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- The Second Funeral of Napoleon - 1/10 -


The Second Funeral of Napoleon

by William Makepeace Thackeray "by Michael Angelo Titmarch."

I. On the Disinterment of Napoleon at St. Helena

II. On the Voyage from St. Helena to Paris

III. On the Funeral Ceremony

I.

ON THE DISINTERMENT OF NAPOLEON AT ST. HELENA.

MY DEAR ----,--It is no easy task in this world to distinguish between what is great in it, and what is mean; and many and many is the puzzle that I have had in reading History (or the works of fiction which go by that name), to know whether I should laud up to the skies, and endeavor, to the best of my small capabilities, to imitate the remarkable character about whom I was reading, or whether I should fling aside the book and the hero of it, as things altogether base, unworthy, laughable, and get a novel, or a game of billiards, or a pipe of tobacco, or the report of the last debate in the House, or any other employment which would leave the mind in a state of easy vacuity, rather than pester it with a vain set of dates relating to actions which are in themselves not worth a fig, or with a parcel of names of people whom it can do one no earthly good to remember.

It is more than probable, my love, that you are acquainted with what is called Grecian and Roman history, chiefly from perusing, in very early youth, the little sheepskin-bound volumes of the ingenious Dr. Goldsmith, and have been indebted for your knowledge of the English annals to a subsequent study of the more voluminous works of Hume and Smollett. The first and the last-named authors, dear Miss Smith, have written each an admirable history,--that of the Reverend Dr. Primrose, Vicar of Wakefield, and that of Mr. Robert Bramble, of Bramble Hall--in both of which works you will find true and instructive pictures of human life, and which you may always think over with advantage. But let me caution you against putting any considerable trust in the other works of these authors, which were placed in your hands at school and afterwards, and in which you were taught to believe. Modern historians, for the most part, know very little, and, secondly, only tell a little of what they know.

As for those Greeks and Romans whom you have read of in "sheepskin," were you to know really what those monsters were, you would blush all over as red as a hollyhock, and put down the history-book in a fury. Many of our English worthies are no better. You are not in a situation to know the real characters of any one of them. They appear before you in their public capacities, but the individuals you know not. Suppose, for instance, your mamma had purchased her tea in the Borough from a grocer living there by the name of Greenacre: suppose you had been asked out to dinner, and the gentleman of the house had said: "Ho! Francois! a glass of champagne for Miss Smith;"--Courvoisier would have served you just as any other footman would; you would never have known that there was anything extraordinary in these individuals, but would have thought of them only in their respective public characters of Grocer and Footman. This, Madam, is History, in which a man always appears dealing with the world in his apron, or his laced livery, but which has not the power or the leisure, or, perhaps, is too high and mighty to condescend to follow and study him in his privacy. Ah, my dear, when big and little men come to be measured rightly, and great and small actions to be weighed properly, and people to be stripped of their royal robes, beggars' rags, generals' uniforms, seedy out- at-elbowed coats, and the like--or the contrary say, when souls come to be stripped of their wicked deceiving bodies, and turned out stark naked as they were before they were born--what a strange startling sight shall we see, and what a pretty figure shall some of us cut! Fancy how we shall see Pride, with his Stultz clothes and padding pulled off, and dwindled down to a forked radish! Fancy some Angelic Virtue, whose white raiment is suddenly whisked over his head, showing us cloven feet and a tail! Fancy Humility, eased of its sad load of cares and want and scorn, walking up to the very highest place of all, and blushing as he takes it! Fancy,--but we must not fancy such a scene at all, which would be an outrage on public decency. Should we be any better than our neighbors? No, certainly. And as we can't be virtuous, let us be decent. Figleaves are a very decent, becoming wear, and have been now in fashion for four thousand years. And so, my dear, history is written on fig-leaves. Would you have anything further? O fie!

Yes, four thousand years ago that famous tree was planted. At their very first lie, our first parents made for it, and there it is still the great Humbug Plant, stretching its wide arms, and sheltering beneath its leaves, as broad and green as ever, all the generations of men. Thus, my dear, coquettes of your fascinating sex cover their persons with figgery, fantastically arranged, and call their masquerading, modesty. Cowards fig themselves out fiercely as "salvage men," and make us believe that they are warriors. Fools look very solemnly out from the dusk of the leaves, and we fancy in the gloom that they are sages. And many a man sets a great wreath about his pate and struts abroad a hero, whose claims we would all of us laugh at, could we but remove the ornament and see his numskull bare.

And such--(excuse my sermonizing)--such is the constitution of mankind, that men have, as it were, entered into a compact among themselves to pursue the fig-leaf system a l'outrance, and to cry down all who oppose it. Humbug they will have. Humbugs themselves, they will respect humbugs. Their daily victuals of life must be seasoned with humbug. Certain things are there in the world that they will not allow to be called by their right names, and will insist upon our admiring, whether we will or no. Woe be to the man who would enter too far into the recesses of that magnificent temple where our Goddess is enshrined, peep through the vast embroidered curtains indiscreetly, penetrate the secret of secrets, and expose the Gammon of Gammons! And as you must not peer too curiously within, so neither must you remain scornfully without. Humbug- worshippers, let us come into our great temple regularly and decently: take our seats, and settle our clothes decently; open our books, and go through the service with decent gravity; listen, and be decently affected by the expositions of the decent priest of the place; and if by chance some straggling vagabond, loitering in the sunshine out of doors, dares to laugh or to sing, and disturb the sanctified dulness of the faithful;--quick! a couple of big beadles rush out and belabor the wretch, and his yells make our devotions more comfortable.

Some magnificent religious ceremonies of this nature are at present taking place in France; and thinking that you might perhaps while away some long winter evening with an account of them, I have compiled the following pages for your use. Newspapers have been filled, for some days past, with details regarding the St. Helena expedition, many pamphlets have been published, men go about crying little books and broadsheets filled with real or sham particulars; and from these scarce and valuable documents the following pages are chiefly compiled.

We must begin at the beginning; premising, in the first place, that Monsieur Guizot, when French Ambassador at London, waited upon Lord Palmerston with a request that the body of the Emperor Napoleon should be given up to the French nation, in order that it might find a final resting-place in French earth. To this demand the English Government gave a ready assent; nor was there any particular explosion of sentiment upon either side, only some pretty cordial expressions of mutual good-will. Orders were sent out to St. Helena that the corpse should be disinterred in due time, when the French expedition had arrived in search of it, and that every respect and attention should he paid to those who came to carry back to their country the body of the famous dead warrior and sovereign.

This matter being arranged in very few words (as in England, upon most points, is the laudable fashion), the French Chambers began to debate about the place in which they should bury the body when they got it; and numberless pamphlets and newspapers out of doors joined in the talk. Some people there were who had fought and conquered and been beaten with the great Napoleon, and loved him and his memory. Many more were there who, because of his great genius and valor, felt excessively proud in their own particular persons, and clamored for the return of their hero. And if there were some few individuals in this great hot-headed, gallant, boasting, sublime, absurd French nation, who had taken a cool view of the dead Emperor's character; if, perhaps, such men as Louis Philippe, and Monsieur A. Thiers, Minister and Deputy, and Monsieur Francois Guizot, Deputy and Excellency, had, from interest or conviction, opinions at all differing from those of the majority; why, they knew what was what, and kept their opinions to themselves, coming with a tolerably good grace and flinging a few handfuls of incense upon the altar of the popular idol.

In the succeeding debates, then, various opinions were given with regard to the place to be selected for the Emperor's sepulture. "Some demanded," says an eloquent anonymous Captain in the Navy who has written an "Itinerary from Toulon to St. Helena," "that the coffin should be deposited under the bronze taken from the enemy by the French army--under the Column of the Place Vendome. The idea was a fine one. This is the most glorious monument that was ever raised in a conqueror's honor. This column has been melted out of foreign cannon. These same cannons have furrowed the bosoms of our braves with noble cicatrices; and this metal--conquered by the soldier first, by the artist afterwards--has allowed to be imprinted on its front its own defeat and our glory. Napoleon might sleep in peace under this audacious trophy. But, would his ashes find a shelter sufficiently vast beneath this pedestal? And his puissant statue dominating Paris, beams with sufficient grandeur on this place: whereas the wheels of carriages and the feet of passengers would profane the funereal sanctity of the spot in trampling on the soil so near his head."

You must not take this description, dearest Amelia, "at the foot of the letter," as the French phrase it, but you will here have a masterly exposition of the arguments for and against the burial of the Emperor under the Column of the Place Vendome. The idea was a fine one, granted; but, like all other ideas, it was open to objections. You must not fancy that the cannon, or rather the cannon-balls, were in the habit of furrowing the bosoms of French braves, or any other braves, with cicatrices: on the contrary, it is a known fact that cannon-balls make wounds, and not cicatrices (which, my dear, are wounds partially healed); nay, that a man generally dies after receiving one such projectile on his chest, much more after having his bosom furrowed by a score of them. No, my love; no bosom, however heroic, can stand such applications, and


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