Towards the end of the year 1868 I arrived in Paris. I had often before been in the great city, but had never occupied any official position there. Now, however, having been appointed secretary to our (Russian) embassy, I consequently enjoyed special privileges, not the least being opportunity to watch quite closely the actors in what was to prove one of the greatest dramas of modern history. I had many acquaintances in Paris, but these belonged principally to the circle known still by the name of Faubourg St. Germain, for I had never frequented the Imperialistic world. Consequently I found myself thrown in quite a different milieu, and had to forgo a great many of my former friends, who would not have cared to receive in their houses one who now belonged to the intimate coterie of the Tuileries. In a certain sense I felt sorry; but on the other hand I discovered that the society in which I now found myself was far more pleasant, and certainly far more amusing, than my former circle. To a young man such as I was at that time, this last consideration, of course, was most attractive.
Paris, during that autumn of the year 1868, was extremely congenial; indeed, it has never been so brilliant since the Napoleonic Eagle disappeared. The Sovereigns liked to surround themselves with nice people, and sought popularity among the different classes of society; they gave splendid receptions, and did their best to create around them an atmosphere of luxury and enjoyment. They frequented the many theatres for which Paris was famed, were present at the races, and in general showed themselves wherever they found opportunity to appear in public. During the summer and autumn months the Imperial hospitality was exercised with profusion and generosity, either at Compiègne or at Fontainebleau, and it was only at St. Cloud or at Biarritz that the Emperor and his lovely Consort led a relatively retired life, while they enjoyed a short and well-earned holiday.
As is usual in such cases, the Imperialistic society followed the lead given to it from above, and pleasure followed upon pleasure, festivity crowded upon festivity during these feverish months which preceded the Franco-Prussian War. In 1868 the clouds that had obscured the Imperial sky at the time of the ill-fated Mexican Expedition had passed away, and the splendours which attended the inauguration of the Suez Canal were already looming on the horizon.
The political situation as yet seemed untroubled; indeed, though the Emperor sometimes appeared sad and anxious, no one among all those who surrounded him shared the apprehensions which his keen political glance had already foreseen as inevitable. The Empress, too, appeared as if she wanted to make the most of her already disappearing youth, and to gather her roses whilst she still could do so, with all the buoyancy of her departed girlish days.
The leading spirit of all the entertainments given at the Tuileries, the Princess Pauline Metternich, was always alert for some new form of amusement wherewith to enliven the house parties of Compiègne, or the solemnity of the evening parties given in the old home of the Kings of France—that home from which Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette had gone to the scaffold, and to which their memory clung in spite of all those who had inhabited it since the day they started upon their tragic journey to Varennes.