History Of Madame Tussaud's
( Originally Published 1920 )
Napoleon's Waterloo carriage—Description of its exterior.
SOME account must be given of this most interesting relic. Ever since it first came to the Exhibition it has excited the most lively interest, and, until it was covered in by a glazed case, visitors enjoyed the privilege of sitting inside—a proceeding which would not have mattered had not unscrupulous souvenir hunters abused this favour by pilfering portions of the fabric that lined it.
Time-worn, it now stands before us, a thing of gaunt and sombre aspect. This old war-coach offers, to those who contemplate it, a full measure of historic reminiscence, recalling the most striking and critical episodes in the great Corsican's career.
He entered it at the time his power stood at its zenith, and retained it in constant attendance upon him down to the hour he took refuge within it, a conquered and a broken man. It was built for his campaign in Russia. In it he travelled many a league on the road to Moscow. Bereft of its wheels and lashed upon a sleigh, through the perils of that terrible retreat, it safely carried him far on his way back to the gates of Paris. With him it was sent to the Isle of Elba; thence it helped him along on his last auspicious journey to the French capital.
It assisted him on his way to Waterloo. Standing on the main road hard by La Belle Alliance, it waited him throughout that memorable Sunday, the 18th of June, over a hundred years ago. At the end of the day's ordeal into it, sore and ill, he flung himself, only to struggle from it at the point of capture to take refuge in the confusion and the shadow of the night, leaving his hat, sword, and many other things behind him.
Deepened long ago into a monotone of dusky grey, still here and there the old coach betrays a touch of colour, revealing a fair estimate of its former self. Simple and modest as Imperial carriages go, nevertheless, on a certain May day in the year i812, as it sallied forth on its maiden voyage, its back turned upon the old Palace of St. Cloud and its fore-carriage set upon the highroad to Russia, it must have looked a comely chariot—as yet unsullied by the stain of travel, and not yet degraded by the lust of war.
By the man that made it—one Simon, of Brussels, to whom reference has already been made—it would have been designated a berline de voyage, or maybe a carrosse a six chevaux, by us it has been called a travelling carriage, and technically classed as a chariot-built coach.
Dark-blue, black, and yellow, with here and there a line of red and gold, were the colours under which it made its début.
The head, or upper part of the body, is constructed of thick black-enamelled leather, stretching over a strong framework of ash. The lower portion consists of finely polished wood panelling, originally of a rich dark-blue colour. A narrow brass fillet traverses the centre of the body, lining off its upper from its lower sections, and under this fillet runs a delicate gilt scroll composed of the fruit, leaf, and tendrils of the vine. This neat and unpretentious bordering, together with the emblazonment of the Imperial arms upon the doors, constitutes the only tangible claim the carriage has to anything in the nature of artistic adornment.
A curious bulkhead, or boot, built out from the fore-part of the coach, provides, among other things, the very important accommodation contingent upon a long and unbroken journey—the opportunity of resting at full length within it.
Under this bulkhead Napoleon's camp bedstead still reposes, neatly encased within a receptacle some six inches square and three feet long, folded, ready to be withdrawn at a moment's notice. When and where this bedstead was last required for its master's use are points of interest often conjectured, but as yet not satisfied.
Placed beyond the bulkhead, unusually forward and high above the fore-wheels, is perched the coachman's dicky—a dicky on which the coachman must have sat alone, for its size excludes any chance of companion-ship. It is supported by slender scroll iron stays in a manner so mobile, so sensitive to the slightest movement, that the poor jehu who piloted the coach through those long and weary journeys we know it to have traversed must at times have felt sorely tempted to guide his horses from their prescribed course and to steer them away into the "Land of Nod."
The doors possess the simple distinction of opening in the opposite direction from those of an ordinary English carriage, whilst the Imperial arms—a device borrowed of the Cæsars—are still to be clearly deciphered upon both panels.
The ponderous under-carriage might well suggest to the mind of a mechanic an instance in which weight had far outbidden advantage in strength. The heavy, split, crane-neck perch, the deep solid axle-bed, and the cumbersome fore-carriage have been constructed throughout in wrought iron, and afford a good example of the coachsmith's work of a century ago. The great cee springs are in keeping with the rest, heavy and strong. The thick leather straps plying them, and carrying the full weight of the body of the carriage and all contained within it, are still in sound condition and quite capable of doing their work; but by way of precaution they have now been relieved of all strain, and the weight is borne by four iron standards springing directly from the floor.
The wheels, even compared with others of the period in which they were made, are very heavily dished. Following the Continental manner, the spokes are arranged in pairs, so that their spacing out might be described as two close together and two wide apart—those placed near together entering the rim near where the felloes join, presumably with the object of adding strength at a weak point.
The rims are made up of seven felloes fixed together with iron clamps. The iron tyres, heavy and rough, are secured to the rims with bolts and nuts, instead of, as in our day, by rivets and burrs. The hubs, or stocks, large and massive, are further strengthened by stock hoops, the flange on the outer hoops of the fore-wheels being hexagonal, while those on the hind-wheels are of a plain round shape.
The axles are curiously primitive—simple nut-axles used from time immemorial—the wheels being held in position by means of strong rough iron nuts screwed on at the extremity of the axle arms and further se-cured by a pin passed through a hole at the end of them. Strangely enough, the axle-ends are absolutely devoid of caps.
Behind on the foot-stage, or rumble, there still rests, as on the day the vehicle was taken, the odd-looking and spacious shoe-shaped trunk in which so many articles of apparel belonging to Napoleon were found. This is doubtless the source from which have flowed during the past century not a few genuine, but also numberless doubtful, belongings attributed to the great Napoleon which have been offered for sale under the "incontestable" sworn testimony of so many irresponsible and illusive authorities as having been found in Napoleon's carriage captured at Waterloo.
The four black square metal lamps fixed in a rough-and-ready way with iron rods to the corners of the coach have a simple and quaint appearance, but other-wise have little about them to call for comment. They have been made to take large wax candles, and have the usual spring sockets to hold them.