“Everything captures the imagination”

Two letters from Caroline Murat, newly-crowned Queen of Naples; the first to her uncle, Cardinal Fesch; the second, to her sister-in-law/friend/rival Hortense de Beauharnais, Queen of Holland. Caroline has only recently arrived in Naples, and is not quite adjusted to her new home yet; her accommodations are dreadful, and she already feels forgotten by her friends and family back in Paris; but as she gets further into the second letter, it is apparent that she’s already beginning to be charmed by what Naples has to offer. (And, given the rivalry between these two, also likely that she wanted to rub its charms into Hortense’s face at least a little, knowing how generally underwhelmed Hortense was with Holland.) Regardless, Caroline, like Joachim, falls in love with Naples in short order, particularly with its scenery and ancient ruins; the excavations at Pompeii, which she will frequently oversee personally, will become one of her biggest passions during the couple’s seven-year reign.

[Both letters are translated from Lettres et documents pour servir à l’histoire de Joachim Murat, Vol 6; any translations errors are my own.]

***

Queen Caroline to Cardinal Fesch
Naples, 13 October 1808

You must permit me, my dear uncle, to make you some reproaches; you have not yet written me a word since I left you, I do not have your news, or Mama’s, it seems that the whole family wants to forget about me. I am still suffering, I have not yet been able to occupy myself with either the arts or antiquities this city contains.

I’m arranging at this moment another apartment than the one in which I’m living; I am lodged in the sky, I have to go up two hundred and sixteen steps to arrive at my place. You see that without going out, I can get a lot of exercise. I do not go up this stairway a single time without thinking how amused you would be at my expense if you could see me.

I cannot sleep, because the arsenal is below my room. In short, my uncle, I am very badly lodged and I’m going to try to parry these inconveniences. My children are doing well, they offer you their respectful homages. The King is always working so much, I hardly see him.

Adieu, my dear uncle, give me your news and that of all the family, because I have none of it here.

Caroline

***

Queen Caroline to Queen Hortense
Naples, 16 October 1808

I am angry with you, my dear Hortense; in the more than a month since I left Paris, you haven’t written one word to me, I am sensitive to this forgetfulness, I would have never thought that you, who are so good to everyone, would not have been so to me. I’ve received a letter from Eugène, you see how better cared for one is by new friends than by old ones. Eugène was very charming to me on my passage through Milan, caring, gallant, all that one could desire to find in a kind prince; I told him about what we had agreed upon, he did not evince too much curiosity, he was very fine and he promised me everything. If ever you see him, I’m counting on you to talk to him about this matter.

I am sad here, you can conceive it, my dear Hortense, I am still not lodged, I have no apartment, my room has the air of a furniture storage: hats, jewelry, cows* everything is in my midst. My writing desk was broken en route. When I need something, everything has to be turned upside down. It’s like I’m still on a trip. M. de Westerholt will tell you all this.

I hope in fifteen or twenty days to be better established in another apartment, then I’ll write you in more detail. I’m still not accustomed to the air of this country; it is necessary, when arriving here, to pay a tribute to the climate. I have refused the balls, the fêtes, because of my health, and I’ve been too ill to go out much.

I’ve seen Portici, the park of Capo di Monte which is beautiful, large, and well covered, it dominates Naples, the sea, and the delightful countryside. The most frequented promenade of the city is the beautiful quay of Chiaia, at the end of which is the tomb of Virgil, on the mountain of Pausilipe. The Palace of Naples is built on the edge of the sea, facing Vesuvius, which, in a quarter of an hour, buried Pompeii and Herculaneum. I will see what is left of those two cities with interest. This country is rich in souvenirs and curious objects.

It is here especially that one can say that to the very stones, everything captures the imagination.

Capri has just capitulated. The King has been in Castellamare for several days, he is well and works a lot. My children embrace you tenderly, they speak to me of you often. Achille and Letitia want to write to you. Adieu, my dear Hortense, give me your news and tell me if you’ve absolutely forgotten me. I embrace you.

P.S. I haven’t written in my hand because I’m angry with you and I’ve written at least fifteen letters today. It’s during my toilette that I dictate, because I must receive the deputations of the provinces. I’m sending you the views of Naples and its environs that I’ve made right now, I’ve worked day and night to send them to you. It suffers a little from the haste put into it, because all the royal houses which are charming, appear ugly on the engraving. Caserta, for example, cannot be described, it is more beautiful than anything one can imagine. Versailles is nothing near it. I’m going to give you an idea, there is only a small wing inhabited and in this small body of buildings, there are lodged five thousand people. The chapel is bigger than the Room of the Marshals. The Queen’s apartment has fifty salons, its library alone is composed of six rooms lined with bookcases, but no books.

It is the promised land here. In the country, one sees festoons of vines attached to the trees, of fat clusters of grapes more beautiful than those the Israelites brought to Moses. The apartment being prepared for me will be superb, not by the beauty of the furniture, but by the manner in which it is situated, I’m making a little drawing that I will send you.

I hope that everything I tell you makes you want to come and visit this country, it is well worth the trouble of taking five hundred leagues to see.

You must be very sad at the Emperor’s absence. When he returns, you will be very kind, my dear Hortense, to remind him that he promised me his portrait, that I’ve made Letitia and Louise hope for it and that we are awaiting it very impatiently.

Best wishes on my part to M. de Lavallette. You see how much I chatter. I hope that you will show the engravings to the people who show you such pretty English engravings, that you will speak of me sometimes and that you will make beautiful plans to come see me.

M. de Ségur has been very kind, he writes to me often. The archchancellor also, but the Queen of Holland not at all. She is not kind, the Queen of Holland. However, I prefer to believe that her letters are lost.

[Autograph in Caroline’s hand] I kiss you and I love you.

Caroline

If you have some news of General Excelmans, give it to me, because I am very anxious.

***

*the word in the original text is vaches; unless there is another translation for this word I haven’t come across, I’m assuming Caroline is simply indulging in some wry humor.

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