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RECENTLY great sensation was excited among English readers by the publication of the life of that great and good woman, the Duchess of Orleans. In our present paper we propose to run through the life-history of another very remarkable woman, the mother of the present Emperor of the French, whose memory has been strangely disregarded in this country. We are therefore glad to see a memoir of her announced in the papers, and, en attendant, offer our readers the following details:
Hortense was the daughter of Viscount de Beauharnois, who had married, against the wish of his relatives, Mademoiselle Tascher de la Pagerie, of Martinique. The marriage was an unhappy one, and it was only the fact of two children being born to them that prevented their separation. At last the disputes became so violent that the wife determined to return to her island home, taking her little daughter with her. Ere long, however, the revolution reached Martinique, and Josephine had to fly with Hortense, and with great difficulty escaped on board a merchantman while the maternal house was burning. On her return to Paris, the viscount for a long time refused to see her, but, by the intercession of friends, they were brought together again, only to be parted and for ever by the revolution.
The viscount received a high command in the republican army, but, being denounced as an aristocrat, was sent to prison and condemned to death. Josephine interceded on his behalf, and the result was that she in her turn was shut up in the prison of Sainte-Pélagie. The children would have starved, had it not been for the kindness of a Madame Holstein, who, at her own peril, gave them shelter. Josephine was herself condemned to the guillotine, and would doubtless have shared her husband's fate, had it not been for the downfal of Robespierre. She quitted the prison, but it was as a beggar.
Josephine found a kind friend, however, in Madame Tallien, who interceded with her husband to remove the sequestration from the Beauharnois estates, and in the mean while invited the family frequently to dinner, on the stipulation that they brought their own bread, which was an article of luxury in Paris, as it threatens to become again ere long. On many occasions, however, Josephine was too poor to buy bread, and had to depend for her supply on the charity of friends. When her estates were restored her, all this changed: Eugène doffed his blouse and gave up the carpentry trade to begin his military education, while Hortense remained with her mother, and enjoyed the advantage of the best masters Paris could produce.
It was at Madame Tallien's house that Josephine met Napoleon, and formed a strong attachment for the young general, in spite of the warnings of her friends, who saw in him a soldier and nothing more. Napoleon was anything but a lady's man, and paid them the quaintest compliments. Thus he said once to the Duchess of Chevreuil, "What splendid red hair you have!" To which the lady replied, "Very possibly, sire; but it is the first time a man has told me so." But, for all that, he had eyes for Josephine's beauty, and was ready to give up his ambitious dreams to live happy with her.
A few weeks after the honeymoon was over the ambitious dreams returned, however, with full force, and Bonaparte started for Italy, taking Eugène with him, while Hortense was sent to Madame Campan's school, where she spent several happy years with her aunt, Caroline Bonaparte, and her cousin, Stephanie de Beauharnois. When the republican general left France again for Egypt, Hortense's education was completed, and she returned home to be a consolation to her mourning mother. Napoleon's absence lasted six years, during which Hortense grew in grace and beauty, knowing no cares, and these were probably the happiest days of her eventful life.
With Napoleon's return the fate of the revolution was sealed: he moved to the Tuileries as first consul, and Josephine and Hortense became the leaders of society. Ere long she fell a victim to love's young dream: she became attached to Duroc, the consul's aide-de-camp, and her father did not object to the match. But Josephine had other views for her daughter: she knew the enmity Napoleon's brothers bore her, and resolved to seek an ally among them. This could be most easily effected by giving
Hortense as wife to Louis.
After repeated solicitations, Napoleon reluctantly assented to the marriage, but only on condition that Duroc's sincerity should be first tested. A message was sent the aide-de-camp through Bourrienne that Napoleon consented to his marriage with Hortense, but he would be at once expected to leave Paris, as the first consul did not care to have a son-in-law in the house. Duroc refused the alliance, and Josephine triumphed. worked on Hortense's pride until she consented to give her hand to Louis. The young couple hardly knew each other, but Napoleon's will was law, and they went to the altar with loathing in their hearts. In his own case Napoleon had been satisfied with a civil marriage, but the marriage of Hortense had to be blessed by the Church-perhaps to render it indissoluble, for Napoleon regarded Hortense's children as his future heirs. As Providence had not blessed him with children, he was resolved to act as a father to the family his beloved step-daughter might have.
From the outset they were an unhappy couple. Hortense wept the live-long day, while her husband was gloomy and ill tempered. She detested him for accepting her hand while knowing that she loved another; while he hated her, in his turn, for marrying him, although he had never spoken of love to her. They had both obeyed the iron will that dictated laws not only to France, but to his own family, and the conscience of compulsion rose as an insurmountable barrier between them. They made no attempt to love each other, or to find that happiness together which they were forbidden seeking elsewhere.
In their strange confidence the young people even went so far as to tell one another that they could never be lovers, but they pitied each other so sincerely, that this pity might have been converted with time into love. Louis would sit for hours by his wife's side trying to dispel the cloud on her brow, while Hortense was beginning to regard it as her most sacred duty to greet her husband kindly.
"If I give you a son," Hortense would say, with a smile, "and when he addresses you by the sweet name of father, you will forgive me for being his mother."
"And when you press your son to your heart, and feel how madly you love him," Louis said, "then you will pardon me for being your husband,
or, at any rate, no longer hate me, for I shall be the father of your beloved child."
Had they been left to themselves they might have learned to respect, even love each other, but calumny interfered. A rumour spread through Paris that Napoleon himself was the father of Hortense's child. It was expected that Napoleon would be so horrified at this foul tale that he would at once send Louis and Hortense away, and thus Josephine would once again be left defenceless. When Hortense heard this rumour, she fell insensible at her mother's feet, and not long after gave birth to a still-born child.
When Hortense again rose from her couch she sought relief in society, and in her salons the most distinguished men of France were wont to assemble. At length some degree of comfort was restored her, for at the period of the imperial coronation a son was born to her-the future heir of France. Ere long, too, and Louis became a king, but this only increased the sorrow of the ill-assorted pair. In Paris they were enabled to forget, but in Holland they would be compelled to live together. Still Louis was compelled to obey, and resolved that, as destiny compelled him to be a king, he would perform his regal duties so that they should prove a blessing to his subjects.
While in Holland, Hortense gave birth to two more boys, Napoleon Louis and Louis Napoleon, but her first-born, her darling, Napoleon Charles, died of the small-pox. This loss was too much for her: combined with her husband's irritable temper it crushed her to the earth, and she sought shelter and consolation in her mother's arms. But Josephine herself needed words of comfort to be addressed to her, for her husband had resolved on carrying his long-meditated design of a divorce, and, as Lord Castlereagh wittily remarked, "A virgin was about to be sacrificed to the Minotaur." When the dissolution of the marriage was effected, Josephine retired to Malmaison, and Hortense implored the Emperor that she might be allowed to follow her example, in which wish Louis joined. But Napoleon was inexorable, and Louis returned to Holland more gloomy than ever, while Hortense, by the Emperor's express orders, remained in Paris for a season with her two sons. At the new marriage festivities she held the train of Marie Louise, and was the only one of the family who did so without a murmur.
Fresh troubles were in store for Hortense : her husband, faithful to his duties as monarch, aroused the wrath of his brother, who eventually drove him from the throne because he studied the prosperity of his new country more than the interests of France. King Louis descended from his throne and retired to Gratz, in Styria, where he lived as the Count of St. Leu. But when misfortunes fell upon his brother he forgot all private feelings, and returned to Paris to cast in his lot with that of the other members of the family.
And Napoleon required assistance if he was to maintain his throne. On his return from Moscow he ordered Hortense to drown the memory of the past by brilliant balls, but the crippled, mutilated soldiers were not fitted for the joys of the revel. All Paris suffered from a foreboding of what was about to happen, and Hortense, perhaps, was the most wretched of all in that great city, for she felt that all was lost, even before the cry ran through the streets, "The Cossacks are coming!" But she
could not be induced to leave Paris even when the Emperor fled, and it was not till her husband threatened to tear her children from her if she remained, that she consented to join Josephine at her château of Navarre.
In her adversity, Queen Hortense had one sincere friend, the Emperor Alexander. At an early period he proceeded to Malmaison to see the two ladies, and promised to do all in his power to alleviate their fate. He it was who induced Hortense to give up her idea of emigrating to Martinique with her two boys, and remain in France. But fresh troubles were in store for her: ever since Napoleon's exile to Elba, Josephine had slowly pined away, and she received her death-blow when the Duke of Blacas proposed to remove the body of Hortense's first-born son from Notre-Dame, and place it in an ordinary cemetery.
The news of her death ran through Paris, and created a profound sensation, for Josephine had made herself generally beloved. Carriages crowded the road to Malmaison, the owners of which testified their respect to the ex-Empress. Even the royalists had a word in her favour: the king's favourite, Madame du Cayla, said, for instance, "What an interesting woman was that incomparable Josephine! What kindness, tact, and moderation there was in all she did! It is exactly in accordance with good taste that she should die at this moment."
The queen had been removed almost by force to St. Leu, where Alexander spent his last evening prior to his departure for England. He gave her much good advice how to conduct herself, and, as he knew how adverse Pozzo di Borgo was to all the Napoleons, he appointed a special secretary to the embassy, through whom her letters should pass. But Hortense felt that her period of adversity had arrived, and that she would have to struggle against calumny to maintain the name of her family unstained. Her previsions did not deceive her.
Strange events occurred in Paris during the abode of Napoleon at Elba. The Bourbons seemed to have awaked from a long lethargy, and were quite astounded at finding the children they had left in arms grown up men. The king was the best of a bad lot, and did not at all stomach the homage paid to his "dear friends the enemy," as he sarcastically termed them. Still, he was dreadfully embarrassed how to treat Eugène and Hortense; the latter he tried to elevate to the rank of Duchess of St. Leu, as a plain Mademoiselle de Beauharnois, while at his interview with Eugène, he addressed him as Marshal of France. But both defeated him by their straightforwardness, and Louis XVIII. was forced to recognise the fact that somebody had ruled in France during his absence, which he would have so gladly ignored.
In other respects nothing was altered, and the old court ceremonial flourished magnificently again. Nor was impudence wanting. At one of the first dinners Louis XVIII. gave to the allies, the Duchess of Angoulême, who was sitting next to the King of Bavaria, pointed to the Grand-Duke of Baden, and said, "Is not that the prince who married a princess of Napoleon's manufacture? What weakness to ally oneself with that general!" Considering that the Emperor of Austria, who sat on her other side, and the King of Bavaria were both allied to "that general," this remark displayed profound ignorance, or consummate
The worst of the whole party were the wicked old émigrés, who returned with all their vices unannealed. On one occasion the Marquis of Chimene and the Duke of Lauraquais met in the king's ante-chambertwo old heroes of that frivolous age, when the boudoir and the petites maisons were the battle-field, and the victor's crown was composed of myrtles instead of laurels. Alluding to some event of the ancient régime, the duke said to the marquis, in his desire to indicate the period more precisely, "It was about the year when I had my liaison with your wife." "Ah!" the marquis replied, with perfect equanimity, "you allude to 1776."
The king, as we said before, was the cleverest of all, and did not conceal his surprise at finding that Napoleon's generals, who had been described to him as peasants and ruffians, were as polite as his own followers. Tired of the constant squabbles, Louis withdrew into the recesses of his palace, and left the cares of government to Blacas. In his retirement he conversed with his "lady friend," a fashion which the royalists had restored. Madame du Cayla held this honourable post, and obtained the title of the "King's Snuff-box," because his majesty was fond of strewing some snuff on her round plump shoulder, and inhaling it thence. The king rewarded her nobly. Finding that she was not well versed in the Scriptures, he gave her a copy of an illustrated edition with one hundred and fifty engravings, after Raphael. Instead of tissue paper, each cut was protected by a thousand-franc bank-note. On another occasion he gave her a copy of the "Charte," and each page was interlined with a bank-note of the same quality. But those who feel interested on this subject we may refer to the lady's " Mémoires d'une Femme de Qualité."
During this period Queen Hortense resided in Paris, enjoying the society of the few friends who had remained faithful to her. But her presence caused great alarm to the Legitimists, who believed that she was conspiring the return of Napoleon. Fouché, the double-faced, was at the bottom of all the intrigues against the duchess, and sowed the seeds of dissension on either side. At length Hortense felt it her duty to put a stop to all this scandal, and requested an audience of the king. She went, saw, and conquered, for, from that time, the Desired one never ceased talking of the grace and beauty of his visitor, to such an extent that his family spitefully suggested that he had better marry her.
But Hortense had something else to think about at this moment besides conspiring on behalf of her father. A messenger had arrived from her husband, then residing at Florence, insisting on the immediate surrender to him of her two sons. She refused, and appealed to the laws for protection. One trait, referring to this period, is note-worthy: although Hortense never paid attention to the slightest calumny affecting herself in the public press, she at once ordered an answer to be given to an insulting article directed against her husband. To do so at a moment when she was contending with him for the dearest of her possessions, is an act of magnanimity that needs no comment at our hands.
Hortense was not to be comforted even when she heard of her stepfather's return from Elba, and the triumphant reception he had met with. She felt that his victory could not be permanent, and foresaw fresh troubles for herself. Still she did not swerve from her duty. As she had remained in France under the Bourbon rule for the sake of her sons,