Eugenie - Empress of the French - George Upton

Eugenie's Personality

After the wedding a glowing account of the ceremony was published in the Moniteur, which concluded as follows: "The interest displayed by the people in their new sovereign was prompted by more than idle curiosity. The universal admiration she excited was genuine. Those noble features, enhanced by their expression of sweetness and modesty, irresistibly attracted the working classes, who felt that the Empress regarded them with kindness and good-will."

This assertion was not groundless, for although public opinion, as we have seen, had been against the Emperor's choice, and although among the cheering throngs that greeted the sovereigns there was much secret dissatisfaction, the spell of Eugenie's beauty and charm of manner was so potent that even her enemies were silenced by it. The lovely face with its regular delicate features suggests in contour the portraits of Mary Stuart. Her complexion was dazzling and her brown hair full of golden gleams. Under the heavy lashes and delicately penciled eyebrows, her blue eyes, so dark as almost to seem black, were full of fire and softness, reflecting the tender heart and dauntless soul within. The Andalusians are famous for the beauty of their hands and feet, and Eugenie's did not belie her origin. The lines of her figure and the curves of her neck were as perfect as those of an antique statue; in short, hers was a flawless exterior in which no discord marred the complete harmony of the picture.

Thus elevated to a throne, Eugenie burned with desire to make herself beloved by the people, to excite the admiration of those about her, and silence all hints as to her birth and checkered past. Controlling her naturally impulsive and passionate nature when necessary, concealing her pride and ambition under a modest, almost humble air, she left nothing undone to add to her popularity and strengthen her position. Two qualities invaluable to a sovereign she naturally possessed—magnanimity and an open hand. Before the wedding the official journals had brought many proofs of her kindness of heart to the knowledge of the public—such as, that the Empress, having beheld an accident to a poor workman who fell from a scaffold, sprang from her coach to hasten to the aid of the unfortunate man and had him carried to a hospital; and on another occasion, seeing a poor abandoned child wandering in the street, the Emperor's bride had taken it into her own carriage and promised to provide for its future. Still another and striking instance of this was her refusal to accept a diamond necklace valued at six hundred thousand francs which the Municipal Council of Paris had intended to present to her. She wrote a most gracious letter conveying her thanks to the Council for their loyal intention, but declaring she could not consent that Paris should make so great a sacrifice in her behalf, or that the Emperor's wedding should lay any more burdens on the country; adding that her sole desire was to share with the Emperor the affections of the people, and expressing a wish that the six hundred thousand francs might be devoted to charity. This could not fail to create a good impression; and after the wedding many other examples of the same kind occurred. She gave freely to all who approached her with petitions, conscious only that help was needed; and many kind and consoling words accompanied the large sums she privately bestowed. Indeed, in 1863 she went so far as to insure her life in favor of the poor that they might not suffer by her death; and she laid the foundations of many noble works of charity that will cause her name to be honored long after she herself is forgotten.

Besides her generosity Eugenie possessed a thousand ways of attracting and winning people to her. The Emperor's love had raised her to the throne; it depended solely on herself and her tact to maintain her position on it. With her inborn dignity, her beauty, and her queenly grace, she was as well equipped by nature for the part as any royal princess; indeed many a sovereign born might well have envied her, as, sparkling with jewels, she stood beneath the canopy of the throne to receive the foreign diplomats and nobles of the Empire. When she appeared on horseback beside the Emperor at grand reviews, or rode through the city in the imperial coach, bowing in response to the shouts of the dazzled crowds, nothing could have been more beautiful. It was plain to all that the Empress well knew how to play her part.

Seldom have two persons better suited to one another than Napoleon and Eugenie, or more completely in accord, been united. In all the pomp and power of her sovereignty she never forgot that it was to him she owed it all; and in proportion as the sense of her own importance rose, her love and admiration for him increased also. In the eyes of the world he had taken a step downward in his choice of a bride; it was now her task to prove that "the adventuress" could be as useful to the dynasty as a consort born in the purple.

"I would rather be spoken ill of than not be spoken of at all!" Louis Napoleon had exclaimed when his first attempts to bring about a political revolution had only excited pity and derision. Even at that time he had studied the French people well, and knew their weak spot was vanity. To flatter the national vanity therefore became one of his principal agencies for maintaining his power; and while in private life he loved an almost plebeian simplicity, in public no effect was too striking or too spectacular to keep up his imperial state.

No one knew better than Eugenie how to arrange these brilliant effects. Ever since the days when she was the companion of toreadors and the heroine of the Corso, love of display and notoriety had been her ruling passion. She may not have been conscious of this in the beginning, but what was at first a habit became by degrees a necessity; and just as the actress thirsts for applause, so Eugenie craved the admiration and approval of the populace. As the actress eagerly searches the newspaper columns after each appearance for the notices of her performance, so Eugenie, after every public entertainment or review or excursion, devoured the descriptions published of her costumes and appearance, reveling in the praises lavished on her person, and spurred on thereby to fresh efforts to win public favor. She studied the question of her toilettes as if it were a religion and she its high priestess. Most of the fashions of that brilliant period were set by her, and the lists of guests invited to court entertainments were subjected to her personal supervision. Even ladies of high rank were sometimes refused admission to the Tuileries should their costumes not suit Her Majesty.

Brought up among the Spanish aristocracy, famous for elegance and stateliness of manner, and yet perfectly familiar with the lighter customs of French society, Eugenie succeeded in imparting to her court a tone of delicacy as well as luxury and magnificence that made it famous, not only through out France, but over half the world. Before she had been a month on the throne, a thousand tales were circulated of her beauty, wit, and generosity. The most enthusiastic accounts were printed of all she said and did; and the attention of the public was so occupied with her that it almost forgot to criticise the politics of the Emperor. Wherever the imperial pair appeared they were surrounded by eager throngs; and although here and there some expressions of disapproval might be heard, the Parisians were dazzled by a magnificence of display such as no other city of Europe could equal, and which conjured up memories of a glorious past that filled their hearts with pride.