Research Subjects: Napoleon Himself


Napoleon had been hit with the rock he counted on to be a pedestal; England had accepted the shame of his betrayal: as of 1815, the kings had their Christ and the people their Judas.

The evening of his arrival at Saint-Helena, the Emperor lay in a sort of hostel where he was very ill. The next morning at six o'clock in the morning he rode with the Grand Marshal Bertrand and Admiral Keith to Longwood, the home that he had decreed for his residence, as the most suitable of the island.  He stopped at the Briars, in a small pavilion that was part of a country house belonging to a trader on the island, called Balcombe.  It was a temporary home until Longwood was able to receive him; but that night, when he tried to sleep, he found a window without glass and he had no curtains on his bed.  M. de Las-Cases and his son gained an attic where they slept on a mattress, each wrapped in his cloak.  The next day Napoleon breakfasted without water and without a towel with the leftovers from yesterday.  This was only the prelude to the privations that awaited him at Longwood.

On 10 December, the Admiral sent word to Napoleon that his home of Longwood was ready; and on the same day, the Emperor abandoned the Briars, where he had lived for nearly two months, and made the journey on horseback.

Considering his new furnishings, the object that caused him the most pleasure was a wooden tub that the Admiral was able to construct to his designs, with a shipwright.  A bath was luxury furniture on Saint-Helena.  Napoleon took advantage of it immediately.  Then the service of his household began to organize; it was divided into three series: chamber, livery and kitchen, and consisted of eleven people.  Everything was settled about as it had been on the Island of Elba: the Grand Marshal Bertrand retained command and general oversight, M. de Montholon was charged with domestic details, General Gourgaud had the direction of the stable, and M. de Las-Cases of the internal administration.  As for the division of the day, it was the same as at the Briars.  At ten o'clock, Napoleon breakfasted in his room on a table, while the Grand Marshal and his companions ate at a service table.  As there were no fixed hours for the walk, the heat being very strong during the day, the humidity sudden and high at night, and as the riding horses and carriage which had come from the Cape had arrived yet, Napoleon worked part of the day with M. de Las Cases, part with either the General Gourgaud or General Montholon.  Seven to eight o’clock, they dined, then went to the salon, where they had coffee; then they read Racine, Molière or Voltaire.  Finally, at ten o'clock, a table de reversis was put out, Napoleon's favorite game, which was usually left out until midnight.  

All the little colony was housed in Longwood, with the exception of the Grand Marshal and his family, who lived at Hut's Gate, a poor little house on the road.  The apartment of the Emperor was composed of two chambers, each five feet long by twelve wide and about seven high, pieces of Nanking, taut as a paper, lined both.  A cheap carpet covered the floor.  Such was the life and the palace of the man who had in turn occupied the Tuileries, Schoenbrunn, the Kremlin and the Escorial.

Meanwhile, a new governor arrived.  He was presented by the Admiral to Emperor.  He was a man of about forty-five, a regular size and a common figure, red hair and face inlaid with freckles.  He had slanting eyes, and therefore rarely looked forward.  His name was Hudson Lowe.  From the day of his arrival, the harassment began; it became increasingly intolerable.  To begin with the new governor sent to Napoleon two pamphlets written against him.  Then all the domestics were subjected to interrogation, to ascertain from them whether their staying with Napoleon was voluntary and fully committed.  Nobody could write now without having previously disclosed the letter to Hudson Lowe, and any letter referring to Napoleon as Emperor was confiscated by him.  There was even an issue of having to be accompanied when he wanted to make a few trips on the island; yet they never took place.  It was then that Napoleon gave up the long walks so necessary for his health and he had to content himself to walk in the garden or around Longwood.

For some time he thought he perceived that he was subject to special scrutiny on the part of his jailer.  He could not take a step outside Longwood without seeing in the distance a British officer who was unknown, although he was always the same.  In the morning and evening, every hour, this individual seemed to cling to him like his shadow.  This sort of inquisition was all the more intolerable in that the Englishman had repeatedly expressed his intention to speak.  So, whenever he saw him approaching, Napoleon hastened to finish his walk and go on, without even deigning to notice him.

One day he supposed that the intrusive monitoring followed him more closely than usual.  Impatiently, he exclaimed in a tone of humor:

—What! Still that man! ... Constantly spying on my steps! ... Can I not breathe in a little air freely? ... What torture! ...

And, turning back, he increased his step, when the Englishman, who had heard and had doubled his pace, was found at his height, stopping suddenly before him:

—Sire ..., he said in a tone of respect.

—Back, sir! Back! Napoleon interrupted him, making a gesture of contempt; there nothing in common between me and you!  Stay away, I command you!

—Sire, replied the officer still without moving up and with a straight face, Your Majesty is mistaken.

Then he threw out at random these words:

The Count de Las Cases! ... The necklace of Queen Hortense! ...

—Ah! Ah! Napoleon said, stopping to turn, but without looking up at the Englishman. Well! sir? ...

—Sire, replied the officer, if Your Majesty would be pleased to continue his work without paying attention to me. I've had this necklace; for three years it has not left my side; for three years I looked for the opportunity to give it to you ... Sire, grant that I may throw it in the bowl of your hat.

The Emperor then uncovered and passed his hand across his forehead as if to recall a memory.  At the same time, in a movement as quick as a thought, the officer threw the necklace into the hat of Napoleon, saying quietly:

—Now will Your Majesty deign to forgive my annoyance? ... I have completed my mission, you will not see me again.  Sire, may God preserve your life!

And taking another direction, the English officer withdrew from the Emperor with the same coolness that he had approached him.  Napoleon saluted him with dignity; but what a sweet sensation for the heart for M. de Las-Cases that must have moved him, when long after he learned that admirable trait of honesty on the part of an enemy and in such circumstances!

Now, for us to understand the meaning of these words stated to Napoleon, this necklace secretly deposited in the bowl of his hat, we must go back to 1806.

One morning in June of that year, the jeweler of Josephine was introduced into the small room that served at the same time for dining with the Emperor when he lunched alone.

—I want everything that is most beautiful, said Napoleon: I will not look at the price of the necklace; however I will want an estimate, I warn you; not that I doubt that you are an honest man, but ... because ... in the end, I am not an expert in precious stones.  As soon as you have it mounted, bring it to me and do not see anyone before that, do you hear?

—Yes, Sire. However, I beg Your Majesty to allow me a little more time in order to perfectly match the stones.  The choice of diamond is very slim at this time ... It has greatly increased the price...

At these words, Napoleon made a sudden movement on his chair, and rising quickly, he said:

—What do you say?  Since my last campaign in Germany, all your colleagues are overstocked.  Eh! Egad!  I thought so!  They bought all those of the small princes of the Confederation that the King of Prussia and the Emperor of Russia ruined by stirring them up against me.  See Bapts, please contact Mellerion, they have a shovelful!

—Sire, in such cases, I have never used my colleagues since I have the honor to work for the royal family of Your Majesty.  Right now I have at home a great part of diamonds purchased by order of His Majesty the King of Prussia, who commanded me...

 —Sir, that is your business, not mine; but I can assure you, added Napoleon launching a grim look at the jeweler, that while being occupied by me you will not work for H. M. the King of Prussia.  Well, it is agreed I count on you, Monsieur Foncier; do your best to prove to your colleagues from across the Rhine that we exceed them in all and for all, when we choose.

And at a sign from Napoleon, the jeweler bowed and left.  Eight days later he handed the Emperor the most magnificent diamond necklace that had been seen:  the mounting, the work, the lock, were masterpieces in this genre; Josephine herself had no such jewel in an incomparable setting.  Napoleon estimated this necklace was worth two hundred thousand francs:  it was indeed the price that he had asked Foncier for:  he was very satisfied.  At the same time (June 1806), the Batavian people had called to be governed by one of the brothers of Napoleon, Prince Louis Bonaparte: Holland was so proud of its alliance with the great nation.

So, the day when the Netherlands ambassadors came to lay the crown of Holland at the feet of the Emperor, he girded the brow of his brother, the whole court was at Saint-Cloud.  Louis and Hortense arrived from Saint-Leu, in the morning.  Napoleon had ordered that the ceremony took place in the throne room; it was said with a pomp which we had not hitherto seen an example.  The envoys of the defunct Batavian Republic were beautifully treated, and Admiral Verhuel, who was at their head, toasted the memory of Tromp and De Ruyter, those scourges of English.  Napoleon, who used to dispatch the sovereigns he had created without more ado than a simple war commissioner, advised the envoys that the next day, their king and queen would go with them to their states; then in the evening, he called Hortense into his cabinet, and the doorman, opening both doors and announced aloud, for the first time before him:

Her Majesty the Queen of Holland!

—Hortense, said Napoleon, you are sovereign of a brave and good people.  If you and your husband rule wisely, the House of Orange will not reappear in Holland with its old claims.  These people have the fault to hide under a veneer of simplicity, a love of luxury and money; vanity is everything to them after the interest.  I do not want the eyes of your new court to see you overshadowed by the wife of a mayor all proud of the tons of gold that her husband has amassed; here is a pretty necklace that I beg of you to accept.  Wear it sometimes to remember me; it was obtained at the expense of nobody's money:  it was paid off from my savings.

Saying these words, Napoleon, with a gesture full of grace, placed around the neck of the Queen the diamond necklace that Foncier had somehow improvised; and having kissed her on the forehead in a fatherly way, he left her, saying with a tone of both kindness and dignity:

—Adieu, Madame, I wish Your Majesty a happy journey.

Once installed on the throne of Holland, Hortense did honor the gift of her good father.  You should have seen this sweet face under the royal crown!  No wreath was laid upon such grace on this beautiful head!  and festival day at the Maison du Bois, as well saw the necklace dripping from this swan like neck!

But soon the bad times came.  The sun of Napoleon came to fade:  the planets of Spain, Westphalia, Naples and Holland went out; Hortense descended the steps of the throne as she had taken them with smiling obedience. The Dutch had exclaimed on seeing her for the first time: “Hail to our lovely Queen!” They cried at her parting: “Farewell, our good Queen!” This variation was good enough compensation, in a heart like Hortense, for the loss of a royal band.  From that time she devoted herself entirely to the education of her children and she had to comfort her mother as she was widow from a throne; and always faithful to France, as to Napoleon, she waited in the silence for her opportunity to erase from her mind the unfair prejudice which she had conceived against him during his stay in Elba: this opportunity would soon arise.

The cannon of Waterloo were silent.  Despite this Napoleon drawing around him the command of his betrayed, but not defeated army, was forced to leave the Elysée and take refuge at Malmaison, the last remains of Josephine.  It was there, not as Charles XII at Bender had departed, surrounded by several officers and a small number of loyal servants, but as Belisarius, abandoned and with no companion on the edge of the racecourse, with his sword chipped by the Vandals.  A woman came in this solemn moment to the room where he sat alone at a table on which lay the draft of the second abdication that traitors and ingrates had extorted from him. The woman was Hortense.

—Sire, she said with emotion, you remember the gift that Your Majesty made to me at Saint-Cloud now nine years ago?

At these words Napoleon started, he raised his head and laid his eyes on the daughter of Josephine and then taking her hand and pressing it with affection, he said with an accent of indescribable despair and kindness:

—Well! Hortense, what do you want?

—Sire, when you made me queen, you gave me this necklace.  It has a great value, they say.  Now I'm no longer queen, and you are unhappy ... take back this jewel.

—This necklace, Hortense! Why do you deprive yourself?  Napoleon coolly replied to her:  it is perhaps half your fortune ... And your children?

—Sire, that's all I have right now.  As for my children, they would never blame their mother for having shared with her benefactor whose wealth he was pleased to create.

Saying these words the queen burst into tears; Napoleon had never felt so moved.

—No! He said with difficulty turning his head and gently pushing the offered hand of Hortense, I cannot!

—Please, Sire, I beseech you!  There is no time to lose, the moments are precious! You leave, Sire, so take...

Napoleon consented to accept the collar, and, a few hours later it was sewn into a silk sash and placed under his clothes.

Six weeks later, when leaving The Bellerophon to board The Northumberland, the armed people who had tied their fate with Napoleon were removed and their luggage searched.  They took what was theirs, either in money or jewelry, and when they came to search the chests of the famous prisoner, a box containing 4,000 gold Napoleons was removed by order of the English minister.  This sum, that he had told M. Laffitte before leaving Paris in confidence, comprised the entire fortune of the Emperor.

While they were conducting this search, Napoleon walked quietly with M. de Las-Cases in the gallery of the ship.  After casting a furtive glance around him, while being cautious of foreign observers to what he did, he drew from beneath his jacket a sort of belt he put into the hands of his partner, saying with a smile full of bitterness:

—My dear Las-Cases, a Greek philosopher named Bias, I think, pretended to have all his fortune with him, although he did not have at the same time a shirt; I do not know how he did it.  Me, I have worn all of mine under my jacket since we left Paris; it tires me:  keep safe for me.

Without responding to the Emperor, M. de Las-Cases took his belt that he carefully concealed on him.  It was only at Saint-Helena that Napoleon informed M. de Las-Cases that the deposit he had given him six months ago was a necklace of the value of 200,000 fr.  Subsequently, M. de Las-Cases spoke several times of returning it.

—Does it annoy you?  Napoleon told him dryly.

—No, Sire, replied M. de Las-Cases, but...

—Well! So keep it, continued Napoleon; imagine, my dear, you have an amulet or charm, and you will forget about it.

Fifteen months later, M. de Las-Cases was brutally separated from the Emperor in late November 1816.  As he was with Napoleon, the doorman Santini came to say that the English colonel was waiting in his room to tell him something from Sir Hudson-Lowe.  The Count replied with a sign that, His Majesty could not escape.

—Do not worry, my dear, said Napoleon kindly, go see what this man wants from you, and come back soon.

This faithful companion never returned to Napoleon.  Dragoons already surrounded the house.  M. de Las-Cases and his son, who was very ill, were abducted and taken to Longwood and conducted to Plantation-House, where they were kept in custody until their departure for Cape Bonne-Espérance.  Meanwhile, M. de Las-Cases remained possessor of the necklace.  This notion troubled him sorely.  Time passed and he had only a few days before leaving Saint-Helena, and nothing would have matched his despair had he gone without this treasure being returned to the illustrious captive.  But how?  Any communication with Longwood was prohibited.  An idea came to him at last: he decided to risk everything.

A British officer newly arrived at Saint-Helena, and with whom he had sometimes spoken, emboldened by his frank and open countenance, came in the meantime to Plantation House: he accompanied the Governor, who was followed by his closest staff.  This was the moment chosen by M. de Las-Cases to execute his project:

—Sir, he said stealthily to the officer who spoke French well enough; I think you have a beautiful soul; and I will put it to the test.  Nothing in the outstanding service that you can render, can be harmful to your career or your peace;  as for me, there goes my honor, that of my family; it is a rich deposit that I have to restore to the Emperor ... If you want to accept the task, my son is going to slip it into your pocket.

For an answer, the English threw him a significant glance, and slowed his pace.  The young Las-Cases was with his father, he had received his instructions: the necklace of Queen Hortense went immediately into the pocket of the officer, almost within sight of the entire retreating staff.  But this was not all there was for the jewel to reach its destination; two years elapsed before it could be, as we have just now told you.

Eight days before his death, Napoleon had spent many hours in the morning surveying and sealing some valuables he intended for his son:

—I am very tired, he said to M. Marchand, his first valet; I feel, soon I still have a rest from life, that's why I want it to end: give me the wine of Constance that Las-Cases sent me; a drop of this liquor cannot hurt me.

—Sire, observed the faithful servant, this drink is contrary to what Doctor Antomarchi has prescribed to Your Majesty.

—Bah! Bah! Napoleon replied, shaking his head, everything is lacking in this cursed country! ... Why do you want me to wait? ... Give me a little of this wine, I tell you, it will revive me.  I will do anything to shorten my life, but I also want to do anything to prolong theirs.  Have I not lived long enough?  This, he added again with a sigh and resting his hand on the right side, that's the pain ... I feel like a dagger blade slipping and tearing me apart.

With these words Napoleon tossed in the bed on which he sat.  Before him were different jewels which he intended as tokens of esteem and remembrance to those who had extended their care during his illness; among other things a gold snuffbox, without any ornament, which he bequeathed to Doctor Arnott, on which he had laboriously carved an X with the tip of a knife.  A simple little square of cardboard that he held in his left hand served as his desk to write, and in the other hand dipped into an inkwell offered to him by the Count of Montholon, set upright beside his bed.  Napoleon also had before him the necklace of Queen Hortense.  He took it and giving it to M. Marchand:

—Well, he said, smiling with an expression of indescribable sadness.  I do not know what the state of my affairs are in Europe. That good Hortense gave me this necklace on leaving Malmaison, thinking I might need it. I think it is worth 200,000 francs.  Poor necklace!  It has passed through many hands! ...  Hide it around your body, because until now its fate had always remained hidden.  When thou art in France, you may dispose of it as you wish; I expect you will insure the same fate for my will and my codicils.  Marry honorably; make your choices among the families of officers or soldiers of my Old Guard.  There are many of these brave men who are not happy, I know.  A better fate was reserved for them without the misfortunes that occurred to France.  Posterity will judge what I had done for them.

Napoleon, weakened by these few words, was silent, but his words were never effaced from the memory of M. Marchand, who burst into tears; and on his return to France, he hastened to obey the last wishes Napoleon, by marrying the daughter of the Honorable Lieutenant General Brayer, who had long commanded at Strasbourg; and it was well that this soul provided the faithful servant of the great man performed his last wish: You marry the daughter of one of my brave!

One day, Hudson Lowe indicated to General Bonaparte that his expenses were too great, that the government had heard of him giving daily dinners of more than four persons, one bottle of wine per day for each of them, and requested a dinner a week; if there were any expenditure in excess, General Bonaparte and the people of his suite were to pay.  Instantly Napoleon broke the little plate that he still had, and went to the city; but the governor did say he heard it was sold to the man present.  The man that presented gave six thousand francs to the first envoy who he had met.  It was just two thirds of the value of this plate by weight.  This new imposition on Napoleon occasioned one of those ailments which he became increasingly subject.  This type lasted eight days, during which he did not go out.  It was after one of these illnesses, which then became chronic with him, until January 1818, that he wanted to exchange with the Grand Marshal one of his watches with one that Bertrand usually carried, he asked:

—What time of month is it?

—The 14th, Sire.

—The 14th! Exclaimed Napoleon-well! Bertrand, take this watch; it rang at two o’clock at night, at Rivoli, where I ordered Joubert to attack the Austrians, it was just nineteen years ago today.

Thus the Emperor knew to connect the memory of a glorious day with a present he made his Grand Marshal.1

There were in Napoleon's life many such singular coincidences, it would take too long to enumerate them here; but we think it necessary to report the following, which will appear strange, although the exact truth.

In the treaty he had signed with the court of Naples in February 1801, when he was the First Consul, he had emphasized specially the ceding of the Island of Elba to France; a note written in his own hand made this an urgent requirement.  The Island of Elba, a sort of fatality, seemed to please him.  Located vis-à-vis Tuscany, it reminded him of family memories. “We need the Island of Elba,” he wrote to his minister at Florence. Singular coincidence! ... Napoleon wanted right then, as a naval stations, the Island of Elba in the Mediterranean and the Island of Saint-Helena in the ocean...

After the events that followed the campaign of Marengo, the First Consul conceived a maritime expedition entirely for science, which was entrusted to Captain Baudin.  It consisted of the corvettes le Géographe and le Naturaliste.  It was nothing less than an attempt to circumnavigate the world.  Captain Baudin left, taking with him several distinguished scholars, including the young Bory de Saint-Vincent, then a naturalist of merit, and, moreover, a skillful draftsman.  The expedition had all the success we might expect from such men.  It gathered the rarest plants, reporting on animals unknown in Europe.  In the course of its journey, the expedition, as desired and by the express instructions of Napoleon, debarked in Saint-Helena.  M. Bory, who gave his position to be received by the authorities of the island, was very well received by the Governor, who was another character than Sir Hudson-Lowe ... The Governor of Saint-Helena in 1802, was a gentleman; he also received our scholars with such hospitality that distinguishes the English aristocracy.  The breaking of the Treaty of Amiens was not known yet; M. Bory dined almost every day with the governor.  As he was looking for plants and preferably products for his favorite science, he had easily obtained permission to go alone, going on trips within the country, although authorities feared the observation of a scientist and they wished that the fortifications of the island could be hidden, for that would betray the secret of its public defenses.  Consequently, he was informed he could go collect petrified wood and stones at the top volcanic central mountains, but he was not allowed to be near the coast.

Previously, M. Bory had not thought to draft a map of the island, but as he was at that age where restriction usually causes disobedience, he had one thought:  to create and carry away with him a map of Saint-Helena, despite the governor.  As the young naturalist looked for more micaceous slate, he began to think about ways to carry out his plan.  He had seen in the billiard room of the governor of a road map of the island.  From that moment, the pool game became a passion for him.  Each morning, after breakfast, he caused the Englishman to play under the pretext of mathematically demonstrating the theory of French pileups.

—It's amazing! The Governor had to say himself after a few sessions; it is always when my boy adjusts his long ball, that he loses his touch.

It was because instead watching his ball, M. Bory was glaring at the plan hung on the wall of the room; after an hour spent in this exercise, he went to work drawing his map.  After a week it was completed, at the price of a considerable number of lost matches.  But he nevertheless continued to perform what professional players commonly call steaming blocks, sweet balls, and soft pile-ups; but gradually these became shorter sessions, and it was not him who lost his touch, but the governor himself, who found himself constantly close to the cushion.

—It's incomprehensible! He thought to himself, yet it seems to me that although my boy is faster and gives less attention to his game, I play less well, although applying myself more.

The expedition returned to France; and Captain Baudin and presented the First Consul at Malmaison, the people who had accompanied him as well as some rarities that the scientists had collected in the long and adventurous journey.  Napoleon gave the Captain and scholars the reception he usually held for those he felt he wanted to honor.  In talking with M. Bory, who spoke much of Saint-Helena, he expressed a desire to see the map he had sketched.  He drew it from his brief case and presented it to him.  Napoleon spread it over a large mahogany desk that was in the salon and began to examine it curiously. When Captain Baudin and his deputation took their leave Napoleon told M. Bory:

—I wish that your map was not drawn in relation to this journey: it is very important.

This produced a bow.  As he had already arrived at the parlor door, Napoleon recalled him:

—I think, he added, it would be more prudent to keep this map locked up; let it remain with me, I will repay you later.

M. Bory gave him his map and withdrew with his colleagues, delighted in with the way they were received. A few days after this reception, Napoleon inserted in the major newspapers in the capital the form of a report to the Ministry of the Interior by a sea captain of France, an extract of the voyage of Captain Baudin, an extract framed in the sweetest description the Island of Saint-Helena.  One of these pages had been dropped in his hand:

—Ah! Ah! He said smiling; I know what it is that this report I will read it again.

And he placed it in the drawer of the large bureau where he had previously filed the map of M. Bory, then thought of it no more. Seven years later, being at Schoenbrunn after the Battle of Wagram, all the persons attached to his service hastened to visit a lovely valley near Vienna, which, according to everyone, was a veritable Eden. Indeed, imagine the largest English garden had been able to be established by nature, alone, without direction, without a plan.  A delightful temperature, trails that rose in rounded gentle windings up to the top of a verdant hill, picturesque bridges thrown about at random, and a sweet fragrance of herbs in the air: such was the valley; unique perhaps for twenty leagues around.

Berthier, naturally melancholy, had been frequently visiting this delightful place; he had spoken several times to the Emperor and he had given an almost mythological description.  Maybe Napoleon had crossed it in his morning excursions, but probably too quickly to remember the scene.  It was already mid-October; he would soon leave Austria; but before his departure from Schoenbrunn, he would go to this famous valley, but at ease, without escort and at sunrise.

That day, the sky appeared pure and beautiful: the horizon saw a small bright spot form, grow, expand, and countless rays soon emerged in long strips, gilded and flamboyant.  Napoleon smiled at the play of light as a tribute more to the Creator than the most powerful conqueror of the earth.  He rode Euphrates, one of his favorite horses, whose speed and grace he liked and promptly arrived at the spot which had been reported by Berthier.  There, he looked silently across the landscape, climbing several trails, and for some moments motionless on a mound, to better appreciate the melancholic picture unfolding to his eyes like a vast panorama, and then, after a long pause, he suddenly pushed Euphrates, which, feeling the spur, soon crossed the distance that separated him from Schoenbrunn.

Crossing the great apartments, Napoleon did not speak to anyone.  Everyone noticed that he was thoughtful, concerned, but when entering his office, on seeing the prince Neufchâtel, he stopped:

—Do you know, he said with a smile, that Valley you spoke so often has a wonderful calm, and we would be tempted to stay there to end of our days?

—True, Sire, I even remember having expressed a similar vow in the presence of Your Majesty.

—What is this valley called?

—The Valley of Saint-Helena, Sire.

—The Valley of Saint-Helena!  Napoleon exclaimed in a tone of surprise; he seemed to have already heard, but other than here; yes, something like that, he added, placing the forefinger of his hand left on his forehead, as if to collect a confused memory; then raising his head, smiling at his manner: well! He said, I do not deny it, I could end my days in the Valley of Saint-Helena.

Back then, nobody paid any attention to these prophetic words.  The Empire collapsed; Napoleon, about to leave Malmaison for Rochefort, thought to go through some old furniture containing papers that the Empress Josephine, who died the previous year, that is to say May 5, 1814, religiously preserved, and that her children had not touched out of respect for her memory.  Napoleon opened the drawer of a large mahogany desk that had served him as Consul, and found the manuscript map of Saint-Helena that M. Bory de Saint-Vincent had given him fourteen years ago, and the Moniteur in which had been inserted the pompous description of the island. Struck with the idea that the map could be useful once he embarked, he rolled it in the official papers and gave the order to place it in a box containing some books.  However he was far from thinking he was going to Saint-Helena, this living tomb which had once seemed the most poetic place on earth, which he so ardently desired to possess.  Still, in leaving France he took the map, which, after five years, was spread on the table at Longwood.

In recent days, Napoleon, suffering more than usual, did not go out as usual.  He was alone and read aloud an old Moniteur that was in one hand while the other was following the pattern of the topographic map, on which he threw from time to time his eyes.

“Citizen Minister, it was said in the official organ, it is on Saint-Helena, where we relaxed, of which I am writing, or rather an earthly paradise.  Imagine yourself between Africa and America in the middle of the ocean, six hundred miles from any coast, a garden six leagues long formed in the hollow of a rock, accessible from any side, if it is from a single point.  On this rock, time has amassed a three-foot layer of the most fertile topsoil, which grows from its midst wheat, oranges, figs and pomegranates, next to the coffee tree and among vegetables of Provence and the fruits of the North.  Amidst all these natural resources, the mountains, which one sees twenty-five miles at sea, rise crowned tree with eternal green.  By far one imagines seeing the Island of Calypso; arriving, we seem transported to the abode of happiness.  The air is pure, the sky clear, and all seems quiet around you.  Health shines on the faces of all the inhabitants, it seems the country has given birth to a nature where they have a temperament exhausted by a long sojourn in the East Indies ...”

At this point in his reading, Napoleon, pale lips, eyes blazing, crumpled the newspaper in his hands and threw it from him, crying, teeth clenched and in a trembling voice:

—But all this is a heinous lie!

Yet in fourteen years, the climate could not change, the soil could not have been made different ... When the Emperor, by the blackest treachery, had been thrown on this remote land, the flowers still had their scent; clusters of tropical lilies, hanging on the torrents had continued to serve as azure hummingbird nests, but, alas! Does that change captivity? ... In prison, the sun no longer shines, the water is poisoned ... The execution of Napoleon on Saint-Helena did not come entirely from the burning climate, the sea breeze that filtered through the halls of Longwood, but the constant stress of a sublime soul that died gradually on a rock having dreamed of an empire in the world!


1 “The way to give, they say, is better than what we give.” It was especially true with Napoleon that this common expression found its application.  The Emperor possessed to an eminent degree the exquisite art of distributing favors and spreading its benefits, because he knew that there would be a greater gain from these smaller gifts by his enticing words.  In these circumstances, almost always unexpected, the sound of his voice had something caressing, and his smile rested on you with an indescribable charm.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2009

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