biddle and bonaparte -- 11/7/22

Today's selection -- from Biddle, Jackson, and A Nation in Turmoil: The Infamous Bank War by Cordelia Frances Biddle. While on government assignment in Paris in 1804, the young Philadelphian Nicholas Biddle had the opportunity to observe Napoleon Bonaparte:

"Because Armstrong dispensed with his services that morning, Nicholas walked to the Tuilleries to watch the monthly review of the troops. The spec­tacle so awed him; his hand shook as he wrote.

Before me was General Rappan, an exceedingly handsome young man, next to him was Caffarelli, dressed in green coats & scarlet pantaloons & boots excessively rich, next two officers whom I could not know, then General Berthres and then Bonaparte. What a sight!!

Not fifteen yards from me I beheld 'the man before whom the world had trembled,' the hero whose name has sounded in every quarter of the globe & who has rivaled if not excelled all that antiquity can produce of hardy valour and successful enterprise. I did not neglect this rare opportunity of seeing so wonderful a man & for upwards of an hour while 12,000 men passed before him my eyes scarcely for a moment left him. On the most majestic, the most elegant white horse I have ever seen, who as he went along the ranks seemed to fly rather than to walk, & who, as he now stood, seemed to regard with tranquil delight the scene before him on a saddle most richly furnished, sat the Emperor.

In his dress he seems to have desired to distinguish himself by simplicity. He had on a pair of white pantaloons, long boots coming over his knees, a plain blue coat, lined with red, two epaulets, and a plain blue cocked hat. He had a small riding whip in his hand. His hair is black & cut very short, he wears no whiskers. His face is somewhat long of a dark olive complexion, his eye hollow, but full of the expres­sive fire of genius .... The Emperor spoke once in a low tone of voice. His voice is soft and mild. Twice Genl. Mortier laughed to Bonaparte on some occasion, but the Emperor did not smile.

Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I and Coronation of the Empress Josephine in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris on December 2, 1804, by Jacques-Louis David (completed in 1808)

"Biddle decided to emulate Bonaparte's gravity and let others make ingrati­ating remarks while remaining aloof and watchful. His memories of Napoleon's coronation reflected the same awe-struck wonder. He kept his ticket, which remains in Andalusia's archives: Dans Le Choeur. No. 6. Le Gauche du Trone, Pour un Homme.

December 3, 1804. I was waked about 7 o'clock by the servant, and when I learnt the hour I was in despair for I was told I must be at the church by six. I made all possible haste sent for a carriage, none was to be found, set off on foot for Notre Dame. Arrived at the door I stood among epaulets & stars myself without sword or stiff collar & after about an hours standing, got in. I went to all parts of the church & at last found the seat designated by my ticket which was Tribune 9, second row of benches. But the second row was already occupied by ladies, and I therefore took the hind most seat of the Tribune. The coup de oie of the church is magnificent. The Corps Legislatif, the Tribunals, and the different public bodies cook their different stations.

(Then the) Bishops, the Cardinals, and the Pope appeared. He ad­vanced cowards his throne which was nearly opposite to me, and I now gazed at the successor of St. Peter. Being seated the Cardinals advanced & kissed his hand, the Bishops then advanced & on their knees kissed his knee or rather his robes under which both his hand & knee were concealed. The Pope is a hard featured man, if the extreme cold of the church did not contract his muscles more than ordinarily he is some­where about 60 years of age & is said to be a good man. About an hour after the Emperor & Emperess came in. The Pope advanced to meet them .... By changing my position I however saw the Emperor before he was crowned in a very thoughtful position seated, bare, & surround­ed with the Princes & great officers .... The Emperor was drest in a superb robe carried in his left hand, in his right the sceptre. His train was held by several great officers. Madame was also dressed elegantly & looked really handsome. Her long & fine train was supported by many of the great ladies. What a sight was this for a philosopher."



Cordelia Frances Biddle


Biddle, Jackson, and A Nation in Turmoil: The Infamous Bank War


Oxford Southern


Copyright 2021 by Cordelia Frances Biddle


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