Research Subjects: Napoleon Himself


The most political act of Napoleon, during his consulate, was perhaps the restoration of worship in France, by signing the concordat, which took place on July 15, 1801.  The difficulty of this negotiation had been all the more easily  resolved because in the course of his previous campaigns in Italy, its commander-in-chief, had not behaved to the point of brutally, like most Republican generals, his colleagues, against Rome and the pontiffs.  In all his letters to the Pope, he had consistently used the title of Heavenly Father, and had signed himself your humble son; because maybe he already dreamed of this double crown that he was to have four years later, to become at once the leader of a great empire and eldest son of the Holy Church.  Also, in the early overtures made by Napoleon to the court of Rome, the Pope rushed to ship to Paris the prelate Spina, Cardinal Gonsalvi, and the father Caselli, as plenipotentiaries; Joseph Bonaparte, the counselor of State Cretet and Father Bernier, being those of the First Consul, who immediately employed every means to encourage and bring success to the enterprise.

A few days earlier, following a meeting of the State Council, Napoleon asked Portalis:

—What is it that your Theophilanthropist believe? Do these people have a dogma?

Portalis, a man of light and righteousness, explained to Napoleon that the doctrine of Theophilanthropy
was based on the precepts of natural law; purpose, practice and love of all virtues, that is to say, that the religion was a purely moral and social.

—Oh! Oh! Napoleon said animatedly, do not talk to me about a religion that not only takes my life but doesn’t tell me where I come from and where I go.

The Concord was therefore resolved: maybe it was a foregone conclusion, in a secret policy of Napoleon and after his religious leanings.  Anyway, one evening he explained it to the circle of Josephine.  Monge said:

—Let us hope we do not have to come to confession with tickets yet.

—It isn’t necessary to swear to anything, the First Consul replied dryly.

From that time began a period of cooling for many men that had been with France, and it was mainly in senior military ranks that this hotbed of discontent broke out.  Most of the army chiefs met in Paris to declare themselves against this act.  Whether from spite against an institution they had fought for, whether as a first step from General Bonaparte to break ranks and rise without him to other destinies, or whether, finally, from a few ambitious jealous rivals; it was none the less true that the most violent resolutions were proposed on this subject, among others, that of knocking the First Consul from his horse on parade and then trampling him.  That there wasn’t a murder conspiracy from this tumultuous General Staff wasn’t a mystery as there was no chief quite sure of his successor to give it momentum and ensure that all were absolved of guilt. All this was so noisy and so divided that Napoleon could not ignore it, and he himself ordered the arrest and removal from Paris of three or four of the most rebellious, which was enough to calm the revolutionary gale.

But in a few provincial towns which had a large garrison the momentum continued its effect.  The insulting libels, which were delivered against the First Consul, against the Corsican deserter, against the assassin of Kléber, and which were a call to insurrection and extermination, were thrown out as pamphlets in the capital.  It is true that, through the work of the police, always under the direction of Fouché, not a single one of these pamphlets reached its destination, except, however, those first of all sent to Paris in a basket of Brittany butter, by the diligence of Rennes, an aide-de-camp of General Moreau.

From that moment, Napoleon no longer doubted that the general was at least in the confidence of this seditious circular which threw the seed of discord into all ranks of the army.  So he bade the Minister of Police to have an interview of inquiry with him; it took place almost immediately and was unsatisfactory.  Moreau took a lighter reserved tone barely negative, affecting to joke about what he called a conspiracy in a butter pot, as his table in his salon had been awarded a pot of honor to his cook and a necklace of honor to his greyhound.

Fouché, with all possible regards, reported his conversation with Moreau to the First Consult the same evening.  Napoleon, having listened carefully to the minister, said:

—Finally, we must finish this fight; it is not fair that France suffers, torn between two men.  If it were me in his position, and he in mine, I would be his first aide-de-camp.  So he believes he’d govern the state? ... Well! Let it be, but then tomorrow at six o'clock in the morning, he will be at the Bois de Boulogne; his sword and mine will decide: I will be there. Do not miss out, Fouché, execute my order.

It was nearly midnight when the minister returned from theTuileries with a strange mission.  Moreau was called on the spot ... We judge that the rather conciliatory prudence of Fouché intervened successfully.  For accommodation, the General consented to visit the First Consul at sunrise the next day, where he had not presented himself for some time, and Napoleon, warned the same night, welcomed him perfectly.  It was almost an event of court, although nobody doubted that, a few hours earlier, these two men felt it their duty to cut each other’s throat, but from that day they were irreconcilable.

Napoleon, who until then had never appeared in anything but a uniform, wore, at the celebration of the anniversary of the July 14, a coat made of red silk, embroidered in Lyon, with a black tie.  The costume seemed pretty bizarre, but it none the less resulted in compliments on his good taste, except for the tie, which he objected to in that it was not in harmony with the coat.

—There is always something to endure in the military, he answered, smiling, and there is nothing wrong with that.

M. Gaudin, the Finance Minister, was one of the first, at an audience of Saint-Cloud, to wear a decorative hair net with lace.  He gradually adopted this example to please the First Consul, but this return to this old practice was in the beginning, a real masquerade.  One had a cravat for a dressing gown, the other a stock for a dress coat; this one here was a hair net lace, this one there was the hair queue; some had their hair powdered, the largest number were without powder; none had wigs.  All these little things became big business. Former wig makers were grappling with the new.  Each morning one watched the head of the First Consul; if one had only seen him once with powder, he was made up as Titus, one of the most healthy and most convenient of the revolution, and au naturel hair had been banned.

The women, who were repelled from the former regime, by whim or coquetry, however, were enemies of powder, because they were shaking that the reform did not reach them and that they were finished with grand bee hives, having started with the chignons and crepe.  They saw that some matrons of the court of Louis XV had argued that it could be nice with the Greek and Roman forms, and that the corruption of morals did not date from when short hair and dresses drew from these forms.

Madame Bonaparte was the head of the opposition; carrying the defense of grace and good taste to the woman of the world among whom she had the most.  She hated the inconvenience and exhibition, and often said:

—All this fatigues and bores me; I do not have a moment to myself.

Napoleon served as father to the children of his wife, and they earned this paternal affection by their excellent qualities and their filial love.  Eugene was full of honor, loyalty and bravery; Hortense, gentle, kind and sensitive.  Her mother had wanted to marry her to make her happy ... By wedding with his brother Louis, Napoleon believed he could reconcile policy with the happiness of his daughter-in-law: he was deceived.

As the consular power had expanded, the working day which engaged Napoleon had become more important, especially as it was in his particular office that all government affairs were elaborated upon.  The direction of this office was entrusted to Bourrienne; unfortunately the character of the latter mixed a need for self interested negotiation in which he found both influence and profits, Napoleon, who disliked speculators (faiseurs d’affaires), dismissed Bourrienne, who he gave the consulate in Hamburg, as compensation, and replaced the intimate secretary with M. de Menneval, honest and upright young man, reared in the intoxication of glory and genius of Napoleon close to Joseph Bonaparte, his brother.  M. de Menneval knew how to write quickly as Bourrienne; a loyalty and above all discretion in any event, he devoted body and soul to the First Consul.  The private cabinet then grew especially among secretaries who almost all became eminent and reflective men.  M. Fain later played, and in recent times of the empire, as did Mr. Monnier, an important role.  Moreover, this particular cabinet, composed entirely of young men, appeared as a reflection of the immense work of the First Consul, who becoming Emperor, wanted to know everything.

If the functions of the secretary of Napoleon were to be honorably fulfilled, they were also a tough task.  It was at some times, working day and night, and ordered into a kind of imprisonment, because it was only rarely that the Emperor allowed his secretaries to be absent.  Also he preferred they be celibate.

From the morning, barely after Napoleon was dressed (after five o’clock in summer, never later than seven o’clock in winter), he descended to his office, and it was well that everyone was at the post made by him, to work. Three tables were placed in this office; one, very nice for him (it was an antique bureau that had belonged to Louis XIV, and on which, they say, was signed the Edict of Nantes), was found in the middle of the room, the back of the chair in front of the fireplace, and the window in front.  On the left of the fireplace was a small room also used as an office, in which ordinarily awaited one of assistant secretaries. Through this office, you could communicate, by an easy walk, to the large apartments.

When Napoleon was in front of his office, sitting in the large armchair in which he constantly mutilated the arm with strokes of knife, he had in relation to him and a little to his right a large body of books filled in cartons.  All the way to the right was the big door to the cabinet; it communicated to, through a few steps into his bedroom.   After crossing the room, one passed into a small room called the waiting room; then came the grand salon where there were usually officers of the household.  People outside the palace entered into the office of the Emperor by the other side, that is to say, by the Pavilion of Flowers; so they needed before they arrived, to go through the small room that we talked about, where the office boy slept the night, which was later given the title of custodian of the portfolio.

Two other tables were also very inconspicuously placed in the Imperial Cabinet.  One was never occupied, the right one; the other was used to store boxes, papers, maps and books, which had withdrawn for research.  In summer, there was a view of the foliage of the beautiful chestnuts of the Tuileries; but one had to stand up and move around to the crossroads (of the rooms) to see walkers in the garden.  The secretary who worked on the right small table had his back turned on Napoleon, so he needed only a slight head movement to see if something had to be said.  The secretary who occupied the small room beside was never in the office when Napoleon was there, unless he was called.  Often and with lacking something to do, he would be found and made to come with him. He never conducted audiences anywhere except in his cabinet.  He never closed the communicating doors; if he wanted to be alone, he sent his secretaries for a walk in the great anteroom of the Pavilion of Flowers; he acted likewise when he wanted to meet face-to-face with the person he received.

Among his habits, was to always to sit on the edge of the table and support one of his arms on the shoulder of the person, swinging his legs in order to give the table a shaking movement, such that it was impossible to write what he dictated.

—Ah! Forgive me, he said then, it is a bad habit.

And the Emperor laughed, stood up and continued to dictate while walking with his hands crossed on his back.

Upon returning from Milan in 1805, when Napoleon was going to be crowned King of Italy, the work of his private cabinet became so considerable that it was impossible for one man to do it all.  M. of Menneval had warned the emperor, and he thought to find him aides, when two young men, protégés of M. Maret, then Minister of the Secretary of State, were offered and accepted for the honor of working in the Imperial Cabinet, in conjunction with M. of Menneval.  They were young P *** and M. de M ***.  They were very accurate and very laborious; also they were seen to be very kind.  Lodged at the palace and thus fed, heated, lighted, and so on.  They also received a salary of 8,000 francs per year.  We would believe that with all these advantages these gentlemen were in comfort: it was nothing to them.  If they were diligent in working hours, there was no shortage of pleasures when the day was completed; hence when the second quarter was barely started the salary of years was spent.  One especially, P ***, had contracted so many debts and his creditors, knowing his position, showed up so ruthlessly that, without unforeseen circumstances, it would have been inevitable, that the knowledge of these affairs would even reach the ears of Napoleon.

After spending entire nights thinking about the delicacy of his situation, and not imagining any way to escape embarrassment by meeting those of his creditors who transacted all their affairs at the palace, the poor P *** sought a distraction to his natural anxiety in work, visiting each day, at five o'clock in the morning the office of the Emperor.  As usual at this time nobody could hear him, while preparing for the task of the day, he amused himself by whistling the air of this romance of Blangini: It is too late! very popular then.  But one morning as Napoleon, who had previously worked alone in his office, was leaving to go to the bathroom, hearing whistling in the small office ahead, he returned immediately upon his steps:

—The deuce! already here, sir! he said to P *** with a satisfied air, it is exemplary.  Menneval must be happy with you: what is your salary?

—Eight thousand francs sire, and when I have the honor to follow Your Majesty's on voyage, I’m given a gratuity.

—Devil! At your age, it is very nice.  It seems to me that in addition to that, you are to be housed and fed?

—Indeed, sire.

—Then I am not surprised that you sing, because you must be very happy, isn’t it so?

By saying these words, Napoleon rubbed his hands.  P ***, judging by this particular gesture that the Emperor  in good spirits and that a favorable opportunity to get out of his embarrassment once and for all was offered, P ***, we say, resolved to make an admission of the unfortunate position in which he found themselves.

—Alas! Sire, I should be, he said in a contrite tone; and none the less I am not.

—Oh ... and why?

—Sire, because first of all I have too manycreditors at my heels (Anglais à mes trousses), and then I have to support my old father, who is almost blind, and my sister, not yet married.

—But, sir, you are doing what a good son should do.  Tell me about it! What do you say about this with your English (creditors)!  Is it by chance that you have these people to feed?

—No, Sire; but they are the ones who lent me money when I did not have any; I have yet to be able to repay them.  All those who have debts today call their creditors English.

—Enough, enough, Monseiur, I understand ... Ah! you have creditors ... How, with your salary can you create debts ... It is simple; I do not want to have near me for a long time a man who uses the gold of the English, when I can give him what he can live on honorably.  Within an hour I will receive your resignation. Goodbye, sir.

And Napoleon, launching a harsh glance at P ***, went up to his bedroom, leaving the young man suffering from such a state of despair, determined to kill himself, he had already seized a stiletto and he would have struck at his heart when, horribly strong for him, M. de M ***, his colleague, entered the cabinet, and managed, not without difficulty, to bring calm to the spirit of his friend.  Barely half an hour had passed when General Lemarrois, aide-de-camp to Napoleon, entered and handed over to P *** a sealed letter, telling him:

—It is from the Emperor.

P ***, fully sure in his misfortune, took the letter and gave it M. de M ***, unable, as he was, to be able to read it himself.  He opened; it read as follows:

“I wanted to chase you from my cabinet, because you deserved it; but I thought about your old blind father, that you spoke to me of, of your younger sister, and I have forgiven you because of them; and as they are the ones who must be especially affected by your misconduct, I send you, with furlough for today only, an amount of 10,000 francs that Mr. Estève[1], is ordered to pay you at the moment.  Rid yourself, with this sum of all the English that torment you, and make sure not to fall into their claws again, because then I will abandon you with no return.


A long live the Emperor! stammered out of the mouth of M ***.  As for P ***, the joy and shock seemed to have left him speechless, while crying, he embraced General Lemarrois and his colleague, and hence like a lighting bolt, he went to announce to his family what some people in the suburbs of Saint-Germain, who had knowledge of this act, called a new act of Imperial tyranny.

However Napoleon, who was always fair, also wished to give a bonus to M. de M ***, who had never done anything that would lead to praise; but as he did nothing without purpose and without cause, wanted to provide him the opportunity to be generous towards him, leaving the rest of the offer to be natural for him.  Unfortunately M. de M ***, who was roughly in the same position that his colleague, did not know how to take advantage of this good will of the Emperor; but failed, instead, turning it to his disadvantage.

Napoleon, above all, wanted to be obeyed and served on the spot.  He did not put off things overnight that could be done that day, and it was only very rarely that he adjourned from work.  If he did not like the work, he instructed one of his secretaries to do it and to submit it to him on a fixed day and hour; woe to him if this task was not completed as required, because he hated nothing more than laziness or inaction.  One such negligence on the part of M. de M *** assured he did not receive the bonus held for him.  Here's how.  It had already been a few days since P *** had received his 10,000 francs.  M. de M *** was alone and standing before the window of the cabinet of Napoleon, when he entered, took from his desk a notebook and said to him:

—Give me a copy of this report; it must be to me tonight by eleven o’clock.

Then fate.

M. de M *** took the notebook and prepared to read it without leaving his place, when Napoleon, returning a few minutes later, saw his secretary still standing at the crossroads (of the rooms):

—What are you doing again, sir? he said in a severe tone, I bet you are enjoying watching women stroll on the terrace!

And approaching the window himself:

—I knew it! he exclaimed.

Indeed, the terrace of the water's edge, then a fashionable walk, was covered with beautiful women who every day came at the same time to admire their toilet, but instead of apologizing, as he should have done, M. de M *** responded:

—It's true, sir, it happens sometimes, but I can assure Your Majesty that, at this moment, I was thinking about the length of this report.

—Then, sir, all the more reason not to idle.

—Sire, I need to rest a little.

—When you are tired, sir, replied the Emperor almost impatiently, we sit.  It would be at your table that I would have found you on returning, and not before this window.

—Sire, I ...

—Enough, sir, Napoleon was tapping his foot with liveliness, you heard me.

And he hurriedly left his cabinet, probably so as not to be forced to address other criticisms of this young man.

Yet all this would have come to nothing, but the copy of the report was not found to be forwarded in the evening, as it might have been, Napoleon did not immediately testify to his displeasure with M. de M ***, but later, the opportunity was presented to blame the neglect he had made in this expedition, he did not escape and informed his secretary what he had lost in this circumstance.

Thereafter, M. de M *** beautifully redoubled his zeal and activity, arriving at the office at five o'clock in the morning, even whistling the huge directory of Blangini romances, everything was unnecessary; Napoleon turned a deaf ear, he would not understand this musical language, nor forgive the act of laziness to which M. de M *** was guilty and, anyway, he did not share in any favors that, at certain times of the year, rained on the head of those who, like him, approached the Emperor.


[1] Treasurer of the Crown.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2008


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