Immediately after Bonaparte’s return to France, Melzi left Milan, and retired to an estate in Tuscany; from that place he wrote to Talleyrand a letter full of reproach, and concluded by asking leave to pass the remainder of his days in Spain among his relatives. An answer was presented him by an officer of Bonaparte’s Gendarmes d’Elite, in which he was forbidden to quit Italy, and ordered to return with the officer to Milan, and there occupy his office of Arch-Chancellor to which he had been nominated. Enraged at such treatment, he endeavoured to kill himself with a dose of poison, but his attempt did not succeed. His health was, however, so much injured by it that it is not supposed he can live long. What, a lesson for reformers and innovators!
Paris, September, 1805.
My lord:—A ridiculous affair lately occasioned a great deal of bustle among the members of our foreign diplomatic corps. When Bonaparte demanded for himself and for his wife the title of Imperial Majesty, and for his brothers and sisters that of Imperial Highness, he also insisted on the salutation of a Serene Highness being given to his Arch-Chancellor, Cambaceres, and his Arch-Treasurer, Lebrun. The political consciences of the independent representatives of independent Continental Princes immediately took the alarm at the latter innovation, as the appellation of Serene Highness has never hitherto been bestowed on persons who had not princely rank. They complained to Talleyrand, they petitioned Bonaparte, and they even despatched couriers to their respective Courts. The Minister smiled, the Emperor cursed, and their own Cabinets deliberated. All routs, all assemblies, all circles, and all balls were at a stop. Cambaceres applied to his Sovereign to support his pretensions, as connected with his own dignity; and the diplomatic corps held forward their dignity as opposing the pretensions of Cambaceres. In this dilemma Bonaparte ordered all the Ambassadors, Ministers, envoys, and agents ‘en masse’ to the castle of the Tuileries. After hearing, with apparent patience, their arguments in favour of established etiquette and customs, he remained inflexible, upon the ground that he, as master, had a right to confer what titles he chose within his own dominions on his own subjects; and that those foreigners who refused to submit to his regulations might return to their own country. This plain explanation neither effecting a conversion nor making any, impression, he grew warm, and left the refractory diplomatists with these remarkable words: “Were I to create my Mameluke Rostan a King, both you and your masters should acknowledge him in that rank.”
After this conference most of Their Excellencies were seized with terror and fear, and would, perhaps, have subscribed to the commands of our Emperor had not some of the wisest among them proposed, and obtained the consent of the rest, to apply, once more to Talleyrand, and purchase by some douceur his assistance in this great business. The heart of our Minister is easily softened; and he assented, upon certain conditions, to lay the whole before his Sovereign in such a manner that Cambaceres should be made a Prince as well as a Serene Highness.