Research Subjects: Napoleon Himself


oldiers, generals, representatives of the people, all were in agreement about the superiority of Napoleon.  He also was dominated by the ascendant of his genius.  When he arrived in Nice, the Army of Italy was under the command of General Dubermion, an old, brave and very learned officer, but who gout had removed from activity.  As soon as the young artillery general was put in possession of command, he traveled along the line, to recognize for himself the position of troops and all their operations.  Upon his return, he found ways of ensuring victory for the French army.  He developed his ideas at a council of war where the representatives of the people, young Robespierre and the elder Ricord were present.  The reputation he had acquired at the siege of Toulon, and the talents which he had demonstrated, subjugated all opinions to his: the plan was adopted.  The execution was entrusted to General Masséna (Dubermion was sick and in bed); the army shook out in four columns, and in a few days the famous Saorgio position, occupied by twenty thousand Piedmontese, was outflanked, the pass of Tende was taken, and our troops settled in impregnable positions, on the upper chain of the Alps.  These beautiful maneuvers proved to men skilled in the art of war that General Bonaparte, already so experienced in the art of conducting a siege, was also capable of directing the movements of a large army.

Shortly after, Napoleon was stopped in Nice, by order of the Committee of Public Safety.  It has never been known the real cause of such a rigorous act.  The measure was executed by the Adjutant General Viervin, commander of the gendarmerie, and Aréna, compatriot of Napoleon.  The authorizing commissioner Denniée was responsible for the examination of General Bonaparte’s papers, whose detention lasted only fifteen days, after which he resumed his duties.

At that time, many people of means, both in the provinces and in Paris, attempted, by way of the resources offered by trade, to increase their modest fortunes that the revolutionary turmoil had left.  A Madame de Saint-Ange, of Corsican origin, and retired in the vicinity of Marseilles, was one of that numbers.  She calculated quite wisely in Nice, where there were still many soldiers , including ten out of thirty without shirt or coat, she could advantageously get rid of a stock of canvas and cloth she had bought from smugglers; even better that she was an old acquaintance the Bonaparte family.  Accordingly, she gave her goods to a servant of his father, an old mountain
Corsican and a former sailor, filled with fidelity and courage, who had moved on to Provence.  She sent with him to the young general a letter which she took the precaution of writing in Italian, mixing in a few words of the Corsican dialect, the better to remind him his homeland.  Bartoloméo, the name of this former servant, also knew, the whole Bonaparte family and more specifically Napoleon.  Upon arriving in Nice, he went to find him in an apartment and gave him the letter of the Signora Catarina, where the epaulettes and hat of general would not imposed, pending the response of Napoleon, he sat quietly in his presence.

Although it was barely eight o'clock in the morning and that it was winter, the young general was already dressed, hair coiffed, booted, and ready to ride.  It is true to say that the powder was badly spread on his poorly combed hair, that his coat, had a rather large cloth band to indicate his supreme dignity, with a gold lace on which was brocaded, in green silk, an oak leaf, and again this lace was carried on the broad collar turned down on the shoulders, which are then put on the uniform coat.  His epaulettes were more than shabby, but his voluminous tricorn hat had the only other lace on the rest of the costume, because the hairstyle only indicated the distinctive style of a simple officer, General and the Commander in Chief.

Bartoloméo saw all this with the quick look, which was common of the people of his nation; but soon he had a different occupation as well as examining his old acquaintance:  he was to respond.  He had already noticed a quite obvious change in the appearance of Napoleon, as he read the letter from Ms. Saint-Ange. First, a mocking smile appeared on his thin lips; then his forehead wrinkled, his eyebrows came together, and looking at Bartoloméo with defiance:

What type of cryptic scrawling is this? He asked of the letter of her compatriot.

These few words were articulated in French, in a high voice, in order to be heard by the officers who were in the next room.  Bartoloméo understood the intention of the General; she displeased him.

Signor Napolione, he answered in Italian, although he understood French perfectly, non capisco niente a tutto; voi sapete, chè in Corsica, noi attri poveri diavoli non parliamo chè in nostro patois.   Como lo chimano qui fate mi dunque it favore di parlare la nostracara lingua 1.

Napoleon looked fixedly at the sailor, who said what he had already guessed.  Nevertheless Bartoloméo, or rather Tolomeo, as he was known in his homeland, did not appear embarrassed by this kind of inquiry.

I left Corsica at too young an age to speak Italian easily, Napoleon replied quietly.  I do not see the need to speak the patois as you say yourself, as the Signora Catarina added while repeating the letter from Ms. Saint-Ange, since you’ve live a long time with her on the coast of Provence.

Si, Signor, he replied by winking an eye, and in giving so, to the head, a small sign of intelligence.

— Well! Then, you need to know how to speak French; Napoleon replied with humor, what is this affectation, are you being funny?

Toloméo was afraid for a moment and his face became pale, but that feeling was short and, placing the woolen tricolor cap on his head that he had removed when Napoleon began to speak, he replied with pride:

Non è bisogno di tanto far laquadra, signor Napolione; mà basta!  Che riposta daro alla signora Catarina?2 .

—Did you know what this contained? Asked Napoleon by showing him the letter he had placed on a table next to him.

Toloméo made an affirmative gesture, but he did not utter a single word.

—In that case, Napoleon replied forcefully, talking extremely loudly, you are more bold than I would have believed to carry such a message to me!  Do you think, citizens, he added addressing officers who had come to their general raised his voice, do you think that funniness there arrived here with a venture sent by one of my compatriots, who believes that this position buys, for the republic, his holed canvases and burnt linen.  It is true that I am proposing to pay my committee richly. Look, see, Citizens!...

 He detached from the letter from Ms. Saint-Ange a small strip of paper that was pasted to it, and on which were sewn samples of fabrics and cloth with numbers indicating the pieces, and he added:

—The citizen offers me, like a tip (pot-de-vin), piece no 2.  If you try to seduce me, at least you can say that you’re not doing it for the beauty of this.

 And showed on his fingers, to the officers, a small piece of yellowish canvas, like that found in the best sailor shirts.

—As for you, continuing on by addressing Toloméo, you are lucky not to be the author of this message.  Go on, funny one, out of here! ...

—Well! Cried the Corsican suddenly speaking in very good French, I saw the time, and it is not very long ago, when half of this piece of canvas would have been gratefully received by your mother, General Bonaparte!

 Then, without paying attention to those who were present, he took a calmer tone:

Ah-here! Definitely, do you want my canvas and my cloth, or do want me to leave?

— I would only propose to the Republic that something like this be used for a musette3 for our artillery horses, or a pair of gaiters for our ambulance carters, Napoleon replied coldly, so that the rude words visibly move his compatriot.

— Well! The Corsican took a threatening tone, I am going to sell the stocks of Signora Catarina to the English: they, at least, pay me with good money, and not with evil paper scraps of you others.

At these words the eyes of Napoleon enflamed, and in a terrible accent he cried out:

— Funny man!  If you even try, I will have you shot!

—Citizen-General, Junot quickly asked, that the threatening Corsican had exasperated, do you want me to throw this old porpoise through the window?

 And the aide-de-camp, who had developed a most excited expression, had made a sudden movement toward Toloméo, who was not paying attention.  The General replied calmly:

—Let him go. Then, addressing Toloméo, he added: I repeat that if you continue to make threats, I will have you shot immediately.

Berrrrrr! Exclaimed the old sailor on reaching the staircase that he descended quickly, profaning with Provencal expletives with each step.  Then, arriving at the exit door, he cried with all the strength of his lungs:

—Signor Napolione, if you try to shoot me, I advise you to make sure that your men do not fail, because true to my Corsican faith that I have, I will not forget your reception!

Junot wanted to run after him; Napoleon prevented him:

—Let him go, I say, he’s nothing but an old fool, I will speak to the port captain, who will certainly oppose the fulfillment of his threat.

Bartoloméo knew, in fact, that the General had reported him as a smuggler, but this did not prevent his going to sell, as he had announced, the canvas and linen of Madam Saint-Ange to the English, for which he was paid in good guineas.  As for Napoleon, he forgave and forgot the words just the same as the unseemly escapades of his countryman in the presence of his staff officers, although they would have not kept his secret.

After the Bartoloméo affair, in which Napoleon had expressed his unselfishness, representatives of the people to the Army in , who had heard of these facts, were very enthusiastic of what they called the citizenship (civisme) of Citizen Bonaparte.  It seems that this kind of citizenship was no less rare in those days than at other times.

During the winter, he made several tours of the coast of Toulon and Marseille, to inspect the arsenals and batteries.  The reaction that followed the revolution of 9 Thermidor was perhaps more violent in the Midi than in any other part of France .  The representatives of the people in their mission in Provence were favored: it triumphed.

In the meantime, a French pirate brought into the port of Toulon a Spaniard who had sheltered a score of émigrés among whom were several members of the family Chabrillant.  A tumultuous demonstration went to the prison for the butcher.  The representatives Mariette and Chambon harangued the multitude in vain, promising to bring those émigrés to trial.  Having become suspect themselves, they were not heeded.  The threatening cries rose against them, the guard rushed to their defense and they were repulsed.  Napoleon, who fortunately was in the city, recognized among the leaders of the riot several gunners who had served under his command in the previous year; beset them and imposed silence among the people. Napoleon spoke, promising that the émigrés would be tried on the following morning, and managed to calm their spirits.  But in the night, he put the émigrés on the caissons of the park, and carried the out of the city with a convoy of artillery, a boat was waiting in the Bay of Hyères; they
set sail and were saved.

It was, as you can see, the days when the Thermidor backlash was in all its fury:  it impoverished, it imprisoned, it slaughtered; and, after gorging itself with revenge on the terrorists, it pursued the Republicans.  Napoleon, who had always cherished the nationalist cause, was not spared any more than others.  The representative Aubry, outlawed on 3l May, was one of those men who, in returning to the Convention, had promised to forget their systematic evil ways of terror, but he soon proved he had not lost memories of his persecution.  He abandoned the Republican generals and named in their place openly declared royalists.  Napoleon, then twenty-five year old, and the youngest artillery general of the army, was moved to the list of infantry generals.  This displacement was a sort of demotion; he wrote to protest, he was not answered.  He left the Army of Italy and came to Paris to assert his rights.  Through Châtillon-sur-Seine, he stopped at the father of Captain Marmont, who he had once known.  During this time, came the events of the 1st Prairial.  The calm was restored in Paris when he arrived and appeared before Aubry, he pointed out that, having commanded the artillery at the siege of Toulon and the Army of Italy for two years, it would be painful to leave a corps in which he had always served.  The representative, who, without any record of service in a campaign, had been elevated from the grade of captain of artillery to that of general of division and inspector of this arm, thought very little about the claim of the victor of Toulon.  In the fairest and most pressing observations, he is said to him with bitterness that Napoleon’s greatest opponent was youth.

— One ages quickly on the battlefield! He rebuked, and me, a citizen, I am now here!

The word was significant and stinging because Aubry had never seen fire. Napoleon outraged retired and sent his resignation to the Committee, at a time when, in his fury, Aubry would have removed him.

 Meanwhile, the position of Napoleon, both private property and his living, became very painful.  One of his comrades, General Tilly, lent him twenty five Louis.  He soon had the opportunity to repay this service: it was in the Babœuf affair.  It was he who had lived a few years after the Tuileries, in a modest furnished lodging hotel, on the Rue des Fossés-Montmartre owned by Mister Grégoire, who was still living in 1814 at the Richelieu Hotel, located on the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin, almost opposite the Rue d'Antin.  In addition to General Tilly and Bourrienne, which had been his comrades at the School of Brienne, listed among the people who were at that time in the ordinary associations with Napoleon, Mr. Langlès, the orientalist, and Mrs. de Pernon, mother of the Duchess of Abrantès.  He dined then very often at the restaurant of Frères-Provençaux, which was not at that time, as it was to become later, one of the most sumptuous restaurants in Paris. We learn from the former head of this institution, Mr. Manaye, that Napoleon would often take his modest meal with other officers there.  Sad, dreamy, meditative, especially terse, he paid his share of the expense, and used to wrap in the bill for the meal the amount of his costs, and separate what little money he intended for the waiter.  He carried this money himself to the counter, paying the mistress of the property without calling her to the floor.  The most often he would withdraw alone and before his comrades.  The amount of his dinner never exceeded a small écu (three francs).  So later, when the restaurateur learned that General Bonaparte had often eaten there, he said ingenuously, that he never would have thought that among the many soldiers who came to dine in his restaurant, the one who spoke and spent so little could become a great general.

It was in this same establishment that Napoleon, full of enthusiasm for master pieces of the Théâtre-Français and esteem for interpretative dignitaries, occasionally dined with Talma.  The conversations with the celebrated tragedian who spoke so well of his art, had a great deal of attraction for him.  There was a gentle distraction from the major thoughts that occupied him; his eyes were animated listening to the actor; already he saw in him an illustrious Frenchman, and that all the country was honored in his soul and prompted deep sympathy; he was less dreamy and terse with him.  The great artist Talma has often spoke of the friends that at those small dinners, but he did not talked with emotion.  We know how sympathetically he treated the Emperor at all times. Several times he paid the debts of the famous actor, and always regretted not being able to give him the cross of honor, he was selected for an exquisite sense of propriety.

Arriving in Paris in June 1794, Napoleon had found France appalled by the past, but even more appalled by the uncertain future that was before her. The country was emerging from a state of crisis which the revolutionary government had held it for three years.  Despite the brilliant service he had rendered at the siege of Toulon, the young general had experienced horrible injustices. At that time he had to endure all the suffering at once.  Without state, without fortune, without resources, his soul crumpled by the poverty of his family he had left in Marseille, sick with grief that his genius would not be remembered among great men, even at twenty-five years of age, his imagination constantly working, he burned with empty plans, and every evening, in his room, he formed hundreds of projects about the East was always theatric.

— It would be odd, he said with a smile, if a poor Corsican became king of Jerusalem!

If the title of India was delivered to him:

— In that place, he interrupted, we could effectively attack the power of England !

Finally, one day, he took upon himself to send to the Committee of Public Safety, a project for the restoration of the military state in the Turkish Empire, which he would be responsible to accomplish, with some officers of his choice.  He demonstrated the utility of this institution would have on the Ottoman Porte and the French nation.  He was not even answered.  However, if a clerk had placed at the bottom of this note: Granted, that word would have perhaps changed the face of Europe.

The time for Napoleon, therefore, continued to flow with painful disappointments at a major event suddenly threw him on the world stage.  The day of 13 vendémiaire prepared it.  It was the day that would start his influence on the country, and would be the primary cause of his great fortune.

 The monstrous government which then administered France could not exist any longer.  A commission chaired by Sieyes was charged with drafting a new constitution. That year III, this famous convention including the principal author, established a legislative council of five hundred members, and a Council of Elders as the Chamber of Revision. These councils would renew itself by one third every year.  The executive branch was put under an Executive Board composed of five members, renewing itself annually by a fifth, and entirely subject to the legislature; in addition, the Convention, fearing the influence of its opponents in the elections, decreed that the new assemblies would keep, for this time only, two-thirds of its members, for such was the antipathy of the Parisians for the Jacobin Party, that they saw that only these measures of diversion as a way to illegally retain their heinous power.   Paris had forty-eight sections, but each had a National Guard battalion, and, of those forty-eight battalions, thirty were determined to reject the convention and their decrees equally.  The Convention therefore decided to use force to ensure the implementation of its commitments.  For their part, the sections proposed to use any force necessary to compel the Convention to dissolve itself.

Meanwhile, Napoleon much more occupied with the war abroad than domestic policy, took little interest in these discussions.  On the evening of 12 vendémiaire 1793, he was at the Feydeau Theater, when the intrusion of events happened.  He was curious to see activities progress closer, and therefore went to the public forums of the Convention.  This assembly, warned of the peril it ran, was in the process of deliberating on how to prevent them. The speakers rejected General Menou, then Commander in Chief of the Army of the Interior, all the mistakes were blamed on him and he was indicted.  But it was not enough to sacrifice a man, it was necessary to save, through the assembly, the compromised revolution.  They searched for a general officer who dares to try.  They talked about Barras; other names were put forward, that of Bonaparte, delivered by some representatives who remembered Toulon, and perhaps by Barras himself, when knocking on the front of a podium, appeared of a pale young man; lean, defeated, poorly clothed, poorly powdered, who seemed to lend a listening ear to the debates: it was Napoleon! He spoke, he was offered command of the troops which the Convention may have.  Napoleon seemed for a moment undecided, but his feelings, his twenty-five years of age, his confidence in his own forces; so decide his fate, he accepts.  From this moment his activity awakens.  Even at that moment he traveled to the Tuileries cabinets, where Menou was, to get from him the necessary information on the strength and position of the troops.  Napoleon sent a squadron head of the 21st chasseurs (Murat), with three horses to the plain of Sablons, to remand the forty artillery pieces there.  This officer arrived there at three o'clock in the morning; meeting a column of the Lepelletier Section there, which has also to seize the park.  But Murat was on horse and in the plain. The sectionnaires believed that any resistance was useless, and withdrew. Two hours later, the forty guns, led by Murat, rumbled into the Tuileries.

 The conventional army consisted of five thousand men.  It had just enough to soothe a riot, but it was not enough to resist a determined National Guard, well armed and well-supplied with cannons.  He reinforced the five thousand men with fifteen hundred volunteers organized into three battalions.  Finally Napoleon had to carry fusils into the Tuileries Palace, to arm the convention itself, in case of need.  The outcome of the attack could not be doubted: the sectionnaires had no known leaders.

But the danger became more pressing.  A lot was discussed in the inner circle of the Convention, but nothing was decided upon.  Some wanted arms distributed, to meet the sectionnaires, as the Roman senators once received the Gauls; others wanted to entrench in the hills of Saint-Cloud, or as they called it the ancient Camp of Caesar, to await army of the Atlantic coast. The majority were of the opinion that envoys be sent to the deputations of the forty-eight sections, in order to make peace proposals.  So it happened as it happens in all similar crises, much was discussed but time slipped away.

On 13 vendémiaire (October 5, 1795), the sections marched on the Tuileries; one of their columns, came out by the Rue Saint-Honoré, attacking at the point where Napoleon was located. He ordered his gunners to fire; the sectionnaires fled, they were pursued.  They stopped at the level of the Saint-Roch Church, and recommenced shooting.  A single cannon piece had been driving at an impasse close to Dauphin, in front of the church; it fired on the insurgents.  This alone was enough to disperse them entirely.  The column that came out by the Pont-Royal was no more successful; in an hour and a half everything was decided, and the victory resided with the party that Napoleon had defended.  In the evening, Paris was quiet; force had maintained the establishment.

When Napoleon returned to the inner sanctum of the Convention, he was hailed as the savior of the Assembly, of the Republic and the Revolution.  Barras himself declared that the young general, by his wise dispositions, had done everything.  It is true to say that Napoleon was not spared: on the Place du Carrousel, he had his horse were injured.  The chairman of the Convention gave him a brotherly hug, and overnight, the Deputy Fréron wrote of him in the National tribune:

               —Do not forget that General Bonaparte had only a moment to make his learned dispositions: you saw the effects!

In the National Assembly, the name of Bonaparte was sent to the newspapers, and released from the darkness in which it had been wrapped.

The next day, the Convention decreed that the perpetrators or accomplices of the Revolt of the Sections be judged by a council of war.  There was a worry of quick revenge, but there was more noise than harm.  Only two individuals were executed: the émigré Lafond, commander of one of the sections and Lebois, President of the section of the Théâtre-Français. Menou was even put on trial, charged with treason; but Napoleon nobly declared that if this general deserved the death penalty for speaking with the section Lepelletier, then the Representatives of People who accompanied then deserved to also. In this circumstance, the interest expressed by the victorious successor of Menou, and the composition of the council of war, chaired by General Loison, would yield no problem: he was acquitted.

A few days later, on Oct. 16, Napoleon was promoted to the rank of General of Division, and the 26th of the same month, to General in Chief of the Army of the Interior. At that time there was no military rank higher in The State.

This show of favor which struck all at once on a young man, and the contrast between his youth and the senior position he had achieved, had necessarily fixed attention on him.  He was barely twenty-six years old.  His size was small and slender; his face hollow; his long unpowdered hair fell on each side in the front and was gathered into a queue behind his head.  He was stilled dressed in the uniform of a brigadier general which suffered from being worn in bivouac.  The embroidery of rank was found in all its Republican simplicity, in a small silk lace called system, in a word, its exterior was not imposing, if that was all that one looked for.  In the light, it was wondered who he was, where he came from, what previous service he had performed.  Nobody could answer, except Members of the Convention, his aides-de-camp, and the Representatives of the People who were in Toulon.

1 M. Napoleon, I do not understand anything at all, you know that Corsicans, we poor devils, we speak patois, as you say here, let me therefore please to speak your dear language.

2It is not needed for you to entertain me, Mr. Napoleon, but it is enough! What response would you have me take to Ms. Catherine?

3 A type of small bag that is suspended from the neck of horses to make them eat oats when they are not in team.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2007

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