April 16 1815: Hobhouse Sees Napoleon


On April 16 1815, John Cam Hobhouse sees Napoleon. He describes Napoleon in his diary and also in a letter to Lord Byron.  In his  diary, he writes, in part, as follows:

I had for some time a most complete opportunity of contemplating this extraordinary being [Napoleon]. His face is the very counterpart of Sir James Craufurd the runaway, and when he speaks he has the same retraction of his lips as that worthy baronet. His face is of a deadly pale – his jaws do overhang, but not so much as I had heard – his hair is short of a dark dusky brown. The lady in the Tuileries told me the soldiers called him “notre petit tondu”. He is not fat in the upper part of his body, but his abdomen swells out very much, so much that his shirt appeared – he looks short. He has the habit of chewing like Kean,85 and like Byron, of whom he much reminded me. He generally stood with his hands knit behind him, or folded before him – but sometimes played with his nose, picking it decently; three or four times took snuff out of a plain brown box, once looked at his watch, which, by the way had a gold face, and I think a brown hair chain like an English one. He seems to have a labouring in his chest, having the air of sighing or swallowing his spittle – he spit out once. His teeth seemed regular, but not clean. He very seldom spoke, but when he did, smiled in some sort agreeably. He looked about him, not knitting but joining his eyebrows. He caught my eye, and soon withdrew his gaze – naturally enough the first, I having only him to look at, he having some 20,000. (Berg Collection Volume 3: Broughton Holograph Diaries, Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.)

In his letter to Byron, he writes:

My dear Byron – I had the good fortune to day to see the Review of the National Guards by Napoleon being taken in to the apartment of the Queen Hortense of Holland by Mr de Flahaut the Emperor’s aide-de-camp – The said queen was at one of the windows, and behaved so little like one of her rank, that I stood by her for some time <time> without discovering her majesty, and only supposing that she was an exceedingly well-bred, discerning, polite personnage of the court – She asked me if I had ever seen the Emperor? – I told her I had not – On which she said, you had better get up on this chair behind me. – I excused myself out of fear, as I expressed myself, of spoiling the velvet coverings of the chair; when Madame the Duchess of Vicenza said, “he need be under no alarm, for the Duchess of Serrent (whom you may recollect was a great favorite of Louis XVIII and went away with him) has left them and all the furniture in a most miraculous state of nastiness.” About 30.000 of the National guard were to be reviewed, and two thirds of them had entered into the place de Carrousel when we heard the cry of Vive l’Empereur – Mr. de Latour Maubourg hurried me off to get a place near him when he mounted his horse; but we came too late – he was gone – we had not however waited five minutes before we heard the same cry, and lo! I saw galloping on a grey horse, in front of the first line of the troops, a soldier waving a sword. – It was the Emperor –

No, it was not the Emperor, – for a hundred paces behind him came Napoleon, cantering on a white horse, followed by the Marshalls and generals of his staff. – I was standing on the steps of the great staircase. – Napoleon suddenly made a halt: – an old soldier, who was leaning over me, exclaimed, – “Look there! how he stops to see a petition of the meanest private in the army.” In fact, he was talking to one who gave him a paper – I should tell you, that great apprehensions were entertained of the event of this day: – from well informed persons, I had heard that the republican party would strike a great blow – E</e>ven when in the Queen of Holland’s apartment, the duchess Of Vicenza (Madame Caulincourt) said half to me half to Mons Maubourgh, – “I fear nothing from the military – I only don’t like the looks of those men in plain cloathes upon the steps.” – Monsr: Maubourgh replied, “pray don’the alarmed – I assure you: I have not the least fear.” On which the Duchess, who, let it be said, it just the sweetest woman breathing, returned, “Oh, Sir, it is natural you should have more courage than I.” – So much is now said of a republic, that Madame Caulincourt’s apprehensions were reasonable enough, especially as common report had fixed this Sunday for that which Bellingham called playing a trump card – But to go on with the adventures: Napoleon rode at the same pace before all the regiments of the guards, and having finished his review of them in line, he advanced in to the middle of the Square, and the principal officers <about h> of the Guards National being called out, he spoke to them a few sentences, which were interrupted by shouts; – I was close to him, but could not hear a word, nor see his face. – Afterwards, however, he placed himself nearer the palace and dispositions were made for the troops passing him in review order – Monsieur Latour Maubourg  gave me in charge to two officers of the line, who put me within ten paces of him. – A regiment or so had passed him, when he suddenly flung his foot out of the stirrip, and, dismounting, put himself on foot in front of his staff, the chief part of whom got off their horses also. – He, however, stood several paces on each side, apart from any attendant, and in front of the cortege. – It was then I had the best, and indeed a complete, opportunity of gazing at him, from top to toe: – he & I were in the same posture & place for at least an hour. – Of the thousands near him, he was the only one drest with the most entire simplicity, he had on the uniform of a colonel of the national guards, a small white star on his left breast, & one cross hanging from his button hole. – His hat had neither feather nor tassel, but only the small tricoloured cockade with which he is usually drawn. – He stood always with his arms either {k}nit behind his back, or folded before him, except when he altered his position to take  snuff, or to play with his nose or to turn round to speak, or to take a petition. – He is in face a most complete counterpart of Sir James Craufurd: I think I have never seen brothers so much alike. – The upper part of his body is not large nor has he what we call a paunch, but towards the abdomen he swells out certainly in an unseemly manner so much so indeed that an interregnum was visible between the vest & smallcloathes – . I observed he spoke very little: he had the air sometimes of whistling, sometimes he gaped a little – then he looked about him, rather joining than knitting his eyebrows. –

One or two ridiculous scenes, such as children marching before him in uniform, occurred at which time he adroitly contrived to be looking another way. Once, however, he thought proper to second the universal laugh, by taking from the hand of a young creature (dressed out with a false beard & battle axe to represent a pioneer) not nine years old, & who marched before the band of one of the regiments,a petition with his own hands, & to appear to read it attentively

 Another time, a man rushed from the ranks up to him; – two grenadiers of the old guard laid hold of the intruder; but Napoleon made signs to him to advance, and spoke to him for two minutes. – I could not hear what he said, but the poor fellow had his hand on his heart, & spoke with the utmost eagerness, & departed with the most apparent content. – There was some little confusion when he advanced, except in the face of Napoleon, which remained pale & unmoved. – Napoleon has exactly the same habit of apparent chewing, which is remarked and reprobated in Kean. – He smiled now and then, but showed no particular signs of satisfaction, except at the end of the review, when the boys of the <ecole> ecole polytechniche marched by him, roaring and throwing about their hats in an agony of delight, & when he turned himself on both sides to those near him, & seemed charmed with their enthusiasm. – Many hundreds of petitions were given into him, and generally handed over to a grenadier of the old guard, who stood on his left hand – young general Flahaut his aide de camp brought Lady Kinnaird amongst the officers behind him, in the middle of the review: the movement made some bustle Napoleon turned round, and seeing Lady K. who blushed and dropt curtsies, made her a most polite [Ms. tear: “obeisance”] He is the idol of the women. – I forgot to mention, that he has a sort of ashmatic movement in his neck, or appearance of compressing some emotion rather mental than bodily, although I have no doubt it is entirely bodily: – It is a half-sigh. – I have reason to believe, that, knowing the predictions as to the event of the day, he chose to put himself on foot, to show his unconcern; and certainly had any one wished him ill, & chosen to be-decianize himself, he might have done it easily – I might have done it myself. – But the man has no fear of any kind. – The story goes, this great deed is to be done by a woman: – But Paris is now like the trumpet , which, having been frozen a long time and at last thawed, throws out a thousand discordant, senseless sounds – It will be impossible to pronounce respecting the [Ms. tear: “interior”]  government of France until the [below address:] allies either make or refrain from a movement, and until the meeting of the electoral colleges in May – Every body talks of the new constitution, which will assure the peace of France, or at least her unanimity. If Napoleon were to die to morrow, Louis XVIII. could never mount the throne. Lord Castlereagh  thinks otherwise – and he is a dunce, the common scorn & laughter of the continent – : tell him so in parliament – ever your most faithful

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