Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXII, 14

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XXII, 13 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXII, 15


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXII, chapter14
Bonaparte at Fontainebleau – The Regency at Blois.



What was the victor of Borodino doing? As soon as he heard of Alexander’s decision, he sent orders to Major Maillard de Lescourt of the artillery to blow up the powder-magazine at Grenelle: Rostopchin had set fire to Moscow, but he had evacuated the inhabitants first. From Fontainebleau, to which he had returned, Napoleon advanced as far as Villejuif: there he looked down on Paris; foreign soldiers were guarding the city gates; the conqueror recalled the days when his grenadiers had kept watch on the ramparts of Berlin, Moscow, and Vienna.

Events erase other events: how insignificant today seems the grief of Henri IV learning at Villejuif of the death of Gabrielle, and returning thence to Fontainebleau! Bonaparte returned to that solitude also; nothing awaited him there but the memory of his august prisoner: the captive of peace had mot long since departed the palace in order to leave it free for the captive of war, ‘so swiftly does misfortune fill a place.’

The Regency had retired to Blois. Bonaparte had given orders for the Empress and the King of Rome to leave Paris, saying he would prefer to see them at the bottom of the Seine than led to Vienna in triumph; but at the same time he urged Joseph to remain in the capital. His brother’s flight made him furious, and he accused the King of Spain of ruining everything. The Ministers, the members of the Regency, Napoleon’s brothers, his wife and son arrived at Blois in disorder, swept away by the debacle: wagons, baggage-vans, carriages, everything was there; even the royal coaches were there and were dragged through the mud of the Beauce to Chambord, the only morsel of France left to Louis XIV’s heirs. Some of the ministers crossed over, and went to hide in Brittany, while Cambacérès was carried in state in a sedan-chair through the steep streets of Blois. Various rumours were current; there was talk of two camps and a general requisition. For several days they knew nothing of what was happening in Paris; the uncertainty only ended with the arrival of a carter whose pass was signed Sacken. Soon the Russian General Shuvalov arrived at the Auberge de la Galère: he was promptly besieged by the grandees, desperate to obtain visas from him for their headlong flight. However, before leaving Blois, they all drew on Regency funds for their travelling expenses and arrears of salary: they grasped their passports in one hand and their money in the other, taking care at the same time to assure the Provisional Government of their support, not losing their heads. Madame Mère and her brother, Cardinal Fesch, left for Rome. Prince Esterhazy arrived on behalf of Francis II to fetch Marie-Louise and her son. Joseph and Jérôme headed for Switzerland, after trying to compel the Empress, in vain, to share their fate. Marie-Louise hastened to join her father: indifferently attached to Bonaparte, she found thereby the means to console herself, and rejoiced at being delivered from the double tyranny of a husband and master. When, the following year, Bonaparte brought this same confused flight on the Bourbons, the latter, barely free of their long tribulations, had not enjoyed fourteen years of unexampled prosperity in which to grow accustomed to the comfort of a throne.