Then lowering his voice, from the excited, almost angry tone in which he had been speaking, to a milder one, the emperor approached the young man, who stood before him, pale, and visibly agitated. With that charming air of friendly intimacy that no one knew so well how to assume as Napoleon, he gently pinched the tip of the young man’s ear, the emperor’s usual way of making peace with any one to whom he wished well, after a little difficulty.
“You are still young,” said he; “if you possessed my age and experience, you would judge of these matters differently. Your candor has not offended, but pleased me; I like to see a son defend his mother’s cause! Your mother has entrusted you with a very difficult commission, and you have executed it with much spirit. It gives me pleasure to have conversed with you, for I love the young when they are straightforward and not too ‘argumentative.’ But I can nevertheless give you no false hopes! You will accomplish nothing! If your mother were in prison, I should not hesitate to grant you her release. But she is in exile, and nothing can induce me to recall her.”
“But, sire, is one not quite as unhappy far from home and friends, as in prison?”
“Ah, bah! those are romantic notions! You have heard that said about your mother. She is truly greatly to be pitied. With the exception of Paris, she has the whole of Europe for her prison!”
“But, sire, all her friends are in Paris!”
“With her intellect, she will be able to acquire new ones everywhere. Moreover, I cannot understand why she should desire to be in Paris. Why does she so long to place herself in the immediate reach of tyranny? You see I pronounce the decisive word! I am really unable to comprehend it. Can she not go to Rome, Berlin, Vienna, Milan, or London? Yes, London would be the right place! There she can perpetrate libels whenever she pleases. At all of these places I will leave her undisturbed with the greatest pleasure; but Paris is my residence, and there I will tolerate those only who love me! On this the world can depend. I know what would happen, if I should permit your mother to return to Paris. She would commit new follies; she would corrupt those who surround me; she would corrupt Garat, as she once corrupted the tribunal; of course, she would promise all things, but she would, nevertheless, not avoid engaging in politics.”
“Sire,” I can assure you that my mother does not occupy herself with politics at all; she devotes herself exclusively to the society of her friends, and to literature.”
“That is the right word, and I fully understand it. One talks politics while talking of literature, of morals, of the fine arts, and of every conceivable thing! If your mother were in Paris, her latest bon mots and phrases would be recited to me daily; perhaps they would be only invented; but I tell you I will have nothing of the kind in the city in which I reside! It would be best for her to go to London; advise her to do so. As far as your grandfather is concerned, I have certainly not said too much; M. Necker had no administrative ability. Once more, inform your mother that I shall never permit her to return to Paris.”