The first symptoms of the ill from which Napoleon III was to die, appear well before the 1870 war.
It is in 1840, at the Ham fortress where he was a prisoner, that Prince Louis seems to have felt the first signs of the affection which would only come to a head thirty years later.
In 1864 an urinary tract infection arrives. Baron Larrey, an eminent doctor recounts:
“He felt in the night some accidents whose signs, well explained by himself, absolutely revealed for me, as they would have done for any other surgeon, the symptoms of a bladder stone.”.
Two years later, the catheterism practised by Doctor Guillon Snr, at Vichy, would confirm the diagnosis.
In August 1869, a violent attack occurs, longer than the preceding ones. At this epoch, doctors’ visits multiply. Once, Doctor Fauvel even spent a whole night at the castle.
Meanwhile, the newspapers publish the most contradictory notes. The Opposition does not miss drawing atttention to them and making them a Party weapon.
The foreign Press, less held to discretion, does not hide the truth. L’Independance belge publishes:
“A sound was practised and gave favourable results.”.
The Journal officiel, the organ of the Government and of the Emperor, continues, more or less on its own, to deny “these untrue rumours”, affirming that
“His Majesty’s rhumatismal pains had a tendancy to disappear”.
The popular version is indecisive.
Everyone wants to send the sick Emperor an infallible recipe for a cure. The Germans distinguish themselves the most. A certain Stoff, an assessor at Mitau College, affirms having been cured, at the age of 71, from a bladder catarrhe with an infusion of couch grass, which he recommends to the Emperor.
Samuel Betan, a book-keeper, offers a list of his remedies, of which this is the first:
“Have a horse’s tooth calcinated, prepare it with care and drink, in hot water, the quantity which can remain on the tip of a knife”.
Dommergue, at Ahrtweiler, recommends wine from Ahr for the Emperor’s health.
Rudolf, a stucator, writes that, in his family, illnesses of the bladder are hereditary, but that they possess the secret of a sovereign remedy against them. He offers to send some or bring a bottle to Paris himself, and he counts on the patient’s gratitude.
A merchant by the name of Sirbul begs the Emperor to use slugs dried in an earthenware pot and pulverised.
In the Spring of 1870, it is decided to call upon a young Professor of the Faculty, Doctor Germain See.
The doctor is advised, in the greatest mystery, that he has to go to Saint-Cloud. Upon arriving in his carriage at the Palace grille, the Concierge signs to the coachman to stop. At the same time, Monsieur Pietri, a secretary, arriving at the grille, asks the Professor to alight from his carriage and to take a simple fiacre, which is waiting there on purpose. This precaution is aimed at not letting the public know about the visit of a Professor of the Faculty.
The same thing had been done a few years earlier. Ricord relates:
“The first time that I was called to the Tuileries, no-one knew of my visit, because the Palace envoy was received by me alone, that same morning, and, a few minutes later, I went to the Palace. However, the Stock Exchange dropped that day, on the simple news of my visit, news spread by I don’t know whom.”.
Doctor Barre has conserved for us, in terms of great fidelity, the physionomy of this interview. Upon arriving in the Emperor’s study, Doctor See is struck by the sight of an immense desk, on which there are several test-tubes filled with urine. The Emperor confirms that the urine is his.
The diagnosis is established in the Professor’s mind: the Emperor has a stone.
The doctor examines his patient with care, however, palpates him, auscultates him attentively, but, apart from the bladder, he finds no appreciable lesion. Although he is a fervent Republican, Germain See is invited to lunch at the Palace.
After the meal, in the Empress’ presence, the conversation continues between the Emperor and his guest.
“Briefly, Doctor, what illness do you find in me? Do I have a heart or marrow infection, as it is said everywhere, every day?”
“Sire, nothing like that. Only the bladder is touched, but I would like to consult with some specialist colleagues about it.”
The consultation is decided for 1st July. The doctors called are Doctors Nelaton, Ricord, Fauvel, See and Corvisart. The names of Doctors Conneau, Rayer, Bouillaud, Michel Levy have been mistakenly cited. The document that Doctor Cabanes saw, and which was published by L’Union medicale on 9 January 1873, leaves no doubt about that.
The diagnosis and the treatment are fixed by common accord, despite the divergencies which could have occurred during the deliberation. Professor See, as the youngest of the doctors present, claims the honour of writing up the consultation. Doctor Conneau is invited to have it signed by all the consultants and to communicate it to the Empress.
Here are the conclusions of this important document:
“An illness, characterised by these three phenomena: (1) Repeated haematuria; (2) purulent urines for about three years, with more or less defined alternatives; (3) frequent dysuria, characterised by the spasm or by the inertia of the bladder, can only be connected to a calculous pyelocystitis…
“This is why we consider necessary the catheterism of the bladder for exploratory purposes, and we think that the moment is propitious, because there is at this moment no extreme phenomenon.”
Did Doctor Conneau accomplish his double mission: have the consultation signed by all of the doctors who had been present and communicate the document to the Empress? We are now in the domain of conjecture. Doctor Conneau energetically denied having kept to himself a document whose importance he appreciated.
When the original copy of the 1st July consultation is found in the Emperor’s papers, Prince Napoleon is supposed to have sharply challenged the poor doctor, who timidly replied with bowed head:
“I showed the document to those I should have at the time.”
“And what was said to you?”
“It was said: the wine is drawn, it must be drunk.”
Spoken by this faithful servant of the Empire, these words, if they were true, would constitute the most damning deposition against the Empress. In any case, it seems unlikely a priori that the Empress was the only one to be ignorant of that which ten people at least were able to repeat.
It has also been affirmed that Doctor Conneau had kept the secret so as not to trouble the Emperor and Empress at such a time by informing them of a diagnosis whose conclusions seemed much too alarmist to him. Couldn’t it simply be that, because Conneau didn’t like See, he did not want, with Nelaton’s agreement, to make public a document which showed the clairvoyance of a man, whose rapid ascension made him jealous? Therefore, the Emperor might not have known, in 1870, that he had a stone. It could be only later, at Chislehurst, that this diagnosis is revealed to him.
To be continued.