"Do You Expect to Stay Long in Paris?"
Marguerite Gardiner, the Countess of Blessington (1789-1849), was an Irish novelist, travel writer and wit who knew many of the cultural, literary, and political lights of her times, among them Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (1808-1873), nephew and titular heir to the Great Napoleon.
Louis was only a child when his uncle’s empire crumbled, and he spent much of his early life in Germany and Italy, where he dabbled in radical politics and made occasional forays into other countries, such as France. A failed coup against the crown of France in 1840 caused him to be imprisoned, but in May of 1846 he escaped to England.
Lady Blessington was among those who welcomed Louis, even letting him stay at her palatial home during his time in England. When the Revolution of February 1848 broke out, Louis returned to France, but was shortly forced to flee to England again. Once again, Lady Blessington gave him a hand. During the French elections of December of 1848, Louis Napoleon, although still in exile, was elected president of the “Second Republic” and promptly returned to take up his office.
Meanwhile, as Louis’ fortunes rose, Lady Blessington’s fell. Not long after Louis assumed the Presidency of France, the heavily indebted Lady fled England and settled in Paris. Ill and nearly destitute, she appealed to Louis for help, but was ignored.
Finally, Louis invited Blessington to a reception at the Elysée Palace. She accepted, of course.
On the appointed night, Lady Blessington attended the reception. When she entered the room, Louis promptly went to greet here, extending his hand.
"Lady Blessington," the President asked, "do you expect to stay long in Paris?"
"No,” she replied promptly, “Do you?"
Alas, it was Lady Blessington who left Paris first, dying of a massive heart attack soon after this encounter. Louis clung to power until 1870, becoming the Emperor Napoleon III by a coup in 1851, with disastrous consequences for France.
The Proper Dictator
In 1937, Vernon Bartlett (1894-1983), a veteran of the trenches and a journalist for the British daily The News Chronicle, interviewed Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini (1883-1945). Since Il Duce only agreed to interviews if a reporter would let him “review” any story, Bartlett submitted his draft report, rather than lose future access to the dictator.
When his draft came back, Bartlett was surprised to find that “The only alteration he made to my manuscript was significant. Somewhere I had written, 'The Duce's laughter encouraged me to ask another indiscreet question.' The word 'laughter' had been crossed out, and 'cordiality' stood in its place. Apparently no dictator may laugh."