If Pope Pius VII represented the decay of ancient superstition, Bonaparte represented the high and palmy state of modern opinion; yet not insulting over, but propping the fall of the ﬁrst.
Continuing The Coronation of Napoleon,
our selection from Life of Napoleon Buonaparte by William Hazlitt published in 1830. The selection is presented in three easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Coronation of Napoleon.
Place: Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
The Emperor arrogated nothing to himself in consequence of the change in his situation. He had assumed the mock-majesty of kings, and had taken his station among the lords of the earth; but he was still himself, and his throne still stood afar off in the ﬁeld of battle. He appeared little more conscious of his regal style and title than if he had put on a masquerade dress the evening before, of which if he was not ashamed — as it was a thing of custom — he had no reason to be proud; and he applied himself to his different avocations with the same zeal and activity as if nothing extraordinary had happened. He thought much less, it was evident, of all these new honors than of the prosecution of his operations at Boulogne, on which he labored incessantly. The remoteness or doubtfulness of success did not relax his efforts; having once determined on the attempt, all the intermediate exertions between the will and its accomplishment with him went for nothing, any more than so much holiday recreation. Something more of the vis inertia would have allayed this inordinate importunity of voluntary power, and led to greater security and repose.
From Boulogne the Emperor went a second time to Belgium, where the Empress joined him; they occupied the palace of Lacken near Brussels, which had formerly belonged to the Archduke Charles. He this time extended his journey to the Rhine; and from Mainz he dispatched General Caffarelli to Rome to arrange the visit of the Pope (Pius VII) to Paris. It was from Mainz likewise he sent orders for the departure of the Toulon and Rochefort squadrons as a ﬁrst step toward carrying into effect the invasion of England; but owing to unforeseen circumstances, it was winter before they sailed.
Bonaparte returned from this tour at the end of October; his attention was engaged during the month of November with the preparations for the coronation, the Pope having set out from Rome for the purpose of performing the ceremony. The court was ordered to Fontainebleau to receive him, the palace there, which had fallen into ruins, having been repaired and newly ﬁtted up by Napoleon. He went to meet the Pope at Nemours; and to avoid formality, the pretext of a hunting party was made use of, the Emperor coming on horseback and in a hunting dress, with his retinue, to the top of the hill, where the meeting took place. The Pope’s carriage drawing up, he got out at the left door in his white costume; the ground was dirty, and he did not like to tread upon it with his white silk shoes, but he was at last obliged to do so. Napoleon alighted from his horse to receive him. They embraced. The Emperor’s carriage had been driven up and advanced a few paces, as if by accident; but men were posted to hold the two doors open, and at the moment of getting in, the Emperor took the right door, and an officer of the court handed the Pope to the left, so that they entered the carriage by the two doors at the same moment. The Emperor naturally seated himself on the right; and this ﬁrst step decided without negotiation upon the etiquette to be observed during the whole time of the Pope’s stay in Paris.
This interview and Bonaparte’s behavior was the very highest act and acme of audacity. It is comparable to nothing but the meeting of Priam and Achilles; or a joining of hands between the youth and the old age of the world. If Pope Pius VII represented the decay of ancient superstition, Bonaparte represented the high and palmy state of modern opinion; yet not insulting over, but propping the fall of the ﬁrst. There were concessions on both sides, from the oldest power on earth to the newest, which in its turn asserted precedence for the strongest. In point of birth there was no difference, for theocracy stoops to the dregs of earth, as democracy springs from it; but the Pope bowed his head from the ruins of the longest-established authority in Christendom; Bonaparte had himself raised the platform of personal elevation on which he stood to meet him. To us the condescension may seem all on one side, the presumption on the other; but history is a long and gradual ascent, where great actions and characters in time leave borrowed pomp behind and at an immeasurable distance below them! After resting at Fontainebleau, the Emperor returned to Paris; the Pope, who set out ﬁrst and was received with sovereign honors on the road, was escorted to the Tuileries and was treated the whole time of his residence there as if at home. The novelty of his situation and appearance at Paris excited general interest and curiosity; and his deportment, be sides its ﬂowing from the natural mildness of his character, was marked by that ﬁne tact and sense of propriety which the air of the ancient mistress of the world is known to inspire. Manners have there half maintained the empire which opinion had lost. The Pope was ﬂattered by his reception and the sentiments of respect and good-will his presence seemed everywhere to create, and gave very gracious audiences to the religious corporations which were presented to him and which were at this time but few in number. To meet this imposing display of pomp and ceremony, Bonaparte was in a manner obliged to oppose a host of 2, 1804.
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