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Napoleon Bonaparte

( Originally Published Late 1800's )

In October, 1795, a makeshift government known as the French Directory had been planted upon the ruins of the Reign of Terror. The military command was given into the hands of Barras. He appointed as second in command a young Corsican officer of artillery. The young captain pointed his cannon down all the streets leading to the Tuileries and when the assailants of the Directory attempted to advance they were mowed down with grapeshot. Thus ended the French Revolution ; thus began the career of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Napoleon was of Italian blood and name. He was born on the island of Corsica at Ajaccio, August fifteenth, 1769. Napoleon received a military education at the French school in Brienne. He spent five years at this school where he distinguished himself in the study of mathematics and those branches which pertained particularly to warlike affairs. In 1785, he received his commission as sub-lieutenant of artillery. Napoleon was by birth a noble of a provincial family somewhat oppressed by poverty. His education was exclusively military. Of all the great leaders of the world none have been by education so purely military specialists. He could scarcely remember when he was not a soldier living among soldiers.

The effects of this training were very evident when he had risen to the head of affairs. While in the school at Brienne he was reported as "tactiturn, fond of solitude, capricious, haughty and extremely disposed to egotism, seldom speaking, energetic in his answers, ready and sharp in repartee, full of self-love, ambitious, and of unbounded aspirations."

The attention of Barras was attracted to the young lieutenant at the seige of Toulon. That city had made a royalist uprising in 1793, and the garrison was aided by: English and Spanish ships. Barras was in command of the republican troops. Napoleon dis-covered a mode of converging his artillery fire on the forts in the harbor and the result was that Toulon fell. Barras was greatly pleased with this stratagem, and when appointed to the command of the popular troops in Paris, he asked for Colonel Bonaparte as his assist-ant. We have already seen how the young officer behaved when the Paris sections tried to storm the Tuileries.

In 1796, the new government of the Directory organized three great armies to oppose the allied enemies of France. One of these was intrusted to Napoleon. In March, 1796, Napoleon entered upon his famous Italian campaign, with an army of thirty-six thousand men. He was to operate against the Austrians who had a force of sixty thousand. He crossed the Alps and entered Italy by a series of most skillful manouevers. In a campaign of fifteen days he won two Austrian standards, fifty-five pieces of cannon, five victories, fifteen thousand prisoners and secured peace with the Piedmontese. In May he won the brilliant victory at the bridge of Lodi, and passed into the territories of Milan. He then attacked the Austrian army under Wurmser as it marched divided along the banks of Lago di Garda. Falling upon the divisions separately he overwhelmed them in three different engagements, during the months of August and September. He was then obliged, with an army weakened by long marching, and exhausted with fierce conflicts, to meet a new Austrian force of sixty thousand men. He met them at the bridge of Arcola and won a splendid victory with a handful of horse-men. Just at the crisis of the battle, he gave each of twenty-five horsemen a trumpet, and with these and a few followers he made a dashing charge that broke the enemies' line and gave him the most brilliant victory of his life, and by this means a third army had been driven out of Italy.

Wurmser went into camp at Mantua where Napoleon besieged him. In January, 1797, the Austrians sent,a fresh force of sixty thousand men across the mountains to the relief of Mantua. Napoleon's army had been reinforced to forty-five thousand and he marched out to meet Alonizi before he could reach Mantua. The two armies met at Rivoli and the Austrians again suffered defeat. Mantua was immediately surrounded and Italy was now in the hands of France.

The campaign in Egypt lasted from July, 1798, to October, of the year 1799. He captured Alexandria in July, fought the famous " Battle of the Pyramids " a month later, and became master of the land of the Pharaohs. His fleet, however, was destroyed by Nelson, and he was beaten at Acre by the Turks and English marines. Leaving his army in Egypt under the command of Kleba he returned to France secretly to take a hand in the troubled scenes now being enacted in Paris. The condition of the affairs at the French capital was not greatly different from that which Caesar found in Rome on his return from Egypt. The republic had failed and, there was need of a strong hand and a high-souled patriot to take the lead in the new empire. Such a patriot Rome had perhaps, but certainly France did not. The Directory was without any support and the French government was on the verge of anarchy. To concentrate the executive power in one man needed but one act of daring. Napoleon thought himself the genius to carry into execution such a plan. The counsel of five hundred and the counsel of ancients had been summoned to assemble at St. Cloud on the tenth of November, I 799, Bonaparte appeared in the chamber of ancients and protested against the constitution under which they were organized. Leaving the members of this body to, recover from their surprise, he proceeded to the chamber of the five hundred with some of his subordinate officers and a few grenadiers, to reproach them in like manner. He complained vehemently of their misrule, refused to swear to the constitution and reproached the five hundred as an incompetent body. He was received with loud cries of " Down with the Dictator," and his voice was drowned in the shouts of men that he could not intimidate. The general who had humbled Austria and won victories on the Nile now appealed to his soldiers. They received him with loud cheers and acclamations. He harangued them with most stirring eloquence and when at the close of the speech he asked them if he could rely upon them, they shouted with one voice "Yes, yes, you can." Napoleon then ordered Murat to clear the hall of the counsel of five hundred. This he did, drowning all remonstrances by the rattle of his drums. A new constitution was soon adopted and the republic changed quickly into the consulate. Napoleon was first consul and provisions were made for a senate, legislative body, and the various offices of government ; but Napoleon was the virtual master of France.

France had now changed from a republic to a despotism. Call Napoleon a usurper, call him a traitor to the best interests of France, call him what you will, there was a tendency in French politics as there was in Roman politics, in the days of Caesar, toward an empire, and it must be ever said to the credit of Napoleon, that his sublime insight into the affairs of Europe saw that tendency and turned it to his permanent advantage. He now began to assert his power. He put newspapers under the severest restrictions, shut up political assemblies throughout the republic, and filled France with detectives from end to end. At the same time he improved the financial condition of the government by establishing the Bank of France and removing restrictions from trade. Well aware of the national passion for dress and show, he gathered into the hall of the Tuileries crowds of handsome soldiers and lovely women. He inaugurated a brilliant series of social amusements, and was soon looked upon as the idol of the French people. At the Same time he bent his energies to the raising of troops and the organization of his army. In a few months he had a quarter of a million of soldiers enlisted under his banner, and when, in 1800, Napoleon put on his cocked hat and donned his gray riding coat, he represented the only real authority of France. He summoned his legions to follow him, with his eye upon the Austrian frontier. He made the enemy believe that he was going to attack them in the open regions of the Rhine ; but with a sudden change of tactics he led his army over the Alps, as Hannibal had done, and poured into the valley of the Po, where the Austrians did not expect him. The Austrian armies were encamped at Marengo, two or three times out-numbering the French and hopeful of success. On the fourteenth of June they fell upon Napoleon's army, and one of the hardest battles of all time was fought. Napoleon was outnumbered, but the Austrians were outgeneraled, and the eagle of victory once more perched upon the banners of Napoleon. The rout of the Austrian army was utter and complete, and in five weeks Napoleon was again in Paris. In November of the same year Moreau defeated the Austrians at Hohenlinden, and these successes led to the treaty of Luneville, in which the Rhine became the boundary line between France and Austria.

Napoleon had now the entire confidence of France. In August, 1802, the Senate passed a decree proclaiming him first consul for life, and when the proposition was submitted to a popular vote, the suffrage of the French people seconded the proclamation. The laws of the land were immediately reformed under the direction of the best lawyers of the country; the result of their work was known as the Code Napoleon, and France enjoys the benefits of these laws to this, day. Every department of government received the per-sonal attention of the Dictator. Public instruction, the administration of justice, commerce, armies, arsenals, were all placed upon a substantial footing. After his reforms were fully completed and the country was again threatened with war, on the third of May, 1804, a decree was passed granting him the title of emperor. This proposition was also submitted to the popular vote and ratified by the enthusiastic people of France. The coronation took place, at Notre Dame, on the second of December. Pope Pius VII. was present and blessed the crown, which Napoleon placed on his own head. In 1805 he was similarly crowned king of Italy, in the city of Milan, with the iron crown of the Lombards.

A strong coalition had now been formed by England, Austria and Prussia against France. To crush this coalition and make himself master of Europe was the Emperor's next ambition. His first plan was to invade England, and he entered upon extensive preparations at Boulogne. While these preparations were going on, he learned that an immense army was advancing on the Rhine to invade the French dominions. Breaking up his camp upon the channel, he executed masterly movements to the Danube. Transporting his mighty forces across Europe without delay, 'reaching Vienna. in triumph before the enemy had massed in sufficient numbers to dispute his progress, and on December second, 1805, he won the splendid victory at Austerlitz. The next day the King of Austria came to Napoleon's tent to sue for peace. A treaty of peace was finally made, but it cost the house of Hapsburg twenty thousand square miles of territory and one-half million of subjects.

On the twenty-first of October, 18o5, the famous battle of Trafalgar was fought, in which the French and Spanish fleets were annihilated. Here ended Napoleon's hope for the invasion of England, and here the brave Nelson died, after beating back successfully the ambitious designs of Napoleon, and, so far as human eye can see, saving his country from an invasion that would have proved the ruin of English liberties. The Emperor now saw that whatever he should do for the honor of himself and of France must be done on the mainland of Europe. The electors and kings of the North German States were merged into the Confederation of the Rhine, with Napoleon as their protector. In 1806, the French Emperor lashed the Prussians into war and conquered them at Auerstadt and Jena. After these two battles, Prussia lay beaten at his feet, and he marched without opposition into Berlin. In the following year the Russians were conquered at Friedland, and the treaty of Tilsit followed in 1808. In that year the famous campaign in Spain and Portugal began under Wellington, which ended in wresting the Spanish dominions from the hands of France. The wily Emperor saw the danger and tried to meet it, but no sooner was Napoleon engaged in Spain than the Austrians, smarting under the defeat at Austerlitz, were again upon his track. Napoleon was, therefore, obliged to leave the peninsula and return to the Danube. Austria was again conquered at the battle of Wagrane, and one of the conditions of the peace of Vienna was, that Napoleon should wed an Austrian Princess. Napoleon married Josephine in 1795 ; but, because no son had been born to him, she was shamelessly divorced, and the French Emperor was married to Maria Louisa.

In 1812 Napoleon determined to conquer Russia, and in June of that year he crossed the Niemen, and led his columns to Moscow. On the fourteenth of September, with his victorious hosts, he entered the ancient capital of the Russian Empire. For the first time in his mighty career, Napoleon was outgeneraled. He marched into an abandoned city. The people had fled, and the place was, without a garrison. That night, after the soldiers had feasted and lay in a drunken stupor throughout the city, the Russians fired with their own hands their beloved city. In four days Moscow lay in ashes, and Napoleon was in the centre of the Russian territories, without supplies, and with winter already upon his track. The Russians had now marshalled a force against Napoleon that he could not conquer. Hunger was an enemy that he had never before met. Only one resource was left, and that a disgraceful retreat. It is impossible to describe the terrors of that retreat, in which Russian cavalry lay forever on the skirts of the fleeing army. One hundred and thirty-five thousand perished in battle ; one hundred and thirty thousand more were taken prisoners, or perished in the march. At last Napoleon was beaten. He abandoned the wretched remnant of his army, and was drawn in a sledge across the Russian frontier on his way to Paris.

The air was thick with threatening danger. Wellington had been victorious on the Peninsula ; an enormous army had been sacrificed in the retreat from Moscow, and the Prussians were once more in the field as the allies of Russia. With marvelous dis-patch Napoleon assembled another army. He defeated the Prussians and Russians at Lützen and again at Bautzen in 1813. But these victories were useless to turn back the tide of invasion that was pouring in upon the empire. Battle after battle was fought, until the old warrior was brought to bay at Leipsic. Here he suffered a crushing defeat. The allied armies of England, Prussia and Russia were now crowding upon the frontier of France. Napoleon summoned his energies to meet the crisis, amazed the world by the rapidity, of his movements and fertility of his resources. At last, in the desperate hope of breaking the enemy's line, he outflanked them, sup-posing that they would retreat. Instead, they marched upon Paris and captured the city the last day of March, 1804. Two days afterward the man who had shaken Europe to its centre was deposed, signed his own abdication and became a lonely exile at Elba.

For ten months the Emperor chafed in exile, He then escaped and returned to France. Troops joined his standard as he marched from Cannes to Paris.

Louis XVIII. fled at his approach, and Napoleon once more levied troops at the capital of France. In a few days he was at the head of a large army. With these he marched to Belgium to smite Wellington and Blucher. The result of this last campaign of Napoleon has been told a thousand times, and has added a new word to the world's vocabulary, and that word is waterloo. In our sketch of Wellington we have described this world-famous battle. It is charitable to the hero of so many battles to think that the splendor of his military genius was now dimmed, and that the Bonaparte of Waterloo was no longer the Bonaparte of Arcola, Marenzo and Austerlitz. It is hardly possible to account for his actions in this last battle of his life, except upon the theory that the star of his glory had set, and that the mighty hand of Providence was laid upon the conqueror of Europe. Failing in his efforts to escape to the United States, he became the prisoner of England. He was placed in exile at St. Helena in October, 1815, and for five lonely years, with wife and child in France, and the memories of his former greatness still about him, the great Napoleon paced the lonely rocks. At last, while the sky was rent with crashing thunder and the rain fell in torrents round his lonely home, the great man died as tragically as he had lived, with the words Tete d'armée" upon his lips.

" The judgment is often influenced by first impressions. I had never seen Napoleon till the audience he gave me at St. Cloud, when I delivered my credentials. I found him standing in the middle of one of the rooms, with the minister of foreign affairs and six other members of the court. He wore the Guard's uniform, and had his hat on his head. The latter circumstance, improper in any case, for the audience was not a public one, struck me as misplaced pretension, showing the parvenue. I even hesitated for a moment whether I too should not cover. However, I delivered a short speech, the concise and exact style of which differed essentially from that which had come into use in the new Court of France. His attitude seemed to me to show constraint, and even embarrassment. His short, broad figure, negligent dress and marked endeavor to make an imposing effect, combined to weaken in me the feeling of grandeur naturally attached to the idea of a man before whom the world trembled. This impression has never been entirely effaced from my mind; it was with me in the most important interviews I had with Napoleon at different epochs in his career. Possibly it helped to show me the man as he was, behind the masks with which he knew how to cover him-self. In his freaks, in his fits of passion, in his brusque interpellations, I saw prepared scenes, studied and calculated to produce a certain effect on the person to whom he was speaking.

" He had little scientific knowledge, although his partisans encouraged the belief that he was a profound mathematician. His knowledge of mathematical science would not have raised him above the level of any officer destined, as he was himself, for the artillery ; but his natural abilities supplied the want of knowledge. He became a legislator and administrator, as he became a great soldier—by following his own instinct. The turn of his mind always led him towards the positive ; he disliked vague ideas, and hated equally the dreamy visionaries, and the abstractions of idealists, and treated as mere nonsense everything that was not clearly and practically presented to him. He valued only those sciences which can be controlled and verified by the senses, or which rest on observation and experience. He had the greatest contempt for the false philosophy and the false philanthropy of the Eighteenth Century. Among the chief teachers of these doctrines, Voltaire was the special object of his aversion, and he even went so far as to attack, whenever he had the opportunity, the general opinion as to his literary power.

" It is the same with his courage. He was most tenacious of life; but since so vast a number of destinies were bound up with his, it was doubtless allowable in him to see something more in it than the pitiful existence of an individual. He did not, therefore, think himself called upon to expose `Cesar and his fortune' simply to prove his courage. Other great commanders have thought and acted as he did. If he had not that stimulus which makes break-neck daring, that is certainly not the reason for accusing him of cowardice, as some of his enemies have not hesitated to do. The history of his campaigns suffices to prove that he was always at the place, dangerous or not, which was proper for the head of a great army.

" In order to judge of this extraordinary man, we must follow him upon the grand theatre for which he was born. Fortune had no doubt done much for Napoleon; but by the force of his character, the activity and lucidity of his mind and by his genius for the great combinations of military science, he had risen tothe level of the position which she had destined for him. Having but one passion—that of power—he never lost either his time or his means on those objects which might have diverted him from his aim. Master of himself, he soon became master of men and events. In whatever time he had appeared he would have played a prominent part. But the epoch when he first entered upon his career was particularly fitted to facilitate his elevation. Sur-rounded by individuals who, in the midst of a world of ruins, walked at random, without any fixed guidance, given up to all kinds of ambition and greed, he alone was able to form a plan, hold it fast and conduct it to its conclusion. It was in the course of the second campaign in Italy that he conceived the plan which was to carry him to the summit of power. ' When I was young,' he said to me, 'I was revolutionary from ignorance and ambition. At the age of reason I followed its counsels and my own instincts and I crushed the revolution.'

" The question has often been asked whether Napoleon was radically good or bad. It has always seemed to me that these epithets, as they are generally understood, are not applicable to a character such as his. Constantly occupied by one sole object; given up day and night to the task of holding the helm of an empire which, by progressive encroachments, had finished by including the interests of a great part of Europe, he never recoiled from fear of the wound he might cause, nor even from the immense amount of individual suffering inseparable from the execution of his projects. As a war chariot crushes everything which it meets on its way, Napoleon thought of nothing but to advance. He took no notice of those who had not been on their guard ; he was sometimes tempted to accuse them of stupidity. Unmoved by anything that was out of his path, he did not concern himself with it for good or evil. He could not sympathize with family troubles. He was indifferent to political calamities.

" Napoleon had two aspects : As a private man he was easy-tempered and tractable, without being either good or bad. In his public capacity he admitted no sentiments. He was never influenced either by affection or hatred. He crushed or removed his enemies without thinking of anything but the necessity or advisability of getting rid of them. This object gained, he forgot them entirely, and injured them no more.

" The opinion of the world is still divided, and perhaps will always be, on the question whether Napoleon did in fact deserve to be called a great man. It would be impossible to dispute the great qualities of one who, rising from obscurity, has become in a few years the strongest and most powerful of his cotemporaries. But strength, power and superiority are more or less relative terms. To appreciate properly the degree of genius which has been required for a man to dominate his age, it is necessary to have the measure of that age. This is the point from which opinions with regard to Napoleon diverge so essentially. If the era of the Revolution was, as its admirers think, the most brilliant, the most glorious epoch of modern history, Napoleon, who has been able to take the first place in it, and to keep it for fifteen years, was certainly one of the greatest men that ever appeared. If, on the contrary, he has only had to move, like a meteor, above the mists of a general dissolution ; if he has found nothing around him but the debris of a social condition, ruined by the excess of a false civilization ; if he has only had to combat a resistance weakened by universal lassitude, feeble rivalries, ignoble passions—in fact, adversaries everywhere disunited and paralyzed by their disagree-ment, the splendor of his success diminishes with the facility with which he obtained it. Now, as in our opinion this was really the state of things, we are in no danger of exaggerating the idea of Napoleon's grandeur, though acknowledging that there was something extraordinary and imposing in his career. The vast edifice which he had constructed was exclusively the work of his hands, and he was himself the keystone of the arch. But this gigantic construction was essentially wanting in its foundation. The materials of which it was composed were nothing but the ruins of other buildings ; some were rotten from decay ; others had never possessed any consistency from their very beginning. The keystone of the arch has been withdrawn, and the whole edifice has fallen in."—Memoirs of Prince Metternich, Vol. I, P. 269 seq.

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