Proudly presented from www.writerssecrets.com eBook Series
Excerpts from the forth coming E-Book – “We’ll always have Paris.”
A story of wealth, obsessions, and the emperor’s ransom collected
and dispersed by Christopher Forbes, connoisseur.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Chapter 2 continues.
Selling such documents is an Osenat specialty, and hence just right for Kip
whose intense interest in autograph documents mirrors that of father, brother,
grandfather, world without end, amen, amen.
These discerning people have assembled (and in due course dispersed) major
collections of American and British history, such as their stunning collection of
items pertaining to Sir Winston Churchill. As such one Forbes or another
has acquired, cherished, and sold more valuable documents than anyone.
Kip told me his favorite was the letter sent by Albert Einstein to President
Franklin Roosevelt advising about the imminent availability of the first atomic
bomb and its impact upon our planet; an important letter indeed.
To give you an idea of what this means to Kip, here are a few selections
from what he sold the first day his treasures on paper went on the block.
Item: The signed marriage certificate of Josephine de Beauharnais and
Napoleon (1804) witnessed by Napoleon’s uncle Cardinal Fesch. Given
the importance of this marriage, the importance of this document can
hardly be overstated. It was wily Josephine’s gambit to stay the wife,
the queen, the empress. It failed, but it made clear the lady was a
Item: Intimate correspondence from Napoleon’s mother Letizia (the “veuve
Bonaparte”) upon the death of her husband (1786)
Item: A letter of April 1808 from Napoleon’s brother Louis, King of Holland,
upon the birth of the child who became Napoleon III. And a later letter
(1809) in which he announces his separation from Hortense, Napoleon’s
There are hundreds and hundreds of these documents from the associated
imperial princes, highnesses, serene princesses, crown princes, empresses,
grand dukes, imperial cousins, imperial aunts and uncles, marshals of the
empire, victorious and bumbling; archdukes, dukes of the old regime and dukes
of the imperial regime who replaced them for a spell, only to be replaced
themselves in short order. As these voluminous papers make clear, it was
the preeminent age of titles and decorations, and woe upon you if you made
any error, any error at all.
What Kip Forbes has collected (as the government of France came to
see by their own thorough scrutiny of these and all the other documents)
is formidable, brilliant, splendid. The most cursory of readings gives us
profound insights into the project called Empire.
First of all, whether you were pro Napoleon or not (and many played both
ends of that field) you were kept busy scribbling. All governments, all regimes
are full of people who scheme with grit and determination. That is the nature of
all those who want a piece of the pie, then another, justifying each step by
renewed and interminable scribbling.
Every person in the Napoleonic regimes, seeing how far others just like them
had risen through dint of truth at one moment and denial the next, spent every
waking moment in intrigues. Kip’s fifty years of assiduity, collection and
research make it clear just how much chicanery was going on at all times,
how shamelessly, motives changing as partners changed and then, more
shamelessly still, changed yet again, each move chronicled by quill, by a
splash of ink carried on horseback to its own personal destiny, exalted or
Oh, Kip, how I envy you all those years alone in a favorite place, ensconced
of an evening with a cast of characters, unsavory, unmatched in any work
of fiction anywhere; yours, all yours for so very many happy hours.
It is easy to see, my friend, why you selected the bombastic Bonapartes and
their gimcrack regimes. They never stopped conniving and so never stopped
writing about their audacious plans to remake the world; lead by a rogue,
a thief, an untrammeled visionary leader who did not admit impossibilities,
much less give in to them.
Yes, they were rogues, nary a person of principle or honor among the lot of
them, every nation, every dynasty to be milked and discarded for the benefit
of a single family, every single one a scoundrel, for all the silk, satin, perfume
and swagger they used to disguise what they were about.
“Those were the days my friend. We thought they’d never end.
We’d sing and dance forever and a day/ We’d live the life we’d choose
We’d fight and never lose/ For we were young and sure to have our way.”
“Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.”
But of course, these agile, prevaricating, determined makers of
empire, fell victim to just four words my own father wielded with a
skill challenging Excalibur’s. “This too shall pass”. And so it did,
whether it was bounteous and awesome… or whether it was
painful and mournful heartbreak.
It all passed. Some went into the fires of holocaust… some was
swept away by the contrary winds of destiny. Some was eaten by
rats and other fastidious menaces. Some were damaged beyond
repair by waters or deliberately destroyed by those who thought their
prejudices a better future; truth being the last of their objectives.
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my works, ye mighty and despair.
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
(Percy Bysse Shelley, 1818).
This, however, is not yet the fate of the documents and
artifacts which punctilious Kip devoted far more than half
his life gathering, tending and always remembering, a
monument to his considerable energies, resources and what
is so evident throughout the stylish catalogs, and his own insightful
preface. It is all there, his respect, his concern, and his love.
Yes, it is this love, in all its works, for which we must thank you.
For this love has kept the lone and level sands far away though
that will, his stewardship laid down, now be the job of others for
their time. Chevalier Forbes, sans peur et sans reproche, has
set them the highest possible standard; his rise to Officier of
the Legion of Honor recognizing and thanking him for that, and
The Great Chain
Now let us take this man of resolution, his critical “eye”, and a tenacity
that never flagged and link him in the Great Chain of Americans who did
not just like, respect and esteem Paris and toute la France, but who were,
and this is much more difficult to achieve, esteemed and venerated by Paris
and toute la France. It is an honor greater than any red rosette and far,
far more difficult to achieve.
It starts with Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), signer of the Declaration
of Independence, whose utilitarian brain and its useful manifestations
inspired the admiration of the Court of Louis XVI, and particularly its ladies,
who made his crotchets, yes even turkeys and coon skin caps, their crotchets.
Thomas Jefferson, minister to France (1784), was next. He was young,
elegant, not just the purveyor of beautiful language but able to make that
language the beacon for all people and all time, and to do so without hatred,
rancor or murderous intent. He was the High Priest of Freedom and Liberty
and the ancien regime looked to him for a way out of their tangled affairs.
There was a gap after Jefferson, unfilled for over a century until “Fighting Jack”
Pershing immortalized himself in just 4 words, “Lafayette, we are here”, thus
succinctly informing the beleaguered French nation that it now had, first in the
American Expeditionary Force, a great and generous friend, a friend who would
fight and bleed and die for them,without barriers, without surcease, without
regret, without cavil. Vive la France!
Lindbergh and Baker
The ‘twenties were apples and cream for the so-called “Lost Generation”‘;
Americans who claimed Paris as their own, making sure everyone who was
anyone knew not only they were not lost, but had found everything they needed
to scandalize any Americans within media distance while affronting
every Frenchman near or far. They needed no more notoriety. A spanking
was much more called for.
The French tolerated them, then lost patience with the braggarts.
No love-in for the likes of Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest
Hemingway et al. In due course they got rich, they got famous, but they
were never loved, least of all in the France they gobbled and devoured
whilst complaining the while, crocodile tears de rigueur and abundant.
Then a boy named Lindbergh, Charles A. Lindbergh and a girl named
Baker, Josephine Baker captured the jaundiced eye and affection of
post Great War France.
Lindbergh was a strapping, movie star handsome Midwestern boy who
in 1927 hopped the Atlantic in a one-seat monoplane named “The Spirit
of St Louis”, its sole cargo the highest octane American pride, and just one
passenger, a no longer common house fly, iridescent stowaway, showing
millions what was possible beyond the blue horizon. .
Then there was the divine Josephine whose lithe ebony flesh provided the
perfect back drop for gyrations no good woman could ever know, much less
do. She, like Lindbergh, was the Spirit of St. Louis, too, but hers stemmed
from the filth and stench of the midden from whence she emerged clean
enough and driven enough to capture the imagination of the gratin of Paris,
who wanted to dissipate each moment in impossible dance steps and
behaviors supposedly from the Dark Continent, actually derived from
segregated St. Louis. Her fruit of choice was bananas, for wearing,
not eating. She needed a spanking, too, got it and smiled. Ou la la.
They both rose to being media icons, both (some times) as rich as Croesus,
a factor which every Frenchman knows is tres bien, such a relief for the most
mercenary nation on Earth. The French knew the value of a franc They wanted
their demigods to know, too.
“I am the man who…”
Then there was Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (1929-1994), not merely a
First Lady but an international fashion plate, perfectly coiffed, perfectly
scented, a shimmering vision who charmed the crusty Cross of Lorraine,
M. le General De Gaulle in French, no less; admittedly it was of the
school girl variety, but it was better than in Quebec. She was a francophone,
and that was enough. Her sex appeal and “Noli me tangere” chic made
old man De Gaulle gasp. Madame de Pompadour might have tutored her.
She was that good.
John F. Kennedy knew a good political thing when he saw it. And so upon
returning home from the vast crowds, he turned the incident into smooth history
by saying,” I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris.” A
frisson of bliss went through Camelot that moment. Not since Lafayette had
kissed Martha Washington’s hand when they both lived in Cambridge, right down
the street from me….
The Penultimate. Jerry Lewis (born 1926).
The announcement of the latest honoree in the Great Chain is coming
up in just a minute or two, but first I must attempt to explain the penultimate
winner and why he has been tapped for eternity.
This person, I admit, is a puzzle to me, just as his vast film repertoire
has been a puzzle. However, I am a commentator, and so I must comment.
Here’s the long and the short of it; I find Jerry Lewis’ oeuvre painful to watch
and funny only by accident. But here’s the biggest puzzle of all: why do the
French admire his unrelenting slapstick so, right up to and including making
him Chevalier of the Legion of Honor? It is, remember, their highest award.
It remains inexplicable to me, the award for losing control of your body and
causing the world to explode in hilarity at your expense. It leaves me cold,
but not the French, thereby proving not only that the very rich are different
from you and me, but that Jerry Lewis’ French fans are, too.
I remind you of this pertinent observation: given world enough and time, a
cadre of monkeys with typewriters can and will produce the works of
Shakespeare. By the same token, given enough of Jerry Lewis’ sophomoric
pratfalls at least one is certain to make even the most fastidious and
censorious laugh, maybe even me.
But why decorate Mr. Lewis for his ability to fall down stairs, walk into
swinging doors the wrong way, or take a cream pie in the puss at any hour,
at any place. He deserved nothing but groans for such nonsense. But for his
many years as chairman of the Labor Day Telethon for the Muscular
Dystropy Association (1950-2011) raising billions, he deserved the highest
recognition from every nation.
“Le jour de gloire est arrive.”
Now it is time to add a new honoree to the short and worthy list of
those who have gone before. It is time to add Christopher “Kip”
He is not being honored for his wit, his charm, or his intellect, though
each of these items in such abundance has its place in achieving
the final result.
Instead he has been elevated because he has helped save a major
period in the history of France, the period of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte
(1808-1873) Prince, Prince-President, Emperor, now exhumed by Kip.
No one needed to tell Kip what to do or how to do it. He went on as he
began, promising nothing, saying little, getting on with his important work.
without bombast or fanfare. For half a century, he has used his informed
judgement to help strengthen not just his magnificent collection but the
nation, not least by giving that nation and its people over 40 lots, lots
given which he might so easily have sold. He gave them to France.
Lafayette, we are indeed here yet again. Let the revels begin…
I have selected Offenbach’s 1867 frothy masterpiece “La Duchesse de
Gerolstein” to dance us to our conclusion. Find it in any search engine,
and let its unexampled overture break over us in joy and happiness. Here
we are in the company of civilized people , their civilized emperor
Napoleon III, and the civilized gentleman who rediscovered them for the
benefit of all, Kip Forbes.
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