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The Return of Napoleon from Elba, 1815

[Tappan Introduction]

The determination of Louis XVIII and the Royalists to put everything back where it was before the Revolution aroused great dissatisfaction. Many began to long for the return of Napoleon. In March, 1815, their wish came to pass, for Napoleon landed on the shores of France. He had only a few followers, but as he pushed on to Paris, his old soldiers hurried forward to join him. His whole journey was one glowing welcome. The following account was written by an English lady, a partisan of the Bourbons, who was in Paris at the time of Napoleon's arrival.

WE were enjoying the breezes of a fine March morning when suddenly an officer issued from the palace and whispered to us that Bonaparte had landed! Had a thunderbolt fallen at our feet its effects could not have produced a more terrible sensation than did this unexpected intelligence on our hearts. We instantly returned home, and that night it was no longer a secret in Paris. Some could not conceal the terror the name of Napoleon always inspires; others, judging from their own loyal sentiments, exclaimed, "The hand of God is to be seen in this!" Another party, appreciating present circumstances, rejoiced in the idea that he would be taken and secured forever; as if Napoleon, in risking the chance of success, had not secured the means of insuring it! The king issued an ordonnance declaring him a traitor. The Chamber of Deputies was convened, an express sent for Marshal Ney. The king, preserving admirable calmness and confidence in his subjects, received the ambassadors, saying, "Write, gentlemen, to your respective courts that I am in good health, and that the mad enterprise of this man will no longer trouble the repose of Europe nor my own." The Prince de Conde, notwithstanding his advanced age, offered his services.

His Majesty passed in review the troops, addressed the most flattering compliments to their generals, who surrounded him, and said to General Rapp, "Notwithstanding that this is not the siege of Danzig, I count always upon your courage and fidelity!" Rapp, affected, turned away and exclaimed, "One must be a villain to betray such a king." He rendered himself justice, and unconsciously pronounced his own panegyric in advance. When the Duc de Berri appeared he was received with enthusiasm. La Maison do Roi solicited to march with him against their common enemy, but elsewhere all remained in a state of apathy. An extensive confederacy on one side, want of means on the other, an inefficient organization in every department---our great confidence was in Ney; Ney departed with promises to bring back Napoleon dead or alive. He kissed the king's hand, and, shedding tears, renewed his oaths of fidelity for himself and his army.

The Duc de Feltre (Clarke) was named minister of war. Our fluctuating hopes rose and fell like the mercury in a weather-glass, but this nomination revived them. Clarke had been called "the calculating Irishman," but the loyal party now extol him, and say that he forgot himself at the epoch that others forgot only what they owed to their king. "What will Talleyrand do? Will he, amidst the congregated ministers of the Allies, remain steady to his last oaths to Louis? " was constantly echoing through our salons during the first days of consternation.

The streets were quieter than usual; every person seemed to have a more serious mien, and to be preoccupied. Of the beau-monde some had fled, others kept within their hotels. No carriages of the opulent contested the passage with the cabriolets or with the vehicles of commerce, no belles skipped lightly along. In the shops few purchasers, and those few looking gloomy and silent; suspicion and fear seemed to predominate. Entering two or three shops where I had been in the habit of purchasing, they exclaimed, "Softly! softly! mademoiselle; speak low, we are surrounded with spies." At the open stalls, and in the shops on the bridges and on the quays, the proprietors were busily occupied in removing the engravings, and other emblems of the Bourbons, and replacing those of the usurper and his military partisans. Ladders were placed at the corners of the streets and against the shops, while workmen were effacing the names and brevets of the Bourbon dynasty, to be replaced by those of the Corsican family, or in haste substituting a design analogous to the merchandised within. We entered for a moment the Chamber of Deputies. The flags taken in the different campaigns were brought from their concealed depots. The President's chair, embroidered with fleur-de-lis, was being removed. "Where will you find another?" I hastily demanded. "The old chair is in the garret," was the quick reply. In a few moments it was brought down; the portraits of the king and of the princes were already removed from their frames, and those of Napoleon and Maria Louisa had replaced them.

On the 19th of March cries were heard of "Vive we Roi!" in the square of Louis XV. On the morning of the 20th they were supplanted by shouts of "Vive l'Empereur!" The next morning I determined to see Napoleon, but when our carriage arrived at the Pont Royal thousands were collected there. Our servant advised us to descend and proceed on foot. The crowd civilly made way: they were waiting to see the review. An unusual silence prevailed, interrupted only by the cries of the children, whom the parents were thumping with energy for crying "Vive we Roi!" instead of "Vive l'Empereur!" which some months before they had been thumped for daring to vociferate! A friend recommended us to proceed to the review, to see which he had the good-nature to procure me admittance to a small apartment in the Tuileries, and from the window I saw and heard for the first time the scourge of the Continent---his martial, active figure, mounted on his famed white horse. He harangued with energetic tone (and in those bombastic expressions we have always remarked in all his manifestos, and which are so well adapted to the French) the troops of the divisions of Lefol and Defour. There was much embracing of the "Ancient Eagles" of the Old Guard, much mention of "great days and souvenirs dear to his heart," of the "scars of his brave soldiers," which, to serve his views, we will reopen without remorse. The populace were tranquil, as I had remarked them on the bridge. Inspirited by my still unsatisfied curiosity I rejoined my escort and proceeded to the gardens, where not more than thirty persons were collected under the windows. There was no enthusiastic cry, at least none seemed sufficient to induce him to show himself. In despair at not being able to contemplate his physiognomy at greater advantage, I made my cavalier request some persons in the throng to cry, "Vive l'Empereur!" Some laughed and replied, "Wait a moment," while others advised us to desire some of the children to do so. A few francs thrown to the latter soon stimulated their voices into cries of the loyalty of the day, and Napoleon presented himself at the window, but he retired often and reappeared. A few persons arrived from the country and held up petitions, which he sent an aide-de-camp to receive. His square face and figure struck me with involuntary emotion. I was dazzled, as if beholding a supernatural being. There was a sternness spread over his expansive brow, a gloom on the lids of his darkened eye, which rendered futile his attempts to smile. Something Satanic sported round his mouth, indicating the ambitious spirit of the soul within!

Much agitation seemed to reign in the salon. The ministers and generals paced up and down with their master in reciprocal agitation and debate. The palace has now the appearance of a fortress, the retreat of a despot, not the abode of a sovereign confiding in the loyalty of his people, and recalled by their unanimous voice, but feeling that he is only welcomed back by military power, whose path was smoothed by the peasantry of Dauphiny. A range of artillery is now placed before it; soldiers stretched on straw repose under the finely-arched corridors, and military casqued heads even appear from the uppermost windows. Napoleon had the gallant consideration the day after his return to renew the guard of honor at the hotel of the Dowager Duchess of Orleans, to whom he has always accorded the respect due to royalty.


From: Eva March Tappan, ed., The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song and Art, 14 Vols., (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), Vol. V: Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal, pp. 358-363.

Tappan does not give the orginal author.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

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© Paul Halsall, November 1998

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