Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

Blood-thirsty Usurper," and other vulgar melo-dramatic nic-names, to which no doubt abundance of meaning was attached twenty or thirty years ago, but every one of which was perfectly inapplicable to the object they were intended to typify. If our national feelings are “ apt to be hot" at times, and carry us to extremes both in word and deed, we are equally open to generosity and forgiveness after our blood has cooled. But in the present case, the forgiveness must be mutual, if we are to be really reconciled with France; and it is now generally admitted that France has by far the most to forgive. Cordially offering, therefore, our own hand, we look to France for that first element of reconciliation.

Governments are by no means disposed to be very warm-hearted, for that would look undignified. They prefer to display the appearance of a cool and calculating understanding. If, therefore, the British government, as a remarkable exception, in the present instance, can declare itself to entertain the kindest disposition towards France and the memory of Napoleon, we may be quite sure that the British public must have long since entertained a similar feeling.

The character of Napoleon is open to so many different and opposite views, that no opinion should ever be formed of it, except by a fair consideration of all the great actions of his life. His military actions have hitherto nearly filled up every succinct account. They are only one part of his career. His civic actions were equally numerous, and of very superior value. He accomplished a vast number of the noblest things, many of which still exist, either substantially, or is full operative influence. He also committed some of the most grievous errors, the consequences of which were disastrous to large portions of the world, and finally to himself.

It has always been customary to attribute the ultimate fate, or downfall of the Emperor Napoleon, to his insatiable ambition and mad thirst for war and conquest. This is a vulgar error, originating with the period when he was popularly known in England only as “ Boney, the Corsican Monster.” On this mistaken notion, Sir Walter Scott's elaborate narration is founded; and the eloquent and high-minded Essay of Dr. Channing, who took Scott as his chief authority.

Channing's Essay is full of the finest principles of humanity and liberty, but is inapplicable to Napoleon, inasınuch as it is based on this old erroneous position, that all the wars of Napoleon were exclusively his own mad seeking. Many educated and enlightened minds adopted this view, and subsequently thinking there was no need to search further, they have not progressed with the public mind during the last twenty years. The common opinion of former times, as to this constant war-seeking, may be confuted simply by a fair investigation of the causes of each of his wars. Let the facts speak for themselves.

Napoleon rose from the people. When he commenced his career, the Revolution had overturned all the remains of the feudal system in France; the dominion of the privileged classes was at an end. If France at this period had been left to itself, there was no work for the leading minds of the country to perform, hul to organize all institutions on the new basis of democracy. Instead of being left to itself,

that great and independent nation was attacked on every frontier by every monarch of Europe, with a view to compel it to resume its hereditary dynasty, and the feudal yoke of its aristocracy and its priesthood, which it had just cast off, by a mighty effort, at great sacrifices and with many crimes. The task of re-organizing, already too difficult for the minds of the new legislators, was rendered next to impossible, by the additional turmoil and destructive excitement of defending the country. Eight hundred thousand citizens in arms guarded their frontiers and their independence. It was, then, the monarchs of Europe created that military spirit in France, against which they so loudly declaimed, when they felt its consequences shake their own thrones.

The internal organization having been thus checked and thwarted in its first growth, disunion had already ensued ; and, in spite of the bravery of its armies, France was on the point of falling a prey to the combined monarchs, when the young general of the army of Italy, began to sweep off their best generals and armies in rapid succession. The torrent was abruptly checked. It was soon turned and impelled upon themselves. Ancient barriers and ancestral thrones were carried away, and sceptres, balls, and crowns of stately kings went tossing in the deluge before the hurricane which they themselves had raised.

Meanwhile, the young general had become the chief leader of the French people. Under whatever title he assumed, he possessed the absolute power. What use did he make of this power? Let us quote the words of one of his most constant and unsparing antagonists. “ Having, therefore, attained the summit of human power,” says Sir Walter Scott,“ he proceeded advisedly and deliberately to lay the foundation of his throne on that democratic principle which had opened his own career, and which was, the throwing open to merit, though without further title, the road to success in every department of the state."* Those feudal institutions which had been overturned by the Revolution, but were struggling again into existence, he utterly and for ever abolished, The attempt to revive them after the fall of the Emperor only proved their inanity by its easy defeat. Legitimacy and divine right received their death-blow from the hand of Napoleon. Even the army was based on democracy. The conscription, “ that energetic law,” says Colonel Napier, “ which he did not establish, but which he freed from abuse, and rendered great, national and endurable, by causing it to strike equally on all classes ; the conscription made the soldiers the real representatives of the people.”+ The mechanics, the peasantry, the masses, in short, were devoted to bim : if a proof were wanting, the return from Elba was sufficient. Crime and pauperism diminished in his reign. “ His power," says Napier, “ was supported in France by that deep sense of his goodness as a sovereign, and that admiration for his genius, which pervaded the poorer and middle classes of the people; by the love which they bore towards him, and still bear for his memory, because he cherished the principles of a just equality.

[ocr errors]

They loved him, also, for his incessant activity in the public service, and because his public works, wondrous for their number, their utility and grandeur, never stood still; under him, the poor man never wanted work. He left no debt."*

" In spite of all the libels," said Napoleon to O'Meara, at St. Helena, *I have no fear whatever about my fame. Posterity will do me justice. The truth will be known, and the good that I have done, with the faults that I have committed, will be compared. I am not uneasy about the result. Had I succeeded, I should have died with the reputation of the greatest man that ever existed. As it is, although I have failed, I shall be considered as an extraordinary man; my elevation was unparalleled, because unaccompanied by crime. I have fought fifty pitched battles, almost all of which I have gained. I have framed and carried into effect a Code of Laws that will bear my name to the most distant posterity. From nothing, I raised myself to be the most powerful monarch in the world. Europe was at my feet. My ambition was great, I admit, but it was the ambition of a calm, indifferent nature, (d'une nature froid) and caused by events and the opinion of great bodies. I have always been of opinion that the sovereignty lay in the people. In fact, the imperial government was a kind of republic. Called to the head of it by the voice of the nation, my maxim was, la carrière ouverte aux talens, (the career open to talents), without distinction of birth or fortune, and this system of equality is the reason that your oligarchy hate me so much."*

That this Man of the People should have all the legitimate Kings as his enemies, is a result so very natural, that nobody can be surprised at it; nor, indeed, could it be other than an almost necessary result. But it was his fatal mistake, throughout his life, to believe that he could make them his friends and allies. At the beginning of his career, he thought to accomplish this by moderation and continual offers of peace, and by generosity and chivalrous magnanimity towards them : afterwards, when their determined hostility had become apparent, he hoped to coerce them to a reconciliation, and to force them by his measures of policy, and by the glory and power of his arms, to co-operate in his system of government, based on democracy instead of feudality. His imagination had pictured to him a Congress of Kings, yielding or subdued, and as he said, “ rendering their accounts to the people, as a clerk does to his master.” He failed at Moscow, and from that day his stupendous dream, as to the co-operation of kings, was at an end. He left them in his ante-chamber, like his subjects: he returned and found them at the head of hostile armies. The forbearances he had exercised towards them, now enabled them to unload their smothered hatred and resentment in that plenitude of power, which he had chosen only to mutilate and cripple for a time, instead of utterly destroying. It required millions of hostile soldiers, and millions of English gold, to accomplish bis ruin; and before these he fell, not because he was madly ambitious and burning for war and conquest,

* Napier's “ Peninsular War," vol. vi. p. 241. + " Å Voice from St. Helena, by B. E. O'Meara, Esq.," vol. i. p. 404.

but because, being the man of the people, he allied himself with the Kings.*

Of the Emperor Napoleon, as a man and in the relations of private life, there have seldom been two opinions among those who had any opportunities of knowing the truth, and any disposition to speak honestly. Sir Walter Scott, one of his most inveterate political opponents, gives the following description of his personal appearance and private character :

“ The countenance of Napoleon is familiar to almost every one, from description and the portraits which are found everywhere. The dark brown hair bore little marks of the attentions of the toilet. The shape of the countenance approached more than is usual in the human race to a square. His eyes were grey and full of expression, the pupils rather large, and the eyebrows not very strongly marked. The brow and upper part of the countenance was rather of a stern character. His nose and mouth were beautifully formed. The upper lip was very short. The teeth were indifferent, but were little shown in speaking. His smile possessed uncommon sweetness, and is stated to have been irresistible. The complexion was a clear olive, otherwise in general colourless. The prevailing character of his countenance was grare, even to melancholy, but without any signs of severity or violence. After death, the placidity and dignity of expression which continued to occupy the features, rendered them eminently beautiful, and the admiration of all who looked on them. Such was Napoleon's exterior. His personal and private character was decidedly amiable, excepting in one particular. His temper, when he received, or thought he received, provocation, especially if of a personal character, was warni and vindictive He was, however, placable in the case even of his enemies, providing that they submitted to his mercy; but he had not that species of generosity which respects the sincerity of a manly and fair opponent. On the other hand, no one was a more liberal rewarder of the attachment of his friends. He was an excellent husband, a kind relation, and, unless when state policy intervened, a most affectionate brother. General Gourgaud, whose communications were not in every case to Napoleon's advantage, states him to have been the best of masters, labouring to assist all his domestics wherever it lay in his power, giving them the highest credit for such talents as they actually possessed, and imputing, in some instances, good qualities to such as had them not. There was gentleness and even softness in his character.”+

As to the outrageous public crimes imputed to Napoleon, such as his poisoning the sick, murdering the prisoners, causing the assassination of Captain Wright, of the Duke d’Enghien, &c.—these are subjects which cannot be approached within the limits of this publication; but they have all been carefully examined and fully discussed by the writer of the present paper, in the work to which a reference has already been made.

* See Observations on the Treaty of Tilsit, in “Tyas's Napoleon," edited by R. H. Horne, vol. ii. pp. 48, 49.

+ “ Scott's Life of Napoleon Bonaparte," vol. ix. pp. 304, 305.

Of Napoleon as a civil ruler, a mere catalogue of his principal public works will afford the best materials for judging. It is only necessary to mention a few—such as his Code Napoleon ; his fine commercial regulations; his admirable Cadastre, or system of registration; the order and simplification he introduced into the finances. Agriculture and manufactures rose and improved under him to an extraordinary degree. Prisons and prison discipline were amended. A complete system of national education was founded, which he contemplated greatly extending. He constructed the great basins of Antwerp, Flushing, and Cherbourg; the ports of Dunkirk, Havre, Nice, and many others; the passages of the Simplon, Mont-Cenis, Mont-Génévre, and the Corniche, opening the Alps in four directions. He made roads throughout France and Italy, too numerous to mention ; built the bridges of Jena, Austerlitz, des Arts, Sèvres, Tours, Roanne, Lyons, Turin, Rouen, &c.; constructed the canal which joins the Rhine to the Rhone, uniting the seas of Holland with the Mediterranean; the canal between the Scheldt and the Somme; the canal of Arles,&c.; drained the marshes of Bourgoing, Corentin, Rochefort, &c. Paris owes to him the quais; the principal supply of water; the markets, and granaries ; numerous public buildings, and the Grand Gallery of the Louvre; not to enumerate the arches and statues, and the renovation of some of its venerable churches and palaces. The increase of the population, and the diminution of crime and pauperism, in the reign of Napoleon, are unanswerable arguments in his favour, as a sovereign.

The statistical estimates of money expended by England against the principles of the French Revolution, from 1793 to the peace of Amiens in 1802, amount to £464,000,000. To support this expenditure, we borrowed £200,000,000; the interest of which, at the lowest rate, in thirty-eight years, amounts to £267,330,000. The war against Bonaparte, for the purpose of restoring the Bourbons, (which was virtually a continuation of the previous war,) lasted twelve years, and cost the enormous sum of £1,159,000,000. To support it, £388,000,000 were borrowed; the interest of which, in twenty-five years, amounts to £339,500,000. The gross cost to England, (without computing all sorts of enormous contingencies, civil, military, and maritime,) will therefore be £2,229,830,000 As for the loss of life, it is too dreadful to contemplate. Of British subjects, alone, who perished in those two wars, the lowest computation will amount to nearly seven hundred thousand men. The objects of these two wars, together with their results, were totally nullified and overthrown by a handful of resolute men of Paris, in three days; with the loss of a few score of lives, and at the expense of a little powder and streetpavement.

« AnteriorContinua »