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THE CORRESPONDENCE OF NAPOLEON 1.*
WHATEVER divergence of opinions may exist in this country as to the character of the present Emperor of the French, all must be unanimous in conceding that none is so well acquainted as he with the temper and feelings of the French nation. To the true Gaul, the history of his fatherland only dates back to the first Revolution. He is perfectly indifferent to the deeds of Valois and Bourbons, but he puts implicit faith in the first Empire and the glory which it brought upon his fatherland. Over camp-fires or in crowded barracks the conversation always turns on one point-the wars of the Republic and the Empire. Grey-headed sergeants tell of the glorious days when there were truly giants in the land, and the conscripts listen with awe-struck reverence to the story of Marengo or of Austerlitz. In the army not the slightest incident connected with the Napoleonic cycle of victories is unknown. You may learn how this one from a miller's son became a marshal—ay, even a king, and at the recital the recruit's eye flashes with unwonted fire, and he calls to mind with ecstasy the great Emperor's doctrine, " that every private carried his marshal's staff in his knapsack.” And yet, were you to ask these Tyrtæi of the Revolution for a description of Fontenoy, they would regard you with amazement, and avow their ignorance of a battle mayhap as glorious as any ever fought by Frenchmen, for there they had the rare honour of compelling Englishmen to retreat.
This feeling of enthusiasm for the first Napoleon is so universal in France, that the first measure taken by the prince-president was to foster it in every possible degree, and since his accession to the throne he has done his utmost to add to the apotheosis of his uncle. A commission has been appointed to trace his passage through life, and every house inhabited by him on his road to the Tuileries will have an inscription placed upon it, bearing the date of its occupation by him. But a far grander and more sterling memorial of the great man will be found in the collection of his entire Correspondence, which has been going on for some time, the result being the publication of the first volume, to which we propose calling our readers’ attention. The committee entrusted with this difficult task made an appeal to the French nation for contributions, and thousands of letters were sent in, which have enabled Napoleon's very thoughts, as it were, to be traced day after day. Although these letters cannot add to his glory, they furnish a better comprehension of his prodigious destiny, the prestige which he exercised over his contemporaries, and of the irresistible impulse which forced France into restoring his dynasty on the throne. We think that the commission have acted wisely in confining their attention to Napoleon the warrior and legislator, and omitting letters merely referring to domestic matters, for their readers will be able to better appreciate the incessant labour he devoted to the welfare and progress of his country. To furnish some idea of his zeal, we may mention that the archives of the empire contain no less than forty thousand documents of Napoleon's Correspondence, and the Depôt of War
* Correspondance de Napoléon Ier. Publiée par ordre de l'Empereur Napoléon III. Paris: Henri Plon. Vol. I.
more than twenty thousand. And this exclusive of the thousands upon thousands entrusted to the commission by his relatives and private individuals.
The first letter in this volume bears date 25th October, 1793, and is addressed to the Committee of Public Safety from Toulon, where Napoleon had just assumed the command of the artillery of the army of the South. Even at the outset we are struck with admiration at the incessant activity he displays in organising and improving the matériel. In every letter he complains of the neglect to which the army is exposed, and is never forgetful of self-praise. Thus he writes: “Three days after my arrival the army possessed an artillery, and the batteries of the Mountain and the Sans-culottes were established.” After enumerating all the improvements he has made and projected, he adds, “ You will grant some merit to these different operations, citizen minister, when you learn that I am alone to direct the park—the military operations and the arsenal; that I have not a single sergeant-conductor, and only fifty gunners, of whom many are recruits.” Thanks to his combinations, be was enabled to announce to the committee, on the 24th of December, 1793, that Toulon had fallen, and the English squadron had run a narrow chance of escape. On his return to Paris he maintains a close correspondence with his brother Joseph, which has been already published. One striking passage, however, deserves quotation here, as showing how quickly the Parisians forgot the horrors of the guillotine.
Luxury, pleasure, and the arts are regaining ground in an astonishing manner. Yesterday “ Phèdre” was played at the Opera for the benefit of an old actress ; the crowd was immense from two P.M., although the prices were trebled. Carriages and élégans reappear, or rather it seems to them like a dream that they ever ceased to dazzle. The libraries, lectures on history, chemistry, botany, astronomy, &c., succeed each other. All is piled up in this country to distract and render life agreeable. All are striving to escape from their reflections: and how is it possible to entertain gloomy views in this working of the mind and noisy activity? Women are everywhere—at the theatres, promenades, and libraries ; in the cabinet of the savant you meet very pretty women. Here alone, of all places in the world, they deserve to hold the helm. Thus the men are mad about them, only think of them, and only live for and by them. A woman requires six months in Paris to learn what is due to her and what her empire is.
And yet the young general must have chafed terribly at his forced inactivity. Memoir after memoir he sends in as to the uses to be derived from the army of Italy, and he draws up instructions, by direction of the committee, for General Kellerman, commander-in-chief of the army of the Alps. They are masterpieces of strategy, and dimly foreshadow the victories Napoleon is himself to gain. Then we find him offering his services to proceed to Turkey and organise the army of the Sultan, as a check to the designs of Austria and Prussia, but the committee are of opinion that they cannot let him leave France as long as the war lasts, so they reappoint him to the artillery. Next comes the great day, the 14th Vendémiare, an IV., when Napoleon is second in command of the troops that defeat the sections, and finally restore tranquillity to Paris. Within a week the incompetent Barras is deposed from the command of the army of the interior, and Napoleon takes his place. Still his thoughts ever turn longingly to the army of Italy. He knows what can be done in that part of the world, and chafes at the thoughts of
opportunities neglected. At length he gains the object of his ambitionhe is appointed commander-in-chief of the army of Italy, and another interesting event occurs simultaneously :
To Citizen Letourneur, President of the Executive Directory.
Head-quarters, Paris, 21st Ventôse, an IV. I have requested Citizen Barras to inform the Executive Directory of my marriage with the Citoyenne Tascher Beauharnois. The confidence the Directory has displayed towards me in all circumstances renders it my duty to instruct it of all my actions. It is a new tie attaching me to my country; it is a further pledge of my firm resolve only to find safety in the Republic. Greeting and respect.
Letter No. 90 in this series is in so far interesting as it is the first occasion on which the general subscribes himself Bonaparte, and the next following is the memorable proclamation addressed to the army on the opening of the campaign : “Soldiers ! you are naked and ill-fed : government owes you everything, and can give you nothing. Your patience, and the fortitude you have displayed in the midst of these inhospitable rocks, are admirable, but they bestow no glory upon you-you are gaining no renown. I will lead you to the most fertile plains in the world. Rich provinces, great cities shall be in your power, there you will enjoy honour, glory, and wealth. Soldiers of Italy! will you fail in courage or constancy ?” But if the soldiers construed this in tacit license to “rifle, rob, and plunder," they were doomed to be terribly disappointed, for the young general punished all such excesses with unexampled severity. We come across a multitude of general orders, in which Bonaparte pitilessly orders men to be shot for plundering, and for a while the provost-marshal had no leisure time of it. But Bonaparte was perfectly in the right ; the men were insubordinate and ill-disciplined, and he knew that he could not trust them until he rendered them amenable to his authority. Had he not instituted these rigorous examples, his army would have been defeated in the first general action, for nothing demoralises so much as licence. Our great Duke was well aware of this, and the history of his first campaign in Spain is equally fertile in examples of severity. By these means, the troops, whom the Iron Duke called the worst in the world, ended by defeating the French in every engagement. We would the more urge this point, as a contemporary appears to us to have made an utterly false estimate of Napoleon's character, and refers to indifference of human life what was in fact the result of stern necessity. See how Napoleon writes of his army to the Directory :
The treasury has often sent us bills which are protested; one of 62,800 livres has just been so, which increases our embarrassment. I found this army not only wanting everything, but undisciplined, and in a chronic state of insubordination. The general discontent was such that the evil-wishers had got hold of them; a dauphin company had been formed, and Chouan and anti-revolutionary songs were sung. I had two officers accused of having shouted “ Vive le roi !" tried by a court-martial.
The battle of Montenotte was the first victory achieved in Italy by the Republicans. The Austrians were again beaten at Millesimo, and on the
next day at Dego, where nine thousand prisoners, twenty-two guns, and fifteen Aags were taken. But in the midst of these glorious successes, the horrible propensity for plundering disturbed the commander-in-chief, and at length drew from him the following fierce general order, dated from Lesegno, 22nd of April, 1796:
The general-in-chief expresses to the army his satisfaction at its bravery and the successes daily gained over the enemy; but he sees with horror the fearful pillage to which certain ill-conditioned men give themselves up, and who only join their corps after a battle to indulge in excesses most dishonourable to the army and the name of Frenchmen. In consequence, he orders : 1st. The chief of the staff will hand him, within twenty-four hours, a report on the moral conduct of the adjutants-general and other officers attached to the staff. 2ndly. The generals of division will send, within twenty-four hours, to the general commanding, their opinion as to the morality of the field officers who have served under them since the opening of the campaign. . . . . The generals of division are authorised to break on the spot, or even send to Fort Carré at Antibes, those officers who by their example authorised the horrible pillage which has gone on for several days past. Generals of division are authorised, by the nature of the circumstances, to shoot on the spot officers or soldiers who, by their example, excite others to pillage, and thus destroy discipline, produce disorder in the army, and compromise its safety and glory. Every officer and sub-officer who has not followed his flag, or who, without a valid excuse, is absent during a battle, will be dismissed the service, and his name sent to his department that he may be branded in the eyes of his fellow-citizens as a coward.
These repeated allusions to the officers furnish very sufficient proof that, from the highest to the lowest, every man was trying to carry out in their integrity the provisions of the first proclamation, and it was only the love with which all regarded Napoleon that caused them to submit to such stringent orders. The proclamation, however, appears to have produced the proper effect, for allusions to the subject grow rarer and rarer as we proceed through the volume. And yet the army had behaved splendidly in the field ; in a fortnight it had gained six victories, captured twenty-one flags, fifty-five guns, several strong places, conquered the richest part of Piedmont, taken fifteen thousand prisoners, and killed or wounded more than ten thousand men. Let us quote from the general's proclamation to his army : “ You were in want of everything at the commencement of the campaign ; you are now abundantly supplied; the magazines taken from your enemies are numerous; the siege and fieldartillery has arrived. Soldiers, your country has a right to expect great things from you ; you will justify its expectations? The greatest obstacles are doubtlessly overcome; but you have still battles to fight, towns to take, rivers to pass. Are there any among you whose courage fails them ? are there any who would prefer to go back and await the insults of this servile soldatesca ? No. There are none such among the conquerors of Montenotte, Millesimo, Dego, and Mondovi. All wish to be able to say with pride on returning to their villages, “I belonged to the victorious army of Italy.”
After the defeat of Cherasco, the Sardinians were glad to sue for peace, and Napoleon consented to an armistice, on condition that four strong places should be handed over to him as security. His rear thus protected, he proceeded into Italy to secure some tangible reward for his victories. The following letter, written to M. Faypoult, will furnish the best idea of the scheme he designed :
We reached Acqui yesterday. Beaulieu is flying so fast that we cannot catch him up.
To-morrow La Harpe will be at Tortona, where I much desire to have a conference with you on essential objects. Send me a memorandum-geographical, historical, political, and topographical—on the imperial fiefs adjoining Genoa, that I may draw the most benefit from them. Send me a report about the Dukes of Parma, Placentia, and Modena; the force they have, the strong places they possess, and in what the riches of their countries consist; above all, send me a statement of the pictures, statues, antiquities, &c., at Milan, Parma, Placentia, Modena, and Bologna. When we made peace with Spain, the Duke of Parma should have joined us. Why did he not do so?
Soon after, writing to Carnot, Bonaparte informs him that he has sent him twenty of the best pictures by Corregio and Michel Angelo, and hopes, if matters go well, to be able to send him two millions of francs shortly. He commences raising the sum by levying two millions on the Duke of Parma, who also provided the pictures." So soon as this matter was satisfactorily arranged, Bonaparte set out in pursuit of the Austrians, and came up with them at the bridge of Lodi. He considers this the boldest operation of the whole campaign. Beaulieu had drawn up his army in battle array, and thirty guns defended the passage of the bridge. The Austrians kept up a terrific fire, and the head of the French column began to yield. A moment's hesitation would have lost everything, but Berthier, Lannes, and others rushed to the head of the column and carried all before them. In his despatch to the Directory, Napoleon specially commends Berthier, who on this day was gunner, trooper, and grenadier. This victory opened the whole of Lombardy to the French, and Bonaparte was already entertaining ambitious dreams of signing a peace in the capital of astonished Austria. But matters were not to progress so rapidly, for the army of the Rhine was far from supporting him in the way it should have done. At the same time Napoleon was thwarted by the Directory, who proposed dividing the army of Italy into two, and giving the command of one half to Kellerman. This Bonaparte vigorously resisted:
If you surround me with all sorts of embarrassments (he writes to the Directory) --if I must refer to the commissioners of government at every step-if they have a right to change my movements, to take away or send me troops, expect nothing good henceforth. If you weaken your means by dividing your forces—if you break in Italy the unity of military thought-I tell you with pain, you will have lost the "fairest occasion to impose laws on Italy. In the present posture of affairs here, it is indispensable that you should have a general possessing your entire confidence. If it were not myself, I should not complain ; but I would try to redouble my zeal in order to merit your esteem in the post you might entrust to me. Each has his own way of carrying on war.
General Kellerman has more experience, and will do so better than I; but together we should do it very badly. I can only render essential service to my country when invested with your entire and absolute confidence. I feel that I require great courage to write you such a letter; it would be so easy to accuse me of ambition and pride, but I am bound to express to you all my feelings, as you have ever given me testimonies of your esteem which I must not forget.
The Duke of Modena was the next potentate to feel the weight of Republican anger ; he was fined seven million five hundred thousand francs in cash, and two million five hundred thousand more in kind, as well as twenty pictures, to be selected by the commissioners of the Republic. Among the latter was Corregio's celebrated “St. Jerome,” estimated to be worth two hundred thousand francs. So soon as this