Today is not the day for more Albrect Durer, as alluded to in my previous post. Instead, I am diverted to the poetry of Oscar Wilde, for which I blame the Literature Network. His first book of poetry, simply titled Poems, was published in 1881. He was 25 years old.
The importance of being Oscar Wilde is not yet realized, or evidenced, in this collection. I’m surprised by the seriousness of the poetry; some of it is even melancholy.
Why Wilde penned a eulogy to Louis Napoleon, some eight years after his death, is mystery to me. Napoleon III was exiled to England after the inglorious end to the Second French Empire. He died 25 January 1873.
Adventurism in foreign policy was his ultimate undoing. Without delving into the geopolitics of 19th century Europe, I’ll just say Prussian P.M. Otto von Bismarck goaded Louis into starting the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, which ended disastrously for him and for France.
Louis and most French leaders were confident of an outright victory, but unlike his uncle Emperor Napoleon I, he had no skills at commanding an army. He ignored sound military advice and refused to turn command over to a more competent general. As a result, he was trapped and captured on 2 September 1870, following the Battle of Sedan. Two days later, Napoleon III was deposed by the forces of the newly-formed Third Republic in Paris.
After six months as a prisoner in Germany, Louis spent the last few years of his life in exile in England. He was haunted to the end by bitter regrets and by painful memories of the battle at which he lost everything; his last words, addressed to Dr. Henri Conneau standing by his deathbed, reportedly were, “Were you at Sedan?”
by Oscar Wilde 1881
Eagle of Austerlitz! where were thy wings
When far away upon a barbarous strand,
In fight unequal, by an obscure hand,
Fell the last scion of thy brood of Kings!
Poor boy! thou shalt not flaunt thy cloak of red,
Or ride in state through Paris in the van
Of thy returning legions, but instead
Thy mother France, free and republican,
Shall on thy dead and crownless forehead place
The better laurels of a soldier’s crown,
That not dishonoured should thy soul go down
To tell the mighty Sire of thy race
That France hath kissed the mouth of Liberty,
And found it sweeter than his honied bees,
And that the giant wave Democracy
Breaks on the shores where Kings lay couched at ease.
The Battle of Austerlitz, also known as the Battle of the Three Emperors, was one of Napoleon’s greatest victories, where the French Empire effectively crushed the Third Coalition. On 2 December 1805, the French army, commanded by Emperor Napoleon I, decisively defeated the Russo-Austrian army, commanded by Tsar Alexander I and Holy Roman Emperor Francis II, after nearly nine hours of difficult fighting.
But for all that, Napoleon III has a fairly accomplished social and domestic record. An important legacy of his reign was the rebuilding of Paris into the city of broad tree-lined boulevards and parks with a modern sewage system. Louis Napoleon was largely influenced by the ideas of the Industrial Revolution in England; he oversaw the building of a railway network which changed the nature of the French economy. Although largely forgotten, historians recognize the impressive economic successes of the Second Empire.
NOTE: Louis Napoleon just had really stupid foreign policy ideas, like his “Grand Scheme for the Americas.” This included intervening in the U.S. Civil War by forming a military alliance with the Confederacy; somehow controlling Mexico by making Maximillian I also the monarch of Latin America, which would increase French trade throughout the Western Hemisphere… and so on.