Crowns & Confidences, continued...

   The Grand Prix d’Honneur from the Paris Exposition of 1867: Where is it now? It was awarded to Evans—or, more properly, to the U.S. Sanitary Commission—for his exhibit of hospital tents, railroad hospital cars, surgical instruments and the like. Evans had already seen first-hand the gruesome results of modern warfare during the Crimean War and the French-Italian conflict of 1859, and his visit to Grant’s headquarters allowed him to study a subject close to his heart: "provisions made for the care of the sick and wounded." That, and the two months he spent in Philadelphia afterwards gathering information about the latest developments in hygiene, led to a book detailing the work of the sanitary commission (a volunteer citizens’ association that supplemented the work of the Army Medical Bureau). It was followed by another book, Sanitary Institutions during the Austro-Prussian-Italian Conflict of 1866. Both would impress important readers in Europe, and would, despite resistance from bureaucracies, lead to changes in the treatment of wounded soldiers.
With the help of Dr. Edward Crane, his friend and literary editor, Evans assembled, at his own expense, the various inventions that had saved tens of thousands of lives during the Civil War, and had them shipped to the Paris Exposition. The Grand Prix d’Honneur was presented by the emperor, and Evans himself received a special prize for his design of a light, well-ventilated "flying ambulance." One ranking physician from the French Army wrote that the various articles of the exhibition "all bear the stamp of the enlightened patriotism and the importance which the Americans attach to the preservation of human life and the alleviation of the inevitable evils of war."
When the Exposition ended, Evans quietly stored the materials on land near his own property for possible future use. Three years later, on the eve of the Franco-Prussian War, he would be elected president of the newly formed American International Sanitary Committee. During the grim siege of Paris, the American Ambulance, as the collection was called, would save many lives. By then, Evans would be involved in another, more personal mission of mercy.
The Franco-Prussian War was a bloody, humiliating disaster for France, as Evans knew it would be, and it cost the emperor his crown. Louis Napoleon was taken prisoner by Germany following a disastrous battle at Sedan, and when the news reached Paris, the same people who had been shouting "Vive la guerre!" responded by tearing the Napoleonic eagles off the wrought-iron fences outside the Tuileries and shouting "Down with the Empire!" and "Death to the Spanish Woman!" General Louis Trochu, the military governor of Paris who had pledged to defend Eugénie to the death, locked himself in the Louvre until things quieted down.
It was not a good time to be the empress regent, who knew that her husband was a prisoner of war but did not know whether her 14-year-old Lou-Lou, a soldier in the French Army, was dead or alive. When Eugénie—accompanied by an attendant, Madame Lebreton—finally fled the Tuileries, she turned instinctively to Evans’ mansion, Bella Rosa, on the Avenue de l’Imperatrice.
"The evil days have come," she told him, "and I am left alone." Evans did not hesitate to help her, even though he knew that the revolutionaries might well seize his property—or himself—in retaliation.
He began by persuading the exhausted empress to get some sleep and wait until the next morning, when he would take her by carriage, in disguise, to the coastal town of Deauville, where his wife was on holiday. Some members of the palace staff, anticipating the worst, had obtained several travel documents, including a British passport issued to "C.W. Campbell, M.D." and his patient, "Mrs. Burslem." Crane became Dr. Campbell; the empress became his patient; Evans would be her brother; and Madame Lebreton, her nurse.
At 5 o’ clock the next morning, Evans, Crane, the empress and Madame Lebreton stepped into his brown, four-seated carriage and set off for the coast. When they passed through the Porte Maillot, Evans casually blocked the view of the empress with his body and a newspaper, and told the sentry that he and his friends were going for a drive in the country.
The journey took about a day and a half, and though it was tiring and uncomfortable—and occasionally unnerving—they made Deauville without serious mishap. Evans spent money liberally on rooms and fresh horses and carriages, and had to think quickly on a number of occasions. In the town of Lisieux, the story goes, a policeman was abusing a man in the street, whereupon Eugénie loudly announced that she was the empress and that the man must be let go. Evans gestured with his finger that the poor woman was off her nut, and the passers-by laughed and went on their way.
At her hotel in Deauville, Agnes Evans was astonished to see her "dear Tom," who looked faint and "deadly pale with great tears on his cheeks." He told her: "I have the empress to save—she must be hidden in your room until we can get her out of the country." He and Crane then found a British sailing yacht and asked the owner, Sir John Burgoyne, if he would take them across the channel to England. Burgoyne first refused, then, at Evans’ and Crane’s urging, put the question to his wife, who shamed him into agreeing.
"It is a great responsibility that you are asking me to assume," Burgoyne told him. "Perhaps," Evans replied; "but the greater the responsibility, the greater the honor."
They almost didn’t make it. A terrific gale blew up, and nearly sank them. ("As the yacht reeled and staggered in the wild seas that swept over her deck and slapped her sides with tremendous force," Evans wrote later, "it seemed as if she was about to be engulfed, and that the end was indeed near.") But after a harrowing night, they anchored in Ryde Roads and checked into a hotel, whereupon Evans discovered from a newspaper that the prince imperial was in Hastings, a short distance away. Evans then engineered the reunion, which must have been almost as touching as his rather ripe prose suggests: "The tears of joy flowed abundantly, and her lips murmured words of thanks to Heaven … "
The emperor, released by Prussia the following year, joined Eugénie at the mansion near London that Evans had helped her find. He died there two years later. Lou-Lou was killed in 1879 by Zulu warriors during a guerrilla war in South Africa. The only one who could identify the decomposed and mutilated body was Evans, who knew where the gold-foil fillings would be. The empress lived sadly on for many years, occasionally visited by Evans, who wrote The Fall of the Second French Empire: Fragments of My Memoirs to refute the "calumnies" that had been written about the imperial couple. Even his enemies would concede that he had remained loyal to the Second Empire, long after there was anything in it for him. But he adapted pretty well to the Third Republic, too.

She was tall, with an exquisite tea-rose complexion, blue eyes, and fair hair with hints of red, a laughing beauty with arched eyebrows and a wide-eyed gaze that gave her a bewitching expression of surprise. Her mouth was sensual, her bosom formidable, and she excited artists, especially Manet … —Gerald Carson, The Dentist and the Empress.

Méry Laurent was the model for Manet's "Autumn," painted in 1881.

   One night in the spring of 1872, a beautiful actress named Marie Laurent appeared in an operetta titled Le Roi Carotte. After the performance, a basket brimming with white roses was handed to her with the card of Thomas W. Evans, Dentist.
"He carried her off into the warm April night in a handsome carriage," wrote Carson, "he a whiskered fiftyish gentleman with courtly manners, to see a show and later sip champagne in a caberet." The next year, at the Chatelet theater, "the dancers parted, and Marie made her spectacular nude leap out of the silver shell."
Her name was later anglicized to Méry, and she enjoyed a "stable, orderly, almost bourgeois relationship" with Evans that lasted for a quarter of a century, despite the presence of the devoted Mrs. Evans at Bella Rosa. He gave her a monthly allowance of 5,000 francs, later raised it to 10,000, and provided her with an apartment on the Rue de Rome as well as a summer cottage at 9 Boulevard Lannes.
In return, along with her charms, Laurent introduced Evans to a wide circle of artists and writers, who were her friends and sometimes her lovers. Because of her salon in the apartment he was bankrolling, Evans became a rather discriminating art collector, buying paintings by Manet and James McNeill Whistler, among others. He indulged himself in the occasional literary enterprise, writing an introduction to the English version of The Memoirs of Heinrich Heine. Mallarmé, in love with Laurent but willing to accommodate her wealthy American benefactor, was kind enough to call Evans’ piece a "subtle aesthetic piece of analysis." He also accompanied Evans and Laurent on a 10-day trip to the spa at Royat, and included Evans on a list of close friends who were to receive a copy of his latest book.
For Manet, Laurent was a favorite model, a faithful friend and quite possibly a lover. He painted her as the chic personification of "Autumn" in 1881, though as his health declined, he turned increasingly to still-lifes with flowers, two of which would be bought by Evans. For many years after his death in 1883, Laurent would place the first lilacs of the season on his grave.
"Flowers in a Crystal Vase," painted in 1882, is inscribed: "to my friend Dr. Evans, Manet," though the relationship was probably based mostly on their mutual friends, especially Laurent. She was a kind soul and a stimulating conversationalist as well as a beauty, and she appears to have been about as faithful to Evans as he was to Mrs. Evans. One night he caught her sneaking off to meet Manet after she had pleaded a migraine, though it only took a few days of sulking and stroking for him to get over it.
"In her own inconstant way," suggests Carson, "Méry Laurent was very much attached to the doctor." Leaving Evans, Laurent herself once said, "would be a wicked thing to do. I content myself with deceiving him."


previous page | next page

November/December Contents | Gazette Home

Copyright 1999 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 10/26/99