CHAPTER XI. THE EMPEROR AND EMPRESS AT THE SUMMIT OF PROSPERITY.
The visit paid by the Emperor Napoleon and the Empress Eugenie to Queen Victoria at Windsor in 1856 was returned in 1857.
It was on the 18th of August that the queen, her husband, the Prince of Wales, then a boy of fourteen, and the Princess Royal landed at Boulogne. The royal yacht had been in sight since daybreak, the emperor anxiously watching it from the shore; but it was two P. M. before it was moored to the quai. There can be no better account of this visit than that given by Queen Victoria. The following extracts are taken from her journal: -
"At last the bridge was adjusted, the emperor stepped across. I met him half-way, and embraced him twice, after which he led me on shore amid acclamations, salutes, and every sound of joy and respect. The weather was perfect, the harbor crowded with war-ships, the town and the heights were decorated with gay colors."
The delay in getting up to the wharf postponed the queen's entrance into Paris, and greatly disappointed the crowds who waited for her coming. They were also disappointed that the greatest lady in the world exhibited no magnificence in costume. But the queen herself was greatly impressed by her first view of Paris: -
"The approaching twilight rather added to the beauty of the scene; and it was still quite light enough when we passed down the Boulevard de Strasbourg (the emperor's own creation) and along the Boulevards by the Porte Saint-Denis, the Madeleine, the Place de la Concorde, and the Arch of Triumph, to see the objects round us."
They drove through the Bois de Boulogne in the dusk to the palace of Saint-Cloud; but all the way was lined with troops, and bands playing "God Save the Queen," at intervals. The queen was particularly impressed by the Zouaves, "The friends," she says (for the Crimean War was then in progress), "of my dear Guards in the Crimea."
The birth of the Prince Imperial being an event in prospect, the empress was not allowed to fatigue herself, and first met the queen on the latter's arrival at Saint-Cloud. "In all the blaze of lamps and torches," says the queen, "amidst the roar of cannon, and bands, and drums, and cheers, we reached the palace. The empress, with Princess Mathilde and the ladies, received us at the door, and took us up a beautiful staircase, lined with magnificent soldiers.... I felt quite bewildered, but enchanted."
At dinner General Canrobert, who was fresh from the Crimea, was placed next to her Majesty, and gave her his war experiences. Next day the royal party went to the Exposition Universelle, then going on in Paris, and afterwards, while the queen was receiving the ambassadors, the emperor drove the Prince of Wales through the streets of Paris; he afterwards took his older guests sight-seeing in his capital. "As we crossed the Pont de Change," writes the queen, "the emperor said, pointing to the Conciergerie, 'That is where I was in prison." He alluded to the time when he was brought from Strasburg to Paris, before being shipped for Rio Janeiro. "Strange," continues the queen, "to be driving with us as emperor through the streets of Paris in triumph!"
They visited Versailles (where the queen sketched), and afterwards went to the Grand Opera. They saw Paris illuminated that night as they drove back to Saint-Cloud, the emperor and Prince Albert recalling old German songs; and the queen says: "The emperor seems very fond of his old recollections of Germany. There is much that is German, and very little - nothing, in fact - markedly French in his character."
One day all the royal party went out in a hack carriage, with what the queen calls "common bonnets and veils," and drove incognito round Paris. Sometimes they talked politics, sometimes they seem to have joked and laughed with childish glee and enjoyment; and one night the emperor took the queen by torchlight to see the tomb of his great uncle at the Invalides. A guard of old warriors who had served under Napoleon, with Santini, his valet at St. Helena, at their head, escorted the queen of England to the chapel where stood Napoleon's coffin, not yet entombed, with the sword of Austerlitz lying upon it. The band in the chapel was playing "God Save the Queen," while without raged a sudden thunder-storm.
The mornings were devoted to quiet pleasures and sight-seeing, the evenings to operas, state dinners, and state balls. The great ball given on this occasion in the galleries of Versailles was talked of in Paris for years after. "The empress," says the queen, "met us at the top of the staircase, looking like a fairy-queen or nymph, in a white dress trimmed with bunches of grass and diamonds, a beautiful tour de corsage of diamonds round the top of her dress, and all en riviere; the same round her waist, and a corresponding headdress, and her Spanish and Portuguese orders. The emperor said when she appeared: 'Comme tu es belle!'"
Next day, as the emperor drove the queen in an open carriage, they talked of the Orleans family, whose feelings had been greatly hurt by a recent sequestration of their property. The emperor tried to make excuses for this act, - excuses that seemed to the queen but tame, - and then he drove to the chapel built over the house where the Duke of Orleans had died on the Avenue de Neuilly. The emperor bought her two of the medals sold on the spot, one of which bore the likeness of the Comte de Paris, with an inscription calling him the hope of France.
The visit ended after eight delightful days, and the emperor escorted his guests back to Boulogne.