Galerie des enfans célébres, by M. le comte de Barins, 1836

(Article by Chantal LHEUREUX-PRÉVOT,  (ed. trans. P.H.))

Galerie des enfans célébres, by M. le comte de Barins, 1836

This delightful little book for young people was published in 1836. It was written to give the girls and boys born during the Restoration a vision of their glorious predecessors, of all nations, rank and destiny, and it included four engravings. Here (if not in reality) an Austrian peasant could rub shoulders with the sons of kings and princes. The short biographies making up the book are naturally morally 'improving' and praise filial piety, perseverance in misfortune, courage, goodness, and often precociousness. Whilst many of the names quoted in the book have been forgotten today or relegated to the shelves of specialist history, the trio Mozart, Du Guesclin, Bonaparte stands out.
One other 'romantic' figure of 1835 included in the volume was the Duc de Reichstadt, Napoleon's son by Marie Louise, who died in Schönbrunn palace in 1832. He who was once the 'King of Rome' became known (in a French play on words) as the “fils de l'Homme” (not the 'Son of Man', but rather 'the son of that Man', i.e., Napoleon)). This grand epithet made him figure in the legends of both the French and Austrian empires, and the short treatment of his life here is the very definition of a 'tear-jerker': “Eternally condemned to a double exile, an exile from his native soil, an exile from his father's throne, his existence was a painful and empty dream”. “[The Prince] suffered horribly before dying. Weep, young men and women, for the poor son of the 'the man who made the kings of Europe tremble'. And praise the admirable role of his mother, Marie-Louise, wasted with grief.


The engraving here highlights the unsettled life of Napoleon II (click on the large image): the crown is upside down, the sceptre is broken. As for the lower scene, it is pure invention: according to Napoleon I's will the Grand Marshal Bertrand, Henri-Gatien Bertrand, companion of Napoleon I's exile, was supposed to give the emperor's sword, the sword of Austerlitz, to the emperor's son. However, difficulties of procedure amongst the allies slowed down attempts to get close to the Duc de Reichstadt, and when the Duc died, the sword was handed to Louis-Philippe, much to Louis Napoleon's disgust.
Whilst it was true that the First Empire now had its very own heroes, alongside the Turennes, Louis XIIIs and Lullys, the author of 'Enfans célèbres' preferred the blue bloods as an antidote to the military figures of the Empire.
Hence, alongside Napoleon II (who opened the book), second place was given to Eugène de Beauharnais. He is characterised by the following proverb: "For noble high-born souls, virtue is not slow in coming".
Perhaps surprisingly, Talleyrand is included. But here the version of his life is made to be exemplary and edifying; he is brought up by a saintly mother, follows his vows to become a priest. The rest of his life is omitted and he dies in holy orders.
The young Bonaparte is naturally treated in detail. He is described as a child obsessed with 'gloire' while still at the military school in Brienne, although present are also the despotic ideas of his future reign.
The rest of the Empire children come from poor families: namely Mathieu Goffin, who survived a mining disaster in Liège in 1812, and Nadège Fusil, orphaned after the retreat from Russia.
That the author, the Comte de Barins, was particularly interested in Napoléon II is shown by the fact that he was to write a whole book on him several years later entitled, L'Autriche, le roi de Rome et Napoléon Ier: Histoire de Napoléon I, Paris : Pick, 1853. Clearly he had a good sense of 'course of history', as he had a year previously published a judicious work on Napoleon, Louis-Napoleon and Europe called, Napoléon, la France, l'Angleterre, l'Europe : Histoire de Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, président de la République française, comprenant la vie civile, politique et militaire du prince, depuis sa naissance jusqu'à ce jour, Paris : Pick, 1852. In fact, ‘Comte de Barins' was a pseudonym for Louis François Raban, who as a young man had defended Paris in 1814 as an artilleryman. Despite being an exceedingly prolific writer not only of biographical dictionaries but also 'bodice-rippers', and (as we have seen) that he tried to profit from contemporary politics to enhance his sales, he never managed to emerge from extreme poverty and died supported by his daughter at the fall of the Second Empire in 1870.
Title: Galerie des enfans célèbres ou Histoire des jeunes gens qui se sont illustrés par leurs vertus, leurs talens, leur esprit, leur génie, etc.; depuis le quinzième siècle jusqu'à nos jours (1835)
Author: M. le comte de Barins (pseudonym for Louis François Raban)
Publisher and place of publication: Paris, Thierot libraire, Corbet aîné libraire, 1836
Physical description: 296 p., 4 grav., 17 cm

Author: LHEUREUX-PRÉVOT, Chantal
Month: September
Year: 2007