That man was Napoleon Buonaparte. He was hardly twenty-nine years of age, yet already all France was talking him as a hero crowned with laurels, already had he trodden a brilliant career of victory. As commander of a battalion he had performed prodigies of valor at the recapture of Toulon; and then, after being promoted to the rank of general, had gone to the army in Italy on behalf of the republic. Bedecked with the laurels of his Italian campaign, the young general of five-and-twenty had returned to France. There, the government, being still hostile and ill-disposed toward him, wished to remove him from Paris, and send him to La Vendee as a brigadier-general. Buonaparte declined this mission, because he preferred remaining in the artillery service, and, for that reason, the government of the republic relieved him of his duties and put him on half-pay.
So, Buonaparte remained in Paris and waited. He waited for the brilliant star that was soon to climb the firmament for him, and shed the fulness of its rays over the whole world. Perhaps, the secret voices which whispered in his breast of a dazzling future, and a fabulous career of military glory, had already announced the rising of his star.
So Buonaparte lived on in Paris, and waited. He there passed quiet, retired, and inactive days, associating with a few devoted friends only, who aided him, with delicate tact, in his restricted circumstances. For Buonaparte was poor; he had lost his limited means in the tempests of the revolution, and all that he possessed consisted of the laurels he had won on the battle-field, and his half pay as a brigadier-general. But, like the Viscountess de Beauharnais, Napoleon had some true friends who deemed it an honor to receive him as a guest at their table, and also, like Josephine, he was too poor to bring his wheaten loaf with him to the dinners that he attended, as was then the prevailing custom. He often dined, in company with his brother Louis, at the house of his boyhood’s friend Bourrienne, and his future secretary was at that time still his host, favored of the gods. The young general, instead of, like his brother, bringing his wheaten loaf, brought only his ration, which was rye-bread, and this he always abandoned to his brother Louis, who was very fond of it, while Madame Bourrienne took care that he should invariably find his supply of white, bread at his plate. She had managed to get some flour smuggled into Paris from her husband’s estate, and had white-bread made of it secretly, at the pastry-cook’s. Had this been discovered, it would inevitably have prepared the way for all of them to the scaffold.
Thus, then, young General Buonaparte, or, as he subsequently wrote the name himself, “Bonaparte,” passed quiet days of expectation, hoping that, should the existing government, so hostile to him, be suppressed by another, his wishes might be at last fulfilled. These wishes were, by the way, of a rather unpretending character. “If I could only live here quietly, at Paris,” he once remarked to his friend Bourrienne, “and rent that pretty little house yonder, opposite to my friends, and keep a carriage besides, I should be the happiest of men!”