Lucien Bonaparte Et Ses Mémoires

Author: Lucien Bonaparte  | Date: 1882

Show Summary
T. Iung Paris 1882

Napoleon Sells Louisiana

[1803]

"So you’ve finally come!" exclaimed my brother. "I was afraid that you wouldn’t show up. We have something else on our minds beside going to the theatre. I have a piece of news for you which will hardly put you in a frame of mind for entertainment."

My first thought was that our mother had fallen ill.

"Well, out with it. What’s it all about?"

"I know you won’t believe me," Joseph replied, "but it’s true nonetheless. The general (we still referred to Napoleon in that way), the general wants to dispose of Louisiana."

"Rats! Who will buy it from him?"

"The Americans."

For a moment I was dumfounded.

"Nonsense! Even if he wanted to, the Chambers would not agree to it."

"And so he expects to act without their consent. That is what he told me."

"Do you mean to say he really said that? That’s going a little too far! No, of course, it’s impossible. He was bragging."

"Nothing of the kind," Joseph insisted. He was in dead earnest, and, what is more, he added that this sale would furnish him with the principal funds for war. You know, I’m beginning to believe that he likes war too much."

We talked together for quite a while about the little coup d’état, which appeared to us to exceed in arbitrariness everything that had been carried out under the Convention and the Directory.

The hour grew late. The idea of going to the theater was dropped and we parted, not without having agreed that I should drop in the next morning on the First Consul and that Joseph should follow fairly soon thereafter, without acting like two conspirators.

It is still my firm belief to this day that if the Consul’s plan had been submitted to the Chambers, it would have been defeated by a very large majority for after all, could anything worse happen to us than to give up one of our finest colonies for eighteen millions? A miserable and pitiable compensation.

The next morning I repaired to the Tuileries, where I was immediately shown up to my brother who had just got into his bath. I found him in excellent humor. [Their conversation covered an astonishing range of subjects.] It was almost time to leave the bath, and I realized that we had not discussed the Louisiana question. I was upset about it, but the nearer the last moment for raising it came, the more I held off. Now the valet was holding the towel in readiness to wrap his master in. I was about to go, when Rustan scratched at the door like a cat—etiquette which in recent weeks had supplanted the generally-established practice of knocking on the door. The person who had been the cause of Rustan’s breaking his nails on the door of the consular bathroom was Joseph.

"Come on in," the First Consul called. "I will stay in the water another quarter of an hour."

His fondness for staying in the tub for long periods when he had no pressing business was well known. I was able to signal to the new arrival that I had not yet spoken of anything, and I could see that he himself was embarrassed about the time and manner for broaching the subject in the absence of any leads from our brother.

But his hesitation was ended by a sudden remark of the Consul:

"Well, brother, haven’t you talked to Lucien?"

"What about?" queried Joseph.

"You know, about our Louisiana plan."

"You mean yours, my dear brother. Have you forgotten that, far from being mine—"

"Come, come, sermonizer. But why discuss it with you, you are so stubborn. I can speak more freely with Lucien of serious affairs; for, though he sometimes takes it into his head to oppose me, Lucien has brains enough to yield to my opinion when I see fit to try to make him change his."

Joseph, quite apparently annoyed by our conversation, whose tone was more conciliatory than otherwise, at length turned to the Consul and blurted out:

"Aren’t you going to say something about your precious plan?"

"Why, surely," replied the Consul, "but it is late, and if you and Lucien will wait for me in my study, Mister Wet Blanket, I will join you shortly. Suffice to say, Lucien, that I’ve made up my mind to sell Louisiana to the Americans."

I thought it would be a good idea to display some mild surprise at this piece of "news," and contented myself with saying: "Huh, huh." Such apparent indifference aroused the First Consul.

"Well, you see, Joseph! Lucien doesn’t raise the roof about it the way you do."

"Rest assured," retorted Joseph, "that if Lucien says nothing, it isn’t because he hasn’t ideas on that score."

"Really? And why should he play the diplomat with me?"

Thrust into the center of the stage in a manner I did not anticipate, I contented myself with saying that it was perfectly true that in this matter I saw eye to eye with Joseph. "I do hope," I added, in a tone which I tried to keep as free from animus as possible, "I do hope that the Chambers will not give their consent to it."

"You hope so, do you?" with a significant air. "That is really precious," the Consul murmured in a lower tone, while Joseph screamed triumphantly:

"And I hope so, too, and that is what I told the First Consul."

"And what did I answer you?" our brother asked, looking sharply from one to the other of us as though he did not want to miss the expression on our faces.

"You told me that you would get along without the approval of the Chambers; didn’t you?"

"Precisely."

The talk might have ended then and there to our genuine regret, and we had started toward the door to give the Consul a chance to step out of his bath. He had already taken a step in that direction, and his valet was still holding his towel spread out to receive his master and to dry him by wrapping it around him, when that master, suddenly changing his mind, called out quite loudly and made us turn around:

"Gentlemen, you may think what you wish about this, but both of you had better resign yourselves to this business as lost. You, Lucien, on account of the sale itself; you, Joseph, because I shall get along without the consent of anyone at all. Is that clear?"

There escaped from me a smile of astonishment which betrayed my thoughts and was perhaps the remote cause of the storm which was brewing, not in a tea-pot but rather in the bathtub of him who was beginning to make all the sovereigns of Europe quake in their boots.

But it was Joseph who furnished the immediate cause for the spread of the storm, for, in reply to this really very reckless assertion on the part of the chief magistrate of the Republic, followed by his "Is that clear?" Joseph edged close to the bathtub again and declared:

"My dear brother, you will do well not to reveal your plan to parliamentary debate, because I tell you that I shall be the first to place myself at the head of the opposition which cannot fail to confront you."

I was about to support Joseph when the more than Olympian guffaws of the First Consul froze the words on my lips. Joseph, red as a beet with anger, practically stammered:

"All right, laugh, laugh, laugh! But I will do what I say, and, although I dislike mounting the rostrum, this time they shall see me there!"

At these words the Consul raised himself half-way out of the bathtub and then sank back again, speaking in a serious and solemn tone:

"There will be no occasion for you to act as spokesman for the opposition, for, I repeat, this debate will not take place, for the simple reason that the plan, which is not so lucky as to win your approval, has been conceived by me and negotiated by me, and will be ratified and put through by me alone. Is that clear? By me, who doesn’t give two hoots about your opposition!"

Having finished, the Consul sank back tranquilly into the whitened, cologne-watered billows of his bath. But Joseph, now terribly angry, his handsome face aflame, quickly shouted back:

"All right! I tell you, General, that, if you do what you threaten, you, I, all of us, can get ready to rejoin in no time at all the poor innocent devils whom you have so legally, so humanely, and, above all, so justly transported to Sinnamary."

He had struck a telling blow. Suddenly there took place an aquatic explosion from which I was luckily protected by being somewhat removed from the bathtub, an explosion caused when the Consul, after getting up, suddenly sank down again into the bathtub, at the same time yelling at Joseph:

"You are an insolent fellow! I ought—"

The remainder of the sentence did not seem to be completed. The Consul’s paleness now contrasted singularly with Joseph’s redness. The situation had changed, or, rather, subsided. Joseph, his clothes and face splashed, had been thoroughly drenched. This perfumed flood cooled his anger, which, with him, was never other than superficial and transient. He was content to be sponged and dried off by the valet, who, much to my regret, was a witness to such serious foolishness between such actors.

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Chicago: Lucien Bonaparte, Lucien Bonaparte Et Ses Mémoires, ed. T. Iung in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Co., 1951), Original Sources, accessed July 18, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=154CX3R16WZPPLL.

MLA: Bonaparte, Lucien. Lucien Bonaparte Et Ses Mémoires, edited by T. Iung, in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, edited by Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris, Harrisburg, Pa., Stackpole Co., 1951, Original Sources. 18 Jul. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=154CX3R16WZPPLL.

Harvard: Bonaparte, L, Lucien Bonaparte Et Ses Mémoires, ed. . cited in 1951, History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. , Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, Pa.. Original Sources, retrieved 18 July 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=154CX3R16WZPPLL.