A good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed & treasured upon purpose to a life beyond life.
THE HISTORY OF NAPOLEON BUONAPARTE
JOHN GIBSON LOCKHART
LONDON & TORONTO J.M. DENT & SONS LTD. NEW YORK E.P. DUTTON & CO
First issue of this edition: February 1906
Reprinted: April 1906; May 1907; July 1909; November 1910; November 1912; March 1915
"Nations yet to come will look back upon his history as to some grand and supernatural romance. The fiery energy of his youthful career, and the magnificent progress of his irresistible ambition, have invested his character with the mysterious grandeur of some heavenly appearance; and when all the lesser tumults and lesser men of our age shall have passed away into the darkness of oblivion, history will still inscribe one mighty era with the majestic name of Napoleon."
These enthusiastic words, too, are Lockhart's, though they are not from this history, but from some "Remarks on the Periodical Criticism of England," which he published in Blackwood's Magazine. They serve, if they are taken in conjunction with his book, to mark his position in the long list of the historians, biographers and critics who have written in English, and from an English or a British point of view, upon "Napoleon the Great." Lockhart, that is to say, was neither of the idolaters, like Hazlitt, nor of the decriers and blasphemers.
One recalls at once what he said of "the lofty impartiality" with which Sir Walter Scott had written of Napoleon before him, and with which he appears to have faced his lesser task. As a biography, as a writing of history, as an example of historic style, Lockhart's comparatively modest essay must be called a better performance than Scott's. But "the real Napoleon" has not yet been painted.
Lord Rosebery, in his book on Napoleon: the Last Phase, asks if there will ever be an adequate portrait? The life is yet to be written that shall profit by all the new material that has come to light since Scott wrote his nine volumes in 1827, and Lockhart published his in 1829. But Lockhart's book has still the value of one written by a genuine man of letters, who was a born biographer, and one written while the world-commotion of Napoleon was a matter of personal report. It is tinged by some of the contemporary illusions, no doubt; but it is clearer in its record than Scott's, and while it is less picturesque, it is more direct.
His comparative brevity is a gain, since he has to tell how, in brief space, "the lean, hungry conqueror swells," as Lord Rosebery says, "into the sovereign, and then into the sovereign of sovereigns."
In view of the influence of the one book upon the other, and the one writer upon the other, it is worth note that Lockhart had a fit of enthusiasm over Scott's Napoleon when it first appeared, or rather when he first read the first six volumes of the work, before they were "out," in 1827. He thought Scott would make as great an effect by it as by any two of his novels. This proved a mistaken forecast, but Scott was paid an enormous price—some eighteen thousand pounds. When then John Murray, who had already co-opted Lockhart as his Quarterly editor, thought of inaugurating a "Family Library," and he proposed to his editor this other Napoleon book, it must have seemed in many ways a very attractive piece of work. But owing partly to Lockhart's relations with Scott, and partly to the need of avoiding any literary comparisons, these small, fat duodecimos appeared anonymously. That was, as it has been already mentioned, in 1829, two years after Scott's book.
To-day, it makes a capital starting-point for the long Napoleon adventure, whose end, so far as it is prolonged by fresh literary divigations, seems to be as remote as ever.
It is from the French side that one might chiefly draw those vivid and sometimes questionable glimpses at first-hand, that can best add to Lockhart's presentment. One must compare his retreat from Russia with Rapp's and other remembrancers' accounts, and be reminded by Rapp to go on to Jomini's Vie Militaire, and even turn for a single personal reminiscence to a flagrant hero-worshipper like Dumas, in his rapid and military biography.
"Only twice in his life," said Dumas, "had he who writes these lines seen Napoleon. The first time on the way to Ligny; the second, when he returned from Waterloo. The first time in the light of a lamp; the first time amid the acclamations of the multitude; the second, amid the silence of a populace. Each time Napoleon was seated in the same carriage, in the same seat, dressed in the same attire; each time, it was the same look, lost and vague; each time, the same head, calm and impassible, only his brow was a little more bent over his breast in returning than in going. Was it from weariness that he could not sleep, or from grief to have lost the world?"
This is the French postscript to many English books about the victor and loser of the world.
* * * * *
The following is a list of the works of John Gibson Lockhart (1794-1854):—
Peter's Letters to his Kinsfolk, by Peter Morris the Odontist (pseud.) 1819; Valerius, a Roman Story, 1821; Some Passages in the Life of Mr. Adam Blair, 1822; Reginald Dalton, a Story of English University Life, 1823; Ancient Spanish Ballads (trans.) 1823; Matthew Wald, a Novel, 1824; Life of Robert Burns, 1828; History of Napoleon Buonaparte, 1829; History of the late War, with Sketches of Nelson, Wellington and Napoleon, 1832; Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, 7 vols. 1836-8; Theodore Hook, a Sketch, 1852.
Lockhart was a Contributor to "Blackwood," and Editor of the "Quarterly Review" from 1825 to 1853.
LIFE OF NAPOLEON BUONAPARTE
Birth and Parentage of Napoleon Buonaparte—His Education at Brienne and at Paris—His Character at this Period—His Political Predilections—He enters the Army as Second Lieutenant of Artillery—His First Military Service in Corsica in 1793.
Napoleon Buonaparte was born at Ajaccio on the 15th of August, 1769. The family had been of some distinction, during the middle ages, in Italy; whence his branch of it removed to Corsica, in the troubled times of the Guelphs and Gibellines. They were always considered as belonging to the gentry of the island. Charles, the father of Napoleon, an advocate of considerable reputation, married his mother, Letitia Ramolini, a young woman eminent for beauty and for strength of mind, during the civil war—when the Corsicans, under Paoli, were struggling to avoid the domination of the French. The advocate had espoused the popular side in that contest, and his lovely and high-spirited wife used to attend him through the toils and dangers of his mountain campaigns. Upon the termination of the war, he would have exiled himself along with Paoli; but his relations dissuaded him from this step, and he was afterwards reconciled to the conquering party, and protected and patronised by the French governor of Corsica, the Count de Marboeuff.
It is said that Letitia had attended mass on the morning of the 15th of August; and, being seized suddenly on her return, gave birth to the future hero of his age, on a temporary couch covered with tapestry, representing the heroes of the Iliad. He was her second child. Joseph, afterwards King of Spain, was older than he: he had three younger brothers, Lucien, Louis, and Jerome; and three sisters, Eliza, Caroline, and Pauline. These grew up. Five others must have died in infancy; for we are told that Letitia had given birth to thirteen children, when at the age of thirty she became a widow.
In after-days, when Napoleon had climbed to sovereign power, many flatterers were willing to give him a lofty pedigree. To the Emperor of Austria, who would fain have traced his unwelcome son-in-law to some petty princes of Treviso, he replied, "I am the Rodolph of my race," and silenced, on a similar occasion, a professional genealogist, with, "Friend, my patent dates from Monte Notte."
Charles Buonaparte, by the French governor's kindness, received a legal appointment in Corsica—that of Procureur du Roi (answering nearly to Attorney-General); and scandal has often said that Marboeuff was his wife's lover. The story received no credence in Ajaccio.
Concerning the infancy of Napoleon we know nothing, except that he ever acknowledged with the warmest gratitude the obligations laid on him, at the threshold of life by the sagacity and wisdom of Letitia. He always avowed his belief that he owed his subsequent elevation principally to her early lessons; and indeed laid it down as a maxim that "the future good or bad conduct of a child depends entirely on the mother." Even of his boyish days few anecdotes have been preserved in Corsica. His chosen plaything, they say, was a small brass cannon; and, when at home in the school-vacations, his favourite retreat was a solitary summer-house among the rocks on the sea-shore, about a mile from Ajaccio, where his mother's brother (afterwards Cardinal Fesch) had a villa. The place is now in ruins, and overgrown with bushes, and the people call it "Napoleon's Grotto." He has himself said that he was remarkable only for obstinacy and curiosity: others add, that he was high-spirited, quarrelsome, imperious; fond of solitude; slovenly in his dress. Being detected stealing figs in an orchard, the proprietor threatened to tell his mother, and the boy pleaded for himself with so much eloquence, that the man suffered him to escape. His careless attire, and his partiality for a pretty little girl in the neighbourhood, were ridiculed together in a song which his playmates used to shout after him in the streets of Ajaccio:
"Napoleone di mezza calzetta Fa l'amore a Giacominetta."
His superiority of character was early felt. An aged relation, Lucien Buonaparte, Archdeacon of Ajaccio, called the young people about his death-bed to take farewell and bless them: "You, Joseph," said the expiring man, "are the eldest; but Napoleon is the head of his family. Take care to remember my words." Napoleon took excellent care that they should not be forgotten. He began with beating his elder brother into subjection.
From his earliest youth he chose arms for his profession. When he was about seven years old (1776) his father was, through Marboeuff's patronage, sent to France as one of a deputation from the Corsican noblesse to King Louis XVI.; and Napoleon, for whom the count had also procured admission into the military school of Brienne, accompanied him. After seeing part of Italy, and crossing France, they reached Paris; and the boy was soon established in his school, where at first everything delighted him, though, forty years afterwards, he said he should never forget the bitter parting with his mother ere he set out on his travels. He spoke only Italian when he reached Brienne; but soon mastered French. His progress in Latin, and in literature generally, attracted no great praise; but in every study likely to be of service to the future soldier, he distinguished himself above his contemporaries. Of the mathematical tutors accordingly he was a great favourite. One of the other teachers having condemned him for some offence or neglect to wear a course woollen dress on a particular day, and dine on his knees at the door of the refectory, the boy's haughty spirit swelling under this dishonour, brought on a sudden vomiting, and a strong fit of hysterics. The mathematical master passing by, said they did not understand what they were dealing with, and released him. He cared little for common pastimes; but his love for such as mimicked war was extreme; and the skill of his fortifications, reared of turf, or of snow, according to the season, and the address and pertinacity with which he conducted their defence, attracted the admiration of all observers. Napoleon was poor and all but a foreigner among the French youth, and underwent many mortifications from both causes. His temper was reserved and proud; he had few friends—no bosom-companion; he lived by himself, and among his books and maps. M. Bourienne, whose friendship for him commenced thus early, says—"Buonaparte was noticeable at Brienne for his Italian complexion, the keenness of his look, and the tone of his conversation both with masters and comrades. There was almost always a dash of bitterness in what he said. He had very little of the disposition that leads to attachments; which I can only attribute to the misfortunes of his family every since his birth, and the impression which the conquest of his country had made on his early years." One day, at dinner, the principal of the school happened to say something slightingly of Paoli. "He was a great man," cried young Buonaparte, "he loved his country; and I shall never forgive my father, who had been his adjutant, for consenting to the union of Corsica with France. He ought to have followed the fortunes of Paoli."
There is reason to believe that the levity and haughtiness with which some of the young French gentlemen at this seminary conducted themselves towards this poor, solitary alien, had a strong effect on the first political feelings of the future Emperor of France. He particularly resented their jokes about his foreign name Napoleon. Bourienne says he often told him—"Hereafter I will do the French what harm I can; as for you, you never make me your jest—you love me."
From the beginning of the revolutionary struggle, boy and youth, he espoused and kept by the side of those who desired the total change of government. It is a strange enough fact, that Pichegru, afterwards so eminent and ultimately so unfortunate, was for some time his monitor in the school of Brienne. Being consulted many years later as to the chance of enlisting Buonaparte in the cause of the exiled Bourbons, this man is known to have answered: "It will be lost time to attempt that—I knew him in his youth—he has taken his side, and he will not change it."
In 1783 Buonaparte was, on the recommendation of his masters, sent from Brienne to the Royal Military School at Paris; this being an extraordinary compliment to the genius and proficiency of a boy of fifteen. Here he spent nearly two years, devoted to his studies. That he laboured hard, both at Brienne and at Paris, we may judge; for his after-life left scanty room for book-work, and of the vast quantity of information which his strong memory ever placed at his disposal, the far greater proportion must have been accumulated now. He made himself a first-rate mathematician; he devoured history—his chosen authors being Plutarch and Tacitus; the former the most simple painter that antiquity has left us of heroic characters—the latter the profoundest master of political wisdom. The poems of Ossian were then new to Europe, and generally received as authentic remains of another age and style of heroism. The dark and lofty genius which they display, their indistinct but solemn pictures of heroic passions, love, battle, victory, and death, were appropriate food for Napoleon's young imagination; and, his taste being little scrupulous as to minor particulars, Ossian continued to be through life his favourite poet. While at Paris, he attracted much notice among those who had access to compare him with his fellows; his acquirements, among other advantages, introduced him to the familiar society of the celebrated Abbe Raynal. Napoleon, shortly after entering the school at Paris, drew up a memorial, which he in person presented to the superintendents of the establishment. He complained that the mode of life was too expensive and delicate for "poor gentlemen," and could not prepare them either for returning to their "modest homes," or for the hardships of the camp. He proposed that, instead of a regular dinner of two courses daily, the students should have ammunition bread, and soldiers' rations, and that they should be compelled to mend and clean their own stockings and shoes. This memorial is said to have done him no service at the military school.
He had just completed his sixteenth year when (in August, 1785,) after being examined by the great Laplace, he obtained his first commission as second lieutenant in the artillery regiment La Fere. His corps was at Valance when he joined it; and he mingled, more largely than might have been expected from his previous habits, in the cultivated society of the place. His personal advantages were considerable; the outline of the countenance classically beautiful; the eye deep-set and dazzlingly brilliant; the figure short, but slim, active, and perfectly knit. Courtly grace and refinement of manners he never attained, nor perhaps coveted; but he early learned the art, not difficult probably to any person possessed of such genius and such accomplishments, of rendering himself eminently agreeable wherever it suited his purpose or inclination to be so.
On the 27th February in this year his father died of a cancer in the stomach, aged forty-five; the same disease which was destined, at a somewhat later period of life, to prove fatal to himself.
While at Valance Buonaparte competed anonymously for a prize offered by the Academy of Lyons for the best answer to Raynal's Question: "What are the principles and institutions by the application of which mankind can be raised to the highest happiness?" He gained the prize: what were the contents of his Essay we know not. Talleyrand, long afterwards, obtained the manuscript, and, thinking to please his sovereign, brought it to him. He threw his eye over two or three pages, and tossed it into the fire. The treatise of the Lieutenant probably abounded in opinions which the Emperor had found it convenient to forget.
Even at Brienne his political feelings had been determined. At Valance he found the officers of his regiment divided, as all the world then was, into two parties; the lovers of the French Monarchy, and those who desired its overthrow. He sided openly with the latter. "Had I been a general," said Napoleon in the evening of his life, "I might have adhered to the king: being a subaltern, I joined the patriots."
In the beginning of 1792 he became captain of artillery (unattached;) and, happening to be in Paris, witnessed the lamentable scenes of the 20th of June, when the revolutionary mob stormed the Tuileries, and the king and his family, after undergoing innumerable insults and degradations, with the utmost difficulty preserved their lives. He followed the crowd into the garden before the palace; and when Louis XVI. appeared on a balcony with the red cap on his head, could no longer suppress his contempt and indignation. "Poor driveller!" said Napoleon, loud enough to be heard by those near him, "how could he suffer this rabble to enter? If he had swept away five or six hundred with his cannon, the rest would be running yet." He was also a witness of the still more terrible 10th of August, when, the palace being once more invested, the National Guard assigned for its defence took part with the assailants; the royal family were obliged to take refuge in the National Assembly, and the brave Swiss Guards were massacred almost to a man in the courts of the Tuileries. Buonaparte was a firm friend to the Assembly, to the charge of a party of which, at least, these excesses must be laid; but the spectacle disgusted him. The yells, screams, and pikes with bloody heads upon them, formed a scene which he afterwards described as "hideous and revolting." At this time Napoleon was without employment and very poor; and De Bourienne describes him as wandering idly about Paris, living, chiefly at his (M. de B.'s) expense, at restaurateurs' shops, and, among other wild-enough schemes, proposing that he and his schoolfellow should take some houses on lease, and endeavour to get a little money by subletting them in apartments. Such were the views and occupations of Buonaparte—at the moment when the national tragedy was darkening to its catastrophe. As yet he had been but a spectator of the Revolution, destined to pave his own path to sovereign power; it was not long before circumstances called on him to play a part.
General Paoli, who had lived in England ever since the termination of that civil war in which Charles Buonaparte served under his banner, was cheered, when the great French Revolution first broke out, with the hope that liberty was about to be restored to Corsica. He came to Paris, was received with applause as a tried friend of freedom, and appointed governor of his native island, which for some time he ruled wisely and happily. But as the revolution advanced, Paoli, like most other wise men, became satisfied that license was more likely to be established by its leaders, than law and rational liberty; and avowing his aversion to the growing principles of Jacobinism, and the scenes of tumult and bloodshed to which they gave rise, he was denounced in the National Assembly as the enemy of France. An expedition was sent to deprive him of his government, under the command of La Combe, Michel, and Salicetti, one of the Corsican deputies to the Convention; and Paoli called on his countrymen to take arms in his and their own defence.
Buonaparte happened at that time (1793) to have leave of absence from his regiment, and to be in Corsica on a visit to his mother. He had fitted up a little reading-room at the top of the house as the quietest part of it, and was spending his mornings in study, and his evenings among his family and old acquaintance, when the arrival of the expedition threw the island into convulsion. Paoli, who knew him well, did all he could to enlist him in his cause; he used, among other flatteries, to clap him on the back, and tell him he was "one of Plutarch's men." But Napoleon had satisfied himself that Corsica was too small a country to maintain independence,—that she must fall under the rule either of France or England; and that her interests would be best served by adhering to the former. He therefore resisted all Paoli's offers, and tendered his sword to the service of Salicetti. He was appointed provisionally to the command of a battalion of National Guards; and the first military service on which he was employed was the reduction of a small fortress, called the Torre di Capitello, near Ajaccio. He took it, but was soon besieged in it, and he and his garrison, after a gallant defence, and living for some time on horseflesh, were glad to evacuate the tower, and escape to the sea. The English government now began to reinforce Paoli, and the cause of the French party seemed for the moment to be desperate. The Buonapartes were banished from Corsica, and their mother and sisters took refuge first at Nice, and afterwards at Marseilles, where for some time they suffered all the inconveniences of exile and poverty. Napoleon rejoined his regiment. He had chosen France for his country; and seems, in truth, to have preserved little or no affection for his native soil.
After arriving at supreme power, he bestowed one small fountain on Ajaccio; and succeeded, by the death of a relation, to a petty olive garden near that town. In the sequel of his history the name of Corsica will scarcely recur.
[Footnote 1: Rodolph of Hapsburg was the founder of the Austrian family.]
[Footnote 2: His first battle.]
[Footnote 3: Napoleon, with his stockings about his heels, makes love to Giacominetta.]
[Footnote 4: Corsica became by law a French department only two months before Napoleon was born.]
[Footnote 5: The report, in consequence of which Buonaparte received this distinction, is in these words: "M. de Buonaparte (Napoleon), born the 15th August, 1769, height four feet ten inches ten lines; good constitution; health excellent; character docile, upright, grateful; conduct very regular: has always distinguished himself by his application to the mathematics. He is passably acquainted with history and geography: is weak enough as to his Latin diction and other elegant accomplishments: would make an excellent sea-officer: deserves to be transferred to the Military School at Paris."]
Buonaparte commands the Artillery at Toulon—Fall of Toulon—The Representatives of the People—Junot.
Buonaparte's first military service occurred, as we have seen, in the summer of 1793. The king of France had been put to death on the 21st of January in that year; and in less than a month afterwards the convention had declared war against England. The murder of the king, alike imprudent as atrocious, had in fact united the princes of Europe against the revolutionary cause; and within France itself a strong reaction took place. The people of Toulon, the great port and arsenal of France on the Mediterranean, partook these sentiments, and invited the English and Spanish fleets off their coast to come to their assistance, and garrison their city. The allied admirals took possession accordingly of Toulon, and a motley force of English, Spaniards, and Neapolitans, prepared to defend the place. In the harbour and roads there were twenty-five ships of the line, and the city contained immense naval and military stores of every description, so that the defection of Toulon was regarded as a calamity of the first order by the revolutionary government.
This event occurred in the midst of that period which has received the name of the reign of terror. The streets of Paris were streaming with innocent blood; Robespierre was glutting himself with murder; fear and rage were the passions that divided mankind, and their struggles produced on either side the likeness of some epidemic frenzy. Whatever else the government wanted, vigour to repel aggressions from without was displayed in abundance. Two armies immediately marched upon Toulon; and after a series of actions, in which the passes in the hills behind the town were forced, the place was at last invested, and a memorable siege commenced.
It was conducted with little skill, first by Cartaux, a vain coxcomb who had been a painter, and then by Doppet, an ex-physician, and a coward. To watch and report on the proceedings of these chiefs, there were present in the camp several Representatives of the People, as they were called—persons holding no military character or rank, but acting as honourable spies for the government at Paris. The interference of these personages on this, as on many other occasions, was productive of delays, blunders, and misfortunes; but the terror which their ready access to the despotic government inspired was often, on the other hand, useful in stimulating the exertions of the military. The younger Robespierre was one of the deputies at Toulon, and his name was enough to make his presence formidable.
Cartaux had not yet been superseded, when Napoleon Buonaparte made his appearance at headquarters, with a commission to assume the command of the artillery. It has been said that he owed his appointment to the private regard of Salicetti; but the high testimonials he had received from the Military Academy were more likely to have served him; nor is it possible to suppose that he had been so long in the regiment of La Fere without being appreciated by some of his superiors. He had, besides, shortly before this time, excited attention by a pamphlet, called the Supper of Beaucaire, in which the politics of the Jacobin party were spiritedly supported; and of which he was afterwards so ashamed, that he took great pains to suppress it. However this may have been, he was received almost with insolence by Cartaux, who, strutting about in an uniform covered with gold lace, told him his assistance was not wanted, but he was welcome to partake in his glory.
The commandant of the artillery, on examining the state of affairs, found much to complain of. They were still disputing which extremity of the town should be the chief object of attack; though at the one there were two strong and regular fortifications, and at the other only a small and imperfect fort called Malbosquet. On inspecting their batteries, he found that the guns were placed about two gunshots from the walls; and that it was the custom to heat the shot at a distance from the place where they were to be discharged; in other words, to heat them to no purpose. Choosing officers of his own acquaintance to act under him, and exerting himself to collect guns from all quarters, Buonaparte soon remedied these disorders, and found himself master of an efficient train of 200 pieces; and he then urged the general to adopt a wholly new plan of operations in the future conduct of the siege.
The plan of Buonaparte appears now the simplest and most obvious that could have been suggested; yet it was not without great difficulty that he could obtain the approbation of the doctor, who had by this time superseded the painter. "Your object," said he, "is to make the English evacuate Toulon. Instead of attacking them in the town, which must involve a long series of operations, endeavour to establish batteries so as to sweep the harbour and roadstead. If you can do this—the English ships must take their departure, and the English troops will certainly not remain behind them." He pointed out a promontory nearly opposite the town, by getting the command of which he was sure the desired effect must be accomplished. "Gain La Grasse" said he, "and in two days Toulon falls." His reasoning at length forced conviction, and he was permitted to follow his own plan.
A month before nothing could have been more easy; but within that time the enemy had perceived the importance of the promontory, which commands the narrow passage between the port and the Mediterranean, and fortified it so strongly, that it passed by the name of the Little Gibraltar. It was necessary, therefore, to form extensive batteries in the rear of La Grasse, before there could be a prospect of seizing it. Buonaparte laboured hard all day, and slept every night in his cloak by the guns, until his works approached perfection. He also formed a large battery behind Malbosquet; but this he carefully concealed from the enemy. It was covered by a plantation of olives, and he designed to distract their attention by opening its fire for the first time when he should be about to make his great effort against Little Gibraltar. But the Representatives of the People had nearly spoiled everything. These gentlemen, walking their rounds, discovered the battery behind the olives, and inquiring how long it had been ready, were told for eight days. Not guessing with what views so many guns had been kept so long idle, they ordered an immediate cannonade. The English made a vigorous sally, and spiked the guns before Buonaparte could reach the spot. On his arrival at the eminence behind, he perceived a long deep ditch, fringed with brambles and willows, which he thought might be turned to advantage. He ordered a regiment of foot to creep along the ditch, which they did without being discovered until they were close upon the enemy. General O'Hara, the English commander, mistook them for some of his own allies, and, rushing out to give them some direction, was wounded and made prisoner. The English were dispirited when they lost their general; they retreated, and the French were at liberty to set about the repair of their battery. In this affair much blood was shed. Napoleon himself received a bayonet-thrust in his thigh, and fell into the arms of Muiron, who carried him off the field. Such was the commencement of their brotherly friendship. His wound, however, did not prevent him from continuing his labours behind Little Gibraltar.
That fort had very nearly been seized, by a sort of accident, some time before his preparations were completed; a casual insult excited a sudden quarrel between the men in Buonaparte's trenches and the Spaniards in Little Gibraltar. The French soldiers, without waiting for orders, seized their arms, and rushed to the assault with fury. Napoleon coming up, perceived that the moment was favourable, and persuaded Doppet to support the troops with more regiments; but the doctor, marching at the head of his column, was seized with a panic, on seeing a man killed by his side, and ordered a retreat, before anything could be effected.
A few days after, this poltroon was in his turn superseded by a brave veteran, General Dugommier, and Napoleon could at last count on having his efforts backed. But, for the second time, the Representatives did their best to ruin his undertaking. The siege had now lasted four months, provisions were scarce in the camp, and these civilians, never being able to comprehend what was meant by bestowing all this care on a place so far below the city as Little Gibraltar, wrote to Paris that they saw no chance of success, and hoped the government would agree with them that the siege ought to be abandoned. Two days before this letter reached Paris, Toulon had fallen, and the Representatives gave out that the despatch was a forgery.
The moment had at last come when Buonaparte judged it right to make his grand attempt. During the night of the 17th of December he threw 8000 bombs and shells into Little Gibraltar, and the works being thus shattered, at daybreak Dugommier commanded the assault. The French, headed by the brave Muiron, rushed with impetuous valour through the embrasures, and put the whole garrison to the sword. The day was spent in arranging the batteries, so as to command the shipping; and next morning—so true had been Buonaparte's prophecy—when the French stood to their posts, the English fleet was discovered to be already under weigh.
Then followed a fearful scene. The English would not quit Toulon without destroying the French ships and arsenals that had fallen into their possession; nor could they refuse to carry with them the Antijacobin inhabitants, who knew that their lives would be instantly sacrificed if they should fall into the hands of the victorious Republicans, and who now flocked to the beach to the number of 14,000, praying for the means of escape. The burning of ships, the explosion of magazines, the roar of artillery, and the cries of these fugitives, filled up many hours. At last the men-of-war were followed by a flotilla bearing those miserable exiles; the walls were abandoned; and Dugommier took possession of the place.
The Republicans found that all persons of condition, who had taken part against them, had escaped; and their rage was to be contented with meaner victims. A day or two having been suffered to pass in quiet, a proclamation, apparently friendly, exhorted the workmen, who had been employed on the batteries of the besieged town, to muster at headquarters. One hundred and fifty poor men, who expected to be employed again in repairing the same fortifications obeyed this summons—were instantly marched into a field—and shot in cold blood; not less than a thousand persons were massacred under circumstances equally atrocious. Buonaparte himself repelled with indignation the charge of having had a hand in this butchery. Even if he had, he was not the chief in command, and durst not have disobeyed orders but at the sacrifice of his own life. It is on all sides admitted that a family of royalists, being shipwrecked on the coast near Toulon a few days after, were rescued from the hands of the ferocious Republicans, solely by his interference and address. Putting himself at the head of some of his gunners, he obtained possession of the unhappy prisoners; quieted the mob by assuring them that they should all be publicly executed the next morning; and meanwhile sent them off during the night in artillery waggons supposed to be conveying stores.
The recovery of Toulon was a service of the first importance to the government. It suppressed all insurrectionary spirit in the south of France; and placed a whole army at their disposal elsewhere. But he, to whose genius the success was due, did not at first obtain the credit of his important achievement at Paris. The Representatives of the People never made their appearance on the eventful morning at Little Gibraltar, until three hours after the troops were in possession of the best part of the fortifications. Then, indeed, they were seen sword in hand in the trenches, blustering and swaggering in safety. Yet these men did not blush to represent themselves as having headed the assault, while, in their account of the conflict, even the name of Buonaparte did not find a place. The truth could not, however, be concealed effectually; and he was appointed to survey and arrange the whole line of fortifications on the Mediterranean coast of France.
It was during the siege of Toulon that Napoleon, while constructing a battery under the enemy's fire, had occasion to prepare a despatch, and called out for some one who could use a pen. A young sergeant, named Junot, leapt out, and, leaning on the breastwork, wrote as he dictated. As he finished, a shot struck the ground by his side, scattering dust in abundance over him and everything near him. "Good," said the soldier, laughing, "this time we shall spare our sand." The cool gaiety of this pleased Buonaparte; he kept his eye on the man; and Junot came in the sequel to be Marshal of France and Duke of Abrantes.
Buonaparte Chief of Battalion at Nice—Fall of Robespierre—He is superseded—Buonaparte at Paris in 1795—The day of the Sections—Commands the Army of the Interior—Marries Josephine de Beauharnois—Appointed to the command of the Army of Italy.
From this time Napoleon advanced by rapid strides to greatness. His admirable skill was still further displayed in his survey of the fortifications above mentioned; and having completed this service, he was appointed to join the army of Italy, then stationed at Nice, with the rank of Chief of Battalion.
Here his advice suggested a plan by which the Sardinians were driven from the Col di Tende on the 7th March, 1794; Saorgio, with all its stores, surrendered; and the French obtained possession of the maritime Alps, so that the difficulties of advancing into Italy were greatly diminished. Of these movements, however, his superior officers reaped as yet the honour. He was even superseded (Aug. 6, 1794) very shortly after their success. But this, which at the moment seemed a heavy misfortune, was, in truth, one of the luckiest circumstances that ever befell him.
It is not true that he was put under arrest in consequence of the downfall of Robespierre; although there is no doubt that he was supposed to belong to the party which that monster had made the instrument of his crimes, and known to have lived on terms of friendship with his younger brother. He incurred the suspicion of Laporte and the other "Representatives" attached to "the army of Italy," in consequence of a journey to the Gulf of Genoa, which he performed in obedience to secret orders from Paris; and, so soon as his absence from headquarters was thus explained, he regained his freedom. The officer, who came to release him, was surprised to find him busy in his dungeon over the map of Lombardy. The "Representatives," however, had certainly taken up a general prejudice against him; for he did not reassume his functions at Nice; and seems to have spent some time in obscurity with his own family, who were then in very distressed circumstances, at Marseilles. It was here that he fell in love with Mademoiselle Clery, whom, but for some accident, it appears he would have married. Her sister was shortly afterwards united to his brother Joseph, and she herself became in the sequel the wife of Bernadotte, now King of Sweden. It is supposed that Buonaparte found himself too poor to marry at this time; and circumstances interfered to prevent any renewal of his proposals.
Before the end of the year he came to Paris to solicit employment; but at first he met with nothing but repulses. The President of the Military Committee, Aubry, objected to his youth. "Presence in the field of battle," said Buonaparte, "might be reckoned in place of years." The President, who had not seen much actual service, thought he was insulted, and treated Napoleon very coldly. After a little while, however, he was asked to go to La Vendee, as commandant of a brigade of infantry. This he declined, alleging, that nothing could reconcile him to leave the artillery, but really, if we are to follow De Bourienne, considering the Vendean warfare as unworthy of him. His refusal was followed by the erasure of his name from the list of general officers in employment; and for a time his fortunes seemed to be in a desperate condition. He thought of settling in some way in Paris; and said to Bourienne, that, if he could afford to have a small house in the street where his school-fellow lived, and to keep a cabriolet, he would be contented. His elder brother had about this time married Mademoiselle Clery, whose father, the merchant of Marseilles, gave her a handsome dowry. "How fortunate," Napoleon would often exclaim, "is that fool Joseph!"
Talma, the celebrated tragedian, was one of his chief associates at this time, and even then talked with confidence of the future fortunes of "little Buonaparte." This player's kindness and Aubry's opposition were both remembered. The Emperor always patronised Talma; and Aubry died in exile.
Napoleon, despairing of employment at home, now drew up a memorial to the government, requesting to be sent with a few other officers of artillery into Turkey, for the purpose of placing that branch of the Grand Seignior's service in a condition more suitable to the circumstances of the times—in which it seemed highly probable that the Porte might find itself in alliance with France, and assaulted by the combined armies of Russia and Austria. No answer was returned to this memorial, over which he dreamt for some weeks in great enthusiasm. "How strange," he said to his friends, "would it be if a little Corsican soldier should become King of Jerusalem!" Go where he might, he already contemplated greatness.
At length Napoleon was nominated to the command of a brigade of artillery in Holland. The long-deferred appointment was, no doubt, very welcome; but in the meantime his services were called for on a nearer and a more important field.
The French nation were now heartily tired of the National Convention: it had lost most of its distinguished members in the tumults and persecutions of the times; and above all it had lost respect by remaining for two years the slave and the tool of the Terrorists. The downfall of Robespierre, when it did take place, showed how easily the same blessed deliverance might have been effected long before, had this body possessed any sense of firmness or of dignity. Even the restoration of the members banished by the tyrant did not serve to replace the Convention in the confidence of the public. They themselves saw clearly that a new remodelling of the government was called for and must be; and their anxiety was to devise the means of securing for themselves as large a share as possible of substantial power, under some arrangement sufficiently novel in appearance to throw dust in the eyes of the people.
A great part of the nation, there is no doubt, were at this time anxious to see the royal family restored, and the government settled on the model of 1791. Among the more respectable citizens of Paris in particular such feelings were very prevalent. But many causes conspired to surround the adoption of this measure with difficulties, which none of the actually influential leaders had the courage, or perhaps the means, to encounter. The soldiery of the Republican armies had been accustomed to fight against the exiled princes and nobility, considered them as the worst enemies of France, and hated them personally. The estates of the church, the nobles, and the crown, had been divided and sold; and the purchasers foresaw that, were the monarchy restored at this period, the resumption of the forfeited property would be pressed with all the powers of government. And, lastly, the men who had earned for themselves most distinction and influence in public affairs, had excellent reasons for believing that the Bourbons and nobility, if restored, would visit on their own heads the atrocities of the Revolution, and above all the murder of the King.
The Conventionalists themselves, however, had learned by this time that neither peace nor security could be expected, unless some form of government were adopted, in which the legislative and the executive functions should at least appear to be separated; and they were also at length inclined to admit the excellence of that part of the British constitution, which, dividing the legislatorial power between two assemblies of senators, thus acquires the advantage of a constant revision of counsels, and regulates the political machine by a system of mutual checks and balances. They were desirous, therefore, of proposing some system which might, in a certain degree, satisfy those who had been endeavouring to bring about the restoration of the monarchy; and the new constitution of the year three of the Republic (1795) presented the following features. I. The executive power was to be lodged in Five Directors, chosen from time to time, who were to have no share in the legislation. II. There was to be a Council of Five Hundred, answering generally to our House of Commons: and III. A smaller assembly, called the Council of Ancients, intended to fulfil in some measure the purposes of a House of Peers.
The outline of this scheme might perhaps have been approved of; but the leading members of the Convention, from views personal to themselves, appended to it certain conditions which excited new disgust. They decreed, first, that the electoral bodies of France, in choosing representatives to the two new Councils, must elect at least two-thirds of the present members of Convention; and, secondly, that if full two-thirds were not returned, the Convention should have the right to supply the deficiency out of their own body. It was obvious that this machinery had no object but the continuance of the present legislators in power; and the nation, and especially the superior classes in Paris, were indignant at conduct which they considered as alike selfish and arbitrary. The royalist party gladly lent themselves to the diffusion of any discontents; and a formidable opposition to the measures of the existing government was organised.
The Convention meantime continued their sittings, and exerting all their skill and influence, procured from many districts of the country reports accepting of the New Constitution, with all its conditions. The Parisians, being nearer and sharper observers, and having abundance of speakers and writers to inform and animate them, assembled in the several sections of the city, and proclaimed their hostility to the Convention and its designs. The National Guard, consisting of armed citizens, almost unanimously sided with the enemies of the Convention; and it was openly proposed to march to the Tuileries, and compel a change of measures by force of arms.
The Convention, perceiving their unpopularity and danger, began to look about them anxiously for the means of defence. There were in and near Paris 5000 regular troops, on whom they thought they might rely, and who of course contemned the National Guard as only half-soldiers. They had besides some hundreds of artillerymen; and they now organized what they called "the Sacred Band," a body of 1500 ruffians, the most part of them old and tried instruments of Robespierre. With these means they prepared to arrange a plan of defence; and it was obvious that they did not want materials, provided they could find a skilful and determined head.
The Insurgent Sections placed themselves under the command of Danican, an old general of no great skill or reputation. The Convention opposed to him Menou; and he marched at the head of a column into the section Le Pelletier to disarm the National Guard of that district—one of the wealthiest of the capital. The National Guard were found drawn up in readiness to receive him at the end of the Rue Vivienne; and Menou, becoming alarmed, and hampered by the presence of some of the "Representatives of the People," entered into a parley, and retired without having struck a blow.
The Convention judged that Menou was not master of nerves for such a crisis; and consulted eagerly about a successor to his command. Barras, one of their number, had happened to be present at Toulon, and to have appreciated the character of Buonaparte. He had, probably, been applied to by Napoleon in his recent pursuit of employment. Deliberating with Tallien and Carnot, his colleagues, he suddenly said, "I have the man whom you want; it is a little Corsican officer, who will not stand upon ceremony."
These words decided the fate of Napoleon and of France. Buonaparte had been in the Odeon Theatre when the affair of Le Pelletier occurred, had run out, and witnessed the result. He now happened to be in the gallery, and heard the discussion concerning the conduct of Menou. He was presently sent for, and asked his opinion as to that officer's retreat. He explained what had happened, and how the evil might have been avoided, in a manner which gave satisfaction. He was desired to assume the command, and arrange his plan of defence as well as the circumstances might permit; for it was already late at night, and the decisive assault on the Tuileries was expected to take place next morning. Buonaparte stated that the failure of the march of Menou had been chiefly owing to the presence of the "Representatives of the People," and refused to accept the command unless he received it free from all such interference. They yielded: Barras was named Commander-in-Chief; and Buonaparte second, with the virtual control. His first care was to dispatch Murat, then a major of Chasseurs, to Sablons, five miles off, where fifty great guns were posted. The Sectionaries sent a stronger detachment for these cannon immediately afterwards; and Murat, who passed them in the dark, would have gone in vain had he received his orders but a few minutes later.
On the 4th of October (called in the revolutionary almanack the 13th Vendemaire) the affray accordingly occurred. Thirty thousand National Guards advanced, about two p.m., by different streets, to the siege of the palace: but its defence was now in far other hands than those of Louis XVI.
Buonaparte, having planted artillery on all the bridges, had effectually secured the command of the river, and the safety of the Tuileries on one side. He had placed cannon also at all the crossings of the streets by which the National Guard could advance towards the other front; and having posted his battalions in the garden of the Tuileries and Place du Carousel, he awaited the attack.
The insurgents had no cannon; and they came along the narrow streets of Paris in close and heavy columns. When one party reached the church of St. Roche, in the Rue St. Honore, they found a body of Buonaparte's troops drawn up there, with two cannons. It is disputed on which side the firing began; but in an instant the artillery swept the streets and lanes, scattering grape-shot among the National Guards, and producing such confusion that they were compelled to give way. The first shot was a signal for all the batteries which Buonaparte had established; the quays of the Seine, opposite to the Tuileries, were commanded by his guns below the Palace and on the bridges. In less than an hour the action was over. The insurgents fled in all directions, leaving the streets covered with dead and wounded: the troops of the Convention marched into the various sections, disarmed the terrified inhabitants, and before nightfall everything was quiet.
This eminent service secured the triumph of the Conventionalists, who now, assuming new names, continued in effect to discharge their old functions. Barras took his place at the head of the Directory, having Sieyes, Carnot, and other less celebrated persons, for his colleagues; and the First Director took care to reward the hand to which he owed his elevation. Within five days from the day of the Sections Buonaparte was named second in command of the army of the interior; and shortly afterwards, Barras, finding his duties as Director sufficient to occupy his time, gave up the command-in-chief of the same army to his "little Corsican officer."
He had no lack of duties to perform in this new character. The National Guard was to be re-organised; a separate guard for the representative body to be formed; the ordnance and military stores were all in a dilapidated condition. The want of bread, too, was continually producing popular riots, which could rarely be suppressed but by force of arms. On one of these last occasions, a huge sturdy fishwife exhorted the mob to keep to their places, when Buonaparte had almost persuaded them to disperse. "These coxcombs with their epaulettes and gorgets," said she, "care nothing for us; provided they feed well and fatten, we may starve." "Good woman," cried the general of the interior, who at this time was about the leanest of his race, "only look at me,—and decide yourself which of the two is the fatter." The woman could not help laughing: the joke pleased the multitude, and harmony was restored.
Buonaparte, holding the chief military command in the capital, and daily rising in importance from the zeal and firmness of his conduct in this high post, had now passed into the order of marked and distinguished men. He continued, nevertheless, to lead in private a quiet and modest life, studying as hard as ever, and but little seen in the circles of gaiety. An accident which occurred one morning at his military levee, gave at once a new turn to his mode of life, and a fresh impetus to the advance of his fortunes.
A fine boy, of ten or twelve years of age, presented himself; stated to the general that his name was Eugene Beauharnois, son of Viscount Beauharnois, who had served as a general officer in the Republican armies on the Rhine, and been murdered by Robespierre; and said his errand was to recover the sword of his father. Buonaparte caused the request to be complied with; and the tears of the boy, as he received and kissed the relic, excited his interest. He treated Eugene so kindly, that next day his mother, Josephine de Beauharnois, came to thank him; and her beauty and singular gracefulness of address made a strong impression.
This charming lady, the daughter of a planter, by name Tascher de la Pagerie, was born in the island of Martinico, 24th June, 1763. While yet an infant, according to a story which she afterwards repeated, a negro sorceress had prophesied that "she should one day be greater than a queen, and yet outlive her dignity."
The widow of Beauharnois had been herself imprisoned until the downfall of Robespierre. In that confinement she had formed a strict friendship with another lady who was now married to Tallien, one of the most eminent of the leaders of the Convention. Madame Tallien had introduced Josephine to her husband's friends; and Barras, the First Director, having now begun to hold a sort of court at the Luxembourg, these two beautiful women were the chief ornaments of its society. It was commonly said—indeed it was universally believed—that Josephine, whose character was in some respects indifferent, possessed more than legitimate influence over the First Director. Buonaparte, however, offered her his hand; she, after some hesitation, accepted it; and the young general by this marriage (9th March, 1796) cemented his connection with the society of the Luxembourg, and in particular with Barras and Tallien, at that moment the most powerful men in France.
Napoleon had a strong tendency to the superstition of fatalism, and he always believed that his fortunes were bound up in some mysterious manner with those of this graceful woman. She loved him warmly, and served him well. Her influence over him was great, and it was always exerted on the side of humanity. She, and she alone, could overrule, by gentleness, the excesses of passion to which he was liable; and her subsequent fate will always form one of the darkest pages in the history of her lord.
Tranquillity was now restored in Paris; and the Directory had leisure to turn their attention to the affairs of the army of Italy, which were in a most confused and unsatisfactory condition. They determined to give it a new general; and Buonaparte was appointed to the splendid command. It is acknowledged, in one of Josephine's letters, that the First Director had promised to procure it for him before their marriage took place. "Advance this man," said Barras to his colleagues, "or he will advance himself without you."
Buonaparte quitted his wife ten days after their marriage; paid a short visit to his mother at Marseilles; and arrived, after a rapid journey, at the headquarters at Nice. From that moment opened the most brilliant scene of his existence; yet, during the months of victory and glory that composed it, his letters, full of love and home-sickness, attest the reluctance with which he had so soon abandoned his bride.
[Footnote 6: De Bourienne.]
[Footnote 7: According to some, the last clause ran "die in an hospital," and this was in the sequel interpreted to mean Malmaison—a palace which (like our own St. James's) had once been an hospital.]
The Army of Italy—Tactics of Buonaparte—Battle of Monte Notte—Battle of Millesimo—Battle of Mondovi—Armistice of Cherasco—Close of the Campaign of Piedmont—Peace granted to Sardinia.
Buonaparte at the age of twenty-six assumed the command of the army of Italy; exulting in the knowledge that, if he should conquer, the honour would be all his own. He had worked for others at Toulon, at the Col di Tende, at Saorgio: even in the affair of the Sections the first command had been nominally in the hands of Barras. Henceforth he was to have no rivals within the camp. "In three months," said he, "I shall be either at Milan or at Paris." He had already expressed the same feeling in a still nobler form. "You are too young," said one of the Directors, hesitating about his appointment as general. "In a year," answered Napoleon, "I shall be either old or dead."
He found the army in numbers about 50,000; but wretchedly deficient in cavalry, in stores of every kind, in clothing and even in food; and watched by an enemy greatly more numerous. It was under such circumstances that he at once avowed the daring scheme of forcing a passage to Italy, and converting the richest territory of the enemy himself into the theatre of the war. "Soldiers," said he, "you are hungry and naked; the Republic owes you much, but she has not the means to pay her debts. I am come to lead you into the most fertile plains that the sun beholds. Rich provinces, opulent towns, all shall be at your disposal. Soldiers! with such a prospect before you, can you fail in courage and constancy?" This was his first address to his army. The sinking hearts of the men beat high with hope and confidence when they heard the voice of the young and fearless leader; and Augereau, Massena, Serrurier, Joubert, Lannes—distinguished officers might themselves have aspired to the chief command—felt, from the moment they began to understand his character and system, that the true road to glory would be to follow the star of Napoleon.
He perceived that the time was come for turning a new leaf in the history of war. With such numbers of troops as the infant Republic could afford him, he saw that no considerable advantages could be obtained against the vast and highly-disciplined armies of Austria and her allies, unless the established rules and etiquettes of strategy were abandoned. It was only by such rapidity of motion as should utterly transcend the suspicion of his adversaries, that he could hope to concentrate the whole pith and energy of a small force upon some one point of a much greater force opposed to it, and thus rob them (according to his own favourite phrase) of the victory. To effect such rapid marches, it was necessary that the soldiery should make up their minds to consider tents and baggage as idle luxuries; and that, instead of a long and complicated chain of reserves and stores, they should dare to rely wholly for the means of subsistence on the resources of the countries into which their leader might conduct them. They must be contented to conquer at whatever hazard; to consider no sacrifices or hardships as worthy of a thought. The risk of destroying the character and discipline of the men, by accustoming them to pillage, was obvious. Buonaparte trusted to victory, the high natural spirit of the nation, and the influence of his own genius, for the means of avoiding this danger; and many years, it must be admitted, elapsed, before he found much reason personally to repent of the system which he adopted. Against the enemies of the Republic its success was splendid, even beyond his hopes.
The objects of the approaching expedition were three: first, to compel the King of Sardinia, who had already lost Savoy and Nice, but still maintained a powerful army on the frontiers of Piedmont, to abandon the alliance of Austria: secondly, to compel the Emperor, by a bold invasion of Lombardy, to make such exertions in that quarter as might weaken those armies which had so long hovered on the Rhine; and, if possible, to stir up the Italian subjects of that crown to adopt the revolutionary system and emancipate themselves for ever from its yoke. The third object, though more distant, was not less important. The influence of the Romish Church was considered by the Directory as the chief, though secret, support of the cause of royalism within their own territory; and to reduce the Vatican into insignificance, or at least force it to submission and quiescence, appeared indispensable to the internal tranquillity of France. The Revolutionary Government, besides this general cause of hatred and suspicion, had a distinct injury to avenge. Their agent, Basseville, had three years before been assassinated in a popular tumult at Rome: the Papal troops had not interfered to protect him, nor the Pope to punish his murderers; and the haughty Republic considered this as an insult which could only be washed out with a sea of blood.
Napoleon's plan for gaining access to the fair regions of Italy differed from that of all former conquerors: they had uniformly penetrated the Alps at some point or other of that mighty range of mountains: he judged that the same end might be accomplished more easily by advancing along the narrow strip of comparatively level country which intervenes between those enormous barriers and the Mediterranean Sea, and forcing a passage at the point where the last of the Alps melt, as it were, into the first and lowest of the Apennine range. No sooner did he begin to concentrate his troops towards this region, than the Austrian general, Beaulieu, took measures for protecting Genoa, and the entrance of Italy. He himself took post with one column of his army at Voltri, a town within ten miles of Genoa: he placed D'Argenteau with another Austrian column at Monte Notte, a strong height further to the westward; and the Sardinians, under Colli, occupied Ceva—which thus formed the extreme right of the whole line of the allied army. The French could not advance towards Genoa but by confronting some one of the three armies thus strongly posted, and sufficiently, as Beaulieu supposed, in communication with each other.
It was now that Buonaparte made his first effort to baffle the science of those who fancied there was nothing new to be done in warfare. On the 10th of April, D'Argenteau came down upon Monte Notte, and attacked some French redoubts, in front of that mountain and the villages which bear its name, at Montelegino. At the same time General Cervoni and the French van were attacked by Beaulieu near Voltri, and compelled to retreat. The determined valour of Colonel Rampon, who commanded at Montelegino, held D'Argenteau at bay during the 10th and 11th: and Buonaparte, contenting himself with watching Beaulieu, determined to strike his effectual blow at the centre of the enemy's line. During the night of the 11th various columns were marched upon Montelegino, that of Cervoni and that of Laharpe from the van of the French line, those of Augereau and Massena from its rear. On the morning of the 12th, D'Argenteau, preparing to renew his attack on the redoubts of Montelegino, found he had no longer Rampon only and his brave band to deal with; that French columns were in his rear, on his flank, and drawn up also behind the works at Montelegino; in a word, that he was surrounded. He was compelled to retreat among the mountains; he left his colours and cannon behind him, 1000 killed, and 2000 prisoners. The centre of the allied army had been utterly routed, before either the Commander-in-Chief at the left, or General Colli at the right of the line, had any notion that a battle was going on.
Such was the battle of Monte Notte, the first of Napoleon's fields. Beaulieu, in order that he might re-establish his communication with Colli (much endangered by the defeat of D'Argenteau) was obliged to retreat upon Dego; the Sardinian, with the same purpose in view, fell back also, and took post at Millesimo; while D'Argenteau was striving to re-organise his dispirited troops in the difficult country between. It was their object to keep fast in these positions until succours could come up from Lombardy; but Napoleon had no mind to give them such respite.
The very next day after this victory he commanded a general assault on the Austrian line. Augereau, with a fresh division, marched at the left upon Millesimo; Massena led the centre towards Dego; and Laharpe, with the French right wing, manoeuvred to turn the left flank of Beaulieu.
Augereau rushed upon the outposts of Millesimo, seized and retained the gorge which defends that place, and cut off Provera with two thousand Austrians, who occupied an eminence called Cossaria, from the main body of Colli's army. Next morning Buonaparte himself arrived at that scene of the operations. He forced Colli to accept battle, utterly broke and scattered him, and Provera, thus abandoned, was obliged to yield at discretion.
Meanwhile Massena on the same day had assaulted the heights of Biastro, and carrying them at the point of the bayonet, cut off Beaulieu's communication with Colli; then Laparpe came in front and in flank also upon the village of Dego, and after a most desperate conflict, drove the Austrian commander-in-chief from his post. From this moment Colli and Beaulieu were entirely separated. After the affairs of Dego and Millesimo, the former retreated in disorder upon Ceva; the latter, hotly pursued, upon Aqui; Colli, of course, being eager to cover Turin, while the Austrian had his anxious thoughts already upon Milan. Colli was again defeated at Mondovi in his disastrous retreat; he there lost his cannon, his baggage, and the best part of his troops. The Sardinian army might be said to be annihilated. The conqueror took possession of Cherasco, within 10 miles of Turin, and there dictated the terms on which the King of Sardinia was to be permitted to retain any shadow of sovereign power.
Thus, in less than a month, did Napoleon lay the gates of Italy open before him. He had defeated in three battles forces much superior to his own; inflicted on them in killed, wounded and prisoners, a loss of 25,000 men; taken eighty guns and twenty-one standards; reduced the Austrians to inaction; utterly destroyed the Sardinian king's army; and lastly, wrested from his hands Coni and Tortona, the two great fortresses called "the keys of the Alps,"—and indeed, except Turin itself, every place of any consequence in his dominions. This unfortunate prince did not long survive such humiliation. He was father-in-law to both of the brothers of Louis XVI., and, considering their cause and his own dignity as equally at an end, died of a broken heart, within a few days after he had signed the treaty of Cherasco.
Buonaparte meanwhile had paused for a moment to consolidate his columns on the heights, from which the vast plain of Lombardy, rich and cultivated like a garden, and watered with innumerable fertilising streams, lay at length within the full view of his victorious soldiery. "Hannibal forced the Alps," said he gaily, as he now looked back on those stupendous barriers, "and we have turned them."
"Hitherto" (he thus addressed his troops) "you have been fighting for barren rocks, memorable for your valour, but useless to your country; but now your exploits equal those of the armies of Holland and the Rhine. You were utterly destitute, and you have supplied all your wants. You have gained battles without cannon, passed rivers without bridges, performed forced marches without shoes, bivouacked without strong liquors, and often without bread. None but republican phalanxes, soldiers of liberty, could have endured such things. Thanks for your perseverance! But, soldiers, you have done nothing—for there remains much to do. Milan is not yet ours. The ashes of the conquerors of Tarquin are still trampled by the assassins of Basseville."
The consummate genius of this brief campaign could not be disputed; and the modest language of the young general's despatches to the Directory, lent additional grace to his fame. At this time the name of Buonaparte was spotless: and the eyes of all Europe were fixed in admiration on his career.
[Footnote 8: Berthier used to keep, as a curiosity, a general order, by which three louis-d'or were granted as a great supply to each general of division, dated on the very day of the victory at Albegna.]
The French cross the Po at Placenza—The Battle of Fombio—The Bridge of Lodi—Napoleon occupies Milan—Resigns, and resumes his command—Insurrection of Pavia—Military Executions—The French pass the Mincio at Borghetto—Beaulieu retreats behind the Adige—Mantua besieged—Peace with the King of the Two Sicilies—The Pope buys a Respite.
Piedmont being now in the hands of Buonaparte, the Austrian general concentrated his army behind the Po, with the purpose of preventing the invader from passing that great river and making his way to the capital of Lombardy.
Napoleon employed every device to make Beaulieu believe that he designed to attempt the passage of the Po at Valenza; and the Austrian, a man of routine, who had himself crossed the river at that point, was easily persuaded that these demonstrations were sincere. Meanwhile his crafty antagonist executed a march of incredible celerity upon Placenza, fifty miles lower down the river; and appeared there on the 7th of May, to the utter consternation of a couple of Austrian squadrons, who happened to be reconnoitring in that quarter. He had to convey his men across that great stream in the common ferry boats, and could never have succeeded had there been anything like an army to oppose him. Andreossi (afterwards so celebrated) was commander of the advanced guard; Lannes (who became in the sequel Marshal Duke of Montebello) was the first to throw himself ashore at the head of some grenadiers. The German hussars were driven rapidly from their position. Buonaparte himself has said that no operation in war is more critical than the passage of a great river; on this occasion the skill of his arrangements enabled him to pass one of the greatest in the world without the loss of a single man.
Beaulieu, as soon as he ascertained how he had been outwitted, advanced upon Placenza, in the hope of making the invader accept battle with the Po in his rear, and therefore under circumstances which must render any check in the highest degree disastrous. Buonaparte, in the meantime, had no intention to await the Austrian on ground so dangerous, and was marching rapidly towards Fomboi, where he knew he should have room to manoeuvre. The advanced divisions of the hostile armies met at that village on the 8th of May. The Imperialists occupied the steeples and houses, and hoped to hold out until Beaulieu could bring up his main body. But the French charged so impetuously with the bayonet, that the Austrian, after seeing one-third of his men fall, was obliged to retreat, in great confusion, leaving all his cannon behind him, across the Adda; a large river which, descending from the Tyrolese mountains, joins the Po at Pizzighitone—and thus forms the immediate defence of the better part of the Milanese against any enemy advancing from Piedmont. Behind this river Beaulieu now concentrated his army, establishing strong guards at every ford and bridge, and especially at Lodi, where as he guessed (for once rightly) the French general designed to force his passage.
The wooden bridge of Lodi formed the scene of one of the most celebrated actions of the war; and will ever be peculiarly mixed up with the name of Buonaparte himself. It was a great neglect in Beaulieu to leave it standing when he removed his headquarters to the east bank of the Adda: his outposts were driven rapidly through the old struggling town of Lodi on the 10th; and the French sheltering themselves behind the walls and houses, lay ready to attempt the passage of the bridge. Beaulieu had placed a battery of thirty cannon so as to sweep it completely; and the enterprise of storming it in the face of this artillery, and the whole army drawn up behind, is one of the most daring on record.
Buonaparte's first care was to place as many guns as he could get in order in direct opposition to this Austrian battery. A furious cannonade on his side of the river also now commenced. The General himself appeared in the midst of the fire, pointing with his own hand two guns in such a manner as to cut off the Austrians from the only path by which they could have advanced to undermine the bridge; and it was on this occasion that the soldiery, delighted with his dauntless exposure of his person, conferred on him his honorary nickname of The Little Corporal. In the meantime he had sent General Beaumont and the cavalry to attempt the passage of the river by a distant ford (which they had much difficulty in effecting), and awaited with anxiety the moment when they should appear on the enemy's flank. When that took place, Beaulieu's line, of course, showed some confusion, and Napoleon instantly gave the word. A column of grenadiers, whom he had kept ready drawn up close to the bridge, but under shelter of the houses, were in a moment wheeled to the left, and their leading files placed upon the bridge. They rushed on, shouting Vive la Republique! but the storm of grape-shot for a moment checked them. Buonaparte, Lannes, Berthier, and Lallemagne, hurried to the front, and rallied and cheered the men. The column dashed across the bridge in despite of the tempest of fire that thinned them. The brave Lannes was the first who reached the other side, Napoleon himself the second. The Austrian artillerymen were bayoneted at their guns, before the other troops, whom Beaulieu had removed too far back, in his anxiety to avoid the French battery, could come to their assistance. Beaumont pressing gallantly with his horse upon the flank, and Napoleon's infantry forming rapidly as they passed the bridge, and charging on the instant, the Austrian line became involved in inextricable confusion, broke up, and fled. The slaughter on their side was great; on the French there fell only 200 men. With such rapidity, and consequently with so little loss, did Buonaparte execute this dazzling adventure—"the terrible passage," as he himself called it, "of the bridge of Lodi."
It was indeed, terrible to the enemy. It deprived them of another excellent line of defence, and blew up the enthusiasm of the French soldiery to a pitch of irresistible daring. Beaulieu, nevertheless, contrived to withdraw his troops in much better style than Buonaparte had anticipated. He gathered the scattered fragments of his force together, and soon threw the line of the Mincio, another tributary of the Po, between himself and his enemy. The great object, however, had been attained: the Austrian general escaped, and might yet defend Mantua, but no obstacle remained between the victorious invader and the rich and noble capital of Lombardy. The garrison of Pizzighitone, seeing themselves effectually cut off from the Austrian army, capitulated. The French cavalry pursued Beaulieu as far as Cremona, which town they seized; and Napoleon himself prepared to march at once upon Milan.
It was after one of these affairs that an old Hungarian officer was brought prisoner to Buonaparte, who entered into conversation with him, and among other matters questioned him "what he thought of the state of the war?" "Nothing," replied the old gentleman, who did not know he was addressing the general-in-chief,—"nothing can be worse. Here is a young man who knows absolutely nothing of the rules of war; to-day he is in our rear, to-morrow on our flank, next day again in our front. Such violations of the principles of the art of war are intolerable!"
The Archduke, who governed in Lombardy for the Emperor, had made many a long prayer and procession; but the saints appeared to take no compassion on him, and he now withdrew from the capital. A revolutionary party had always existed there, as indeed in every part of the Austrian dominions beyond the Alps; and the tricolor cockade, the emblem of France, was now mounted by multitudes of the inhabitants. The municipality hastened to invite the conqueror to appear among them as their friend and protector; and on the 14th of May, four days after Lodi, Napoleon accordingly entered, in all the splendour of a military triumph, the venerable and opulent city of the old Lombard kings.
He was not, however, to be flattered into the conduct, as to serious matters, of a friendly general. He levied immediately a heavy contribution (eight hundred thousand pounds sterling) at Milan,—taking possession, besides, of twenty of the finest pictures in the Ambrosian gallery.
The conqueror now paused to look about and behind him; and proceeded still farther to replenish his chest by exactions, for which no justification can be adduced from the ordinary rules of international law. With Sardinia he had already reckoned; of the Austrian capital in Italy he had possession; there was only one more of the Italian governments (Naples) with which the French Republic was actually at war; although, indeed, he had never concealed his intention of revenging the fate of Basseville on the court of Rome. The other powers of Italy were, at worst, neutrals; with Tuscany and Venice, France had friendly relations. But Napoleon knew or believed, that all the Italian governments, without exception, considered the French invasion of Italy as a common calamity; the personal wishes of most of the minor princes (nearly connected as these were, by blood or alliance, with the imperial house of Austria) he, not unreasonably, concluded were strongly against his own success in this great enterprise. Such were his pretences—more or less feasible; the temptation was, in fact, great; and he resolved to consider and treat whatever had not been with him as if it had been against him. The weak but wealthy princes of Parma and Modena, and others of the same order, were forthwith compelled to purchase his clemency not less dearly than if they had been in arms. Besides money, of which he made them disburse large sums, he demanded from each a tribute of pictures and statues, to be selected at the discretion of Citizen Monge and other French connoisseurs, who now attended his march for such purposes.
In modern warfare the works of art had hitherto been considered as a species of property entitled in all cases to be held sacred; and Buonaparte's violent and rapacious infraction of this rule now excited a mighty clamour throughout Europe. Whether the new system originated with himself, or in the commands of the Directory, is doubtful. But from this time the formation of a great national gallery of pictures and statues at Paris was considered as an object of the first importance; and every victorious general was expected to bring trophies of this kind in his train. Whether the fine arts themselves are likely to be improved in consequence of the accumulation in any one place of such vast treasures as the Louvre were long exhibited, there has been, and will no doubt continue to be, much controversy. It is certain that the arts of France derived no solid advantage from Napoleon's museum. The collection was a mighty heap of incense for the benefit of the national vanity; and the hand which brought it together was preparing the means of inflicting on that vanity one of the most intolerable of wounds, in its ultimate dispersion.
The Duke of Modena would fain have redeemed the famous St. Jerome, of Correggio, at the price of L80,000; and Buonaparte's lieutenants urged him to accept the money. "No," said he, "the duke's two millions of francs would soon be spent; but his Correggio will remain for ages to adorn Paris, and inspire the arts of France." The prophecy was not inspired. Of one thing there can be no doubt; namely, that the abstraction of these precious monuments of art from the Italian collections was deeply and permanently resented by the Italian people. This sacrilege, as those enthusiastic and intelligent lovers of all the elegant arts considered it, turned back many a half-made convert from the principles of the French Revolution.
Buonaparte remained but five days in Milan; the citadel of that place still held out against him; but he left a detachment to blockade it, and proceeded himself in pursuit of Beaulieu. The Austrian had now planted the remains of his army behind the Mincio, having his left on the great and strong city of Mantua, which has been termed "the citadel of Italy," and his right at Peschiera a Venetian fortress, of which he took possession in spite of the remonstrances of the Doge. Peschiera stands where the Mincio flows out of "its parent lake," the Lago di Guarda. That great body of waters, stretching many miles backwards towards the Tyrolese Alps, at once extended the line of defence, and kept the communication open with Vienna. The Austrian veteran occupied one of the strongest positions that it is possible to imagine. The invader hastened once more to dislodge him.
The French Directory, meanwhile, had begun to entertain certain not unnatural suspicions as to the ultimate designs of their young general, whose success and fame had already reached so astonishing a height. They determined to check, if they could, the career of an ambition which they apprehended might outgrow their control. Buonaparte was ordered to take half his army, and lead it against the Pope and the King of Naples, and leave the other half to terminate the contest with Beaulieu, under the orders of Kellerman. But he acted on this occasion with the decision which these Directors in vain desired to emulate. He answered by resigning his command. "One half of the army of Italy," said he, "cannot suffice to finish the matter with the Austrian. It is only by keeping my force entire that I have been able to gain so many battles and to be now in Milan. You had better have one bad general than two good ones." The Directory durst not persist in displacing the chief whose name was considered as the pledge of victory. Napoleon resumed the undivided command, to which now, for the last time, his right had been questioned.
Another unlooked-for occurrence delayed, for a few days longer, the march upon Mantua. The heavy exactions of the French, and even more perhaps the wanton contempt with which they treated the churches and the clergy, had produced or fostered the indignation of a large part of the population throughout Lombardy. Reports of new Austrian levies being poured down the passes of the Tyrol were spread and believed. Popular insurrections against the conqueror took place in various districts: at least 30,000 were in arms. At Pavia the insurgents were entirely triumphant; they had seized the town, and compelled the French garrison to surrender.
This flame, had it been suffered to spread, threatened immeasurable evil to the French cause. Lannes instantly marched to Benasco, stormed the place, plundered and burnt it, and put the inhabitants to the sword without mercy. The general in person appeared before Pavia; blew the gates open; easily scattered the townspeople; and caused the leaders to be executed, as if they had committed a crime in endeavouring to rescue their country from the arm of a foreign invader. Everywhere the same ferocious system was acted on. The insurgent commanders were tried by courts-martial, and shot without ceremony. At Lugo, where a French squadron of horse had been gallantly and disastrously defeated, the whole of the male inhabitants were massacred. These bloody examples quelled the insurrections; but they fixed the first dark and indelible stain on the name of Napoleon Buonaparte.
The spirit of the Austrian and Catholic parties in Lombardy thus crushed, the French advanced on the Mincio. The general made such disposition of his troops, that Beaulieu doubted not he meant to pass that river, if he could, at Peschiera. Meantime he had been preparing to repeat the scene of Placenza;—and actually, on the 30th of May, forced the passage of the Mincio, not at Peschiera, but further down at Borghetto. The Austrian garrison at Borghetto in vain destroyed one arch of the bridge. Buonaparte supplied the breach with planks; and his men, flushed with so many victories, charged with a fury not to be resisted. Beaulieu was obliged to abandon the Mincio, as he had before the Adda and the Po, and to take up the new line of the Adige.
Meanwhile an occurrence, which may be called accidental, had nearly done more than repay the Austrians for all their reverses. The left of their line, stationed still further down the Mincio,—at Puzzuolo, no sooner learned from the cannonade that the French were at Borghetto, than they hastened to ascend the stream, with the view of assisting the defence of their friends. They came too late for this; the commander at Borghetto had retreated before they arrived. They, however, came unexpectedly; and, such was the chance, reached Valleggio after the French army had pursued the Austrians through it and onwards—and, at the moment when Buonaparte and a few friends, considering the work of the day to be over, and this village as altogether in the rear of both armies, were about to sit down to dinner in security. Sebetendorff, who commanded the Puzzuolo division, came rapidly, little guessing what a prize was near him, into the village. The French general's attendants had barely time to shut the gates of the inn, and alarm their chief by the cry "To arms." Buonaparte threw himself on horseback, and galloping out by a back passage, effected the narrowest of escapes from the most urgent of dangers. Sebetendorff was soon assaulted by a French column, and retreated, after Beaulieu's example, on the line of the Adige. Buonaparte, profiting by the perilous adventure of Valleggio, instituted a small corps of picked men, called Guides, to watch continually over his personal safety. Such was the germ from which sprung the famous Imperial Guard of Napoleon.