Produced by Jonathan Ingram and Project br/>Distributed Proofreaders
LITERATURE, AMUSEMENT, AND INSTRUCTION.
|Vol. 10, No. 263.]||SUPPLEMENTARY NUMBER.||[PRICE 2d.|
SIR WALTER SCOTT’S LIFE OF NAPOLEON BONAPARTE.
(Continued from page 5.)
Robespierre was a coward, who signed death-warrants with a hand that shook, though his heart was relentless. He possessed no passions on which to charge his crimes; they were perpetrated in cold blood, and upon mature deliberation.
Marat, the third of this infernal triumvirate, had attracted the attention of the lower orders, by the violence of his sentiments in the journal which he conducted from the commencement of the revolution, upon such principles that it took the lead in forwarding its successive changes. His political exhortations began and ended like the howl of a blood-hound for murder; or, if a wolf could have written a journal, the gaunt and famished wretch could not have ravened more eagerly for slaughter. It was blood which was Marat’s constant demand, not in drops from the breast of an individual, not in puny streams from the slaughter of families, but blood in the profusion of an ocean. His usual calculation of the heads which he demanded amounted to two hundred and sixty thousand; and though he sometimes raised it as high as three hundred thousand, it never fell beneath the smaller number. It may be hoped, and for the honour of human nature we are inclined to believe, there was a touch of insanity in this unnatural strain of ferocity; and the wild and squalid features of the wretch appear to have intimated a degree of alienation of mind. Marat was, like Robespierre, a coward. Repeatedly denounced in the assembly, he skulked instead of defending himself, and lay concealed in some obscure garret or cellar among his cut-throats, until a storm appeared, when, like a bird of ill omen, his death-screech was again heard. Such was the strange and fatal triumvirate, in which the same degree of cannibal cruelty existed under different aspects. Danton murdered to glut his rage; Robespierre to avenge his injured vanity, or to remove a rival whom he envied; Marat, from the same instinctive love of blood, which induces a wolf to continue his ravage of the flocks long after his hunger is appeased.
Passing by the horrors of the reign of terror, we shall close the second volume with a vivid and powerful picture, which we cannot refrain quoting—
THE DEATH OF ROBESPIERRE.
Meantime the convention continued to maintain the bold and commanding front which they had so suddenly and critically assumed. Upon learning the escape of the arrested deputies, and hearing of the insurrection at the Hotel de Ville, they instantly passed a decree outlawing Robespierre and his associates, inflicting a similar doom upon the mayor of Paris, the procureur and other members of the commune, and charging twelve of their members, the boldest who could be selected, to proceed with the armed force to the execution of the sentence. The drums of the National Guards now beat to arms in all the sections under authority of the convention, while the tocsin continued to summon assistance with its iron voice to Robespierre and the civic magistrates. Every thing appeared to threaten a violent catastrophe, until it was seen clearly that the public voice, and especially amongst the National Guards, was declaring itself generally against the Terrorists.
The Hotel de Ville was surrounded by about fifteen hundred men, and cannon turned upon the doors. The force of the assailants was weakest in point of number, but their leaders were men of spirit, and night concealed their inferiority of force.
The deputies commissioned for the purpose read the decree of the assembly to those whom they found assembled in front of the city-hall, and they shrunk from the attempt of defending it, some joining the assailants, others laying down their arms and dispersing. Meantime the deserted group of Terrorists within conducted themselves like scorpions, which, when surrounded by a circle of fire, are said to turn their stings on each other, and on themselves. Mutual and ferocious upbraiding took place among these miserable men. “Wretch, were these the means you promised to furnish?” said Payan to Henriot, whom he found intoxicated and incapable of resolution or exertion; and seizing on him as he spoke, he precipitated the revolutionary general from a window. Henriot survived the fall only to drag himself into a drain, in which he was afterwards discovered and brought out to execution. The younger Robespierre threw himself from the window, but had not the good fortune to perish on the spot. It seemed as if even the melancholy fate of suicide, the last refuge of guilt and despair, was denied to men who had so long refused every species of mercy to their fellow-creatures. Le Bas alone had calmness enough to despatch himself with a pistol-shot. Saint Just, after imploring his comrades to kill him, attempted his own life with an irresolute hand, and failed, Couthon lay beneath the table brandishing a knife, with which he repeatedly wounded his bosom, without daring to add force enough to reach his heart. Their chief, Robespierre, in an unsuccessful attempt to shoot himself, had only inflicted a horrible fracture on his under-jaw.
In this situation they were found like wolves in their lair, foul with blood, mutilated, despairing, and yet not able to die. Robespierre lay on a table in an anti-room, his head supported by a deal-box, and his hideous countenance half-hidden by a bloody and dirty cloth bound round the shattered chin.1
The captives were carried in triumph to the convention, who, without admitting them to the bar, ordered them, as outlaws, for instant execution. As the fatal cars passed to the guillotine, those who filled them, but especially Robespierre, were overwhelmed with execrations from the friends and relatives of victims whom he had sent on the same melancholy road. The nature of his previous wound, from which the cloth had never been removed till the executioner tore it off, added to the torture of the sufferer. The shattered jaw dropped, and the wretch yelled aloud, to the horror of the spectators.2 A mask taken from that dreadful head was long exhibited in different nations of Europe, and appalled the spectator by its ugliness, and the mixture of fiendish expression with that of bodily agony.
Thus fell Maximilian Robespierre, after having been the first person in the French republic for nearly two years, during which time he governed it upon the principles of Nero or Caligula. His elevation to the situation which he held involved more contradictions than perhaps attach to any similar event in history. A low-born and low-minded tyrant was permitted to rule with the rod of the most frightful despotism a people, whose anxiety for liberty had shortly before rendered them unable to endure the rule of a humane and lawful sovereign. A dastardly coward arose to the command of one of the bravest nations in the world; and it was under the auspices of a man who dared scarce fire a pistol, that the greatest generals in France began their careers of conquest. He had neither eloquence nor imagination; but substituted in their stead a miserable, affected, bombastic style, which, until other circumstances gave him consequence, drew on him general ridicule. Yet against so poor an orator, all the eloquence of the philosophical Girondists, all the terrible powers of his associate Danton, employed in a popular assembly, could not enable them to make an effectual resistance. It may seem trifling to mention, that in a nation where a good deal of prepossession is excited by amiable manners and beauty of external appearance, the person who ascended to the highest power was not only ill-looking, but singularly mean in person, awkward and constrained in his address, ignorant how to set about pleasing even when he most desired to give pleasure, and as tiresome nearly as he was odious and heartless.
To compensate all these deficiencies, Robespierre had but an insatiable ambition, founded on a vanity which made him think himself capable of filling the highest situation; and therefore gave him daring, when to dare is frequently to achieve. He mixed a false and over-strained, but rather fluent species of bombastic composition, with the grossest flattery to the lowest classes of the people; in consideration of which, they could not but receive as genuine the praises which he always bestowed on himself. His prudent resolution to be satisfied with possessing the essence of power, without seeming to desire its rank and trappings, formed another art of cajoling the multitude. His watchful envy, his long-protracted but sure revenge, his craft, which to vulgar minds supplies the place of wisdom, were his only means of competing with his distinguished antagonists. And it seems to have been a merited punishment of the extravagances and abuses of the French revolution, that it engaged the country in a state of anarchy which permitted a wretch such as we have described, to be for a long period master of her destiny. Blood was his element, like that of the other Terrorists, and he never fastened with so much pleasure on a new victim, as when he was at the same time an ancient associate. In an epitaph, of which the following couplet may serve as a translation, his life was represented as incompatible with the existence of the human race:—
“Here lies Robespierre—let no tear be shed;
Reader, if he had lived, thou hadst been dead.”
The commencement of the third volume introduces us to the family of Bonaparte, who resided in the island of Corsica, which was, in ancient times, remarkable as the scene of Seneca’s exile, and in the last century was distinguished by the memorable stand which the natives made in defence of their liberties against the Genoese and French, during a war which tended to show the high and indomitable spirit of the islanders, united as it is with the fiery and vindictive feelings proper to their country and climate.
BIRTH OF BONAPARTE.
Charles Bonaparte, the father of Napoleon, died at the age of about forty years, of an ulcer in the stomach, on the 24th of February, 1785. His celebrated son fell a victim to the same disease. During Napoleon’s grandeur, the community of Montpellier expressed a desire to erect a monument to the memory of Charles Bonaparte. His answer was both sensible and in good taste. “Had I lost my father yesterday,” he said, “it would be natural to pay his memory some mark of respect consistent with my present situation. But it is twenty years since the event, and it is one in which the public can take no concern. Let us leave the dead in peace.”
The subject of our narrative was born, according to the best accounts, and his own belief, upon the 15th day of August, 1769, at his father’s house in Ajaccio, forming one side of a court which leads out of the Rue Charles.3 We read with interest, that his mother’s good constitution, and bold character of mind, having induced her to attend mass upon the day of his birth, (being the Festival of the Assumption,) she was obliged to return home immediately, and as there was no time to prepare a bed or bedroom, she was delivered of the future victor upon a temporary couch prepared for her accommodation, and covered with an ancient piece of tapestry, representing the heroes of the Iliad. The infant was christened by the name of Napoleon, an obscure saint, who had dropped to leeward, and fallen altogether out of the calendar, so that his namesake never knew which day he was to celebrate as the festival of his patron. When questioned, on this subject by the bishop who confirmed him, he answered smartly, that there were a great many saints, and only three hundred and sixty-five days to divide amongst them. The politeness of the pope promoted the patron in order to compliment the god-child, and Saint Napoleon des Ursins was accommodated with a festival. To render this compliment, which no one but a pope could have paid, still more flattering, the feast of Saint Napoleon was fixed for the fifteenth August, the birthday of the emperor, and the day on which he signed the Concordat. So that Napoleon had the rare honour of promoting his patron saint.
NAPOLEON’S EARLY LIFE.
The young Napoleon had, of course, the simple and hardy education proper to the natives of the mountainous island of his birth, and in his infancy was not remarkable for more than that animation of temper, and wilfulness and impatience of inactivity, by which children of quick parts and lively sensibility are usually distinguished. The winter of the year was generally passed by the family of his father at Ajaccio, where they still preserve and exhibit, as the ominous play-thing of Napoleon’s boyhood, the model of a brass cannon, weighing about thirty pounds.4 We leave it to philosophers to inquire, whether the future love of war was suggested by the accidental possession of such a toy; or whether the tendency of the mind dictated the selection of it; or, lastly, whether the nature of the pastime, corresponding with the taste which chose it, may not have had each their action and reaction, and contributed between them to the formation of a character so warlike.
The same traveller who furnishes the above anecdote, gives an interesting account of the country retreat of the family of Bonaparte during the summer.
Going along the sea-shore from Ajaccio towards the Isle Sanguiniere, about a mile from the town, occur two stone pillars, the remains of a doorway, leading up to a dilapidated villa, once the residence of Madame Bonaparte’s half-brother on the mother’s side, whom Napoleon created Cardinal Fesch.5 The house is approached by an avenue, surrounded and overhung by the cactus and other shrubs, which luxuriate in a warm climate. It has a garden and a lawn, showing amidst neglect vestiges of their former beauty, and the house is surrounded by shrubberies, permitted to run to wilderness. This was the summer residence of Madame Bonaparte and her family. Almost enclosed by the wild olive, the cactus, the clematis, and the almond-tree, is a very singular and isolated granite rock, called Napoleon’s grotto, which seems to have resisted the decomposition which has taken place around. The remains of a small summer-house are visible beneath the rock, the entrance to which is nearly closed by a luxuriant fig-tree. This was Bonaparte’s frequent retreat, when the vacations of the school at which he studied permitted him to visit home. How the imagination labours to form an idea of the visions, which, in this sequestered and romantic spot, must have arisen before the eyes of the future hero of a hundred battles!
Bonaparte’s ardour for the abstract sciences amounted to a passion, and was combined with a singular aptitude for applying them to the purposes of war, while his attention to pursuits so interesting and exhaustless in themselves, was stimulated by his natural ambition and desire of distinction. Almost all the scientific teachers at Brienne, being accustomed to study the character of their pupils, and obliged by their duty to make memoranda and occasional reports on the subject, spoke of the talents of Bonaparte, and the progress of his studies, with admiration. Circumstances of various kinds, exaggerated or invented, have been circulated concerning the youth of a person so remarkable. The following are given upon good authority.6
The conduct of Napoleon among his companions was that of a studious and reserved youth, addicting himself deeply to the means of improvement, and rather avoiding than seeking the usual temptations to dissipation of time. He had few friends, and no intimates; yet at different times, when he chose to exert it, he exhibited considerable influence over his fellow-students, and when there was any joint plan to be carried into effect, he was frequently chosen dictator of the little republic.
In the time of winter, Bonaparte, upon one occasion, engaged his companions in constructing a fortress out of the snow, regularly defended by ditches and bastions, according to the rules of fortification. It was considered as displaying the great powers of the juvenile engineer in the way of his profession, and was attacked and defended by the students, who divided into parties for the purpose, until the battle became so keen that their superiors thought it proper to proclaim a truce.
The young Bonaparte gave another instance of address and enterprise upon the following occasion. There was a fair held annually in the neighbourhood of Brienne, where the pupils of the Military School used to find a day’s amusement; but on account of a quarrel betwixt them and the country people upon a former occasion, or for some such cause, the masters of the institution had directed that the students should not on the fair-day be permitted to go beyond their own precincts, which were surrounded with a wall. Under the direction of the young Corsican, however, the scholars had already laid a plot for securing their usual day’s diversion. They had undermined the wall which encompassed their exercising ground, with so much skill and secrecy, that their operations remained entirely unknown till the morning of the fair, when a part of the boundary unexpectedly fell, and gave a free passage to the imprisoned students, of which they immediately took the advantage, by hurrying to the prohibited scene of amusement.
But although on these, and perhaps other occasions, Bonaparte displayed some of the frolic temper of youth, mixed with the inventive genius and the talent for commanding others by which he was distinguished in after time, his life at school was in general that of a recluse and severe student, acquiring by his judgment, and treasuring in his memory, that wonderful process of almost unlimited combination, by means of which he was afterwards able to simplify the most difficult and complicated undertakings. His mathematical teacher was proud of the young islander, as the boast of his school, and his other scientific instructors had the same reason to be satisfied.
In languages Bonaparte was less a proficient, and never acquired the art of writing or spelling French, far less foreign languages, with accuracy or correctness; nor had the monks of Brienne any reason to pride themselves on the classical proficiency of their scholar. The full energies of his mind being devoted to the scientific pursuits of his profession, left little time or inclination for other studies.
Though of Italian origin, Bonaparte had not a decided taste for the fine arts, and his taste in composition seems to have leaned towards the grotesque and the bombastic. He used always the most exaggerated phrases; and it is seldom, if ever, that his bulletins present those touches of sublimity which are founded on dignity and simplicity of expression.
Notwithstanding the external calmness and reserve of his deportment, he who was destined for such great things had, while yet a student at Brienne, a full share of that ambition for distinction and dread of disgrace, that restless and irritating love of fame, which is the spur to extraordinary attempts. Sparkles of this keen temper sometimes showed themselves. On one occasion, a harsh superintendant imposed on the future emperor, for some trifling fault, the disgrace of wearing a penitential dress, and being excluded from the table of the students, and obliged to eat his meal apart. His pride felt the indignity so severely, that it brought on a severe nervous attack; to which, though otherwise of good constitution, he was subject upon occasions of extraordinary irritation. Father Petrault, the professor of mathematics, hastened to deliver his favourite pupil from the punishment by which he was so much affected.
It is also said that an early disposition to the popular side distinguished Bonaparte even when at Brienne. Pichegru, afterwards so celebrated, who acted as his monitor in the military school, (a singular circumstance,) bore witness to his early principles, and to the peculiar energy and tenacity of his temper. He was long afterwards consulted whether means might not be found to engage the commander of the Italian armies in the royal interest. “It will be but lost time to attempt it,” said Pichegru. “I knew him in his youth—his character is inflexible—he has taken his side, and he will not change it.”
In 1783, Napoleon Bonaparte, then only fourteen years old, was, though under the usual age, selected by Monsieur de Keralio, the inspector of the twelve military schools, to be sent to have his education completed in the general school of Paris. It was a compliment paid to the precocity of his extraordinary mathematical talent, and the steadiness of his application. While at Paris he attracted the same notice as at Brienne; and among other society, frequented that of the celebrated Abbé Raynal, and was admitted to his literary parties. His taste did not become correct, but his appetite for study in all departments was greatly enlarged; and notwithstanding the quantity which he daily read, his memory was strong enough to retain, and his judgment sufficiently ripe to arrange and digest, the knowledge which he then acquired; so that he had it at his command during all the rest of his busy life. Plutarch was his favourite author; upon the study of whom he had so modelled his opinions and habits of thought, that Paoli afterwards pronounced him a young man of an antique caste, and resembling one of the classical heroes.
Some of his biographers have about this time ascribed to him the anecdote of a certain youthful pupil of the military school, who desired to ascend in the car of a balloon with the aëronaut Blanchard, and was so mortified at being refused, that he made an attempt to cut the balloon with his sword. The story has but a flimsy support, and indeed does not accord well with the character of the hero, which was deep and reflective, as well as bold and determined, and not likely to suffer its energies to escape in idle and useless adventure.
A better authenticated anecdote states, that at this time he expressed himself disrespectfully towards the king in one of his letters to his family. According to the practice of the school, he was obliged to submit the letter to the censorship of Monsieur Domairon, the professor of belles lettres, who, taking notice of the offensive passage, insisted upon the letter being burnt, and added a severe rebuke. Long afterwards, in 1802, Monsieur Domairon was commanded to attend Napoleon’s levee, in order that he might receive a pupil in the person of Jerome Bonaparte, when the first consul reminded his old tutor good-humouredly, that times had changed considerably since the burning of the letter.
Napoleon Bonaparte, in his seventieth year, received his first commission as second lieutenant in a regiment of artillery, and was almost immediately afterwards promoted to the rank of first lieutenant in the corps quartered at Valence. He mingled with society when he joined his regiment, more than he had hitherto been accustomed to do; mixed in public amusements, and exhibited the powers of pleasing, which he possessed in an uncommon degree when he chose to exert them. His handsome and intelligent features, with his active and neat, though slight figure, gave him additional advantages. His manners could scarcely be called elegant, but made up in vivacity and variety of expression, and often in great spirit and energy, for what they wanted in grace and polish.
He became an adventurer for the honours of literature also, and was anonymously a competitor for the prize offered by the Academy of Lyons on Raynal’s question, “What are the principles and institutions, by application of which mankind can be raised to the highest pitch of happiness?” The prize was adjudged to the young soldier. It is impossible to avoid feeling curiosity to know the character of the juvenile theories respecting government, advocated by one who at length attained the power of practically making what experiments he pleased. Probably his early ideas did not exactly coincide with his more mature practice; for when Talleyrand, many years afterwards, got the essay out of the records of the academy, and returned it to the author, Bonaparte destroyed it after he had read a few pages. He also laboured under the temptation of writing a journey to Mount Cenis, after the manner of Sterne, which he was fortunate enough finally to resist. The affectation which pervades Sterne’s peculiar style of composition was not likely to be simplified under the pen of Bonaparte.
Sterner times were fast approaching, and the nation was now fully divided by those factions which produced the revolution. The officers of Bonaparte’s regiment were also divided into royalists and patriots; and it is easily to be imagined, that the young and friendless stranger and adventurer should adopt that side to which he had already shown some inclination, and which promised to open the most free career to those who had only their merit to rely on. “Were I a general officer,” he is alleged to have said, “I would have adhered to the king; being a subaltern, I join the patriots.”
There was a story current, that in a debate with some brother officers on the politics of the time, Bonaparte expressed himself so outrageously, that they were provoked to throw him into the Rhone, where he had nearly perished. But this is an inaccurate account of the accident which actually befell him. He was seized with the cramp when bathing in the river. His comrades saved him with difficulty, but his danger was matter of pure chance.
Napoleon has himself recorded that he was a warm patriot during the whole sitting of the National Assembly; but that on the appointment of the Legislative Assembly, he became shaken in his opinions. If so, his original sentiments regained force, for we shortly afterwards find him entertaining such as went to the extreme heights of the revolution.
Early in the year 1792, Bonaparte became a captain in the artillery by seniority; and in the same year, being at Paris, he witnessed the two insurrections of the 20th of June and 10th of August. He was accustomed to speak of the insurgents as the most despicable banditti, and to express with what ease a determined officer could have checked these apparently formidable, but dastardly and unwieldy masses. But with what a different feeling of interest would Napoleon have looked on that infuriated populace, those still resisting though overpowered Swiss, and that burning palace, had any seer whispered to him, “Emperor that shall be, all this blood and massacre is but to prepare your future empire!” Little anticipating the potent effect which the passing events were to bear on his own fortune, Bonaparte, anxious for the safety of his mother and family, was now desirous to change France for Corsica, where the same things were acting on a less distinguished stage.
BONAPARTE’S FIRST MILITARY EXPLOIT.
Napoleon’s first military exploit was in the civil war of his native island. In the year 1793, he was despatched from Bastia, in possession of the French party, to surprise his native town Ajaccio, then occupied by Paoli or his adherents. Bonaparte was acting provisionally, as commanding a battalion of National Guards. He landed in the Gulf of Ajaccio with about fifty men, to take possession of a tower called the Torre di Capitello, on the opposite side of the gulf, and almost facing the city. He succeeded in taking the place; but as there arose a gale of wind which prevented his communicating with the frigate which had put him ashore, he was besieged in his new conquest by the opposite faction, and reduced to such distress, that he and his little garrison were obliged to feed on horse-flesh. After five days he was relieved by the frigate, and evacuated the tower, having first in vain attempted to blow it up. The Torre di Capitello still shows marks of the damage it then sustained, and its remains may be looked on as a curiosity, as the first scene of his combats, before whom
—”Temple and tower
Went to the ground.—
A relation of Napoleon, Masserio by name, effectually defended Ajaccio against the force employed in the expedition.
The strength of Paoli increasing, and the English preparing to assist him, Corsica became no longer a safe or convenient residence for the Bonaparte family. Indeed, both Napoleon and his brother Lucien, who had distinguished themselves as partisans of the French, were subjected to a decree of banishment from their native island; and Madame Bonaparte, with her three daughters, and Jerome, who was as yet but a child, set sail under their protection, and settled for a time, first at Nice, and afterwards at Marseilles, where the family is supposed to have undergone considerable distress, until the dawning prospects of Napoleon afforded him the means of assisting them.
Napoleon never again revisited Corsica, nor does he appear to have regarded it with any feelings of affection. One small fountain at Ajaccio is pointed out as the only ornament which his bounty bestowed on his birthplace. He might perhaps think it impolitic to do any thing which might remind the country he ruled that he was not a child of her soil, nay, was in fact very near having been born an alien, for Corsica was not united to, or made an integral part of France, until June, 1769, a few weeks only before Napoleon’s birth. This stigma was repeatedly cast upon him by his opponents, some of whom reproached the French with having adopted a master, from a country from which the ancient Romans were unwilling even to choose a slave; and Napoleon may have been so far sensible to it, as to avoid showing any predilection to the place of his birth, which might bring the circumstance strongly under the observation of the great nation, with which he and his family seemed to be indissolubly united. But, as a traveller already quoted, and who had the best opportunities to become acquainted with the feelings of the proud islanders, has expressed it,—”The Corsicans are still highly patriotic, and possess strong local attachment—in their opinion, contempt for the country of one’s birth is never to be redeemed by any other qualities. Napoleon, therefore, certainly was not popular in Corsica, nor is his memory cherished there.”7
The feelings of the parties were not unnatural on either side. Napoleon, little interested in the land of his birth, and having such an immense stake in that of his adoption, in which he had every thing to keep and lose,8 observed a policy towards Corsica which his position rendered advisable; and who can blame the high-spirited islanders, who, seeing one of their countrymen raised to such exalted eminence, and disposed to forget his connexion with them, returned with slight and indifference the disregard with which he treated them?
The siege of Toulon was the first incident of importance which enabled Bonaparte to distinguish himself in the eyes of the French government and of the world at large. Shortly afterwards he was appointed chief of battalion in the army of Italy, and on the fall of Robespierre, Bonaparte superseded in command. At the conflict between the troops of the Convention under Napoleon, and those of the Sections of Paris under Damican, the latter was defeated with much slaughter, and Bonaparte was appointed general-in-chief in command of the army of the interior.
BONAPARTE’S FIRST MARRIAGE.
Meantime circumstances, which we will relate according to his own statement, introduced Bonaparte to an acquaintance, which was destined to have much influence on his future fate. A fine boy, of ten or twelve years old, presented himself at the levee of the general of the interior, with a request of a nature unusually interesting. He stated his name to be Eugene Beauharnois, son of the ci-devant Vicomte de Beauharnois, who, adhering to the revolutionary party, had been a general in the republican service upon the Rhine, and falling under the causeless suspicion of the committee of public safety, was delivered to the revolutionary tribunal, and fell by its sentence just four days before the overthrow of Robespierre. Eugene was come to request of Bonaparte, as general of the interior, that his father’s sword might be restored to him. The prayer of the young supplicant was as interesting as his manners were engaging, and Napoleon felt so much interest in him, that he was induced to cultivate the acquaintance of Eugene’s mother, afterwards the empress Josephine.
The lady was a Creolian, the daughter of a planter in St. Domingo. Her name at full length was Marie Joseph Rose Tascher de la Pagerie. She had suffered her share of revolutionary miseries. After her husband, General Beauharnois, had been deprived of his command, she was arrested as a suspected person, and detained in prison till the general liberation, which succeeded the revolution of the 9th Thermidor. While in confinement, Madame Beauharnois had formed an intimacy with a companion in distress, Madame Fontenai, now Madame Tallien, from which she derived great advantages after her friend’s marriage. With a remarkably graceful person, amiable manners, and an inexhaustible fund of good-humour, Madame Beauharnois was formed to be an ornament to society. Barras, the Thermidorien hero, himself an ex-noble, was fond of society, desirous of enjoying it on an agreeable scale, and of washing away the dregs which Jacobinism had mingled with all the dearest interests of life. He loved show, too, and pleasure, and might now indulge both without the risk of falling under the suspicion of incivism, which, in the Reign of Terror, would have been incurred by any attempt to intermingle elegance with the enjoyments of social intercourse. At the apartments which he occupied, as one of the Directory, in the Luxemburg Palace, he gave its free course to his natural taste, and assembled an agreeable society of both sexes. Madame Tallien and her friend formed the soul of these assemblies, and it was supposed that Barras was not insensible to the charms of Madame Beauharnois,—a rumour which was likely to arise, whether with or without foundation.
When Madame Beauharnois and General Bonaparte became intimate, the latter assures us, and we see no reason to doubt him, that although the lady was two or three years older than himself,9 yet being still in the full bloom of beauty, and extremely agreeable in her manners, he was induced, solely by her personal charms, to make her an offer of his hand, heart, and fortunes,—little supposing, of course, to what a pitch the latter were to arise.
Although he himself is said to have been a fatalist, believing in destiny and in the influence of his star, he knew nothing, probably, of the prediction of a negro sorceress, who, while Marie Joseph was but a child, prophesied she should rise to a dignity greater than that of a queen, yet fall from it before her death.10 This was one of those vague auguries, delivered at random by fools or impostors, which the caprice of fortune sometimes matches with a corresponding and conforming event. But without trusting to the African sibyl’s prediction, Bonaparte may have formed his match under the auspices of ambition as well as love. The marrying Madame Beauharnois was a mean of uniting his fortune with those of Barras and Tallien, the first of whom governed France as one of the Directors; and the last, from talents and political connexions, had scarcely inferior influence. He had already deserved well of them for his conduct on the Day of the Sections, but he required their countenance to rise still higher; and without derogating from the bride’s merits, we may suppose her influence in their society corresponded with the views of her lover. It is, however, certain, that he always regarded her with peculiar affection; that he relied on her fate, which he considered as linked with and strengthening his own; and reposed, besides, considerable confidence in Josephine’s tact and address in political business. She had at all times the art of mitigating his temper, and turning aside the hasty determinations of his angry moments, not by directly opposing, but by gradually parrying and disarming them. It must be added to her great praise, that she was always a willing and often a successful advocate in the cause of humanity.
They were married 9th of March, 1796; and the dowry of the bride was the chief command of the Italian armies, a scene which opened a full career to the ambition of the youthful general. Bonaparte remained with his wife only three days after his marriage, hastened to see his family, who were still at Marseilles, and, having enjoyed the pleasure of exhibiting himself as a favourite of fortune in the city which he had lately left in the capacity of an indigent adventurer, proceeded rapidly to commence the career to which fate called him, by placing himself at the head of the Italian army.
The renowned Italian campaigns occupy the remainder of the third, and some part of the fourth volume, to which we now proceed. It will be remembered that the war in Egypt being triumphantly concluded on the part of Great Britain, the news of the contest reached France some time before the English received it. Napoleon, on learning the tidings, is reported to have said, “Well, there remains now no alternative but to make the descent on Britain.”
PROPOSED INVASION OF GREAT BRITAIN.
As the words of the first consul appeard to intimate, preparations were resumed on the French coast for the invasion of Great Britain. Boulogne and every harbour along the coast was crowded with flat-bottomed boats, and the shores covered with camps of the men designed apparently to fill them. We need not at present dwell on the preparations for attack, or those which the English adopted in defence, as we shall have occasion to notice both, when Bonaparte, for the last time, threatened England with the same measure. It is enough to say, that, on the present occasion, the menaces of France had their usual effect in awakening the spirit of Britain.
The most extensive arrangements were made for the reception of the invaders should they chance to land, and in the meanwhile, our natural barrier was not neglected. The naval preparations were very great, and what gave yet more confidence than the number of vessels and guns, Nelson was put into command of the sea, from Orfordness to Beachy-head. Under his management, it soon became the question, not whether the French flotilla was to invade the British shores, but whether it was to remain in safety in the French harbours. Boulogne was bombarded, and some of the small craft and gun-boats destroyed—the English admiral generously sparing the town; and not satisfied with this partial success, Nelson prepared to attack them with the boats of the squadron. The French resorted to the most unusual and formidable preparations for defence. Their flotilla was moored close to the shore in the mouth of Boulogne harbour, the vessels secured to each other by chains, and filled with soldiers. The British attack in some degree failed, owing to the several divisions of boats missing each other in the dark; some French vessels were taken, but they could not be brought off; and the French chose to consider this result as a victory, on their part, of consequence enough to balance the loss at Aboukir;—though it amounted at best to ascertaining, that although their vessels could not keep the sea, they might, in some comparative degree of safety, lie under close cover of their own batteries.
The preliminaries of peace, however, were signed, and the treaty was confirmed at Amiens, on the 27th of March, 1802. Napoleon still prosecuted his ambitious projects, extended his power in Italy, and caused himself to be appointed consul for life, with the power of naming his successor.
SCHEME OF INVASION RENEWED.
It must be in the memory of most who recollect the period, that the kingdom of Great Britain was seldom less provided against invasion than at the commencement of this second war; and that an embarkation from the ports of Holland, if undertaken instantly after the war had broken out, might have escaped our blockading squadrons, and have at least shown what a French army could have done on British ground, at a moment when the alarm was general, and the country in an unprepared state. But it is probable that Bonaparte himself was as much unprovided as England for the sudden breach of the treaty of Amiens—an event brought about more by the influence of passion than of policy; so that its consequences were as unexpected in his calculations as in those of Great Britain. Besides, he had not diminished to himself the dangers of the undertaking, by which he must have staked his military renown, his power, which he held chiefly as the consequence of his reputation, perhaps his life, upon a desperate game, which, though he had already twice contemplated it, he had not yet found hardihood enough seriously to enter upon.
He now, however, at length bent himself, with the whole strength of his mind, and the whole force of his empire, to prepare for this final and decisive undertaking. The gun-boats in the Bay of Gibraltar, where calms are frequent, had sometimes in the course of the former war been able to do considerable damage to the English vessels of war, when they could not use their sails. Such small craft, therefore, were supposed the proper force for covering the intended descent. They were built in different harbours, and brought together by crawling along the French shore, and keeping under the protection of the batteries, which were now established on every cape, almost as if the sea-coast of the channel on the French side had been the lines of a besieged city, no one point of which could with prudence be left undefended by cannon. Boulogne was pitched upon as the centre port, from which the expedition was to sail. By incredible exertions, Bonaparte had rendered its harbour and roads capable of containing two thousand vessels of various descriptions. The smaller sea-ports of Vimereux, Ambleteuse, and Etaples, Dieppe, Havre, St. Valeri, Caen, Gravelines, and Dunkirk, were likewise filled with shipping. Flushing and Ostend were occupied by a separate flotilla. Brest, Toulon, and Rochefort, were each the station of as strong a naval squadron as France, had still the means to send to sea.
A land army was assembled of the most formidable description, whether we regard the high military character of the troops, the extent and perfection of their appointments, or their numerical strength. The coast, from the mouth of the Seine to the Texel, was covered with forces; and Soult, Ney, Davoust, and Victor, names that were then the pride and the dread of war, were appointed to command the army of England, (for that menacing title was once more, assumed,) and execute those manoeuvres, planned and superintended by Bonaparte, the issue of which was to be the blotting out of Britain from the rank of independent nations.
Far from being alarmed at this formidable demonstration of force, England prepared for her resistance with an energy becoming her ancient rank in Europe, and far surpassing in its efforts any extent of military preparation before heard of in her history. To nearly one hundred thousand troops of the line, were added eighty thousand and upwards of militia, which scarce yielded to the regulars in point of discipline. The volunteer force, by which every citizen was permitted and invited to add his efforts to the defence of the country, was far more numerous than during the last war, was better officered also, and rendered every way more effective. It was computed to amount to three hundred and fifty thousand men, who, if we regard the shortness of the time and the nature of the service, had attained considerable practice in the use and management of their arms. Other classes of men were embodied, and destined to act as pioneers, drivers of wagons, and in the like services. On a sudden, the land seemed converted to an immense camp, the whole nation into soldiers, and the good old king himself into a general-in-chief. All peaceful considerations appeared for a time to be thrown aside; and the voice, calling the nation to defend their dearest rights, sounded not only in Parliament, and in meetings convoked to second the measures of defence, but was heard in the places of public amusement, and mingled even with the voice of devotion—not unbecoming surely, since to defend our country is to defend our religion.
Beacons were erected in conspicuous points, corresponding with each other, all around and all through the island; and morning and evening, one might have said, every eye was turned towards them to watch for the fatal and momentous signal. Partial alarms were given to different places, from the mistakes to which such arrangements must necessarily be liable; and the ready spirit which animated every species of troops where such signals called to arms, was of the most satisfactory description, and afforded the most perfect assurance, that the heart of every man was in the cause of his country.
Amidst her preparations by land, England did not neglect or relax her precautions on the element she calls her own. She covered the ocean with five hundred and seventy ships of war of various descriptions. Divisions of her fleet blocked up every French port in the channel; and the army destined to invade our shores, might see the British flag flying in every direction on the horizon, waiting for their issuing from the harbour, as birds of prey may be seen floating in the air above the animal which they design to pounce upon. Sometimes the British frigates and sloops of war stood in, and cannonaded or threw shells into Havre, Dieppe, Granville, and Boulogne itself. Sometimes the seamen and marines landed, cut out vessels, destroyed signal posts, and dismantled batteries. Such events were trifling, and it was to be regretted that they cost the lives of gallant men; but although they produced no direct results of consequence, yet they had their use in encouraging the spirits of our sailors, and damping the confidence of the enemy, who must at length have looked forward with more doubt than hope to the invasion of the English coast, when the utmost vigilance could not prevent their experiencing insults upon their own.
During this period of menaced attack and arranged defence, Bonaparte visited Boulogne, and seemed active in preparing his soldiers for the grand effort. He reviewed them in an unusual manner, teaching them to execute several manoeuvres by night; and experiments were also made upon the best mode of arranging the soldiers in the flat-bottomed boats, and of embarking and disembarking them with celerity. Omens were resorted to for keeping up the enthusiasm which the presence of the First Consul naturally inspired. A Roman battle-axe was said to be found when they removed the earth to pitch Bonaparte’s tent or barrack; and medals of William the Conqueror were produced, as having been dug up upon the same honoured spot. These were pleasant bodings, yet perhaps did not altogether, in the minds of the soldiers, counterbalance the sense of insecurity impressed on them by the prospect of being packed together in these miserable chaloupes, and exposed to the fire of an enemy so superior at sea, that during the chief consul’s review of the fortifications, their frigates stood in shore with composure, and fired at him and his suite as at a mark. The men who had braved the perils of the Alps and of the Egyptian deserts, might yet be allowed to feel alarm at a species of danger which seemed so inevitable, and which they had no adequate means of repelling by force of arms.
A circumstance which seemed to render the expedition in a great measure hopeless, was the ease with which the English could maintain a constant watch upon their operations within the port of Boulogne. The least appearance of stir or preparation, to embark troops, or get ready for sea, was promptly sent by signal to the English coast, and the numerous British cruisers were instantly on the alert to attend their motions. Nelson had, in fact, during the last war, declared the sailing of a hostile armament from Boulogne to be a most forlorn undertaking, on account of cross tides and other disadvantages, together with the certainty of the flotilla being lost if there were the least wind west-north-west. “As for rowing,” he adds, “that is impossible.—It is perfectly right to be prepared for a mad government,” continued this incontestable judge of maritime possibilities; “but with the active force which has been given me, I may pronounce it almost impracticable.”
Before quitting the subject, we may notice, that Bonaparte seems not to have entertained the least doubts of success, could he have succeeded in disembarking his army. A single general action was to decide the fate of England. Five days were to bring Napoleon to London, where he was to perform the part of William the Third; but with more generosity and disinterestedness. He was to call a meeting of the inhabitants, restore them what he calls their rights, and destroy the oligarchical faction. A few months would not, according to his account, have elapsed, ere the two nations, late such determined enemies, would have been identified by their principles, their maxims, their interests. The full explanation of this gibberish, (for it can be termed no better, even proceeding from the lips of Napoleon,) is to be found elsewhere, when he spoke a language more genuine than that of the Moniteur and the bulletins. “England,” he said, “must have ended, by becoming an appendage to the France of my system. Nature has made it one of our islands, as well as Oleron and Corsica.”
It is impossible not to pursue the train of reflections which Bonaparte continued to pour forth to the companion of his exile, on the rock of Saint Helena. When England was conquered, and identified with France in maxims and principles, according to one form of expression, or rendered an appendage and dependency, according to another phrase, the reader may suppose that Bonaparte would have considered his mission as accomplished. Alas! it was not much more than commenced. “I would have departed from thence [from subjugated Britain] to carry the work of European regeneration [that is, the extention of his own arbitrary authority] from south to north, under the Republican colours, for I was then Chief Consul, in the same manner which I was more lately on the point of achieving it under the monarchical forms.” When we find such ideas retaining hold of Napoleon’s imagination, and arising to his tongue after his irretrievable fall, it is impossible to avoid exclaiming, Did ambition ever conceive so wild a dream, and had so wild a vision ever a termination so disastrous and humiliating!
It may be expected that something should be here said, upon the chances which Britain would have had of defending herself successfully against the army of invaders. We are willing to acknowledge that the risk must have been dreadful; and that Bonaparte, with his genius and his army, must have inflicted severe calamities upon a country which had so long enjoyed the blessings of peace. But the people were unanimous in their purpose of defence, and their forces composed of materials to which Bonaparte did more justice when he came to be better acquainted with them. Of the three British nations, the English have since shown themselves possessed of the same steady valour which won the fields of Cressy and Agincourt, Blenheim and Minden—the Irish have not lost the fiery enthusiasm which has distinguished them in all the countries of Europe—nor have the Scots degenerated from the stubborn courage with which their ancestors for two thousand years maintained their independence against a superior enemy. Even if London had been lost, we would not, under so great a calamity, have despaired of the freedom of the country; for the war would in all probability have assumed that popular and national character which sooner or later wears out an invading army. Neither does the confidence with which Bonaparte affirms the conviction of his winning the first battle, appear go certainly well founded. This, at least, we know, that the resolution of the country was fully bent up to the hazard; and those who remember the period will bear us witness, that the desire that the French would make the attempt, was a general feeling through all classes, because they had every reason to hope that the issue might be such as for ever to silence the threat of invasion.
The next most important occurrence that claims our notice in this volume, and which fully delineates the nature and character of this wonderful and ambitious individual, is the account of his declaration as Emperor of France, and his subsequent coronation.
CORONATION OF NAPOLEON.
Measures were taken, as on former occasions, to preserve appearances, by obtaining, in show at least, the opinion of the people, on this radical change of their system. Government, however, were already confident of their approbation, which, indeed, had never been refused to any of the various constitutions, however inconsistent, that had succeeded each other with such rapidity. Secure on this point, Bonaparte’s accession to the empire was proclaimed with the greatest pomp, without waiting to inquire whether the people approved of his promotion or otherwise. The proclamation was coldly received, even by the populace, and excited little enthusiasm. It seemed, according to some writers, as if the shades of D’Enghien and Pichegru had been present invisibly, and spread a damp over the ceremony. The Emperor was recognised by the soldiery with more warmth. He visited the encampments at Boulogne, with the intention, apparently, of receiving such an acknowledgment from the troops as was paid by the ancient Franks to their monarchs, when they elevated them on their bucklers. Seated on an iron chair, said to have belonged to king Dagobert, he took his place between two immense camps, and having before him the Channel and the hostile coasts of England. The weather, we have been assured, had been tempestuous, but no sooner had the Emperor assumed his seat, to receive the homage of his shouting host, than the sky cleared, and the wind dropt, retaining just breath sufficient gently to wave the banners. Even the elements seemed to acknowledge the imperial dignity, all save the sea, which rolled as carelessly to the feet of Napoleon as it had formerly done towards those of Canute the Dane.
The Emperor, accompanied with his Empress, who bore her honours both gracefully and meekly, visited Aix-la-Chapelle, and the frontiers of Germany. They received the congratulations of all the powers of Europe, excepting England, Russia, and Sweden, upon their new exaltation; and the German princes, who had everything to hope and fear from so powerful a neighbour, hastened to pay their compliments to Napoleon in person, which more distant sovereigns offered by their ambassadors.
But the most splendid and public recognition of his new rank was yet to be made, by the formal act of coronation, which, therefore, Napoleon determined should take place with circumstances of solemnity, which had been beyond the reach of any temporal prince, however powerful, for many ages. His policy was often marked by a wish to revive, imitate, and connect his own titles and interest with, some ancient observance of former days; as if the novelty of his claims could have been rendered more venerable by investing them with antiquated forms, or as men of low birth, when raised to wealth and rank, are sometimes desirous to conceal the obscurity of their origin under the blaze of heraldic honours. Pope Leo, he remembered, had placed a golden crown on the head of Charlemagne, and proclaimed him Emperor of the Romans. Pius VII. he determined should do the same for a successor to much more than the actual power of Charlemagne. But though Charlemagne had repaired to Rome to receive inauguration from the hands of the Pontiff of that day, Napoleon resolved that he who now owned the proud, and in Protestant eyes profane, title of Vicar of Christ, should travel to France to perform the coronation of the successful chief, by whom the See of Rome had been more than once humbled, pillaged, and impoverished, but by whom also her power had been re-erected and restored, not only in Italy, but in France itself.
Humiliating as the compliance with Bonaparte’s request must have seemed to the more devoted Catholics, Pius VII. had already sacrificed, to obtain the Concordat, so much of the power and privileges of the Roman See, that he could hardly have been justified if he had run the risk of losing the advantages of a treaty so dearly purchased, by declining to incur some personal trouble, or, it might be termed, some direct self-abasement. The Pope, and the Cardinals whom he consulted, implored the illumination of heaven upon their councils; but it was the stern voice of necessity which assured them, that, except at the risk of dividing the Church by a schism, they could not refuse to comply with Bonaparte’s requisition. The Pope left Rome on the 5th of November. He was everywhere received on the road with the highest respect, and most profound veneration; the Alpine precipices themselves had been secured by parapets wherever they could expose the venerable Father of the Catholic Church to danger, or even apprehension. Upon the 25th of November, he met Bonaparte at Fontainbleau; and the conduct of the Emperor Napoleon was as studiously respectful towards him, as that of Charlemagne, whom he was pleased to call his predecessor, could have been towards Leo.
On the 2nd of December, the ceremony of the coronation took place in the ancient cathedral of Notre Dame, with the addition of every ceremony which could be devised to add to its solemnity. Yet we have been told that the multitude did not participate in the ceremonial with that eagerness which characterises the inhabitants of all capitals, but especially those of Paris, upon similar occasions. They had, within a very few years, seen so many exhibitions, processions, and festivals, established on the most discordant principles, which, though announced as permanent and unchangeable, had successively given way to newer doctrines, that they considered the splendid representation before them as an unsubstantial pageant, which would fade away in its turn. Bonaparte himself seemed absent and gloomy, till recalled to a sense of his grandeur by the voice of the numerous deputies and functionaries sent up from all the several departments of France, to witness the coronation. These functionaries had been selected with due attention to their political opinions; and many of them holding offices under the government, or expecting benefits from the Emperor, made up, by the zealous vivacity of their acclamations, for the coldness of the good citizens of Paris.
The Emperor took his coronation oath, as usual on such occasions, with his hands up on the scripture, and in the form in which it was repeated to him by the Pope. But in the act of coronation itself, there was a marked deviation from the universal custom, characteristic of the man, the age, and the conjuncture. In all other similar solemnities, the crown had been placed on the sovereign’s head by the presiding spiritual person, as representing the Deity, by whom princes rule. But not even from the head of the Catholic Church would Bonaparte consent to receive as a boon the golden symbol of sovereignty, which he was sensible he owed solely to his own unparalleled train of military and civil successes. The crown having been blessed by the Pope, Napoleon took it from the altar with his own hands, and placed it on his brows. He then put the diadem on the head of his Empress, as if determined to show that his authority was the child of his own actions. Te Deum was sung; the heralds, (for they also had again come into fashion,) proclaimed, “that the thrice glorious and thrice august Napoleon, Emperor of the French, was crowned and installed.” Thus concluded this remarkable ceremony. Those who remember having beheld it, must now doubt whether they were waking, or whether fancy had framed a vision so dazzling in its appearance, so extraordinary in its origin and progress, and so ephemeral in its endurance.
The very day before the ceremony of coronation, (that is, on the 1st of December,) the senate had waited upon the Emperor with the result of the votes collected in the departments, which, till that time, had been taken for granted. Upwards of three millions five hundred thousand citizens had given their votes on this occasion; of whom only about three thousand five hundred had declared against the proposition. The vice-president, Neufchateau, declared, “this report was the unbiassed expression of the people’s choice. No government could plead a title more authentic.”
Sir Walter occupies his sixth volume with details of the celebrated battles that were fought between the French and English armies in the Spanish territories, and which are told with great truth and develope the extraordinary powers of this celebrated writer. The divorce of Josephine, and marriage of Maria Louisa, commence the succeeding volume. The sterility of Bonaparte’s wife was now an irremediable evil; and political motive