CHAPTER XLII. - NAPOLEON AND GOETHE.

On his return from the early visit he had paid to the Emperor of Russia, Napoleon immediately went to his cabinet and sent for Minister Champagny, whom he met with unusual animation; and now, that he deemed it no longer necessary to mask his countenance, it was beaming with joy. "Champagny," he said, "it will be no longer necessary for you to send letters to me. The emperor Alexander has accepted my offers, and Romanzoff will have to hang up his 'cat's tongue' in the smoke-house. For the present the appetite of the Russian Emperor for new territories has been satisfied with the provinces of the Danube, and he will compel his minister to yield. The stubborn old fellow will have to give way, but, we are obliged to give him our promises in black and white. I go this afternoon with the emperor to Weimar to spend a few days. You may in the mean time carry on the negotiations with Romanzoff and draw up the treaty. I shall send you further instructions to-night."

"And will not your majesty be kind enough to give me also instructions as to the course I am to pursue toward the Austrian ambassador, Count Vincent?" said the minister. "He overwhelms me every day with questions and demands. He is very anxious to obtain an interview with your majesty, to learn from your own lips that Austria has nothing to fear from France, and that your majesty believes in the sincerity of the friendship and devotedness of his master."
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"I believe in the sincerity of Austria!" exclaimed Napoleon, frowning. "I know her perfidy; I know that she is secretly arming to attack me as soon as she believes me to be embarrassed by the events in Spain. But I will unmask these hypocrites, and meet them with open visor. I will wage war against them, because they disdain to remain at peace with me. Now that I am sure of Russia, I am no longer afraid of Austria, for Russia will assist me in the war against her, or at least not prevent me from attacking and punishing her for her insolence. It was in my power to overthrow that monarchy as I have overthrown those of Naples and Spain. I refrained, and Austria is indebted to me for her existence. Now, however, I am inexorable, and when I once more make my entry into Vienna, it will be as dictator prescribing laws to the vanquished. Austria is arming, and France will arm for another Austerlitz. I authorize you to repeat these words to Count Vincent. I myself will write to his emperor and intrust my letter to the ambassador. Tell him so." He dismissed the minister and repaired to the dining-room.

Breakfast was ready, and had been served on a round table in the middle of the room. Talleyrand, Berthier, Savary, and Daru, received the emperor, and accompanied him to the table, not to participate in the repast, but to converse with him, as Napoleon liked to do while he was eating, and to reply to the questions which he addressed now to one, now to another.

"Well, Daru," he asked, taking his seat, "you come from Berlin? What about the payment of the contributions?"

"Ah, sire, the prospects are very discouraging," said Daru, shrugging his shoulders. "More rigorous measures will probably become necessary to coerce those stubborn Prussians, and—"

The door opened, and Constant, the valet de chambre, entered, whispering a few words to Marshal Berthier.

The marshal approached the emperor, who was engaged with the wing of a chicken. "Sire," he said, "your majesty ordered M. von Goethe to appear before you at this hour. He is in the anteroom."

"Ah, M. von Goethe, the great German poet, the author of the 'Sorrows of Werther,'" exclaimed Napoleon. "Let him come in immediately." A moment later Constant announced M. von Goethe. Napoleon was still sitting at the table; Talleyrand was standing at his right; Darn, Savary, and Berthier, at his left. The eyes of all turned toward the door, where appeared a gentleman of high, dignified bearing. He was tall and vigorous, like a German oak; the head of a Jupiter surmounted his broad shoulders and chest. Time, with its wrinkling hand, had tried in vain to deform the imperishable beauty of that countenance; age could not touch the charm and dignity of his features; the grace of youth still played on his classic lips, and the ardor of a young heart was beaming from his dark eyes as they looked calmly at the emperor.

Napoleon, continuing to eat, beckoned Goethe, with a careless wave of his hand, to approach. He complied, and stood in front of the table, opposite the emperor, who looked up, and, turning with an expression of surprise to Talleyrand, pointed to Goethe, and exclaimed, "Ah, that is a man!"[42] An imperceptible smile overspread the poet's countenance, and he bowed in silence.

"How old are you, M. von Goethe?" asked Napoleon.

"Sire, I am in my sixtieth year."

"In your sixtieth year, and yet you have the appearance of a youth! Ah, it is evident that perpetual intercourse with the muses has imparted external youth to you."

"Sire, that is true," exclaimed Daru, "the muse of Goethe is that of youth, beauty, and grace. Germany justly calls him her greatest poet, and does homage with well-grounded enthusiasm to the author of 'Faust,' of 'Werther,' and of so many other master-pieces."

"I believe you have also written tragedies?" asked Napoleon.

"Sire, I have made some attempts," replied Goethe, smiling. "But the applause of my countrymen cannot blind me as to the real value of my dramas. I believe it is very difficult, if not impossible, for a German poet to write real tragedies, which fulfil the higher requirements of art, and withal those of the stage. I must confess that my tragedies are not so adapted."

"Sire," said Daru, "M. von Goethe has also translated Voltaire's 'Mohammed.'"

"That is not a good tragedy," said Napoleon. "Voltaire has sinned against history and the human heart. He has prostituted the character of Mohammed by petty intrigues. He makes a man, who revolutionized the world, act like an infamous criminal deserving the gallows. Let us rather speak of Goethe's own work—of the 'Sorrows of Werther.' I have read it many times, and it has always afforded me the highest enjoyment; it accompanied me to Egypt, and during my campaigns in Italy, and it is therefore but just that I should return thanks to the poet for the many pleasant hours he has afforded me."

"Sire, your majesty, at this moment, amply rewards me," said Goethe, bowing slightly.

"Your 'Werther' is indeed a work full of the most exalted ideas," added Napoleon; "it contains noble views of life, and depicts the weariness and disgust which all high-minded characters must feel on being forced to leave their sphere and come in contact with the gross world. You have described the sufferings of your hero with irresistible eloquence, and never, perhaps, has a poet made a more artistic analysis of love. Let me tell you, however, that you have not been entirely consistent in the work. You make your hero die not only of love, but of wounded ambition, and you mention expressly that the injustice he met with at the hands of his official superiors was a wound always bleeding, of which he suffered even in the presence of the lady whom he loved so passionately. That is not quite natural, and weakens in the mind of the reader the comprehension of that influence which love exerted on Werther. Why did you do so?"

Goethe looked almost in astonishment at the emperor; this unexpected censure, and the quick, categorical question, had equally surprised him, and momentarily disturbed the calmness of the poet. "Sire," he said, after a brief pause, "your majesty has found fault with something with which no one has reproached me heretofore, and I confess that your criticism has struck me. But it is just, and I deserve it. However, a poet may be pardoned for using an artifice which cannot easily be detected, in order to produce a certain effect that he believes he is unable to bring about in a simple and natural way."

Napoleon nodded assentingly. "Your 'Werther' is a drama of the heart, and there are none to be compared with it," he said. "After reading it, I am persuaded that it is your vocation to write in this style; for the tragic muse is the favorite companion of the greatest poet. Tragedy was at all times the school of great men. It is the duty of sovereigns to encourage, patronize, and reward it. In order to appreciate it correctly, we need not be poets ourselves; we only need knowledge of human nature, of life, and of a cultivated mind. Tragedy fires the heart, elevates the soul, and can or rather must create heroes. I am convinced that France is indebted to the works of Corneille for many of her greatest men. If he were living I would make a prince of him."

"Your majesty, by your words, has just adorned his memory with the coronet of a prince," said Goethe. "Corneille would assuredly have deserved it, for he was a poet in the noblest sense, and imbued with the ideas and principles of modern civilization. He never makes his heroes die in consequence of a decree of fate, but they always bear in themselves the germ of their ruin or death; it is a natural, rational death, not an artificial one."

"Let us say no more about the ancients and their fatalism," exclaimed Napoleon; "they belong to a darker age. Political supremacy is our modern fatalism, and our tragedies must be the school of politicians and statesmen. That is the highest summit which poets are able to reach. You, for instance, ought to write the death of Cæsar; it seems to me you could present a much more exalted view of it than Voltaire did. That might become the noblest task of your life. It ought to be proved to the world how happy and prosperous Cæsar would have made it if time had been given him to carry his comprehensive plans into effect. What do you think of it, M. von Goethe?"

"Sire," said Goethe, with a polite smile, "I should prefer to write the life and career of Cæsar, and in doing so I should not be at a loss for a model." His eyes met those of the emperor, and they well understood each other. Both of them smiled.

"You ought to go to Paris," exclaimed Napoleon. "I insist on your doing so. There you will find abundant matter for your muse."

"Your majesty provides the poets of the present time, wherever they may be, with abundant matter," said Goethe, not in the tone of a courtier, but with the tranquillity of a prince who confers a favor.

"You must go to Paris," repeated Napoleon. "We shall meet again."

Goethe, who was an experienced courtier, understood the delicate hint, and stepped back from the table. Napoleon addressed a question to Marshal Soult, who entered at this moment. The poet withdrew without further ceremony. The eyes of the emperor followed the tall, proud figure, and turning to Berthier, he repeated his exclamation, "Voilà un homme!"

Dieses Kapitel ist Teil des Buches NAPOLEON AND THE QUEEN OF PRUSSIA