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Louis Napoleon Bonaparte
Last Emperor of the French
(From "The Napoleon Dynasty")
"I thought him a dull fellow, which he certainly was while among men, but sprightly enough when surrounded by young ladies. He would sometimes say, 'When I shall be at the head of affairs in France,' or 'When I become Emperor,' and I then looked upon him as being as mad as a March hare."
Thus the poet Fitz-Greene Halleck recorded his impressions of the young Louis Napoleon when he met him in New York in 1837. Fitz-Greene Halleck was not the only man who thought that Louis Napoleon with his imperial ambitions was as mad as a March hare. This was the opinion of a great number, both in France and without, after the Strasbourg fiasco, and again after the landing at Boulogne. But ambition was justified of her children. Eleven years after Fitz-Greene Halleck recorded this impression, Louis Napoleon was President of the French Republic, and fifteen years after, he was proclaimed Emperor of the French.
Napoleon III was the youngest son of Napoleon's brother, Louis Bonaparte, King of Holland, and Hortense, daughter of Josephine. Louis Bonaparte was born at Ajaccio, September 2, 1778, and was thus nine years younger than his renowned brother. He was the object of especial care on the part of Napoleon, who dealt with him more as a son than a brother. At a p147 tender age he was sent to military school at Chalons. One day, when he was supposed to be at his mathematics, Napoleon entered his study and found him reading Rousseau, whereupon he threw that philosopher's book out of the window and put his brother under arrest. Louis is described as a "boy tender-hearted, romantic, averse to show and pomp, hating war and given to the shady paths and peaceful scenes of a retired country life, who was led off in his 'teens to artillery practice."
At the age of fifteen he was an aide-de‑camp of Napoleon in the first Italian campaign. He showed courage and spirit, but evinced no liking for war. St. Pierre's beautiful tale of "Paul and Virginia" greatly moved him, and at the age of eighteen Louis wrote to Pierre a letter, in which he said: "This work (Harmonies de la Nature) deeply affected me. But Paul and Virginia cost me many tears, and I have no doubt Paul didn't shed more when he was separated from his sister. If, Citizen, I have dared to write to you, it is only to ask you the facts of this work, which has not been the fruit of your imagination. You say there is some truth in it. What is true? what is false? This is my object; this is what I have wished to learn, in order that another time when re‑reading it I may be able to say to myself, to soothe my distressed sensibility, 'This is true — this is false.' O wise and happy man! O man of nature! forgive the liberty I take, but respect my motives. I have the honor to be, Citizen, with the profoundest esteem for the man and the author, your very humble and very obedient servant and friend, p148 Louis Bonaparte, age eighteen years, of Ajaccio in Corsica."1
To this letter the celebrated author wrote a kind reply. This was the beginning of a long friendship between the two men.
Louis Bonaparte's first love seems to have been Emilie de Beauharnais, cousin and schoolmate of Hortense at Madame Campan's school for girls. As her father, the Marquis de Beauharnais, was an emigre, such a marriage was not to be thought of.a "This marriage," said Napoleon long after, "would have shocked public opinion and have given rise to the attacks of party men, who were already watching me with alarm. I did not think it possible to teach reason on this subject to a young man of twenty, so I thought the better course would be to feign entire ignorance of the matter and to send him away on a military mission. The next day a post-chaise put the •hundred leagues which separated Lyons from Paris between the lovers. But in spite of this precaution, neither absence nor the Egyptian campaign, nor even the marriage of Mademoiselle de Beauharnais with M. de Lavalette during his absence in 1796, could stay the ravages of this first love — which exercised a fatal influence on Louis' future." What Napoleon meant by "fatal influence" was probably the souring of Louis' naturally amiable and friendly disposition, so that he became a moody and suspicious man.
Louis went to Egypt with Napoleon, and while there p149 was completely disillusioned as to the "state of nature" about which Rousseau and Pierre and the philosophers of that day talked so much. In one of his letters from Egypt, commenting on the inhumanity of the Arabs, Louis writes: "O Jean Jacques Rousseau! why was it not thy fate to see those men whom thou callest the 'men of nature'?b Thou wouldst sink with shame and start with horror at the thought of having once admired them! Oh! how many misanthropes would be converted, if chance could conduct them into the midst of the deserts of Arabia!"2
It was after Napoleon returned from his Italian conquest at Marengo that the marriage between his brother Louis and Josephine's daughter Hortense was first discussed.c By that time Napoleon had given up hopes of having an heir by Josephine. Hortense was then seventeen years of age. When Josephine first suggested the marriage to Napoleon he replied: "We may never have children. I brought up Louis myself. I look on him as a son. Your daughter is what you cherish most on earth. Their children shall be our children. We will adopt them, and this adoption will console us for not having any of our own. But it is necessary that our plan meet with the young people's approval."
Unfortunately, neither of the young people took to this proposal. Hortense had her own ideas of romance. She had been greatly stirred by the romantic marriage of the handsome cavalryman, Joachim Murat, to Napoleon's sister, Caroline. "It afforded me," she wrote, p150 "food for thought. Here were two people who seemed to have achieved complete felicity, since the love of her husband is the only perfect happiness within a woman's grasp. Yet can such happiness be complete when our parents disapprove of the choice we have made? Could I experience a happiness my mother did not share? On the other hand, to be led to the altar blindly, to approach it in a spirit of obedience, to surrender oneself without love, this was a sacrifice more cruel than anything I was prepared to endure. Therefore, I hope to be able to satisfy both the dictates of my heart and the wishes of my family."
The personality of Hortense charmed all who knew her, all, that is, with the exception of her cruel and suspicious husband. She was well educated at Madame Campan's famous school, and knew how to dance, embroider, sing, play the harp and the piano, and was a gifted composer of songs. The Duchess D'Abrantes thus describes her about the time of her marriage: "Hortense de Beauharnais was at this time about seventeen years of age. She was fresh as a rose, and though her fair complexion was not relieved by much color, she had enough to produce that freshness and bloom which was her chief beauty. A profusion of light hair played in silken locks around her soft and penetrating blue eyes. The delicate roundness of her slender figure was set off by the elegant carriage of her head. Her feet were small and pretty; her hands very white, with pink, well-rounded nails. But what formed the chief attraction of Hortense was the grace and suavity of her manners. She was gay, gentle, and amiable. She had p151 wit, which, without the smallest ill temper, had just malice enough to be amusing. A polished education had improved her natural talents. She drew excellently, sang harmoniously, and performed admirably in comedy. In 1800 she was a charming young girl. She afterwards became one of the most amiable princesses of Europe. I have seen many, both in their courts and in Paris, but I never knew one who had any pretensions to equal talents."3
In forwarding the marriage of Hortense with Louis Bonaparte, Josephine no doubt hoped that if a son were born to Louis and Hortense, she would be more likely to escape the divorce which was then appearing as a cloud on the horizon. Hortense had other suitors, among them the famous soldier, Duroc, and Lucien, Napoleon's brother, at that time a widower. Josephine opposed the match with Duroc because she was ambitious for a higher rank for her daughter. "I cannot imagine hearing you spoken of as Madame Duroc," Josephine said. "Are you in love with him? I should be sorry if you were."
When the marriage was under discussion, Louis wrote Hortense an extraordinary twenty-page letter in which he told the story of his life, and especially how it had gravitated about a young woman named Sophia, whom he described in detail, and also her tastes and habits. He told Hortense that he had grave fears about their happiness, for he saw all the world at her feet, and could not believe that simple domestic existence p152 would appeal to her. Louis concluded his letter by asking Hortense in return to tell him all but her past life. With dignity and common sense Hortense wrote in reply "that for a long time her life had been known to him, and that as far as her tastes were concerned, she did not consider that happiness and brilliant social position went together."4
Amid mutual gloom and forebodings, Hortense and Louis were married January 4, 1802. At the religious ceremony following the civil marriage, General Murat, who had been married to Caroline Bonaparte by a civil ceremony only, asked the Cardinal Legate Caprara to unite him and Caroline by the rites of the Church. The forebodings of both bride and groom were quickly realized, for never was there a more unhappy marriage. Hortense speaks of the first rift in these words: "It was four days after my marriage. I was trying on a corset in my bedroom. Louis came in. Blushing, I slipped a scarf over my shoulders. I interrupted my toilet. He wished me to continue dressing. I refused. He insisted. I became more and more embarrassed, and he left the room in a temper. When I saw him again, instead of speaking gently to me and telling me what I had done to hurt his feelings, he addressed me severely. 'Do you not know, Madame, that a wife should not be prudish in the presence of her husband? Can you not imagine what the women around you will think of your attitude? They will tell everyone that you do not love me, that you married me against your will." I did not p153 know what reply to make. My mind was in a whirl. How was I to have foreseen such a dispute? I remained motionless with fear and surprise."5
Bourrienne, who knew all the Bonaparte brothers, speaks of Louis as "by all odds the best of them." But the picture which Hortense paints of Louis shows him to have been little short of monstrous in his cruelty, jealousy, and persecution. Napoleon himself severely arraigned Louis for his treatment of his gifted wife. Their first son, Napoleon Louis Charles, was born October 10, 1802. It was a great event, for this child was the first male child in the second generation of the Bonapartes. Their second son, Napoleon Louis, who died in Italy in 1831, was born October 11, 1804, and the third son, Charles Louis Napoleon, afterwards Napoleon III, was born April 20, 1808. The jealous and suspicious conduct of Louis before the birth of this third child led to a final separation between husband and wife, although through all their married life they had spent little time together.
In 1806 Louis was made King of Holland. Her brief reign as a queen was perhaps the most unhappy period in the life of Hortense. Her royal husband stationed guards about her day and night, so that it became almost impossible for her to have any social intercourse. In a remarkable letter written April 4, 1807, Napoleon berates Louis for his policies as a king and for this treatment of his wife. He tells him: "Your quarrels with the Queen are becoming known to the public. p154 Keep in your home that paternal and effeminate character that you show in your government; and show in public affairs that rigor which you exhibit in your family. You treat a young woman as a regiment should be commanded. . . . You have the best and most virtuous of wives, and you make her unhappy. Let her dance as much as she pleases — it belongs to her age. I have a wife who is forty; from the field of battle I write to her to go to balls; and you wish a wife who is only twenty, who sees her life passing with all its illusions, to live in a cloister; or, like a nurse, to be always washing her child. You are too much yourself in your home and not enough in your Administration. I should not say all this to you if I were not interested in you. Make the mother of your children happy. There is only one way. Show her through esteem and confidence. Unfortunately, you have a wife who is too virtuous; if she were a coquette she would lead you by the nose. But you have a proud wife who grieves and revolts at the bare idea that you have a bad opinion of her. You should have had a wife like some I know in Paris. She would have deceived you and at the same time kept you at her knees. It is not my fault, as I have often told your wife."6
Before, and at the time of, the birth of the first child, Napoleon Louis Charles, there were ugly rumors about the relationship of Napoleon and Hortense. The same slanders were circulated in connection with the birth of Louis Napoleon, or Napoleon III.7 These rumors p155 greatly shocked and enraged Napoleon, especially when they made their appearance in England. Both Hortense and Bourrienne relate an extraordinary device of Napoleon to give the lie to these gross calumnies. Napoleon gave a ball at Malmaison his Sans Souci, when Hortense was seven months pregnant. In spite of his antipathy to see women in that situation in public, he asked Hortense to dance. She at first declined; but he was so importunate that she at last consented. The day after the ball, one of the newspapers contained some verses on Hortense's dancing. When she complained to Napoleon, and wondered how the lines could have been written and printed respecting a circumstance which had occurred only the night before, Napoleon smiled but gave her no answer. But when she talked with Bourrienne about it, he told her that the lines had been written at Napoleon's direction, and indeed that the ball had been prepared for the verses! "He adopted this strange contrivance for contradicting an article which appeared in an English journal announcing that Hortense was delivered. Bonaparte was highly indignant at that premature announcement, which he clearly solved was made for the sole purpose of giving credit to the scandalous rumors of his imputed connection with Hortense. Such were the petty machinations which not unfrequently found their place in a mind in which the grandest schemes were revolving."8
The part the English press played in this scandal about Hortense contributed greatly to Napoleon's p156 hatred of England, and also to his hatred of a free press. To Bourrienne, Napoleon said one day in 1804: "By the by, the report of my connection with Hortense is still kept up. The most abominable rumors have been spread after her first child. I thought at the time that these reports had only been admitted by the public in consequence of the great desire that I should not be childless. Since you and I separated, have you heard them repeated?"
"Yes, General, often times, and I confess I could not have believed that this calumny would have existed so long."
"It is truly frightful to think of. You know the truth. You have seen all, heard all. Nothing could have passed without your knowledge. You were in her full confidence during the time of her attachment to Duroc. I therefore expect if you should ever write anything about me that you will clear me from this infamous imputation. I trust in you. You have never given credit to the horrid accusation?"
"No, General, never."
Bourrienne fulfilled Napoleon's desire, and when he wrote his memoirs of Napoleon, vindicated his chief from this hateful calumny. "I freely declare," he says, "that did I entertain the smallest doubt with regard to this odious charge, of the existence of which I was well aware before Napoleon spoke to me on the subject, I would candidly avow it. He is no more, and let his memory be accompanied only by that, be it good or bad, which really belongs to it. Let not this reproach be p157 one of those charged against him by the impartial historian. I must say, in concluding this delicate subject, that the principles of Napoleon on points of this kind were rigid in the utmost degree, and that a connection of the nature that was charged against him was neither in accordance with his morals nor his tastes."9
The fact that so soon after their marriage Louis and Hortense lived much apart, and that Hortense made her home with Josephine and Napoleon, would naturally give rise to such a rumor in evil-minded persons. But there is little doubt that those who conceived and brought forth this shameful calumny were the other Bonapartes, who hated all the Beauharnais and foresaw that with Napoleon childless, and Joseph having only daughters, a son born to Louis and Hortense would be a person of great importance. For this reason they spread the revolting tale; and strange as it may seem, Josephine herself, thinking that if Hortense's son were supposed to be Napoleon's she might be spared the fate of divorce, played her part in the vile slander.10
Years after, Napoleon, referring to this matter, said to Las Cases at St. Helena, "Such a connection would have been wholly repugnant to my ideas. Those who knew anything of the morality of the Tuileries must be aware that I need not have been reduced to so unnatural and revolting a choice."11
An eight-months' child, Louis Napoleon was very frail as an infant and had to be bathed in wine and p158 wrapped in cotton. Born in 1808, Louis could remember something of the stirring events of the Hundred Days. When Napoleon left Malmaison to join the army at Waterloo, the young Louis burst into tears and begged the Emperor not to leave for the war. When Hortense led him away, Napoleon turned to Marshal Soult and said, "He will be a good soul, and perhaps the hope of my race."
During Napoleon's exile at Elba, Hortense and her two children remained at Paris, where she received marked courtesy from the Allied sovereigns, especially the Emperor Alexander of Russia. So intimate were Alexander and Hortense that Hortense even took upon herself to speak to the Emperor about the estrangement between himself and his wife. After a brief period of enjoyment in the sunlight of imperial splendor during the Hundred Days, Hortense was compelled by the Bourbons to leave Paris. She took up her abode at Arenenberg on Lake Constance in Switzerland. There Louis Napoleon was carefully educated under the influence of his accomplished mother. He had for tutors two army officers who had served under Napoleon.
In 1831 there was a rising in Italy against Austria. Louis Napoleon and his older brother, Napoleon Louis, took an enthusiastic part in the rebellion, which was quickly suppressed by Austrian troops. During these exciting days Napoleon Louis contracted an illness from which he died. Louis Napoleon and Hortense escaped to France, thence to England, and from England returned to their home in Switzerland. On July 22, 1832, Napoleon II, the ill‑fated King of Rome, the Duke p159 of Reichstadt, died at Vienna at the age of twenty‑one. This was the son in whom Napoleon had vested all his hopes for the future, and for whose sake he was content to suffer at St. Helena. The death of the Emperor's son and heir made a great change in the position of Louis Napoleon. By the law of succession adopted when Napoleon was Emperor, the imperial title passed to his two brothers, Joseph and Louis, and their sons. Jerome and Lucien had been excluded from the succession. Thus three times the intervention of death, first the death of Louis' oldest son, Napoleon Charles; and now the death of the Emperor's son, the King of Rome, had removed obstacles between Louis Napoleon and the head of the family. Since neither Joseph nor Louis Bonaparte made any claim to succeed the Emperor, and Joseph had only daughters, Louis Napoleon considered himself the head of the family and the heir of the great Emperor. Henceforth all his actions are to be considered in the light of that fact.
In 1834 Louis Napoleon became a captain in the Swiss Army, and published a manual on artillery which received wide recognition, although it was probably written as much for political effect in France as for the advance of the science of artillery. In his imperial ambitions Louis Napoleon received encouragement from that famous weathervane, Lafayette. Lafayette, who had helped to put Louis Philippe on the throne, and who had presented to the Chambers the motion for the dethronement of the Emperor Napoleon, now wrote to the Emperor's nephew: "The government cannot continue. Your name is the only one which is popular."
p160 Louis Napoleon was well aware of the marvellous revival of the Napoleonic legend in France, and felt sure that sooner or later the reigning house would be overthrown. In this confidence he made his first bid for empire at Strasbourg on October 30, 1836. It is not clear to what extent Hortense was acquainted with the conspiracy. But when he bade good‑bye to her at Arenenberg she placed on his finger as a talisman the marriage ring of Napoleon and Josephine. In his bold stroke at Strasbourg Louis Napoleon hoped to repeat in a way the miracle of the return from Elba. He counted on the revived strength of the Napoleonic legend, and was confident that once he declared himself on the soil of France he would have a powerful following. In what was perhaps his greatest achievement as a rhetorician and an orator, his proclamation to the army after he had come from Elba, Napoleon had said, "Victory shall march at a charging step. The Eagle with the national colors shall fly from steeple to steeple till it reaches the of Notre Dame." Now his nephew thought that once the Eagles were loosed at Strasbourg they would fly from steeple to steeple until they reached Paris.
He had previously sounded out the commander of the garrison at Strasbourg, General Voirol, whose only reply was that he would give the Emperor's nephew half an hour to recross the Rhine. This did not discourage him. He and his fellow conspirators, displaying an Eagle which had belonged to the Seventh Regiment of the Line, made their appearance before the Fourth Regiment of Artillery whose Colonel, Vaudrey, p161 had already been won over. This regiment, which had thrown open the gates of Grenoble to Napoleon on his return from Elba, received his nephew with great enthusiasm and loud shouts of "Vive l'Empereur!" Louis and his companions then marched off to the headquarters of General Voirol and displayed the Eagle before him. But he repulsed it, and told the conspirators that they were making a great mistake. "Prince," he said, "you have been deceived. The army knows its duties, and I will go at once to prove it to you." The next regiment to which they made their appeal remained unmoved, and amid considerable confusion, and with no little danger to his person, Louis Napoleon was placed under arrest.
The French government, unwilling to make a martyr of Prince Louis, instead of trying him, put him on board a French frigate which put to sea with sealed orders, which were to be opened after the ship had crossed the line. The Strasbourg attempt was a complete and ridiculous failure, like the early efforts of Hitler a century later at Munich. Yet, had it succeeded, it would have been hailed as a stroke of genius. Louis Napoleon spoke truly in the letter addressed shortly afterwards to his mother, when he said, "What care I for the cries of the vulgar multitude, who will call me mad because I have not succeeded, and who would have exaggerated my merit if I had triumphed?"
The frigate Andromede on which the Prince had sailed touched at Madeira and the Canaries, and then, according to orders, proceeded to Rio de Janeiro. There the frigate took on stores, but the Prince was not permitted p162 to land. Sailing through the South Atlantic, Louis Napoleon thought much of St. Helena, and wrote of how the winds from that island blew constantly over his ship, and yet he was not permitted to visit the prison and tomb of his renowned uncle.
On the 30th of March, 1837, the Andromede reached Norfolk, Virginia, where Prince Louis was put ashore. The city authorities gave him an official welcome, and he was treated with every distinction. From Norfolk he proceeded by steamboat on Chesapeake Bay to Baltimore. In a letter to his mother Prince Louis thus describes his journey:
"My dear Mother: The second of April the captain and officers conducted me to the steamboat that conveyed me up Chesapeake Bay to Baltimore. We left at four o'clock in the afternoon. There were two hundred passengers on board. The cabin, a narrow room, •about 160 feet in length, extends the entire length of the boat. Supper was served at seven. Half an hour later, the tables were taken away and beds were made for everybody. The women have cabins apart.
"About four in the morning, being very hot, I got up and went on deck to get some fresh air. I had hardly reached the deck, when I saw a gentleman following me in his shirt, who wished to speak to me. After having made the tour of the ship twice he at length accosted me. He began with the customary, 'A very beautiful night, sir.' Then he said, 'Would you have the kindness, sir, to relate to me your history?' I almost laughed in his face; but I restrained myself, and answered that the remembrance of what had befallen me was too painful p163 to allow of my complying with his request. So we talked of other things; and presently, the wind being very cold, he deemed it prudent to get his coat.
"We arrived at Baltimore at six o'clock in the morning, and started again immediately upon another boat. At the end of the bay we found a railroad that conveyed us to the Delaware River, where we again took the boat to Philadelphia. From Philadelphia to New York we travelled in the same way, partly by railway and partly by boat. I passed before Point Breeze, the residence of my uncle. It is a pretty little house on the banks of the Delaware, but the surrounding country is flat. The only fine features are the width of the stream, and the steamboats, which are magnificent."12
Upon his arrival in New York, Prince Louis went to Washington Hall, which stood on Broadway between Chambers and Reade Streets. It was at this hotel that the "Bread and Cheese Club," founded by James Fenimore Cooper in 1824, was accustomed to meet. In the same block were two stores of the well known merchant, A. T. Stewart. Stewart's stores finally took in the whole block.
On the night of Louis Napoleon's arrival in New York, General James Watson Webb, then editor of the Courier and Inquirer, was entertaining a party of friends at the City Hotel, which stood on the west side of Broadway, just north of Trinity Church. This was the General Webb who afterwards negotiated with Napoleon III a treaty for the removal of French troops p164 from Mexico during the tragic reign of Maximilian.13 Learning that Prince Louis was at Washington Hall, Webb invited him to dine the night at the City Hotel. Among the guests were General Winfield Scott and General Webb's two brothers-in‑law, the Rev. C. S. Stewart, who had been a chaplain in the Navy, and L. Stewart. The Stewart brothers acted as the guides and friends of Prince Louis during his stay in New York.
Count Arese, the friend of Victor Immanuelº and life-long friend and counsellor of Prince Louis, awaited him in New York; also his faithful servant Charles Thelin. Prince Louis met the chief people in New York under the guidance of Webb and the Stewarts. He was greatly interested in the experiments then being made in electro-magnetism. When he became Emperor of France in 1852, one of his first acts was to offer a premium for improvements in the electro-magnet.
During his stay in America, which he expected to be prolonged, Prince Louis visited his Uncle Joseph's estate at Bordentown, New Jersey. Joseph at that time was in England. Prince Louis addressed his uncle a letter in which he sought the favor of Joseph and explained and defended his Strasbourg adventure.
"My dear Uncle: Upon my arrival in the United States, I hoped to have found a letter from you. I confess to you that I have been deeply pained to learn that you were displeased with me. I attempt one of those bold enterprises, which alone could reestablish that which twenty years of peace have caused to be forgotten. I throw myself into the attempt, ready to p165 sacrifice my life, persuaded that my death even would be useful to our cause. I escape, against my wishes, the bayonets and the scaffold; and, having escaped, I find on the part of my family only contumely and disdain.
"I know you too well, my dear uncle, to doubt the goodness of your heart, and not to hope that you will return to sentiments more just in respect to me, and in respect to those who have compromised themselves for your cause. My enterprise has failed; that is true. But it has announced to France that the family of the Emperor is not yet dead; that it still numbers many devoted friends; in fine, that their pretensions are not limited to the demands of a few pence from the government, but for the reestablishment, in favor of the people, of those rights of which foreigners and Bourbons have deprived them. This is what I have done. Is it for you to condemn me? Never doubt my unalterable attachment to you.
Your tender and affectionate nephew,
To his father he wrote as follows:
New York, April 10, 1837.
"My dear Father: I landed at Norfolk on March 30, after having been four and a half months at sea. When I arrived here I found your letter in which you send me your blessing. It was the most consoling thing to p166 my heart I could find here. I have received many letters, and I feel very happy in finding so many people that show a real affection towards me in my misfortune. All my female cousins have sent me charming letters, except Mathilde!
"By next packet I will write to you at greater length. Today I am pressed for time, and yesterday I was still suffering from an illness which attacked me on reaching this place.
"I have been unfortunate, but rely upon it that I have done nothing contrary to honour or derogatory to the dignity of the name I bear.
"Receive, my dear father, the expression of my sincere attachment.
Your affectionate and respectful son,
"Except Mathilde!" This Mathilde, whose silence in the Prince's misfortune so surprised him, was his cousin, the daughter of Jerome Bonaparte by Princess Catharine. At one time there had been something of a romance between the cousins, but Mathilde's silence at the time of Louis' exile put an end to it.
Americans are accustomed to have their habits, laws and manners described by Europeans who have spent a few weeks in the country and have visited a few cities on the Eastern coast. But the young Prince Louis established a record for a quick digest and discovery of American life, for he had been in the United States hardly a month when he thus summed up American history and easily forecast its future:
p167 "The United States believed themselves to be a nation as soon as they had a government elected by themselves, a president and chambers. They were, and are still, only an independent colony. The transition is going on daily; the worm is casting his skin and taking to wings that will raise him. But I do not think the transition will be completed without crises and convulsions.
"But now the population has thickened. It is composed of an American type that is sharply defined, and of daily arriving immigrants who have no education, no popular traditions, and mostly no patriotism. No industry and commerce have destroyed equality in fortunes. Great cities have been raised, in which man has not to contend against the soil, but with man his neighbor. Now, in short, the moral world begins to rise upon the physical world. Today we find, here and there, that the reign of ideas is opening on this side of the Atlantic. In the midst of this world of traders (a term his uncle had applied to Americans, as well as to the English), where there is not a man who is not a speculator, it has entered the head of a few honest men that slavery is a bad thing, although it is highly profitable; and for the first time, the heart of America has vibrated for an interest that is not a money one."15
Fitz-Greene Halleck met the Prince at a dinner party given in his honor by Chancellor Kent and was perhaps his most intimate American friend during his brief stay in the country. They frequently dined together, p168 the Prince with Halleck at Villegrand's and Halleck with the Prince at the City Hotel. General James Grant Wilson, famous cavalry leader in the Civil War, writes: "I was a lad of a few years of age when I first saw Napoleon III in 1837. He was pointed out to me by my father as he passed along Broadway in company with his poet friend, Fitz-Greene Halleck. At that time he was living at the Washington Hotel, but receiving a great deal of attention from many of the best New York families. I remember Halleck speaking of dining with him at Chancellor Kent's and of accompanying him on a pleasant visit to Washington Irving at Sunnyside on the Hudson. Several gentlemen who met the Emperor in New York now recall him as dignified and somewhat silent person, as fond of dancing, and as a favorite among the ladies. He was much lionized, and many dinners, balls, and other entertainments were given in his honor by the Bayards, Livingstons, Schuylers, and other leading families of the city."16
Pierre Irving tells of the visit the Prince had at Sunnyside, or the "Roost," with Irving. He was accompanied by Count Arese and Anthony Constant, with whom he had been staying. Irving enjoyed his visit and "was much interested in the peculiar position of his somewhat quiet guest, though little anticipating the dazzling career which awaited him."17 Long afterward, writing to a niece in Paris who had described to p169 him the wedding of Napoleon III and Eugenie Marie de Montijo de Guzman, granddaughter on her mother's side of William Kirkpatrick, United States Consul at Malaga, Irving recalled the Prince's visit at Sunnyside, and also how he had often held Eugenie on his knee when living in Spain.
Halleck was amazed at the Prince's frequent expression, "When I become Emperor," and thought him as "mad as a March hare." To Alfred Pell he said that the Prince was "a rather dull man, of the order of Washington."18
When the then exiled Prince became President, then Emperor, of France there were many stories current in America of the profligate life he led when in New York. It was said that at the low resort of an abandoned Frenchwoman, Mercier, he formed an attachment for a lovely Spanish Jewess, Josephine Ballabo. At the same time that Prince Louis was in New York, his cousin, Pierre Bonaparte, son of Lucien, came to visit the United States. Pierre, a wild and dissipated fellow, was a frequent guest at the police stations of New York. No doubt many of the roistering Pierre's escapades were attributed to his cousin, Prince Louis. In 1856, General Webb published in the National Intelligencer of Washington a vindication of the Prince. "His associations," wrote Webb, "were almost exclusively confined to our old families; and he always exhibited a fondness for ladies' society. He also mixed occasionally in a small but refined French circle. I never heard of his p170 having committed any imprudence; and he always sought the company of persons older than himself, and preferred grave subjects of conversation. with me, politics and government were his favorite topics, arising no doubt from my being in public life."
The Rev. C. S. Stewart, the Prince's clerical guide when in New York, also wrote a vindication of him, and out of close association with him said: "I never heard a sentiment from him and never witnessed a feeling that could detract from his honor and purity as a man or his dignity as a prince; on the contrary, I often had occasion to admire the lofty thoughts and exalted conceptions which seemed most to occupy his mind. His favorite topics when we were alone were his uncle, the Emperor, his mother, and others of his immediate family in whom he had been deeply interested. He seemed ever to feel that his personal destiny was indissolubly linked with France: or, as his mother, Hortense, expressed it in her will, 'to know his position;' and the enthusiasm with which at times he gave utterance to his aspirations for the prosperity, the happiness, and the honor of his country, and to the high purposes which he designed to accomplish for her as a ruler, amounted, in words, voice, and manner, to positive eloquence. Had I taken notes of some of these conversations they would be considered now, when his visions of power and earthly glory are realized, scarcely less epigrammatic, elevated in thought, or, as related to himself, less prophetic, than many which have been recorded from the lips of the exile of St. Helena."19
p171 Louis paid a visit to Niagara and in a flour boat crossed the river under the Falls. He was planning extensive travels when he received the following letter from his mother:
"My dear Son: I am about to undergo an operation. In case it should not terminate successfully, I send you in this letter my blessing. We shall met again — shall we not? — in a better world, where you may come to join me as late as possible! And you will believe that in quitting this world I regret only leaving yourself and your fond, disposition, which alone has given any charm to my existence. It will be a consolation to you, my dear friend, to reflect that by your attentions you have rendered your mother as happy as circumstances could allow her. You will think also of all my affection for you, and this will inspire you with courage. Think this, that we shall always have a benevolent and clear sighted feeling for all that passes in this world below, and that assuredly we shall meet again. Reflect upon this consolatory idea; it is one which is too necessary not to be true. And that good Arese, I send him my blessing as to a son. I press you to my heart, my dear one. I am calm, perfectly resigned; and I would still hope that we may meet again, even in this world. The will of God be done.
Your affectionate mother,
April 3, 1837.
p172 On the back of the envelope, Dr. Conneau, the friend of mother and son, had written the words — "Venez! Venez!" Prince Louis took passage in the first vessel leaving New York, the George Washington, and sailed for England June 12. From London he hurried to Switzerland and arrived at Arenenberg August fifth. There he tenderly nursed his mother until her death, October 5, 1837. The body of Hortense was taken to France and laid to rest in the church of , near Paris, and by the side of the mother whom she so adored.
Before leaving the United States, Prince Louis addressed the following letter to President Van Buren:
New York, June 6, 1837.
"Mr. President: I cannot leave the United States without expressing to your Excellency the regret I feel in not having been to Washington to make your acquaintance. Although unhappy fate led me to America, I hoped to profit by my new exile to know her distinguished men. I wished to study the manners and institutions of a people who have made more conquests in commerce and industry than we have made in Europe by arms.
"I hoped under the aegis of your protecting laws to travel through a country which has excited my sympathy, since its history and prosperity are so intimately bound up with the memory of our French glory; but an imperious duty calls me back to the old world. My mother being dangerously ill, and no political consideration binding me here, I am going to England; thence I shall endeavor to repair to Switzerland.
p173 "It is with pleasure, Mr. President, that I enter into these details with you, for you might have given credit to certain calumniating suppositions that tended to make people believe I had contracted engagements with the French Government.
"As I value the esteem of the representatives of a free country, I am glad it should know that, with the name I bear, it is impossible for me to stray one moment from the path which my conscience, my honour, and my duty trace.
"I beg your Excellency to receive this letter as a proof of my respect for the man who occupies the seat of George Washington. Accept the expression of my consideration and of my distinguished sentiments.
Louis Napoleon Bonaparte."21
Soon after the death of his mother Louis Napoleon withdrew from Switzerland and took up his residence in London. The French Government had protested to Switzerland against that nation harboring an enemy of the French state so near to the borders of France. Rather than involve the Swiss Government in difficulty with France, the exile voluntarily removed to England. After watching events for three years in England, Louis decided that the hour had come to loose the eagles in France once more.
Early on the morning of August 6, 1840, a customs officer, watching the coast for smugglers, saw a steamer standing off and on the shore near Boulogne. Presently p174 a boat was lowered from the vessel and stood in for the shore. When hailed, the men in the boat said they were soldiers of the 40th Regiment of the Line, bound for Cherbourg. Soon a second boatload appeared. When the men landed they displayed one of the Napoleonic eagles, and one of the men had with him a live eagle. There was a story current at the time that the Prince had a piece of bacon under his helmet to keep the eagle hovering near his head.
The soldier with the eagle, and the leader of this band of fifty‑six men, was Prince Louis Bonaparte, and with him was Count Montholon, who had closed Napoleon's eyes at St. Helena. They marched to the barracks, where they shouted, "Long live Napoleon!" and "On to Paris!" But there was no response. The Colonel of the regiment appeared sword in hand, and Prince Louis and his men were soon in full retreat to the shore and their boats. The boat of Prince Louis was fired on and upset. The Prince and his companions then swam to their ship, the City of Edinburgh, where they were made prisoners by the French. Thus ignominiously ended his descent upon Boulogne. It was at Boulogne that the Emperor Napoleon had assembled his army and his boats for his threatened invasion of England in 1804. Napoleon was not a fool, and he himself declared that it was pure bluff. "Under favourable conditions," he said, "I might have landed in England and might have won a battle; but what then?" Now at Boulogne his nephew, aspiring to his uncle's greatness, tried to invade France with fifty‑six men!
The French government was not so lenient with the p175 Prince this time as it was after the Strasbourg fiasco. He was sentenced to "perpetual imprisonment" at the gloomy fortress of Ham on the Somme. For six years he lived at the fortress engaging his mind with the beet sugar industry and the projected Nicaragua Canal. On the morning of May 25, 1846, leaving a dummy in his bed, disguised in the sabots and blouse of a workman, and with a plank over his shoulder, the enterprising Louis walked coolly out past the guard at the gates of the fortress and was soon over the frontier into Belgium and back again in London.
It was during this stay in London that Louis first fell in with the lovely Miss Howard, daughter of a riding master. Two years later, Miss Howard aided Louis in his enterprise in France by pawning her jewels. When he came to power Louis did not forget this generosity, for he repaid the loan and created her Comtesse de Beauregard. He was undoubtedly truly in love with this woman, but when he was married to Eugenie the police compelled Miss Howard to leave Paris before the day of the wedding, lest she should create a scene. Napoleon III married Eugenie, Countess of Montijo, at Notre Dame, January 30, 1853.
When the Revolution of 1848 toppled Louis Philippe from his throne, Louis Napoleon came at once to France.22 Out of seven million votes cast for President, the much mocked adventurer of Strasbourg and Boulogne received more than five million. Then, in December, 1851, came the Coup d'Etat, and soon he was p176 Emperor of the French. As Octavius planned to consolidate the conquests of his great uncle Julius, and on those foundations build a vast structure of law and peace, so Louis Napoleon hoped to bless France and Europe with the full development and application of the Napoleonic Idea. He reigned for eighteen years, during which he joined with England in the war against Russia in the Crimea, helped to establish Italian independence by defeating the Austrians in battle at magenta and Solferino in 1859, and almost brought about war with the United States by his intervention in Mexico. In 1870 the crafty Bismarck maneuvered him into a war for which France was ill prepared. The French armies were quickly defeated in the field or straitly shut up in their fortress strongholds.
On a bright September day in 1870, a broken and diseased man, tortured with the stone, drove in a hired caleche along the poplar-bordered highway near the village of Donchery. Three officers were with him in the caleche and three followed on horseback. Presently a group of German officers coming from the opposite direction drew up by the side of the caleche. The leader of them, a towering grim-faced man, saluted the man in the carriage, and then removed the spiked helmet from his head. It was Bismarck. The French Empire was no more.
Napoleon III died at Chislehurst in England, January 18, 1873, aged sixty-five years. His son and the last of his line, the Prince Imperial, Eugene Louis Napoleon, volunteer with an English force in South Africa, got off his horse on a June day in 1879 to select p177 a camping place on the Blood River. The Prince was attempting to remount his horse as he heard the shouts of the Zulus. The saddle girth broke, and in a moment, unable to vault to his horse's back and thrust through and through by the spears of the Zulus, he lay dead and mutilated on the African veldt. The Empress Eugenie lingered on from decade to decade. She lived through the crash of the World War and reached the end of her journey at Madrid, July 11, 1920, aged ninety-four years.
Always on the person of Napoleon III, down to the day of his death, there was a worn leather wallet. In the wallet were some letters of Eugenie, a few pictures of Saints, scribblings of the little Prince Imperial, and the letter which his mother wrote to him when he was in New York, thinking that she might not see him again, and across which Dr. Conneau had written, "Venez! Venez!" This letter had accompanied Napoleon III on all his wanderings; it had been wet with the brine of the sea the Boulogne and was carried into battle at Sedan. In that letter Hortense had written: "We shall meet again — shall we not? — in a better world, where you may come to join me, as late as possible."
"As late as possible!" There breathed the true spirit of Hortense, full of affection for her son, yet ambitious that he should have his full day upon earth, ere the night came down. Now that hour, beyond which it is not possible for either peasant or Emperor to stay, had come.
1 Jerrold, Napoleon III, p10. Longmans Green & Co., London. 1874.
2 Berkeley Men, Napoleon Dynasty, p424. Sheldon, Blakeman & Co., N. Y. 1857.
3 Berkeley Men, History of the Bonaparte Family, Cornish, Lamport & Co., N. Y. 1852.
4 Memoirs of Queen Hortense, Chapter III. Cosmopolitan Book Corporation, N. Y.
5 Memoirs of Queen Hortense, Chapter IV.
6 Jerrold, Napoleon III, I, p48. Longmans Green & Co., London. 1874.
7 Ambes, Intimate Memoirs.
8 Bourrienne, Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte, II, p221. Charles Scribner's Sons, N. Y. 1891.
9 Bourrienne, Memoirs of Napoleon, II, p247.
10 Bourrienne, Memoirs of Napoleon, II, p99.
11 Las Cases, Napoleon, II, p190.
12 Jerrold, Napoleon III, vol. 2, p4. London. 1874.
14 Jerrold, Napoleon III, vol. 2, p11.
15 Jerrold, Napoleon III, vol. 2, p6.
16 Letter of General Wilson to Blanchard Jerrold.
17 Pierre Irving, Life and Letters of Washington Irving, Putnam Sons Co., N. Y.
18 Wilson, Life and Letters of Fitz-Greene Halleck. D. Appleton & Co., N. Y. 1869.
19 Jerrold, Napoleon III, v. 2, p14.
20 Berkeley Men, Napoleon Dynasty, p558.
21 Jerrold, Napoleon III, v. 2, p22.
22 He was elected a member of the Chamber of Deputies, then President ten years, and later President for life.
b I'm no fan of Rousseau, but Louis Bonaparte's argument is based on a false premise: 18c Arabs were by no means "men of nature", but had millennia of civilization behind them, albeit a civilization different from that of Europe; their inhumanity has to be sought elsewhere.
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