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Memoirs of Madame de Rémusat

by Rémusat (Madame de)

Excerpt:

PORTRAITS AND ANECDOTES.

Before I enter upon my own recollections, I think it well to make some preliminary observations on the Emperor and the various members of his family. By doing so the difficult task I am about to undertake will be facilitated, and I shall be assisted in recalling the impressions of the last twelve years. I -will begin with Bonaparte himself. I do not pretend that he always appeared to me in the light in which I see him now; my opinions have altered, even as he has altered; but I am so far from being influenced by personal feeling, that I am certain I si iall not for a moment deviate from the exact truth. Napoleon Bonaparte is of low stature, and illmade; the upper part of his body is too long in proportion to his legs. He has thin chestnut hair, his eyes are greyish blue, and his skin, which was yellow

VOL. I. B

whilst he was slight, has become of late years a dead white without any colour. His forehead, the setting of his eye, the line of his nose—are all beautiful, and remind one of an antique medallion; his mouth, which is thin-lipped, becomes pleasant when he laughs; the teeth are regular; his chin is short, and his jaw heavy and square; he has well-formed hands and feet: I mention them particularly, because he thought a good deal of them.

He has an habitual slight stoop; his eyes are dull, giving to his face a melancholy and meditative expression when in repose.* When he is angry his looks are fierce and menacing. Laughter becomes him; it makes him look more youthful, and less formidable. When he laughs, his countenance improves. He was always simple in his dress, and generally wore the uniform of his own guard. He was cleanly rather from habit than from a liking for cleanliness; he bathed often, sometimes in the middle of the night, because he thought the practice good for his health. Otherwise, the precipitation with which he did everything did not admit of his

* Madame de Remusat wrote her Memoirs for the second time while the Emperor Napoleon I. was still living. She therefore writes of him on some occasions in the present, on others in the past tense. Although this peculiarity produces a certain confusion of style, as it is characteristic of the work, the translators have not, thought it right to suppress it entirely. They have, however, adopted the past tense in cases where the use of the present would lead to confusion.

clothes being put on carefully; and on gala days and full-dress occasions, his attendants were obliged to consult together as to when they might snatch a moment to dress him.

He could not endure the wearing of ornaments; the slightest constraint was insupportable to him. He would tear off or break anything that gave him the least annoyance, and the poor valet who had occasioned him a passing inconvenience would receive violent proofs of his anger. I have said there was fascination in the smile of Bonaparte; but, during all the time when I was in the habit of seeing him constantly, he rarely put forth that charm. Gravity was at the bottom of his character; not the gravity of a dignified and noble manner, but that which arises from profound thought. In his youth he was a dreamer, later in life he became a moody, and, later still, an habitually ill-tempered man. When I first began to know him well, he was exceedingly fond of all that leads to reverie—of Ossian, of the twilight, of melancholy music. I have seen him enraptured by the murmur of the wind, I have heard him talk with enthusiasm of the moaning of the sea, and he was tempted sometimes to believe that nocturnal apparitions were not beyond the bounds of possibility; in fact, he had a leaning towards superstition. When, on leaving his study in the evening, he went into Madame Bona

parte's drawing-room, he would sometimes have the candles shaded, desire us to keep profound silence, and amuse himself by telling or listening to ghost stories; or he would have soft, sweet music executed by Italian singers, and accompanied only by a few instruments lightly touched. Then he would fall into a reverie which we all respected, no one venturing to stir, or to change his or her place. When he aroused himself from that state, which seemed to procure him a sort of repose, he was generally more serene and communicative. He liked to talk at such times about the sensations he had experienced. He would explain the effect music had upon him; he always preferred that of Paisiello, because he said it was monotonous, and that only impressions which repeat themselves take possession of us. The geometrical turn of his mind disposed him to analyze even his emotions. No man has ever meditated more deeply than Bonaparte on the "wherefore" that rules human actions. Always aiming at something, even in the least important acts of his life, always assigning a secret motive for each of them to himself, he could never understand that natural carelessness which leads some persons to act without a project and without an aim. He judged others by himself, and was often mistaken; his conclusions and the actions which ensued upon them alike proving erroneous.


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