Friday, 22 January 2010

An Indefatigable English Woman's Gift to the Emperor

Anne Seymour Damer, sculptress (1748-1828). Among her works were busts of Fox and Nelson.

Her husband had committed suicide after only 7 years of marriage, probably more because of his ruinous gambling debts than marital unhappiness.

She never remarried, and was the subject of gossip because of her close relationships with other women and her rather masculine style of dress.

Among her friends were Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire and Lord and Lady Hamilton. She was with Lady Hamilton when Nelson arrived in Naples after his victory in the Battle of the Nile, and as his their friendship, and presumably his relationship with Lady Hamilton developed, he soon agreed to sit for her.

She became a keen supporter of Fox, and of the Foxite Whigs who tended to oppose the war with France and to support American Independence. Fox agreed to sit for her after she and Georgiana had campaigned for him in an election.

On a visit to France in 1803 she met Madame de Stael, Mademe Recamier, Napoleon's mother, the Empress Josephine (whom she had met previously) and at last, to her great delight, Napoleon himself.

Having waited for some time to present her bust of Charles James Fox to Napoleon, she seized the opportunity after his flight from Elba. The fact that England and France were technically at war did not stop her. So this indefatigable lady of some 66 years delivered the bust to Napoleon at the Elysee Palace on May 1st 1815, not long before Waterloo.

According to a notice that appeared in the Times, Napoleon told her that if Fox had lived there would have been peace, that the debt of England would have been less than a million, and that many thousands of men would still be alive.

Her gestue was evidently not universally popular. In the same edition of the Times, the Moniteur reported that some idiotical English woman presented to the Corsican the Bust of Charles James Fox.

In return Napoleon gave her an enamelled snuff box, with his portrait on the lid, set in a circle of 27 diamonds.

Napoleon arrived in England before Mrs Damer got back - although of course he was not allowed to land. Her friend, Miss Berry wrote somewhat disapprovingly to her on July 23 1815:

You little thought that your friend at Paris would be in England before yourself, and that your bust may return to that country it never ought to have left, without going out of the possession of the person to whom you gave it.

Clearly Miss Berry thought that Napoleon would be allowed to stay in England: strict confinement and security for his person seems all that is thought of for him she wrote.

She left the snuff box to the British Museum.

At least one other Napoleonic snuff box is there - that which he left in his will to Lady Holland, a snuff box which had been given to him by the Pope.

The bust is now at Malmaison.

Lady Holland's Snuff Box - a brief note

Napoleon seems to have given or tried to give at least four snuff boxes to English people in gratitude for their kindnesses to him. As well as the two covered here he presented one to Dr Arnott who attended him in his last days, and he gave another to the Rev Boys for burying Cipriani, who was of course a Roman Catholic.

Rev Boys reluctantly felt he had to decline it because of Hudson Lowe's strict policy against accepting gifts from Napoleon.

Lady Holland was advised by Lord Carlyle to decline hers.

Lady, reject the gift! 'tis tinged with gore!

Those crimson spots a dreadful tale relate;

It has been grasp'd by an infernal Power;

And by that hand which seal'd young Enghien's fate.

To which Lord Byron had delivered a typical riposte.

LADY, accept the box a hero wore,

In spite of all this elegiac stuff:

Let not seven stanzas written by a bore,

Prevent your Ladyship from taking snuff!

No comments: