Repartee       

 
                             I

What can have persuaded Louis-Philippe,

That unattractive son of the traitor, L’Egalité,

Who himself betrayed his cousin the King

So as to become mock monarch of the French -

What can have persuaded him,

While he was receiving the equivocal homage

Of the few peers who attended his first levee,

Riff-raff nobles of the baser sort -

What can have persuaded him,

As he saw approach the tottering figure of Talleyrand,

Apostate priest, apostate bishop, ex-revolutionary -

What can have persuaded him,

Leaning forward from his throne, to remark:

‘You must have paid this same devoir, Prince, to several

          others before.’

Since that aged brilliant time-server at once replied:

‘You are the thirteenth, Sire.’

 

                             II

Then there is the story of Louis Napoleon,

Sometime Emperor of the French:

In exile in England as a young man

He had frequented Lady Blessington’s salon,

Which was very smart and very much ill-viewed.

Like Lady Holland, she entertained only men.

A scandal from the past prevented women from attending -

But not Prince Napoleon.

He received much kindness from her,

And when he departed on his great adventure,

She wished him well.

He returned to France, he succeeded, he was Emperor.

After a time Lady Blessington visited Paris.

She left her card at the Tuileries, and waited.

Towards the close of her stay an Imperial Command arrived.

In cloth of gold and diamonds she attended the Court

To discover that she was included

In a reception for five-hundred fonctionnaires.

The Emperor entered the throne room,

Made the Cercle

With a gracious word to each.

When he came to Lady Blessington, she sank

In a profound obeisance to the floor.

‘Ah, Lady Blessington,’ the Emperor said,

‘Are you staying long in France?’

To which she answered,

Assisted, it would seem, by an angel:

‘No, Sire. Are you?’

 

May 15th, 1973