BLTC Press Titles

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Novalis Including Hymns to the Night

Novalis, George MacDonald, Thomas Carlyle

Through the Looking Glass

Lewis Carroll

Paradoxes of the Highest Science

Eliphas Levi

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde

Napoleon and his times

by Armand Augustin Louis Caulaincourt (marquis de, duc de Vicence)


This excursion very much fatigued the duke. He was so ill that he was confined to his room for two or three days. When he was well enough to see us, we called on him. Our conversation happened to turn on his embassy to Russia—on those four brilliant and poetic years of his existence.

"The time I spent in Russia," said the Duke de Vicenza, "is almost the only interval of my life to which I can refer without the fear of conjuring up some painful recollection.

"In 1807, when I was sent as ambassador to Russia, the Emperor Napoleon had attained the zenith of his political fortune. France had no boundarips save those determined by her sovereign. The French name was a talisman to which the nations of the world rendered homage and obedience. Then, indeed, there was glory and honor in being the representative of France!

"The Emperor always entertained a just idea of the noble and the grand. He was economical in his own personal expenses, and a decided foe to extravagance and wastefulness; yet he was munificent in all that related to the dignity of the crown. No sovereign had a nicer perception of what was due to his exalted position. He was desirous that the ambassador of the greatest nation in the world should maintain, with regal splendor, the rank of the country he had the honor to represent. 'I give you a carte blanche for the expenses of the embassy,' said he to me. 'We must not appear like citizens grown rich— the court of France must not show itself mean and petty. Our brother of Russia loves pleasure and luxury. Give magnificent fetes—let them have something for their money.'

"He laughed heartily at this allusion. The Emperor was rarely gay, but when he was so, his flow of spirits rendered him singularly communicative.

"If, sire, 1 might venture to employ a vulgar phrase, but one that is Apropos to the subject, I should say"

"'That they have paid the piper beforehand,' interrupted he, with a renewed burst of laughter; then, with true Italian mobility of spirit, he added:—'Now, Caulincourt, let us talk seriously on cabinet diplomacy. As to the diplomacy of the drawing-room, I feel assured that you will manage that like a true nobleman. Attend to me, Caulincourt. Bear in mind my instructions; and, above all, bear in mind my political plans and my system. If you do not thoroughly comprehend me, you will not be able to serve me well. In diplomacy, tact and good management are better than cunning. The machinery which used to be set in motion by the diplomatists of past times is now worn out. All their finesse is now well known; and after all, when we have it in our power to speak decidedly and downrightly,' continued he, raising his head haughtily,' why should we resort to cunning? Dissimulation is always a mark of weakness.'

n" He then explained to me his policy in reference to the court of Russia, and took a profound and luminous view of its consequences. His plan was gigantic, and was destined to produce incalculable results. Our conversation was long, and every observation that fell from him so completely rivetted my attention, that his instructions were indelibly impressed on my mind. My mission was a great and glorious one, and I felt within me the power to execute it worthily. Whether the Emperor intended to give me his final decision in this conversation 1 know not; but it is certain, that in the course of my embassy 1 frequently reminded him (though, alas, in vain) of the instructions I had received on the eve of my departure from Paris. But enough of this!

"You wish," continued the duke, "that I should introduce you to the brilliant court of Russia, where I found realised all the traditions of the youthful days of Lous XIV. Indeed, the glories of the Grand Monarque seemed at that time a fond dream at the court of St. Petersburg. No court ever presented within itself so many elements of pleasure and excitement. Youth, beauty, gaiety, and splendor, were ever grouped round the throne.

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