CHAPTER III. LOUIS NAPOLEON'S EARLY CAREER. - STRASBURG, BOULOGNE, HAM.
There is a theory held by some observers that the man who fails in his duty to a woman who has claims upon his love and his protection, never afterwards prospers; and perhaps the most striking illustration of this theory may be found in the career of the Emperor Napoleon. Nothing went well with him after his divorce from Josephine. His only son died. The children of his brothers, with the exception of Louis Napoleon, and the Prince de Canino, the son of Lucien, were all ordinary men, inclined to the fast life of their period; while the descendants of Josephine, honored and respected, are now connected with many European thrones.
The son of Napoleon, called by his grandfather, the Austrian emperor, the Duc de Reichstadt, but by his own Bonaparte family Napoleon II., died at Vienna, July 22, 1832. The person from whom, during his short, sad life, he had received most kindness, and to whom, during his illness, he was indebted for almost maternal care, was the young wife of his cousin Francis, the Princess Sophia of Bavaria, who in the same week that he died, became the mother of Maximilian, the unfortunate Emperor of Mexico, who, exactly thirty-five years after, on July 22, 1867, was shot at Queretaro.
The Emperor Napoleon had made a decree that if male heirs failed him, his dynasty should be continued by the sons of his brother Joseph. Lucien, the republican, was passed over, as well as his descendants; and Joseph failing of male heirs, the throne of France was to devolve on Louis, king of Holland, and his heirs. Joseph left only daughters, Zenaide and Charlotte. Louis Bonaparte when he died, left but one son.
Louis Bonaparte was nine years younger than his brother Napoleon, who by no right of primogeniture, but by right of success, was early looked upon as the head of the family of Bonaparte. He assumed the place of father to his little brother Louis, and a very unsatisfactory father he proved. Louis was studious, poetical, solid, honorable, and unambitious. His brother was resolved to make him a distinguished general and an able king. He succeeded in making him a brave soldier and a very good general; but Louis had no enthusiasm for the profession of arms. He hated bloodshed, and above all he hated sack and pillage. He had no genius, and crooked ways of any kind were abhorrent to him. When a very young man he fell passionately in love with a lady, whom he called his Sophie. But his brother and the world thought the real name of the object of his affection was Emilie de Beauharnais, the Empress Josephine's niece by marriage. This lady became afterwards the wife of M. de La Vallette, Napoleon's postmaster-general, who after the return of the Bourbons in 1815, was condemned to death with Ney and Labedoyere. His wife saved him by changing clothes with him in prison; but the fearful strain her nerves suffered until she was sure of his escape, unsettled her reason. She was not sent to an asylum, but lived to a great age in an appartement in Paris, carefully tended and watched over by her friends.
[Footnote 1: Jerrold's Life of Napoleon III.]
But whether it was with a Sophie or an Emilie, Louis Bonaparte fell in love, and Hortense de Beauharnais, the daughter of Josephine, gay, lively, poetical, and enthusiastic, had given her heart to General Duroc, the Emperor Napoleon's aide-de-camp; therefore both the young people resisted the darling project of Napoleon and Josephine to marry them to each other. By such a marriage Josephine hoped to avert the divorce that she saw to be impending. She fancied that if sons were born to the young couple, Napoleon would be content to leave his throne to the heir of his brother Louis, whom he had adopted, and of his step-daughter, of whom he was very fond. But Louis would not marry Hortense, and Hortense would not have Louis. At last, however, in the excitement of a ball, a reluctant consent was wrung from Louis; then Hortense was coerced into being a good French girl, and giving up Duroc. She and Louis were married. A more unhappy marriage never took place. Husband and wife were separated by an insurmountable (or at least unsurmounted) incompatibility of temperament. Louis was a man whose first thought was duty. Hortense loved only gayety and pleasure. He particularly objected to her dancing; she was one of the most graceful dancers ever seen, and would not give it up to please him. In short, she was all graceful, captivating frivolity; he, rigid and exacting. Both had burning memories in their hearts of what "might have been," and above all, after Louis became king of Holland, each took opposite political views. Louis wanted to govern Holland as the good king of the Dutch; Napoleon expected him to govern it in the interests of his dynasty, and as a Frenchman. The brothers disagreed most bitterly. Napoleon wrote indignant, unjust letters to Louis. Hortense took Napoleon's side in the quarrel, and led a French party at the Dutch court.
Intense was the grief of Louis and Hortense, Napoleon and Josephine, when the eldest son of this marriage, the child on whom their hopes were set, died of the croup at an early age. Hortense was wholly prostrated by her loss. She had still one son, and was soon to have another. The expected child was Charles Louis Napoleon, who was to become afterwards Napoleon III.
Soon after Louis Napoleon's birth, King Louis abdicated the throne of Holland. He said he could not do justice to the interests and wishes of his people, and satisfy his brother at the same time. He retired to Florence, where he lived for many years, only once more coming back to public life, viz., in 1814, to offer his help to his brother Napoleon, when others were deserting him.