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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

Napoleon III.

  • [Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, son of Louis Bonaparte and Hortense de Beauharnais; born in Paris, April 20, 1808; registered at the head of the family in preference to the children of the older brothers of Napoleon I.; educated in Switzerland; attempt on Strasburg, 1836; banished to the United States; returned to Europe, 1837; arrested at Boulogne, 1840; escaped from Ham, 1846; member of the French Assembly, 1848; elected President of the Republic, December of that year; effected the coup d’état, Dec. 2, 1851; Emperor of the French, November, 1852; declared war against Russia, March, 1854; against Austria, May, 1859; against Mexico, 1862; against Prussia, July, 1870; surrendered at Sedan; removed to Cassel, and thence to England, where he died Jan. 9, 1873.]
  • I believe that I have a mission to fulfil: I shall know how to act my part until the end (Je saurais garder mon rôle jusqu’à la fin).

  • In his defence, November, 1836, after the unsuccessful attempt to proclaim himself emperor, and take possession of the citadel of Strasburg. This is the “Napoleonic idea” which supported him for years in exile or unsuccessful conspiracy. Thus when addressing the court at Paris, April 5, 1840, after his arrest at Boulogne, he said, “I represent before you a principle, a cause, and a defeat: the principle is the sovereignty of the people; the cause is the empire; the defeat is Waterloo: you have recognized the principle, you have served the cause, you will avenge the defeat!” On departing for the fortress of Ham, to which he was sentenced, he consoled himself with the thought, “With the name I bear, I must have either the obscurity of the dungeon, or the light of power” (il me faut l’ombre d’un cachot ou la lumière du pouvoir).
  • L’empire, c’est la paix.

  • While preparing the coup d’état, he uttered many remarks tending to pacify or mislead the public. At his entrance into public life in France, he said to the President of the National Assembly, June 14, 1848, while awaiting admission to that body, “If the people repose duties upon me, I shall know how to perform them.” Endeavoring to crown himself with the laurels of the first empire, he declared, “My name is the symbol of order, nationality, and glory.” He made a very strong statement a short time before the coup d’état: “I should regard that man as the enemy of my country, who should attempt to change by force what is established by law” (Je verrais un ennemi de mon pays dans quiconque voudrait changer par la force ce qui est établi par la loi). To the officers of regiments lately arrived in Paris, he said, Nov. 9, 1851., “If ever the day of danger should arise, I would not do like the governments that have preceded me: I would not say, ‘March, I follow you,’ but, ‘I march, follow me.’”
  • After the overthrow of the republic had been confirmed by the plébiscite, or popular vote of 7,800,000 in favor of the empire, the emperor said to the Corps Législatif: “France has comprehended that I went outside the law to enter into justice.” Victor Hugo (“L’Histoire d’un Crime”) attributes a personal motive to him, in quoting his severe reply to a lady who besought his clemency towards one of the prisoners of the coup d’état: “Madame, I excuse your gallantries, excuse my hatreds” (Je vous passe vos amours, passez-moi mes haines).
  • The emperor’s son, the late Prince Imperial, is said to have remarked during the exile which followed the overthrow of the empire, “I will not drag at my heel the ball of the coup d’état,” referring to the ball and chain worn by galley-slaves.
  • Louis Napoleon made an address to the Chamber of Commerce of Bordeaux, Oct. 9, 1852, after the coup d’état, but while he was still prince-president, in which occurred the famous expression, “The empire is peace,” in contradiction to those who feared that the approaching empire meant war. Büchmann quotes the parody of “Kladderadatch,” Nov. 8, 1862, “L’empire, c’est l’épée” (a sword).
  • Italy, free from the Alps to the Adriatic.

  • In his proclamation on leaving Paris for the Italian war of 1859, he said, “Austria has brought things to such a pass that she must lord it up to the Alps, or else Italy must be free up to the Adriatic.” Victor Emmanuel caught up the antithesis in an address to the people of Italy, June 9, 1859, after the victory of Magenta had opened to him the gates of Milan: “Napoleon, putting himself at the head of the heroic army of the great nation, wishes to liberate Italy from the Alps to the Adriatic.”
  • No one felt more keenly the abrupt termination of the war, which deceived the hopes of liberal Italy, than the patriot Ricasoli, who exclaimed, “After [the peace of] Villa Franca, I spat upon my life” (Dopo Villa Franca ho sputato sulla mia vita).
  • Napoleon III. adopted an expression attributed to Sieyès in 1793, in speaking of the Rhine as the “natural boundary” of France. Büchmann refers it, however, to a proclamation of the Dauphin, afterwards Louis XI., as early as 1444. On the conclusion of peace between Germany and France, during the minority of Louis XIV., the “Gazette de France” announced, “The French army may henceforward fearlessly water their horses in the Rhine.”
  • The only jeu d’esprit which can be assigned to the emperor was his question how under the circumstances it was supposed the government could be carried on: “The empress is legitimist, Morny Orleanist, my cousin Napoleon republican, I am something of a socialist, the only Bonapartist is Persigny, and he is a fool!”
  • Louis has just received his baptism of fire.

  • In a despatch to the empress after the affair of Saarbrück, Aug. 10, 1870, in which the Prince Imperial was exposed to the enemy’s fire. Napoleon I. said at St. Helena, Aug. 2, 1817, “I love a brave soldier who has undergone the baptism of fire (le baptême de feu), to whatever nation he may belong.”
  • When, in his childhood, the Prince Imperial asked the meaning of the word “exile,” the emperor replied, prophetically it would seem, “That will be explained to you when you are older.”
  • The words with which Napoleon III. passed off the stage of action were addressed to the King of Prussia, in his letter of surrender, Sept. 1, 1870: “Not being able to die at the head of my troops, it only remains for me to place my sword in the hands of your Majesty” (N’ayant pas pu mourir à la tête de mes troupes, il ne me reste plus qu’à remettre mon épée entre les mains de votre Majesté). Gambetta had by this time dubbed him “the Man of Sedan.”
  • Jules Simon, one of the handful of Liberals in the Corps Législatif of 1867, summed up the character of the second empire in the words, “Cæsarism is democracy without liberty” (Le césarisme, c’est la démocratie sans la liberté).—TAXILE DELORD: L’Histoire du Second Empire.
  • Lamennais declared of the emperor when prince-president, “That man has no sentiment of good or evil,—only the sentiment of self” (Cet homme n’a pas le sentiment ni du bien ni du mal: il n’a pas le sentiment que de soi-même).