“The arts awaken the imagination, elevate the soul…”

Murat departed from Naples at the beginning of May 1812, to take command of the massive cavalry force assembled by Napoleon for the campaign against Russia. Traveling through Posen on his way to join the Emperor in Danzig, he took the time to write an extraordinary letter to his ten-year-old daughter Letitia. The letter–one of his longest to Letitia–begins with what was a very typical refrain for Murat over the years: his desire to return home to his family as soon as possible, and to never again be parted from them. But it soon takes a very uncharacteristic turn; we see a father speaking to his daughter as though he may never see her again. Without stating it overtly, it assumes the tone of a “just-in-case-I-don’t-come-home” letter; the only one out of Murat’s many letters to Letitia to do so, though quite a few of them were written while he was at war. In the course of making his usual glowing observations on his daughter’s educational progress, Murat temporarily, almost subconsciously, slips into the role of advisor–of philosophizer, even–and then laughingly chastises himself for it.

Source: Quarante lettres de Joachim Murat à sa fille Laetitia. Revue Napoléonienne, Vol 1, June 1908, pages 167-168. [The letters are published in two parts; both parts are available digitally on HathiTrust.org.]

(I’ve rendered the translation in the all-lowercase style of Murat’s original.)

***

Murat to his daughter Letitia

Posen, 24 May* 1812

my dear letitia, it has been a long time since i left you and this time must have seemed for you as extremely long as it has for me. when will i see you again? soon i hope because the emperor is accustomed to getting to work quickly; but nothing has begun yet, we await the signal of battles and only then will i be able to fix a little closer the time of my return. how beautiful will be the day when i will embrace my beautiful letitia, when i will embrace all my children, when i will be united with them to be separated from them no more! already your lovely mama enjoys this happiness. yet my letitia works, sings, makes great progress, perfects her youthful talents, she will want to pleasantly surprise me upon my arrival and prove to me by facts how much she has taken advantage of the moments of our separation. Yes, you should apply yourself and follow with courage the course of your studies. how happy you will be one day, having acquired such knowledge, such talents, and to be able, in any event, to be sufficient in yourself to make those happy to whom you have attached your destiny. your papa, your mama will be themselves happy for your happiness. do you still ride your horse? i’m sorry for taking away gaeta [ed. note–one of Letitia’s horses] and i am tempted to send the order to return her to you. however i will look for a pretty polish pony that i will send you, you will ride him often, you will love him very much, papa will have given him to you. –you don’t neglect dancing, you always study english, german, i don’t speak to you of italian, you are neapolitan and you should know your language. take great care with your writing, a beautiful character gives a new grace to all that one writes; you read well, because madame de roquemont [ed. note–governess to the Murat children] reads marvelously, and you know how much a lovely diction lends its charms, even to the best of writing; read a lot, but may your readings be within your grasp. avoid with care that which can bring into your young heart any trouble, or agitation. at your age one should only experience sweet and tranquil feelings. you will not abandon drawing, you will like painting. the arts awaken the imagination, elevate the soul; what sublime talent to be able to revive on canvas one who is no longer, or whose absence we mourn, to retrace on paper the places we have loved. but i see that i’m moralizing, that i’m setting myself up as governess, this isn’t my intention. i would badly fulfill such delicate functions, and you would be losing in the change. i only want to be your best friend, the most tender father.

tell achille that i will write him one of these days; kiss your mama for me, make her very happy, her health has need of calm and happiness. kiss your brothers and your sister. i embrace you with all my heart.

your good father

J.N.

*The date given in the printed text for this letter in the Revue Napoléonienne is 24 March 1812; the letter preceding it is dated from Paris on 15 March 1812. I believe these to have been errors in the transcription, and that both letters were written in May. Murat did not arrive in Paris until early May of 1812 (he actually writes to Letitia on 7 May to inform her of his arrival); he was still in Naples in March. By the time he arrived, Napoleon had already departed for Danzig, and Murat soon left to join him, going through Posen in the process; therefore this letter must have been written from Posen on 24 May 1812. 

One thought on ““The arts awaken the imagination, elevate the soul…”

  1. Pingback: Forty letters to Letitia–Part Two (XI-XX) – Project Murat

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