Hamil Grant.

The soul of Napoleon online

. (page 10 of 17)
Online LibraryHamil GrantThe soul of Napoleon → online text (page 10 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Canova correctly reminded the Emperor that the
Pope's poverty had been largely forced upon him
by the French armies of invasion.

The conversation then turned upon the ten-foot
statue which Canova had delivered in 1808, the
Emperor declaring that he would have preferred
it draped.

" God Himself," Canova replied candidly,
" could not have executed a beautiful work of
art if he had tried to represent your Majesty as
you are dressed now — in top-boots and uniform.
In Sculpture, as in all the other Arts, we have our
sublime style, and the sublime style of the sculptor
is the undraped figure, or else a style of drapery
which is proper to our art — such as the toga.
With regard to the equestrian statue which I am
now executing of your Majesty, I could not repre-
sent your figure undraped, since my intention is
to re23resent you in the act of commanding an
army. This was customary with the ancient
sculptors, as it is also customary with modern
artists."

At this point Napoleon interrupted the Italian
to ask him if the statue of 1808 was being cast in
bronze, and on being answered in the affirmative,
replied that it was his intention to visit Rome —



" MEGALOPREPCETA " 160

an intention which was never carried into effect ;
for notwithstanding his worship of Antiquity and
all that Rome represented for the ancient and
modern worlds, it was somewhat extraordinary
in Napoleon's fate that he should never have seen
the Eternal City. Canova encouraged his Imperial
patron in this idea of looking " with his own eyes "
upon the home of the Caesars, and readily con-
jured up visions of Trajan's Forum, the Capitol,
the triumphal arches, the Via Sacra, the Appian
Way and the many columns of victory.

" It was not only our political greatness, but
also our love of the grandiose which produced
so many works of magnificence," the sculptor
declared ; and the words take the general reader
down to Zola's wondrous psychological study, in
Rome, of the virtues and vices political and social
which attend on the cult of the grandiose, and how
this spirit has haunted the Eternal City under all
its mighty masters.

Canova started to work on his task of modelling
a bust of the Empress Marie Louise on 15th October
1810, and in accordance with his settled plan of
never allowing his second Consort to remain alone
with a strange man, Napoleon himself attended
each seance given by the Empress to the Italian.
It is solely in pursuance of our endeavour to
present Napoleon in as many temperamental
aspects as possible that we emphasise the curious
trait in the Corsican's character which forbade
him entertaining the notion that woman was at
all trustworthy in her relations with the opposite



170 CANOVA AND NAPOLEON

sex. Monsieur Frederic Masson, the voluminous
historian of the Napoleoniad, declares, however,
that it was not so much jealousy that suggested
to him the necessity of " placing the youthful
Empress in the impossibility of compromising
herself." He did not understand woman, says
Masson, although he was willing to legislate for
her. He acted out of sheer dynastic prudence,
for, as he told his Cabinet on one occasion, adultery
is merely a matter of a sofa. And he remained to
the end ever of the opinion that even an ordinary
tete-d-tete between a man and a woman more often
than not tended to take a " natural " turn.

Somewhere we remember to have read, in
authentic memoirs, that the Empress Marie
Louise once commanded a Court tradesman to
submit certain designs in tapestry which had
appealed to her taste. Accordingly the upholsterer
presented himself in person at her Majesty's
apartments, w^here we may suppose him to have
spent some time paying out rolls of carpetry for
inspection by his Imperial patroness. On leaving
the rooms of the Empress, the upholsterer was
pounced upon by the waiting Emperor, who,
having ascertained the nature of the man's
business, dismissed him with a brutal gesture and
proceeded to his Consort's apartments, where,
with eyes ablaze, we can imagine him to have
demanded of her the meaning of her conduct.
The poor young Empress declared with tears that
the visitor was only an upholsterer !

" Never mind, it is enough that he was a mdle^



THE ROMAN CAUSE 171

and had no business here," roughly repUed
Napoleon, whose jealous mind probably foresaw
the possibility of his successor on the throne being
a cross between an upholsterer and a Habsburg.

At the seance of 15th October the Emperor
was anxious to hear from Canova something about
the climate of Rome.

"Is it as vmhealthy now as it was in the time
of the Ancients ? " he inquired.

" It would seem so," replied the sculptor, who
also remembered to have read in Tacitus that on
the occasion of the return of the army of Vitellius
from Germany, the soldiers fell ill after bivouack-
ing on the Vatican Hill. Napoleon immediately
rang for his librarian, who brought the Annals.

" The sickness of the soldiers proves little,"
the Emperor explained simply, sure of his expertise
in such a matter ; " troops that are rapidly
transported from one climate to another soon
fall ill, but just as quickly recover."

And Canova here takes advantage of the
Emperor's curiosity about Rome to continue his
advocacy of the Roman cause, urging the great
one to put into immediate practice those designs
for the restoration of the city which he was
known to entertain. Napoleon assures him that
it is his intention to make Rome the capital of
Italy, incorporating Naples in his scheme of
unification, an idea which gives the sculptor the
opportunity of representing his views as to what
is really necessary for the well-being of his com-
patriots. It is highly interesting to note that



172 CANOVA AND NAPOLEON

Canova attributed much to the influence of
ReUgion in Art :

" Religion, which is favourable to the Arts,"
he declared, " groAVS weaker and weaker in my
country. Among the Egyptians, among the
Greeks and the Romans, it was Religion alone
that encouraged Art. The immense sums which
were expended on the erection of the Pantheon,
on the statue of Jupiter at Olympia, on that of
Minerva at Athens — all this was due to Religion.
With the Romans it was the same : their works
bear the seals and emblems of Religion, and
even Alaric, the Visigoth, respected the edifices
of Religion as the real centres of culture and
enlightenment."

After which and much more to the same purpose,
Canova goes on, like the honest partisan he is, to
declare that above all the Roman Catholic Church
has been the true mother of Art :

" Sire," he said, " the Protestants are satisfied
with a plain church and a Crucifix, and so have
no need of beautiful objects of art, while the
churches which they possess have been erected
and adorned by Catholic artists."

" He is quite right," agreed the Emperor, turn-
ing to his Consort, " the Protestants have nothing
beautiful."

All of which, on the part of both Canova and
Napoleon, was somewhat in the nature of argu-
mentation along very narrow and materialist
grounds, it must be allowed. The soldier was
on safer territory when he replied to Canova's



PRIESTS AND POLITICS 173

appeal lor reconciliation with the Pope by
assuring the artist of his willingness to do so,
but for the arrogance of the clergy.

'' The Priests," said the Emperor, with much
cogency, " want to govern everywhere, want to
interfere in all things, political as well as spiritual,
and, like Gregory VII., are content with nothing
less than absolute mastery. The Popes have
always sought to keep the Italians in subjection,
and that, too, even when they were not the
absolute masters of Rome. What were the
factions of the Orsini and the Colonna tribes,
if not organised and subsidised intrigues to this
especial end ? "

And to an admission by Canova that the Popes
had on several occasions — as in the reign of
Alexander VI., of Julius II. and of Leo X. —
begun the military conquest of Italy, Napoleon,
in a very human touch, puts his hand to the hilt
of his sword, answering with the easy nonchalance
of the master who is certain of his subject :

" Only the sword can achieve conquest — c'est
Vepee quHl fauty

" And not altogether the sword, Sire," retorts
honest Canova ; " the shepherd's crook — the
crozier — is also an essential. Machiavelli himself
could not decide which had contributed most to
the greatness of Rome — the arms of Romulus or
the religion of Numa. It is true, indeed, that
these two forces must march together, and if
the Popes have not distinguished themselves as
warriors, they have in other ways written their



174 CANOVA AND NAPOLEON

exploits upon the pages of history, and often
with such splendour as to win universal
admiration."

" Caesar," cries Napoleon, interrupting him,
" was the great man of the great people ; and
not only Caesar, but other Emperors such as
Titus, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius. The Romans
were always great till the time of Constantine.
The Popes made it their policy to maintain discord
throughout Italy, and were always the first to
call in the French and the Germans to fight
their battles against the people."

This expression of opinion opens the way for
the patriotic sculptor to make another appeal
for his beloved Rome. Napoleon retorts by
declarmg that the Vatican had made it a settled
policy to resist him wherever it could and how
it could, and this notwithstanding the fact that
the Emperor allowed the French Bishops to
govern according to their own notions in all that
concerned purely religious matters.

" Is there no religion here in France ? " ex-
claims the Emperor. " Who restored the altars ?
Who protects the clergy ? I require my share of
obedience ; but I find the Pope is altogether pro-
German and pays most attention to what Vienna
says." In saying which he looked pointedly at
Marie Louise.

" Oh," retorted the young Empress bravely,
" I can assure you that when I lived in Germany,
they used to say that the Pope was altogether
pro-French." Napoleon passes over this un-



OLIGARCHIC VENICE 175

expected sally and goes on to explain that he
quarrelled with the Pope for refusing to expel
the Russians and the British from his States.

" He even excommunicated me," fumes the
Emperor, " and does not seem to realise that in
the end, France may break off from Rome, even
as the English and Russians broke away in their
day."

Canova replies that such a schism would be
a calamity for himself and his Empire — all the
more so, says the plain-spoken sculptor, as he is
about to become a father — an honour which could
not at that date, 15th October, have been very
distant, since the Emperor was married on
2nd April 1810 and the King of Rome was born
on 20th March 1811. What Marie Louise thought
of this bluff suggestion, which concerned herself
so intimately, we do not learn. There is some-
thing that is far from displeasing, however, in
this domestic and rather bourgeois scene, set as
it were in a very desolation of greatness and
splendour, and Napoleon, with unusual good
humour and tact, closes the seance by reminding
Canova that he, not less anxiously than the
sculptor, desires to be on good terms with the
Vicar of Christ.

In the succeeding seance the conversation turned
on the glories of oligarchic Venice, when the
Italian — who was of Venetian origin — expressed
the view that the Republic would never have
fallen had the State placed greater trust in the
patriotism of its generals. The Venetian



176 CANOVA AND NAPOLEON

oligarchs feared, said the sculptor, that a Caesar
might make his appearance and inevitably to
their undoing. Whereupon the Emperor replies
with the candid enough admission :

" You are right. I once told the Directory
myself that if they continued to make war, a
soldier would certainly arise in France who must
end by dictating to themselves."

In advising Napoleon to safeguard the interests
of the people of Florence in respect of their art
treasures, the sculptor added that encouragement
of Italian painters must redound all the more to
the Imperial credit, since the House of Bonaparte
had originally sprung from Italy.

"What!" cries the Empress, turning to her
Consort, " are you not a Corsican ? " and is
surprised to hear that the Emperor is really of
Italian origin, as Canova says, and as Napoleon
admits with a suggestion of some pride. The
Emperor does not, however, hold Italian painters
in very high respect, and awards the superiority
to French artists, who, he says, are not such
good colourists, but are better in the matter of
line -work.

Downright Canova sees nothing out of place
in recommending both the Emperor and the
Empress to look after their health. Napoleon,
he thinks, overdoes it somewhat :

" Que voulez-vous, done ? " replies the Emperor
good-humouredly. " I have sixty millions of
subjects, from eight to nine hundred thousand
soldiers, one hundred thousand cavalry. The



A QUEEN OF CONCORD 177

Romans themselves never had so large a number.
I have fought forty pitched battles, and at
Wagram our artillery fired a hundred thousand
shot. At that time," he adds gaily, looking at
his youthful Consort, " this young lady was an
Archduchess of Austria, and on the day of Wagram
assuredly wished me dead."

" You are right," admits the Empress, with
a bright laugh ; "I certainly did."

The great sculptor had represented Marie
Louise as Concord — her marriage with the Emperor
in 1810 had brought about a short season of peace
—and the result was pleasing to the illustrious
couple. Canova in his Memoirs tells us that at
their last meeting Napoleon asked if he was
married.

" No, Sire," replied the sculptor simply, " I
have been on the point of marrying several times,
but many incidents preserved me my freedom.
Besides, the fear of not being able to find a woman
who should love me as I must certainly have
loved her — this consideration enabled me to
devote myself to Art alone."

Bouclon pays the tribute of a tear to this
last interview between the Sculptor and the
Conqueror. They only met again in heaven, he
says.

Which is certainly a first-class compliment to
Napoleon !



M



CHAPTER X
THE IMPERIAL MUSICIAN



Napoleon on Music — Italian Musicians versus German
—National lvalue of Opera — Napoleon no Musician
— His Plans for the Musical Art — The Eroica Sym-
phony of Beethoven — Salaries of Official Singers — .1
Surprise for Vatican Celibates — La Belle Grassini —
The Southern Temperament — Grassini s Disobedience
— Proud Monsieur Paer — Grassini, Wellington and
Napoleon — An Intellectual Singer



NAPOIiEON, according to the Corre-
spondance, once wrote as follows to the
directors of the Conservatoire at Paris
in regard to Music : —
"Of all the Fine Arts, Music is that which has
most effect upon the passions. Consequently it
is the one which the statesman should most
encourage. A musical composition which calls
forth the loftiest inspirations has far more prac-
tical influence than a reasoned discourse or a
didactical essay, and touches the heart more
deeply. ... A cantata well executed awakens
sympathy, and good-will arises from sympathy."
It was the opinion of the Emperor that the
Italian School of Music was pre-eminently that
which by appealing to the sympathies moved
men to good dispositions and to resignation.
The compositions of Germany, he said, except
several of Mozart and a few others, appealed to
the quality of action in man and had in them
some suggestion of a rebellious note. Never-
theless, when Mehul composed his oratorio,
Joseph, Napoleon assured him that the best way
to merit his favour was to produce pieces which
inspired heroic sentiments in the nation and the
army. It is a tribute to the Corsican's fair-
mindedness that when a composer of note pro-
duced an opera v/hich displeased him, owing to a
" political " tendency which he affected to find
in it, the Emperor allowed it to be played " until
the public could no longer digest it," as he held;
the piece was soon forgotten, and neither the

i8o



AN UNMI^SICAL EAR 181

author nor the pubUc was deprived of due
rights.

" The Opera," he once told his Council, " costs
£32,000 yearly. Yet it is necessary to support
an institution which flatters the national vanity,
and we must subsidise it at the expense of other
theatres. . . . Let us, therefore, have no vaude-
ville at the Opera, but only what is consistent
with the dignity of a great national institution.
. . . We might be induced to subsidise the Opera
Comique to the extent of £4000 a year ; but only
on the express condition that first-class singers
and actors shall consent to appear."

Like most men whose masculinity is the pre-
dominating trait of the whole character and
temperament, Napoleon was not a lover of music
and had no very willing ear for song. His
secretaries, Fain, Chaptal, Bourrienne, Meneval,
as well as his man Constant, all tell us that during
his rare fits of idleness he was wont on occasion
to burst into songful numbers of the homely or
provincial kind, and on the eve of a campaign a
frequent musical ditty on his lips was that which
sings of Marlbrough on his way to the wars.

" It was a strong voice," says the body -servant
simply, " but not pleasant to the ear, and it was
his habit to sing thus when moving rapidly from
one room to another in his petits a p parte merits. '''

Napoleon's national programme was, however,
too comprehensively laid out to allow of him
overlooking the very just claims of the musical
world^ — in oiu' own opinion an art far above that



182 THE IMPERIAL MUSICIAN

of the Drama — and provision was duly made, as
we have seen, for opera and its exponents.
Once, while attending a pupil's concert at the
Conservatoire, he rewarded the singer of a simple
air by Paisiello with a substantial money prize,
Paisiello — the author of the famous Chinese
Idol and the original Barber of Seville, on which
theme Rossini improved — having been his
favourite composer. This artist he summoned
from Naples in 1802 and assigned to him the
task of organising an Imperial orchestra for the
Tuileries, at an honorarium of £850 yearly and
a Court carriage. After he had made the acquaint-
ance of Beethoven's music and heard what the
connoisseurs had to say about that master's
wondrous art, he set about making him the
fashion, as he himself said, although his own
tastes leaned towards the florid schools of Italy.
Beethoven, who was a convinced Republican in
politics, admired Napoleon as the ideal soldier
until he assumed the purple and, indeed, called
his famous Eroica symphony by the title
Napoleon Bonaparte. After 1804, however, he
declined politically to countenance the Corsican,
and at the latter's death in 1821, on being asked
to compose something in memory of the great
departed, declared that he had already written
his funeral march, referring to the marche funebre
in the said composition.

His singers were well paid as a rule. Crescent! ni
and Brizzi receiving each £1200 yearly, besides
perquisites ; while Mesdames Grassini and Paer



MONSIEUR MEHUL 183

were paid £1500 and £1200 respectively. The
Imperial ballet had no complaint to make of its
treatment, and here we recall that when Pope
Pius VII. went to Paris in 1804 to crown the
Emperor, an especial surprise was prepared for
the Vicar of Christ and his Cardinals, when,
during a grand musical representation, a large
ballet of beautiful coryb antic nymphs burst upon
the stage and executed a sensational amount of
" leg-business " directly over the heads of the
astonished Vatican celibates.

To the composer Mehul, who was not a
favourite of his, Bonaparte once declared that
the music of the Germans and the French was
" scientific," but without the sparkle and tuneful-
ness of the Italian schools. Mehul, who evidently
had a mind of his own, tried to defend the French
exponents on the ground that their dramatic ex-
pression and psychology were superior. Napoleon
objected to contradiction and replied querulously :

" That is just you, Mehul. You may have
a great reputation, but your music bores me
nevertheless."

" And what does that prove ? " retorted the
angry composer, immediately turning on his heel.

Napoleon was, however, not always so brutal
with his musicians. Once Paisiello spatchcocked
a beautiful air entitled Sei Morali, by Cimarosa,
into his own opera. / Ziiigari, and during the
rendering Napoleon could hardly contain his
enthusiasm. Its rendition over, he turned to
Paisiello, congratulating him :



184 THE IMPERIAL MUSICIAN

" Ma foi,^'' cried the Emperor, " the man who
wrote that air can call himself the first composer
in Europe."

"It is by Cimarosa," explained the discon-
certed Maestro.

" I am sorry," returned Napoleon sympathetic-
ally, " but I cannot withdraw what I have said."

On the morrow his musician-in-chief received a
handsome present.

To Lesueur, the composer of Les Bardes,
Napoleon, on hearing the opera for the first
time, gave the Legion of Honour and, a few
days afterwards, a gold snuff-box stuffed with
banknotes worth several hundred pounds.

Zingarelli, the composer of Romeo e Giulietta,
once had a brush with the Corsican : at the birth
of the King of Rome, the musician, then choir-
master at St Peter's, was given orders to have a
Te Deum simg, but the Maestro refused on the
ground that he knew no King of Rome but
Pius VII. He was summoned at once to Paris,
where he was commanded to compose a mass,
paid in all some £600 for his work and sent home
again. Another singer, Marchesi by name, during
the campaign of Italy, was asked once by the
youthful General to sing an air for his table
company. The tenor replied by telling Bonaparte
that if he wanted a good air he had only to take
a turn in the garden and get some. They threw
Marchesi out for his bad manners on that occasion ;
but on another he consented to sing, and Bona-
parte and he made it up, Crescentini, the famous



SIGNORA GRASSINI 185

castrato, was paid, as we have said, about £1200
yearly as first singer, besides large presents.
Napoleon would not allow him to sing in public,
and gave him the Order of the Iron Crown — an
honour to which the existing Knights and Com-
panions took exception, on the ground that
Crescentini, a castrato, was not physically compos.
La belle Grassini, however, took up the cudgels
on the singer's behalf :

" What has his wound to do with the Iron
Crown ? " she asked plaintively. And Paris
laughed.

This Signora Grassini, one of the most beautiful
women of the age, and inconte stably the first
contralto of her time, entered for a generous
consideration into the life of Napoleon. He first
met her in Italy during the Italian Campaign
when, according to his own account, the delicacy
of his position — a youth commanding veteran
generals — required from him the exercise of all
his tact and circumspection. He was, however,
very much amourdche of the fair songstress,
and, according to Bourrienne, lived with her
quite openly in Milan — a charge which Napoleon
refuted at St Helena when he recalled that their
intimacy only began in 1805. La Grassini, he
told, marvelled that he could look upon her, in
that year, when in 1797 he had refused the
favours which she had been only too willing to
grant him. It is certain, however, that she was
officially attached to the Consular establishment
in 1801, and Napoleon, Fouche tells, paid her



186 THE IMPERIAL MUSICIAN

from his private purse £600 a month, insisting,
however, that she should keep out of Josephine's
way. Ine\4tably, Bonaparte could devote but
a short time to love affairs, and Madame
Grassini was clearly one of those southern natures
which require unusually frequent blooding. We
are hardly surprised to hear, then, that the lovely
cantatrice soon proved faithless. There was a
certain Rode, a violinist and composer in her
orchestra, who attracted her attention and suc-
ceeded so far in capturing her heart that she
consented to elope wdth him. Napoleon over-
looked this escapade when, as Emperor, he placed
her at the top of the list of official singers. She
was charged by Napoleon in 1810 with refusing
to attend the rehearsals for an opera, and Napoleon
had her summoned to his presence. He was at
breakfast when she arrived and the following
dialogue took place :

" Grassini," frowned Napoleon, " you are
preventing us from seeing the opera, by not
attending rehearsals. You keep our musician
waiting."


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryHamil GrantThe soul of Napoleon → online text (page 10 of 17)