You must, with me, admire the modesty of a citizen sans-culotte, who, without a shilling in the world, fixes upon fifty millions as a reward for his revolutionary achievements, and with which he would be satisfied to sit down and begin his singular course of singular philosophy. But his success is more extraordinary that his pretensions were extravagant. This immense sum was amassed by him in the short period of four years, chiefly by bribes from foreign Courts, and by selling his protections in France.
But most of the other Bonapartes have made as great and as rapid fortunes as Lucien, and yet, instead of being generous, contented, or even philosophers, they are still profiting by every occasion to increase their ill-gotten treasures, and no distress was ever relieved, no talents encouraged, or virtues recompensed by them. The mind of their garrets lodges with them in their palaces, while Lucien seems to ascend as near as possible to a level with his circumstances. I have myself found him beneficent without ostentation.
Among his numerous pictures, I observed four that had formerly belonged to my father’s, and afterwards to my own cabinet. I inquired how much he had paid for them, without giving the least hint that they had been my property, and were plundered from me by the nation. He had, indeed, paid their full value. In a fortnight after I had quitted him, these, with six other pictures, were deposited in my room, with a very polite note, begging my acceptance of them, and assuring me that he had but the day before heard from his picture dealer that they had belonged to me. He added that he would never retake them, unless he received an assurance from me that I parted with them without reluctance, and at the same time affixed their price. I returned them, as I knew they were desired by him for his collection, but he continued obstinate. I told him, therefore, that, as I was acquainted with his inclination to perform a generous action, I would, instead of payment for the pictures, indicate a person deserving his assistance. I mentioned the old Duchesse de ------, who is seventy-four years of age and blind; and, after possessing in her youth an income of eight hundred thousand livres—is now, in her old age, almost destitute. He did for this worthy lady more than I expected; but happening, in his visits to relieve my friend, to cast his eye on the daughter of the landlady where she lodged, he found means to prevail on the simplicity of the poor girl, and seduced her. So much do I know personally of Lucien Bonaparte, who certainly is a composition of good and bad qualities, but which of them predominate I will not take upon me to decide. This I can affirm—Lucien is not the worst member of the Bonaparte family.
Paris, August, 1805.