Louisa of Prussia and Her Times

Author: Luise Mühlbach

Chapter XXII. The Banner of Glory.

Four days had elapsed since Bonaparte’s arrival at Rastadt, and the congress had profited by them in order to give the most brilliant festivals to the French general and his beautiful wife. All those ambassadors, counts, barons, bishops, and diplomatists seemed to have assembled at Rastadt for the sole purpose of giving banquets, tea-parties, and balls; no one thought of attending to business, and all more serious ideas seemed to have been utterly banished, while every one spoke of the gorgeous decorations of the ball-rooms and of the magnificence of the state dinners, where the most enthusiastic toasts were drunk in honor of the victorious French general; and the people seemed most anxious entirely to forget poor, suffering, and patient Germany.

Josephine participated in these festivities with her innate cheerfulness and vivacity. She was the queen of every party; every one was doing homage to her; every one was bent upon flattering her in order to catch an affable word, a pleasant glance from her; and, encouraged by her unvaried kindness, to solicit her intercession with her husband, in whose hands alone the destinies of the German princes and their states now seemed to lie.

But while Josephine’s radiant smiles were delighting every one— while she was promising to all to intercede for them with her husband, Bonaparte’s countenance remained grave and moody, and it was only in a surly mood that he attended the festivals that were given in his honor. His threatening glances had frequently already been fixed upon his wife, and those moody apprehensions, ever alive in his jealous breast, had whispered to him: "Josephine has deceived you again! In order to silence your reproaches, she invented a beautiful story, in which there is not a word of truth, for the letter that was to call you back to Paris does not arrive, and the Directory keeps you here at Rastadt."

And while he was indulging in such reflections, his features assumed a sinister expression, and his lips muttered: "Woe to Josephine, if she should have deceived me!"

Thus the fourth day had arrived, and the Bavarian ambassador was to give a brilliant soiree. Bonaparte had promised to be present, but he had said to Josephine, in a threatening manner, that he would attend only if the expected courier from Paris did arrive in the course of the day, so that he might profit by the Bavarian ambassador’s party to take leave of all those "fawning and slavish representatives of the German empire."

But no courier had made his appearance during the whole morning. Bonaparte had retired to his closet and was pacing the room like an angry lion in his cage. All at once, however, the door was hastily opened, and Josephine entered with a radiant face, holding in her uplifted right hand a large sealed letter.

"Bonaparte!" she shouted, in a jubilant voice, "can you guess what I have got here?"

He ran toward her and wanted to seize the letter. But Josephine would not let him have it, and concealed it behind her back. "Stop, my dear sir," she said. "First you must beg my pardon for the evil thoughts I have read on your forehead during the last few days. Oh, my excellent general, you are a poor sinner, and I really do not know if I am at liberty to grant you absolution and to open the gates of paradise to you."

"But what have I done, Josephine?" he asked. "Was I not as patient as a lamb? Did I not allow myself to be led like a dancing-bear from festival to festival? Did I not look on with the patience of an angel while every one was making love to you, and while you were lavishing smiles and encouraging, kind glances in all directions?"

"What have you done, Bonaparte?" she retorted gravely. "You inwardly calumniated your Josephine. You accused her in your heart, and day and night the following words were written on your forehead in flaming characters: ’Josephine has deceived me.’ Do you pretend to deny it, sir?"

"No," said Bonaparte, "I will not deny any thing, dear, lovely expounder of my heart! I confess my sins, and implore your forgiveness. But now, Josephine, be kind enough not to let me wait any longer. Let me have the letter!"

"Hush, sir! this letter is not directed to you, but to myself," replied Josephine, smiling.

Bonaparte angrily stamped his foot. "Not to me!" he exclaimed, furiously. "Then is it not from the Directory—it does not call me back from Rastadt?—"

"Hush, Bonaparte!" said Josephine, smiling, "must you always effervesce like the stormy sea that roared around your cradle, you big child? Be quiet now, and let me read the letter to you. Will you let me do so?"

"Yes, I will," said Bonaparte, hastily. "Read, I implore you, read!"

Josephine made a profound, ceremonious obeisance, and withdrawing her hand with the letter from her back, she unfolded several sheets of paper.

"Here is first a letter from my friend Botot," she said, "just listen:—’Citoyenne Generale: The Directory wished to send off today a courier with the enclosed dispatches to General Bonaparte. I induced the gentlemen, however, to intrust that dispatch to myself, and to permit me to send it to you instead of the general. It is to yourself chiefly that the general is indebted for the contents of this dispatch from the Directory. It is but just, therefore, Citoyenne, that you should have the pleasure of handing it to him. Do so, Citoyenne, and at the same time beg your husband not to forget your and his friend.—Botot.’ That is my letter Bonaparte, and here, my friend, is the enclosure for yourself. You see, I am devoid of the common weakness of woman, I am not inquisitive, for the seal is not violated, as you may see yourself."

And with a charming smile she handed the letter to Bonaparte. But he did not take it.

"Break the seal, my Josephine," he said, profoundly moved. "I want to learn the contents of the letter from your lips. If it should bring me evil tidings, they will sound less harshly when announced by you; is it joyful news, however, your voice will accompany it with the most beautiful music."

Josephine nodded to him with a tender and grateful glance, and hastily broke the seal.

"Now pray, quick! quick!" said Bonaparte, trembling with impatience.

Josephine read:

"The executive Directory presumes, citizen general, that you have arrived at Rastadt. It is impatient to see and to weigh with you the most important interests of the country. Hence it desires you to bring the exchanged ratifications personally to Paris, and to inform us what dispositions you have taken in regard to the occupation of Mentz by our troops, in order that this event may take place without further delay. It may be, however, that you have forwarded this intelligence to us already by means of a courier or an aide-de-camp; in that case it will be kept secret until your arrival. The journey you are now going to make to Paris will first fulfil the sincere desire of the Directory to manifest to you publicly its most unbounded satisfaction with your conduct and to be the first interpreter of the nation’s gratitude toward you. Besides, it is necessary for you to be fully informed of the government’s views and intentions, and to consider in connection with it the ultimate consequences of the great operations which you will be invited to undertake; so we expect you immediately, citizen general. The executive Directory also desires you to indicate to the returning courier, who is to deliver this dispatch to you, the precise day of your arrival at Paris."

"In the name of the Directory:"


"We shall set out at once!" exclaimed Bonaparte, radiant with joy.

"In order to arrive together with the courier?" asked Josephine, laughing, "and to lose all the triumphs which the grateful country is preparing for you? No, my impatient friend, you will patiently remain to-day by the side of your Josephine and we shall start only to-morrow. Do you promise it?"

"Well, be it so!" he exclaimed, glowing with excitement, "we will set out to-morrow for Paris. My task in Italy is accomplished; if it please God, there will be new work for me at Paris."

"Your enemies will soon find means to drive you away from the capital, if you should be incautious, and if they should fear lest your presence might become dangerous to themselves. Nothing is more dangerous to small, insignificant souls than a great man. Remember that, my friend, and do not irritate them."

Bonaparte eagerly grasped her hand. "Believe me," he said, in a low voice, "as soon as I have reached Paris, I shall know what line of policy I must pursue hereafter. Two years shall not elapse ere the whole ridiculous republican edifice will be overthrown." [Footnote: "Memoires d’un Homme d’Etat," vol. v., p. 60.] "And then," exclaimed Josephine, joyfully, "when you have accomplished that—when you stand as a victorious general on the ruins of the republic—you will reestablish the throne over them, I hope?"

"Yes, I will reestablish the throne," [Footnote: Bonaparte’s own words.—"Memoires d’un Homme d’Etat," vol. v., p. 70.] said Bonaparte, enthusiastically.

"And your arm will place upon this throne him to whom this throne is due. Oh, my generous and noble friend, what a heavenly day it will be when the King of France by your side makes his solemn entry into Paris, for you will recall the legitimate king, Louis XVIII., from his exile."

Bonaparte stared at her in amazement. "Do you really believe that?" he asked, with a peculiar smile.

"I have no doubt of it," she said, innocently. "Bonaparte can do whatever he wishes to do. He has overthrown thrones in Italy, he can reestablish the throne in France. I repeat, Bonaparte can do whatever he wishes to do."

"And do you know, then, you little fool, do you know what I really wish to do?" he asked. "I wish to be the great regulator of the destinies of Europe, or the first citizen of the globe. I feel that I have the strength to overthrow every thing and to found a new world. The astonished universe shall bow to me and be compelled to submit to my laws. Then I shall make the villains tremble, who wished to keep me away from my country. [Footnote: Le Normand, vol. 1., p. 347.] I have made the beginning already, and this miserable government has to call me back to Paris notwithstanding its own secret hostility. Soon it shall be nothing but a tool in my hands, and when I do not need this tool any longer, I shall destroy it. This government of lawyers has oppressed France long enough. It is high time for us to drive it away." [Footnote: "Memoires d’un Homme d’Etat," vol. v., p. 70.]

"Hush, Bonaparte, for God’s sake, hush!" said Josephine, anxiously. "Let no one here suspect your plans, for we are surrounded in this house by austere and rabid republicans, who, if they had heard your words, would arraign you as a criminal before the Directory. Intrust your plans to no one except myself, Bonaparte. Before the world remain as yet a most enthusiastic republican, and only when the decisive hour has come, throw off your tunic and exhibit your royal uniform!"

Bonaparte smiled, and encircled her neck with his arms.

"Yes, you are right," he said; "we must be taciturn. We must bury our most secret thoughts in the deepest recesses of our souls, and intrust them to no one, not even to the beloved. But come, Josephine, I owe you my thanks yet for the joyful tidings you have brought me. You must permit me to make you a few little presents in return."

"Give me your confidence, and I am abundantly rewarded," said Josephine, tenderly.

"Henceforth I shall never, never distrust you," he replied, affectionately. "We belong to each other, and no power of earth or heaven is able to separate us. You are mine and I am thine; and what is mine being thine, you must permit me to give you a trinket sent to me to-day by the city of Milan."

"A trinket?" exclaimed Josephine, with radiant eyes; "let me see it. Is it a beautiful one?"

Bonaparte smiled. "Yes, beautiful in the eyes of those to whom glory seems more precious than diamonds and pearls," he said, stepping to the table from which he took a small morocco casket. "See," he said, opening it, "it is a gold medal which the city of Milan has caused to be struck in my honor, and on which it confers upon me the title of ’The Italian.’"

"Give it to me," exclaimed Josephine, joyfully—"give it to me, my ’Italian!’ Let me wear this precious trinket which public favor has bestowed upon you."

"Public favor," he said, musingly—"public favor, it is light as zephyr, as fickle as the seasons, it passes away like the latter, and when the north wind moves it, it will disappear." [Footnote: Le Normand, vol. i., p. 261.]

He was silent, but proceeded after a short pause in a less excited manner.

"As to my deeds," he said, "the pen of history will trace them for our grandchildren. Either I shall have lived for a century, or I shall earn for all my great exploits nothing but silence and oblivion. Who is able to calculate the whims and predilections of history?" [Footnote: Ibid., vol. i, p. 262.]

He paused again, and became absorbed in his reflections.

Josephine did not venture to arouse him from his musing. She fixed her eyes upon the large gold medal, and tried to decipher the inscription.

Bonaparte suddenly raised his head again, and turned his gloomy eyes toward Josephine. "I suppose you know," he said, "that I have always greatly distinguished the Duke of Litalba among all Milanese, and that I have openly courted his friendship?"

"You have always manifested the greatest kindness for him," said Josephine, "and he is gratefully devoted to you for what you have done for him."

"Gratefully!" exclaimed Bonaparte, sarcastically. "There is no gratitude on earth, and the Duke of Litalba is as ungrateful as the rest of mankind. I called him my friend. Do you know how he has paid me for it, and what he has said of me behind my back?"

"Oh, then, they have told you libels and made you angry again by repeating to you the gossip of idle tongues?"

"They shall tell me every thing—I want to know every thing!" retorted Bonaparte, violently. "I must know my friends and my enemies. And I believed Litalba to be my friend, I believed him when he told me, with tears in his eyes, how much he was afflicted by my departure, and how devotedly he loved me. I believed him, and on the same day he said at a public casino, ’Now at last our city will get rid of this meteor that is able all alone to set fire to the whole of Europe, and to spread the sparks of its revolutionary fire to the most remote corners of the world.’ [Footnote: Ibid., vol. I., p. 362.] He dared to call me a meteor, a shining nothing which after lighting up the sky for a short while explodes and dissolves itself into vapor. I shall prove to him and to the whole world that I am more than that, and if I kindle a fire in Europe, it shall be large enough to burn every enemy of mine."

"Your glory is the fire that will consume your enemies," said Josephine, eagerly. "You will not reply to their calumnies—your deeds will speak for themselves. Do not heed the voice of slander, my Italian, listen only to the voice of your glory. It will march before you to France like a herald, it will fill all hearts with enthusiasm, and all hearts will hail your arrival with rapturous applause—you, the victorious chieftain, the conqueror of Italy!"

"I will show you the herald I am going to send to-day to France, to be presented there in my name by General Joubert to the Directory," replied Bonaparte. "It is a herald whose mute language will be even more eloquent than all the hymns of victory with which they may receive me. Wait here for a moment. I shall be back directly."

He waved his hand to her and hastily left the room. Josephine’s eyes followed him with an expression of tender admiration. "What a bold mind, what a fiery heart!" she said, in a low voice. "Who will stem the bold flight of this mind, who will extinguish the flames of this heart? Who—"

The door opened, and Bonaparte returned, followed by several footmen carrying a rolled-up banner. When they had reached the middle of the room, he took it from them and told them to withdraw. As soon as the door had closed behind them, he rapidly unrolled the banner so that it floated majestically over his head.

"Ah, that is the proud victor of the bridge of Arcole!" exclaimed Josephine, enthusiastically. "Thus you must have looked when you headed the column, rushing into the hail of balls and bullets, and bearing the colors aloft in your right hand! Oh, Bonaparte, how glorious you look under your glorious banner!"

"Do not look at me, but look at the banner," he said. "Future generations may some day take it for a monument from the fabulous times of antiquity, and yet this monument contains nothing but the truth. The Directory shall hang up this banner in its hall, and if it should try to deny or belittle my deeds, I shall point at the banner which will tell every one what has been accomplished in Italy by the French army and its general."

Josephine looked in silent admiration at the splendid banner. It was made of the heaviest white satin, trimmed with a broad border of blue and white. Large eagles, embroidered in gold, and decorated with precious stones, filled the corners on both sides; warlike emblems, executed by the most skilful painters, filled the inside of the colored border, and inscriptions in large gold letters covered the centre.

"Read these inscriptions, Josephine," said Bonaparte imperiously, pointing at them with his uplifted arm. "It is a simple and short history of our campaign in Italy. Read aloud, Josephine; let me hear from your lips the triumphal hymn of my army!"

Josephine seized the gold cord hanging down from the banner and thus kept it straight. Bonaparte, proudly leaning against the gilt flagstaff, which he grasped with both hands, listened smiling and with flashing eyes to Josephine, who read as follows:

"One hundred and fifty thousand prisoners; one hundred and seventy stands of colors; five hundred and fifty siege-guns; six hundred field-pieces; five pontoon parks; nine line-of-battle ships, of sixty-four guns; twelve frigates of thirty-two guns; twelve corvettes; eighteen galleys; armistice with the King of Sardinia; treaty with Genoa; armistice with the Duke of Parma; armistice with the King of Naples; armistice with the Pope; preliminaries of Leoben; treaty of Montebello with the Republic of Genoa; treaty of peace with the emperor at Campo Formio."

"Liberty restored to the people of Bologna, Ferrara, Modena, Massacarrara, of the Romagna, of Lombardy, Brescia, Bergamo, Mantua, Cremona, Chiavenna, Bormio, and the Valtellino; further, to the people of Genoa, to the vassals of the emperor, to the people of the department of Corcyra, of the Aegean Sea and Ithaca."

"Sent to Paris all the masterpieces of Michel Angelo, Guercino, Titian, Paul Veronese, Correggio, Albarro, the two Carracci, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci." [Footnote: This wonderful banner was hung up in the hall of the Directory while the members of the latter were occupying the Luxemburg. It afterward accompanied the three consuls to the Tuileries, and was preserved there in the large reception-room. It is now in the "Dome des Invalides" in the chapel containing the emperor’s sarcophagus.]

"Ah, my friend," exclaimed Josephine, enthusiastically, "that is a leaf from history which the storms of centuries will never blow away!"

Bonaparte slowly lowered the banner until it almost covered the floor and then he muttered gloomily: "Men are like leaves in the wind; the wind blows the leaves to the ground, [Footnote: Homer] and—but no," he interrupted himself, "I shall write my name on every rock and every mountain in Europe, and fasten it there with iron-clasps in such a manner that no winds shall blow it away! Oh, footmen! come in, roll up the banner again, and put it back into the case!"

The footmen hastened to obey, and took the banner away. Bonaparte turned again to his wife with a smile.

"I promised you a few presents," he said. "As yet I have given you only the medals. The best gift I have kept back. Marmont sent me the statue of the Holy Virgin which he removed from Loretto."

"Then you have not fulfilled my urgent prayers!" said Josephine, reproachfully. "Even the property of the Church and of the Holy Father at Rome have not been safe from the hands of the conquerors!"

"That is the law of war," said Bonaparte. "Woe to the places which war touches on its bloody path! But you may reassure yourself, Josephine. I have only taken from the Holy Father these superfluous things which he may easily spare. I only took his plate, his jewelry, and diamonds, thus reducing him to the simplicity of the apostles; and I am sure the good old man will thank me for it. I have, moreover, only striven to promote the welfare of his soul by doing so, and the Roman martyrologist some day will add his name to the list of saints. [Footnote: Le Normand, vol. i., p. 243.] The jewels and the gold I sent to Paris, together with the statue of the Madonna of Loretto, but I retained a few relics for you, Josephine. See here the most precious one of them all!"

He handed her a small paper, carefully folded up. Josephine hastily opened it and asked, in surprise—"A piece of black woollen cloth! And that is a relic?"

"And a most precious one at that! It is Loretto’s most priceless treasure. It is a piece of the gown of the Virgin Mary, in which she was mourning for the Saviour. [Footnote: Ibid., vol. i., p. 245.] Preserve this relic carefully, dear Josephine, and may it protect you from danger and grief!" Josephine folded up the piece of cloth, and opening a large locket hanging on her neck on a heavy gold chain, she laid the cloth into it, and then closed the locket again.

"That shall be the sanctuary of my relic," she said. "I shall keep it till I die."

"Why do you speak of dying?" he exclaimed, almost indignantly. "What have we to do with grim-death? We, to whom life has to fulfil and offer so much! We shall return to Paris, and, if it please God, a great future is awaiting us there!"

"If it please God, a happy future!" said Josephine, fervently. "Oh, Bonaparte, how gladly I shall reenter our dear little house in the Rue Chantereine, where we passed the first happy days of our love!"

"No, Josephine," he exclaimed, impetuously, "that little house will not be a fitting abode for the conqueror of Italy, I am no longer the poor general who had nothing but his sword. I return rich in glory, and not poor as far as money is concerned. I might have easily appropriated the spoils amounting to many millions; but I disdained the money of spoliation and bribery, and what little money I have got now, was acquired in an honest and chivalrous manner, [Footnote: Bonaparte at St. Helena said to Las Casas that he had brought only three hundred thousand francs from Italy. Bourrienne asserts, however, Bonaparte had brought home no less than three million francs. He adds, however, that this sum was not the fruit of peculation and corruption, Bonaparte having been an incorruptible administrator. But he had discovered the mines of Yorda, and he had an interest in the meat contracts for the army. He wanted to be independent, and knew better than any one else that he could not be independent without money. He said to Bourrienne in regard to it, "I am no Capuchin!"—Memoires de Bourrienne, vol 11., p. 47.] It is sufficient, however, to secure a brilliant existence to us. I shall not be satisfied until I live with you in a house corresponding with the splendor of my name. I need a palace, and shall have it decorated with all the stands of colors I have taken in Italy. To you alone, Josephine, to you I intrust the care of designating to me a palace worthy of being offered to me by the nation I have immortalized, and worthy also of a wife whose beauty and grace could only beautify it. [Footnote: Le Normand, vol. i., p. 265.] Come, Josephine—come to Paris! Let us select such a palace!"


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Chicago: Luise Mühlbach, "Chapter XXII. The Banner of Glory.," Louisa of Prussia and Her Times, ed. CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb and trans. Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891 in Louisa of Prussia and Her Times (New York: The Modern Library Publishers, 1918), Original Sources, accessed August 8, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=51H8HEMT916FSLD.

MLA: Mühlbach, Luise. "Chapter XXII. The Banner of Glory." Louisa of Prussia and Her Times, edited by CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb, and translated by Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891, in Louisa of Prussia and Her Times, New York, The Modern Library Publishers, 1918, Original Sources. 8 Aug. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=51H8HEMT916FSLD.

Harvard: Mühlbach, L, 'Chapter XXII. The Banner of Glory.' in Louisa of Prussia and Her Times, ed. and trans. . cited in 1918, Louisa of Prussia and Her Times, The Modern Library Publishers, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 8 August 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=51H8HEMT916FSLD.