You have met General Bonaparte in my house. Well–he it is who would supply a father’s place to the orphans of Alexander de Beauharnais, and a husband’s to his widow. I admire the General’s courage, the extent of his information, for on all subjects he talks equally well, and the quickness of his judgment, which enables him to seize the thoughts of others almost before they are expressed; but, I confess it, I shrink from the despotism he seems desirous of exercising over all who approach him. His searching glance has something singular and inexplicable, which imposes even on our Directors; judge if it may not intimidate a woman. Even–what ought to please me–the force of a passion, described with an energy that leaves not a doubt of his sincerity, is precisely the cause which arrests the consent I am often on the point of pronouncing.
—Letters of Josephine
It was a great life, dearie, a great life! Charles Lamb used to study mathematics to subdue his genius, and I’ll have to tinge truth with gray in order to keep this little sketch from appearing like a red Ruritania romance.
Josephine was born on an island in the Caribbean Sea, a long way from France. The Little Man was an islander, too. They started for France about the same time, from different directions–each, of course, totally unaware that the other lived. They started on the order of that joker, Fate, in order to scramble Continental politics, and make omelet of the world’s pretensions.
Josephine’s father was Captain Tascher. Do you know who Captain Tascher was? Very well, there is satisfaction then in knowing that no one else does either. He seems to have had no ancestors; and he left no successor save Josephine.
We know a little less of Josephine’s mother than we do of her father. She was the daughter of a Frenchman whom the world had plucked of both money and courage, and he moved to the West Indies to vegetate and brood on the vanity of earthly ambitions. Young Captain Tascher married the planter’s daughter in the year Seventeen Hundred Sixty-two. The next year a daughter was born, and they called her name Josephine.
Not long after her birth, Captain Tascher thought to mend his prospects by moving to one of the neighboring islands. His wife went with him, but they left the baby girl in the hands of a good old aunt, until they could corral fortune and make things secure, for this world at least.
They never came back, for they died and were buried.
Josephine never had any recollection of her parents. But the aunt was gentle and kindly, and life was simple and cheap. There was plenty to eat, and no clothing to speak of was required, for the Equator was only a stone’s throw away; in fact, it was in sight of the house, as Josephine herself has said.
There was a Catholic church near, but no school. Yet Josephine learned to read and write. She sang with the negroes and danced and swam and played leap-frog. When she was nine years old, her aunt told her she must not play leap-frog any more, but she should learn to embroider and to play the harp and read poetry. Then she would grow up and be a fine lady.
And Josephine thought it a bit hard, but said she would try.
She was tall and slender, but not very handsome. Her complexion was rather yellow, her hands bony. But the years brought grace, and even if her features were not pretty she had one thing that was better, a gentle voice. So far as I know, no one ever gave her lessons in voice culture either. Perhaps the voice is the true index of the soul. Josephine’s voice was low, sweet, and so finely modulated that when she spoke others would pause to listen–not to the words, just to the voice.