Page images




ART. I.-1. Napoleon im Jahre 1813; politisch-militairisch geschildert. (Napoleon in the Year 1813, viewed as a Politician and a Soldier.) By CARL BADE. 4 small vols.

1839, 1840, 1841.


2. Geschichte des Deutschen Freiheitskriegs. (History of the German Liberation War, from 1813 to 1815.) By Dr. FREDERICK RICHTER. 4 vols. 8vo. Berlin. 1838-40.

3. Manuscrit de 1813. Par le Baron FAIN, Secrétaire du Cabinet à cette Epoque. 2 vols. 8vo. Second Edition. Paris. 1825. 4. Portfeuille de 1813. Par M. DE NORVINS. Paris. 1825. 5. History of Europe. By ARCHIBALD ALISON. Vol. IX. Edinburgh. 1841.

6. The Fall of Napoleon. By Colonel MITCHELL. London. 1845.

NAPOLEON BONAPARTE, measured by the highest standard, was great only as a soldier. A great MAN certainly we cannot call him, who, in the very outset of his career-in the Venetian business -acted in direct contradiction, or rather in lordly despite of those laws of truth and justice, the capacity to recognise which distinguishes man from the brute, far more certainly than any superiority of merely intellectual endowment: and a great KING, or ruler, he could never be, who, in endeavouring to influence human beings, never appealed to any positive passion more noble than vanity, and whose chief reliance was on the purely negative affection of fear. The heathenish old Romans were bad enough, as we see them; and, perhaps, were Etruscan, Volscian, Samnite, and Carthaginian historians extant, might appear much worse; but their maxim,

"Parcere subjectis et debellare superbos"

"To spare the yielding, and to crush the proud"was a fair enough one (if indeed it existed anywhere except in Virgil's brain) for a nation of heathen soldiers to acknowledge.



Bonaparte, however, in that truly diabolical transaction of Venice, acted altogether upon the reverse of this maxim,

"To spare the strong man,

and to crush the weak;"

and in so doing at the early age of twenty-seven years, not under any foreign influence, but from the pure dictate of his own gigantic selfishness and despotic baseness, proved himself to be utterly des titute of all those higher qualities of soul, which, in the pages of Plutarch and Quintus Curtius, teach us to overlook the necessary harshness of the soldier in the generosity of the man, and the nobility of the hero. Napoleon was purely a soldier; on the ladder of battles he mounted to his throne; his sceptre was a marshal's baton; his laws were the laws of the sword; and the fruit of his decennial supremacy to France was, after a short fever of military excitement, lassitude and exhaustion from within, from without the hatred and the execration of all Europe. So vain was the attempt to transform the purely military principles of force and fraud, battle and stratagem, into habitual maxims of civilised government. To do so was in fact to establish, so long as it could last, a system of uninterrupted war, to proclaim the soldier the supreme arbiter of all human fortunes, to say that the word Right (not to speak of love and kindliness) was to be altogether blotted out from human language, and from human thought. Such a portentous attempt, like that of the Giants against Jove in the old fable, could not but fail. With all its breadth of outward projection, and greedy vastitude of clutch, it was in fact a thing essentially hollow, and intrinsically little. Napoleon the great soldier, the strong arm of revolutionary France, aspiring to be the political heart and the brain of Europe, proved himself to be nothing as a man, and, as a king, a Titanic phantasm. It was discovered that the will of nations could not be puffed aside always unceremoniously, in the same fashion that the Paris mob was in 1795, by a whiff of grape shot; and the fall of the strong continental despot in the year 1813 at Leipzig (for it was there rather than at Montmartre or Waterloo that he truly fell) proved to the world for the hundredth or thousandth time on a great scale, that man is essentially a moral being, and by moral influences alone can permanently either govern or be governed.

But though Bonaparte was little as a man, and hollow as a sovereign, we are not, therefore, to overlook the political and civil element in forming an estimate of his actions. If he was a soldier more than a king, he was an ambitious soldier; and an ambitious soldier will always subordinate the technical accuracy of his campaign to his prospects of, through victory, achieving, in the first place, military, and with that, among a military people, and in a

The Campaign of 1813.


revolutionary age, as a natural consequence, civil command. The peculiarity of Napoleon's character, indeed, seems to lie in this, that, from the very first, he acted on the principle that the soldier was not merely bound to obey, but entitled to command the state, whose safety he pledged; hence he took into his own hand, not only the strategics of the campaign-(which he was perfectly entitled to do), but the conditions of the peace: Campo Formio was as much his work as Rivoli. By an overwhelming instinct, he at this early period, anticipating his future destiny, identified the soldier with the government; and it is only by bringing this, his double character, to bear upon every particular moment of his future fortunes, that a proper estimate can be formed. No greater error, therefore, can possibly be than to take any one of his famous campaigns, and judge it purely on military principles. It may be, perhaps, that his first Italian campaign will suffer little or nothing by such an analysis; but certain we are, that Napoleon the Emperor, in 1806, 1809, and 1812, acted on principles, about which Napoleon the General of 1796, with all his brilliant and confounding rashness, might have hesitated. And above all in the critical year of 1813, when, after the fatal precipitation from Moscow, so much depended on the maintenance before Europe of an imposing political attitude in Germany, we shall not be surprised, if any judgment passed upon the memorable campaigns of Lützen and Leipzig, from a purely military point of view, prove insufficient and unsatisfactory. Here, if anywhere in his portentous career, a careful balancing of contending military and political motives is necessary to a just appreciation.

That the campaign of 1813, in Germany, is beyond all comparison the most important, the most instructive, and the most interesting of all those in which Napoleon was engaged, will be manifest upon the slightest consideration. The celebrated Italian campaign on which the admirers of the brilliant soldier delight to dwell, was a master-piece of combined nimbleness and vigour that strikes the merely military imagination with an effect truly electric; but there is a uniformity about the strategic progress of the young conqueror, which leads us to suspect that he owes his astonishing success as much to stupidity, indecision, and division of counsels in his adversaries, as to his own unquestioned genius; and for moral and political interest there is absolutely nothing, and worse than nothing; an audacious young hypocrite with a few sounding phrases about liberty and glory, but who believes only in grapeshot, making use of the unsuspecting enthusiasm of one party, and the vacillating weakness of another, to work out objects of the most pure, gross, and unpalliated selfishness. In the future German wars, again, we lose even the one military point which, in his first

great campaign, forces sympathy from the most unwilling heart; we
see no longer the animating spectacle of an unassisted adventurer
triumphing again and again over superior masses, by sheer bold-
ness of conception, and celerity of movement; but we see, as at
Ulm, in 1805, a mouse taken in a trap by a rat-catcher, which is
no wonder; or, as at Jena, in 1806, a congregation of feeble,
vain-glorious lordlings and superannuated aristocrats, having their
beards plucked, their teeth pulled out, their ears cropped, and their
bare bodies publicly flogged by a bold bravo with a club. In these
two wars, if the military interest is little, the moral interest is less;
for the conqueror, there can be no sympathy with those who believe
that Christianity put an end for ever to the rights (if it ever had
any) of the sword; for the conquered, as little with those who
feel that a government which trains its people to be mere machines,
has no right to be astonished when mere machines-in the shape
of guns and cannon-balls-get the better of them. Nay, even
where as in the campaign of 1809, over which the chivalrous
genius of Stadion, and the soldiership of the Archduke Charles pre-
sided, the Austrian wars, for once, assume a popular and a decidedly
moral character-what a sad interest is it to find such days of
heroic devotion as Aspern and Wagram, followed up by the
weakness and pusillanimity which dictated the peace of Vienna
in 1809, implying as it did the treacherous abandonment of the
heroic Tyrolese, and the degradation of the imperial family, by
a political marriage of which the baseness could be equalled only
by the futility? The campaign of 1813, therefore, stands pro-
minently forward, among all the German campaigns of Napoleon,
as the only one, in which the immense military energy and con-
centrated political activity of the French ruler, had to struggle
with not unworthy forces, on a fair field, and with a tremendous
moral interest. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were men of the
highest order of military intellect that thoughtful Germany could
produce: to these were added the French experience of Berna-
dotte, who, if he might reasonably be a little backward to strike
blows against his ancient country, could certainly say how others
might most efficiently strike them; and to put the designs of such
men into execution with more eagerness than they could plan
them, there was always at hand, the fiery enthusiasm, the determined
pertinacity, and the hard-hitting energy of Marshal Blücher.
Napoleon, therefore, though he might look for some exhibition of
hereditary clumsiness from the Austrians, when they had
joined the contest, was counting without his host if he expected
in Lützen and Bauzen from the Prussians only a repetition of
the strategic blunders that, as much as his own genius, had brought
about the double prostration of Jena and Auerstädt; and much


[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

more did his vain military conceit, and despotic contempt of others deceive him, if he imagined that any sublime talk about French glory and honour, and fuming denunciations against Prussian defection, revolt, treason, and anarchy, were moral forces of any available weight, when set against the sworn determination of a once divided brotherhood to agree, and an insulted people to be avenged. Great truly were the forces, military and moral, strategical and political, now combined against the conqueror; but, on the other hand, his genius was undiminished; the forces at his command superior to those with which he had gained his first laurels in Italy; his control of these forces altogether despotic; and now at length on her great central battle-field of Saxony, Europe was to witness a mighty struggle, not as before of military genius with military mediocrity, of energy with weakness, of decision with vacillation, of audacity with timidity; but of material might against moral might, of soldiers against citizens, of a conqueror against the nations. On the issue of this struggle the decision of the most important question in our modern social state depended. Is it possible, and how is it possible, for civilised nations at the present day to save themselves from being ridden over, trampled down, quartered and cut in pieces, at the pleasure of any mere conqueror, after the fashion that Asia and Africa were in ancient times by Alexander the Great?

In endeavouring to gather from the campaign of 1813, an answer to this momentous question, our principal aids, hitherto, have been imported from France ;* and it is needless to say that, had our own strong feelings and interests not served as a constant counteracting principle, we should have gathered little military instruction on such a point, from such a quarter, and in the name of morality, for the most part mere hallucination and jugglery. The French, indeed, of the present age, are morally speaking incapacitated for writing the history of the war of 1813, for many reasons,-First, as they are men, it were hard to see what strong motive they could have for dwelling curiously over the story of their own greatest crimes and misfortunes; such a history it is not their business to write, so much as to use when written; and if they do write it, as they have done in several shapes, the chance is, it will be more with the view of excusing than of explaining their faults; more to show by what a strange conspiracy of untoward circumstances Napoleon was accidentally overthrown, than by what a pig-headed persistency in schemes of gross fraud and

*We think we are not mistaken in saying, that the vigorous and spirited work of Colonel Mitchell is the first in this country, which has displayed an extensive and minute knowledge of the best German authorities on a subject so essentially German.

« EelmineJätka »