Message from Mr. Charles Bonaparte,
writer, president of the European Federation of Napoleonic Cities
The precious manuscripts of the author of Les Châtiments collected at the Maison Littéraire de Victor Hugo shed original light on a little-known aspect of Victor Hugo’s political thought. They deserve that we give them renewed attention on the occasion of the celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of Maison Victor-Hugo.
Victor Hugo was born in 1802, a few months before Austerlitz, to a father general of the Empire and was brought up to worship the Emperor. Leader of the Romantics, he rehabilitated Napoleon I after Saint Helena by depicting him as the hero of the French people. He defended his nephew’s candidacy for the presidency of the Republic in 1848 but became his fiercest critic after the 1851 coup. the first. This will earn him exile in Brussels and then in Jersey and Guernsey.
The manuscripts of Victor Hugo’s Maison Littéraire reveal that the man who would become an icon of the Republic defended the Bonapartes in exile and showed the attachment he would retain, exiled by his nephew Napoleon III, for Jérôme, the last living brother of Napoleon and for his son, Prince Napoleon, my great-grandfather.
Reciprocal attachment as evidenced by the former King Joseph, the eldest of the Bonapartes, from his American exile in 1841: who evokes « the old friendship that binds me to everything that bears your name », remembering the role played by the General Hugo at his side during the Spanish Civil War. He recalls Victor Hugo’s resistance to the Restoration: « your song on the Column of Place Vendôme…. [The] refusal you made of the pension of six thousand francs, which seemed to want to chain the sublime growth of your independent and liberal muse. »
In 1847, a new Hugolian cry from the top of the Peerage for the abolition of the Law which dismisses King Jérôme, the youngest of the Bonapartes, from France: « Mrs. peers, the brother of this great man implores you at this hour. He is an old man, he is a former king now a supplicant. Give him back the land of his fatherland! Jérôme-Napoleon, during the first half of his life, had only one desire, to die for France. During the last, he had only one thought, to die in France. You will not refuse such a wish. »
In 1847, King Jérôme, who had finally returned from exile, wrote to Mrs Victor Hugo of his gratitude: « I will always be happy, Madame, to seize any opportunity to spend a few moments with you and your husband, who was the first to so nobly take the defense of the exiled, and contributed so powerfully to putting an end to (my) exile ! » And later in 1850: « I hope to meet you next Sunday, happy as I will be to be with you and Monsieur Hugo, whom I love and esteem more every day! »
Finally, Victor Hugo recalls in 1860 in La Légende des Siècles the risky episode when he found himself alongside my great-grandfather, Prince Napoleon, among the adversaries of the coup d’etat of December 1851 which was to transform the Prince-President as Emperor of the French, the Second Republic in the Second Empire: « The order to shoot me, if I was caught, had been given in the days of December 1851. I had been warned of it, in the meeting which took place place at Landrin’s on December 3, by the representative Napoleon, son of Jérôme, cousin of Louis Bonaparte, and then making common cause with us against the treason of the president. He had even offered me asylum at his house, rue d’Alger n°5. I did not use this asylum, but I remembered it, and it is for this reason that I did not name either Napoleon Jerome or his father when I had to attack the empire. »
These writings shed an interesting light on a man always presented as a determined adversary of Napoleon III, but never as a friend of the Bonapartes.