NAPOLEON AT THE INVALIDES.
Death is the grand justice of the world; prejudices, antipathies and hatred of all types come to extinction in the tomb. The moment when the coffin is closed up on a political character, the calumny, the accusations are abandoned and never return, and the truth, this girl of the sky, comes to alight, like a vigilant sentinel, on the step of his tomb to defend the memory of the citizen or the monarch who, during his life, was the butt of the poisoned arrows of political fanaticism or unpopularity; often blind and always simmering!
Nations themselves, like individuals, feel disarmed in the presence of a tomb. The English government, not happy to have violated all the divine and human laws towards the captive Emperor, was baited, through six whole years, to torture the great man on the rock of Saint-Helena: it did not spare him either the reed scepter, nor the beverage of absinthe, nor the crown of thorns which had come to replace, on his broad face, the double diadem of Charlemagne and the Lombard Kings; it exhausted all: physical pains, mental pains, disgraces and humiliations. Ah well! This England which was thus avenged for its commercial disappointments, this England which had attached the vulture of Prometheus to the sides of this giant who was incarnated France; this envious, irritable and jealous England, as a courtesan to which one wants to tear off the gold belt which veils its turpitudes; this England, we say, bowed itself in front of its martyr, from the moment when, dead and adorned in his battle dress, he left his wood palace of Longwood to take possession of his granite sepulcher. It was surprised, by contemplating the Titan, which had succumbed to the weight of its chains, with its repentance of its relentless revenge; and, when it threw an apprehensive glance on the rock of Saint-Helena, the scaffold of Charles the Ist appeared less horrible to it. Stuart had only six days of anguish: the Caesar of France had undergone six years of anguish! Stuart had been drowned by insults of a fanatic army rabble: Napoleon constantly suffered the insults from a jailer that an impartial history will stigmatize with eternal contempt!*
*We know that in
One still remembers the enthusiasm with which the entire nation greeted the return of the ashes of Napoleon. With the appearance of these venerated remains, the people and the army forgot at what price these majestic ashes were returned to us.
This late funeral was celebrated with magnificence worthy of dead
heroes and living people.
With the appearance of these mutilated remains of our phalanxes, victorious for such a long time, with the sight of these glorious coats still impregnated with the ice of Bérésina and the powder of Mount-Saint-Jean, the people themselves bowed! … Each one of these brave men represented a victory to them, because from these stars of honor which scintillated on their chests, so many times plowed by grapeshot and iron of the enemy, one could read this sublime currency of Napoleon: Honor and fatherland!
No, never were funerals of a monarch any brighter, nor been surrounded by more of what gives a crown to these funeral ceremonies: regrets and blessings. To give an idea of the solemn gravity of this funeral, to make some account to posterity, it would be necessary to gather the scattered features of the funeral of Trajan, Marcus Aurelius and Constantine, combined with those of Charlemagne, Louis XII, of Guesclin and Turenne. Grateful France, in this memorable day, indeed paid to the dead hero the homage due to the conqueror, the legislator, in a word, to the great man who held the dykes of the revolutionary torrent, by holding up at the point of his sword the altar of the true God and the throne of Louis XIV.
For this coffin so full of memories, for this majestic corpse, one
needed a sepulcher worthy of him and France; it had been found: it
was in the middle of his brave companions in glory, with these soldiers
free from the falseness of battles, that the nation decreed an eternal
burial place for Napoleon. It was to the Invalides,
in this sumptuous palace raised by the munificence of the great king
to the valiant mutilated or dulled by age, that the coffin of the
Emperor was deposited, as in a sanctuary where no sacrilegious hand
could disturb his last sleep. The night of eternity must be
as calm for Napoleon as was it for him the night of
If the heart, separated from the body, can give up the celestial
residence to hover sometimes on the ground, with what joy will Napoleon
have been seen surrounded by these French people that he cherished
with such an amount of love! With so much happiness he will have
contemplated the splendid residence that was assigned to him, according
to this last expressed wish on Sainte-Helena: “I wish that
my ashes rest on the edge of the
The gold cupola of the
Yes undoubtedly, with the voice of this bronze (cannon), with the sounds of these people, this old and young army fallen prey to a patriotic fever, the great captain would have quivered in his shroud; his hand would have gone instinctively to the hilt of his sword, and, by seeing his old brave men still grouped around his cenotaph, his mouth would have still been able to articulate these magic words which he pronounced after all the great days of France: “Soldiers! I am content with you!”
And you, noble remains of our wars of the Republic and the Empire;
soldiers of Jemmapes, Valmy, the Pyramids, Marengo, Austerlitz, Jena,
Friedland, Wagram, Moskowa and Waterloo; you, proud soldiers of the
Imperial Guard, did we say what holy ecstasy seized your heart when
you saw getting out of the hearse the body of the hero for whom you
had poured out so much blood on all the battle fields of Africa and
Europe? Tell us what a noble pride seized you in the middle
when you learned that the ashes of your beloved emperor would sleep
from now on under the same shelter as you, throughout the century,
and that only you would be the guards of this national treasure,
of this palladium of glory and the grandeur of
The Saint-Jerome chapel became the
Often also, on the step of the tomb, one sees an old man bowing and requesting: it is an old grenadier of the Imperial Guard who comes to repeat to his emperor that the soldiers of France of today are worthy of their are elders, and that the wounded of Saint-Jean-in Acre and Mount-Saint-Jean approve of the wounded of Mostaganem and d’Isly. A day will come when the nations of Europe, returning to a feeling of equity which always takes time, will bow their heads with respect only to the memory of the veterans of the Guard Imperial, of this phalanx of giants, imperishable in the memory of the men and whose name will live as long as the world!
Placed on the Napoleon Series: June 2007
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