LAST DAYS AND DEATH
 JOSEPH, finding himself in England in 1832, and his nephew, the Duke of Reichstadt, no longer
living, took up his residence in London. He earnestly desired to join his wife and mother
in Italy. But the jealousy of the Allies would not allow him, until he was absolutely
sinking in death, to place his foot upon the Continent. His universally recognized virtues
secured for him, from all classes of society, a cordial reception.
While Joseph resided in England, the celebrated Spanish chief, Mina, who had been one of
the most formidable of the leaders of the guerrillas, made several visits to the ex-King,
expressing the deepest regret that he had not sustained him. He stated to Joseph that his
intercepted letters had so revealed his true character, that others of the leaders who had
operated against him were now in his favor.
La Fayette wrote Joseph a letter of sympathy in view of his double affliction in the loss
 son-in-law, Napoleon Louis, and his nephew, the Duke of Reichstadt. The letter, from which
we make the following extract, was dated La Grange, October 13, 1832:
"MY DEAR COUNT,—I am deeply affected by those testimonials of
confidence and friendship which you kindly give me. And I merit them by all those
affections which attach me to you. It is with profound sympathy that I share in your grief
from the two cruel bereavements. I should immediately have written to you in London, had I
not been informed that you were on the route to Italy. I have, however, since learned that
your entrance into Rome has been interdicted to your filial piety by a base and barbarous
La Fayette also expresses his deep regret that the Orleans Government persisted in the
decree which banished the Bonaparte family from France. Joseph, in a reply dated London,
Nov. 10, 1832, writes:
"MY DEAR GENERAL,—I have received your kind letter, and I thank
you with all my heart. It is true that I love, as much as you do, the institutions of the
United States. But I am near to France, and I do not wish to see it vanish from my eyes
like a new Ithaca, I
 prefer France to the United. States as the residence for my declining years, and I rely
upon your powerful co-operation to secure that for me. It only remains for me to hope to
see my country as happy as that which I have just left—a country which I love above
all others except my native soil. A day will come undoubtedly, in which France will have
no occasion to envy even happy America. As soon as it shall be clearly understood that all
ought to devote themselves to the happiness of all, the most difficult thing will be
accomplished. May we live long enough to witness that, and may I have the happiness of
renewing my long friendship in our common country, in sometimes speaking to you of the
admiration and gratitude with which you are regarded in the New World."
DEATH OF THE DUKE OF REICHSTADT.
The following letter from Victor Hugo reflects such light upon the reputation of Joseph
Bonaparte, as to merit insertion here. It was dated Paris, Feb. 27, 1833:
"SIRE,—I avail myself of the first opportunity to reply to you.
Monsieur Presle, who leaves for London, kindly offers to place this letter in the hands of
your Majesty. Permit ice, sire, to treat you ever royally, vous traiter
 tourjours royalment. The kings whom Napoleon made, in my opinion nothing can
unmake. There is no human power which can efface the august sign which that grand man has
placed upon your brow. I have been profoundly moved by the sympathy which your Majesty has
testified for me upon the occasion of my prosecution for 'Le Roi S'amuse.'
You love liberty, sire. Liberty also loves you. Permit me to send you, with this letter, a
copy of the discourse which I pronounced before the Tribunal of Commerce. I am very
desirous that you should see it in a form different from the reports in the journals,
which are always inexact.
"I should be very happy, sire, to go to London to clasp that royal hand which has so often
clasped the hand of my father. M. Presle will inform your Majesty of the obstacles which
at the present moment prevent me from realizing a wish so dear. I have very many things to
say to you. It is impossible that the future should be wanting to your family, great as
has been the loss of the past year. You bear the grandest of historic names. In truth, we
are moving rather toward a republic than toward a monarchy. But, to a sage like you, the
 exterior form of government is of but little importance. You have proved, sire, that you
know how to be worthily the citizen of a republic. Adieu, sire; the day in which I shall
be permitted to press your hand in mine will be one of the most glorious of my life. While
waiting for this your letters render me proud and happy."
The celebrated Duchess of Abrantes, wife of Marshal Junot, sent her Memoirs to King Joseph
by the hands of M. Presle. The following extracts from the letter of the duchess to M.
Presle shows the enthusiastic attachment which Joseph won from his friends. The letter is
dated Paris, 1833.
"Will you be so good, sir, as to have the kindness to take charge of the book which I send
with this, and also of the letter which I address to his Majesty, King Joseph? I earnestly
desire that both should be transmitted to him as promptly as possible. I very much wish,
sir, I could have the pleasure of seeing you. My attachment for King Joseph is so profound
and so true, of such long-standing, so established upon bases which can never crumble,
that I would give days of my life to talk a moment with persons loving him as I do, and
 speaking to me as I speak of him and think of him. As for me, to see him for one moment
would be now the fulfillment of the most ardent of my wishes.
"With these feelings, you will perceive, sir, how happy I shall be to have him soon
receive this letter, which I entrust to you. It contains my wishes for the new year. And I
can truly say that there is not another heart in France more sincerely devoted to his
happiness—his true happiness and his glory. Ah I sir, I assure him that in France
there is one being who is warmly attached, sincerely devoted to him, as are all hers. My
children have been cradled in the name of Napoleon, and that without concealment. The
misfortune of their father has been an additional tie to attach them to the memory of the
Emperor, and to all those who bear his revered name. The bust of the Emperor is in my
alcove, by the side of the font in which I place my lustral water. There I every morning
and evening repeat my prayers. Why should I not say this? I do it because my love for my
country constrains me to fall upon my knees before that name which constituted its glory
and its happiness for fifteen years."
 On the 28th of July, 1833, the Louis Philippe Government, in reluctant concession to the
almost universal voice of the French people, restored the statue of Napoleon to the Column
of Austerlitz, in the Place Vendome. It is scarcely too much to say that as that statue
rose to its proud eminence, the whole French nation raised a shout of joy. A Parisian
journal, The Tribune, intending perhaps to reflect upon the Government, expressed
surprise in not seeing a single member of the Bonaparte family shaking the dust of exile
from his feet, and coming, in the broad light of July, claiming a "just reparation."
Joseph wrote to the editor from London a letter containing the following sentiments:
"I have read in your journal of July 29th the article in which you give an account of the
solemnity which took place on the 28th at the foot of the Column of Austerlitz, upon the
inauguration of the statue of the Emperor Napoleon. You attribute the absence of his
brothers to very strange sentiments. Are you ignorant, then, that an iniquitous law,
dictated by the enemies of France to the elder branch of the Bourbons, excluded these
brothers, out of hatred to the name of Napoleon? Would
 you wish that, in defiance of a law which the National Majesty has not yet repealed, we
should bear the brands of discord into our country at the moment when it re-erects the
statue of our brother? Every thing for the nation, was the motto of our brother. It
shall be ours also.
"Instead of speaking, as a hostile journal would have done, in casting the blame upon
patriots proscribed, who wander over the world the victims of the enemies of their
country, would it not have exhibited more of courage and of justice on your part, sir, to
recall to the electors of France that Napoleon has a mother who languishes upon a foreign
soil, without it being possible for her children to speak to her a last adieu? She shares
with three generations of her kindred, including sixty French, the rigors of an exile of
twenty years. They are guilty of no other crime than that of being the relatives of a man
whose statue is re-erected by national decree.
"The name of Napoleon will never be the banner of civil discord. Twice he withdrew from
France, that he might not be the pretext for the infliction of calamities upon his
country. Such are the doctrines which Napoleon
 has bequeathed to his family. It is because the French people know well that his pretended
despotism was but a dictatorship, rendered necessary by the wars which his enemies waged
against him, that his memory remains popular Is it just, is it honorable that his family
should still be condemned to endure the anguish of exile, and to hear even his ancient
enemies reproach the French with the injustice of their proscription?"
This law of proscription, dictated by the Allies on the 12th of January, 1816, and
re-affirmed by the Government of Louis Philippe, was as follows:
"The ascendants and descendants of Napoleon Bonaparte, his uncles and his aunts, his
nephews and his nieces, his brothers, their wives and their descendants, his sisters and
their husbands, are excluded from the realm forever."
The penalty for violating this decree of banishment was death. Madame Letitia had
been informed in Rome that the Louis Philippe Government contemplated abolishing the
decree of exile, so far as she alone was concerned. In response she wrote,
April, 1834, to a distinguished gentleman in Paris, M. Sapey, as follows:
 "MONSIER,—Those who recognize the absurdity of maintaining the
law of exile against my family, and who wish nevertheless to propose an exception, do not
know either my principles or my character. I was left a widow at thirty-three years of
age, and my eight children were my only consolation. Corsica was menaced with separation
from France. The loss of my property and the abandonment of my fireside did not terrify
me. I followed my children to the Continent. In 1814 I followed Napoleon to the island of
Elba. In 1816, notwithstanding my age, I should have followed him to Saint Helena had it
not been prohibited. I resigned myself to live a prisoner of state at Rome; yes, a
prisoner of state. I know not whether that was through an amplification of the law which
exiled me with my family from France, or by a protocol of the allied powers.
"I then saw persecution reach such a pitch as to compel the members of my family, who had
devoted themselves to live with me at Rome, to abandon the city. I then decided to
withdraw from the world, and to seek no other happiness than that of the future life;
since I saw myself separated from those for whom I
 clung to life, and in whom reposed all my souvenirs and all my, happiness, if there were
any more happiness remaining for me in this world. How could I hope to find any equivalent
in France, which was not already poisoned by the injustice of men in power who could not
pardon my family the glory which it has acquired?
"Leave me, then, in my honorable sufferings, that I may bear to the tomb the integrity of
my character. I will never separate my lot from that of my children. It is the only
consolation which remains to me. Receive, nevertheless, monsieur, my thanks for the kind
interest which you have taken in my affairs."
On the 15th of January, 1835, Joseph wrote to his brother Louis, the father of Napoleon
III., as follows:
"MY DEAR BROTHER,—I have received your letter of the 27th of
December. I am afflicted by the depression of spirits in which it was written. It is true
that for many years fortune has been constantly severe with us. But it is something to be
able to say to one's self that fortune is blind. And an irreproachable conscience and a
good heart offer many consolations. They accompany us wherever
 we go, and prevent us from being too severe in our turn against fortune and her favorites
of the day.
"It is indeed true that there are but few gleams of happiness to be met in this life. The
least unfortunate have still their storms. There are but few privileged men. How many
there are whom we must admit to be more unhappy than we are. And we do not sufficiently
take into account the sufferings of dishonored men, whose conscience will at times awake
and react upon those who have done it violence. Those who have borne arms against their
country, against their benefactor, who have sold their services to foreigners, think you
they can be happy? The consciousness of not having merited the abandonment of which you
speak, is not that a happy sentiment? It is necessary then for us to perceive what we are
in this life, and not what we could wish to be. Being men, we are destined to live, that
is to say, to suffer. But we can preserve our own self-respect, and the esteem of the
friends who appreciate us. So long as that continues, one is not absolutely unhappy. In
that point of view, no person ought to be more satisfied than yourself, my dear Louis. All
 other evils over which we have no control are hard to endure, undoubtedly. But their
necessity, in spite of ourselves, should lead us to bear them. We ought to submit to that
which, we can not prevent.
"Still, I can say nothing upon this subject which you do not know as well as I do. But I
am not writing a dissertation. I recount my sensations and my sentiments as they flow from
my pen. The consciousness of not meriting the evil which one suffers greatly mitigates
that evil. Adieu, my dear Louis. I love you as ever. We have not known any revolutions in
Soon after Joseph had established himself in London, he called his brothers Lucien and
Jerome, and his nephew, Prince Louis Napoleon, to join him there. The acts of the
Government of Louis Philippe and the intense opposition they encountered engrossed his
meditations. Fully satisfied that the Government could not maintain itself in the course
it was pursuing, Joseph deemed it important for the triumph of what he called the popular
cause, to effect a cordial union between the Republican and Imperial parties. The
Government thwarted this union by sending spies into the clubs, who,
 joining those associations, assumed to be earnest democrats, and strove in every way to
promote discord, while they extolled in most extravagant terms the brutal deeds of Marat,
St. Just, and Robespierre. Joseph could not act in harmony with such men, and the
projected alliance was abandoned.
In a brief sketch which Louis Napoleon, while a prisoner at Ham, wrote of his uncle Joseph
just after his death, he says: "In general, Prince Louis Napoleon was in accord with his
uncle upon all fundamental questions; but he differed from him upon one essential point,
which offered a very strange contrast. The old man, whose days were nearly finished, did
not wish to precipitate any thing. He was resigned to await the developments of time. But
the young man, impatient, wished to act, and to precipitate events.
"The insurrection at Strasbourg, in the month of October, 1836, thus took place without
the authorization and without the participation of Joseph. He was also much displeased
with it, since the journals deceived him respecting the aim and intentions of his nephew.
In 1837 Joseph revisited America. Upon his
 return to Europe in 1839 be found his nephew in England. Then, enlightened respecting the
object, the means, and the plans of Prince Louis Napoleon, he restored to him all his
tenderness. The publication of Les Idées Napoleoniennes merited his entire
approbation. And upon that occasion be declared openly that, in his quality of friend and
depositary of the most intimate thoughts of the Emperor, he could say positively that that
book contained the exact and faithful record of the political intentions of his brother."
It will be remembered that Louis Napoleon, after the attempt at Strasbourg, was sent in a
French frigate to Brazil, and thence to New York, where he remained but a few weeks, when
he returned to Europe to his dying mother. At New York, under date of April 22, 1837, he
wrote the following letter to his uncle Joseph at London. The letter very clearly reveals
the relation then existing between them.
"MY DEAR UNCLE,—Upon my arrival in the United States, I hoped to
have found a letter from you. I confess to you that I have been deeply pained to learn
that you were displeased with me. I have even been astonished by it, knowing your judgment
and your heart. Yes,
 my uncle, you must have been strangely led into error in respect to me, to repel as
enemies men who have devoted themselves to the cause of the Empire.
"If, successful at Strasbourg, and it was very near a success, I had marched upon Paris,
drawing after me the populations fascinated by the souvenirs of the Empire, and, arriving
in the capital a pretender, I had seized upon the legal power, then indeed there would
have been nobleness and grandeur of soul in disavowing my conduct, and in breaking with
"But how is it? I attempt one of those bold enterprises which could alone re-establish
that which twenty years of peace have caused to be forgotten. I throw myself into the
attempt, ready to sacrifice my life, persuaded that my death even would be useful to our
cause. I escape, against my wishes, the bayonets and the scaffold; and, having escaped, I
find on the part of my family only contumely and disdain.
"If the sentiments of respect and esteem with which I regard you were not so sincere, I
should not so deeply feel your conduct in respect to me; for I venture to say that public
opinion can never admit that there is any
alien-  ation between us. No person can comprehend that you disavow your nephew because he has
exposed himself in your cause. No one can comprehend that men who have periled their lives
and their fortune to replace the eagle upon our banners can be regarded by you as enemies,
any more than they could comprehend that Louis XVIII. would repel the Prince of Condé or
the Duc d'Enghien because they had been unfortunate in their enterprises.
"I know you too well, my dear uncle, to doubt the goodness of your heart, and not to hope
that you will return to sentiments more just in respect to me, and in respect to those who
have compromised themselves for your cause. As for myself, whatever may be your procedure
in reference to me, my line of conduct will be ever the same. The sympathy of which so
many persons have given me proofs; my conscience, which does in nothing reproach me; in
fine, the conviction that if the Emperor beholds me from his elevation in the skies, he
would approve my conduct, are so many compensations for all the mortifications and
injustice which I have experienced. My enterprise has failed; that is true. But it has
announced to France that the family of the Emperor is not
 yet dead; that it still numbers many devoted friends; in fine, that their pretensions are
not limited to the demand of a few pence from the Government, but to the re-establishment,
in favor of the people, of those rights of which foreigners and the Bourbons have deprived
them. This is what I have done. Is it for you to condemn me?
"I send you with this a recital of my removement from the prison of Strasbourg, that you
may be fully informed of all my proceedings, and that you may know that I have done
nothing unworthy of the name which I bear. I beg you to present my respects to my uncle
Lucien. I rely upon his judgment and affection to be my advocate with you. I entreat you,
my dear uncle, not to be displeased with the laconic manner in which I represent these
facts, such as they are. Never doubt my unalterable attachment to you.
"Your tender and respectful nephew,
In 1840 the health of Joseph began to be
 seriously impaired. In London he had an attack of paralysis, which induced him to go to
the warm baths of Wildbad, in Wurtemberg. He was somewhat benefited by the waters, and
cherished the hope that he might join members of his family in Italy. But the Continental
sovereigns so feared the potency of the name of Bonaparte upon the masses of the people
that his request was peremptorily refused. Thus repulsed, he returned to the cold climate
In 1841, the King of Sardinia, who was strongly leaning toward popular principles, allowed
Joseph to take up his residence in Genoa. He was conveyed to that city in an English ship.
He had been there but a few weeks, when the Duke of Tuscany, commiserating his dying
condition, kindly consented that he should join his wife, his children, and his brothers
In 1842 Joseph bequeathed to the principal cities of Corsica several hundred valuable
paintings, which he had received as a legacy from his uncle, Cardinal Fesch.
In 1843, the Government of Louis Philippe, with marvellous inconsistency, voted to demand
the remains of the Emperor Napoleon from
 the British Government, and to rear to his honor, beneath the dome of the Invalides, the
monument of a nation's gratitude, while at the same time that Government persisted in
banishing from France all the members of the Napoleon family.
A very earnest petition was sent at this time to the Government, numerously signed by
Frenchmen, praying that the decree of banishment against the Bonaparte family might be
annulled. But the Louis Philippe Government declared in council that the resolution of the
Government to prolong the exile of the family of Napoleon was positive and unchanging.
Joseph wrote a letter of thanks in behalf of the Bonaparte family to the signers of the
petition, in which he said:
"The elder branch of the Bourbons, brought back to France by foreign bayonets, we have
ever frankly treated as enemies. They did not conceive the hope of degrading us in our own
eyes. It has been reserved for the younger branch to call artifice to its aid—to
glorify the dead Napoleon, and to traduce, to proscribe his mother, his sisters, his
nephews, fifty or sixty French people, charged with the crime of bearing his name.
 "Were Napoleon living to-day, he would think as we do. He would recognize in France no
other sovereign than the French people, who alone have the right to establish such a form
of Government as to them may seem best for their interests. The too long dictatorship of
Napoleon was prolonged by the persistence of the enemies of the Revolution, who endeavored
to destroy in him the principle of national sovereignty from which he emanated.
"At a general peace, universal suffrage, liberty of the press, and all the guaranties for
the perpetual prosperity of a great nation, which were in the plans of Napoleon, would
have been unveiled before entire France, and would have made him the greatest man in
history. His whole thoughts were made known to me. It is my duty loudly to proclaim them.
He sacrificed himself twice, that he might save France from civil war. The heirs of his
name would renounce forever the happiness of breathing the air of their native country,
did they think that their presence would inflict upon it the least injury. Such are the
principles, the opinions, the sentiments of all the members of the family of Napoleon, of
which I am here the interpreter. Every thing for and by the people."
 In the few remaining years of his life, nursed by the tender care of his wife Julie, who
was to him an angel of consolation, Joseph remained in Florence, his mind entirely
engrossed with the misfortunes of his family. He had become fully reconciled to his
nephew, and keenly sympathized with him in his captivity at Ham. The glaring inconsistency
of the Government of Louis Philippe in persisting to banish from France the relatives of a
man whom all France almost adored, simply because they were that great man's relatives,
often roused his indignation.
The thought that he was an exile from his native land—from France, which he had
served so faithfully, and loved so well—embittered his last hours. Supported by the
devotion of Julie, and by the presence of his brothers, Louis and Jerome, to both of whom
he was tenderly attached, he awaited without regret the approach of death.
On the 23rd of July, 1844, Joseph breathed his last at Florence, at the age of sixty-six
years. He left his fortune, which was not very large, to his eight grandchildren. He also
requested that his remains should be deposited in Florence until the hour should come when
 they could be removed to the soil of his beloved France. Queen Julie survived him but a
few months. Her remains were deposited by the side of those of her husband, and of her
second daughter, the Princess Charlotte, who died in 1839.
Joseph was eminently calculated to embellish society and to adorn the arts of peace. His
literary attainments were very extensive, and in the Tribune he was eminent, both as an
orator and a ready debater. Familiar with all the choicest passages of the classic writers
of France and Italy, and thoroughly read in all the branches of political economy, with
great affability of manners and spotless purity of character, he would have been a man of
distinction in any country and in any age. To say that he was not equal to his brother
Napoleon is no reproach, for Napoleon has never probably, in all respects, had his equal.
But Joseph filled with distinguished honor all the varied positions of his eventful life.
As a legislator, an ambassador, a general, a monarch, and a private citizen, he was alike
From the commencement of his career until his last breath, he was devoted to those
principles of popular rights to which the French
 Revolution gave birth, and which his more illustrious brother so long and so gloriously
upheld against the combined dynasties of Europe. This sublime struggle of the people
throughout Europe, under the banners of Napoleon, against the old regime of aristocratic
oppression, profoundly moved the soul of Joseph. The honors he received, the flattery at
times lavished upon him, did not corrupt his heart. "Under the purple," says Napoleon
III., "as under the cloak of exile, Joseph ever remained the same; the determined opponent
of all oppression, of all privilege, of every abuse, and the earnest advocate of equal
rights and of popular liberty."
In his last days, Joseph, whose conversational powers were remarkable, loved to recall the
scenes of his memorable career. With the most touching simplicity, and with a charm of
quiet eloquence which moved all hearts, he held in breathless interest those who were
grouped around him. With pleasure he alluded to the comparatively humble origin of his
family, which had counted among the members so many kings. He was fond of relating
anecdotes of the brother of whom he was so proud, and whom he so tenderly loved. One
 of these characteristic anecdotes was as follows:
"Joseph," said the Emperor to me one day, "Talleyrand has infinite ability, has he not?
Well, do you know why he has never accomplished any thing great? It is because grand
thoughts come only from the heart, and Talleyrand has no heart."
Though Joseph was a man of extraordinary gentleness of character and sweetness of
disposition, the cruel treatment of his brother at Saint Helena he could never allude to
without intense emotion. In speaking of the destitution of the Emperor in the hovel on
that distant rock, his eyes would fill with tears, and his voice would tremble under the
vehemence of his feelings.
The course pursued by the Government of Louis Philippe, the whole internal and external
policy of that unhappy monarch, arresting the progress of popular rights at home and
degrading France abroad, and especially its gross inconsistency in lavishing honors upon
the memory of Napoleon, and yet persisting in banishing his descendants, roused his
indignation. We can not conclude this brief sketch more
 appropriately than in the words of Louis Napoleon, written when he was a captive at Ham,
and when his uncle Joseph had just died in exile at Florence.
"If there existed to-day among us a man who, as a deputy, a diplomatist, a king, a
citizen, or a soldier, was invariably distinguished for his patriotism and his brilliant
qualities; if that man had rendered himself illustrious by his oratorical triumphs, and by
the advantageous treaties he had concluded for the interests of France; if that man had
refused a crown because the conditions which it imposed upon him wounded his conscience;
if that man had conquered a realm, gained battles, and had exhibited upon two thrones the
light of French ideas; if, in fine, in good as in bad fortune, he had always remained
faithful to his oaths, to his country, to his friends; that man, we may say, would occupy
the highest position in public esteem, statues would be raised to him, and civic crowns
would adorn his whitened locks.
"Well! this man lately existed, with all these glories, with all these honorable
antecedents. Nevertheless upon his brow we see only the imprint of misfortune. His country
has requited his noble services by an exile of
 twenty-nine years. We deplore this, without being astonished at it. There are but two
parties in France; the vanquished and the vanquishers at Waterloo. The vanquishers are in
power, and all that is national is crushed beneath the weight of defeat."
These words were written in the year 1844. The Empire is now restored. The decree of exile
against the Bonaparte family is annulled. The heir of the Emperor sits upon the throne,
recognized by all the nations in the Old World and the New. The time has come when the
character of Joseph Bonaparte can be, and will be justly appreciated.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics