A Letter from Napoleon to Josephine

I am fascinated by the juicy and scandalous lives of the French aristocracy. I wish writing letters were still a thing. I am particularly interested in letters of powerful rulers who are remembered as tough, strong, violent and often merciless conquerors and victors, but their letters show us a much softer, human side. Some of my favourite letters are those of Napoleon to his beloved Josephine. His letters give interesting details of their relationship, his impatience with her letters arriving late, his suspicion that she no longer loved him, and the rather funny ways in which he sometimes wrote sweet things to her and then he finished by updating her on the war situation. It was clear from his letters that he truly loved her and that after all the state-building, ruling, and warring, he felt content in his lady's arms. Or as he says, on her bosom. 


Quick historic note

The French Republic at the time had its own calendar. It was meant to counter the influence of the Catholic Church, and it was only used for 13 years until January 1, 1806. It is commonly referred to as the French Revolutionary Calendar or the French Republican Calendar. According to Encyclopedia BritannicaThe French republican calendar was based on a secular calendar first presented by Pierre-Sylvain Maréchal in 1788. The 12 months of the calendar each contained three décades (instead of weeks) of 10 days each; at the end of the year were grouped five (six in leap years) supplementary days. The months in order—beginning with one corresponding to the Gregorian months of September and October—were Vendémiaire (meaning “vintage”), Brumaire (“mist”), Frimaire (“frost”), Nivôse (“snow”), Pluviôse (“rain”), Ventôse (“wind”), Germinal (“seedtime”), Floréal (“blossom”), Prairial (“meadow”), Messidor (“harvest”), Thermidor (“heat”), and Fructidor (“fruits”). The names were the invention of poet Philippe Fabre d’Églantine. Each of the 360 days in the year was named for a seed, tree, flower, fruit, animal, or tool, replacing the saints’-day names and Christian festivals. Click on the link to read more.The month of Napoleon's letter to Josephine is Messidor which corresponds to June on the Gregorian Calendar.

French Republican Calendar. Source: https://www.art-prints-on-demand.com/kunst/french_school/republican_calendar.jpg
Now, back to the letter .

Pistoia, le 8 messidor
Depuis un mois, je n'ai reçu de ma bonne amie que deux billets de trois lignes chacun. A-t-elle des affaires ? Celle d'écrire à son bon ami n'est donc pas un besoin pour elle ? Dès lors celle d'y penser... Vivre sans penser à Joséphine, ce serait pour ton ami être mort et ne pas exister. Ton image embelit ma pensée et égaye le tableau sinistre et noir de la mélancolie et de la douleur...
Un jour peut-être viendra où je te verai ; car je ne doute pas que tu ne sois encore à Paris. Eh ! bien, ce jour-là, je te montrerai mes poches pleines de lettres que je ne t'ai pas envoyé parce qu'elle étaient trop bêtes - bien, c'est le mot. Bon Dieu ! Dis-moi, toi qui sais si bien faire aimer les autres sans aimer, saurais-tu comment on guérit de l'amour ??? Je pairai ce remède bien chère. Tu devais partir le 5 prairial ; bête que j'étais, je t'attendais le 13. Comme si une jolie femme pouvait abandonner ses habitudes, ses amis, sa madame Tallien, et un dîner chez Baras, et une représentation d'une pièce nouvelle, et Fortuné, oui, Fortuné !
Tu aime tout plus que ton mari ; tu n'as pour lui qu'un peu d'estime, et une portion de cette bienveillance dont le coeur abonde. Tous les jours récapitulant tes tord, tes fautes, je me bat le flancs pour ne te plus aimer, bah ! voilà-t-il pas que je t'aime davantage. Enfin, mon incomparable petite mère, je vais te dire mon secret : moque-toi de moi, reste à Paris, aie des amants, que tout le monde le sache, n'écris jamais, eh bien ! je t'en aimerai dix fois davantage.
Si ce n'est pas là folie, fièvre, délire ! Et je ne guérirai pas de cela (oh ! si pardieu, j'en guérirai) ; mais ne va pas me dire que tu es malade, n'entreprends pas de te justifier. Bon Dieu ! Tu es pardonnée ; je t'aime à la folie, et jamais mon pauvre coeur ne cessera de donner son amour. Si tu ne m'aimais pas, mon sort serait bien bizarre. Tu ne m'as pas écrit, tu étais malade, tu n'es pas venue. Le Directoire n'a pas voulu, après ta maladie, et puis ce petit enfant qui se remuait si fort qu'il te faisait mal ? mais tu as passé Lion, tu seras le 10, à Turin ; le 12, à Milan où tu m'attendras. Tu seras en Italie, et je serai encore loin de toi. Adieu ma bien-aimée, un baiser sur ta bouche ; un autre, sur ton coeur, et un autre sur ton petit absent.
Nous avons fait la paix avec Rome qui nous donne de l'argent. Nous serons demain à Livourne, et, le plus tôt que je pourrai, dans tes bras, à tes pieds, sur ton sein.



Pistoia, Tuscany, June 26th. 

For a month I have only received from my dear love two letters of three lines each. Is she so busy, that writing to her dear love is not then needful for her, nor, consequently, thinking about him? To live without thinking of Josephine would be death and annihilation to your husband. Your image gilds my fancies and enlivens the black and somber picture of melancholy and grief.
A day perhaps may come in which I shall see you, for I doubt not you will be still at Paris, and verily on that day, I will show you my pockets stuffed with letters that I have not sent you because they are too foolish. Yes, that's the word. Good heavens! Tell me, you who know so well how to make others love you without being in love yourself, do you know how to cure me of love??? I will give a good price for that remedy. 

You ought to have started on May 24th. Being good-natured, I waited till June ist, as if a pretty woman would give up her habits, her friends, both Madame Tallien and a dinner with Barras, and the acting of a new play, and Fortune ; yes, Fortune, whom you love much more than your husband, for whom you have only a little of the esteem, and a share of that benevolence with which your heart abounds. Every day I count up your misdeeds. I lash myself to fury in order to love you no more. 
Bah, don't I love you the more? In fact, my peerless little mother, I will tell you my secret. Set me at defiance, stay in Paris, have lovers let everybody know that you never write me a monosyllable! 
Then I shall love you ten times more for it; and it is not folly, a delirious fever ! and I shall not get the better of it. Oh! would to heaven I could get better ! but don't tell me you are ill, don't try to justify yourself. Good heavens! You are pardoned. I love you to distraction, and never will my poor heart cease to give all for love. If you did not love me, my fate would be indeed grotesque. You have not written me; you are ill, you do not come. But you have passed Lyon, you will be at Turin on the 28th, at Milan on the 30th, where you will wait for me. You will be in Italy, and I shall be still far from you. 
Adieu, my well-beloved; a kiss on thy mouth, another on thy heart. 

We have made peace with Rome who gives us money.

Tomorrow we shall be at Livorno, and as soon as I can in your arms, at your feet, on your bosom. 

Translation source. (Note: I made some changes to the translation).

More letters are coming soon! I hope you enjoyed this post!

L&T






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