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

Pichegru was found strangled in prison


years later loving hands disinterred the bones and placed them in the chapel of the castle. But even then the world knew not all the enormity of the crime. It was reserved for clumsy apologists like Savary to provoke replies and further investigations. The various excuses which throw the blame on Talleyrand, and on everyone but the chief actor, are sufficiently disposed of by the ex-Emperor's will. In that document Napoleon brushed away the excuses which had previously been offered to the credulity or malice of his courtiers, and took on himself the responsibility for the execution:

"I caused the Duc d'Enghien to be arrested and judged, because it was necessary for the safety, the interest, and the honour of the French people when the Comte d'Artois, by his own confession, was supporting sixty assassins at Paris. In similar circumstances I would act in the same way again."[303]

The execution of the Duc d'Enghien is one of the most important incidents of this period, so crowded with momentous events. The sensation of horror which it caused can be gauged by the mental agony of Madame de Remusat and of others who had hitherto looked on Bonaparte as the hero of the age and the saviour of the country. His mother hotly upbraided him, saying it was an atrocious act, the stain of which could never be wiped out, and that he had yielded to the advice of enemies' eager to tarnish his fame.[304]

Napoleon said nothing, but shut himself up in his cabinet, revolving these terrible words, which doubtless bore fruit in the bitter reproaches later to be heaped upon Talleyrand for his share in the tragedy. Many royalists who had begun to rally to his side now showed their indignation at the deed. Chateaubriand, who was about to proceed as the envoy of France to the Republic of Valais, at once offered his resignation and assumed an attitude of covert defiance. And that was the conduct of all royalists who were not dazzled by the glamour of success or cajoled by Napoleon's favours. Many of his friends ventured to show their horror of this Corsican vendetta; and a _mot_ which was plausibly, but it seems wrongly, attributed to Fouche, well sums up the general opinion of that callous society: "It was worse than a crime--it was a blunder."

Scarcely had Paris recovered from this sensation when, on April 6th, Pichegru was found strangled in prison; and men silently but almost unanimously hailed it as the work of Napoleon's Mamelukes. This judgment, however natural after the Enghien affair, seems to be incorrect. It is true the corpse bore marks which scarcely tallied with suicide: but Georges Cadoudal, whose cell was hard by, heard no sound of a scuffle; and it is unlikely that so strong a man as Pichegru would easily have succumbed to assailants. It is therefore more probable that the conqueror of Holland, shattered by his misfortunes and too proud to undergo a public trial, cut short a life which already was doomed. Never have plotters failed more ignominiously and played more completely into the hands of their enemy. A _mot_ of the Boulevards wittily sums up the results of their puny efforts: "They came to France to give her a king, and they gave her an Emperor."

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