irritated conqueror whom their patience alone could appease; and finally, the Emperor's anger having exhausted itself, he grew calmer, and at last, struck by the reflection that it was hardly just to heap abuse on men thus prostrate on their knees and uttering not a word in their own defense, he left the group of officers who surrounded him, and advanced into the midst of the monks, making them a sign to rise from their supplicating posture; and as these good men obeyed him, they kissed the skirts of his coat, and pressed around him with an eagerness most alarming to the persons of his Majesty's suite; for had there been among these devotees any Dominican, nothing surely could have been easier than an assassination.
During the Emperor's stay at Valladolid, I had with the grand marshal a disagreement of which I retain most vivid recollections, as also of the Emperor's intervention wherein he displayed both justice and good-will towards me. These are the facts of the case: one morning the Duke de Frioul, encountering me in his Majesty's apartments, inquired in a very brusque tone (he was very much excited) if I had ordered the carriage to be ready, to which I replied in a most respectful manner that they were always ready. Three times the duke repeated the same question, raising his voice still more each time; and three times I made him the same reply, always in the same respectful manner. "Oh, you fool!" said he at last, "you do not understand, then."—"That arises evidently, Monseigneur, from your Excellency's imperfect explanations!" Upon which he explained that he was speaking of a new carriage which had come from Paris that very day, a fact of which I was entirely ignorant. I was on the point of explaining this to his Excellency; but without deigning to listen, the grand marshal rushed out of the room exclaiming, swearing, and addressing me in terms to which I was totally unaccustomed. I followed him as far as his own room in order to make an explanation; but when he reached his door he entered, and slammed it in my face.
In spite of all this I entered a few moments later; but his Excellency had forbidden his valet de chambre to introduce me, saying that he had nothing to say to me, nor to hear from me, all of which was repeated to me in a very harsh and contemptuous manner.
Little accustomed to such experiences, and entirely unnerved, I went to the Emperor's room; and when his Majesty entered I was still so agitated that my face was wet with tears. His Majesty wished to know what had happened, and I related to him the attack which had just been made upon me by the grand marshal. "You are very foolish to cry," said the Emperor; "calm yourself, and say to the grand marshal that I wish to speak to him."
His Excellency came at once in response to the Emperor's invitation, and I announced him. "See," said he, pointing to me, "see into what a state you have thrown this fellow! What has he done to be thus treated?" The grand marshal bowed without replying, but with a very dissatisfied air; and the Emperor went on to say that he should have given me his orders more clearly, and that any one was excusable for not executing an order not plainly given. Then turning toward me, his Majesty said, "Monsieur Constant, you may be certain this will not occur again."
This simple affair furnishes a reply to many false accusations against the Emperor. There was an immense distance between the grand marshal of the palace and the simple valet de chambre of his Majesty, and yet the marshal was reprimanded for a wrong done to the valet de chambre.
The Emperor showed the utmost impartiality in meting out justice in his domestic affairs; and never was the interior of a palace better governed than his, owing to the fact that in his household he alone was master.
The grand marshal felt unkindly toward me for sometime after; but, as I have already said, he was an excellent man, his bad humor soon passed away, and so completely, that on my return to Paris he requested me to stand for him at the baptism of the child of my father-in-law, who had begged him to be its godfather; the godmother was Josephine, who was kind enough to choose my wife to represent her. M. le Duke de Frioul did things with as much nobility and magnanimity as grace; and afterwards I am glad to be able to state in justice to his memory, he eagerly seized every occasion to be useful to me, and to make me forget the discomfort his temporary excitement had caused me.
I fell ill at Valladolid with a violent fever a few days before his Majesty's departure. On the day appointed for leaving, my illness was at its height; aid as the Emperor feared that the journey might increase, or at any rate prolong, my illness, he forbade my going, and set out without me, recommending to the persons whom he left at Valladolid to take care of my health. When I had gotten somewhat better I was told that his Majesty had left, whereupon I could no longer be controlled, and against my physician's orders, and in spite of my feebleness, in spite of everything, in fact, had myself placed in a carriage and set out. This was wise; for hardly had I put Valladolid two leagues behind me, than I felt better, and the fever left me. I arrived at Paris five or six days after the Emperor, just after his Majesty had appointed the Count Montesquiou grand chamberlain in place of Prince Talleyrand, whom I met that very day, and who seemed in no wise affected by this disgrace, perhaps he was consoled by the dignity of vice-grand elector which was bestowed on him in exchange.
The Emperor arrived at Paris on the 23d of January, and passed the remainder of the winter there, with the exception of a few days spent at Rambouillet and Saint-Cloud.
On the very day of his arrival in Paris, although he must have been much fatigued by an almost uninterrupted ride from Valladolid, the Emperor visited the buildings of the Louvre and the rue de Rivoli.
His mind was full of what he had seen at Madrid, and repeated suggestions to M. Fontaine and the other architects showed plainly his desire to make the Louvre the finest palace in the world. His Majesty then had a report made him as to the chateau of Chambord, which he wished to present to the Prince of Neuchatel. M. Fontaine found that repairs sufficient to make this place a comfortable residence would amount to 1,700,000 francs, as the buildings were in a state of decay, and it had hardly been touched since the death of Marshal Sage.
His Majesty passed the two months and a half of his stay working in his cabinet, which he rarely left, and always unwillingly; his amusements being, as always, the theater and concerts. He loved music passionately, especially Italian music, and like all great amateurs was hard to please. He would have much liked to sing had he been able, but he had no voice, though this did not prevent his humming now and then pieces which struck his fancy; and as these little reminiscences usually recurred to him in the mornings, he regaled me with them while he was being dressed. The air that I have heard him thus mutilate most frequently was that of The Marseillaise. The Emperor also whistled sometimes, but very rarely; and the air, 'Malbrook s'en va-t-en guerre', whistled by his Majesty was an unerring announcement to me of his approaching departure for the army. I remember that he never whistled so much, and was never so gay, as just before he set out for the Russian campaign.
His Majesty's, favorite singer were Crescentini and Madame Grassini. I saw Crescentini's debut at Paris in the role of Romeo, in Romeo and Juliet. He came preceded by a reputation as the first singer of Italy; and this reputation was found to be well deserved, notwithstanding all the prejudices he had to overcome, for I remember well the disparaging statements made concerning him before his debut at the court theater. According to these self-appointed connoisseurs, he was a bawler without taste, without method, a maker of absurd trills, an unimpassioned actor of little intelligence, and many other things besides. He knew, when he appeared on the stage, how little disposed in his favor his audience were, yet he showed not the slightest embarrassment; this, and his noble, dignified mien, agreeably surprised those who expected from what they had been told to behold an awkward man with an ungainly figure. A murmur of approbation ran through the hall on his appearance; and electrified by this welcome, he gained all hearts from the first act. His movements were full of grace and dignity; he had a perfect knowledge of the scene, modest gestures perfectly in harmony with the dialogue, and a countenance on which all shades of passion were depicted with the most astonishing accuracy; and all these rare and precious qualities combined to give to the enchanting accents of this artist a charm of which it is impossible to give an idea.
At each scene the interest he inspired became more marked, until in the third act the emotion and delight of the spectator were carried almost to frenzy. In this act, played almost solely by Crescentini, this admirable singer communicated to the hearts of his audience all that is touching and, pathetic in a love expressed by means of delicious melody, and by all that grief and despair can find sublime in song.
The Emperor was enraptured, and sent Crescentini a considerable compensation, accompanied by most flattering testimonials of the pleasure he had felt in hearing him.
On this day, as always when they played together afterwards, Crescentini was admirably supported by Madame Grassini, a woman of superior talent, and who possessed the most astonishing voice ever heard in the theater. She and Madame Barilli then divided the admiration of the public.
The very evening or the day after the debut of Crescentini, the French stage suffered an irreparable loss in the death of Dazincourt, only sixty years of age. The illness of which he died had begun on his return from Erfurt, and was long and painful; and yet the public, to whom this great comedian had so long given such pleasure, took no notice of him after it was found his sickness was incurable and his death certain. Formerly when a highly esteemed actor was kept from his place for some time by illness (and who deserved more esteem than Dazincourt?), the pit was accustomed to testify its regret by inquiring every day as to the condition of the afflicted one, and at the end of each representation the actor whose duty it was to announce the play for the next day gave the audience news of his comrade. This was not done for Dazincourt, and the pit thus showed ingratitude to him.
I liked and esteemed sincerely Dazincourt, whose acquaintance I had made several years before his death; and few men better deserved or so well knew how to gain esteem and affection. I will not speak of his genius, which rendered him a worthy successor of Preville, whose pupil and friend he was, for all his contemporaries remember Figaro as played by Dazincourt; but I will speak of the nobility of his character, of his generosity, and his well-tested honor. It would seem that his birth and education should have kept him from the theater, where circumstances alone placed him; but he was able to protect himself against the seductions of his situation, and in the greenroom, and in the midst of domestic intrigues, remained a man of good character and pure manners. He was welcomed in the best society, where he soon became a favorite by his piquant sallies, as much as by his good manners and urbanity, for he amused without reminding that he was a comedian.
At the end of February his Majesty went to stay for some time at the palace of the Elysee; and there I think was signed the marriage contract of one of his best lieutenants, Marshal Augereau, recently made Duke of Castiglione, with Mademoiselle Bourlon de Chavanges, the daughter of an old superior officer; and there also was rendered the imperial decree which gave to the Princess Eliza the grand duchy of Tuscany, with the title of grand duchess.
About the middle of March, the Emperor passed several days at
Rambouillet; there were held some exciting hunts, in one of which his
Majesty himself brought to bay and killed a stag near the pool of Saint-
Hubert. There was also a ball and concert, in which appeared
Crescentini, Mesdames Grassini, Barelli, and several celebrated
virtuosos, and lastly Talma recited.
On the 13th of April, at four o'clock in the morning, the Emperor having received news of another invasion of Bavaria by the Austrians, set out for Strasburg with the Empress, whom he left in that city; and on the 15th, at eleven o'clock in the morning, he passed the Rhine at the head of his army. The Empress did not long remain alone, as the Queen of Holland and her sons, the Grand Duchess of Baden and her husband, soon joined her.
The splendid campaign of 1809 at once began. It is known how glorious it was, and that one of its least glorious victories was the capture of Vienna.
At Ratisbon, on the 23d of April, the Emperor received in his right foot a spent ball, which gave him quite a severe bruise. I was with the service when several grenadiers hastened to tell me that his Majesty was wounded, upon which I hastened to him, and arrived while M. Yvan was dressing the contusion. The Emperor's boot was cut open, and laced up, and he remounted his horse immediately; and, though several of the generals insisted on his resting, he only replied: "My friends, do you not know that it is necessary for me to see everything?" The enthusiasm of the soldiers cannot be expressed when they learned that their chief had been wounded, though his wound was not dangerous. "The Emperor is exposed like us," they said; "he is not a coward, not he." The papers did not mention this occurrence.
Before entering a battle, the Emperor always ordered that, in case he was wounded, every possible measure should be taken to conceal it from his troops. "Who knows," said he, "what terrible confusion might be produced by such news? To my life is attached the destiny of a great Empire. Remember this, gentlemen; and if I am wounded, let no one know it, if possible. If I am slain, try to win the battle without me; there will be time enough to tell it afterwards."
Two weeks after the capture of Ratisbon, I was in advance of his Majesty on the road to Vienna, alone in a carriage with an officer of the household, when we suddenly heard frightful screams in a house on the edge of the road. I gave orders to stop at once, and we alighted; and, on entering the house, found several soldiers, or rather stragglers, as there are in all armies, who, paying no attention to the alliance between France and Bavaria, were treating most cruelly a family which lived in this house, and consisted of an old grandmother, a young man, three children, and a young girl.
Our embroidered coats had a happy effect on these madmen, whom we threatened with the Emperor's anger; and we succeeded in driving them out of the house, and soon after took our departure, overwhelmed with thanks. In the evening I spoke to the Emperor of what I had done; and he approved highly, saying, "It cannot be helped. There are always some cowardly fellows in the army; and they are the ones who do the mischief. A brave and good soldier would blush to do such things!"
I had occasion, in the beginning of these Memoirs, to speak of the steward, M. Pfister, one of his Majesty's most faithful servants, and also one of those to whom his Majesty was most attached. M. Pfister had followed him to Egypt, and had faced countless dangers in his service. The day of the battle of Landshut, which either preceded or followed very closely the taking of Ratisbon this poor man became insane, rushed out of his tent, and concealed himself in a wood near the field of battle, after taking off all his clothing. At the end of a few hours his Majesty asked for M. Pfister. He was sought for, and every one was questioned; but no one could tell what had become of him. The Emperor, fearing that he might have been taken prisoner, sent an orderly officer to the Austrians to recover his steward, and propose an exchange; but the officer returned, saying that the Austrians had not seen M. Pfister. The Emperor, much disquieted, ordered a search to be made in the neighborhood; and by this means the poor fellow was discovered entirely naked, as I have said, cowering behind a tree, in a frightful condition, his body torn by thorns. He was brought back, and having become perfectly quiet, was thought to be well, and resumed his duties; but a short time after our return to Paris he had a new attack. The character of his malady was exceedingly obscene; and he presented himself before the Empress Josephine in such a state of disorder, and with such indecent gestures, that it was necessary to take precautions in regard to him. He was confided to the care of the wise Doctor Esquirol, who, in spite of his great skill, could not effect a cure. I went to see him often. He had no more violent attacks; but his brain was diseased, and though he heard and understood perfectly, his replies were those of a real madman. He never lost his devotion to the Emperor, spoke of him incessantly, and imagined himself on duty near him. One day he told me with a most mysterious air that he wished to confide to me a terrible secret, the plot of a conspiracy against his Majesty's life, handing me at the same time a note for his Majesty, with a package of about twenty scraps of paper, which he had scribbled off himself, and thought were the details of the plot. Another time he handed me, for the Emperor, a handful of little stones, which he called diamonds of great value. "There is more than a million in what I hand you," said he. The Emperor, whom I told of my visits, was exceedingly touched by the continued monomania of this poor unfortunate, whose every thought, every act, related to his old master, and who died without regaining his reason.
On the 10th of May, at nine o'clock in the morning, the first line of defense of the Austrian capital was attacked and taken by Marshal Oudinot the faubourgs surrendering at discretion. The Duke of Montebello then advanced on the esplanade at the head of his division; but the gates having been closed, the garrison poured a frightful discharge from the top of the ramparts, which fortunately however killed only a very small number. The Duke of Montebello summoned the garrison to surrender the town, but the response of the Archduke Maximilian was that he would defend Vienna with his last breath; which reply was conveyed to the Emperor.
After taking counsel with his generals, his Majesty charged Colonel Lagrange to bear a new demand to the archduke; but the poor colonel had hardly entered the town than he was attacked by the infuriated populace. General O'Reilly saved his life by having him carried away by his soldiers; but the Archduke Maximilian, in order to defy the Emperor still further, paraded in triumph in the midst of the national guard the individual who has struck the first blow at the bearer of the French summons. This attempt, which had excited the indignation of many of the Viennese themselves, did not change his Majesty's intentions, as he wished to carry his moderation and kindness as far as possible; and he wrote to the archduke by the Prince of Neuchatel the following letter, a copy of which accidentally fell into my hands:
"The Prince de Neuchatel to his Highness the Archduke Maximilian, commanding the town of Vienna,
"His Majesty the Emperor and King desires to spare this large and worthy population the calamities with which it is threatened, and charges me to represent to your Highness, that if he continues the attempt to defend this place, it will cause the destruction of one of the finest cities of Europe. In every country where he has waged war, my sovereign has manifested his anxiety to avoid the disasters which armies bring on the population. Your Highness must be persuaded that his Majesty is much grieved to see this town, which he has the glory of having already saved, on the point of being destroyed. Nevertheless, contrary to the established usage of fortresses, your Highness has fired your cannon from the city walls, and these cannon may kill, not an enemy of your sovereign, but the wives or children of his most devoted servants. If your Highness prolongs the attempt to defend the place, his Majesty will be compelled to begin his preparations for attack; and the ruin of this immense capital will be consummated in thirty-six hours, by the shells and bombs from our batteries, as the outskirts of the town will be destroyed by the effect of yours. His Majesty does not doubt that these considerations will influence your Highness to renounce a determination which will only delay for a short while the capture of the place. If, however, your Highness has decided not to pursue a course which will save the town from destruction, its population plunged by your fault into such terrible misfortunes will become, instead of faithful subjects, the enemies of your house."
This letter did not deter the grand duke from persisting in his defense; and this obstinacy exasperated the Emperor to such a degree that he at last gave orders to place two batteries in position, and within an hour cannonballs and shells rained upon the town. The inhabitants, with true German indifference, assembled on the hillsides to watch the effect of the fires of attack and defense, and appeared much interested in the sight. A few cannonballs had already fallen in the court of the Imperial palace when a flag of truce came out of the town to announce that the Archduchess Marie Louise had been unable to accompany her father, and was ill in the palace, and consequently exposed to danger from the artillery; and the Emperor immediately gave orders to change the direction of the firing so that the bombs and balls would pass over the palace. The archduke did not long hold out against such a sharp and energetic attack, but fled, abandoning Vienna to the conquerors.
On the 12th of May the Emperor made his entrance into Vienna, one month after the occupation of Munich by the Austrians. This circumstance made a deep impression, and did much to foster the superstitious ideas which many of the troops held in regard to the person of their chief. "See," said one, "he needed only the time necessary for the journey. That man must be a god."—"He is a devil rather," said the Austrians, whose stupefaction was indescribable. They had reached a point when many allowed the arms to be taken out of their hands without making the least resistance, or without even attempting to fly, so deep was their conviction that the Emperor and his guard were not men, and that sooner or later they must fall into the power of these supernatural enemies.
The Emperor did not remain in Vienna, but established his headquarters at the chateau of Schoenbrunn, an imperial residence situated about half a league from the town; and the ground in front of the chateau was arranged for the encampment of the guard. The chateau of Schoenbrunn, erected by the Empress Maria Theresa in 1754, and situated in a commanding position, is built in a very irregular, and defective, but at the same time majestic, style of architecture. In order to reach it, there has been thrown over the little river, la Vienne, a broad and well-constructed bridge, ornamented with four stone sphinxes; and in front of the bridge is a large iron gate, opening on an immense court, in which seven or eight thousand men could be drilled. This court is square, surrounded by covered galleries, and ornamented with two large basins with marble statues; and on each side of the gateway are two large obelisks in rose- colored stone, surmounted by eagles of gilded lead.
'Schoenbrunn', in German, signifies beautiful fountain; and this name comes from a clear and limpid spring, which rises in a grove in the park, on a slight elevation, around which has been built a little pavilion, carved on the inside to imitate stalactites. In this pavilion lies a sleeping Naiad, holding in her hand a shell, from which the water gushes and falls into a marble basin. This is a delicious retreat in summer.
We can speak only in terms of admiration regarding the interior of the palace, the furniture of which was handsome and of an original and elegant style. The Emperor's sleeping-room, the only part of the building in which there was a fireplace, was ornamented with wainscoting in Chinese lacquer work, then very old, though the painting and gilding were still fresh, and the cabinet was decorated like the bedroom; and all the apartments, except this, were warmed in winter by immense stoves, which greatly injured the effect of the interior architecture. Between the study and the Emperor's room was a very curious machine, called the flying chariot, a kind of mechanical contrivance, which had been made for the Empress Maria Theresa, and was used in conveying her from one story to the other, so that she might not be obliged to ascend and descend staircases like the rest of the world. This machine was operated by means of cords, pulleys, and weights, like those at the theater.
The beautiful grove which serves as park and garden to the palace of Schoenbrunn is much too small to belong to an imperial residence; but, on the other hand, it would be hard to find one more beautiful or better arranged. The park of Versailles is grander and more imposing; but it has not the picturesque irregularity, the fantastic and unexpected beauties, of the park of Schoenbrunn, and more closely resembles the park at Malmaison. In front of the interior facade of the palace was a magnificent lawn, sloping down to a broad lake, decorated with a group of statuary representing the triumph of Neptune. This group is very fine; but French amateurs (every Frenchman, as you are aware, desires to be considered a connoisseur) insisted that the women were more Austrian than Grecian, and that they did not possess the slender grace belonging to antique forms; and, for my part, I must confess that these statues did not appear to me very remarkable.
At the end of the grand avenue, and bounding the horizon, rose a hill, which overlooked the park, and was crowned by a handsome building, which bore the name of la Gloriette. This building was a circular gallery, inclosed with glass, supported by a charming colonnade, between the arches of which hung various trophies. On entering the avenue from the direction of Vienna, la Gloriette rose at the farther end, seeming almost to form a part of the palace; and the effect was very fine.
What the Austrians especially admired in the palace of Schoenbrunn was a grove, containing what they called the Ruins, and a lake with a fountain springing from the midst, and several small cascades flowing from it; by this lake were the ruins of an aqueduct and a temple, fallen vases, tombs, broken bas-reliefs, statues without heads, arms, or limbs, while limbs, arms, and heads lay thickly scattered around; columns mutilated and half-buried, others standing and supporting the remains of pediments and entablatures; all combining to form a scene of beautiful disorder, and representing a genuine ancient ruin when viewed from a short distance. Viewed more closely, it is quite another thing: the hand of the modern sculptor is seen; it is evident that all these fragments are made from the same kind of stone; and the weeds which grow in the hollows of these columns appear what they really are, that is to say, made of stone, and painted to imitate verdure.
But if the productions of art scattered through the park of Schoenbrunn were not all irreproachable, those of nature fully made up the deficiency. What magnificent trees! What thick hedges! What dense and refreshing shade! The avenues were remarkably high and broad, and bordered with trees, which formed a vault impenetrable to the sun, while the eye lost itself in their many windings; from these other smaller walks diverged, where fresh surprises were in store at every step. At the end of the broadest of these was placed the menagerie, which was one of the most extensive and varied in Europe, and its construction, which was very ingenious, might well serve as a model; it was shaped like a star, and in the round center of this star had been erected a small but very elegant kiosk, placed there by the Empress Maria Theresa as a resting-place for herself, and from which the whole menagerie could be viewed at leisure.
Each point of this star formed a separate garden, where there could be seen elephants, buffaloes, camels, dromedaries, stags, and kangaroos grazing; handsome and substantial cages held tigers, bears, leopards, lions, hyenas, etc; and swans and rare aquatic birds and amphibious animals sported in basins surrounded by iron gratings. In this menagerie I specially remarked a very extraordinary animal, which his Majesty had ordered brought to France, but which had died the day before it was to have started. This animal was from Poland, and was called a 'curus'; it was a kind of ox, though much larger than an ordinary ox, with a mane like a lion, horns rather short and somewhat curved, and enormously large at the base.
Every morning, at six o'clock, the drums beat, and two or three hours after the troops were ordered to parade in the court of honor; and at precisely ten o'clock his Majesty descended, and put himself at the head of his generals.
It is impossible to give an idea of these parades, which in no particular resembled reviews in Paris. The Emperor, during these reviews, investigated the smallest details, and examined the soldiers one by one, so to speak, looked into the eyes of each to see whether there was pleasure or work in his head, questioned the officers, sometimes also the soldiers themselves; and it was usually on these occasions that the Emperor made his promotions. During one of these reviews, if he asked a colonel who was the bravest officer in his regiment, there was no hesitation in his answer; and it was always prompt, for he knew that the Emperor was already well informed on this point. After the colonel had replied, he addressed himself to all the other officers, saying, "Who is the bravest among you?"—"Sire, it is such an one; "and the two answers were almost always the same. "Then," said the Emperor, "I make him a baron; and I reward in him, not only his own personal bravery, but that of the corps of which he forms a part. He does not owe this favor to me alone, but also to the esteem of his comrades." It was the same case with the soldiers; and those most distinguished for courage or good conduct were promoted or received rewards, and sometimes pensions, the Emperor giving one of twelve hundred francs to a soldier, who, on his first campaign, had passed through the enemy's squadron, bearing on his shoulders his wounded general, protecting him as he would his own father.
On these reviews the Emperor could be seen personally inspecting the haversacks of the soldiers, examining their certificates, or taking a gun from the shoulders of a young man who was weak, pale; and suffering, and saying to him, in a sympathetic tone, "That is too heavy for you." He often drilled them himself; and when he did not, the drilling was directed by Generals Dorsenne, Curial, or Mouton. Sometimes he was seized with a sudden whim; for example, one morning, after reviewing a regiment of the Confederation, he turned to the ordnance officers, and addressing Prince Salm, who was among them, remarked "M. de Salm, the soldiers ought to get acquainted with you; approach, and order them to make a charge in twelve movements." The young prince turned crimson, without being disconcerted, however, bowed, and drawing his sword most gracefully, executed the orders of the Emperor with an ease and precision which charmed him.
Another day, as the engineer corps passed with about forty wagons, the Emperor cried, "Halt!" and pointing out a wagon to General Bertrand, ordered him to summon one of the officers. "What does that wagon contain?"—"Sire, bolts, bags of nails, ropes, hatchets, and saws."— "How much of each?" The officer gave the exact account. His Majesty, to verify this report, had the wagon emptied, counted the pieces, and found the number correct; and in order to assure himself that nothing was left in the wagon, climbed up into it by means of the wheel, holding on to the spokes. There was a murmur of approbation and cries of joy all along the line. "Bravo!" they said; "well and good! that is the way to make sure of not being deceived." All these things conspired to make the soldiers adore the Emperor.
At one of the reviews which I have just described, and which usually attracted a crowd of curious people from Vienna and its suburbs, the Emperor came near being assassinated. It was on the 13th of October, his Majesty had just alighted from his horse, and was crossing the court on foot with the Prince de Neuchatel and General Rapp beside him, when a young man with a passably good countenance pushed his way rudely through the crowd, and asked in bad French if he could speak to the Emperor. His Majesty received him kindly, but not understanding his language, asked General Rapp to see what the young man wanted, and the general asked him a few questions; and not satisfied apparently with his answers, ordered the police-officer on duty to remove him. A sub-officer conducted the young man out of the circle formed by the staff, and drove him back into the crowd. This circumstance had been forgotten, when suddenly the Emperor, on turning, found again near him the pretended suppliant, who had returned holding his right hand in his breast, as if to draw a petition from the pocket of his coat. General Rapp seized the man by the arm, and said to him, "Monsieur, you have already been ordered away; what do you want?" As he was about to retire a second time the general, thinking his appearance suspicious, gave orders to the police-officer to arrest him, and he accordingly made a sign to his subalterns. One of them seizing him by the collar shook him slightly, when his coat became partly unbuttoned, and something fell out resembling a package of papers; on examination it was found to be a large carving knife, with several folds of gray paper wrapped around it as a sheath; thereupon he was conducted to General Savary.
This young man was a student, and the son of a Protestant minister of Naumbourg; he was called Frederic Stabs, and was about eighteen or nineteen years old, with a pallid face and effeminate features. He did not deny for an instant that it was his intention to kill the Emperor; but on the contrary boasted of it, and expressed his intense regret that circumstances had prevented the accomplishment of his design.
He had left his father's house on a horse which the want of money had compelled him to sell on the way, and none of his relatives or friends had any knowledge of his plan. The day after his departure he had written to his father that he need not be anxious about him nor the horse; that he had long since promised some one to visit Vienna, and his family would soon hear of him with pride. He had arrived at Vienna only two days before, and had occupied himself first in obtaining information as to the Emperor's habits, and finding that he held a review every morning in the court of the chateau, had been there once in order to acquaint himself with the locality. The next day he had undertaken to make the attack, and had been arrested.
The Duke of Rovigo, after questioning Stabs, sought the Emperor, who had returned to his apartments, and acquainted him with the danger he had just escaped. The Emperor at first shrugged his shoulders, but having been shown the knife which had been taken from Stabs, said, "Ah, ha! send for the young man; I should like very much to talk with him." The duke went out, and returned in a few moments with Stabs. When the latter entered, the Emperor made a gesture of pity, and said to the Prince de Neuchatel, "Why, really, he is nothing more than a child! "An interpreter was summoned and the interrogation begun.
His Majesty first asked the assassin if he had seen him, anywhere before this. "Yes; I saw you," replied Stabbs, "at Erfurt last year."—"It seems that a crime is nothing in your eyes. Why did you wish to kill me?"—"To kill you is not a crime; on the contrary, it is the duty of every good German. I wished to kill you because you are the oppressor of Germany."—"It is not I who commenced the war; it is your nation. Whose picture is this?" (the Emperor held in his hands the picture of a woman that had been found on Stabs). "It is that of my best friend, my father's adopted daughter."—" What! and you are an assassin! and have no fear of afflicting and destroying beings who are so dear to you?"—"I wished to do my duty, and nothing could have deterred me from it."—"But how would you have succeeded in, striking me? "—"I would first have asked you if we were soon to have peace; and if you had answered no, I should have stabbed you."—"He is mad!" said the Emperor; "he is evidently mad! And how could you have hoped to escape, after you had struck me thus in the midst of my soldiers?"—"I knew well to what I was exposing myself, and am astonished to be still alive." This boldness made such a deep impression on the Emperor that he remained silent for several moments, intently regarding Stabs, who remained entirely unmoved under this scrutiny. Then the Emperor continued, "The one you love will be much distressed."—"Oh, she will no doubt be distressed because I did not succeed, for she hates you at least as much as I hate you myself."— "Suppose I pardoned you?"—"You would be wrong, for I would again try to kill you." The Emperor summoned M. Corvisart and said to him, "This young man is either sick or insane, it cannot be otherwise."—"I am neither the one nor the other," replied the assassin quickly. M. Corvisart felt Stabs's pulse. "This gentleman is well," he said. "I have already told you so," replied Stabs with a triumphant air.— "Well, doctor," said his Majesty, "this young man who is in such good health has traveled a hundred miles to assassinate me."
Notwithstanding this declaration of the physician and the avowal of Stabs, the Emperor, touched by the coolness and assurance of the unfortunate fellow, again offered him his pardon, upon the sole condition of expressing some repentance for his crime.; but as Stabs again asserted that his only regret was that he had not succeeded in his undertaking, the Emperor reluctantly gave him up to punishment.
After he was conducted to prison, as he still persisted in his assertions, he was immediately brought before a military commission, which condemned him to death. He did not undergo his punishment till the 17th; and after the 13th, the day on which he was arrested, took no food, saying that he would have strength enough to go to his death. The Emperor had ordered that the execution should be delayed as long as possible, in the hope that sooner or later Stabs would repent; but he remained unshaken. As he was being conducted to the place where he was to be shot, some one having told him that peace had just been concluded, he cried in a loud voice, "Long live liberty! Long live Germany!" These were his last words.
During his stay at Schoenbrunn the Emperor was constantly engaged in gallant adventures. He was one day promenading on the Prater in Vienna, with a very numerous suite (the Prater is a handsome promenade situated in the Faubourg Leopold), when a young German, widow of a rich merchant, saw him, and exclaimed involuntarily to the ladies promenading with her, "It is he!" This exclamation was overheard by his Majesty, who stopped short, and bowed to the ladies with a smile, while the one who had spoken blushed crimson; the Emperor comprehended this unequivocal sign, looked at her steadfastly, and then continued his walk.
For sovereigns there are neither long attacks nor great difficulties, and this new conquest of his Majesty was not less rapid than the others. In order not to be separated from her illustrious lover, Madame B—— followed the army to Bavaria, and afterwards came to him at Paris, where she died in 1812.
His Majesty's attention was attracted by a charming young person one morning in the suburbs of Schoenbrunn; and some one was ordered to see this young lady, and arrange for a rendezvous at the chateau the following evening. Fortune favored his Majesty on this occasion. The eclat of so illustrious a name, and the renown of his victories, had produced a deep impression on the mind of the young girl, and had disposed her to listen favorably to the propositions made to her. She therefore eagerly consented to meet him at the chateau; and at the appointed hour the person of whom I have spoken came for her, and I received her on her arrival, and introduced her to his Majesty. She did not speak French, but she knew Italian well, and it was consequently easy for the Emperor to converse with her; and he soon learned with astonishment that this charming young lady belonged to a very honorable family of Vienna, and that in coming to him that evening she was inspired alone by a desire to express to him her sincere admiration. The Emperor respected the innocence of the young girl, had her reconducted to her parents' residence, and gave orders that a marriage should be arranged for her, and that it should be rendered more advantageous by means of a considerable dowry.
At Schoenbrunn, as at Paris, his Majesty dined habitually at six o'clock; but since he worked sometimes very far into the night, care was taken to prepare every evening a light supper, which was placed in a little locked basket covered with oil-cloth. There were two keys to this basket; one of which the steward kept, and I the other. The care of this basket belonged to me alone; and as his Majesty was extremely busy, he hardly ever asked for supper. One evening Roustan, who had been busily occupied all day in his master's service, was in a little room next to the Emperor's, and meeting me just after I had assisted in putting his Majesty to bed, said to me in his bad French, looking at the basket with an envious eye, "I could eat a chicken wing myself; I am very hungry." I refused at first; but finally, as I knew that the Emperor had gone to bed, and had no idea he would take a fancy to ask me for supper that evening, I let Roustan have it. He, much delighted, began with a leg, and next took a wing; and I do not know if any of the chicken would have been left had I not suddenly heard the bell ring sharply. I entered the room, and was shocked to hear the Emperor say to me, "Constant, my chicken." My embarrassment may be imagined. I had no other chicken; and by what means, at such an hour, could I procure one! At last I decided what to do. It was best to cut up the fowl, as thus I would be able to conceal the absence of the two limbs Roustan had eaten; so I entered proudly with the chicken replaced on the dish Roustan following me, for I was very willing, if there were any reproaches, to share them with him. I picked up the remaining wing, and presented it to the Emperor; but he refused it, saying to me, "Give me the chicken; I will choose for myself." This time there was no means of saving ourselves, for the dismembered chicken must pass under his Majesty's eyes. "See here," said he, "since when did chickens begin to have only one wing and one leg? That is fine; it seems that I must eat what others leave. Who, then, eats half of my supper?" I looked at Roustan, who in confusion replied, "I was very hungry, Sire, and I ate a wing and leg."—"What, you idiot! so it was you, was it?"
"Ah, I will punish you for it." And without another word the Emperor ate the remaining leg and wing.
The next day at his toilet he summoned the grand marshal for some purpose, and during the conversation said, "I leave you to guess what I ate last night for my supper. The scraps which M. Roustan left. Yes, the wretch took a notion to eat half of my chicken." Roustan entered at that moment. "Come here, you idiot," continued the Emperor; "and the next time this happens, be sure you will pay for it." Saying this, he seized him by the ears and laughed heartily.
On the 22d of May, ten days after the triumphant entry of the Emperor into the Austrian capital, the battle of Essling took place, a bloody combat lasting from four in the morning till six in the evening. This battle was sadly memorable to all the old soldiers of the Empire, since it cost the life of perhaps the bravest of them all,—the Duke of Montebello, the devoted friend of the Emperor, the only one who shared with Marshal Augereau the right to speak to him frankly face to face.
The evening before the battle the marshal entered his Majesty's residence, and found him surrounded by several persons. The Duke of—— always undertook to place himself between the Emperor and persons who wished to speak with him. The Duke of Montebello, seeing him play his usual game, took him by the lappet of his coat, and, wheeling him around, said to him: "Take yourself away from here! The Emperor does not need you to stand guard. It is singular that on the field of battle you are always so far from us that we cannot see you, while here we can say nothing to the Emperor without your being in the way." The duke was furious. He looked first at the marshal, then at the Emperor, who simply said, "Gently Lannes."
That evening in the domestic apartments they were discussing this apostrophe of the marshal's. An officer of the army of Egypt said that he was not surprised, since the Duke of Montebello had never forgiven the Duke of —— for the three hundred sick persons poisoned at Jaffa.
Dr. Lannefranque, one of those who attended the unfortunate Duke of Montebello, said that as he was mounting his horse on starting to the island of Lobau, the duke was possessed by gloomy presentiments. He paused a moment, took M. Lannefranque's hand, and pressed it, saying to him with a sad smile, "Au revoir; you will soon see us again, perhaps. There will be work for you and for those gentlemen to-day," pointing to several surgeons and doctors standing near. "M. le Duc," replied Lannefranque, "this day will add yet more to your glory."—"My glory," interrupted the marshal eagerly; "do you wish me to speak frankly? I do not approve very highly of this affair; and, moreover, whatever may be the issue, this will be my last battle." The doctor wished to ask the marshal his reasons for this conviction; but he set off at a gallop, and was soon out of sight.
On the morning of the battle, about six or seven o'clock, the Austrians had already advanced, when an aide-de-camp came to announce to his Majesty that a sudden rise in the Danube had washed down a great number of large trees which had been cut down when Vienna was taken, and that these trees had driven against and broken the bridges which served as communication between Essling and the island of Lobau; and in consequence of this the reserve corps, part of the heavy cavalry, and Marshal Davoust's entire corps, found themselves forced to remain inactive on the other side. This misfortune arrested the movement which the Emperor was preparing to make, and the enemy took courage.
The Duke of Montebello received orders to hold the field of battle, and took his position, resting on the village of Essling, instead of continuing the pursuit of the Austrians which he had already begun, and held this position from nine o'clock in the morning till the evening; and at seven o'clock in the evening the battle was gained. At six o'clock the unfortunate marshal, while standing on an elevation to obtain a better view of the movements, was struck by a cannon-ball, which broke his right thigh and his left knee.
He thought at first that he had only a few moments to live, and had himself carried on a litter to the Emperor, saying that he wished to embrace him before he died. The Emperor, seeing him thus weltering in his blood, had the litter placed on the ground, and, throwing himself on his knees, took the marshal in his arms, and said to him, weeping, "Lannes, do you know me?"—"Yes, Sire; you are losing your best friend." —"No! no! you will live. Can you not answer for his life, M. Larrey?" The wounded soldiers hearing his Majesty speak thus, tried to rise on their elbows, and cried, "Vive l'Empereur!"
The surgeons carried the marshal to a little village called Ebersdorf, on the bank of the river, and near the field of battle. At the house of a brewer they found a room over a stable where the heat was stifling, and was rendered still more unendurable from the odor of the corpses by which the house was surrounded.
But as no other place could be found, it was necessary to make the best of it. The marshal bore the amputation of his limb with heroic courage; but the fever which came on immediately was so violent that, fearing he would die under the operation, the surgeons postponed cutting off his other leg. This fever was caused partly by exhaustion, for at the time he was wounded the marshal had eaten nothing for twenty-four hours. Finally Messieurs Larrey,
[Baron Dominique Jean Larrey, eminent surgeon, born at Bagneres-de -Bigorre, 1766. Accompanied Napoleon to Egypt. Surgeon-in-chief of the grand army, 1812. Wounded and taken prisoner at Waterloo. In his will the Emperor styles him the best man he had ever known. Died 1842.]
Yvan, Paulet, and Lannefranque decided on the second amputation; and after this had been performed the quiet condition of the wounded man made them hopeful of saving his life. But it was not to be. The fever increased, and became of a most alarming character; and in spite of the attentions of these skillful surgeons, and of Doctor Frank, then the most celebrated physician in Europe, the marshal breathed his last on the 31st of May, at five o'clock in the morning, barely forty years of age.
During his week of agony (for his sufferings may be called by that name) the Emperor came often to see him, and always left in deep distress. I also went to see the marshal each day for the Emperor, and admired the patience with which he endured these sufferings, although he had no hope; for he knew well that he was dying, and saw these sad tidings reflected in every face. It was touching and terrible to see around his house, his door, in his chamber even, these old grenadiers of the guard, always stolid and unmoved till now, weeping and sobbing like children. What an atrocious thing war seems at such moments.
The evening before his death the marshal said to me, "I see well, my dear Constant, that I must die. I wish that your master could have ever near him men as devoted as I. Tell the Emperor I would like to see him." As I was going out the Emperor entered, a deep silence ensued, and every one retired; but the door of the room being half open we could hear a part of the conversation, which was long and painful. The marshal recalled his services to the Emperor, and ended with these words, pronounced in tones still strong and firm: "I do not say this to interest you in my family; I do not need to recommend to you my wife and children. Since I die for you, your glory will bid you protect them; and I do not fear in addressing you these last words, dictated by sincere affection, to change your plans towards them. You have just made a great mistake, and although it deprives you of your best friend you will not correct it. Your ambition is insatiable, and will destroy you. You sacrifice unsparingly and unnecessarily those men who serve you best; and when they fall you do not regret them. You have around you only flatterers; I see no friend who dares to tell you the truth. You will be betrayed and abandoned. Hasten to end this war; it is the general wish. You will never be more powerful, but you may be more beloved. Pardon these truths in a dying man—who, dying, loves you."
The marshal, as he finished, held out his hand to the Emperor, who embraced him, weeping, and in silence.
The day of the marshal's death his body was given to M. Larrey and M. Cadet de Gassicourt, ordinary chemist to the Emperor, with orders to preserve it, as that of Colonel Morland had been, who was killed at the battle of Austerlitz. For this purpose the corpse was carried to Schoenbrunn, and placed in the left wing of the chateau, far from the inhabited rooms. In a few hours putrefaction became complete, and they were obliged to plunge the mutilated body into a bath filled with corrosive sublimate. This extremely dangerous operation was long and painful; and M. Cadet de Gassicourt deserves much commendation for the courage he displayed under these circumstances; for notwithstanding every precaution, and in spite of the strong disinfectants burned in the room, the odor of this corpse was so fetid, and the vapor from the sublimate so strong, that the distinguished chemist was seriously indisposed.
Like several other persons, I had a sad curiosity to see the marshal's body in this condition. It was frightful. The trunk, which had been covered by the solution, was greatly swollen; while on the contrary, the head, which had been left outside the bath, had shrunk remarkably, and the muscles of the face had contracted in the most hideous manner, the wide-open eyes starting out of their sockets. After the body had remained eight days in the corrosive sublimate, which it was necessary to renew, since the emanations from the interior of the corpse had decomposed the solution, it was put into a cask made for the purpose, and filled with the same liquid; and it was in this cask that it was carried from Schoenbrunn to Strasburg. In this last place it was taken out of the strange coffin, dried in a net, and wrapped in the Egyptian style; that is, surrounded with bandages, with the face uncovered. M. Larrey and M. de Gassicourt confided this honorable task to M. Fortin, a young chemist major, who in 1807 had by his indefatigable courage and perseverance saved from certain death nine hundred sick, abandoned, without physicians or surgeons, in a hospital near Dantzic, and nearly all suffering from an infectious malady. In the month of March, 1810 (what follows is an extract from the letter of M. Fortin to his master and friend M. Cadet de Gassicourt), the Duchess of Montebello, in passing through Strasburg, wished to see again the husband she loved so tenderly.
"Thanks to you and M. Larrey (it is M. Fortin who speaks), the embalming of the marshal has succeeded perfectly. When I drew the body from the cask I found it in a state of perfect preservation. I arranged a net in a lower hall of the mayor's residence, in which I dried it by means of a stove, the heat being carefully regulated. I then had a very handsome coffin made of hard wood well oiled; and the marshal wrapped in bandages, his face uncovered, was placed in an open coffin near that of General Saint-Hilaire in a subterranean vault, of which I have the key. A sentinel watches there day and night. M. Wangen de Gueroldseck, mayor of Strasburg, has given me every assistance in my work.
"This was the state of affairs when, an hour after her Majesty the Empress's arrival, Madame, the Duchess of Montebello, who accompanied her as lady of honor, sent M. Cretu, her cousin at whose house she was to visit, to seek me. I came in answer to her orders; and the duchess questioned and complimented me on the honorable mission with which I was charged, and then expressed to me, with much agitation, her desire to see for the last time the body of her husband. I hesitated a few moments before answering her, and foreseeing the effect which would be produced on her by the sad spectacle, told her that the orders which I had received would prevent my doing what she wished; but she insisted in such a pressing manner that I yielded. We agreed (in order not to compromise me, and that she might not be recognized) that I would-go for her at midnight, and that she would be accompanied by one of her relatives.
"I went to the duchess at the appointed hour; and as soon as I arrived, she rose and said that she was ready to accompany me. I waited a few moments, begging her to consider the matter well. I warned her of the condition in which she would find the marshal, and begged her to reflect on the impression she would receive in the sad place she was about to visit. She replied that she was well, prepared for this, and felt that she had the necessary, courage, and she hoped to find in this last visit some amelioration of the bitter sorrow she endured. While speaking thus, her sad and beautiful countenance was calm and pensive. We then started, M. Cretu giving his arm to his cousin. The duchess's carriage followed at a distance, empty; and two servants followed us.
"The city was illuminated; and the good inhabitants were all taking holiday, and in many houses gay music was inspiriting them to the celebration of this memorable day. What a contrast between this gayety and the quest in which we were engaged! I saw that the steps of the duchess dragged now and then, while she sighed and shuddered; and my own heart seemed oppressed, my ideas confused.
"At last we arrived at the mayor's residence, where Madame de Montebello gave her servants orders to await her, and descended slowly, accompanied by her cousin and myself, to the door of the lower hall. A lantern lighted our way, and the duchess trembled while she affected a sort of bravery; but when she entered a sort of cavern, the silence of the dead which reigned in this subterranean vault, the mournful light which filled it, the sight of the corpse extended in its coffin, produced a terrible effect on her; she gave a piercing scream, and fainted. I had foreseen this, and had watched her attentively; and as soon as I saw her strength failing, supported her in my arms and seated her, having in readiness everything necessary to restore her. I used these remedies, and she revived at the end of a few moments; and we then begged her to withdraw, but she refused; then rose, approached the coffin, and walked around it slowly in silence; then stopping and letting her folded hands fall by her side, she remained for some time immovable, regarding the inanimate figure of her husband, and watering it with her tears. At last she in a measure regained her self-control and exclaimed in stifled tones through her sobs, Mon Dieu, mon Dieu! how he is changed!' I made a sign to M. Cretu that it was time to retire; but we could drag the duchess away only by promising her to bring her back next day,—a promise which could not be kept. I closed the door quickly, and gave my arm to the duchess, which she gratefully accepted. When we left the mayoralty I took leave of her; but she insisted on my entering her carriage, and gave orders to carry me to my residence. In this short ride she shed a torrent of tears; and when the carriage stopped, said to me with inexpressible kindness, 'I shall never forget, Monsieur, the important service you have just rendered me.'"
Long after this the Emperor and Empress Marie Louise visited together the manufacture of Sevres porcelain, and the Duchess of Montebello accompanied the Empress as lady of honor. The Emperor, seeing a fine bust of the marshal, in bisque, exquisitely made, paused, and, not noticing the pallor which overspread the countenance of the duchess, asked her what she thought of this bust, and if it was a good likeness. The widow felt as if her old wound was reopened; she could not reply, and retired, bathed in tears, and it was several days before she reappeared at court. Apart from the fact that this unexpected question renewed her grief, the inconceivable thoughtlessness the Emperor had shown wounded her so deeply that, her friends had much difficulty in persuading her to resume her duties near the Empress.
The battle of Essling was disastrous in every respect. Twelve thousand Frenchmen were slain; and the source of all this trouble was the destruction of the bridges, which could have been prevented, it seems to me, for the same accident had occurred two or three days before the battle. The soldiers complained loudly, and several corps of the infantry cried out to the generals to dismount and fight in their midst; but this ill humor in no wise affected their courage or patience, for regiments remained five hours under arms, exposed to the most terrible fire. Three times during the evening the Emperor sent to inquire of General Massena if he could hold his position; and the brave captain, who that day saw his son on the field of battle for the first time, and his friends and his bravest officers falling by dozens around him, held it till night closed in. "I will not fall back," said he, "while there is light. Those rascally Austrians would be too glad." The constancy of the marshal saved the day; but, as he himself said, he was always blessed with good luck. In the beginning of the battle, seeing that one of his stirrups was too long, he called a soldier to shorten it, and during this operation placed his leg on his horse's neck; a cannon-ball whizzed by, killed the soldier, and cut off the stirrup, without touching the marshal or his horse. "There," said he, "now I shall have to get down and change my saddle;" which observation the marshal made in a jesting tone.
The surgeon and his assistants conducted themselves admirably on this terrible day, and displayed a zeal equal to every emergency, combined with an activity which delighted the Emperor so much, that several times, in passing near them, he called them "my brave surgeons." M. Larrey above all was sublime. After having attended to all the wounded of the guard, who were crowded together on the Island of Lobau, he asked if there was any broth to give them. "No," replied the assistants. "Have some made," said he, "have some made of that group," pointing to several horses near him; but these horses belonged to a general, and when it was attempted to carry out M. Larrey's orders, the owner indignantly refused to allow them to be taken. "Well, take mine then," said the brave soldier, "and have them killed, in order that my comrades may have broth." This was done; and as no pots could be found on the island it was boiled in helmets, and salted with cannon powder in place of salt. Marshal Massena tasted this soup, and thought it very good. One hardly knows which to admire most,—the zeal of the surgeons, the courage with which they confronted danger in caring for the wounded on the field of battle, and even in the midst of the conflict; or the stoical constancy of the soldiers, who, lying on the ground, some without an arm, some without a leg, talked over their campaigns with each other while waiting to be operated on, some even going so far as to show excessive politeness. "M. Docteur, begin with my neighbor; he is suffering more than I. I can wait."
A cannoneer had both legs carried away by a ball; two of his comrades picked him up and made a litter with branches of trees, on which they placed him in order to convey him to the island. The poor mutilated fellow did not utter a single groan, but murmured, "I am very thirsty," from time to time, to those who bore him. As they passed one of the bridges, he begged them to stop and seek a little wine or brandy to restore his strength. They believed him, and did as he requested, but had not gone twenty steps when the cannoneer called to them, "Don't go so fast, my comrades; I have no legs, and I will reach the end of my journey sooner than you. 'Vive la France;'" and, with a supreme effort, he rolled off into the Danube.
The conduct of a surgeon-major of the guard, some time after, came near compromising the entire corps in his Majesty's opinion. This surgeon, M. M——, lodged with General Dorsenne and some superior officers in a pretty country seat, belonging to the Princess of Lichtenstein, the concierge of the house being an old German who was blunt and peculiar, and served them with the greatest repugnance, making them as uncomfortable as possible. In vain, for instance, they requested of him linen for the beds and table; he always pretended not to hear.
General Dorsenne wrote to the princess, complaining of this condition of affairs; and in consequence she no doubt gave orders, but the general's letter remained unanswered, and several days passed with no change of affairs. They had had no change of napkins for a month, when the general took a fancy to give a grand supper, at which Rhenish and Hungarian wine were freely indulged in, followed by punch. The host was highly complimented; but with these praises were mingled energetic reproaches on the doubtful whiteness of the napery, General Dorsenne excusing himself on the score of the ill-humor and sordid economy of the concierge, who was a fit exponent of the scant courtesy shown by the princess. "That is unendurable!" cried the joyous guests in chorus. "This hostess who so completely ignores us must be called to order. Come, M——, take pen and paper and write her some strong epigrams; we must teach this princess of Germany how to live. French officers and conquerors sleeping in rumpled sheets, and using soiled napkins! What an outrage!" M. M was only too faithful an interpreter of the unanimous sentiments of these gentlemen; and under the excitement of the fumes of these Hungarian wines wrote the Princess of Lichtenstein a letter such as during the Carnival itself one would not dare to write even to public women. How can I express what must have been Madame Lichtenstein's horror on reading this production,— an incomprehensible collection of all the low expressions that army slang could furnish! The evidence of a third person was necessary to convince her that the signature, M——, Surgeon-major of the Imperial French Guard, was not the forgery of some miserable drunkard. In her profound indignation the princess hastened to General Andreossy, his Majesty's Governor of Vienna, showed him this letter, and demanded vengeance. Whereupon the general, even more incensed than she, entered his carriage, and, proceeding to Schoenbrunn, laid the wonderful production before the Emperor. The Emperor read it, recoiled three paces, his cheeks reddened with anger, his whole countenance was disturbed, and in a terrible tone ordered the grand marshal to summon M. M——, while every one waited in trembling suspense.
"Did you write this disgusting letter?"—"Sire."—"Reply, I order you; was it you?"—"Yes, Sire, in a moment of forgetfulness, after a supper." —"Wretch!" cried his Majesty, in such a manner as to terrify all who heard him. "You deserve to be instantly shot! Insult a woman so basely! And an old woman too. Have you no mother? I respect and honor every old woman because she reminds me of my mother!"—"Sire, I am guilty, I admit, but my repentance is great. Deign to remember my services. I have followed you through eighteen campaigns; I am the father of a family." These last words only increased the anger of his Majesty. "Let him be arrested! Tear off his decorations; he is unworthy to wear them. Let him be tried in twenty-four hours." Then turning to the generals, who stood stupefied and immovable around him, he exclaimed, "Look, gentlemen! read this! See how this blackguard addresses a princess, and at the very moment when her husband is negotiating a peace with me."
The parade was very short that day; and as soon as it was ended, Generals Dorsenne and Larrey hastened to Madame Lichtenstein, and, describing to her the scene which had just taken place, made her most humble apologies, in the name of the Imperial Guard, and at the same time entreated her to intercede for the unfortunate fellow, who deserved blame, no doubt, but who was not himself when he wrote the offensive epistle. "He repents bitterly, Madame," said good M. Larrey; "he weeps over his fault, and bravely awaits his punishment, esteeming it a just reparation of the insult to you. But he is one of the best officers of the army; he is beloved and esteemed; he has saved the life of thousands, and his distinguished talents are the only fortune his family possesses. What will become of them if he is shot?"—"Shot!" exclaimed the princess; "shot! Bon-Dieu! would the matter be carried as far as that?" Then General Dorsenne described to her the Emperor's resentment as incomparably deeper than her own; and the princess, much moved, immediately wrote the Emperor a letter, in which she expressed herself as grateful, and fully satisfied with the reparation which had already been made, and entreated him to pardon M. M——
His Majesty read the letter, but made no reply. The princess was again visited; and she had by this time become so much alarmed that she regretted exceedingly having shown the letter of M. M—— to the general; and, having decided at any cost to obtain the surgeon's pardon, she addressed a petition to the Emperor, which closed with this sentence, expressing angelic forgiveness: "Sire, I am going to fall on my knees in my oratory, and will not rise until I have obtained from Heaven your Majesty's pardon." The Emperor could no longer hold out; he granted the pardon, and M. M—— was released after a month of close confinement. M. Larrey was charged by his Majesty to reprove him most severely, with a caution to guard more carefully the honor of the corps to which he belonged; and the remonstrances of this excellent man were made in so paternal a manner that they doubled in M. M——'s eyes the value of the inestimable service M. Larrey had rendered him.
M. le Baron Larrey was always most disinterested in his kind services, a fact which was well known and often abused. General d'A——, the son of a rich senator, had his shoulder broken by a shell at Wagram; and an exceedingly delicate operation was found necessary, requiring a skilled hand, and which M. Larrey alone could perform. This operation was a complete success; but the wounded man had a delicate constitution, which had been much impaired, and consequently required the most incessant care and attention. M. Larrey hardly ever left his bedside, and was assisted by two medical students, who watched by turns, and assisted him in dressing the wound. The treatment was long and painful, but a complete cure was the result; and when almost entirely recovered, the general took leave of the Emperor to return to France. A pension and decorations canceled the debt of the head of the state to him, but the manner in which he acquitted his own towards the man who had saved his life is worthy of consideration.
As he entered his carriage he handed to one of his friends a letter and a little box, saying to this general, "I cannot leave Vienna without thanking M. Larrey; do me the favor of handing to him for me this mark of my gratitude. Good Larrey, I will never forget the services he has rendered me." Next day the friend performed his commission; and a soldier was sent with the letter and the present, and, as he reached Schoenbrunn during the parade, sought M. Larrey in the line. "Here is a letter and a box which I bring from General A——." M. Larrey put both in his pocket, but after the parade examined them, and showed the package to Cadet de Gassicourt, saying, "Look at it, and tell me what you think of it." The letter was very prettily written; as for the box, it contained a diamond worth about sixty francs.
This pitiful recompense recalls one both glorious and well-earned which M. Larrey received from the Emperor during the campaign in Egypt. At the battle of Aboukir, General Fugieres was operated on by M. Larrey under the enemies' fire for a dangerous wound on the shoulder; and thinking himself about to die, offered his sword to General Bonaparte, saying to him, "General, perhaps one day you may envy my fate." The general-in- chief presented this sword to M. Larrey, after having engraved on it the name of M. Larrey and that of the battle. However, General Fugieres did not die; his life was saved by the skillful operation he had undergone, and for seventeen years he commanded the Invalids at Avignon.
It is not in the presence of the enemy that differences in the manner and bearing of soldiers can be remarked, for the requirements of the service completely engross both the ideas and time of officers, whatever their grade, and uniformity of occupation produces also a kind of uniformity of habit and character; but, in the monotonous life of the camp, differences due to nature and education reassert themselves. I noted this many times after the truces and treaties of peace which crowned the most glorious campaigns of the Emperor, and had occasion to renew my observations on this point during the long sojourn which we made at Schoenbrunn with the army. Military tone in the army is a most difficult thing to define, and differs according to rank, time of service, and kind of service; and there are no genuine soldiers except those who form part of the line, or who command it. In the soldiers' opinion, the Prince de Neuchatel and his brilliant staff, the grand marshal, Generals Bertrand, Bacler d'Albe, etc., were only men of the cabinet council, whose experience might be of some use in such deliberations, but to whom bravery was not indispensable.
The chief generals, such as Prince Eugene, Marshals Oudinot, Davoust, Bessieres, and his Majesty's aides-decamp, Rapp, Lebrun, Lauriston, Mouton, etc., were exceedingly affable, and every one was most politely received by them; their dignity never became haughtiness, nor their ease an excessive familiarity, though their manners were at all times slightly tinged by the austerity inseparable from the character of a warrior. This was not the idea held in the army in regard to a few of the ordnance and staff officers (aides-de-camp); for, while according them all the consideration due both to their education and their courage, they called them the jay-birds of the army; receiving favors which others deserved; obtaining cordons and promotions for carrying a few letters into camp, often without having even seen the enemy; insulting by their luxury the modest temperance of the braver officers; and more foppish in the midst of their battalions than in the boudoirs of their mistresses. The silver-gilt box of one of these gentlemen was a complete portable dressing-case, and contained, instead of cartridges, essence bottles, brushes, a mirror, a tongue-scraper, a shell-comb, and—I do not know that it lacked even a pot of rouge. It could not be said that they were not brave, for they would allow themselves to be killed for a glance; but they were very, rarely exposed to danger. Foreigners would be right in maintaining the assertion that the French soldier is frivolous, presumptuous, impertinent, and immoral, if they formed their judgment alone from these officers by courtesy, who, in place of study and faithful service, had often no other title to their rank than the merit of having emigrated.
The officers of the line, who had served in several campaigns and had gained their epaulettes on the field of battle, held a very different position in the army. Always grave, polite, and considerate, there was a kind of fraternity among them; and having known suffering and misery themselves, they were always ready to help others; and their conversation, though not distinguished by brilliant information, was often full of interest. In nearly every case boasting quitted them with their youth, and the bravest were always the most modest. Influenced by no imaginary points of honor, they estimated themselves at their real worth; and all fear of being suspected of cowardice was beneath them. With these brave soldiers, who often united to the greatest kindness of heart a mettle no less great, a flat contradiction or even a little hasty abuse from one of their brothers in arms was not obliged to be washed out in blood; and examples of the moderation which true courage alone has a right to show were not rare in the army. Those who cared least for money, and were most generous, were most exposed, the artillerymen and the hussars, for instance. At Wagram I saw a lieutenant pay a louis for a bottle of brandy, and immediately divide it among the soldiers of his company; and brave officers often formed such an attachment to their regiment, especially if it had distinguished itself, that they sometimes refused promotion rather than be separated from their children, as they called them. In them we behold the true model of the French soldier; and it is this kindness, mingled with the austerity of a warrior, this attachment of the chief to the soldier, which the latter is so capable of appreciating, and an impregnable honor, which serve to distinguish our soldiers from all others, and not, as foreigners think, presumption, braggadocio, and libertinage, which latter are ever the characteristics of the parasites of glory alone.
In the camp of Lobau on the evening before the battle of Wagram, the Emperor, as he was walking outside his tent, stopped a moment watching the grenadiers of his guard who were breakfasting. "Well, my children, what do you think of the wine?"—"It will not make us tipsy, Sire; there is our cellar," said a soldier pointing to the Danube. The Emperor, who had ordered a bottle of good wine to be distributed to each soldier, was surprised to see that they were so abstemious the evening before a battle. He inquired of the Prince de Neuchatel the cause of this; and upon investigation, it was learned that two storekeepers and an employee in the commissary department had sold forty thousand bottles of the wine which the Emperor had ordered to be distributed, and had replaced it with some of inferior quality. This wine had been seized by the Imperial Guard in a rich abbey, and was valued at thirty thousand florins. The culprits were arrested, tried, and condemned to death.
There was in the camp at Lobau a dog which I think all the army knew by the name of corps-de-garde. He was old, emaciated, and ugly; but his moral qualities caused his exterior defects to be quickly lost sight of. He was sometimes called the brave dog of the Empire; since he had received a bayonet stroke at Marengo, and had a paw broken by a gun at Austerlitz, being at that time attached to a regiment of dragoons. He had no master. He was in the habit of attaching himself to a corps, and continuing faithful so long as they fed him well and did not beat him. A kick or a blow with the flat of a sword would cause him to desert this regiment, and pass on to another. He was unusually intelligent; and whatever position of the corps in which he might be the was serving, he did not abandon it, or confound it with any other, and in the thickest of the fight was always near the banner he had chosen; and if in the camp he met a soldier from the regiment he had deserted, he would droop his ears, drop his tail between his legs, and scamper off quickly to rejoin his new brothers in arms. When his regiment was on the march he circled as a scout all around it, and gave warning by a bark if he found anything unusual, thus on more than one occasion saving his comrades from ambush.
Among the officers who perished at the battle of Wagram, or rather in a small engagement which took place after the battle had ended, one of those most regretted by the soldiers was General Oudet. He was one of the bravest generals of the army; but what brings his name especially to mind, among all those whom the army lost on that memorable day, is a note which I have preserved of a conversation I held several years after this battle with an excellent officer who was one of my sincerest friends.
In a conversation with Lieutenant-colonel B—— in 1812, he remarked, "I must tell you, my dear Constant, of a strange adventure which happened to me at Wagram. I did not tell you at the time, because I had promised to be silent; but since at the present time no one can be compromised by my indiscretion, and since those who then had most to fear if their singular ideas (for I can call them by no other name) had been revealed, would now be first to laugh at them, I can well inform you of the mysterious discovery I made at that period.
"You well know that I was much attached to poor F—— whom we so much regretted; and he was one of our most popular and attractive officers, his good qualities winning the hearts of all, especially of those who like himself had an unfailing fund of frankness and good humor. All at once I noticed a great change in his manner, as well as in that of his habitual companions; they appeared gloomy, and met together no more for gay conversation, but on the contrary spoke in low tones and with an air of mystery. More than once this sudden change had struck me; and if by chance I met them in retired places, instead of receiving me cordially as had always been their custom, they seemed as if trying to avoid me. At last, weary of this inexplicable mystery, I took F—— aside, and asked him what this strange conduct meant. 'You have forestalled me, my dear friend,' said he. 'I was on the point of making an important disclosure; I trust you will not accuse me of want of confidence, but swear to me before I confide in you that you will tell no living soul what I am now going to reveal.' When I had taken this oath, which he demanded of me in a tone of gravity which surprised me inexpressibly, he continued, 'If I have not already told you of the 'Philadelphi', it is only because I knew that reasons which I respect would prevent your ever joining them; but since you have asked this secret, it would be a want of confidence in you, and at the same time perhaps an imprudence, not to reveal it. Some patriots have united themselves under the title of 'Philadelphi', in order to save our country from the dangers to which it is exposed. The Emperor Napoleon has tarnished the glory of the First Consul Bonaparte; he had saved our liberty, but he has since destroyed it by the reestablishment of the nobility and by the Concordat. The society of the 'Philadelphi' has as yet no well-defined plans for preventing the evils with which ambition will continue to overwhelm France; but when peace is restored we shall see if it is impossible to force Bonaparte to restore republican institutions, and meanwhile we are overcome by grief and despair. The brave chief of the 'Philadelphi', the pure Oudet, has been assassinated, and who is worthy to take his place? Poor Oudet! never was one braver or more eloquent than he! With a noble haughtiness and an immovable firmness of character, he possessed an excellent heart. His first battle showed his intrepid spirit. When cut down at Saint Bartholomew by a ball, his comrades wished to bear him away, "No, no," cried he; "don't waste time over me. The Spaniards! the Spaniards!"— "Shall we leave you to the enemy?" said one of those who had advanced towards him. "Well, drive them back if you do not wish me to be left with them." At the beginning of the campaign of Wagram, he was colonel of the Ninth regiment of the line, and was made general of brigade on the evening before the battle, his corps forming part of the left wing commanded by Massena. Our line was broken on this side for a moment, and Oudet made heroic efforts to reform it; and after he had been wounded by three bayonet strokes, with the loss of much blood, and dragged away by those of us who were forced to fall back, still had himself fastened on his horse in order that he might not be forced to leave the battlefield.
"'After the battle, he received orders to advance to the front, and to place himself with his regiment in an advantageous position for observation, and then return immediately to headquarters, with a certain number of his officers, to receive new orders. He executed these orders, and was returning in the night, when a discharge of musketry was suddenly heard, and he fell into an ambush; he fought furiously in the darkness, knowing neither the number nor character of his adversaries, and at break of day was found, covered with wounds, in the midst of twenty officers who had been slain around him. He was still breathing, and lived three days; but the only words he pronounced were those of commiseration for the fate of his country. When his body was taken from the hospital to prepare it for burial, several of the wounded in their despair tore the bandages from their wounds, a sergeant-major threw himself on his sword near the grave, and a lieutenant there blew out his brains. Behold,' said F——, 'a death that plunges us into the deepest despair!' I tried to prove to him that he was mistaken, and that the plans of the 'Philadelphi' were mad, but succeeded very imperfectly; and though he listened to my advice, he again earnestly recommended secrecy."
The day after the battle of Wagram, I think, a large number of officers were breakfasting near the Emperor's tent, the generals seated on the grass, and the officers standing around them. They discussed the battle at length, and related numerous remarkable anecdotes, some of which remain engraven on my memory. A staff-officer of his Majesty said, "I thought I had lost my finest horse. As I had ridden him on the 5th and wished him to rest, I gave him to my servant to hold by the bridle; and when he left him one moment to attend to his own, the horse was stolen in a flash by a dragoon, who instantly sold him to a dismounted captain, telling him he was a captured horse. I recognized him in the ranks, and claimed him, proving by my saddle-bags and their contents that he was not a horse taken from the Austrians, and had to repay the captain the five louis which he had paid to the dragoon for this horse which had cost me sixty."
The best anecdote, perhaps, of the day was this: M. Salsdorf, a Saxon, and surgeon in Prince Christian's regiment, in the beginning of the battle had his leg fractured by a shell. Lying on the ground, he saw, fifteen paces from him, M. Amedee de Kerbourg, who was wounded by a bullet, and vomiting blood. He saw that this officer would die of apoplexy if something was not done for him, and collecting all his strength, dragged himself along in the dust, bled him, and saved his life.
M. de Kerbourg had no opportunity to embrace the one who had saved his life; for M. de Salsdorf was carried to Vienna, and only survived the amputation four days.
At Schoenbrunn, as elsewhere, his Majesty marked his presence by his benefactions. I still retain vivid recollections of an occurrence which long continued to be the subject of conversation at this period, and the singular details of which render it worthy of narration.
A little girl nine years old, belonging to a very wealthy and highly esteemed family of Constantinople, was carried away by bandits as she was promenading one day with her attendant outside the city. The bandits carried their two captives to Anatolia, and there sold them. The little girl, who gave promise of great beauty, fell to the lot of a rich merchant of Broussa, the harshest, most severe, and intractable man of the town; but the artless grace of this child touched even his ferocious heart. He conceived a great affection for her, and distinguished her from his other slaves by giving her only light employment, such as the care of flowers, etc. A European gentleman who lived with this merchant offered to take charge of her education; to which the man consented, all the more willingly since she had gained his heart, and he wished to make her his wife as soon as she reached a marriageable age. But the European had the same idea; and as he was young, with an agreeable and intelligent countenance, and very rich, he succeeded in winning the young slave's affection; and she escaped one day from her master, and, like another Heloise, followed her Abelard to Kutahie, where they remained concealed for six months.
She was then ten years old. Her preceptor, who became more devoted to her each day, carried her to Constantinople, and confided her to the care of a Greek bishop, charging him to make her a good Christian, and then returned to Vienna, with the intention of obtaining the consent of his family and the permission of his government to marry a slave.
Two years then passed, and the poor girl heard nothing from her future husband. Meanwhile the bishop had died, and his heirs had abandoned Marie (this was the baptismal name of the convert); and she, with no means and no protector, ran the risk of being at any moment discovered by some relation or friend of her family—and it is well known that the Turks never forgive a change of religion.
Tormented by a thousand fears, weary of her retreat and the deep obscurity in which she was buried, she took the bold resolution of rejoining her benefactor, and not deterred by dangers of the road set out from Constantinople alone on foot. On her arrival in the capital of Austria, she learned that her intended husband had been dead for more than a year.
The despair into which the poor girl was plunged by this sad news can be better imagined than described. What was to be done? What would become of her? She decided to return to her family, and for this purpose repaired to Trieste, which town she found in a state of great commotion. It had just received a French garrison; but the disturbances inseparable from war were not yet ended, and young Marie consequently entered a Greek convent to await a suitable opportunity of returning to Constantinople. There a sub-lieutenant of infantry, named Dartois, saw her, became madly in love, won her heart, and married her at the end of a year.
The happiness which Madame Dartois now enjoyed did not cause her to renounce her plan of visiting her own family; and, as she now had become a Frenchwoman, she thought this title would accelerate her return to her parents' favor. Her husband's regiment received orders to leave Trieste; and this gave Madame Dartois the opportunity to renew her entreaties to be allowed to visit Constantinople, to which her husband gave his consent, not without explaining to her, however, all she had to fear, and all the dangers to which this journey would again expose her. At last she started, and a few days after her arrival was on the point of making herself known to her family, when she recognized on the street through her veil, the Broussan merchant, her former master, who was seeking her throughout Constantinople, and had sworn to kill her on sight.
This terrible 'rencontre' threw her into such a fright, that for three days she lived in constant terror, scarcely daring to venture out, even on the most urgent business, and always fearing lest she should see again the ferocious Anatolian. From time to time she received letters from her husband, who still marched with the French army; and, as it was now advancing, he conjured her in his last letters to return to France, hoping to be able soon to rejoin her there.
Deprived of all hope of a reconciliation with her family, Madame Dartois determined to comply with her husband's request; and, although the war between Russia and Turkey rendered the roads very unsafe, she left Constantinople in the month of July, 1809.
After passing through Hungary and the midst of the Austrian camp, Madame Dartois bent her steps towards Vienna, where she had the sorrow to learn that her husband had been mortally wounded at the battle of Wagram, and was now in that town; she hastened to him, and he expired in her arms.
She mourned her husband deeply, but was soon compelled to think of the future, as the small amount of money remaining to her when she left Constantinople had been barely sufficient for the expenses of her journey, and M. Dartois had left no property. Some one having advised the poor woman to go to Schoenbrunn and ask his Majesty's assistance, a superior officer gave her a letter of recommendation to M. Jaubert, interpreting secretary of the Emperor.
Madame Dartois arrived as his Majesty was preparing to leave Schoenbrunn, and made application to M. Jaubert, the Duke of Bassano, General Lebrun, and many other persons who became deeply interested in her misfortunes.
The Emperor, when informed by the Duke of Bassano of the deplorable condition of this woman, at once made a special order granting Madame Dartois an annual pension of sixteen hundred francs, the first year of which was paid in advance. When the Duke of Bassano announced to the widow his Majesty's decision, and handed her the first year's pension, she fell at his feet, and bathed them with her tears.
The Emperor's fete was celebrated at Vienna with much brilliancy; and as all the inhabitants felt themselves obliged to illumine their windows, the effect was extraordinarily brilliant. They had no set illuminations; but almost all the windows had double sashes, and between these sashes were placed lamps, candles, etc., ingeniously arranged, the effect of which was charming. The Austrians appeared as gay as our soldiers; they had not feted their own Emperor with so much ardor, and, though deep down in their hearts they must have experienced a feeling of constraint at such unaccustomed joy, appearances gave no sign of this.
On the evening of the fete, during the parade, a terrible explosion was heard at Schoenbrunn, the noise of which seemed to come from the town; and a few moments afterwards a gendarme appeared, his horse in a gallop. "Oh, oh!" said Colonel Mechnem, "there must be a fire at Vienna, if a gendarme is galloping." In fact, he brought tidings of a very deplorable event. While an artillery company had been preparing, in the arsenal of the town, numerous fireworks to celebrate his Majesty's fete, one of them, in preparing a rocket, accidentally set the fuse on fire, and becoming frightened threw it away from him. It fell on the powder which the shop contained, and eighteen cannoneers were killed by the explosion, and seven wounded.
During his Majesty's fete, as I entered his cabinet one morning, I found with him M. Charles Sulmetter, commissary general of the police of Vienna, whom I had seen often before. He had begun as head spy for the Emperor; and this had proved such a profitable business that he had amassed an income of forty thousand pounds. He had been born at Strasburg; and in his early life had been chief of a band of smugglers, to which vocation he was as wonderfully adapted by nature as to that which he afterwards pursued. He admitted this in relating his adventures, and maintained that smuggling and police service had many points of similarity, since the great art of smuggling was to know how to evade, while that of a spy was to know how to seek. He inspired such terror in the Viennese that he was equal to a whole army-corps in keeping them in subjection. His quick and penetrating glance, his air of resolution and severity, the abruptness of his step and gestures, his terrible voice, and his appearance of great strength, fully justified his reputation; and his adventures furnish ample materials for a romance. During the first campaigns of Germany, being charged with a message from the French government to one of the most prominent persons in the Austrian army, he passed among the enemy disguised as a German peddler, furnished with regular passports, and provided with a complete stock of diamonds and jewelry. He was betrayed, arrested, and searched; and the letter concealed in the double bottom of a gold box was found, and very foolishly read before him. He was tried and condemned to death, and delivered to the soldiers by whom he was to be executed; but as night had arrived by this time, they postponed his execution till morning. He recognized among his guards a French deserter, talked with him, and promised him a large sum of money: he had wine brought, drank with the soldiers, intoxicated them, and disguised in one of their coats, escaped with the Frenchman. Before re-entering the camp, however, he found means to inform the person for whom the letter was intended, of its contents, and of what had happened.
Countersigns difficult to remember were often given in the army in order to attract the soldiers' attention more closely. One day the word was Pericles, Persepolis; and a captain of the guard who had a better knowledge of how to command a charge than of Greek history and geography, not hearing it distinctly, gave as the countersign, 'perce l'eglise', which mistake furnished much amusement. The old captain was not at all angry, and said that after all he was not very far wrong.
The secretary of General Andreossy, Governor of Vienna, had an unfortunate passion for gambling; and finding that he did not gain enough to pay his debts, sold himself to the enemy. His correspondence was seized; he admitted his treachery, and was condemned to death, and in confronting death evinced astonishing self-possession. "Come nearer," said he to the soldiers who were to shoot, "so that you may see me better, and I will have less to suffer."
In one of his excursions in the environs of Vienna, the Emperor met a very young conscript who was rejoining his corps. He stopped him, asked his name, his age, regiment, and country. "Monsieur," said the soldier, who did not know him, "my name is Martin; I am seventeen years old, and from the Upper Pyrenees."—"you are a Frenchman, then?"—"yes, Monsieur." —"Ah, you are a miserable' Frenchman. Disarm this man, and hang him!"— "Yes, you fool, I am French," repeated the conscript; "and Vive l'Empereur!" His Majesty was much amused; the conscript was undeceived, congratulated, and hastened to rejoin his comrades, with the promise of a reward,—a promise which the Emperor was not slow to perform.
Two or three days before his departure from Schoenbrunn, the Emperor again came near being assassinated. This time the attack was to have been made by a woman.
The Countess at this time was well known, both on account of her astonishing beauty and the scandal of her liaisons with Lord Paget, the English ambassador.
It would be hard to find words which would truthfully describe the grace and charms of this lady, whom the best society of Vienna admitted only with the greatest repugnance, but who consoled herself for their scorn by receiving at her own house the most brilliant part of the French army.
An army contractor conceived the idea of procuring this lady for the Emperor, and, without informing his Majesty, made propositions to the countess through one of his friends, a cavalry officer attached to the military police of the town of Vienna.
The cavalry officer thought he was representing his Majesty, and in good faith said to the countess that his Majesty was exceedingly anxious to see her at Schoenbrunn. One morning, accordingly, he made propositions for that evening, which, appearing somewhat abrupt to the countess, she did not decide at once, but demanded a day for reflection, adding that she must have good proof that the Emperor was really sincere in this matter. The officer protested his sincerity, promised, moreover, to give every proof she required, and made an appointment for that evening. Having given the contractor an account of his negotiation, the latter gave orders that a carriage, escorted by the cavalry officer, should be ready for the countess on the evening indicated. At the appointed hour the officer returned to the countess, expecting her to accompany him, but she begged him to return next day, saying that she had not yet decided, and needed the night for longer reflection. At the officer's solicitations she decided, however, and appointed the next day, giving her word of honor to be ready at the appointed hour.
The carriage was then sent away, and ordered for the next evening at the same hour. This time the contractor's envoy found the countess well disposed; she received him gayly, eagerly even, and told him that she had given orders in regard to her affairs as if she were going on a journey; then, regarding him fixedly, said, tutoying him, "You may return in an hour and I will be ready; I will go to him, you may rely upon it. Yesterday I had business to finish, but to-day I am free. If you are a good Austrian, you will prove it to me; you know how much harm he has done our country! This evening our country will be avenged! Come for me; do not fail!"
The cavalry officer, frightened at such a confidence as this, was unwilling to accept the responsibility, and repeated everything at the chateau; in return for which the Emperor rewarded him generously, urged him for his own sake not to see the countess again, and expressly forbade his having anything more to do with the matter. All these dangers in no wise-depressed the Emperor; and he had a habit of saying, "What have I to fear? I cannot be assassinated; I can die only on the field of battle." But even on the field of battle he took no care of himself, and at Essling, for example, exposed himself like a chief of battalion who wants to be a colonel; bullets slew those in front, behind, beside him, but he did not budge. It was then that a terrified general cried, "Sire, if your Majesty does not retire, it will be necessary for me to have you carried off by my grenadiers." This anecdote proves took any precautions in regard to himself. The signs of exasperation manifested by the inhabitants of Vienna made him very watchful, however, for the safety of his troops, and he expressly forbade their leaving their cantonments in the evening. His Majesty was afraid for them.
The chateau of Schoenbrunn was the rendezvous of all the illustrious savants of Germany; and no new work, no curious invention, appeared, but the Emperor immediately gave orders to have the author presented to him. It was thus that M. Maelzel, the famous inventor of metronomy, was allowed the honor of exhibiting before his Majesty several of his own inventions. The Emperor admired the artificial limbs intended to replace more comfortably and satisfactorily than wooden ones those carried off by balls, and gave him orders to have a wagon constructed to convey the wounded from the field of battle. This wagon was to be of such a kind that it could be folded up and easily carried behind men on horseback, who accompanied the army, such as surgeons, aides, servants, etc. M. Maelzel had also built an automaton known throughout Europe under the name of the chess player, which he brought to Schoenbrunn to show to his Majesty, and set it up in the apartments of the Prince de Neuchatel. The Emperor visited the Prince; and I, in company with several other persons, accompanied him, and found this automaton seated before a table on which the chessmen were arranged. His Majesty took a chair, and seating himself in front of the automaton, said, with a laugh, "Come, my comrade, we are ready." The automaton bowed and made a sign with his hand to the Emperor, as if to tell him to begin, upon which the game commenced. The Emperor made two or three moves, and intentionally made a wrong one. The automaton bowed, took the piece, and put it in its proper place. His Majesty cheated a second time; the automaton bowed again, and took the piece. "That is right," said the Emperor; and when he cheated a third time, the automaton, passing his hand over the chess-board, spoiled the game.
The Emperor complimented the inventor highly. As we left the room, accompanied by the Prince de Neuchatel we found in the antechamber two young girls, who presented to the prince, in the name of their mother, a basket of beautiful fruit. As the prince welcomed them with an air of familiarity, the Emperor, curious to find out who they were, drew near and questioned them; but they did not understand French: Some one then told his Majesty that these two pretty girls were daughters of a good woman, whose life Marshal Berthier had saved in 1805. On this occasion he was alone on horseback, the cold was terrible, and the ground covered with snow, when he perceived, lying at the foot of a tree, a woman who appeared to be dying, and had been seized with a stupor. The marshal took her in his arms, and placed her on his horse with his cloak wrapped around her, and thus conveyed her to her home, where her daughters were mourning her absence. He left without making himself known; but they recognized him at the capture of Vienna, and every week the two sisters came to see their benefactor, bringing him flowers or fruit as a token of their gratitude.