“Then go home and have some!”
Of the four women who influenced his life, first must come Josephine, because she secured him his earliest chance of advancement. She met him through Barras, with whom she was said to be rather intimate. The young soldier was fascinated by her—the more because she was older than he and possessed all the practised arts of the creole and the woman of the world. When she married him she brought him as her dowry the command of the army of Italy, where in a few months he made the tri-color, borne by ragged troops, triumphant over the splendidly equipped hosts of Austria.
She was his first love, and his knowledge of her perfidy gave him the greatest shock and horror of his whole life; yet she might have held him to the end if she had borne an heir to the imperial throne. It was her failure to do so that led Napoleon to divorce Josephine and marry the thick-lipped Marie Louise of Austria. There were times later when he showed signs of regret and said:
“I have had no luck since I gave up Josephine!”
Marie Louise was of importance for a time—the short time when she entertained her husband and delighted him by giving birth to the little King of Rome. Yet in the end she was but an episode; fleeing from her husband in his misfortune, becoming the mistress of Count Neipperg, and letting her son—l’Aiglon—die in a land that was far from France.
Napoleon’s sister, Pauline Bonaparte, was the third woman who comes to mind when we contemplate the great Corsican’s career. She, too, is an episode. During the period of his ascendancy she plagued him with her wanton ways, her sauciness and trickery. It was amusing to throw him into one of his violent rages; but Pauline was true at heart, and when her great brother was sent to Elba she followed him devotedly and gave him all her store of jewels, including the famous Borghese diamonds, perhaps the most superb of all gems known to the western world. She would gladly have followed him, also, to St. Helena had she been permitted. Remaining behind, she did everything possible in conspiring to secure his freedom.
But, after all, Pauline and Marie Louise count for comparatively little. Josephine’s fate was interwoven with Napoleon’s; and, with his Corsican superstition, he often said so. The fourth woman, of whom I am writing here, may be said to have almost equaled Josephine in her influence on the emperor as well as in the pathos of her life-story.
On New-Year’s Day of 1807 Napoleon, who was then almost Emperor of Europe, passed through the little town of Bronia, in Poland. Riding with his cavalry to Warsaw, the ancient capital of the Polish kingdom, he seemed a very demigod of battle.
True, he had had to abandon his long-cherished design of invading and overrunning England, and Nelson had shattered his fleets and practically driven his flag from the sea; but the naval disaster of Trafalgar had speedily been followed by the triumph of Austerlitz, the greatest and most brilliant of all Napoleon’s victories, which left Austria and Russia humbled to the very ground before him.