Research Subjects: Napoleon Himself




On their return to Saint-Cloud, after the day of 18 Brumaire, the Consuls went to sleep in the bed of the Directors, but soon the Palace of Luxembourg was found to be too modest; and, as if the First Consul was feeling cramped there, the new government came, 30 pluviôse (February 19, 1800), to settle in the Tuileries with a kind of pomp.  From that moment Napoleon established his residence.

               This cortége, musicians and escorts at the head, left for Luxembourg on carriages.  There were few private coaches; the others were nothing but hackney carts which had their numbers hidden with strips of pasted paper.

With difficulty the First Consul arrived at the Tuileries, he climbed a horse for a review, then every minister made presentations on the different officials depending on his department.

So there was Napoleon installed in the palace where each breath recalled memories of the old monarchy.  He was precisely there to receive the news of the death of Washington, who had died modestly in his small country house in Virginia.

Napoleon laid a wreath at the tomb of American heroes.

His death was announced to the Consular Guard and the troops of the Republic by the following Order of the Day:

“Washington is dead!  This great man fought tyranny and consolidated freedom of his homeland.  His memory will always be dear to French people, as it is to all free men of Both Worlds, especially the French soldiers who, along with American soldiers, are fighting for equality and freedom. Accordingly, the First Consul orders that, for ten days, black crepe will be hung with black flags and guidons among the armies of the Republic!"

A few days after the first presentation of the diplomatic corps took place.  The State Councillor Benezech, responsible for presentation of the diplomatic corps. The State Councillor Benezech, responsible for the internal administration of the Palace of the First Consul, introduced foreign ministers to the cabinet of Napoleon, where they were joined by the ministers, the state counsels and a number of generals.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs presented to the First Consul.

The diplomatic corps was composed at the time of the ambassadors of Spain and Rome, ministers of Prussia, Denmark, Sweden, Baden and Hesse-Cassel, and the ambassadors of the republics of the Cisalpine, Batavia, Swiss and Liguria.  Such a grand notion of the dignity was held for these civil judiciaries, that the State Counselors were shocked to see one of their colleagues, a former interior minister, bailiff cane in hand, act as the master of ceremonies and even as steward to the First Consul; because this was still the point there was no title of chamberlain for these: the aides-de-camp to Napoleon fulfilled the functions; but it was felt too much for a general for too long a duration. The ministers and the Council of State surrounded only the Consuls in these extraordinary performances, it was clear that there should soon be at, the Tuileries, a court and an etiquette, as it should, in a temple, a cult and with serving priests.

The sequence of events was resolved: the 2nd and 17th of each month, ambassadors; the 3rd and 18th, senators and generals; the 4th and 19th, deputies of the legislature and tribunes; and all the décadis*, at noon, a grand parade in the Court of the Tuileries.

It was an entirely new spectacle for most of the assistants and actors, as if a court had began.  Previously, each had their own social order where the prevailing tone was that of simplicty and middle class of the city; only Barras had a salon where he received everyone.  The First Consul was personally very severe of Ms. Bonaparte’s choice of the society, which was composed, especially since 18 Brumaire, of the ladies of civil servants and military, who were, therefore, those women that formed the nucleus of this nascent Court. For they, like their husbands, the transition was a bit sudden.  The grace and kindness of Josephine tamed those that where frightened by the new etiquette of the Tuileries, and especially the rank and glory of the First Consul.  The title of Madame was generally used for women on invitation cards: the return to the former use soon spread to the rest of society.

Once established in the Tuileries, it was as if Napoleon had gone on campaign to make it a palace worthy of the city.  It is believed that the Malmaison, this modest asylum of General Bonaparte, could not agree more with the leader of a great Republic.  Among the former royal residences which were found in Paris, Saint-Cloud was among the nearest, so it was submitted by the inhabitants of the town, on a petition to Tribunate, as an offer to the First Consul as his chateau; who accepted it.

The costume and insignia of the authorities were also changed.  The Greek and Roman forms disappeared gradually replaced by military forms.  The First Consul looked more general than magistrate; but with boots and sword worn on the uniform or French coat: it was clear that he was not totally a civilian.  Among the the top acts of the government, was the emblem to represent the Republic under the form of a sitting woman draped in an antique fashion, holding a rudder in one hand (gouvernail) and in the other a crown with this inscription: French Republic, Sovereignty of the People, Freedom, Equality, First Consul Bonaparte.  It was replaced with these words: French Government. Those of people's sovereignty, of freedom, of equality, etc.., were deleted.

The first act of Napoleon, having moved from the Tuileries, was a reiew; from that moment, the courtyard of the palace became, as well as under the Empire, the normal meeting place of the troops of the garrison.  While the First Consul was in Saint-Cloud, in Paris, at headquarters, it was rare that he did not pass the troops (at least those he had on hand so to speak) in review, at least once a week; in addition every day after lunch, he had the service batallion or squadron, that served his resdience, descend to defile before him on parade.  In this small parade, called the mounted guard during the Empire, it was usually was a newly organized regiment, or had arrived from the depot or returning from the army, or finally was moving to a distant point.

After this, Napoleon held an exercise and performed some drill preferably commanded by one of his aides-de-camp, General Mouton, who later became Earl of Lobau, or finally by the handsome and brave Dorsène, a Colonel of the Foot Grenadier Regiment of the Old Guard, that nature had endowed with the same trait of tenor to which Napoleon attached a great value, commanded the parade.  So any military, whatever his rank, had the right to approach the Emperor and to discuss their specific concerns.  Napoleon was listening, questioning and dictating all at the same time.  If it was a refused, the reason and nature of the refusal, eased any bitterness over the refusal. Everyone was able to see these small parades, the  simple soldier leaving his rank when his regiment went before the grand General Staff, was led to the Emperor  without gravity and formality, presented arms, and approached him to be able to reach his boot.  Napoleon took the petition that was stuck at the end of the bayonet of the petitioner’s musket, read it in its entirety, and granted the application for which it was subjected, provided that the request was consistent with the regulations.  This noble privilege gave each soldier the feeling of his strength and his indebtedness; at the same time it served served to rein in superiors who were tempted to abuse their authority.

A foreign regiment in the service of Empire, the Scouts of the Confederation of the Rhine, having arrived recently in Paris, and that was to leave immediately for its encampment, was added to the moring parade of the Emperor, who wanted to hold the review himself.  After the having expressed his satisfaction of the beautiful appearance of his men to their colonel, he turned to his officers d’ordonnance, and directed the youngest of them:

—Mister de Salm said Napoleon, they must know you ... Approach, and order them to charge in twelvetime with a few volleys of two ranks.

The prince blushed like a girl, but was not unsettle.  He bowed, left the group of the General Staff, drew his sword, and carried out the task that the Emperor had imposed to the approval of all.

Shortly afterwards, a circumstance of the same sort presented itself in a different case and with far more piquant results.

It was a grand review of the Guard that Napoleon customarily held the first Sunday of each month, after mass.  This time he had called on the students of the Military Academy of Saint-Cyr, who arrived in the morning for this purpose.  Among these young people, he noted a senior sergeant, all of seventeen or eighteen years old, but with a remarkable uniform, and who had the air of singular determination.  The Emperor, who liked to look for future leaders among his officers, out of the ranks young men, interviewed him for a moment, and then ordered him to give the commands of the manual of arms to the 1st Regiment of Grenadiers of the Old Guard, which was placed in battle order in front of him.

It should be recalled here that the Academy of Saint-Cyr had always been renowned for its admirable precision of exercises, while the Old Guard, more preoccupied by the memory of its conquests than the school of platoon, could no longer make the same claim.  However, the young sergeant took his place thirty steps forward from the center of this regiment, which was composed entirely of old whiskers, and commanded in a voice that betrayed no emotion.

—Attention! ... Carry. . . arms! ...

The movement was carried out, but softly and without unison.

—This is not it! Said the young man with discontent; we will begin again.

The Emperor smiled, a few old grognards found it funny.  The student of Saint-Cyr resumed:

—Attention ... Present ... arms!

New movement, lack of new uniformity from the regiment.

—Corbleu! This is not it, I tell you!

And the sergeant moved down the line to be able to seen better:

—Listen! He said this is how it is done.  One, two ... And quickly!

And this movement is immediately executed by him in a perfect way.

The Emperor laughs out loud, but a few grenadiers knit their brows.  A third command arrived:

—Attention, this time! ... Fix (croisez) ... bayonet!

They obey again, but imperfectly as the first two times.

—But that's not it at all! Exclaimed the student of the Academy striking the ground with the butt of his fusil, so disgusting!  You do not hear anything, you all manœuver like blockheads (ganaches)!

At this word blockheads, a murmur erupted across the line; epithets of pekin**, green-horn (blanc-bec), emerged from the ranks.  The Emperor heard, he advanced ... Everything is silent.  He approached the sergeant, asked him for his fusil and, standing between the regiment of the Guard and students from Saint-Cyr which he faces, he commanded himself the exercise.

The school, stimulated by what has happened under its eyes, less perhaps by the powerful voice of Napoleon, ran with a singular precision and an admirable unison through all the exercises commanded, and when the Emperor judged that the mood of his old rabbits (as he sometimes called) had had time to calm down, he turned around and told them, smiling and showing them the students of Saint-Cyr:

—Come on, my children, we must admit that is not bad!

Then advancing to the young sergeant, he returns his rifle, adding a serious tone and to be heard by everyone:

—And yet, Monsieur, we did better than that when we were young!

These words spread to all, and the cries of: Long Live the Emperor! Echoed through the ranks.

During these reviews, sometimes there came a visit of Napoleon himself, looking into the soldier’s bag to examine their regulations book, to take a fusil from the hands of a weak and stupid conscript, and tell him in an encouraging and gay tone:

—Come on, young man, this one was not heavier than the others; we’ve outfitted you like everyone else, haven’t we?

One morning before the parade, while inspecting the 2nd Battalion of the Foot Chasseurs of the service guard of the chateau, he stopped before a soldier, examining him from head to toe, and finally said with a tone of reproach:

—Romeuf, why do I not see the cross that I brought up to you at Boulogne?

Napoleon knew almost all the soldiers of the Old Guard by their name.

—My Emperor, the chasseur replied, if the cross is absent on the coat, it is present on the skin.  The sword of a kinzerlich*** cut it in two on the stomach, you know, at Essling, where your hat fell from the horse, but I kept the pieces, I'll show them to you.

And Romeuf drew from his breast a small packet of paper, submitting it to the Emperor, who quickly opened it.

—In this case, said Napoleon after seeing what the paper contained, I will offer you an exchange; what do you want?

The soldier made a grimace and did nothing. Napoleon added:

—I will give you my cross for the pieces of yours?

The chasseur remained silent.

—Does this deal not suit you? ... Answer me that?

I am going to tell you, my emperor, he finally answered with an air of hesitation, I agree, since this is your idea, but this would be a condition: that you would keep from losing the pieces of mine.

You want to keep these scraps so much?  Napoleon resumed by projecting an air of disdain and blowing debris from the cross in the paper that was still in his open hand.

Romeuf could only barely conceal the indignation that the word scrap just caused, and adjusting his head with a kind of pride:

—These scraps!  Again there was a biting of his lips; I am sorry, my Emperor, but I love, these scraps here, and I keep them around for them to be put together again by the armorer.

Then, my old comrade, since you want them both, keep your cross and mine: your bravery makes you deserving of two.

And Napoleon, who pulled his moustache, said to the officers of his staff on retiring:

—Oh! Oh! Gentlemen, Romeuf and I are old acquaintances; it has been a long time ago that we first met; he is only a little susceptible.

It would be difficult to paint the magical effect produced by words of this sort.  They became for the soldier a subject of ongoing entertainment and an incredible stimulant.  There was immense enjoyment within the company when an account was related and they could say: “The Emperor has spoken.”

Another time, the pontonniers paraded with their caisson equipment; Napoleon exclaims:  “Stop at the head!”  And designating a caisson to General Bertrand, who was not yet Grand Marshal of the Palace, he called one of the officers of the company.  This one presented himself.

—Sir, Napoleon asked, what is in this box?

—Sire, bolts, nails, screws, ropes, hammers, saws, pliers, and wooden pegs of eight and twelve inches.

—So what's in this box?

— Nothing different from the other, Sire.

—And together how much is in all these?

The officer gives the exact number of each type of object.

—Now that's what we'll see, said Napoleon.

The caisson was immediately emptied.  The pieces spread and counted, their number was correct, but to ensure that nothing was left in the box, Napoleon mounted on the axle of the wheel and looked:  the box was completely empty.  He gets down, and making a friendly gesture with his hand to the officer, he added:

—You were right, sir; but one can be deceived.  I wish that all army officers knew their caissons as well as you know yours.

This action of the Emperor provoked clapping and loud shouts.  “To a good job! said the pontonniers in a language that was their particular; to a good job! here is one who watches each grain.  The little shaver isn’t a man to interrupt the line! ...”

We see that in holding these inspections, Napoleon was descending to the smallest detail, and he wanted to see everything with his eyes.  He examined the soldiers one by one so to speak; he questioned the character of each of them to decide the degree of satisfaction or dissatisfaction he might feel, and questioned everything indiscriminately.

One evening he walked alone through the tents established around his headquarters at Boceguillas, during the unfortunate campaign of 1808 in Spain, he heard a few soldiers, harassed by the marches and deprivation, murmur and complain out loud.  Napoleon stopped:

—What would you have then? He cried out; there is not happiness here, it seems to me!  And approaching an old soldier who had a more scowling face than others:  And you, how are holding up?

No response.

Napoleon, with questioning eyes, added in a severe tone.

—I asked how you were doing here?

The old grognard crossed his arms, lowere his eyes and remained silent. Then a lieutenant who had heard the last question of the Emperor, moved, and said in a tone that showed his attention:

—Ah! sire, we live here by dedication!

—What do you call yourself, sir? asked the Emperor strongly while piercing him with a frigid glance.

—De Verangeac, Sire.

—I would bet that there was gnac in your name.

And suddenly turning his back on this officer, Napoleon continued his walk without otherwise leaving a clue as to how the displeasure that he just had caused flattery in so little time.

In Paris, it was not rare at the weekly grand reviews that were held, that he wouldn’t grant a few favors, did not distribute titles or crosses, or new promotions in the regiments under his eyes.  In this case, these promotions always had a kind of prestige to them, a certain appropriateness especially striking the morale of soldier that Napoleon had the highest degree of the great art in knowing how to dramatize the most ordinary act, as related in the simple story.

At the last of his reviews, which took place in late January 1814 while laying his eyes on this mass of the brave who did not know, that most of them were looking on their Emperor for the last time, Napoleon distinguished a soldier, already old, but with only an insignia of sergeant.  This non-commissioned officer had big eyes that shone like two torches out of a face bronzed by twenty campaigns; a huge pair of whiskers held half that figure and made it even more formidable and more bizarre.  The Emperor made a sign to him to leave the ranks and come to him.  With that command, the heart of the old brave one, so strong, so fearless, felt an emotion that so far he had never felt: deep red covered his cheeks.

—I’ve already seen you before somewhere, said Napoleon with interest, but long ago, what is your name?

—Noël, Sire.

—Noël! I know several.  Your country?

—Child of Paris!

—Ah! interrupted the Emperor, is it not you who was in Italy with me?

—Yes, Sire.

—I recognize you now; and you became sergeant?

—At Marengo, Sire.

—But since then? ...

—Since then, repeated Noël by lowering his head sadly, since then, nothing, Sire.

—You therefore did not want to enter into my Guard?

—On the contrary, it is the only thing I have wanted, since I was at Austerlitz, at Wagram, finally, in all major battles.

—Have you ever been proposed for the cross?

—Three-times Sire.

—I'll remember you now; back to your place.

Napoleon then approached the colonel and talked with him in hushed tones for five minutes.  Their glances shifted from time to time on Noël suggesting he is the subject of this conversation.  Indeed, Noël was such a precious soldiers, brave and calm, a slave to duty and discipline, constant and dedicated, as those loved by Napoleon.  He distinguished himself in many cases, but his modesty, one might even say his shyness, did not allow him to seek the advancement to which he was entitled for a long time; he had become accustomed to forget it; he was not even decorated yet.  Napoleon guessed that he had been guilty towards him of a great injustice: it was therefore up to him to fix it and fix it in an exceptional way.  He recalled the non-commissioned officer:

—Okay, Noël, he told him, you have earned this over a long time, as long a time that you’ve been brave.

And the Emperor pinned on the chest of the old soldier the cross that he has just taken from his own.  At a signal of the colonel, the drums beat a ban, the greatest silence reigned over the line, and the colonel presenting to the regiment with the new Knight of the Legion of Honor, cried with a loud voice:

—On behalf of the Emperor! ... Recognize Sergeant Noël as a sub-lieutenant in your regiment!

Immediately the front of the battle order presented arms, and music sounded a fanfare.  Noël, whose heart was deeply moved, believed he was dreaming; he looked at the Emperor, he would throw himself on his knees; but the impassive face of Napoleon, which seems rather set on righting an injustice than granting a pardon, holds them.  Without pretending to note various feelings that shake the old soldier, he makes a new sign of the knowing to the colonel, who, waving his sword above his head to beat the drums, resumed his powerful voice:

—On behalf of the Emperor ... Recognize Second Lieutenant Noël as a lieutenant in your regiment!

This new thunderclap did not fail to overcome the Parisien.  His knees barely supported him and his eyes, which for the last twenty years had never been able to cry, were filled with tears and clouding them; he faultered; stammering from his lips, but do nothing coherent comes out.  Finally, after a third rolling of the drum, he heard his colonel still exclaim:

—Soldiers! On behalf of the Emperor ... Recognize Lieutenant Noël as captain in your regiment!

Napoleon then pressing his horse with a slight movement and following his brilliant General Staff, continued his review seriously, having looked coldly on the poor Noël, whose figure of pale emotion and trembling lips, fell into the arms of his colonel, without being able to articulate a word.

*( décadis, tenth and last day of the decade in the calendar of the French Revolution, GMG)

**(pékin, a width of lace that indicated rank, derogatory term for officer, GMG)

***(kinzerlich, jargon for Austrian soldier, GMG)

(This image should be with Book II. Chapter II)

Placed on the Napoleon Series: June 2008


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