Napoleonic Literature
Napoleon and His Marshals - Vol. I

OF the ten sketches contained in this volume, embracing Napoleon and nine of his Marshals, two have appeared before. Their reception, as originally published in the American Review (with one or two others, to be inserted in a second volume), determined the completion of the series.
    My chief design in the following work has been to group together and illustrate the distinguished men Bonaparte gathered around him, and with whom he obtained and held the vast power he wielded. The mighty genius of Napoleon has so overshadowed all those beneath him that they have not received their due praise, nor their proper place in history. Their merits have been considered mere reflections of his; and to one intellect and one arm is attributed the vast results they accomplished. But with weak men Napoleon never could have unsettled Europe, and founded and maintained his Empire. The Marshals who led his armies, and governed his conquered provinces, were men of native strength and genius; and as they stand grouped around their mighty chief, they form a circle of military leaders, the like of whom the world has never at one time beheld. To show what these men were—unfold their true characters and illustrate their great qualities, it was necessary to describe the battles in which they were engaged. A man is illustrated by his works;—if an author, by his books—if a politician, by his civil acts and speeches— of a ruler, by his administration of public affairs, and if a military man, by his campaigns and battles. To mention merely the actions in which a military man has been engaged, and the victories he won, without describing the manner in which they were conducted, and the genius which gained them, is like illustrating an author by giving a list of his works, or a ruler by naming over the measures he suggested or carried out.
    In different circumstances the same talent develops itself differently, and the intellect of France during Bonaparte's career found its proper sphere on the battle-field. The Revolution broke down all the ancient barriers of privilege and left an open field to intellect and genius; but that field, just then, was a military one. Crowds rushed upon it; the strong to win renown, and the weak to sink. The Marshals of France were the first fruits of that freedom. It was not animal courage, nor mere brute force, that measured itself against the intellect of the world, and came off victorious. Our opinions respecting these men have been as erroneous and unjust as they well could be, for they have been regarded merely as ambitious warriors, storming over battle-fields for glory. We forget that they were stern republicans—adopting the cause of the people in the darkest hour of France, and knew well for what they were fighting. True, they were not religious men, nor the best representation of patriots in their moral character. But we do not hesitate to honor those rough and severe characters who fought so bravely for freedom in our own revolutionary struggle. Our naval commanders in the last war were not patterns of moral men, but they were of heroes and patriots. Ethan Allen is honored none the less as a patriot because be was an infidel, while the charge of French infidelity destroys all our sympathy for French republicans. The protracted struggle which those men carried on so triumphantly, they knew perfectly well to be that of liberty against despotism—equal rights against privileges. They knew also they were waging a defensive war, and on every great battle-field on which they met their foes, they felt that France was the mighty stake at issue. Instead of being reckless men, wading through blood to power, there are but few juster struggles than those in which they won their laurels; and yet Americans, who never weary of hanging wreaths around the tombs of their successful military leaders, look with an unsympathizing eye on those brave men who fought for the same rights, and to resist the same aggressions.
    I have endeavored also in this work to correct, as far as possible, the erroneous impressions that prevail respecting Napoleon, and the wars he carried on; and to clear his character from the aspersions of English historians, and the slanders of his enemies.
    Another design has been to group together some of the most striking events of that dramatic period when Napoleon was marching his victorious armies over Europe. Many of the battle-fields I have described I have visited in person, and hence been able to recall the scenes enacted upon them more vividly than I otherwise could have done.
    I am aware that some may object to books of this kind, as fostering the spirit of war, by stimulating the love of glory. But in the first place, if history is to be abjured whenever it treats of battles, it will be reduced to a very small compass, and our revolutionary struggle will pass into utter forgetfulness. I know of no war, of ancient or modern times, more calculated to stimulate the heart of youth to warlike deeds than the history of the two struggles through which we have passed. Besides, the same objection would repudiate most of the Old Testament, and make the heroes which the pen of inspiration delineated with such graphic power, curses of their race. The truth is, war waged for principle is the same as that carried on by the direct command of Heaven, and the woe and suffering that attend it present no more objection to it, than the unmeasured suffering occasioned by sickness and death throughout the world, reflect on the justice or mercy of God. Wars may be prosecuted in a better spirit than those in which the Marshals of France were first engaged; yet they were not only waged against tyranny, as was our own revolutionary war; but, unlike the latter, could not be helped—for they were purely defensive.
    In the second place, we need not fear the effect of stimulating too much the love of glory in this age of dollars and cents. It is amusing to even sensible men discoursing, in laudatory terms, of the reign of commerce, as bringing about a universal peace, when the only danger of war among the great civilized nations of the earth is found in the rivalry and jealousy of this very spirit of commerce and trade. England deluges India in blood for the sake of commerce, while our last war grew out of her invasions of the rights of commerce. Colonial possessions are sought and obtained for this very purpose; and it is only a few years since we were on the verge of a war with Great Britain, for a narrow strip of territory, which was valuable to her only as a channel of communication with her provinces, which she holds for their commercial importance. And even now the country is alarmed with the prospect of a collision for a wild and desolate tract on the Pacific Ocean, which England wishes to retain solely as a channel of trade. Men of peace are straining every nerve to destroy the love of glory in our youth, while every war among civilized nations, probably for the next century, will be waged to secure the privileges of commerce. Cupidity, not love of glory or personal ambition, is to be the source of future collisions. The grasping spirit is to be dreaded most, and for one I should prefer much, a little more of the chivalric sentiment blended in with our thirst for gold. To me there is cause for alarm rather than congratulation, in the intensity with which the human mind is directed in the peaceful channels of wealth. The earth is alive, and shaking from zone to zone, under the fierce action of the human mind, as it strives after gain—and the moment an obstacle is thrown in its way, it starts up in a blaze of indignation. The lovers of peace, in chasing before them the chivalric and heroic spirit which lay at the bottom of ancient wars, are pursuing an enemy that left the field long ago, leaving its place occupied by a more querulous, excitable, and dangerous spirit.
    In the third place, the struggles and triumphs of genius should be recorded, even though they took place on a field which, in our days may not be deemed by some the most praiseworthy.
    To those who have read my "Alps and the Rhine," and some articles published by me in the American Review, there will seem an utter contradiction in my views there expressed, respecting Napoleon, and those found in this work. In reply, I can only say that my former impressions were obtained, just as I doubt not those of the majority of American readers are—from English history and English literature. I had no doubt of their correctness, and designed, in writing of Napoleon, to give him a character corresponding to them. But in reading history solely to understand more fully his character and career, I have been forced, by the most incontrovertible facts, to change my opinions entirely, and I can only regret that I should have given currency to impressions so unjust to a great man, and so false to history. Who would esteem a man that should draw his conclusions respecting our revolutionary struggle, from English historians? and yet he would be more correct than he who forms his opinions of the French Revolution, and after-wars, from the same source.
    In the following volumes will be found much that will strike the reader as needless repetition; but when it is remembered that the separate characters described moved frequently amid the same scenes, and even exhibited some of their noblest qualities at the same battles, it will be seen that frequent references to the same event, accompanied perhaps by a similar remark, is necessary to prevent confusion in dates. One is compelled in such a work to go backward and forward constantly in history, and hence often pass over the same points.
    The description of the Pass of the Splugen by Macdonald, and the partial description of the battle of Waterloo, in my "Alps and the Rhine," written before the present work was planned, are necessarily repeated here when speaking of those events.
    I need not add that I pretend to no originality in this work, except in the way I have arranged and grouped facts already given to the world. I have used, without any hesitation, any author that could help me, and to save the trouble of constant references through the book, I here add the list of those works to which I have been most indebted:
    Thiers's French Revolution, Thiers's Consulate and Empire, Napier's Peninsular War, Jomini's Works, Napoleon's Bulletins, Memories of Bourienne, Caulincourt, Las Casas, Voice from St. Helena, Dumas, Segur, Alison, Memoirs of Ney and Murat, Pelet, Stuttenheim, St. Cyr, Camp and Court of Napoleon, Rapp, Southey, etc., etc.
    The plates accompanying these volumes have been selected with great care, and from the most authentic sources.

(If you surfed directly to this page, please go to the Napoleonic Literature Home Page to see the wealth of information that's available on this website.)