Page images


“ Never was there a man more inclined to indulgence, or more ready to listen to the voice of humanity: of this I could mention a thousand examples.”

We have dwelt once more upon this “sopbism of the man for the thing," as Jeremy Bentham would call it, and with the greater emphasis, because it is daily wielded with a mischievous efficacy by the enemies of all liberal institutions, and because it is ostentatiously put forth by those who would wheedle us at once out of liberty and common sense. The“ despotism of Napoleon,” the “crimes of the Usurper," are the cuckoo notes of Ultraism ; as if the service of other tyrants were perfect freedom; and as if oppression were not equally ruinous and demoralizing in the long-lined descendants of a Rodolf, or a Vitikind, as in the most ephemeral fungus of anarchy and revolution.

The publication of the numerous French memoirs which have appeared within the last eighteen months, is calculated to form an epoch in political discussion, and, in more senses than one, to influence public opinion. The life of Napoleon is, in all its details, a course of political philosophy, a running commentary upon human nature and society, From the dirty, obscure, and mole-like workings of courtly diplomacy, to the zeal and enthusiasm of the common soldier, the nature and po'tentialities of the human heart in all classes were laid bare to his inspection, and were employed in his calculations. He was likewise personally acquainted with almost every individual who now figures on the stage of Europe. He had fathomed the shallowness, and applied his touchstone to the baseness of those pigmies, who, enveloping themselves in his mantle, now imagine that they have attained to his gigantic proportions : and the details of his conversations, his opinions, and the facts he related to his recording friends, which have become public property through these publications, derive additional importance, from the frequent and strong lights they reflect upon those who at present hold in their hands the destinies of nations. The Memoirs of General Rapp we consider as among the most valuable of the recent additions to our stock of information concerning Napoleon, and "le grand siècle," of which he is the hero. The traits of character and the reflections on events which are given by Las Cases, O'Meara, &c. however estimable they may be for their self-evident veracity, and for the proximity of the narrators' approaches to the great man they paint, are still but portraitures of Napoleon in exile ; and the statements which he makes to them of opinions and facts, are but recollections, for the most part modified by the success or failure of the combinations to which they relate. They are the judgments of a man changed in his fortunes, influenced by experience, and forced, both by circumstances, and his own human nature, to put the best face upon things, and to colour transactions (not fraudulently indeed, but unconsciously,) into an appearance of philosophy and consistency. The sketches of Gen. Rapp, on the contrary, exhibit his master in the heat of action, in the hurry and the bustle of the passing moment. They shew the man as he was at the time-they preserve his ideas in the instant of their formation—they embalm his motive impressions, such as they occurred in the act of volition ; and not such as they appeared to himself to have been on a distant retrospection, through a long vista of years, and a still longer perspective of mighty and overwhelming events.

The character of Rapp, as with great naïveté he paints it himself, and as he is represented by all who knew him, admirably fitted him for recording with fidelity whatever passed under his observation. Frank, loyal, a soldier of fortune, yielding lightly and promptly to the impulses of a generous disposition, and speaking with boldness, and even with abruptness, the first dictates of his heart, he seems frequently to have incurred the transient displeasure of Napoleon, by a forgetfulness of the state and dignity of the Imperial position; and by a hasty resentment at the distance which followed the substitution of a royal court for a military household, and the establishment of a cold etiquette between those who had hitherto enjoyed the free intercourse of a camp. Yet by Napoleon he was liked and esteemed ; and the Emperor, notwithstanding an occasional petulant outcry against his aide-de-camp's "mauvaise tête,” frequently observed of him,

that " it was not easy to find a man of more natural good sense and discernment than Rapp." The style of the memoir corresponds with this eulogium of its author. It shews no elaborate effort to systematize; it neither eulogizes nor depreciates er professo; it paints neither a god nor a dæmon. ful for personal kindness and professional advancement; full of admiration for the military talents and the good qualities of his master, Rapp is neither overpowered by a sense of the Imperial greatness, nor blinded to the errors of the man: His anecdotes arise out of the events he relates, as mere matters-of-fact, and are thus totally divested of artificial colouring, and free from all ground of suspicion. There is in them, on the contrary, an open off-handedness (to use a significant Irishism), which forces on the reader an irresistible conviction of truth and fair dealing.

To the vile and worthless part of the French nobility to those who, after betraying Louis XVI. to the scaffold, by their silly flight and fatal intrigues, returned to lay themselves under the feet of Napoleon— Rapp entertained a rooted antipathy; and he had a clear and just view of the Emperor's bad policy as a novus homo, and the " child and champion" of the Revolution, in adopting the old nobility into the machinery of his new government. This sharp-sightedness was perhaps increased by a soldier's jealousy on seeing these men step between the army and its General. Notwithstanding this pique, the prevailing fairness of Rapp's narrative warrants our crediting his account of the conduct of the anciens nobles towards the Emperor; more especially as it is corroborated by a vast many other authorities.

Most of these same nobles, however, allege that they had yielded only to compulsion. Nothing can be more false. I know of only two who received Chamberlain's appointments unsolicited. Some few declined advantageous offers ; but with these exceptions, all solicited, entreated, and importuned. There was a competition of zeal and devotedness altogether unexampled. The meapest employment, the humblest offices, nothing was rejected. It seemed to be an affair of life and death. Should a treacherous hand ever find its way into the portfolios of MM. Talleyrand, Montesquiou, Segur, Duroc, &c., what ardent expressions may be found to enrich the language of attachment. But the individuals who held this language now vie with each other in giving rent to hatred and invective. If they really felt for Napoleon the profound hatred which they now evince, it must be confessed ihat, in crouching at his feet for fifteen years, they did strange violence

to their feelings. And yet all Europe can bear witness, that from their unrestrained inanner, their never-varying smile, and their supple marks of obe, dience, their services seemed to be of their own free choice, and to cost them but little sacrifice:”

What follows is in page 149, apropos to another subject-

“ The Emperor bad several long conferences with the Minister of Police. He complained of the Faubourg St. Germain. The contrast of humility and boldness alternately displayed by the old nobility, in the antechambers and saloons, disconcerted him : he could scarcely conceive that these men were so base and perfidious as to destroy with the one hand while they solicited favours with the other. He appeared inclined to severity; but Fouché dissuaded him from that course. It is a traditionary remark,' said he, that the Seine flows, the Faubourg intrigues, solicits, devours, and calumniates. This is in the order of nature ; every thing has its attributes.' Napoleon yielded; he avenged himself only on men. It was proposed that he should make a solemn entry into the capital ; but this he declined: the conqueror of the world was superior to the triumphs which transported the Romans. On the following day the court left Fontainebleau. The Emperor rode to Paris without stirrups: he outstripped all his escort; none but a chasseur of the guard was able to keep up with him. In this manner he arrived at the Tuileries.”

To the domestic affections of Napoleon, Rapp bears honourable testimony; and we of our personal knowledge can aver, that his mother habitually spoke of him, with the tears in her eyes, as“ being in the height of his power and imperial sway a dutiful and affectionate son.” Politically speaking, this strong family feeling was a fault. An unmeasured ambition to enrich and advance his family, betrayed the Emperor into those false calculations concerning Spain which laid the foundation of his ruin. On the other hand, had he attended to his brother Lucien, he might have met a less horrible fate, and what is of still more importance, Europe might have escaped the long chain of calamities under which it now suffers, and of which no mortal can foresee the termination. On what trifles do the dearest interests of man most commonly depend !! Upon one occasion, in some discussion on the Imperial plans and policy, Lucien, heated by dispute, dashed his watch with violence to the earth, and exclaimed, “ You will destroy yourself, as I now destroy this bauble,' and a time will come when your family and your friends will not know where to lay their heads.”. All the family, says Rapp, except his mother, “ l'ont abreure d'amertumes," have drenched him with vexations; and numerous stories of domestic tracasseries have got wind through other channels. Without, however, crediting every anecdote in which point has too probably drawn upon truth, we may remark upon the strange nature of volition, whose strength bears so little relation to that of the other mental powers. He, whose nod governed Europe from the Tagus to the Borysthenes, was unable to master the obstinacy or the caprice of a domestic coterie ; and the lightest fancies of a headstrong woman may have often outweighed the deliberate designs of the world's master. In Chapter V., the testimony of Rapp confirms what Las Cases has related of Napoleon's manner in council, and of his desire to avoid flattery and hear the truth. But the desire to reign, and to be treated with ingenuousness, are incompatibles. Napoleon's petulance alone, his impatience of nonsense, was enough, in such a man, to frighten away candour from his presence. On his return from Russia, he one day

deplored with great emotion the death of his soldiers swept off by cold, hunger, and the Cossack's lance; when a courtier ventured to put in his word, and with a rueful countenance to reply, “ Yes, we have suffered a severe loss." " True," rejoined Napoleon, “ Madame Boulli is dead." Who, that is exposed to such treatment, could venture to hazard an opinion, unless perfectly certain beforehand of its success with the Emperor ?

After the few preliminary chapters dedicated to a sketch of Napoleon, in his several relations of soldier, citizen, governor, and head of a family, the rest of the volume is occupied with an account of those military and political transactions, in which Rapp himself took a part; and more especially the conquest of Prussia, the fatal campaign of Russia, the siege of Dantzic, and the events of the hundred days. Rapp was among the number of those who had accepted a commission from Louis XVIII ; and the dialogue which he records as having passed between bimself and Napoleon, on his return to the Tuileries, is well worthy of perusal.

The description of the burning of Moscow is written by Rapp with a vivacity almost dramatic : the reader seems to watch the progress of the flames as he advances. The ill-fated retreat from Russia is likewise detailed with no less vigour and effect. Throughout the whole work, indeed, the narrative is rapid and clear. Attention rarely flags, though the subjects are sometimes treated at great length; the siege of Dantzic, more especially, is as protracted on paper as it was in the field. It was the great military event of the author's life; and of course a theme on which he dwells with complacency. To conclude, the whole work abounds with philosophic reflection; and in the style and manner of its composition far exceeds what might have been expected from a mere soldier, whose education must have been hasty, if it was not neglected.

Of Baron Fain's volume, we have scarcely left ourselves space to speak. It embraces only the events which preceded and occasioned the Abdication in 1814 ; and it is chiefly occupied with the military events of that singular campaign; which, though the least successful, was the most wonderful in its display of military talent, and the developement of Napoleon's resources. Although thus employed with marches and countermarches, the work, like all other works which treat of Bonaparte, abounds in matter interesting to the moralist, the philosopher, and the hunter after anecdotes.

We cannot, however, in closing this article, pass over in silence the leading impression we have received from a perusal of the Memoirs of which it treats : and that is, the conviction of the overwhelming disparity of means to ends in the great drama of Napoleon's life. What infinite toil and suffering, what carnage, what desolation, what waste of the products of peaceful industry, were occasioned through a long series of years to carry the French eagles to Moscow, that they might be driven back to the capital, and be there trodden under the feet of a barbarian conqueror ;-to raise one man to the summit of Imperial ambition, that he might be dashed from his precipitous height, to dispute and chicane on the rock of St. Helena, to writhe under an ignoble and paltry tyranny, and to die obscurely, the victim of petty vexations, and of hardships that scarcely bear narration! What, on the other hand,

have his enemies attained by the success of their arms? The people, a transfer of masters, and perpetuated slavery!—the combined kings, an uncertain and precarious power, a throne raised with sand over the womb of a volcano!!! Such are the mysterious, yet the whimsical destinies of man, under existing systems. His talents, genius, perseverance, affections, his tears, sweat, and blood, are but as a rattle in the hand of an infant, which is agitated to make the amusement of an idle moment, and is broken to pieces on the first impulse of satiety or caprice.

[merged small][ocr errors]

Young Romance through roses straying,

Saw old Truth trudge lamely on;
One in pleasure's light was playing,

The other sigh'd for pleasures gone:
Cries Romance, “O rest a minute,

And discuss our views of Earth:

may have most prudence in it,
But in mine is all the mirth.”


Truth, “ this world discloses
Nought but vain delusive wiles,
Thorns are under all your roses,

Sadness follows all your smiles :"
-Cries Romance, “ Perhaps I often

Colour life with tints too warm ;
Yet my warmth a shade may soften,


coldness chills a charm."
“What is Love?” the sage then asks him-

“ Love-in summer-hours so sweet?
Wintry weather soon unmasks him,

And your idol proves a cheat !”
“ Love!” the youth replies,

O sever
Real Love from vain deceits ;
Constant Love brings hours that never

Lose their sunshine or their sweets.".
Friendship too, you call a treasure,

But,” says Truih, “it is a tie
Loosely worn 'mid scenes of pleasure,

And when fortune frowns-thrown by.”
“Friendship,” he replies, “possesses

Worth which no dark change destroys ;
Seeking, soothing our distresses,

Sharing, doubling all our joys.”
"Go,” says Truth, “'tis plain we never

Can such hostile thoughts combine;
Folly is your guide for ever,

While dull sense inust still be mine."
Cries the Boy—“Frown on, no matter,

Mortals love my merry glance ;
E'en iu Truth's own path they scatter

Roses snatch'd from young Romance.”


« PreviousContinue »