Recollections of the Private Life of Napoleon— Complete

Author: Louis Constant Wairy

Chapter II.

The Russians, being incited to this campaign by the remembrance of the defeat of Austerlitz, and by the fear of seeing Poland snatched from their grasp, were not deterred by the winter season, and resolved to open the attack on the Emperor at once; and as the latter was not the man to allow himself to be forestalled, he consequently abandoned his winter quarters, and quitted Warsaw at the end of January. On the 8th of February the two armies met at Eylau; and there took place, as is well known, a bloody battle, in which both sides showed equal courage, and nearly fifteen thousand were left dead on the field of battle, equally divided in number between the French and Russians. The gain, or rather the loss, was the same to both armies; and a ’Te Deum’ was chanted at St. Petersburg as well as at Paris, instead of the ’De Profundis’, which would have been much more appropriate. His Majesty complained bitterly on returning to his headquarters that the order he had sent to General Bernadotte had not been executed, and in consequence of this his corps had taken no part in the battle, and expressed his firm conviction that the victory, which remained in doubt between the Emperor and General Benningsen, would have been decided in favor of the former had a fresh army-corps arrived during the battle, according to the Emperor’s calculations. Most unfortunately the aide-de-camp bearing the Emperor’s orders to the Prince of Ponte-Corvo had fallen into the hands of a party of Cossacks; and when the Emperor was informed of this circumstance the day after the battle, his resentment was appeased, though not his disappointment. Our troops bivouacked on the field of battle, which his Majesty visited three times, for the purpose of directing the assistance of the wounded, and removal of the dead.

Generals d’Hautpoult, Corbineau, and Boursier were mortally wounded at Eylau; and it seems to me I can still hear the brave d’Hautpoult saying to his Majesty, just as he dashed off at a gallop to charge the enemy: "Sire, you will now see my great claws; they will pierce through the enemy’s squares as if they were butter" An hour after he was no more. One of his regiments, being engaged in the interval with the Russian army, was mowed down with grape-shot, and hacked to pieces by the Cossacks, only eighteen men being left. General d’Hautpoult, forced to fall back three times with his division, led it back twice to the charge; and as he threw himself against the enemy the third time shouted loudly, "Forward, cuirassiers, in God’s name! forward, my brave cuirassiers?" But the grapeshot had mowed down too many of these brave fellows; very few were left to follow their chief, and he soon fell pierced with wounds in the midst of a square of Russians into which he had rushed almost alone.

I think it was in this battle also that General Ordenerl killed with his own hands a general officer of the enemy. The Emperor asked if he could not have taken him alive. "Sire," replied the general with his strong German accent, "I gave him only one blow, but I tried to make it a good one." On the very morning of the battle, General Corbineau, the Emperor’s aide-de-camp, while at breakfast with the officers on duty, declared to them that he was oppressed by the saddest presentiments; but these gentlemen, attempting to divert his mind, turned the affair into a joke. General Corbineau a few moments after received an order from his Majesty, and not finding some money he wished at Monsieur de Meneval’s quarters, came to me, and I gave it to him from the Emperor’s private purse; at the end of a few hours I met Monsieur de Meneval, to whom I rendered an account of General Corbineau’s request, and the sum I had lent him. I was still speaking to Monsieur de Meneval, when an officer passing at a gallop gave us the sad news of the general’s death. I have never forgotten the impression made on me by this sad news, and I still find no explanation of the strange mental distress which gave warning to this brave soldier of his approaching end.

Poland was relying upon the Emperor to re-establish her independence, and consequently the Poles were filled with hope and enthusiasm on witnessing the arrival of the French army. As for our soldiers, this winter campaign was most distasteful to them; for cold and wretchedness, bad weather and bad roads, had inspired them with an extreme aversion to this country.

In a review at Warsaw, at which the inhabitants crowded around our troops, a soldier began to swear roundly against the snow and mud, and, as a consequence, against Poland and the Poles. "You are wrong, Monsieur soldier," replied a young lady of a good bourgeois family of the town, " not to love our country, for we love the French very much."—"You are doubtless very lovable, mademoiselle," replied the soldier; "but if you wish to persuade me of the truth of what you say, you will prepare us a good dinner, my comrade and I."—"Come, then, messieurs," said the parents of the young Pole now advancing, "and we will drink together to the health of your Emperor." And they really carried off with them the two soldiers, who partook of the best dinner the country afforded.

The soldiers were accustomed to say that four words formed the basis of the Polish language,— kleba? niema; "bread? there is none;" voia? sara; "water? they have gone to draw it."

As the Emperor was one day passing through a column of infantry in the suburbs of Mysigniez, where the troops endured great privations since the bad roads prevented the arrival of supplies, "Papa, kleba," cried a soldier. "Niema," immediately replied the Emperor. The whole column burst into shouts of laughter, and no further request was made.

During the Emperor’s somewhat extended stay at Finkenstein, he received a visit from the Persian ambassador, and a few grand reviews were held in his honor. His Majesty sent in return an embassy to the Shah, at the head of which he placed General Gardanne, who it was then said had an especial reason for wishing to visit Persia. It was rumored that one of his relations, after a long residence at Teheran, had been compelled, having taken part in an insurrection against the Franks, to quit this capital, and before his flight had buried a considerable treasure in a certain spot, the description of which he had carried to France. I will add, as a finale to this story, some facts which I have since learned. General Gardanne found the capital in a state of confusion; and being able neither to locate the spot nor discover the treasure, returned from his embassy with empty hands.

Our stay at Finkenstein became very tiresome; and in order to while away the time, his Majesty sometimes played with his generals and aides-decamp. The game was usually vingt-et-un; and the Great Captain took much pleasure in cheating, holding through several deals the cards necessary to complete the required number, and was much amused when he won the game by this finesse. I furnished the sum necessary for his game, and as soon as he returned to his quarters received orders to make out his account. He always gave me half of his gains, and I divided the remainder between the ordinary valets de chambre.

I have no intention, in this journal, of conforming to a very exact order of dates; and whenever there recurs to my memory a fact or an anecdote which seems to me deserving of mention, I shall jot it down, at whatever point of my narrative I may have then reached, fearing lest, should I defer it to its proper epoch, it might be forgotten. In pursuance of this plan I shall here relate, in passing, some souvenirs of Saint-Cloud or the Tuileries, although we are now in camp at Finkenstein. The pastimes in which his Majesty and his general officers indulged recalled these anecdotes to my recollection. These gentlemen often made wagers or bets among themselves; and I heard the Duke of Vicenza one day bet that Monsieur Jardin, junior, equerry of his Majesty, mounted backwards on his horse, could reach the end of the avenue in front of the chateau in the space of a few moments; which bet the equerry won.

Messieurs Fain, Meneval, and Ivan once played a singular joke on Monsieur B. d’A---- , who, they knew, was subject to frequent attacks of gallantry. They dressed a young man in woman’s clothes, and sent him to promenade, thus disguised, in an avenue near the chateau. Monsieur B. d’A---- was very near-sighted, and generally used an eyeglass. These gentlemen invited him to take a walk; and as soon as he was outside the door, he perceived the beautiful promenader, and could not restrain an exclamation of surprise and joy at the sight.

His friends feigned to share his delight, and urged him, as the most enterprising, to make the first advances, whereupon, in great excitement, he hastened after the pretended young lady, whom they had taught his role perfectly. Monsieur d’A---- outdid himself in politeness, in attentions, in offers of service, insisting eagerly on doing the honors of the chateau to his new conquest. The other acted his part perfectly; and after many coquettish airs on his side, and many protestations on the part of Monsieur d’A , a rendezvous was made for that very evening; and the lover, radiant with hope, returned to his friends, maintaining much discretion and reserve as to his good fortune, while he really would have liked to devour the time which must pass before the day was over. At last the evening arrived which was to put an end to his impatience, and bring the time of his interview; and his disappointment and rage may be imagined when he discovered the deception which had been practiced on him. Monsieur d’A---- wished at first to challenge the authors and actors in this hoax, and could with great difficulty be appeased.

It was, I think, on the return from this campaign, that Prince Jerome saw at Breslau, at the theater of that town, a young and very pretty actress, who played her part badly, but sang very well. He made advances, which she received coolly: but kings do not sigh long in vain; they place too heavy a weight in the balance against discretion. His Majesty, the King of Westphalia, carried off his conquest to Cassel, and at the end of a short time she was married to his first valet de chambre, Albertoni, whose Italian morals were not shocked by this marriage. Some disagreement, the cause, of which I do not know, having caused Albertoni to quit the king, he returned to Paris with his wife, and engaged in speculations, in which he lost all that he had gained, and I have been told that he returned to Italy. One thing that always appeared to me extraordinary was the jealousy of Albertoni towards his wife—an exacting jealousy which kept his eyes open towards all men except the king; for I am well convinced that the liaison continued after their marriage.

The brothers of the Emperor, although kings, were sometimes kept waiting in the Emperor’s antechamber. King Jerome came one morning by order of the Emperor, who, having not yet risen, told me to beg the King of Westphalia to wait. As the Emperor wished to sleep a little longer, I remained with the other servants in the saloon which was used as an antechamber, and the king waited with us; I do not say in patience, for he constantly moved from chair to chair, promenaded back and forth between the window and the fireplace, manifesting much annoyance, and speaking now and then to me, whom he always treated with great kindness. Thus more than half an hour passed; and at last I entered the Emperor’s room, and when he had put on his dressing-gown, informed him that his Majesty was waiting, and after introducing him, I withdrew. The Emperor gave him a cool reception, and lectured him severely, and as he spoke very loud, I heard him against my will; but the king made his excuses in so low a tone that I could not hear a word of his justification. Such scenes were often repeated, for the prince was dissipated and prodigal, which displeased the Emperor above all things else, and for which he reproved him severely, although he loved him, or rather because he loved him so much; for it is remarkable, that notwithstanding the frequent causes of displeasure which his family gave him, the Emperor still felt for all his relations the warmest affection.

A short time after the taking of Dantzig (May 24, 1807), the Emperor, wishing to reward Marshal Lefebvre for the recent services which he had rendered, had him summoned at six o’clock in the morning. His Majesty was in consultation with the chief-of-staff of the army when the arrival of the marshal was announced. "Ah!" said he to Berthier, "the duke does not delay." Then, turning to the officer on duty, " Say to the Duke of Dantzig that I have summoned him so early in order that he may breakfast with me." The officer, thinking that the Emperor had misunderstood the name, remarked to him, that the person who awaited his orders was not the Duke of Dantzig, but Marshal Lefebvre. "It seems, monsieur, that you think me more capable of making a count [faire un conte] than a duke."

The officer was somewhat disconcerted by this reply; but the Emperor reassured him with a smile, and said, "Go, give the duke my invitation, and say to him that in a quarter of an hour breakfast will be served." The officer returned to the marshal, who was, of course, very anxious to know why the Emperor had summoned him. "Monsieur le Due, the Emperor invites you to breakfast with him, and begs you to wait a quarter of an hour." The marshal, not having noticed the new title which the officer gave him, replied by a nod, and seated himself on a folding chair on the back of which hung the Emperor’s sword, which the marshal inspected and touched with admiration and respect. The quarter of an hour passed, when another ordnance officer came to summon the marshal to the Emperor, who was already at table with the chief-of-staff; and as he entered, the Emperor saluted him with, "Good-day, Monsieur le Due; be seated next to me."

The marshal, astonished at being addressed by this title, thought at first that his Majesty was jesting; but seeing that he made a point of calling him Monsieur le, Due he was overcome with astonishment. The Emperor, to increase his embarrassment, said to him, "Do you like chocolate, Monsieur le Duc?"—"But—yes, Sire."—"Well, we have none for breakfast, but I will give you a pound from the very town of Dantzig; for since you have conquered it, it is but just that it should make you some return." Thereupon the Emperor left the table, opened a little casket, took therefrom a package in the shape of a long square, and handed it to Marshal Lefebvre, saying to him, "Duke of Dantzig, accept this chocolate; little gifts preserve friendship." The marshal thanked his Majesty, put the chocolate in his pocket, and took his seat again at table with the Emperor and Marshal Berthier. A ’pate’ in the shape of the town of Dantzig was in the midst of the table; and when this was to be served the Emperor said to the new duke, "They could not have given this dish a form which would have pleased me more. Make the attack, Monsieur le Duc; behold your conquest; it is yours to do the honors." The duke obeyed; and the three guests ate of the pie, which they found much to their taste. On his return, the marshal, Duke of Dantzig, suspecting a surprise in the little package which the Emperor had given him, hastened to open it, and found a hundred thousand crowns in bank-notes. In imitation of this magnificent present, the custom was established in the army of calling money, whether in pieces or in bank-notes, Dantzig chocolate; and when the soldiers wished to be treated by any comrade who happened to have a little money in his pocket, would say to him, "Come, now, have you no Dantzig chocolate in your pocket?"

The almost superstitious fancy of his Majesty the Emperor in regard to coincidences in dates and anniversaries was strengthened still more by the victory of Friedland, which was gained on June 14, 1807, seven years to the very day after the battle of Marengo. The severity of the winter, the difficulty in furnishing supplies (for which the Emperor had however made every possible provision and arrangement), added to the obstinate courage of the Russians, had made this a severe campaign, especially to conquerors whom the incredible rapidity of their successes in Prussia had accustomed to sudden conquests. The division of glory which he had been compelled to make with the Russians was a new experience in the Emperor’s military career, but at Friedland he regained his advantage and his former superiority. His Majesty, by a feigned retreat, in which he let the enemy see only a part of his forces, drew the Russians into a decoy on the Elbe, so complete that they found themselves shut in between that river and our army. This victory was gained by troops of the line and cavalry; and the Emperor did not even find it necessary to use his Guards, while those of the Emperor Alexander was almost entirely destroyed in protecting the retreat, or rather the flight, of the Russians, who could escape from the pursuit of our soldiers only by the bridge of Friedland, a few narrow pontoons, and an almost impassable ford.

The regiments of the line in the French army covered the plain; and the Emperor, occupying a post of observation on a height whence he could overlook the whole field of battle, was seated in an armchair near a mill, surrounded by his staff. I never saw him in a gayer mood, as he conversed with the generals who awaited his orders, and seemed to enjoy eating the black Russian bread which was baked in the shape of bricks. This bread, made from inferior rye flour and full of long straws, was the food of all the soldiers; and they knew that his Majesty ate it as well as themselves. The beautiful weather favored the skillful maneuvers of the army, and they performed prodigies of valor. The cavalry charges especially were executed with so much precision that the Emperor sent his congratulations to the regiments.

About four o’clock in the afternoon, when the two armies were pressing each other on every side, and thousands of cannon caused the earth to tremble, the Emperor exclaimed, "If this continues two hours longer, the French army will be left standing on the plain alone." A few moments after he gave orders to the Count Dorsenne, general of the foot grenadiers of the Old Guard, to fire on a brick-yard, behind which masses of Russians and Prussians were intrenched; and in the twinkling of an eye they were compelled to abandon this position, and a horde of sharpshooters set out in pursuit of the fugitives.

The Guard made this movement at five o’clock, and at six the battle was entirely won. The Emperor said to those who were near him, while admiring the splendid behavior of the Guard, "Look at those brave fellows, with a good-will they would run over the stone-slingers and popguns of the line, in order to teach them to charge without waiting for them; but it would have been useless, as the work has been well done without them."

His Majesty went in person to compliment several regiments which had fought the whole day. A few words, a smile, a salute of the hand, even a nod, was sufficient recompense to these brave fellows who had just been crowned with victory.

The number of the dead and prisoners was enormous; and seventy banners, with all the equipments of the Russian army, were left in the hands of the French.

After this decisive day, the Emperor of Russia, who had rejected the proposals made by his Majesty after the battle of Eylau, found himself much disposed to make the game on his own account; and General Bennigsen consequently demanded an armistice in the name of his Emperor, which his Majesty granted; and a short time after a treaty of peace was signed, and the famous interview between the two sovereigns held on the banks of the Niemen. I shall pass over rapidly the details of this meeting, which have been published and repeated innumerable times. His Majesty and the young Czar conceived a mutual affection from the first moment of their meeting, and each gave fetes and amusements in honor of the other. They were in inseparable in public and private, and passed hours together in meetings for pleasure only, from which all intruders were carefully excluded. The town of Tilsit was declared neutral; and French, Russians, and Prussians followed the example set them by their sovereigns, and lived together in the most intimate brotherhood.

The King and Queen of Prussia soon after joined their Imperial Majesties at Tilsit; though this unfortunate monarch, to whom there remained hardly one town of the whole kingdom he had possessed, was naturally little disposed to take part in so much festivity. The queen was beautiful and graceful, though perhaps somewhat haughty and severe, which did not prevent her being adored by all who surrounded her. The Emperor sought to please her, and she neglected none of the innocent coquetries of her sex in order to soften the heart of the conqueror of her husband. The queen several times dined with the sovereigns, seated between the two Emperors, who vied with each other in overwhelming her with attentions and gallantries. It is well known that the Emperor Napoleon offered her one day a splendid rose, which after some hesitation she accepted, saying to his Majesty with a most charming smile, "With Magdeburg, at least." And it is well known also that the Emperor did not accept the condition.

The princess had among her ladies of honor a very old woman, who was most highly esteemed. One evening as the queen was being escorted into the dining-hall by the two Emperors, followed by the King of Prussia, Prince Murat, and the Grand Duke Constantine, this old lady of honor gave way to the two latter princes. Grand Duke Constantine would not take precedence of her, but entirely spoiled this act of politeness by exclaiming in a rude tone, "Pass, madame, pass on!" And turning towards the King of Naples, added, loud enough to be heard, this disgraceful exclamation, "The old woodcock!"

One may judge from this that Prince Constantine was far from exhibiting towards ladies that exquisite politeness and refined gallantry which distinguished his august brother.

The French Imperial Guard on one occasion gave a dinner to the guard of the Emperor Alexander. At the end of this exceedingly gay and fraternal banquet, each French soldier exchanged uniforms with a Russian, and promenaded thus before the eyes of the Emperors, who were much amused by this impromptu disguise.

Among the numerous attentions paid by the Russian Emperor to our own, I would mention a concert by a troop of Baskir musicians, whom their sovereign brought over the Niemen for this purpose, and never certainly did more barbarous music resound in the ears of his Majesty; and this strange harmony, accompanied by gestures equally as savage, furnished one of the most amusing spectacles that can be imagined. A few days after this concert, I obtained permission to make the musicians a visit, and went to their camp, accompanied by Roustan, who was to serve as interpreter. We enjoyed the pleasure of being present at a repast of the Baskirs, where around immense wooden tubs were seated groups consisting of ten men, each holding in his hand a piece of black bread which he moistened with a ladleful of water, in which had been diluted something resembling red clay. After the repast, they gave us an exhibition of shooting with the bow; and Roustan, to whom this exercise recalled the scenes of his youth, attempted to shoot an arrow, but it fell at a few paces, and I saw a smile of scorn curl the thick lips of our Baskirs. I then tried the bow in my turn, and acquitted myself in such a manner as to do me honor in the eyes of our hosts, who instantly surrounded me, congratulating me by their gestures on my strength and skill; and one of them, even more enthusiastic and more amicable than the others, gave me a pat on the shoulder which I long remembered.

The day succeeding this famous concert, the treaty of peace between the three sovereigns was signed, and his Majesty made a visit to the Emperor Alexander, who received him at the head of his guard. The Emperor Napoleon asked his illustrious ally to show him the bravest grenadier of this handsome and valiant troop; and when he was presented to his Majesty, he took from his breast his own cross of the Legion of Honor, and fastened it on the breast of the Muscovite soldier, amid the acclamations and hurrahs of all his comrades. The two Emperors embraced each other a last time on the banks of the Niemen, and his Majesty set out on the road to Koenigsberg.

At Bautzen the King of Saxony came out to meet him, and their Majesties entered Dresden together. King Frederick Augustus gave a most magnificent reception to the sovereign who, not content with giving him a scepter, had also considerably increased the hereditary estates of the elector of Saxony. The good people of Dresden, during the week we passed there, treated the French more as brothers and compatriots than as allies.

But it was nearly ten months since we had left Paris; and in spite of all the charms of the simple and cordial hospitality of the Germans, I was very eager to see again France and my own family.


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Chicago: Louis Constant Wairy, "Chapter II.," 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 II." 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 II.' 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