Memoirs of Dr. Thomas W. Evans

Date: 1905

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The Second French Empire



Napoleon III


Queen Hortense and the empress Joséphine — the mother and the grandmother of Louis Napoleon — were each of them famous beauties; but the emperor Napoleon III was not a handsome man in the sense commonly given to these words. His head was large, usually slightly inclined to one side, and his features were strongly pronounced. The forehead was broad, the nose prominent, the eyes small, grayish-blue in color, and generally expressionless, owing to a somnolent drooping of the lids; but they brightened wonderfully when he was amused, and, when he was aroused they were full of power; nor were those likely to forget it who had once seen, through these windows of the soul, the flash of the fire that burned within. His complexion was blond but rather sallow; the lower part of the face was lengthened by a short "goatee" — called in honor of his Majesty an "imperial" — and broadened by a very heavy, silky mustache, the ends of which were stiffly waxed. His hair was of a light brown color, and, when I first knew him, was abundant and worn rather long; at a later period it was trimmed short and was habitually brushed in the style made familiar by the effigy on the coinage of the empire. In complexion, in the color of his hair, and also in the shape of his head, Napoleon III was a Beauharnais,1 not a Bonaparte, and a Frank, not a Corsican. He was a little below the average height; but his person was marked with dignity and distinction, and his deportment with ease and courtliness. No one seeing him could fail to observe that he was not an ordinary man. Late in life, he inclined to stoutness; at the time I first met him, his figure was not large but his body was compact and muscular.

He was always carefully dressed, and in public, when in plain clothes, usually wore a black frock coat tightly buttoned. But whatever the fashion of the day might be in hats, rarely could he be induced to wear any other than a "Count d’Orsay,"2 or a very subdued type of the style in vogue, in which respect he exhibited his good taste — to those of us who remember the tall, flat-brimmed, graceless "stovepipes" with which the Parisian hommes du monde covered their heads under the empire.

When a young man, the emperor was fond of athletic sports, hunting, fencing, and military exercises of all kinds. He was a strong swimmer — an accomplishment to which he may have owed his life, on the failure of the expedition to Boulogne,3 and a fine rider. In fact, he never appeared to better advantage than when in the saddle; and during the years of his presidency he was often seen on horseback in the parks and suburbs of Paris, accompanied by only one or two attendants. A little later, and after his marriage, he liked to go out in a carriage and to drive the horses himself. When staying at St.-Cloud, he was to be seen almost daily in the park or its neighborhood, riding with the empress in a phaeton, behind a span of fast trotters, handling the reins himself, and entirely unattended.

During the latter part of his life, owing to increasing infirmities, he became more and more disinclined to physical exertion. Horseback exercise was now almost impossible, and his out-of-door excursions were limited, with rare exceptions, to carriage drives and walks. He could be seen in these last years almost any day, when in Paris, on the terrace of the Tuileries overlooking the Seine, always moving slowly, and frequently leaning on the arm of an attendant, or stopping occasionally, as he was fond of doing, to look down upon the merry groups of children at play in the garden, whose clamorous happiness, careless and unrestrained, like a breath of fresh air from another world, was an inspiration and a delight to him.

1 , edited by E. A. Grane. New York, 1905. D. Appleton and Company.

2 , pp. 33–34.

1 Joséphine’s first husband was the vicomte de Beauharnais, who perished during the Jacobin Terror. Napoleon married her in 1796.

2 Named after a celebrated dandy of the time.

3 In 1840 Louis Napoleon had landed with a little band of followers at Boulogne, hoping to provoke a revolution in his favor. The attempt failed, and its author was condemned to life imprisonment in the fortress of Ham. He escaped to London six years later.


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Chicago: E. A. Grane., ed., "Napoleon III," Memoirs of Dr. Thomas W. Evans in Readings in Modern European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: D.C. Heath, 1926), 336–337. Original Sources, accessed September 29, 2023,

MLA: . "Napoleon III." Memoirs of Dr. Thomas W. Evans, edited by E. A. Grane., in Readings in Modern European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, D.C. Heath, 1926, pp. 336–337. Original Sources. 29 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: (ed.), 'Napoleon III' in Memoirs of Dr. Thomas W. Evans. cited in 1926, Readings in Modern European History, ed. , D.C. Heath, Boston, pp.336–337. Original Sources, retrieved 29 September 2023, from