Page images
PDF
EPUB

difference in London manners, there is a harshness, a moroseness, and disagreeable restraint, in those of the country. We have little disposition to sympathy, when we have few persons to sympathize with : we lose the relish and capacity for social enjoyment, the seldomer we meet. A habit of sullenness, coldness, and misanthropy, grows upon us. If we look for hospitality and a cheerful welcome in country places, it must be in those where the arrival of a stranger is an event, the recurrence of which need not be greatly apprehended, or it must be on rare occasions, on some high festival of once a year.” Then indeed the stream of hospitality, so long dammed up, may flow without stint for a short season; or a stranger may be expected with the same sort of eager impatience as a caravan of wild beasts, or any other natural curiosity, that excites our wonder and fills up the craving of the mind after novelty. By degrees, however, even this last principle loses its effect : books, newspapers, whatever carries us out of ourselves into a world of which we see and know nothing, becomes distasteful, repulsive ; and we turn away with indifference or disgust from every thing that disturbs our lethargic animal existence, or takes off our attention from our petty local interests and pursuits. Man, left long to himself, is no better than a mere clod; or his activity, for want of some other vent, preys upon himself, or is directed to splenetic, peevish dislikes, or vexatious, harassing persecation of others. I once drew a picture of a country life: it was a portrait of a particular place, a caricature if you will, but, with certain allowances, I fear it was too like in the individual instance, and that it would hold too. generally true. See Round Table, vol. ii. p. 116.

If these, then, are the faults and vices of the inhabitants of town or of the country, where should a man go to live, so as to escape from them ? I answer, that in the country we have the society of the

groves, the fields, the brooks, and in London a man may keep to himself, or choose his company as he pleases.

It appears to me that there is an amiable mixture of these two opposite characters in a person who chances to have passed his youth in London, and who has retired into the country for the rest of his life. We may find in such a one a social polish, a pastoral simplicity. He rusticates agreeably, and vegetates with a degree of sentiment. He comes to the next post-town to see for letters, watches the coaches as they pass, and eyes the passengers with a look of familiar curiosity, thinking that he too was a gay fellow in his time. He turns his horse's head down the narrow lane that leads homewards, puts on an old coat to save his wardrobe, and fills his glass nearer to the brim. As he lifts the purple juice to his lips and to his eye, and in the dim solitude that hems him round, thinks of the glowing line

« This bottle's the sun of our table". another sun rises upon his imagination ; the sun of his youth, the blaze of vanity, the glitter of the metropolis, " glares round his soul, and mocks his closing eye-lids." The distant roar of coaches is in his ears--the pit stare upon him with a thousand eyes-Mrs. Siddons, Bannister, King, are before him-he starts as from a dream, and swears he will to London ; but the expense, the length of way, deters him, and he rises the next morning to trace the footsteps of the hare that has brushed the dew-drops from the lawn, or to attend a meeting of Magistrates! Mr. Justice Shallow answered in some sort to this description of a retired Cockney and indigenous country-gentleman. He “ knew the Inns of Court, where they would talk of mad Shallow yet, and where the bona robas were, and had them at commandment: ay, and had heard the chimes at midnight!"

It is a strange state of society (such as that in London) where a man does not know his next-door neighbour, and where the feelings (one would think) must recoil upon themselves, and either fester or become obtuse. Mr. Wordsworth, in the preface to his poem of the "Excursion," represents men in cities as so many wild beasts or evil spirits, shut up in cells of ignorance, without natural affections, and barricadoed down in sensuality and selfishness. The nerve of humanity is bound up, according to him: the circulation of the blood stagnates. And it would be so, if men were merely cut off from intercourse with their immediate neighbours, and did not meet together generally and more at large. But man in London becomes, as Mr. Burke has it, a sort of “public creature. ".. He lives in the eye of the world, and the world in his. If he witnesses less of the details of private life, he has better opportunities of observing its larger masses and varied movements. He sees the stream of human life pouring along the streets its comforts and embellishments piled up in the shops—the houses are proofs of the industry, the public buildings of the art and magnificence of man; while the public amusements and places of resort are a centre and support for social feeling. A playhouse alone is a school of humanity, where all eyes are fixed on the same gay or solemn scene, where smiles or tears are spread from face to face, and where a thousand hearts beat in unison! Look at the company in a country theatre (in comparison), and see the coldness, the sullenness, the want of sympathy, and the way in which they turn round to scan and scrutinize one another. In London there is a public; and each man is part of it. We are gregarious, and affect the kind. We have a sort of abstract existence; and a community of ideas and knowledge (rather than local próximity) is the bond of society and good-fellowship. This is one great cause of the tone of political feeling in large and populous cities. There is here a visible body-politic, a type and image of that huge Leviathan the State. We comprehend that vast denomination, the People, of which we see a tenth part daily moving before us; and by having our imaginations emancipated from petty interests and personal dependence, we learn to venerate ourselves as men, and to respect the rights of human nature. Therefore it is that the citizens and freemen of London and Westminster are patriots by prescription, phi. losophers and politicians by the right of their birth-place. In the country, men are no better than a herd of cattle or scattered deer. They have no idea but of individuals, none of rights or principlesand a king, as the greatest individual, is the highest idea they can form. He is a species alone,” and as superior to any single peasant, as the latter is to the peasant's dog, or to a crow flying over his head. In London the king is but as one to a million (numerically speaking), is seldom seen, and then distinguished only from others by the superior graces of his person. A country 'squire or a lord of the manor is a greater man in his village or hundred !

THE NAPOLEON MEMOIRS.* In a former number, in taking a review of “Las Cases' Journal," we slightly glanced at the first part of these Memoirs, of which important production four parts are now published-two dictated to General Gourgaud, and more immediately and strictly historical-two more dictated to the Count de Montholon, entitled “ Historical Miscellanies," containing notes and observations upon several modern French publications which reached Napoleon at St. Helena, and gave false or imperfect views of his personal conduct, or of the political and military events of his reign.

When Napoleon, having ceased in 1814 to be Emperor of France, was about to depart for the Island of Elba, his farewell promise to the remnant of his old companions in arms who witnessed that extremity of his fortune, was, that he would prepare a record of the great transactions they had achieved together. The events that so rapidly ensued interfered with the design,—but the final and not inglorious struggle to be once again the foremost man of the world having failed, and he himself doomed to a sentence that extinguished every hope, he no longer deferred its execution. On the passage to St. Helena he commenced the present work, and was constantly occupied upon it during the six years that he continued to hold out against the miseries of exile, and the climate, and the governor of St. Helena. The quantity of matter condensed in these volumes is so great, and the subjects so various, that it would be quite impossible, in such a notice as the present, to give any thing like a perfect analysis of their contents. A large space is dedicated to accounts of battles, with minute and elaborate critical remarks upon military evolutions, which we profess our incompetency to appreciate, or at all times to follow-though, doubtless, this portion of the work will be deemed by many to be the most interesting and instructive; we shall therefore confine our extracts and observations to such passages as serve to illustrate the character and policy of this extraordinary man, who, by the force of his genius and ambition, raised himself (he repeatedly asserts “ without a crime”) from the station of a military adventurer to be the imperial chief, the creator and director of the most formidable combination of political resources that modern Europe has seen confederated against the stability of hostile thrones and institutions.

One of the first great events recorded in these volumes is the Revolution which placed Napoleon at the head of the French governmentthe celebrated scene of the 13th and 19th Brumaire. It is given in that minute detail which always imparts so much light and interest to the narrative of a great transaction.

He was in Egypt when information of the increasing inefficiency and unpopularity of the existing government reached him. The men whom the accidents of the Revolution had called to rule the affairs of France were distrustful of each other, and had lost all public confidence and respect. The French people felt that they were misgoverned, and were prepared by that impression, and by their recent familiarity with innovations, for any change that should promise a more effectual consolidation and management of the national resources. Under these

Memoirs of the History of France during the Reign of Napoleon, dictated by the Emperor at St. Helena, &c. 2 Livraisons, consisting of 4 volumes.

circumstances Napoleon, confiding in his talents and in the influence of his fame, formed the hardy project of crushing the factions that agitated the country, and of raising himself upon their ruins to the summit of his ambition. He consigned the command of the Egyptian expedition to Kleber, and repaired to France. His unexpected arrival was hailed with demonstrations of general joy. By the time he had reached the capital, he had seen enough to satisfy him that what he projected might be achieved.

“ The nature of past events had informed him of the general condition of France, and the intelligence that he had procured on the road (from Frejus to Paris) had made him intimately acquainted with all that he required to know. His resolution was taken. "What he had not even wished to attempt upon his return from Italy, he was now determined to effect. His contempt for the government of the Directory, and for the political intriguers of the day, was extreme. Resolved to assume the chief control in the state, and to restore to France her days of glory, by giving an energetic impulse to public measures, it was for the execution of this project that he had come from Egypt; and all that he had just witnessed in the interior of France had only served to confirm his determination."

In the prosecution of this bold design he proceeded with caution. He went rarely into public—he admitted the visits of none but a few select friends, with whom he conferred upon the relative strength of the different parties, and the respective proposals that were tendered to him by each. Bernadotte, Augereau, and other leaders of the Jacobins, offered, on certain conditions, to place him at the head of a military dictatorship ;-a more moderate party, consisting of Regnier,

Boulay, &c. were for committing to him the direction of the govern- ment as it then stood. The Directory was divided-Siéyes was for abolishing the present Constitution (La Constitution de l'an III.) and substituting one that he had framed. His views were supported by the Director Roger-Ducos and the majority of the Council of Ancients. The remaining three Directors, Barras, Moulins, and Gohier, proposed that Bonaparte should resume the command of the army of Italy. The two latter were sincere; but Barras, who was then intriguing for the restoration of the Bourbons, thought of nothing but retaining his present ascendancy. After deliberating over these several proposals, Napoleon was finally hesitating between those of Siéyes and Barras, when the following occurrence betrayed the duplicity of the latter :

“ On the 8th Brumaire (October 30th) Napoleon dined with Barras. The company was small. In the course of conversation after dinner, The Republic,' said the Director, ‘is going to ruin-the present system will never do, -the government is without energy~we must have a change, and appoint Hedouville President of the Republic. With regard to you, General, your intention is to repair to the army; and as for myself, sick, desponding, and exhausted as I am, I am good for nothing but to retire to a private station.' Napoleon looked at him intently, without uttering a word — Barras sunk his eyes and was confounded :—the conversation ended there. General Hedouville was a man of extreme mediocrity. Barras said not what he thought; his countenance betrayed his secret.

“ This conversation was decisive. A few moments after, Napoleon went to Siéyes. He informed him that for ten days past the several parties had been addressing themselves to him—that he had resolved to proceed in concert with him (Siéyes) and the majority of the Council of Ancients, and that he now came to give him a positive assurance of this intention. It was agreed that the change could be effected between the 15th and 20th Brumaire."

The sequel is equally curious and characteristic of the men and the times :

“ When Napoleon returned home, Talleyrand, Fouché, Roederer, and Réal, were there. He told them with entire simplicity, and without any movement of countenance that could betray his own opinion, of what Barras had just been saying. Réal and Fouché, who were attached to that director, felt at once all the impolicy of his dissimulation, and repaired to his house to remonstrate with him. About eight o'clock on the following morning, Barras came to Napoleon, who had not yet risen-he insisted upon seeing him, entered, and said that he feared his meaning had been misunderstood the night before-that Napoleon aione could save the Republic that he came to place hiinself at his disposal-to do whatever Napoleon should desire, and act any part that should be assigned him-and earnestly entreated to have an assurance that if he had any project in view, he would count upon Barras. But Napoleon had already taken his part: he answered that he desired nothing--that he was fatigued and indisposed--that after the arid climate of Arabia, he found his frame affected by the moist atmosphere of Paris, and by similar common-places he put an end to the interview.”

Such were some of the petty matters that preceded and accelerated the momentous crisis that was at hand. The remaining particulars are given with the minute fidelity of an historian relating what he had actually witnessed ;*—but we must refer our readers to the work itself. The final result was, that the plans which Napoleon, in concert with Siéyes, adopted, completely succeeded. The Directory was abolished. Napoleon, Siéyes, and Roger-Ducos were named provisional Consuls until a new Constitution should be framed. The new : Constitution, from which however the subtleties contained in the portfolio of Siéyes were as much as possible excluded, was proclaimed on the 24th of the following December; and Napoleon, as first Consul of the French Republic, took his place among the sovereigns of Europe. -As such, his character and actions now form one of the most interesting topics in the range of historical investigation.

When a deputation from the town of Capua waited upon Terentius Varro, with an address of condolence upon the defeat at Cannæ, the beaten Consul, in his reply, implored them to be firm in their fidelity to Rome, and among other arguments, did not omit to assure them that Hannibal was altogether a most fiendlike personage—that he was in the habit of building bridges and mounds of human bodies, and had actually initiated his savage troops in the practice of feeding upon human flesh. During the fourteen years of Napoleon's formidable ascendancy, it was a standing point of policy to cheer the efforts of his enemies by similar calumnies: in proportion as we became alarmed, we became abusive; every new victory, or master-stroke of policy on

* The day before the final blow was struck at St. Cloud, to which the sitting of the Legislative Chambers had been transferred by a decree of the 18th Brumaire, Augereau, who was secretly opposed to Napoleon, presented himself at the Tuileries where the troops were passing in review ; Napoleon advised him to absent himself from St. Cloud on the following day—to keep quiet, and not cancel the services be had already rendered his country, for that no effort could counteract 'the intended movement, Augereau assured him of his entire devotion, and his desire to march under his orders. “Eh bien, General," said he, “est-ce que vous ne comptez pas toujours sur votre petit Augereau!" Next day, however, when a rumour reached Paris of the proceedings at St. Cloud, le petit Augereau posted thither, and imagining from the tumultuary scene there that Napoleon was lost, approached him and observed, Eh bien ! vous voici dans une jolie position !"

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »