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The Life of Napoleon I (Volume 1 of 2) by Rose

They opened their hearts to a penniless officer named Harel


No

politician inured to the tricks of statecraft could more firmly have handled public affairs than the man who practically began his political apprenticeship at Brumaire. Without apparent effort he rose to the height whence the five Directors had so ignominiously fallen; and instinctively he chose at once the policy which alone could have insured rest for France, that of balancing interests and parties. His own political views being as yet unknown, dark with the excessive brightness of his encircling glory, he could pose as the conciliator of contending factions. The Jacobins were content when they saw the regicide Cambaceres become Second Consul; and friends of constitutional monarchy remembered that the Third Consul, Lebrun, had leanings towards the Feuillants of 1791. Fouche at the inquisitorial Ministry of Police, and Merlin, Berlier, Real, and Boulay de la Meurthe in the Council of State seemed a barrier to all monarchical schemes; and the Jacobins therefore remained quiet, even while Catholic worship was again publicly celebrated, while Vendean rebels were pardoned, and plotting _emigres_ were entering the public service.

Many, indeed, of the prominent terrorists had settled profitably on the offices which Bonaparte had multiplied throughout France, and were therefore dumb: but some of the less favoured ones, angered by the stealthy advance of autocracy, wove a plot for the overthrow of the First Consul. Chief among them were a braggart named

Demerville, a painter, Topino Lebrun, a sculptor, Ceracchi, and Arena, brother of the Corsican deputy who had shaken Bonaparte by the collar at the crisis of Brumaire. These men hit upon the notion that, with the aid of one man of action, they could make away with the new despot. They opened their hearts to a penniless officer named Harel, who had been dismissed from the army; and he straightway took the news to Bonaparte's private secretary, Bourrienne. The First Consul, on hearing of the matter, at once charged Bourrienne to supply Harel with money to buy firearms, but not to tell the secret to Fouche, of whose double dealings with the Jacobins he was already aware. It became needful, however, to inform him of the plot, which was now carefully nursed by the authorities. The arrests were planned to take place at the opera on October 10th. About half an hour after the play had begun, Bonaparte bade his secretary go into the lobby to hear the news. Bourrienne at once heard the noise caused by a number of arrests: he came back, reported the matter to his master, who forthwith returned to the Tuileries. The plot was over.[168]

A more serious attempt was to follow. On the 3rd day of Nivose (December 24th, 1800), as the First Consul was driving to the opera to hear Haydn's oratorio, "The Creation," his carriage was shaken by a terrific explosion. A bomb had burst between his carriage and that of Josephine, which was following. Neither was injured, though many spectators were killed or wounded. "Josephine," he calmly said, as she entered the box, "those rascals wanted to blow me up: send for a copy of the music." But under this cool demeanour he nursed a determination of vengeance against his political foes, the Jacobins. On the next day he appeared at a session of the Council of State along with the Ministers of Police and of the Interior, Fouche and Chaptal. The Arena plot and other recent events seemed to point to wild Jacobins and anarchists as the authors of this outrage: but Fouche ventured to impute it to the royalists and to England.


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