Recollections of the Private Life of Napoleon— Complete

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Author: Louis Constant Wairy

Chapter XVI.

At one of the reviews which I have just described, and which usually attracted a crowd of curious people from Vienna and its suburbs, the Emperor came near being assassinated. It was on the 13th of October, his Majesty had just alighted from his horse, and was crossing the court on foot with the Prince de Neuchatel and General Rapp beside him, when a young man with a passably good countenance pushed his way rudely through the crowd, and asked in bad French if he could speak to the Emperor. His Majesty received him kindly, but not understanding his language, asked General Rapp to see what the young man wanted, and the general asked him a few questions; and not satisfied apparently with his answers, ordered the police-officer on duty to remove him. A sub-officer conducted the young man out of the circle formed by the staff, and drove him back into the crowd. This circumstance had been forgotten, when suddenly the Emperor, on turning, found again near him the pretended suppliant, who had returned holding his right hand in his breast, as if to draw a petition from the pocket of his coat. General Rapp seized the man by the arm, and said to him, "Monsieur, you have already been ordered away; what do you want?" As he was about to retire a second time the general, thinking his appearance suspicious, gave orders to the police-officer to arrest him, and he accordingly made a sign to his subalterns. One of them seizing him by the collar shook him slightly, when his coat became partly unbuttoned, and something fell out resembling a package of papers; on examination it was found to be a large carving knife, with several folds of gray paper wrapped around it as a sheath; thereupon he was conducted to General Savary.

This young man was a student, and the son of a Protestant minister of Naumbourg; he was called Frederic Stabs, and was about eighteen or nineteen years old, with a pallid face and effeminate features. He did not deny for an instant that it was his intention to kill the Emperor; but on the contrary boasted of it, and expressed his intense regret that circumstances had prevented the accomplishment of his design.

He had left his father’s house on a horse which the want of money had compelled him to sell on the way, and none of his relatives or friends had any knowledge of his plan. The day after his departure he had written to his father that he need not be anxious about him nor the horse; that he had long since promised some one to visit Vienna, and his family would soon hear of him with pride. He had arrived at Vienna only two days before, and had occupied himself first in obtaining information as to the Emperor’s habits, and finding that he held a review every morning in the court of the chateau, had been there once in order to acquaint himself with the locality. The next day he had undertaken to make the attack, and had been arrested.

The Duke of Rovigo, after questioning Stabs, sought the Emperor, who had returned to his apartments, and acquainted him with the danger he had just escaped. The Emperor at first shrugged his shoulders, but having been shown the knife which had been taken from Stabs, said, "Ah, ha! send for the young man; I should like very much to talk with him." The duke went out, and returned in a few moments with Stabs. When the latter entered, the Emperor made a gesture of pity, and said to the Prince de Neuchatel, "Why, really, he is nothing more than a child! "An interpreter was summoned and the interrogation begun.

His Majesty first asked the assassin if he had seen him, anywhere before this. "Yes; I saw you," replied Stabbs, "at Erfurt last year."—"It seems that a crime is nothing in your eyes. Why did you wish to kill me?"—"To kill you is not a crime; on the contrary, it is the duty of every good German. I wished to kill you because you are the oppressor of Germany."—"It is not I who commenced the war; it is your nation. Whose picture is this?" (the Emperor held in his hands the picture of a woman that had been found on Stabs). "It is that of my best friend, my father’s adopted daughter."—" What! and you are an assassin! and have no fear of afflicting and destroying beings who are so dear to you?"—"I wished to do my duty, and nothing could have deterred me from it."—"But how would you have succeeded in, striking me? "—"I would first have asked you if we were soon to have peace; and if you had answered no, I should have stabbed you."—"He is mad!" said the Emperor; "he is evidently mad! And how could you have hoped to escape, after you had struck me thus in the midst of my soldiers?"—"I knew well to what I was exposing myself, and am astonished to be still alive." This boldness made such a deep impression on the Emperor that he remained silent for several moments, intently regarding Stabs, who remained entirely unmoved under this scrutiny. Then the Emperor continued, "The one you love will be much distressed."—"Oh, she will no doubt be distressed because I did not succeed, for she hates you at least as much as I hate you myself."— "Suppose I pardoned you?"—"You would be wrong, for I would again try to kill you." The Emperor summoned M. Corvisart and said to him, "This young man is either sick or insane, it cannot be otherwise."—"I am neither the one nor the other," replied the assassin quickly. M. Corvisart felt Stabs’s pulse. "This gentleman is well," he said. "I have already told you so," replied Stabs with a triumphant air.— "Well, doctor," said his Majesty, "this young man who is in such good health has traveled a hundred miles to assassinate me."

Notwithstanding this declaration of the physician and the avowal of Stabs, the Emperor, touched by the coolness and assurance of the unfortunate fellow, again offered him his pardon, upon the sole condition of expressing some repentance for his crime.; but as Stabs again asserted that his only regret was that he had not succeeded in his undertaking, the Emperor reluctantly gave him up to punishment.

After he was conducted to prison, as he still persisted in his assertions, he was immediately brought before a military commission, which condemned him to death. He did not undergo his punishment till the 17th; and after the 13th, the day on which he was arrested, took no food, saying that he would have strength enough to go to his death. The Emperor had ordered that the execution should be delayed as long as possible, in the hope that sooner or later Stabs would repent; but he remained unshaken. As he was being conducted to the place where he was to be shot, some one having told him that peace had just been concluded, he cried in a loud voice, "Long live liberty! Long live Germany! " These were his last words.

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Chicago: Louis Constant Wairy, "Chapter XVI.," Recollections of the Private Life of Napoleon— Complete, ed. Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853 and trans. Clark, Walter, 1846-1924 in Recollections of the Private Life of Napoleon—Complete (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1909), Original Sources, accessed February 4, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8DJVJ3Z3W9XT7S2.

MLA: Wairy, Louis Constant. "Chapter XVI." Recollections of the Private Life of Napoleon— Complete, edited by Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853, and translated by Clark, Walter, 1846-1924, in Recollections of the Private Life of Napoleon—Complete, Vol. 36, New York, Doubleday, Page, 1909, Original Sources. 4 Feb. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8DJVJ3Z3W9XT7S2.

Harvard: Wairy, LC, 'Chapter XVI.' in Recollections of the Private Life of Napoleon— Complete, ed. and trans. . cited in 1909, Recollections of the Private Life of Napoleon—Complete, Doubleday, Page, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 4 February 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8DJVJ3Z3W9XT7S2.