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

During the sojourn at Montebello


What infatuation! to appease a woman's fancied grief, he will pile high the plains of Mincio with corpses, recking not of the thousand homes where bitter tears will flow. It is the apotheosis of sentimental egotism and social callousness. And yet this brain, with its moral vision hopelessly blurred, judged unerringly in its own peculiar plane. What power it must have possessed, that, unexhausted by the flames of love, it grasped infallibly the myriad problems of war, scanning them the more clearly, perchance, in the white heat of its own passion.

At last there came the time of fruition at Montebello: of fruition, but not of ease or full contentment; for not only did an average of eight despatches a day claim several hours, during which he jealously guarded his solitude; but Josephine's behaviour served to damp his ardour. As, during the time of absence, she had slighted his urgent entreaties for a daily letter, so too, during the sojourn at Montebello, she revealed the shallowness and frivolity of her being. Fetes, balls, and receptions, provided they were enlivened by a light crackle of compliments from an admiring circle, pleased her more than the devotion of a genius. She had admitted, before marriage, that her "Creole _nonchalance_" shrank wearily away from his keen and ardent nature; and now, when torn away from the _salons_ of Paris, she seems to have taken refuge in entertainments and lap-dogs.[82] Doubtless even at this period Josephine evinced something of that warm feeling which deepened with ripening years and lit up her later sorrows with a mild radiance; but her recent association with Madame Tallien and that giddy _cohue_ had accentuated her habits of feline complaisance to all and sundry. Her facile fondnesses certainly welled forth far too widely to carve out a single channel of love and mingle with the deep torrent of Bonaparte's early passion. In time, therefore, his affections strayed into many other courses; and it would seen that even in the later part of this Italian epoch his conduct was irregular. For this Josephine had herself mainly to thank. At last she awakened to the real value and greatness of the love which her neglect had served to dull and tarnish, but then it was too late for complete reunion of souls: the Corsican eagle had by that time soared far beyond reach of her highest flutterings.[83]

At Montebello, as also at Passeriano, whither the Austrian negotiations were soon transferred, Bonaparte, though strictly maintaining the ceremonies of his proconsular court, yet showed the warmth of his social instincts. After the receptions of the day and the semi-public dinner, he loved to unbend in the evening. Sometimes, when Josephine formed a party of ladies for _vingt-et-un_, he would withdraw to a corner and indulge in the game of _goose_; and bystanders noted with amusement that his love of success led him to play tricks and cheat in order not to "fall into the pit." At other times, if the conversation languished, he proposed that each person should tell a story; and when no Boccaccio-like facility inspired the company, he sometimes launched out into one of those eerie and thrilling recitals, such as he must often have heard from the _improvisatori_ of his native island. Bourrienne states that Bonaparte's realism required darkness and daggers for the full display of his gifts, and that the climax of his dramatic monologue was not seldom enhanced by the screams of the ladies, a consummation which gratified rather than perturbed the accomplished actor.

A survey of Bonaparte's multifarious activity in Italy enables the reader to realize something of the wonder and awe excited by his achievements. Like an Athena he leaped forth from the Revolution, fully armed for every kind of contest. His mental superiority impressed diplomats as his strategy baffled the Imperialist generals; and now he was to give further proofs of his astuteness by intervening in the internal affairs of France.


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