Louisa of Prussia and Her Times

Author: Luise Mühlbach

Chapter XLII. The Emperor Napoleon.

A new era had dawned for France! On the eighteenth of May, 1804, she had changed her title and commenced a new epoch of her existence.

On the eighteenth of May, 1804, the French Republic had ceased to exist, for on that day Bonaparte, the First Consul, had become Napoleon, the first Emperor of France. There was no more talk of liberty, equality, and fraternity. France had again a master—a master who was firmly determined to transform the proud republicans into obedient subjects, and to restore law and order if necessary by means of tyranny. Woe to those who wanted to remember old republican France under the new state of affairs; woe to those who called Napoleon Bonaparte the assassin of the republic, and wished to punish him for his criminal conduct! George Cadoudal and Pichegru had to atone with their lives for such audacious attempts, and Moreau, Bonaparte’s great rival, was banished from his country.

Woe to those, too, who hoped that the old royal throne of the fleurde-lis would take the place of the dying republic! the royalists as well as the republicans were punished as traitors to their country, and the Duke d’Enghien was executed in the ditch of Vincennes because he had dared to approach the frontier of his country. Sentence of death had been passed upon him without a trial, without judgment and law; and even the tears and prayers of Josephine had been unable to soften Bonaparte’s heart. The son of the Bourbons had to die the death of a traitor, that the son of the Corsican lawyer might become Emperor of France.

Europe was no longer strong enough to punish this bloody deed; it was not even courageous enough to denounce it and to ask the First Consul, Bonaparte, by virtue of what right he had ordered his soldiers in the midst of peace to enter a German state in order to arrest there the guest of a German prince like a common felon, and to have him executed for a crime which was never proved against him. The sense of honor and justice seemed entirely extinct in Germany, and the princes and people of Germany were solely actuated by the all-absorbing fear lest powerful France might assume a hostile attitude toward them.

Not a voice, therefore, was raised in Germany in favor of the Duke d’Enghien, and against a violation of the German territory, directly conflicting with the existing treaties and the tenets of international law. The German Diet, upon whom it was incumbent to maintain the honor and rights of all the German states, received the news of this bloody deed in silence, and were only too glad that none of the members of the empire arose in order to complain of the proceedings of France. It was deemed most prudent to pass over the matter, and to accept what could not be helped as an accomplished fact.

But from this lazy quiet they were suddenly startled by the warnings of Russia and Sweden, who, having warranted the maintenance of the constitution of the German empire, now raised their voices, and loudly and emphatically pointed out "the danger which would arise for every single German state if Germany should allow measures to be taken which threatened her quiet and safety, and if deeds of violence should be deemed admissible or be passed over without being duly denounced." [Footnote: Vide Hausser’s "History of Germany," vol. ii., p. 518.]

A sudden panic seized the German Diet, for these Russian and Swedish voices rendered further silence out of the question. The Diet were, therefore, compelled to speak out, to complain, and to demand an apology and redress, for Russia and Sweden required it, by virtue of their relation to the empire; foreign powers required the German Diet, much to its dismay, to maintain and defend the honor of Germany.

But the Diet dared not listen to them, for France asked them to be silent; it threatened to consider any word of censure as a declaration of war. The ministers of the German princes, greatly embarrassed by their position between those equally imperious parties, found a way not to irritate either, and to maintain their silence and impartiality; they DESERTED! That is to say, the German Diet, suddenly, and long before the usual time, took a recess, a long recess, and when the latter had at length expired, the unpleasant affair was not taken up, and the Diet considered a more important question of the day. [Footnote: Ibid., p. 525.] This more important question was to congratulate France on having elected an emperor, who, as the Austrian minister said, at a meeting of the Diet, "was so precious to all Europe, and by whose accession to the throne his colleagues could only feel honored."

The Diet had been silent about the assassination of the Duke d’Enghien, but they spoke out and proffered their congratulations when Bonaparte had become emperor, and they pretended to be glad to hail him as the founder of a new dynasty.

Napoleon Bonaparte, therefore, had now attained his object; he had reestablished the throne in France; he had placed a crown on his head. More fortunate than Caesar, he had met with no Brutus at the steps of his throne, but had ascended it without being hindered, amidst the acclamations of France, which called him her emperor; amidst the acclamations of Italy, which called him her king, and had willingly cast aside her title of Cisalpine Republic in order to become the kingdom of Lombardy, and to adorn Napoleon at Milan with the iron crown of the old Lombard sovereigns.

Napoleon had just returned to France from this coronation at Milan, and repaired to the vast camp at Boulogne, where an army comprising a hundred and fifty thousand infantry and ninety thousand cavalry, eager for the fray, were waiting for the word of Napoleon which was to call them forth to new struggles and new victories.

The immense rows of the soldiers’ tents extended far across the plain and along the sea-shore, and in the centre of this city of tents, on the spot where lately the traces of a camp of Julius Caesar had been discovered, there arose the emperor’s tent, looking out on the ocean, on the shore of which the ships and gunboats of France were moored, while the immense forest of the masts and flags of the British fleet was to be seen in the distance.

But this forest of British masts did not frighten the French army; the soldiers, as well as the sailors, were eager for the fray, and looked with fiery impatience for the moment when the emperor would at length raise his voice and utter the longed-for words: "On to England! Let us vanquish England as we have vanquished the whole of Europe!"

No one doubted that the emperor purposed to utter these words, and that this camp of Boulogne, this fleet manned with soldiers and bristling with guns, were solely intended against England, the hereditary foe of France.

The emperor, however, hesitated to utter those decisive words. He distributed among the soldiers the first crosses of the Legion of Honor; he drilled the troops; he accepted the festivals and balls which the city of Boulogne gave in his honor; he stood for hours on the sea-shore or on the tower of his barrack, and with his spy-glass looked out on the sea and over to the English ships; but his lips did not open to utter the decisive words; the schemes which filled his breast and clouded his brow were a secret, the solution of which was looked for with equal impatience by his generals and by his soldiers.

It was a delightful morning; a cool breeze swept from the sea through the tents of the camp, and, after the preceding spell of debilitating hot weather, exerted a most refreshing and invigorating effect upon the languishing soldiers. The sun which had scorched every thing for the last few days, was to-day gently veiled by small, whitish clouds, which, far on the horizon, seemed to arise, like swans, from the sea toward the sky, and to hasten with outspread wings toward the sun.

The emperor, whom the warm weather of the last few days had prevented from riding out, ordered his horse to be brought to him. He wished to make a trip to the neighboring villages, but no one was to accompany him except Roustan, his colored servant.

In front of the emperor’s barrack there stood, however, all the generals and staff-officers, all the old comrades of Napoleon, the men who had shared his campaigns and his glory, who had joyfully recognized the great chieftain as their emperor and master, and who wished to do him homage to-day, as they were in the habit of doing every morning so soon as he left his barrack. Napoleon, however, saluted them to-day only with a silent wave of his hand and an affable smile. He seemed pensive and absorbed, and no one dared to disturb him by a sound, by a word. Amid the solemn stillness of this brilliant gathering, the emperor walked to his horse, who, less timid and respectful than the men, greeted his master with a loud neigh and a nodding of the head, and commenced impatiently stamping on the ground. [Footnote: Napoleon’s favorite horse, who always manifested in this manner his delight on seeing his illustrious master.—Constant, vol. ii., p. 81.]

The emperor took the bridle which Roustan handed to him and vaulted into the saddle. He raised his sparkling eye toward the sky and then lowered it to the sea with its rocking ships.

"I will review the fleet to-day," said the emperor, turning to his adjutant-general. "Let orders be issued to the ships forming the closing line to change position, for I will hold the review in the open sea. I shall return in two hours; let every thing be in readiness at that time."

He set spurs to his horse and galloped away, followed by Roustan. His generals dispersed in order to return to their barracks. The adjutant-general, however, hastened to Admiral Bruix for the purpose of delivering the orders of the emperor to him.

The admiral listened to him silently and attentively; and then he raised his eyes to the sky and scanned it long and searchingly.

"It is impossible," he said, shrugging his shoulders; "the orders of the emperor cannot be carried out to-day; the review cannot take place. We shall have a storm to-day, which will prevent the ships from leaving their moorings."

"Admiral," said the adjutant, respectfully, "I have delivered the orders of the emperor to you; I have informed you that the emperor wishes that every thing should be ready for the review on his return, within two hours. Now you know very well that the wish of the emperor is always equivalent to an order, and you will make your preparations accordingly."

"In two hours I shall have the honor personally to state to his majesty the reasons why I was unable to comply with his orders, "said Admiral Bruix, with his wonted composure and coolness.

Precisely two hours later the emperor returned from his ride. The generals and staff-officers, the whole, brilliant suite of the emperor, stood again in front of his barrack, in order to receive the returning sovereign.

Napoleon greeted them with a pleasant smile; the ride seemed to have agreed with him; the cloud had disappeared from his brow; his cheeks, generally so pale, were suffused with a faint blush, and his flaming eyes bad a kind glance for every one.

He dismounted with graceful ease, and stepped with kind salutations into the circle of the generals.

"Well, Leclerc, is every thing ready for the review?" he asked his adjutant.

General Leclerc approached him respectfully. "Sire," he said, "Admiral Bruix, to whom I delivered the orders of your majesty, replied to me that the review could not take place to-day because there would be a storm."

The emperor frowned, and an angry flash from his eyes met the face of the adjutant.

"I must have misunderstood you, sir." he said. "What did the admiral reply when you delivered my orders to him?"

"Sire, he said it was impossible to carry them out, for a storm was drawing near, and he could not think of ordering the ships to leave their moorings."

The emperor stamped violently his foot. "Let Admiral Bruix be called hither at once!" he exclaimed, in a thundering voice, and two orderlies immediately left the circle and hastened away.

Several minutes elapsed; Napoleon, his arms folded, his threatening eyes steadfastly turned toward the side on which the admiral would make his appearance, still stood in front of his barrack, in the midst of his suite. His eagle eye now discovered the admiral in the distance, who had just left his boat and stepped ashore. No longer able to suppress his impatience and anger, Napoleon hastened forward to meet the admiral, while the gentlemen of his staff followed him in a long and silent procession.

The emperor and the admiral now stood face to face. Napoleon’s eyes flashed fire.

"Admiral," exclaimed the emperor, in an angry voice, "why did not you carry out my orders?"

The admiral met Napoleon’s wrathful glance in a calm though respectful manner. "Sire," he said, "a terrible storm is drawing near. Your majesty can see it just as well as I. Do you want to endanger unnecessarily the lives of so many brave men?"

And as if Nature wanted to confirm the words of the admiral, the distant roll of thunder was heard, and the atmosphere commenced growing dark.

Napoleon, however, seemed not to see it, or the calm voice of the admiral and the rolling thunder, perhaps, excited his pride to an even more obstinate resistance.

"Admiral," he replied, sternly, "I have issued my orders. I ask you once more why did not you carry them out? The consequences concern only myself. Obey, therefore!"

"Sire," he said, solemnly, "I shall not obey!"

"Sir, you are an impudent fellow!" ejaculated Napoleon, and, advancing a step toward the admiral, he menacingly raised the hand in which he still held his riding-whip.

Admiral Bruix drew back a step and laid his hand on his sword. A terrible pause ensued. The emperor still stood there, the ridingwhip in his uplifted hand, fixing his flaming, angry eyes on the admiral, who maintained his threatening, manly attitude, and, with his hand on his sword, awaited the emperor’s attack. The generals and staff-officers, pale with dismay, formed a circle around them.

The emperor suddenly dropped his riding-whip; Admiral Bruix immediately withdrew his hand from his sword, and, taking off his hat, he awaited the end of the dreadful scene in profound silence.

"Rear-Admiral Magou," said the emperor, calling one of the gentlemen of his suite, "cause the movements I had ordered to be carried out at once: As for you," he continued, slowly turning his eyes toward the admiral, "you will leave Boulogne within twenty-four hours and retire to Holland. Begone!"

He turned around hastily and walked toward his barrack. Admiral Bruix looked after him with an aggrieved air, and then turned also around in order to go. While walking through the crowd of generals and staff-officers, he offered his hand to his friends and acquaintances in order to take leave of them; but few of them, however, saw it, and shook hands with him; most of them had averted their eyes from the admiral, whom the sun of imperial favor did not illuminate any longer, and who consequently was so entirely cast in the shade, that they were unable to perceive him.

Rear-Admiral Magou had in the mean time carried out the orders of the emperor. The ships which before had been at anchor near the outlet of the harbor, keeping it entirely closed, had moved farther into the sea, while the other vessels in the harbor were going out.

But Admiral Bruix’s prediction began already to be fulfilled; the sky was covered with black clouds from which lightning was bursting forth in rapid succession. The thunder of the heavens drowned the roar of the sea, which arose like a huge, black monster, hissing and howling, and fell back again from its height, covered with foam, and opened abysses into which the ships seemed to sink in order to be hurled up again by the next wave. The storm, with its dismal yells, attacked the masts and broke them as though they were straws, and lashed the ships, which had already left the harbor, out into the sea, to certain ruin, to certain death.

The emperor had left his barrack and hurried down to the beach with rapid steps. With folded arms and lowered head, gloomy and musing, he walked up and down in the storm. He was suddenly aroused from his meditations by loud screams, by exclamations of terror and dismay.

Twenty gunboats, which the rear-admiral had already caused to be manned with sailors and soldiers, had been driven ashore by the storm, and the waves which swept over them with thundering noise menaced the crews with certain death. Their cries for help, their shrieks and supplications were distinctly heard and reechoed by the wails and lamentations of the masses that had hastened to the beach in order to witness the storm and the calamities of the shipwreck. The emperor looked at his generals and staff-officers who surrounded him, dumbfounded with horror; he saw that no one had the courage or deemed it feasible to assist the poor drowning men. All at once the gloomy air vanished from his face, it became radiant with enthusiasm; the emperor was transformed once more into a hero, daring every thing, and shrinking back from no danger.

He immediately entered one of the life-boats and pushing back the arms of those who wished to detain him, he exclaimed in an almost jubilant voice: "Let me go, let me go! We must assist those unhappy men!"

But his frail bark was speedily filled with water; the waves swept over it with a wild roar, and covered the whole form of the emperor with foaming, hissing spray. He still kept himself erect by dint of almost superhuman efforts; but now another even more terrible wave approached and swept, thundering and with so much violence over the bark, that the emperor, reeling and losing his equilibrium, was about falling overboard, when his generals dragged him from the boat and took him ashore. He followed them unhesitatingly, stunned as he was by the wave, and as he stepped ashore, a flash burst forth from the cloud; a majestic thunder-clap followed; the howling storm tore the hat from the emperor’s head and carried it, as if on invisible wings, high into the air and then far out into the sea where the waves seemed to receive it with roars of exultation, driving it down to their foaming depth.

But the courageous example given by the emperor had exerted an electric effect on the masses which heretofore had apparently been stupefied with horror. Every one now felt and recognized it to be his sacred duty to make efforts for the rescue of the unfortunate men who were still struggling with the waves and shouting for help; officers, soldiers, sailors, and citizens, all rushed into the lifeboats or plunged into the sea in order to swim up to the drowning men and save them in time from a watery grave.

But the sea was not willing to surrender many of its victims. It wanted, perhaps, to prove its superior divine majesty to the imperial ruler which had defied it, and punish him for his presumption.

Only a few were rescued, for the storm did not abate during the whole day; it lashed up the sea into waves mountain-high, or opened abysses frightful to behold. Night finally descended on the angry waters and spread its black pall over the scene of death and despair.

In the morning the beach was covered with hundreds of corpses which the sea had thrown ashore. An enormous crowd thronged the shore; every one came to look with fainting heart and loud lamentations among the mute, pale corpses for a husband, a friend, or a brother; shrieks and wails filled the air and even penetrated to the emperor’s barracks.

He had not slept during the whole night; he had been pacing his rooms, restless, with a gloomy air and pale cheeks: now, early in the morning, he once more hastened down to the beach. Thousands of persons, however, had preceded him thither. When they beheld the emperor they stepped gloomily aside; they did not receive him, as heretofore, with loud exultation and joyful acclamations; they looked at him with a reproachful air, and then turned their eyes in mute eloquence to the corpses lying in the sand.

The emperor was unable to bear the silence of the crowd and the sight of these corpses; pale and shuddering, he turned away and walked back to his barrack slowly and with lowered head. But he did not fail to hear the murmurs of the crowd which had only been silent so long as it had seen his face, and which, now that he had turned away, gave free vent to its grief and indignation.

The emperor heard painful sighs when he reached his barrack, and sent immediately for Roustan, in order to give him secret instructions. Thanks to these instructions, Roustan’s agents hastened all day through the city of Boulogne and through the camp for the purpose of distributing money in the name of the emperor wherever persons were lamenting and weeping, or where gloomy glances and mourners were to be met with, thus allaying their grief by means of the shining magic metal which heals all wounds and dries all tears.

The emperor, however, had still a more effectual charm for allaying the indignation of the crowd, or at least for stirring up again the jubilant enthusiasm of his soldiers.

Telegraphic dispatches of the highest importance had reached the camp; courier after courier had followed them. The emperor assembled all his generals in the council-chamber of his barrack, and when they left it, after a consultation of several hours, the rumor spread through the camp that the emperor would now at length utter those longed-for words and lead his army to new struggles, to new victories.

These joyful tidings spread like wildfire among the troops; every one hailed them with a radiant face and merry glances. Every one saw himself on the eve of fresh honors and spoils, and only asked whither the victorious course of the emperor would be directed this time—whether to England, which constantly seemed to menace France with its forest of masts, or whether to Austria, whose hostile friendship might have been distrusted.

The emperor had not yet spoken the decisive words to any member of his suite, but he had sent for the grand-marshal of the palace and ordered him to hold every thing in readiness for his departure; to settle all accounts and bills against the emperor, and to beware on this occasion of not paying too much to any one.

On the day after receiving these orders, the grand-marshal, without being announced, appeared before the emperor, who was in the council-chamber of his barrack, engaged in studying attentively the maps spread out on the large table before him.

Napoleon only looked up for a moment, and then continued to stick pins into the maps, thus designating the route which his army was to take.

"Well, Duroc," he asked, "is every thing ready for our departure? Have all bills been paid?"

"Sire, they are all paid except one, and I must dare to disturb your majesty in relation to this one bill."

"I suppose it is very high and fraudulent?" asked the emperor, hastily. With these words he rose and approached the grand-marshal.

"Sire," said the latter, "I do not know whether it is fraudulent or not, but it is very high. It is the bill of Military Intendant Sordi, who built this barrack, and to whom its fitting up had been intrusted."

"Well, how much does he charge for it?" asked Napoleon.

"Sire, he asks fifty thousand francs."

"Fifty thousand francs!" exclaimed Napoleon, almost in terror. "I hope you have not paid this impudent bill?"

"No, sire, I have not; on the contrary, I requested M. Sordi to reduce the sum."

"And he has done so, of course?" exclaimed Napoleon, gloomily. "Just like these men. They ask us to confide in them, and yet they try on every occasion to cheat us. How much did he deduct from his bill?"

"Nothing at all, sire. M. Sordi asserts that he did not charge too much for a single article; he was unable, therefore, to make even the slightest deduction."

"And so you have paid the bill?"

"No, sire, I said that I could not pay it until your majesty had given me express orders to do so."

"Well done," said the emperor, nodding to him. "Send word to the military intendant that I want to see him immediately. I wish to talk to him myself."

The grand-marshal withdrew, and Napoleon returned to his maps. He continued to mark them with long rows of pins, and to draw circles and straight lines on them.

"If the Austrians are bold enough to advance," he said to himself, in a low voice, "I shall beat them in the open field; should they remain stationary and wait for me to attack them, I shall inflict upon them a crushing defeat at Ulm. It is time for me to make these overbearing Germans feel the whole weight of my wrath. and, as they have spurned my friendship, to crush them by my enmity. That little Emperor of Austria dares to menace me; I shall prove to him that menacing me is bringing about one’s own ruin. I shall assemble my forces here in this plain, and here—"

"Sire, the military intendant, M. de Sordi, whom your majesty has ordered to appear before you," said the emperor’s aide-de-camp, opening the door of the council-chamber.

"Let him come in," ejaculated Napoleon, without averting his eyes from the map.

The aide-de-camp retired, and the tall, powerful form of Intendant Sordi appeared in the door. His face was pale, but calm; his features indicated boldness and a fixed purpose; he was evidently conscious of the importance of the present moment, and felt that it would decide his whole future.

The emperor continued scanning his maps. M. de Sordi stood at the door, waiting for the emperor to address him. When he saw that the latter tarried very long, he advanced a step, and, as if accidentally, pushed against the chair standing at his side.

The noise aroused Napoleon from his meditation, and reminded him of the person he had sent for.

He therefore hastily turned around to him. "Sir," he said, "you have spent a great deal too much money for the decoration of this miserable barrack; yes, indeed, a great deal too much. Fifty thousand francs! What do you mean, sir? That is frightful; I shall not pay that sum!"

M. de Sordi met the flaming glances of the emperor with smiling calmness.

"Sire," he said, lifting up his hand and pointing at the ceiling, "I may truthfully say that the clouds of gold brocade adorning the ceiling of this room, and surrounding the propitious star of your majesty, have cost alone not less than twenty-five thousand francs. Had I consulted, however, the hearts of your subjects, the imperial eagle, which now again will crush the enemies of France and of your throne, would have spread out its wings amidst the most magnificent and precious diamonds." [Footnote: The ceiling of the room was decorated with golden clouds, amidst which, on a blue ground, was an eagle, holding a thunderbolt, and pointing it at a star, the star of the emperor.—Constant, vol. i., p. 246.]

Napoleon smiled. "Very well," he said; "you believe the hearts of my subjects to be very prodigal. I am not, however, and I repeat to you I shall not pay that sum now. But as you tell me that this eagle, which costs so much money, will crush the Austrians, you will doubtless wait until it has done so, and then I will pay your bill with the rix-dollars of the Emperor of Germany and the Fredericks d’or of the King of Prussia." [Footnote: Napoleon’s own words.— Constant, vol. i., p. 246.]

He dismissed him smilingly with a wave of his hand, and returned to his maps.

A few hours later Napoleon, followed by all his generals and adjutants, repaired to the camp. Ascending a small mound, specially prepared for the occasion, he surveyed with radiant eyes the surging, motley, and brilliant sea of soldiers who surrounded him on all sides, and who greeted his appearance with thundering shouts of exultation.

A wave of his hand commanded them to be still, and, as if fascinated by a magician’s wand, the roaring masses grew dumb, and profound silence ensued. Amidst this silence, Napoleon raised his clear, ringing-voice, and its sonorous notes swept like eagle-wings over the sea of soldiers.

"Brave soldiers of the camp of Boulogne," he said, "you will not go to England. The gold of the English government has seduced the Emperor of Austria, and he has again declared war against France. His army has crossed the line of demarcation assigned to it, and inundated Bavaria. Soldiers, fresh laurels are awaiting you beyond the Rhine; let us hasten to vanquish once more enemies whom we have already vanquished. On to Germany!" [Footnote: Napoleon’s own words.—Constant, vol. i., p. 282.]

"On to Germany!" shouted the soldiers, jubilantly. "On to Germany!" was repeated from mouth to mouth, and even the sea seemed to roar with delight and its waves, thundering against the beach, to shout, "On to Germany!"


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Chicago: Luise Mühlbach, "Chapter XLII. The Emperor Napoleon.," Louisa of Prussia and Her Times, ed. CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb and trans. Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891 in Louisa of Prussia and Her Times (New York: The Modern Library Publishers, 1918), Original Sources, accessed July 6, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=QBXG8IAWZ9X5U28.

MLA: Mühlbach, Luise. "Chapter XLII. The Emperor Napoleon." Louisa of Prussia and Her Times, edited by CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb, and translated by Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891, in Louisa of Prussia and Her Times, New York, The Modern Library Publishers, 1918, Original Sources. 6 Jul. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=QBXG8IAWZ9X5U28.

Harvard: Mühlbach, L, 'Chapter XLII. The Emperor Napoleon.' in Louisa of Prussia and Her Times, ed. and trans. . cited in 1918, Louisa of Prussia and Her Times, The Modern Library Publishers, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 6 July 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=QBXG8IAWZ9X5U28.