“Some ardent passions… led him astray”

Part 1 of my translation of the introductory manuscript on Murat by his friend & former finance minister, Jean-Michel Agar, the Count of Mosbourg. (For background info on Mosbourg’s plan to write about Murat, see my previous post.) In his introductory pages, Mosbourg discusses the character of the Murat he personally knew and observed, before segueing into Restoration politics to explain the rise of the cult of Napoleon and the selection of Murat as the primary scapegoat for the Emperor’s downfall. From Murat: Lieutenant de l’Empereur en Espagne, 1808, published by Murat’s grandnephew, Joachim Joseph André, in 1897.


A Frenchman coming from the most modest rank of society, entered without any support into the most subordinate rank of the army, emerging by the sole power of his courage and his talents, into the midst of the storms of our revolution and the prodigious wars which submitted Europe to France within a few years. From grade to grade he rose rapidly to the height of military honors, became the friend, confidant, brother-in-law, occasionally the support of the most extraordinary man produced in centuries, and went, finally, to sit beside him among kings.

In this supreme elevation, he appeared neither astonished nor dazzled; no alteration manifested itself in his naturally generous and easy character; he remained for his parents, his friends, his old comrades, what he had been in his village, or on the benches of the school, or in the lines of a regiment, and yet the greats, the princes, the sovereigns themselves admired in him the noble urbanity befitting the courts, with the imposing grandeur befitting the throne. I have seen this prince in the midst of the armies; his presence alone electrified warriors’ hearts; leaders and soldiers, friends and enemies, he drove them all. The Cossacks, in the background of a Russia in flames, suspended combat to lower their pikes before him, as a sign of homage to this model of valor; they called him their Hetman, as in Egypt the Arabs called him the French Murat-Bey, each one thus signaling by the designation who in their minds commanded the most admiration and respect.

Having become a sovereign, he seemed to compete in the horrors of battle, with all the leaders of the army, for the prize of heroism, just as he had competed for the prize of valor with all his comrades when he was a simple chasseur. So his military glory sufficed to make him famous under three different titles: Murat, the Grand Duke of Berg, the King of Naples.

I have seen him after war, or when war was suspended, surrounded by the enemies he had just fought. They admired his loyalty, his generosity, his disinterest, as much as they had admired his bravery, and the most distinguished put their glory in earning his friendship.

I have seen him in the midst of his subjects: he loved them, he governed them with wisdom; he was adored for it. Never were the unfortunate unsuccessful in appealing to his beneficence. Never did the oppressed vainly invoke his justice, and in the expanse of two rich States in which his power was unlimited, no voice was raised, no voice could be raised, to reproach him for an arbitrary act. 

I have seen him in his councils; he generally bore there sound reason, righteous judgment, the most sincere love of the public good, and often he deployed there all the resources that the most vivid mind and the most ingenious penetration might provide to replace long studies and deep meditations on the laws, on the needs and interests of the people. He knew better than any of his ministers all of the affairs of his kingdom, and he discussed the details of them with a marvelous sagacity. Some ardent passions, some strange illusions, an immoderate ambition led him astray in his political determinations, but these passions were noble ones; this ambition was the worthy object of a great soul, and if the designs that he dared to conceive did not seem to him to be superior to his power, it was because they were not superior to his courage; it was because in his mind he conflated them unceasingly, by placing them at the same level, his courage and his power. This fatal error, which no advice or experience could dispel, entailed his destiny, because it precipitated him into an alliance which made him the unhappiest of men by separating him from his homeland, into a war removed him from his throne and into an enterprise which lost him his life. 

Since the time of his passing, malevolence and calumny have attached themselves to his memory. Some with old jealousies, some with slighted pretensions, some base beings, formerly crawling before him, believed they could relieve or revenge themselves, or absolve themselves by deprecating him. I will not occupy myself with these cowardly passionates whose voices are powerless, but I will point out as pervading history a system which can deceive posterity, not only on the subject of Joachim Murat, king of Naples, but also on the subject of the Emperor, his brother-in-law, and misrepresent these two great figures of our time. 

The genius and the immortal actions of Napoleon, after having so powerfully agitated the world, have left such imprints on the imagination of the people that, in order to put them in harmony with opinion and in order to obtain for them a favorable reception, many writers have attached to him exclusively, when they have spoken of this prince, the language of admiration, without ever recognizing in his mind or character any defect, in his actions any wrong, in his conceptions any error political or military, as if the only force capable of overthrowing so much grandeur and power must have been that same force, the lost force of the genius which had founded it. This impassioned direction, this sort of superstitious cult of the Emperor and of the Empire suited the enemies of the Restoration, and they indulged themselves in it ardently. Wanting to humiliate the Bourbons and discredit their government by a crushing comparison, they made of the Emperor a demi-god nearly infallible, although during his reign they had not always been his friends. 

On their part, the partisans of 1814 who, at first, had wanted to see in this sovereign elected by France only a fierce warrior, only a vulgar spirit elevated by luck, and whom they had often painted as the most odious of tyrants, dared to conceive the idea of wielding arbitrary power as he did, and, in order to arrive at this system of government, made themselves the outraged panegyrists of he who had put it into practice with such vigor and brilliance.

To this species of idolatry were indulged most naturally and with the most sincerity the old soldiers who had found their illustrations on the battlefields, the functionaries who had taken part in the glory of the Codes or of the administration, the civil and military officers, who in the camps or at court had served the head of the Empire with the enthusiastic devotion that was difficult to defend against when one was admitted to personal relations with him. The writers of these diverse categories, not wanting to impute Napoleon for either the reverses of France, or his own misfortunes, were in the necessity of placing the responsibility on other names, and it was on that of the king of Naples which they placed it most often.

Several circumstances had pointed to this choice for their inculpations; after all, no other name had figured more constantly and with more luster with the name of Napoleon from the campaign of Egypt to the fall of the Empire.

8 thoughts on ““Some ardent passions… led him astray”

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  2. Josefa vom Jaaga

    How much would I give to read that biography, if Agar had been able to finish it!

    I’m particularly fascinated by one thing in this preface: “[…]it was because in his mind he conflated them unceasingly, by placing them at the same level, his courage and his power.” It reminds me of something Napoleon supposedly said about Eugène: that the only excpetional thing about him were the equilibrium between his intellect and his character, and that this equilibrium sufficed to make Eugène a distinguished man.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I hate it that Agar wasn’t able to complete this project. It would’ve been invaluable to have a full-length biography written by a lifelong companion of Murat’s, that might’ve shed more light on parts of his life that still remain pretty obscure now instead. But even this little bit is better than nothing, and I think he has some very valuable observations throughout just from the half of it I’ve made my way through so far. I appreciate the fact that he doesn’t try to disguise Murat’s faults, but attempts to explain them and make sense of them in this manner. I’ll have to get back in gear and finish translating the rest soon.


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