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

Discards the grandeur which his prowess has won


The populace consoled itself for the loss of political liberty by the splendour of the fete which heralded the title of First Consul for Life, proclaimed on August 15th: that day was also memorable as being the First Consul's thirty-third birthday, the festival of the Assumption, and the anniversary of the ratification of the Concordat. The decorations and fireworks were worthy of so remarkable a confluence of solemnities. High on one of the towers of Notre Dame glittered an enormous star, and at its centre there shone the sign of the Zodiac which had shed its influence over his first hours of life. The myriads of spectators who gazed at that natal emblem might well have thought that his life's star was now at its zenith. Few could have dared to think that it was to mount far higher into unknown depths of space, blazing as a baleful portent to kings and peoples; still less was there any Cassandra shriek of doom as to its final headlong fall into the wastes of ocean. All was joy and jubilation over a career that had even now surpassed the records of antique heroism, that blended the romance of oriental prowess with the beneficent toils of the legislator, and prospered alike in war and peace.

And yet black care cast one shadow over that jubilant festival. There was a void in the First Consul's life such as saddened but few of the millions of peasants who looked up to him as their saviour. His wife had borne him no heir: and there seemed no prospect that a child of his own would ever succeed to his glorious heritage. Family joys, it seemed, were not for him. Suspicions and bickerings were his lot. His brothers, in their feverish desire for the establishment of a Bonapartist dynasty, ceaselessly urged that he should take means to provide himself with a legitimate heir, in the last resort by divorcing Josephine. With a consideration for her feelings which does him credit, Napoleon refused to countenance such proceedings. Yet it is certain that from this time onwards he kept in view the desirability, on political grounds, of divorcing her, and made this the excuse for indulgence in amours against which Josephine's tears and reproaches were all in vain.

The consolidation of personal rule, the institution of the Legion of Honour, and the return of very many of the emigrant nobles under the terms of the recent amnesty, favoured the growth of luxury in the capital and of Court etiquette at the Tuileries and St. Cloud. At these palaces the pomp of the _ancien regime_ was laboriously copied. General Duroc, stiff republican though he was, received the appointment of Governor of the Palace; under him were chamberlains and prefects of the palace, who enforced a ceremonial that struggled to be monarchical. The gorgeous liveries and sumptuous garments of the reign of Louis XV. speedily replaced the military dress which even civilians had worn under the warlike Republic. High boots, sabres, and regimental headgear gave way to buckled shoes, silk stockings, Court rapiers, and light hats, the last generally held under the arm. Tricolour cockades were discarded, along with the revolutionary jargon which _thou'd_ and _citizen'd_ everyone; and men began to purge their speech of some of the obscene terms which had haunted clubs and camps.

It was remarked, however, that the First Consul still clung to the use of the term _citizen_, and that amidst the surprising combinations of colours that flecked his Court, he generally wore only the uniform of a colonel of grenadiers or of the light infantry of the consular guard. This conduct resulted partly from his early dislike of luxury, but partly, doubtless, from a conviction that republicans will forgive much in a man who, like Vespasian, discards the grandeur which his prowess has won, and shines by his very plainness. To trifling matters such as these Napoleon always attached great importance; for, as he said to Admiral Malcolm at St. Helena: "In France trifles are great things: reason is nothing."[179] Besides, genius so commanding as his little needed the external trappings wherewith ordinary mortals hide their nullity. If his attire was simple, it but set off the better the play of his mobile features, and the rich, unfailing flow of his conversation. Perhaps no clearer and more pleasing account of his appearance and his conduct at a reception has ever been given to the world than this sketch of the great man in one of his gentler moods by John Leslie Foster, who visited Paris shortly after the Peace of Amiens:


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