Chateaubriand's memoirs, XIX, 6

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XIX, chapter 6

Paoli was recalled from England by a proposal of Mirabeau’s, in 1789. He was presented to Louis XVI by the Marquis de La Fayette, and appointed as lieutenant-general and military commander of Corsica. Did Bonaparte support the exile whose protégé he had been, and with whom he corresponded? One presumes so. He did not delay in involving himself with Paoli: the crimes perpetrated in our first wave of troubles dampened the old general’s ardour; he handed Corsica to the English, in order to escape the Convention. Bonaparte joined a Jacobin club in Ajaccio; a hostile club was formed, and Napoleon was obliged to flee. Madame Letizia and her daughters took refuge in a Greek colony at Carghese, from where she gained Marseille. Joseph was married there, on the 1st of August 1794, to Mademoiselle Clary, the daughter of a rich merchant. In 1791, the Minister of War relieved Napoleon of his duties for a while, on his return to Corsica.

We find Bonaparte in Paris again, with Bourrienne, in 1792. Lacking financial resources, he became a speculator: he proposed to rent out houses being constructed in the Rue Montholon, with the design of sub-letting them. During this period the Revolution was in train; the 20th of June rang out. Bonaparte leaving, with Bourrienne, a restaurant on the Rue Saint-Honoré, near the Palais-Royal, saw five or six thousand ragged individuals shouting as they marched towards the Tuileries; he said to Bourrienne: ‘Let’s follow those beggars’; and he went off to take up position on the riverside terrace. When the king, whose residence had been invaded, appeared at one of the windows, decked out with a red cap, Bonaparte cried indignantly: ‘Che coglione! Why have they let that scoundrel in? They should have swept four or five hundred away with cannon fire, and the rest would be running yet.’

You know that on the 20th of June 1792, I was not far from Napoleon: I was walking at Montmorency, where Barère and Maret were seeking solitude, as I was, but for a different reason. Is that the period when Bonaparte was obliged to sell and negotiate little assignats called Corcets? After the death of a wine-seller from the Rue Saint-Avoy, in an inventory drawn up by Dumay, a solicitor, and Chariot, an auctioneer, Bonaparte appears to the tune of a fifteen franc debt for rent, which he could not pay: this poverty increases his greatness. Napoleon said, on St Helena: ‘At the sound of the assault on the Tuileries, on the 10th of August, I ran to the Carrousel, to the house of Fauvelet, Bourrienne’s brother, who kept a furniture shop.’ Bourienne’s brother had a speculation going which he called a national auction; Bonaparte had pledged his watch to it; a dangerous precedent: how many poor students consider themselves Napoleons because they have pawned their watch!