Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XV: Of the Fall of Bonaparte. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER XV: Of the Fall of Bonaparte. - 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 Fall of Bonaparte.
I have not yet spoken of that warrior who caused the fortune of Bonaparte to fade; of him who pursued him from Lisbon to Waterloo, like that adversary of Macbeth who was to be endowed with supernatural gifts in order to be his conqueror. Those supernatural gifts were the most noble disinterestedness, inflexible justice, talents whose source was in the soul, and an army of free men. If anything can console France for having seen the English in the heart of her capital, it is that she will at least have learned what liberty has made them.
The military genius of Lord Wellington could not have been the work of the constitution of his country; but his moderation, the magnanimity of his conduct, the energy which he derived from his virtues—these come from the moral atmosphere of England; and what crowns the grandeur of that country and its General is that while on the convulsed soil of France the exploits of Bonaparte sufficed to make him an uncontrolled despot, he by whom he was conquered, he who has not yet committed one fault or lost one opportunity of triumph, Wellington will be in his own country only an unparalleled citizen, but as subject to the law as the most obscure individual.
I will venture to affirm, however, that our France would not, perhaps, have fallen had any other than Bonaparte been its chief. He was extremely dextrous in the art of commanding an army; but he knew not how to rally a nation. The revolutionary government itself understood better how to awaken enthusiasm than a man who could be admired only as an individual, never as the defender of a sentiment or an idea. The soldiers fought extremely well for Bonaparte; but France did little for him on his return. In the first place, there was a numerous party against Bonaparte, a numerous party for the King, who did not consider it their duty to oppose foreign armies. But even if every Frenchman could have been convinced that in any situation whatever the duty of a citizen is to defend the independence of his country, no one fights with all the energy of which he is capable when the object is only to repel an evil, not to obtain a good. The day after the triumph over the foreign troops we were certain of being enslaved in the interior. The double power which would at once have repulsed the invader and overthrown the despot existed no longer in a nation that had preserved only military vigor, which is by no means similar to public spirit.
Besides, Bonaparte reaped even among his adherents the bitter fruits of the doctrine which he had sown. The only thing he had extolled was success; the only thing he praised was opportunity; whenever there was any question of opinion, of devotedness, of patriotism, the dread he had of the spirit of liberty excited him to turn every sentiment which could lead to it into ridicule. But those were the only sentiments which could induce the perseverance which attaches itself to misfortune; those sentiments alone possess an electric power and form an association from one extremity of a country to the other, without its being necessary even to communicate in order to be unanimous. If we examine the various interests of the partisans of Bonaparte and of his adversaries, we shall explain forthwith the motives of their differences of opinion. In the South, as in the North, the manufacturing towns were for him and the seaports against him, because the Continental blockade had favored manufactures and destroyed commerce. All the different classes of the defenders of the Revolution might, in some respects, prefer a chief whose want of legitimacy was itself a guarantee, since it placed him in opposition to the old political doctrines; but the character of Bonaparte is so adverse to free institutions that those among the partisans of the latter who thought proper to connect themselves with him did not second him with all their might, because they did not belong to him with all their heart: they had an afterthought and an after hope. If, as is extremely doubtful, there still remained any means of saving France after she had provoked Europe, it could only be in a military dictatorship or in the republican form. But nothing was more absurd than to found a desperate resistance on a falsehood: with this you can never have the whole man.
The same system of egoism which always governed Bonaparte induced him to aim, at whatever cost, at a great victory instead of trying a defensive system which would have better suited France, especially if he had been supported by the public mind. But he arrived in Belgium having, it is said, in his carriage a scepter, a robe, in short, all the baubles of imperial sway; for the only thing he understood well was that kind of pomp mixed with a sort of quackery. When Napoléon returned to Paris after his lost battle,1 he had surely no idea of abdicating, and his intention was to demand from the two chambers supplies of men and money, in order to try another struggle. The legislature ought, in these circumstances, to have granted everything rather than yield to the foreign powers.2 But if the chambers were perhaps wrong in abandoning Bonaparte in this extremity, what shall we say of the manner in which he abandoned himself?
What! This man, who had just convulsed Europe by his return, sends in his resignation like a mere general and does not once attempt to resist! There is a French army under the walls of Paris that desired to fight the invaders, and he is not in the midst of it, as a chief or as a soldier! This army falls back behind the Loire, and he crosses the Loire to embark where his person may be in safety, while it was his own torch that had set France in flames!3
We cannot permit ourselves to accuse Bonaparte of wanting courage in these circumstances any more than in those of the preceding year. He did not command the French army during twenty years without having shown himself worthy of his station. But there is a firmness of soul that conscience alone can give; and Bonaparte, instead of this decisive will, which is independent of events, had a kind of superstitious faith in fortune which did not allow him to proceed without her auspices. From the day he felt that misfortune had taken hold of him, he resisted no longer; from the day his own destiny was overthrown, he thought no more of the destiny of France. Bonaparte had confronted death with intrepidity in the field, but he did not choose to inflict it on himself; and this resolution is not without some dignity. This man has lived to give the world a moral lesson, the most striking, the most sublime, that nations have ever witnessed; it seems as if Providence has been pleased, like a severe tragic poet, to make the punishment of this great culprit arise out of the very crimes of his life.
Bonaparte, who during ten years had stirred up the world against the most free and religious country which social order in Europe has yet produced, against England, delivers himself up into her hands; he who during ten years had every day insulted that nation, makes an appeal to her generosity; in short, he who never spoke of laws but with contempt, who so lightly ordered arbitrary imprisonments, invokes the liberty of England and would use it as a shield. Ah! why did he not give that liberty to France? Neither he nor the French would then have been exposed to the mercy of conquerors.
Whether Napoléon live or die, whether he reappear or not on the continent of Europe,4 one single motive still leads me to speak of him; it is the ardent desire that the friends of liberty should separate entirely their cause from his, and that they should be careful not to confound the principles of the Revolution with those of the imperial government. There is not, and I believe I have proved it, a counterrevolution more fatal to liberty than that which he accomplished. If he had been of an old dynasty, he would have pursued equality with extreme animosity under whatever form it might have presented itself; he paid his court to priests, to nobles, and to kings, in the hope of being himself accepted as a legitimate monarch. It is true that he sometimes made them the object of abuse and that he did them harm when he saw that he could not enter into the confederation of past times; but his inclinations were aristocratic even to pettiness. If the principles of liberty are destroyed in Europe, it is only because he eradicated them from the mind of nations. He seconded despotism everywhere by giving it support in the hatred of the nations against France. He perverted human intellect by imposing, during fifteen years, on his pamphleteers an obligation to write and display every system which could mislead reason and stifle knowledge. To establish liberty requires superior men in every department; Bonaparte would have men of talents only in the military line; and never, under his reign, could a reputation be founded on the management of civil business.
At the beginning of the Revolution, a crowd of illustrious names did honor to France; and it is one of the principal characters of an enlightened age to possess many distinguished men, but hardly one superior to all the rest. Bonaparte subjugated the age in that respect, not because he was superior in information but, on the contrary, because he had something of the barbarism of the middle ages. He brought from Corsica a different age, different expedients, a different character, from anything that we had in France; and this novelty favored his ascendancy over the minds of men. Bonaparte is single where he reigns, and no other distinction can be compatible with his own.
Different opinions may be entertained of his genius and of his qualities; there is about this man something enigmatic which prolongs curiosity. Everyone represents him under different colors, and each may be right, according to the point of view which he chooses; those who would concentrate his portrait in a few words would give only a false idea of him. To attain some general result, we must pursue different ways: it is a labyrinth, but a labyrinth that has a clue—egoism. Those who knew him personally may have found him in domestic life possessing a kind of goodness which the world certainly never perceived. The devoted attachment of some truly generous friends is what speaks the most in his favor. Time will bring to light the principal traits of his character; and those who are willing to admire every extraordinary man have a right to think him such. But he never could, and never can, bring anything but desolation on France.
God preserve us, then, from him, and forever! But let us beware of calling those men Bonapartists who support the principles of liberty in France; for with much more reason might that name be given to the partisans of despotic power, to those who proclaim the political maxims of the man they proscribe: their hatred of him is only a dispute about interests; a real love of generous sentiments forms no part of it.
[1. ] The Battle of Waterloo (June 1815).
[2. ] After the battle of Waterloo, the deputies, worried by Napoléon’s intention to assume dictatorial power, voted (at the initiative of La Fayette) in favor of a motion declaring that any attempt to dissolve the Chamber would be considered high treason. The Chamber of Peers passed a similar resolution.
[3. ] Initially, Napoléon wanted to leave for the United States. To this effect, he went to Rochefort but found the port blocked by the English navy. He surrendered himself to the English on July 15.
[4. ] Napoléon was still alive when Madame de Staël wrote these lines.