This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
"They tell of an exotic white flower, the care of which Madame Bonaparte herself supervised. Do you not remember the lovely parks at St. Cloud? To forsake them and the excellent dwellings there for Malmaison would be something incomprehensible to us, did we not know how gladly the first consul isolates himself.
"Near the house, in the direction of Paris, stand large barracks for the Consul's guard, filled with soldiers. The barracks are probably six times the size and far better built than the dwelling of the first consul."
What a picture is presented by this plain account of the German musician! Like a fata morgana, it ascends and passes like a panorama before our eyes.
On a clear night in spring lies Malmaison enveloped in moonlight. In the garden are blooming violets and cherry trees, whilst nightingales are trilling their emulative songs. On the broad graveled walks, even the little stones are discernible by the silvery light that is spread like a mantle over them. The blooming branches oast their transparent shadows over the garden-beds. The lights in the windows are extinguished, excepting in the right wing, from which it shines brightly forth, casting a reddish lustre over the turfy lawn. This is the study of the first consul. A world of dauntless thoughts and plans are lodged in this head, which is supported by a small white hand. This wonderful Caesar-profile is seen in a dim light.
The rolling of the last carriage-wheels has just died away in the distance, which convey back to Paris the merry band of comedians. How they laugh and chat over the puppet-theater at Malmaison - these careless favorites of the Parisian world! The young actresses assert defiantly that they will not appear in that place again, and their amiable admirers kiss their hands in token of their approval.
The graceful Madame St. Aubine trilled with her elegant attendant, St. Pal a a new duett by Paesiello; the pretty vocalist Cont at, who personated la coquette corrigee, to the delight of all, listened, allured to the impassioned eulogy of the handsome Baptists, her first lover. The nearer they approached to their beloved Paris, the louder their joyousness. Vive la joie Vive la ville de Paris! rings clear from every throat. The incubus of Malmaison was shaken off.
So still was it that night in the garden of Malmaison, that one could distinctly hear, even at quite a distance, the low creaking of a silk shoe and the light footstep of a woman, as her shadow fell on the walk which led to the greenhouse. In full moonlight now appeared a form. Was it a fairy or a queen? A long, white dress grazed the ground, embroidered to the knees with colored foil. A slender diadem of opals confined her dark, wavy hair; on her neck, over which only a light blue shawl was thrown, felt a short gauze veil spangled with gold. Rioh lace enveloped her waist, falling over her beautiful arms below. This dazzling apparition vanished in the dimly-lighted entrance to the conservatory. The old gardener was awaiting his protectress there.
"How are my flowers?" said the gentle creature. "I could not come earlier, Pierre; the play lasted so long, and only this moment has the consul dismissed me." And whilst she was uttering these words, she hastened forward with the eagerness of a mother, who, returning from a festival, yearns to kiss her sleeping child "I hope, Madame," said the old man, tripping after her, " it may blossom, we shall preserve, at least, one, the largest of the buds. If Madame visits it often it will live - this stranger-flower. It needs light and light always, and very strong light. Our. sun is too cold here. So human eyes must look warmly upon it."
Josephine now stood still. Separated from the rest was standing one slender plant, with dark green leaves. The light of the lamp fell upon the beautiful female face which now bent with an expression of fervent tenderness over her foster child - her Camellia.
It was the first, the only one that might bloom at Malmaison All Paris had not, as yet, beheld a white Camellia.
Until that hour only dark leaves had unfolded themselves again and again; the promised marvel had kept -them waiting long, in spite of the most watehful care; so long, that the consul had long since grown impatient, and ceased to inquire after his wife's favorite. At last buds appeared which slowly dilated and filled. Every day Josephine had driven to Malmaison to visit her flowers, and to-day - the day of their removal hither - she had been granted no moment of repose to satisfy the secret longings of her heart.
It was now long after the hour of midnight. "Oh it had surely grown since yesterday; the one large bud!" whispered she with a smile of delight. And her lustrous eyes were fastened admiringly on the still bud which was yet wrapped so snugly in its many covers of green. Only at the top, at the outermost point, it shone more.clear; there was the veil becoming transparent.
"It is cold here, whilst outside it is now spring, and I only can understand thee, poor flower! we both knew a warmer sun!" And filled with a sympathy which overflowed from a heart suddenly seized with a home-longing, -this daughter of the South bowed herself, and her lips touched, lightly as a breath, the Camellia-bud. Then she slowly turned away and walked with lingering steps back through the labyrinth of flowers, pausing here and there and stroking, caressingly, a broad, velvety leaf, or bending to breathe deeply the fragrance of a flower.
Like the veritable flower-queen, she wandered there in her white robe and sparkling veil, her girdle ornamented with a bunch of violets, and followed meanwhile, by a good spirit; even the bowed form of the old gardener.
Very many times Josephine glided, at late hours, into the conservatory before the much-loved flower bloomed; often in the rain and wind, when the crystal drops would lodge in her hair and on her long, dark eyelashes, and she, with childish glee, would shake them off.
"I cannot sleep when I fail to bid them good-night," confessed she to old Pierre. At last she possessed, in all its chaste magnificence, the white Camellia-Queen. One evening she entered the consul's study, with beaming eyes and glowing cheeks. She raised not her head, but walked with the assurance of a beloved wife, lightly across the room to his side, and laid the wondrous flower upon the papers which riveted so closely his gaze.
"There it is, and with you it shall bloom and die" whispered the beautiful lips.
And the first white Camellia at Malmaison bloomed and faded upon the study table of the consul.
Later, when Josephine wore the French Imperial crown - and this she did with the meekness of a violet - the exotic from her native land shared, with her other favorite, her gentle protection and care. Her heart and her thoughts fled for comfort and consolation to these precious flowers.
In the diary of a gifted princess is recorded, touchingly, the account of her visit to the apartments of the Empress in Paris, in 1808, as she witnessed the profusion of flowers with which this graceful woman was surrounded, and with which she was associated from day to day.
"Everywhere were beautiful paintings," she writes, "which belonged to the picture-gallery, and which are returned thither every year to make room for new ones. The tables were rendered, strikingly beautiful by a collection of the rarest flowers of marble whiteness. In every corner were porcelain vases filled with costly bouquets; in four of which - of the lovely blue Sevres fabrique - were deposited rare blossoms, at least four feet in height. In this room is the excellent and well-selected library of the Empress. The book-shelves, which surround the entire room, contain the most admirable works, especially in the department of botany.
"In this apartment spends the Empress more than half of her time. Alexander Yon Humbolt's Productenkarte was placed in front of her easy chair: his work lay open near it, and appeared to have been the last to occupy her mind."
These works of our great German naturalist followed her in her exile. There is nothing more touching than the picture presented by this gentle being, buried in her solitude among flowers at Malmaison. From that time her grief-stricken heart knew but one effort at culture, save that of her flowers - the memory of that man whom she loved and worshipped to her latest breath.
No other feet than hers were permitted to cross the threshold of her desolate room, where she collected all these relics of her former happy days. Here might no furniture be moved from its place; no leaflet carried away. With her small, delicate duster in her hand, she cleaned this, her sanctuary, day by day. For hours she sat alone in this favorite ambush. Every morning she placed fresh bouquets upon her work-table, and in the season of Camellia blossoms - and they bloomed nowhere so beautiful and abundant as at Malmaison - she deposited each day a white Camellia between the leaves, which was to live and die for him; like that first white blossom which she so joyfully brought and laid beneath his eyes.
And she herself lived and died for him - with heart-yearnings for her sunny home a poor, lonely flower.