Recollections of the Private Life of Napoleon— Complete

Author: Louis Constant Wairy

Chapter XXIX.

The Emperor having left Stuttgard, stopped only twenty-four hours at Carlsruhe, and forty-eight hours at Strasburg, and between that place and Paris made only short halts, without manifesting his customary haste, however, or requiring of the postilions the break-neck speed he usually demanded.

As we were ascending the hill of Meaux, and while the Emperor was so engrossed in reading a book that he paid no attention to what was passing on the road, a young girl threw herself against the door of his Majesty’s carriage, and clung there in spite of the efforts to remove her, not very vigorous in truth, made by the cavaliers of the escort. At last she succeeded in opening the door, and threw herself at the Emperor’s feet. The Emperor, much surprised, exclaimed, "What the devil does this foolish creature want with me?" Then recognizing the young lady, after having scrutinized her features more closely, he added in very evident anger, "Ah, is it you again? will you never let me alone?" The young girl, without being intimidated by this rude welcome, said through her sobs that the only favor she now came to ask for her father was that his prison might be changed, and that he might be removed from the Chateau d’If, the dampness of which was ruining his health, to the citadel of Strasburg. "No, no," cried the Emperor, "don’t count on that. I have many other things to do beside receiving visits from you. If I granted you this demand, in eight days you would think of something else you wished." The poor girl insisted, with a firmness worthy of better success; but the Emperor was inflexible, and on arriving at the top of the hill he said to her, "I hope you will now alight and let me proceed on my journey. I regret it exceedingly, but what you demand of me is impossible." And he thus dismissed her, refusing to listen longer.

While this was occurring I was ascending the hill on foot, a few paces from his Majesty’s carriage; and when this disagreeable scene was over, the young lady, being forced to leave without having obtained what she desired, passed on before me sobbing, and I recognized Mademoiselle Lajolais, whom I had already seen in similar circumstances, but where her courageous devotion to her parents had met with better success.

General Lajolais had been arrested, as well as all his family, on the 18th Fructidor. After being confined for twenty-eight months, he had been tried at Strasburg by a council of war, held by order of the First Consul, and acquitted unanimously.

Later, when the conspiracy of Generals Pichegru, Moreau, George Cadoudal, and of Messieurs de Polignac, de Riviere, etc., were discovered, General Lajolais, who was also concerned therein, was condemned to death. His daughter and his wife were transferred from Strasburg to Paris by the police, and Madame Lajolais was placed in the most rigorous close confinement, while her daughter, now separated from her, took refuge with friends of her family. It was then that this young person, barely fourteen years old, displayed a courage and strength of character unusual at her age; and on learning that her father was condemned to death, she set out at four o’clock in the morning, without confiding her resolution to any one, alone, on foot, and without a guide, with no one to introduce her, and presented herself weeping at the chateau of Saint-Cloud, where the Emperor then was.

She succeeded in gaining an entrance into the chateau only after much opposition; but not allowing herself to be rebuffed by any obstacle, she finally presented herself before me, saying, "Monsieur, I have been promised that you would conduct me instantly to the Emperor" (I do not know who had told her this). "I ask of you only this favor; do not refuse it, I beg!" and moved by her confidence and her despair, I went to inform her Majesty the Empress.

She was deeply touched by the resolution and the tears of one so young, but did not dare, nevertheless, to promise her support at once, for fear of awakening the anger of the Emperor, who was very much incensed against those who were concerned in this conspiracy, and ordered me to say to the young daughter of Lajolais that she was grieved to be able to do nothing for her just then; but that she might return to Saint-Cloud the next day at five o’clock in the morning, and meanwhile she and Queen Hortense would consult together as to the best means of placing her in the Emperor’s way. The young girl returned next day at the appointed hour; and her Majesty the Empress had her stationed in the green saloon, and there she awaited ten hours, the moment when the Emperor, coming out from the council-chamber, would cross this room to enter his cabinet.

The Empress and her august daughter gave orders that breakfast, and then dinner, should be served to her, and came in person to beg her to take some nourishment; but their entreaties were all in vain, for the poor girl had no other thought, no other desire, than that of obtaining her father’s life. At last, at five o’clock in the afternoon, the Emperor appeared; and a sign being made to Mademoiselle Lajolais by which she could designate the Emperor, who was surrounded by several councilors of state and officers of his household, she sprang towards him; and there followed a touching scene, which lasted a long while. The young girl, prostrating herself at the feet of the Emperor, supplicated him with clasped hands, and in the most touching terms, to grant her father’s pardon. The Emperor at first repulsed her, and said in a tone of great severity, "Your father is a traitor; this is the second time he has committed a crime against the state; I can grant you nothing." Mademoiselle Lajolais replied to this outburst of the Emperor, "The first time my father was tried and found innocent; this time it is his pardon I implore!" Finally the Emperor, conquered by so much courage and devotion, and a little fatigued besides by an interview which the perseverance of the young girl would doubtless have prolonged indefinitely, yielded to her prayers, and the life of General Lajolais was spared.

—[It is well known that the sentence of General Lajolais was
commuted to four years detention in a prison of state, that his
property was confiscated and sold, and that he died in the Chateau
d’If much beyond the time set for the expiration of his captivity.—
Note by CONSTANT.]—

Exhausted by fatigue and hunger, the daughter fell unconscious at the Emperor’s feet; he himself raised her, gave her every attention, and presenting her to the persons who witnessed this scene, praised her filial piety in unmeasured terms.

His Majesty at once gave orders that she should be reconducted to Paris, and several superior officers disputed with each other the pleasure of accompanying her. Generals Wolff, aide-de-camp of Prince Louis, and Lavalette were charged with this duty, and conducted her to the conciergerie where her father was confined. On entering his cell, she threw herself on his neck and tried to tell him of the pardon she had just obtained; but overcome by so many emotions, she was unable to utter a word, and it was General Lavalette

—[Marie Chamans, Count de Lavalette, was born in Paris, 1769.
Entered the army 1792, made Captain at Arcola 1796, and served in
Egyptian campaign. Married Emilie de Beauharnais, a niece of
Josephine. Postmaster-general, 1800-1814. Condemned to death
during the Hundred Days, he escaped from prison in his wife’s dress.
His wife was tried, but became insane from excitement. He was
pardoned 1822, and died 1830, leaving two volumes of Memoirs. ]—

who announced to the prisoner what he owed to the brave persistence of his daughter. The next day she obtained, through the favor of the Empress Josephine, the liberty of her mother, who was to have been transported.

Having obtained the life of her father and the liberty of her mother, as I have just related, she still further exerted herself to save their companions in misfortune, who had been condemned to death, and for this purpose joined the ladies of Brittany, who had been led to seek her cooperation by the success of her former petitions, and went with them to Malmaison to beg these additional pardons.

These ladies had succeeded in getting the execution of the condemned delayed for two hours, with the hope that the Empress Josephine would be able to influence the Emperor; but he remained inflexible, and their generous attempt met with no success, whereupon Mademoiselle Lajolais returned to Paris, much grieved that she had not been able to snatch a few more unfortunates from the rigor of the law.

I have already said two things which I am compelled to repeat here: the first is, that, not feeling obliged to relate events in their chronological order, I shall narrate them as they present themselves to my memory; the second is, that I deem it both an obligation and a duty which I owe to the Emperor to relate every event which may serve to make his true character better known, and which has been omitted, whether involuntarily or by design, by those who have written his life. I care little if I am accused of monotony on this subject, or of writing only a panegyric; but, if this should be done, I would reply: So much the worse for him who grows weary of the recital of good deeds! I have undertaken to tell the truth concerning the Emperor, be it good or bad; and every reader who expects to find in my memoirs of the Emperor only evil, as well as he who expects to find only good, will be wise to go no farther, for I have firmly resolved to relate all that I know; and it is not my fault if the kind acts performed by the Emperor are so numerous that my recitals should often turn to praises.

I thought it best to make these short observations before giving an account of another pardon granted by his Majesty at the time of the coronation, and which the story of Mademoiselle Lajolais has recalled to my recollection.

On the day of the last distribution of the decoration of the Legion of Honor in the Church of the Invalides, as the Emperor was about to retire at the conclusion of this imposing ceremony, a very young man threw himself on his knees on the steps of the throne, crying out, "Pardon, pardon for my father." His Majesty, touched by his interesting countenance and deep emotion, approached him and attempted to raise him; but the young man still retained his beseeching posture, repeating his demand in moving tones. "What is your father’s name?" demanded the Emperor. "Sire," replied the young man, hardly able to make himself heard, "it is well known, and has been only too often calumniated by the enemies of my father before your Majesty; but I swear that he is innocent. I am the son of Hugues Destrem."—"Your father, sir, is gravely compromised by his connection with incorrigible revolutionists; but I will consider your application. Monsieur Destrem is happy in having so devoted a son." The Emperor added a few consoling words, and the young man retired with the certainty that his father would be pardoned; but unfortunately this pardon which was granted by the Emperor came too late, and Hugues Destrem, who had been transported to the Island of Oleron after the attempt of the 3d Nivose,—[The affair of the infernal machine in the Rue Sainte Nicaise]—in which he had taken no part, died in his exile before he had even learned that the solicitations of his son had met with such complete success.

On our return from the glorious campaign of Austerlitz, the commune of Saint-Cloud, so favored by the sojourn of the court, had decided that it would distinguish itself on this occasion, and take the opportunity of manifesting its great affection for the Emperor.

The mayor of Saint-Cloud was Monsieur Barre, a well informed man, with a very kind heart. Napoleon esteemed him highly, and took much pleasure in his conversation, and he was sincerely regretted by his subordinates when death removed him.

M. Barre had erected an arch of triumph, of simple but noble design, in excellent taste, at the foot of the avenue leading to the palace, which was adorned with the following inscription:


The evening on which the Emperor was expected, the mayor and his associates, armed with the necessary harangue, passed a part of the night at the foot of the monument. M. Barre, who was old and feeble, then retired, after having placed as sentinel one of his associates, whose duty it was to inform him of the arrival of the first courier; and a ladder was placed across the entrance of the arch of triumph, so that no one might pass under it before his Majesty. Unfortunately, the municipal argus went to sleep; and the Emperor arrived in the early morning, and passed by the side of the arch of triumph, much amused at the obstacle which prevented his enjoying the distinguished honor which the good inhabitants of Saint-Cloud had prepared for him.

On the day succeeding this event, a little drawing was circulated in the palace representing the authorities asleep near the monument, a prominent place being accorded the ladder, which barred the passage, and underneath was written the arch barre, alluding to the name of the mayor. As for the inscription, they had travestied it in this manner:


Their Majesties were much amused by this episode.

While the court was at Saint-Cloud, the Emperor, who had worked very late one evening with Monsieur de Talleyrand, invited the latter to sleep at the chateau; but the prince, who preferred returning to Paris, refused, giving as an excuse that the beds had a very disagreeable odor. There was no truth whatever in this statement, for there was, as may be believed, the greatest care taken of the furniture, even in the storerooms of the different imperial palaces; and the reason assigned by M. de Talleyrand being given at random, he could just as well have given any other; but, nevertheless, the remark struck the Emperor’s attention, and that evening on entering his bedroom he complained that his bed had an unpleasant odor. I assured him to the contrary, and told his Majesty that he would next day be convinced of his error; but, far from being persuaded, the Emperor, when he rose next morning, repeated the assertion that his bed had a very disagreeable odor, and that it was absolutely necessary to change it. M. Charvet, concierge of the palace, was at once summoned; his Majesty complained of his bed, and ordered another to be brought.

M. Desmasis, keeper of the furniture-room, was also called, who examined mattress, feather-beds, and covering, turned and returned them in every direction; other persons did the same, and each was convinced that there was no odor about his Majesty’s bed. In spite of so many witnesses to the contrary, the Emperor, not because he made it a point of honor not to have what he had asserted proved false, but merely from a caprice to which he was very subject, persisted in his first idea, and required his bed to be changed. Seeing that it was necessary to obey, I sent this bed to the Tuileries, and had the one which was there brought to the chateau of Saint-Cloud. The Emperor was now satisfied, and, on his return to the Tuileries, did not notice the exchange, and thought his bed in that chateau very good; and the most amusing part of all was that the ladies of the palace, having learned that the Emperor had complained of his bed, all found an unbearable odor in theirs, and insisted that everything must be overhauled, which created a small revolution. The caprices of sovereigns are sometimes epidemic.


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Chicago: Louis Constant Wairy, "Chapter XXIX.," 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 October 3, 2022,

MLA: Wairy, Louis Constant. "Chapter XXIX." 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. 3 Oct. 2022.

Harvard: Wairy, LC, 'Chapter XXIX.' 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 3 October 2022, from