The social anarchy resulting from plague are obviously a mainstay of pop culture depictions; times of crisis often bring out the worst in humanity. Yet they can also bring out the best in humanity as well, and it is one human, at his best and most heroic, whom Antoine-Jean Gros decided to represent on canvas in 1804. The man was Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French.
Whilst he was dying in May 1885, Paris was but the first mourner for all France; and the magnificent funeral pageant which conducted the pauper’s coffin, antithetically enshrining the remains considered worthy of the highest possible reverence and honours from the Champs Elysées to the Panthéon, was the more memorable from all that was foremost in French art and letters having marched in the train, and laid a leaf or flower in the tomb of the protégé Chateaubriand, the brother-in-arms of Dumas, the inspirer of Mars, Dorval, Lemaitre, Rachel, and Bernhardt, and, above all, the Nemesis of the Third Empire.
Translated from the French of Victor Hugo by G.W.M. Reynolds in The Monthly Magazine (1837): A quarter of a century has gone,/Since Gallia welcom’d her Napoleon’s son;/Before th’ imperial consort gave him birth;/And kingdoms trembled at the frolics wild/Which Nature play’d to welcome Valour’s child.
It was in the year 1785—on a fine evening, in the month of May —that three young students, in the uniform of the Military College of Paris, were occupied in the pleasant discussion of a repast in the restaurant at St. Cloud which overlooks the park, and which every visitor of the present day to that sacred shrine of gastronomy knows by the name of Legriel’s. The first of the three individuals, whom we have thus abruptly alluded to, was about sixteen years of age, with a peculiar expression of countenance, which inspired respect rather than any softer feeling, and a blue eye that was in itself a soul. His companions were his juniors—probably by about a few months; and they were two fine, tall, handsome young men, with commanding though graceful figures, and eagle glances which bespoke all the military enthusiasm that filled their bosoms.
It was in the early evening of 26 January 1804 (5 Pluviôse in the Year XII of the French Republic) that several eminent people from French high society were gathered at number 160 Rue Neuve de Luxembourg. Among them was Jean Baptise-François Legros, the Auditor of the Public Treasury. The French military commander Eugène Rose de Beauharnais, who was adopted son of First Consul of the French Republic, Napoleon Bonaparte, was there as well. Also in attendance was Beauharnais’s mother and Napoleon’s wife Josephine Bonaparte—later in this same year, 1804, Napoleon would crown himself Emperor of the French and Josephine would be granted the title of empress. These luminaries of French political and military life were gathered to witness the birth of a child: a novelist who went on to achieve astounding heights of fame in the French literary world–Eugene Sue.
This post examines the debt that George R.R. Martin owes to one of the nineteenth century’s foremost novelists, Sir Walter Scott.