THE EMPEROR (1852-1856)
CAP. Truly to speak, and with no addition, We go to gain a little patch of ground That hath in it no profit but the name. To pay five ducats, five, I would not farm it Nor will it yield to Norway or the Pole A ranker rate, should it be sold in fee. HAM. Why, then the Polack never will defend it. CAP. Yes, 'tis already garrison'd. Hamlet, IV, iv
THE coup d' état of December 1851 was accepted outside France with philosophic shrugging of shoulders at the latest Parisian extravagance. The indignation of The Times over the bloodshed with which it was accompanied seemed a little absurd to countries accustomed to military rule and to sovereigns engaged 'in suppressing patriotic risings. Louis was known to be ambitious, but was not thought to be dangerous. If his countrymen preferred a dictator to a President, and did not grieve over the loss of their liberties, what matter? In any case, his regime probably would not last long. But when a year later the anonymous President proclaimed himself Emperor under the name of Napoleon III, Europe was suddenly alarmed. Had not the Powers assembled at the Congress of Vienna solemnly sworn that no Bonaparte should again sit upon the French throne? Was not Louis' choice of the number III (as the Tsar had warned him) a plain challenge to this decision, and a claim that the Bonaparte dynasty was as good as the Hapsburgs and the Hohenzollerns? Did it not reaffirm the Imperial claims of 1804 and 1805, and add another line to the epitaph of the Holy Roman Empire? Could the Tsar, the Emperor, the King of Prussia, and the Queen of England recognize the nephew of Napoleon as one of themselves?
Nicholas had on second thoughts given up the idea of an Anglo- Russian alliance against France, and had approved of December 2nd, 1851, but he hoped that Louis would not go further: 'Let him become President, or Consul if he likes, for ten years, or for life -- nothing could be better: but I hope to God he is not thinking of making himself Emperor.' He felt so strongly that he wrote Louis a private letter ( November 30th, 1852), and backed it up a fortnight later with an official dispatch. Louis did not reply to the letter: the