Napoleon and His Marshals - Vol. I
A Defense of Him against English Historians— Analysis of his Character— Causes of his Success— His Death.
PERHAPS there is no greater example of the control English literature and English criticism exert over public opinion in this country, than the views they have impressed upon it respecting Bonaparte. With Wordsworth, Southey and Byron in poetry, and Scott, and Alison, and the English Reviews, in prose, all making him a monster in cruelty and selfishness even though he might be an angel in genius; we have, without scruple, adopted the same sentiments, and get him down as a scourge of his race.
The few American writers that have ever attempted to give an analysis of his character, and a fair criticism on his actions, have failed, by judging him as if he had grown up on the Puritan soil of New England, instead of amid the chaos and anarchy of France, and the exciting sounds of war as Europe moved to battle. Their criticisms have in reality usually been mere essays on the horrors of war, in which Bonaparte figures as the chief illustration. There is no recognition of the peculiar trials that surrounded him, of the genius that mastered them, of the temptations to which he was exposed, and the necessity that frequently
compelled him to courses that warred with his wishes.
English historians make no scruple of belying him; and while some of our American writers, by placing on him the guilt of those desolating wars that loaded Europe with the dead, have done him gross injustice;—they have also committed an unpardonable error in history. That English historians should attempt to cover their most successful enemy with unmerited guilt, especially when it is necessary to do so, in order to screen their own nation against the accusations which France lays at her door, is to be expected. Still Scott has done himself more injury in his Life of Napoleon than he has the great man he slandered; and Mr Mitchell, who has lately written three volumes to convince men that Napoleon was a fool, has succeeded only in proving himself one. Mr. Alison is almost the only one who has at all comprehended his true character; but, while he is forced to bear noble testimony to his genius, he is afraid of offending the prejudices and vanity of his countrymen, and so attempts, as an offset to his praise, to prove him destitute of conscience, and capable of great meannesses. To do this he not only falsifies history, but drags forth, with the most ludicrous gravity, all the petulant speeches he ever made in sudden ebullitions of passion, or in the first chagrin of disappointment. The unjust and passionate remarks a man of Napoleon's temperament, however noble his character, will always make in moments of irritation, are arrayed against his greatest acts with studied exaggeration, and declared sufficient to neutralize them all. This is like going into a man's bed-chamber to report his unguarded speeches, or make a peevish remark to a servant in a moment of irritability offset the noblest acts of his life.
Napoleon Bonaparte, whether we think of his amazing genius —his unparalleled power of embracing vast combinations, while he lost sight of none of the details necessary to insure success —his rapidity of thought, and equally sudden execution —his tireless energy —his ceaseless activity —his ability to direct the movements of half a million of soldiers in different parts of the world, and at the same time reform the laws —restore the finances —and administer the government of his country;—or whether we trace his dazzling career from the time he was a poor proud charity boy at the Military School of Brienne, to the hour when he sat down on the most brilliant throne of Europe, he is the same wonderful man —the same grand theme for human contemplation.
But before entering on his character, it is necessary that whatever unjust prejudices we entertain should be removed, and our errors in history corrected. The first great barrier in the way of rendering him justice is the conviction everywhere entertained, that he alone, or chiefly, is chargeable with those desolating wars that covered the Continent with slain armies. His mounting ambition is placed at the foundation of them all, and no greatness of mind can of course compensate for the guilt of such wholesale murder.
It is impossible for one who has not traveled amid the monarchies of Europe, and witnessed their nervous fear of republican principles, and their fixed determination at whatever sacrifice of justice, human rights, and human life, to maintain their oppressive forms of government, to appreciate at all the position of France at the time of the revolution. The balance of political power had been the great object of anxiety, and all the watchfulness directed against the encroachment of one state on another; and no one can imagine the utter consternation with which Europe saw a mighty republic rise in her midst. The balance of power was forgotten in the anxiety for self-preservation. The sound of the falling throne of the Bourbons rolled like a sudden earthquake under the iron and century-bound framework of despotism, till everything heaved and rocked on its ancient foundations. Our Declaration of Independence, the everlasting and immutable principles of human rights, were uttered in the ears of the astonished world, and unless that voice could be hushed, that alarming movement checked, every monarchy of Europe would soon have a revolution of its own to struggle with. That the Revolution of France is justifiable, if a revolution is ever so, no one acquainted with the history of that time can for a moment doubt. The violence that marked its progress shows only, as Macaulay says, the greater need of it. At all events, France confused, chaotic, bleeding, and affrighted, stood up and declared herself, in the face of the world, a republic. She made no encroachments on other states, sought no war, for she needed all her strength and energy to save herself from internal foes. But the power of Europe determined to crush her at once before she bad acquired strength and consistency. First, Austria and Prussia took up arms, with the avowed purpose of aiding Louis. After his death, Holland, Spain, and England came into the alliance, and moved down on that bewildered republic. Here was the commencement and origin of all the after-wars that devastated Europe. Not on France, but on the allied powers, rests the guilt of setting in motion that terrible train of evils which they would fain transfer to other shoulders. It was a war of principle and a war of aggression. It was despotism invading liberty—oppression summoning human rights to lay down its arms, and because it would not, banding the world together to crush the republic that nourished them. Bonaparte was yet a boy when this infamous war was strewing the banks of the Rhine with slain armies.
After struggling bravely for years for self-defense France at length found her saviour in the young Corsican. Quelling the revolt of the sections in Paris, he was appointed to the command of the Army of Italy. He found it badly provisioned, worse paid, ragged and murmuring, yet, by his energy, skill, and, more than all, by his example, restored order and confidence; and, though numbering less than forty thousand men, replenished, as it wasted away, by slender reinforcements, he with it attached and cut to pieces several armies, the most magnificent Austria could furnish, finishing one of the most brilliant campaigns the world has ever witnessed, amid the tumultuous joy of the French. The next year he subjugated Lombardy, and forced the Austrian plenipotentiary, by his daring threats, to sign the treaty of Campo Farmio, which was most favorable to the French Republic. In the bloody battles of Millesimo, Montenotte, Lodi, Arcola, and Castiglione, and Rivoli, he certainly acted as became a general fighting under the orders of his government, carrying on a defensive war with a boldness, skill, and success, considering the superiority of the force opposed to him, deserving of the highest praise.
Returning to Paris in triumph, hailed everywhere as the saviour of France, he notwithstanding became tired of his inactive life, and still more weary of the miserable Directory to whose folly he was compelled to submit, and proposed the expedition to Egypt. This furnishes another charge against Bonaparte, and this war is denounced as aggressive and cruel, growing out of a mad ambition. That it was unjust, no one can deny; but instead of being a thing worthy of censure by the cabinets of Europe, it was simply carrying out their own systems of policy. His designs on the East were just such as England had for years been prosecuting. The East was always to Bonaparte the scene of great enterprises, and Egypt furnished a basis to his operations, and at the same time would serve as a check to English encroachment in the Indies.
While Russia, Austria, and Prussia were stripping Poland, and England was extending her conquests in the Indies—cumbering its burning plains with tens of thousands of its own children, and carrying out the most iniquitous system of oppression toward Ireland ever tolerated by a civilized people—it does seem ludicrous to hear her historians complimenting the Deity on his even-handed justice, in finally arresting the cruel ambition of Bonaparte and of France.
While the expedition to Egypt was experiencing the vicissitudes that characterized it, Austria, seeing that France had got the lion's share in Italy, joined with Naples, and again commenced hostilities. The French were driven back across the Apennines, and all the advantages gained there over Austria were being lost, when Bonaparte returned in haste from Egypt—overthrew the imbecile Directory—was proclaimed First Consul—and immediately set about the restoration of France. The consolidation of the government—the restoration of the disordered finances—the pacification of La Vendée—the formation and adoption of a constitution, engrossed his mind, and he most ardently desired peace. He, therefore, the moment he was elected First Consul, wrote with his own hands two letters, one to the King of England, and the other to the Emperor of Germany; hoping by this frank and friendly course to appease the two governments, and bring about a general peace. He had acquired sufficient glory as a military leader, and he now wished to resuscitate France, and become great as a civil ruler. In his letter to England, he uses the following language: "Must the war, Sire, which for the last eight years has devastated the four quarters of the world, be eternal? Are there no means of coming to an understanding? How can two of the most enlightened nations of Europe, stronger already and more powerful than their safety or their independence requires, sacrifice to ideas of vain-glory the well-being of commerce, internal prosperity, and the peace of families? How is it they do not feel peace to be the first of necessities as the first of glories?" Similar noble, frank, and manly sentiments, he addressed to the Emperor of Germany. There were no accusations in these letters, no recriminations, and no demands. They asked simply for negotiations to commence, for the spirit of peace to be exhibited, leaving it to after-efforts to settle the terms. Austria was inclined to listen to this appeal from the First Consul, and replied courteously to his letter. But she was trammeled by her alliance with England, and refused to enter into negotiations in which the British Empire was not represented. Pitt, on the contrary, returned an insulting letter to the French Minister—heaped every accusation on Bonaparte—recapitulated individual acts of violence, and laid them at the door of the French Republic and charged it with designing to overthrow both religion and monarchy throughout the Continent. He declared that the English government must see some fruits of repentance and amendment, before it could trust the proffers of peace; and that the restoration of the Bourbon throne was the only guarantee she should deem sufficient of the good behavior of the French government. Bonaparte, in reply, fixed the first aggressive acts clearly on the enemies of France, and then asked what was the use of these irritating reminiscences—if the war was to be eternal, because one or the other party had been the aggressor; and then adverting to the proposal that the Bourbons should be restored, asked, "What would be thought of France, if in her propositions she insisted on the restoration of the dethroned Stuarts, before she would make peace?" This home-thrust disconcerted the English Minister; and in reply he frankly acknowledged that his government did not wage war for the re-establisliment of the Bourbon throne, but for the security of all governments, and that she would listen to no terms of peace until this security was obtained. This settled the question. England would have no peace while France continued to be a republic. Bonaparte had foreseen all this, and finding he could not separate Austria from her English alliance, immediately set on foot immense preparations for war. Moreau was sent with a magnificent army into Swabia, to drive back the Austrians toward their capital; Massena was appointed over the miserably provided Army of Italy, while he himself fell from the heights of San Bernard, on the plains of Lombardy.
At the fierce-fought battle of Marengo, he reconquered Italy, while Moreau chased the vanquished Austrians over the Danube. Victory everywhere perched on the French standards, and Austria was ready to agree to an armistice, in order to recover from the disasters she had suffered. The slain at Montibello, around Genoa, on the plains of Marengo, in the Black Forest, and along the Danube, are to be charged over to the British government, which refused peace in order to fight for the philanthropic purpose of giving security to governments.
Austria, though crippled, lets the armistice wear away, refusing to make a treaty because she is bound for seven months longer to England. Bonaparte, in the mean time, is preparing to recommence hostilities. Finding himself unable to conclude a peace, he opened the campaign of Hohenlinden, and sent Macdonald across the Splugen. Moreau's victorious march through Austria, and the success of the operations in Italy, soon brings Austria to terms, and the celebrated peace of Luneville, of 1801, is signed.
The energy and ability, and above all the success, of the First Consul, had now forced the continental powers to regard him with respect, and in some cases with sympathy; while England, by her imperious demands, had embroiled herself with all the northern powers of Europe.
But this universal and wasting war began at length to be tiresome to all parties, and, after much negotiation and delay, a general peace was concluded at Amiens, and the world was at rest. Universal joy was spread through France and England, and the transports of the people knew no bounds.
Peace, which Bonaparte needed and wished for, being restored, he applied his vast energies to the development of the resources of France, and to the building of stupendous public works. Commerce was revived—the laws administered with energy—order restored, and the blessings of peace were fast healing up the wounds of war. Men were amazed at the untiring energy and the amazing plans of Bonaparte. His genius gave a new birth to the nation—developed new elements of strength, and imparted all impulse to her growth that threatened to outstrip the greatness of England. His ambition was to obtain colonial possessions, like those of England; and if allowed to direct his vast energies in that direction, there was no doubt France would soon rival the British Empire in its provinces. England was at first fearful of the influence of the French Republic, but now a new cause of alarm seized her. It was evident that France was fast tending toward a monarchy. Bonaparte had been made First Consul for life, with the power to appoint his successor; and it required no seer to predict that his gigantic mind and dictatorial spirit would not 1ong brook any check from f inferior authority. From the very superiority of his intellect, he must merge everything into his majestic plans, and gradually acquire more and more control, till the placing of a crown on his head would be only the symbol of that supreme power which had long before passed into his hands. England, therefore, had no longer to fear the influence of a Republic, and hence fight for the security of government in general. She had, however, another cause of anxiety—the too rapid growth of her ancient rival. She became alarmed at the strides with which France advanced under the guiding genius of Napoleon, and refused to carry out the terms of the solemn treaty she had herself signed. In that treaty it was expressly stipulated that England should evacuate Egypt and Malta; while France, on her part, was to evacuate Naples, Tarento, and the Roman States. His part of the treaty, Napoleon had fulfilled within two months after its completion; but ten months had now elapsed, and the English were still in Alexandria and Malta. But Napoleon, anxious to preserve peace, did not see fit to urge matters, and made no complaint till it was suddenly announced that the English government had proclaimed her determination not to fulfill the stipulations she had herself made. The only pretext offered for this violation of a solemn contract was her suspicions that France had designs on these places. The truth was, England—with her accustomed jealousy of other nations acquiring colonial possessions, and remembering what a struggle it had just cost her to wrest Egypt and Malta from France—resolved, though in violation of her own treaty, not to give them up. Talleyrand was perfectly amazed at this decision of the British ministry, while Napoleon was thrown into a transport of rage. His keen penetration discerned at a glance the policy of England, and the dreadful conflict that must ensue. He saw that she was resolved to resist the advancement of France, and to band, while she could, the powers of Europe against her. He knew that if she would remain at peace, he could by force of arms, and diplomatic skill, compel Russia, Austria, Prussia, and Spain to let him alone to carry out his plans for the aggrandizement of France. But with England constantly counteracting him, and throwing firebrands in the cabinets of the continent, he would be engaged in perpetual conflicts and wranglings. It had, therefore, come to this: England must be chastised into quietness and respect for treaties, or there was to be continual war till France should yield to the strength of superior numbers. England knew that in a protracted war France must fall: for her very victories would in the end melt away her armies, before the endless thousands all Europe could pour upon her; and this she determined to accomplish. But war at this time was the last thing Napoleon wished—it interfered with his plans, and cut short his vast projects. Besides, he had won all the military renown he wished in fighting with the rotten monarchies that surrounded him, and his genius sought a wider field in which to display itself. It was, therefore, with the greatest reluctance he would entertain the idea of a rupture. He sent for Lord Whitworth, the English minister at Paris, and had a long personal conversation with him. He recapitulated the constant and unprovoked aggressions of his government on France, ever since the Revolution—spoke of his ardent wish to live on terms of amity—"But," said he, "Malta must be evacuated: for although it is of no great value in a maritime point of view, it is of immense importance as connected with a sacred treaty and with the honor of France." "For," he continued, "what would the world say, if we should allow a solemn treaty to be violated?" He asked the nation to act frankly and honestly toward him, and h would act equally so toward it. "If you doubt my sincerity," said he, "look at the power and renown to which I have attained. Do you suppose I wish to hazard it all in a desperate conflict?" The English government then endeavored to negotiate with him to let it retain Malta. "The treaty of Amiens," he replied, "and nothing but the treaty!" Placed in this dilemma, England was compelled to do two things at once: first, violate a treaty of her own making; and second, to take upon herself, in doing it, the responsibility of convulsing Europe, and bringing back all the horrors of the war that had just closed. Napoleon was right, and England was wrong, totally wrong; and if the violation of a solemn treaty is a just cause for war, then is he justifiable. From the objects of peace which had filled his mind, Bonaparte immediately strung his vast energies for the fearful encounter that was approaching. Hostilities commenced, and Napoleon resolved at once to invade England, and strike a deadly blow at the head of his perfidious enemy, or perish in the attempt. He collected an enormous flotilla at Boulogne; and the French coast, that looks toward the English isle, was alive with armies and boats, and rang with the artisan's hammer and the roar of cannon. Nothing but unforeseen circumstances prevented his carrying out this project, which would have shaken the British throne to its foundations.
England drew Russia first into this new alliance, the basis of which was, first, to reduce France to her limits before the Revolution; and second, to secure the peace and stability of the European states. Look for a moment at this perfidious policy— this mockery of virtue—this philanthropic villainy. Russia, sundered so far from France, was in peaceable possession of all her territory—bad not a right to maintain, nor a wrong to redress. England, on the other hand, had no province to wrest back from the enemy—no violated treaty to defend—no encroachment to resist. Their removal from the theater of war rendered them secure; and whose peace and stability were they to maintain? They anticipated no danger to themselves. Italy preferred the French domination to the Austrian, for it gave greater liberty and prosperity. Austria did not ask to be propped up, for she had had enough of those alliances which made her own plains the field of combat; and it was with the greatest difficulty she could be brought into the confederacy, and not till her possessions in Italy, which she had ceded to France, were offered as a bribe for her co-operation. Prussia resolutely refused to enter the alliance, and at length sided with France. Russia, Austria, England, and Sweden finally coalesced, and convulsed Europe, and deluged it in blood, to furnish security to those who had not asked their interference. From this moment Napoleon saw that either Russia or England must be humbled or there could be no peace to Europe, no security to France. This accounts for his projected descent on England, and after desperate invasion of Russia.
In the opening of the campaign of 1805 that followed, so glorious to the French arms, the real desires of Napoleon are made apparent. Mack had surrendered Ulm, and with it thirty thousand soldiers, and as the captive army defiled before Bonaparte he addressed them in the following remarkable language: "Gentlemen, war has its chances. Often victorious, you must expect sometimes to be vanquished. Your master wages against me an unjust war. I say it candidly, I know not for what I am fighting. I know not what he desires of me. He has wished to remind me that I was a soldier. I trust he will find that I have not forgotten my original avocation. I will, however, give one piece of advice to my brother, the Emperor of Germany. Let him hasten to make peace. This is the moment to remember that there are limits to all empires, however powerful. I want nothing on the Continent. It is ships, colonies that I desire." This is the language of him who is called the desolator of Europe, in the moment of victory. It was true, he did not know for what he was fighting; he was forced into it. It was equally true, that he wished for nothing on the Continent. He emulated England in her course of greatness, and he was perfectly willing the despots of Europe should sit in quietness on their crazy thrones. For the slain left on the plains of Italy, as Massena swept the enemy from its borders—for the tens of thousands strewn on the bloody field of Austerlitz—who is chargeable? Not Napoleon—not France. Here is a third sanguinary war waged, filling Europe with consternation and the clangor of arms—her hospitals with wounded, and her villages with mourning, and her valleys and hills with her slain children—and the guilt of the whole is charged over to Napoleon's ambition, while he never went into a war more reluctantly, or with justice more clearly on his side. Mr. Alison, who certainly will not be accused of favoring too much the French view of the matter, nor too eager to load England with crime, is nevertheless compelled to hold the following remarkable language respecting this war: "In coolly reviewing the circumstances under which this contest was renewed, it is impossible to deny that the British government manifested a feverish anxiety to come to a rupture, and that, so far as the two countries were concerned, they were the aggressors." And yet at the opening of the campaign of Austerlitz he indulges in a long homily on the ambition of Napoleon—his thirst of glory, and the love of conquest which has seized the French nation. And these are the works we place in our libraries as histories.
I do not design to follow out the subsequent treaties to show who were the aggressors. Russia and England determined never to depart from the basis of their alliance till they had effected the overthrow of Napoleon; while he saw that the humiliation of one or the other of these great Rowers was indispensable to the preservation of his possessions and his throne. Conquests alone could produce peace; and the war became one of extermination on the one side, and of vengeance and fierce retaliation on the other. Napoleon felt that he was to be treated without mercy or faith, unless he surrendered France into the hands of the despots of Europe, to be disposed of as they should think necessary for their own security, and the stability of the feudal system, on which their thrones were based. That after this he should wage war with a desperation and violence that made Europe tremble, cannot be wondered at. But up to the peace of Tilsit, he and France are free from the guilt of the carnage that made the plains of Europe one vast Golgotha.
Some time after this assertion was written down, I had occasion to refer to Napier's Peninsular War for some historical fact, and fell upon the following statement which, coming as it does from an Englishman, and one of such high authority in military matters, I am induced to quote: "Up to the peace of Tilsit," says Napier, "the wars of France were essentially defensive; for the bloody contest that wasted the Continent so many years was not a struggle for pre-eminence between ambitious powers—not a dispute for some accession of territory—nor for the political ascendancy of one or other nation—but a deadly conflict to determine whether aristocracy or democracy should predominate—whether equality or PRIVILEGE should henceforth be the principle of European governments."
But how much does this "up to the peace of Tilsit" embrace? First, all the first wars of the French Republic—the campaigns of 1792, '93, '94, and '95—and the carnage and woe that made up their history. Second, eleven out of the eighteen years of Bonaparte's career—the campaigns of 1796, in Italy and Germany—the battles of Montenotte, Millesimo, Dego, Lodi, Arcola, Castiglione, and Rivoli—the campaigns of 1797, and the bloody battle-fields that marked their progress. It embraces the wars in Italy and Switzerland, while Bonaparte was in Egypt; the campaign of Marengo and its carnage; the havoc around and in Genoa; the slain thousands that strewed the Black Forest and the banks of the Danube where Moreau struggled so heroically; the campaign of Holienlinden and its losses. And yet this is but a fraction to what remains. This period takes in also ,the campaign of Austerlitz and its bloody battle, and the havoc the band of war was making in Italy,—the campaign of Jena, and the fierce conflicts that accompanied it; the campaign of Eylau, and the battles of Pultusk, Golymin, Heilsberg, crowned by the dreadful slaughter of Eylau; the campaigns of Friedland and Tilsit, and the multitudes they left on the plains of Europe. All these terrible campaigns, with their immense slaughter, does an English historian declare to be the result of a defensive war on the part of France—not merely a defense of territory, but of human rights against tyranny. Let republicans ponder this before they adopt the sentiments of prejudiced historians, and condemn as a monster the man who was toiling over battle fields to save his country from banded oppressors.
That Bonaparte loved dominion, no one ever doubted; but that it led him to battle constantly the allied Continental powers, is untrue. On the contrary, Mr. Napier declares that he was not only defending France against aggression, but democracy against aristocracy—equal rights against privileged oppression.
Nothing can be more ludicrous than the assertion that Napoleon sought to conquer Europe., and fell in carrying out his insane project. In youth, as all young soldiers are, he was desirous of military glory. His profession was that of arms, and he bent all his young energies to the task of excelling in it, and succeeded. But when he became Emperor of France, he stood on the summit of military renown, and needed and sought no more fame as a warrior. He was ambitious to excel as a monarch. He designed to follow in the steps of England, and finally outstrip her in her mighty progress, by extending commerce, and establishing colonies. The secret of the whole opposition he received from her after the Republic had ceased to exist, sprung from her knowledge of his policy. The East was regarded by him as the appropriate theater for his ambition; but the East, England determined nobody should plunder of its enormous wealth but herself, and so she banded Europe together to overthrow him. The encroachments of France in the South of Europe during a time of peace are the only pretext offered by the English government for her interference and aggression. It was not that her territory was invaded, her rights assailed, or treaties with her violated, It was simply a philanthropic motive if we may believe her statements, that caused her to whelm Europe in blood. The encroachments of France could not be allowed—the extension of her empire must be arrested; and yet, since she violated the treaty of Amiens—broke up a universal peace—and brought on universal war—she has, solely, for the sake of self-aggrandizement, added more to her territory in the Mysore, than France ever did to hers, put all her conquests together. Now let France insist that England shall give up these possessions; and form an alliance with Russia, Austria, and Prussia, the basis of which shall be war with England, till she shall retire to her original boundaries before her aggressions in the East commenced; and the conflict in which England would be plunged, and the slaughters that would follow, would be charged on her as justly as those which followed the rupture of the peace of Amiens can be laid at the door of France. There is this difference, however. France gained her possessions in resisting aggressive power, and had them secured to her by treaty, while her domination was preferred to that which the conquered provinces must fall under should she abandon them. But England commenced an unprovoked war on a peaceful people, and reduced them to slavery from no nobler motive than the love of gold. It is time that Americans, who have suffered so much from the imperious policy of England, and seen so much, on our own shores, of her grasping spirit after colonial possessions, should look on her conduct subsequent to the French Revolution through other medium than her own literature.
I have not designed, in this defense of Napoleon, and of France, to prove that the former always acted justly, or from the most worthy motives; or that the Republic never did wrong; but to reveal the principles which lay at the bottom of that protracted war which commenced with the Revolution, and ended only with the overthrow of Napoleon. It was first a war of despotism and monarchy against republicanism, and then a war of suspicion and jealousy and rivalry.
Having thus cleared Napoleon of the crime of desolating Europe with his victorious armies, it will not be so difficult to look with justice on his character and life.
His boyish actions while a poor scholar at Brienne have been adduced as pre-shadowings of his future career. But the truth is, with more talent than his playmates—with more pride and passion—I find nothing in him different from other boys of his age. His solitary walks, and gorgeous dreams, and brilliant hopes, at this early period, belong to every boy of ardent temperament and a lively imagination. In ordinary times, these golden visions would have faded away with years and experience; and Napoleon Bonaparte would have figured in the world's history only as a powerful writer, or a brilliant orator. The field which the Revolution left open to adventurers enabled him to realize his extravagant hopes. His ambition was a necessary result of his military education, while the means so unexpectedly furnished for gratifying it fed it with a consuming flame. His abrupt, laconic style of speaking corresponded well with his impetuous temper, and evinced, at an early age, the iron-like nature with which he was endowed.
His career fairly commenced with his quelling the revolt of the sections. True, his conduct at the siege of Toulon had caused him to be spoken of favorably as an under officer, but it was with unfeigned surprise that the Abbé Sieyès, Rewbel, Letourneur, Roger Ducos, and General Moulins saw him introduced to them by Barras, as the commander he bad chosen for the troops that were to defend the Convention. Said General Moulins to him, "You are aware that it is only by the powerful recommendation of citizen Barras, that we confide to you so important a Post?" "I have not asked for it," drily replied the young lieutenant, "and if I accept it, it will be because, after a close examination, I am confident of success. I am different from other men; I never undertake anything I can not carry through." This sally caused the members of the Convention to bite their lips, for the implied sarcasm stung each in his turn. "But do you know," said Rewbel, "that this may be a very serious affair—that the sections—" "Very well," fiercely interrupted the young Bonaparte, "I will make a serious affair of it, and the sections shall become tranquil." He had seen Louis XVI. put on the red cap, and show himself from the palace of the Tuileries to the mob, and unable to restrain his indignation at the sight exclaimed to his companion Bourienne, "What madness! he should have blown four or five hundred of them into the air, and the rest would have taken to their heels." Deprived of his command, he had wandered around Paris during the terrible scenes of the Revolution, learning every day lessons which he would yet have occasion to improve. He had gone so far as to dictate a long and written proposal to Monsieur, for the defense of the tottering throne, offering himself as commander of the troops, to be organized for the quelling of the insurgents. To the proposal of this unknown individual, no reply was deigned; and the author of it soon after saw the royal head roll on the scaffold; and retired to his bed sick from the excitement and horror of the spectacle. But the experience furnished by these scenes rendered him a fit leader to the troops of the Convention; and when on the mighty populace, and the headlong advance of the National Guard, his artillery loaded to the muzzle with grape-shot thundered, he announced the manner in which he would treat with a mob. After this, Barras became his patron, and introduced him to Josephine, and persuaded him to marry her, by offering as a dowry the command of the Army of Italy.
It was not without misgivings that such generals as Massena, Rampon, Augereau, and others, saw a young man of slender frame, but twenty-seven years old, assume the command of the army. But his independent manner, firm tone, and above all the sudden activity he infused into every department by his example, soon gave them to understand that it was no ordinary leader whose orders they were to obey. From this brilliant campaign, he went up by rapid strides to First Consul, and finally Emperor of France.
One great secret of his success is to be found in the union of two striking qualities of mind, which are usually opposed to each other. He possessed an imagination as ardent, and a mind as impetuous, as the most rash and chivalric warrior, and yet a judgment as cool and correct as the ablest tactician. His mind moved with the rapidity of lightning, and with the precision and steadiness of naked reason. He rushed to his final decision as if he overleaped all the intermediate space, and yet he embraced the entire ground, and every detail in his passage. In short, he could decide quick and correctly too. He did not possess these antagonist qualities in a moderate degree, but he was at the same time the most rapid and the most correct of men, in the formation of his plans. He united two remarkable natures in his single person. It usually happens that the man of sage counsel and far-reaching mind, who embraces every detail and weighs every probability, is slow in coming to a decision. On the other hand, a mind of rapid decision and sudden execution commonly lacks the power of combination, and, seeing but one thing at a time, finds itself involved in plans it can neither thwart nor break through. It was the union of these two qualities that gave Bonaparte such immense power over his adversaries. His plans were more skillfully and deeply laid than theirs, and yet perfected before theirs were begun. He broke up the counsels of other men, by the execution of his own. This power of thinking quick, and of thinking right, is the rarest exhibited in history. It gives the possessor of it all the advantage that thought ever has over impulse, and all the advantage, too, that impulse frequently has over thought by the suddeness and unexpectedness of its movements.
His power of combination was unrivaled. The most extensive plans, involving the most complicated movements, were laid down with the clearness of a map in his mind; while the certainty and precision, with which they were all brought to bear on one great point, took the ablest generals in Europe by surprise. His mind seemed vast enough for the management of the globe, and not so much encircled everything, as contained everything. It was hard to tell whether he exhibited more skill in conducting a campaign or in managing a single battle. With a power of generalization seldom equaled, his perceptive faculties, that let no detail escape him, were equally rare.
As a military leader, he has no superior in ancient or modern times. He marched his victorious troops successively into almost every capital of Europe. Meeting and overwhelming in turn the armies of Prussia, Austria, Russia, and England, he for a long time waged a successful war against them all combined; and exhausted at last by his very victories, rather than by their conquests, he fell before superior numbers, which in a protracted contest must always prevail. His first campaign in Italy, and the campaign of Austerlitz, are, perhaps, the most glorious he ever conducted. The first astonished the world, and fixed his fortune. In less than a year, he overthrew four of the finest armies of Europe. With fifty-five thousand men, he had beaten more than two hundred thousand Austrians—taken prisoners nearly double the number of his whole army, and killed half as many as the entire force he had at any one time in the field. The tactics he adopted in this campaign, and which he never after departed from, correspond singularly with the character of his mind. Instead of following up what was considered the scientific mode of conducting a campaign and a battle, he fell back on his own genius, and made a system of his own, adapted to the circumstance in which he was placed. Instead of opposing wing to wing, center to center, and column to column, he rapidly concentrated his entire strength on separate portions in quick succession. Hurling his combined force now on one wing, and now another, and now throwing it with the weight and terror of an avalanche on the center, he crushed each in its turn; or cutting the army in two, destroyed its communication and broke it in pieces. And this was the way his mind worked. He concentrated all his gigantic powers on one project at a time, until it stood complete before him, and then turned them unexhausted on another. He grappled with and mastered each in turn—penetrated and dismissed it with a rapidity that astonished his most intimate friends.
He was brave as courage itself, and never scrupled to expose his life when necessary to success. The daring he exhibited in the revolt of the sections, when, with five thousand soldiers, he boldly withstood forty thousand of the National Guard and mob of Paris, he carried with him to his fall. At the terrible passage of Lodi, where, though General-in-Chief, he was the second man across the bridge;—at Arcola, where he stood, with the standard in his hand, in the midst of a perfect tempest of balls and grape-shot; and at Wagram, where he rode on his white steed, backward and forward, for a whole hour, before his shivering lines, to keep them steady in the dreadful fire that thinned their ranks, and swept the ground they stood upon,—he evinced the heroic courage that he possessed, and which was a part of his very nature. This, with his stirring eloquence, early gave him great command over his soldiers. They loved him to the last, and stood by the republican General, and the proud Emperor, with equal affection. Bonaparte was eloquence itself. His proclamations to his soldiers evince not only his knowledge of the human heart, but his power to move it at his will. Whether causing one of the articles in Sieyès's constitution to be rejected, by his withering sarcasm; or rousing his soldiers to the loftiest pitch of enthusiasm by his irresistible appeals; or carrying away those conversing with him by his brilliant thoughts and forcible elocution, he exhibits the highest capacities of an orator. His appeals to the courage of his soldiers, and his distribution of honors, with so much pomp and display, perfectly bewildered and dazzled them, so that in battle it seemed to be their only thought how they should exhibit the greatest daring, and perform the most desperate deeds. Thus, soon after the battle of Castiglione, and just before the battle of Rivoli, he made an example of the 39th and 85th regiments of Vaubois Division, for having given way to a panic, and nearly lost him the battle. Arranging these two regiments in a circle, he addressed them in the following language: "Soldiers, I am displeased with you—you have shown neither discipline, nor valor, nor firmness. You have allowed yourselves to be chased from positions where a handful of brave men would have stopped an army. Soldiers of the 39th and 85th, you are no longer French soldiers. Chief of the Staff, let it be written on their standards, 'They are no longer of the Army of Italy.' "
Nothing could exceed the stunning effect with which these words fell on those brave men. They forgot their discipline, and the order of their ranks, and bursting into grief, filled the air with their cries, and rushing from their ranks, crowded with most beseeching looks and voices around their general, and begged to be saved from such a disgrace, saying, "Lead us once more into battle, and see if we are not of the Army of Italy." Bonaparte, wishing only to implant feelings of honor in his troops, appeared to relent, and, addressing them some kind words, promised to wait to see how they should behave. In a few days he did see the brave fellows go into battle, and rush on death as if going to a banquet, and prove themselves, even in his estimation, worthy to be in the Army of Italy. It was by such reproaches for ungallant bebavior, and by rewards for bravery, that he instilled a love of glory that made them irresistible in combat. Thus we see the Old Guard, dwindled to a mere handful in that fearful retreat from Russia, close round him as they marched past a battery, and amid the storm of lead that played on their exhausted rank sing the favorite air, "Where can a father be so well, as in the bosom of his family." So, also, just before the battle of Austerlitz, in his address to the soldiers, he promised them he would keep out of danger if they behaved bravely, and burst through the enemy's ranks; but if they did not, he should himself rush into the thickest of the fight. There could not be a stronger evidence of love and confidence between soldier and general, than was evinced by this speech, made on the commencement of one of the greatest battles of his life.
Another cause of his wonderful success was his untiring activity of both mind and body. No victory lulled him into a moment's repose—no luxuries tempted him to ease—and no successes bounded his impetuous desires. Laboring with an intensity and rapidity that accomplished the work of days in hours, he nevertheless seemed crowded to the very limit of human capacity by the vast plans and endless projects that asked and received his attention. In the cabinet he astonished every one by his striking thoughts and indefatigable industry. The forms and ceremonies of court could keep his mind hardly for an hour from the labor which he seemed to covet. He allowed himself usually but four or five hours' rest, and during his campaigns exhibited the same almost miraculous activity of mind. He would dictate to one set of secretaries all day, and after he had tired them out call for a second and keep them on the stretch all night, snatching but a brief repose during the whole time. His common practice was to rise at two in the morning, and dictate to his secretaries for two hours, then devote two hours more to thought alone, when he would take a warm bath and dress for the day. But in a pressure of business this division of labor and rest was scattered to the winds, and he would work all night. With his nightgown wrapped around him, and a silk handkerchief tied about his head, he would walk backward and forward in his apartment from dark till daylight, dictating to Caulincourt, or Duroc, or D'Albe his chief secretary, in his impetuous manner, which required the highest exertion to keep pace with; while Rustan, his faithful Mameluke, which he brought from Egypt, was up also, bringing him, from time to time, a strong cup of coffee to refresh him. Sometimes at midnight, when all was still, this restless spirit would call out, "Call D'Albe: let every I one arise:" and then commence working, allowing himself no intermission or repose till sunrise. He has been known to dictate to three secretaries at the same time, so rapid were the movements of his mind, and yet so perfectly under his control. He never deferred business for an hour, but did on the spot what then claimed his attention. Nothing but the most ironlike constitution could have withstood these tremendous strains upon it. And, as if Nature had determined that nothing should be wanting to the full development of this wonderful man, as well as no resources withheld from his gigantic plans, she had endowed him with a power of endurance seldom equaled. It was not till after the most intense and protracted mental and physical effort combined, that he gave intimations of being sensible to fatigue. In his first campaign in Italy, though slender and apparently weak, he rode five horses to death in a few days, and for six days and nights never took off his boots, or retired to his couch. He toiled over the burning sands of Egypt, and through the snowdrifts of Russia, with equal impunity—spurring his panting steed through the scorching sunbeams of Africa, and forcing his way on foot, with birchen stick in his band, over the icy path as he fled from Moscow with the same firm presence. He would sleep in the palace of the Tuileries, or on the shore of the swollen Danube, with naught but his cloak about him, while the groans of the dying loaded the midnight air—with equal soundness. He was often on horseback eighteen hours a day, and yet wrought up to the intensest mental excitement all the while. Marching till midnight, he would array his troops by moonlight; and, fighting all day, he hailed victor at night; and then, without rest, travel all the following night and day, and the next morning fight another battle, and be a second time victorious. He is often spoken of as a mere child of fortune; but whoever in this world will possess such powers of mind, and use them with such skill and industry, and has a frame that will stand it, will always be a child of fortune. He allowed nothing to escape his ubiquitous spirit; and whether two or five campaigns were going on in different kingdoms at the same time, they were equally under his control, and results calculated with wonderful precision.
Another striking characteristic of Napoleon, and which contributed much to his success, was self-confidence. He fell back on himself in every emergency, with a faith that was sublime. Where other men sought counsel, he communed with himself alone; and where kings and emperors called anxiously on the statesmen and chieftians around their thrones for help, he summoned to his aid his own mighty genius. This did not result from vanity and conceit, but from the consciousness of power. He not only took the measure and capabilities of every man that approached him, but he knew he saw beyond their farthest vision, and hence could not but rely on himself, instead of others.
This self-confidence, which in other men would have been downright madness, in him was wisdom. It was the first striking trait in his character he exhibited. At the siege of Toulon, a mere boy, he curled his lip at the science of the oldest generals in the army, and offered his own plan for the reduction of the town, with an assurance that astonished them. In quelling the revolt of the sections, this sublime self-reliance utterly confounded the heads of the Convention. If it had ended here, it might have been called the rashness and ardor of youth crowned with unexpected success. But throughout his after-career; in those long-protracted efforts in which intellect and genius always triumph,—we ever find him standing alone, calling none but himself to his aid. Inexperienced and young, he took command of the weak and ill-conditioned Army of Italy, and instead of seeking the advice of his government and his generals, so that he might be screened in case of defeat, where defeat seemed inevitable, he seemed to exult that he was at last alone, and almost to forget the danger that surrounded him, in his joy at having a free and open field for his daring spirit. His fame and after-fortune all rested on his success and conduct in this outset of his career; yet he voluntarily placed himself in a position where the result, however disastrous it might be, would be chargeable on him alone. He flung the military tactics of Europe to the winds, and, with his little band around him, spurned both the science and the numbers arrayed against him.
With the same easy confidence he vaulted to the throne of France, and felt an empire rest on his shoulders, apparently unconscious of the weight. He looked on the revolutionary agitation, the prostration and confusion of his kingdom, without alarm; and his eagle glance pierced at once the length and breadth and depth and height of the chaos that surrounded him. Yet, so natural does he seem in this position that, instead of trembling for his safety, we find ourselves inspired by the same confidence that sustained him, and expecting great and glorious results. He seems equal to anything, and acts as if he himself was conscious he was a match for the world. Stern, decided, plain, he speaks to the King of England, the Emperor of Russia, of Austria, and to all Europe, in the language of a superior rather than of an equal. Angry, yet alarmed at the haughty tone of this plebeian king, the crowned heads of Europe gathered hastily together, to consult what they should do. With the same quiet confidence with which he saw the mob advancing on his batteries in the garden of the
Tuileries, he beheld their banded armies move down on his throne. This single man—this plebeian, stood up amid the monarchies of Europe, and, bending his imperial frown on the faithless kings that surrounded him, smote their royal foreheads with blow after blow, till the world stood aghast at his resumption and audacity. Their scorn of his plebeian blood gave way to consternation, as they saw him dictating terms to them in their own capitals; while the freedom with which he put his haughty foot on their sacred majesties filled the bosoms of their courtiers with horror. He wheeled his cannon around their thrones with a coolness and inflexibility of purpose that made "the dignity which doth hedge a king" a most pitiful thing to behold. He swept, with his fierce chariot, through their ancient dynasties, crushing them out as if they had been bubbles in his path; then, proudly pausing, let them gather up their crowns again. While, astonished at the boldness of his irruption into Egypt, they were listening to hear again the thunder of his guns around the Pyramids, they suddenly saw his mighty army hanging along the crest of the Alps; and before the astonishing vision had fairly disappeared, the sound of his cannon was beard shaking the shores of the Danube, and his victorious eagles were waving their wings over the capital of the Austrian Empire. One moment his terrible standards would be seen along the shores of the Rhine; the next, by the banks of the Borysthenes, and then again fluttering amid the flames of Moscow. Europe never had such a wild waking-up before, and the name of Napoleon Bonaparte became a spell-word, with which to conjure up horrible shapes of evil. Victory deserted the standards of the enemy the moment that the presence of Napoleon among his legions was announced in their camp, and when it was whispered through the ranks that his eye was sweeping the battle-field, the arm of the foeman waxed weak; and he conquered as much by his name as by his armies. This boldness of movement, giving him such immense moral power, arose from his confidence in himself. Even where his plans seemed madness and folly, so confidently did he carry them on that men believed he saw resources of which they were ignorant, and hence their course became cautious and wavering, and defeat certain.
Nothing can be more sublime than this self-reliance of Napoleon in the midst of a world in arms against him. It is the confidence of genius and intellect arrayed against imbecility and fear. That no hesitation should mark his course amid the complicated affairs he was compelled to move, no vacillation of that iron will be seen when everything else shook about him, is indeed a marvel. The energy of a single soul, poised on its own great center, gathering around it, as by sympathy, the mightiest spirits of the age, and crushing under it obstacles that before seemed insurmountable, has had no such exhibitions since the time of Cæsar.
But with all Napoleon's cool judgment and self-confidence, there was not a marshal in the army of so impetuous and impatient a temper as he. He settled every plan in his own mind with the precision of a mathematical problem; and if any unforeseen obstacle interposed, threatening to change the result, he became perfectly furious with excitement, acting and talking as if he thought it to be a violation of reason and justice. He planned with so much skill, and calculated results with so much precision, that if he did not succeed, he felt there must be blame, shameful neglect, somewhere. From his youth up he could never brook contradiction, and drove with such headlong speed toward the object he was after, that he frequently secured it through the surprise and consternation occasioned by the desperation that marked his progress. In the cabinet and in the field he exhibited the same restless fever of mind, and seemed really to suffer from the strong restraints his despotic judgment placed over his actions. It was impossible for him to keep still; and the most headlong speed in traveling did not seem rapid enough for his eager spirit. Bad rider as he was, he delighted in spurring over fences and chasms, where his boldest riders had gone down; but even when sweeping over a field on a tearing gallop, he could not be quiet, but constantly jerked the reins, which he always held in his right hand. When delayed in writing despatches, behind the time appointed for his departure for the army,—the moment he had finished, the cry "To horse" acted like an electric shock on his attendants, and in a moment every man was at the top of his speed, and the next moment the entire suite were driving like a whirlwind along the road. In this way he would go all day without stopping; and if despatches met him on the way, he would read them as he rode,—throwing envelopes and unimportant letters, one after another, from the carriage window, with a rapidity that showed how quickly he devoured the contents of each. He usually opened these despatches himself but if his secretary did it for him, he would sit and work at the window-sash with his fingers,—so necessary was some outlet to the fierce action of his mind. He would drive through the army at the same furious rate; and when the outriders called out "Room for the Emperor!" every one felt he could not be too quick in obeying; and before the utter confusion of clearing the way had passed, the cortège was seen flying like a cloud across the plain, beyond hearing, and almost out of sight. But through the Guards he always moved with becoming pomp and solemnity, saluting the officers as he passed.
Maps were his invariable companions in a campaign, and be always had one spread out at night in his apartment, or a tent which was always pitched amid the squares of the Old Guards,—surrounded with candles, so that he might rise at any moment and consult it; and when on the road or in the field he wanted one, so impatient was he known to be that the two officers who carried them rode down everything between them and his horse or carriage. On such occasions he would frequently order the map he desired to be unrolled on the ground, and, stretching himself full length upon it, in a moment be lost to everything but the campaign before him. A remarkable instance of his impatience and impetuosity is exhibited in the manner he received Marie Louise on her way to meet him. As she drove up to the post town where he expected her, he jumped into the carriage all wet with rain as he was, and embraced this daughter of the Cæsars with the familiarity of an old relative; and, ordering the postilions to drive at full gallop to Compiègne, insisted on having the conjugal rites before marriage, and obtained them. But perhaps there is not a more striking instance of the impetuosity of his feelings than his mad ride to Paris when it was enveloped by the allied armies. Being himself deceived by the enemy, they had got full three days' start of him toward the capital, with a force that bore down everything in their passage. It was then Napoleon strained every nerve to reach the city before its capitulation. He urged his exhausted army to the top of its speed, and on the 29th of March, the day before he left it, he marched with the Imperial Guard forty miles. Wearied out, the brave cuirassiers could no longer keep pace with his haste, and he set out alone for Paris. Despatching courier after courier to announce his approach, he drove on with furious speed; but as the disastrous news was brought him that the enemy were struggling on the heights of Montmartre, his impatience knew no bounds. He abandoned his carriage as being too slow, though it came and went with frightful velocity on the astonished peasantry, and changing it for a light calèche, he sprang into it, and ordered the postilions to whip the horses to the top of their speed. He dashed away as if life and death hung on every step. "Faster, faster!" he cried to the postilions, though the whip fell incessantly on the flanks of the panting steeds. "Faster, faster!" he cried " as houses and fields swept past him like a vision. His throne, his crown, his empire, shook in the balance, and the flying chariot seemed to creep over the lengthened way. Nothing could satisfy him, and the cry of "Faster, faster," still rang in the ears of the astonished postilions, though the carriage-wheels were already on fire from their rapid revolutions. Vain speed! Paris had fallen.
This impetuosity of temper and hatred of restraint made him frequently overbearing and unjust to his officers, when they had failed in executing his plans. In the first transport of passion he would hear no defense and no apology; but after-reflection made him more reasonable and just, and a generous act would repay a sudden wrong. It was this trait of character, which grew stronger as he drew toward the close of his career, that made many around him declare that he hated the truth. It was not the truth which aroused him, but the declaration that his plans would be or had been baffled. He was so confident that he usually knew more than all around him, that he in time became so self-opinionated that he could not brook advice which clashed with his views. With weight and velocity both, his mind had terrible momentum, and even in a wrong way often conquered by its irresistible power.
Napoleon was a great statesman as well as a military leader. His conversations in his exile evince the most profound knowledge of political science, while the order he brought out of chaos, and indeed the glorious resurrection he gave to France, show that he was not great in theory alone. He was equal to Cæsar as a warrior, to Bacon in political sagacity, and above all other kings in genius.
Perhaps Napoleon exhibits nowhere in his life his amazing grasp of thought and power of accomplishment more than in the year and a half after his arrival from Egypt. Hearing that the Republic was everywhere defeated, and Italy wrested from its grasp, he immediately set sail for France, and escaping the English fleet in a most miraculous manner, protected by "his star," reached France in October. By November he had overthrown the inefficient Directory, and been proclaimed First Consul with all the attributes, but none of the titles, of king. He immediately commenced negotiations with the allied powers, while at the same time he brought his vast energies to bear on the internal state of France. Credit was to be restored, money raised, the army supplied, war in Vendèe suppressed, and a constitution given to France. By his superhuman exertions and all-pervading genius, he accomplished all this and by next spring was ready to offer Europe peace or war. Qrder sprang from chaos at his touch —the tottering government stopped rocking on its base the moment his mighty hand fell upon it—wealth flowed from the lap of poverty, and vast resources were drawn from apparent nothingness. France, rising from her prone position, stood ready to give battle to the world. Europe chose war. The gigantic mind that had wrought such prodigies in seven months in France now turned its concentrated strength and wrath on the enemy. Massena he sent to Genoa to furnish an example of heroism to latest posterity; Moreau he despatched to Swabia to render the Black Forest immortal by the victories of Engen, Moeskirch, and Biberach, and sent the Austrians in consternation to their capital, while he himself, amid the confusion and wonderment of Europe at his complicated movements, precipitated his enthusiastic troops down the Alps, and by one bold and successful stroke wrested Italy from the enemy, and forced the astonished and discomfited sovereigns to an armistice of six months. Unexhausted by his unparalleled efforts, no sooner was the truce proclaimed than he plunged with the same suddenness yet profound forethought with which he rushed into battle, into the distracted politics of Europe. By a skillful policy of offering Malta to Russia at the moment it was certain to fall into the hands of England, he embroiled these two countries in a quarrel, while by promising Hanover to Prussia he bribed her to reject the coalition with England and consent to an alliance with himself. At the same time he planned the league of the neutral powers against England—armed Denmark and Sweden, and closed all the ports of the Continent against her, and prepared succors for Egypt. While his deep sagacity was thus baffling the cabinet of England, involving her in a general war with Europe, and pressing to her lips the chalice she had just forced him to drink, he apparently devoted his entire energies to the internal state of France and the building of public works. He created the Bank of France—put, the credit of government on a firm basis—began the Codes, spanned the Alps with roads—sufficient monuments in themselves of his genius—and restored the complete supremacy of the laws throughout the kingdom. All this he accomplished in six months, and at the close of the armistice was ready for war. The glorious campaign of Hohenlinden followed, and Austria, frightened for her throne, negotiated the peace of Luneville, giving the world time to recover its amazement and gaze more steadily on this mighty sphere that had shot so suddenly across the orbits of kings.
That Napoleon in all this was ambitious no one doubts, but his ambition was indissolubly connected with the welfare and glory of France. Power was the ruling star in his heaven, but he sought it in order to make France powerful. His energies developed hers, and the victories he won were for her safety and defense. He is accused of having aimed at supreme power, and nothing short of it would have satisfied him. A second Alexander, he waded through seas of blood, and strode over mountains of corpses, solely to accomplish this object, and his fall was the fall of one who aimed at Universal Empire. Mr. Alison takes up this piece of nonsense, and gives us pages of the merest cant about the dangers of ambition and love of power, and the Providence that arrests it—declaring, in so many words, that Napoleon sought the subjugation of Europe. If this were true he might have spared the tribute he pays to Napoleon's genius, for it would prove him the sublimest fool that ever held a scepter. To assert that he ever dreamed of being able to subjugate England, Russia, Prussia, Austria, and the northern powers of Europe, and combine them in one vast empire, of which he would be the head, is too ridiculous to receive a serious refutation. That he ever expected to make England a dependent province on France, there is not an intelligent man in the British Empire believes; yet English historians will never have done their cant about this modern Alexander, who fell because he sought to conquer the world. Napoleon, as I have said, would have been glad to have adopted the let-alone policy both with England and Russia, as well as Austria and Prussia, if they would have allowed it. He was ambitious, but he knew too well that with Europe banded against him he must sooner or later fall; and the utmost limit of his hopes was to break this coalition by crippling either Russia or England. Could he have done this, he would soon have extorted a peace from the rest of Europe that would have allowed him to prosecute his ambitious schemes in the East, where they would have been successful. England wished this road to wealth and to empire left open to her, so she uttered a vast deal of nonsense about unlimited power and the danger of Europe, till she induced Europe to crush Napoleon. The East, as I before remarked, with its boundless wealth and imbecile population, he always regarded as the true field where fame and empire were to be laid, and he would have been glad any moment if Europe would have left him to pursue the career he commenced in Egypt. That he would have been as unprincipled in his aggressions on peaceable states—as heartless in the means he employed—as reckless of the law of nations—as perfidious in his policy—as cruel in his slaughters—and as grasping after territory, as the British Empire has since shown herself to be, his life, character, and plans leave but little room to doubt. Perhaps it is better that he wasted his immense energies as he did, in breaking to pieces the despotisms of Europe. As it was, he rolled the Revolution over the French borders, and sent it with its earthquake throes the length and breadth of the Continent.
I have thus spoken of Bonaparte comparatively, and not as an individual judged by the law of right. I wished to place him beside the monarchs, and governments that surrounded him, and see where the balance of virtue lay. He was ambitious—so was Pitt; while the ambition of the former was far less selfish, heartless, and cruel than that of the latter. One insisted on the treaty of Amiens, by which the world was bound to peace; the other broke it, and involved Europe in war solely for selfish ends. Napoleon has been blamed for robbing France of her republican form of government, and reinstating monarchy; and men are prone to compare him with Washington, and wonder why he could not have imitated his example, and, content with the peace and prosperity of his country, returned to the rank of citizen, and left a name unspotted by blood and violence. In the first place, the thing was absolutely impossible. A pure republic France could not have been with the population the Revolution left upon her bosom. As ignorant of liberty and undisciplined as the South American states and Mexico, she would have been rocked like them with endless revolutions, until European powers had overcome her and replaced a Bourbon on the throne. And if her population had been prepared for complete freedom, the monarchs of Europe would not have allowed her to establish a republic in peace. Imagine the United States in the midst of the Revolution, surrounded by despotic thrones—Canada, the West, Mexico, and Florida—all so many old monarchies, thoroughly alarmed by the sudden appearance of a free state in their midst, and in their affright banding themselves together to crush the infant republic, and you will have some conception of the situation of France during the Revolution. Let Washington have commanded our forces, and in resisting this war of aggression have wrested from one of the powers dominions to which it had no claim, as France took Italy from Austria. Suppose this despotic feudal alliance was kept up, and no permanent peace would be made till Washington was overthrown; his career and ours would have been very different. Our plains would have all been battle-fields until we had broken up the infamous coalition, or been ourselves overborne. In such a position were Bonaparte and France placed, and such a war was waged till they fell. Placing ourselves in a similar position, we shall not find it difficult to determine where the chief guilt lay, or be wanting in charity to Napoleon for the recklessness with which he carried on a war against powers so destitute of faith and of virtue and whose aggressive policy had well-nigh crushed the hopes of freedom on the Continent. But had these circumstances not existed, he never would have been a Washington, for he possessed few of his moral qualities. Washington appears in grander proportions as a moral than as an intellectual man, while Bonaparte was a moral dwarf; and I do not well see how he could be otherwise. Dedicated from childhood to the profession of arms, all his thoughts and associations were of a military character. Without moral or religious instruction, he was thrown while a youth into the vortex of the Revolution; and in the triumph of infidelity, and the overthrow of all religion, and the utter chaos of principles and sentiments, it was not to be expected he would lay the foundation of a religious character. He emerged from this into the life of the camp and the battle-field, and hence became morally what most men would be in similar circumstances. Besides, his very nature was despotic. He could not brook restraint, and, conscious of knowing more than those around him, he constantly sought for power that he might carry out those stupendous plans which otherwise would have been interrupted. I have no doubt Napoleon's highest ambition was to reign as a just and equitable monarch amid the thrones of Europe, expending his vast energies elsewhere; and that much of his violence and recklessness arose from the consciousness that he was to expect no faith or honesty or justice or truth from the perfidious nations that had bound themselves together to crush him. One thing is certain, had he been less a monarch, France would not have withstood, as long as she did, the united strength of Europe.
Bonaparte is charged with being cruel, but it is unjust. He was capable of great generosity, and exhibited pity in circumstances not to be expected from a man trained on the battle-field. Hearing once of a poor English sailor, who, having escaped from confinement, had constructed a frail boat of cork and branches of trees, with which he designed to put to sea, in the hopes of meeting an English vessel, and thus reaching England; he sent for him, and on learning from his lips that this bold undertaking was to get back to his aged mother, he immediately despatched him with a flag of truce on board an English ship, with a sum of money for his aged parent, saying that she must be an uncommon mother to have so affectionate a son. The guide who conducted him over the San Bernard, and who, ignorant of the mighty man that bestrode the miserable animal by his side, gave him a full account of his life and plans—of his betrothment and inability to marry for want of a piece of land,—was not forgotten by him afterward. The land was bought and presented to the young man by order of Napoleon. Repeated acts of kindness to poor wounded soldiers was one of the cords of iron which bound them to him. The awful spectacle which a battlefield presents after the carnage is done frequently moved him deeply, and he wept like a child over his dying friend Lannes. His sympathies, it is true, never interfered with his plans. What his judgment approved, his heart never countermanded; and what he thought necessary to be done, he did, reckless of the suffering it occasioned. He was inflexible as law itself in the course he had decided upon as the most expedient. The murder of the Duke of Enghien is perhaps the greatest blot on his character, but he was goaded into this by the madness and folly and villainy of the race to which this unfortunate prince belonged. In the midst of his vast preparations for a descent upon England, he was informed of a plot to assassinate him and place a Bourbon on the throne. The two ends of this conspiracy were Paris and London, between which there was an unbroken line of communication across the Channel. The secret route was discovered, and several of the conspirators arrested. The Bourbons in England were at the bottom of it, and English gold paid the expense. Pichegru had arrived in Paris, with the infamous Georges, who had so nearly succeeded in taking the life of the First Consul by the explosion of the infernal machine. Moreau had been sounded, and was found ready to aid in the assassination of his former general, but would not listen to the proposal of re-establishing the Bourbon dynasty. His envy had made him the enemy of Napoleon, and he wished to occupy his place. This jar between the conspirators caused delay and uncertainty, which enabled Napoleon to ferret it out. Georges himself, after much trouble, was taken, and he, with other inferior conspirators, confessed the plot, and acknowledged that "the Prince" was expected from England to head the conspiracy. Napoleon despatched soldiers to the sea-coast to arrest whoever might land at the point designated by the conspirators. They watched by the shore for days; and though a small vessel kept hovering near, as if waiting for signals to land, it was suspicious all was not right, and finally moved off altogether. Moreau was tried, found guilty, and exiled—the mildest punishment he could possibly expect. Pichegru was thrown into prison, but "the Prince," whom Napoleon was feverishly anxious to get hold of, was not to be found. This whole plot, interrupting as it did his vast plans, and exciting the feelings of the people to a state bordering on revolution, filled him with uncontrollable rage. He felt that he was not regarded as a respectable enemy; for even princes of the blood, and nobles, were endeavoring to assassinate him like a common ruffian. With his usual watchfulness he began to inquire about the exiled princes; and being told that one was at Ettenheim, near Strasbourg, he immediately despatched a spy to watch his movements, for he had not the least doubt that every Bourbon was in the conspiracy.
This spy reported that General Dumourier, another old but exiled general, was with the Prince. This mistake decided Napoleon to arrest him, sacred as his person ought to have been on neutral territory. Whether he afterward became convinced of the young Duke's innocence or not, matters very little as to his guilt. He wished to destroy some Bourbon prince, and he had determined to execute the first one that fell into his hands. To be waylaid and shot like a dog by Bourbon princes enraged him so, that the voice of justice could not be heard. Seated on his proud eminence, bending his vast energies to the most stupendous plans that ever filled a human mind, he was reminded that royal blood regarded him as only a fit victim for the assassin's knife; and he determined to teach kings that he would deal by them openly as they had done by him secretly. Some idea of his feelings may be got from the language he frequently indulged in when speaking of the princes and nobles that were engaged in this conspiracy. Said he, "These Bourbons fancy that they may shed my blood like some wild animal, and yet my blood is quite as precious as theirs. I will repay them the alarm with which they seek to inspire me; I pardon Moreau the weakness and errors to which he is urged by stupid jealousy, but I will pitilessly shoot the very first of these princes who shall fall into my hands; I will teach them with what sort of a man they have to deal." * He classed the Bourbons together,—knew them to be inspired with the same feelings toward him, and, whether bound by contract or not, sympathizing with each other in this conspiracy. In a spirit of fierce retaliation and rage, and to stop forever the plotting of these royal assassins, he determined to make a terrible example of one, and the young Duke d'Enghien fell. The news of his death filled the courts of Europe with horror, and was one of the causes of the general alliance against Napoleon that followed. This high-handed act of injustice can not be condemned too emphatically, but it was not the cold-blooded act of a cruel man. It was a crime committed in passion, by a spirit inflamed with the consciousness of having been outraged by those from whom better things were to be expected. England lifted up her hands in pious horror at the act, yet bad not one word to say about the premeditated murder of Napoleon by the Bourbons. If he, instead of one of their number, had fallen, we should have beard no such outcry from the crowned heads of Europe. He had only made a Bourbon drink the cup they had prepared for his lips. The horror of the crime consisted not not in its injustice, but that he had dared to lay his hands on the sacred head of royalty. And yet this act, as unjust and wicked as it is conceded to have been, was no more so than that of England in banishing Napoleon, when he had thrown himself on her generosity, to a lonely and barren isle, where she could safely vent her august spleen in those petty annoyances she should have disdained to inflict; or that of the allies, in allowing Marshal Ney to be shot, in direct violation of a treaty they had themselves made.
The sum of the matter is, Napoleon's moral character was indifferent enough; yet as a friend of human liberty, and eager to promote the advancement of the race, by opening the field to talent and genius, however low their birth, he was infinitely superior to all the sovereigns who endeavored to crush him. He loved not only France as a nation, and sought her glory; but he secured the liberty of the meanest of her subjects. There was something noble in his very ambition, for it sought to establish great public works, found useful institutions, and send the principles of liberty over the world. As a just and noble monarch, he was superior to nine-tenths of all the kings that ever reigned in Europe, and as an intellectual man, head and shoulders above them all.
The attempt has also been made to fix the charge of cruelty and oppression on him, from the joy manifested in France at his overthrow, and the cursings and obloquy that followed his exile. But the first exultation that follows a new peace is not to be considered the sober feeling of the People. His return from Elba is overwhelming evidence against such accusations. Without any plotting beforehand, any conspiracy to make a diversion in his favor, he boldly cast himself on the affections of the people. An established throne, a strong government, and a powerful army, were on one side—the love of the people on the other, and yet, soldier as he was, he believed the latter stronger than all the former put together. What a sublime trust in the strength of affection does his stepping ashore with his handful of followers exhibit. Where is the Bourbon, or European monarch, that would have dared to do this,—or felt he had, by his efforts for the common welfare, laid the people under sufficient obligations to expect a universal rush to his arms? It was not the soldiers, but the common people, who first surrounded him. As he pitched his tent without Cannes, the inhabitants flocked to him with their complaints, and gathered around him as the redresser of their wrongs. As he advanced toward Grenoble, the fields were alive with peasants, as they came leaping like deer from every hill, crying "Vive l'Empereur!" Thronging around him, they followed him with shouts to the very gates of the town. The commandant refused him admittance, yet the soldiers within stretched their arms through the wickets, and shook bands with his followers without. At length a confused murmur arose over the walls, and Napoleon did not know but it was the gathering for a fierce assault on his little band. The tumult grew wilder every moment; six-thousand inhabitants from one of the faubourgs had risen en masse, and with timbers and beams came pouring against the gates. They tremble before the resistless shocks—reel and fall with a crash to the ground, and the excited multitude stream forth. Rushing on Napoleon, they drag him from his horse, kiss his hands and garments, and bear him with deafening shouts, on their shoulders, into the town. He next advances on Lyons, the gates of which are also closed against him, and bayonets gleam along the walls. Trusting to the power of affection, rather than to arms, he gallops boldly up to the city. The soldiers within, instead of firing on him, breaking over all discipline burst open the gates, and rush in frantic joy around him, shouting "Vive l'Empereur!" He is not compelled to plant his cannon against a single town: power returns to him not through terror, but through love. He is not received with the cringing of slaves, but with the open arms of friends, and thus his course toward the capital becomes one triumphal march. The power of the Bourbons disappears before the returning tide of affection, like towers of sand before the waves; and, without firing a gun, Napoleon again sits down on his recovered throne, amid the acclamations of the people. Who ever saw a tyrant and an oppressor received thus? Where is the monarch in Europe that dare fling himself in such faith on the affections of his subjects? Where was ever the Bourbon that could show such a title to the throne he occupied? Ah! the people do not thus receive the man who forges fetters for their limbs; and Napoleon at this day holds a firmer place in the affections of the inhabitants of France, than any monarch that ever filled its throne.
The two greatest errors of Napoleon were the conquest of Spain and the invasion of Russia. The former was not
only an impolitic act, but one of great injustice and cruelty. In order to strike English commerce, he was willing to invade an independent kingdom, and finally seize its throne and cover its plains with the slain of its own subjects. The invasion of Russia might have terminated differently, and been recorded by historians as the crowning monument of his genius, but for the burning of Moscow by the inhabitants; an event certainly not to be anticipated. He lost the flower of his army there, and instead of striking the heart of his enemy he pierced his own.
It is useless, however, to speak of the mistakes that Napoleon made, and show how he should have acted here, and planned there, to have succeeded; or attempt to trace the separate steps, in the latter part of his career, to his downfall, and pretend to say how they might have been avoided. After taking into the calculation all the chances and changes that did or would come—all the losses that might have been prevented, and all the successes that might have been gained, and pointing out great errors here and there in his movements, it is plain that nothing less than a miracle could have saved the tottering throne of the Empire. After the disaster of Leipsic, and the losses sustained by different divisions of the army in that campaign, and the mortality which thinned so dreadfully the French armies on the Rhine, France felt herself exhausted and weak. In this depressed state, the civilized world was preparing its last united onset upon her. From the Baltic to the Bosphorus—from the Archangel to the Mediterranean, Europe had banded itself against Napoleon. Demnark and Sweden struck hands with Austria, and Russia, and Prussia, and England; while, to crown all, the Princes of the confederation of the Rhine put their signature to the league, and one million and twenty-eight thousand men stood up in battle array on the plains of Europe, to overthrow this mighty spirit that had shaken so terribly their thrones.
France, which had before been drained to meet the losses of the Russian campaign, could not, with her utmost efforts, raise more than a third of the number of this immense host.
Her provinces were invaded, and this resistless array were pointing their bayonets toward Paris. In this dreadful emergency, though none saw better than he the awful abyss that was opening before him, Napoleon evinced no discouragement and no hesitation. Assembling the conscripts from every quarter of France, and hurrying them on to headquarters, he at length, after presenting his fairhaired boy to the National Guards as their future sovereign, amid tears and exclamations of enthusiasm, and embracing his wife for the last time, set out for the army. His energy, his wisdom, and incessant activity soon changed the face of affairs. He had struggled against as great odds in his first Italian campaign; and if nothing else could be done, he at least could fall with honor on the soil of his country. Never did his genius shine forth with greater splendor than in the almost superhuman exertions he put forth in this his last great struggle for his empire. No danger could daunt him—no reverses subdue him—no toil exhaust him—and no difficulties shake his iron will. In the dead of winter, struggling with new and untried troops, he fought an army outnumbering his own two to one—beat them back at every point, and sent dismay into the hearts of the allied sovereigns, as they again saw the shadow of his mighty spirit over their thrones. He was everywhere cheering and steadying his men, and on one occasion worked a cannon himself as he did when a youth in the artillery; and though the balls whistled around him till the soldiers besought him to retire, he exclaimed, "Courage! the bullet that is to kill me is not yet cast." At length the whole allied army was forced to retreat, and offered peace if he would consent to have his empire dismembered and France restored to its limits before the Revolution. This he indignantly refused; preferring rather to bury himself amid the ruins of his empire. But with his comparative handful of raw recruits, what could be do against the world in arms? His rapid victories began to grow less decisive; the glory with which he had anew covered the army waxed dim; and his star, that had once more blazed forth in its ancient splendor in the heavens, was seen sinking to the horizon.
The allies entered the capital, and Napoleon was compelled to abdicate. On the day after the signature of the treaty by which he was divested of power and sent an exile from the country he had saved—deserted by all his soldiers, his marshals, his army—even by his wife and family, he said to Caulincourt at night, after a long and sad revery, "My resolution is taken; we must end: I feel it." At midnight the fallen Emperor was in convulsions; he had swallowed poison. As his faithful Caulincourt came in, he opened his eyes, and said, "Caulincourt, I am about to die. I recommend to you my wife and son; defend my memory. I could no longer endure life. The desertion of my old companions in arms had broken my heart." Violent vomiting, however, gave him relief; and his life was saved.
His farewell to his faithful Old Guard, before he departed from Fontainebleau for Elba, was noble and touching. He passed into their midst as he had been wont to do when he pitched his tent for the night in their protecting squares, and addressed them in words of great tenderness. "For twenty years," said lie, "I have ever found you in the Path of honor and glory. Adieu, my children; I would I were able to press you all to my heart,—but I will at least press your eagle." With overpowering emotion, he clasped the general in his arms, and kissed the eagle. Again bidding his old companions adieu, he drove away, while cries and sobs of sorrow burst from those brave hearts that had turned for him the tide of so many battles. They besought the privilege of following him in his fallen fortunes; but were refused their prayer.
But Elba could not long hold that daring, restless spirit. The next year he again unrolled his standard in the capital of France, and the army opened its arms to receive him. After an exhibition of his wonted energy and genius during the hundred days' preparation, he at length staked all on the field of Waterloo. There the star of his destiny again rose over the horizon, and struggled with its ancient strength to mount the heavens of fame. The battle-cloud rolled over it; and when it again was swept away, that star had gone down—sunk in blood and carnage, to rise no more forever.
Volumes have been written on this campaign and last battle; but every impartial mind must come to the same conclusion,—that Napoleon's plans never promised more complete success than at this last effort. Wellington was entrapped; and with the same co-operation on both sides, he was lost beyond redemption. Had Blucher stayed away as Grouchy did, or had Grouchy come up as did Blucher, victory would once more have soared with the French eagles. It is vain to talk of Grouchy's having obeyed orders. It was plainly his duty, and his only duty, to detain Blucher, or follow him.
Bonaparte has also been blamed for risking all on the last desperate charge of the Old Guard; but he well knew that nothing but a decided victory could save him. He wanted the moral effect of one; and without it he was lost—and he wisely risked all to win it. He is also blamed, both in poetry and prose, for not throwing away his life when the battle was lost. If personal daring and personal exposure had been called for in the disorder, and success could have been possible, by flinging himself into the very jaws of death, he would not have hesitated a moment. But the rout was utter; and though he did wish to die, and would have done so but for his friends, had he succeeded in his purpose, it would have been simply an act of suicide, for which his enemies would have been devoutly thankful.
His last hope was gone, and he threw himself into the hands of England, expecting generous, but receiving the basest, treatment. She banished him to an inhospitable rock in the midst of the ocean; and, having caged the lion, performed the honorable task of watching at the door of the prison, while her parasites kept a faithful record of the complaints and irritations of the noble sufferer, whose misfortunes they had not the magnanimity to respect. But not all this could dim the splendor of that genius whose great work was done. The thoughts that here emanated from him, and the maxims he laid down, both in political and military life, show that he could have written one of the most extraordinary books of his age, as easily as he had become one of its greatest military leaders and rulers.
But at length that wonderful mind was to be quenched in the night of the grave; and Nature, as if determined to assert the greatness of her work to the last, trumpeted him out of the world with one of her fiercest storms. Amid the roar of the blast, and the shock of the billows, as they broke where a wave had not struck for twenty years—and amid the darkness, and gloom, and uproar of one of the most tempestuous nights that ever rocked that lonely isle, Napoleon's troubled spirit was passing to that unseen world where the sound of battle never comes, and the tread of armies is never beard. Yet even in this solemn hour his delirious soul, caught perhaps by the battle-like roar of the storm without, was once more in the midst of the fight, struggling by the Pyramids, or Danabe, or on the plains of Italy. It was the thunder of cannon that smote his ear; and amid the wavering light, and covering smoke, and tumult of the scene, his glazing eye caught the heads of his mighty columns, as, torn yet steady, they bore his victorious eagles on, and "Tète d'armée" broke from his dying lips. Awestruck and still, his few remaining friends stood in tears about his couch, gazing steadfastly on that awful kingly brow; but it gave no further token, and the haughty lips moved no more. Napoleon lay silent and motionless in his last sleep.
When the prejudice and falsehood and hatred of his enemies shall disappear, and the world can gaze impartially on this plebeian soldier rising to the throne of an empire—measuring his single intellect with the proudest kings of Europe, and coming off victorious from the encounter—rising above the prejudices and follies of his age, "making kings of plebeians and plebeians of kings"—grasping, as by intuition, all military and political science—expending with equal facility his vast energies on war or peace—turning with the same profound thought from fierce battles to commerce, and trade, and finances;—I say when the world can calmly thus contemplate him, his amazing genius will receive that homage which envy, and ignorance, and hatred now withhold.
And when the intelligent philanthropist shall understand the political and civil history of Europe, and see how Napoleon broke up its systems of oppression and feudalism—proclaiming human rights in the ears of the world, till the Continent shook with the rising murmurs of oppressed man—study well the changes he introduced, without which human progress must have ceased—see the great public works he established—the institutions he founded—the laws he proclaimed, and the civil liberty he restored—and then, remembering that the bloody wars that offset all these were waged by him in self-defense, and were equal rights struggling against exclusive despotism—he will regret that he has adopted the slanders of his foemen and the falsehoods of monarchists.
* Thiers's Consulate and Empire. Return to paragraph text.
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