It would be an interesting historical study to determine just how far the great soldier’s family aided in his downfall by their selfishness, their jealousy, their meanness, and their ingratitude.
There is something piquant in thinking of Napoleon as a domestic sort of person. Indeed, it is rather difficult to do so. When we speak his name we think of the stern warrior hurling his armies up bloody slopes and on to bloody victory. He is the man whose steely eyes made his haughtiest marshals tremble, or else the wise, far-seeing statesman and lawgiver; but decidedly he is not a household model. We read of his sharp speech to women, of his outrageous manners at the dinner-table, and of the thousand and one details which Mme. de Remusat has chronicled—and perhaps in part invented, for there has always existed the suspicion that her animus was that of a woman who had herself sought the imperial favor and had failed to win it.
But, in fact, all these stories relate to the Napoleon of courts and palaces, and not to the Napoleon of home. In his private life this great man was not merely affectionate and indulgent, but he even showed a certain weakness where his relatives were concerned, so that he let them prey upon him almost without end.
He had a great deal of the Italian largeness and lavishness of character with his family. When a petty officer he nearly starved himself in order to give his younger brother, Louis, a military education. He was devotedly fond of children, and they were fond of him, as many anecdotes attest. His passionate love for Josephine before he learned of her infidelity is almost painful to read of; and even afterward, when he had been disillusioned, and when she was paying Fouche a thousand francs a day to spy upon Napoleon’s every action, he still treated her with friendliness and allowed her extravagance to embarrass him.
He made his eldest brother, Joseph, King of Spain, and Spain proved almost as deadly to him as did Russia. He made his youngest brother, Jerome, King of Westphalia, and Jerome turned the palace into a pigsty and brought discredit on the very name of Bonaparte. His brother Louis, for whom he had starved himself, he placed upon the throne of Holland, and Louis promptly devoted himself to his own interests, conniving at many things which were inimical to France. He was planning high advancement for his brother Lucien, and Lucien suddenly married a disreputable actress and fled with her to England, where he was received with pleasure by the most persistent of all Napoleon’s enemies.
So much for his brothers—incompetent, ungrateful, or openly his foes. But his three sisters were no less remarkable in the relations which they bore to him. They have been styled “the three crowned courtesans,” and they have been condemned together as being utterly void of principle and monsters of ingratitude.