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

Yet in 1764 Paoli appealed to Louis XV


a new influence was now to call forth all the powers of this tough stock. In the middle of the eighteenth century we find the head of the family, Charles Marie Buonaparte, aglow with the flame of Corsican patriotism then being kindled by the noble career of Paoli. This gifted patriot, the champion of the islanders, first against the Genoese and later against the French, desired to cement by education the framework of the Corsican Commonwealth and founded a university. It was here that the father of the future French Emperor received a training in law, and a mental stimulus which was to lift his family above the level of the _caporali_ and attorneys with whom its lot had for centuries been cast. His ambition is seen in the endeavour, successfully carried out by his uncle, Lucien, Archdeacon of Ajaccio, to obtain recognition of kinship with the Buonapartes of Tuscany who had been ennobled by the Grand Duke. His patriotism is evinced in his ardent support of Paoli, by whose valour and energy the Genoese were finally driven from the island. Amidst these patriotic triumphs Charles confronted his destiny in the person of Letizia Ramolino, a beautiful girl, descended from an honourable Florentine family which had for centuries been settled in Corsica. The wedding took place in 1764, the bridegroom being then eighteen, and the bride fifteen years of age. The union, if rashly undertaken in the midst of civil strifes, was yet well assorted. Both parties to it were of patrician, if not definitely
noble descent, and came of families which combined the intellectual gifts of Tuscany with the vigour of their later island home[3]. From her mother's race, the Pietra Santa family, Letizia imbibed the habits of the most backward and savage part of Corsica, where vendettas were rife and education was almost unknown. Left in ignorance in her early days, she yet was accustomed to hardships, and often showed the fertility of resource which such a life always develops. Hence, at the time of her marriage, she possessed a firmness of will far beyond her years; and her strength and fortitude enabled her to survive the terrible adversities of her early days, as also to meet with quiet matronly dignity the extraordinary honours showered on her as the mother of the French Emperor. She was inured to habits of frugality, which reappeared in the personal tastes of her son. In fact, she so far retained her old parsimonious habits, even amidst the splendours of the French Imperial Court, as to expose herself to the charge of avarice. But there is a touching side to all this. She seems ever to have felt that after the splendour there would come again the old days of adversity, and her instincts were in one sense correct. She lived on to the advanced age of eighty-six, and died twenty-one years after the break-up of her son's empire--a striking proof of the vitality and tenacity of her powers.

A kindly Providence veiled the future from the young couple. Troubles fell swiftly upon them both in private and in public life. Their first two children died in infancy. The third, Joseph, was born in 1768, when the Corsican patriots were making their last successful efforts against their new French oppressors: the fourth, the famous Napoleon, saw the light on August 15th, 1769, when the liberties of Corsica were being finally extinguished. Nine other children were born before the outbreak of the French Revolution reawakened civil strifes, amidst which the then fatherless family was tossed to and fro and finally whirled away to France.

Destiny had already linked the fortunes of the young Napoleon Buonaparte with those of France. After the downfall of Genoese rule in Corsica, France had taken over, for empty promises, the claims of the hard-pressed Italian republic to its troublesome island possession. It was a cheap and practical way of restoring, at least in the Mediterranean the shattered prestige of the French Bourbons. They had previously intervened in Corsican affairs on the side of the Genoese. Yet in 1764 Paoli appealed to Louis XV. for protection. It was granted, in the form of troops that proceeded quietly to occupy the coast towns of the island under cover of friendly assurances. In 1768, before the expiration of an informal truce, Marbeuf, the French commander, commenced hostilities against the patriots[4]. In vain did Rousseau and many other champions of popular liberty protest against this bartering away of insular freedom: in vain did Paoli rouse his compatriots to another and more unequal struggle, and seek to hold the mountainous interior. Poor, badly equipped, rent by family feuds and clan schisms, his followers were no match for the French troops; and after the utter break-up of his forces Paoli fled to England, taking with him three hundred and forty of the most determined patriots. With these irreconcilables Charles Buonaparte did not cast in his lot, but accepted the pardon offered to those who should recognize the French sway. With his wife and their little child Joseph he returned to Ajaccio; and there, shortly afterwards, Napoleon was born. As the patriotic historian, Jacobi, has finely said, "The Corsican people, when exhausted by producing martyrs to the cause of liberty, produced Napoleon Buonaparte[5]."

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