Recollections of the Private Life of Napoleon— Complete

Author: Louis Constant Wairy

Chapter V.

The victory of Marengo had rendered the conquest of Italy certain. Therefore the First Consul, thinking his presence more necessary at Paris than at the head of his army, gave the command in chief to General Massena, and made preparations to repass the mountains. On our return to Milan, the First Consul was received with even more enthusiasm than on his first visit.

The establishment of a republic was in accordance with the wishes of a large number of the Milanese; and they called the First Consul their Savior, since he had delivered them from the yoke of the Austrians. There was, however, a party who detested equally these changes, the French army which was the instrument of them, and the young chief who was the author. In this party figured a celebrated artist, the singer Marchesi.

During our former visit, the First Consul had sent for him; and the musician had waited to be entreated, acting as if he were much inconvenienced, and at last presented himself with all the importance of a man whose dignity had been offended. The very simple costume of the First Consul, his short stature, thin visage, and poor figure were not calculated to make much of an impression on the hero of the theater; and after the general-in-chief had welcomed him cordially, and very politely asked him to sing an air, he replied by this poor pun, uttered in a tone the impertinence of which was aggravated by his Italian accent: "Signor General, if it is a good air which you desire, you will find an excellent one in making a little tour of the garden." The Signor Marchesi was for this fine speech immediately put out of the door, and the same evening an order was sent committing the singer to prison. On our return the First Consul, whose resentment against Marchesi the cannon of Marengo had doubtless assuaged, and who thought besides that the penance of the musician for a poor joke had been sufficiently long, sent for him again, and asked him once more to sing; Marchesi this time was modest and polite, and sang in a charming manner. After the concert the First Consul approached him, pressed his hand warmly, and complimented him in the most affectionate manner; and from that moment peace was concluded between the two powers, and Marchesi sang only praises of the First Consul.

At this same concert the First Consul was struck with the beauty of a famous singer, Madame Grassini. He found her by no means cruel, and at the end of a few hours the conqueror of Italy counted one conquest more.

The following day she breakfasted with the First Consul and General Berthier in the chamber of the First Consul. General Berthier was ordered to provide for the journey of Madame Grassini, who was carried to Paris, and attached to the concert-room of the court.

The First Consul left Milan on the 24th; and we returned to France by the route of Mont Cenis, traveling as rapidly as possible. Everywhere the Consul was received with an enthusiasm difficult to describe. Arches of triumph had been erected at the entrance of each town, and in each canton a deputation of leading citizens came to make addresses to and compliment him. Long ranks of young girls, dressed in white, crowned with flowers, bearing flowers in their hands, and throwing flowers into the carriage of the First Consul, made themselves his only escort, surrounded him, followed him, and preceded him, until he had passed, or as soon as he set foot on the ground wherever he stopped.

The journey was thus, throughout the whole route, a perpetual fete; and at Lyons it amounted to an ovation, in which the whole town turned out to meet him. He entered, surrounded by an immense crowd, amid the most noisy demonstrations, and alighted at the hotel of the Celestins. In the Reign of Terror the Jacobins had spent their fury on the town of Lyons, the destruction of which they had sworn; and the handsome buildings which ornamented the Place Belcour had been leveled to the ground, the hideous cripple Couthon, at the head of the vilest mob of the clubs, striking the first blow with the hammer. The First Consul detested the Jacobins, who, on their side, hated and feared him; and his constant care was to destroy their work, or, in other words, to restore the ruins with which they had covered France. He thought then, and justly too, that he could not better respond to the affection of the people of Lyons, than by promoting with all his power the rebuilding of the houses of the Place Belcour; and before his departure he himself laid the first stone. The town of Dijon gave the First Consul a reception equally as brilliant.

Between Villeneuve-le-Roi and Sens, at the descent to the bridge of Montereau, while the eight horses, lashed to a gallop, were bearing the carriage rapidly along (the First Consul already traveled like a king), the tap of one of the front wheels came off. The inhabitants who lined the route, witnessing this accident, and foreseeing what would be the result, used every effort to stop the postilions, but did not succeed, and the carriage was violently upset. The First Consul received no injury; General Berthier had his face slightly scratched by the windows, which were broken; and the two footmen, who were on the steps, were thrown, violently to a distance, and badly wounded. The First Consul got out, or rather was pulled out, through one of the doors. This occurrence made no delay in his journey; he took his seat in another carriage immediately, and reached Paris with no other accident. The night of the 2d of July, he alighted at the Tuileries; and the next day, as soon as the news of his return had been circulated in Paris, the entire population filled the courts and the garden. They pressed around the windows of the pavilion of Flora, in the hope of catching a glimpse of the savior of France, the liberator of Italy.

That evening there was no one, either rich or poor, who did not take delight in illuminating his house or his garret. It was only a short time after his arrival at Paris that the First Consul learned of the death of General Kleber. The poniard of Suleyman had slain this great captain the same day that the cannon of Marengo laid low another hero of the army of Egypt. This assassination caused the First Consul the most poignant grief, of which I was an eyewitness, and to which I can testify; and, nevertheless, his calumniators have dared to say that he rejoiced at an event, which, even considered apart from its political relations, caused him to lose a conquest which had cost him so much, and France so much blood and expense. Other miserable wretches, still more stupid and more infamous, have even gone so far as to fabricate and spread abroad the report that the First Consul had himself ordered the assassination of his companion in arms, whom he had placed in his own position at the head of the army in Egypt. To these I have only one answer to make, if it is necessary to answer them at all; it is this, they never knew the Emperor.

After his return, the First Consul went often with his wife to Malmaison, where he remained sometimes for several days. At this time it was the duty of the valet de chambre to follow the carriage on horseback. One day the First Consul, while returning to Paris, ascertained a short distance from the chateau that he had forgotten his snuff-box, and sent me for it. I turned my bridle, set off at a gallop, and, having found the snuff-box on his desk, retraced my steps to overtake him, but did not succeed in doing so till he had reached Ruelle. Just as I drew near the carriage my horse slipped on a stone, fell, and threw me some distance into a ditch. The fall was very severe; and I remained stretched on the ground, with one shoulder dislocated, and an arm badly bruised. The First Consul ordered the horses stopped, himself gave orders to have me taken up, and cautioned them to be very careful in moving me; and I was borne, attended by-him, to the barracks of Ruelle, where he took pains before continuing his journey to satisfy himself that I was in no danger. The physician of his household was sent to Ruelle, my shoulder set, and my arm dressed; and from there I was carried as gently as possible to Malmaison, where, good Madame, Bonaparte had the kindness to come to see me, and lavished on me every attention.

The day I returned to service, after my recovery, I was in the antechamber of the First Consul as he came out of his cabinet. He drew near me, and inquired with great interest how I was. I replied that, thanks to the care taken of me, according to the orders of my excellent master and mistress, I was quite well again. "So much the better," said the First Consul. "Constant, make haste, and get your strength back. Continue to serve me well, and I will take care of you. Here," added he, placing in my hand three little crumpled papers, "these are to replenish your wardrobe;" and he passed on, without listening to the profuse thanks which, with great emotion, I was attempting to express, much more for the consideration and interest in me shown by him than for his present, for I did not then know of what it consisted. After he passed on I unrolled my papers: they were three bank-bills, each for a thousand francs! I was moved to tears by so great a kindness. We must remember that at this period the First Consul was not rich, although he was the first magistrate of the republic. How deeply the remembrance of this generous deed touches me, even to-day. I do not know if details so personal to me will be found interesting; but they seem to me proper as evidence of the true character of the Emperor, which has been so outrageously misrepresented, and also as an instance of his ordinary conduct towards the servants of his house; it shows too, at the same time, whether the severe economy that he required in his domestic management, and of which I will speak elsewhere, was the result, as has been stated, of sordid avarice, or whether it was not rather a rule of prudence, from which he departed willingly whenever his kindness of heart or his humanity urged him thereto.

I am not certain that my memory does not deceive me in leading me to put in this place a circumstance which shows the esteem in which the First Consul held the brave soldiers of his army, and how he loved to manifest it on all occasions. I was one day in his sleeping-room, at the usual hour for his toilet, and was performing that day the duties of chief valet, Hambard being temporarily absent or indisposed, there being in the room, besides the body servants, only the brave ,and modest Colonel Gerard Lacuee, one of the aides-de-camp of the First Consul. Jerome Bonaparte, then hardly seventeen years of age, was introduced. This young man gave his family frequent cause of complaint, and feared no one except his brother Napoleon, who reprimanded, lectured, and scolded him as if he had been his own son. There was a question at the time of making him a sailor, less with the object of giving him a career, than of removing him from the seductive temptations which the high position of his brother caused to spring up incessantly around his path, and which he had little strength to resist. It may be imagined what it cost him to renounce pleasures so accessible and so delightful to a young man. He did not fail to protest, on all occasions, his unfitness for sea-service, going so far, it is said, that he even caused himself to be rejected by the examining board of the navy as incompetent, though he could easily have prepared himself to answer the few questions asked. However, the will of the First Consul must be obeyed, and Jerome was compelled to embark. On the day of which I have spoken, after some moments of conversation and scolding, still on the subject of the navy, Jerome said to his brother, "Instead of sending me to perish of ennui at sea, you ought to take me for an aide-de-camp."—"What, take you, greenhorn," warmly replied the First Consul; "wait till a ball has furrowed your face and then I will see about it," at the same time calling his attention to Colonel Lacuee, who blushed, and dropped his eyes to the floor like a young girl, for, as is well known, he bore on his face the scar made by a bullet. This gallant colonel was killed in 1805 before Guntzbourg; and the Emperor deeply regretted his loss, for he ways one of the bravest and most skillful officers of the army.

It was, I believe, about this time that the First Consul conceived a strong passion for a very intelligent and handsome young woman, Madame D. Madame Bonaparte, suspecting this intrigue, showed jealousy; and her husband did all he could to allay her wifely suspicions. Before going to the chamber of his mistress he would wait until every one was asleep in the chateau; and he even carried his precautions so far as to go from his room to hers in his night-dress, without shoes or slippers. Once I found that day was about to break before his return; and fearing scandal, I went, as the First Consul had ordered me to do in such a case, to notify the chambermaid of Madame D. to go to her mistress and tell her the hour. It was hardly five minutes after this timely notice had been given, when I saw the First Consul returning, in great excitement, of which I soon learned the cause. He had discovered, on his return, one of Madame Bonaparte’s women, lying in wait, and who had seen him through the window of a closet opening upon the corridor. The First Consul, after a vigorous outburst against the curiosity of the fair sex, sent me to the young scout from the enemy’s camp to intimate to her his orders to hold her tongue, unless she wished to be discharged without hope of return. I do not know whether I added a milder argument to these threats to buy her silence; but, whether from fear or for compensation, she had the good sense not to talk. Nevertheless, the successful lover, fearing another surprise, directed me to rent in the Allee des Ireuves a little house where he and Madame D. met from time to time. Such were, and continued to be, the precautions of the First Consul towards his wife. He had the highest regard for her, and took all imaginable care to prevent his infidelities coming to her knowledge. Besides, these passing fancies did not lessen the tenderness he felt for her; and although other women inspired him with love, no other woman had his confidence and friendship to the same extent as Madame Bonaparte. There have been a thousand and one calumnies repeated of the harshness and brutality of the First Consul towards women. He was not always gallant, but I have never seen him rude; and, however singular it may seem after what I have just related, he professed the greatest veneration for a wife of exemplary conduct, speaking in admiring terms of happy households; and he did not admire cynicism, either in morals or in language. When he had any liaisons he kept them secret, and concealed them with great care.


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Chicago: Louis Constant Wairy, "Chapter V.," 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,

MLA: Wairy, Louis Constant. "Chapter V." 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.

Harvard: Wairy, LC, 'Chapter V.' 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