PLANTATION OR GOVERNMENT HOUSE, ST HELENA
4 January 1816
My dear Aunt,
Although I wrote to you a very long letter only three weeks ago, I am certain you will be glad to hear from me an account of my having dined by invitation with the great Bonaparte. The invitation came to me alone for Napoleon makes it a rule never to invite husbands & wives the same day. Sir George Bingham† & myself were the only two invited. I went accompanied by Marshal & the Countess Bertrand, she professes the greatest love for me & acknowledgments for the attentions I have been able to pay her.
We arrived at Longwood at 7. The emperor was walking, but he came in & seemed y=very cheerful. ‘You are come to live in camp madame, ah c’est tres bien’. He then asked me to try a grand piano forte of Stodarts †, arrived from England the day before. ‘I want your opinion, tell me if it as good as the piano at Plantation house’. I told him it was better, he was pleased. ‘I will teach you to pronounce Italian’. He then read the words of a song I was about to sing. After I had sung two songs, he asked me to play at trio trat with him, being told this was Backgammon, I sat down, but I found it was different & said I could not play. ‘Ah c’est domage! Will you teach me English Backgammon?’ The idea of my instructing the great Napoleon threw me into a flutter, but he found placing the men so difficult that he gave it up.
Dinner was announced. I was placed to Bonaparte’s right hand. The party consisted of Marshal & Countess Bertrand, General & Countess Montholon, Baron Gourgaud, Count Las Cases and his son and Sir George Bingham. During the whole dinner no one uttered a syllable but the emperor & myself, a dead silence prevailed. The emperor asked me a number of questions about India, and several about camp. The first course was off silver, the dinner excellent, the servants magnificently dressed. Nothing was cut at table, everything carved by the servants & brought round. Bonaparte eat [sic] off about ten different dishes and drank very little. He took a glass of wine before his soup. The vegetables were eaten separate & after the meat. The desert or second course was off the most superb Sevres china, the plates all solid gold. The sweetmeats were exquisite. The emperor filled a plate with his own hand & sent them to camp. ‘Carry these to the little girl who sings so well, from me’ said he to the servant. I own, I felt highly pleased at this kindness & remembrance of Emily. He offered me several things with his own hand, which did not strike me at the time, but Count Las Cases told me yesterday it was the highest mark of his favour, a thing, said he ‘the emperor would not have done to queen in Paris & I assure you he paid you more attention than he has done to many queens & as for princes, I have seen seven princes waiting in the ante room & not able to gain admittance!’
But to return. Dinner was no sooner over & was all got up, when the emperor rose & returned to the drawing room. A table was laid out with a coffee set, the most beautiful & superb I imagine in the world! The cups & saucers were 25 guineas each. Every cup had a beautiful view of different parts of Egypt & saucers a highly finished miniature of the different Beys of Egypt. They were made at Sevres & presented to the emperor by the city of Paris. He took great pleasure in showing & describing them. He then asked me if I could play at Reverse† (a game like Whist). I said I could not. He then made his party & General Montholon, Countess Bertrand, Sir George Bingham & myself made a Whist table. The emperor was in high glee, he sang all the time he was playing. He won a great deal & seemed to pay the greatest attention to the game & to be entirely interested in it. It was near eleven when the party broke up. Bonaparte observes the same etiquette & state with his court here as at Paris, none of them sit down or speak in his presence. He makes a sign when he chooses they should sit. They dress every day as if at court. He took notice of my dress, which was a silver muslin of a peculiar pattern. ‘I know said he, that is Indian’.
Count Las Cases is a most agreeable man & I imagine one of the greatest genius of the age. He is the author of that admirable work, the Atlas Historique, Genealogique, Chronologique et Geographique, by the name of Le Sage†. He is old & diminutive but I would rather talk to him than almost any person I ever saw. He yesterday accompanied Madame Bertrand, Emily & myself, from Longwood to Plantation House in the coach, it is five miles, but as we had to pass 3 tremendous mountains, it took us more time than travelling 15 miles would in England. The carriage was drawn by six bullocks. During the whole of the time, Count Las Cases entertained us with the most witty, most instructive & most lively conversation. He emigrated at the Revolution & went to London with two Louis in his pocket. He began to teach French at a shilling a lesson, he remained ten years in England & his price rose to a guinea. He left England with many thousand pounds. Bonaparte showed his sense & penetration in the selection of such a friend & counsellor. There is not a noble family in England whose genealogy he is not perfectly acquainted with, or an anecdote in ancient or modern history that he does not know.
We are now spending some time with this amiable family, Governor & Mrs Wilks, they are both extremely kind to us & wish us to stay here till the new governor arrives. We have now moved to camp & live in a large tent close to the house we are building. I like it exceedingly, the weather is now getting hot to my joy, for we have had nothing but rain & cold since we arrived. We spent the Xmas with Mr & Mrs Balcombe at the Briars, the late residence of Bonaparte. We are overwhelmed with invitations & kindnesses. If my dear little James were here I should be extremely happy at St Helena. Bonaparte said Captain Younghusband was one of the handsomest men he ever saw. ‘Ah! C’est un homme superb.’ He marked him out from all the officers of the 53rd who were introduced to him in a body last week. He rides out every day, but has particular limits when unattended by one of our officers. He rides up & down precipices where no mortal but himself would choose to venture. He looks best on horseback. His smile is particularly agreeable but the usual turn of his countenance is heavy & grave. He hates Longwood & fancies the water there disagrees with him. He composes an immensity every day & Las Cases who transcribes, says, the flow of his ideas is amazing. ‘I never’ said he ‘knew the emperor till within these two months, but now I am convinced he is good as well as great!’
I have written so many letters to Cheltenham lately that I am afraid of ruining my sisters in postage. Will you, my dear aunt, have the goodness to send them this letter & also to my Uncle Sir Thomas. I think it will be a matter of curiosity to have so minute an account of the most extraordinary personage who has yet ever existed. Emily & Captain Younghusband write in best regards of love & duty & I am sincerely. SAC Younghusband.