Research Subjects: Napoleon Himself





On September 2, 1785, great news echoed through the Military Academy of Paris.  Louis XVI had signed the day before the commissions of fifty-eight lieutenants for the various artillery regiments of the army.  Nobody could have explained how this news had been able to cross the walls of the establishment so quickly; but it was the subject of all the conversations, from the guard house to the cabinet of the Marquis de Timburce-Valence, then governor of the School. Soon the names of the happy were known, and Napoleon was among their number, because he had passed with a brilliant examination, in which he had eclipsed all his comrades and had earned the commendation of the genius Laplace, his examiner, the same one who would later belong to the senate.

The following October 10th, the fifty-eight commissions arrived at the Military Academy, initialed and signed by the King.  Each one received his and understood his official destination.  Among those of the young officers named for the regiment of La Fère, were Misters de Bonaparte, Desmazis, etc.

A few days later, in the afternoon, two pupils, led by a drill sergeant, left the Military Academy followed by a commissionaire which carried their small bag, and carried them to Turgotines bound for Lyon.[1] They arrived in time, kissed the old non-commissioned officer, and were perched on the imperial carriage, which left at once while following the road of Fontainebleau.

—At last, we are free! Exclaimed the youngster while giving his friend a violent push, as if to test a little this freedom which he had waited for such a long time.

—Yes, free! … This one retorted, and moreover we are officers!

The carriage arrived in Lyon on the 5th.  The two young men established themselves in a modest hotel. They still sported the uniform of the Military Academy.  This costume, which highlighted well the advantageous height of the first, but which betrayed too much the thinness of the second member, was all at the same time elegant and severe.  It was a royal blue coat, with upright collar with amaranth facing, closed on the chest with plain silver buttons; the tricorn hat was decorated with small a silver cord, without rosette; short trousers of red cloth, and on the shoe a small silver buckle.  This uniform, which attracted the glances of the Lyons idlers, annoyed the newly arrived ones more than them.  These two children, although one was old only sixteen years old and the other only seventeen, had a distinguished enough appearance.  The oldest was a pretty good looking boy, with a youthful figure, rosy complexion, a soft glance and curly hair; the younger one, on the contrary, was pale and thin, of a small size and a somewhat strange appearance.  His regular but severe features, his brown and smooth hair, all gave to his person something which contrasted with the ordinary unconcern of this age.  From his eyes, neither blue nor black, but holding at the same time the nuances of both, flashed intervals of the lightning.  His speech, far from explaining what was enigmatic of this appearance, seemed to contribute even more to it.  Soft and sonorous, but short and with a very pronounced Italian accent, his voice had something harmonious and compelling which seized those who listened to it.  The fair one was the Chevalier Alexandre Desmazis; the brown one was Napoleon, the future emperor.

In Lyon, the life of a lieutenant started for our travelers.  The professors were not there anymore.  They assiduously visited the cafes and the theatres.  Napoleon was not rich, nor was his comrade.  Still after some frolics, it would have been necessary to leave Lyon without having bought the essential supplies (to travel on) that they could only find in this city.   Providence provided for it.  On one of their excursions, the two friends met Mr. Barlet, who had been a secretary of the Count de Marbeuf, when this one was a governor of Corsica.  Mr. Barlet recognized the young Bonaparte whom he had often seen in Ajaccio.  Napoleon made him understand his embarrassed situation.  He furnished their purse with what was necessary for them to go to Valence, and at the same time he gave to Napoleon a letter of recommendation for Mr. Tardivon of this city.  There was an urgency to leave without delay; but the first impression that they had been given of garrison life made them remain in Lyon a few days longer.  Finally they were seen on the way in the morning, on foot, a little heavy headed, and their purse as light as before the meeting with Mr. Barlet.

The same day, they slept in Vienne en Dauphiné, and the following day, extensively tired and dying of hunger, they arrived at Saint-Vallier, six miles from Valence; they had made more than seven miles in less than ten hours, having only taken a little bread and a cup of milk for nourishment.  Desmazis was exhausted, because unlike his comrade he could not adopt this mode of a Trappist as Napoleon had advised him, in order to spare some of their resources.  Although the travelers had requested their host to wake them shortly after full morning, nine o’clock sounded from the village church, as they still slept like old invalids.  Two hours afterwards, they were in Tournon. There they requested information on whether the college was sometimes opened to outsiders.  On an affirmative answer, the two friends presented themselves there.

In this splendid establishment, kept by the Oratorians and recently organized into a military academy, as we said previously, the two young men were well accommodated by both the professors and the pupils.  Among the latter, Napoleon recognized several compatriots, among them, one of the sons of Buttafoco who later commanded with him, in Corsica, a battalion of national guards volunteers; and M. de Gentille, a relative of Pozzo di Borgo, who, thirty years later, was to contribute to his ruin and to declare him his relentless enemy.  There also, they met, hidden in the personnel of the college, one their old acquaintances from Brienne, Daboval, Master of Fencing[2], who had given lessons to Napoleon, as well as the Master of Writing of Brienne, because he had preferred, like the other, the rich Oratorians of Tournon to the poor Minimes (monks) of Champagne.

Nineteen years later, and when Napoleon had just been proclaimed emperor, a man of ripe age and more than modest demeanor arrived at Saint-Cloud, and solicited a favor of the Grand Marshal of the Palace for a private audience with the new sovereign.  Introduced almost at once into the imperial cabinet:

 —Who are you? … what do you want of me? … Napoleon asked of him.

—Sire, the solicitant answered him extremely intimidated, I see well that Your Majesty does not recognize me; it is I who had the happiness to give him writing lessons during the time that he remained at the Military Academy of Brienne.  Since that time, Sire, I had the honor to re-examine Your Majesty on his passage to Tournon, when he went to Valence to join his regiment there.

—Ah! yes, yes, I remember it, Napoleon replied animatedly.  The beautiful student, my faith! that you became there! I do not presume to compliment myself for it.

Then, being caught laughing at his quickness, he rewarded the old man with words full of benevolence.

—Let us go, go, it is well, he repeated to him; I will not forget my Master of Writing.

Indeed, a few days after, the old professor received, from the personal purse of the Emperor, a pension of six hundred francs.

It was late when Napoleon and Desmazis left Tournon; but, after a walk made at an accelerated step, they arrived at Valence.  Before entering downtown, they thought of repairing the disorder which this race had caused with their appearance (toilet).  They made a point of being presented suitably at a garrison which they were obligated to live for several years.

These provisions were made in a tavern located on the right of the road, now named The Round Table, and in the evening they entered Valence and stopped in the first inn which appeared to them.  Then the way to the Town Hall, namely La Commune[3] was shown to Napoleon, and he went there while leaving to his companion the guard of their small luggage.  But the night had already given leave to the employees.  Napoleon was about to give up his lodging billet and to return the following day to declare his arrival.  Fortunately the caretaker ran to inform the secretary of the citadel, which arrived soon.  This one was excused for having to make him wait and he was asked for the minister’s order which sent him to Valence.

—We are two, Sir, answered Napoleon. My comrade tired from a long journey, counted on your kindness to excuse his absence, and gave me the responsibility to present his papers to you: here.  If you will, I ask you, to check them and provide the proper lodging billets for which we are entitled. Tomorrow, undoubtedly, M. the Chevalier Desmazis, my friend, being less tired, will have the honor to see you and to thank you himself.

 These words of such simple courtesy were so extraordinary coming from the mouth of a young gentleman then, from an officer, from people accustomed to treating the middle-class with insolence, that the scribe was filled with wonder at it.  He only threw a glance on the order of route of the absent officer, and did not even look at that of Napoleon; he sat down, took from a book a small partly printed paper, in the blank spot, signed it, and gave to the postulant that which he wrote.  It followed thus:


Miss Claudine Bou, owner of the Cafe of the Circle, is summoned to lodge for one time two second lieutenants of the royal artillery regiment of Fère, and to provide them that to which they are entitled.

And below it:

 To Miss Bou, at the angle of of the Great Road of Croissant, in Valence (Dauphiné).

—It is not far from here, the old employee related.  The house does not have a sign, but you will find it easily. It is located in the Great Road, very close to the Place of the Clerks.  The first you come to will be happy to lead you to it, because in Valence everyone is honest and kind.  And then, he added by raising on his face his green spectacles, that he was grateful to him for having provided the occasion to render this service to a new officer of our garrison, for a young man as polished as he was.

—Very good, Sir, I thank you, said Napoleon, in a hurry to join Desmazis.

Fifteen minutes after, the future emperor and his companion presented themselves, in the name of the king, to their new hostess, who accepted them politely. The following day, Napoleon, before starting his service, wanted to inquire as to cost and conditions of his keeping.  Miss Bou said to him that the payment had been provided for him; that all the lieutenants, without exception, ate at The Three Pigeons, and that the price of food was the same for all. However he believed it his duty to go to Gény, the master of the hotel, and arranged with him for himself to be allowed to take at will, by day, sometimes two meals, and sometimes only one, recovering twenty-seven livres per month.  This price and these conditions say enough about the sobriety that would become proverbial of Napoleon.

It was necessary to deal then with the great business of the visits ordered by the military regulations.  The Regiment of Fère was then commanded by M. the Chevalier de Lance, colonel of artillery.  The first visit was by rights to him.  Consequently, at midday, MM. de Bonaparte and Desmazis, in dress uniform, accompanied by Captain Gabriel Desmazis, the elder brother of this one, were announced to this senior officer.  The reception of the colonel was cold with regard to Desmazis; it was if he hardly cast his eyes on some letters from Paris with which the Chevalier had provided.  Napoleon, on the contrary, fixed the attention of the old officer.  He questioned him on his country, and the last revolution which had torn it away from the Republic of Genoa, and was astonished by, being born in a mountainous region, impracticable for artillery, he had precisely chosen this arm.

Napoleon answered M. de Lance:

—My colonel, since I received the benefits of the king, I am Corsican only by birth.

—But why an artillerist rather than a cavalryman, officer of infantry, or seaman?

—Because which I smelled there (and he posed a finger on his face) something which said to me that artillery is the only arm where (someone who was a) mediocrity would not be done in a day; the only arm in which there could be a double merit to exceed those who already have done well.

—Yes, that is true; but Corsica where mounted cannon could never be employed, Corsica, young man, what do you say?

—I do not say anything of it, my colonel; Corsica does not exist anymore for me.  And besides if my country separated from the kingdom, or rather if the Genoese tried to seize it, wouldn't the duty of a talented artillery officer be to establish batteries and to move the cannons where one could not do it before?

—You are right, young man; persist in these feelings, and I predict the advance of your career with glory and fortune which, any brave and learned officer has the honor to obtain in the royal artillery corps.

The colonel, having risen, led the three officers to the door of his office.  The second visit was to M. de Bouchard, maréchal-de-camp, who commanded the Artillery School, and lived at the citadel.  These two rigorously finished the visits, Napoleon was of the opinion to return to the others the following day.  Desmazis was not less tired than he was of these official courses.  The two lieutenants thus separated.  One returned to Miss Bou, and the other joined in the housing of his brother, to await the orders of their colonel there.

The next morning, a non-commissioned officer presented himself at Miss Bou’s, carrying, for Lieutenant Bonaparte, a billet from the staff.  It was a list of names of the personnel of the company in which he was placed to fulfill his service.  A few moments after, another non-commissioned officer, a sergeant named Langevin, the same one who was killed eight years later in front of Toulon on the attack of the redoubt Small-Gibraltar, came in his turn in the name of M. d' Urtubie, lieutenant-colonel, he to give an official dispatch by which this senior officer prevented him under regulations, although placed in a company as a second lieutenant, from being recognized officially in his rank in the presence of the regiment assembled under the arms.  This billet, which exists in the files of the Ministry of War, finished as follows:

Consequently, Sir, you will have to conform to the orders which will be given to you later on by your immediate superiors, for the purpose of successively passing three watches as a simple gunner, three as a corporal and as many as a sergeant.  You will also make the large and the small week’s duties, obligatory one and the other for these the last two ranks.

(My Colonel, since I am in France, Corsica no longer exists for me.)

The Desmazis brothers joined Napoleon in the morning.  While discussing these notifications by the regimental staff, the three officers set off together to the Hôtel de l’Ecu-de-France, where the captains ate.  The elder Desmazis had urged Napoleon to dine with him and his brother in a small gathering of friends.

—Faure, the captain told them, is the most famous cook of the country.

All three dined merrily.  On becoming Emperor, Napoleon preserved a good memory of the pastry made by Faure, the famous restaurant owner.  In 1811, on a solemn occasion where he received the delegations of the departments of the empire, he approached Mr. Planta, Mayor of Valence, Chairman of the delegation of Drome, and said to him while smiling:

—Eh well! Mr. Planta, how are your compatriots doing? Are they as greedy as they always were in my time?

—But, Sire…, answered this one very disconcerted with this singular apostrophe.

—And does the restaurant owner of l’Ecu de France, continued the Emperor, still always make those excellent small pastries from which his establishment never was lacking?  Faure is one of the celebrities of Valence, and, as such, I did not forget him.

This joke said, the emperor changed the conversation, aided the deputies of Valence in the needs for their city, and left them very enchanted with the reception that he had given them.

Among the officers of the Regiment of Fère, who became his new comrades, Napoleon found several school-fellows from the School of Brienne and some compatriots.  The latter were embraced with such a sharp emotion, that some of the assistants asked whether they were not parents.  Then Napoleon answered with a kind of emotion:

—No, Sir, we are not even cousins; but all, of us were born in Corsica.

Then, after a pause, he added while raising his voice:

—And on our island, when a vendetta did not make us irreconcilable enemies in advance, the title of compatriot brings with it the phrase: friend devoted until death! Ask these Gentlemen!

(When a vendetta did not make us irreconcilable enemies in advance, the title of compatriot brings with it the phrase: friend devoted until death.)

And Napoleon indicated with his hand the officers whom he had kissed so affectionately[4]

This gesture, these last words, and the accent with which they were pronounced, struck the assistants.  Each one of them congratulated the new lieutenant, who was favorably judged.  It is true that some letters, part of the Military Academy of Paris, had depicted the young Bonaparte with dark colors, which those, by seeing them, formed a very contrary opinion with that which one would have wanted to give them.  Soon he was sought out and admitted to the first houses of Valence.  He received from his family a subsidy of twelve hundred francs.  This sum was then a large pension for an officer.  Only two of his comrades had, thanks to the easy position of their family, a cabriolet and horses; one regarded them as great lords.  Sorbier was one of these two officers.  He readily transported his comrades and shared with them his small fortune.

Napoleon had been allowed to visit Madam du Colombier; she was a fifty year old woman, of rare merit.  She controlled the city, so to speak, and was caught up with great regard for the young artillery officer of whom she had guessed the talent.  She pushed him into the patronage of the famous Abbot de Saint-Ruff, who, although extremely old already, came together at this place, each week, with all that the city and the surroundings counted as distinguished people.  The revolution had begun its course when Madam du Colombier died.  One might say, of these last moments, that if it had not brought misfortune to the young Bonaparte, he would play a great part in it.  In what was to pass, Napoleon never spoke about Madam du Colombier who with the sharpest recognition and acknowledgment and with the distinguished relations that he had had in the company of this excellent woman who greatly influenced his destiny.

However this slightly privileged existence of Napoleon, attracted to him on behalf of some of his comrades an extreme jealousy.  The commander, M. d' Urtubie, had judged him perfectly; also he did not cease being favorable to him and facilitating the means of combining the duties of service with approvals of the company.  At twenty years of age, he was already one of the most educated artillery officers.  Strong thinking and having a clear and tight logic, he had read and meditated a great deal.  His spirit was prompt, his words energetic; everywhere he went he was soon noticed.  Many of those who knew him at this age predicted an extraordinary career; none of them were surprised when it came to pass.

 It is generally believed that, in his youth, Napoleon was silent and morose; it is an error: he was, on the contrary, extremely merry.  On Saint-Helena, he had no greater pleasure than to tell to his faithful companions in exile the frolicsome tricks he had perpetrated at his artillery school; he seemed to completely forget the bad times that connected him on this rock, when he was taken up with the memory of his first years.

“There was, he said, an old commander of more than eighty years of age, which they venerated immensely, but who, having come one day to take them through a cannon exercise, followed each shot with his spyglass, and was sure that each one was long of its goal.  He worried, asking of a nearby neighbor if someone had seen the strike; nobody could confirm anything, because we took out the cannon ball each time we charged the piece.  The old commander had spirit; at the end of five or six shots, it came to him to count the cannon balls; there wasn’t any way to mislead him after this; he found this extremely funny, but he did not exercise any less the officers who had lent themselves to this trickery keeping it up over eight days nonstop.”

“Another time, it was one their captains on which they had to revenge themselves a little.  They were then correct to banish him from the society they kept, and to put him, to some extent, on notice, by reducing him to stay in his place. Four or five of these young officers shared the roles, and stuck to every step of this unhappy one; they were everywhere where this one showed himself, and he did not open his mouth, without at once being methodically contradicted, in the most polished forms.”

“Still another time, continued Napoleon, it was a comrade who was placed over me, and who had taken the deplorable habit to play the horn, so as to distract from any type of work.  I met him on the staircase:”

“—My dear, do you ever tire of that instrument you’re with?”

“— But no, I assure you.”

“— Eh well! You tire the others a lot.”

“— I am sorry for that.”

“You would do better to go play your horn further away, in wood, for example; you would be more at ease there.”

“—It seems to me that I am Master in my room!”

“It could be you are mistaken on this subject.”

“I do not think that somebody would dare!”

“Not to correct you, my dear, there are some who would dare it.”

“— Eh! Who would?”

“Me, first of all!”

“A duel was issued at once; the council of the comrades examined it before allowing the combat; and it pronounced that in the future one would play the horn further away, and that the other would be more tolerant.”

During the campaign of 1814, the Emperor found his horn player in the vicinity of Soissons; it was M. de Bussy. He lived in his chateau, and came to give important information on the position of the enemy. Napoleon kept him near his person in the capacity of aide-de-camp.

The second battalion of the Regiment of Fère, to which Napoleon belonged, left Valence on August 12, 1786, to go to repress, in Lyon, the revolt known as Deux-Sous. From there, and after a short stay, all the regiment went to Douai . In 1789, at the time of the meeting of the States-General, it kept garrison in Auxonne. A detachment of one hundred men, commanded by M. du Manoir, first lieutenant, and by Napoleon, as second lieutenant, was sent to Seurre, a small town of Burgundy, to repress a popular demonstration caused by purchases of grains. In this affair, which was serious, as two traders of Lyon, MM. Gayet and Morlay, implicated in holding a monopoly, lost their lives there, Napoleon acted with as much prudence as firmness. It was in these various garrisons that he composed a collection of historical Letters on Corsica, which was dedicated to the suffrage of the Abbot Raynal.

This history was unfortunately lost. During this same time, it won the prize at the Academy of Lyon , by treating this delicate and important question: Which principles and institutions need to be inculcated in men to return them to the happiest state? This memory, which was well noted at the time, would have also been lost to the posterity, if his brother, Louis Bonaparte, had not preserved a copy of it; because Napoleon, on becoming Emperor, had thrown into a fire a version which he believed to be the only one, and which M. de Talleyrand had presented to him after having it exhumed from the files of the Academy of Lyon, thus hoping to make him a part of his court. In 1826, M. the General Gourgaud, now a Peer of France, published this paper in an incomplete copy, because one did not find there the beautiful thought which had been covered with applause during the public reading at the academy: The great men are as meteors which shine and are consumed to light the ground. This writing is an invaluable monument of the youth of Napoleon, which proves that he was able to succeed in all things; but he was intended to accumulate on his head other than academic crowns.

Towards the end of the year 1786, Napoleon had become first lieutenant to the Regiment of Grenoble. On February 6, 1792, he was named captain of the 4th Foot Artillery Regiment. A little time afterwards, he obtained leave to go to Corsica to visit his family. Hardly had he arrived there, than his compatriots’ votes called upon him to command of a battalion of volunteers, at the head of which he was distinguished in several engagements against the National Guards of Ajaccio, which the intrigues of England had led into insurrection, and who decorated their revolt with the beautiful title of love of independence. Fidelity to France, which Napoleon had proven in this circumstance, gave place to a denunciation which obliged him to return to Paris to be tried; it was claimed he had fomented himself the disorders which he had alleviated. It was not difficult for him to reduce this calumny to nothing, by noting it was invented by a former friend of his family.

Here perhaps is the least happy time of Napoleon’s life, who found himself stripped of all resources. He met, in one of his walks around Paris, once more one of his former military schoolmates, Bourrienne, who was hardly richer than him. Their childhood friendship was renewed in its entirety; they were not alone anymore. Each day they conceived new projects, and sought to make some useful speculations. Napoleon wanted to rent once, in conjunction with his friend, several houses under construction on Montholon Street , that had just opened; but the requests of the owners being found too high, the speculation was missed. At the same time he solicited the War Ministry for active service; but, because of the patrons, his authorizations were always rejected.

However then came June 20, a somber prelude to August 10. The two friends had prepared to meet to take food in the street Saint-Honoré, close to the Royal Palace. This day, as they had just dined, they left to come upon near the side of the market a troop of from four to five thousand ragged individuals ludicrously armed, howling the coarsest curses, and moving at great speed towards the Tuileries. Never was the population of the suburbs more hideous.

—Let us follow them, said Napoleon to Bourrienne.

They moved ahead of them and went to walk on the terrace at the edge of the water. There, Napoleon listened to the tumultuous scenes which took place. It would be difficult to paint the feeling of stupor and indignation which they excited in him. When he saw the unfortunate Louis XVI showing himself at one of the windows opening on the garden, with the red bonnet that had just been placed on his head by a man of the people, he could not be contained, and exclaimed in the middle of the crowd which surrounded him:

—How could one be so lax as to let this rabble penetrate up to the chateau? Ah! If it had been me!

All the remainder of the day he spoke about this scene, and discussed on the causes and the effects of this insurrection, while envisaging what would be the consequences. He was not mistaken. On August 10 there was no longer a need to wait. Such a terrible drama had necessarily thrown into the spirit of Napoleon a strange light, because, after this day, he wrote to one of his uncles called Paravicini in Corsica: “Do not be anxious for your nephew; he will be able to be make his way! ”

Napoleon returned to visit his native land the following September. On his arrival in Corsica he found Paoli invested with the command of the military on the island. This general, who had not dropped his mask yet, expressed a great attachment for the French cause. He accommodated with eagerness the son of his former comrade in arms and testified to a strong friendship for him.On his side, Napoleon felt a true admiration for the man whom he then regarded as the hero of Corsica; he was proud to have obtained his affection. Paoli returned the compliment to great qualities of Napoleon: “This young man, he said, is cut from antiquity; he is a hero from Plutarch.”

At the beginning of 1793, Napoleon took part in an expedition which was directed from Toulon on Sardinia, whose king was at war with the French Republic . At the head of two Corsican battalions, he was charged to seize the Fort of Saint-Etienne and the Islands of the Madeleine, while a naval division, carrying the landing troops, was to make a landing on the enemy territory. He succeeded in his enterprise; but the maritime expedition, opposed by winds, and attacked by a terrible storm, did not have the same success. It arrived at the coasts of Sardinia only after the inhabitants had already prepared for a defense. The attempted landing could not be carried out. The squadron, after having experienced strong damage and having lost many people, was obliged to return to the French ports. Napoleon accepted the order to return to Corsica and to give up his conquest.

The bad exit of this expedition encouraged the insurrection sponsored by the English. Paoli, encouraged by them, declared against France; he tried in vain to involve his young compatriot in the revolt. Napoleon was French in all his feelings; he resisted the seductions and the example of the general. The catastrophe of January 21 capped the hatred of this last one, who, consequently, did not believe he needed to contain it any longer.

—Those French have just broken all our bonds, he said to Napoleon; will you still dare to defend them in front of me? The son of Charles Bonaparte cannot give me up. Corsica does not want any more to do with the French, neither do I: I would like it better to become Genoese again. I await your brothers; misfortune to those who align with France !

Napoleon vainly tried to convince he who had been the friend of its father, that he was mistaken on the future; Paoli only abruptly answered him thus:

—It is necessary to choose between France and me!

Napoleon separated from Paoli; but hardly had he joined his family, that an order of the representatives of the people, who had taken refuge in Bastia, pleaded for him to come to them at once. Napoleon succeeded in doing this only while running a thousand risks. The soldiers of the republic tried to fight against the English troops which had just landed; but, crushed by the number, they were forced to disperse; a small number managed to leave the country. Paoli skillfully benefitted from this circumstance by involving the major part of the inhabitants of the island. The outlawing of the French emissary and their partisans was issued, and the tricolor flag was cut down everywhere, except in Ajaccio, thanks to Lucien Bonaparte, because his brother Joseph had lost all his influence in the country; but it was scarcely known that Napoleon had left this city; the spirit of rebellion knew no obstacles any longer.

—Vive Paoli! Death to his enemies!

Such was the clamor pushed by the inhabitants of the countryside. The insular bugle resounded in the valleys; mobs carried the threat up to the walls of Ajaccio .Lucien thought then of his mother, with his sisters; he remained to protect them; but Madame Bonaparte had found the courage that was illustrated during the wars of independence:she sent many messages to Napoleon, while announcing in advance to the revolutionaries the impending return of her son at the head of sufficient forces to contain the mutineers. She thus managed to intimidate, for some time at least, the partisans of Paoli. But this supreme chief had also not forgotten the art of using the time profitably; he tried one last time to bring back the Bonaparte family to his views; not having succeeded, he thought of seizing it and of holding them hostage.

Woken up abruptly in the middle of the night, Lucien saw his room filled with armed mountain dwellers. He believed that he had been taken by surprise; but, by the gleam of a pine torch, which suddenly came up to light up the male figure of the chief who led them, he recognize Costa, from the village of Bastelica, devoted to his friends.

—Quickly, Signor Luciano, this one said to him in his lively patois, he will inform Signora Lœtizia and her daughters; there is not a moment to lose; Paoli’s people follow us closely. Me with my men here; we will save you or we will perish with you.

Bastelica is one of the most populous cantons of Corsica, located at the foot of the Mont-d'Or and in the middle of a forest of chestnut trees. Its inhabitants are famous for their bravery and their fidelity. One of these intrepid hunters, while crossing the mountain chain that separates the island in two parts, had encountered a large troop which was heading down towards Ajaccio . He learned that it was to be introduced during the night into the city, by one of those trusted by Paoli, with the hope of taking the Bonaparte family and leading them to captivity to Rostino, where Paoli waited. At the same time he was given assurances by him that instructions had been given by him that Lucien was to be brought to him dead or alive.

(Woken up abruptly in the middle of the night, Lucien saw his room filled with armed mountain dwellers.)

This one informed his mother of what occurred. Madame Bonaparte rose in all haste, as did her children, which left them hardly enough time to carry some clothing with them. Lucien placed himself in the center of the column which protected his family, left the city still deep in sleep, and penetrated into the mountains; before the day, the small troop stopped in vines, from where the shore was discovered. There, the fugitives several times heard the partisans of Paoli cross the valley close to their camp, without discovering it. At the break of the day, a flame rose in thick swirls from the middle of the city.

—My son, Madame Bonaparte related in a stoical voice to Lucien, there is our house which burns.

—What importance is it, my mother? This one answered, later we will rebuild it more beautiful and taller.

Vive France !

Paoli razed the house, and launched against Bonaparte a decree which banished them from the island with perpetually.[5]

After two nights of anxiety, the exiled family finally saw the French sails. It joined Napoleon on a frigate which unloaded him in Marseilles, where he claimed the protection of this France from which he was outlawed, and from where, twenty-two years later, he was to be outlawed again.

However it was necessary to fight against misfortune. Napoleon, a simple artillery officer, as of this moment devoted himself, to help his family, giving them the largest share of his meager pay. Joseph, who joined them soon after, had the happiness to be named commissioner of the wars; Lucien obtained in his turn a modest employment in the administration of the military subsistence; and, as a patriotic refugee, Madame Bonaparte accepted rations of army bread and some moderate help.

After having installed his mother and her sisters in a country house close to Marseilles, Napoleon prepared himself to leave for Paris, in order to request reinstatement into the service again there. It was then and at the time when he seemed to have been overpowered by ruin, when having faith in his genius, he answered a friend who had come to offer those banal consolations to him that men are always want to:

—In times of revolution, with perseverance and courage, a soldier should despair of nothing.



[1] A type of stage coach established by the Minister Turgot, who gave them his name; they had replaced the stage coaches used under Louis XV.

[2] Daboval still lived there for some time.  He had retired to Nogent-sur-Seine, where he died at more than eighty years of age.  During his reign, Napoleon had granted a pension to him which he lost in consequence of the events of 1815.

[3] This was as a vast building which belonged then to a trader called Brun. One entered there by the street of the Petit-Saint-Jean, though the principal frontage appeared on the street Saint-Felix.  Since, this property was inhabited by a banker also called Brun; but while there the commune wasn’t named for the first owner.  Today the old town hall of Valence fell to M. Accarié.

[4] It is through the extreme kindness of M. the baron de Costou, former lieutenant-colonel of the 4th artillery regiment, today in retirement, and author of the Biography of the First Years of Napoleon, that we are indebted to the interesting details that one has just read on the route followed by this last Desmazis from Paris to Valence.

[5] Soon Paoli, was himself forced to yield to fortune, and took refuge in England .  He lived there at the time of the expeditions of Italy and Egypt .  Each victory of Napoleon caused him a kind of rapture; he celebrated, exalting his successes: it had been said that, for one and the other, the same type of intimacy existed as had formerly.  When Napoleon attained the Consulate and finally the Empire, it was much more.  Paoli celebrated the success with dinners: there were, in his house, only cries of joy and satisfaction.  This enthusiasm displeased the English government.  Paoli was warned by those close to him: “Your recriminations are right, he said to the minister; but Bonaparte is one of my own; I saw him growing, I predicted his fortune for him; do you want that I hate his glory, that I disinherit my country that he brings honor to?”  Napoleon constantly carried Paoli in the feelings which he expressed for him; he wanted to attract him to France , to give him a role to play; but there was no time for him, and Paoli died.  Napoleon did not have the satisfaction to make his compatriot a leader in all the splendor which he was later surrounded.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: October 2007

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