Panoramas: 19th century virtual reality
Like transparencies, panoramas were extremely popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A panorama was a large circular painting that aimed to give the viewer the experience of being physically present in the scene being depicted, whether that was a landscape, a city, a battle or other historical event. Panoramas served as mass entertainment, popular education and propaganda. Visiting them was more like going to the theatre or the opera than to an art gallery. At their best, panoramas provided convincing illusions of the real, transporting the audience to another place and time.
An entirely new contrivance
The word panorama – from the Greek pan (all) and horama (view) – was first used by Robert Barker, an Irish-born painter living in Edinburgh. In 1787, Barker was granted a patent for his invention of “an entirely new contrivance or apparatus…for the purpose of displaying views of nature at large, by oil-painting, fresco, water-colours, crayons, or any other mode of painting or drawing.” (1)
My invention, called La nature à coup d’oeil [nature at a glance], is intended, by drawing and painting, and a proper disposition of the whole, to perfect an entire view of any country or situation, as it appears to an observer turning quite round; to produce which effect, the painter or drawer must fix his station, and delineate correctly and connectedly every object which presents itself to his view as he turns round, concluding his drawing by a connection with where he began. He must observe the lights and shadows, how they fall, and perfect his piece to the best of his abilities. (2)
The goal was to make “observers, [in] whatever situation [the painter] may wish they should imagine themselves, feel as if really on the very spot.” (3)
According to the patent, Barker’s invention included a cylindrical painting, a circular building designed to exhibit the painting, a viewing platform in the centre of the building, and “interceptions” placed so that observers would be unable to see above or below the painting. More than just a large painting, the panorama was a carefully controlled experience. The platform placed spectators at a height, angle and distance calculated to maximize the three-dimensional illusion.
In 1788 Barker exhibited the world’s first full-circle panorama, a view of Edinburgh from the top of Calton Hill. Although the painting was shown in rooms not designed for the purpose, it was hailed by reviewers as something completely new.
The judicious observe that Mr. Barker’s improvement in painting, which his exhibition of Edinburgh in the Haymarket explains, must prove particularly interesting to their Majesties, the Heir Apparent, and several of the Royal Family, who rarely go abroad. To them views of distant countries will be brought not like descriptions from the pen of the traveller, geographer, or poet, which, while they inform, leave an anxious wish, a natural desire to behold the scene ungratified. This Artist brings the wished for scene before them, one entire uninterrupted circle, placing them in the centre, where they can see the same as those who travel; they can perfectly understand and be gratified with a thorough knowledge of the local situation of whatever country they desire, and having seen it personally, they can retain it perfectly in idea, the same as nature could impress….
The ideas which are entertained of Mr. Barker’s sketch being a model, transparent painting, or scenery, are erroneous; it is not to be understood till seen, being a scientific improvement and emancipation of the art of painting from restraint; the effect of which is easier felt than described, and meets the warmest approbation of the first nobility and connoisseurs. (4)
The Leicester Square panorama
Barker’s second panorama, a “View of the Cities of London and Westminster,” was also a hit. He displayed it in a purpose-built wooden structure in his back garden. Based on this success, Barker was able to raise the funds to build a brick panorama viewing rotunda in London, like the one described in his patent.
The Leicester Square panorama – located in Cranbourn Street, just off the north side of the square – opened on May 25, 1793. The rotunda contained two viewing chambers: a large circle at the bottom, able to display panoramas of 10,000 square feet; and a smaller one directly above, which could accommodate panoramas of 2,700 square feet. A partly glass roof provided light to both displays (an experiment with lamps for night-time viewing didn’t work and posed the risk of fire). Spectators stood on a raised platform in the centre of each circle. The admission charge was one shilling per painting. Visitors were given “descriptive sheets” (later pamphlets) that described the panorama they had come to see and included a diagram on which the main features were labelled. These saved on staff costs and served as souvenirs.
When Barker’s patent expired in 1802, other artists started painting panoramas. Louis Daguerre was working on panoramas when he launched the diorama in Paris in 1822. Exhibitors started putting props and fake terrain in front of their images, to add to the simulation of reality. Veterans offered guided tours of battle panoramas, and musicians played martial music. An industry grew up as the panoramas toured from place to place. Most European cities had more than one purpose-built structure for hosting panoramas. Panoramas also became popular in Canada and the United States, where – later in the 19th century – they were called cycloramas.
Though other panorama rotundas were built, the one in Leicester Square was thought to provide the most realistic displays. The building was designed to disorient people as they passed from the actual to the virtual world. Spectators had to walk down a long dark hallway and climb shadowy stairs before emerging onto the viewing platform. Some people felt sick as a result. More felt delighted, like this visitor to a panorama of Pompeii in 1824.
Panoramas are among the happiest contrivances for saving time and expense in this age of contrivances. What cost a couple of hundred pounds and half a year half a century ago, now costs a shilling and a quarter of an hour. Throwing out of the old account the innumerable miseries of travel, the insolence of public functionaries, the roguery of innkeepers, the visitations of banditti, charged to the muzzle with sabre, pistol, and scapulary, and the rascality of the custom-house officers, who plunder, passport in hand, the indescribable desagremens of Italian cookery, and the insufferable annoyances of that epitome of abomination, an Italian bed.
Now the affair is settled in a summary manner. The mountain or the sea, the classic vale or the ancient city, is transported to us on the wings of the wind. … We have seen Vesuvius in full roar and torrent, within a hundred yards of a hackney-coach stand with all its cattle, human and bestial, unmoved by the phenomenon. Constantinople, with its bearded and turbaned multitudes, quietly pitched beside a Christian thoroughfare, and offering neither persecution nor proselytism. Switzerland, with its lakes covered with sunset, and mountains capped and robed in storms…and now Pompeii, reposing in its slumber of two thousand years, in the very buzz of the Strand. There is no exaggeration in talking of those things as really existing…. The scene is absolutely alive, vivid, and true; we feel all but the breeze, and hear all but the dashing of the wave. (5)
Napoleonic War panoramas
Scenes from the Napoleonic Wars were a staple of early 19th century panoramas, including the Siege of Badajoz, the Battle of Trafalgar, and the Battle of Paris. Here is one observer’s account of the impression made upon her by the panorama of the Battle of Vitoria, which appeared in 1814-1815 in Leicester Square. The battle – fought in Spain on June 21, 1813 – is the one that Napoleon, in Napoleon in America, blames his brother Joseph for losing because he slept too long.
I went to see a panorama of Vittoria. It gave too faithful a representation of a scene of battle; and a stranger, a gentlemanlike looking person, who was there, with his arm in a sling; and had been at Vittoria the day after the battle was fought, said it was most exactly portrayed. The dead and the dying were lying strewn about; and yet, even in gazing at the representation, I sympathised with the enthusiasm of the living, and the glory of the conquerors, more than with the sufferings of the fallen. … The view, too, of Lord Wellington and the other generals, coolly gazing around and reconnoitring the evolution of thousands, although involved in smoke and dust and danger, gave a grand idea of the qualities necessary to a commander, and raised the scale of intellectual glory ten thousand times above that of mere personal valour. (6)
A “View of the Island of Elba and the Town of Porto-Ferrajo” opened in the large circle at Leicester Square in May 1815, just months after Napoleon’s escape from the island. That panorama was followed by a “View of the Battle of Waterloo,” which hung from March 1816 to May 1818, and again from October 1820 to May 1821. It was so popular that Barker had to construct an additional elevated stage so that the spectators in back could look over the heads of those in front.
The Leicester Square panorama closed in 1863. Its rotunda now forms part of the Church of Notre Dame de France. Though none of Barker’s panoramas survive, you can still visit some 19th century panoramas (listed here, along with some 20th century examples). The panorama of the Battle of Waterloo that hangs in the rotunda near the site of the actual battle in Belgium was completed in 1912.
You might also enjoy:
- The Repertory of Arts and Manufactures, Vol. IV (London, 1796), p. 165.
- Ibid., pp. 165-166.
- Ibid., p. 167.
- Times (London), April 24, 1789, p. 4.
- Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. 15, April 1824, pp. 472-473.
- Charlotte Bury, Diary Illustrative of the Times of George the Fourth, Vol. II (Paris, 1838), p. 6.
When the Duke of Wellington met Napoleon’s wife
While Napoleon took a dim view of the Duke of Wellington, his wife Marie Louise was more forgiving. Wellington met Marie Louise at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and again at the Congress of Verona in 1822. By this time, Marie Louise was the Duchess of Parma and married to Count von Neipperg (Napoleon had died in 1821). As Wellington tells Dorothea Lieven in Napoleon in America, he played cards with Marie Louise and paid in gold Napoléon coins. Marie Louise’s warmth towards Wellington at Verona inspired Lord Byron to write a poem.
The service he did her
Wellington talked about his encounters with Napoleon’s wife in conversation with his friend Lord Mahon.
Rambling from subject to subject, we came at length to the ex-Empress Maria Louisa. I mentioned Lord Strangford having told me that during the Congress of Verona he had often seen the Duke and the widow of Napoleon playing at écarté together, and the word “Napoleon” frequently passing between them in payments for the game. The Duke assented. He said that she had been very civil to him during the Congress, and that he had the honour of dining with her. She had the same cook that he had once – a man who had been formerly in Napoleon’s service – entered the Duke’s after Waterloo, but left it on the breaking up of his establishment, when the allied army was withdrawn from France – and then sought employment in Italy from his ancient mistress. On his report of the Duke’s usual fare, she accosted him thus the day the Duke dined with her: I am very sorry indeed that I could not get any roast mutton for you.
The Duke said that the first time he had seen her was during the Congress of Vienna in 1815, when he went to pay his respects to her at Schönbrunn; but owing to the state of things in France, he did not often, of course, find himself in her society. It is a very curious thing, he added, that she afterwards said to some one: The Duke of Wellington little knows the service he has done me by winning the battle of Waterloo! The fact is, she was then with child by Neipperg – whom she afterwards married; and if Napoleon had prevailed she would have had to return to him in that state. (1)
Mahon is wrong on that last point. Although Marie Louise had three children with Neipperg before their marriage, the first was conceived in 1816, when Napoleon was safely imprisoned on St. Helena.
According to the French representative at the 1822 Congress of Verona, Marie Louise was “in excellent spirits” there.
The world had taken upon itself the task of remembering Napoleon; therefore Maria Louisa thought she need not trouble herself to think of him. We informed her that we had met her troops at Placentia, and remarked that she once possessed a much more numerous army. She replied: ‘I never think of that.’ (2)
Appearing on his arm
On November 18, 1822, Wellington was present at the opera in Verona when Marie Louise arrived.
The first act was nearly over when the Arch Duchess Maria Louisa entered her box, attended by two Maids of Honour and her grand Chamberlain, Count Neipperg. When she first presented herself, she was wrapped up in a large kerseymere cloak trimmed with ermine, the night being rather cold, and on throwing it aside, she appeared dressed in a white satin slip, with a border of deep lace round the bosom. Her neck and bosom, which are very fine, were left quite exposed and she wore no ornaments. Her head dress consisted of a small white beaver hat, with a plume of ostrich feather to correspond, fastened at the side in a rosette of white ribbon. She looked extremely interesting and the more so from the eventful scenes with which her bloom of life has been associated.
Immediately after the Opera, she went to attend a musical party at the Duke of Wellington’s, where Lady Burghersh presided upon the occasion. On her arrival, the Duke of Wellington was in waiting to receive her Imperial Highness, and he led her leaning on his arm to the Grand Salon. What must have been her sensations at that moment! What must she have felt while thus taking the arm that had hurled both her husband and herself from the greatest Throne in the universe. Apparently, however, she betrayed not the slightest emotion, and on entering the room she went up to Lady Burghersh and shook her by the hand with an air of affectionate cordiality. (3)
Lady Burghersh was Wellington’s niece, Priscilla Wellesley-Pole. She and Marie Louise had become friends in Italy (Priscilla’s husband was the British ambassador to Tuscany).
Some found it unseemly for Marie Louise to appear on the arm of the man who had defeated her former husband. One writer tried to excuse her behaviour by blaming it on her father, Francis I of Austria.
It does not throw any discredit on the assertion respecting Maria Louisa’s desire to join her husband in his banishment that she played a rather ostentatious part in the congress of Promise-breakers and Ungratefuls at Verona, and actually took the Duke of Wellington’s arms at a grand public entertainment. Affection, and constancy in adversity, are two distinct qualities. Besides, there is no knowing what sort of secret influence may have been used on the part of the Austrian father, to compel this display. (4)
Lord Byron was unforgiving. He wrote in Canto XVII of “The Age of Bronze”:
Enough of this – a sight more mournful woos
The averted eye of the reluctant muse.
The imperial daughter, the imperial bride,
The imperial victim – sacrifice to pride;
The mother of the hero’s hope, the boy,
The young Astyanax of modern Troy;
The still pale shadow of the loftiest queen
That earth has yet to see, or e’er hath seen;
She flits amid the phantoms of the hour,
The theme of pity, and the wreck of power.
Oh, cruel mockery! Could not Austria spare
A daughter? What did France’s widow there?
Her fitter place was by St. Helen’s wave,
Her only throne is in Napoleon’s grave.
But no, — she still must hold a petty reign,
Flank’d by her formidable chamberlain;
The martial Argus, whose not hundred eyes
Must watch her through these paltry pageantries.
What though she share no more, and shared in vain,
A sway surpassing that of Charlemagne,
Which swept from Moscow to the southern seas
Yet still she rules the pastoral realm of cheese,
Where Parma views the traveller resort
To note the trappings of her mimic court.
But she appears! Verona sees her shorn
Of all her beams – while nations gaze and mourn –
Ere yet her husband’s ashes have had time
To chill in their inhospitable clime;
(If e’er those awful ashes can grow cold;
But no, – their embers soon will burst the mould;)
She comes! – the Andromache (but not Racine’s,
Nor Homer’s) Lo! on Pyrrhus’ arm she leans!
Yes! the right arm, yet red from Waterloo,
Which cut her lord’s half shattered sceptre through,
Is offered and accepted! Could a slave
Do more? or less? – and he in his new grave!
Her eye, her cheek, betray no inward strife,
And the Ex-empress grows as Ex a wife!
So much for human ties in royal breasts!
Why spare men’s feelings, when their own are jests? (5)
You might also enjoy:
The 1823 French invasion of Spain (on the diplomacy at the Congress of Verona)
- Earl Philip Henry Stanhope, Notes of Conversations with the Duke of Wellington, 1831-1851 (London, 1889), pp. 232-233.
- François-René de Chateaubriand, The Congress of Verona, Vol. 1 (London, 1838), p. 74.
- Galignani’s Messenger, No. 2419, Paris, December 3, 1822.
- Leigh Hunt, ed., The Literary Examiner (London, August 9, 1823), p. 94.
- George Gordon Byron, The Works of Lord Byron; In Verse and Prose (New York, 1835), p. 452.
Sweetbreads, Sweetmeats and Bonaparte’s Ribs
Would you rather eat sweetbreads or sweetmeats? While sweetbreads might sound like sugary buns, they are actually a form of meat. They consist of the pancreas (“heart,” “chest” or “stomach” sweetbreads) or thymus glands (“throat” or “neck” sweetbreads) of an animal, usually a calf or a lamb. Dorothea Lieven offers George Canning some larded sweetbreads at her dinner party in Napoleon in America.
The first known use of the word “sweetbreads” occurred in the 16th century. These bits of offal may have been called “sweet” because they were considered a delicacy, or because they tasted richer than the more savory muscle meat. The “bread” part of the name may have come from an Old English word for flesh or for roasted meat. To further confuse things, actual sweets – candies, cakes, pastries, preserves – used to be called sweetmeats. This term, also from an Old English word, was first used in the 15th century and was still common in the 1800s.
Some popular 19th century British sweetmeats took their names from prominent figures of the Napoleonic Wars. As mentioned in my article about Boney the bogeyman, “Bonaparte’s ribs” was a lollipop named after Napoleon. An 1845 guidebook to London observed:
[T]he little sweet-stuff shops in the little lanes and alleys abound in great profusion. Here, under the tantalizing denominations of hard-bake, almond-rock, brandy-balls, bulls’-eyes, elicampayne, sugar-plums, candied almonds, acid drops, Bonaparte’s ribs, peppermint, are saccharine juices in great variety and profusion; in the City, however, where children are taught to stuff as soon as they can crawl, these sweet-stuff shops rise to wholesale dignity, and supply not only little children, but the ‘trade.’ (1)
On a tour of a sweet shop in 1847, a writer for the London magazine Punch learned how this sweetmeat supposedly got its name.
We were next taken over the Bonaparte’s Ribs department, and received the instructive information that this sweetmeat dates as far back as the divorce of the Emperor from Josephine and his marriage with Marie-Louise, which suggested the idea of Bonaparte’s Ribs, and as the repudiation of his first partner was generally regarded as the commencement of his downfall, this popular lollipop was struck in commemoration of an event that promised so much for English interests. Bonaparte himself being in everybody’s mouth at that time, it was very naturally supposed that his ribs might get into the same position, and thus a large sale would be ensured for the new sweetmeat. The original inventor was not mistaken, for he retired on the ribs in less than three years from the time of their being first manufactured. (2)
Another magazine described how one proprietor of sweetmeats took advantage of the library on her premises to save on expenses associated with the sale of Bonaparte’s ribs.
Mrs. Boxer’s notions of the belles lettres are somewhat vague and restricted. She sells toffee, Bonaparte’s ribs, and other articles of rough confectionery, penn’orths [pennyworths] of which are occasionally seen to emerge from her miscellaneous stores wrapped in printed leaves of suspicious size, and still more suspicious literary significance. In short, I have a notion that Mrs. Boxer pulls out a stray leaf here and there to save the expense of paper in which to screw up toffee or Bonaparte’s ribs. (3)
In an 1851 description of the “Street Sale of Sweet-Stuff,” there is a tantalizing reference to a sweetmeat named after the Duke of Wellington.
Treacle and sugar are the ground-work of the manufacture of all kinds of sweet-stuff…. The flavoring – or ‘scent’ as I heard it called in the trade – now most in demand is peppermint. Gibraltar rock and Wellington pillars used to be flavored with ginger, but these ‘sweeties’ are exploded [i.e. fallen from favour]. (4)
Admiral Nelson got his sugary tribute as well.
The old man…who supplied us with gingerbread and sugarplums, had availed himself of the advantage that the knowledge of the sweet, which was the favourite of his Lordship in his juvenile days, conferred upon him; for when the hero’s name had become enrolled in the annals of Fame, the circumstance of his former partiality returned so vividly to the cake-vender’s imagination, that he bent his whole attention to recollect the ingredients of which this sweet was composed, and so true to him was his memory, that the result of his lucubrations ended in the reproduction of the very same article, which henceforth appeared under the appellation of ‘Nelson’s balls;’ and as he took occasion, whenever he deemed it a matter of expediency, not only to dwell on the high merits of this deft mixture of sugar, treacle, et alia ejusdem generis, but also to expatiate largely on the reasons which, from personal knowledge, had induced him to assign such an appellation to this portion of his stock in trade, the sale of it was attended with no inconsiderable benefit to his purse. (5)
The Tyneside poet Robert Gilchrist honoured Nelson’s balls in verse in 1824.
The Itinerant Confectioner
I’ve travell’d up and down,
All the country over,
Seen every market town,
All the way to Dover,
What here I’ve got to sell,
Don’t be shy to ask it,
Or you I soon shall tell
To look into my Basket.
Now therein you will find,
What will please your fancy;
Mint drops to break the wind,
Or it will a chance be;
Here’s barley sugar sweet,
Gibby sticks and kisses,
If you will to please to treat,
Little boys or misses.
Nelson’s balls I’ll sell ye,
By the weight or dozens,
Candy, white or yellow,
Dog’s turd and pincushions,
Here’s lemon gingerbread,
Cream with ice congealed,
Ye’ll find them far exceed,
Sol’mons Balm of Gilead. (6)
If the above has whet your appetite for a Napoleonic War-themed sweetmeat, try this recipe for Nelson’s balls – although it’s not clear how much this biscuit/cookie resembles the treacly confection mentioned above.
Take three pounds of flour, half a pound of sifted sugar, the same of butter, and a little essence of lemon; mix this up very stiff with milk, put it in a cloth for half an hour, then break it smooth with a biscuit break or rolling pin; mould them into small balls about the size of a walnut with your fingers, bake in a rather quick oven, and put into the screen to dry. (7)
You might also enjoy:
- John Fisher Murray, The World of London, Vol. I (London, 1845), pp. 190-191.
- Punch, or the London Charivari, Volume 13 (July-December, 1847), p. 222.
- The Leisure Hour Monthly Library, Volume 5 (London, 1856), p. 507.
- Henry Mayhew, London Labor and the London Poor, Vol. I, (New York, 1851), p. 205.
- “The Naval Chaplain’s Note-book,” Colburn’s United Service Magazine (London, February 1845), p. 202.
- Robert Gilchrist, A Collection of Original Local Songs (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1824), pp. 103-104.
- John Massey & William John Massey, Massey and Son’s Biscuit, Ice & Compote book; or, The Essence of Modern Confectionary (London, 1866), p. 26.
Boney the Bogeyman: How Napoleon scared children
In the same way that early 19th century British caricaturists portrayed Napoleon Bonaparte as a devilish tyrant, British parents and teachers used Napoleon as a threat to scare children into good behaviour during the Napoleonic Wars. In fact, the word “bogeyman” is sometimes said to be derived from “Boney,” the popular British nickname for Napoleon, even though it actually comes from the Middle English bogge/bugge (hobgoblin).
Napoleon the scourge of English children
The earliest idea I had of Napoleon was that of a huge ogre or giant, with one large flaming red eye in the middle of his forehead, and long teeth protruding from his mouth, with which he tore to pieces and devoured naughty little girls, especially those who did not know their lessons. (1)
English humorist Gilbert à Beckett described Napoleon’s malign effect on his life at a preparatory school near Kensington in 1815.
Bonaparte had just escaped from Elba, and Miss Frounce, like an admirable politician, took advantage of this important event to overawe the ‘young gentlemen from three to eight’ who were under her guidance. On all occasions, Bonaparte was held up as the great bugbear, and there was not a boy in the school who was not firmly convinced that Miss Frounce had Napoleon under her thumb – that, in fact, if any of ‘the young gentlemen’ should prove refractory, Miss Frounce had it in her power to send for Bony with as much facility as she could order the sweeps or the dustman. If a boy, when spelling, knocked an i out of the word annihilate, he was threatened with being handed over to the tender mercies of Bonaparte; and every one of the pupils of Miss Frounce felt assured that, if Napoleon invaded England, he would knock at the door of the ‘establishment for young gentleman from three to eight’ the very morning after his arrival.
Whatever might have been his feeling of hostility towards the Prince of Wales, or the members of the cabinet, my firm conviction was that Master Snodgrass, who had been turned back in grammar, had much more to apprehend from Napoleon than the Regent and the ministers. Sometimes have I contemplated the possibility of hiding in case of the dreaded visit; but then it has flashed upon my juvenile mind that Bonaparte was not to be baffled, and that he would inevitably look under all the beds in the house, rather than be foiled in the vengeance which the ‘young gentlemen from three to eight’ were convinced inspired him.
Never shall I forget the panic that seized on ‘all the boys’ when the fact was announced that a leg of mutton had been stolen from the larder. Who could be the thief? Why, of course, nobody but Bonaparte. Miss Frounce, wishing to enhance the intimidating reputation of her great bugbear, favoured the idea, and the whole of the ‘young gentlemen from three to eight’ were under the firm impression that Bonaparte had landed in England during the night, secured the leg of mutton, and retreated before daylight into the bosom of his own army.
Such impressions as those I have related are strange and absurd; but there are many now living who, if they happened, during the time of the Bonaparte panic, to be inmates of a preparatory school for ‘young gentlemen from three to eight,’ will recognize the fidelity of the feelings I have described.
I never ate the lollipop which went by the name of his ribs, without being awed by a sort of unaccountable fear that Bonaparte might yet break from his captivity, and pay me off personally for the indignity offered him in purchasing a hap’orth of his anatomy, and sucking it, like Tom Trot or Everton Toffee. (2)
Napoleon or Wellington?
This nursery rhyme (and variants thereof) is often cited as a popular lullaby in England during the Napoleonic Wars:
Baby, baby, naughty baby!
Hush! you squalling thing, I say;
Hush your squalling, or it may be
Bonaparte will pass this way.
Baby, baby, he’s a giant,
Tall and black as Rouen steeple,
And he dines and sups, relie on ’t,
Every day on naughty people.
Baby, baby, he will hear you,
As he passes by the house,
And he, limb from limb, will tear you,
Just as pussy tears a mouse. (3)
The trouble is that I have not been able to find the verse in any pre-20th century source. What does appear in print in the 19th century is the same poem with “Wellington” in place of the word “Bonaparte.” Setting aside the issue of how the words would have to be rearranged to rhyme in French, this actually makes some sense. The vast majority of British children would never have seen Rouen’s steeple, whereas the comparison would presumably have meant something to French children. According to the introduction to the rhyme in the Wellington Anecdotes, published in 1852:
In time of war the name of Wellington used to be employed by the bonnes to subdue refractory infants. The following version of a nursery rhyme is said to have been familiar in France thirty or forty years ago.… (4)
And The Westminster Review (1848) noted:
Whatever may be the sins of the Jesuits, there can be no question but that their name has been, and is, often made use of as a mere word of fear to frighten grown children with – as the name of the Duke of Wellington, we are told, was, some years ago, among nurses in France; and many of the goblin tales concerning the order are probably about as true as the description of his Grace in the nursery song:
Tall he is, as a Rouen steeple,
And his teeth like iron saws,
Breakfasts, dines on naughty people,
Crunches babies in his jaws. (5)
So perhaps “Old Nosey” was as much the bogeyman to French children as Napoleon was to their English counterparts.
You might also enjoy:
- Lucia Elizabeth Balcombe Abell, Recollections of the Emperor Napoleon, during the First Three Years of His Captivity on the Island of St. Helena(London, 1844), p. 12.
- Gilbert A. à Beckett, “Bonaparte at Miss Frounce’s School,” in Douglas Jerrold (ed.), The Illuminated Magazine, Vol. 1 (London, May-October 1843), pp. 23-24.
- M. Broadley, The Three Dorset Captains at Trafalgar (London, 1906), p. 148.
- Wellington Anecdotes: A Collection of Sayings and Doings of the Great Duke, Vol. 5 (London, 1852), p. 41.
- The Westminster Review, Vol. 48, No. 95 (London, January 1848), pp. 269-270.
How were Napoleonic battlefields cleaned up?
Somewhere in the range of 3.5 million to 6 million people died as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, which lasted from 1803 to 1815. This includes both military and civilian casualties, and encompasses death from war-related diseases and other causes. Estimates of the number of soldiers killed in battle range from 500,000 to almost 2 million. What happened to all of those bodies? What did Napoleonic battlefield cleanup entail?
The depiction of post-battle scavenging in Napoleon in America is based on fact. Soldiers were typically the first to pick through the dead and wounded, taking weapons, clothing and valuables. There was little sentimentality involved. The victors looted from the fallen of both sides. It was a matter of survival, or profit. Camp followers – civilians and women who accompanied the men on campaign – also stole and salvaged from the battlefield. So did the local inhabitants, who had to deal with the mess the armies left behind. British General Robert Wilson described the scene after the Battle of Heilsberg (1807):
The ground between the wood and the Russian batteries, about a quarter of a mile, was a sheet of naked human bodies, which friends and foes had during the night mutually stripped, although numbers of these bodies still retained consciousness of their situation. It was a sight that the eye loathed, but from which it could not remove. (1)
Stretched on the snow among the piles of dead and dying, unable to move in any way, I gradually and without pain lost consciousness…. I judge that my swoon lasted four hours, and when I came to my sense I found myself in this horrible position. I was completely naked, having nothing on but my hat and my right boot. A man of the transport corps, thinking me dead, had stripped me in the usual fashion, and wishing to pull off the only boot that remained, was dragging me by one leg with his foot against my body. The jerk which the man gave me no doubt had restored me to my senses. I succeeded in sitting up and spitting out the clots of blood from my throat. The shock caused by the wind of the ball had produced such an extravasation of blood, that my face, shoulders, and chest were black, while the rest of my body was stained red by the blood from my wound. My hat and my hair were full of bloodstained snow, and as I rolled my haggard eyes I must have been horrible to see. Anyhow, the transport man looked the other way, and went off with my property without my being able to say a single word to him, so utterly prostrate was I. (2)
One of the unusual things about the remains of a soldier unearthed in 2012 at the battlefield of Waterloo (1815) is that the man does not appear to have been robbed.
Some scavengers came with pliers. Teeth from dead soldiers were in great demand for the making of dentures. In Spain in 1814, the nephew of English surgeon Astley Cooper received a visit from a tooth hunter sent by his uncle.
Upon asking this Butler, who appeared to be in a state of great destitution, what might be his object, he said it was to get teeth…but when I came to question him upon the means by which he was to obtain these teeth, he said, ‘Oh Sir, only let there be a battle, and there’ll be no want of teeth. I’ll draw them as fast as the men are knocked down.’ …
Butler was not the first…to make the Peninsula the scene, or the Duke’s achievements the means, of such lucre; for Crouch and Harnett, two well-known Resurrectionists, had some time prior to his visit, supplied the wealthier classes of London with teeth from similar sources. (3)
The flood of teeth onto the market after the Battle of Waterloo was so large that dentures made from them were known as “Waterloo teeth.” They were proudly advertised as such, since it meant the teeth came from relatively healthy young men.
Burning, burial and decomposition
After they had been stripped, the bodies were either burned, buried, or left in the open to decompose, a process aided by vultures, wolves and other scavengers. Captain Jean-Roche Coignet wrote after the Battle of Marengo (1800):
We saw the battlefield covered with Austrian and French soldiers who were picking up the dead and placing them in piles and dragging them along with their musket straps. Men and horses were laid pell-mell in the same heap, and set on fire in order to preserve us from pestilence. The scattered bodies had a little earth thrown over them to cover them. (4)
Depending on the size of the losses, the weather, and the capacities of the army and the local population, battlefield cleanup could take some time. On March 2, 1807, three and a half weeks after the Battle of Eylau, the 64th Bulletin of Napoleon’s Grande Armée reported:
It required great labour to bury all the dead…. Let any one imagine to himself, upon the space of a square league, 9 or 10,000 dead bodies, 4 or 5,000 horses killed, whole lines of Russian knapsacks, broken pieces of muskets and sabres; the ground covered with cannon balls, howitzer shells, and ammunition; 24 pieces of cannon, near which were lying the bodies of their drivers, killed at the moment when they were striving to carry them off. All this was the more conspicuous upon a ground covered with snow. (5)
During Napoleon’s Russian campaign, remains lingered for months. French General Philippe de Ségur described the scene at Borodino (1812) during the retreat from Moscow, almost two months after the battle.
After passing the Kologa, we marched on, absorbed in thought, when some of us, raising our eyes, uttered a cry of horror. Each one instantly looked about him, and there lay stretched before us a plain trampled, bare, and devastated, all the trees cut down within a few feet from the surface, and farther off craggy hills, the highest of which appeared misshapen, and bore a striking resemblance to an extinguished volcano. The ground around us was everywhere covered with fragments of helmets and cuirasses, with broken drums, gun-stocks, tatters of uniforms, and standards dyed with blood.
On this desolate spot lay thirty thousand half-devoured corpses; while a pile of skeletons on the summit of one of the hills overlooked the whole. It seems as though death had here fixed his throne. (6)
Napoleon had ordered the Westphalian VIII Corps to stay and guard the battlefield, transport the wounded to hospitals, and bury the dead while the rest of the army continued on to Moscow. However, the corps could do little for the wounded, as the hospital system was rudimentary and no wagons or other means of transport could be found in the deserted villages.
The Westphalians remained on the battlefield surrounded by corpses and dying men, and they were forced to change position from time to time on account of the stench…. [S]oldiers, at the request of some of the wounded in extreme agony, shot them dead and turned the face away while shooting… When von Borcke was riding on horseback over the battle-field on the 5th day after the battle, he saw wounded soldiers lying alongside the cadaver of a horse, gnawing at its flesh. On September 12th the Westphalians moved to Moshaisk, which was deserted by all inhabitants, plundered and half in ashes…. Burnt bodies were lying in the ruins of the houses which had been burnt, the entrance of these places being almost blockaded by cadavers. The only church…contained several hundred wounded and as many corpses of men dead for a number of days…. Soldiers, Westphalians as well as Russian prisoners, were ordered to remove the corpses from the houses and the streets, and then a recleansing of the whole town was necessary before it could be occupied by the troops. (7)
Given these conditions, the Westphalians had managed only a rudimentary burial on the battlefield, as attested to by Sergeant Adrien Bourgogne, who came across the same sight as Ségur:
[A]fter passing over a little river, we arrived at the famous battlefield [Borodino], covered all over with the dead, and with debris of all kinds. Legs, arms, and heads lay on the ground. Most of the bodies were Russians, as ours had been buried, as far as possible; but, as everything had been very hastily done, the heavy rain had uncovered many of them. It was a sad spectacle, the dead bodies hardly retaining a human resemblance. The battle had been fought fifty-two days before. (8)
After the Battle of Waterloo, local peasants were hired to clean up the battlefield, supervised by medical staff. The allied dead were buried in pits. The French corpses were burned. Ten days after the battle, a visitor reported seeing the flames at Hougoumont.
The pyres had been burning for eight days and by then the fire was being fed solely by human fat. There were thighs, arms and legs piled up in a heap and some fifty workmen, with handkerchiefs over their noses, were raking the fire and the bones with long forks. (9)
Bones for fertilizer
Human remains could still be seen at Waterloo a year after the battle. A company was contracted to collect the visible bones and grind them up for fertilizer. Other Napoleonic battlefields were also reportedly scoured for this purpose. In November 1822 a British paper reported:
It is estimated that more than a million of bushels of human and inhuman bones were imported last year from the continent of Europe into the port of Hull. The neighbourhood of Leipsic, Austerlitz, Waterloo, and of all the places where, during the late bloody war, the principal battles were fought, have been swept alike of the bones of the hero and of the horse which he rode. Thus collected from every quarter, they have been shipped to the port of Hull, and thence forwarded to the Yorkshire bone grinders, who have erected steam-engines and powerful machinery, for the purpose of reducing them to a granulary state. In this condition they are sent chiefly to Doncaster, one of the largest agricultural markets in that part of the country, and are there sold to the farmers to manure their lands. The oily substance, gradually evolving as the bone calcines, makes a more substantial manure than almost any other substance, particularly human bones. It is now ascertained beyond a doubt, by actual experiment upon an extensive scale, that a dead soldier is a most valuable article of commerce; and, for ought known to the contrary, the good farmers of Yorkshire are, in a great measure, indebted to the bones of their children for their daily bread. It is certainly a singular fact, that Great Britain should have sent out such multitudes of soldiers to fight the battles of this country upon the continent of Europe, and should then import their bones as an article of commerce to fatten her soil! (10)
After Napoleon’s final defeat, Britons hurried across the Channel to visit Waterloo, Paris and other sites associated with the French Emperor. The sightseers played a role in battlefield cleanup through their enthusiastic quest for souvenirs. In 1816, satirical poet Eaton Stannard Barrett wrote:
Every one now returns from abroad, either Beparised or Bewaterlooed…. I know one honest gentleman, who has brought home a real Waterloo thumb, nail and all, which he preserves in a bottle of gin. (11)
Scottish journalist John Scott, who visited Waterloo on August 9, 1815, seven weeks after the battle, found a 12-pound British shot, which he planned to bring home “with the cuirass and other spoils of battle which I have secured.” (12) Scott wrote:
The extraordinary love of relics shewn by the English was a subject of no less satisfaction to the cottagers who dwelt near the field, than of ridicule to our military friends…. Our own party did not pass over the field without following the example of our countrymen; each of us, I believe, making his own little collection of curiosities. The ground was strewed so completely with shreds of cartridge paper, pieces of leather, and hats, letters, songs, memorandum books, &c., as to resemble, in a great measure, the place where some vast fair had been held, and where several parties of gypsies had lighted fires at intervals, to cook their victuals. Several of these we picked up as we walked along; and I still have in my repositories, a letter evidently drenched with rain, dated April 3rd., which, from the portion still legible, must have been sent from Yorkshire; and also a leaf of a jest book, entitled ‘The Care Killer.’
At Hougoumont I purchased a bullet of grape shot, with which the wood in front of it had been furiously assailed, as was evinced by the marks visible on every tree.
The time which had elapsed since the date of the action had taken from the scene that degree of horror which it had recently presented; but the vast number of little hillocks, which were scattered about in all directions, – in some places mounds of greater extent, especially near the chausée above La Haye Sainte, and above all the desolate appearance of Hougoumont, where too the smell of the charnel house tainted the air to a sickening degree, gave sufficient tokens of the fearful storm which had swept over this now tranquil rural district. (13)
The demand for Waterloo relics soon outstripped the supply, though the locals continued for decades to hawk souvenirs that were claimed to be genuine battlefield artefacts.
You might also enjoy:
- Robert Wilson, Brief Remarks on the Character and Composition of the Russian Army and a Sketch of the Campaigns in Poland in the Years 1806 and 1807 (London, 1810), p. 147.
- Jean-Baptiste de Marbot, The Memoirs of Baron de Marbot, translated by Arthur John Butler, Vol. 1, (London, 1903), p. 216.
- Bransby Blake Cooper, The Life of Sir Astley Cooper, Vol. 1 (London, 1843), pp. 401-402.
- Jean-Roch Coignet, The Note-Books of Captain Coignet, Soldier of the Empire, edited by Jean Fortescue (New York, 1929), p. 81.
- Jacques Peuchet, Campaigns of the Armies of France, in Prussia, Saxony, and Poland, translated by Samuel MacKay, Vol. 4 (Boston, 1808), p. 201.
- Philippe de Ségur, History of the Expedition to Russia Undertaken by the Emperor Napoleon in the Year 1812, Vol. II (New York, 1872), p. 119.
- Achilles Rose, Napoleon’s Campaign in Russia Anno 1812: Medico –Historical (New York, 1913), pp. 32-34.
- Adrien Bourgogne, Memoirs of Sergeant Bourgogne, 1812-1813, edited by Paul Cottin (New York, 1899), p. 60.
- Bernard Cornwell, Waterloo: The True Story of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles (New York, 2015), p. 325.
- The New Annual Register, or General Repository of History, Politics, Arts, Sciences and Literature for the Year 1822 (London, 1823), p. 132.
- Eaton Stannard Barrett, The Talents Run Mad; or, Eighteen Hundred and Sixteen: A Satirical Poem (London, 1816), pp. 18-19.
- Richard Henry Stoddard, ed., The Life, Letters and Table Talk of Benjamin Robert Haydon (New York, 1876), p. 152
- John Scott, Journal of a Tour to Waterloo and Paris, in company with Sir Walter Scott in 1815 (London, 1842), pp. 46-48.
When Princess Caroline met Empress Marie Louise
It’s like a set piece from a movie: the wives of two famous enemies meet, gossip about their estranged husbands, and have a lovely time together, ending in the singing of a Mozart duet. Such was the scene in the Swiss city of Bern on September 23, 1814, when Princess Caroline of England visited Empress Marie Louise of France.
Caroline was the lusty, eccentric 46-year-old wife of England’s Prince Regent, the future King George IV. George had reluctantly married Caroline – his German cousin – in 1795. He fathered a daughter (Charlotte) with Caroline. He then began living apart from her. For details of this unhappy union, see “The Strange Marriage of the Prince Regent and Princess Caroline of Brunswick” on Jane Austen’s World.
Marie Louise was the 22-year-old second wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. At the time, Napoleon was in exile on Elba. Napoleon was hoping that Marie Louise and their three-year-old son, Napoleon II, would join him, but Marie Louise’s father, Emperor Francis I of Austria, would not allow it. Instead, Napoleon had just received a visit from his Polish mistress, Marie Walewska, and his illegitimate son Alexandre. Marie Louise didn’t know about the visit, but even if she had known, she may not have much cared. She was finishing up a holiday in the company of Count Adam Albert von Neipperg, her consort in Napoleon in America, who had just become her lover.
The meeting in Bern
Marie Louise arrived in Bern on September 20. Caroline, who was on her way to Rome, reached the city two days later. The two women had never met. Caroline sent her chamberlain, Lord Craven, to convey her respects to the dethroned French Empress. As England was one of the countries whose arms had ousted Napoleon, any recognition of the Regent’s wife by Marie Louise was unnecessary and not in the best of taste. Nonetheless, Marie Louise dispatched the Count de Bausset, former prefect of Napoleon’s palace, to invite Caroline for a visit. Bausset reports:
[Princess Caroline], so adventurous and so celebrated for [her] great vicissitudes…was of medium height, with regular and pronounced features, and a pleasant and expressive countenance. Her great spirit and character…didn’t fail to charm, although it was easy to see that she lacked the extreme fineness of form that is one of the most seductive attributes of a pretty figure. Her manners were easy, lively and natural, her regard penetrating and quick. She spoke French perfectly well, and without an accent. She wore a white muslin gown, and her head was enveloped in a large veil of the same fabric, which fell lightly over her shoulders and her bosom. A diadem of diamonds crowned this veil, and rendered her costume rather like those of the Greek priestesses who appeared in our operas. This ensemble…appeared to me extraordinary for a traveller who had only arrived a few hours earlier. (1)
When Caroline joined Marie Louise the next morning, she spoke “with biting directness” about the difficulties she had experienced in England.
‘Your Majesty will find it hard to believe,’ she said to Marie Louise, ‘that I was not admitted to the Queen’s drawing room during the visit of the sovereigns of Russia and Prussia to England, because it suited my royal husband to not find himself with me, either privately or in public.… I complained to the queen, and even wrote to [my husband] a beautiful letter which I signed, the most faithful and submissive of wives’ (in saying these last words, the princess smiled maliciously); ‘he didn’t bother to respond. But not believing that duty condemned me to absolute retirement, I went to all the places where the public was admitted for a fee. Once, when the sovereigns and my royal husband were in a box in the dress-circle at the opera, I was discovered at the end of a box in the second row, where I had gone in disguise. The people showed their good will toward me by such loud applause that these august spectators, thinking it impossible that such homage could be addressed to anyone other than themselves, thought it incumbent upon them to rise and bow to the audience. I quickly seized on this chance to avenge myself. Pretending to consider their mistake as an act of politeness toward me, I gravely made them three sweeping curtsies, which excited loud and ironic applause.’ (2)
Marie Louise asked about Princess Charlotte.
‘My daughter is as charming and as clever as one can be; but, after myself,’ she added, smiling, ‘I don’t know a more quarrelsome person.’ (3)
Marie Louise, who had recently learned of the death of her grandmother, Queen Maria Carolina, was dressed in black. After offering condolences, Caroline expressed the fear that she would soon be obliged to wear mourning for her husband, whose infirmities grew every day. The two hit it off so well that Marie Louise returned the visit that afternoon. She invited Caroline to join her for dinner.
The evening was reportedly a jolly one. Caroline spoke with enthusiasm about the pleasure she hoped to experience on her trip to Italy. She mentioned that she might go and visit Napoleon on Elba. Marie Louise asked Caroline to sing some Italian arias. The latter consented, but only if Marie Louise would sing with her.
The Empress wanted to hide herself in her timidity, which made her incapable of uttering a note before listeners. The princess encouraged her, saying that for her part, she never had fear, except on account of her friends. (4)
They sang the duet “Là ci darem la mano” from Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni. Marie Louise took the part of Zerlina, and Caroline that of Don Giovanni. Count Neipperg accompanied them on the piano.
Baron Méneval, present for the occasion, said Caroline “sang effectively with a voice of which I will say nothing, only that it proved indeed the courage of this princess.” He added:
Despite her clothing and appearance, which one could frankly call bizarre, the Princess of Wales had the air of an excellent woman, simple, frank and putting everyone at ease. (5)
I am not enough of a connoisseur to pronounce an opinion on the accuracy and flexibility of the voice of Caroline of England; what struck me the most was her range…. Marie Louise’s voice had the sweetest and most naïve inflections, like her character… Those of the Princess of Wales were masculine, sonorous and strong, like her nature. It was easy to judge, in listening to them, that if the Princess Caroline had found herself to be Napoleon’s wife, she would have presented large obstacles to the success of the coalition by the stiffness, the persistence and the calibre of her soul. (6)
Caroline and Marie Louise never met again. Caroline died on August 7, 1821, at the age of 53, three months after the death of Napoleon. Marie Louise married Neipperg. She died on December 17, 1847, at the age of 56.
You might also enjoy:
- Louis François Joseph de Bausset, Mémoires anecdotiques sur l’intérieur du palais et sur quelques évenements de l’Empire, Vol. III (Paris, 1828), pp. 54-55.
- Ibid., pp. 55-56.
- Ibid., p. 56.
- Claude François Méneval, Napoleon et Marie-Louise, Vol. II (Paris, 1845), p. 294.
- Ibid., pp. 294, 295.
- Mémoires anecdotiques sur l’intérieur du palais et sur quelques évenements de l’Empire, Vol. III, p. 58.
Caricatures of Napoleon on Elba
While Napoleon Bonaparte provided rich fodder for caricaturists throughout his reign, his exile to Elba in 1814 (see last week’s post) occasioned a burst of gleeful activity among the cartoonists of the time. England had been fighting against France for over 20 years. Audiences there were jubilant about Napoleon’s defeat and receptive to anything that made fun of the fallen French Emperor. Here’s a look at some caricatures related to Napoleon’s sojourn on Elba.
Caricatures of Napoleon’s departure for Elba
The Elbaronian Emperor going to take possession of his new Territory
This caricature by George Cruikshank was published in London on April 23, 1814. Napoleon stands locked in a cage on wheels, pulled by a mounted Cossack. At the top of the cage are his broken crown, sceptre and sword. Napoleon says: “Oh! D-n these Cossacks,” referring to his disastrous Russian campaign. In the title, the word “Hell” is crossed out in favour of “El,” which becomes “Elbaronian.”
The Journey of a Modern Hero to the island of Elba
Published in England in May 1814, this caricature shows Napoleon seated backwards on a donkey on the road from Fontainebleau (where he signed his abdication) to Elba. The ‘promenade des ânes’ was a traditional method of social punishment in France. Husbands who were thought to be battered or dominated by their wives were publicly humiliated by being trotted around backwards on a donkey while holding its tail. The text emerging from Napoleon’s mouth is one of his well-known quotes: “A throne is only made of wood and cover’d in velvet.” The donkey’s rear says: “The greatest events in human life is turn’d to a puff.” The saddle reads: “Materials for the history of my life and exploits” and “A budget of mathematical books for my study at ELBA.” The verse at the bottom reads:
Farewell my brave soldiers, my eagles adieu;
Stung with my ambition, o’er the world ye flew:
But deeds of disaster so sad to rehearse
I have lived – fatal truth for to know the reverse.
From Moscow to Lipsic [Leipzig]; the case it is clear
I was sent back to France with a flea in my ear.
A lesson to mortals regarding my fall:
He grasps at a shadow, by grasping at all.
My course it is finish’d my race it is run,
My career it is ended just where it begun.
The Empire of France no more it is mine.
Because I can’t keep it I freely resign.
Départ pour l’Ȋle d’Elbe
Lest you think the English had a monopoly on poking fun at Napoleon, here’s a French etching from 1814. Above Napoleon are his titles: Emperor of the French, King of Italy, etc. In the background are Egypt, Elba and a burning Moscow, reminders of his defeats. The bees (one of Napoleon’s symbols) fly away from him. The signboard in the bottom right says: “La Chétive Pécore. S’enfla si bien, quelle creva.” This is a line from a French fable by Jean de La Fontaine about the frog that wished to be as big as the ox: “The silly animal swelled so much that it burst.”
Caricatures of Napoleon on Elba
Nap Dreading his Doleful Doom or His Grand Entry in the Isle of Elba
This cartoon by Thomas Rowlandson (published April 25, 1814) shows Napoleon standing dejected on Elba, with its grossly caricatured inhabitants. Napoleon says, “Ah woe is me seeing what I have and seeing what I see.” The large woman standing with her arm on his shoulder says, “Come cheer up my little Nicky, I’ll be your Empress.” A man wearing a turban (a reference to Napoleon’s mameluke valet) is seated next to “Boney’s Baggage.”
Boney and his new Subjects at Elba
In this English caricature from June 1814, Napoleon stands outside a wooden hovel reviewing a motley crew. He says, “Gentlemen my friends despise & d—n England Russia Prussia Germany & Sweden & obey me & I will make Kings of you all.”
Boney at Elba or a Madman’s Amusement
In this cartoon, published in London on April 20, 1814, Napoleon lights a straw cannon aimed at straw opponents identified as Russia, Prussia, Austria and Sweden. He says: “Now these fellows shall know what the Conqueror of the World can do. Corporal! D— you Sir, don’t you blow up the Bridge till I order you.” His companion says: “Ah Diable Mai you was, burn Le Materiel, you burn your playthings.” A fisherman watching from the shore says: “He will frighten all the fish and burn my boat. I’ll be off in time.” Papers on the ground reveal a “Project to invade the Moon” and a grant of 600,000 from the Senate. The tower of “Elba Babel” stands in the background. The verse at the bottom reads:
So high he’s mounted in his airy Throne,
That now the wind is got into his Head,
And turns his brain to Frenzy. – Dryden
Little Boney Gone to Pot
This caricature by George Cruikshank was published on May 12, 1814. Napoleon is seated on a chamber pot inscribed the “Imperial Throne.” A demon encourages him to take his own life: “If you have one Spark of Courage left! take this.” Napoleon replies: “Perhaps I may, if you’ll take the flint out.” The book is inscribed: “A Triti – on the Itch! by Doctor Scratch.”
Das neue Elba (The New Elba)
This cartoon by the Bavarian Johann Michael Voltz shows the representatives of England, Russia, Austria and Prussia watching Napoleon in a cage as he attempts to devour the world. The cages around Napoleon contain wild animals, and the whole display is labelled Malmaison – a reference to his former wife Josephine’s menagerie.
The Sorrows of Boney, or Meditations in the Island of Elba
In this caricature, published in London on April 15, 1814, Napoleon sits crying on an island labelled “Elba.” Heavily guarded in the background is the “Continent of Europe.”
Caricatures of Napoleon’s escape from Elba
The Fox and the Goose or Boney Broke Loose
This cartoon, published in England on March 17, 1815, shows Napoleon (the fox) running towards Paris as news of his escape reaches European leaders at the Congress of Vienna (the geese). The signs on the wall behind them read: “Vienna – Gazette extraordinary – Notice: The Bull Bait will begin at 4 & the Ball at 8 this Eveng” and “A Plan for the Security of Europe to be Taken into Consideration the first thing after the Bull Bait.” A man who is probably supposed to be Colonel Neil Campbell, the British representative on Elba, shouts, “Stole away!!! Stole away!!!” A goose asks, “What do You do when you have caught Vermin?” The owl replies, “Why—Kill ’em to be sure—you goose!!” The sign on the French coast reads: “Gentlemen accommodated to Dover for only 20 Guineas!! NB Pay beforehand.” The verse at the bottom says: “Return of the Host!!! / John Bull’s dinner lost / And a flight to the coast!!”
Boney’s Return from Elba or the Devil among the Tailors
This caricature by George Cruikshank, published on March 21, 1815, shows Napoleon interrupting the rulers of Europe in a tailor’s workshop. He says, “Don’t disturb yourselves shopmates – I have only popped myself here as a cutter out. Where is my Wife & son Father Francis?” Francis I, Emperor of Austria, kneeling on the right says, “I will send an Answer shortly.” Bernadotte, Crown Prince of Sweden (standing at far left) says: “This looks like another subsidy.” Prussian King Frederick William (seated at left): “You have cut out a little work for us to be sure but D—me if you shall be foreman here.” Prussian General Blücher (holding a large pair of scissors): “Cutter out indeed!!! Yes yes I’ll cut you out Master Boney.” French King Louis XVIII (on the floor immediately in front of Napoleon): “Help! Help! Oh! Oh! I am knock’d off my Perch.” The text on the bag beside him reads: “Cabbage Bag—i.e Diamonds Precious Stones &c &c.” John Bull (stooping over Louis XVIII): “Never fear Old Boy I’ll help you up again as for that rascal Boney I’ll sow him up presently.” Pope Pius VII (on the floor on the right): “Oh! Curse the fellow! I wish I had the Power of a Bull I’d kick him to hell. D–me if it isn’t enough to make a saint swear.” The King of Holland (in the pointy hat): “Donder & Blixen das is de Devil.” Tsar Alexander of Russia (standing at far right): “I’ll take a few Cossack measures to him.” French Foreign Minister Talleyrand’s legs can be seen beneath the bench at the left, beside a book: “The Tailors A Tragedy For Warm Weather.” The verse below reads:
Hush’d was the din of Arms & fierce debate,
Janus once more had clos’d his Temple gate;
Assembled Congress fix’d the flattering Plan
For Europes safety & the Peace of Man
When like a Tiger, stealing from his den,
And gorg’d with blood, yet seeking blood again;
From Elbas Isle the Corsican came forth,
Making his sword the measure of his worth
Hence Plunder, force & cunning, blast his fame
And sink the Hero in the Robber’s name;
Hence guiltless Louis from his throne is hurl’d
And discord reigns triumphant o’er the World
Swift as the vivid lightning’s shock,
The Exile darts from Elba’s Rock!
And like the Thunderbolt of fate
Dethrones a King! transforms a State!!
L’enjambée impériale (The Imperial Stride)
In this French cartoon from April 1815, Louis XVIII and his family (the Count of Artois, the Duke and Duchess of Angoulême, the Duke of Berry) watch as Napoleon steps from Elba to France. They say: “Let’s get out of here”; “Let’s send the Guards to put him outside”; “That man will make his way”; “Let’s give him some calottes,” a play on words, as a calotte is a bonnet (as in Jacobin bonnets), but also slap in the face, and similar to culotte, a reference to the radical mob during the Revolution; and “Let’s make him a little war.”
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How did Napoleon escape from Elba?
In April 1814, with a European coalition occupying Paris, Napoleon Bonaparte was forced to abdicate the French throne. He was sent into exile on Elba, a small Mediterranean island located 260 km (160 miles) south of France and 10 km (6 miles) west of the Italian coastline. Ten months later, in one of those life-is-stranger-than-fiction episodes, Napoleon managed to spirit himself off the island and regain the French crown. How did Napoleon escape from Elba?
Napoleon signed his abdication on April 6, 1814, at the Palace of Fontainebleau, on the understanding that suitable provisions would be made for him and his family. Negotiations were entered into between Armand de Caulaincourt, supported by Marshals Ney and MacDonald, on behalf of Napoleon, and the Russian representative, Karl Nesselrode, on behalf of the coalition. According to Caulaincourt, “The question of the residence of the Emperor was discussed with great animation.” (1) The coalition and the French provisional government wanted to keep Napoleon at a distance, while Napoleon wanted to be close to France and Italy. Caulaincourt suggested Corsica, Corfu, Sardinia or Elba. The French were unwilling to give Napoleon Corsica. The House of Savoy didn’t want to part with Sardinia. Corfu was considered to be too close to Greece.
Caulaincourt favoured Elba, a French possession, because of its climate and its fortifications. It would give Napoleon some protection against attack or assassination. Napoleon’s opponents were concerned about Elba’s proximity to Italy, which was “still under the spell of Napoleon.” (2) Caulaincourt took the matter directly to Tsar Alexander of Russia, who took his side.
Alexander raised no other opposition than its nearness to Italy, but himself wanting to avoid prolonging the fight, and wanting to see Napoleon consent to the abdication, which he believed he had the means to continue to dispute, he did not completely reject this accommodation, which must, in his opinion, please Napoleon because of its climate and language. (3)
The Treaty of Fontainebleau was signed by the representatives of Russia, Prussia and Austria on April 11, and by Napoleon’s representatives two days later. Napoleon was allowed to retain his title of Emperor and was given sovereignty over Elba. His wife Marie Louise was given the Duchies of Parma, Placentia and Guastalla. Napoleon was to receive an income of 2 million francs a year, and members of the Bonaparte family were promised pensions. These were to be paid by the French government, which would soon be in the hands of Bourbon King Louis XVIII.
Emperor Francis I of Austria (Marie Louise’s father) was not pleased. Elba had been taken from Tuscany and annexed to France by Napoleon in 1802. Now that Napoleon was defeated, Francis considered the island to be part of Austria’s Italian interests. He wrote to Austrian Foreign Minister Clemens von Metternich on April 12:
The important thing is to remove Napoleon from France, and God grant that he may be sent very far away. I do not approve of the choice of the Island of Elba as a residence for Napoleon; they take it from Tuscany, they dispose of what belongs to my family, in favour of foreigners. Besides, Napoleon remains too near to France and to Europe. (4)
British Foreign Secretary Lord Castlereagh was also not keen on the choice.
I should have wished to substitute another position in lieu of Elba for the seat of Napoleon’s retirement, but none having the quality of security, on which he insisted, seemed disposable to which equal objections did not occur, and I did not feel that I could encourage the alternative which M. de Caulaincourt assured me Bonaparte repeatedly mentioned, namely, an asylum in England. (5)
Napoleon’s life on Elba
The night of April 28, 1814, Napoleon boarded the British frigate Undaunted at Fréjus on the French coast. He arrived off Elba’s main harbour of Portoferraio on May 3. The next day he disembarked.
Napoleon busied himself as best he could in his miniature kingdom, some 100 km (60 miles) in circumference, population 12,000. He established his palace and other residences, designed a new flag, reorganized the island’s administration, extended roads, improved fortifications, and issued a stream of directives regarding agriculture and other matters, down to the smallest detail. He organized his army and a tiny navy. His mother Letizia and his sister Pauline moved to Elba, occasioning the arrangement of concerts, balls and theatre performances. His mistress Marie Walewska came to visit, along with his illegitimate son, Alexandre Walewksi. Though Napoleon hoped that Marie Louise and their young son would join him, that was not to be (see my post about Marie Louise’s lover).
For a man who had ruled an empire, Elba was a huge comedown. Napoleon soon grew bored, as did the members of his court and the soldiers he had brought with him from France.
Less than two years had elapsed since the Emperor had led an army of half a million men across Europe. He was now forming brigades consisting of two mules and a Corsican horse, three mules and a Corsican horse, three French horses and two Elban horses. … It was with the deliberate intention of deceiving himself that he made use of the word ‘brigade.’ A conscientious acceptance of facts might have unhinged the brain. (6)
Napoleon also ran into money problems. It quickly became apparent that Louis XVIII had no intention of paying the annual 2 million francs promised in the Treaty of Fontainebleau. Once the money Napoleon had brought with him from France ran out, the income on Elba would be insufficient to cover his substantial expenses. In November 1814, Colonel Neil Campbell – the British commissioner on the island whose job it was to keep an eye on Napoleon – wrote to Lord Castlereagh:
If pecuniary difficulties press upon him much longer, so as to prevent his vanity from being satisfied by the ridiculous establishment of a court which he has hitherto supported in Elba, and if his doubts are not removed, I think he is capable of crossing over to Piombino [the closest town in Italy] with his troops, or of any other eccentricity. But if his residence in Elba and his income are secured to him, I think he will pass the rest of his life there in tranquillity. (7)
In December, Campbell wrote:
The Intendant-General of the island of Elba informs me that Napoleon’s troops and vessels cost him one million of francs per year, while all his sources of revenue…will not net four hundred thousand this year. In addition to the discharging of a number of servants lately, he has reduced to one-half the salary of his surgeon, treasurer, and some others who hold civil appointments in his household, and who accompanied him from Fontainebleau. (8)
In early February 1815, Campbell noted:
For some time past Napoleon has suspended his improvements, as regards roads and the finishing of his country residence. This is, I think, on account of the expense. Some of the roads, as well as a bridge built entirely for his own use, and unconnected with the public, have yet, by his order, been paid for entirely by the inhabitants [of Elba]. (9)
Napoleon’s attempts to get people to work without pay, and to collect taxes for periods preceding his possession of the island, alienated the Elbans. In fact, Napoleon had sufficient private funds to cover his expenses for at least another year, and he could have borrowed money or laid off some of his Guard (the Treaty of Fontainebleau limited him to 400 men, and he had come with almost 700). Though Napoleon’s financial situation is thought to have played some part in his decision to leave Elba, it was not the only reason.
The decision to leave
When Napoleon was in his final exile on St. Helena, he told his followers that he had already been thinking of leaving Elba even when he was still at Fontainebleau.
The abdication of Fontainebleau had been merely conditional, in my innermost thoughts. Davout, the Duke of Bassano, and Caulaincourt were aware of it. They alone were the confidants of my hope in the resurrection of the Empire; like me, they believed that the Bourbons were incorrigible, that they would return to what they had been when they left, feudal kings. (10)
In conversations on Elba, Napoleon indicated that he expected the Bourbons would not remain in power for long. In May 1814, he gave them six months, after which he expected he would be sent for “to tranquilise the country.” (11) Through informants, visitors and smuggled communications (mail destined for him was opened and much of it confiscated), he kept abreast of what was happening in France. He knew the Bourbon government was unpopular.
As early as June 1814 there were rumours on Elba that Napoleon was making arrangements to leave the island. In July, Campbell referred to how Napoleon’s “schemes begin to connect themselves so openly with the neighbouring continent,” and how “all possible means are taken to disseminate the idea of Bonaparte’s future return to influence and power.” (12) In August, it was reported in France that Napoleon had actually left the island. In September, spies reported that preparations were being made for Napoleon’s departure from Portoferraio.
That same month, the Congress of Vienna began meeting to draw up the map of the post-Napoleonic world. One of the points under discussion was Napoleon’s future. It was recognized that Napoleon was too close to continental Europe, but there was no consensus on what to do about him. On October 13, French Foreign Minister Talleyrand wrote to Louis XVIII:
A very decided intention of removing Bonaparte from the island of Elba is manifesting itself. As yet no one has any settled idea of a place in which to put him. I have proposed one of the Azores; it is five hundred leagues from any coast. Lord Castlereagh seems inclined to think that the Portuguese might be induced to agree to such an arrangement but when it comes to be discussed, the question of money [to compensate Portugal for giving up an island, and to provide for Napoleon] will turn up again. (13)
St. Helena, Saint Lucia and Trinidad were mentioned in informal conversations. In a meeting with Campbell on January 14, 1815, Napoleon
spoke of the statements which had appeared in some of the newspapers respecting his removal to St. Helena or St. Lucia, in a way which showed his belief in them, said he would not consent to being transported from Elba, but would resist the attempt by force to the last. (14)
The account Napoleon gave at St. Helena regarding his decision to leave Elba cites a fear of being deported, the failure to pay him, and opinion in France.
Napoleon was residing at the Island of Elba, on the faith of treaties, when he learned that at the Congress of Vienna some idea was entertained of transporting him from Europe. None of the articles of the treaty of Fontainebleau were fulfilled. The public papers informed him of the state of feeling in France, and he accordingly formed his determination. (15)
Regarding conditions in France, in mid-February 1815, Napoleon learned of a conspiracy in favour of the Duke of Orleans.
The auditor Fleury de Chaboulon brought me the news. Davout was particularly urgent for my immediate return. ‘If you hesitate,’ he wrote me, ‘everything is lost, no more hope is possible. The Duke of Orleans will accept the crown.… Davout was quite right, there was not a moment to lose; it was necessary at any price for my presence to reawaken the people’s love for me, before the Orleanist conspiracy exploded; because the coronation of the Duke of Orleans would have been for many people, and especially for the foreign powers, a sort of compromise between the Revolution and the Restoration. (16)
Historian Philip Dwyer argues that “Napoleon left Elba not to save France, but to save himself from oblivion.” (17)
Napoleon’s escape from Elba
Nothing in the Treaty of Fontainebleau stipulated that Napoleon had to stay on Elba. As an independent monarch, he was in theory entitled to complete freedom of action. He might go where he pleased, provided he obtained a passport or other permission to land on foreign soil. Unlike his later situation on St. Helena, Napoleon was not under guard, merely under watch, and a loose one at that. Practically, however, it was well understood that Napoleon was expected to remain on Elba, and that his departure from the island would be treated as an assault on the peace of Europe.
On February 16, the day Fleury de Chaboulon left Elba, Neil Campbell left for Livorno on HMS Partridge, carrying a dispatch for Lord Castlereagh in which he expressed his anxiety about Napoleon’s intentions. Napoleon immediately issued orders to prepare the Inconstant, a brig of about 300 tons, for a sea voyage, though he did not specify the destination. She was to be painted like an English ship. She was to be re-armed and furnished with biscuit, rice, vegetables, cheese, brandy, wine and water for 120 men for three months. She was to carry as many boats as possible. The army was prepared; the Imperial cash was put in strong boxes for a voyage. Napoleon let very few people in on his plans. He continued to issue orders and act as though life was continuing as normal on Elba.
On the night of February 23, the Partridge returned to Elba, without Campbell, and anchored in the harbour at Portoferraio. Napoleon ordered the Inconstant to put out to sea so its condition would not be discovered. He directed the soldiers of the Guard to set to work gardening, so the ship’s captain would notice nothing unusual. The Partridge left on the afternoon of the 24th, the captain having told Napoleon’s staff that he planned to collect Campbell from Livorno on the 26th. After the Partridge left, Napoleon placed an embargo on all shipping, including fishing boats, so that anyone inclined to alert the outside world to his plans was unable to leave the island.
On February 25, Napoleon met with Elba’s chief dignitaries and formally announced his impending departure. He prepared proclamations, which were printed that evening, to be ready for distribution in France.
On Sunday, February 26, Napoleon announced that the departure would take place that evening. The embarkation began at 5 pm. At 7 pm, Napoleon embraced his mother and his sister at the Mulini Palace. He drove to the quay in Pauline’s small carriage (his was on the ship), with his generals and household following on foot. The crowd gave some faint-hearted cheers as he boarded the felucca Caroline and was taken to the Inconstant. At 8 pm, the firing of a cannon signalled departure.
Napoleon’s flotilla consisted of the Inconstant, which normally carried 18 guns and now had 26; the French merchant brig Saint Esprit, hired for the occasion; the bombard Étoile, with 6 guns; the Caroline, and three smaller vessels. On these boats were some 1,150 people: 600 Old Guard (grenadiers, chasseurs, sailors, gunners); 100 Polish Lancers (with their saddles but not their horses); 300 members of the Corsican Battalion; 50 gendarmes (mostly Italians and Corsicans); and 100 civilians, including servants. (18) Each ship carried Napoleon’s Elban flag.
Barely out of Portoferraio, the flotilla was becalmed. By dawn it had travelled only 10 km (6 miles). Light winds continued to be a problem. Passing north of the island of Capraia on February 27, the Inconstant spotted the Melpomène, one of two French frigates whose job was to patrol the waters between Corsica and Elba. The Melpomène did not approach the flotilla, however, and the French frigate Fleur-de-Lys, cruising northwest of Capraia, did not even see Napoleon’s little navy.
That afternoon, the French brig Zéphir spotted the flotilla and came close enough for its Captain Andrieux to have a brief conversation with Captain Taillade of the Inconstant.
[Andrieux] hailed and Taillade, according to Napoleon’s instructions, gave the name of the ship. ‘Where are you going?’ ‘To Leghorn [Livorno],’ came the answer; ‘and you?’ Still prompted by Napoleon, Taillade replied: ‘To Genoa. Have you any commissions for me there?’ ‘No thank you. And how is the great man?’ Napoleon told him to shout back: ‘He is wonderfully well.’ So they separated. (19)
On the morning of February 28, Campbell arrived back at Elba on the Partridge to discover that Napoleon and his troops had left. He didn’t know where Napoleon had gone, and no one in Napoleon’s household would tell him. He sent an English visitor in a fishing boat to Livorno with the news. Campbell boarded the Partridge to sail for Antibes on the south coast of France. On the way, the Partridge encountered the Fleur-de-Lys. The French captain said the Imperial flotilla could not have passed him without being observed. He convinced Campbell to spend time searching around Capraia for Napoleon.
At dawn on March 1, 1815, the flotilla was off the cape of Antibes. The French tricolour was hoisted. At 1 pm the vessels were at anchor at Golfe-Juan, between Cannes and Antibes. The disembarkation commenced.
Napoleon made it all the way to Paris without a shot being fired against him. On March 20, he entered the capital and began his second term on the French throne. In June 1815, he lost the Battle of Waterloo and had to abdicate again. He was sent into exile on the remote South Atlantic island of St. Helena, from which there was no escape, except in Napoleon in America.
With regard to the failure of the British government to prevent Napoleon’s escape from Elba, Lord Castlereagh told the House of Commons on April 7, 1815:
The Allied Powers who concurred in the treaty of Fontainebleau never intended to exercise a police, or any system of espionage either within or without the residence which they had ceded to him; it was never in their contemplation to establish a naval police to hem him in, or prevent this man’s committing himself, as he has done, to his fortunes; in fact, if they were so inclined, they were without the means of enforcing such a system, for the best authorities were of opinion that it was absolutely and physically impossible to draw a line of circumvallation around Elba; and for this very conclusive reason, that, considering the variation of weather, and a variety of other circumstances, which could not be controlled, the whole British navy would be inadequate for such a purpose. If this force had been actually there, they could not have circumscribed Buonaparte in the manner in which some persons expected he should have been, without a violation of the treaty which had been granted him. (20)
On his return to Britain, Campbell was summoned to a private interview with the Prince Regent. The Prince cleared him of all blame for Napoleon’s escape from Elba. In 1826, Campbell was appointed Governor of Sierra Leone, where he died on August 14, 1827.
For more about Napoleon’s time on Elba, see “Napoleon on Elba – An Exile of Consent” by Peter Hicks in Napoleonica. La Revue. Neil Campbell’s memoir, Napoleon at Fontainebleau and Elba (1869), is available for free on the Internet Archive, as is the book Napoleon in Exile: Elba by Norwood Young (1914).
You might also enjoy:
- Armand de Caulaincourt, Recollections of Caulincourt, Duke of Vicenza, Vol. II (London, 1838), p. 86.
- Ibid., p. 86.
- Armand de Caulaincourt, Mémoires du général de Caulaincourt, duc de Vicence, Vol. III (Paris, 1933), p. 226.
- Norwood Young, Napoleon in Exile: Elba (London, 1914), p. 43.
- Ibid., p. 48.
- Ibid., p. 150.
- Neil Campbell, Napoleon at Fontainebleau and Elba (London, 1869), p. 319.
- Ibid., p. 344.
- Ibid., p. 354.
- Charles de Montholon, Récits de la Captivité de l’Empereur Napoléon à Sainte-Hélène, Vol. I (Paris, 1847), p. 225.
- Napoleon in Exile: Elba, p. 257.
- Napoleon at Fontainebleau and Elba, pp. 266, 268.
- G. Pallain, ed., The Correspondence of Prince Talleyrand and King Louis XVIII During the Congress of Vienna (New York, 1881), p. 26.
- Napoleon at Fontainebleau and Elba, p. 352.
- Emmanuel de Las Cases, Memoriale de Sainte Hélène: Journal of the Private Life and Conversations of the Emperor Napoleon at Saint Helena, Vol. III, Part 6 (London, 1823), pp. 156-157.
- Récits de la Captivité de l’Empereur Napoléon à Sainte-Hélène, Vol. I, pp. 225-226.
- Philip Dwyer, Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power (New Haven & London, 2013), p. 522.
- Napoleon in Exile: Elba, p. 309.
- Ibid., p. 312.
- Archibald Alison, Lives of Lord Castlereagh and Sir Charles Stewart (Edinburgh and London, 1861), p. 325.
Last Words of Famous People
King of France. Died suffering from obesity, gout and gangrene at the Tuileries Palace in Paris on September 16, 1824, at the age of 68. Louis XVIII had a long, slow decline, and many of the things he is claimed to have said in his dying days sound like official propaganda. The most credible account is from his good friend Madame du Cayla. She wrote that after receiving the last rites on September 13, Louis said goodbye to his family, expressed his regrets at leaving them, and told them to remain united and to love each other in good fortune as well as bad. He said, “I bless you; may God bless you too.” He then said to the Duke of Bordeaux, the three-year-old grandson of Louis’s brother and successor, the Count of Artois:
May you, my child, be wise, and happier than your parents. (1)
Maximilien Sébastien Foy
French general and politician, noted for his courage during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Died of an aneurism of the heart in Paris on November 28, 1825, age 50.
The nearer the fatal moment approached, the more did his kindness manifest itself to those around him. Wishing again to breathe the pure air, and see once more the light of the sun, his nephews carried him in a chair to the window, which was open; but feeling himself sinking, he said to them: ‘My good friends, put me upon the bed, God will do the rest.’ These were his last words. Two minutes after, his body rendered up to the Author of all things the great soul that it had received from him. (2)
Britain’s shortest-serving prime minister. Died at Chiswick House in London on August 8, 1827, of inflammation of the kidneys, age 57.
For the last three days, he was somewhat relieved from the excruciating pain he had before suffered. Not that it is true, as was said in the newspapers at the time, that his cries could be heard at some considerable distance from the house. During one day, however, they were heard by the servants below. He was frequently insensible; and during that time, the words, ‘Spain – Portugal,’ were constantly on his lips. (3)
French-born banker and philanthropist who became one of the richest Americans of all time. Died of pneumonia in Philadelphia on December 26, 1831, age 81.
A friend of his who sat in his chamber an hour in the morning of the day of his death represents him to have been altogether unconscious of his condition, and incapable of recognizing those around him. But a short time before he died, he got out of bed and walked across the room to a chair; but almost immediately returned to his bed, placing his hand to his head, and exclaiming, ‘how violent is this disorder! How very extraordinary it is!’ These were the last words he spoke, to be understood – and soon after expired; thus verifying the opinion, which he had always entertained, that nature would remove him from this scene of existence, as she had brought him into it, without his care, consciousness, or co-operation. (4)
Napoleon’s son, the King of Rome, Duke of Reichstadt. Died of tuberculosis at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna on July 22, 1832, age 21.
Suddenly the Baron [Moll] felt the Duke clutch at his arm convulsively with one hand, while with the other he beat his breast and ejaculated with great effort: ‘Poultices, blisters!’ These were his last words. Hardly had he spoken them before his eyes grew fixed and glazed; the convulsive movements of his body relaxed, and he fell into a state of torpor. (5)
Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette
Hero of the American and French revolutions. Died in Paris on May 20, 1834, at the age of 76, after being afflicted with a succession of illnesses (pneumonia, ischury, gout).
Four or five days previously to his death, Lafayette felt oppressed, and became melancholy…. This feeling, however, was of short duration: he soon regained his serenity, and the hope of recovery again lighted up the expression of his countenance. Towards this period of his malady, he observed to me, ‘Quinine and the fever, my dear Doctor, are battling together: give me plenty of quinine, that it may gain the upper hand.’ The next morning he repeated the same idea: ‘I fear,’ added he, ‘that the quinine is in the wrong, and that I shall be obliged to pay the costs of the suit.’ ‘What would you have?’ said he to me a few moments afterwards; ‘life is like the flame of a lamp: when the oil is out the light is extinguished, and all is over.’ On the last day but one before his death, when the visits of strangers were forbidden, Lafayette said to his grandson, M. Jules de Lasteyrie, ‘You will tell the good Princess de Belgiojoso how grateful I feel for her visits, and how much I suffer at being deprived of them.’
…. On the 20th of May…the seriousness of the symptoms increased…. A few moments before he breathed his last, Lafayette opened his eyes, and fixed them with a look of affection on his children, who surrounded his bed, as if to bless them and bid them an eternal adieu. He pressed my hand convulsively, experienced a slight degree of contraction in the forehead and eye-brows, and drew in a deep and lengthened breath, which was immediately followed by a last sigh.” (6)
John Quincy Adams
Sixth president of the United States. Died on February 23, 1848, at the age of 80, in Washington, from a massive stroke.
On Monday, the [21st] of February, at half-past one o’clock, the venerable John Quincy Adams…while in his seat in the House of Representatives, was stricken down by paralysis, and borne to the Speaker’s room in the Capitol. It had been the earnest wish of his heart to die like Chatham in the midst of his labors, and that wish was accomplished literally. ‘This is the last of Earth. I am content!’ was the last memorable sentence that he uttered. The expiring statesman was placed on a cot-bed, with his head toward the west. In this condition, breathing calmly, except at intervals, and manifesting no signs of pain, he lingered, for the most part insensible, for fifty-four hours. (7)
John C. Calhoun
Seventh vice president of the United States. Died of tuberculosis in Washington on March 31, 1850, age 68.
No immediate danger was apprehended until Saturday [March 30]. On that evening he frequently remarked that he was sinking and requested [his son] John to place his watch and papers in his trunk, soon after his pulse was completely gone. He spoke the last words about 6 AM yesterday morning[,] ‘I am very comfortable.’ His eyes continued bright, and his count[en]ance as expressive as ever for an hour afterwards, and he was conscious to the last moment. (8)
Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, Duchess of Angoulême
Madame Royale, eldest child of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and the only one of their offspring to survive the French Revolution. Died of pneumonia at Schloss Frohsdorf outside Vienna on October 19, 1851, age 72.
‘Lord, I humbly ask pardon for my fault,’ was her unceasing cry. ‘O God, come in aid to thy humble servant in this the hour of eternal judgement,’ was her fervent prayer. She gradually ceased to be able to recognize those around her; but the voice of the Duke of Bordeaux, as he whispered affectionately in her ear, seemed ever to revive her. Her hand lay in his as she uttered a feeble, ‘farewell,’ after which she never again spoke. (9)
(Yes, that is the same Duke of Bordeaux who received Louis XVIII’s last words. He was Marie-Thérèse’s nephew.)
Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington
After the surgeon left the castle, Kendall [Wellington’s valet]…prepared some tea, and, pouring three or four table spoonfuls into a saucer, asked the Duke if he would take a little. The Duke replied, ‘Yes, if you please.’ These are the last words he ever spoke. He had some difficulty in raising himself to take the tea. Kendall, observing this, placed his hand behind him, and assisted him….
About noon a fresh attack, shown in the exhausted state of the patient by shivering only, came on; and from that time hardly any sign of animation could be detected. (10)
You might also enjoy:
- Madame du Cayla, Mémoires d’une femme de qualité sur Louis XVIII, Vol. IV (Paris, 1829), p. 402.
- “Obituary – General Foy,” The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle, Vol. 96, January 1826, p. 86.
- The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, Vol. 32, Part II (London, 1831), p. 404.
- Stephen Simpson, Biography of Stephen Girard, with his Will Affixed (Philadelphia, 1832), p. 211.
- Edward De Wertheimer, The Duke of Reichstadt (London, 1906), p. 419.
- Jules Cloquet, Recollections of the Private Life of General Lafayette (London, 1835), pp. 275-276.
- Epes Sargent, The Life and Public Services of Henry Clay, New York, 1848, p. 113.
- Extract from a letter written on April 1, 1850 by Calhoun’s secretary, Joseph Scoville, to Calhoun’s son-in-law, Thomas Clemson, in Clyde N. Wilson and Shirley Bright Cook, eds., The Papers of John C. Calhoun, Vol. 27 (Columbia, 2003), p. 256.
- Romer, Filia Dolorosa. Memoirs of Marie-Thérèse Charlotte, Duchess of Angoulême, Vol. II (London, 1852), p. 395.
- Alfred R. Cooke, Wellington: The Story of His Life, His Battles and Political Career (London, 1852), pp. 227-228.
Bonypart Pie and Questions for Christmas
There is no mention of Napoleon Bonaparte doing anything special for his first Christmas in exile on St. Helena. One of his companions, Count de Las Cases, wrote on December 25, 1815:
The Emperor, who had not been well the preceding evening, was still indisposed this morning, and sent word that it would be impossible for him to receive the officers of the 53rd [regiment], as he had appointed. He sent for me about the middle of the day, and we again perused some chapters of the Campaign of Italy. (1)
Napoleon nonetheless occasioned some Christmas cheer in England, judging from a seasonal recipe appearing in a London newspaper.
A French Pie
Take a St. Helena Cock past crowing, Bonypart and all, smoke him and baste him; season him with Savory, and a few Malta pickles; of French plums (say Orleans) take as many as you can lay hands on; take from the Chamber of Pears (or Peers) about a dozen that are not sound, hang them up in the open air for a short time, then take them down and cut them in pieces; add a little sour Rhenish wine; and if the whole becomes too tart, sweeten it with a French Berry – be sure to take the Berry out again; let the crust be made of the flower of the late French army; expose it to a hot fire, and it will be a dish fit to set before the King. (2)
Questions for Christmas
The same newspaper offered the following Christmas questions, submitted by a reader.
Mr. Editor – Having been for several years a very prying and inquisitive observer of every thing out of the common course of things which this great city presents, I have been enabled to divine or to discover reasonable explanations of many things which less curious persons are contented to receive as they pass for matters quite simple, although very difficult to be accounted for; or if the difficulty occurs to them, to leave it unenlightened by investigation or inquiry. … [B]eing desirous to inspire others with the same ingenious and useful fancy that animates and directs my researches, and willing, at the same time, to receive information even from the moderately-gifted in point of intellect, I beg leave to submit the following questions, which may be put in the round of Christmas puzzles, in any society that may be disposed to admit them….
Q.1. Why do the hackney-coachmen, exclusively of all the inhabitants of London, wear wooden-soled shoes, sitting as they always do, high and dry, upon their coach-boxes, and never having occasion to walk in the mud, against which these clumsy timber foot-cases seem designed to be preservatives?
Q.2. Why is there always a clock in a cake-shop, and in no other except those of clock and watch-makers, pastry being of all commodities the least accustomed and the most unfit to be consumed against time?
Q.3. Why is Brawn sold by the fishmongers, and by them alone, being made of a material which, to use SHAKESPEAR’s language, although ‘very antient’ is, of all others in the world, perhaps the most ‘un-fishlike?’
When these important points are satisfactorily elucidated, you may receive some more to be submitted to the same illuminating tribunals. – A LONDONER (3)
You might also enjoy:
- Emmanuel de Las Cases, Memoriale de Sainte Hélène: Journal of the Private Life and Conversations of the Emperor Napoleon at Saint Helena, Vol. 1, Part 2 (New York, 1823), p. 33.
- The Morning Post (London, England), December 28, 1815, p. 4.