The Second Empire

By Octave Aubry; Arthur Livingston | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXIII
Society Under the Second Empire

AS THE YEARS ROLLED BY NAPOLEON III BECAME A SLOW-WALKING, slow-moving man whose health was evidently declining. He suffered from gout and renal troubles, attacks of this latter recurring at lessening intervals and leaving him each time more depressed. He was treated with drugs containing opium and they made him more sluggish still. His head with its puffy face drooped over his right shoulder. He dyed his hair. Otherwise it would have been snowwhite.

Still kindly, still courteous, offhand and affable-too much so perhaps-with his intimates, he had a tendency to melancholia. He no longer manifested the old confidence in life and in his star. He had lost his last illusion regarding people. So many of his dreams had been disappointed, so many of his plans had miscarried, that he became more and more hesitant in his decisions and policies. The Empress, Rouher, Persigny, all tugged at the cart, pulling it now this way, now that.

"I am being quartered," the Emperor would sometimes say with a laugh, though he had jested on the same point years before:

"I hear the complaint that things never go straight in my government. How could they? The Empress is a legitimist. Morny is an Orleanist, I am a republican. There is only one Bonapartist. That's Persigny -- and he is crazy!"

He needed only to lift his eyes to remind them that he was master. That gesture he could never bring himself to make. He withdrew, instead, into a silent distraction which might deceive outsiders but did not hide from intimates a weakening in his will-power.

His carelessness in money matters reminded one of the prodigality of his grandmother, Josephine. On himself he spent hardly anything.

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