Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XII: Of the Conduct of Napoléon Toward the Continent of Europe. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER XII: Of the Conduct of Napoléon Toward the Continent of Europe. - Germaine de Staël, Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.) 
Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution, newly revised translation of the 1818 English edition, edited, with an introduction and notes by Aurelian Craiutu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
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Of the Conduct of Napoléon Toward the Continent of Europe.
Two very different plans of conduct presented themselves to Bonaparte when he was crowned Emperor of France. He might confine himself to the barrier of the Rhine and the Alps, which Europe did not dispute with him after the battle of Marengo, and render France, thus enlarged, the most powerful empire in the world. The example of constitutional liberty in France would have acted gradually, but with certainty, on the rest of Europe. It would no longer have been said that freedom is suitable only for England because it is an island; or for Holland because it is a plain; or for Switzerland because it is a mountainous country; and a Continental monarchy would have been seen flourishing under the shadow of the law, than which there is nothing more holy upon earth except the religion from which it emanates.
Many men of genius have exerted all their efforts to do a little good and to leave some traces of their institutions behind them. Destiny, in its prodigality toward Bonaparte, put into his hands a nation at that time containing forty million men, a nation whose amiable manners gave it a powerful influence on the opinions and taste of Europe. An able ruler at the opening of the present century might have rendered France happy and free without any effort, merely by a few virtues. Napoléon is guilty no less for the good which he has not done than for the evils of which he is accused.
In short, if his devouring activity felt itself restrained in the finest monarchy in the world, if to be merely Emperor of France was too pitiful a lot for a Corsican who, in 1790, was a second lieutenant, he should at least have stirred up Europe by the pretext of some great advantages to herself. The re-establishment of Poland, the independence of Italy, and the deliverance of Greece were schemes that had an air of grandeur; peoples might have felt an interest in the revival of other peoples. But was the earth to be inundated with blood that Prince Jerome might fill the place of the Elector of Hesse;1 and that the Germans might be governed by French rulers who took to themselves fiefs of which they could scarcely pronounce the titles, though they bore them, but on the revenues of which they easily laid hold in every language? Why should Germany have submitted to French influence? This influence communicated no new knowledge and established no liberal institutions within her limits, except contributions and conscriptions still heavier than all that had been imposed by her ancient masters. There were, without doubt, many reasonable changes to be made in the constitutions of Germany; all enlightened men knew it; and for a long time accordingly they had shown themselves favorable to the cause of France, because they hoped to derive from her an improvement of their own condition. But without speaking of the just indignation which every people must feel at the sight of foreign soldiers in their territory, Bonaparte did nothing in Germany but with the view of establishing there his own power and that of his family: was such a nation made to serve as a footstool to his vanity? Spain too could not but reject with horror the perfidious means which Bonaparte employed to enslave her. What, then, did he offer to the empires which he wished to subjugate? Was it liberty? Was it strength? Was it riches? No; it was himself, always himself, with whom the world was to be regaled in exchange for every earthly blessing.
The Italians, in the confused hope of being finally united in one state; the unfortunate Poles, who implore Hell as well as Heaven that they may again become a people, were the only nations who served the Emperor voluntarily. But he had such a horror for the love of liberty that, though he needed the Poles as auxiliaries, he hated in them the noble enthusiasm which condemned them to obey him. This man, so able in the arts of dissimulation, could not avail himself even hypocritically of the patriotic sentiments from which he might have drawn so many resources; he could not handle such a weapon, and he was always afraid lest it be shattered in his hand. At Posen, the Polish deputies came to offer him their fortunes and their lives for the re-establishment of Poland. Napoléon answered them with that gloomy voice and that hurried declamation which have been remarked in him when under constraint, consisting of a few words about liberty, well or ill put together, which cost him such an effort that it was the only lie which he could not pronounce with apparent ease. Even when the applauses of the people were in his favor, the people were still disagreeable to him. This instinct of despotism made him raise a throne without foundation and forced him to fail in what was his vocation here below, the establishment of political reform.
The means of the Emperor to enslave Europe were audacity in war and shrewdness in peace. He signed treaties when his enemies were half beaten, that he might not drive them to despair, but yet weaken them so much that the axe which remained in the trunk of the tree might cause it at length to perish. He gained some friends among the old sovereigns by showing himself in everything the enemy of freedom. Accordingly, it was the nations who finally rose up against him; for he had offended them more even than kings. Yet it is surprising still to find partisans of Bonaparte elsewhere than among the French, to whom he at least gave victory as a compensation for despotism. His partisans, especially in Italy, were in general friends of liberty who had erroneously flattered themselves with obtaining it from him, and who would still prefer any great event to the dejection into which they are now fallen. Without wishing to enter upon the interests of foreigners, of which we have determined not to speak, we may venture to affirm that the particular benefits conferred by Bonaparte, the high roads necessary to his projects, the monuments consecrated to his glory, some remains of the liberal institutions of the Constituent Assembly, of which he occasionally permitted the application outside France, such as the improvement of jurisprudence and public education, or the encouragements given to the sciences: all these benefits, desirable as they might be, could not compensate for the degrading yoke that placed a burden on the character of the people. What superior genius has been developed during his reign, or will be developed for a long time to come, in the countries where he ruled? If he had desired the triumph of a wise and dignified liberty, energy would have been displayed on every side, and a new impulse would have animated the civilized world. But Bonaparte has not procured for France the friendship of a single nation. He has made up marriages, rounded and united provinces, remodeled geographical maps, and counted souls, in the manner since received, to complete the dominions of princes; but where has he implanted those political principles which are the ramparts, the treasures, and the glory of England? those institutions which are invincible after a duration of even ten years; for they have by that time produced so much happiness that they rally all the citizens of a country in their defense?
[1. ] In 1807 Jérôme Bonaparte (1784–1860), the youngest brother of Napoléon, became king of Westphalia (which included Hesse); his reign ended in 1813. When his nephew, Prince Louis Napoléon, became president of the French Republic in 1848, Jérôme was made governor of Les Invalides, in Paris, and was later appointed marshal of France and president of the Senate.