salvation: a raft of comedy

Like the Quebec conference, like Yalta, like Versailles, the victors have all enjoyed the ritual of carving up the world as they saw fit…

A raft bearing two handsomely decorated pavilions was moored in the middle of the Niemen river, opposite the small town of Tilsit. Both sovereigns left simultaneously from either shore. Napoleon, the victor, was dressed in his usual simple uniform and his unadorned hat. In his thirty-eighth year, barely more than five feet tall, with the beginning of a mid-section tire, he would have cut a poor figure beside the handsome Alexander had it not been for his classic marble features, his magnetic grey eyes, his seductive smile. Alexander was the matinee idol among royalty, almost a dandy. There was, in his appearance as in his character, something passive and feminine. “If he were a woman,” Napoleon remarked some time later, “I think I would have made him my mistress.” And, in a figurative sense, this is what Napoleon, that embodiment of male energy, was about to do.

---Origin: France, 1807 Author of Origin: Serangeli, Gioacchino Personage: Napoleon Bonaparte Source of entry: via the State Museum Fund from the collection of Prince A. A. Kurakin, Leningrad, 1924---Read More:

Napoleon’s boat reached the raft just before Alexander’s. The two emperors embraced as they met, then went into one of two pavilions, while their suites found shelter from the rain in the other. They remained alone for an hour and fifty minutes. When they emerged, they beamed with radiant smiles, then took leave after setting a meeting for the morrow. During all that time Alexander’s luckless ally, Frederick William III of Prussia, whose entire kingdom was occupied by French troops, had been sitting by his horse by the shore, immobile in the rain, never taking his eyes off the raft where the fate of Prussia and the world was being decided.

---Napoleonic Wars: Peace of Tilsit between France and Russia, 7 July, and Prussia, 9 July 1807.-"Napoleon and Tsar Alexander I meet in Tilsit, July 1807".-Painting, no date, by Pierre-Nolasque Bergeret (1782-1863). Oil on canvas, 230 x 248cm.

Exactly what was said, no one knows, but there are sufficient clues pointing to the general content of the conversation: the Emperor of the East was seduced by the Emperor of the West; as a price for his yielding he was offered Asia, a bit of Europe, and an immense amount of flattery. And yet, like so many conquering males, the seducer deceived himself if he thought that his victim was truly his conquest; for if Alexander was yielding as a conquest, he was also devious.

Tilsit had no long run dramatic result. But, as actors, both were as enigmatic as any figure the previous twenty centuries had seen. Napoleon , at first glance, may seem enigmatic only because he was abnormally uncomplicated. Like all conquerors, he always saw his main chance and invariably seized it. Unlike Alexander, he knew not guilt or scruple. He had no part in the Revolution, but he owed his power to it; and the instant he held that power, he abolished the political freedom that the Revolution had created and proceeded to restore not the Bourbon monarchy of 1789, but the Carolingian empire of 800. After all the victories and crownings he became enigmatic. To unify the world, or at least Europe, under a rational system of law and government was probably a remote goal that took hold of Napoleon’s mind after Austerlitz. Yet he was an eminently practical man and never allowed himself to be carried away by practical ideas.

In this painting by Adolphe Roehn, Napoleon receives Alexander I before one of the floating pavilions in which they grandly proceeded to divide the whole of Europe between them. Read More:

If Napoleon was all rational and calculating, this cannot be said of Alexander, who combined idealism and greed, a sense of guilt and a sense of mission, chivalry, cowardice, loyalty and treachery, sentimentality and shrewdness, in a most baffling mixture. Almost entirely German by descent, he had grown up at the court of his grandmother, Catherine the Great , who, while paying lip service to the ideals of the Enlightenment, had her husband murdered by her lover, aggravated the plight of the serfs, and swallowed province after province of her neighbors. Breathing in the hot atmosphere of promiscuous sensuality that prevailed at Catherine’s court, and heir to an empire of illiterate serfs, Alexander was educated by his Swiss tutor, Frederic Cesar de la Harpe, in the liberal principles of the French philosophes. Given that he was Autocrat of all the Russias, this was a conflicting set of notions sufficient to unhinge anyone’s mind.

---Napolean and Josephine at the Cartomancer's - Joseph Danhauser-Read More:

In any event, Alexander’s father Paul ascended to the throne in a maniacal mood of revenge for thirty years of humiliations inflicted on him by his mother and her lovers. But these capricious and despotic idiosyncrasies soon became intolerable to his entourage. Alexander gave his blessing to a plot to murder him and Paul who refused to abdicate, was beaten and strangled in his bedroom. Among all the murders in the somber history of the Russian imperial family, that of Paul was perhaps the most excusable. Yet it is understandable that it produced an ineradicable sense of guilt in Alexander. He must expiate it by accomplishing something great. Like leading Europe into a new era. To Alexander, Napoleon’s offer of an alliance seemed an unexpected chance of salvation. Nap

n, whom the Russian Church had qualified as Antichrist, now appeared as a generous hero.

---Napoleon I Bonaparte, Emperor of the French (fr.1804); 1769-1821. /-"Napoléon Ier, Marie-Louise et le roi de Rome" (the empress brings her son to her husband who is having breakfast; behind: Controller É.P. de Montesquiou-Fézensac with wife & the nurse Mme.Auchard).-Ptg., 1812, by Alexandre Menjaud (1773-1832). Oil on canvas 43 x 51cm---

The great scheme of Tilsit, the partition of the world between East and West, turned out in retrospect to have been nothing but a comedy played by two great actors, each intent on deluding the other, both caught for a moment in the grandiose illusion of their own make believe. The issues were real enough, but neither actor really wished to solve them.

The treaty with Prussia stripped the country of about half its territory: Kottbus passed to Saxony, the left bank of the Elbe was awarded to the newly-created Kingdom of Westphalia, Belostok was given Russia, and the rest of Polish lands in the Prussian possession was set up as the quasi-independent Duchy of Warsaw. Prussia was to reduce the army to 40,000 and to pay the indemnity of 100,000,000 francs.

---EVACUATION OF MALTA Famous cartoon by James Gillray showing Napoleon threatening Malta while the then Prime Minister Addington "evacuates" areas of English interest into his hat.---Read More:

In recompense, Napoleon guaranteed the sovereignty of the Duchy of Oldenburg and several other small states ruled by the tsar’s German relatives. Talleyrand had advised Napoleon to pursue milder terms. However, Napoleon refused, marking an important stage in his estrangement from the emperor. Read More:

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