Louis Napoleon.

From: The Bird and the Bell with Other Poems (1875)
Author: Christopher Pearse Cranch
Published: Osgood and Company 1875 Boston


SO, he is gone,—the shadow of a name!
Long since we saw the dull, expiring flame
Flare in its socket. What he was and did
From Europe and the world cannot be hid;
The crowned adventurer, who set his heel
Upon a people, and with clamps of steel,
Called law and order, fastened deep and broad
A throne sustained by perjury, force, and fraud.

Look back a few short years, and ask what gain,
What boon, to Europe was Napoleon’s reign.
“He fought for Italy,” you say. ‘T is true.
But then he always held himself in view,—
Himself first, France’s strength and glory next.
Austria must needs be humbled; England vexed,
Left playing second, with her eyes askance,
Droning a surly moral bass, while France
Led on the battle orchestra. Her name
Must glow anew with the old chivalric flame;
And he—the man of destiny—the head
Of the new movement. So his armies bled
In Lombardy. He, with his brave Zouaves,
Would do no thing, and least this thing, by halves.
All went like clock-work. France was ever great
In system. But, unluckily, the gate
That led to Venice was too strongly barred.
Yes, as you say, it was a trifle hard
For the orchestral leader to plunge o’er
Those quadrilateral bars through smoke and gore;
To see his brave men—those swift living notes
In his heroic symphony—their coats
Stained deep in Solferino’s dust and blood,
Marshalled again to serve as naught but food
For powder,—faces gashed and burnt and blurred
Ry bayonet, ball, and fever. So the word
Was given to change the programme; for the war
Was swelling to a size too great by far,
Involving interests which were not “France.”
Further he would not, could not now advance,
Though Freedom stood dismayed. A treaty straight
Was signed, before the act should be too late:
Sardinia keeping all that she had won;
But Venice, pining for the air and sun,
And stretched upon her Austrian dungeon-floor,
Must needs be left bound closer than before.
Hard, when her prison was about to ope,
To bolt it in her face, to kill her hope!
But France, and Europe, and that blessed fiction,
“Balance of power,” had wrought more cool conviction.

So Villafranca’s treaty closed the lid
Of the Pandora-box, and Hope was left;
And what the lion failed in, the fox did.
For Francis Joseph must have been bereft
Of brains, to be outwitted there and then,—
His sails struck windless by a stroke o’ the pen;
His long-famed cunning all outdone and shamed,
That he consented to a treaty framed
Purposely vague, to favor Italy,
Leaving an open door he did not see.
“Bring the Dukes back,” forsooth; hut nothing said,
Should the good people choose to rule instead.
This credit then he takes,—Napoleon
Suffered the Revolution to move on;
He could not interfere to keep the kings
When the unfettered countries spread their wings.
Prudently stood aside, when down the slope
The great machine rolled, freighted with the hope
Of nations who with shouts of joy beheld
(By nature’s law of gravity impelled)
The car of state, so long a stranded thing
On lonely heights, the plaything of a king,
Now move on common roads where brethren meet
In friendly intercourse and converse sweet.
But never with a finger-tip did he
E’er thrust aside superfluous tyranny.
Enough for him that kings were kings; this fact
Pledged him to keep their right divine intact.

Magician though he was, he raised a ghost
He could not lay, and made this fault a boast;
Built up a throne veneered and varnished well
With democratic gloss, a glittering shell
That feared the people’s touch, and ill could bear
The slightest breeze of Freedom’s common air;
While he who filched the empire, like a thief,
Proclaimed himself the nation’s chosen chief.

Imperial author, writing special pleas
For liberal tyranny and a conquered peace,—
Himself his only judge, he from their nooks
Drove out the critic rats that gnawed his books.
Long-armed policeman, smothering Freedom’s fires;
Spider-like sitting in a web of wires
Netting all Europe from his central ring;
Throttling the editorial gnats whose sting
Or buzz protests against the bands that wind
The despot’s cobwebs round the free-born mind;
Yet loudly boasting that his power relies
Upon the votes of his dear tangled flies.

How long he sat,—this Cæsar of the stage,
This bold, pretending patron of the age!
Muzzled the press, yet bade the people think;
Knelt to the Pope, but gave the crowd a wink;
Now capped a Cardinal, now endowed a school;
Permitted suffrage, under iron rule;
Gave wings to trade, but clogged all daring thought,
Counting all counsel but his .own as naught;
Put new wine in old bottles, best in worst,
And clamped them round with iron, lest they burst;
Forced two extremes to marry, last with first;
Wed light to darkness, and misnamed the brood
Born of the union, France’s highest good.

Professing friendship for our western main,
He hoped to split our continent in twain;
And while our back is turned to grasp our foe,
Drives in an Austrian wedge at Mexico;
Finds he has bungled sadly, and would fain
Withdraw poor Maximilian again.
Would like to recall his forces too from Rome,
But fears the hubbub of his priests at home.
So, pledged to God and Mammon, he prolongs
The strife with chaos, smiles on rights and wrongs;
The Pope’s non possumus most blandly hears,
And leaves poor Rome in misery and in tears;
Prates loud of nations’ rights, and ten times o’er
Opens and shuts a people’s prison-door.

Now, time brings round its retributions strange.
O’er Europe’s face there sweeps a mighty change.
Now Germany compact and bristling stands
Guarding her blue Rhine from the invader’s hands.
Now Venice sets her sea-pearl in the ring
Worn by young Italy’s victorious king.
Now Rome, e’en Rome, must add her eternal fame
To a throne up borne by Garibaldi’s name;
Unguarded by her Gallic sentinel,
She loosely holds the keys of heaven and hell;
Her Pope, whose thunders rattled west and east,
Charged by a pen-scrawl to a harmless priest.
And he, the mighty Emperor, whose word
Held Europe spell-bound, in war’s thunders heard
A voice that overruled his subtile tricks,
His blunders and his shuffling politics,
His sham democracy, his hard decrees,
His double-dealings and diplomacies.
These brought their sure results,—ambition checked,
A tarnished splendor, and an empire wrecked,
And that distrust through every heart that crept,
At rights withheld and promises unkept;
While downward sank his star, unmourned of all
Who hail the nation’s rise, the usurper’s fall;
Till death has swept away the last frail chance
That cheered the friends of tyranny in France.

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