CHAPTER XX. GENERAL BOULANGER.
Sir Charles Dilke tells us that in 1887, when a friend of his was going to France, he asked him to ascertain for him if General Boulanger were a soldier, a mountebank, or an ass; and the answer brought back to him was, "He is a little of them all." The general, after his interview in London with the Comte de Paris, took up his residence in the island of Jersey. He cannot but have felt that his popularity had failed him, and that his enchanter's wand was broken. From time to time he made spasmodic efforts to bring himself again to the notice of the public. He offered repeatedly to return to France and stand his trial for conspiracy, provided that the trial might be conducted before a regular court of justice, and not before an especial committee appointed by the Chambers.
Meantime his domestic relations must have caused him poignant anxiety. His wife was his cousin, - a lady of the haute bourgeoisie in a provincial town. She appears to have felt herself unequal to what might be required of her as the wife of the national hero. She entertained apprehensions that her fate might be that of the Empress Josephine. When her husband became War Minister, she declined to preside over his receptions, and withdrew herself from his official residence, taking with her her two daughters, Helene and Marcelle. Thus deserted, Boulanger became open to scandals and reports, some true, and some false, such as would inevitably be circulated in France concerning such a man's relations with women. It is quite certain, however, that at the height of his popularity he became infatuated with the divorced wife of a Baron de Bonnemains, - a lady well connected, and up to the time when Boulanger became her lover, of unstained reputation. She was also rich, having a fortune of 1,500,000 francs. She was not very beautiful, but was tender, gracious, and womanly. M. de Bonnemains had not made her a good husband, and her friends rejoiced when the law gave her a divorce. General Boulanger and his wife seem to have agreed to sever their marriage tie under the new French divorce law, which requires both parties to be examined by a judge, who is to try if possible to reconcile them; but at the last moment Madame Boulanger refused, upon religious grounds, her assent to a divorce, and the marriage of the general with Madame de Bonnemains became thenceforward impossible.
The story is not a pleasant one, but it is necessary to relate it, because of its results.
Madame de Bonnemains, whose constitution was consumptive, drooped and sickened in Jersey. She removed in the spring of 1891 to Brussels to try one of the new schemes for the cure of pulmonary trouble. The remedy seems to have hastened her death, which took place in July. General Boulanger never recovered from her loss. His friends and his funds had failed him, and the death of this woman, whom he had passionately loved, completely overwhelmed him. He spoke constantly of suicide, and in spite of precautions taken by his friends, he carried his purpose into effect upon her grave in the cemetery of Brussels, October 2, 1891.
Whatever General Boulanger's faults may have been in relation to other women, he was devoted to his mother. The latter, who was eighty-six years old at the time of his death, resided in Paris, and when he was in the city he never suffered a day to pass without visiting her. A lock of her white hair was on his breast when he was dressed for burial.