NAPOLEON AND HIS GUARD ON THE ISLE OF ELBA.
We said that in consequence of the abdication at Fontainebleau, the Island of Elba had been all the sovereignty given to the man who had joined together in France: Italy, Holland, a portion of Spain, Savoy, Piedmont and the Marche d’ Ancône (Ancona) making it only one empire. This extraordinary empire had collapsed moments after the first Cossack had shown himself under the walls of Paris, and of all this rich country, arranged along the Seine, the Rhone, the Loire, the Tiber, Zuider Zee, Guadalquiver and Berezina, all that remained for the modern Charlemagne was only one small square of ground forgotten in the Mediterranean, which the kings he had overcome so many times and also so many of whom he had restored on their thrones, by his magnanimity, granted to him in exchange for the crown of France and the crown of Italy, that they stole from him under the terms of a victory of a day.
Napoleon had landed at the Isle of Elba, on May 4, 1814, accompanied by Baron Koller, the Austrian Commissioner, by Count Bertrand and the English Captain Usher, commanding the frigate Undaunted (l’Indomptée), aboard which the crossing from Frejus to the Isle of Elba had been made. The day before, General Drouot, Lieutenant Hastings, 1st Lieutenant of the English frigate, and Colonel Campbell had preceded them by landing to take, in the name of Napoleon, possession of his new empire. These gentlemen had consequently met with General Dalesme, governor of the island.
The mayor, the clergy and the authorities of the island had received Napoleon at the debarkation. The keys of the capital of Porto-Ferrajo were offered to him on a silver platter, and a speech was addressed to him, which he answered laconically and the picturesque liveliness, which always excited enthusiasm. This time, his words still strongly moved the assistants, and brought unanimous bursts of acclamations from all parts.
The house inhabited by Napoleon, on the Isle of Elba, the old home of the governor, and that one soon called the Imperial Palace, would have been, anywhere else, an extremely ordinary country cottage. It was only composed, on the arrival of the Emperor, of a rather roomy ground floor, on the first level, containing six large parts, and of an attic, on the second, which was used to place the employees of the governor of the island. A court, each side of which had rather pretty gardens planted developing an amphitheatre, preceded this dwelling, located in an advantageous position. Laid open to the eye at the highest point of these gardens, one could see far off to sea and all the parts of the island. The Emperor, who found with reason this residence too cramped for him, started by building wings and pavilions on the sides of his palace; he gave a detailed plan for the expansions to the masons in charge of work which he projected himself; and, in spite of its modest capacity, Porte-Longone soon changed its aspect: furnishings of Napoleon, which had been brought, decorated the rooms: Count Bertrand discharged with an admirable taste the functions of decorator and tapestry maker. He knew, from long experience, how to make the most of sparse accommodations in poor localities, and, thanks to him, the Emperor could have, as at Tuileries, a sleeping room, a vast and airy study, a bathroom, a large reception room, a library, and a dining room which could accommodate a table of sixty place servings. It was all that it was necessary to a sovereign who would no longer count among his guests the kings and the princes of Europe.
One evening that Napoleon watched for, with the commander of the frigate The Undaunted, the arrival of the boats, which carried his troops and his luggage, this officer said to him:
—Sire, if I had a good telescope, I could tell Your Majesty if the sails, which we see over there, on the horizon, are those we wait for.
—That's no problem, Captain; here is one: that might be useful.
And Napoleon drew from his pocket an excellent German Friedlander telescope, magnificently mounted in gold, on which were engraved his arms, and placed them in the hands of the Captain, who, making use of it at once, said to the Emperor:
—Alas! Sire, they are not still our sails!
—And are you certain? Napoleon retorted with a tone sorrow.
—It would not be possible to be mistaken with an instrument like that one, set out again the Englishman, while giving the telescope to the Emperor.
[The Grenadier of the Isle of Elba.]
—Do not give them back, Captain, said Napoleon with a pleasant
dignity, keep this telescope as a remembrance of your stay on the
Napoleon awaited his Guard and his horses. This waiting, which was prolonged, ended only on May 27 and after the Adjutant Major Laborde had announced to him, as we have just said. Indeed, the following day, at seven o'clock in the morning, the troops unloaded, and Napoleon found himself again in the midst of the brave men who had followed him in all the phases of his prestigious existence, and which still came to obey his voice on the small island where Caesar and his fortune were relegated.
The first task of the Emperor was to deal with the organization of his Guard. He approved the formation of this battalion, which had been divided into six companies of infantry, with a staff, plus a company of sailors and a squadron of Polish lancers, which was given the title of Napoleon squadron. Each one of these companies was made up as follows, namely:
COMPANY OF SEAMEN.
After having taken care of quartering this small army, after having ensured himself that none of the conveniences of the life would be missed by those who voluntarily bound themselves to his fate, Napoleon thought then of his new kingdom, and, with this faculty of foresight that he had to a supreme degree, he endeavored to grow the industry and the trade of his subjects; then he was not long in resuming his practice of work, which the events of last three months of his reign had to some extent stopped.
He rose early, traversed on horse the various parts of the island, while giving orders everywhere for improvements, openings of mines, clearings or plantations. He was usually accompanied in these morning courses by the Grand Marshal and often also by General Drouot, when it was especially a question of strengthening the approaches of the coasts or of the building of roadways. He then returned to lunch; then he maneuvered the soldiers, as if they had been in the court of Tuileries. It happened sometimes that the Emperor spent several hours at these exercises, which were for him a recreation and a reflection of his warlike life. The parade finished, he returned to his cabinet, where he sometimes received some visitors, and did not leave there again but for dinner at six o’clock. This dinner, where he always invited some officers of his Guard, or the foreigners of distinction who had stopped on the island, was laid out with delicacy, but without profusion. Napoleon gave the honors of his table with a charming grace, and it was rare not to find the guests to be highly pleased with the affectionate reception which they had received from him, to spread among themselves praises on his account, and to exclaim: “One had misled us on the character of the Emperor! This man, that always had been depicted to us as a tyrant, is the best of princes and the most pleasant of the hosts.”
This reputation of tyrant, despot, ogre, in a word, had been made of Napoleon by the English newspapers. The Emperor was not unaware of it and did not neglect anything to destroy these ridiculous presentations. By a calculated coquetery, especially towards the English he deployed this charming Atticism, which entranced the hearts, and employing this fascinating glance that connected the wills of the others with his. Other times, and during the moments in which he could take no more of his work, he traversed on foot the districts of the island, entered the stores, shopping or making orders, and finished his journey by a visit to the barracks of his grenadiers. His presence was always greeted by cheer: then the figure of Napoleon radiated indefinable satisfaction.
On one of these visits, entering the improvised barrack room where the soldiers were taking their meal, he said to them while laughing:
—Ah well, my grognards, is the soup good today?
—Yes, my Emperor, one of oldest of the troop said; but it would be still better if…
And the old soldier did not say anymore.
—How! Napoleon retorted animatedly, the meat is not good quality? Could the vegetables be leathery?
—On the contrary, all is good, my Emperor, the grenadier set out again, the meat is good, the vegetables are excellent; but it misses something which is not in your capacity to provide us.
—What is it? Let us see, speaks! Napoleon asked impatiently.
—The water of the Seine to make the bouillon, the grognard answered hoarsely.
On this subject, Napoleon smiled with bitterness; then, turning on his heels, he began again while going away:
—Bah! Bah! Many partridges are eaten without oranges; you are too much the gourmet.
There is no one else in the world that can hide a major thought
under the humor of a witty remark like the French soldier.
Napoleon well sensed the choice of these words, seemingly so simple:
“We would need water of the Seine,” and understood that the absence
of the fatherland caused among his companions in exile a sorrow
of which they could not perhaps name, but which was to produce
sooner or later this disease of the heart that the doctors call
To treat these disastrous feelings, which were to pass naturally
from the soldiers to the officers, he made come, from Trieste and
Naples, a troop of actors, who gave performances at the small theatre
of Porto-Ferrajo, that the soldiers pleasantly called the quay
of the Ferraille, which is about the translation of Porto-Ferrajo,
and which recalled the quay of Paris to them which then bore the
same name. Soon these performances attracted crowds, and the floor
filled with noncommissioned officers and soldiers of the Guard,
who came to applaud the light comedies of Brazier, Théaulon, of
Désaugiers, etc, which they had formerly seen represented in Paris.
The song of Désaugiers entitled: Monsieur and Madame Denis,
which had obtained so much success in the capital, did not have
any less popularity on the
One evening that the Emperor, in a more expansive mood than customary, walked in the alley of sycamores which bordered his dwelling on the side of the sea, he saw one of his old grenadiers who, sitting at the foot of a tree, like the good Fountain on the boulevard of the Home, appeared taken by deep reflections. He went to him, and in an abrupt tone:
—Ah well! What do you do here all alone? He asked him; I bet that you are thinking of something? He added while smiling.
—It is true, my Emperor, answered the grenadier while quickly coming into the position of a soldier without weapons; I was ruminating over my country and I said to myself something like: At this time at home, the harvest would be finished.
—What country are you from?
—D' Antrain, my Emperor, within four good little miles from Rennes
—My Emperor, I am too honorable to contradict you; but with all due respect, I like the rain better which falls in Antrain than the beautiful days on the Island from Elba; it is my opinion: that is to say without meaning to offend, my Emperor, and for conversation only.
—But here, you have all amusement without comparison, Napoleon replied; you have the leisure of rest; it is not the service which grieves you, I hope; the wine is cheap, and you have the entertainment to divert you: go to the shows.
—It is also true, my Emperor; but the pieces, which are presented, at your theatre are not as good as the porichinelles on the Boulevard of the Temple. Now that was amusing!
—Ah well, the Emperor said while moving away, be comforted and be patience; perhaps someday you will see again on the Boulevard of the Temple your porichinelles.
That same evening Napoleon retold the Grand Marshal the conversation which he had had with the soldier, while laughing at the naivety and the frankness of the grenadier; and the word porichinelle made famous at Porto-Longone. The practice had been adopted to say proverbially, when something displeased: I like better the porichinelles; and, in the end, the officers and Napoleon himself thought, in petto, like the grognard. After this occasion, Drouot said one day to the Emperor:
—Lord, we are bad Robinsons; furthermore we not resemble Telemachus
—It isn’t that this is Calypso, Napoleon began again while rubbing
his hands; that you cannot hear, like the son of Ulysses, the call
to return to Ithaca. Furthermore, I have spoiled you too much
for as long as you’ve existed, I made you see too much in our country;
I accustomed you so well to an ambulatory existence, you can no
longer take a philosophical rest. Then turning towards some officers
who had appeared during encounter, he added: “Let us go, Sirs,
if you are quite wise, I would allow you to return to
But Napoleon realized that he had said a little too much, he gripped his lips, took a plug of tobacco that he spit out with force, and at once changed the subject of the conversation.
Less than six months after his arrival on the Island of Elba, Napoleon, perhaps influenced by perfidious council, where, which is more probable, by the confidences related to him of the bad ones of the allied sovereigns in this regard, left Porto-Ferrajo, sprang with his brave men on a boat, and landed on the ground of France to again give birth to wonders there. But, alas! This time the results were not to be the same again: The eagle, like the poet said, was no longer in the secret prayers of the gods.
COMPOSITION AND NUMERICAL FORCE OF THE GUARD IN 1814
Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2006
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