I had an idea of presenting the Cross of the Legion
of Honor to Talma; but I refrained from doing this,
in consideration of our capricious manners and absurd
prejudices. I wished to make a first experiment
in an affair that was out of date and unimportant,
and I accordingly gave the Iron Crown to Crescentini.
The decoration was foreign, and so was the individual
on whom it was conferred. This circumstance was
less likely to attract public notice or to render
my conduct the subject of discussion; at worst, it
could only give rise to a few malicious jokes.
Such,” continued the Emperor, “is the
influence of public opinion. I distributed scepters
at will, and thousands readily bowed beneath their
sway; and yet I could not give away a ribbon without
the chance of incurring disapprobation, for I believe
my experiment with regard to Crescentini proved unsuccessful.”
“It did, sire,” observed some one present.
“The circumstance occasioned a great outcry
in Paris; it drew forth a general anathema in all
the drawing-rooms of the metropolis, and afforded full
scope for the expression of malignant feeling.
However, at one of the evening parties of the Faubourg
St. Germain, a bon mot
had the effect of completely
stemming the current of indignation. A pompous
orator was holding forth in an eloquent strain on
the subject of the honor that had been conferred on
Crescentini. He declared it to be a disgrace,
a horror, a perfect profanation, and inquired by what
right Crescentini was entitled to such a distinction.
. Grassini, who was present, rose majestically
from her chair, with a theatrical tone and gesture
exclaiming, ’Et sa blessure, monsieur?’
This produced a general burst of laughter, amid which
Grassini sat down, embarrassed by her own success.”
Mme. Grassini remained on the stage till about
1823 when, having lost the beauty of her voice, she
retired to private life with a comfortable fortune,
spending her last years in Paris. She died in
1850, in her eighty-fifth year, preserving her beauty
and freshness in a marvelous degree. The effect
of Grassini’s singing on people of refined taste
was even greater than the impression made on regular
musicians. Thomas De Quincey speaks of her in
his “Autobiographical Sketches” as having
a voice delightful beyond all that he had ever heard.
Sir Charles Bell thought it was “only Grassini
who conveyed the idea of the united power of music
and action. She did not act only without being
ridiculous, but with an effect equal to Mrs. Siddons.
The ‘O Dio’ of Mrs. Billington was a bar
of music, but in the strange, almost unnatural voice
of Grassini, it went to the soul.” Elsewhere
he speaks of “her dignity, truth, and affecting