Maximilian in Mexico - George Upton
On the seventh of July, 1866, the following unexpected announcement appeared in one of the Mexican journals: "Her Majesty, the Empress, leaves to-morrow for Europe, where she is to arrange the settlement of various matters of Mexican as well as international import. No greater proof of patriotism and self-denial could be furnished on the part of our sovereign than the assumption of this mission, the more so as the Empress sails from Vera Cruz, where yellow fever is so prevalent at this season. We publish this in order that the people may know the real purpose of Her Majesty's journey."
The Empress Carlotta's sudden departure aroused great excitement. It was generally felt, and not without reason, that such a step must have been due to weighty causes, the issue of which it was at that time impossible to foresee. For Maximilian it marked a turning-point in his career. It was as if with the departure of his guardian angel, Fortune too had forsaken him and abandoned him to his fate.
Unexpectedly and most uncomfortably for Napoleon, Carlotta arrived at St. Nazaire on the eighth of August by the packet-boat, Empress Eugenie. She was met by the Mexican ambassador, Almonte, and his wife, who travelled with her to Paris without delay. Metternich, the Austrian ambassador, was awaiting her at the Grand Hotel, and on the eleventh of August she had a long interview with Napoleon at St. Cloud. Accounts vary as to what actually transpired on this memorable occasion, but according to Hellwald, who seems a reliable authority, three points were discussed. The first related to the postponement of the withdrawal of the first detachment of French troops from November, 1866, to April, 1867, by which time Maximilian hoped to have his own army so strengthened that he could better spare the French. Juarez had been making such headway in the north that the Emperor did not dare as yet to dispense with his allies. Next the Empress desired that Bazaine should be immediately recalled and General Donay sent out in his place, a request not difficult to understand considering the many differences that had occurred between Maximilian and the Marshal. The third point concerned Mexico's ever empty exchequer. By the Treaty of Miramar Mexico had agreed to repay her financial obligations to France; but, as we have seen, she was by no means able to pay her debts or even the interest on them.
In her first interview the Empress accomplished nothing. Napoleon was unwilling to defer the withdrawal of his troops for some months, for fear of giving offence to the government at Washington. As to the second point no agreement was arrived at, for Bazaine was not recalled. When he did leave Mexico at last, he not only took the entire army with him, but also induced the volunteers from Austria and Belgium to resign. As to a settlement of the Mexican debt, however, a separate treaty was concluded.
On the twenty-second of August Empress Eugenie and Emperor Napoleon made a final visit to Empress Carlotta, who left Paris on the following day for Brussels. From there she went to Italy, and on the twenty-ninth arrived once more at Miramar where she had spent so many happy days. Another task now awaited her. As the negotiations between Maximilian's ministry and the papal nuncio concerning the religious situation in Mexico had been unsuccessful, Carlotta determined to try and settle the affair herself. On the twenty-fifth of September, therefore, she arrived again in Rome with her suite and two days later had a long audience with the Pope. Soon after this she was suddenly taken ill. At first her attack was said to be only the result of the fatigues of her long journey and the change of climate, an explanation which seemed sufficiently plausible. The real nature of the illness could not be long concealed, however. The Empress' mind had become totally deranged, and her malady was later pronounced incurable. Shocked as all Europe was by this dreadful news, what must have been its effect upon Maximilian! How he received it, is told as follows by his own physician, Dr. Basch:
"The Emperor at this time was living entirely secluded in the palace, only Herzfeld, the Minister of State, Father Fischer, the court chaplain, and myself being present at his table. There were no invited guests till the eighteenth of August, for the afternoon of which a large dinner was planned. That morning the Emperor held a council of state, at the close of which I entered the imperial cabinet. While I was present, two cable despatches arrived from Europe, at sight of which His Majesty was visibly alarmed. His forebodings were well founded. The first was sent by Castello from Rome on the fifth of October, and read:
"'Her Majesty, the Empress, has succumbed to the fatigues and difficulties of her mission, and must be taken to Miramar without delay, accompanied by her physicians.'
"The other, dated the twelfth, was from Count Bombelles at Miramar, and contained the further information that all hope was not yet abandoned. Her Majesty, with her entire suite, was at Miramar, and a member of the household would follow at once with advices. Herzfeld opened the despatches and, unwilling to break their contents too suddenly to the Emperor, pretended that he was unable to decipher them exactly, but reassured His Majesty by asserting that the news apparently referred to the illness of some one at Miramar, probably one of the Empress' ladies-in-waiting, Madame Bario, who was a Mexican.
"The facts could not long be concealed, however, for the Emperor, suspecting that something was being withheld from him, insisted upon knowing the truth.
"'I feel that something terrible has happened,' he declared. 'Tell me what it is, for I am consumed with anxiety.'
"While Herzfeld was seemingly studying the despatches more closely, I retired to my apartment, but was soon summoned again by His Majesty. As I entered, he turned to me, tears streaming down his cheeks, and asked,
"'Do you know who Dr. Riedel is in Vienna?'
"At the mention of this name, the truth flashed upon me. Herzfeld had disclosed the news, and much as I longed to spare the Emperor, I could not lie to him.
"'He is the director of the Insane Asylum,' I was reluctantly forced to reply."
These melancholy tidings only served to hasten the impending crisis. Already disheartened by repeated trials and disappointments, Maximilian now saw his last hope vanish, and felt himself deserted by Providence. Indifferent to all that passed, his only thought seemed to be of hastening to his beloved wife and leaving behind him this ill-fated country to which she had been so cruelly sacrificed.