“So thorough a coxcomb I never beheld”

Some entertaining Murat-related excerpts from the rather acerbic diary of Sir Robert Wilson, during and immediately after the peace negotiations at Tilsit. Wilson was a British general and diplomat; in 1806 he joined General Hutchinson on a diplomatic mission to the Prussian court, and witnessed the battles of Eylau and Friedland. He would later participate in the Peninsular campaign, which earned him his knighthood. When Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812, Wilson served as an advisor for the general staff of Kutusov, and remained with the Russian army into 1813.

[Source: Life of General Sir Robert Wilson, Vol II, 1862.]


9 July 1807:

…Shortly afterwards General Murat came to pay his respects to the queen [of Prussia]. He was dressed exactly like our May-day chimney-sweepers, except that the cloth of his coat was blue in colour. His figure is good, his countenance the vulgar copy of Skeffington’s; and so thorough a coxcomb I never beheld. His aides-de-camp were dressed “en fantasie,” and more ridiculously than anything to be seen on our stage. 


13 July 1807: 

…She [the Queen of Prussia] spoke well of Murat; and said that he uttered sentiments which did him honour, and so loudly that she was astonished. He even spoke from the window daring politics. She said that she was frightened at the power Buonaparte had of expressing benignity in his countenance when he chose; for “if such a man could look benevolent what was the value of physiognomy as an index of moral character?” She however saw him act the tyrant in various ways, and particularly on the second day when he went out of his way to say severe things.

Nor is his love of sway confined to empires and armies. He had drank his coffee: he helt out the cap to Murat: Murat either did not or would not see it. Buonaparte’s eyes flashed fire: he thrust the cup forward, and regarded Murat with the ferocity of a demon. The humbled Duke of Berg was obliged to act as waiter. A variety of similar circumstances characterized the tyrannic insolence of this usurper; and the whole conduct of his creatures proved the greatest apprehension of his ungovernable temper. 


17 July 1807:

…Buonaparte at Königsberg was extremely angry with Murat for the folly of his dress.* He reproached him violently, as he supposed in private, but the conversation was overhead. One remark was just: “It is by such imitations that Europe has been lost. And do you think that I will suffer the same practices to be introduced into France? Dress only assumes an importance when it is adopted from a foolish love of imitation.” I wish our German maniacs would take this instruction even from Buonaparte. English, original English, is to us real strength; and he who would introduce foreign customs and foreign habits is an enemy to the security as well as to the character of his country.


[*My note] Murat had been adopting Polish-style uniforms around this time, entertaining hopes that Napoleon would soon name him King of Poland.


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