FETES GIVEN TO THE IMPERIAL GUARD.
ON ITS RETURN FROM THE CAMPAIGNS OF PRUSSIA AND POLAND, IN NOVEMBER 1807,
BY THE CITY OF PARIS AND THE SENATE.
Paris has nothing to envy anymore of the most glorious memories of the old capital of the world; Paris, like Rome of the Caesars, was to attend the spectacle of one of its great military triumphs. The fête given by the city, November 25, 1807, to the elite of the grand army, on its return from the campaigns of Prussia and Poland, offered the imposing tableau of these ancient solemnities.
The city council had voted on gold crowns for the Imperial Guard; Napoleon had approved all of this both noble and delicate expression of the admiration and recognition of the Parisians; the offer of these crowns was the principal object of the fête.
Outside the barrier of the Villette, by which the ten thousand soldiers of the Imperial Guard were to enter, had been raised a triumphal arch of a colossal proportion: twenty men could pass abreast through it.
On the rises of the vault, one saw on the outside great Fames presenting laurel wreathes. A gilded ceremonial chariot pulled by four horses (quadriga) surmounted the whole monument. On each face one read inscriptions expressly made up for the purpose by members of the Institute *. The principal character of this monument, though one had employed none of these ornaments that modern architecture is too often fond of, was grandeur linked with simplicity.
*Those of the third class (Ancient History and Literature).
Vast platforms, in the shape of an amphitheatre, had been fitted, on the right and on the left, in the interior of the triumphal arch. One was intended for many an orchestra, the other for the municipal body of Paris. The ministers, the grand civil servants of the State and by richly attired ladies, occupied several particular platforms, placed close to the amphitheatres. *
*This monument, built in less than fifteen days, was the work of the architect Chalgrin, a member of the fourth class of the Institute.
As of nine o’clock in the morning, Wednesday November 25, 1807, in spite of a dark and rainy appearance, an immense crowd pressed itself up to the accesses of the triumphal arch; they awaited the Imperial Guard whose acclamations of enthusiasm soon announced its approach. At some distance ahead, the eagles of the various corps met and formed nothing any more than one group, which preceded the Guard. Then the municipal body made their way near the front, and the prefect, Mr. Frochot, addressed the following speech to Marshal Bessières, who this elite troop fell under the command of:
Marshal Bessières answered in these terms, with this speech:
These brief words of Marshal Bessières were accompanied by cries of Vive l’Empereur! Thousand times repeated by the people and the soldiers. Then the prefect attached the gold crowns, voted for by the town of Paris, to the eagles of the Imperial Guard, amidst the circle formed by his general staff; then, the municipal body took its place under the triumphal arch, the orchestra carried out this song whose words were by Arnault, and the music of Méhul:
The music of this song was one of the happiest inspirations of Méhul; the voices being supported only by the horns and the harps, this accompaniment produced a divine effect.
Hardly had the songs ceased, that the Guard started to defile in the following order:
The officers composing the staff of the corps preceded each one of these regiments. Following the Imperial Guard also went, accompanied by his staff, General Hulin, commanding the town of Paris; he was followed by municipal body and its cortège.
An innumerable population formed everywhere lining the route of the Guard which arrived in the court of Tuileries, while passing under the triumphal arch which, on the side of the Carrousel, forms the principal entry of this palace it they deposited its eagles; from there, crossing the garden of Tuileries, it left its weapons there, to go to the Champs-Elysées and to take its seat at the banquet which was prepared for them; ten thousand forks and spoons had been laid out; the municipal body made the honors of the feast.
The tables were drawn up under tents placed on the right and left in the sidewalks of the Champs-Elysées, all along the length of the grand avenue, from the Place de la Concorde to the barrier of d’Etoile.
At the top of the table of each regiment there was a particular tent for the officers; the tent of the general staff was placed at the roundabout of the Champs-Elysées. The corps of the Guard of Paris had been in charge of the police force, and walked around the tables.
The toasts were carried out in the following order:
These toast left the tent at the roundabout of the Champs-Elysées where the Chief of Staff General of the Guard sat at a table, were repeated simultaneously at all the tables and followed up with the acclamations of vive l’ Empereur!
At the same hour that the meal was given to the Imperial Guard, distributions of wine and meals were made in the principal places of the capital; at each one of these places an orchestra also rose.
At eight o'clock in the evening, a fireworks display on the roadway, which borders the Tuileries, called the edge of water, announced the end of this fête, in which the very whole population of Paris had taken share.
Unfortunately the weather did not support this splendid fête and singularly harmed the show of its weapons and the dress of this elite troop. Around the two o’clock, an abundant rain continued to fall, without however moving away the crowd, which had gone to the Champs-Elysées and to all the places where the Guard was to pass. Three days afterwards, the fête given by the Senate to the officers of the Imperial Guard was no less remarkable by the good taste and the magnificence that governed the provisions for them; it took place the 28th.
Opposite the Palace of Luxembourg a temple dedicated to the Victory rose, in the center of which was the statue of Napoleon. In all the parts of the palace, military trophies, bound by garlands of laurels, remembered by commemorative inscriptions of the principal facts of the glorious campaigns of 1806 and 1807. In the garden there were, so to speak, impromptu dance halls, at the ends of which many orchestras and immense buffets had been drawn up.
At one hour after midday, the drummers and trumpeters, left the palace, traversed the district, while sounding fanfares. Returning by the gate of the grand court, they were placed on the two terraces, which flank the dome, and there sounded new fanfares.
In two hours, the officers of the Guard were accepted in Luxembourg as well as the people invited by the combined senators: they were the prince high-ranking dignitaries of the Empire, the ministers, the marshals, the grand officers of the Empire, the advisers of State, the principal members of the civil authorities, administrative and legal, the Generals and officers attached to the government of Paris, etc, etc.
At receiving the Imperial Guard, Mr. de Lacepède, President of the Senate, made the following speech:
You must like this chamber, invincible Imperial Guard, because these vaults very often resounded with the acclamations caused by your immortal feats of arms and your trophies that decorate our walls. Representatives of the first army of the world, receive from our body, the wishes of the good and great people whose admiration and love foreshadow those of the posterity. Vive l’Empereur!”
A splendid banquet had been prepared in the beautiful gallery of the tables; it was opened at three o’clock, to the sound of a bright military music.
During the meal, various lyric pieces were sung, among which verses were noted those resulting from the brilliance of Mr. Cauchy, secretary-archivist of the Senate:
After the banquet, the ball started in the salons. The night, the palace and the gardens were illuminated, this festival, which continued on until the birth of the day, was honored by the magnificence of the Senate.
Witness of this homage paid to the elite of the army, the people were associated with it by its acclamations; this unanimity of popular sympathies for the Imperial Guard was expressed immediately, and the people remained faithful to the memory of the Imperial Guard as to that of Napoleon the first of its heads!
REGARDING AN ACT OF SMUGGLING, MADE BY A GENERAL OFFICER
OF THE GUARD.
One of the chapters on which the Emperor would not listen to mocking remarks upon, was that of the customs (import duty). For all that dealt with smuggling, he showed an inflexible severity, and it was on this point, which one day Mr. Soyris, director of the customs at Verceil (in Piedmont), having seized a bundle containing eighteen bolts of cashmere from Constantinople to the Empress Josephine, Napoleon ordered the enforcement of the seizure, and the cashmere was sold at a profit for the State. In similar circumstance, Napoleon said: “How can a sovereign make one respect the laws if I did not start by respecting them myself?” There was, however, an occasion, and perhaps it was only once, where he passed judgment on an infringement to the customs regulations, and yet this time it was not about an ordinary act of smuggling.
The foot chasseurs of the Old Guard, under the command of General Soulès, had returned to France, like all the other corps of the Guard, after the peace of Tilsit. Arriving at Mainz, the customs officers wanted to do their duty, and consequently visited the transports (fourgons) of the Guard, and mainly those of General Soulès. However, the director of the customs officials sought to add to the processes of his mission: he would warn this head of corps of the needs that constrained him to carry out the laws and the quite explicit intentions of the Emperor on this subject.
The response of Soulès to this courteous overture was simple and energetic:
—If only one of your toll collectors dare lay a hand on the boxes of my old rabbits, I will have them all f... drowned in the Rhine like kittens.
The director hesitated; the customs officers, in great number and were determined to resort to force to proceed with the inspection; but the General formed his regiment in square, with bared bayonet and the transports in the middle. Then the director, not daring to pass through, withdraws, and addressed to the general direction of the customs, in Paris, a report to be put under the eyes of the Emperor, even before the arrival of the Guard at Courbenvoie, its ordinary garrison. In any other circumstance, the case would have been more serious; but Napoleon, on returning to the capital, more than having been greeted by every acclamation of a whole people living in his power; but this Old Guard returned resplendent with glory: it had been so beautiful in Eylau!... those which commanded it had gathered so many laurels!... All that happens drains the Emperor of anger, and not wanting to punish, consequently he did not have any more but to reward; but, for that, it was necessary that he took seriously the infringement made by threatening his customs regulations; and Soulès, who he liked a lot, is mandated with his rising the following day shortly after the day when he and the brave officers under his command had attended the festival which had been given to them in the Luxembourg by the Senate.
The General presented himself. Napoleon receives him very well. Then, after some remarks relating to the compatibility of the Guard, he added:
—By the way, tell me, Soulès, you said some beautiful things over there in Mainz? How! You wanted to throw my customs officers in the Rhine! Frankly, is this true; would you have done it?
—Yes, Sire, replied Soulès with his German accent.
—Go on! You would not have dared.
—It was an insult made to my old chasseurs to want to inspect their caissons. Sire, I would have done it, I give you my word of honor as a General.
—Bah! You’re pleasant, added the Emperor with much cheerfulness. I see what it is, you were smuggling.
—Yes, you!...It was indeed with the much sorrow that I gave eight caissons moreover per regiment for their use for similar thing *, Napoleon added while smiling. You bought linen in Hanover to assemble your house, because you thought that I would make you senator.
* See the decision taken for this purpose at the beginning of this Book VII.
—You were not mistaken; but don’t repeat the same joke another time, because I give you, my word as the Emperor that I will have you shot... Go on, order your costume of senator. And Napoleon had pronounced these last words with an accent and one look, which made General Soulès lose any idea of smuggling in the future.
COMPOSITION AND NUMERICAL FORCE OF THE GUARD, IN 1807.
*number listed by St. Hilaire however, would need to be 968 like other regiments to add up to 5,340 (gmg)
Placed on the Napoleon Series: October 2005
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