Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Anecdotes of Denon

Mr Bankes told me that, one morning while he was breakfasting tete-a-tete with Denon, a servant brought in a packet from the mint containing a medal just struck. Denon laid it flat on his hand, considered the reverse, then exclaimed: Nous sommes seuls, mon ami: parlons a coeur ouvert: voila le comble de la flatterie;' then he read "Mouse oum resta uratoum - et puis (turning the medal and showing the head of Louis XVIII.) Voila cet homme que a tout fait pour le detruire."

When one recollects what Denon and his old master had done for the Museum; when one remembers how soon under the new regime he was turned out; when, besides, one looks not only at the Louvre, which the fate of war has stripped of its finest ornaments, but at the various collections, at the Jardin des Plantes, which from neglect and want of encouragement have suffered nearly as much; when, most of all, one looks at what was the Musee des Monumens, now totally destroyed and dispersed by bigotry - when one thinks of all these circumstances, one wonders that, speaking a couer ouvert, Denon could express himself so moderately on the subject.

One day Mr Bankes said he expressed to Denon a strong wish to see Roustan, the Mameluke, who is now keeping a small shop. Denon's reply did him honour. "You will certainly do as you please, but you must allow me to say that, from the moment you condescend to seek such a wretch as that man, I shall considered our acquaintance ended, and you must not wonder if my doors are closed against you."

Mt Bankes said he certainly would not incur such a penalty, but remonstrate, alleging he was far from admiring the character of Roustan, very far from defending his ingratitude towards Napoleon, but that he should have much pleasure in learning from his mouth some of the lesser particulars of the domestic life of his master, which have been so variously represented.

Denon allowed the truth of all this, but said that if any Englishman of name was known to go to Roustan's house, he would soon be followed by several of his countrymen; money would flow in, and the wretch would soon be raised from the state of well-deserved contempt and degradation which was the natural consequence of his ingratitude.

It seems he was given to Napoleon by one of the pashas, as a thing of much less value than an Englishman would consider a dog. Napoleon took a fancy to him, loaded him with favours, kept him always about his person, gave him the means of marrying, and in the most trying moment of his life, when he considered himself going into the greatest dangers, his last thought always seems to have been that of making an additional provision for Roustan. Even on the eve of leaving Paris in the campaign which terminated his career of glory, he thought of Roustan. After having thus fattened on Napoleon's prosperity, after having so closely attended on him as always to sleep across the door of his tent or his room, be forsook him in adversity and refused to follow him to St Helena.

* Denon was the most celebrated of the savans who accompanied Napoleon in the Egyptian expedition of which he published a scientific and illustrated account in 1802. He was Directeur General des Musees under the Emperor, and was displaced on the Restoration. Lady Morgan speaks highly of his conversational powers in her France.

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