The Emperor and
the Poor Author
by Jonathan F.
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 sullytarnish the brightness of a
dozen brilliant deeds; but apparently, the accepted notion isvice
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 subjectthe Emperor and the poor Author, or
Napoleon and his Spiesand 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 opinionthe
fearful hydra to all ambitious aspirantsto 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 fieldwhole armies, like so many pieces of chess in the hands
of a dexterous playerhe sat upon his throne, reclined upon his lounge
or smoked in his bath, organized and moved the most difficult and
dangerous forces in the worldan army of Spies!
All ages, from that of infancy to decrepitudeall conditions of
life, from peer to parvenufrom plough to the anvilpulpit to the
barorators and beggars, soldiers and sailors, male and female of
every grademen of the most insinuating address, and women of the most
seductive ages and loveliness, grace and beauty were enlisted and
trained to servein 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 Beethoventhe new title of our
Italian mi lordconceived the project of convincing the mighty
Emperorthe hero of the swordthat 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
projectguarding each page of his writing as vigilantly as though they
were each blessed with the enchantment of a Koh-i-Noora
mysterious agency discovered the factNapoleon 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
throne is menaced by a villainous scribe. My informant, who
read the manuscripts, informs me that he has never seen any
better or more imposing, and ingenious in argument and force,
the fellow's appeal to all the crowned heads and people of
It is calculated to carry an irresistible conviction of the
they suffer from your imperial majesty to every breast. These
manuscripts are fraught with more danger to your Imperial
Empire, than all the hostile bayonets in the world combined
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 sanctumthe 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
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
clothestore up his bed, broke up his furniture, powdered his few
pieces of statuary, but all in vainthe sought for, dreaded, and hated
documents, for which his Imperial highness would have secretly
given tentwentyfifty thousand louiswas not to be found!
The rage of the inquisitors was terrificshowing 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 nothingpublished 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 workthe price is
nothingI 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 governmentyour 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
But where was this fearful manuscriptthis 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 Europethe paltry paper pellets
of a scholar's brainthe memorial to the crowned heads, and
people of the several shivering monarchies of continental Europe?
A few brief hoursnot two daysbefore the pseudo Herr
Beethoven was honored by the special considerations and attentions of
the Emperor of all the Frenchthe conqueror of a third, at least, of
the civilized worldhe had conceived suspicions of a man to whom in
the most profound confidence he had revealed a slight whisper of
his projectsimpressed 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
destroyedhe gave them to the charge of a tried friendand 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 opportunefor an hour
after the visitation of the one, the other was at handthe documents
transferred and on their way to their place of refuge.
But difficult was the stepping-stone to Napoleon's greatnessthe
more the mystery of the manuscripts augmentedthe more enthusiastic
became his researchthe 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 manuscriptswas the fiat of the Emperor: I
care not how you obtain themget them, bring them here;
and mark you, let neither money, danger nor fatigue, oppose my will.
Hencebring 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 informationhe 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 Emperorthat 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 foundhe 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 implementsblessed his childrenkissed them, and was
hurried off, he knew not whither or wherefore! Shaubert was this man's
name; he was forty, a widowera scholar, a poetliberally endowed by
wealth, and loved the women!
It was Baron 's province to find out the weak points of each
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
forhe 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 poetand 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 dastardyit was but to brave the
uncertainty of fate to stay, and torture to goBertha must fly with
him. She had a fathercould she leave him in bondage? No! She had
rescued her lovershe braved morereleased 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 heartfell
at her feet, and begged that if his lifepropertychildrenbe the
sacrificebut let him know the secret at oncehe was her
frienddefenderloverslave. Another sigh, and the spell was broken.
Whyah! why were you a state prisonera secret prisoner in
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
loveI cannot brave the dangers of an unknown fateat some moment
least expected, to be torn from his armslost 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,
obscuritypoverty would be nothing.
No, said the girl, I cannot leave my fatherthe land of my
birthhome 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
friendthe friend fledyou 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
II know it all, deardearest 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 knownI know itI learned it from your captors; but for my
love, said the girl, madguilty loveyour life would have been
forfeitedyour house pillaged by the emissaries of the Emperor, in
quest of those manuscripts. While they exist, Bertha cannot be
happyBertha's love must die with herBertha be ever miserable!
I-aI willbut no! no! I have no manuscripts! It is
falsefalse! 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 answerNo!
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 mebless 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
temptationthe 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
foundclutched 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 ordersgain 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 instantlytrouble 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 bountyfly!
That snake was scotched and killedthe few brief pages of an
obscure author that drove sleep, appetite and peace from the mighty
Emperor, for days and nightsmade busy work for his thousands of
emissariesscattered his gold in weighty streamswas read, cursed and
destroyed, and all suspected as having the slightest voice or opinion
in the secret memorial, met a secret fatedeath or prolonged
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 prisonersguilty 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 islewas 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