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XVI: A SHORT HISTORY OF NAPOLEON THE FIRST. By John Robert Seeley - John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton, Historical Essays and Studies 
Historical Essays and Studies, by John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, edited by John Neville Figgis and Reginald Vere Laurence (London: Macmillan, 1907).
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A SHORT HISTORY OF NAPOLEON THE FIRST. By John Robert Seeley
A condensed biography of Napoleon ought to make the richest and most interesting volume in profane literature. Frenchmen find it a difficult book to write, because they feel both the excess and the deficiency of essential information. The correspondence of the Bonapartes, though it occupies more than sixty volumes, is mutilated and incomplete. Materials for an ample supplement are known in France; a collection of the emperor’s autograph letters was offered for sale in London not long ago; and the priceless bundles that passed through Mr. Murray’s hands passed into concealment. The papers of imperial ministers are lost or kept back. Those of Fouché are said to have been burnt at Trieste; those of Talleyrand were partially destroyed, and the few readers of his memoirs foretell disappointment. Barras and Sieyès, Cambacérès and Caulaincourt, Molé and Pasquier left memoirs which are at least difficult of access to most people except M. Taine. Some are printed but unpublished. The task may be fitly undertaken at a distance by men resolute not to be distracted by the pursuit of detail or baffled by mysteries that resist inquiry.
Two such lives written in English at the same time are better than anything of equal compass on the continent. Alike in ability and industry, they differ widely in the choice of materials and still more in their conclusions, and so conveniently complete each other. Both are worth reading, apart from the views they are meant to serve. Mr. Seeley’s rapid sketch tells of things not easily found in French books, avoids detail, and judges austerely. Mr. Ropes, his rival, discourses more on military affairs, and is not only an admirer but an advocate. We shall not go far wrong if we take the good of Napoleon from Mr. Ropes, and the bad from Mr. Seeley. It is difficult to exaggerate either. The American lives afar from the temptation of wrongs that cry for vengeance, and pride not yet appeased. He inherits no part or partnership in the inorganic Europe which it was Napoleon’s mission to destroy, likes the French quite as much as the English, and prefers the enlightened emperor to the Wellesleys, who called the liberals Jacobins, and supported the Spanish Serviles. He urges how much he was sinned against, and how much the nations might have profited by his sway. Canning once said: “I would not myself, if I were a rascally Portuguese, or Prussian, or Dutchman, hesitate one moment to prefer the French”; and Mr. Ropes improves this text. Mr. Seeley surveys from a patriotic elevation the career that did so much for the expansion of England, and treats it as an episode in the long duel for the prize of distant empire. A force more constant and irresistible than human will impels Napoleon to a hopeless struggle with manifest destiny, and his wars are subsidiary to the supreme national purpose of crippling England. It is a development of Rapetti’s thesis that, in occupying maritime Europe from the Adriatic to the Baltic, the emperor pursued the fixed lines of ancient rivalry; a commentary on the words spoken to Molé, that it was the English only that he meant to attack in Russia; on the subtler speech to Schwarzenberg, that he cared for nothing but the war with England, which all other fighting hindered and retarded; on the pithy sentence recorded by Mollien: “La France n’a étendu ses conquêtes que pour enlever des tributaires à l’Angleterre.”
The practised observer of history is apparent in many places. The Constitution Civile is described as the ruin of the Revolution; but the Concordat is set forth as a contrivance to dissociate the clergy from both of the preceding orders of things, and make it subserve the new. So close a student of Marmont could not miss the defect in Napoleon’s generalship, the forward eagerness that would not provide for ill-fortune. But it is a merit in a biographer of Stein to recognise as he does the prodigious success of Metternich’s ministry during the war of liberation. He is not blinded by the glare of Russian snowfields, and knows what Jomini explained long ago, that the army was destroyed by its commander, and not by the cold. He does not fall into the extinct error of thinking that the Congress of Vienna was going to pieces when Napoleon escaped; but he does not make it clear that the emperor started for France in that belief, and that the settled concord of Europe was a surprise to him. The spirit of nationality, the propeller of so much later history, is derived by Mr. Seeley from the imperial wars; but he is not careful to distinguish national from liberal opposition, or the effect of resistance to Napoleon in Spain from the direct influence upon his Italian countrymen of his political forecast: “L’Italie est une seule nation. L’unité de mœurs, de langage, de littérature, doit, dans un avenir plus ou moins éloigné, réunir enfin ses habitants sous un seul gouvernement.—Rome est, sans contredit, la capitale que les Italiens choisiront un jour.” In other ways he at least does him strict justice, showing that the destruction of popular liberties had been the nation’s own act, and that the emperor was continually forced to defend himself against aggression. More stress might have been laid on the policy of making Europe pay the deficit of France which Napoleon disclosed when, in answer to a minister pleading that his finances wanted repose, he said: “Au contraire, elles s’embarrassent; il leur faut la guerre.”
His excellent materials would often justify Mr. Seeley in being more sure of things than he appears; and when he is not sure he employs precautions which a compendium ought, if possible, to avoid. He doubts whether Bonaparte showed any remarkable firmness of character in Vendémiaire; whether Carnot chose him for the command in Italy; whether he bribed Sieyès, as he boasted, with public money. He does not know whether Monge suggested the expedition to Egypt; whether the marriage with an archduchess was part of the original plan; whether the sudden illness at Pirna and the poisoning at Fontainebleau are real; whether or no the allies resolved upon the march to Paris on 24th March. Nearly all these things are ascertainable. When there was some hesitation about using force against the rising of Vendémiaire, Bonaparte said: “Attendez-vous que le peuple vous donne la permission de tirer sur lui?” The Italian appointment does not rest on the unsupported word of a Terrorist. La Réveillère, whose memoirs are an apology for Fructidor and an attack on the Réponse à Bailleul, who reviles Carnot for the favour he enjoyed during the empire, affirms that the nomination was not the act of Barras. If he could have said that it was not the act of Carnot, he would have said it. We learn from Lavallette that Monge discussed Egypt, not that he proposed the expedition. Bonaparte is not our only authority for the gift of public money to Sieyès. The other consul, Roger Ducos, informed Gohier that Sieyès had taken £16,000, and he himself £4000, and that the First Consul had said to him: “Il faut gorger ce prêtre de biens pour en avoir raison.” The Austrian match was so little part of the original plan that Napoleon preferred a Russian grand-duchess. Alexander himself directed his thoughts towards Vienna, and Metternich had proposed the marriage before the divorce. In February 1810 a French diplomatist wrote to him that Talleyrand had done the most to alter the emperor’s choice, adding: “We shall be on bad terms with Russia in less than five months, and at war in eighteen.” Thiers and Bernhardi support the doubt whether the fatal inaction on 28th August 1813 was really due to sudden illness. They say that Fain is the only witness, and Fain notoriously cannot be trusted. The fact is known on the better testimony of Maret, Caulaincourt, St. Cyr, and Senfft; to say nothing of Ségur, Fézensac, and Pelet. Ségur’s narrative of the attempted suicide was confirmed to many people still living, by Count Flahaut, who was at Fontainebleau at the time. Our witness for the date of the momentous conference at Sommepuis is Lord Westmorland, the officer accredited at headquarters, who was present, and whose statement in his book, and in his letter published in Toll’s memoirs, can scarcely be disputed. The assertion that, in Napoleon’s boyhood, “his abilities do not seem to have excited wonder,” is an instance of excessive caution. His mother said to Prokesch: “Au début de ses études, Napoléon fut celui de mes enfans qui me donna le moins d’espérances; il resta longtemps avant d’avoir quelque succès.” And it is rather a balk to be told that the creation of the university “gave Napoleon the occasion for some striking and original remarks.” He remarked that it was to be “un moyen de diriger [otherwise, surveiller] les opinions politiques et morales,” and that there is no safety for the state “tant qu’on n’apprendra pas, dès l’enfance, s’il faut être républicain ou monarchique, catholique ou irreligieux.” The studied vagueness of the author’s style is inadequate at times to the intense definiteness of Napoleon’s thought and speech. Oncken, who has been of some service to Mr. Seeley, might have satisfied him that the memorable interview with Metternich took place on 26th June, not 28th June, and lasted eight hours and a half, not ten. As to the dramatic passage, the best reason for thinking that Metternich reports it faithfully is that the emperor said the same thing both to Caulaincourt and to Narbonne.
The scheme of interpretation which contemplates the wars of the empire from the point of view of the continental blockade and the British shopkeeper falls short in Spain. When Mr. Seeley says that the invasion was an act of insensate violence, that the Spaniards were entirely subservient to France before, and unanimously hostile after, he passes over some essential elements of the case. We learn nothing of the technical provocation which had been given, nothing of the strong French party which, but for the Russian expedition, had nearly accomplished the pacification of the peninsula, or of the statesman’s argument for thinking the suppression of the Bourbons as desirable for the Bonapartes as the suppression of Murat was afterwards for the Bourbons. There were Spaniards who, as early as 1805, had foreseen that the extinction of one family would be needful for the elevation of the other. Napoleon admitted that he could not leave in Bourbon hands a country that might be one day formidable, not to himself but to his successors. The solidity of ancient thrones, the gathered force of long prescription, filled him with a mysterious awe which forbade him to be content with making vassals of that craven dynasty. At Smorgoni, on the night on which he abandoned his army, he exclaimed: “If I had been born to the throne, it would have been easy to make no mistakes.” And he added: “Les Bourbons s’en tireraient.” During the invasion of France he expressed the same thought thus: “If I were my son, I could go on fighting until I stood with my back to the Pyrenees.” Towards Sieyès Mr. Seeley entertains the sentiments which Burke and Mallet du Pan have bequeathed to their successors. He loves to impute the new absolutism to the destroyer of the old, and distinguishes but faintly between his work and the suppression of his work by Napoleon. He even attributes to the backwardness and timidity of Sieyès the mismanagement which nearly wrecked the enterprise of Brumaire. The performer who flinched in the drama of St. Cloud was not Sieyès but Bonaparte. When he turned pale with the terror of outlawry, Sieyès calmly said: “Ils vous mettent hors la loi: mettez-les hors la salle.” So the scene was told not many years since by one who had lived among the actors in it. Montrond was present, and his account, virtually the same, is preserved by Rœderer. There we read how, when all was over, Talleyrand said that it was time to dine; and how, during dinner, Montrond was observed to shake his head and mutter: “Général Bonaparte, cela n’est pas correct.” There too we read that the “yoke of the S” in Lucien’s pamphlet meant not Soldiers, as Mr. Seeley infers, but Sieyès. The First Consul was angry with his brother for attacking so useful a man, sent Talleyrand with an apology, and had an edition printed with the word militaires. Like the German writers of whom he makes great use, he denies to the Russians the merit of design in the successful defence of 1812. He thinks that they had learnt from Wellington the value of retrograde movements, but that the retreat was not based on strategic calculations of the benefit of space. We know from Dumas and Ségur that the idea of retreating into the interior had struck a Russian officer during the campaign of Eylau, and that he executed it afterwards, against the feeling of the army, whilst he held command. Alexander had previously assured a Frenchman that nothing would be lost if he had to retire beyond Moscow; and the Frenchman had answered politely that he would still be the first Power in Asia. Mr. Seeley is doubtless right in thinking that the Austrian terms ought to have been conceded at Prague; but it is not so clear that, when Austria turned against him in 1813, Napoleon’s doom was sealed. He was outnumbered in the proportion of ten to nine; but he deemed that his presence doubled his force. It was worth an addition of 50,000 men, says St. Cyr; and Wellington thought that it was equal to 40,000. Even at Leipzig the odds were not greater than at Dresden, where he gained a complete victory. Three of the best judges, Jomini, St. Cyr, and Bernhardi, do not agree that the struggle on the Elbe was hopeless. In the defence of Champagne, Arcis, which is as decisive a date as Lodi, deserved better treatment than to be passed over in silence whilst Hagelberg is duly recorded. Having been repulsed at Laon by the Prussians, Napoleon tried his fortune against the Austrians, and was defeated at Arcis. It was there he understood that the end had come, and that he rode forward and stood over a shell about to explode. An officer, on the point of uttering a warning cry, was stopped by another, who said: “Don’t you see that he is doing it on purpose, and wants to have it over?” Mr. Seeley states that, in 1814, Fouché was weaving a military plot. The proceedings of that exceedingly able man barely fit in to so plain a form of words. He made a merit of trying to maintain the Bourbons, and, in a secret interview, had given some remarkable advice: “Servez-vous à la fois de la vertu qui a éclaté dans l’oppression, de l’énergie qui a été développée dans nos désordres, et des talents qui se sont produits dans le délire. On ne gouverne pas plus les états avec les souvenirs et les répugnances qu’avec les remords.” Blacas of course replied that legitimacy can no more coalesce with revolution than truth with error. Then Fouché, exclaiming that the king, if he had ten crowns with such an adviser, would lose them all, tried the younger branch. That is how Napoleon afterwards told Meneval that he had dethroned not Lewis XVIII., but the Duke of Orleans.
In such a mass of facts and allusions there are probably not a few which a vindictive Bonapartist would mark with a sign of interrogation. He might object that the French at Acre were not reduced to musketry fire; that the primate of the confederation did not hold the See of Mentz; that Moreau was in the Russian, not the Austrian camp; that the Holy Alliance did not come into existence for three months after the Hundred Days; that the first indication of the policy of the concordat dates not from Tolentino in February 1797, but at least as far back as the previous October, when Bonaparte wrote: “J’ambitionne bien plus le titre de sauveur que celui de destructeur du Saint-Siège”; that if the story of his getting drunk with punch at Campo Formio is derived from Hüffer, it is right to add that Hüffer warns us against believing it; that the institutions which “brought the country to bankruptcy, civil war, and almost barbarism,” from 1795 to 1799, were not more pernicious than what had gone before.
The passage asserting that the discovery had recently been made in America that a republic must have a president is not written in earnest. So eminent a student of politics knows that the Americans discovered no such thing, but adopted a president, being used to a governor in the several States, and that “Oranje boven!” and “Down with the pensionary!” was not the formula of a new philosophy. Republics since then have prospered without presidents, and have perished by them. Any reader impervious to irony whom the authority of a great name might tempt to take the remark for an axiom, may profitably meditate Félix Pyat’s speech of 5th October 1848, comparing it with Tocqueville’s reply in defence of the presidential theory. If I may quote a demagogue against an imperialist, here is the sort of thing he would find: “Qu’est-ce que la république des Etats-Unis? Le mot l’indique; une république fédérale, girondine, passez-moi le mot, une agrégation d’états ou corps divers, une nation d’alluvions et d’attérissement, composée successivement des parties hétérogènes, insolidaires. Le danger, en France, est en sens inverse des Etats-Unis. Aux Etats-Unis il est dans la dispersion des provinces, et il fallait un président: en France, il est dans la concentration; il ne faut qu’une assemblée.”
The philosopher of national greatness, when he celebrates the triumph of British arms, has a manifest peril to shun. It would be congenial to him to adopt Pitt’s last speech, proudly graven on the medal commemorating the peace: “Se ipsam virtute, Europam exemplo.” But he is guarded not to inflate the glory and the spoil of England, not to remind us of the time when an Englishman scorned to fight less than three Frenchmen starving on their diet of frogs. He yields no countenance to Wellington’s gratifying contention, that Napoleon was driven out of Germany by his own movement on Vittoria. The familiar names, Vittoria, Salamanca, Toulouse, do not occur on his pages. In one or two places, the American, advocate as he is, shows greater impartiality. It may be that Bonaparte miscalculated the naval power of England in the Mediterranean as much as Mr. Seeley believes, but the grand audacity of that six weeks’ voyage with transports, in the presence of Nelson, deserves warmer recognition. An almost imperceptible confusion of dates would make it appear that the invasion of England failed through the terror that went before the face of Calder, rather than through the combinations of continental Powers. “In the last days of August, Admiral Villeneuve, issuing from Ferrol, took alarm at the news of the approach of an English fleet, and instead of sailing northward faced about and retired to Cadiz. Then for the first time Napoleon admitted the idea of failure, and saw the necessity of screening it by some great achievement in another quarter.” Villeneuve issued from Ferrol, not in the last days of August, but on the 14th. At that time Napoleon was quite unable to avoid war with Austria, and was already preparing for it. On the 13th he had written: “Cette puissance arme. Je veux qu’elle désarme; si elle ne le fait pas, j’irai avec 200,000 hommes lui faire une bonne visite. Mon parti est pris; je veux attaquer l’Autriche, et être à Vienne avant le mois de novembre.” Talleyrand was to inform the Austrian ambassador that he had abandoned his design: “Il a compris qu’il ne pouvait se porter en Angleterre avec 150,000 hommes lorsque ses frontières du midi étaient menacées.” Whilst he was turning his back on England and facing Austria he continued to entertain hopes of his fleet: “J’ai de bonnes nouvelles de mes escadres du Ferrol et de celle de Rochefort.” On 22nd August he writes to Talleyrand: “Une fois que j’aurai levé mon camp de l’océan, je ne puis plus m’arrêter; mon projet de guerre maritime est tout-à-fait manqué. Du 20 au 25 Fructidor, je suis obligé de faire une contre-marche pour m’opposer aux progrès des armements de l’Autriche.” This was ten days before he knew that his fleet had retired to Cadiz. The sudden change of front was caused by the forward policy of Mack and Czartoryski, not by the backwardness of Villeneuve. It was not contrived to scatter dust in the eyes of Europe and to screen discomfiture, but to resist attack. It is not safe to say positively that Napoleon had no means of getting at England. She was saved, as it is the way with islands, by a change in the wind, such as determined her history in 1588, 1688, and 1798. If a man like De Ruyter or Farragut had been in Villeneuve’s place when Magon, in a fury, flung his wig into the sea, the landing in Kent would have come into measurable distance. So indeed it would have been if the Institute had not laughed at the crazy projector who came with a plan to give Napoleon the empire over sea and land—the plan of a steamboat. Nobody reading the account of Moore’s expedition would gather that it was a disastrous failure. Rather it would seem that the thwarted and disconcerted combatant was Napoleon. “He had missed his mark, and professed to receive information which showed him that he was urgently needed in Paris.” The information he had received concerned the material fact that Austria was again arming to attack him. Metternich had gone over to the war party on 4th December. “He would have made short work,” wrote Lord Grey, “if he had not been called off by Austria.”
In the campaign of 1815 the American is superior both in fulness and fidelity to the Englishman. He cherishes the forlorn hope of justifying the orders to Grouchy, and he makes the absence of Davout too prominent, for Napoleon purposely rejected the four best generals in France; but he shows that the plan which so nearly succeeded was not foiled by the skill of the allies. Mr. Seeley esteems that victory was out of the question, that the emperor was incapacitated for war, that Waterloo was won, as Marmont said, by the English alone, whose advance decided the victory. Not a word of Bülow’s disproportionate loss, of Ziethen’s timely arrival, of the sight seen by Colonel Reiche when he came upon the field and was told both by Müffling and Scharnhorst that the French were gaining the day. The English generals were not so extravagant as Napoleon, who complained of treason, and Gneisenau, who published that the French at Ligny were 150,000 strong; but they started that warm patriotic colouring against which General Chesney delivered the warning which Mr. Ropes observes more heartily than Mr. Seeley. Lord Anglesey averred that the issue had never been doubtful; Lord Raglan believed that the English were outnumbered by 20,000 men; Wellington knew nothing of the Prussian attack on the right rear of Napoleon until about an hour before he advanced. We are invited to believe that Napoleon showed himself, on 16th June, “an indolent and inefficient general,” but we are not told that he gave orders to turn the Prussian right, which would effectually have divided his enemies and enabled him to overwhelm the Duke of Wellington. Those orders, everybody knows, were not obeyed. D’Erlon says: “Le maréchal Ney, étant au moment d’être forcé aux Quatre Bras, ne tint pas compte des ordres envoyés par l’empereur, et rappela à lui mon corps d’armée.” Napoleon saw the consequences in all their gravity when, on the 17th, he said to D’Erlon, “On a perdu la France.” It is true that his officers found fault with his conduct of the campaign, and Grouchy even ventured to say: “Il a oublié l’art de la guerre.” But this burst of criticism was no new thing. Besides the envy of Masséna, the bitterness of Marmont, and Bernadotte’s audacious boast that he had won a great battle by disobeying orders, clear-sighted officers were never wanting who knew the limitations of his talent as accurately as the vices of his character. Campredon considered with dismay even the tactics of Austerlitz. After Pultusk and Essling his prestige fell considerably, at Borodino even the fanatic Davout found fault with his manœuvre; even Eugene and Murat did not know him again. Decrès and Duroc confided to friends that he was losing his head. The most intellectual of the marshals, St. Cyr, declares that he had committed errors of which no ordinary man would be capable. He says: “Dans ce génie, sublime pour certaines parties de la guerre, il n’entrait aucune des qualités propres à la conservation.”
Considering the end, the sub-chapter headed “Was he Invincible?” was scarcely needed. Napoleon himself thought that this question was set at rest before 1809. Rebuking a flatterer, he declared that he had been repeatedly defeated, and instanced Acre, Essling, and the first day at Arcole, for it was then, in November 1796, not, as is here implied, in an earlier crisis, that he sent orders to Milan to prepare for the worst. He admitted to Davout that his plan was faulty at Eylau; and he assured Cambacérès that the new energy of resistance revealed at Essling changed the whole direction of his policy. At Dresden he confessed with magnanimity that the worst blunders of the Russian campaign were his own. Although he despised Masséna for his cupidity, he insisted that he possessed military talents devant lesquels il faut se prosterner. He pronounced himself equal to St. Cyr in attack, but his inferior in the science of defensive war.
Mr. Seeley denies to Napoleon the merit of originality. The art of engrossing power, the kindred art of applying it, had been already brought to high perfection, and he had great models to study. When Madame d’Outremont offered half her fortune that her son might be released from conscription, he answered that the whole of her fortune and her son too were his already. This is no more than a brightly pointed repetition of the assurance given by the Sorbonne to quiet the conscience of Lewis XIV., and of Richelieu’s stupendous words to the father of Pascal: “Je vous le recommande.” Once he seemed to rise above himself when at the marching of his legions he was heard to say, “Tout cela ne vaut pas les institutions.” But he had been warned repeatedly by at least two of his shrewdest advisers that he had founded nothing until he had founded something strong enough to resist him. Having first to account for public and outward events, Mr. Seeley has no leisure to study the emperor in council and conversation. He is visibly impatient of the literature of St. Helena, and of his recorded talk. The disposition common in France and Germany to reject the Mémorial seems to have affected him. We miss the catena of characteristic utterances with which Napoleon struck fire, from the night at Cherasco when he assured the Piedmontese negotiators that he might lose battles but would never lose minutes, down to the last dictation in which he calls history the only true philosophy. The gross and graceless tyrant of these pages is not the man who said: “Je ne suis pas un homme, mais une chose.”
Whilst the republican New Englander deplores and despises the triumph of Castlereagh and Metternich, it is the note of the Cambridge history not only to judge their cause just, but their enemy infamous, and to dwell on the slaughter of Jaffa, the bequest to Cantillon, and the execution of Enghien. If we must judge a man’s intellect by the highest level which he reaches, and his morality by the lowest, this is the deciding test of Napoleon’s character, and fixes his place in the seventh circle. His action at Jaffa was not worse than the action of an English worthy to whom even recent opinion has been very lenient. The disgraceful codicil only shows that the testator died unreconciled, and that the companion who, on hearing him speak of Providence, reported to Sir Hudson Lowe that his captive was breaking, understood the real habits of his mind. It raises perhaps a doubt whether it was in derision that he whispered at Weimar a question as to the existence of Christ, which drew from Wieland the prophetic answer that men might as well deny the existence of Napoleon. But there is nothing in the Vincennes tragedy to mitigate the bare guilt of murder, or to turn away the historian’s wrath; and his judgment stands, if the particulars are open to dispute. He makes a point by saying that the duke was tried and shot for having borne arms against his country, and was not even charged with complicity in the plot. The sixth article of accusation was: “d’être l’un des fauteurs et complices de la conspiration tramée par les Anglais contre la vie du Premier Consul, et devant, en cas de succès de cette conspiration, entrer en France.” On this point he was examined and unanimously condemned, and it is certain that his participation in the flagrant conspiracy was believed at the time. Nor is it distributively fair to represent this act as one that seemed almost normal in the light of revolutionary experience. European opinion did not stand so high above French, or royalist above revolutionary. We do not forget what the Austrians did at Rastatt, and the English at Naples, the undisguised design of La Rochejaquelein, Gentz’s indignation when Fox denounced Guillet, and the ferocious despatch in which the Russian protest was met by asking whether Alexander would have hesitated to seize his father’s murderers if they had ventured within striking distance of his frontier. Whilst Austria gave assurance that she was ready to accept without discussion the motives of the arrest, the applause of the revolutionists was less decided than Mr. Seeley implies. The Jacobins, says Garat, were as indignant as the royalists.
Although Mr. Ropes rises on the other side avowedly to plead a cause, it is the interest of science that the reason of things should be reasonable, and that interpreters of history should not resort prematurely to mere folly and passion, and the psychology made common by Tacitus. The produce of late years, even of the brief interval since these artists mixed their colours on both sides of the Atlantic, will not allow the mighty figure ever again to shine with excessive light. It is well to have his enemies watched through the same lens, and weighed in the same scales as himself; to see how much failure and evil in his life is explained without his fault, by the wiles of foes, by the legacy of time, by the necessity of defence, and the extremity of peril which the new order suffered from the girdle of ancient forces; to mark the regenerating hand, the gratitude of nations, like the Swiss, that did not thwart him, the gift of fascinating good men. The use which Thiers made of the finest opportunity ever afforded to an historian has not resisted the assault of hostile time. Even that undaunted panegyrist enumerates six grave errors. Napoleon acknowledged many more. If he displayed emotion of the better kind at Dandolo’s last appeal for Venice, and when early friends were torn by cannon shot, if his firm nerves gave way utterly at Ebersberg when he saw the fighting done by a lieutenant sterner than himself, yet there is no evidence of remorse. Few things denote him more than the manner of his regret for his greatest crime: “La mort méritée du duc d’Enghien nuisit à Napoléon dans l’opinion et ne lui fut d’aucune utilité politique.” An entire book of Retractations might be made of avowals such as this. In 1805 he said to Talleyrand: “Je me suis tant trompé en ma vie que je n’en rougis pas.” And in 1813 to Rœderer: “Une faute! C’est moi qui ai fait des fautes.” He confessed at various times that he had done wrong in crowning his relations, in raising his marshals above the level of their capacity, in restoring the confiscations. The concordat was the worst fault of his reign; the Austrian match was his ruin; the birth of his son an onerous complication. The unlucky attack upon Spain was not only a wholesale blunder, as the irrevocable event proved, but a series of blunders in detail. The invasion of Russia was hopeless during the Spanish war. He ought to have restored Poland; he ought not to have remained at Moscow; he ought to have stopped at Smolensk; he ought not to have crossed the Niemen. At the Beresina he cried: “Voilà ce qui arrive quand on entasse fautes sur fautes!” He regretted the attempted conquest of San Domingo, the annexation of Holland, the rejection of Talleyrand’s warning that France would show less energy than himself. He wished that he had not concluded the armistice after Bautzen, that he had followed up his victory after Dresden, that he had made peace at Prague, at Frankfort, at Châtillon. It would have been better if he had employed Sieyès, if he had never trusted Fouché, if he had not sent Narbonne to Vienna. When he heard of the treaty of February 1815 between England, Austria, and France, he said that that would have been his true policy. He repented his moderation as sincerely as his violence. He lamented that he had twice shrunk from making himself dictator, and had swerved too soon from the scheme of making his dynasty the oldest in Europe, which it might have become if he had had the resolution to dethrone the house of Brandenburg after Jena, and to dissolve the Austrian monarchy after Wagram.
There is that which bars the vindication of his career. It is condemned by the best authority, by the final judgment of Napoleon himself. And this is not the only lesson to be learnt from the later, unofficial, intimate and even trivial records which the two biographers incline to disregard. They might have enabled one of the two to admire without defending, and the other to censure without disparaging, and would have supplied both with a thousand telling speeches and a thousand striking traits for a closer and more impressive likeness of the most splendid genius that has appeared on earth.
[1 ]English Historical Review, vol. ii. 1887.