Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

which was a formidable barrier, winter transforms into the smoothest of roads.

Napoleon renounced, once for all, sentiments and affections, and would help himself with his hands and his head. With him is no miracle, and no magic. He is a worker in brass, in iron, in wood, in earth, in roads, in buildings, in money, and in troops, and a very consistent and wise master-workman. He is never weak and literary, but acts with the solidity and the precision of natural agents. He has not lost his native sense and sympathy with things. Men give way before such a man, as before natural events. To be sure, there are men enough who are immersed in things, as farmers, smiths, sailors, and mechanics generally; and we know how real and solid such men appear in the presence of scholars and grammarians : but these men ordinarily lack the power of arrangement, and are like hands without a head. But Bonaparte superadded to this mineral and animal force, insight and generalization, so that men saw in him combined the natural and the intellectual power, as if the sea and land had taken flesh and be gun to cipher. Therefore the land and sea seem to presuppose him. He came unto his own and they received him. This ciphering operative knows what he is working with, and what is the product. He knew the properties of gold and iron, of wheels and ships, of troops and diplomatists, and required that each should do after its kind.

The art of war was the game in which he exerted his arithmetic. It consisted, according to him, in having always more forces than the enemy, on the point where the enemy is attacked, or where he attacks; and his whole talent is strained by endless manœuvre and evolution, to march always on the enemy at an angle, and destroy his forces in detail. It is obvious that a very small force, skilfully and rapidly maneuvring, so as always to bring two men against one at the point of engagement, will be an overmatch for a much larger body of

men.

The times, his constitution, and his early circumstances, combined to develop this pattern democrat.

He had the virtues of his class, and the conditions for their activity. That common sense, which no sooner respects any end, than it finds the means to effect it; the delight in the use of means; in the choice, simplification, and combining of means; the directness and thoroughness of his work; the prudence with which all was seen, and the energy with which all was done, make

nature.

him the natural organ and head of what I may almost call, from its extent, the modern party.

Nature must have far the greatest share in every success, and so in his. Such a man was wanted, and such a man was born; a man of stone and iron, capable of sitting on horseback sixteen or seventeen hours, of going many days together without rest or food, except by snatches, and with the speed and spring of a tiger in action ; a man not embarrassed by any scruples ; compact, instant, selfish, prudent, and of a perception which did not suffer itself to be balked or misled by any pretences of others, or any superstition, or any heat or haste of his own. “My hand of iron,” he said,

was not at the extremity of my arm; it was immediately connected with my head.” He respected the power of nature and fortune, and ascribed it to his superiority, instead of valuing himself, like inferior men, on his opinionativeness, and waging war with

His favorite rhetoric lay in allusion to his star; and he pleased himself, as well as the people, when he styled himself the “Child of Destiny." They charge me," he said, “with the commission of great crimes : men of my stamp do not commit crimes. Nothing has been more simple than my elevation : 't is in vain to ascribe it to intrigue or crime : it was owing to the peculiarity of the times, and to my reputation of having fought well against the enemies of my country. I have always marched with the opinion of great masses, and with events. Of what use, then, would crimes be to me?" Again he said, speaking of his son : “My son cannot replace me : I could not replace myself. I am the creature of circumstances.”

He had a directness of action never before combined with so much comprehension. He is a realist terrific to all talkers, and confused truth-obscuring persons.

He sees where the matter hinges, throws himself on the precise point of resistance, and slights all other considerations. He is strong in the right manner, namely, by insight. He never blundered into victory, but won his battles in his head, before he won them on the field. His principal means are in himself. He asks counsel of no other. In 1796, he writes to the Directory :“I have conducted the campaign without consulting any one. I should have done no good, if I had been under the necessity of conforming to the notions of another person. I have gained some advantages over superior forces, and when totally destitute of everything, because, in the persuasion that your confidence was reposed in me, my actions were as prompt as my thoughts."

History is full, down to this day, of the imbecility of kings and governors.

They are a class of persons much to be pitied, for they know not what they should do. The weavers strike for bread; and the king and his ministers, not knowing what to do, meet them with bayonets. But Napoleon understood his business. Here was a man who, in each moment and emergency, knew what to do next. It is an immense comfort and refreshment to the spirits, not only of kings, but of citizens. Few men have any next; they live from hand to mouth, without plan, and are ever at the end of their line, and, after each action, wait for an impulse from abroad. Napoleon had been the first man of the world, if his ends had been purely public. As he is, he inspires confidence and vigor by the extraordinary unity of his action. He is firm, sure, self-denying, self-postponing, sacrificing everything to his aim, - money, troops, generals, and his own safety also, to his aim; not misled, like common adventurers, by the splendor of his own means. “ Incidents ought not to govern policy," he said, “but policy, incidents.”

** To be hurried away by every event, is to have no political system at all.” His victories were only so many doors, and he never for a moment lost sight of his way onward, in the dazzle and uproar of the present circumstance. He knew what to do, and he flew to his mark. He would shorten a straight line to come at his object. Horrible anecdotes may, no doubt, be collected from his history, of the price at which he bought his successes; but he must not therefore be set down as cruel; but only as one who knew no impediment to his will; not bloodthirsty, not cruel, — but woe to what thing or person stood in his way! Not bloodthirsty, but not sparing of blood, - and pitiless. He saw only the object : the obstacle must give way. “Sire, General Clarke cannot combine with General Junot, for the dreadful fire of the Austrian battery.” the battery.” — “Sire, every regiment that approaches the heavy artillery is sacrificed : Sire, what orders ?" ward, forward!” Seruzier, a colonel of artillery, gives, in his Military Memoirs, the following sketch of a scene after the battle of Austerlitz: “At the moment in which the Russian army was making its retreat, painfully, but in good order, on the ice of the lake, the Emperor Napoleon came riding at full speed toward the artillery. You are losing time,' he cried;

66 Let him carry

6 For

[ocr errors]

'fire upon those masses; they must be ingulfed : fire upon the ice !' The order remained unexecuted for ten minutes. In vain several officers and myself were placed on the slope of a hill to produce the effect : their balls and mine rolled upon the ice, without breaking it up. Seeing that, I tried a simple method of elevating light howitzers. The almost perpendicular fall of the heavy projectiles produced the desired effect. My method was immediately followed by the adjoining batteries, and in less than no time we buried” some 6 thousands of Russians and Austrians under the waters of the lake."

In the plenitude of his resources, every obstacle seemed to vanish. “There shall be no Alps,” he said ; and he built his perfect roads, climbing by graded galleries their steepest precipices, until Italy was as open to Paris as any town in France. He laid his bones to, and wrought for his crown.

Having decided what was to be done, he did that with might and main. He put out all his strength. He risked everything, and spared nothing, neither ammunition, nor money, nor troops, nor generals, nor himself.

We like to see everything do its office after its kind, whether it be a milch-cow or a rattle-snake; and, if fighting be the best mode of adjusting national differences (as large majorities of men seem to agree), certainly Bonaparte was right in making it thorough. "The grand principle of war," he said, "was, that an army ought always to be ready, by day and by night, and at all hours, to make all the resistance it is capable of making.” He never economized his ammunition, but, on a hostile position, rained a torrent of iron, - shells, balls, grapeshot, — to annihilate all defence. On any point of resistance, he concentrated squadron on squadron in overwhelming numbers, until it was swept out of existence. To a regiment of horse-chasseurs at Lobenstein, two days before the battle of Jena, Napoleon said : “My lads, you must not fear death ; when soldiers brave death, they drive him into the enemy's ranks.” In the fury of assault, he no more spared himself. He went to the edge of his possibility. It is plain that in Italy he did what he could, and all that he could. He came, several times, within an inch of ruin; and his own person was all but lost. He was flung into the marsh at Arcola. The Austrians were between him and his troops, in the mêlée, and he

* As I quote at second-hand, and cannot procure Seruzier, I dare not adopt the high figure I find.

66

was brought off with desperate efforts. At Lonato, and at other places, he was on the point of being taken prisoner. He fought sixty battles. He had never enough. Each victory was a new weapon. ' My power would fall, were I not to support it by new achievements. Conquest has made me what I am, and conquest must maintain me.” He felt, with every wise man, that as much life is needed for conservation, as for creation. We are always in peril, always in a bad plight, just on the edge of destruction, and only to be saved by invention and courage.

This vigor was guarded and tempered by the coldest prudence and punctuality A thunderbolt in the attack, he was found invulnerable in his intrenchments. His very attack was never the inspiration of courage, but the result of calculation. His idea of the best defence consists in being still the attacking party. My ambition,” he says, was great, but was of a cold nature.” In one of his conversations with Las Casas, he remarked, “ As to moral courage, I have rarely met with the two-o'clockin-the-morning kind : I mean unprepared courage that which is necessary on an unexpected occasion ; and which, in spite of the most unforeseen events, leaves full freedom of judgment and decision”: and he did not hesitate to declare that he was himself eminently endowed with this "two-o'clock-in-the-morning courage, and that he had met with few persons equal to himself in this respect.”

Everything depended on the nicety of his combinations, and the stars were not more punctual than his arithmetic. His personal attention descended to the smallest particulars. “At Montebello, I ordered Kellermann to attack with eight hundred horse, and with these he separated the six thousand Hungarian grenadiers, before the very eyes of the Austrian cavalry. This cavalry was half a league off, and required a quarter of an hour to arrive on the field of action; and I have observed, that it is always these quarters of an hour that decide the fate of a battle.' “ Before he fought a battle, Bonaparte thought little about what he should do in case of success, but a great deal about what he should do in case of a reverse of fortune.” The same prudence and good sense mark all his behavior. His instructions to his secretary at the Tuileries are worth remembering. “During the night, enter my chamber as seldom as possible. Do not awake me when you have any good news to communicate ; with that there is no hurry. But when you bring bad news, rouse me instantly,

« PředchozíPokračovat »