“His eyes… were very similar to those of cats”

Returning to the memoirs of Louise Murat; Louise pauses from relating the events of the last days of her parents’ reign in Naples, to provide some interesting perspectives on two well-known (and controversial) figures who visited the Kingdom in 1813 and 1814, respectively: Joseph Fouché, Napoleon’s notorious former Minister of Police; and Louise’s aunt, Pauline Bonaparte.

Source: Louise Murat, Souvenirs d’enfance d’une fille de Joachim Murat, pages 242-246.

***

It is in vain that I search my memory for the farewells my Father must have made to us when he left for the unfortunate Italian campaign!… I cannot find anything… and cannot console myself for not having been able to retain his last words, for not having been able to keep always present in my mind the last look of love he must certainly have given his family he loved so much!… But, while in this regard my memory fails me completely, it does, by a caprice I cannot explain, preserve intact the memory of many persons, be they foreigners or family, who I knew during the last years in Naples, and before leaving this city and everything connected with it forever, I will try to quickly sketch the traits of some of the most striking of them.

Proceeding by order of date, I will speak to you first of Fouché, Duke of Otranto, who came to Naples, in December 1813, as you have been able to see by the correspondence of my Father. Fouché who, under the Republic, made himself noticed by the energy of his opinions and the violence with which he applied himself to making them prevail, was, by a contradiction of which history offers us many an example, of infinite kindness in his private life. A good family man, he displayed a weakness for his children, who, far more than he, commanded at home. He was no longer young then, was certainly not handsome, and above all I have never been able to forget the singular expression of his eyes, whose clear and transparent color and hypocritical gentleness were very similar to those of cats. His gaze was not made to inspire trust, and yet my Father showed him much of it and treated him as a friend, which the letter I gave you a copy of sufficiently proves.* Received by the King and Queen in total intimacy, invited into the small apartments, I remember having often dined there with him and his children, with whom we had become well acquainted. It is, I believe, to the noisy games which followed those meals that I owe the vivid memory I’ve kept of the Fouché family.

In my last letter, I barely told you about the visit made to Naples by Princess Pauline in 1814. A few more words on her account perhaps might interest you. Then a messenger of peace between the King and the Emperor, this serious sort of mission was, I believe, the only one that she ever had to perform in her life. Widowed very young and remarried to the prince Camille Borghese, from whom she lived apart, my aunt Pauline was renowned throughout Europe for her extreme beauty: but on the other hand, she possessed all the faults which are most often the share of women whom the adulations of men have spoiled from their earliest youth. I leave to others the care of recounting her frivolities and innumerable caprices; I prefer to tell you of the good grace that she showed in all her actions and her good heart which knew how to inspire the friendship and indulgence that her carelessness was far from deserving and which, more than once, drew the Emperor’s anger on her. She was not afraid of it. The spoiled child of a family which cherished her, she was sure to soon obtain his pardon, and the order which took her into exile far from the Court was not long in being revoked. Her health, which was really of an extreme frailty, came to the aid of all her fantasies marvelously, yet she was not a slave to it and knew how to sacrifice it if some duty, the importance of which penetrated her heart, came to command her to. She was thus capable of the utmost devotion… Thus she came running to share with Napoleon the boredom of the island of Elba, and thus we saw her in 1821, forgetting the cares that her health required and the life of pleasures that she led in Rome, praying and begging the allied sovereigns to permit her to leave for Saint Helena, wanting to dedicate her life entirely to her unfortunate brother.

In Naples, she lived in the pretty villa La Favorita, situated very near Portici. We went to see her very often… not as often as she would have desired, because she loved us very much, but the frivolity in her discourse was such that our governesses sought every means to abridge our visits or render them less frequent.

She had for my Mother the most tender friendship; a friendship of which, until her death, she had not ceased to give her the most touching proofs, but our misfortunes and especially our forced stay in Austria, had always kept the two sisters far from each other, and from 1814, they never saw each other again. Later I will have the opportunity to talk about her again and the affection she had particularly retained for me.

***

*The “you” Louise is speaking to here, are her children, to whom these memoirs, written as a series of lengthy letters, were originally written.

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