“Alte Liebe rostet nicht” (an old flame never dies)
Print-makers and cartoonists were on the front-line of the propaganda war sparked by Napoleon's escape from Elba. With Napoleon back in power, the Allies began to worry that the German states in the Confederation of the Rhine (who had thrown in their lot with Napoleon after his victory at Austerlitz in 1806) would once again rally to his cause. Plenty of German functionaries had Bonapartist sympathies. Were they to change sides, Napoleon would prove much harder to defeat.
This print, now in the Eton College collection, was made in Germany, presumably soon after March 1815. A dancing Napoleon is shown brandishing a laurel wreath and tambourine as, like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, he leads a procession of those German functionaries over a cliff into a fiery abyss.
First in line is a figure representing the Minister of Finance hauling sacks labelled Sweat and Blood. After him, come the Gendarmerie; the Mistresses of the powerful; a Sovereign Prince on a hobby horse led by his tutor; a Secret Policeman wearing donkey's ears (all the better to eavesdrop on dissenters) and the Universities. Bringing up the rear is a trumpeter: the label 'the Official Leaf’ attached to him suggests that he represents the German states’ own pro-Bonaparte propaganda.
In the background, the ladder of the man apparently switching the loyalties of the German states is annotated with a reminder of the thousands of Germans who died fighting on Napoleon’s side at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, and with a reference to the Treaty of Luneville by which the Low Countries had surrendered to French control in 1801. To emphasise still further the folly of backing the Emperor, the cartoonist draws a miserable figure huddled in the gutter, representing the suffering of ordinary people. He seems to be warning that this will be the fate of the German people if they allow their foolish leaders once more to fall into line behind Napoleon.