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The Emperor and the Poor Author by Jonathan F. Kelley


     “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

Great men are not the less liable or addicted to very small, and very mean, and sometimes very rascally acts, but they are always fortunate in having any amount of panegyric graven on marble slabs, shafts and pillars, o'er their dust, and eulogistic and profound histories written in memories of the deeds of renown and glory they have executed. An American 74-gun ship would hardly float the mountains of tomes written upon Bonaparte and his brilliant career, as a soldier and a conqueror; but how precious few, insignificant pages do we ever see of the misdeeds, tyrannies and acts of petty and contemptuous meanness so great a man was guilty of! Why should authors and orators be so reluctant to tell the truth of a great man's follies and crimes, seeing with what convenience and fluency they will lie for him? We contend, and shall contend, that a truly great man cannot be guilty of a small act, and that one contemptible or atrocious manifestation in man, is enough to sully—tarnish the brightness of a dozen brilliant deeds; but apparently, the accepted notion is—vice versa.

In 1830, there lived in the city of Philadelphia, a barber, a poor, harmless, necessary barber. His antique, or most curious costume, attracted much attention about the vicinity in which he lived, and no doubt added somewhat to the custom of his shop, itself a bijou as curious almost as the proprietor. But as our story has but little to do with the queer outside of the barber or his shop, and we do not now purpose a whole history of the man, we shall at once proceed to the pith of our subject—the Emperor and the poor Author, or Napoleon and his Spies—and in which our aforesaid Philadelphia barber plays a conspicuous part.

Some of the writers, a few of those partially daring enough to give an impartial expose of the history of the Bonapartean times, seem to think that Napoleon committed a great error in his accession to the throne, by doubting the stability of his reign, and having pursued exactly measures antipodean to those necessary to seat him firmly in the hearts of the people, and cement the foundation of his newly-acquired power. But we don't think so; the means by which he obtained the giddy height, to a comprehensive mind like his, at once suggested the necessity of vigilance, promptness, and unflinching execution of whatever act, however tyrannous or heartless it might have been, his unsleeping mind suggested—

     “Crowns got with blood, by blood must be maintained.”

Jealous and suspicious, he sought to shackle public opinion—the fearful hydra to all ambitious aspirants—to know all secrets of the time and states, and render one half of the great nations he held in his grasp spies upon the other! The most profligate principles of Machiavel sink into obscurity when contrasted with the Imperial Espionage of Napoleon. When no longer moving squadrons in the tented field—whole armies, like so many pieces of chess in the hands of a dexterous player—he sat upon his throne, reclined upon his lounge or smoked in his bath, organized and moved the most difficult and dangerous forces in the world—an army of Spies!

All ages, from that of infancy to decrepitude—all conditions of life, from peer to parvenu—from plough to the anvil—pulpit to the bar—orators and beggars, soldiers and sailors, male and female of every grade—men of the most insinuating address, and women of the most seductive ages and loveliness, grace and beauty were enlisted and trained to serve—in what the pot-bellied, bald-headed little monster of war used to call his Cytherian Cohort! Snares set by these imperial policemen were difficult to avoid, from the almost utter impossibility of suspicioning their presence or power.

In 1808, a learned Italian, noble by birth, in consequence of the movements and executions of Napoleon, found it prudent to shave off his moustache and titles, and change the scene of his future life, as well as change his name. A master of languages and a man of mind, he sought the learned precincts of Leipsic, Germany, where he preserved his incognito, though he was not long in winning the grace, and other considerations due enlarged intellect, from those not lacking that invaluable commodity themselves. Herr Beethoven—the new title of our Italian “mi lord”—conceived the project of convincing the mighty Emperor—the hero of the sword—that so little a javelin as the pen could puncture the sac containing all his great pretensions, and let the vapor out; in short, to show the conqueror, that the pen was mightier than his magic sword. Beethoven purposed writing a pamphlet memorial, involving the bombastic pretensions, the gigantic extravagance and arrogant ambition of Bonaparte. The man of letters well knew the ground upon which he was to tread, the danger of ambushed foes, involving such a brochure, and the caution necessary with which he was to produce his work. But Beethoven felt the necessity of the production; he possessed the power to execute a great benefit to his fellow man, and he determined to wield it and take the chances. Though scarcely giving breath to his project—guarding each page of his writing as vigilantly as though they were each blessed with the enchantment of a Koh-i-Noor—a mysterious agency discovered the fact—Napoleon shook in his royal boots, and swore in good round French, when the following missive reached his royal eye:—

     Sire(!)—A plot is brewing against your peace; the safety of your
     throne is menaced by a villainous scribe. My informant, who has
     read the manuscripts, informs me that he has never seen any thing
     better or more imposing, and ingenious in argument and force, than
     the fellow's appeal to all the crowned heads and people of Europe.
     It is calculated to carry an irresistible conviction of the wrongs
     they suffer from your imperial majesty to every breast. These
     manuscripts are fraught with more danger to your Imperial Majesty's
     Empire, than all the hostile bayonets in the world combined against
     you, Sire.

     Leipsic, 1808. Baron De——.

Here was a hot shot dangling over the magazines of the mighty man, and the “little corporal” jumped into his boots, and began to set the wheels of his great “expediency” in motion. A message flew here, and another there; a dispatch to this one, and a royal order to that one. A dozen secretaries, and a score of amanuensises were instantly at work, and the alarmed “Emperor of all the French” fairly beat the reveille upon his diamond-cased snuff box; while, with the rapidity of the clapper of an alarm bell, he issued to each the oral order to which they were to lend enchantment by their rapid quills.

Herr Beethoven was surprised in his very closet! Papers were found scattered all over his little sanctum—the spies had him and his effects, most promptly; but what was the rage and disappointment of the emissaries of the wily monarch, to find neither hair nor hide of the dreaded fiat! Had it gone forth? Was it secreted? Was it written?

They had the man, but his flesh and blood were as valueless as a pebble to a diamond, contrasted with the witchery of the words he had invested a few sheets of simple paper with! They searched his clothes—tore up his bed, broke up his furniture, powdered his few pieces of statuary, but all in vain—the sought for, dreaded, and hated documents, for which his Imperial highness would have secretly given ten—twenty—fifty thousand louis—was not to be found! The rage of the inquisitors was terrific—showing how well they were chosen or paid, to serve in their atrocious capacities. The poor scribe was promised all manner of unpleasant finales, cursed, menaced, and finally coaxed.

“I have written nothing—published nothing, nor do I intend to write or publish anything,” was Beethoven's reply.

“Speak fearlessly,” said the chief of the inquisitors, “and rely upon a generous monarch's benevolence. My commission, sir, is limited to ascertain whether poverty has not compelled you to write; if that be the case, speak out; place any price upon your work—the price is nothing—I will pay you at once and destroy your documents.”

“Your offers, sir,” responded the poor author, “are most kind and liberal, and I regret extremely that it is not in my power to avail myself of them. I again declare, sir, that I have never written anything against the French government—your information to the contrary is false and wicked.”

The spies, finding they could not gain any information of the author, by threat or bribe, carried him to France, where his doom was supposed to be sealed in torture and death, in the Bastile of the Emperor.

But where was this fearful manuscript—this dreaded scribbling of the God-forsaken, poor, forlorn author? The emissaries of his serene highness had the blood, bones, and body of the wretched scribe, but where was that they feared more than all the warlike forces of a million of the best equipped forces of Europe—the paltry paper pellets of a scholar's brain—the memorial to the crowned heads, and people of the several shivering monarchies of continental Europe?

A few brief hours—not two days—before the pseudo Herr Beethoven was honored by the special considerations and attentions of the Emperor of all the French—the conqueror of a third, at least, of the civilized world—he had conceived suspicions of a man to whom in the most profound confidence he had revealed a slight whisper of his projects—impressed with the foreshadowing that a mysterious something dangerous was about to menace him, he made way with the manuscripts, to which his soul clung as too dear and precious to be destroyed—he gave them to the charge of a tried friend—and before the Cytherian Cohort were upon the threshold of the author, his memorial was snugly ensconced in the obscure and remote secretary of a gentleman and a man of letters, in the renowned city of Prague. The alarm and friend's appearance seemed most opportune—for an hour after the visitation of the one, the other was at hand—the documents transferred and on their way to their place of refuge.

But difficult was the stepping-stone to Napoleon's greatness—the more the mystery of the manuscripts augmented—the more enthusiastic became his research—the more formidable appeared the necessity of grasping them; and the determination, at all hazards, to clutch them, before they served their purpose!

“Bring me the manuscripts”—was the fiat of the Emperor: “I care not how you obtain them—get them, bring them here; and mark you, let neither money, danger nor fatigue, oppose my will. Hence—bring the manuscripts!”

Again Leipsic was invested by the Cytherian Cohort of the modern Alexander; the rival of Hannibal, the great little commandant of the most warlike nation of the earth. The Baron ——, who was master of ceremonies in this great enterprise, now arrested the secret agent who had given the information of the existence of the memorial. This wretch had received five hundred crowns for his espionage and treachery. His fee was to be quadrupled if his atrocious information proved correct; so dear is the mere foreshadowing of ill news to vaunting ambition and quaking imposters. Bengert, the German spy, was sure of the genuineness of his information—he was much astonished that the Baron had not seized the memorial, as well as the body of the hapless author. The Baron and the treacherous German conferred at length; an idea seemed to strike the spy.

“I have it,” he exclaimed, a few days before his arrest. “I saw a friend visit Beethoven; I know they both entertained the same sentiments in regard to the Emperor—that man has the manuscripts.”

Where was that man? It was finding the needle in the hay stack— the pebble in the brook. Again the Emperor urged, and the Cytherian Cohort plied their cunning and perseverance. That friend of the poor author was found—he was tilling his garden, surrounded by his flower pots and children, on the outskirts of Prague, Bohemia. It was in vain he questioned his captors. He dropped his gardening implements—blessed his children—kissed them, and was hurried off, he knew not whither or wherefore! Shaubert was this man's name; he was forty, a widower—a scholar, a poet—liberally endowed by wealth, and loved the women!

It was Baron ——'s province to find out the weak points of each victim.

“If he has a particular regard for poetry, he does love the fine arts,” quoth the Baron, “and women are the queens of fine arts. I'll have him!”

In the secret prison of Shaubert he found an old man, confined for—he could not learn what. Every day, the yet youthful and most fascinating, voluptuous and beautiful daughter of the old man, visited his cell, which was adjoining that of Shaubert's. As she did so, it was not long before she found occasion to linger at the door of the widower, the poet—and sigh so piteously as to draw from the victim, at first a holy poem, and at length an amative love lay. Like fire into tow did this effusion of the poet's quill inflame the breast and arouse the passions of the lovely Bertha; and in an obscure hour, after pouring forth the soul's burden of most vehement love, the angel in woman's form(!), with implements as perfect as the very jailor's, opened all the bolts and bars, and led the captive forth to liberty! She would have the poet who had entranced her, fly and leave her to her fate! But poetry scorned such dastardy—it was but to brave the uncertainty of fate to stay, and torture to go—Bertha must fly with him. She had a father—could she leave him in bondage? No! She had rescued her lover—she braved more—released her parent in the next hour, by the same mysterious means, and giving herself up to the tempest of love, she shared in the flight of the poet. In a remote section of chivalric Bohemia, they found an asylum. But Bertha was as yet but the deliverer from bondage, if not death, of her soul's idol; he, with all the warmth and gratitude of a dozen poets, worshipped at her feet and besought her to bless him evermore by sharing his fate and fortune. There was a something imposing, a something that brought the pearly tear to the heroic girl's eye and made that lovely bosom undulate with most sad emotion. The poet pressed her to his heart—fell at her feet, and begged that if his life—property—children—be the sacrifice—but let him know the secret at once—he was her friend—defender—lover—slave. Another sigh, and the spell was broken.

“Why—ah! why were you a state prisoner—a secret prisoner in the ——?”

“Loved angel,” answered the poet, “I scarce can tell; indeed I have not the merest hint, in my own mind, to tell me for what I was arrested and thrown into prison!”

“Ah! sir,” sighed the lovely Bertha, “I can never then wed the man I love—I cannot brave the dangers of an unknown fate—at some moment least expected, to be torn from his arms—lost to him forever!”

“We can fly, dearest,” suggested the poet, “we can fly to other and more secure lands. In the sunshine of your sweet smile, my dear Bertha, obscurity—poverty would be nothing.”

“No,” said the girl, “I cannot leave my father—the land of my birth—home of my childhood. I that have given you liberty, may point out a way to deliver you from further restraint. How I learned the nature of your crime, ask not; I know your secret.”

“Ah! what mean you?”

“In a foolish hour,” continued the lovely Bertha, with downcast eyes and heaving bosom, “you impaled your generous self to save a friend—the friend fled—you were arrested—”

“Good God!” exclaimed the poet, “Herr Beethoven——”

“Gave you possession of——” she continued.

“No! no! no!” interposed the affrighted poet, daring not to breathe “yes,” even to the ear of his fair preserver.

“Sir,” calmly continued the girl, “I have risked my own life and liberty to preserve yours, I have——”

“I—I know it all, dear—dearest angel, but——”

“Those manuscripts,” she continued, fixing her keen but melting gaze upon the poor victim.

“Ha! manuscripts? How learned you this? No, no, it cannot be——”

“It is known—I know it—I learned it from your captors; but for my love,” said the girl, “mad—guilty love—your life would have been forfeited—your house pillaged by the emissaries of the Emperor, in quest of those manuscripts. While they exist, Bertha cannot be happy—Bertha's love must die with her—Bertha be ever miserable!”

“I-a—I will—but no! no! I have no manuscripts! It is false—false!” exclaimed the almost distracted poet.

“Herr Shaubert,” said the girl, clasping the hand of the poet, and throwing herself at his feet, “am I unworthy your love?”

“Dear, dear Bertha, do not torture me! do not, for God's sake! Rise; let me at your feet swear, in answer—No!

“Then, within four-and-twenty hours, let me grasp that hated, damned viper, that would gnaw the heart's core of Bertha. Give me the key of your misery; O! bless me—bless your Bertha; give me those accursed manuscripts, daggers bequeathed you by a false friend, that I may at once, in your presence, give them to the flames; and Bertha, the idol of your soul, be ever more blessed and happy!”

This appeal settled the business of the poet; he walked the room, sighed, tore his mouchoir, oscillated between honor and temptation—the angel form and syren tongue of the woman triumphed. In course of a dozen hours, Bertha, the lovely, enchanting spy, opened the secret drawers of the poet's secretary, and amid carefully-packed literary rubbish, the dreaded memorial was found—clutched with the eagerness of a death-reprieve to a poor felon upon the verge of eternity, and with the despatch of an hundred swift relays, the poor author's manuscripts were placed in the hands of the mighty Emperor, and while he read their fearful purport, and flashed with rage or grew livid with each scathing word of the memorial, he hurriedly issued his orders—gain to this one, sacrifice to that one; while he made the spy a countess, he ordered hideous death to the poor poet and despair and misery to his children.

“Fly!” the monarch shouted, “search every one suspected of a hand in this; let them be dealt with instantly—trouble me not with detail, but give me sure returns. Stop not, until this viper is exterminated; egg and tooth; fang and scale; see it done and claim my bounty—fly!

That snake was scotched and killed—the few brief pages of an obscure author that drove sleep, appetite and peace from the mighty Emperor, for days and nights—made busy work for his thousands of emissaries—scattered his gold in weighty streams—was read, cursed and destroyed, and all suspected as having the slightest voice or opinion in the secret memorial, met a secret fate—death or prolonged wretchedness.

Herr Beethoven, the poor author, alone escaped; being overlooked in the hot pursuit of his production, and by the blunder of those having charge of himself and hundreds of other state prisoners—guilty or suspected opponents to the vaulting ambition and power of him that at last ended his own eventful career as a helpless prisoner upon an ocean isle—was liberated and lost no time in making his way beyond the reach of monarchs, tyranny and bondage. Beethoven came to America and settled in Philadelphia, where, in the humble capacity of an e-razer of beards and pruner of human mops, he eked out a reasonable existence for the residue of his earthly existence; few, perhaps, dreaming in their profoundest philosophy, that the little, eccentric-attired, grotesque-looking barber, who tweaked their plebeian noses and combed their caputs, once rejoiced in grand heraldic escutcheons upon his carriage panels as a veritable Count, and still later made the throne tremble beneath the feet of a second Alexander!

But God is great, and the ways of our every-day life, full of change and mystery.


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