L. Mühlbach.

Queen Hortense A Life Picture of the Napoleonic Era online

. (page 15 of 23)
Online LibraryL. MühlbachQueen Hortense A Life Picture of the Napoleonic Era → online text (page 15 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

had good cause to be somewhat sad, and disposed to commune with herself,
addressed Madame de Staël with the question, 'You have been in
Italy, then?'

"Madame de Staël was, as it were, transfixed with dismay, and the
gentlemen exclaimed with one accord: 'And Corinne? and Corinne?'

"'Ah, that is true,' said the queen, in embarrassment, awakening, as it
were, from her dreams.

"'Is it possible,' asked M. de Canonville, 'your majesty has not read

"'Yes - no,' said the queen, visibly confused, 'I shall read it again,'
and, in order to conceal an emotion that I alone could understand, she
abruptly changed the topic of conversation.

"She might have said the truth, and simply informed them that the book
had appeared just at the time her eldest son had died in Holland. The
king, disquieted at seeing her so profoundly given up to her grief,
believed, in accordance with Corvisart's advice, that it was necessary
to arouse her from this state of mental dejection at all hazards. It was
determined that I should read 'Corinne' to her. She was not in a
condition to pay much attention to it, but she had involuntarily
retained some remembrance of this romance. Since then, I had several
times asked permission of the queen to read Corinne to her, but she had
always refused. 'No, no,' said she, 'not yet; this romance has
identified itself with my sorrow. Its name alone recalls the most
fearful period of my whole life. I have not yet the courage to renew
these painful impressions.'

"I, alone, had therefore been able to divine what had embarrassed and
moved the queen so much when she replied to the question addressed to
her concerning Corinne. But the authoress could, of course, only
interpret it as indicating indifference for her master-work, and I told
the queen on the following day that it would have been better to have
confessed the cause of her confusion to Madame de Staël.

"'Madame de Staël would not have understood me,' said she; 'now, I am
lost to her good opinion, she will consider me a simpleton, but it was
not the time to speak of myself, and of my painful reminiscences.'

"The large _char à banc_ was always preferred to the handsomest
carriages (although it was very plain, and consisted of two wooden
benches covered with cushions, placed opposite each other), because it
was more favorable for conversation. But it afforded no security against
inclement weather, and this we were soon to experience. The rain poured
in streams, and we all returned to the castle thoroughly wet. A room was
there prepared and offered the ladies, in which they might repair the
disarrangement of their toilet caused by the storm. I remained with them
long, kept there by the questions of Madame de Staël concerning the
queen and her son, which questions were fairly showered upon me. There
was now no longer a question of intellectuality, but merely of washing,
hair-dressing, and reposing, with an entire abandonment of the display
of mind, the copiousness of which I had been compelled to admire but a
moment before. I said to myself: 'There they are, face to face, like the
rest of the world, with material life, these two celebrated women, who
are everywhere sought after, and received with such marked
consideration. There they are, as wet as myself, and as little poetic.'
We were really behind the curtain, but it was shortly to rise again.

"Voices were heard under the window; among other voices, a German accent
was audible, and both ladies immediately exclaimed: 'Ah, that is
Prince Augustus of Prussia!'

"No one expected the prince, and this meeting with the two ladies had
therefore the appearance of being accidental. He had come merely to pay
the queen a visit, and it was so near dinner-time, that politeness
required that he should be invited to remain. And this was doubtless
what he wished.

"The prince had the queen on his right, and Madame de Staël on his left.
The servant of the latter had laid a little green twig on her napkin,
which she twisted between her fingers while speaking, as was her habit.
The conversation was animated, and it was amusing to observe Madame de
Staël gesticulating with the little twig in her fingers. One might have
supposed that some fairy had given her this talisman, and that her
genius was dependent upon this little twig.

"Constantinople, with which city several of the gentlemen were well
acquainted, was now the topic of conversation. Madame de Staël thought
it would be a delightful task for an intellectual woman, to turn the
sultan's head, and then to compel him to give his Turks a constitution.
After dinner, freedom of the press was also a topic of conversation.

"Madame de Staël astonished me, not only by the brilliancy of her
genius, but also by the deep earnestness with which she treated
questions of that kind, for until then custom had not allowed women to
discuss such matters. At entertainments, philosophy, morals, sentiment,
heroism, and the like, had been the subjects of conversation, but the
emperor monopolized politics. His era was that of actions, and, we may
say it with pride, of great actions, while the era that followed was
essentially that of great words, and of political and literary

"Madame de Staël spoke to the queen of her motto: 'Do that which is
right, happen what may.'

"'In my exile, which you so kindly endeavored to terminate,' said she,
'I often repeated this motto, and thought of you while doing so.'

"While speaking thus, her countenance was illumined by the reflection of
inward emotion, and I found her beautiful. She was no longer the woman
of mind only, but also the woman of heart and feeling, and I
comprehended at this moment how charming she could be.

"Afterward, she had a long conversation with the queen touching the
emperor. 'Why was he so angry with me?' asked she. 'He could not have
known how much I admired him! I will see him - I shall go to Elba! Do you
think he would receive me well? I was born to worship this man, and he
has repelled me.'

'Ah, madame,' replied the queen, 'I have often heard the emperor say
that he had a great mission to fulfil, and that he could compare his
labors with the exertions of a man who, having the summit of a steep
mountain ever before his eyes, strains every nerve to attain it, ever
toiling painfully upward, and allowing his progress to be arrested by no
obstacle whatever. "All the worse for those," said he, "who meet me on
my course - I can show them no consideration."'

"'You met him on his course, madame; perhaps he would have extended you
a helping hand, after having reached the summit of his mountain.'

"'I must speak with him,' said Madame de Staël; 'I have been injured in
his opinion.'

"'I think so too,' replied the queen, 'but you would judge him ill, if
you considered him capable of hating any one. He believed you to be his
enemy, and he feared you, which was something very unusual for him,'
added she, with a smile. 'Now that he is unfortunate, you will show
yourself his friend, and prove yourself to be such, and I am satisfied
that he will receive you well.'

"Madame de Staël also occupied herself a great deal with the young
princes, but she met with worse success with them than with us. It was
perhaps in order to judge of their mental capacity, that she showered
unsuitable questions upon them.

"'Do you love your uncle?'

"'Very much, madame!'

"'And will you also be as fond of war as he is?'

"'Yes, if it did not cause so much misery.'

'Is it true that he often made you repeat a fable commencing with the
words, "The strongest is always in the right?"'

"'Madame, he often made us repeat fables, but this one not oftener than
any other.'

"Young Prince Napoleon, a boy of astounding mental capacity and
precocious judgment, answered all these questions with the greatest
composure, and, at the conclusion of this examination, turned to me and
said quite audibly: 'This lady asks a great many questions. Is that what
you call being intellectual?'

"After the departure of our distinguished visitors, we all indulged in
an expression of opinion concerning them, and young Prince Napoleon was
the one upon whom the ladies had made the least flattering impression,
but he only ventured to intimate as much in a low voice.

"I for my part had been more dazzled than gladdened by this visit. One
could not avoid admiring this genius in spite of its inconsiderateness,
and its wanderings, but there was nothing pleasing, nothing graceful and
womanly, in Madame de Staël's manner[36]."

[Footnote 36: Cochelet, Mémoires sur la Reine Hortense, vol. i., pp.



The restoration was accomplished. The allies had at last withdrawn from
the kingdom, and Louis XVIII. was now the independent ruler of France.
In him, in the returned members of his family, and in the emigrants who
were pouring into the country from all quarters, was represented the
old era of France, the era of despotic royal power, of brilliant
manners, of intrigues, of aristocratic ideas, of ease and luxury.
Opposed to them stood the France of the new era, the generation formed
by Napoleon and the revolution, the new aristocracy, who possessed no
other ancestors than merit and valorous deeds, an aristocracy that had
nothing to relate of the _oeil de boeuf_ and the _petites maisons_, but
an aristocracy that could tell of the battle-field and of the hospitals
in which their wounds had been healed.

These two parties stood opposed to each other.

Old and young France now carried on an hourly, continuous warfare at the
court of Louis XVIII., with this difference, however, that young France,
hitherto ever victorious, now experienced a continuous series of
reverses and humiliations. Old France was now victorious. Not victorious
through its gallantry and merit, but through its past, which it
endeavored to connect with the present, without considering the chasm
which lay between.

True, King Louis had agreed, in the treaty of the 11th of April, that
none of his subjects should be deprived of their titles and dignities;
and the new dukes, princes, marshals, counts, and barons, could
therefore appear at court, but they played but a sad and humiliating
_rôle_, and they were made to feel that they were only tolerated, and
not welcome.

The gentlemen who, before the revolution, had been entitled to seats in
the royal equipages, still retained this privilege, but the doors of
these equipages were never opened to the gentlemen of the new Napoleonic
nobility. "The ladies of the old era still retained their _tabouret,_ as
well as their grand and little _entrée_ to the Tuileries and the Louvre,
and it would have been considered very arrogant if the duchesses of the
new era had made claim to similar honors."

It was the Duchess d'Angoulême who took the lead and set the Faubourg
St. Germain an example of intolerance and arrogant pretensions in
ignoring the empire. She was the most unrelenting enemy of the new era,
born of the revolution, and of its representatives; it is true, however,
that she, who was the daughter of the beheaded royal pair, and who had
herself so long languished in the Temple, had been familiar with the
horrors of the revolution in their saddest and most painful features.
She now determined, as she could no longer punish, to at least forget
this era, and to seem to be entirely oblivious of its existence.

At one of the first dinners given by the king to the allies, the Duchess
d'Angoulême, who sat next to the King of Bavaria, pointed to the
Grand-duke of Baden, and asked: "Is not this the prince who married a
princess of Bonaparte's making? What weakness to ally one's self in
such a manner with that general!"

The duchess did not or would not remember that the King of Bavaria, as
well as the Emperor of Austria, who sat on her other side, and could
well hear her words, had also allied themselves with General Bonaparte.

After she had again installed herself in the rooms she had formerly
occupied in the Tuileries, the duchess asked old Dubois, who had
formerly tuned her piano, and had retained this office under the empire,
and who now showed her the new and elegant instruments provided by
Josephine - she asked him: "What has become of my piano?"

This "piano" had been an old and worn-out concern, and the duchess was
surprised at not finding it, as though almost thirty years had not
passed since she had seen it last; as though the 10th of August, 1792,
the day on which the populace demolished the Tuileries, had never been!

But the period from 1795 to 1814 was ignored on principle, and the
Bourbons seemed really to have quite forgotten that more than one night
lay between the last levee of King Louis XVI. and the levee of to-day of
King Louis XVIII. They seemed astonished that persons they had known as
children had grown up since they last saw them, and insisted on treating
every one as they had done in 1789.

After the Empress Josephine's death, Count d'Artois paid a visit to
Malmaison, a place that had hardly existed before the revolution, and
which owed its creation to Josephine's love and taste for art.

The empress, who had a great fondness for botany, had caused magnificent
greenhouses to be erected at Malmaison; in these all the plants and
flowers of the world had been collected. Knowing her taste, all the
princes of Europe had sent her, in the days of her grandeur, in order
to afford her a moment's gratification, the rarest exotics. The Prince
Regent of England had even found means, during the war with France, to
send her a number of rare West-Indian plants. In this manner her
collection had become the richest and most complete in all Europe.

Count d'Artois, as above said, had come to Malmaison to view this
celebrated place of sojourn of Josephine, and, while being conducted
through the greenhouses, he exclaimed, as though he recognized his old
flowers of 1789: "Ah, here are our plants of Trianon!"

And, like their masters the Bourbons, the emigrants had also returned to
France with the same ideas with which they had fled the country. They
endeavored, in all their manners, habits, and pretensions, to begin
again precisely where they had left off in 1789. They had so lively an
appreciation of their own merit, that they took no notice whatever of
other people's, and yet their greatest merit consisted in having

For this merit they now demanded a reward.

All of these returned emigrants demanded rewards, positions, and
pensions, and considered it incomprehensible that those who were already
in possession were not at once deprived of them. Intrigues were the
order of the day, and in general the representatives of the old era
succeeded in supplanting those of the new era in offices and pensions as
well as in court honors. All the high positions in the army were filled
by the marquises, dukes, and counts, of the old era, who had sewed
tapestry and picked silk in Coblentz, while the France of the new era
was fighting on the battle-field, and they now began to teach the
soldiers of the empire the old drill of 1780.

The etiquette of the olden time was restored, and the same luxurious and
lascivious disposition prevailed among these cavaliers of the former
century which had been approved in the _oeil de boeuf_ and in the
_petites maisons_ of the old era.

These old cavaliers felt contempt for the young Frenchmen of the new era
on account of their pedantic morality; they scornfully regarded men who
perhaps had not more than one mistress, and to whom the wife of a friend
was so sacred, that they never dared to approach her with a
disrespectful thought even.

These legitimist gentlemen entertained themselves chiefly with
reflections over the past, and their own grandeur. In the midst of the
many new things by which they were surrounded, some of which they
unfortunately found it impossible to ignore, it was their sweetest
relaxation to give themselves up entirely to the remembrance of the old
_régime_, and when they spoke of this era, they forgot their age and
debility, and were once more the young _roués_ of the _oeil de boeuf_.

Once in the antechamber of King Louis XVIII., while the Marquis de
Chimène and the Duke de Lauraguais, two old heroes of the frivolous era,
in which the boudoir and the _petites maisons_ were the battle-field,
and the myrtle instead of the laurel the reward of victory, while these
gentlemen were conversing of some occurrence under the old government,
the Duke de Lauraguais, in order to more nearly fix the date of the
occurrence of which they were speaking, remarked to the marquis, "It was
in the year in which I had my _liaison_ with your wife."

"Ah, yes," replied the marquis, with perfect composure, "that was in the
year 1776."

Neither of the gentlemen found anything strange in this allusion to the
past. The _liaison_ in question had been a perfectly commonplace matter,
and it would have been as ridiculous in the duke to deny it as for the
marquis to have shown any indignation.

The wisest and most enlightened of all these gentlemen was their head,
King Louis XVIII. himself.

He was well aware of the errors of those who surrounded him, and placed
but little confidence in the representatives of the old court. But he
was nevertheless powerless to withdraw himself from their influence, and
after he had accorded the people the charter, in opposition to the will
and opinion of the whole royal family, of his whole court and of his
ministers, and had sworn to support it in spite of the opposition of
"Monsieur" and the Prince de Condé, who was in the habit of calling the
charter "_Mademoiselle la Constitution de 1791,_" Louis withdrew to the
retirement of his apartments in the Tuileries, and left his minister
Blacas to attend to the little details of government, the king deeming
the great ones only worthy of his attention.



King Louis XVIII. was, however, in the retirement of his palace, still
the most enlightened and unprejudiced of the representatives of the old
era; he clearly saw many things to which his advisers purposely closed
their eyes. To his astonishment, he observed that the men who had risen
to greatness under Bonaparte, and who had fallen to the king along with
the rest of his inheritance, were not so ridiculous, awkward, and
foolish, as they had been represented to be.

"I had been made to suppose," said Louis XVIII., "that these generals of
Bonaparte were peasants and ruffians, but such is not the case. He
schooled these men well. They are polite, and quite as shrewd as the
representatives of the old court. We must conduct ourselves very
cautiously toward them."

This kind of recognition of the past which sometimes escaped Louis
XVIII., was a subject of bitter displeasure to the gentlemen of the old
era, and they let the king perceive it.

King Louis felt this, and, in order to conciliate his court, he often
saw himself compelled to humiliate "the _parvenus_" who had forced
themselves among the former.

Incessant quarrelling and intriguing within the Tuileries was the
consequence, and Louis was often dejected, uneasy, and angry, in the
midst of the splendor that surrounded him.

"I am angry with myself and the others," said he on one occasion to an
intimate friend. "An invisible and secret power is ever working in
opposition to my will, frustrating my plans, and paralyzing my

"And yet you are king!"

"Undoubtedly I am king!" exclaimed Louis, angrily; "but am I also
master? The king is he who all his life long receives ambassadors, gives
tiresome audiences, listens to annihilating discourses, goes in state to
Notre-Dame, dines in public once a year, and is pompously buried in St.
Denis when he dies. The master is he who commands and can enforce
obedience, who puts an end to intriguing, and can silence old women as
well as priests. Bonaparte was king and master at the same time! His
ministers were his clerks, the kings his brothers merely his agents, and
his courtiers nothing more than his servants. His ministers vied with
his senate in servility, and his _Corps Législatif_ sought to outdo his
senate and the church in subserviency. He was an extraordinary and an
enviable man, for he had not only devoted servants and faithful friends,
but also an accommodating church[37]."

[Footnote 37: Mémoires d'une Femme de Qualité, vol. v., p. 35.]

King Louis XVIII., weary of the incessant intrigues with which his
courtiers occupied themselves, withdrew himself more and more into the
retirement of his palace, and left the affairs of state to the care of
M. de Blacas, who, with all his arrogance and egotism, knew very little
about governing.

The king preferred to entertain himself with his friends, to read them
portions of his memoirs, to afford them an opportunity of admiring his
verses, and to regale them with his witty and not always chaste
anecdotes; he preferred all these things to tedious and useless disputes
with his ministers. He had given his people the charter, and his
ministers might now govern in accordance with this instrument.

"The people demand liberty," said the king. "I give them enough of it to
protect them against despotism, without according them unbridled
license. Formerly, the taxes appointed by my mere will would have made
me odious; now the people tax themselves. Hereafter, I have nothing to
do but to confer benefits and show mercy, for the responsibility for all
the evil that is done will rest entirely with my ministers[38]."

[Footnote 38: Mémoires d'une Femme de Qualité, vol. i., p. 410.]

While his ministers were thus governing according to the charter, and
"doing evil," the king, who now had nothing but "good" to do, was
busying himself in settling the weighty questions of the old etiquette.

One of the most important features of this etiquette was the question of
the fashions that should now be introduced at court; for it was, of
course, absurd to think of adopting the fashions of the empire, and
thereby recognize at court that there had really been a change
since 1789.

They desired to effect a counter-revolution, not only in politics, but
also in fashions; and this important matter occupied the attention of
the grand dignitaries of the court for weeks before the first grand
levee that the king was to hold in the Tuilerics. But, as nothing was
accomplished by their united wisdom, the king finally held a private
consultation with his most intimate gentleman and lady friends on this
important matter, that had, unfortunately, not been determined by
the charter.

The grand-master of ceremonies, M. de Bregé, declared to the king that
it was altogether improper to continue the fashions of the empire at the
court of the legitimate King of France.

"We are, therefore, to have powder, coats-of-mail, etc.," observed the

M. de Bregé replied, with all gravity, that he had given this subject
his earnest consideration day and night, but that he had not yet arrived
at a conclusion worthy of the grand-master of ceremonies of the
legitimate king.

"Sire," said the Duke de Chartres, smiling, "I, for my part, demand
knee-breeches, shoe-buckles, and the cue."

"But I," exclaimed the Prince de Poir, who had remained in France during
the empire, "I demand damages, if we are to be compelled to return to
the old fashions and clothing before the new ones are worn out!"

The grand-master of ceremonies replied to this jest at his expense with
a profound sigh only; and the king at last put an end to this great
question, by deciding that every one should be permitted to follow the
old or new fashions, according to his individual taste and inclination.

The grand-master of ceremonies was compelled to submit to this royal
decision; but in doing so he observed, with profound sadness: "Your
majesty is pleased to smile, but dress makes half the man; uniformity of
attire confounds the distinctions of rank, and leads directly to an
agrarian law."

"Yes, marquis," exclaimed the king, "you think precisely as Figaro. Many
a man laughs at a judge in a short dress, who trembles before a
procurator in a long gown[39]."

[Footnote 39: Mémoires d'une Femme de Qualité, vol. i., p. 384.]

But while the king suppressed the counter-revolution in fashions, he
allowed the grand-master of ceremonies to reintroduce the entire
etiquette of the old era. In conformity with this etiquette, the king
could not rise from his couch in the morning until the doors had been
opened to all those who had the _grande entrée_ - that is to say, to the

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryL. MühlbachQueen Hortense A Life Picture of the Napoleonic Era → online text (page 15 of 23)