The Second Empire

By Octave Aubry; Arthur Livingston | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXVI
The Desertion of Maximilian

ON AUGUST 9TH, AT THE MOST AGONIZING MOMENT OF THE SADOWA crisis, Napoleon III returned from Vichy to Paris as sick in soul as he was in body. Waiting for him he found the Empress Charlotte of Mexico who had suddenly appeared from nowhere, and, finding no one to receive her, had driven to the Grand Hotel. She had come home to Europe to beg the Emperor's consent to new efforts on the part of France to save Maximilian's crown.

The artificial empire that France had set up on the dangerous soil of Mexico had not, in fact, taken root. The very structure of the country from a social point of view was against any such thing. A small ruling class that was rich and jealous of its prerogatives; masses that were wretchedly poor; a grasping clergy; banditry on all hands, in the public offices as well as on the highroads! A deal of genius on Maximilian's part would have been required to fuse such heterogeneous elements into a nation. Let alone genius, he was not blessed even with character. He was just an Austrian Archduke, trained to the sheltered, cotton-wool life of European palaces. He was willing enough. He had big-hearted ideas and a sense of his duties; but he was too responsive to influences and too often inclined to set business second to pleasures. He had surrounded himself with Austrians and Belgians, who hated the country, despised the natives and quarreled fiercely among themselves. With their eyes ever on Europe this court clique built up a cardboard government, along the lines of the bureaucracies of the Old World: a Council of State, ministries, provincial governments -- all good enough in theory but in no sense adapted to political realities in Mexico or to the manners of the country. There was nothing sound or vital about it.

The distrust that had featured relations between the Mexican

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