Story of Modern France - Helene Guerber

The Second Empire

Having been proclaimed emperor, Napoleon III., like his model and predecessor, transformed into marshals all the generals who had best served his interests, and then began to hold court, not only at St. Cloud and the Tuileries, but also at Fontainebleau and Compiegne, where he often went to hunt. It was not, however, enough to be emperor himself; believing that the succession to the throne, and the future of France, should be assured, the bachelor emperor determined to marry. Because he realized that his proposals might not be accepted at foreign courts, he decided to marry the lady of his choice, instead of a princess, and proposed to Eugenie de Montijo, a lady of Spanish and French descent, noted for her grace and beauty. She immediately won the hearts of the French people by generously applying the money voted for wedding gifts, to the foundation of a popular charitable institution.

The imperial wedding in Notre Dame (1853), and the festivities connected with it, greatly delighted the Parisians, while the provincials were honored by seeing the imperial couple during the many journeys of inspection that the emperor loved. These journeys were beneficial because they led to many improvements, the emperor himself, for instance, setting an example by expending large sums from his private purse for drainage and other valuable agricultural experiments. Not only was Napoleon III. determined to make France the finest and most progressive country in the world, but also to make Paris the foremost city. To achieve the latter object, broad avenues were planned, paved with asphalt,—material which deadened noise and could not be used for barricades,—with frequent squares as playgrounds for the people. The city was also provided with fine markets, various public buildings, and especially the finest system of sewers in the world. Besides, the park of Vincennes and the Bois de Boulogne were transformed into delightful pleasure grounds for a nature-loving people; and in other parts of France, the castle of Pierrefonds was restored so that every one can now behold a perfect specimen of the old feudal fortresses of France, and the city of Carcassonne was so artistically rebuilt that it now stands exactly as it was in the medieval ages.

All through Napoleon III.'s reign such improvements continued, and while they cost immense sums at first, they were productive of great good. They also gave employment to hosts of workmen, and afforded a safe and never-ending subject of discussion and conversation for idlers. The emperor keenly realized that such talk was far less dangerous than political discussions, for hearing once that the people were murmuring, he exclaimed: "Regild the dome of the Invalides. That will give them something to look at!"

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


Still, the fact that all was not yet serene in France was demonstrated by occasional bread riots in different parts of the country, and by attempts to assassinate the emperor. But, on the other hand, the French were intensely pleased because England had immediately recognized the Second Empire; and the friendly feeling thus created between the two nations caused them soon to become allies.

Although Napoleon III. had declared, "The Empire is peace," he did not hesitate to make war when he thought it to the advantage of his country. In the first year of the Empire (1853), Russia began war against Turkey, whereupon France, England, and, later, Sardinia sent forces east, to help the Turks defend themselves. You see, Russia was already so large and powerful a country, that these other European powers were unwilling to let her seize Constantinople, as the possession of that city would make her mistress of the outlet of the Black Sea, and thus permit her, in case of war, to send warships out into the Mediterranean to attack them.

As great stores of supplies for the Russian army had been established at Sebastopol, in the Crimea, the bulk of the French and English forces were directed thither with orders to capture that city, while an English fleet entered the Baltic to attack Russia also on the northwest. The allied troops therefore landed in the Crimea, won a battle on the Alma, and began an eleven months' siege of Sebastopol (1854-1855). During that time, the French and English troops suffered untold hardships, being exposed to cholera and all the diseases from which an army suffers in the extremes of cold, heat, and dampness are experienced.

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


As things were sorely mismanaged in the hospitals, the English government sent out Miss Florence Nightingale, with a competent staff of nurses. This clever, benevolent woman soon brought order out of chaos, saved many lives, and was so adored by the sick, that they kissed her shadow when it fell upon them. Her unselfish example has ever since been an inspiration to all women, especially to those who choose nursing as their profession.

Early in this siege were fought the famous battles of Balaklava,—where English courage won undying renown in the "charge of the Light Brigade,"—and Inkerman, where French re-enforcements came up just in time to second and save their English allies. Shortly after the Sardinian troops had joined the Crimean army, the French, by a gallant charge, seized the heights of Malakoff, commanding Sebastopol; and thus determined the surrender of that city. The Czar who began the war had meantime passed away, and his successor concluded a treaty, signed in Paris (1856), which left Turkey its old boundaries.

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


In token of the friendliness between France and England, Napoleon and Eugenie visited London and were entertained by Victoria and Albert, who later on came to Paris and were honored by a great exhibition and especially by a gorgeous state ball in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. The same year (1856) was also made memorable to Bonapartists by the birth of the only child of Napoleon III. and Eugenie, a boy who was called Louis in the family circle, but elsewhere was known as "the Prince Imperial." This child proved a source of national joy and interest, the French closely watching every phase of his development; and as the Prince Imperial was a fine lad, and admirably brought up, he naturally excited great expectations among stanch Bonapartists.