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Chapter 30

THE FIRST OFFICIAL DINNER.

December 24, 1848.

Louis Bonaparte gave his first dinner last evening, Saturday
the 23rd, two days after his elevation to the Presidency
of the Republic.

The Chamber had adjourned for the Christmas holidays.
I was at home in my new lodging in the Rue de la Tour
d'Auvergne, occupied with I know not what bagatelles,
~totus in illis~, when a letter addressed to me and brought
by a dragoon was handed to me. I opened the envelope,
and this is what I read:

The orderly officer on duty has the honour to inform Monsieur the
General Changarnier that he is invited to dinner at the Elysee-National
on Saturday, at 7 o'clock.

I wrote below it: "Delivered by mistake to M. Victor
Hugo," and sent the letter back by the dragoon who had
brought it. An hour later came another letter from M.
de Persigny, Prince Louis's former companion in plots,
to-day his private secretary. This letter contained profuse
apologies for the error committed and advised me that I
was among those invited. My letter had been addressed by
mistake to M. Conti, the Representative from Corsica.

At the head of M. de Persigny's letter, written with a
pen, were the words: "Household of the President."

I remarked that the form of these invitations was exactly
similar to the form employed by King Louis Philippe. As
I did not wish to do anything that might resemble
intentional coldness, I dressed; it was half past 6, and
I set out immediately for the Elysee.

Half past 7 struck as I arrived there.

As I passed I glanced at the sinister portal of the Praslin
mansion adjoining the Elysee. The large green carriage
entrance, enframed between two Doric pillars of the time
of the Empire, was closed, gloomy, and vaguely outlined
by the light of a street lamp. One of the double doors of
the entrance to the Elysee was closed; two soldiers of the
line were on guard. The court-yard was scarcely lighted,
and a mason in his working clothes with a ladder on his
shoulder was crossing it; nearly all the windows of the
outhouses on the right had been broken, and were mended
with paper. I entered by the door on the perron. Three
servants in black coats received me; one opened the door,
another took my mantle, the third said: "Monsieur, on
the first floor!" I ascended the grand staircase. There
were a carpet and flowers on it, but that chilly and
unsettled air about it peculiar to places into which one is
moving.

On the first floor an usher asked:

"Monsieur has come to dinner?"

"Yes," I said. "Are they at table?"

"Yes, Monsieur."

"In that case, I am off."

"But, Monsieur," exclaimed the usher, "nearly everybody
arrived after the dinner had begun; go in. Monsieur
is expected."

I remarked this military and imperial punctuality, which
used to be customary with Napoleon. With the Emperor
7 o'clock meant 7 o'clock.

I crossed the ante-chamber, then a salon, and entered
the dining-room. It was a square room wainscotted in the
Empire style with white wood. On the walls were engravings
and pictures of very poor selection, among them
"Mary Stuart listening to Rizzio," by the painter Ducis.
Around the room was a sideboard. In the middle was a
long table with rounded ends at which about fifteen guests
were seated. One end of the table, that furthest from the
entrance, was raised, and here the President of the Republic
was seated between two women, the Marquise de Hallays-Coëtquen,
née Princess de Chimay (Tallien) being
on his right, and Mme. Conti, mother of the Representative,
on his left.

The President rose when I entered. I went up to him.
We grasped each other's hand.

"I have improvised this dinner," he said. "I invited
only a few dear friends, and I hoped that I could comprise
you among them. I thank you for coming. You
have come to me, as I went to you, simply. I thank you."

He again grasped my hand. Prince de la Moskowa, who
was next to General Changarnier, made room for me beside
him, and I seated myself at the table. I ate quickly, for
the President had interrupted the dinner to enable me to
catch up with the company. The second course had been
reached.

Opposite to me was General Rulhières, an ex-peer, the
Representative Conti and Lucien Murat. The other guests
were unknown to me. Among them was a young major
of cavalry, decorated with the Legion of Honour. This
major alone was in uniform; the others wore evening
dress. The Prince had a rosette of the Legion of Honour
in his buttonhole.

Everybody conversed with his neighbour. Louis Bonaparte
appeared to prefer his neighbour on the right to his
neighbour on the left. The Marquise de Hallays is
thirty-six years old, and looks her age. Fine eyes, not much hair,
an ugly mouth, white skin, a shapely neck, charming arms,
the prettiest little hands in the world, admirable shoulders.
At present she is separated from M. de Hallays. She has
had eight children, the first seven by her husband. She
was married fifteen years ago. During the early period of
their marriage she used to fetch her husband from the
drawing-room, even in the daytime, and take him off to bed.
Sometimes a servant would enter and say: "Madame the
Marquise is asking for Monsieur the Marquis." The Marquis
would obey the summons. This made the company
who happened to be present laugh. To-day the Marquis
and Marquise have fallen out.

"She was the mistress of Napoleon, son of Jerome, you
know," said Prince de la Moskowa to me, sotto voce, "now
she is Louis's mistress."

"Well," I answered, "changing a Napoleon for a Louis
is an everyday occurrence."

These bad puns did not prevent me from eating and observing.

The two women seated beside the President had square-topped
chairs. The President's chair was surmounted with
a little round top. As I was about to draw some inference
from this I looked at the other chairs and saw that four
or five guests, myself among them, had chairs similar to
that of the President. The chairs were covered with red
velvet with gilt headed nails. A more serious thing I
noticed was that everybody addressed the President of the
Republic as "Monseigneur" and "your Highness." I
who had called him "Prince," had the air of a demagogue.

When we rose from table the Prince asked after my
wife, and then apologized profusely for the rusticity of the
service.

"I am not yet installed," he said. "The day before
yesterday, when I arrived here, there was hardly a mattress
for me to sleep upon."

The dinner was a very ordinary one, and the Prince did
well to excuse himself. The service was of common white
china and the silverware bourgeois, worn, and gross. In
the middle of the table was a rather fine vase of craquelé,
ornamented with ormolu in the bad taste of the time of
Louis XVI.

However, we heard music in an adjoining hall.

"It is a surprise," said the President to us, "they are the
musicians from the Opera."

A minute afterwards programmes written with a pen
were handed round. They indicated that the following five
selections were being played:

1. Priere de la "Muette."
2. Fantaisie sur des airs favoris de la "Reine Hortense."
3. Final de "Robert Bruce".
4. "Marche Republicaine."
5. "La Victoire," pas redoublé.

In the rather uneasy state of mind I, like the whole of
France, was in at that moment, I could not help remarking
this "Victory" piece coming after the "Republican March."

I rose from table still hungry.

We went into the grand salon, which was separated
from the dining-room by the smaller salon that I had passed
through on entering.

This grand salon was extremely ugly. It was white, with
figures on panels, after the fashion of those of Pompeii, the
whole of the furniture being in the Empire style with the
exception of the armchairs, which were in tapestry and
gold and in fairly good taste. There were three arched
windows to which three large mirrors of the same shape
at the other end of the salon formed pendants and one of
which, the middle one, was a door. The window curtains
were of fine white satin richly flowered.

While the Prince de la Moskowa and I were talking
Socialism, the Mountain, Communism, etc., Louis Bonaparte
came up and took me aside.

He asked me what I thought of the situation. I was reserved.
I told him that a good beginning had been made;
that the task was a difficult but a grand one; that what he
had to do was to reassure the bourgeoisie and satisfy the
people, to give tranquillity to the former, work to the latter,
and life to all; that after the little governments, those of
the elder Bourbons, Louis Philippe, and the Republic of
February, a great one was required; that the Emperor had
made a great government through war, and that he himself
ought to make a great one through peace; that the French
people having been illustrious for three centuries did not
propose to become ignoble; that it was his failure to
appreciate this high-mindedness of the people and the national
pride that was the chief cause of Louis Philippe's downfall;
that, in a word, he must decorate peace.

"How?" asked Louis Napoleon.

"By all the greatness of art, literature and science, by
the victories of industry and progress. Popular labour can
accomplish miracles. And then, France is a conquering
nation; when she does not make conquests with the sword,
she wants to make them with the mind. Know this and
act accordingly. Ignore it and you will be lost."

He looked thoughtful and went away. Then he returned,
thanked me warmly, and we continued to converse.

We spoke about the press. I advised him to respect it
profoundly and at the same time to establish a State press.
"The State without a newspaper, in the midst of newspapers,"
I observed, "restricting itself to governing while
publicity and polemics are the rule, reminds one of the
knights of the fifteenth century who obstinately persisted
in fighting against cannon with swords; they were always
beaten. I grant that it was noble; you will grant that it
was foolish."

He spoke of the Emperor. "It is here," he said, "that
I saw him for the last time. I could not re-enter this
palace without emotion. The Emperor had me brought to
him and laid his hand on my head. I was seven years old.
It was in the grand salon downstairs."

Then Louis Bonaparte talked about La Malmaison. He said:

"They have respected it. I visited the place in detail
about six weeks ago. This is how I came to do so. I had
gone to see M. Odilon Barrot at Bougival.

"'Dine with me,' he said.

"' I will with pleasure.' It was 3 o'clock. 'What shall
we do until dinner time?'

"'Let us go and see La Malmaison,' suggested M. Barrot.

"We went. Nobody else was with us. Arrived at La
Malmaison we rang the bell. A porter opened the gate,
M. Barrot spoke:

"'We want to see La Malmaison.'

"'Impossible!' replied the porter.

"'What do you mean, impossible?'

"'I have orders.'

"'From whom?'

"'From her Majesty Queen Christine, to whom the
château belongs at present.'

"'But monsieur here is a stranger who has come expressly
to visit the place.'

"'Impossible!'

"'Well,' exclaimed M. Odilon Barrot, 'it's funny that
this door should be closed to the Emperor's nephew!'

"The porter started and threw his cap on the ground.
He was an old soldier, to whom the post had been granted
as a pension.

"'The Emperor's nephew!' he cried. 'Oh! Sire,
enter!'

"He wanted to kiss my clothes.

"We visited the château. Everything is still about in
its place. I recognised nearly everything, the First
Consul's study, the chamber of his mother, my own. The
furniture in several rooms has not been changed. I found
a little armchair I had when I was a child."

I said to the Prince: "You see, thrones disappear,
arm-chairs remain.

While we were talking a few persons came, among others
M. Duclerc, the ex-Minister of Finance of the Executive
Committee, an old woman in black velvet whom I did not
know, and Lord Normanby, the English Ambassador,
whom the President quickly took into an adjoining salon.
I saw Lord Normanby taken aside in the same way by Louis
Philippe.

The President in his salon had an air of timidity and did
not appear at home. He came and went from group to
group more like an embarrassed stranger than the master
of the house. However, his remarks are ~a propos~ and
sometimes witty.

He endeavoured to get my opinion anent his Ministry,
but in vain. I would say nothing either good or bad about
it.

Besides, the Ministry is only a mask, or, more properly
speaking, a screen that hides a baboon. Thiers is behind it.
This is beginning to bother Louis Bonaparte. He has to
contend against eight Ministers, all of whom seek to
belittle him. Each is pulling his own way. Among these
Ministers some are his avowed enemies. Nominations,
promotions, and lists arrive all made out from the Place Saint
Georges. They have to be accepted, signed and endorsed.

Yesterday Louis Bonaparte complained about it to the
Prince de la Moskowa, remarking wittily: "They want to
make of me a Prince Albert of the Republic."

Odilon Barrot appeared mournful and discouraged. To-day
he left the council with a crushed air. M. de la Moskowa
encountered him.

"Hello!" said he, "how goes it?"

"Pray for us!" replied Odilon Barrot.

"Whew!" said Moskowa, "this is tragical!"

"What are we to do?" went on Odilon Barrot. "How
are we to rebuild this old society in which everything is
collapsing? Efforts to prop it up only help to bring it
down. If you touch it, it topples over. Ah! pray for
us!"

And he raised his eyes skywards.

I quitted the Elysee about 10 o'clock. As I was going
the President said to me: "Wait a minute." Then he
went into an adjoining room and came out again a moment
later with some papers which he placed in my hand, saying:
"For Madame Victor Hugo."

They were tickets of admission to the gallery of the
Garde-Meuble for the review that is to be held to-day.

And as I went home I thought a good deal. I thought
about this abrupt moving in, this trial of etiquette, this
bourgeois-republican-imperial mixture, this surface of a
deep, unfathomed quantity that to-day is called the
President of the Republic, his entourage, the whole
circumstances of his position. This man who can be, and is,
addressed at one and the same time and from all sides at once
as: prince, highness, monsieur, monseigneur and citizen,
is not one of the least curious and characteristic factors of
the situation.

Everything that is happening at this moment stamps its
mark upon this personage who sticks at nothing to attain
his ends.

Victor Hugo