It’s nothing like as bad as the one in Russia, but England’s winter this year is still bad enough. You might not lose the largest army ever assembled in it, but your lungs hurt when you breathe; your fingers feel as if a horse is biting them; and you can’t feel your toes at all. It’s hostile, unnaturally so. Louis-Philippe maintains it’s not a climate — it’s a curse. It certainly interrupts the Duke of Kent’s meandering philanthropic travels. Julie and he only venture out once, riding in a closed carriage to London so they can view the rare spectacle of a frozen River Thames. It does happen, but not often. So thick is the ice now that an entire fair is in progress on it, with a small ferris wheel, apple-bobbing, jugglers, strongmen in thick leotards, archery, skating, dancing, skittles, and stalls selling everything from eel pies to roast chestnuts, not to forget ten dozen kinds of liquor, much of it hot, each stall bearing a gaily painted sign advertising its wares in letters two feet high. Wrapped in blankets, people take sleigh rides from London Bridge to Chelsea, with a parcel of hot chestnuts to keep them warm. It makes our aging lovers nostalgic for the old days at Quebec, with the speedy carricul rides bumping over undulating ice out to Montmorency, where music, warm punch, blazing fires, roast venison, and dancing were always waiting.

             ‘Why does one not appreciate the things one has when they’re all around?’ she asks him.

             ‘Are you appreciating the things currently all around you?’ he asks her, as their sled thumps its way past the Houses of Parliament, pulled by an immense carthorse shod with spikes on hoofs like tuffets.

                ‘No,’ she tells him. ‘Because I’m comparing it to Quebec – and there is no comparison, is there?’

              ‘Hmm. I rather thought there was…’ What he reaally thinks is that it is youth you yearn for, not those ancient events or happenstances. Youth – the thing wasted on the young, just as it was once wasted on you. 

              The road back to Ealing is treacherous, with deep ruts and divots hard as granite, and long sheets of grey ice on which the horses keep slipping. Their carriage nearly topples over on an especially bad patch, and they cling to their seats to avoid being hurled out. The experience doesn’t encourage them to leave Castle Hill until a thaw arrives; so, they spend their time reading to one another, and writing letters.

               There is no more prolific correspondent than the Duke of Kent. With the help of his new secretary, Mr. John Parker, he now calculates that he had despatched over eight thousand letters last year alone. He can dictate ten in an hour to Parker, whose ability to take down what he says without a making single error is eerily remarkable. Edward will write to anyone; he even writes to Louis-Philippe, who lives nearby and visits twice a week sometimes. But he also writes to Julie, who lives a yard away.  Now, however, and most ironically, he can only write to her, if he needs to write to anyone – and need is a factor not to be underestimated here. The mail service has been shut down by harsh weather; and for some it is as if the churches have been closed by God Himself. This is why Edward is wasting time assessing and collating copies of his correspondence, poring over old letters, occasionally noting that a reply has not been received, or a promise not fulfilled. He’s struck by how brief some of his missives are: Did you receive his essay? Yours etc. That’s it. Many aren’t even complete sentences: Yes, five of them. Yours etc. He thinks: No one is going to publish these, are they? In truth, not every recipient even bothered to read them. Without the Royal Mail there’s barely any news at all; you wait and wonder, halted in time’s yoke; and few people, if any at all want to make the journey out to Ealing in this damp insult from on high. Villette has left to take care of an elderly sister at Hove. Weatherall is still working with the trainees at Horseguards; he rides over occasionally, but he has little news, and it is exceedingly occasionally that he rides. His bones are a decade older than Edward’s; and, as old bones will do, they’re beginning to let him know this disparity pointedly. You could usually rely on the crews docking along the Thames for updates on the great world, but no one can sail on the river now, and the coastal ports are a two day’s canter down ribbons of ice that will break your horse’s legs, and probably your neck too. Soon there will be railway lines – not soon enough for this winter, though. 

               And so, he tries to occupy his gaping vacuum of time in any way he can. He hires some local musicians and forms a house band, which plays creaking, squeeking waltzes as Julie and he spin foolishly around the ballroom on their own. It is not Eddie and his Amazing Dancing Fusiliers.

           ‘No,’ she says. ‘It’s two old crocks and some astoundingly awful fiddlers who must be tone deaf – or else wickedly malicious…’

                The orchestra does need more practice – and will get it here to be sure. In the meantime, busy-busy-busy, must stay busy, he draws up a complete list of all chores to be done in the house, what, where, who and when. And he makes another list of all regular duties performed, where, when and by whom; it runs to sixty very neat pages. Julie is tempted to ask if he shouldn’t add a “why” to these lists, but she knows the reason, because by now she knows him better than anyone ever has or ever will. 

               He is about to revise these lists a third time, when that rarest of sights, a messenger arrives, blue with cold and bearing a letter. 

               ‘Who from?’ yells Julie, poised over her pianoforte.

              ‘Christ,’ he says, ‘it’s from Sir John Wentworth…’

              ‘How’d it get here from Nova Scotia in this weather if we can’t even get mail from Twickenham?’

             ‘He’s not in Nova Scotia…’ Edward briefly mourns the pleasure palace at Bedford Basin, the pathways, the chimes, the majestic view.

            ‘Well, where is he then?’ She momentarily wonders why she needs even to ask this – but she knows the reason for that too.

             ‘Ah. Ealing,’ he says, goggle-eyed at this spectre from days of yore. ‘They’ve retired to England… and, God: they’ve rented a cottage not fifteen minutes away from here…’

              ‘Oh, Lord!’ she says, joining him in the drawing room and reading the sprawling note. ‘Atrocious hand. Well, I suppose we’ll have to invite them over, won’t we?’

              ‘I ought to warn Bill before she shows up on his doorstep…’ Christ, that vision of the Duke of Clarence as fox-hunting gelding floats across the room, horn blaring, crop smacking down on buttock.

              ‘Isn’t she a little old for that sort of thing now?’ She thinks: I know I am heading that way.

              He says, ‘Age cannot wither her, et cetera. We’ll have to see, won’t we?’ Is this odd delight he feels for these visitors or merely for the mail, any mail?

              But as it turns out Lady Frances spends most of her time out at Windsor with the Queen; and Sir John has been sick in bed for months, dreaming of Lucy, the little mullato girl left in Halifax, left by the wind chimes and heart-shaped lake at Bedford Basin, listening to her music box, all alone forever. Let Sir John dream on, as befits the after-dinner sleep of age, but Lucy’s on the muscly arm of some strapping great Mauroon entrepreneur, skipping down Basin Street, a nice black bun in her ballooning silken oven.

             As a lone and very tentative swallow flits stiffly across the gardens, and you can hear the trees start dripping, he has assembled all of his Napoleon notes into order within a folder entitled with panache Notes: Napoleon. What to do with them now? For want of anything better, he reads them, and, with apologies, so do we. 

              The emperor terrifies his mrshals, says the first sentence, and if he ever looks pleased it seems to be in spite himself… His smile is theatrical: the teeth show but there’s no corresponding expression in the eyes… When he wishes, there can be a power of persuasion and fascination in his voice… No woman was ever more artful in making you want or agree to his desires… Though he lacks refinement of manner, he can be gracious, or give the appearance of it, as a necessary part of the regal manner he assumes… He has a low opinion of human nature, and believes self-interest is everyone’s prime motive… He prides himself on being able to extract the most from mediocre men… He once says, ‘Probity, discretion and activity are all that I demand of a man’—he flatters himself here; he doesn’t demand integrity, but rather just the fortitude to serve him… Only dreamers are interested in ethical qualities… With women his attitude is at first unctuous, then lustful and possessive… He fancies himself a romantic, yet in fact he’s emotionally immature; he convinces himself that women find power the greatest aphrodisiac, yet he can still brag to Rose of his conquests the previous night, and in excrutiating detail too… He’s not a civilized man; he’s a child of the Revolution, a man of unscrupled ambition, a political and military genius of unequalled skill, courage and resolve; he can fake gentility and even grace when he wants to… He tells Metternich that if fortune goes against him he’ll drag down all of society as he falls… He has an encyclopedic knowledge of military history and strategy; but he approaches each battle on an ad hoc basis… Command is totally concentrated in his person… He’s emperor and C-in-C… He fusses over every little detail, from dress to provisions… (see R. Rosalea’s chart attached, scribbles Edward) His marshals are raised to dukedoms, princeships, even kingships, but he doesn’t trust them with the appropriate concomitant responsibilities, which weakens their confidence and self-esteem… His chief of staff, Berthier, has a role more like that of an aide or secretary – and his old school friend Bourienne is his secretary… He checks every detail on a battlefield — the country around it, intelligence, supplies, medicine, the disposition of troops… He has a quick temper, yet exaggerates it for effect… (viz. RR attach.) So indomitably pressing are his orders that no one dares ask for clarification, less still question them… He complains about the want of initiative, but his imposing manner makes it impossible to question him; and he complains of failures when he has declined to discuss plans with the men who have to carry them out… He’s difficult to serve; but his record of successes lends his orders a sense of unerring rectitude… He holds no councils of war – his orders are all – although in Moscow he did speculate about options with his marshals; but in the end they just obeyed his commands as usual… They march surrounded by a radiance whose warmth they can feel even years later… The ordinary soldier feels the same; he doesn’t have to oppress them into obedience… He abolished flogging… Glory is his incentive, the honour of serving under him, perhaps earning some recognition, a word of praise… Supremely aloof as he is, his potency as commander affects not just Frenchmen, but Germans, Italians, Danes, Dutch, Croats, Illyrians, Spaniards, Lithuanians, Poles… His armies are truly European… This paternal attitude is mimicked by officers: retreating from Moscow, the soldiers share their last loaf of bread with a wounded captain and carry him for many miles – he’d do the same for them; it’s a reciprocity of care… Discipline is founded on trust and affection; it doesn’t have to be severe… He’s tolerant of the men’s foibles and need for booty… Morale is vital in Russia, where much breaks down… He conveys to them in extremity that this is the life and death every man would choose for himself… Leadership is his greatest talent… (viz. RR att.) He is tremendously able to convey the assumption of victories – defeat is unthinkable… There is really little innovation in his battle strategies… His instincts tell him much, though, his feeling for the land too – he reads terrain like a book… He can brilliantly organize the convergence of two corps in the same spot at the right time… Fifteen years without a major setback, and his accomplishments in many other fields – it all lends him a mystique, a mythic stature… But the price of his success is over-confidence… His overweening strength of will prevents him taking any advice… He believes destiny has sent him to conquer half the world… He can’t tolerate rivals or equals… He says to Fouchet: ‘My destiny is not yet accomplished; the picture as yet exists only in outline; there must be one code, one court of appeal, and one coinage for all Europe. The states of Europe must be melted into one nation, and Paris will be its capital…’ He says he purified the Revolution, dignified nations and established kings – at what point can he be assailed? He finds his absolution everywhere… He says the dictatorship was an utter necessity… He has not assaulted liberty, he says, he has purged it of anarchy and licentiousness… He claims never to have been the aggressor in wars… His enemies led him to absolutism, leaving him no choice… As for his ambition, he says, ‘This passion doubtless I have, and in no small degree; but at the same time my ambition is of the highest and noblest kind that perhaps has ever existed. Historians would regret that such an ambition was not fulfilled or gratified – this is my whole history in a few words…’ But his ‘few words’ are all lies… He only dignified nations by their struggles against him; his was an empire of brute force; his enemies did not foist the monarchy on him, he attempted to impose it on them; in war he was always the aggressor… In the case of Russia his motives are unforgiveable, his towering pride becomes destructive… Tyranny commands obedience but not consent… Invasions call for more invasions, and an empire becomes top-heavy, with its component parts – the vassal states comprising it – waiting for the fissures to appear thet will bring it toppling down… With her conquests, France had alienated nations; with the Revolution kings were alienated; so she could have neither friends nor allies, only subjects, and these were resolute – she could either subject them or be subjected to them… Western, southern and central Europe is under the control of one man… We are the only defiant enemy, and we are only engaged with his armies in Portugal and Spain… But we can’t land forces on the continent without the support of a major power; so, we remain in our island fortress, and he can only hope to disrupt us with an economic aggression… His only other recourse is to attack our potential allies there – hence the Russian campaign; and this produces the opposite result… Russia will be our salvation… His stated reasons for the invasion are the czar’s refusal to cooperate with his plan to bankrupt, squeeze and starve us into submission; yet this could never have worked… We export to Europe our iron, our textiles, and the raw materials from our empire, the cotton, sugar, tea and coffee… We import wood from the Baltic region, and corn, mainly from France… A blockade has been in place since 1793, but he tightens it… There’s supposed to be no trade at all between us and Europe; furthermore, the Berlin Decree says all our goods under French control are to be destroyed… We respond to this with our own blockade against France and her allies… In 1807 at Tilsit, Alexander agrees to abandon us as an ally and enforce the blockade… A Milan Decree later that year increases the blockade to include ships from neutral countries that stop at our ports; but this only aggravates those countries, like America, and soon Russia, who see in the measures an emblem of his tyranny… The destruction of our goods causes suffering to others as well as to us… Our suffering is immense all the same, with bread no longer affordable by the poor; but we find other outlets for trade in the US and Turkey, beyond his control; and smuggling to the continent thrives… After complaints from his own farmers and merchants, he’s obliged to ease some of the measures, and even allow the export of French corn to us, which renders useless his major weapon – starvation… Soon most of our wheat imports are coming from Europe… He should realize the system can’t work; but instead he convinces himself it can if it’s severely enforced… In all this many suffer, but none more than Russia… When the timber exports are halted, her government loses custom duties, her merchants much of their profits, but her aristocracy, owners of the forests, they lose most of their income… Since she could export nothing now, she could also import nothing, not even sugar, since an imbalance of trade prevents it… The czar has to do something… At the close of 1810 he issues a decree banning the import of all luxury goods, which are mainly silk and wine from France; and at the same time he allows neutral ships to enter his harbours, which gets around the ban on them entering German ports… N. protests, but Alexander points out that Russia is only doing what France has done for some time, allowing some luxury exports and welcoming neutral ships: ‘Your Majesty cannot expect to impose on the Russians privations you no longer impose on yourself…’ This is reasonable, but there are other aggravations:.. both France and Russia are in a competition for new territories… Alexander has seized Finland, and he badly wants to take Constantinople, and is thus at war with Turkey… Napoleon has seized the German coastal state of Oldenburg, and the czar resents this, since its duke is married to his sister; he also suspects France of seeking to enlarge the Duchy of Warsaw and create a Polish Kingdom right on Russia’s border… Napoleon suspects Russia, which seized a large swath of Poland twenty years ago, of designing to grab the rest… They’re both now also rivals for Sweden… There’s no trust; but he alone believes their differences can only be resolved by war… Alexander thinks a settlement can be reached through compromise and fair dealing, with an equilibrium possible… There is also the more personal issue of his second marriage to the Austrian Marie-Louise, a great neice of Marie Antoinette… He’d originally proposed to Alexander’s sisters, both Katherine and Anna; Katherine married the Duke of Oldenburg, though; and the dowager empress, as was her right, said Anna was too young… But rumours spread that she’d also said the marriage would be a pact with the Devil… Napoleon felt slighted; so the Austrian marriage was pursued, with the help of Metternich, who advised King Francis it was a good idea, since his country wasn’t strong enough yet to fight France again… Czar Alexander was suspicious of this new alliance with Austria, cemented in the nuptial bed… He was still more suspicious when, soon after the wedding, Napoleon refused to ratify his promise not to revive the idea of an independent Poland; and this was followed by the annexation of Oldenburg…

               In Luneberg Edward had learned that fear of attack by two great powers provokes an attack by one of them, a defensive stance turning into an aggressive one – he notes this here.

               Napoleon convinced himself that Russia would be the aggressor… The war was not inevitable, as some say; it happened because he wished it to happen… Alexander, a very religious young man, now views him as an embodiment of evil, and sees Russia as the instrument designed by Providence to defeat him… Both men regard himself as the greatest emperor on earth; although he thought the czar had accepted second place at Tilsit… Alexander thought French expansion would end at Russia’s borders… Both were wrong… The czar knew a French victory in any war would close the Baltic ports and the Black Sea, ruin England, and cow his two allies, Austria and Prussia; therefore he dreaded the eventuality… Napoleon relished it, thrilled by the immensity of such a project and its employment of all his many talents…

             And, thinks the Duke of Kent, here’s a real history of the war in a ‘few words’. But it is a final document that most intrigues him. He’s just obtained a copy of notes taken by General de Coulancourt, Duke of Vicenza, of a conversation he’d had with Napoleon on June 5th , 1811. Coulancourt had been the French ambassador to St. Petersberg for four years, and he’d come to know Czar Alexander very well indeed. His relationship with Napoleon was more complicated: he admired the man but was uneasy in his presence — although he always spoke his mind to him. Their conversation proceeded on these lines, or at least it does in Edward’s notes and his copy of it:

Napoleon: Your views are now pro-Russian, aren’t they?

Coulancourt: No, sire. But I’m proud to be against this coming war and to have done all I could to prevent it. But it’s an outrage to doubt my fidelity and patriotism.

N: Your damnable despatches, always claiming Alexander wants peace. On the contrary, sir, he’s treacherous and arming for war.

C: He’s done nothing more than take precautions when he saw his frontier menaced by your troop movements; and he was naturally alarmed by recent events in Poland and Oldenburg.

N: (Explodes with rage) You fool. He duped you. Do you honestly believe that Russia doesn’t want war and would remain in the alliance, and take steps to uphold the Continental System if I satisfy her with regard to Poland?

C: It’s not only a matter of Poland, sire. There’s your troop concentrations in Danzig and Prussia…

N: Ah, they’re afraid then?

C: No, sire. But being reasonable people they prefer an open state of war to a situation which is not genuine peace.

N: So, they think they can dictate to me, do they?

C: No, sire.

N: Nevertheless, if they insist on my evacuating Danzig just to gratify Alexander, that amounts to dictation, doesn’t it? Before long I shall be in the position of having to ask Alexander’s permission to hold a parade in Mainz. They think they can lead me on a string like that King of Poland. I am not Louis XV! The French people would not tolerate such an humiliation. I tell you, they want to make war on me…Besides, they broke the Continental System, didn’t they?

C: Russia adhered to her side of the agreement, sire. You yourself broke it by licensing French ships to trade with England…

N: (pinches Coulancort’s ear) Ah-hah, are you really so fond of Alexander, eh?

C: No, sire; but I am fond of peace. May I have permission to give you some advice?

N: Go on

C: I see only two possible lines of conduct: to reestablish Poland and proclaim her independence, thus getting the Poles on your side; or to maintain the Russian alliance, thus bringing about peace with England, and settling your affairs in Spain…

N: Which line would you take?

C: Maintain the alliance, sire. It is the more prudent course, and the one more likely to lead to peace…

N: You are always talking about peace, Coulancourt. But peace is only worth having when it’s lasting and honourable. I think Alexander is afraid of me…

C: No, sire. Because, while recognizing your military talent, he has often pointed out to me that his country is large but, though your genius would give you many advantages over his generals, even if no occasion arose to fight you in advantageous circumstances, there’s still plenty of margin for ceding you territoty. And to separate you from France, from your resources, would be in itself a means of successfully fighting you. Czar Alexander said it would not be a one-day war, that Your Majesty would be obliged to return to France, and then every advantage would be with the Russians. Then the winter, the cruel climate and, most important of all, the czar’s determination and avowed intention to prolong the struggle, and not, like so many monarchs, have the weakness to sign a peace treaty in his capital… These are the very words of Czar Alexander which I quote to Your Majesty…

N: Admit frankly that it is Alexander who wants to make war on me

C: No, sire. I would stake my life on him not firing the first shot, or being the first to cross his frontiers. Alexander’s parting words to me were: ‘It is possible, even probable that we shall be defeated, but that does not mean your emperor will be able to dictate a peace. I shall not be the first to draw my sword, but I shall be the last to sheathe it. People don’t know how to suffer. If the fighting went against me, I should retire to the country rather than cede provinces and sign treaties in my capital that were really only truces. Your Frenchman is brave, but long privations in a bad climate wear him down and discourage him. Our climate, our winter will fight on our side. With you, marvels only take place when the Emperor is in personal attendance; but he cannot be everywhere; he cannot be absent from Paris year after year…’ These were his exact words, sire

N: Hah. One good battle will knock the bottoms out of my friend Alexander’s fine resolutions. He’s fickle and feeble… Ah, it’s the Austrian marriage that has set us at variance. He’s angry because I didn’t marry his sister…

C: No, sire. That is a travesty of the truth. But it is for you to decide if there will be peace or war. May I beseech Your Majesty when you make your choice between the certain good of the one and the hazards of the other to take full account of your own welfare, and of the welfare of France…

N: You speak like a Russian

C: On the contrary: like a good Frenchman, like one of Your Majesty’s most faithful servants

N: So, Poland?

C: Sire, the Poles don’t particularly want to be liberated by you. All over Europe there is the conviction that when you interest yourself in the affairs of a country it’s to serve your interests not theirs…

N: You think so, do you?

C: Yes, sire.