The Congress of Vienna had been convened in September 1814 to restore European order after the Napoleonic Wars. By April 1815, the participating powers had only just committed their armies to upholding the boundaries of the one-year old Treaty of Paris, by which time Napoleon had returned to Paris and taken up the reigns of power again.
In this print, ‘The Congress Dissolved Before the Cake Was Cut Up’ (6 April 1815), the twenty-two year old George Cruikshank mocked the ponderous processes and uncompromising self-interest of the participating powers, in contrast to Napoleon’s energetic action.
His Napoleon strides in, trampling their decrees and plans, shouting ‘Avast! ye Bunglers; the cake you have been these six months disputing about, the Cutting up I will do in as many hours.’
Tsar Alexander, cutting up the cake of Europe, drops the knife: – ‘Who the Devil would have expected you here – this is mal à propos’; Prussia, with his helping of Saxony, blames the British navy: ‘I thought England had promised to guard him!!!’ Behind, Austria shrieks ‘Hold him, Seize him’; ‘Oh dear! oh dear!’ moans the Pope, ‘what will become of me?’ Sweden’s Bernadotte cries ‘Seize him: kill him.’ But a fur-hatted Poland mutters ‘Who’ll begin? – there’s the rub!!!’ Other figures are the crouching Ferdinand VII, and blue-coated Norway, while Holland squeaks ‘O Donder & Blixen! my Hollands is all gone!’, as his gin spills onto the floor.
But facing Napoleon, wearing his own plumed hat, stands one silent figure. Wellington sternly draws his sword: a rather flattering portrayal of British resolve and readiness.