François-René Chateaubriand.

Portrait of Bonaparte; being a view of his administration online

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■£In sketching the following animated portrait of Bo-
naparte, M de Chateaubriand displays the hand
of a master. Bold and original in his conceptions,
fearless and intrepid in his language, terse and sen-
tentious in his style, he portrays, in lively but faith-
ful colours, the terrific sway of the late tyrant of
France and scourge of mankind. M. Chateaubriand
had acquired, previous to the appearance of this
work, a great and deserved celebrity by the publi-
cation of several distinguished W orks Mis Grfiie du
Christianisme, and his JHartyrs, had obtained for
him a place in the first ranks of French literature.
It ought not, therefore, to excite surprise, that the
production of an author so celebrated, issuing
from the press at a crisis so interesting and impor-
tant, should ha e circulated with a rapidity before
unknown, and to an extent unparalleled in the his-
tory of French publi cations. £ en thousand copies
of this eloquent production, says the Journal cles
DebatSy proving insufficient to satisfy the public
curiosity, the author has published a seeond edi-
tion, which has undergone several alterations, of
which the following extract from the new preface
will best show the spirit :]

" The battle was still raging at Mont-
martre, when the printer, who devoted
himself with me to the cause of the Bour-
bons, came in quest of the manuscript of

this work. Bonaparte was at Fontain-
bleau with 50 or 60,000 men; the fate
of the House of Bourbon still remained
undecided. In case of reverse, nothing
but the most speedy flight could save
me from death. It is true that since the
period of the assassination of the Duke
D'Enghein, I had been accustomed to
run the chances of fortune : threatened
every six months with being shot, sabred,
or imprisoned for the remainder of my
life, I nevertheless persisted in doing
what appeared to me my duty. But un-
der the recent circumstances in which I
last wrote, it was natural that my mind
should not be sufficiently at ease to ob-
serve all the little proprieties : on the
field of battle a man does not deal out
his blows by measure ; I was entitled,
therefore, to some indulgence. On a

subject of an interest so pressing, so ge«
neral, I hoped that some little errors
would have been overlooked, insepara-
ble from a work finished amidst the roar
of cannon, and published, so to speak, in
the breach.

" The Italians would wish that I had
not confounded Corsica with Italy ; they
quote to this effect an Italian proverb,
abusing the country of Bonaparte. It
is evident, however, that I have attacked
neither Corsica nor Italy generally : it
is always absurd to ascribe to nations
the fault of individuals : if Corsica pro-
duced a Bonaparte, did not France give
birth to a Robespierre 1 Noble and great
families, men remarkable for their ener-
gy and talents, have sprung from that
island, at present too famous. Was it not

to the first Marshal Ornano that Henry



IV. was partly indebted for the submis-
sion of Dauphine ? And at this day it is
one of Bonaparte's countrymen, who by
his patience, his firmness, his courage,
and his talents, has mainly contributed
to the restoration of the French mon-
archy, (M. Pozzo de Borgho.)

" As to the calamities which the
French have in all ages spread in Italy,
and the misfortunes which France has ex-
perienced under the government of Ita-
lians, these are facts attested by history ;
but they would not justify any sweeping
conclusion against the French or Ita-

The preface concludes thus : " I shall
be happy if this work have done some
service, and served to tear asunder the
veil which covered the odious tyranny.
The last moments of Bonaparte suffi-

ciently justify rny opinion of that man*
I had long foreseen that he would not
make an honourable exit ; but I confess
he even exceeded my expectation of
him. He only retained in his humilia-
tion his character of player and imitator
— he affects to be cool and indifferent:
he criticises and speaks of himself as of
another man — of his fall as of an acci-
dent happening to a neighbour ; he af-
fects to reason about what the Bourbons
have to hope and fear: he affects to be
a Sylla, a Dioclesian, as before an Alex-
ander, or a Charlemagne. He wishes to
appear insensible to every thing, and per-
haps is so in reality — one expression of
joy has burst forth amidst his apathy :
one sees that he is glad to live. Let us
not envy him that happiness; where a man
is pitiable, he is no longer to be feared."



Then commenced the grand saturnalia
of royalty : crimes, oppression, slavery,
marched with a step equal with folly.
All liberty expired ; every honourable
sentiment, every generous thought, be-
came conspiracies against the state. If
one spoke of virtue, he was suspected ; to
praise a good action, was an injury done
to the prince. Words changed their
meaning : a people who combated for
its legitimate sovereign was a rebellious
people : a traitor was a faithful subject ;
all France became an empire of false-
hood; journals, pamphlets, discourses,
prose and verse, all disguised the truth.
If it had rained, we were assured that
the day was delightful; if the tyrant bad

gone into the midst of a silent people, he
advanced, we were told, amidst the ac-
clamations of the multitude. The only
object was the prince : morality consist-
ed in devoting itself to his caprices, duty
in praising him. It was, above all things,
necessary to exclaim with admiration,
when he was guilty of a fault or crime.
Men of letters were forced, by menaces,
to celebrate the despot. They agreed,
they capitulated about the degree of
praise ; happy when, at the price of some
commonplace observations upon the
glory of arms, they had purchased the
right of sending forth some sighs, of de-
nouncing some crimes, of recalling some
prescribed truths ! No book could ap-
pear without the approbation of Bona-
parte, as a mark of slavery. In the new
edition of ancient authors, all that was


found against conquerors, servitude and
tjranny, was retrenched, as the Direc-
tory formerly had the design of expung-
ing from the same authors, all that rela-
ted to monarchy and kings. The alma-
nacs were examined with care ; and the
conscription formed an article of faith in
the catechism. In the arts there was
the same servitude : Bonaparte poisoned
his diseased soldiers at Jaffa: a picture
was made which represented him as do-
ing friendly offices, through excess of
courage and humanity, to these same in-
fectious soldiers. It was not thus that
St. Louis healed the sick, whom a strong
and religious confidence presented to his
royal hands. Finally, public opinion
must not be expressed : the maxim was,
that the sovereign should dispense with
it every morning. There was, in addi-


tion tcr the police, brought to perfection
by Bonaparte, a committee charged to
give direction to mental faculties, and at
the head of this committee a director of
public opinion. Imposture and silence
were the two grand means employed to
keep the people in error. If your chil-
dren had died in the field of battle, do
you suppose that so much notice would
be taken of you as to tell you what had
become of them ? Events the most im-
portant to the country, to Europe, and the
whole world, were concealed. The ene-
my are at Meaux ; but you learn it only
by the flight of the countrymen ; they
envelop you in darkness ; they sport
with your inquietudes ; they laugh at
your griefs; they despise that which
you perceive and think. You wish to
raise your voices, an informer denounces


you, a gendarme arrests you, a military
commission judges you : they take off
your head, and you are forgotten.

Enchaining fathers is not all ; it is ne-
cessary to dispose of children. We see
mothers run from the extremities of the
empire, and come to reclaim, with all
the eloquence of tears, the sons which
government has taken from them. Their
children are placed in schools, where
they learn, at the sound of the drum, irre-
ligion, debauchery, contempt of domestic
virtues, and blind obedience to the sove-
reign. Paternal authority, respected by
the most frightful tyrants of antiquity,
was treated by Bonaparte as error and
prejudice. He wished to make of our
sons a species of Mamelukes, without a
God, without a family, and without a
country. It appeared that this enemy


of every thing was bent upon destroying
France from its foundation. He had
corrupted more men, and done more in-
jury to the human race, in the short
space of ten years, than all the tyrants
of Rome together, from the days of Nero
to the last persecutor of the christians.
The principles which served as the basis
of his administration, passed from his go-
vernment into different classes of socie-
ty ; because a perverse government in-
troduces vice among the people, as a
wise government does virtue. Impiety,
taste for all pleasures and expenses above
our fortune, contempt of moral ties, a
spirit of adventure, of violence, and of
power, descend from the throne into
families. Had France been a little
while longer under Bonaparte, she woulcj
have become a cavern of robbers.


They have puffed the administration
of Bonaparte. If administration consist
in figures ; if to govern well, it be neces-
sary to know how much a province pro-
duces in corn, in wine, in oil ; what is the
last crown which can be raised, the last
man that can be taken, truly, Bonaparte
is a grand administrator : for it is impos-
sible better to organize evil, and more
completely to put order into confusion.
But a better administration is that which
leaves a people in peace, which nourishes
in them sentiments of justice and piety,
which is avaricious of the blood of men,
which respects the rights of citizens,
property and families.

And yet, what of the faults and errors
in his own system! An administration,
the most expensive, consumed a part
of the revenue of the state. Armies of


custom-house officers and receivers ex-
pended the imposts which they were
charged to raise. There was no chief
officer, ever so insignificant, who had not
five or six deputies under him. Bona-
parte declared war against commerce.
If there was any branch of industry ri-
sing in France, he took it into his hands,
and it immediately declined. Tobacco,
salt, wool, colonial commodities, all were
to him objects of an odious monopoly.
He was the only merchant of his em-

Every day this restless and whimsical
man fatigued a people, who had no want
but repose, with contradictory decrees,
and oftentimes impossible to be execu-
ted. He violated in the evening the law
which he had made in the morning. He
expended in ten years, fifteen thousand


million of imposts, which surpasses the
sum of the taxes levied during the seven-
ty-seven years of the reign of Louis
XIV. The plunder of the world, fifteen
hundred millions, did not suffice him.
He was occupied to accumulate trea-
sure by measures the most iniquitous.
Every prefect, every sub-prefect, every
mayor, had the right of augmenting the
duties of cities, of putting additional
centimes on boroughs, villages, and ham-
lets ; and of demanding of this and that
proprietor an arbitrary sum for this and
that pretended want. All France was
pillaged. Infirmities, indigence, death,
education, the arts, the sciences, all paid
a tribute to the prince. Had you a son
lame, crippled, incapable of service, a
law of the conscription obliged you to
give fifteen hundred francs to console


yourself for this misfortune. Sometimes
the sick conscript died before having
had an examination by the recruiting of-
ficer : Do you suppose that the father
was then exempt from paying the 1500
francs ? Not at all. If the declaration
of sickness had been made before death,
and the conscript found himself living
at the time of the declaration, the father
was obliged to count the sum upon the
tomb of his son. Did a poor man wish
to give some learning to one of his chil-
dren — it was necessary that he should
pay eight hundred francs fo the Uni-
versity, without counting one tenth of
the pension given to his instructor. Did
a modern author quote an ancient au-
thor ; seeing that the works of the lat-
ter fell into that which they call public
domain — it was necessary to pay to the


censor five sous for each line of quota-
tion. If you translated in quoting, you
would have to pay only two sous and a
half per line, because then the quotation
was a mixed domain ; a moiety appertain-
ing to the living translator, and the other
moiety to the dead author. When Bona-
parte caused food to be distributed to the
poor in the winter of 1 81 1 , it was believed
that he exhibited this generosity in conse-
quence of his economy. He levied, on that
occasion, the additional centimes, andgain-
ed four millions by the soup of the poor.
Finally, he took upon himself the admi-
nistration of funerals. It was worthy the
destroyer of the French to lay an impost
upon their carcasses. And how could
they employ the protection of the laws,
since it was he that made them? The
legislative body dared to speak but once*


and it was dissolved. One article alone
of the new codes radically destroyed
property. An administrator of the do-
main could tell you — " your property is
domanial or national. I put it provision-
ally under sequestration ; go, go to law.
If the domain is in the wrong, I will re-
turn your property." And to whom
have you recourse in this case? To
the ordinary tribunals ? No : these causes
are reserved for the examination of the
council of state, and pleaded before the
emperor, who is both judge and party

If property was uncertain, civil liberty
was less sure. What is more monstrous
than the commission appointed to inspect
prisons, and upon the report of which a
man could be detained, all his life, in
dungeons, put to torture, shot at night,
or strangled without trial and without


judgment. In the midst of all this,
Bonaparte appointed, every year, com-
missioners of the liberty of the press,
and individual liberty ! Tiberius him-
self never thus sported with the human

Finally, the conscription crowned all his
works of despotism. Scandinavia, called
by an historian the store house of the
human race, could not furnish sufficient
men for this homicidal law. The code
of the conscription will be an eternal
monument of the reign of Bonaparte.
In it is found united ail that which tyran-
ny, the most subtle and ingenious, could
imagine to torment and devour the peo-
ple ; it is truly the code of hell. The
generations of France have been cut
down as the trees of the forest ; every
year 80,000 young men have been de-
stroyed. But there was not only regular


death: oftentimes the conscription was
doubled, and fortified by extraordinary
levies ; oftentimes it devoured, in ad-
vance, its future victims, as a spendthrift
borrows in anticipation of future income.
It capt the climax by taking persons with-
out considering their age. The quali-
ties requisite for dying on the field of
battle were no longer considered ; and the
law, in this respect, showed a wonderful
indulgence : it went back to infancy ; it
descended to old age: the soldier that
had served a certain time and left the
army, and he who had sent another in
his place, were again conscribed. A
son of a poor artisan, redeemed three
times at the price of the little fortune of
his father, was obliged to march. Ma-
ladies, infirmities, bodily defects, were of
no avail. Companies run through our
provinces, as through an enemy's coun-


com the ptoplt
children. In default of an absent bro-
ther, they took one that was at home —
The father answered for the son, the
wife for the husband : — responsibility
extended to parents distantly related,
and even to neighbour?. A village be-
came bound for the conscript who had
been born in it. Soldiers garrisoned
themselves upon the peasantry ; and for-
ced them to sell their beds for their
support, until the conscript who had fled
to the woods had been found. Absur-
dity was added to atrocity ; oftentimes
they demanded children of those who
were so happy as not to have any.
They employed violence to discover the
bearer of the name which existed only
on the roll of the gendarmes, or to find
a conscript who had served five or six
years. Women with child were put to


(ui lure, that ihey might make known the
place where was concealed their first born.
Fathers brought the corpse of a son,
that the j might prove that they had no
son to give as a conscript. It still hap-
pened that the children of richer families
were redeemed — They were destined,
one day, to become magistrates, scholars,
proprietors, so useful to the social order
in a great country : — by a decree of the
guards of honour, they were destroyed
in the universal massacre. It had come
to that point of contempt of the life of
men, and of France, that conscripts were
called food for cannon. Among these
providers of human flesh for cannon, this
grand question was sometimes agitated —
how long will a conscript live ? Some
said he would live thirtv-three months,
others thirty-six — Bonaparte himself
said — I have an income of 300,000 mm.


Bonaparte caused to perish, in the ele-
ven years of his reign, more than five
millions of Frenchmen ! A number which
exceeds that which perished during the
civil wars of three ages, under the reigns
of John, Charles V., Charles VI.,
Charles VII., Henry II., Francis II.,
Charles IX., Henry III., and Henry IV.

In the last twelve months past, Bona-
parte has destroyed (without counting
the national guard) 1,320,000 men, ma-
king more than a hundred thousand men
per month ; and yet they tell us that he
has only consumed a superfluous popu-
lation I

But the loss of men is not the greatest
evil which the conscription produces : it
tends to replunge us and all Europe into
barbarism. By the conscription, trades,
arts and letters are inevitably destroyed.
The youth, who must die in the field of


battle at sixteen, cannot devote himself
to any study. Neighbouring nations,
obliged to defend themselves, to recur
to the same means as we, must abandon,
in their turn, all the advantages of civili-
zation ; and all people, rushing one upon
another, as in the time of the Goths and
Vandals, would witness the evils of those
days. In breaking the ties of general
society, the conscription broke those
of families. Accustomed from their
cradle to regard themselves as victims
devoted to death, children, no longer
obedient to parents, become idlers,
vagabonds, and debauchees, until they
must march to pillage and destroy in-
vaded countries. What principle of re-
ligion and morality could have time to
take root in their minds ? Fathers and
mothers, of this class of people, no longer
had affection or care for children whom


they bad prepared themselves to lose,
who no longer were the riches and sup-
port, and who became to them only a grief
and burden. This hardness of heart, this
forget fulness of every natural sentiment
which leads to self love, to carelesness
about good or evil, to indifference for the
country ; which extinguishes conscience
and remorse, and which devotes a people
to servitude, was only preparatory for
banishing a horror for vice and admira-
tion for virtue.

Such was the administration of Bona-
parte in the interior of France.

" Absurd in his administration, crimi-
nal in his policy, what did this stranger
possess to enable him thus to seduce the
French nation? His military glory. —
Well, he is spoiled of that. He was, in-
deed, a great gainer of battles ; but ex-
cept that, the least general was more


able than he. He knew nothing of re-
treats or of manoeuvres. He is impatient,
incapable of waiting any time for a re-
sult, the fruit of a long military combina-
tion. His only talent is in advancing.,
making points, rushing onwards, and car-
rying victories, to use his own expres-
sion, by dint of men. He sacrifices
every thing for success, without embar-
rassing himself with a reverse ; he would
kill half his soldiers by marches forced
beyond the power of human strength.
No matter : has he not the conscription
and the raw materials ? Some have be-
lieved that he has perfected the art of
war ; but it is certain that he has made
it retrograde towards the infancy of the
art. The masterpiece of the military
art among civilized nations, is, undoubt-
edly, to defend a great country with a
small army; to leave in repose many


millions of men, behind sixty or eighty
thousand soldiers, so that the labourer
who cultivates his land in peace may
hardly know that a battle is fighting
a few leagues from his cottage. The
Roman empire was guarded by 150,000
men, and Caesar had only a few legions
at Pharsalia. Let this conqueror of the
world this day defend us at our firesides.
What ! has all his genius suddenly aban-
doned him ? By what enchantment has
this France, which Louis XIV. had sur-
rounded with fortresses — which Vauban
had enclosed like a beautiful garden,
been invaded on every side? Where
are the garrisons of his frontier places ?
They have none. Where are the can-
non of his ramparts? All are disman-
tled ; even the vessels of war at Brest,

at Toulon, and at Rochefort. If

Bonaparte had wished to deliver o%


without defence, to the allied powers £
if he had sold us ; if he had secretl y con-
spired against France, could he have
acted otherwise? In less than sixteen
months two thousand millions of money,
four hundred thousand men, all the ma-
teriel of our armies, and of our strong
places, have been swallowed up in the
woods of Germany and in the deserts of
Russia. At Dresden, Bonaparte com-
mitted fault upon fault. Forgetful that,
though crimes sometimes are not pu-
nished except in the other world, yet
faults always are in this. He shows
the most incomprehensible ignorance of
what was passing in the cabinets ; obsti-
nately remains upon the Elbe ; is beaten
at Leipsic, and refuses an honourable
peace when proposed to him. Full of
despair and rage, he sets out for the last
time from the palace of our kings ; goes


to burn, with a spirit of injustice and in-
gratitude, the village where thoie same
kings brought him up; opposes to his
enemies nothing but activity without
plan ; experiences a last reverse ; flies
once more, and at last delivers the
capital of the civilized world from his
odious presence.

The pen of a Frenchman would re-
fuse to paint the horror of these fields of
battle. A wounded man was a burden
to Bonaparte ; it was all the better if he
died ; he was the sooner rid of him.
Heaps of mutilated soldiers, thrown pell-
mell in a corner, remained sometimes
weeks without having their wounds
dressed. He had not hospitals large
enough to contain the sick of an army
of 7 or 800,000 men, much less surgeons
enough to take care of them. No precau-
tion taken for them by the executioner of


Frenchmen. No medicines, no attend*
ants; sometimes not even instruments
for the amputation of fractured limbs. In
the campaign of Moscow, for want of
lint, they dressed the wounded with
hay. When hay failed, they died. We
have seen wandering about six hundred
thousand warriors — the conquerors of
Europe — the glory of France — we have
seen them wandering among the snow
and the deserts, supporting themselves
upon branches of pine trees, for they
had not strength enough to carry their
arms ; and covered, instead of clothing,
with the bloody skins of the horses
which had served them for their last re-
past. Old captains, with their hair and

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Online LibraryFrançois-René ChateaubriandPortrait of Bonaparte; being a view of his administration → online text (page 1 of 3)