Recollections of the Private Life of Napoleon— Complete

Author: Louis Constant Wairy

Chapter XXVI.

Their Majesties remained more than a month at Milan, and I had ample leisure to acquaint myself with this beautiful capital of Lombardy. This visit was a continual succession of fetes and gayeties; and it seemed that the Emperor alone had time to give to work, for he shut himself up, as was his custom, with his ministers, while all the persons of his suite and of his household, whose duties did not detain them near his Majesty, were eagerly taking part in the sports and diversions of the Milanese. I will enter into no details of the coronation, as it was almost a repetition of what had taken place at Paris a few months before; and as all solemnities of this sort are alike, every one is familiar with the least details. Amid all these fete days there was one day of real happiness to me: it was that on which Prince Eugene, whose kindness to me I have never forgotten, was proclaimed viceroy of Italy. Truly, no one could be more worthy than he of a rank so elevated, if to attain it only nobility, generosity, courage, and skill in the art of governing, were needed; for never did prince more sincerely desire the prosperity of the people confided to his care. I have often observed how truly happy he was, and what genuine delight beamed from his countenance when he had shed happiness around him.

The Emperor and Empress went one day to breakfast in the environs of Milan, on a little island called Olona. While walking over it, the Emperor met a poor woman, whose cottage was near the place where their Majesties’ table had been set, and he addressed to her a number of questions. "Monsieur," replied she (not knowing the Emperor), "I am very poor, and the mother of three children, whom I have great difficulty in supporting, because my husband, who is a day laborer, has not always work." —"How much would it take," replied his Majesty, "to make you perfectly happy?"—"O Sire, it would take a great deal of money."—"But how much, my good woman, how much would be necessary?"—"Ah, Monsieur, unless we had twenty louis, we would not be above want; but what chance is there of our ever having twenty louis?"

The Emperor gave her, on the spot, the sum of three thousand francs in gold, and ordered me to untie the rolls and pour them all into the good woman’s lap.

At the sight of so much gold the latter grew pale, reeled, and I saw she was fainting. "All, that is too much, Monsieur, that is indeed too much. Surely you could not be making sport of a poor woman!"

The Emperor assured her that it was indeed all hers, and that with this money she could buy a little field, a flock of goats, and raise her children well.

His Majesty did not make himself known; for he liked, in dispensing his benefits, to preserve his incognito, and I knew, during his life, a large number of instances similar to the foregoing. It seems that historians have made it a point to pass them over in silence; and yet it is, I think, by the rehearsal of just such deeds that a correct idea of the Emperor’s character can and should be formed.

Deputations from the Ligurian Republic, with the Doge at their head, had come to Milan to entreat the Emperor to annex Genoa and its territory to the Empire, which demand his Majesty took care not to refuse, and by a decree formed of the Genoese states three departments of his Italian kingdom. The Emperor and Empress set out from Milan to visit these departments and some others.

We had been at Mantua a short time, when one evening, about six o’clock, Grand Marshal Duroc gave me an order to remain alone in a little room adjoining that of the Emperor, and informed me that Count Lucien Bonaparte would arrive soon. He came in a few moments; and as soon as he announced himself, I introduced him into, the Emperor’s bedroom, and then knocked at the door of the Emperor’s cabinet, to inform him of his arrival. After saluting each other, the two brothers shut themselves up in the room, and there soon arose between them a very animated discussion; and being compelled to remain in the little saloon, much against my will, I overheard a great part of the conversation. The Emperor was urging his brother to get a divorce, and promised him a crown if he would do this; but Lucien replied that he would never abandon the mother of his children, which refusal irritated the Emperor so greatly, that his expressions became harsh and even insulting. When this altercation had lasted more than an hour, M. Lucien came out from it in a deplorable condition, pale and disheveled, his eyes red and filled with tears; and we did not see him again, for, on quitting his brother, he returned to Rome.

The Emperor was greatly troubled by this refusal of his brother, and did not open his mouth on retiring. It has been maintained that the disagreement between the brothers was caused by the elevation of the First Consul to the Empire, and Lucien’s disapproval of this step; but that is a mistake. It is indeed true that the latter had proposed to continue the Republic under the government of two consuls, who were to be Napoleon and Lucien, one to be at the head of the department of war and foreign relations, the other of everything connected with the affairs of the interior; but although the failure of this plan must have disappointed Lucien, the avidity with which he accepted the titles of senator and count of the Empire proved that he cared very little for a republic of which he was not to be one of the heads. I am sure that the marriage of Monsieur Lucien to Madame Jouberthon was the only cause of this disagreement. The Emperor disapproved of this union because the lady’s reputation was somewhat doubtful, and she was also divorced from her husband, who had become insolvent, and had fled to America. This insolvency, and the divorce especially, offended Napoleon deeply, who always felt a great repugnance for divorced people.

Before this, the Emperor had wished to raise his brother to the rank of sovereign, by making him marry the Queen of Etruria, who had lost her husband. Lucien had refused this alliance on several different occasions; and at last the Emperor became angry, and said to him, "You see how far you are carrying your infatuation and your foolish love for a femme galante."—"At least," replied Lucien, "mine is young and pretty," alluding to the Empress Josephine, who had been both the one and the other.

The boldness of this reply excited the Emperor’s anger beyond all bounds. At that moment he held in his hands his watch, which he dashed with all his might on the floor, crying out, "Since you will listen to nothing, see, I will break you like this watch."

Differences had arisen between the brothers before the establishment of the Empire; and among the acts which caused the disgrace of Lucien, I have often heard the following cited.

Lucien, being minister of the interior, received the order of the First Consul to let no wheat go out of the territory of the Republic. Our warehouses were filled, and France abundantly supplied; but this was not the case in England, and the scarcity of it was beginning to be felt there. It was never known how it happened; but the larger part of this grain passed the Strait of Calais, and it was stated positively that the sum of twenty millions was received for it. On learning this, the First Consul took away the portfolio of the interior from his brother, and appointed him ambassador to Spain.

At Madrid, Monsieur Lucien was well received by the king and the royal family, and became the intimate friend of Don Manuel Godoy, Prince de la Paix. It was during this mission, and by agreement with the Prince de la Paix, that the treaty of Badajos was concluded, in order to procure which it is said that Portugal gave thirty millions. It has been also declared that more than this sum, paid in gold and diamonds, was divided between the two plenipotentiaries, who did not think it necessary to render an account of this transaction to their respective courts.

Charles IV. loved Lucien tenderly, and felt for the First Consul the greatest veneration. After examining carefully several Spanish horses which he intended for the First Consul, he said to his head groom: "How fortunate you are, and how I envy your happiness! you are going to see the great man, and you will speak to him; how I should like to take your place!"

During his embassage Lucien had paid his court to a person of most elevated rank, and had received her portrait in a medallion surrounded with very fine brilliants. I have seen a hundred times this portrait which he wore suspended from his neck by a chain of most beautiful black hair; and far from making a mystery of it, he endeavored, on the contrary, to show it, and bent over so that the rich medallion could be seen hanging on his breast.

Before his departure from Madrid, the king likewise made him a present of his own portrait in miniature, also set in diamonds.

These stones, remounted and set in the form of a hat buckle, passed to the second wife of Lucien. I will now give an account of his marriage with Madame Jouberthon, as related to me by a person who resided in the same house.

The First Consul was informed each day, and very promptly, of all that took place in the interior of the homes of his brothers, a circumstantial account being rendered, even as to the smallest particulars and the slightest details. Lucien, wishing to marry Madame Jouberthon, whom he had met at the house of the Count de L----, an intimate friend of his, wrote between two and three o’clock in the afternoon to Duquesnoy, mayor of the tenth arrondissement, requesting him to come to his residence, Rue Saint Dominique, about eight o’clock in the evening, and bring the marriage register.

Between five and six o’clock Monsieur Duquesnoy, mayor of the tenth arrondissement, received from the chateau of the Tuileries an order not to take the register out of the municipality, and above all not to celebrate any marriage whatever, unless, in accordance with the law, the names of the parties thereto had been published for eight days.

At the hour indicated Duquesnoy arrived at the residence, and asked to speak in private to the count, to whom he communicated the order emanating from the chateau.

Beside himself with anger, Lucien immediately hired a hundred post-horses for himself and friends; and without delay he and Madame Jouberthon, with these friends and the people of his household, took carriages for the chateau of Plessis-Chamant, a pleasure-house half a league beyond Senlis. The cure of the place, who was also associate mayor, was summoned, and at midnight pronounced the civil marriage; then, putting on his sacerdotal robes over the scarf he wore as an officer of the civil state, he bestowed on the fugitives the nuptial benediction. A good supper was then served, at which the assistant and cure were present; but, as he returned to his vicarage about six o’clock in the morning, he saw at his gate a post-chaise, guarded by two soldiers, and on entering his house, found there an officer of the armed police, who invited him politely to be kind enough to accompany him to Paris. The poor curate thought himself lost; but he was compelled to obey, under penalty of being carried to Paris from one guard-house to another by the police.

Nothing was left for him but to enter the fatal chaise, which was drawn at a gallop by two good horses, and soon arrived at the Tuileries, where he was brought into the cabinet of the First Consul, who said to him in a voice of thunder, "It is you, then, Monsieur, who marry members of my family without my consent, and without having published the bans, as is your duty in your double character of cure and assistant mayor. You well know that you deserve to be deprived of your office, excommunicated, and tried before the courts." The unfortunate priest believed himself already in prison; but after a severe lecture he was sent back to his curacy, and the two brothers were never reconciled.

In spite of all these differences, Lucien always counted on the affection of his brother to obtain him a kingdom. I guarantee the authenticity of the following incident, which was related to me by a reliable person: Lucien had in charge of his establishment a friend of his early youth, the same age as himself, and like him born in Corsica, who was named Campi, and enjoyed the most confidential relations in the count’s household. On the day that the ’Moniteur’ gave a list of the new French princes, Campi was promenading in the handsome gallery of pictures collected by Lucien, with the latter’s young secretary, when the following conversation occurred between them. "You have no doubt read the ’Moniteur’ of to-day?"—"Yes."—"You have seen that all the members of the family have had the title of French princes bestowed on them, and the name of monsieur le count alone is wanting to the list."—"What matters that? There are kingdoms."—"Considering the care that sovereigns take to keep them, there will hardly be any vacancy."— "Ah, well, they will be made. All the royal families of Europe are worn out, and we must have new ones." Thereupon Campi was silent, and advised the young man to hold his tongue, if he wished to preserve the favor of the count. However, it was not long after this before the young secretary repeated this confidential conversation, which, without being singularly striking, gives, however, an idea of the amount of confidence which should be placed in the pretended moderation of Count Lucien, and in the epigrams against his brother and his family which have been attributed to him.

No one in the chateau was ignorant of the hostility which existed between Lucien Bonaparte and the Empress Josephine; and to make their court to the latter the former habitues of Malmaison, now become the courtiers of the Tuileries; were in the habit of relating to her the most piquant anecdotes they could collect relative to the younger brother of the Emperor. Thus it happened that by chance one day I heard a dignified person and a senator of the Empire give the Empress, in the gayest manner imaginable, very minute details as to one of the temporary liaisons of Count Lucien. I do not guarantee the authenticity of the anecdote, and I experience in writing it more embarrassment than the senator displayed in relating it, and omit, indeed, a mass of details which the narrator gave without blushing, and without driving off his audience; for my object is to throw light upon the family secrets of the imperial household, and on the habits of the persons who were nearest the Emperor, and not to publish scandal, though I could justify myself by the example of a dignitary of the Empire.

Count Lucien (I do not know in what year) established himself in the good graces of Mademoiselle Meserai, an actress of the Theatre Francais, who was both pretty and sprightly. The conquest was not difficult, in the first place, because this had never been her character towards any one, and, secondly, because the artiste knew the great wealth of the count, and believed him to be prodigal. The first attentions of her lover confirmed her in this opinion, and she demanded a house. He at once presented her with one richly and elegantly furnished, the deed being put in her hands on the day she took possession; and each visit of the count added to the actress’s wardrobe or jewel-case some new gifts. This lasted some months, at the end of which Lucien became disgusted with his bargain, and began to consider by what means to break it without losing too much. Among other things, he had made mademoiselle a present of a pair of girandoles, containing diamonds of great value. In one of the last interviews, before the count had allowed any signs of coldness to be seen, he perceived the girandoles on the toilet-table of his mistress, and, taking them in his hands, said, "Really, my dear, you do me injustice; why do you not show more confidence in me? I do not wish you to wear jewelry so much out of date as these."—"Why, it has been only six months since you gave them to me."—"I know it; but a woman of good taste, a woman who respects herself, should never wear anything six months old. I will take the ear-rings and send them to de Villiers [he was the count’s jeweler] with orders to mount them as I wish." The count was tenderly thanked for so delicate an attention, and put the girandoles in his pocket, with one or two necklaces which had also been his gift, and which did not appear to him sufficiently new in style, and the breach took place before any of these had been returned.

Notwithstanding this, Mademoiselle believed herself well provided for with her furniture and her house, until one morning the true proprietor came to ask her wishes as to making a new lease. She ran to examine her deed, which she had not yet thought to do, and found that it was simply a description of the property, at the end of which was a receipt for two years’ rent.

During our stay at Genoa the heat was insupportable; from this the Emperor suffered greatly, saying he had never experienced the like in Egypt, and undressed many times a day. His bed was covered with a mosquito netting, for the insects were numerous and worrying. The windows of the bedroom looked out upon a grand terrace on the margin of the sea, and from them could be seen the gulf and all the surrounding country. The fetes given by the city were superb. An immense number of vessels were fastened together, and filled with orange and citrontrees and shrubs, some covered with flowers, some with fruits, and all combined formed a most exquisite floating garden which their Majesties visited on a magnificent yacht.

On his return to France, the Emperor made no halt between Turin and Fontainebleau. He traveled incognito, in the name of the minister of the interior, and went at such speed that at each relay they were obliged to throw water on the wheels; but in spite of this his Majesty complained of the slowness of the postilions, and cried continually, "Hurry up! hurry up! we are hardly moving." Many of the servants’ carriages were, left in the rear; though mine experienced no delay, and I arrived at each relay at the same time as the Emperor.

In ascending the steep hill of Tarare, the Emperor alighted from the carriage, as did also Berthier, who accompanied him; the carriages of the suite being some distance behind, as the drivers had stopped to breathe their horses.

His Majesty saw, climbing the hill a few steps before him, an old, decrepit woman, who hobbled along with great difficulty. As the Emperor approached her he inquired why, infirm as she was, and apparently so fatigued, she should attempt to travel so difficult a road.

"Sir," replied she, "they tell me the Emperor is to pass along here, and I wish to see him before I die." His Majesty, who liked to be amused, said to her, "Ah, but why trouble yourself about him? He is a tyrant, like all the rest." The good woman, indignant at this remark, angrily replied, "At least, Sir, he is our choice; and since we must have a master, it is at least right that we should choose him." I was not an eye-witness of this incident; but I heard the Emperor himself relate it to Dr. Corvisart, with some remarks upon the good sense of the masses, who, according to the opinion of his Majesty and his chief doctor, had generally formed very correct opinions.


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Chicago: Louis Constant Wairy, "Chapter XXVI.," 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 September 25, 2022,

MLA: Wairy, Louis Constant. "Chapter XXVI." 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. 25 Sep. 2022.

Harvard: Wairy, LC, 'Chapter XXVI.' 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 25 September 2022, from