« PreviousContinue »
NOT DEVOID OF GUILE
unostentatiously; for instance, at Plombières, strangers often did not even suspect his presence, and were very surprised to be told that the stoutish gentleman in garments of the simplest kind and a wide-a-wake, whom they saw trudging, sometimes quite unattended, through woods and across fields, or, perhaps, chatting familiarly with peasants, was the Imperial Majesty of France, against whose life the hand of the assassin had been more than once raised, and whose disappearance from the political stage, come when or how it might, would create dire confusion in Europe.
Regarding everything, however, connected with his fixed idea of becoming Emperor, Louis Napoleon was unscrupulous, and many anecdotes used to be told about his crafty ways. On the eve of the coup d'état, when suspicion of his design was rife, he met, it is said, a member of the Chamber who had recently lost his mother, and condoled with him on the mournful event. "It is, indeed, a sad thing, and one hard to bear," said the deputy, "to lose a parent to whom one has been so tenderly attached." "One thing," replied the Prince President of the Republic, "is still sadder, and still harder to bear-to be suspected of plotting to overthrow a Constitution one has sworn to preserve." The deputy went away satisfied that the danger was over, and communicated his satisfaction to the destined occupants of the prison vans of December.
Malicious rumour declared that Napoleon III was no true Bonaparte. According to one story, his
real father had been a Dutch admiral. The Emperor himself, it would appear, was quite alive to what was said on this subject, but, being a philosopher, took no notice. On one occasion when the brother of the Great Emperor called upon his Imperial nephew at the Tuileries, he commenced a tirade of violent reproach, levelled mainly against the reluctance of the latter to set the army on the march for Italy. Amongst other things, the old Prince is said to have exclaimed, "You have not a drop of the great Napoleon's blood in your veins." "Well," replied the immovable Emperor, "at all events I have his whole family on my shoulders," giving at the same time such a shrug of the appendages mentioned as indicated a violent desire to rid them of their onerous burden.
Though, during his exile in London, Prince Louis Napoleon had no reputation as a wit, many bon mots have been attributed to him in after years.
The Duke of Malakoff, having received a present of a Cheshire cheese for the Emperor of the French, sent, it is said, the following telegraphic dispatch to his Imperial master:
SIRE-Un Chester m'est remis pour vous être rendu.
To which Napoleon III replied:
Vous êtes Maréchal, mon très cher Pellissier,
The unfortunate fate of the Prince Imperial seemed to those who knew French history but the perpetuation of a sort of curse which since the days
of Louis XIV has been upon the heirs to the throne of France. Since that time, not a single king has been at his demise succeeded by his son, notwithstanding that none of them has been childless, with the exception of Louis XVIII.
Louis XIV lived to see the extinction of several generations of successors, and was at last succeeded by one of the younger children of his grandson, the Duke of Burgundy.
Louis XV was succeeded by his grandson Louis XVI, who in his turn left a son behind him only to perish in a horrid dungeon, to which the vengeance of the Terrorists consigned him. The only son of the great Napoleon died a colonel in the service of Austria.
Louis XVIII was childless.
The Duke de Berri was cut off during the lifetime of Charles X, whilst the son of the Duke de Bordeaux was an exile from his native land. The eldest son of Louis Philippe died by an accident, and his grandson and heir was ejected from the throne of his ancestors. Such a catalogue of sorrows connected with the crowned heads of France was calculated to make the thoughtful pause a few moments and speculate on the probable future of the Imperial Prince born to Napoleon III.
It is somewhat singular that very many great men, in ancient as well as in modern times, have either left no male children or are now represented through the female line or by collateral connexions.
The great Napoleon was represented only by his nephew, and no direct legitimate descendant of his exists. In America the name of Washington is a notable example. Washington Irving and many others, distinguished as statesmen, soldiers, men of letters, left no offspring. It is the same way in France. Corneille, Racine, and Molière were childless. Voltaire was unmarried. Cromwell has left no descendants. Guizot and Thiers had no children. All over Europe the same rule seems to obtain. Shakespeare, Bacon, Newton, and Locke left no male descendants. Milton's family consisted of two daughters. Ben Jonson left no male heir. Pope, Fielding, Smollet, Sterne, Steel, Addison, Johnson, Goldsmith, Hayley, Cowper, John Wilkes, Chancellor Thurlow, and a long array of eminent literary and legal men were either unmarried or had no male children by their wives. The great Duke of Marlborough, the Wellington of his day, lost his only son early, and his duchy descended to his daughter by Act of Parliament, finally going to her nephew, the Earl of Sunderland, when the Churchill family thereby became superseded by the Spencer. Lord Hill's title descended to his nephew, Lord Nelson's to his brother. Lord Lynedoch, Lord Beresford, Sir C. Napier, and others left no sons. Reginald Heber left no son. Of Thomas Moore there is not now any descendant: all his children died during his lifetime. Byron and Scott are represented only by the children of their daughters. Of artists, the
IDLERS OF THE PAST
number who have no direct descendants is unusually large-a conspicuous instance is the late Mr. Watts. It is the same with statesmen. Pitt and Lord Liverpool were never married. Burke's only son died before his father. It seems as if Providence was unwilling for great men to leave offspring. Lord Beaconsfield's heir was his nephew.
Forty or fifty years ago, most bachelors about the West End were idlers. If a young man with any means did anything at all in those days he was either an officer in some crack regiment or else went to the Bar, indeed quite a number of complete idlers were nominally entitled to call themselves barristers. In practice, however, the majority ignored their profession.
Success at the Bar has scarcely ever been obtained by anyone born with the silver spoon in his mouth. With regard to this, Chief Justice Lord Kenyon once said to a rich friend asking his opinion as to the probable success of a son, "Sir, let your son forthwith spend his fortune; marry and spend his wife's; and then he may be expected to apply with energy to his profession."
Though serious people have always rather despised dandyism, there was a certain glamour about the beaux of other days which fascinated the frivolous, who considered it quite a fine thing to wear well-cut clothes and idle one's life away. Many envied the lot of the gorgeous figures who haunted St. James's Street and Pall Mall.