December 4 1814: Three Hours and A Half Conversation

On December 4 1814, Neil Campbell, has a conversation with Napoleon. His written record reads:

Dec. 4. Had a conversation with Napoleon, which lasted three hours and a half.

After some general inquiries as to my health and last visit to the Continent, he said that Talleyrand was ‘un scelerat, un pretre defroque, un homme des revolutions; ‘ [‘ A villain, a renegade priest, a revolutionist.’ ] in fact, everything that was bad. He knew that he was inimical to him long ago, and would betray him if an opportunity offered. He therefore told Cambaceres, who was charged to remain at Paris with the Empress Marie- Louise, and who accompanied her to Orleans, not to leave Talleyrand alone at Paris ; but he weakly yielded to his application to remain there, so pitifully supplicated for at the very moment of his quitting it.

I asked him whether the letter which had appeared in some of the newspapers as if written by Talleyrand, dissuading him from the war in Spain, was true. He said it was not not one word of it; no such letter was ever written. It was Talleyrand who first proposed to him the
invasion of Spain. After being turned out of office by him,

in consequence of representations from the Kings of Bavaria and Wurteinburg that he demanded sums of money for himself on several occasions, he nevertheless continued for a long time to frequent his evening parties along with Fouche, who was in office at that time. It was in hopes of reviving his credit with him (Napoleon) that Talleyrand advised him to profit by the dissensions which existed in Spain, between Charles IV. and his son Ferdinand, and to put one of his own family upon the throne. He presented to him a memoir written to that effect by a friend of his own in Spain, who was intimate with the Prince of Peace. In fact he declared that Talleyrand was a Jacobin of the vilest heart; that he very often urged on him to get rid of the Bourbons by assassinating them ; or, if he would not accede to that, to let them be carried off from England by a party of smugglers, who were in the constant habit of coming over. He always rejected the proposal, so long as they kept out of France. It was different with the Duke d’Enghien, who came to the frontier of France, even to the gates of Strasbourg, in order to foment conspiracies. But his death also was an act of Talleyrand’s, it was proposed by him ; and but for him too the Duke’s life would have been saved, even after he was arrested. It was told him (Napoleon) that the Duke d’Enghien requested to speak to him. ‘ Cela me touchait. J’ai voulu voir le jeune homme, mais c’etait deja trop tard. II avait pris les mesures pour 1’empecher. C’etait lui, Talleyrand, qui en etait la cause.’ 77 ‘That touched me. I wished measures to prevent it. It was he, to see the young man, but it was Talleyrand, who was the cause.’ already too late. He had taken  [In this relation Napoleon showed much enmity towards Talleyrand, but very little emotion or regret at the circumstance itself.]

He asked me whether I had heard of the divorce which it was proposed to institute between himself and the Empress. I told him I had, but only through the foreign papers, and there were so many untruths in the newspapers on the Continent, that I only read the English papers and the * Gazette ‘ of Florence. He said the story had been inserted in the journals of Genoa and Milan. I told him I was persuaded, that although Genoa was occupied by British troops, the officer who commanded there did not interfere with nor influence the press, but confined himself to his military duties. I then mentioned an anecdote which had been related, that Marie-Louise had been greatly chagrinedat mistaking the Princess of Wales’ courier for one of Napoleon’s ; and, when complimented by the Princess on her proficiency in music, she said she had studied it particularly in order to please Napoleon, for that to her he always was and would be perfect ! ‘

Here he showed considerable emotion; spoke of the weakness and inhumanity of the Emperor of Austria, in keeping away his wife and child. She had promised to write to him every day upon her return from Switzerland to Vienna, but he had never since received one letter from her. His child was taken from him like the children taken by conquerors in ancient times to grace their triumphs. The Emperor ought to recollect how differently he had acted towards him when he was entirely at his mercy, and no ties of marriage existed. He had twice entered Vienna as a conqueror, but never exercised towards the Emperor such ungenerous conduct. It was not he who solicited the marriage ; it was Metternich who proposed it to Narbonne. ‘ J’ai ete tres-heureux avec ma femme, mais pour moi le mariage a ete tres-funeste. J’aurais mieux fait de marier une princesse de Eussie.'[ ‘ I have been very happy with should have done better to marry a my wife, but the marriage has Russian Princess.’] proved very disastrous for me. His Council deliberated upon the proposition. Had it not been for the difference of religion, he would have married a Russian Princess. A Greek chapel would not have answered in Paris. To have seen him going to one church, and his wife to a Greek chapel, would not have looked well, and therefore this other marriage was decided upon. As to settlements, he told them to copy the contract of marriage between Louis XVI. and Marie-Antoinette: in half an hour it was signed by Schwartzenberg.

He again spoke of the weakness and ingratitude of the Emperor of Austria, who had once come to his camp to supplicate for forbearance. So weak was he as to tell Marie-Louise lately that Metternich was Napoleon’s friend, and had assured him that he would attend to Napoleon’s interests.

In answer to a question, I said that if he gave me a letter for the Empress, I would send it to Lord Burghersh, who had desired me to announce his arrival at Florence, and to offer his services in any way consistent with his duty. He said this might be prejudicial to Lord Burghersh and myself. I replied that I did not apprehend so. The letter would be forwarded to Lord Castlereagh, who would either openly deliver it, or return it honourably.

He was prepared, he said, for every act of personal hostility and oppression, even to the taking his life. Was it not evident that there was some such intention against him in the choice made of the governor of Corsica Brulart a man who was employed for many years by the Bourbons while in England in plots and conspiracies with Georges and others ? Brulart had even changed his residence from Ajaccio to Bastia, so as to be at the point nearest Elba. Since then he had never gone out to take exercise except with four armed soldiers to accompany him. Brulart could not have been selected with any other view, for he had no connection whatever with Corsica; so far otherwise, that one of the regiments now there had been employed against him in La Vendee.

They spoke of removing him to England. There he would have society, and enjoy an opportunity of explaining the circumstances of his life, and doing away with many prejudices, such as was not possible in the island of Elba. In England he could even see and communicate with his partisans better than at Elba ; four-fifths of the French  people were in his favour.

He pointed out, as he had frequently done before, the impolicy of humiliating France; that the ferment there would break out one day or other, and the Sovereigns of Europe would then perhaps, for their own interest and repose, find it necessary to call him in to tranquillise the country.

At present nothing could be wiser than the conduct of the King of France, but the Government acted differently. They openly ordered the restoration of property to the
emigres and ancient families. Even he himself dared not do so. Whenever he brought them forward, he felt that l les renes fremissaient dans mes mains ! ‘[ ‘ The reins trembled in my 1 ‘ It is the truth alone that can hands.’ wound.’ ] Much might be done for them in the way of restitution without proclaiming it to all France, and thus affecting the security of so much property.

He had been abused in numerous publications; the epithets of Nero, Brutus, &c., had been applied to him. It had been said that he had received lessons for attitude from Talma, and similar circumstances were stated which had no foundation whatever, while others were exaggerated or perverted. These things proved the adage, * C’est la verite seule qui peut blesser,’ J and therefore he had not been affected by them.

The French knew what he had done for them; how many millions he had brought into the country, and ex-pended in works of public utility. Many of these, which were entirely executed by him, were now ascribed to his predecessors. Before him there was not a sewer in all the streets of Paris ; water was scarce. The quays were entirely formed by him. Posterity would do him justice.

I told him he ought to fulfil the pledge given at Fon-tainebleau by writing his ‘ Memoirs ; ‘ that I had received letters from booksellers in London, totally unknown to me,expressing great anxiety on the subject. One in particular who had published his brother Lucien’s poem, of ‘ Charlemagne,’ wished to propose terms. * Yes,’ he said ; ‘ I shall publish my ” Memoirs,” but they will not be very long.’

The Bourbons ought to pursue towards him the same forbearance he had shown with regard to them after he ascended the throne. He would not allow either praise or invective, either good or evil, to be published respecting them.

He had been called ‘ Idche !’ (coward). “I say nothing of my life as a soldier. Is it no proof of my courage to live here, shut up in this bicoque of a house, separated from the world, with no interesting occupation, no savants with me, nor any variety in my society, excepting when I have occasionally the pleasure of conversing with yourself even without money ? ‘

Here he stated the sum he had brought with him from France. ‘ So small were his means,’ he said, ‘ that he had been under the necessity of obtaining an addition, sent to him from Orleans by the Empress, before he could even leave Fontainebleau ! ‘

There had been abuse against him even in the expose of the French budget. It was a false statement, for there was no notice of four hundred millions of * domaines prives ‘ taken by the Royal Family. It was at one time his intention to have replied to this paper, but he afterwards thought it better not to do so.

He inquired about the Congress. I told him the most perfect secrecy was preserved, but it was generally under-stood that the greatest harmony prevailed.

It appeared extraordinary to him that Murat’s fate was not known. He had ordered a levy of 25,000 infantry and 6,000 cavalry, which betrayed a want of confidence on his part towards the Allies. Murat, however, I might depend upon it, did nothing but in concert with Austria. When his sister, Princess Pauline, left Naples, the Austrian Minister was king there! He ridiculed the idea of Murat resisting any terms the Allies might choose to impose upon him. All he could do, was to seek his own death; to fall with arms in his hands, rather than yield to their demands.

He was surprised at the bad policy of England in wishing to restore the family of Ferdinand to the throne of the Two Sicilies. How much more her interest to separate the island of Sicily !

With what hope could the sovereigns of Europe look forward to the enjoyment of tranquillity, with discontent boiling in France and Italy, countries which formed so great a portion of the Continent? Even in Germany it appeared that many of the petty princes were not satisfied. Prince Fiirstenberg and many others had presented an address to the Emperor of Austria, at which he had shed tears. Bavaria and Wurtemburg could not but view that with uneasiness.

He ridiculed the nomination of the Sovereigns of Russia and Prussia to be colonels of Austrian regiments, and their asking leave of absence as such from the Emperor of
Austria. What childishness ! ‘ L’Empereur Alexandre est un acteur, et tres-faux ; tout a fait Grec.’ [The Emperor Alexander is an actor, and very False ; a complete Greek.’] 2 Frederick the Great of Prussia having put on the uniform of the Austrian levies when he paid a visit to the Emperor of Austria was not a similar case. Nor did the meeting between Francis I. and Henry VIII. bear any resemblance to the meeting of the Allied Sovereigns. It might be very well to give the use of a regiment to that Ostrogoth the Grand Duke Constantine, wherewith to amuse himself. During the preparation for the Peace of Amiens, Lord Cornwallis asked him for a regiment of cavalry, the exercise of which he constantly attended, but that was very different too.

In talking of the entry of the Allies into Paris, and the operations at that period, he said that his Guards were only one march from Fontainebleau with the design of attacking them ; that, in that case, Schwartzenberg would have abandoned Paris, and taken a defensive position on the other side. General Koller had told him so, and Fuiiti
said the same.

[Here he stopped himself, and seemed embarrassed at having mentioned the name of the latter. He has always asked me, on my return from any of my late visits to the
Continent, whether I had seen Funti, who was formerly a senator at Paris and now lives at Florence.]

I told him he had a more favourable opportunity for attacking Schwartzenberg at Arcis, when Blucher’s army was separated. He said that might be so perhaps he was
wrong ; but his views at that time were to have attacked the Allies in detail from the rear ; and that had he not been disconcerted by Marmont’s disobedience of orders
(who did not push on to Chalons, as directed), he would have destroyed the one army, and then turned back upon Blucher.

Here he related the view of affairs which had induced him to abdicate. He could have supported the war in France for years, and perhaps have carried it out of the kingdom. But although the people would have flocked to his standard, and the army would have stood firm, this would have been the ruin of France. With the armies of Blucher and Schwartzenberg in Paris, Wellington pressing forward from Toulouse, Augereau beaten at Lyons (for he did not then know that he was indisposed to exert himself at all), a faction in Paris against him, and the senate weak enough to assemble by the orders of their enemy, he had no hesitation in descending from the throne, as it appeared to be the only way of saving Trance. But he would never have done so had not Marmont deserted him except, indeed, on the regency of the Empress and her son being secured. In his own person he could not even consent to any peace except according to such a treaty as that proposed at Frankfort. France could not submit to any other line than that of the Rhine, and he had himself openly said that, if he made peace at Chatillon, he should not be able to keep it three months. The people generally might be tired of the wars into which his conquests had led them (entrames), but they would never be satisfied to remain at peace on the terms now imposed. In France there are 800,000 men who have carried arms. He had now no regret in his abdication, nor yet in his refusal of the last propositions for peace. He would do the same over again. Lord Castlereagh prevented the peace at Frankfort. The other Allies were perfectly willing to consent to it, but England wished to diminish
France. I reminded him that Lord Castlereagh did not arrive until after the Allies had crossed the Rhine.

On his asking what were the observations of English travellers who had come lately from Paris, I told him that the people in France, particularly the military, did not show
so much good-will towards the English as at first. Many of the French officers, I believed, felt sore at having been put on board the prison -ships ; but this arose from many of them, of all ranks, 3 breaking their paroles and deserting. He said we had done the same. I told him that no officer who deserted would be received either by the Commander- in-chief or by his own corps. He said he had published a list of them in the ‘ Moniteur.’ I assured him that these were civilians, some of whom might be in the yeomanry or militia, but not in the regular army or navy. He said they were, in his view, equally prisoners of war. As we, immediately on declaring war, had seized all French subjects and their property on the sea, although not belonging to the military service, he in like manner detained all British subjects whom he could lay hold of on the Continent.

I related to him the anecdote of the Princess of Wales’ wig and crown tumbling down at the feet of Lucien Bonaparte, adding that she was frequently at his house in Rome.
But this did not produce any observation from him respecting his brother, excepting that he supposed they had met in England. I told him, certainly not.

He said England had not acted generously in prosecuting the war against America, but showed a spirit of inveterate revenge. It weakened her voice at present at the Congress, so great a portion of her force being absent from Europe. She had not occupied Louisiana, nor acquired any great or permanent object. The Americans would gradually improve, and we should have to be satisfied to make peace without having gained any accession of strength or power. Our character, after standing lately
so high in the eyes of all Europe, would diminish by the sort of warfare in which we indulged against private property, trading vessels, storehouses, &c. I told him the Americans had no right to expect generosity from us after their ungenerous provocation in forcing us into war when the whole of Europe was arrayed against us. The first excesses were practised by them in burning towns and villages in Upper Canada, even after threats of retaliation were held out to them.

I asked him whether it was true that he had proposed to the British Government, during the Peace of Amiens, to unite in an expedition against the Barbary Powers. He said he had ; that the present state of things was a disgrace to all the civilised Powers ; but that it depends only on England to put an end to it ; and as we had been the means of abolishing the slave trade, or nearly so, so we ought in like manner to make this a national object. I told him that societies had lately been formed with this view, and that they were daily increasing.

He then related at great length his own history, from the beginning of the Eevolution, and with more fire and precision than usual.

In the commencement of the Revolution he marched with his company of artillery to Douai, where he witnessed some scenes of violence without taking any part in them. By chance the routine of service sent him to Toulon, where the operations had been very badly conducted under the Representants du Peuple. He had been conspicuous among his schoolfellows and comrades for his knowledge of mathematics, and had been selected by them to compile a Memoir, according to custom, against the Engineer department. Prom the character thus acquired, he was desired to draw up a Memoir with his plan of operations against Toulon.

He did so, and was then allowed to take a detached work, which he had pointed out as the key of the place. On this he immediately received the command of the artillery, and the direction of the operations, according to his own plan, which proved successful. This gave him confidence in himself. He was appointed general of brigade, and came to Paris. There he was named to a command in La Vendee as a general of infantry, but not liking that war, nor to be employed out of his own line in a subordinate situation, he declined it, saying he was an officer of artillery.

Soon afterwards Menou, who commanded the Army of the Interior, was beaten by the Parisians, who likewise threatened the Convention. He himself was at the theatre, in perfect obscurity, and going out, by chance he heard the boys bawling out a decree of the Convention, in which his own name was vociferated. He listened ; and as it could be no other but himself, he gave two sous for one of the papers, went to one side, and there read the decree of the Convention, by which he was named General of the Interior. He proceeded towards the Committee of Public Safety, and in the course of his walk there again heard his name vociferated about the streets. On entering the Hall, he found the members despatching persons to find him out, if possible, in his obscure residence. * Le General Bonaparte ! Le petit general d’artillerie ! ‘ [‘General Bonaparte, the little citizen ? ‘] was resounded everywhere upon his being perceived. He was ushered into another room by some of the members, where he found Menou in arrest. ‘ Que voulez-vous de moi, citoyen ? ‘ [ ‘ What do you want with me, the command of the Interior.’ ] 5 he demanded of one of the Convention. ‘ Citoyen, vous etes nomine au commande- ment de PInterieur !’ 6 *I said that, before I accepted the offer, I must ask some information of General Menou. Very well. I asked the General where was his artillery? At [I could not catch the word] . How many pieces ? Forty. Guarded by what force ? About forty or fifty cavalry. I immediately called Murat, who was standing by us in the uniform of a captain of cavalry. What number of cavalry have you at your immediate command? Two hundred. Mount instantly, and bring here all that artillery. Sabre all that oppose you. He executed my order. I placed the artillery so as to sweep the streets that day it was the 13th Vendemiaire and secured certain other parts with barricades and pallisades forced the Parisians to remain quiet, and restored the power of the Convention.’ He remained in this command during three months, after which he was named general of artillery to the Army of Italy, and afterwards to the chief command.

After his successful campaigns as General Bonaparte,

general of artillery.’ 6 ‘ Citizen, you are nominated tocommanding the Army of Italy, he returned to Paris, where he remained some time in a small house in perfect retirement, wearing only a,froque, or covering himself up in his cloak, in order to go to the Institute, of which he was a member. This was in consequence of the military calling out, ‘ Nous voulons avoir le General Bonaparte, notre petit general, pour notre chef.’

 ‘We wish to have General  ‘He ought to be king. We Bonaparte, our little general, for our must make him king.’ chief.’ 9 ‘ I will put an end to all that.’ 7 Others said, ‘ II doit etre roi, il faut le faire roi.’ 8 This gave him great uneasiness, for he was a Republican in opinion, and had no wish to avail himself of the desire of the army and Parisians. If he had
not preserved the most cautious conduct, it would have led to his destruction, either by causing his assassination, or getting him put out of the way upon false charges.

Notwithstanding his determination not to profit by the feeling in his favour, nor to give any pretext for suspicion, the Directory became jealous of him. Talleyrand was therefore sent with a proposal, that he should carry an army to Egypt. He was as much overjoyed, and entered as ardently into the project, as if it had originated with himself. He resolved to give his whole heart to the expedition, looking forward to it as his only object, in order that he might either march on to India, or to Constantinople, according as circumstances might arise in the course of time.

By one of the arrivals from France, while in Egypt, he received a decree of the Directory, which was to be inserted as an ordre du jour, according to the practice at that time. This decree related to the electors, and it so disgusted him that, from that moment, he was no longer a Republican. He said to himself, * Je ferai fondre tout cela.’ 9 For a long time afterwards he received no intelligence from France, but one day Sir Sidney Smith (who was always eager to send flags of truce, and keep up communication with him by these means) forwarded some newspapers of a recent date. In these he read of the reverses of Italy, the taking of Mantua, &c. Now is my time, he exclaimed to himself, and immediately took his measures, and returned to France.

‘ You will perceive,’ he continued, ‘ that I have engaged but little in the disorders of the Revolution. I was born in an island, half Italian, half French, but I am a Frenchman in soul (en Ame). I left Corsica at an early age, was educated in France, and have passed my life there.’

I told him that many persons in England asserted that,upon his quitting Egypt, it was his intention to have restored order for the Bourbons. He turned round quickly towards me, and looking with an air of agitation, replied,’ Ce n’est pas vrai, jamais ; cela aurait ete une trahison envers les Franvais. Cela n’aurait pas ete consulter leur bonheur et leurs interets.’ l t After the battle of Marengo the Abbe Montesquieu,’ he said, ‘ gave me a letter from Louis XVIII., wherein he asked my assistance to restore him to the throne. Without me he had no hope ! Without him I could have no security ! . I replied, with all the respect that was due to him, that I could not accede to his proposals ; but that I should always be happy to contribute, as far as I could, towards the welfare of himself and his family in other respects.’

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