Chateaubriand's memoirs, XIX, 11

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XIX, 10 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XIX, 12

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XIX, chapter 11
The Days of Vendémiaire - Continued

Press freedom having been re-introduced, for a while it worked with a sense of deliverance; but as the democrats had no liking for that liberty and as the press savaged their mistakes, they accused it of being royalist. The Abbé Morellet, and Laharpe, fired off pamphlets to join those of the Spaniard Marchenna, that foul savant and abortion of the spirit. The young wore grey coats with lapels and black collars, renowned as the uniform of the Chouans. The meeting of the new legislature was the pretext for the gathering of the Sections. The Lepelletier Section, formerly known under the name of the Filles-Saint-Thomas Section, was the most vigorous; it appeared several times at the bar of the Convention to protest: Lacretelle the younger leant his voice to it with the same courage he showed on the day when Bonaparte bombarded the Parisians on the steps of Saint-Roch. The Sections, anticipating that the moment of struggle neared, summoned General Danican from Rouen to place him at their head. One can judge the fear of, and the sentiments of the Convention towards, the defenders they had gathered round them: ‘To the head of these Republicans,’ says Réal in his Essai sur les Journées de Vendémiaire, ‘who are known as the sacred battalion of the patriots of ’89, and into their ranks, they summoned those veterans of the Revolution who had served in six campaigns, who had fought beneath the walls of the Bastille, who had beaten down tyranny, and who armed themselves now to defend the same château they had attacked on the 10th of August. There I found the precious remnants of those old battalions of men from Liège, from Belgium, under the command of their former general Fyon.’

Réal ends his account with this exclamatory address: ‘O you, through whom Europe has been conquered by a government without governors and armies without pay, Spirit of Liberty, watch over us yet!’ Those proud champions of freedom had lived through more than a few ‘days’; they went off to end their hymns to liberty in the police bureaux of a tyrant. Today that period is no more than a shattered outcrop over which the Revolution passed. Men who have spoken and acted with energy are passionate about events which no longer interest anyone! Living men gather the fruits of forgotten lives consumed on their behalf.

We have reached the revival of the Convention; the foremost assemblies were convened: committees, clubs, sections, made a terrible din.

The Convention, threatened by popular aversion, realised that it must defend itself: it countered Danican with Barras, named leader of the armed forces of Paris and the Interior. Having met Bonaparte in Toulon, and having been reminded of him by Madame de Beauharnais, Barras was struck by the help such a man might provide to him: he appointed him as his second-in-command. The future Director, supporting the Convention during the events of Vendémiaire, declared that it was to the prompt and expert dispositions made by Bonaparte that they owed the salvation of those encircled, around whom he had distributed the defenders with great skill. Napoleon struck at the Sections saying: ‘I have set my mark on France.’ Attila said: ‘I am the hammer of the world, ego malleus orbis.’

After this success, Napoleon feared that he had made himself unpopular, and made certain that he gave several years of his life to erasing that page of his history.

There is in existence an account of the events of Vendémiaire from Napoleon’s own hand: it attempts to prove that it was the Sections who commenced firing. In encountering them he might have imagined he was still in Toulon: General Carteaux was at the head of a column on the Pont Neuf; a company from Marseilles marched on Saint-Roch; the positions occupied by the National Guard were successively carried. Réal, in the narrative of which I have already spoken, ended his exposition with these stupidities that show the Parisians standing firm: there is a wounded man who, crossing the Salon des Victoires, recognises a flag he had taken: ‘Let us go no further,’ he cries in a dying voice, I wish to die here’; there is the wife of General Dufraisse who tears up his shirt for bandages; there are Durocher’s two daughters who administer vinegar and brandy. Réal attributed everything to Barras: a sycophantic elision; it shows that Napoleon in Year IV, victorious for another’s gain, was not yet taken into account.

Despite his triumph, Bonaparte did not expect rapid success, since he wrote to Bourrienne: ‘Look out for a small property in your lovely Yonne valley; I will buy it when I have some money; but don’t forget I don’t want any national (church) property.’ In the Yonne valley lived Madame de Beaumont and Monsieur Joubert. Bonaparte changed his mind during the Empire: he took plenty of notice of national property. The riots of Vendémiaire ended that epoch of riots: they were not repeated until 1830, to finish off the monarchy.

Four months after the events of Vendémiaire, on the 19th Ventôse Year IV (9th of March 1796), Bonaparte married Marie-Josèphe Rose de Tascher. The certificate makes no mention of as her as the widow of the Comte de Beauharnais. Tallien and Barras were the witnesses to the contract. On the 2nd of March Bonaparte had been appointed general of the troops stationed in the Alpes Maritimes; Carnot opposed Barras in demanding the honour of this nomination. The command of the Army of Italy was described as Madame Beauharnais’ dowry. Napoleon, who spoke of this at St. Helena, with disdain, knowing he allied himself to a great lady, lacked gratitude.

Napoleon entered fully into his destiny: he needed men, men would have need of him; events made him, he would make events. He had now passed through those misfortunes to which superior natures are condemned before being recognised, forced to humble themselves before mediocrities whose patronage is necessary to them: the seed of the tallest palm-tree is at first protected, by the Arabs, under a clay pot.