Page images
PDF
EPUB

A NEW LIFE OF NAPOLEON 1.

The appearance of a new History like Lord Byron; and we may generof Napoleon the First would deserve ally be presumed to look upon him

tle attention in the presence of now as a potential senior wrangler so many already existing, unless it who turned his mathematical talents could lay claim either to extraordi- to the subjugation of mankind, and nary literary merit or to decided perhaps reconciled his supposed originality in the treatment of so mission to any conscience that he trite a subject. While the first had, by imagining, from what he had volume of M. Lanfrey's history is seen of them, that such subjugation quite up to the mark in a literary would be for their good. That a point of view—being written in un- genius with a peculiar bent in the pretentious yet clear and forcible direction of order and subordinastyle—it is something entirely new tion, whose youth was nursed in the to read a life of the first Emperor, chaos of the French Revolution, written by a Frenchman, which is should have sincerely taken up with not only hostile to his memory, but a cynical and pessimist view of the hostility of which is not illus- human nature, is intelligible and trated by ebullitions of passion or excusable ; and on this point, led prejudice, and justifies itself by astray by his republican sympathies, adducing the clear testimony of we do not think that M. Lanfrey historical facts and correspondence, is quite just to the memory of Nasupported by the great man's own poleon I. He appears to have taken memoirs. It is indeed a sign of it too much for granted that the the intellectual convalescence of the constitution which Buonaparte dethinking part of the nation when stroyed in the coup d'état of the a Frenchman is able, without rais- 18th Brumaire was capable of ing a storm of obloquy, to apply the standing on its own legs, and reprecrowbar of logic with such fatal sented a stable Government, forgeteffect to the national idol, that ting that up to that date there had Dagon tumbles from his pedestal, been a perpetual see-saw of parties and only the stump of Dagon is since the Reign of Terror, and that left to him; that mutilated remain- a recurrence of the Reign of Terror der consisting in an admirable cal- itself at any moment was by no culating machine, galvanised into means improbable. The great life and

action by the solitary human French Revolution, it must always passion of ambition. With regard be remembered, was much more to ourselves, it may be said that than a revolution in the comm

monly after sixteen years of alliance and accepted sense of the term. It was friendly relations with the present a deluge which entirely submerged, French Emperor, we are at length or swept away, all the old land. able to regard the image of his marks of society. As the waters famous predecessor with perfectly subsided some of these had reapdispassionate eyes, inclined, if any. peared, but, as it were, polluted thing, to put the greater weight with diluvial slime, with all their into the favourable scale in the beauty and prestige gone for ever. estimation of his character. The A government of centralised force, time is past when he appeared as a capable of keeping up dykes to premere fiend to the mass of English- vent the return of the flood, seemed men, and at worst a kind of fallen thus the only one possible for angel to a few eccentric Ishmaelites, France—indeed, even now it may

• Histoire de Napoléon I.' Par P. Lanfrey. Tome premier. Charpentier, Paris.

be doubted whether any other is M. Lanfrey, setting aside the quespossible, since the French have not, tion as to whether the Republican with all their political experience, Government of France had establearned the lesson that it matters lit lished its right to exist, that tle under what form of government there may be reason to doubt they live, so that it be righteously whether General Buonaparte was administered, and still refuse to the very best man who could have understand opposition in any other been found to supersede the Direcsense than subversion of the exist- tory, and agree with him that the ing authority. Under the present means he took to possess himself regiine the English word "self- of the Dictatorship were utterly government," though still printed unjustifiable. With the circumin italics as foreign, has passed into stances of the 18th Brumaire (9th a sort of Shibboleth among liberal November 1799), which placed GenFrench writers as an expression eral Buonaparte firmly in the saddle of national aspiration, they being in that position of absolute power unable to see the deductions from which, under the names of First its excellences which most sensible Consul and Emperor, he was desEnglishmen would readily allow; tined to hold for fifteen years, M. and also that, as a condition of its Lanfrey's first volume concludes. successful realisation, the individu- As a political study, this is doubtals who compose a nation must first less the most interesting part of practise it in their own proper per- the Life of Napoleon I. At the sons in the sense of self-restraint end of the first thirty years of his and self-respect—such feelings being life he had achieved the work of intimately bound up with a fear of Philip of Macedon, to prepare himthe consequences of untried theories, self henceforth to play the part of a certain love of anomalous insti- Alexander. In spite of the protutions which have, on the whole, verb, his was certainly an old head worked well, and deep regard for placed on young shoulders. M. the vested rights and liberties of Lanfrey dismisses the anecdotes of other people. It may, perhaps, be his childhood and youth as more or sadly questioned, taking into con- less apocryphal, merely stating some sideration all the elements of human facts which show that Nature virnature, whether any people is capa- tually dispensed in his case with ble of entirely realising self-govern- childhood and youth altogether. ment. The mass of the nation is No little Arab of London streets governed well or ill by one man, or could have developed a more prewell or ill by a number of men : in cocious manhood. At school he the one case the Government tak- was one of those quiet boys who ing the shape of a beneficent despo- give no trouble to masters, but are tism, a constitutional monarchy, or unpopular with their comrades a more or less aristocratic republic, through not caring about play. as in Switzerland still, or in America At the military school at Paris, to before the Civil War–in the other which he passed from Brienne, we case, of a tyranny, an oligarchy, or a find him making the strange comdemocracy, which being the tyranny plaint in a boy of the laxity of the of the worse many over the better discipline. At sixteen he passed few, is the worst shape in which into the army, where he at once government can exist at all. In distinguished himself by his studishort, in spite of our affection for ous and ascetic character. Among the term, it would perhaps be best his papers was found a dialogue on to discard it as illogical, and to pro- love, in which he says, “ Love does nounce the thing itself as quite im- more harm than good; and it practicable in its application to a would be a blessing if some pronation. We may still allow with tecting divinity could relieve us of it, and thus effect the deliverance easily caught again, and dragged of mankind.” In the History of to the house of his daring Corsica,' which employed his leisure kidnapper. Buonaparte, mastering at this period, he delighted to con- his emotion, and composing his trast the pure manners of his native countenance to affability, said to isle with the dissoluteness of French him, “I only wished you to be society. His affections clove to the free, entirely free ; you were not Corsican patriot Paoli, but his am- so at the house of Peraldi.” The bition soon corrected them when he Commissary was so astounded by found that patriotism would not this audacious conduct that he did pay. His sentimental sympathies not even protest or attempt to rewere rather the reflection of his turn to the place whence he had studies of Rousseau than the been brought. The next day the promptings of his own heart. He poll took place, and Buonaparte was soon outgrew any youthful weak- elected “chef de bataillon.” Pozzo nesses, and then the politics of his di Borgo, having raised some obnative island gave him an oppor- jection to the illegality of the protunity of trying his hand at a ceeding, was seized by his legs coup-đétat on a small scale. He from below, thrown down, hustled was a candidate for the post of and trampled, and had to thank “chef de bataillon" of the National Buonaparte himself for interfering Guard of Ajaccio (Corsica baving to save his life. In the storms of now been united to France) against the period the affair blew over, several influential competitors, the and Buonaparte was allowed to rechief of whom were Marius Per- tain his command ; but if this aldi and Pozzo di Borgo. The episode in his early life had been energy of his canvass against what known to the Five Hundred the seemed overwhelming odds was day before the 18th Brumaire, the perfectly astonishing; and by dint results of that day might have of flattery, bribery, and intimida- been different. When the Girontion, he soon succeeded in forming dins came to power, Buonaparte was a party which was nearly equal to found again at Paris in military that of his antagonists. But the command. The scenes of the Remore important business was to volution had by this time thogain the Commissaires of the Con- roughly disgusted him with its stituent Assembly. As soon as spirit, but he was too politic to these arrived, Murati, the principal throw himself at once into the man amongst them, became the ranks of its adversaries, and still guest of Peraldi, Buonaparte's most continued to parade the Jacobiniformidable competitor. This clear-cal principles that he had learned ly-pronounced partisanship stung to detest, because no other party Buonaparte to the quick. To let presented a similar opening for his things take their course was certain future rise. The siege of Toulon, defeat, to resist was decidedly dan- where he commanded the artillery, gerous. After many close confer- first drew upon him the eyes of ences with his friends, in which he mankind. He had displayed in tried to make inuendoes serve for that siege, when only twenty-four, explicit words, he resolved on all the best qualities of a veteran action. Towards evening, as the captain. During the Reign of TerPeraldi family were at table, there ror he was operating with the was a sudden knocking at the outer French army in northern Italy, and door. The instant the door was his reputation was every day inopened a body of armed men creasing ; but he had soon to bear rushed into the presence of the the consequences of acting with the dismayed dinner-party. Murati, Robespierres, and, when they fell, however, bad flown, but was found himself under arrest, and cited to appear before the Commit- first to repudiate, as soon as he tee of Public Safety–a summons was able to do so. He was under which in those days was considered the eclipse of a temporary disgrace equivalent to a sentence of death. when fortune offered him an opThe charge brought against him portunity of re-establishing his was one resulting from his mis- position in a most signal manner sion to Genoa, which, it was by the events of the 13th Vendecontended, was made with trea- miaire (5th October 1795), when sonable intentions. After ten days the existence of the Convention of terrible anxiety, during which was threatened by an insurrection he used every effort to destroy all of the reactionary sections. An evidence of his undeniable rela- officer named Menou, sent to distions with the Robespierres, he was perse the meeting of one of the acquitted on the ground of the most powerful of these sections, utility of his talents to the Repub- having compromised the position lic, rather than because his judges of his troops, parleyed instead of were persuaded of his innocence. acting, and withdrew the GovernHe was still under a sort of suspi- ment force, while the insurgents cion, and was removed from the omitted to fulfil their part of the Italian army to take a command in agreement by separating. At this the army of the West, which dis- crisis of danger, Buonaparte, who gusted him to that degree, that he happened to be in the theatre, lingered in Paris, and was suspend hastened to the Assembly to obed from his command for neglect- serve what would take place. Menou ing to go to the post assigned him, was voted under arrest, and then so that he had to pass through a the question was raised as to who period of enforced idleness, the should be appointed in his place. spell of which he attempted to Buonaparte, still among the audibreak by negotiating to be employed ence, heard his own name menon a mission in Turkey; but when tioned, and deliberated, in consehis mind was set on this scheme, quence, for a full half-hour as to the army of Italy having sustained what line of conduct he should some reverses, he was refused leave pursue. Barras was the favourite, to go, for the honourable reason and on his recommendation, which that his presence was required in Buonaparte appears to have conveParis, that he might assist in form- niently suppressed in his Memoirs, ing plans for the campaign, but the latter was joined to him as his really because the Committee of lieutenant. The result of BuonaPublic Safety wished to keep him parte's deliberation had been, that in their power. It was thus that, the chances of success were chiefly in an evil hour for the English on the side of the Convention, and monarchy, Cromwell was prevented that, on the whole, it would be from sailing for America. The politic to do his best to make those plan which he drew up for Keller- chances a certainty: Forty pieces mann, the commander-in-chief of of artillery conveniently disposed the army of Italy, was most ad- about the Louvre and the Tuileries, mirable in a scientific point of and, when the time came, vigorview, and superior to that which ously served, enabled the 8000 was carried out subsequently, in troops of the Convention to disthat it contained no scheme for perse the 40,000 national guards conquests and annexations under and others of whom the insurgent the pretence of the emancipation army was composed, and who of oppressed nationalities. But the thought to carry all before them principle of drawing up at home by numbers and dead weight. A schemes of action for a distant vote of thanks was passed to Bartheatre, was one which he was the ras and Buonaparte, as having deserved well of their country; and She wrote a short time before her the resignation of the latter soon marriage, “ Barras assures me that left the field open for the appoint- if I marry the General he will obment of his colleague as General tain him the command in chief of the of the Interior,

[graphic]

army of Italy. Yesterday, BuonaThe prestige which the 13th parte, in speaking to me of this Vendémiaire conferred on the name favour, which already causes murof Buonaparte enabled him to turn murs among his brothers in arms, his success to good account by although it is not yet granted, enriching himself and his family. said, 'Do they believe, then, that I The Directory began to wish, find- have need of protection to get on? ing how indispensable he had be- The day will come when they will come, that he had not been de- be only too glad if I am willing to tained at Paris ; and his nomination give them mine. My sword is at to the command of the army of my side, and with it I shall go Italy was partly owing to the gene- far.”” M. Lanfrey seems to inral distrust he inspired. It was sinuate that there was something indeed the most brilliant form of more than intimate friendship in ostracism. Still it is doubted whe- the relations between Josephine ther such good fortune, so fatal to and Barras. If such was the case, the State, would have fallen to his considering the whole character of lot, had he not been assisted by Buonaparte, and especially his manihis marriage with Josephine Beau- fest desire to cut a figure in a world harnais. The way in which he that he affected to despise, to supfirst became acquainted with this pose that he was in the full conlady was romantic. Some days fidence of the parties is scarcely after the disarmament of the Sec- conceivable. Having been a stutions, a child of ten or twelve dent, and being an imitator of years old called at the General's Cæsar, he can hardly have forgotquarters, and begged for the sword ten the legend about Cæsar's wife. of bis father, a former general of It is quite certain that he never the Republic, who had died on the let pride or self-respect stand in scaffold. The child was Eugene the way of any object he wished to de Beauharnais. The General ac- gain, but the meanness of marryceded to his prayer, and the next ing another man's mistress would day was thanked in person by his have been fatal to the ends of his charming mother, whom Buonaparte ambition. Besides, as she was an as yet only knew by name, though independent widow moving in high she was the intimate friend of society, it is hard to conceive what Barras. M. Lanfrey says, “ The object Barras could have had in silence kept by Buonaparte on the wishing to pass her over to his subject of this liaison and of the friend. part which Barras had in the de- Friendship seems to explain the terminations of Madame de Beau- matter better than anything else ; harnais, is more easily explained but yet there seems to have been a than his forgetfulness of the ser- certain levity in Josephine's convice rendered him on the eve of duct, especially during the subsethe 13th Vendémiaire.” But the quent absence of her husband in fact is none the less patent, being Italy, which might have induced established by all the evidence of him to wish as little as possible said the time, attested by Josephine her about a transaction which might self, who, in her Creole nonchal. bear an ugly construction. It is ance, would perhaps have never possible that there were other readecided on that marriage, unless sons besides her childlessness which Barras had added to the trousseau prompted the Emperor's final deterthe command of the army of Italy. mination to divorce Josephine, but

« PreviousContinue »