Recollections of the Private Life of Napoleon Bonaparte by Louis Constant Wairy
The allowance made by his Majesty for the yearly expenses of his dress was twenty thousand francs; and the year of, the coronation he became very angry because that sum had been exceeded. It was never without trepidation that the various accounts of household expenses were presented to him; and he invariably retrenched and cut down, and recommended all sort of reforms. I remember after asking for some one a place of three thousand francs, which he granted me, I heard him exclaim, "Three thousand francs! but do you understand that this is the revenue of one of my communes? When I was sub-lieutenant I did not spend as much as that." This expression recurred incessantly in his conversations with those with whom he was familiar; and "when I had the honor of being sub-lieutenant" was often on his lips, and always in illustration of comparisons or exhortations to economy.
While on the subject of accounts, I recall a circumstance which should have a place in my memoirs, since it concerns me personally, and moreover gives an idea of the manner in which his Majesty understood economy. He set out with the idea, which was, I think, often very correct, that in private expenses as in public ones, even granting the honesty of agents (which the Emperor was always, I admit, very slow to do), the same things could have been done with much less money. Thus, when he required retrenchment, it was not in the number of objects of expense, but only in the prices charged for these articles by the furnishers; and I will elsewhere cite some examples of the effect which this idea produced on the conduct of his Majesty towards the accounting agents of his government. Now I am relating only private matters. One day when investigating various accounts, the Emperor complained much of the expenses of the stables, and cut off a considerable sum; and the grand equerry, in order to put into effect the required economy, found it necessary to deprive several persons in the household of their carriages, mine being included in this number. Some days after the execution of this measure, his Majesty charged me with a commission, which necessitated a carriage; and I was obliged to inform him that, no longer having mine, I should not be able to execute his orders. The Emperor then exclaimed that he had not intended this, and M. Caulaincourt must have a poor idea of economy. When he again saw the Duke of Vicenza, he said to him that he did not wish anything of mine to be touched.
The Emperor occasionally read in the morning the new works and romances of the day; and when a work displeased him, he threw it into the fire. This does not mean that only improper books were thus destroyed; for if the author was not among his favorites, or if he spoke too well of a foreign country, that was sufficient to condemn the volume to the flames. On this account I saw his Majesty throw into the fire a volume of the works of Madame de Stael, on Germany. If he found us in the evening enjoying a book in the little saloon, where we awaited the hour for retiring, he examined what we were reading; and if he found they were romances, they were burned without pity, his Majesty rarely failing to add a little lecture to this confiscation, and to ask the delinquent "if a man could not find better reading than that." One morning he had glanced over and thrown in the fire a book (by what author I do not know); and when Roustan stooped down to take it out the Emperor stopped him, saying, "Let that filthy thing burn; it is all that it deserves."
The Emperor mounted his horse most ungracefully, and I think would not have always been very safe when there, if so much care had not been taken to give him only those which were perfectly trained; but every precaution was taken, and horses destined for the special service of the Emperor passed through a rude novitiate before arriving at the honor of carrying him. They were habituated to endure, without making the least movement, torments of all kinds; blows with a whip over the head and ears; the drum was beaten; pistols were fired; fireworks exploded in their ears; flags were shaken before their eyes; heavy weights were thrown against their legs, sometimes even sheep and hogs. It was required that in the midst of the most rapid gallop (the Emperor liked no other pace), he should be able to stop his horse suddenly; and in short, it was absolutely necessary to have only the most perfectly trained animals.
M. Jardin, senior, equerry of his Majesty, acquitted himself of this laborious duty with much skill and ability, as the Emperor attached such importance to it; he also insisted strongly that his horses should be very handsome, and in the last years of his reign would ride only Arab horses.
There were a few of those noble animals for which the Emperor had a great affection; among others, Styria, which he rode over the St. Bernard and at Marengo. After this last campaign, he wished his favorite to end his days in the luxury of repose, for Marengo and the great St. Bernard were in themselves a well-filled career. The Emperor rode also for many years an Arab horse of rare intelligence, in which he took much pleasure. During the time he was awaiting his rider, it would have been hard to discover in him the least grace; but as soon as he heard the drums beat the tattoo which announced the presence of his Majesty, he reared his head most proudly, tossed his mane, and pawed the ground, and until the very moment the Emperor alighted, was the most magnificent animal imaginable.
His Majesty made a great point of good equerries, and nothing was neglected in order that the pages should receive in this particular the most careful education. To accustom them to mount firmly and with grace, they practiced exercises in vaulting, for which it seemed to me they would have no use except at the Olympic circus. And, in fact, one of the horsemen of Messieurs Franconi had charge of this part of the pages' education.
The Emperor, as has been said elsewhere, took no pleasure in hunting, except just so far as was necessary to conform to the usage which makes this exercise a necessary accompaniment to the throne and the crown; and yet I have seen him sometimes continue it sufficiently long to justify the belief that he did not find it altogether distasteful. He hunted one day in the forest of Rambouillet from six in the morning to eight in the evening, a stag being the object of this prolonged excursion; and I remember they returned without having taken him. In one of the imperial hunts at Rambouillet, at which the Empress Josephine was present, a stag, pursued by the hunters, threw himself under the Empress's carriage; which refuge did not fail him, for her Majesty, touched by the misery of the poor animal, begged his life of the Emperor. The stag was spared; and Josephine placed round its neck a silver collar to attest its deliverance, and protect it against the attacks of all hunters.
One of the ladies of the Empress one day showed less humanity than she, however; and the reply which she made to the Emperor displeased him exceedingly, for he loved gentleness and pity in women. When they had hunted for several hours in the Bois de Boulogne, the Emperor drew near the carriage of the Empress Josephine, and began talking with a lady who bore one of the most noble and most ancient names in all France, and who, it is said, had been placed near the Empress against her wishes. The Prince of Neuchatel (Berthier) announced that the stag was at bay. "Madame," said the Emperor gallantly to Madame de C---- , "I place his fate in your hands."--"Do with him, Sire," replied she, "as you please. It is no difference to me." The Emperor gave her a glance of disapproval, and said to the master of the hounds, "Since the stag in his misery does not interest Madame C----, he does not deserve to live; have him put to death;" whereupon his Majesty turned his horse's bridle, and rode off. The Emperor was shocked by such an answer, and repeated it that evening, on his return from the hunt, in terms by no means flattering to Madame de C----.
It is stated in the Memorial of Saint-Helena that the Emperor, while hunting, was thrown and wounded by a wild boar, from which one of his fingers bore a bad scar. I never saw this, and never knew of such an accident having happened to the Emperor. The Emperor did not place his gun firmly to his shoulder, and as he always had it heavily loaded and rammed, never fired without making his arm black with bruises; but I rubbed the injured place with eau de Cologne, and he gave it no further thought.
The ladies followed the hunt in their coaches; a table being usually arranged in the forest for breakfast, to which all persons in the hunt were invited.
The Emperor on one occasion hunted with falcons on the plain of Rambouillet, in order to make a trial of the falconry that the King of Holland (Louis) had sent as a present to his Majesty. The household made a fete of seeing this hunt, of which we had been hearing so much; but the Emperor appeared to take less pleasure in this than in the chase or shooting, and hawking was never tried again.
His Majesty was exceedingly fond of the play, preferring greatly French tragedy and the Italian opera. Corneille was his favorite author; and he had always on his table some volume of the works of this great poet. I have often heard the Emperor declaim, while walking up and down in his room, verses of Cinna, or this speech on the death of Caesar:
"Caesar, you will reign; see the august day
In which the Roman people, always unjust to thee," etc.
At the theater of Saint-Cloud, the piece for the evening was often made up of fragments and selections from different authors, one act being chosen from one opera, one from another, which was very vexatious to the spectators whom the first piece had begun to interest. Often, also, comedies were played; on which occasions there was great rejoicing in the household, and the Emperor himself took much pleasure in them. How many times have I seen him perfectly overcome with laughter, when seeing Baptiste junior in 'les Heritiers', and Michaut also amused him in 'la Partie de Chasse de Henry IV'.
I cannot remember in what year, but it was during one of the sojourns of the court at Fontainebleau, that the tragedy of the Venetians was presented before the Emperor by Arnault, senior. That evening, as he was retiring, his Majesty discussed the piece with Marshal Duroc, and gave his opinion, adducing many reasons, in support of it. These praises, like the criticisms, were all explained and discussed; the grand marshal talking little, and the Emperor incessantly. Although a poor judge myself of such matters, it was very entertaining, and also very instructive, to hear the Emperor's opinion of pieces, ancient and modern, which had been played before him; and his observations and remarks could not have failed, I am sure, to be of great profit to the authors, had they been able like myself to hear them. As for me, if I gained anything from it, it is being enabled to speak of it here a little (although a very little), more appropriately than a blind man would of colors; nevertheless, for fear of saying the wrong thing, I return to matters which are in my department.
It has been said that his Majesty used a great quantity of tobacco, and that in order to take it still more frequently and quickly, he put it in a pocket of his vest, lined with skin for that purpose. This is an error. The Emperor never took tobacco except in his snuff-boxes; and although he wasted a great quantity of it, he really used very little, as he took a pinch, held it to his nose simply to smell it, and let it fall immediately. It is true that the place where he had been was covered with it; but his handkerchiefs, irreproachable witnesses in such matters, were scarcely stained, and although they were white and of very fine linen, certainly bore no marks of a snuff-taker. Sometimes he simply passed his open snuff-box under his nose in order to breathe the odor of the tobacco it contained. These boxes were of black shell, with hinges, and of a narrow, oval shape; they were lined with gold, and ornamented with antique cameos, or medallions, in gold or silver. At one time he used round tobacco-boxes; but as it took two hands to open them, and in this operation he sometimes dropped either the box or the top, he became disgusted with them. His tobacco was grated very coarse, and was usually composed of several kinds of tobacco mixed together. Frequently he amused himself by making the gazelles that he had at Saint-Cloud eat it. They were very fond of it, and although exceedingly afraid of every one else, came close to his Majesty without the slightest fear.
The Emperor took a fancy on one occasion, but only one, to try a pipe, as I shall now relate. The Persian ambassador (or perhaps it was the Turkish ambassador who came to Paris under the Consulate) had made his Majesty a present of a very handsome pipe such as is used by the Orientals. One day he was seized with a desire to try it, and had everything necessary for this purpose prepared. The fire having been applied to the bowl, the only question now was to light the tobacco; but from the manner in which his Majesty attempted this it was impossible for him to succeed, as he alternately opened and closed his lips repeatedly without drawing in his breath at all. "Why, what is the matter?" cried he; "it does not work at all." I called his attention to the fact that he was not inhaling properly, and showed him how it ought to be done; but the Emperor still continued his performances, which were like some peculiar kind of yawning. Tired out by his fruitless efforts at last, he told me to light it for him, which I did, and instantly handed it back to him. But he had hardly taken a whiff when the smoke, which he did not know how to breathe out again, filled his throat, got into his windpipe, and came out through his nose and eyes in great puffs. As soon as he could get his breath, he panted forth, "Take it away! what a pest! Oh, the wretches! it has made me sick." In fact, he felt ill for at least an hour after, and renounced forever the "pleasure of a habit, which," said he, "is only good to enable do-nothings to kill time."
The only requirements the Emperor made as to his clothing was that it should be of fine quality and perfectly comfortable; and his coats for ordinary use, dress-coats, and even the famous gray overcoat, were made of the finest cloth from Louviers. Under the Consulate he wore, as was then the fashion, the skirts of his coat extremely long; afterwards fashion changed, and they were worn shorter; but the Emperor held with singular tenacity to the length of his, and I had much trouble in inducing him to abandon this fashion, and it was only by a subterfuge that I at last succeeded. Each time I ordered a new coat for his Majesty, I directed the tailor to shorten the skirts by an inch at least, until at last, without his being aware of it, they were no longer ridiculous. He did not abandon his old habits any more readily on this point than on all others; and his greatest desire was that his clothes should not be too tight, in consequence of which there were times when he did not make a very elegant appearance. The King of Naples, the man in all France who dressed with the most care, and nearly always in good taste, sometimes took the liberty of bantering the Emperor slightly about his dress. "Sire," said he to the Emperor, "your Majesty dresses too much like a good family man. Pray, Sire, be an example to your faithful subjects of good taste in dress."--"Would you like me, in order to please you," replied the Emperor, "to dress like a scented fop, like a dandy, in fine, like the King of Naples and the Two Sicilies. As for me, I must hold on to my old habitudes."--"Yes, Sire, and to your 'habits tues'," added the king on one occasion. "Detestable!" cried the Emperor; "that is worthy of Brunet;" and they laughed heartily over this play on words, while declaring it what the Emperor called it.
However, these discussions as to his dress being renewed at the time of his Majesty's marriage to the Empress Marie Louise, the King of Naples begged the Emperor to allow him to send him his tailor. His Majesty, who sought at that time every means of pleasing his young wife, accepted the offer of his brother-in-law; and that very day I went for Leger, King Joachim's tailor, and brought him with me to the chateau, recommending him to make the suits which would be ordered as loose as possible, certain as I was in advance, that, Monsieur Jourdain [a character in a Moliere comedy] to the contrary, if the Emperor could not get into them easily, he would not wear them. Leger paid no attention to my advice, but took his measure very closely. The two coats were beautifully made; but the Emperor pronounced them uncomfortable, and wore them only once, and Leger did no more work for his Majesty. At one time, long before this, he had ordered a very handsome coat of chestnut brown velvet, with diamond buttons, which he wore to a reception of her Majesty the Empress, with a black cravat, though the Empress Josephine had prepared for him an elegant lace stock, which all my entreaties could not induce him to put on.
The Emperor's vest and breeches were always of white cassimere; he changed them every morning, and they were washed only three or four times. Two hours after he had left his room, it often happened that his breeches were all stained with ink, owing to his habit of wiping his pen on them, and scattering ink all around him by knocking his pen against the table. Nevertheless, as he dressed in the morning for the whole day, he did not change his clothes on that account, and remained in that condition the remainder of the day. I have already said that he wore none but white silk stockings, his shoes, which were very light and thin, being lined with silk, and his boots lined throughout inside with white fustian; and when he felt an itching on one of his legs, he rubbed it with the heel of his shoe or the boot on the other leg, which added still more to the effect of the ink blotches. His shoe-buckles were oval, either plain gold or with medallions, and he also wore gold buckles on his garters. I never saw him wear pantaloons under the Empire.
Owing to the Emperor's tenacity to old customs, his shoemaker in the first days of the Empire was still the same he employed at the military school; and as his shoes had been made by the same measure, from that time, and no new one ever taken, his shoes, as well as his boots, were always badly made and ungraceful. For a long time he wore them pointed; but I persuaded him to have them 'en bec de canne', as that was the fashion. At last his old measure was found too small, and I got his Majesty's consent to have a new one-taken; so I summoned the shoemaker, who had succeeded his father, and was exceedingly stupid. He had never seen the Emperor, although he worked for him; and when he learned that he was expected to appear before his Majesty, his head was completely turned. How could he dare to present himself before the Emperor? What costume must he wear? I encouraged him, and told him he would need a black French coat, with breeches, and hat, etc.; and he presented himself thus adorned at the Tuileries. On entering his Majesty's chamber he made a deep bow, and stood much embarrassed. "It surely cannot be you who made shoes for me at the l'ecole militaire?"--"No, your Majesty, Emperor and King, it was my father."--"And why don't he do so now?"--"Sire, the Emperor and King, because he is dead."--"How much do you make me pay for my shoes?"--"Your Majesty, Emperor and King, pays eighteen francs for them."--"That is very dear."--"Your Majesty, Emperor and King, could pay much more for them if he would." The Emperor laughed heartily at this simplicity, and let him take his measure; but the Emperor's laughter had so completely disconcerted the poor man that, when he approached him, his hat under his arm, making a thousand bows, his sword caught between his legs, was broken in two, and made him fall on his hands and knees, not to remain there long, however, for his Majesty's roars of laughter increasing, and being at last freed from his sword, the poor shoemaker took the Emperor's measure with more ease, and withdrew amidst profuse apologies.
All his Majesty's linen was of extremely fine quality, marked with an "N" in a coronet; at first he wore no suspenders, but at last began using them, and found them very comfortable. He wore next his body vests made of English flannel, and the Empress Josephine had a dozen cashmere vests made for his use in summer.
Many persons have believed that the Emperor wore a cuirass under his clothes when walking and while in the army. This is entirely false: the Emperor never put on a cuirass, nor anything resembling one, under his coat any more than over it.
The Emperor wore no jewelry; he never had in his pockets either purse or silver, but only his handkerchief, his snuff-box, and his bonbon-box.
He wore on his coat only a star and two crosses, that of the Legion of Honor, and that of the Iron Crown. Under his uniform and on his vest he wore a red ribbon, the ends of which could just be seen.
When there was a reception at the chateau, or he held a review, he put this grand cordon outside his coat.
His hat, the shape of which it will be useless to describe while portraits of his Majesty exist, was-extremely fine and very light, lined with silk and wadded; and on it he wore neither tassels nor plumes, but simply a narrow, flat band of silk and a little tricolored cockade.
The Emperor purchased several watches from Breguet and Meunier,--very plain repeaters, without ornamentation or figures, the face covered with glass, the back gold. M. Las Casas speaks of a watch with a double gold case, marked with the cipher "B," and which never left the Emperor. I never saw anything of the sort, though I was keeper of all the jewels, and even had in my care for several days the crown diamonds. The Emperor often broke his watch by throwing it at random, as I have said before, on any piece of furniture in his bedroom. He had two alarm-clocks made by Meunier, one in his carriage, the other at the head of his bed, which he set with a little green silk cord, and also a third, but it was old and wornout so that it would not work; it is this last which had belonged to Frederick the Great, and was brought from Berlin.
The swords of his Majesty were very plain, with gold mountings, and an owl on the hilt.
The Emperor had two swords similar to the one he wore the day of the battle of Austerlitz. One of these swords was given to the Emperor Alexander, as the reader will learn later, and the other to Prince Eugene in 1814. That which the Emperor wore at Austerlitz, and on which he afterwards had engraved the name and date of that memorable battle, was to have been inclosed in the column of the Place Vendome; but his Majesty still had it, I think, while he was at St. Helena.
He had also several sabers that he had worn in his first campaigns, and on which were engraved the names of the battles in which he had used them. They were distributed among the various general officers of his Majesty the Emperor, of which distribution I will speak later.
When the Emperor was about to quit his capital to rejoin his army, or for a simple journey through the departments, we never knew the exact moment of his departure. It was necessary to send in advance on various roads a complete service for the bedroom, kitchen, and stables; this sometimes waited three weeks, or even a month, and when his Majesty at length set out, that which was waiting on the road he did not take was ordered to return. I have often thought that the Emperor acted thus in order to disconcert those who spied on his proceedings, and to baffle their schemes.
The day he was to set out no one could discover that fact from him, and everything went on as usual. After a concert, a play, or any other amusement which had collected a large number of people, his Majesty would simply remark on retiring, "I shall leave at two o'clock!" Sometimes the time was earlier, sometimes later; but he always began his journey at the designated hour. The order was instantly announced by each of the head servants; and all were ready at the appointed time, though the chateau was left topsy-turvy, as may be seen from the picture I have given elsewhere of the confusion at the chateau which preceded and followed the Emperor's departure. Wherever his Majesty lodged on the journey, before leaving he had all the expenses of himself and of his household paid, made presents to his hosts, and gave gratuities to the servants of the house. On Sunday the Emperor had mass celebrated by the curate of the place, giving always as much as twenty napoleons, sometimes more, and regulating the gift according to the needs of the poor of the parish. He asked many questions of the cures concerning their resources, that of their parishioners, the intelligence and morality of the population, etc. He rarely failed to ask the number of births, deaths, marriages, and if there were many young men and girls of a marriageable age. If the cure replied to these questions in a satisfactory manner, and if he had not been too-long in saying mass, he could count on the favor of his Majesty; his church and his poor would find themselves well provided for; and as for himself, the Emperor left on his departure, or had sent to him, a commission as chevalier of the Legion of Honor. His Majesty preferred to be answered with confidence and without timidity; he even endured contradiction; and one could without any risk reply inaccurately; this was almost always overlooked, for he paid little attention to the reply, but he never failed to turn away from those who spoke to him in a hesitating or embarrassed manner. Whenever the Emperor took up his residence at any place, there were on duty, night and day, a page and an aide-decamp, who slept on sacking beds. There was also constantly in attendance, in an antechamber, a quartermaster and sergeant of the stables prepared to order, when necessary, the equipages, which they took care to keep always in readiness to move; horses fully saddled and bridled, and carriages harnessed with two horses, left the stables on the first signal of his Majesty. These attendants were relieved every two hours, like sentinels.
I said above that his Majesty liked prompt replies, and those which showed vivacity and sprightliness. I will give two anecdotes in support of this assertion. Once, while the Emperor was holding a review on the Place du Carrousel, his horse reared, and in the efforts his Majesty made to control him, his hat fell to the ground; a lieutenant (his name, I think, was Rabusson), at whose feet the hat fell, picked it up, and came out from the front ranks to offer it to his Majesty. "Thanks, Captain," said the Emperor, still engaged in quieting his horse. "In what regiment?"--"Sire?" asked the officer. The Emperor, then regarding him more attentively, and perceiving his mistake, said to him, smiling, "Ah, that is so, monsieur; in the Guard."
The new captain received the commission which he owed to his presence of mind, but which he had in fact well earned by his bravery and devotion to duty.
At another review, his Majesty perceived in the ranks of a regiment of the line an old soldier, whose arms were decorated with three chevrons. He recognized him instantly as having seen him in the army of Italy, and approaching him, said, "Well, my brave fellow, why have you not the cross? You do not look like a bad fellow."--"Sire," replied the old soldier, with sorrowful gravity, "I have three times been put on the list for the cross."--"You shall not be disappointed a fourth time," replied the Emperor; and he ordered Marshal Berthier to place on the list, for the next promotion, the brave soldier, who was soon made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor.