V. Napoleon's High-born Ancestors

A new guest had arrived at Dresden to do homage to Napoleon--the King of Prussia, accompanied by the young crown prince, and Chancellor von Hardenberg. The two inimical friends, the Emperor of France and the King of Prussia, met for the first time at the rooms of the Queen of Saxony, and shook hands with forced kindness. They exchanged but a few words, when Napoleon withdrew, inviting the king to participate in the gala dinner and ball to take place that day. The king accepted the invitation with a bow, without replying a word, and repaired to the Marcolini palace, where quarters had been provided for him and his suite. Not a member of the royal family deemed it necessary to accompany him. He went away quietly and alone. His arrival had not been greeted, like that of Napoleon and the Emperor of Austria, with ringing of bells and cannon salutes, nor had the soldiers formed in line on both sides of the streets through which he passed on entering the city. The court had not shown any attention to him, but allowed him to make his entry into Dresden without any display whatever.

But if the court thought they might with impunity violate the rules of etiquette because Frederick William was unfortunate, the people indemnified him for this neglect, and honored him. Thousands hurried out of the gate to cheer him on his arrival, and escorted him amid the most enthusiastic acclamations to the royal palace. When he left it again, the crowd followed him to the Marcolini palace, and cheered so long in front of it that the king appeared on the balcony. It is true, the anterooms of the king were deserted; no smiling courtiers' faces, no chamberlains adorned with glittering orders, no dignitaries, no marshals, princes, or dukes, were there; but below in the street was his real anteroom--there his devoted courtiers were waiting for their royal master, looking up to his windows, and longing for his coming. The smiles with which they greeted Frederick William were no parasites' smiles, and the love beaming from those countless eyes was faithful and true.

Beneath the residence of Napoleon the people did not stand, as usual, in silent curiosity staring at the windows, behind which from time to time the pale face of the emperor showed itself. The street was empty--those who formerly stood there were now joyously thronging in front of the King of Prussia's quarters; they had recovered their voices, and often cheered in honor of Frederick William III.

The anterooms of Napoleon indeed presented an animated spectacle. A brilliant crowd filled them at an early hour; there were generals and marshals, the princes of the Confederation of the Rhine, the dukes, princes, and kings of Germany, whom Napoleon had newly created--all longing for an audience, in order to wrest from Napoleon's munificence a province belonging to a neighbor, a title, or a prominent office. Germany was in the hands of Napoleon, and to bow the lower to him was to be raised the higher. In these rooms of the emperor there was the unwonted spectacle of German sovereigns soliciting instead of granting favors; and, instead of being surrounded by, were themselves courtiers, who, in the most submissive manner, sought the intercession of adjutants and chamberlains, to procure admission to the imperial presence and favor.

And all these courtiers gave vent to their love and admiration for Napoleon in terms of the most extravagant praise. They spoke with prophetic ecstasy of the fresh laurels that Napoleon was to bind upon his brow, and of Alexander's madness to resist a conqueror destined to make new triumphs for the glory of France and the humiliation of Russia. Yet, when two or three of these expectant gentlemen stood in some window-niche, and believed themselves beyond the reach of indiscreet ears, they dared to ask each other, in a low and anxious tone, whether all this splendor would not soon vanish as a meteor--whether one might not see the aurora of a new day dawning- -whether the battles into which Napoleon was about to plunge so recklessly would not result in the downfall of him whom they publicly extolled, but secretly cursed. But, to these whispered questions the brilliant anterooms, the marshals of the empire, crowned with victory, the dukes and princes, the court of Napoleon, composed of the sovereigns of Germany, made a triumphant reply. Secret hope could hardly survive in the recollection of the greatness and invariable good fortune of Napoleon, and they who desired the humiliation of the conqueror yielded to submission. Returning to the crowd of princely courtiers, they renewed their enthusiasm, and joined in the plaudits of Napoleon's admirers.

When the emperor, with Maria Louisa, entered the room, all pressed forward, anxious to receive a glance, a smile, or a pleasant salutation. Rank and etiquette were overlooked; there was but one master, one sovereign, to whom all were doing homage. Rushing toward him, each one tried to outstrip the other; and many a high dignitary, prime minister, prince, duke, or king, was pushed aside by an inferior. Napoleon stood in the centre of the room, uttering words of condescending affability to the fortunate men nearest him.

Suddenly cheers resounded in the streets, rattling the window-panes. Napoleon looked in the direction of the windows. "What is that?" he asked, turning to the Duke de Bassano.

"Sire," said the duke, "the good people of Dresden are impatient to see their imperial majesties of France, and pay them their respects."

More deafening shouts were heard. Napoleon smiled, and hastily walking with his consort through the circle of the courtiers stepped to the open window. He frowned as he looked down. An immense crowd had gathered below, but their faces were not turned toward the windows of the royal palace, and their cheers were not intended for the emperor. The multitude crossed the square, and in their midst drove slowly an open carriage surrounded by the enthusiastic people. In this carriage sat the King of Prussia, to whom were given the loud greetings mistaken by Napoleon. He understood it at a glance, and, stepping back from the window with the empress, turned to Grand-Marshal Duroc, who was standing by his side. "See that the populace go home," he said, hastily, "and that they no longer disturb the people of the city by indecent and riotous proceedings. I do not wish to hear any more yelling near the palace!"

Duroc bowed, and withdrew to instruct the police officers not to tolerate any similar conduct on the part of the citizens. The emperor meanwhile turned to Duke Augustus of Gotha, who had just succeeded in penetrating through the ranks of courtiers, with his broad shoulders and colossal form.

"Ah, you are back again, duke?" asked the emperor, kindly. "Did you attend thoroughly to your government affairs?"

"I did, sire," said the duke, nearly bowing to the ground, and then seizing the emperor's hand to press it to his lips.

"Well, I must confess that you accomplished your task with great rapidity. Was it not three days since you took leave of us to go to Gotha?"

"Yes, sire, I set out three days ago."

"And you are back already! You performed the trip and your official business in so short a time! How large is your duchy, then?"

"Sire," said the Duke of Gotha, quickly, "it is as large as your majesty commands it to be." [Footnote: This reply is historical]

Napoleon's smile was reflected in the faces of those seeking his favors.

At this moment the doors of the outer anteroom opened, and on the threshold appeared the grave and dignified form of King Frederick William. The courtiers, with an impatient expression, receded anxiously, as though afraid of contact with this unfortunate man, who had no territories, no riches, no honors to offer them, but had come as a vassal to pacify the wrath of Napoleon, and save at least a remnant of his kingdom. But the king did not come with craven heart; he did not hasten his approach to the emperor with fawning submissiveness, but slowly, with his head proudly erect, and a grave air.

Napoleon received him with a haughty nod. "Your majesty, you must have had a troublesome drive from your quarters to the royal palace," he said harshly. "I noticed that the gaping crowd were thronging about your carriage and annoying you."

"Pardon me, sire," said the king, "the people did not annoy me. They did me the honor of bidding me welcome, and this was the more generous, as I am not one of those who are favored by Fortune. But the German people yield sometimes to generous impulse, and show thereby how little they know of the etiquette and sagacity of courtiers."

While uttering these words, the king glanced with his clear, calm eyes--in which a slightly sarcastic expression was to be seen--at the multitude of brilliantly adorned and distinguished gentlemen who tried to get as far as possible from him. Napoleon smiled. He himself despised sycophancy sufficiently to be pleased with this rebuke. But his severe look returned, and he gazed with some indignation upon the tall form of the King of Prussia. He noticed that, while himself appeared in silk stockings and buckled shoes, the king had come in long trousers and boots.

"Your majesty, doubtless, was not informed that there would be a ball after the banquet?" asked Napoleon, pointing to the king's boots.

"I was, sire, but since the death of my consort I have not danced."

"But etiquette," exclaimed Napoleon, vehemently, "etiquette is--"

"Sire," interrupted the king, in a calm and dignified tone, "etiquette is intended for parasites and people of the court, and it is very proper for them to adhere to it. But a sovereign king, I should think, has a right to disregard it, and follow the promptings of his own inclinations."

The door of the anteroom opened again, and the grand marshal appeared to announce dinner. The emperor offered his arm to Maria Louisa, preceded by the high dignitaries and the officers of his household, and followed by the swarm of princes and gentlemen of the courts. The King of Prussia, taking the place to which his rank entitled him, walked on the other side of the empress, and entered the dining-hall at the same time with Napoleon, amid the notes of the imperial band. Napoleon walked with his consort to his guests, who were waiting for him in the centre of the hall--the Emperor and Empress of Austria, and the King and Queen of Saxony.

The banquet was a distinguished one, and the French cooks of Napoleon's household had displayed all their culinary skill to satisfy the palate of even the most fastidious epicures. Napoleon, as usual, gave his guests but little time to revel in the delicacies prepared for them. Scarcely half an hour had elapsed since the commencement of the dinner, when he rose, and thereby gave the signal that the gala-dinner was at an end.

The Emperor Francis, who was almost always in good humor, could not refrain from frowning, and, after offering his arm to his consort to conduct her to the saloon, where coffee was to be served, he muttered, "I do not know, but it seems to me that the Emperor Napoleon eats too little."

"And yet he has so hearty an appetite, that he is able to swallow and digest the territories of sovereigns," whispered the Empress Ludovica, with a sneer. "He is now as satisfied as an anaconda after devouring an ox."

"Yes, but we poor mortals are still hungry," said Francis, thoughtfully. "It does not do us any good that his appetite is satisfied."

"There will be a day when our hunger shall be appeased, and he starve," said the empress.

"Hush!" whispered Francis, "not a word against him! He is my son-in- law, Ludovica. And, besides, he has an appetite strong enough yet to swallow another ox."

"He will get it in Russia, I suppose?" said Ludovica, quickly.

"Yes," said Francis. "He explained his whole plan to me and Metternich for over an hour to-day, and proved to us that four weeks hence there would be no Russian emperor; that Russia would fall to ruins and decay. He dwelt on a great many other things, and told us of gigantic schemes, which, to tell the truth, I did not comprehend very well. Let me confess to you," he whispered, standing near the door of the reception-room, "that his words almost frightened me. His heart may be all right, but as to his head, I am afraid there is something wrong about it." [Footnote: The emperor's own words,--Vide Hormayer's "Lebensbilder," vol. iii.]

Ludovica smiled. "Do you believe, then, my husband, that he has really a heart?" she asked. "But as to his head, the princes and nations of Europe, I hope, will soon find an opportunity to set it right."

"Hush!" said Francis again; "he is my son-in-law."

"And because he is your son-in-law, your majesty should hesitate no longer to deliver to him, or rather to his consort, the precious gift which you ordered for her, and which arrived to-day."

"It is true," exclaimed Francis. "Let us at once present the gift to Maria Louisa."

He entered the saloon and hastily approached his daughter, who stood with Napoleon in the centre of the room, and was just handing him a cup of coffee, to which she herself had added sugar and cream. [Footnote: The Empress Josephine, in her tender care for Napoleon, who frequently forgot to take his coffee, was in the habit of preparing a cup for him after dinner, and presenting it to him, Maria Louisa had adopted Josephine's habit.]

"Louisa," said Francis, kindly nodding as he approached her, "I have a little gift for you, which I hope will be acceptable. I ordered it several months since, but when we set out from Vienna it was not ready. To-day, however, it has arrived, and, as we are now in a family circle, I may as well present it to you. That is to say," added the emperor, bowing to Napoleon, "if your majesty permits me to do so."

"Your majesty was right in saying that we are here a family circle," said Napoleon, smiling; "and as the father is always the head and master, I have nothing to permit, but only to pray that your majesty may make what present your love has chosen for her."

"And I assure you, father," exclaimed Maria Louisa, smiling, "I am as anxious to know what you have for me as I was at the time when I was a little archduchess, and when your majesty promised me a surprise. Let me, therefore, see your gift."

Francis smiled, and, walking to the open door of the adjoining room (where the dukes, who did not belong to the imperial family, the princes, the marshals, and courtiers, were assembled), made a sign to one of the gentlemen, who stood near the door. The latter immediately left the room, and returned after a few minutes with an oblong, narrow something, carefully wrapped in a piece of gold brocatel, which he presented to the emperor with a respectful bow. Francis took it hastily, and approached Maria Louisa with a solemn air. "Here, Louisa," he said, kindly, "here is my present. It will show you what, it is true, every day proves to admiring Europe, namely, that genuine royal blood is flowing in the veins of your husband."

Maria Louisa opened the covering with inquisitive impatience, and there appeared under it a golden box, ornamented with diamonds and pearls. "What magnificent diamonds!" she exclaimed. "What skilful work!" said Napoleon, smiling.

"The box was made by Benvenuto Cellini," said Francis; "it was highly prized by my lamented father, the Emperor Leopold, who brought it from Florence to Vienna. But that is not the principal thing--the contents are more important. Here is the key, Louisa; open the box!" He handed her a golden key, and Maria Louisa applied it to the key-hole, adorned with large oriental turquoises. Around her stood the Emperor and Empress of Austria, the King and Queen of Saxony, the King of Prussia, and the Grand-duke of Wurzburg; Napoleon was close beside her. All eyes were expressive of curiosity and suspense. Nothing was there but a roll of parchment. Maria Louisa unfolded it. "A pedigree!" she exclaimed, wonderingly.

"Yes, a pedigree," said the Emperor Francis, merrily, "but a very precious and beautiful one, which you may put into the cradle of the little King of Rome, and from which he may learn his letters. Sire," he then added, turning to Napoleon, "your majesty must allow me to add another jewel to your imperial crown. I mean, this pedigree. It proves irrefutably that your majesty is the descendant of a glorious old sovereign family, which ruled over Treviso during the middle ages. Signor Giacamonte, the most renowned genealogist in all Italy, devoted himself, at my request, for a whole year to this study, and succeeded in proving that the Bonaparte family is of ancient and sovereign origin."

"That is a splendid discovery," exclaimed Maria Louisa, with delight; "my little King of Rome, consequently, has a very respectable number of distinguished ancestors?"

"More than fifty!" exclaimed her father, proudly. "Look here; this is the founder of the whole family, the Duca di Buon et Malaparte; he lived in the twelfth century."

He pointed to the genealogical trunk of the beautifully painted and ornamented pedigree, of which Maria Louisa held the lower end, while the King and Queen of Saxony obligingly took hold of the upper end. The King of Prussia stood beside them and witnessed this strange scene with a scarcely perceptible smile, while the Empress Ludovica looked with undisguised scorn into the joy-excited countenance of her step-daughter. Napoleon surveyed the faces of all present with a rapid glance, and an expression of sublime pride overspread his countenance.

"Look," exclaimed the Emperor Francis, bending over the pedigree, "there is his name! There is the founder of Napoleon's family."

At this moment Napoleon laid his hand gently on his shoulder. "Oh, no," he said, "the founder of that family stands here."

"Where, then?" asked Francis, eagerly, still bending over and looking for the name.

"If your majesty desires to see him, you must be so kind as to avert your eyes from that piece of parchment, and turn them toward me," said Napoleon, raising his voice.

Francis looked up and gazed wonderingly upon his son-in-law. Napoleon smiled; it was a triumphant smile. "I, and I alone, am the founder of Napoleon's family," he said, slowly and solemnly. "I am the ancestor of those who bear my name. The King of Rome needs no other, unless it be that your majesty should count every victory which his father gained an ancestor, and compose his pedigree from the laurels I have obtained in Europe and Africa. My son has a right to despise ancestors invisible in the darkness of by-gone centuries, whom history does not mention, while the vainest genealogy can scarcely discover that they lived and died. My grandsons and great- grandsons need not seek the name of the founder of their family on decayed parchments and confused pedigrees; they only need read the pages of history. They will also find it at night in the marshalled host of heaven, where twinkles a star which science names Napoleon. I think, sire, that star will never set; it will illuminate the path of your grandson better than the lamp flickering in the tombs of mouldering ancestors."

Maria Louisa at the first words of Napoleon withdrew her hands from the pedigree, and stood half sullen and ashamed by the side of her husband. The royal couple of Saxony hastened to roll up the pedigree as quickly as possible, and put it back into the golden box.

Napoleon offered his arm to his consort. "Come, madame," he said, "let us go to the ball-room." While he was walking away with her, the Emperor Francis turned to Ludovica, and, tapping his forehead, whispered cautiously, "I was right! There is something wrong in Napoleon's head."

Dieses Kapitel ist Teil des Buches Napoleon and Blücher