Research Subjects: Napoleon Himself


The time was past when Napoleon, the ruler of the world, could partake in the honors of the old palace of Francis 1, as those he had with a crown!  He only returned to it to abdicate. This time, the splendid apartments of honor remain closed.  The officers of his civil and military household occupied the White Horse Court, in the modest lodgings they have been prepared in haste; during which time the troops that Napoleon recalled from Champagne arrived by way of Sens; they made more than fifty miles in less than two days! The debris of the corps who had defended the capital continued to rush down the road to Fontainebleau. The soldiers are animated by an enthusiasm which derived from the frenzy. The cheers resounded in the battalions which were victors at Arcis-sur-Aube, at Saint-Dizier, and those who courageously fought at Romainville and Montmartre.  Napoleon deliberated whether to retire behind the Loire, or if not, to try to retake Paris.  The second project would be preferable. There was more in his character to try a feat of arms than rely on opportunities for negotiations.  The next day, the dawn was still occupied with a plan of attack he had matured at night, when the news of what happened on the morning of March 31 suggested that his position was more desperate than it was thought at first; however, he nonetheless continued to concentrate his forces around Fontainebleau. The Duke of Ragusa established his headquarters in Essonne; the Duke of Treviso, at Mennecy; the baggage and artillery park were spread around the forest; Lefebvre, Ney, Macdonald, Berthier and other marshals successively joined the Imperial Headquarters. Napoleon was still in the midst of a lively and faithful army of the holiest of fanaticism: love of country! He instructed the marshals on the events around the capital, but specifically recommended to them to hide it from their troops, fearing that such news would discourage them. Then he ordered that the Old Guard be assembled in the courtyard of the palace: he wanted to review them.

The parade was something more solemn than usual. Napoleon set his eyes with pleasure on these brave men who had won so many battles under his command.  On hearing his old grenadiers acknowledge him with their usual cheers; he did not believe yet that Fortune had abandoned him. He thought that a day like that of Marengo, Austerlitz and Wagram could restore his capital and destroy the pride of his enemies.

—Not everything is finished, he said to Marshal Lefebvre, taking his arm; Caulaincourt was wrong. Everyone here is wrong, he added, glancing furtively at the marshals who accompanied him; it is for me to tell the truth to these brave people, those who still have faith in their Emperor. Duke of Danzig, form the square!

On a word from this marshal, sent by his aides-de-camp, the movement is executed. The officers leave the ranks and are ranged in a circle around the Emperor.  A long roll of drums was heard; with a signal of his hand, Napoleon interrupted the prevailing silence. Then in a clear and sonorous voice, turning to those around him:

 “Officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers of my Old Guard! he said, the enemy has out flanked you in three marches; he has become master of Paris, he should be expelled.”

Here a hum like a distant thunder is heard, the eyes of Napoleon blaze again with more vehemence:

“Unworthy French, émigrés, who we had forgiven, have worn the white cockade and joined our enemies. The cowards! they will receive the reward of this new attack!”

 —Yes! Yes! cried the officers grasping the hilt of their swords.

 Napoleon resumed in a burst of an extraordinary voice:

“Let us swear to conquer or die and uphold the tricolor cockade, which for twenty years, we have consistently found on the path of glory and honor!  In few days we will march on Paris!  Soldiers of my Old Guard! Your Emperor is counting on you!”

If we consider the unbounded devotion that the guard professed for Napoleon, it is not surprising that these last words, uttered in a loud voice, had produced an electric shock, an enthusiasm bordering on delirium. Officers and soldiers shouted with frenzied stamping of their feet:

—To Paris! Paris! ... Long live the Emperor! ... Death to traitors!

But most of the leaders had been silent, their loyalty was already tottering.  Napoleon ordered that his speech be put in the army order of the day, and returned to the palace followed by the Duke of Bassano, the only Minister who remained with him. Scarcely had he retired to his cabinet than twenty plans each bolder than the last came to him to change his mind. Fifteen years earlier, he would have benefited with this spontaneity, this confidence that characterized his military genius, but in fifteen years circumstances have changed; the dignity of being sovereign had glossed over the inspirations of the great captain: he could still count on the dedication of his army, but between he and them were intermediaries with illustrious names.  His lieutenants were all princes or dukes, each Marshal was a personified victory, and Napoleon was accustomed to marching surrounded by these living trophies. Fatal Error! As if his personal glory had not been enough! As if to illuminate the world, the sun was in need of satellites, which shine only by its own light!  If better advised, he would not have wasted precious moments in useless projects, and would have made a general appeal to the young generals around, him if he would have, like the great Condé at the siege of Freiburg, thrown a marshal’s baton over the walls of Paris, the city would become the tomb of three hundred thousand foreigners who prostituted its streets!

The marshals knew that the Duke of Vicenza had remained in Paris to renew with the allied powers, the negotiations started and broken so many times since the beginning of the campaign.  So, it wasn’t without curiosity that they heard no reports of emissaries ever following-up in Fontainebleau!  Their anxiety was increased further when they became knowledgeable of the Royalist demonstration which took place in the capital. From discreet whispers followed the bitter reflections, then unseemly recriminations were made aloud, and finally they said they would not march on Paris.  Thus, Napoleon had no more generals; he was left only with soldiers.

It was only six o'clock in the morning that the Duke of Vicenza, through a thousand obstacles, had been able to make it to Bondy, where Emperor Alexander had established his headquarters.  The Prince, who had been given the title of Grand Equerry by Napoleon as a token of esteem, was received kindly, but he held in his hands the keys to Paris, that MM. Pasquier, Prefect of Police, and Chabrol, Prefect of the Seine, had sent to him; he was at the same time very busy with his entry into the capital, to be held in a few hours: he confined himself to tell him in a tone of friendly reproach:

—It is time to come, now that there is no remedy! I cannot talk now, I am too busy.  Back in Paris, I'll see you there.

These words had left some hope to the Duke of Vicenza, who waited anxiously for the day's events to unfold.

The Emperor Alexander and the King of Prussia made their entry into the capital.  The combined armies marched on the boulevards, topped with a population curious to see this assembly of men of many different nations. A feeling of curiosity to behold so new a sight was mingled with the people, with a feeling of sadness and bewilderment. By contrast was the truly inconceivable: women, young and bedecked, in some windows waving white handkerchiefs at the Allies as liberators!  Groups of royalists, who, in the morning, had rode on horseback, preceding and following the foreign rulers, sought, by noisy demonstrations, to make changes in the state of opinion. There was neither administration nor police: as the streets belonged to the first occupant: the agents of the fallen family took it.  At six o'clock in the evening the same day, the Czar took possession of the apartment that M. de Talleyrand had prepared for him in his house in the Rue Saint-Florentin. Instead of following Marie-Louise to the Loire, the Prince of Benevento had stopped at a roadblock and returned to Paris to praise the honors of the Allies.

Alexander, a generous, though somewhat secretive, had only one concern: to ensure what he called world peace. He had already collected from Madame Krudner certain mystical ideas that had made him believe that his providential mission was here, to fill the role of peacemaker in the world. No sooner was he installed than, in agreement with the King of Prussia, who had joined him in the evening, he held a council which was attended by the Duke d’Alberg, Count Nesselrode, M. Pozzo di Borgo, the princes of Schwartzenberg, of Lichtenstein and M. de Talleyrand, all enemies of Napoleon.

Three questions were then asked:

1st Make peace with Napoleon, asking all kinds of safeguards against him;

2nd Establish a Regency,

3rd Reinstall the House of Bourbons.

Talleyrand spoke. He reported what he called the disadvantages of keeping Napoleon: he also fought the regency, which would, he said, be the reign of Napoleon in disguise. The restoration of the Bourbons seemed the only resolution that might be popularly accepted.

—What means would you employ? Alexander asked him.

—Sire, the constituted authorities.

—But what authorities? the Czar had responded with astonishment: all of them have disappeared.

—Pardon me, Sire; the Senate has sufficient numbers, as does the legislature (this was not true).  Once the Senate has decided, France will follow its will. Sire, I am strong in the Senate.

The Baron Louis was introduced into the council, employed more ardent expressions against Napoleon than those of M. de Pradt, who had been summoned to assist, so that the Czar himself made the observation in a dry tone:

—However, Baron, Emperor Napoleon is not dead, even politically!

—Oh! Sire, replied the former priest, he is a corpse; only he does not feel it yet.

—Well! Replied Emperor Alexander after a pause, I declare that I shall deal with him.

—But, Sire, Napoleon is only excluded by this declaration, which does touch his family, objected Talleyrand.

—Add: nor with any member of his family, the Czar said coldly.

Master of the land, the Prince of Benevento took the pen and wrote a draft statement. The Senate, accustomed to obeying blindly, assembled on 1st of April under the chairmanship of M. de Talleyrand, and accepted a provisional government composed of: the Prince of Benevento, President; General Bournonville, M. de Jaucourt, the Duke d'Alberg and Abbot Montesquiou.  M. Laborie was their Assistant Secretary. The same evening, and without deliberation, the legislature had adopted the following article: "Considering that Napoleon Bonaparte had violated the constitutional pact, must adhere to the act of the Senate who calls for his forfeiture and that of his family members.” Within three days of the Empire had crumbled.

Eighteen miles separated Caulaincourt from Napoleon, he crossed it in five hours and at three o’clock in the morning he was at Fontainebleau. Meanwhile, Napoleon was devoted entirely to his military preparations. The movement of troops had begun. He definitely planned on marching on the capital: he hoped that the cannon would wake the national pride. He lay cradled by glorious illusions.  For a few hours he held confidence of success.  The service aide-de-camp awakened him and announced the arrival of the Duke of Vicenza; the latter was introduced on the spot.

—Well! Caulaincourt, have you seen the Emperor of Russia? ... What news?

—Sire, all is not lost.

—Ah! ah! cried Napoleon, I knew they would think twice.

—Sire, said the Duke, I got from the Emperor Alexander satisfying words: he is there right now in the council of Allied rulers arguing in the interests of Your Majesty.  The Bourbon party has lost all the ground it had won; but ... Sire ... a sacrifice, a great sacrifice is called of Your Majesty...

—A great sacrifice, you say? repeated Napoleon standing eagerly on his bed, and ... what is this sacrifice?

—Sire ... the abdication of Your Majesty, replied the duke in a very agitated tone.

—My abdication! exclaimed the Emperor with a curious inflection. Nonsense, Caulaincourt, you're wrong! It is impossible! You misunderstood!

—Excuse me, Sire; the allied sovereigns require, and ... I come from them, that request of Your Majesty.

—It's impossible, I tell you! Napoleon cried again.

And his eyes remain fixed, the features of his face contracted, his lips pale, is, hands were shaken by a nervous breakdown, he could no longer speak, the indignation choking him.  Caulaincourt, standing at his bedside, repeated, with downcast eyes and an almost pleading tone:

—Your abdication Sire is necessary.

Suddenly, breaking the silence that had reigned for a moment, Napoleon replied in an excited voice:

—They ask me for my resignation ... to me ... Do they not know that I am here at the head to the fifty thousand men, and that it is more than enough for me exterminate them? ... That is only five to one!  When have I ever fought differently? ... All the odds are even for me ... But tell me, Caulaincourt, he added, more calmly and with a smile of contempt, could it be that these folks don’t know that I have here the brave of my Guard.  The remainder has double their courage, the triple the feeling of vengeance. We have ammunition! ... Caulaincourt, believe me; one doesn’t take the crown from a sovereign, when the crown is supported by fifty thousand French bayonets! ... They are crazy!  I tell you.  Do not talk to me about abdication! Tomorrow I will march on Paris.  Duke of Vicenza, you must be in need of rest; tomorrow you'll know what to do. Fools! He repeated again, is it that I am some blockheaded king, me?

However, the 4th, Napoleon gave notice to the marshals that the Imperial Headquarters would be transferred between Ponthierry and Essonne.  The day before he showed the generals who commanded divisions of the corps Macdonald's plan to march on Paris; but they were frightened of the consequences that may result from this disposition, having discussed it in the evening with the marshal, begging him to come with them the next day to the Emperor and try to make him give up this project.

At the regular time for review, Napoleon went down into the courtyard of the White Horse.  After the parade, which took place as usual, the principal officers of the army returned with him to his apartment, the Princes of the Neufchâtel and the Moskowa, the Dukes of Danzig, of Reggio, of Tarentum, of Bassano, of Vicenza, the Count Bertrand and several others surrounded the Emperor; some made him respectful comments on earlier plans to march on the capital. Napoleon listened in silence. A quick glance was enough for him to judge their dispositions. It was enough for him: he would abdicate, but for his son and the Regent Empress.

—Gentlemen, he said, suddenly turning the most violent exasperation into the most stoic calm, wait!

He rushed into his office, threw himself onto his desk and wrote the following note:

“The Allied Powers having proclaimed that the Emperor Napoleon was the only obstacle to peace in Europe, the Emperor Napoleon, faithful to his oath, said he is ready to descend from the throne, to leave France, and even give up life for the good of the country, inseparable from the rights of his son, those of the Regency of the Empress, and maintaining the laws of the Empire.”

“Given at our Palace of Fontainebleau, April 4, 1814.”

After ten minutes he returned quietly to the gallery, and personally presented to the marshals his act of abdication, telling them with indifference:

—Well, gentlemen: I hope you'll be happy.

And with a dignified gesture he dismissed them.

Marshals Ney, Macdonald and the Grand-Equerry were entrusted by Napoleon to carry this act to Alexander.  Along the way, they were to enlist Marmont, whose headquarters still remained at Essonne.

Colonel Gourgaud had gone in the morning, carrying orders to the Duke of Ragusa; he returned hastily  to Essonne, and announced that the marshal had left his post, to enter into talks with the enemy, his troops , set in motion by unknown orders, was passing through at this time the cantonments of the Russians, and that Fontainebleau was uncovered.

This news caused Napoleon a sort of dazzling; he could not believe it, his thoughts clashed, and he kept repeating these words in a grave tone:

—Marmont has never failed in honor! ... Marmont did not disgrace himself and ... Marmont is my brother in arms! ...

But soon it was no longer possible to doubt the defection of Marshal, his gaze became fixed, he sat, and remained plunged in gloomy thoughts:

—He! My child! My pupil! He repeated still using his fists on his burning forehead.  Such an act from the man with whom I shared my bread! ... The ungrateful ... He will be worse off than me!

In recent days, too cruel sentiments had torn the heart of Napoleon that he did not feel the need to vent. It was in the army, in his Guard that he wanted to entrust such pain.  He took up the pen and in the throes of a feverish agitation, he wrote:

“Order of the Day. Fontainebleau, 5 April 1814.”

 “The Emperor thanks the army for the commitment she has shown, primarily because it recognizes that France is in him and not the people of the capital.  The soldier follows the fortunes and misfortunes of his general: it is his honor, his religion. The Duke of Ragusa has not inspired that feeling to his comrades: he crossed over to the allies! The Emperor cannot approve the condition under which he has taken this step and cannot accept life and freedom at the hand of a subject.”

“The happiness of France seemed to be the fate of the Emperor.  Now that fortune had decided against him, the will of the nation alone could dissuade him from staying longer on the throne.  If he should consider himself the only obstacle, he willingly would sacrifice the latter to France. It is therefore that I sent the Prince of Borodino and the Dukes of Taranto and of Vicenza to Paris to begin negotiations on this subject. The military can be certain that the happiness of the Emperor will never be in contradiction with the happiness of the country!”

Then he sent an officer d’ordonnance to General Belliard so he would cover, Fontainebleau on the spot, with a few squadrons, but Marshal Mortier already has strengthened the whole line.

Meanwhile Paris was plunged into the deepest concern. Every moment the most alarming noises on the dispositions of Napoleon circulated: it was said that before twenty-four hours a grand movement would take place, the whole Imperial Guard, the corps of Macdonald, of Oudinot, of Marmont, of Mortier, together, would certainly make a hole in the city to punish the traitors and reward the brave who have delivered the country.  One could see in the windows of the Hotel Talleyrand, by the military dispositions of the allies, that these fears are not unfounded. Foreign troops had been massed on the Champs-Elysees and on docks; cannons were trained on all the bridges and a catastrophe was feared at any moment.  Imagine the shock of those who took part in the downfall of Napoleon! What secrets of repentance!  The Royalists only raised their cries and claims more loudly; they proudly pushed more to have their legitimate princes proclaimed.  They piled into the salons of M. de Talleyrand to receive news and it is on this juncture that the plenipotentiaries of Napoleon were introduced to the Emperor of Russia, who received them with marked kindness. They forcefully reiterated the arguments that the Duke of Vicenza had already argued. Alexander, far from rejecting their claims, listened with interest to the reading of the articles that Caulaincourt had prepared in advance; then taking his turn to speak, he started with a pompous eulogy of the French army and its leaders.

—As for Napoleon, he continued, I was his admirer and friend; but it was he who first declared war on me. You know the cruel losses I suffered. The burning of my city! ... I do not accuse the French army, it was made up of foreigners, yet the aggression of Napoleon was nevertheless the cause. I will not extract revenge, I respect Paris. The fate of the arms has been favorable to me; I only want to ensure the peace of Europe.  Napoleon is unfortunate, he is no longer my enemy I give him my friendship.  The Bourbons are indifferent to me, I do not know them; the decision was expressed for them, by the senate, the authorities, and finally the people. This time, gentlemen, you are too late.

—Sire, replied Macdonald, we could not come earlier, we were detained by military operations.

—I am sure, replied Alexander.

—Sire, the Emperor Napoleon has not allowed us to address the fate reserved for him, continued the Marshal.

—I'm not surprised, Alexander responded with a sad admiration; but, ultimately, the Regency would only be Napoleon behind a scaffolding of government that would fall to his liking.  You know better than me his restless activity, his ambition. One day would come after we put in place the Regency, on which it will call for a general war to resume, and Europe will be further disturbed.  What then?

—Sire, said M. de Caulaincourt, ending the Regency had no defenders; Your Majesty has judged and condemned it by default: it is your justice, Sire, for your generosity that the French call this trial.

This last argument seemed to make a strong impression on the Czar.  The fear of civil war, a war of extermination, which for him was the thing he feared most, caused him to reflect.  The conversation took a favorable turn, when an aide-de-camp of the Czar entered hurriedly and gave him a message saying a few words in Russian. Alexander hastened to open the dispatch ... It announced the defection of Marmont. The facial expression of the Czar changed suddenly; it affected his manners and his language.

—But, Gentlemen, he told the marshals in a tone of reproach, you speak loudly of the will of the army, and yet you cannot ignore that the troops of the Duke of Ragusa crossed over to our side.  Other corps are in the same mood, I know: we are tired of war.

—Sire, replied Caulaincourt, appalled by the news, could there be a misunderstanding from Essonne about the troops of M. the Marshal of Ragusa?

Led by the warm eloquence with which Macdonald and Caulaincourt pleaded the case for the Regency, Alexander could find no other way to get out of this dead end.

—Gentlemen, he said after a pause, I am not alone in this serious matter: I must take the advice of His Majesty the King of Prussia. I promised my allies I would do nothing without consulting them. Soon you will know my last resolution.

And he dismissed them with great kindness. The interview lasted more than three hours.

The next day at eleven o'clock in the morning, the plenipotentiaries were finishing breakfast with Marshal Ney, when an aide-de-camp to the Emperor Alexander came to warn them that his master that awaited.  They arrived at the Czar with a concern that they seek to overcome.  Alexander received them with the same kindness as before, but now that the army seemed to have abandoned the cause of Napoleon, the issue had completely changed its face, the time for caution was past: the abdication in favor of the Regent and his son was no longer sufficient for a confident enemy.  The Czar said to the plenipotentiaries that need for Napoleon and his dynasty to renounce the throne was absolute.

—He never wanted peace, he said: everyone knows that what could be expected from peace with him. The army did not insist on keeping a leader who wouldn’t sacrifice his favorite passion for the good of the country.  My allies and I want to fulfill today, the wishes of the nation that it has already declared.  I therefore declare that we will accept only an absolute abdication of Napoleon. But no matter, said the Czar, he will be treated in a manner worthy of the rank he held; tell him that if he wants to come live in my kingdom, he will be well received there; otherwise he has the island of Elba, or something else.

The plenipotentiaries resigned themselves to bringing the news of the Allied decision to Fontainebleau.

After having stayed awake much of the night in his office, Napoleon had spent the morning with little rest, he had not left the palace and remained constantly sitting in the embrasure of a window which looked out on the water ornaments.  His complexion was leaden; his dress was remarkable for its disorder that was not his custom.  He mechanically held in his hands a simply bound volume simply, A History of the Caesar’s Wars, when an officer opened the door softly:

—What? asked Napoleon.

—Sire, the Duke of Vicenza with Their Eminences Marshals Prince of Borodino and the Duke of Tarentum.

He got up and went to meet them. The Duke of Vicenza spoke first.  He told how the defection of Marmont had to change all diplomatic negotiations; how Fontainebleau has ceased to be a military position; finally that it is not over only for Napoleon, but for his whole dynasty. At this news, the Emperor stood proudly:

—It is just too humiliating! He cried.  They want to push me to the end!  Well then!  Through such cowardly negotiations, my destiny is fulfilled!

Napoleon continued to speak up, as an absolute master, a father, a soldier, an Emperor.  The giant, too long bound by the restraints which it has kept him from resuming his full height, all his energy.  He kept pacing with great strides, and continued in this voice that has so often recalled the fortune of battles:

—Yes! We will fight, and certainly, we shall yet triumph, despite the treachery!  Soult will return to me fifty thousand soldiers; Suchet will come join with fifteen thousand men of the Army of Catalonia; Eugène will make a movement on the Alps with his thirty thousand Italians.  I still have fifteen thousand men of Augereau, the border garrisons and the whole army of Marshal Maison.  All this will form an invincible mass!  We must go to meet these reinforcements and maneuver on the Loire: that is where Charles Martel saved his country, that is where we will deliver our own! ... Gentlemen! he cried again, striking a sublime gesture on the hilt of his sword, the Grand Army will be reconstituted!

Even such eloquent words that Napoleon had just made, could not find an echo in the heart of those who were devoted to his cause.  His plenipotentiaries remained impassive in the presence of such enthusiasm. Macdonald alone replied calmly:

—Sire, the circumstances have developed a gravity that does not allow making a decision without weighing all the risks, we beseech Your Majesty to consider.

—I have considered them! Napoleon replied dryly. The lion is not dead yet.

On learning of the breakdown of negotiations at Fontainebleau, an explosion of shouts, accusations, threats were heard all at once in the galleries of the palace.  At that, eyes turned toward the capital, with excuses invented to go to Paris; to reassure their wives; to put away their fortune, some for the interests of their army corps, the largest number to negotiate their defection and stipulate the terms of their new loyalty to the Bourbons.

Meanwhile, the Russians and Austrians advanced and compressed the little Imperial Army around Fontainebleau.  This maneuver served the Allies objective to the shakeout those who wanted to desert; it exaggerated the enemy forces and predicted the most disastrous results. Napoleon heard all these words, these imaginary fears reduced to their fair value, and promised, when the time comes to break the network of iron which had surrounded him.

—A road closed to messengers, he said, opens shortly before fifty thousand bayonets!

Meanwhile he himself was undecided; he was reluctant to promote a partisan war.  He who could finish a whole campaigns in a few months, he who could conquered a kingdom with one large battle, experienced a kind of shame to no longer be able operate on a small scale, not move a handful of men.  Amid all the perplexities that assailed him, he must nonetheless be decisive; but first he wanted to discuss with his marshals one last time.  It had influenced the throne; he hoped to find support in the great vassals of the crown: in a word, he wanted to know if his cause, if his family is still the cause of France; he will decide then.

The marshals were summoned.  Napoleon goes to each of them individually, and welcomes them in the distinctive way of his noble language, which has always made them equal sovereigns.  Ney and Berthier arrive last. The first is cold, their countenance embarrassed; Napoleon did not seem to notice.  No sooner was he seated, than he began a general conversation with pleasantries and then, addressing particularly the Prince of Wagram, he asked with a kind of simplicity about what news he has of the Allies’ march.  He replied that had sent officers of the staff on a reconnaissance at all points, and that their reports were unanimous: the enemy has definitely taken a position around Fontainebleau.  But the marshals, strengthened by the resignation of Napoleon, had not come to simply tell him bad news: it was his absolute abdication they came for.  Ney, first addressed this sensitive issue by illustrating in a forceful way the deplorable situation in France, and completed the picture by asking the Emperor what his means of saving the country are.  Immediately without allowing time for Napoleon to respond, each issuing his opinion; the discussion became animated, the strongest interpellations were crossed off, loud undertakings entertained.  Amid this jumble of words, the attitude of the Emperor was admirably composed and dignified: he was silent, but when peace was somewhat restored, he finally took the floor, summarizing in a few words everything that has been said, and ends by reciting the conditions imposed by the Allies.

—As for the personal sacrifice it requires of me, he said, I am resigned; but willing to deprive my wife and son of a crown, that I've conquered with my own works, never, Gentlemen!

Though dead silence succeeded this communication, Napoleon, always calm, enumerated his remaining strength that he can use, not to perpetuate the war, but to avenge the honor of France.

—Is one of you, he cried, who would ever consent to give thanks to the people who destroy, for their benefit, our glorious work?  Well! if we have to give up defending France any longer, he continued, raising his head, does not Italy offer us a retreat worthy of you and me? Is this not the land of miracles?  Do you want to follow me again?  Believe me, gentlemen, march to the Alps!

This heroic proposal was not received any better than its predecessors.  Yet if Napoleon had made a few steps away, into the crowded duty room full of young generals, it would have been received with enthusiasm; with happiness in the ranks of the army, it would have been greeted with this bubbling ardor of 1792.  But Napoleon only approached those men, most of whom had no other ambition than to preserve their honor, their wealth. The Empire crumbles, what do they care? Despite such indifference among many of the men he had raised so high by his genius, Napoleon betrayed no sense of anger and seemed to take pity.

—You want the rest? Then he said, have some then! Alas! You do not know how many troubles and dangers await you on your bed of down!  Some years of peace that you'll pay so much to harvest than a greater number of you that would have been made more desperate by war.

These words of Napoleon's marshals were to be prophetic: for Berthier, Murat, Ney, Massena, Augereau, Lefebvre, Brune, Serrurier, Kellermann, Pérignon, Beuronville, Clarke and many others disappeared in less than seven years, and died before their time.

Throughout this scene, the Emperor did not receive a word of sympathy.  Before their benefactor, in the presence of their sovereign, almost all hearts remained cold.  He questioned the view of those around him: all eyes were downcast, all lips were dumb.  A sudden revolution is taking place at this scene in his soul; externally he appeared extremely ashen with a slight trembling in every limb.  He wiped his brow that flooded from a cold sweat, and he rose.

—Gentlemen, he said in a ringing voice, now I know where I stand, I want to be alone.  You, the Duke of Vicenza, stay.

And when the last of the marshals had passed the door, he tears with a concentrated anger the cambrie handkerchief he held in his hand, while saying to Caulaincourt:

—You see! These people have for the most part, neither heart nor bowels.  I spoke of my wife, I pleaded for my son: nothing!  Yes, I give because I am defeated, but not by fortune, by selfishness and ingratitude of those for whom I have done everything. Oh! It is hideous! I forgive them, but history will be less generous than me.

And these words, he drops as if destroyed in the seat in front of his desk, takes a pen and writes the new act of abdication expected of him, putting it thus:

“The Allied Powers having proclaimed that the Emperor Napoleon was the only obstacle to peace in Europe, the Emperor, faithful to his oath, declares that he renounces for himself and his children, the thrones of France and Italy, and that no sacrifice, even that of life, he is ready to make in the interests of France.”

“Taken at the Palace of Fontainebleau, April 11, 1814.”

 After affixing his signature, he read it to Caulaincourt.

—Is that it? he asked him.

The Duke of Vicenza had taken no part in the discussions that had taken place. He listened in a sort of reverence to the Emperor, so noble, so great, in vain directed to honor, in recognition of his lieutenants. The heart broken, he could not meet these words but in a broken voice:

—Sire, there is nothing in history that can be compared to the sacrifice that Your Majesty has now made.

—Abdicate and yield nothing, Napoleon replied curtly; call made Ney and Macdonald.

Both marshals brought in, Napoleon made the Prince of Moskowa repeat everything that Alexander told him last. The Duke of Tarentum then spoke of the same meeting.

—I know, my dear Marshal, all you have done for me in this circumstance, in turn said Napoleon, I know how warmly you have pleaded the cause of my son, the army, but since they require my abdication pure and simple, here it is.  It is you, the Prince de Borodino, with Caulaincourt, I charge, again, of my powers. You will defend the interests of my family.

As soon as they received their instructions the new commissioners set off, and the next day, after two hours of conference, the famous Treaty of 1 April 1, stipulated in twenty-two articles which set the fate of Napoleon and the Imperial family, was signed at M. de Talleyrand.  The Duke of Vicenza, whom the Emperor had sent a courier on to ask him again, as he had done already, about his second abdication, hastened back with him, armed with the definitive treaty that the Duke of Tarentum sent back to Paris, signed by Napoleon.

Meanwhile, M. de Beausset, who just arrived at Fontainebleau, was introduced the Emperor, who was walking alone on the terrace adjoining the gallery of Francis 1st.  He submitted a letter of Marie-Louise, which he carried.

—How are my wife and my son he asked his former prefect of the palace how are the Empress and the King of Rome? he resumed immediately opening the letter with haste.  Then he loaded the messenger with questions, who requested the honor of a reply, while respectfully expressing his desire to carry with him the consolations which the heart of the Empress needs.

—Tonight I will give you a letter for her, said Napoleon; stay here today.

M. de Beausset was to withdraw; Napoleon kept telling him about the Island of Elba (because he already knew that this little sovereignty was given to him) he even had out, opened on a marble bench, a book of geography and statistics, which contained, on this place, the details he had collected. He added:

—The air is healthy, and the people the bravest in the world.  I will not do too badly and I hope that the Empress will be there though. And then shall we not have our son, the King of Rome? he repeated again.

Then, turning suddenly to other thoughts, he spoke energetically about some of his lieutenants:

—Lefebvre, he continued, has always been in the vanguard when it came to a war of freedom: I hope that the Bourbons do not make him too much to blame.  And Macdonald! ... Brave and loyal warrior!  Only in the recent circumstances could I appreciate the nobility of his character.  I much regret not having known sooner.  And Ney! ... What a soldier!  What tempered steel! ... That same bravery.  As for Bertrand, he is now identified with my lot, as Berthier.  Ah! Berthier! ... That man will make his life with mine.  Talents, activity, courage, loyalty, he has it all.  I am not afraid that the friendship I bear him makes me biased towards him.  Eh! Hold on, Beausset, here he comes with Maret: see how sad he looks for our misfortunes, my sorrows!

Indeed, the Prince de Wagram, leaning on the arm of the Duke of Bassano, walked slowly to the end of the terrace.  Napoleon made a sign with his hand as if to make him understand and not hasten to come to him, then he entered the gallery. M. de Beausset retired.

Hardly had Napoleon returned to his study, where Berthier and the Duke of Bassano had followed, than the Prince of Wagram stammered an excuse to leave Fontainebleau.  He had some important papers for Her Majesty and for him to cover; this did not require his presence in Paris.  While he spoke Napoleon looked at him with surprised worry that the Prince did not notice because he was constantly looking down.

—Berthier, he said, taking his hand, Berthier, you see how much I need consolation, especially how much I need to be surrounded by my true friends!

And he stressed most these last words. The Prince did not answer; Napoleon continued:

—Come back tomorrow, will you not, Berthier? ... Tomorrow morning?

—Certainly, Sire.

Here there was a silence; the Emperor first broke, saying:

—Well, go!

After his release, Napoleon remained a few minutes without speaking.  He watched the man he had overwhelmed with all the Imperial favor for so long; he then returned his gaze to the floor and it remained fixed in one place for a long time.  It was easy to read on his face the painful thoughts that were at conflict in this soul so cruelly disillusioned. Finally he took two steps, and placing his hand on the arm of the Duke of Bassano:

—He will not come back! he said.

Then, as if overwhelmed he dropped into a chair.

—Ah! Sire! replied the Duke moved, so this was Berthier's farewell?

—He will not come back, I tell you, and yet I loved him, when I spoke to him there was a moment, I thought...

Napoleon stopped here, his voice failed him; and, covering his face with both hands, he could only stammer:

—And he too! ... he also ...

 In fact, we never saw the Prince de Wagram again; Napoleon perhaps felt more significance in the misfortune of being abandoned by the men he had promoted, than the loss of his crown. Throughout the evening after the departure of the Prince of Wagram, he spoke only of things deeply sad.  He discussed mainly the issue of suicide, and brought so much conversation on this subject, that the Duke of Bassano, among others, was struck and, fearing he was engaged in some act of despair, he spoke to Constant, the private valet, immediately after taking leave of the Emperor.  This consultation, and, in agreement with others, removed from the bedroom of Napoleon, a dagger that had once been given by the Grand Master of the Order of Malta, and the powder and bullets that were also in the pistol case, after ensuring that these arms were not loaded; and, relying on these precautions, he was left quite alone. He did not dream at all.

Meanwhile, the Duke of Vicenza and Marshal Macdonald arrived at Fontainebleau carrying of definitive treaty; they went immediately to the palace to give it to Napoleon, who already knew all the stipulations.

—I do not want that! He cried, gently pushing the hand of the Marshal who handed him the paper.  What they send a foreign commissioner to spy on my actions? ... Are they afraid that I might try to escape them? ... Am I a schoolboy? ... And I disagree with certain items.

—But, Sire, the Duke of Vicenza respectfully observed, the abdication of Your Majesty has provided the basis for negotiation.  This piece was first communicated to the plenipotentiaries of the allied powers; it is in their hands, and, more importantly, it has become public since it was printed in newspapers.

—The newspapers! newspapers! repeated Napoleon bitterly; everything they publish at the moment is discouragement. As for the act, said he dryly, I will not sign: I know enough I can’t impede it.

As he stubbornly persisted in his refusal to sign the two plenipotentiaries retired without thinking about the last words that Napoleon had pronounced, and the day passed without them being summoned.  The next day he appeared even sadder.  He seemed preoccupied with a secret plan; his mind became animated while dwelling on funeral scenes from history.  In his conversation, it was always the question of voluntary death which men of antiquity had not hesitated to use in a situation like hers. However, in the evening, those who during the day had heard him discuss these sad examples with cool concern coolly were pleasantly surprised to see a more familiar disposition and an almost playful manner with a few people gathered in the parlor that preceded his bedroom.  They had only seldom been addressed the last days, with brief and sometimes unkind words; but this time it was he who had called them. It was ten o'clock in the evening; they separated.  Napoleon himself took a light from the console, and retired to his bedroom, saying in a voice which seemed to have an odd inflection:

—Come! Farewell, gentlemen, farewell!

And everyone went back to the apartment they occupied at the palace or the city.

Fontainebleau then presented an imposing spectacle.  The Old Guard bivouac in the courtyard; the flankers, tirailleurs and the fusiliers of the Young Guard were in echelon along the roads that lead to Essonne and Moret; the horse grenadiers, the guides, the Polish light horse and the light artillery took positions from the roundabout of the Pyramid to the banks of the Marne.  The Eagles slept amid the piles of arms, the soldiers talked in low voices, lying on straw in bivouacs.  The palace itself seemed to be under the spell of perfect security: no sound was heard in the interior; and the heavy tread of the sentries, which echoed from the flagstones of the peristyle, and the periodic cries of Who goes there? were repeated by the echoes from the forest, indicating only that under the splendid paneling that once housed Diane de Poitiers and Christina of Sweden, conquerors of Europe held the man they called the Fortune of France.  Only, Napoleon before.  At one o'clock, the Duke of Vicenza entered his apartment and found him lying on his bed, half undressed, and undergoing frightful convulsions.  His face was a livid tone, his mouth was contracted, his eyes seem to come out of their sockets, a cold sweat stuck the hair to his forehead.

—Ah! Sire, what has happened to you? Caulaincourt cried seeing him; he moved to call a doctor.

—No, I do not want one, Napoleon replied, seizing with his cold hand the arm of his grand equerry and indeed it would be useless.  Hear me, Caulaincourt, he added in a broken voice; you will enter my office, you will take the portfolio that contains the letters of the Empress, you give them to my son.  You will personally give to my wife the letter here ... on the table and tell her that I regretted my misfortunes for her sake ... for the King of Rome ... Tell her that, unable to overcome the enemies of France, I do not regret dying.

At these words the Duke of Vicenza rushed in tears to the bed:

—I guessed the awful truth! He cried. Ah! Sire, Your Majesty does he expect us to die in pain?

Napoleon looked at him with a sweet and sad expression, and resumed in a voice that weakened more and more:

—Yes! I wanted to finish it... I could not resist any longer the torture they made me feel since I am here; to the humiliation of seeing me soon surrounded by foreign agents ... Our eagles dragged in the mud! ... They ignored me, my poor Caulaincourt! ... They will miss me when I am gone! ... My friends, my comrades, deserted me! ... Marmont, Berthier, were the final blow! ... I loved them both!

Here a terrible convulsion stiffened his limbs and brought a slight vomiting, soon followed by further seizures.  In fear of not being able to stifle the cries of pain that tore him, Napoleon had put in his mouth a handkerchief which he crushed in gasping.  In this horrible situation, Caulaincourt dare not call: Napoleon forbade him; he sought with his eyes at least one some object on which he could lay hands and break it to attract people's attention from without; but Napoleon, who has not lost for a single instant mind, clung to his arm so he could not escape him, and repeated these words interspersed:

—Shut up! If you are my friend, you must not oppose that I end my life! ... I do not want other witnesses to see my last moments!

Caulaincourt, terrified, was leaning on the bed of the Emperor; he dared in this solemn moment neither to disobey nor abandon. He could only burst into tears and repeated in despair:

—My God! Will nobody come to him?

Finally, vomiting seemed to alleviate Napoleon, who, after a violent spasm, strained, and exclaimed:

—It is done, death will not take me! Then, exhausted, he fell back on his pillow.

The Duke of Vicenza took advantage of this to get Constant.  The latter, approaching the bed of the Emperor, saw scattered on the floor debris of a packet of black taffeta that his master was usually hung from his neck.  At this sight he uttered a cry ... He also guessed the awful truth!  He rushes from the room and went to seek help; Yvan arrived.

—Do you, Napoleon asked the doctor while he studied his pulse, if the dose was strong enough?

These words are a mystery to Yvan, who never knew of the bag and no one has heard of what happened, so he replied with an air more astonished:

—Excuse me, Sire, but I do not understand what Your Majesty honored me by asking?

—The Emperor was poisoned, the Duke of Vicenza whispered to him.

In this terrible secret, Yvan paled, fearing no doubt that one would accuse him of having supplied the poison. Then, without uttering a word, he left the room like a madman, quickly descended the steps, entered the court, there was a horse tied to a grid, jumps on it, disappeared at a gallop and took the road to Paris, losing his head and without knowing why.

No sooner was he gone, than the spasms ceased altogether: Napoleon gradually became calmer, he dozed. Caulaincourt withdraws without a noise, after recommending to the first chamber valet absolute secrecy on what had happened. Constant was left alone in the bedroom of Napoleon to await his revival.

But soon the silence of the long corridors of the chateau was disturbed.  The candles were lit, the footmen roamed the galleries, one knocked on the door of the grand marshal, the was to wake the first chamberlain.  Shortly the chancellor was looking for the Duke of Bassano; this one was to give warning to the military authorities: it was a tumult, an agitation one cannot describe.  The grenadiers posted at the palace took up arms and the alarm spread; soon the whole line of bivouac was seen in the pale glow of the moon, eagles rose up through the ranks, bayonets bristled like a long ribbon of iron assuming that the enemy, under cover of darkness, wished to surprise the Imperial residence.

An impenetrable mystery long reigned over the events of that night of 12 to 13 April.  The veil has been lifted in recent times. Here is what has been said on the subject.

Before leaving for the Russian campaign, Napoleon told Corvisart his first doctor:

—I do not care to fall into the hands of the Cossacks alive: I would not suffer captivity like that of François 1st, in a word I want to defy fate and always remain master of my person.

And he had got a very subtle poison. The poison was none other than prussic acid made by Cabanis, the same who had served Condorcet.

—How long does it take for this dose to cause death? Napoleon had even asked.

—Sire, five minutes at most, replied the doctor.

—Five minutes! That is very long! No matter, I take care.  Then he added, smiling: I'm not like Mithridates, who acquired immunity to poisons.

Since then Napoleon had always carried the deadly substance into a hollow ring enclosed in a small pouch which Constant knew well, but which he did not think, because it had long eluded his sight, Napoleon wore in his waistcoat flannel.  But by the action of this substance being so quick, its very nature made it more likely to deteriorate.  That's what happened: Napoleon had severe nausea, horrible seizures, but finally, death did not come. He had been right: Providence had reserved him other tortures.

After a few hours of sleep, he awoke; his face bore the marks of his sufferings.  He could scarcely move, as his limbs were sore, however he would not stay in bed longer, to receive people who usually attended his awakening. Though his legs could barely carry him, he would dress.  

He appeared calm, but a frightened calm.

At noon, Macdonald came to the palace to see if the Emperor had finally decided to sign the treaty. Introduced in the bedroom, the Marshal was seated in an armchair before the fire, his elbows on his knees, his head resting in her hands.  Motionless in this posture, Napoleon seemed absorbed in deep thought.

Two people were with him: the Duke of Vicenza, standing with his elbow resting on the mantel, looking with inexpressible regret, and the Duke of Bassano, sitting sadly on a folding chair.  The reverie absorbing Napoleon was such that the noise made by the Marshal did not even distract him, and the Duke of Vicenza was obliged to lightly touch him on the arm to make him notice the newcomer.

—Sire, he said, it is the Duke of Tarentum, who came to pick up the treaty that Your Majesty, must ratify the today.

—Ah! It is you, Macdonald, related Napoleon looking up.

Then he resumed the position he had before.

The Duke of Tarentum, struck with the change that had occurred in the face of the Emperor since yesterday, could not help but exclaim:

—Great God! Sire, is it that Your Majesty has been very seriously ill since I had the honor of last seeing him?

Napoleon, fixing a bleak look on the Marshal, responded:

—Yes, yes, I passed a very bad night, but it's better this morning, he said with a sigh.

Napoleon sat a few moments; but finally seemed to make an effort, he rose and took from the mantel the Treaty, which he read as a whole without making any comment. Then, pointing to the Duke of Vicenza, a small table placed at the end of the room, which had a bronze inkstand and the portrait of King of Rome, in an enchanting miniature by Isabey, said in a tone of regret turning to Macdonald;

—My dear Marshal, I am not rich enough to reward you for your recent services.

—Sire, Macdonald hastily interrupted, as these talks have hurt, interest has never guided me, Your Majesty must know.

—It's true! Napoleon replied quickly, you put me in a position to see how I was wrong about your account I will never forget what you did for me.  And yet I wish...

The Emperor, whose emotion had increased, did not finish his sentence and there was silence.  Finally, holding the Marshal in an unspeakably sad gaze, he stretched out his arm and said with great abandonment:

—Macdonald, I would kiss you.

At these words the Duke of Tarentum rushed into the arms of the Emperor. The Duke of Vicenza and Bassano spectators of this scene burst into tears; they looked and shook hands without speaking.

—Gentlemen, said Napoleon at last, after having done everything for twenty years for the glory and the happiness of France, today I put back in the hands of the nation the crown I had received from her.  Then, stroking his forehead:  Come, he said in a choked voice, he must finish this.

So with all the vivacity that his weakness would permit, he sat down at the little table where he had deposited the treaty after having read it, took a pen and stared at the portrait of King of Rome before him, then raising his eyes to heaven, he said in a broken voice:

—My poor child, your father no longer has a legacy to leave you!

At the same time his hand was agitated by a nervous convulsion, he signed the treaty, immediately returning it to Macdonald, turning his head to hide a tear that had clouded his eyes.

The same day, April 12th 1814 the Comte d'Artois (Charles X) made his entry into Paris, as lieutenant general of the kingdom.  The same day also, Marshal Soult, below the walls of Toulouse, was paying dearly to the English all the humiliations and all pain experienced by Napoleon at Fontainebleau.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: October 2009


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