Page images
PDF
EPUB

his part, was the signal for fresh levies of libels-upon ours; and to such an extreme of contumely had we arrived, and so popular had this mode of carrying on the war become, that ten years ago every man who wished to be considered a friend to his king and country, felt bound to admit that Bonaparte was a monster in human shape--that he poisoned his soldiers, murdered his prisoners, betrayed his friends, was brutally insulting to subjugated kings and queens—in a word, that he was so irretrievably and inordinately vicious, that, for example-sake, no well-conducted person should ever mention his name without a thrill of execration. But he has since fallen, and is now in his grave, and his character and actions may at length be spoken of with something like the impartiality which the future historian will not refuse the most extraordinary being of the modern world.

Napoleon's talents have been seldom questioned. They were of so high and rare an order, that finding no one of his own age with whom to compare him, we must resort to the

few great names of the human race-Hannibal, Alexander, Cæsar, Charlemagne-conquerors, legislators, founders of empire-men of universal renown.

The conspicuous qualities of his mind were energy and sagacity-intellectual hardihood to conceive vast designs, and boundless fertility in creating and applying the means to attain them. He was equally eminent in war and policy; and his achievements in both were marked by far less of accident and adventurous experiment than was once imagined. He went into battle with an assurance of success founded upon previous, and for the most part unerring calculations. This was the secret of his confidence in his fortune. He compared, as if it were an abstract scientific question, the physical and moral forces of his troops with those arrayed against him, and where he found the former preponderate, gave the word to march and conquer. The most unskilled in military science may collect this from the general tenor of the volumes before us. Throughout, when discussing the various battles he had won, he appears to claim credit, not so much for having been actually victorious when once the conflict had begun, as for having by previous arrangements and combinations brought the certain means of victory to the field. He was persuaded, and could not afterwards divest himself of the conviction, that he had done this at Waterloo ; and hence his expression, so much ridiculed by those who mistake its real import, that be, and not Wellington, ought to have gained the day.

The same qualities of mind, the same preparatory forethought in speculation, and energy in action, and for a long time the same success, distinguished him as a statesman. His boldness here, as in the field, was the result of profound caleulations, through which none but the most penetrating and combining intellect could have passed. His saying was, that in all his great measures, “be marched at the head of large masses of opinion.” This military allusion illustrates the genius of his civil policy. In all his projects, whether foreign or domestic, he marshalled the passions and opinions that sided with him, computed their numerical and moral force, and where he found they must prevail, advanced at the charge-step to his object. In a word, he manæuvred the national mind as he would a great army; and having had the art of persuading the citizen, as well as the soldier, that he was leading him on to glory, he exacted alike from both, and met with the same measure of discipline and subordination.

the camp:

Under Napoleon's government there was a suspension of political liberty in France. His maxim was that the few should plan, and the many acquiesce and execute. He established and encouraged free discussion in the cabinet, but he discountenanced all popular interfeó rence in state measures, as he would a spirit of mutinous dictation in

We are no advocates for this mode of rule; but in speaking of the despotism of Napoleon as a personal crime, we should in fairness remember that he was accountable for it to his subjects and not his enemies, and that they were content to overlook its rigour for the many benefits it imparted. He asserts that his government was “eminently popular." He surely did much to make it so. He rescued France from the sway of the demagogue. He consolidated the national energies, and forced them into channels that led to national objects. He made talent the surest road to distinction. He was the patron of unbounded religious toleration. Under his reign no Frenchman could be molested and degraded upon the fantastic doctrine, that certain dogmas had certain remote and influential tendencies which should disqualify for the enjoyment of civil rights. He framed a comprehensive and intelligible code of laws (the greatest want of modern nations), in which he justly gloried as a lasting monument of his concern for the public good. These and his other great acts of general utility attached the French to his government, despotic as it was, and rendered them the willing instruments of his schemes of aggrandizement, in the products of which they were themselves to share.

We have stopped to offer these remarks, because we feel that it is not to the glory of England to depreciate this extraordinary man. Her real glory consists in having withstood the shock of his genius-in having so long resisted his imperial pretensions and asserted her own against a confederacy of hostile powers, such as no people uninspired by the pride and energy of freedom could have braved.

We proceed to extract some farther specimens of these Memoirs. The general contents, independently of the martial details, embrace the multiplied objects of his ambitious policy, which may be summarily described to have been, to render France the arbitress, and Paris the capital of the world ; to consolidate Italy into a separate kingdom ; to transfer the seat of the Papal power to the metropolis of France; to subjugate the several Continental states into obedience, or terrify them into an alliance; and, above all, to break the naval and commercial; and thereby the political influence of England in the affairs of Europe. Upon the subject of these vast designs, the present work supplies invaluable materials for the future historian ; but their very importance precludes our entering upon them. Any one of even the subordinate topics connected with them would more than exhaust our limits. We shall, therefore, go on according to our original intention (and without any attempt at regular order) to take up such passages as have interested us by their novelty, and are capable of being compressed into our remaining space.

The following may be adduced as a characteristic example of Napoleon's originality and skill as a political intriguer. In 1800 it was the great object of France to detach the Emperor Paul from the alliance of England and Austria. He was at that time known to be deeply ehagrined by the losses his army had sustained in Switzerland, and to be greatly dissatisfied with the conduct of his allies. Napoleon seized the

occasion of turning those feelings to account, and, knowing his vulnerable point to be on the side of his heroical pretensions, he directed his operations against that quarter. A little after the battle of Marengo he had flattered the vanity of Paul by sending him the sword which Leo the Tenth had presented to Ile-Adam, as the reward of his bravery in defending Rhodes against the Infidels; but an opportunity now offered of making a more brilliant and substantial present. Ten thousand Russian soldiers were prisoners of France. Napoleon proposed to England and Austria to exchange them for an equal number of Frenchmen. The offer, as no doubt expected, was refused. Napoleon exclaimed against the refusal as an act of narrow-minded injustice, and declared that, as a proof of the high estimation in which he held such brave soldiers, he would restore them without ransom to the Czar. The Russian officers accordingly received their swords, and all the prisoners were collected at Aix-la-Chapelle, where they were newly clothed and equipped in the most splendid style that the manufactures of France could effect. A Russian general was appointed to organize them into battalions and regiments. The ardent and impetuous Paul could not hold out against this. He forthwith despatched a courier to Napoleon with the following singular letter :

“ Citizen First Consul, I do not write to you in order to enter into discussions upon the rights of men or of citizens. Every country governs itself according to its own discretion. Wherever I see at the head of a country a man who knows how to govern and fight, my heart yearns towards him. I write to make you acquainted with my dissatisfaction towards England, who violates every right of nations, and is never guided but by her selfishness and interest. I wish to unite with you for the purpose of putting an end to the injustice of that government.”

Shortly after the proposed treaty of alliance was formally executed.

In the account of Egypt, a portion of the work that will probably have most attractions for general readers, we have a short digression upon polygamy, and a proposed explanation of that institution different from those of preceding speculators.

“ These countries (Africa and Asia) being inhabited by men of various colours, polygamy is the sole means of preventing mutual persecution. In order that the blacks should not be at war with the whites, and the whites with the blacks, and the copper-coloured with both, their legislators have judged it expedient to make them all members of one family, and thus 10 counteract that tendency in man to hate whatever is not himself. Mahomet considered that four wives were sufficient to attain this object, inasmuch as each man could have one white, one black, one copper-coloured, and one of some other colour. Doubtless it was also in the spirit of a sensual creed to favour the passions of its votaries ; and in this respect policy and the Prophet have been able to act in concord.”

The doctrine of Montesquieu is more obvious and satisfactory. In warm climates where this usage has almost exclusively prevailed, female attractions pass rapidly away. A Nourmahaul or Fatima of those regions, however adorable in her teens, becomes to outward appearance, quite elderly at the age of twenty, and a wrinkled matron at twenty-five. But Selim, who is only three or four years older at the period of this catastrophe, is still in the prime of youth and Oriental sensibility, and in spite of his eternal vows, finds his affections wandering from the object of his first attachment. He is once more devoré du besoin d'aimer, and if the laws were so unreasonable as to

denounce his second dream of connubial felicity, the danger, or rather the certainty would be, that like the fashionable husband of every clime and age, he would defy the law and set up a separate establishment, to the great scandal of the neighbourhood, the inextinguishable indignation of his neglected partner, and followed in due course by everlasting appeals to the Cadi on the subject of their domestic jars. The legislators of the East, therefore, perceiving the consequences of prohibiting an usage originally founded upon the caducity of female charms, and which would inevitably continue in one form or another, whether they sanctioned it or not, have permitted polygamy; under the restriction, perhaps, in the first instance, of not allowing a second wife until the first was on the wane ;- but as laws made for the convenience of the rich are liberally construed, the transition was easy from an old and a young wife to two simultaneous young ones, and so on to as many as the husband could afford to support. But although we take Napoleon's conjectures on this subject to be incorrect, there is no want of bis accustomed sagacity and boldness in the application that he would make of his doctrine. Speaking in another place of the condition of St. Domingo, he says,

“The question of the liberty of the Blacks is one full of complication and difficulty.' In Africa and Asia it has been resolved, but by the means of head of the family, having wives of various colours, all the children are brothers, are reared in the same cradle, bear the same name, and sit at the same table.. Would it then be impossible to authorize polygamy in our islands, restricting the number of wives to two, a white and a black? The First Consul had some conferences with theologians, in order to prepare

the way for this important measure. Polygamy prevailed among the patriarchs in the first ages of Christianity-the Church tolerated a species of concubinage, of which the effect was the same. The Pope, the council have the means of authorising a similar institution, since its object would be to conciliate and produce social harmony, and not to extend the indulgence of the senses. The effects of these marriages would have been limited to the colonies, and suitable measures would have been taken to prevent their producing any disorder in the present state of our society."

Some of our female readers who, probably know little of Napoleon's style of thinking and writing except from his bulletins and other public documents, may wish to see how he treats subjects of a lighter kind :-and as one of the crimes imputed to him during the war, was a barbarous contempt of all gallant feeling and observance towards the sex, we shall select a passage, in which he recalls, after a lapse of many years, the impressions made upon him by the ladies of Egypt. The description is very much in the minute and caressing manner of Rousseau.

“The General-in-chief had numerous occasions of observing some of the most distinguished women of the country to whom he granted audiences. They were either the widows of Beys or Katchefs, or their wives who came during their absence, to implore his protection. The richness of their dress, their elevated deportment, their little soft hands, their fine eyes, their noble and graceful carriage, and their extremely elegant manners, denoted that they were of a class and an education above the vulgar. They always commenced by kissing the hand of the Sultan Kebir*, which they afterwards raised to their forehead, and then to their breast; many of them expressed their wishes with the most perfect grace, and in an enchanting tone of voice, and displayed all the talent and the softness of the most accomplished Europeans.

• The Great Sultan—the titlc by which Napoleon was designated by the Arabs.

The propriety of their demeanour and the modesty of their attire added to their attractions, and the imagination took pleasure in forming conjectures respecting the charms of which they would not allow so much as a glimpse."

A little farther on he gives an instance of their propensity to assert the rights of women, even to petitioning himself for a redress of connubial grievances ; and considering what a frightful despot he was, he appears from his manner of relating the anecdote, to have regarded the stirrings of natural ambition in the bosoms of these aspiring gipsies with singular indulgence.

“The women have their privileges :-here are some things which their husbands cannot refuse them without being considered barbarians, monsters, without causing a general qutcry against them; such, for example, is the right of going to the bath. It is at the vapour-baths that the women assemble; it is there that all sorts of intrigues, political and other, are planned; it is there that marriages are settled. General Menou, who had married a female of Rosetta, treated her after the French manner : he led her by the hand into the dinner-room-the best place at table-the most delicate morsels were for her; if her handkerchief chanced to drop, he was on the alert to pick it up. As soon as she related these particulars in the bath of Rosetia, all the others began to entertain hopes of a general change of manners, and signed a petition to the Sultan Kebir, that their husbands should be made to treat them in the same wayt."

While we are upon the subject of Napoleon's demeanour to women, we cannot refrain from inserting an example that we have met for the first time in these volumes, and which, upon higher grounds than those of courtesy, must be considered as most creditable to his memory. His public despatch from Cairo, (August 19, 1798,) announces to the Executive Directory the defeat of the French fleet at Aboukir--a disaster which he attributes to Admiral Brueys, who, in violation of repeated orders, neglected to remove his squadron from that exposed situation. On the same day he writes as follows to the widow of Brueys.

“ Cairo, 3d Fructidor, year VI. (19 Aug. 1798.) “ Your husband has been killed by a cannon-ball while he was fighting

* We throw together two or three shorter anecdotes that occur in this portion of the work.

Napoleon gave frequent dinners, to the Sheiks. Athough our customs were so different from theirs, they found chairs, and knives and forks extremely convenient. At the conclusion of one of these dinners, he one day asked the Sheik El-Mondi, “ For the six months that I have 'been among you, what is the most useful thing I have taught you ?” “ The most useful thing you have taught me," replied the Sheik, half-serious, half-laughing, “is to drink at dinner.”—The custom of the Arabs is not to drink until the repast is over.

At a dinner given to the General-in-chief by the Sheik El-Fayoum, the subject of conversation was the Koran. “It comprises all human knowledge,” said the Sheiks.-Napoleon asked, “Does it contain the art of casting cannons, and making gunpowder ?” “Yes,” they replied, “ but you must know how to read it;" a scholastic distinction that has been more or less employed by every religion.

One day that Napoleon was surrounded by the Divan of the great Sheiks, information was brought that the Arabs of the tribe of the Osnadis had killed a Fellah and carried off the cattle. He manifested his indignation, and in an animated tone ordered a staff-officer to repair forthwith to Baireh with 200 dromedaries and 300 horsemen to obtain restitution and punish the offenders. The Sheik El-Modi, who was present at this order, and observed the emotion of the General-in-chief, said to him with a smile, “ Is that Fellah your cousin, that his death should put you in such a passion ?" “ Yes," replied Napoleon, “ all that I command are my children." “ Taibt,” said the Sheik, “ you speak there like the Prophet."

+ An Arab word expressing great satisfaction.

« PreviousContinue »