Much, very much, had this daughter of an empress and mother of an emperor to endure.
In her earliest youth she had been made familiar with misfortune and with tears; and in her later life, as maiden, wife, and mother, she was not spared.
A touchingly-beautiful figure amid the drama of the Napoleonic days was this gentle and yet high-spirited queen, who, when she had descended from the throne and had ceased to be a sovereign, exhausted and weary of life, found refuge at length in the grave, yet still survived among us as a queen—no longer, indeed, a queen of nations, but the Queen of Flowers.
The flowers have retained their remembrance of Josephine’s beautiful daughter; they did not, like so many of her own race, deny her when she was no longer the daughter of the all-powerful emperor, but merely the daughter of the “exile.” Among the flowers the lovely Hortense continued to live on, and Gavarni, the great poet of the floral realm, has reared to her, as Hortensia, the Flower Queen, an enchanting monument, in his “Fleurs Animees.” Upon a mound of Hortensias rests the image of the Queen Hortense, and, in the far distance, like the limnings of a half-forgotten dream, are seen the towers and domes of Paris. Farther in the foreground lies the grave of Hortense, with the carved likeness of the queenly sister of the flowers. Loneliness reigns around the spot, but above it, in the air, hovers the imperial eagle. The imperial mantle, studded with its golden bees, undulates behind him, like the train of a comet; the dark-red ribbon of the Legion of Honor, with the golden cross, hangs around his neck, and in his beak he bears a full-blooming branch of the crown imperial.
It is a page of world-renowned history that this charming picture of Gavarni’s conjures up before us—an historical pageant that sweeps by us in wondrous fantastic forms of light and shadow, when we scan the life of Queen Hortense with searching gaze, and meditate upon her destiny. She had known all the grandeur and splendor of earth, and had seen them all crumble again to dust. No, not all! Her ballads and poems remain, for genius needs no diadem to be immortal.
When Hortense ceased to be a queen by the grace of Napoleon, she none the less continued to be a poetess “by the grace of God.” Her poems are sympathetic and charming, full of tender plaintiveness and full of impassioned warmth, which, however, in no instance oversteps the bounds of womanly gentleness. Her musical compositions, too, are equally melodious and attractive to the heart. Who does not know the song, “Va t’en, Guerrier,” which Hortense wrote and set to music, and then, at Napoleon’s request, converted into a military march? The soldiers of France once left their native land, in those days, to the sound of this march, to carry the French eagles to Russia; and to the same warlike harmony they have marched forth more recently, toward the same distant destination. This ballad, written by Hortense, survived. At one time everybody sang it, joyously, aloud. Then, when the Bourbons had returned, the scarred and crippled veterans of the Invalides hummed it under their breath, while they whispered secretly to each other of the glory of La Belle France, as of a beautiful dream of youth, now gone forever.