Albert D. (Albert Dresden) Vandam.

My Paris note-book online

. (page 3 of 24)
Online LibraryAlbert D. (Albert Dresden) VandamMy Paris note-book → online text (page 3 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


pretty.' She did not make any further allusion to an
event which in a few days was to convulse the whole of
the civilised world, which would and did affect the mean-
est of menials who had come in contact with the great-
est captain of all ages. Verily, my uncle was right when
he said that ' F amour est 1' occupation de I'homme oisif,
la distraction du guerrier, et F^cueil du souverain. ' " .

This was the woman who fell desperately in love with
one of her father's soldiers, Lieutenant-Marshal Count
Adam Albert von Neipperg, an honourable, upright,
brave, and clever man, but who, compared to Napoleon,
was what Mr. Healy is to Daniel O'Connell. When I
first came upon the above note in my uncle's papers, I
supplemented it by one of my own, without any definite
purpose, and merely in obedience to the family craving
for notes. It may be found interesting, especially at the
present moment, not as a marginal to the Emperor's
conversation with my uncle, but as a sidelight on M.
Victorien Sardou's latest production, Madame Sans-
GSne, the main interest of which is evolved from an
alleged intrigue between Count Adam and Marie Louise
while she was Empress of the French. M. Sardou has
not the slightest historical authority for the existence of
such an intrigue, nor for his dramatic situation in the
first act which represents Count Adam as taking refuge
from the pursuit of the revolutionary mob in the shop
of a laundress, afterwards Madame Lefebvre, and finally
Duchesse de Dantzic. As far as is known. Count Adam



30 My Paris Note-Book.

was not in France during the First Revolution, nor did
he ever see the Archduchess Marie Louise until 1814.
Assiduous student of history as he may be, M. Sardou
seems to be ignorant of the way Austrian princesses
were, and are to a certain extent still, brought up. In
Marie Louise's case, not only were all the supposedly
objectionable passages of every book she read bodily
cut out, but no male creature was allowed within the
apartments occupied by her, and this prohibition ap-
plied to the males of the animal world also. True,
Marie Louise may have fallen in love with Count Neip-
perg during the few days previous to her departure for
France, but that is highly improbable, and there is no
mention of his having been in the suite that accompa-
nied Marie Louise to the Austrian frontier. Further-
more, at the period of Marie Louise's departure for
France, Count Neipperg was married, and had three
or four children ; his wife only died in 1813, two years
before the second invasion of France by the allied
troops, when the Count was invested with the military
command of the Departments of the Gard, the Ardeche,
and the Herault. I would not argue the fact of Count
Neipperg' s being a married man as an absolute bar to
Marie Louise's sudden passion for him, but the fact con-
stitutes a presumption against it. We may conclude
that M. Sardou has drawn entirely upon his imagina-
tion. The unvarnished truth seems to be this : Count
Neipperg, "the German Bayard," — as Madame de
Stael, who knew him personally, called him — was en-
trusted by Francis L in 18 14 with the task of escorting
his daughter back to Vienna. From that moment these
two rarely left one another ; and when two years later
Marie Louise assumed the sovereignty of the Duchies
of Parma, Placenza, and Guastallas, secured to her by



My Paris Note-Book. 31

the Treaty of Paris, which was ratified at the Congress
of Vienna in 181 5, she morganatically married Neip-
perg, who, until then, had simply borne the title of
chevalier d'honneur. Count Neipperg had four chil-
dren by his first wife, three of whom met with a tragic
end. Of his two children by Marie Louise, the Con-
tessa San-Vitale is the better known, from the part she
played in the Italian revolutionary movement of '48.
The son entered the Austrian army with the Italianised
patronymic of Montenuovo. Personally, I fail to see
how Neipperg can be made into Newmount, unless the
Viennese pronunciation is taken into account ; but that
is a mere detail.



32 My Paris Note-Book.



CHAPTER II.

Napoleoniana— Napoleon I. a bad shot — The Emperor at his best
when talking about Napoleon I. — Napoleon I. as a patron of the
drama — About' s Guillery and Lemercier's Christophe Colomb
— Napoleon I. within an ace of becoming a theatrical manager
himself— Was Napoleon I. conscious of his future greatness ? —
Louis Napoleon at Lady Blessington's — He and Charles Dickens
have their fortunes told — Roger the great tenor — A curious coin-
cidence — My uncle's opinions about Frenchmen's courage — An
anecdote of Alexandre Dumas the elder — The Parisians' love of
spectacular display and dramatic sensation — How Napoleon I.
provided for it— Napoleon HL an equally good stage-manager,
though in a difterent way— The truth about the famous "Com-
mittee of Resistance."

I HAVE already said that my uncles were favourites
with Louis Napoleon ; I may add that, though they had
served under the Prince of Orange (afterwards William
II. of Holland) during the campaign of 1815, they
shared to the full the idolatry of the third Napoleon for
the memory of his uncle, and that this worship of which
.1 was a constant witness as a child has not been without
its effect upon me in my later life. I have always found
it difficult when writing about France to keep the head
of Napoleon I. out of my memoirs. Le pli est pris ;
but I trust the reader will not grumble in this instance.
Nearly all the following anecdotes are to all intents and
purposes new.

Both my relatives were very bad shots ; nevertheless,
during their annual visits to Fontainebleau and Com-
piegne they always went shooting with Napoleon III.,



My Paris Note-Book. 33

who, it seems, was a fair marksman. ' ' We must have
some muffs among us, just as the Spartans had their
drunken helots, as an example to be avoided," said the
Emperor, to console them for their frequent discomfiture.
" If we had not you, we should have to invite M. Thiers,
and the gamekeepers could not scowl at him as they do
at you, even if he would come. Besides, you need not
fret about it ; the Emperor (by which he meant his
uncle) was even a worse shot than you or your brother
are ; the only time they put a gun in his hand, he killed
a poor hound, and went away thinking he had killed a
stag."

Thereupon he told them a story, which, though it has
not been mentioned by any of the great captain's biog-
raphers, is unquestionably true. "In those days the
stag, wherever brought to bay, was left for the Emperor
to kill. One day, however, the Emperor was not to be
found, and the Master of the Staghounds finished the
animal with his knife. Just then the Emperor came in
sight. They hurriedly got the dead stag on its legs,
propping it up with branches, &c. , &c. , and handed the
Emperor the 'carabine of honour,' as it was called.
The Emperor fired, and, of course, the stag tumbled
over, but at the same time there was a piteous whine
from one of the hounds, which had been shot through
the head. The Emperor, who was on horseback,
wheeled round, utterly unconscious of the mischief he
had done, saying to one of his aides-de-camp — ' Apres
tout, je ne suis pas aussi mauvais tireur qu'on ne le
pretend.' "

Admirable catiseur as was Napoleon III. when in the
mood, he shone brightest on the subject o^ his famous
uncle. There was an almost inexhaustible flow of anec-
dote absolutely unknown to the biographers, and inter-



34 My Paris Note-Book.

larded with quaint comment, mainly tending to show
the nephew's ever-predominant wish to tread in the
footsteps of the founder of the dynasty — of course, not
as a mihtary leader, for Napoleon III., in his wildest
moments of ambition, was thoroughly aware of his
shortcomings in that respect, but as a social reformer
and a patron of art and literature ; like his uncle, in his
zeal for these latter causes, he often brought about re-
sults the very opposite to those aimed at. Frenchmen
will brook no interference with their judgments on
books, statues, pictures, and plays, albeit these judg*
ments are nearly always influenced by considerations
more or less foreign to the true principles of criticism.
What they resent most Is the supposed or real patronage
by '* the powers that be" of an author, painter, sculptor,
or composer. Many a clever production has been posi-
tively hounded off the stage — for the playhouse lends
itself most effectually to that kind of cabal — on the mere
supposition of such patronage; while, on the other
hand, many a work has been lauded to the skies, and
hailed with rapture in no way justified by its merits.
In the instance to which I wish to allude in particular,
various causes had combined to create a prejudicial feel-
ing against the author long before his piece saw the
footlights while the piece itself had not suflicient vitality
either to withstand the onslaught of the caballers on the
first two nights, or to recover subsequently from the
attack. Edmond About was looked upon by all political
parties with suspicion, if not with positive antagonism.
His polemical writings satisfied no one. They were too
literary for the thorough-going politician ; they were
too political to please the amateur of literature proper,
who, too frequently perhaps, has an ill-disguised con-
tempt for the so-called affairs of State. About had



My Paris Note-Book. 35

alienated the sympathies of the clerical party, and not
succeeded in enlisting those of the Liberals and Repub-
licans. It is not my intention to dwell at length upon
About himself or upon his writings ; such an attempt
would be at variance with the plan, or rather absence
of plan, of this book ; I am merely noting the state of
pubHc opinion with regard to one of the wittiest French
writers of the century at the particular period when he
turned his attention to the stage. His first venture in
that direction, which took place when I had been but a
few months in Paris, ought to have taught him that it is
one thing to have a piece accepted at the Comedie-
Fran9aise, and another to have it accepted in the Com6-
die-Fran9aise : but it did not teach him. I recollect my
yo anger uncle, who had been to the premiere of Guil-
lery discussing it with his brother next morning at
breakfast — I am speaking of the mid-day meal — and
telling him of the hisses and cat-calls most of the situa-
tions had provoked. Since then I have read the piece,
and though by no means insensible to the many clever
things it contains, have come to the conclusion that the
public were not wrong in attributing its acceptance by
the "Reading Committee" of the Comedie-Frangaise
to ''outside influence," and what, to the public's mind,
was worse, to influence from the ' ' Chateau, ' ' as the
Tuileries in those days was called.

The Emperor did not altogether deny the impeach-
ment, but he denied being responsible for more than the
initial step, and this brings me back to his ever fresh
delight of referring to his uncle's doings. ''You are
right," he said a few days afterwards to my uncle
Mark, who gave him some particulars of the disturb-
ances that had occurred on the first night — the piece
only ran for two — "you are right," he repeated; "I



36 My Paris Note-Book.

ought to follow my uncle's system in such matters to
the bitter end, or else not engage in them at all. I
cannot imagine how he found time to read plays or to
have them read to him ; but it is very certain that he did
find time, and that he recommended no piece personally
unless he had made himself acquainted with it. That's
what I ought to have done with Guillery ; but would
you like to know the whole of my share in the transac-
tion ? It virtually amounts to this, and to no more. I
had no need to give About a letter of introduction to
Arsene Houssaye, who knows him and his worth better
than I do, but it was Fould who beguiled me into it. I
know by this time that Fould had an ulterior motive,
that there was a woman in the whole of this plot ; but I
did not know it then. As it was, I only said that I
should be pleased to see M. About' s play enacted at the
Comedie- Fran^aise. When handing About the letter,
I made use of Louis Philippe's sentence to Victor Hugo
when he handed him the pardon of Barbes — ' I give you
his head, Monsieur ; it will be your business to obtain it
from my ministers.' Where I have failed, perhaps, is in
not saying B when I had said A. My uncle would not
have allowed the piece to be hounded off the stage after
he had recommended its acceptance. No, as you say,
he could not have compelled the pubUc to go and see it,
or to applaud it when they did go, but he would have
compelled them to sit still and not kick up ' the devil's
own delight.' How? I'll tell you. By being present
at the first or second performance ; more probably at
the third or fourth, if there had been signs of systematic
opposition at the premiere. The historians of the
French stage have given Charles X. credit for saying
to Victor Hugo that in matters theatrical he was simply
one of the public and no more. My uncle did much



My Paris Note-Book, 37

better than coin the mot ; he now and then acted up to
it ; which Charles X. did not do. Except where he
detected a real or fancied political allusion, he judged
impartially ; and when he found that the play failed to
please the spectators, he counselled its withdrawal,
however much he liked it himself. But ... he went
to see it. You have heard of N6pomucene Lemer-
cier, and you probably know that until the advent of
the Empire he was sincerely attached to my uncle.
After that they became estranged, though the Em-
peror never ceased to speak in the highest terms of
him. Both were, however, exceedingly obstinate, and
neither the one nor the other would take the first step
towards a renewal of their friendship. In the heyday
of my uncle's glory, Lemercier brought out a play at the
Od6on, entitled Christophe Colomb. Lemercier, it ap-
pears, had more genius than all the dramatists of the
Empire put together, and in this Christophe Colomb
he made an attempt to break through the iron chain of
the three unities of time, place, and action. Odd to
relate, the most violent opposition to this innovation
came from the students of the Quartier Latin, the pre-
decessors of those who, a score of years later, led the
vanguard of the partisans of the elder Dumas and Victor
Hugo against the classicists. The Emperor had neither
read nor recommended the play ; in fact, to be fair, the
hostility shown to Christophe Colomb was not a protest
against the supposed patronage of the sovereign, but the
soi-disant vindication of a purely arbitrary literary con-
ventionality. Nor need we suppose for a moment that
the students were influenced in their attack by the well-
known estrangement between the dramatist and the
Emperor, which, on the face of it, would afford them a
guarantee of non-interference on the latter' s part ; and

4



38 My Paris Note-Book.

from what I have heard of Lemercier, I feel confident
that he harboured no such a suspicion. But in order to
prevent the germ of such a thought sprouting in the
pubHc's mind, the Emperor took the matter up after the
first night, which had already been fruitful in broken
heads and limbs. There was a second performance ' by-
command ;' on which occasion there was a strong display
of military and police, who, if anything, aggravated the
situation, for over three hundred students were arrested,
the blood flowed freely, and the unmarried among the
rioters were ordered to be incorporated in a regiment
under marching orders for Germany. ' They had better
vent their bellicose ardour on the enemy than on their
own countrymen,' said the Emperor ; and I am afraid
there would have been no appeal from his decision,
which spread like wildfire through the capital, and
would have been sufficient to strike terror into the
boldest, but for the sequel. The Emperor would not
give in, and he decided that there should be a third per-
formance, at which he and the Empress would be present.
On the night in question, the house, as you may imagine,
was crammed from floor to ceiling, while the streets
leading to the Odeon were blocked by eager and expect-
ant crowds. The first two acts went ofl" without a hitch ;
the scene was laid in France, and there had been no
opposition to them, for the principle of the unities for
which the students battled was not violated. It was the
change from terra firma to the deck of Columbus' vessel
that had aroused their ire. At the opening of the third
act the Emperor was seen to straighten himself, while
Josephine looked uneasy. Every one knew that the
critical moment had come ; no one was deceived by the
Emperor's apparent attention to the business of the
stage ; they caught him casting sidelong glances at the



My Paris Note-Book. 39

house itself. A deep silence had fallen upon the latter,
a silence so intense that, without exaggeration, one might
have heard a pin drop. This went on for several minutes,
when suddenly there arose upon the air a gentle, soft
breathing, as of so many people catching what the
English call * forty winks. ' Thereupon the Emperor
looked round. The auditorium presented a most
curious sight. From the upper galleries to the front
benches of the pit, three-fourths of the spectators had
donned white nightcaps, with large tassels standing
erect ; their heads were reclining on their breasts, and
they seemed wrapt in peaceful slumber. The Emperor
burst out laughing, and Lemercier's play was virtually
doomed, though it ran for another eight nights. The
rioters of the second night were not drafted into the
regiment under marching orders."

I need scarcely remind the reader that the conver-
sations of my grand-uncles with Napoleon III. extended
^T)ver a period of several years, and that, many of my notes
being undated, I am unable to reproduce them in their
chronological order ; but the following extract is appar-
ently connected with the foregoing, and may have been
recorded on the same day. There is, however, no evi-
dence to that effect ; it may therefore refer to a subse-
quent or previous conversation on the same subject.

' ' Yes, ' ' said the Emperor, ' ' my uncle took a great
interest in the theatre even before he made his mark in
the world. It is not generally known that he was once
within an ace of becoming an impresario himself In
1792 the Italian performers, with the exception of one,
left Paris. They did not feel their heads safe on their
shoulders, and subsequent events proved that their fears
were not altogether groundless. Shortly afterwards, the
one who had remained was denounced as suspect^no



40 My Paris Note-Book.

reason was given for the accusation, nor was there any
need in those days, and brought before Fouquier-Tin-
ville. His name was Puppo. ' What was your occu-
pation under the old regime f asked the pubUc prose-
cutor of the Revolutionary Tribunal. ' I played the
violin,' answered Puppo. * What are you doing at
present ?' was the next question. * I am playing the
violin,' was the reply. 'What do you intend to do in
the future?' ' I intend to play the vioHn,' said Puppo.
'That seems to me reasonable enough,' growled the
prosecutor. ^ You are acquitted. '

" Puppo' s next would-be employer, who was none
other than the celebrated Mile. Montansier, did, how-
ever, not fare so well. She had made a great deal of
money, and built a theatre, which she intended to devote
to Italian opera, in the Rue de la Loi ' ' (now the Rue de
Richelieu). " She was known to have been a favourite
of Marie-Antoinette, and Chaumette denounced the
enterprise as an attempt on her part to set the Biblio-
theque Nationale on fire. The theatre was closed, and
she herself imprisoned for ten months. It was after her
liberation that my uncle was introduced to her by Mme.
Dugazon, the celebrated actress. He was then a poor
lieutenant, without a penny in the world ; she was sixty-
three, but exceedingly well to do. It appears that he
was going to marry her ; meanwhile, I feel certain that
there was a liaison between them. It was Seveste who
first told me of this. You remember Seveste, who, in
conjunction with his brother, used to run several sub-
urban theatres, and who was the immediate predecessor
of Arsene Houssaye at the Comedie-Fran9aise. He
had the story from his father, who was an actor in Mile.
Montansier' s company. As I told you, I had never
heard the story before, nor do I think that it was ever



My Paris Note-Book. 41

known publicly ; but I caused enquiries to be made, and
I ascertained its perfect truth. It was only then that I
understood why my uncle, by the decree of Moscow,
had ordered 300,000 francs to be paid to Mile. Montan-
sier. The money was ostensibly a kind of ' damages'
for the loss she had sustained by the closing of her
theatre, for which at the time she claimed seven millions
of francs, which she did not get ; in reality, it was what
the English call ' conscience money,' or, better still, * a
compensation for breach of promise of marriage.' "

* ' Do I think that my uncle had a presentiment of
his future greatness ?' ' said Napoleon on another occa-
sion. ^ * Frankly, I do not think he had when he was
merely a poor lieutenant of artillery. I do not think
so, and this in spite of the many stories to that effect
by my uncles and father. On the face of it, I doubt
whether he would have dreamed of marrying a woman
old enough to be his grandmother, as was Mile. Mon-
tansier ; nay, I doubt whether he would have married
Josephine de Beauharnais under the circumstances, and
yet, here is a proof that he had some such presenti-
ment ; but it was after he had his foot on the first rung
of the ladder. I am not certain whether it was the son
of Berthier (the son of the first Prince de Neufchatel et
de Wagram) or Saint- Hilaire who told me the story,
but it was one of these two, and though either of these
two might have printed it, I do not think they did.
At that time my uncle was a lieutenant- colonel, and in
the habit of visiting General d' Augeranville, who was
Berthier' s brother-in-law, consequently my informant's
uncle. One evening after a dinner-party at which Mme.
Tallien was present also, one of the guests proposed to
go and have ices at Frascati, a proposal which was
unanimously approved. They started on foot, and

4*



42 My Paris Note-Book.

their way lay through the Place Vendome, which at
that particular period was a howling wilderness, dark
and deserted at night especially, and, moreover, dis-
figured by the remains of the statue of Louis XIV.,
which the revolutionaries had destroyed. When they
got to the middle of the square, my uncle stopped and
drew his companions' attention to the terrible state of
decay around him. ' The square itself is magnificent,'
said my uncle ; ' but it wants something grandiose in the
centre, and promenaders to impart life and bustle to it.'
'Statues have had their day, my dear commandant;
and if they had not, ' replied General D' Augeranville,
*I fail to see whom or what we could put there.' *I
was not exactly thinking of a statue, Tnon general,^
mildly protested my uncle. * What I was thinking of
was a column like that of Trajan in Rome, or else an
immense sarcophagus that would hold the ashes of the
great captains of the Republic' ' Both ideas are good,*
remarked Madame d' Augeranville ; ' but I should prefer
a column.' 'And we'll have that column one day,'
smiled my uncle, ' if they let Berthier and myself have
a chance. What say you, Berthier?' he added, turn-
ing to the future hero of Wagram. * What do I say ?'
answered Berthier ; ' I say, that as far as I am con-
cerned, the dream is too splendid to be realised.'
As far as I am personally in question," Napoleon III.
went on, ' ' people are perfectly correct in crediting me
with what they choose to call 'fatalism.' From the
moment I began to think for myself, I had an unalter-
able conviction that I should rule over France one day ;
but if I had wavered for an instant in that belief, the
Macbethian episode I am going to relate to you would
have revived that belief, and for evermore. It hap-
pened in London in 1846, shortly after my escape from



My Paris Note-Book. 43

Ham. One afternoon I was at Lady Blessington's, and
talking to my hostess, when the servant brought in a
letter, and told her that the bearer, an elegantly dressed
young woman, was in the ante-room. I stood aside



Online LibraryAlbert D. (Albert Dresden) VandamMy Paris note-book → online text (page 3 of 24)