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Letter to Josephine

mercredi 14 février 2018

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  • Joséphine et Napoléon
    Josephine and Napoleon
    Photo (C) RMN-Grand Palais

A look at Napoleon in love in images from our collections

The young Bonaparte was fascinated by Josephine from the start, having met her at a society dinner party in 1796. He fell under the spell of this young widow. Madly and passionately in love, Bonaparte could no longer imagine life without her. They were legally married less than two months after their first meeting, on 09 March 1796. Thus began a great epistolary romance. The military genius feared throughout Europe shows himself in a tender and sentimental light: Napoleon in love

A single quotation from their correspondence sums up the passion that filled the young Bonaparte from their first meeting:

"Incomparable Josephine, by what art is it that you have been able to captivate all my faculties, and to concentrate in yourself my moral existence? It is magic."


La Rose de Malmaison, Hector Viger
(C) RMN-Grand Palais (musée des châteaux de Malmaison et de Bois-Préau) / Franck Raux


Letter from Napoleon to the beautiful Josephine, 30 March 1796

"I have not spent a day without loving you; I have not spent a night without clasping you in my arms; I have not drunk a cup of tea without cursing the glory and ambition that keep me from the heart of my very being. In the midst of my activities, whether at the head of my troops or inspecting the camps, my adorable Josephine stands alone in my heart, she occupies my mind and fills my thoughts. If I depart from you with the speed of the rushing Rhone, it is only so that I may see you again more quickly. If I get up in the middle of the night to work, it is because this may hasten by some days the arrival of my sweet love. Yet in your letter of the 23rd and of the 26th Ventose, you address me as ‘Vous’.

‘Vous’ yourself! Ah! Wretched woman, how could you have written this letter? It is so cold! And then there are the four days from the 23rd to the 26th; what were you doing, since you were not writing to your husband? Ah, my love, that ‘Vous’ and those four days make me long for my former indifference. Woe to the person responsible! May that person, as punishment and suffering, experience what my conviction and the evidence that he is that person’s friend make me experience! Hell has no torments great enough! Nor the Furies serpents!  Vous! Vous! Ah! What will it be in two weeks? …

My spirit is heavy; my heart is in chains and I am appalled by my imaginings…You love me less; but you will recover. One day you will no longer love me; Say it; I shall then know how to be worthy of this misfortune. …Farewell, wife, torment, joy, hope and heart of my being, whom I love and fear, and who inspires in me gentle emotions which draw me close to Nature and violent impulses as volcanic as Etna. I ask of you neither eternal love, nor fidelity, but simply…truth, unlimited honesty. The day when you say “I love you less”, will either be the end of my love or the last day of my life. If my heart were base enough to love without being loved in return I would tear it to pieces with my teeth.

Josephine! Josephine! Remember what I have sometimes said to you: Nature has made me strong and decisive. She has made you out of lace and gossamer. Do you love me no longer? Forgive me, love of my life, my heart is racked by conflicting forces. Obsessed by you, my heart is full of fears which make me unhappy…I am distressed not to be calling you by name. I shall wait for you to write it. Farewell! Ah! if you love me less you can never have loved me. In that case I shall truly be pitiable..."



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