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Vaudeville. People complain that we have no literature: this is the fault of the Minister of the Interior.'
This is quite in the tone of Mummius at Corinth. The fact is his head was completely turned after Austerlitz,
Assumes the god,
Affects to nod, And seems to shake the spheres.' The interviews at Tilsit show to what extent the balance of the mind had been destroyed by habitual falsehood, by the absence of any fixed standard of right and wrong, and the blind confidence engendered by success. He was throughout deceiving himself instead of Alexander, who reaped all the substantial benefits of the treaty, and gave nothing in return but promises, which were (as they were sure to be) broken or nullified by events. All was delusion, nought was truth. In this respect (as M. Lanfrey observes) he would be disadvantageously contrasted with Frederic, who, coolly analysing the motives of his own policy, attributed it to ambition, interest, and the desire of being talked about. Nor do the last days of the Exile of St. Helena, even in the luminous pages of M. Thiers, present anything equal to the sublime quarter of an hour' of the dying Augustus, when he smilingly asked his friends whether he had played the drama of life well. Bonaparte had utterly lost (if he ever possessed) the faculty of self-examination. Nothing, he persistently maintained, that he had ever thought or done was wrong in motive or in act. If his life was to live over again, he would live (with rare exceptions) as he had lived it. He should appear (he boasted) before his Maker without a fear. He passed most of his time in putting the best face on the inculpated passages of his reign, in falsifying history, in draping his own figure for posterity. He was wrapt up in his fame, like the beautiful Lady Coventry in her beauty; who took to her bed when she found it going, and died with a looking-glass in her hand.
Fatuity had reached its acme when he could delude himself into the belief that the servile obedience he commanded was the willing tribute to his sagacity. The effect of this over-weening self-sufficiency. combined with his astounding energy and activity, was to allow no independent field of action or development to any high order of talent or capacity, civil or military. Zeal, readiness, bravery, with intelligence enough to obey orders, were the sole qualifications in request. He demanded unscrupulous instruments-not honest or wise advisers—and woe to the statesman who insinuated a caution, the administrator who remonstrated against an oppressive impost, the commander who revolted against cruelty, or the diplomatist who hesitated at a lie. The race of civil functionaries were stunted in their growth morally and intellectually, like the rank and file of the army physically: each department of the state was depressed to a dead level of mediocrity. The eminent jurists to whom the Completion of the Code was intrusted, would have done far better without his intervention. M. Lanfrey shows that, to give him the credit of having planned or initiated this work, is altogether a mistake; and that his administrative reforms were marked neither by originality nor stability.
Military genius was never allowed fair play at any epoch of his career. The most promising generals
the possible competitors for fame—were treated like Massena and Moreau,
And all the budding honours on thy crest
I'll crop to make a garland for my head.' Bonaparte's invariable practice was to concentrate all his best troops in the army which he commanded in person, and to send his generals on expeditions for which their resources were notoriously inadequate. If
movement or manæuvre ordered by him failed, he as invariably denied the order, or asserted that it was not executed in the proper spirit or as he intended it. Thus the disaster at Kulm was imputed to Vandamme, and the collapse at Waterloo to Ney and Grouchy. Knowing literally nothing of naval matters, foolishly imagining that the tactics for fleets and armies were the
same, he compelled Villeneuve to put to sea and encounter certain destruction at Trafalgar. When the admiral -a man of proved skill and courage-pointed out the inevitable results of leaving Cadiz, his pitiless master writes, Villeneuve is a wretch who should be ignominiously dismissed. Without combination, without courage, without public spirit, he would sacrifice everything provided he could save his skin. Let my squadron set sail: let nothing stop it! it is my will that my squadron does not remain at Cadiz.' It left Cadiz accordingly, and within fifteen days it was no
His first exclamation on hearing the event was : 'I cannot be everywhere!—another astounding instance of fatuity. The entire responsibility was flung upon the unhappy admiral-—-who had gallantly done his duty-in terms that drove him to suicide. The morning after the receipt of a despatch from the Minister of Marine he was found lifeless, with six stabs from a
it in my
knife in the region of the heart. The fragment of a letter to his wife ends thus : •What happiness that I have no child to receive my horrible inheritance and be loaded with the weight of my name. Ah, I was not born for such a lot, I have not sought it; I have been dragged into
own despite. Adieu, adieu.' * * *
Such things make the blood boil, and they abound in the annals of this crowned scoundrel (scélérat couronné) as M. Lanfrey, hurried away by just indignation, designates him. How many broken hearts, how many desolated homes, how many blighted careers, how many ruined reputations, have gone to make this man the world's wonder! What torrents of blood and tears have been shed to float his name on the flood-tide of immortality,
Linked with one virtue and a thousand crimes.'
But that one virtue was military genius, and because it brought military grandeur to the French, they were, and are, proud of him, nay, proud of the laurelled and gilded chains he rivetted on them, though the laurels have faded and the gilding is rubbed off.
An English traveller, stopping at a French hotel before the Revolution, came upon a Frenchman mercilessly horsewhipping his valet in the corridor, and, after rescuing the man, told him that he should take legal proceedings for the assault. He drew himself up and replied: 'I would have you know, sir, that my master is too great a man for that. He could have a lettre-de-cachet for the asking.' 'Confound the fellow, exclaimed the traveller, he was proud of having a master who could treat him like a dog.' Had not the collective nation something of the same feeling? Were they not proud of a master who could treat them like dogs, who could make them crouch at his feet when he was not hounding them on their prey? Do they not occasionally cast a longing lingering look behind at the dearly-bought grandeur that has passed away? There are signs that he who runs may read. Their recently revived call for free institutions is owing far less to the love of liberty than to the loss of military prestige. Personal government, rudely shaken by the Mexican expedition, received its death blow at Sadowa, which threw Magenta and Solferino into the shade. France is kept awake by thinking of the trophies of Prussia, and cannot rest under the thought that she is no longer indisputably the first military nation in the world. If the continent is to be again turned into one huge battle field, it will be to satisfy this fantastic point of honour. By way of striking a congenial chord, the founder of the Second Empire, whose head is never turned like his uncle's, wrote thus:
'Palace of the Tuileries, April 12, 1869. “MONSIEUR LE MINISTRE,—On the 15th of August next a hundred years will have elapsed since the Emperor Napoleon was born. During that long period many ruins have been accumulated, but the grand figure of Napoleon has remained upstanding. It is that which still guides and protects us—it is that which, out of nothing, has made me what I am.
"To celebrate the centenary date of the birth of the man who called France the great nation, because he had developed in her those manly virtues which found empires, is for me a sacred duty, in which the entire country will desire to join. * * *
“My desire is that from the 15th of August next every soldier of the Republic and of the First Empire should receive an annual pension of 250 francs. * * *