Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

self their patron, and the founder of their fortunes, — as when he said, “I made my generals out of mud,” — he could not hide his satisfaction in receiving from them a seconding and support commensurate with the grandeur of his enterprise. In the Russian campaign, he was so much impressed by the courage and resources of Marshal Ney, that he said, “I have two hundred millions in my coffers, and I would give them all for Ney.” The characters which he has drawn of several of his marshals are discriminating, and, though they did not content the insatiable vanity of French officers, are no doubt substantially just. And, in fact, every species of merit was sought and advanced under his government. “I know,” he said, “ the depth and draught of water of every one of my generals.” Natural power was sure to be well received at his court. Seventeen men, in his time, were raised from common soldiers to the rank of king, marshal, duke, or general; and the crosses of his Legion of Honor were given to personal valor, and not to family connection. “ When soldiers have been baptized in the fire of a battle-field, they have all one rank in my eyes."

When a natural king becomes a titular king, everybody is pleased and satisfied. The Revolution entitled the strong popuface of the Faubourg St. Antoine, and every horseboy and powder-monkey in the army, to look on Napoleon as flesh of liis flesh, and the creature of his party. But there is something in the success of grand talent which enlists a universal sympathy: for, in the prevalence of sense and spirit over stupidity and malversation, all reasonable men have an interest; and, as intellectual beings, we feel the air purified by the electric shock when material force is overthrown by intellectual energies. As soon as we are removed out of the reach of local and accidental partialities, man feels that Napoleon fights for him; these are honest victories; this strong steam-engine does our work. Whatever appeals to the imagination by transcending the ordinary limits of human ability, wonderfully encourages and liberates us. This capacious head, revolving and disposing sovereignly trains of affairs, and animating such multitudes of agents; this eye, which looked through Europe; this prompt invention; this inexhaustible resource, - what events ! what romantic pictures ! what strange situations ! when spying the Alps by a sunset in the Sicilian Sea; drawing up his army for battle in sight of the Pyramids, and saying to his troops, "From the tops of those Pyramids forty centuries look down on you;” fording the Red Sea; wading in the gulf of the Isthmus of Suez. On the shore of Ptolemais, gigantic projects agitated him. "Had Acre fallen, I should have changed the face of the world.” His army, on the night of the battle of Austerlitz, -which was the anniversary of his inaugura

tion as emperor, presented him with a bouquet of forty standards taken in the tight. Perhaps it is a little puerile the pleasure he took in making these contrasts glaring; as when he pleased himself with making kings wait in his ante-chambers at Tilsit, at Paris, and at Erfürt.

We can not, in the universal imbecility, indecision, and indolence of men, sufficiently congratulate ourselves on this strong and ready actor, who took occasion by the beard, and showed us how much may be accomplished by the mere force of such virtues as all men possess in less degrees; namely, by punctuality, by personal attention, by courage and thoroughness. “The Austrians," he said, “ do not know the value of time.” I should cite him in his earlier years as a model of prudence. His power does not consist in any wild or extravagant force; in any enthusiasm like Mahomet’s, or singular power of persuasion; but in the exercise of common sense on each emergency, instead of abiding by rules and customs. The lesson he teaches is that which vigor always teaches, that there is always room for it. To what heaps of cowardly doubts is not that man's life an answer! When he appeared, it was the belief of all military men that there could be nothing new in war; as it is the belief of men today that nothing new can be undertaken in politics, or in church, or in letters, or in trade, or in farming, or in our social manners and customs; and as it is at all times the belief of society that the world is used up. But Bonaparte knew better than society; and, moreover, knew that he knew better. I think all men know better than they do, - know that the institutions we so volubly commend are go-carts and baubles; but they dare not trust their presentiments. Bonaparte relied on his own sense, and did not care a bean for other people's. The world treated his novelties just as it treats everybody's novelties, - made infinite objection, mustered all the impediments; but he snapped his finger at their objections. “What creates great difficulty,” he remarks, " in the profession of the land-commander, is the necessity of feeding so many men and animals.

If he allows himself to be guided by the commissaries, he will never stir, and all his expeditions will fail.” An example of his common sense is what he says of the passage of the Alps in winter; which all writers, one repeating after the other, had described as impracticable. “ The winter, says Napoleon, “is not the most unfavorable season for the passage of lofty mountains. The snow is then firm, the weather settled; and there is nothing to fear from avalanches, the real and only danger to be apprehended in the Alps. On those high mountains, there are often very fine days in December, of a dry cold, with extreme calmness in the air.” Read his account, too, of the way in which battles are gained: “In all battles, a mo

ment occurs when the bravest troops, after having made the greatest efforts, feel inclined to run. That terror proceeds from a want of confidence in their own courage; and it only requires a slight opportunity, a pretense, to restore confidence to them. The art is to give rise to the opportunity, and to invent the pretense. At Arcola, I won the battle with twenty-five horsemen. I seized that moment of lassitude, gave every man a trumpet, and gained the day with this handful. You see that two armies are two bodies which meet, and endeavor to frighten each other: a moment of panic occurs, and that moment must be turned to advantage. When a man has been present in many actions, he distinguishes that moment without difficulty: it is as easy as casting up an addition.”

This deputy of the nineteenth century added to his gifts a capacity for speculation on general topics. He delighted in running through the range of practical, of literary, and of abstract questions. His opinion is always original, and to the purpose. On the voyage to Egypt, he liked, after dinner, to fix on three or four

persons to support a proposition, and as many to oppose it. He gave a subject; and the discussions turned on questions of religion, the different kinds of government, and the art of war. One day, he asked whether the planets were inhabited; on another, what was the age of the world. Then he proposed to consider the probability of the destruction of the globe, either by water or by fire; at another time, the truth or fallacy of presentiments, and the interpretation of dreams. He was very fond of talking of religion. In 1806, he conversed with Fournier; bishop of Montpellier, on matters of theology. There were two points on which they could not agree; viz., that of hell, and that of salvation out of the pale of the Church. The emperor told Josephine that he disputed like a devil on these two points, on which the bishop was inexorable. To the philosophers he readily yielded all that was proved against religion as the work of men and time; but he would not hear of materialism. One fine night, on deck, amid a clatter of materialism, Bonaparte pointed to the stars, and said, “ You may talk as long as you please, gentlemen; but who made all that?” He delighted in the conversation of men of science, particularly of Monge and Berthollet: but the men of letters he slighted; “they were manufacturers of phrases.” Of medicine, too, he was fond of talking, and with those of its practitioners whom he most esteemed, with Corvisart at Paris, and with Antonomarchi at St. Helena. “Believe me,” he said to the last, “we had better leave off all these remedies: life is a fortress which neither you nor I know any thing about. Why throw obstacles in the way of its defense ? Its own means are superior to all the apparatus of your laboratories. Corvisart can

didly agreed with me that all your filthy mixtures are good for nothing. Medicine is a collection of uncertain prescriptions, the results of which, taken collectively, are more fatal than useful to mankind. Water, air, and cleanliness are the chief articles in my pharmacopeia."

His Memoirs, dictated to Count Montholon and Gen. Gourgaud at St. Helena, have great value, after all the deduction that it seems is to be made from them on account of his known disingenuousness. He has the good-nature of strength and conscious superiority. I admire his simple, clear narrative of his battles,

- good as Cæsar's, — his good-natured and sufficiently respectful account of Marshal Wurmser and his other antagonists, and his own equality as a writer to his varying subject. The most agreeable portion is the campaign in Egypt.

He had hours of thought and wisdom. In intervals of leisure, either in the camp or the palace, Napoleon appears as a man of genius, directing on abstract questions the native appetite for truth, and the impatience of words, he was wont to show in war. He could enjoy every play of invention, a romance, a bon-mot, as well as a stratagem in a campaign. He delighted to fascinate Josephine and her ladies in a dim-lighted apartment by the terrors of a fiction, to which his voice and dramatic power lent every addition.

I call Napoleon the agent or attorney of the middle class of modern society; of the throng who fill the markets, shops, counting-houses, manufactories, ships, of the modern world, aiming to be rich. He was the agitator, the destroyer of prescription, the internal improver, the liberal, the radical, the inventor of means, the opener of doors and markets, the subverter of monopoly and abuse. Of course, the rich and aristocratic did not like him. England, the center of capital, and Rome and Austria, centers of tradition and genealogy, opposed him. The consternation of the dull and conservative classes; the terror of the foolish old men and old women of the Roman conclave, who in their despair took hold of any thing, and would cling to red-hot iron; the vain attempts of statists to amuse and deceive him, of the Emperor of Austria to bribe him; and the instinct of the young, ardent, and active men everywhere, which pointed him out as the giant of the middle class, — make his history bright and commanding. He had the virtues of the masses of his constituents : he had also their vices. I am sorry that the brilliant picture has its

But that is the fatal quality which we discover in our pursuit of wealth, that it is treacherous, and is bought by the breaking or weakening of the sentiments, and it is inevitable that we should find the same fact in the history of this champion, who proposed to himself simply a brilliant career without any stipulation or scruple concerning the means.

reverse.

Bonaparte was singularly destitute of generous sentiments. The highest-placed individual in the most cultivated age and population of the world, he has not the merit of common truth and honesty. He is unjust to his generals; egotistic and monopolizing; meanly stealing the credit of their great actions from Kellermann, from Bernadotte; intriguing to involve his faithful Junot in hopeless bankruptcy in order to drive him to a distance from Paris, because the familiarity of his manners oftends the new pride of his throne. He is a boundless liar. The official paper, his “Moniteurs,” and all his bulletins, are proverbs for saying what he wished to be believed; and, worse, he sat, in his premature old age, in his lonely island, coldly falsifying facts and dates and characters, and giving to history a theatrical éclat. Like all Frenchmen, he has a passion for stage effect. Every action that breathes of generosity is poisoned by this calculation. His star, his love of glory, his doctrine of the immortality of the soul, are all French. “I must dazzle and astonish. If I were to give the liberty of the press, my power could not last three days." To make a great noise is his favorite design. “A great reputation is a great noise: the more there is made, the farther off it is heard. Laws, institations, monuments, nations, all fall; but the noise continues, and resounds in after-ages." His doctrine of immortality is simply fame. His theory of influence is not flattering. “ There are two levers for moving men, — interest and fear. Love is a silly infatuation, depend upon it. Friendship is but a name.

I love nobody. I do not even love my brothers : perhaps Joseph a little, from habit, and because he is my elder; and Duroc — I love him too; but why? Because his character pleases me: he is stern and resolute, and I believe the fellow never shed a tear. For my part, I know very well that I have no true friends. As long as I continue to be what I

am,

I

may have as many pretended friends as I please. Leave sensibility to women; but men should be firm in heart and purpose, or they should have nothing to do with war and government. thoroughly unscrupulous. He would steal, slander, assassinate, drown, and poison, as his interest dictated.

He had no generosity, but mere vulgar hatred; he was intensely selfish; he was perfidious; he cheated at cards; he was a prodigious gossip, and opened letters, and delighted in his infamous police; and rubbed his hands with joy when he had intercepted some morsel of intelligence concerning the men and women about him, boasting that “ he knew every thing;." and interfered with the cutting the dresses of the women; and listened after the hurrahs and the compliments of the street incognito. His manners were coarse. He treated women with low familiarity. He had the habit of pulling their ears and pinching their cheeks when he was in

He was

« ПредишнаНапред »