June/july 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 4
The mob was at the palace gates; her husband was already a prisoner; the servants were stealing imperial treasures before her eyes; Empress Eugénie turned to the one man in France she could trust—Dr. Thomas W. Evans of Lancaster, Pa.
Disheveled, distrait, and bone-tired, a dazzingly beautiful woman sat in the Paris residence of her American dentist, Thomas W. Evans. She did not have a dental appointment; the doctor, in fact, was not there. What she sought was sanctuary from the hatreds accompanying a revolution.
The lady was Eugénie, Empress of the French, Regent, and wife of Napoleon III. With her as she sat uneasily in Dr. Evans’ library was a faithful member of her Court, Madame Lebreton. The latter, through the good offices of a twenty-franc note, had gained entry to the mansion without disclosing their identities.
Time dragged. As the sun dropped toward the horizon on that historic day, September 4, 1870, when the Second Empire collapsed, Eugénie had good reason to review anxiously how she would be received by the doctor. He was, after all, a foreigner with perhaps even less inclination to take grave personal risks in her behalf than many high French personages who had already abandoned her.
A bit of political history sets the scene. France had been the foremost military power in Europe after the victory over Russia in the Crimea and the Austrians in northern Italy. But the German states, led by an aggressive Prussia, had overtaken and passed the French. Too late, with an unready army and untrustworthy allies, a bellicose France attacked Prussia in July on a trumped-up issue. Defeat followed quickly, at Wissembourg, Fröschwiller, Wörth, Forbach, Gravelotte—all names of infamy to a proud nation constrained to discard its expectations and its maps showing the road to Berlin. Then came the death stroke, the disaster of September 1 and 2 at Sedan. There the main French army was mousetrapped and destroyed, another shut up in Metz. Napoleon III was on his way to Wilhelmshöhe, near Cassel, as a prisoner of war. Eugene Louis Jean Joseph Napoleon, only child and heir of Napoleon and Eugénie, known as the Prince Imperial, was smuggled over the Belgian frontier dressed in the smock of a peasant lad.
Eugénie, heading the government as Regent, hardly eating or sleeping, wearing the same black cashmere dress with white lingerie collar and cuffs, kept going somehow on black coffee and chloral hydrate. The news from Sedan filtered into the capital on the afternoon of September third, confirmed by a tragic telegram from Napoleon. The way to Paris was open to the Prussians, and a revolution was in the making. On September 4, a Sunday of cloudless skies and autumn radiance, the Empress turned for protection to General Louis Trochu, Military Governor of Paris, a bombastic, theatrical, and ambitious officer, who pledged to defend the regime and the Empress to the death, saying, “Madame, I am a soldier, a Catholic, and a Breton.”
But Trochu, also a grumbler with republican leanings and a popular following in Paris, chose to guard neither the Empress-Regent nor the Corps Législatif, which was evicted that very afternoon from the Chamber of Deputies by the rabble. All legitimate authority vanished. And when the Third Republic was proclaimed, according to revolutionary ritual, at the City Hall, symbol since 1789 of opposition to the rulers of France, it was Trochu who turned up as President under the new government. An armed multitude wearing improvised red caps and carrying the red flag flowed along the Rue de Rivoli—factory workers, national guards, ruffians in greasy blouses who emerged from the slums of Paris whenever there was an opportunity to threaten public order. The throng crossed the Place de la Concorde, pressed on to the Tuileries palace, shouting for abdication, pushing against the gates, shaking the gilded spikes of the fence, ripping down the imperial eagles. When Henri Chevreau, Minister of the Interior, cried, “All is lost, Madame!” Eugénie had a moment for a bit of gallows humor: “Has poor General Trochu been killed, then?” she asked.
Friends and officials quietly disappeared. Servants began to steal before her eyes. All who remained near the Empress agreed that in those last hours of crumbling authority she was firm, irreproachable, steadfast to duty, with the dignity of a sovereign. If her presence was a danger to France, she was ready to leave. Still at her side were M. Conti, the Emperor’s secretary, Admiral Jurien de la Graviere, aide-de-camp to the Emperor, her chamberlains and dames of honor, General François Certain Canrobert, a Marshal of France, Count Constantino Nigra, the Italian ambassador, and Prince Richard Metternich of Austria, all three her platonic lovers who had been devoted knights in her train. The Swiss guards, halberds in hand, still stood impassively on the grand staircase, but the antechambers of the fading regime were now deserted.
Menacing reports flowed in. The rioters were shaking the gates of the Place du Carrousel and the palace gardens, crying, “Down with the Spaniard. To the guillotine! Death to Badinguet!” (The Empress was of Spanish birth; “Badinguet” was a derisive nickname for Napoleon). All present urged the Empress to depart at once. “Had the Empress been found there and then,” Lord Ronald Gower wrote in his Reminiscences, “her life would not have been worth a moment’s purchase.” Eugénie hesitated. Chevreau whispered, “Remember the Princesse de Lamballe,” friend of Marie Antoinette and victim of the massacres of September, 1792, after being subjected to the grossest indecencies. By delaying, Nigra urged, the Empress would only destroy her friends, and both ambassadors emphasized that if she escaped now she would carry the authority of the Regency with her wherever she went.
Eugénie “bowed as only she could bow as at some great state function,” put on a black straw Derby bonnet, a long waterproof cloak, and thick veil. She picked up a reticule with two handkerchiefs in it, forgetting a bag that had been got ready for her. There were embraces, then “Adieu, adieu.” Eugénie made a sign to a small group to follow her. M. de Cossé-Brissac announced to the rest, as in times of solemn ceremony, that the Regent was no longer in the palace. The three chamberlains lit cigarettes, descended the grand staircase, and told the Swiss in their tricorn hats to ground Eugénie “bowed as only she could bow as at some great state function,” put on a black straw Derby bonnet, a long waterproof cloak, and thick veil. She picked up a reticule with two handkerchiefs in it, forgetting a bag that had been got ready for her. There were embraces, then “Adieu, adieu.” Eugénie made a sign to a small group to follow her. M. de Cossé-Brissac announced to the rest, as in times of solemn ceremony, that the Regent was no longer in the palace. The three chamberlains lit cigarettes, descended the grand staircase, and told the Swiss in their tricorn hats to ground their arms: all was finished. The imperial flag that floated over the palace when the sovereign was in residence was lowered a little after three o’clock, never again to be raised over the Tuileries.
Accompanied by Madame Lebreton, the admiral, the two ambassadors, Lieutenant Louis Conneau, son of Napoleon’s Court physician, and a few ladies, Eugénie descended to the courtyard of the palace intending to take her coupé, which stood as usual, the coachman on the box, awaiting orders. The Place du Carrousel was filled now with the mob. Metternich pointed out the livery of the driver, the crown on the door of the carriage, the imprudence of using it. The group retraced their steps to Eugénie’s private apartments, entered the long suite of rooms that led by way of the Pavilion de Flore to the galleries of the Louvre. They tried the door that gave access to the Grande Galerie. Locked. No answer to knocking. The shouts of the rioters penetrated the thick walls. Then providentially the Emperor’s treasurer appeared with a master key. The group traversed the great gallery, crossing the Salon Carré, the Galerie d’Apollon, and came out into the Salle des Sept Cheminées. There the Empress turned, gave the men her hand, told them to seek their own safety, not forgetting to instruct Conneau to take off his showy uniform before leaving the Tuileries, embraced the women once more. She looked up. On the wall she saw Théodore Géricault’s famous picture of ill omen, The Wreck of the Medusa , a large painting of a shipwreck realistically depicting the suffering of the survivors on a raft. “How strange,” she later told Dr. Evans, “that this picture should be the last one I should ever look at in the galleries of the Louvre!”
Now with only Madame Lebreton, Metternich, and Nigra, who had nothing to fear, being diplomats, the Empress passed through the Egyptian Gallery. Then descending the three broad flights of stone steps that led to the ground floor, they threaded their way past funeral monuments of dead kings, to reach the door which opened upon the arched colonnade leading to the square in front of the church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois. Eugénie stumbled, accepted Nigra’s arm. The demonstrators surged through the square. There was singing, wild shouts of “Death to the Spanish woman. Vive la République!” As the little group stood in the vestibule, hesitating, Chevalier Nigra asked the Empress if she was afraid.
“Why do you ask me?” she replied. “My arm is resting on yours. Do you feel it tremble?” And she added, “Now let us go, boldly.” (“Il faut de l’audace.”) Just as they reached the sidewalk a boy of the streets shouted, “There’s the Empress!” Nigra caught hold of his arm and silenced him. One account says he boxed the gamin’s ears, another that he frightened the youth by accusing him of saying, “Long Live the Prussians.”
At that moment, a large, closed cab with four places, such as was used at the railway stations, appeared, and Metternich helped the ladies into it. The Empress compressed her skirts to make room for him when the door was brusquely slammed shut. Liberator? Gallant? Prince Charming? They who had sighed after her and flattered her had abandoned her to the hazards of the streets and the vagaries of popular resentment, perhaps fearing to compromise their governments with the rising sun of the new Republic.
As the cab reached the corner of the Boulevard des Capucines, the rioters were tearing from a shop front a gold-lettered emblem indicating imperial patronage. “Already,” Eugénie said sadly. Her dame de campagne had two addresses. At the first no one answered. At the second a servant recognized the Empress, who was adjusting her veil, and slammed the door violently, saying angrily, “Thank me for not denouncing you!” Madame Lebreton then suggested going to the American legation and Mr. Washburne. Elihu B. Washburne, of Galena, Illinois, American minister and political ally of President Grant, had made a very favorable impression in Paris during the year and a half he had been in France. “The revolutionists,” Madame Lebreton continued hopefully, “will respect the American flag.”
“No,” said the Empress, “I will go to Dr. Evans. He is an American also, but he has no political responsibilities, and besides is an old friend.”
And so it was that the Regent of France and her lady in waiting arrived at the home of the dentist and found refuge, for the moment at least, in the doctor’s library with its walls covered somberly in brown paper, thick red carpets, sofas and chairs in red and brown leather, and an oak bookcase “full,” the doctor’s nephew Theodore wrote, “of literary works.”
While the Empress waits for the dentist it is time to meet Dr. Evans. In the 1840’s, an American dentist with a fashionable practice in Paris, Dr. Cyrus Starr Brewster, was looking for a bright young assistant who could do fine gold fillings and would be able to succeed him. Dr. Brewster found his man in Thomas W. Evans, descendant of a Philadelphia Quaker family in modest circumstances. Evans was highly skilled and already as a youth motivated by aspirations which placed him in imagination among the rich, the powerful, the high personalities of an older and more aristocratic society. Such daydreams were not likely to be realized in West Philadelphia or Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where Evans was in practice with an older dentist, so he accepted the Brewster offer with alacrity. In November, 1847, aged twenty-four years, with an attractive wife and no French, Evans arrived at the Brewster office on the Rue de la Paix, then known as the street of jewelers and dentists, two not unrelated occupations. Dr. Evans was just in time to witness the Revolution of 1848, which dethroned Louis Philippe, the last of the Bourbons, who fled ignominiously in a public cab wearing blue spectacles and carrying a cotton umbrella.
This upheaval brought to power Louis Napoleon, the bachelor Prince-President of the Second Republic, who in deference to the suffrages that had called him home to rule, moved symbolically into the relatively modest Elysée palace instead of the royal Tuileries. If Dr. Evans was shocked by the volatile character of French politics and the sight of blood on the barricades, he left no record of his reactions. But he was unhappily surprised at the low esteem in which dentists were held. Generally, they were unregulated and uninhibited, grouped in the public mind with midwives, bleeders, cuppers, and street-corner charlatans who pulled teeth while the howls of the victims were drowned by the beating of drums and clashing of cymbals. Evans resolved to change the “image.”
It was Evans’ good fortune that Louis Napoleon had delicate teeth and was very sensitive to pain. Responding to a call for Dr. Brewster, who was not available, Dr. Evans at once demonstrated to the Prince-President, who was suffering from a lower molar, right, that he was a highly competent professional.
“I was lucky enough to remove the pain at once,” Evans recalled and he added that Napoleon said, “You are a young fellow, but clever, I like you!” With Napoleon’s warm endorsement, Dr. Evans’ progress was rapid. The world of fashion sought his services at his cabinet , No. 15, Rue de la Paix, finding him, as did Napoleon, amusing, a man of sense, discreet, gentlemanly, never overreaching in social relations with his noble clients. Out of democratic, middle-class West Philadelphia had emerged a natural-born courtier.
Soon Dr. Evans enjoyed the President’s confidence in matters other than dental. So richly endowed with the celebrated Bonaparte sexuality that even Queen Victoria did not feel entirely safe when he turned on the charm, Louis Napoleon had a gate cut in the garden wall of the Elysée palace from which it was only a few steps to a house at No. 14, Rue du Cirque, where he had established his official mistress. She was Miss Harriet Howard, a pseudonymous English beauty, the daughter of a bootmaker. In the Rue du Cirque, Louis Napoleon enjoyed the blessings of domesticity without the responsibilities of marriage, surrounded by a trusted group in which the handsome and engaging Dr. Evans was frequently included. It was a small coterie. Bonaparte had few intimates in France since he had spent most of his life as a political exile or in prison and even spoke his native language with a German accent. But the Prince-President had a magic name. His name was a program in itself and it made him master of France.
When the President repudiated the Republic and established his authoritarian regime on December 2, 1852, the anniversary of the victory at Austerlitz of Napoleon I, a day rich in historic overtones for the French nation, Louis Napoleon took the title of Emperor Napoleon III and moved to the Tuileries. Dr. Evans became a member of the Imperial Court medical corps as surgeon-dentist, complete with gold-embroidered uniform. With such enhanced prestige, added to the good reputation that American dentistry already enjoyed in Europe, Evans was soon traveling to visit royal patients all over the Continent, recipient of their gratitude, friendship, and confidences. Often Napoleon III entrusted the American with unofficial diplomatic missions. The doctor was well suited for the role. As an American he was free of European political entanglements. He was honorable. He kept faith. He was supple. It is probable that Dr. Evans exaggerated somewhat his importance as envoy but he didn’t invent it. Napoleon was conspiratorial and had a predisposition for operating in that fashion. We have the testimony of John Bigelow, when he was United States Consul General at Paris, that other monarchs, too, entrusted the American dentist with confidential messages. “It sometimes happens,” Bigelow reported to Secretary of State William H. Seward, “when the crowned-heads of Europe wish to communicate with one another without any responsibility they send for Dr. Evans to fix their teeth.”
Further confirmation comes from another contemporary, Henry (“Labby”) Labouchere, foreign correspondent for The Daily News (London) and later Member of Parliament, that “the August, Princely, Grand-Ducal, and other Highnesses received and spoke to him exactly as he said” and he “remained a favorite of the different potentates to whom he used to take messages from Napoleon III.” Labouchere, indeed, equated Evans’ access to European royalty with that of Baron Christian Friedrich von Stockmar, a German physician who became friend and adviser to Leopold I of Belgium and to Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert.
Dr. Evans did not charge his distinguished patrons for filling their teeth. His reward was, first of all, simply to be part of the scene as he had imagined it back in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, mingling familiarly with the titled aristocracy of the world of swirling crinolines, low décolletés, masked balls, Offenbach’s music, of worldlings and demimondaines, and Winterhalter’s flattering, superficial portraiture. But Dr. Evans’ royal patients did not forget their duty to him. “Decorations, all the years I knew him, kept raining down on him,” Labouchere recalled. The sovereigns of Europe rewarded the dentist also with valuable gifts, and provided him with an inexhaustible fund of anecdotes—how Napoleon III had given him a diamond scarf-pin, remarking, “This stone I had taken from the hilt of a sword belonging to my uncle, Napoleon the First”; how he had successfully treated King Maximilian of Bavaria; how the Grand Duchess Louise of Baden gave Mrs. Evans a pair of beautiful black pearl earrings and a clock made from wood taken from the Black Forest; of two Holy Fathers, Pope Pius IX and Leo XIII, who were his despair: neither would brush his teeth. He spoke, too, of a prized decoration he received from King Christian IX of Denmark: “I knew him when he was a simple prince.”
An emperor must have a wife if there is to be a dynasty. When the time for marriage came, Napoleon III chose another Evans patient, Mlle. Eugénie de Guzman Montijo, a resplendently beautiful young Spaniard, descendant of a dozen grandees, though not of royal blood, more British in appearance than Latin because she was, through her mother, a Kirkpatrick.
After the marriage, solemnized at Notre Dame with medieval pomp (Dr. Evans was a wedding guest), the Doctor quickly won a position of confidence and high regard with the new Empress because of his interest in urging fresh approaches to military medicine. This shows another side of the doctor, perhaps a lingering heritage of the Quaker conscience. At any rate, Evans went to the Crimea, witnessed the suffering in the Crimean War, and determined to stir up the responsibles in French army medicine as to the need for sanitary reform and more adequate relief for the wounded. And again in 1859 he visited military hospitals to see frightful wounds suffered by both the French and their Austrian opponents at Magenta and Solferino when France fought to expel Austria from Italy. It was through the Empress’ encouragement that Dr. Evans, now fluent in French, though he never acquired a good accent, prepared a volume on the Civil War experience of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, first published in France (1865) as La Commission sanitaire des Etats-Unis: son origine, son organization et ses résultats, avec une notice sur les hospitaux militaires aux Etats-Unis, et sur la réforme sanitaire dans les armées européenes .
By the 1860’s Dr. Evans occupied a prominent position in the large American colony which found Paris a delightful place in which to live without paying taxes. Domestic service and luxuries were cheap and the American minister was obliged by his office to present hundreds of American citizens each year at the Tuileries even if their money came from oil or sewing machines. “These republicans,” wrote a sly French observer, “are very fond of worldly pomp, and have not the prejudices against monarchies that we have. Does this astonish you? Consider a moment … monarchs belonging to others do not alarm them. They … wish to see everything and … to say that they have been presented …” so they rushed to order a correct dress from Worth, Alexandrine, or Roget, bringing to Paris, the chronicler of American social foibles concluded, low corsages, the Bible, and “shoulders far more beautiful than those of the British Channel.”
Dr. Evans, who never gave up his American citizenship, was strongly attached to the Union cause during the Civil War, but Confederate sentiment was dominant among the Americans in Paris and they pushed tirelessly at the Imperial Court for recognition of the Richmond government as a sovereign nation. The ladies of the South collected drugs, clothing, comforts for the Confederate soldiers, organized bazaars and concerts. A vivacious soubrette from New Orleans, Miss Sophie Bricard, sang “La Bannière Bleue” with impassioned feeling, and on the birthday of President Jefferson Davis the sons and daughters of the South honored his fete day with Miss Slidell, pretty daughter of the dignified Confederate Commissioner to France, at the piano.
Most French government functionaries, as well as the business community, favored recognition because of the economics of cotton and tobacco; so did the press, either because it was controlled or could be bought. Old society found the Southern point of view congenial because the aristocratic traditions of plantation life were more compatible with their own than the hustle and bustle of the North’s smokestack industrialism. For these varied reasons, most Frenchmen were convinced, possibly because they wished to be, that the Union could never be put together again. Napoleon III and his government had their reasons too—a French military adventure in Mexico.
At this point Dr. Evans enters mainstream American history. Enjoying easy means of approach to Napoleon that neither the Consul General, John Bigelow, nor William L. Dayton, the American minister, could equal, Evans provided a useful voice for presenting the cause of the North to the Emperor. Dr. Evans insisted that the United States would win the war and collected every scrap of evidence he could find to reinforce the point—the latest war news, digests of public opinion, social and economic data pointing up the superior economic strength of the North. Bigelow was the accredited propagandist, but he worked with and through Evans who knew everyone and was well versed in the subtleties of French politics. In the summer of 1864 Napoleon authorized Dr. Evans to go to the United States, to observe, inquire, and report his findings about the probable outcome of the war. The doctor was received by Secretary Seward and by President Lincoln, who told his visitor, ”… we shall succeed, I think .” Secretary Seward gave Dr. Evans a special pass so that he could go to see General Grant at the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac in front of Petersburg and Richmond. He appraised the strategic situation and noted for future reference the commissariat, the transport service, and the care of the sick and wounded.
The tide of opinion in France had begun to turn in favor of the North with the Union successes at Gettysburg and Vicksburg and with the growing perception in Europe that recognition of the Confederacy was acquiescence in human slavery. In a last, desperate throw the Confederate government sent one of the most celebrated spies in American history to England and France, Rose O’Neal Greenhow, a beauty, wit, temptress, devoted to the Confederate cause, who had long enjoyed close social relations with the French legation in Washington. Mrs. Greenhow had a private audience with the French Emperor in his little study on the ground floor of the Tuileries on a January day in 1864. There Napoleon received this determined Southern American woman among his busts, portraits, maps, documents, books, models signaling the advent of the industrial age. Ashes dribbling from his incessant cigarettes, Napoleon was courteous but careful. Mrs. Greenhow was also presented to the Empress Eugénie and attended a ball typical of the gaslit brilliance of the Second Empire, garnished with all the gay and gorgeous trappings of the Eugénie era. But it was too late. France had chilled.
Napoleon liked to talk with Dr. Evans, whom he found to be an energetic American business promoter as well as surgeon-dentist-diplomat. They spoke of the transatlantic cable, the new tramways, the repeating rifle, military medicine, and the plans of the Emperor and Baron Georges Eugene Haussmann for building a more beautiful and functional capital. To make a magnificent new park—the Bois de Boulogne—readily accessible, the Emperor agreed to the “haussmannization” of the west end of the city by the construction of a broad avenue four hundred and sixty feet wide with tree-planted grass verges from the Place de l’Etoile (now Place Charles-de-Gaulle) to the Bois at the Porte Dauphine. Dr. Evans offered a felicitous suggestion for naming the new street—Avenue de l’Impératrice (now Avenue Foch)—and hastened to make investments in nearby land. One can scarcely call them speculations since they were based upon accurate knowledge of the government’s plans, the power of the state to expropriate, and the generous indemnities allowed by juries. “It is curious,” Dr. Evans once said, “each time I buy property, a street is cut through!”
Thus it was Paris real estate, not dentistry, that made Dr. Evans a millionaire several times over. And he had the prudence to diversify. Later there were substantial investments in Philadelphia, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and on New York’s Broadway.
The Avenue de l’Impératrice, begun in 1854 and completed in 1856, quickly became fashionable, with traffic jams every pleasant afternoon, the carriages and horsemen on their way to the boating on the lakes of the Bois, the Longchamps race course, the children’s amusement park, or the café-restaurants. In 1857–58, on a plot which only recently had been devoted to the growing of cabbages, Dr. Evans erected a luxurious mansion, really a small palace, at No. 41, Avenue de l’Impératrice, at the corner of Avenue Malakoff, with carriage entrance, stables, a heated aviary for his collection of exotic birds, specimen trees brought from America, and roses everywhere, which gave the hotel its name, Bella Rosa. The interior contained, in addition to all the usual rooms one would expect, not only a library but a white-and-gold ballroom where Jenny Lind dined and sang. And it was at Bella Rosa, in an immense tent hung with portraits of Daniel Webster, Napoleon III, and President Grant, that Dr. Evans entertained some one hundred and twenty-five American guests on July Fourth, 1870, and warned them that France would soon be at war with Prussia.
On July 18, the day before France did declare war, Dr. Evans organized the American International Sanitary Committee to apply the knowledge of military medicine gained in the Civil War to the coming conflict. The American ambulance (”ambulance” in French meaning both a wheeled vehicle and a field hospital) was established on a vacant lot at No. 35, Avenue de l’Impératrice, just opposite the Evans residence. White U.S. Army tents with 135 beds went up on September 1. This humanitarian effort eventually proved a spectacular success. It was, said the newspaper, La Patrie , “The ambulance where the fewest wounded die,” during the siege of Paris, from September to February, and “was founded by Dr. Thomas W. Evans.” All Paris came to view and marvel at the American innovation which knew only four remedies—fresh air, hot and cold water, opium, and Peruvian bark (quinine). But these simple procedures performed wonders in comparison with traditional practices.
Thus it was that business connected with the ambulance had detained the doctor and his associate, Dr. Edward A. Crane, that afternoon of September 4th. Dr. Evans had intended to make a brief stop at Bella Rosa, then go for a drive in the Bois, when a house servant said to him, “There are two ladies in the library who wish to see you.”
It was six o’clock. Since early afternoon Dr. Evans had known that something serious was afoot. Soldiers were parading with their guns reversed or muzzles filled with flowers. Policemen were being roughed up. Cries of Vive la République rang out in the central city. The people milled about restlessly, often drunk under their improvised red banners. Edmond de Concourt, who was there, called these phenomena “the carnival masks of revolution.” But nothing in the day’s events prepared the doctor for what he saw when he opened the door of his library and found himself in the presence of the Empress Eugénie. “My astonishment,” he recalled, “can hardly be imagined.”
The Empress stood erect, her hands gripping the back of a chair. “Monsieur Evans,” she said, “I have no friends left but you. I come as a fugitive to beg your help. I am no longer fortunate. The evil days have come, and I am left alone.”
Eugénie had made a wise choice in her moment of peril. Dr. Evans was level-headed, devoted, dependable, chivalric, a safe man, and resourceful. He was deeply touched that this shaken, careworn, but still beautiful woman, so recently wielding the supreme powers of state with courage and decisiveness, had been forced to come to him, an American, for asylum. He responded instantly. But he was human enough also to savor the situation. It was romantic, historic, and possibly dangerous. Evans was probably familiar, as the Empress certainly was, with the fate of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, how they were discovered in their flight from the Tuileries and arrested at Varennes, just as it seemed they had made good their escape, and were ignominiously hauled back to Paris and eventually to the guillotine.
The Empress wished to leave Paris at once and go to England. Orders for her arrest might be issued at any moment, for the opinion was widely and resentfully held that she had instigated the war with Prussia to consolidate the dynasty behind her fourteen-year-old son, the Prince Imperial. Dr. Evans hurriedly explained the situation to Dr. Crane. Dinner guests were expected, active members of the committee concerned with setting up the field hospital. Indeed, while the doctors conferred, the gate bell announced the first arrivals. While Crane received them, made Dr. Evans’ excuses, and acted as host, Evans returned to the library to make plans for the Empress’ escape. Dr. Crane joined the discussion as soon as the guests had departed. Eugénie first suggested that the doctor take her in his carriage to the railroad station at Poissy, some fifteen miles from Paris, to catch a night train arriving at Le Havre the next morning. There she could board the Channel boat to Southampton.
But the Empress’ weariness and the risk of recognition of a famous face in a public conveyance enabled Dr. Evans to persuade her to wait until the next morning. He urged travel by carriage and coach rather than by train, aiming for Deauville on the coast of Normandy, a seaside resort where Mrs. Evans was spending the month. At Deauville he hoped to find some means of getting across the English Channel.
Passports. The Prefect of Police, still loyal to the Emperor who had appointed him, had provided Evans with a bona fide visaed document issued by the British Embassy and for some reason never called for. It was issued to a “C. W. Campbell, M.D.,” who was returning to England, and his patient, “Mrs. Burslem.” Doctor Evans recognized this identifying document as the perfect way to explain the trip at checkpoints. There would be some role playing. Dr. Crane would be the British physician, the Empress the patient, Dr. Evans her brother, and Madame Lebreton the nurse. During the evening Dr. Evans scouted in the direction of the Porte Maillot, where they would attempt to leave the city in the morning. He was encouraged when he noted that carriages were passing through the gate without unusual inspection.
At five the next morning, after coffee and rolls, the party entered Dr. Evans’ brown landau, a four-seated, enclosed carriage. All were still in the clothes they wore the night before and carried no articles de voyage except Eugénie’s little purse containing the two handkerchiefs. Eugénie wore the thin mackintosh provided her the day before over her black dress, the veil, and a little round hat belonging to Mrs. Evans. Madame Lebreton took the back seat, right hand. The Empress was on the left. Crane sat opposite Madame Lebreton, Dr. Evans opposite Eugénie. This arrangement kept the fallen sovereign out of the sight of guards stationed on the left side of the gate. With Dr. Evans’ faithful Célestin on the box they were off to Saint-Germain. It was a lovely morning. The city was just awakening. Street cleaners wielded their long-brush brooms. Shopkeepers were taking down their heavy shutters. Market wagons clattered through the streets.
The guard at the Porte Maillot ordered a halt. Dr. Evans let down his window, leaned forward so as to fill the opening, and held a newspaper loosely in his left hand concealing the face of the person sitting opposite him. The doctor explained to the guard that he was going into the country to spend the day with friends, that he was an American, well known to everybody in the Sixteenth Arrondissement. The officer stepped back, looked up at Célestin, and ordered, “Allez. ” With a rumble of wheels the vehicle crossed a drawbridge over the moat, past the sentries at the fortifications.
Spirits rose as the carriage followed the great highway, the route impérial , which led west to the Normandy coast and safety. They passed through Neuilly, crossed the Seine to the left bank, with Courbevoie off to the right, then through Puteaux and Saint-Cloud as the sun illuminated the hills, just beginning to be touched with autumn tints. A few kilometers farther on appeared the church of Rueil where the ashes of the Empress Josephine and the beautiful Queen Hortense (Napoleon Ill’s mother) rested. They skirted the park of Malmaison where Josephine lived after the divorce from the great Napoleon and where he waited after Waterloo to be sent to prison at St. Helena. “Everything was suggestive,” Dr. Evans reflected. “The very road we were traveling had been a via dolorosa in the history of the Bonaparte family.”
And so on without event through Marly and Le Pecq. Eugénie was calm, composed, wholly without self-pity, and even laughed as she remarked, “Only a few days ago I said I would never leave the Tuileries in a cab, like Louis Philippe—well, that is exactly what I have done.” But sometimes she cried when she looked at a locket containing a miniature of her son. Where was he? A prisoner of the Germans? Dead? Safely over the frontier into Belgium? She did not know.
At Saint-Germain-en-Laye there would be an unavoidable halt at a tollgate for an inspection to determine whether they carried articles subject to the octroi, or city tax. Dr. Evans was ready with an ingenious story, if questioned, but the officers decided the party did not look like peasants smuggling in chickens or cheese and waved them on. At Poissy the road followed the right bank of the Seine, passing through Triel and Meulan toward Mantes-la-jolie. It became clear that the horses needed a rest. A stop was made at a small cabaret where a stout, red-faced old woman produced a bottle of local wine, a loaf of bread, two or three kinds of cheese, a big bologna sausage, and a knife. The repast was shared with the ladies though they did not venture to leave the carriage. So on through wheat fields, orchards, and vineyards, until the party reached Limay, a suburb of Mantes. Here the doctor’s horses reached their limit, and Célestin turned back on the Paris road. From now on Evans and his charges would be in the hands of chance.
At Mantes the doctor was able to hire a landau, two fairly good horses, and a driver to take them as far as Pacy-sur-Eure. Evans was able to buy copies of the Journal Officiel and Le Figaro . He found no references to Eugénie. But General Trochu’s appointment as President of the new government was bitter news to the Empress. She dropped the newspaper. Her voice trembled: “How was it possible for him so to betray me!”
The hamlet of Pacy proved to be a hard place to get out of. Finally the doctor negotiated for an old calash, an ancient chariot that had not been used since the advent of the railways. It was pulled by a good gray mare and an unmatched plow horse, the harness pieced out by strings and ropes, but good enough, from the local point of view, for foreigners. As the coach traversed the chalky hills of Normandy, Dr. Evans made the professional observation to Dr. Crane that the stock of tooth powder in those hills seemed prodigiously in excess of any probable demand.
Evreux. A sleepy provincial town except when there was a fair or a fire. At Cambolle, the coachman stopped at a café to rest and water the horses. Suddenly the sound of the Marseillaise was heard and the now familiar shouts of Vive la République! The Empress turned white. Mme. Lebreton shuddered. But it was only a unit of the Gardes Mobiles returning from a review in Evreux, full of wine and patriotism.
At sunset the coach reached the small village of La Commanderie. There it was possible to hire fresh horses because of Dr. Evans’ well-filled purse, and to push on in the same old rattletrap vehicle. It threatened to collapse, almost did, but after roadside repairs the party arrived at La Rivière de Thibouville in the valley of the Risle at about ten o’clock at night. They entered a primitive inn, Le Soleil d’Or. Madame appeared. She declared with relish that no carriage could be hired and both of her rooms were occupied. Once again Dr. Evans and his supply of francs prevailed. The rooms were had and endured with their hard beds and rough washstands. The Empress laughed nervously, exclaimed that it was “really too funny!”
In the middle of the night, men shouting, horses clattering. Perhaps the cavalry had arrived to make the arrest. Relief—it was a party of gamekeepers looking for poachers.
The next morning Dr. Evans found that the nearest horses were sixteen kilometers away. Why bother with horses, the proprietress pointed out, when la Rivière was on a branch rail line which connected with the Paris-Cherbourg express at Sequigny? An hour on the train had to be risked. Entering the compartment, Eugénie made a mistake and pulled back her veil. The Stationmaster stared as the train moved off. The Empress was frightened and never forgot the incident though it had no sequel. In a little more than an hour they were off the train at Lisieux. Rain was falling. When Dr. Evans arrived with a carriage he found the Empress soaked and mud-stained in the doorway of a carpet factory. His mind traveled back. He saw her as she had been only a year before, honored guest of the Sultan of Turkey, seated on a dais of crimson silk, a diamond tiara on her head, her arms and neck flashing with jewels; gliding across the Golden Horn in the afternoon sun in a forty-oared barge.
At Lisieux, another close call. Eugénie forgot herself when she saw a policeman abusing a man in the street. Rising in the carriage, she commanded, “I am the Empress, and I order you to let that man go. ” A sticky moment; but Dr. Evans was equal to the emergency. He conveyed to the onlookers that the poor lady was mad. One can imagine the gesture by which he made known this information; and it worked.
The clouds lifted and the sun appeared fitfully as the hackney coach lumbered the last thirty kilometers through a rich land of yellow wheat, green belts of clover and sugar beets, apple orchards, and lush meadows with grazing cattle. Eugénie’s spirits revived and she recounted gaily how she had washed her two handkerchiefs and ironed them by pasting them on a windowpane. “When there is no necessity to move us,” she said, “we little suspect our own cleverness or ability to do things.” And an admiring biographer comments: “Luxury and power had not corrupted her.”
Threading the valleys of the Auge and Touques rivers, passing quickly through Pont l’Evêque, they entered Trouville, crossed the bridge to stop at last near the Deauville race course. Dr. Evans walked into town and located Mrs. Evans at the Hôtel Casino. He looked pale and shaken as he told her that the deposed Empress of the French was outside under his protection. With relief he heard from her that no one knew where Eugénie was. Concealing his charge with an umbrella, he took her to Mrs. Evans’ apartment, and she sank into a chair exclaiming, “Saved!”
The next step was to find passage to England. The two doctors, Evans and Crane, sauntered along the Quay de la Marine. There they saw a pretty craft called the Gazelle , owned, they learned from a sailor, by a Briton, Sir John Burgoyne. Dr. Evans presented his card to Sir John and asked if he could inspect the yacht. The owner obligingly showed the doctors around the sixty-foot, forty-two-ton cutter. Dr. Evans then revealed that he wanted the Gazelle to take the Empress to England, appealing to Burgoyne as a chivalrous English gentleman. Burgoyne threw up various objections but finally agreed to submit the question to Lady Burgoyne. She knew Paris well, had heard of Dr. Evans and his connection with the Imperial Court, and said, “Well, why not?” So the matter was decided. With preparations made for the departure, Sir John began to worry that word might have somehow got out; he decided it would be wise to appear at the casino that evening, circulate a bit, and dance a set of Lancers. Later a police agent appeared and searched the yacht, finding nothing amiss. Fortunately, the Empress had not yet come aboard. What information the detective acted upon is not known, and this curious affair has never been satisfactorily explained.
As the doctor escorted the Empress to the cutter, he reflected again upon the drama of Her Majesty’s life, the fall from the pinnacle of power, from ladies in waiting, chamberlains, cavalry escorts drawn from the Cent-Gardes, cheering crowds, sedulous journals reporting every detail of her charming hats, her gowns, and jewels, her white shoes worn once, then sent to an orphan asylum for the girls taking their first communion. And now she walked unsteadily, guided by a man raised under a wholly different political system, past brilliantly lighted cafés where the dangerous classes shouted, sang, and clicked glasses, enjoying at once the heady exhilaration of Calvados, disorder, and war, uncaring that the Emperor of the French nation and sixty thousand men were prisoners and their country already defeated.
At six-thirty in the morning Dr. Crane departed for Paris with confidential messages and to prepare the field hospital to receive the wounded from Sedan. At seven the Gazelle sailed for Southampton. It was a wild day and night. The sturdy little craft rolled and pitched in a great storm but reached Rye Roads, Isle of Wight, and let go her anchor about four A.M. Lady Burgoyne proved to be a cheerful, nervy, accomplished hostess, and at the happy ending Eugénie’s health was drunk in champagne.
“They tell of Roman matrons,” said Eugénie in recalling that roaring night at sea, “but nothing is more wonderful to me than the sight of an English lady moving about a yacht cabin in a storm….”
Dr. Evans quickly discovered that the Prince Imperial was safe in England, at Hastings. Eugénie hurried to join him. Meanwhile the doctor found a suitable house for her, a country seat not unlike a French château, known as Camden Place. It was at Chislehurst, only twenty minutes from Charing Cross Station in London, yet quiet and secluded. Evans’ discretion may be put in evidence at this point. He did not mention to Her Majesty that the estate at Chislehurst was rented to him by a former protector of the wealthy Miss Howard who had been Napoleon Ill’s mistress and had financed his coup d’état of 1851.
With the Empress settled in England, Dr. Evans undertook a trip to Germany to tell Napoleon III that his wife was safe and other details he could not know at the time. The dentist was able to do this, he noted with some complacency, because of his connections with German royalty. He had put a fair distance between himself and the social position of the tooth doctor of Europe who made his visits through the servants’ entrance. But his vanity must be balanced against his compassion and his generosity. For he also visited the French wounded and the prisoner-of-war camps where he distributed shoes, food, underwear, money for postage. Later, when it was still dangerous for him to go back to Paris, he was a frequent visitor at Camden Place, meanwhile organizing in London a “clothing society” and spending the winter doing relief work among the ragged remnants of the French imperial army.
A Draconian peace was concluded between France and the German empire, May 10, 1871, and a few weeks later Napoleon joined the Empress in exile. Surrounded by a court in miniature, Napoleon and the Empress lived, one French historian wrote, “in that atmosphere of respect which saddens and solaces the vanquished at the same time. ” At nine-thirty the Prince Imperial went to his room. Napoleon retired soon after, and at eleven Eugénie, too, the guests all bowing as she “made her long, her marvellous curtsy of the Tuileries,” a poignant evocation of the graces and elegancies of happier times.
Hopes rose briefly for a restoration of the Bonaparte cause, but Napoleon’s health intervened. A crisis developed from a large calculus in his bladder, and after two operations he died early in 1873. His last, faintly uttered words, dimmed by chloral hydrate, were addressed to his personal medical doctor, Henri Conneau: “We weren’t cowards at Sedan, were we, Conneau?”
After the bloody Commune of Paris—a word taken from the vocabulary of the first Revolution—was crushed in May, Dr. Evans returned to Paris. He found his residence and treasures undisturbed and resumed his dental practice. There were no more brilliant court functions for the doctor; but he still held his Fourth of July celebration in the gardens of Bella Rosa and entertained such prominent figures from the United States as ex-President Grant and James G. Blaine. In dentistry, Evans was as successful as ever, republican teeth requiring expert care as well as imperial molars. His management of the Empress’s famous escape was more than offset in the eyes of the rulers of the Third Republic by the selfless work of the American ambulance, which he supported from his private purse and by his humanitarian efforts in behalf of the prisoners of war. For several years the police were zealous in compiling an extensive and largely irrelevant dossier on the American dentist, but it was like bringing on the mustard after the dinner was over. The official attitude toward the doctor had softened to the point where President Adolphe Thiers himself promoted Evans, who was already entitled to wear the rosette of the Legion of Honor in his buttonhole, to the rank of commander.
After Napoleon’s death, Eugénie returned to politics. She and the Prince Imperial would finish her husband’s work. She dreamed of her son wearing a crown and governing the French under a program giving the people freedom, but with order . It was not to be. Lou-Lou (his family nickname) was bold, rash, loved danger, and had been stung by suggestions that he had fled before the Prussians. He died in 1879 as a soldier, wearing a British uniform—in the artillery, of course, as befitted a Bonaparte—in the Zulu War in South Africa. His patrol, surprised by the Zulus in a donga, fled, his horse escaped, and the Prince, revolver blazing, fell with eighteen assegai wounds, a victim of Sedan and the obligations of his name. The body could not be recognized when it reached Chislehurst, but Dr. Evans made a positive identification from one of his own gold fillings—and later asserted that he was the first to identify a body from dental work.
Eugénie was prostrated, for a long time beyond the relief of tears. Her only child was dead, all hope of a new Napoleonic epoch shattered. Dean Stanley preached a sermon on the character of the Prince Imperial, and Queen Victoria came to offer such solace as she could, while France bristled with the Anglophobia that always lurked beneath the surface of its political life. In 1880 the Empress moved to Farnborough Hill, in Hampshire. There she erected a memorial Catholic church, with a massive crypt to contain the sarcophagi of her husband and son, and eventually herself. Though Eugénie said, “My role in this world ended in 1879,” she had, in fact, an incredible fifty years more of life ahead of her.
After the Empress was deemed to be politically harmless, she was allowed to visit republican France without hindrance or harassment. Once she stayed at the Hôtel du Rhin in the Place Vendôme, only a few yards from the mansion where she had received the Emperor’s formal request for her hand. Another time she visited the ruins of Saint-Cloud, the château having been burned down by the Prussians. In the debris she recognized a slab of marble from the mantelpiece of a drawing room where she had presided in the radiance of youth, power, and beauty. Again, she picked a flower in the Tuileries gardens. An attendant rebuked her sharply, but her escort whispered, “It is the Empress,” and the guard, an old soldier with the Italy medal, came to attention and saluted. She visited Compiègne, she by then an anonymous old lady in black, and saw again the pencil marks behind a shutter where she had recorded the Prince Imperial’s height; and on this visit she was warned not to touch the furniture, much of which was hers.
Friends and old adversaries were dropping off, and sometimes she had to suffer the merely curious. “People,” she complained, “come to see me like a fifth act.” The one reproach that roused her ire to the end of her life was any suggestion that cast doubt upon her feeling for France. “I have only one country,” she insisted, “France.” When the great Allied offensive was launched in October, 1918, Eugénie whispered, “If Foch could only catch them at Sedan!” And she thought once more of July, 1870, and buried her face in her hands.
Handsome Dr. Evans, “Le Beau Evans” as he was known in the modish world for his regular features and fluent side whiskers, had a fling at high gallantry in the 1870’s. Perhaps it was the male menopause, or just an experience almost obligatory in his social milieu. The recipient of his attentions was Méry Laurent, a fresh Alsatian from Nancy, tall, statuesque, a laughing beauty with arched eyebrows, a wide-eyed gaze, and a formidable bosom that excited artists, including Edouard Manet. Méry Laurent’s talent for handling men was equal to that of any of the lionnes of the epoch—Cora Pearl, Anna Deslions, Rosalie Léon, who ended up a princess, Margaret Beilanger (“Laughing Margot”), who almost wrecked the marriage of Napoleon and Eugénie, Adèle Courtois, who when full of years received only ecclesiastics at dinner, or the Marquise de Païva, who, when it became prudent for her to leave France quickly, carried as a trophy a necklace which the Empress Eugénie had worn at the great balls in the Tuileries.
Méry Laurent was famous as an artist’s model, less than famous as an actress. She had had a walk-on part in Offenbach’s Le Roi Carotte , and once in a spectacular scene at le Châtelet she sprang in splendid nudity from an enormous silver-mounted shell. Dr. Evans installed his elegant conquest in a luxurious apartment at No. 52, Rue de Rome, near his office, with a monthly allowance of five thousand francs, and a second home, “Villa des Talus,” an agreeable cottage at No. 9, Boulevard Lannes, opposite the turfed slopes of the fortifications. The villa was furnished in comfortable country style with a charming little garden and lilacs blooming in the dooryard.
Méry was well educated, performed acceptably on the piano, appreciated wit and talent, and her Eliza provided a table which was a glory of French cuisine. The salon of la Laurent drew to it poets, novelists, men of letters, and painters to whom, wrote Henri Perruchot, biographer of Manet, “she was prepared to give the quasi-marital favours she sold Evans at so high a price.” Something of a wit herself, Mlle. Méry once remarked that to leave Dr. Evans “would be a wicked thing to do. I content myself with deceiving him.” She paid the doctor in good coin, however, in introducing him to the literary circle of Stéphane Mallarmé, and helping him to understand the genius of Manet and Whistler.
In his later years Dr. Evans enjoyed the cabarets, the life of the boulevards, and reminiscences with old Bonapartists. He was an industrious writer, though not a gifted one, and produced a considerable body of professional articles and his memoirs, as well as a defense of the Emperor and Empress, with Dr. Crane’s collaboration, entitled the Fall of the Second Empire (1884), including specially commissioned gravure illustrations depicting the flight of the Empress. She, however, did not wish him to issue the apologia, and the doctor complied, destroying all copies except one which exists in the University of Pennsylvania Dental School Library.
Dr. Evans attended the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia in 1876, and returned to America again in 1897 with the body of his wife who died that June in Paris. Her remains were placed in the imposing Evans mausoleum in Woodlands Cemetery, topped by the tallest monument (then and now) in that place of interment. Being childless and now without a legatee, the doctor, like other wealthy and lonely potential donors, derived considerable solace from encouraging the hopes of possible recipients of his fortune of four to five million (gold) dollars. He had been a generous supporter of many philanthropic endeavors in Paris and was known to appreciate the lifetime opportunities that France had afforded him. There were expectations that he would leave his estate to the city of Paris. Or, again, perhaps to the city of Philadelphia. He visited around—Princeton and Chicago, thought about a girls’ school in Cincinnati, a charitable institution in Minnesota. But when Dr. Evans died in 1913, the will provided for a Museum and Dental School in Philadelphia. To avoid duplication and unnecessary competition, the executors of the Evans estate agreed to an affiliation with the University of Pennsylvania, which resulted in outstanding facilities, a strong dental library, and a handsome new building in the Collegiate Gothic Style.
The Empress Eugénie, who was then eighty-three years old and lived on the Côte d’Azur, was invited to attend the laying of the cornerstone of the Evans building, but declined with a graceful reference to Dr. Evans: “I am reminded of his sincerity, the proof of which he gave me in the darkest hours of my life.” Seven years later the last Empress of the French, who had touched the heights and the depths, and said she had already died three times, followed Thomas W. Evans—hedonist, egotist, humanitarian, unofficial envoy to royalty, dentist, staunch American and friend—in the death of the body if not of the spirit.