Eugenie - Empress of the French - George Upton




Decline of the Empire

As yet there had been no sign of change in Eugenie's fortunes. The sun of empire was still apparently at its zenith. France deemed herself invincible. The throne seemed secured to the present dynasty for all time. The Emperor's policy had received some severe blows, however, and disquieting rumors floated over from the ill-fated Empire he had founded in Mexico.

Maximilian and Carlotta had often visited the Tuileries in their younger days, and it was only by Napoleon's urgent persuasion and promise of support until his throne should be firmly established that the Austrian Archduke consented to accept the fatal crown. Mindful of this promise, in his hour of need Maximilian sent his wife to Europe to seek Napoleon's aid. She arrived in Paris at night, and without pausing a moment to rest after the long wearisome sea voyage she hastened to St. Cloud, her disordered dress and distracted appearance betraying her terrible agitation. She had brought over the letters Napoleon had written to her husband, promising his support. Handing these to the Emperor, she flung herself at his feet imploring him to keep his word. But all in vain. Even had he wished, he could have done nothing; and sobbing aloud, half senseless with despair, Carlotta is said to have left St. Cloud with a curse on her lips, crying: "Louis Philippe's granddaughter should never have trusted her fate to a Bonaparte!"

But although Napoleon's political errors began to darken the halo lent him by the Crimean War, and although two important events in the world's history had occurred without his having any share in them (the wars between Denmark and Germany in 1864, and between Prussia and Austria in 1866), to all appearances the period immediately succeeding was marked by greater splendor and prosperity than ever. On the first of April, 1867, a second World's Exposition was opened in Paris. Once more a stream of people from all parts of the world poured into the capital. Never in the history of France had such lavish hospitality been displayed—not even during the magnificence of Louis the Fourteenth's time nor in the reign of Napoleon the First. A perfect galaxy of crowned heads was assembled at the French court, and the proudest princesses, the most conservative monarchs, vied with one another in marks of friendship toward "the upstart" and "the adventuress." And with what matchless grace, with what admirable tact, Eugenie played the part of hostess to her illustrious guests!

In consequence of an attempt to assassinate the Czar of Russia, history has preserved an account of the grand military review that was held on the seventh of June, 1867, in his honor and that of the King of Prussia. Living walls of spectators surrounded the plain of Longchamps where it took place. The glitter of uniforms, the flash of arms, and the flutter of banners made a brilliant scene in the summer sunshine. The guests arrived in state and took their places. The Crown Princess of Prussia and her sister Princess Alice of Hesse were already in their seats on the tribune, but no one heeded them. A general air of expectancy prevailed. Suddenly on all sides arose the shout, "Here comes the Empress!" and beaming with happiness, smiling and bowing graciously to all, Eugenie drove round the great plain through ranks of cheering thousands and alighted at the imperial pavilion. Directly behind her came the three monarchs on horseback, followed by the German Crown Prince and the Russian heir to the throne, while the massed troops presented arms and a blare of trumpets greeted Their Majesties. Eugenie took the seat of honor on the tribune, her glance travelling proudly over the glittering ranks of soldiers, the flower of the French army, and the shouting throngs beyond. As the sovereigns approached, Alexander of Russia and William the Great of Prussia rode up and bent to kiss her hand. The granddaughter of the wine-merchant Kirkpatrick, daughter of Manuela Montijo of doubtful reputation, receiving public homage from Europe's mightiest princes—well might Eugenie be proud and happy!

The review at Longchamps was one of the last of those brilliant spectacles that amazed the world during the Second Empire, although not the last of Eugenie's triumphs that memorable summer. Three weeks later the exposition prizes were awarded by the Prince Imperial, officiating as President, on which occasion were present the Prince of Wales, the Crown Princess of Prussia, the Crown Prince of Italy, the Duke of Aosta, the Grand Duchess Marie of Russia, and lastly the Sultan, with his son and two nephews. Side by side on the magnificently decorated platform sat Christian and Mohammedan, the bigoted Empress and the Turkish Sultan. He had no command of French, but the glances with which he followed her every motion plainly spoke the language of admiration. Intoxicated with gratified vanity and ambition, Eugenie believed herself at the summit of her greatness; but already the ground was trembling beneath her feet. On that very day Napoleon received news of Maximilian's tragic fate, and the shouts of the populace were powerless to drown the echoes of the rattle of musketry that came to him from Queretaro like a prophecy of evil.

One of Napoleon's most marked and singular characteristics was his firm belief in predestination. It was this fatalism that had led him to centre all his energies on winning the throne, and to it he also owed his cool personal bravery. With this indifference to danger were linked the irresolution and vacillation so conspicuous in all the political dealings of his later years. He tried in every possible way to lift the veil that hid the future. There was scarcely a fortune-teller of any repute in Paris whom he did not secretly visit, and, incredible as it may seem, their prophecies always made a deep impression on him.

Napoleon the Third

NAPOLEON THE THIRD


It had often been foretold him, even before he ascended the throne, that Germany would be the cause of his undoing, and that was the reason why he could neither bring himself to support national unity in that country nor yet decide forcibly to oppose it. He had hoped the war between Prussia and Austria would weaken both powers so that he might be able to snatch the roast chestnuts safely from the fire; but Prussia's decisive victory left him helpless and irresolute, unable to nerve himself to any decisive action. The increasing power of that country caused a growing uneasiness throughout France, and the Emperor's credit began to sink. He tried to form new political alliances, but it seemed as if the hand of fate, which at first had led him on from victory to victory, was now against him, for he encountered only difficulties and disappointments. To play the role of protector to the Latin peoples had always been a part of Napoleon the Third's policy. It was no slight blow to him, therefore, when Isabella of Spain, with whom he was about to form an alliance, was dethroned just as a meeting between them had been arranged. She sought refuge in Paris, where she was received with royal honors, and her son, afterwards King Alfonso the Twelfth, became the constant playmate of the Prince Imperial.

The revolution beyond the Pyrenees sounded the alarm for France, and clouds of insurrection began to appear on the horizon. Napoleon found himself forced to loosen the reins of government; and although the disturbances apparently blew over, opposition increased daily. With modification of the press laws in 1867 the situation grew worse instead of better; and when in the following year Henri Rochefort began the publication of "La Lanterne," the waves of revolution began to rise. This democratic Comte exercised a magical influence over public opinion in Paris, and his scurrilous journal, filled with venomous attacks on the whole imperial family, reached an enormous circulation. Napoleon's political blunders were not calculated to appease popular sentiment or his own anxious forebodings. To add to his troubles, he suffered greatly from a chronic physical ailment; and in the autumn of 1869 his health was so seriously affected that there was some talk of declaring the Prince Imperial of age, before the proper time. Eugenie's popularity too began to wane even among the middle classes, which had always formed her strongest support.

As every one knows, it was her cousin Ferdinand de Lesseps who was the originator of the Suez Canal. With it his name will remain forever linked, while the Empress's share in this undertaking will doubtless soon be forgotten. He conceived the idea during a long residence in Egypt, and devoted a year of tireless labor to its execution; but it was her enthusiastic support that encouraged and urged him on and paved the way for his success. It was not all smooth sailing, however. Before the canal was finished rumors arose that it would not be navigable for large vessels. The stock fell heavily; and with their usual fickleness, the French people, threatened with heavy losses, blamed the Empress, who had done her best to encourage subscription to the stock. Instead of the shouts that usually greeted her appearance she encountered only an ominous silence; and so great was her unpopularity at this time, that she found it advisable when at the theatre to retire to the back of her box. Her desire to be present at the opening of the Suez Canal added fuel to the flame. One day it was announced by telegraph from London that Napoleon had negotiated a loan of ten million francs from English banks to defray the expenses of his wife's journey to Egypt. Of course it was totally without foundation, but the radical press hastened to spread the report with so many malicious additions that Eugenie was universally denounced for the vast sums she was supposed to have squandered.

Arrangements for her journey were continued, nevertheless. Preparations were made everywhere to receive the fair guest on so grand a scale that it is well worth a glance backward to recall the homage paid her so short a time before her fall. Venice, where the imperial yacht, the Eagle, first touched, was beautifully illuminated. The Italian royal family welcomed her in person; and a hundred singers serenaded her on the Grand Canal. In Athens she met with a still more flattering reception; but it was at Constantinople that the most elaborate preparations had been made in her honor. All the streets through which she was to pass were newly paved and a number of houses torn down that they might be widened. Accommodations for twenty thousand troops were erected, and near by, a splendid kiosk. A gorgeous sedan chair valued at over two hundred thousand francs was made expressly for her use, while for weeks the ladies of the harem were busy practising their curtsies and wearing high-heeled shoes. On the arrival of the Eagle, October 13, 1869, she was met by a fleet of twenty vessels, which escorted her through a double line of Turkish men-of-war, twenty-five on either side, each of which saluted with a hundred and one guns, the imperial yacht responding with an equal number. The shores of the Bosphorus were lined on both sides with troops. All the ships in the harbor were decorated with flags, and at the appointed landing-place the Sultan was waiting to receive his royal guest. The event was made a national holiday. All the provinces and dependencies of the Turkish Empire sent deputations to the capital to greet the French Empress; public celebrations of all kinds were held; and at night the illuminations on the Bosphorus were a magnificent sight.

A week later Eugenie reached Alexandria on her triumphal progress, where she was welcomed by Ismail, the Viceroy of Egypt, and from whence the journey was continued by rail to Cairo. Everywhere her appearance was the signal for an unbroken succession of fetes and illuminations. At the celebration of the opening of the Canal her yacht was the first to pass through it. Seated on the flower-wreathed deck, amid the thunder of cannon and strains of music from all the ships' bands, she sailed proudly through the new waterway, not only France's sovereign and the patroness of the great undertaking, but Queen of Beauty and Fashion as well. Almost all the great sea powers were represented at the ceremony. The Emperor of Austria and the Crown Prince of Prussia with many other royalties were with her on the Eagle, but it was upon Eugenie that all eyes were fixed; for her the frantic shouts that rent the air.