The Waterloo Association: Members Area

Get Involved:

Facebook Twitter Email
The Napoleon Series > >

Research Subjects: Napoleon Himself


apoleon had not been absent from Paris for two years, and yet in that short time he had made one hundred and fifty thousand prisoners, taken seventy flags, five hundred fifty pieces of cannon, five pontoon bridges, nine vessels of 64 guns, twelve 32 (gun) frigates, fourteen corvettes and eighteen galleys.  Moreover, after having brought back to France two thousand Louis; he dispatched on several occasions nearly fifty million: against all ancient and modern traditions, it was the army that had fed the nation, and yet, if we believe some memoires, Napoleon returned to Italy with less than three hundred thousand francs.  He expected a large national award; it was proposed to the Council of Elders to give land in Chambord and a beautiful mansion in Paris, but the Directorate, swayed by a feeling of jealousy, alarmed by this proposal and not wanting to ambush him, threw out this suggestion.

Meanwhile, retired to his small house on the Rue de la Victoire, with his family, Napoleon led a simpler life in Paris.  He went to the shows, that he always loved very much, but in a grilled box (gallery) seat and rejected the proposals of the theater directors, who wanted to give him a royal treatment.  When he saw the second showing of Horatius-Coclès, he attracted a huge audience.  Although not in uniform and hidden at the bottom of a box seat, he was seen and recognized. Immediately the room resounded with unanimous applause and long repeated cries of Long Live Bonaparte!

Upon his arrival in the capital, the leaders of all parties had presented themselves at his home; but he had apologized for not being able to receive them and usually admitted only a few scholars, such as Monge, Berthollet, Laplace, Prony, Lagrange; several generals, Berthier, Desaix, Lefebvre, Cafarelli-Dufarga, and a small number of deputies; Bernardin de Saint-Pierre also were seen as his guests.  Meanwhile, the Directorate was preparing for Napoleon, a shining triumph on the occasion of the award of the Treaty of Campo Formio, scheduled to be made solemnly and in a public meeting. The 10th of December, 1797 was the day chosen for this kind of ovation.

The grand court of Luxembourg was prepared for this purpose.  In the background stood the Altar of the Motherland, surmounted with statues of Liberty, Equality and Peace, and decorated with trophies composed of many flags conquered by the Army of Italy.  Around the altar were placed seats for members of the Directorate, ministers and the diplomatic corps, a vast amphitheatre was reserved for the civil and military authorities.  A huge crowd of spectators filled the court and the windows of the palace, all the surrounding streets were filled with a multitude of citizens, and the air was filled with liveliness.  The corps of troops was ready, both internally and externally, for the maintenance of law and order.

The Directorate with its cortege took their place.  The Conservatory of Music performed a symphony that was suddenly interrupted by the cries of Long Live the Republic! Long Live Bonaparte!  But the cries redoubled when Napoleon appeared together with the General Joubert and Chief Brigadier Andréossy. The unanimous cheers went immediately in all directions, and proclaimed Liberator of Italy, the continent's peacemaker!  While they advanced with calmness and modesty.  Meanwhile the Hymn to Freedom was sung by artists from the Conservatory, and the assembly, electrified, repeated the chorus of the hymn.  The Directorate, the cortege, all spectators arose and bared their heads during the invocation.  Having arrived at the foot of the Altar of the Motherland, Napoleon was presented to the Directorate by the Minister of External Relations, which, in his speech, was able to skillfully bring the truest and most deserved praise to the victor of Italy.

“When I think, said Talleyrand in closing, of all that Bonaparte has done to forgive his glory, in this ancient manner of the simplicity that distinguishes him, his love for science, when nobody knew his utter contempt for the glow, the luxury; ah!  Far from what we feared would draw forth his ambition, I feel that we may need to seek one day to pull him from the sweetness of his studious retirement.  France will be entirely free, while he never will be: this is his destiny!”

               After this prophecy of Mr. Talleyrand, the silence became deeper to hear Napoleon, who, after having handed to the President of the Directorate the ratification of the Emperor of Austria to the Treaty of Campo Formio, spoke in these terms:

“Citizen Directors, for the French people to be free, Kings had to fight.  For a constitution based on reason, it took eighteen centuries overcoming prejudice:  you have triumphed over all these obstacles.  Religion, Feudalism and Royalty successively ruled the people; but with this peace you just concluded this date starts the era of representative government.   You are able to organize the vast nation, including the vast territory that is circumscribed because nature itself has proscribed the limits. You have done more: the two most beautiful parts of Europe, once so famous for the arts, sciences and the great men that they cradled, see with hope the genius of freedom coming from the graves of their ancestors.  These are two pedestals upon which the destiny of the world will put two powerful nations, and when the happiness of the French people rests upon the best organic laws, the whole of Europe will be free!”

Barras, President of the Directorate, responded to Napoleon:

“Nature, sparing of its wonders, does not allow great men to venture far from earth, but it had to be jealous by marking the dawn of freedom by one of these phenomena, and the sublime revolution of the French people, new in the history of nations, was to present a new genius in the history of famous men.  First of all, citizen General, you have shaken the parallel yoke; and with the same arm that you overcome the enemies of the Republic, you have rejected the ancient rivals that you had!”


“All ages, all empires, offer conquerors preceded by terror, followed by death and slavery, but you, citizen
General, you have pondered your conquests with the thought of Socrates, you sowed victory and freedom, the
man reconciled with the war, and after eighteen centuries, avenged France to the fortunes of Caesar!”


“Citizen General it is primarily as peacemaker of the continent that the Directorate welcomes the opportunity to contemplate.  For the most glorious peace, you all at once surpassed the power of French arms placing them in a position more formidable than before, you proved that you can stop being the victor without ceasing to be great!”

 In closing, Barras stretched his arms to Napoleon, and gave him, in the name of the French people, a fraternal embrace.  Other directors followed suit.  Then the Conservatory performed the Chant du Retour, with the words of Chénier, the music of Méhul.  The remainder of the meeting was filled by a discourse by the Minister of War, in which he celebrated the exploits of the armies, the triumphs of the Republic over its internal and external enemies, and Napoleon, the hero of the day of solemnity.  One noticed that, far from following the example of other speakers, Napoleon, in his speech, had avoided discussing the affairs of the time, but this last sentence: When the happiness of the French people rests upon the best organic laws, the whole of Europe will be free, remained etched in the minds of the thoughtful, and seemed to have a deeper meaning.

This reception was followed by a great dinner where the chairmen of the two councils, the diplomatic corps and key civilian and military authorities attended.  The President of the Directorate made several toasts, which were responded by music.  Napoleon was not named there, but the poet Lebrun, who attended the dinner, improvised these two verses to him:

“Hero dear to peace, to the arts, to victory,

He conquered in two years one thousand centuries of glory!”

The next day, Napoleon dined with director Francois de Neufchâteau; it was a meal of scholars and people of letters.  The general testified to the greatest pleasure of that meeting, by engaging in an effusion of intimacy.  He astonished the guests by the variety and scope of his knowledge, talked mathematics with Lagrange, metaphysics with Sieyès, poetry with Chenier, literature with Arnault, politics with Gallois and legislation with Daunou.  For dessert, Laïs and Chéron sang a few verses in praise of the victors of Lodi and Arcole; and at the end, the letters and art brought as tributes to Napoleon; David offered to paint him, sword in hand on the battlefield ...

— No, he answered; it is no longer with the sword you win battles.  I want to be calmly represented on a fiery horse.

This beautiful idea, understood by the great artist, thereafter produced one of his most beautiful paintings.

The two legislative councils also gave a dinner to Napoleon; followed in turn by the Ministers.  Forced to endure all these celebrations, to stay was the least he could, but to that of his great admirer, Mr. Talleyrand, which was remarkable for the luxury and taste it carried, Napoleon stayed longer.  The Foreign Minister came in person to make his invitation, and asked him to identify himself the day he wished the festival to take place.  He also asked Madame Bonaparte to give him a list of people she wished to invite.

This festival, where the elite of the society of Paris came together, was made up, like all festivals of the time by a ball and a dinner.  We would not have talked about, if it had not led to a quite spicy incident.  Napoleon had brought with him Arnault, author of the tragedy of Marius à Minturnes.  Upon entering the ballroom:

—Give me your arm, he said by indeed seizing the arm of this member of the Institute.  Then, considering that this preference was a surprise, he added:

—It seems there are many unwelcome ready to assault me; as we will be together, they will not dare to start a conversation that disrupts ours.

There you have it (voilà), then Napoleon and Arnault circulated linking arms in the middle of the dancers and curious; the crowd soon pooled around them, and people who wanted to hunt down Napoleon were precisely those which soon became his prey.  Soon between themselves both had identified them, and the conversation was engaged in, as Napoleon had dropped the arm of Arnault, he took advantage of his freedom, not to wander around the ball, but rest.  He sat down on a bench placed in the first salon; no sooner than he sat Madame de Staël came to take a seat beside him.  Arnault was not familiar with this woman; never the less, she recalled that one evening he had let her ride home with Regnault de Saint-Jean-d'Angély, his friend, but he had not returned since.

— You cannot address your general she said to Arnault, you have to present yourself to him.

According to the prejudice that he knew that Napoleon maintained against Madame de Staël, which dreaded her domineering spirit and fearing that she would not accept any excuses, he strove to deter this resolution, but without explaining it candidly towards her.  There was no way.  Borrowing his arm, she led him right to Napoleon, through the circle that surrounded him and he turned away.  Forced to do what she wanted, but at least wanting to deny the responsibility of a very significant glance Napoleon had already glared:

— Madame de Staël, Arnault said addressing Napoleon, said she needs from you, General, another introduction in person, and demands that I will present her, he added bowing.

The circle then tightened, each curious to hear the conversation that was to begin between two interlocutors.  Madame de Staël first overwhelmed with very emphatic compliments of Napoleon, who responded to her discourse with some coldness, but very politely.  Any other person would have not proceeded; but without paying attention to the frustration that manifested itself in the features and the look of the General, Madame de Staël, determined to engage in a discussion about rule, continued questioning, and all the while he understood that she was doing it for the first men:

—General she asked him suddenly, what woman do you like the most?

—Mine, ma'am.

—It 's very simple, but what is that you would like most about that one?

—The one that would have the greatest care of his household.

— I see it yet; but finally what would be, for you, the first women?

—The one that would have more children, ma'am.

 And Napoleon hastily retreated, leaving Madame de Stael in the middle of the circle, cheered all the more by this joke.  Totally disconcerted as a result of responses that so poorly met her expectations:

—Your great man, she said to Arnault, is unique!

The singularity of this scene is explained by the figures: according to the character of Madame de Staël, and the influence founded or not she gave to political affairs, Napoleon believed that she approached him less to admire him than to dominate, and she flattered him like a caress to a horse: to make it easier to mount.  Jealous then of his independence as he was of his authority, he hastened to depart, with that word, this indiscreet Amazon who surrendered to her disappointment, had since returned to the charge, and eventually received, a little late, a slightly ruder blow, and she did not rise from it.  Amusing for those who were witnesses to this incident, the party was nice for everybody.  The name of Bonaparte, proclaimed on everyone's lips, was also by the orchestra. A contre-dance bearing his name was performed for the first time, and therefore became the favorite contre-dance at all the balls, as well as in the dancing halls.

The dance was interrupted by a splendid banquet, during which Laïs, the Tyrtée at the time, sang the strong spiritual couplets, composed for the hero of the feast by Pindares of the vaudeville.  In celebrating his past achievements, future exploits which were foretold were also celebrated.

Shortly thereafter, that is to say, December 28, 1797, Napoleon was appointed a member of the Institute, replacing Carnot, outlawed as royalist following the events of 18 fructidor.

That day, at six o'clock in the evening (at the time, the academic sessions were held after lunch), he went to his small house in the Rue de la Victoire, the Louvre, where the Institute served.  During the journey, his carriage was stopped several times to be inspected as a result of a decree of the Directorate, which ordered the burning of all goods England.

The General very patiently supported this vexatious measure, which he could stop with a word, but what he had recommended to his coachman is not known.  These gentlemen inspected the very modest coupe of Napoleon, who remained calm and impassive all the time that the inspection lasted.

The meeting was brilliant.  The assembly was composed of the elite of the society in Paris.  The desire to see the man who had gained peace by both victories; attracted more spectators than the eloquence of the academics who hadn’t come to listen as much as they had to see.  Only one lecturer would attract attention: it was Chénier. He read a poem in praise of General Hoche.  These verses, which breathed the strongest hate against England, were listened to with the type of satisfaction to be changed into excitement when the hero died, passing to a living hero, and addressing a feeling of no less keen a regret that was due to the rare qualities of Hoche, we mean the hope that one based on the genius of Napoleon, Chénier exclaimed:

“If once a France, the shores of Neustria
 Descended to their ports, preceded by terror,
 Went, fought, defeated, was king and conqueror,
 What stones, what walls will become their asylum,
When Neptune angered embark on their island
At Arcole and at Lodi the terrible soldiers,
All these young heroes, old in the art of fighting,
The great nation accustomed to vanquish,
And the great general guiding the vast army ?..."

Then the applause of the crowd who rose from all sides showed the fine expression of feelings of the entire assembly.  The meeting adjourned, Napoleon went home, where he arrived without having been stopped and questioned again; but these previous improprieties did not make him forget the tributes that had been provided in the evening.  Moreover, nobody ever attached any value to his being named a member of the Institute, because, from this date, he began his many public acts.

Nine years later, on a Monday in September 1806, Mr. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire chaired the meeting of the Institute.  Ampère occupied the podium, and read a paper on his admirable Theory of Electric Currents.  The Academy was absorbed by the attention that this work commanded, when there suddenly came an extraordinary turmoil, followed by a general murmur that spread among the members, at the sight of a stranger who dressed in a dark blue frock and decorated with the Legion of Honor, appeared at the door of the hall, joined mysteriously, made a hand gesture that suddenly stopped this murmur, and approaching an empty chair, took a seat

But Mr. Ampère, whose extreme distraction was as well-known as his immense knowledge, had not noticed this movement, absorbed by self-interest in his reading, and probably also by the unknown care that had calmed all, as soon as he arrived.  The memorandum read, Ampère filed it with the Bureau of the Academy; his colleagues collected the testimonies of admiration that his work deserved, and he return quietly to his place.  But what an astonishment!  His seat is occupied by an alien who had just arrived and he did not recognize. Ampère, a little piqued, revolved around this seat with a sort of discomfort; afraid to ask the person who occupied it to cede it back, he coughed in an affected way and sought to politely tell him he has usurped the place that belonged to him. But, the one he did not know did not understand or did not understand what he wanted; he looked at him coldly, and did not move.  Ampère, increasingly embolden began to murmur, and finally speaking to his neighbors, said:

—It's really strange to have someone come among us without other formality and take the place of another…!

But the scientist, not encountering around him a silent smile, then addressed to Mr. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire:

—Mister President, he said, I must point out that a strange person at the Academy took control of my seat, and sits among us.

This sort of denunciation caused a new murmur.  Mr. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire responded to the complainant:

—You are in error, my dear colleague; the person to whom you refer is a member of the Academy of S ciences.

And since when? Demanded Ampère strongly surprised.

From 5 nivôse year VI, responded the stranger.

—And in what section, if you please, sir? Ampère asked in an ironic tone.

In the mechanical section, my dear colleague, the stranger responded again with a smile.

—That is a bit rich! Exclaimed Ampère; and taking a directory of the Institute, he opened it animatedly, and reads on this date:  “Napoleon Bonaparte, a member of the Academy of Sciences, named in the mechanical 5 nivôse year VI.”

Indeed, it was he himself who had come that day to bow his head to the level of science.  Ampère, greatly troubled, was full of excuses: his eyesight was so weakened; he had not recognized the Emperor.

—Well, sir, Napoleon gaily said to him, there is the disadvantage of not attending with his colleagues.  I will never see you in the Tuileries, but I will force you to come at least to wish me a good morning.

These words, said with great kindness, reassured the great mathematician, who spotted an empty chair a little further, went quietly to sit and acted as if nothing had happened.  So Mr. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire asked if the Emperor wanted to continue the session.

—Without a doubt, Mister President, Napoleon replied, there is nothing new; only, the meeting had increased by one of its members and it is more complete.

Laplace appeared at the podium, and delivered a memorandum on probabilities that the Emperor seemed to listen to with great interest, then an engineer, outside the Academy, Mr. Brunel, succeeded Laplace, and read another paper on underground roads that could be built under a river bed.  During the entire time that lasted during this reading, the Emperor seemed absorbed in his thoughts.  Mr. Brunel descended from the podium, Mr. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire had to appoint a commission to report on what had be be heard, and the Academy felt great surprise when the president said aloud:

—I appoint members of the committee that will consider the work of Mr. Brunel, His Majesty the Emperor and Misters Monge and Poisson.

So all eyes headed towards Napoleon, who, rising halfway:

—Mister President, he said, I accept with pleasure.

And the meeting was adjourned, but before leaving, the Emperor mingled a few moments amid the distinguished scholars, lavishly praising their various contributions.  After pledging to come and see the Tuileries more often than they did, he turned to Ampère, and told him taking his hand:

—And you, my dear colleague, I expect you at dinner tomorrow; it will be at seven o’clock.  I will place you next to the Empress, so that you do not have to look for another (seat).

Then he climbed into the carriage and returned to the Tuileries.

The next day, the Emperor did not go to the table until eight o'clock in the evening after waiting to see his colleague of the Institute for an hour ... Ampère had forgotten the invitation.

Amid the celebrations and the triumphant concert of praise by which the victor of Italy was celebrated, there were also a few dissenting voices who attempted to diminish it.  It was the envy of his rivals, the jealousy of the Directorate, the secret rage of the powers he had humiliated, defeated or overturned, and the discontent of a few Italian patriots, demanding or ambitious.  The intrigue was against him, even within the military.  One ascribed to the defender of Verona, General Balland that he said he would bring to Paris thirty charges against Bonaparte.  Augereau was also spoke about his former commanding officer, who, however, had been his friend on all occasions. One woman sent warning Madame Bonaparte her husband would be attacked in a few days and that poison would be one of the ways that would be used.  Napoleon stopped the bearer of the information, who was not disconcerted at that point and went, accompanied by a justice of the peace, to this woman, who was found lying on the tile and bathed in her blood: she was said to be strangled by the men whom she had overheard in conversation. When entering the home, she was still alive, but in a state so desperate that she could not make any statement.

With peace, Napoleon had seen the end of his military career, and endowed with this surprising energy which we have seen the power, he found himself facing an enemy more terrible for him and all those he had defeated: idleness!

It must be said, the Directorate, despite all the respect and the whole deference it affected to Napoleon, had barely supported his great popularity.  The troops, returning to France, celebrated in their stories, in their songs; said they highly needed to chase away the lawyers and the king.  The administration was evil; great hope turned to the victor of Italy; this was that the Directorate wanted to him to decide to return to the Congress in Rastadt to direct operations.  He refused, but he wanted to accept the command - in-chief of the Army of England.  Then he told the government of the major project he had secretly nurtured among his triumphs, and whose knowledge only Monge was made of in confidence in Milan: this project was none other than the memorable expedition to Egypt.  In January 1798, he told Bourrienne:

—I do not want nor can stay here: there is nothing to do, they do not want to hear anything; gradually I diminish, because everything wears out.  This small Europe does not provide enough glory; it's a mole-hill. There has never been a great empire and great revolution in the East, home to six hundred million men.  I must therefore go into the East: all major renown comes from there.

Indeed, the plan for this expedition, which paved the way for French trade with India, fixed the attention of the Directorate and it seemed to satisfy everyone's interests, least of which, no doubt, was to restore security, a more distant man who shadows them.  As for Napoleon, he had to overcome the most famous.  Already he had done more than Hannibal, he wanted to do as much as Alexander and Caesar: his name was missing when the Pyramids were inscribed with these two great names.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2008


Napoleon Himself Index | More on A Popular History of Napoleon ]

© 1995 - 2010, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.

Top | Home ]