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"The Bonapartes," says de Rocca, in effect,
"were not the richest people in Ajaccio; they
were not even the best-born. On their arrival
there, they occupied a very modest position in
the town, but had derived from their Genoese
ancestors that taste for letters and learning with-
out which no man can change his condition in
life. Beside this individual ambition we find a
kind of racial ambition, a patient seeking for self-
perfectioning which maintains them on a level
above their contemporaries. In their little sphere
they distinguish themselves by qualities of culture
which raise them even when their means are dis-
appearing. This solicitude for the family's future
displays itself in the anxiety and craftiness with
which they seek out patrons and protectors for
their children ; as, for example, in their choice of
prosperous and well-placed godfathers and god-
mothers for their offspring.

" This esprit de foyer, this tenaciousness of the
Bonapartes in moving all influences in order to


assure to their children a better place in life, this
tireless object from generation to generation — all
such effort is seen at its highest in Charles
Bonaparte, whose son, Napoleon, is marvellously
served by fortunate circumstances in his begin-
nings : he is just noble enough to qualify for a
king's cadetship and a free education which will
be much superior to anything which his rivals,
the Republican generals, will have received.
Thanks to the democratic community from which
he springs, he cannot, when the Revolution
begins to decimate them, be accounted one of
the officers of the ci-devant. Had he come
from Touraine, he could never have gone through
the reign of terror and not been proscribed. It
is the Corsican spirit of the clan which makes
Napoleon give a throne to his brothers and
sisters, and he distributes crowns among them
just as the Corsican elders distribute their civic
patronage among their own kith and kin. With-
out seeking to decide what Napoleon owed in
his mental formation to his ancestors of Corsica
and Liguria, we may say that the foresight of his
fathers prepared him for his destiny, while his
native island furnished him at once with the
elements of his grandeur and his destruction."

The true Corsican's mania of superiority
obsessed the Emperor to the end of his days, as
his judgments of all great men clearly show, and
we have covered much ground in our quest of a
single criticism of any great historical character,
which might be said to possess an impartial ring.


" Napoleon," declared Madame de Remusat,
" was jealous of all the great men of the world.
He feared all signs of superiority and few who
were near him ever failed to hear him express a
predilection for mediocrities."

When at St Helena his secretary, Baron
Gourgaud, once mentioned Louis XI. and Henri
IV. as being possible rivals in respect of per-
sonal popularity in France. The fallen Emperor
answered, as the Baron tells :

" Saint Louis was an ass ; a just man, if you
will, but he never achieved anything worthy of
note. And as for that goat's-beard Henri IV. —
he was an old fool. Louis XIV. was certainly the
greatest King of his race. He and myself alone
will count in our history ; only he and I had such
great armies," and he does not fail to point out
that Napoleon differed from Louis in one important
consideration — namely, that the former com-
manded his legions in person, and that the Roi-
Soleil was never anything but a chef de parade.

The Emperor does not deny that Alexander.
Hannibal, Caesar, possessed " qualities." Never-
theless his criticism of their various campaigns
goes to indicate that their wars possessed nothing
of the splendour and eclat, whether in conception
or results, of his own. Alexander, he admits,
calculated profoundly, executed boldly, led with
judgment ; but " we cannot point in the case of
the Macedonian to any manoeuvre which can be
said to be worthy of a great general." Alexander
appears to be simply a brave soldier — a grenadier



like Leon Aune, this guardsman being about the
equivalent of our own famous Shaw of the House-
hold Cavalry, who fell at Waterloo. Hannibal
he admits to have been the boldest and most
audacious of all the conquerors of Antiquity — so
adventurous, so sure, so great in all things, as he
says of the Carthaginian who had crossed both
the Pyrenees and the Alps.

" Yet, voyez-vous, this march of Hannibal from
Collioure to Turin was quite a simple matter — a
mere holiday tramp ; and as for the difficulties
of the passage of the Alps, why, there were really
none," is a commentary reported by Damas
Hinard in his Opinions de Napoleon, vol. i., p. 79.
Contrary to accepted historical opinion, which
places (we think) the Carthaginian, as a patriot
and a strategist, higher than all other conquerors,
whether modern or ancient. Napoleon declares
him inferior to Turenne and Conde, a comparison
which would place him on a plane about equal to
that of Marlborough. Turenne would, had he
suddenly arrived on the field of Wagram, have
at once understood the tactical dispositions,
Napoleon explams. But not so Hannibal.

In regard to Caesar, whom the world has long
been taught to look upon as the nearest known
approach to the perfect prince among men :
Napoleon deals with the Roman Colossus in an
especial manner, for Caesar, he thinks, is the only
spirit of all time that in any way challenges his
own glory. Caesar, too, is inferior as a general
to both Turenne and Conde and, par consequent.


much less than the vietor of AusterHtz. And
Gourgaud shows us how the Emperor even envies
the great JuUus his renown as an historian ; for
after dictating a series of commentaries to his
secretary, he turns to the latter, saying :

" There you have something worth more than
Caesar's. He gives no dates ; I do." And, we
are assured by Hinard, the Emperor disliked to
be told that it was Caesar's habit to take his
ordinary rest on the night preceding a great

As for Gustavus Adolphus, the only respectable
commander produced by the Thirty Years' War,
in our opinion :

" In eighteen months," pooh-poohs Napoleon,
" this wonder gained one battle, lost another and
was killed in a third. They are, indeed, not wrong
who say ihat history is a romance. Men still
talk of the wondrous exploits of this Swede, and
of ourselves they will say— perhaps nothing'!
Yet Gustavus added nothing to the technical
science of war ! "

And, again, Charles XII. was a man who showed
no results for his career ; the Marechal de Saxe
— the soldier who met the Bloody Duke at
Fontenoy — was brave " but not by any means
an eagle." Even Frederick the Great — to whom
Napoleon surely owed his ideas about horse
artillery — fails to meet with the approval of the
Corsican, who declares in almost the same words
which old Wurmser had used about himself in the
Italian Campaign of 1796 :


" Frederick breaks all the rules of war. What
distinguishes him is not so much his skill in
manoeuvres as his audacity. There was nothing
very fine in his tactics at Rosbach, and cer-
tainly he is not in the same class with Turenne.
Frederick, for all his great military qualities, did
not understand the proper use of artillery."

So, then, we see that Alexander is only brave
and that Hannibal, Caesar and Frederick are not
on the same level as Turenne, Napoleon, of course,
being, by construction, above them all. He is
not more generous in dealing with his own lieu-
tenants, whose glory he will only allow to reflect
his own, as Madame de Remusat tells us in her
Memoir es, adding, " and if they distinguished
themselves, he would say that they only did their
duty." When Davout, who had just won the
battle of Auerstadt, really the decisive factor in
the Jena Campaign, met his Emperor at Head-
quarters, the day after, Napoleon, who had had
sufficient time to compare and appraise the re-
spective merits of Auerstadt and Jena, looked at
^ his lieutenant very darkly, saying :
^ "Vous n'avez pas mal fait — You didn't do
so badly."

He is careful, too, to move his generals from
one force to another, in order that none shall
become too popular with any particular army.
There shall be no " X of the Army of Y," as there
had been a Bonaparte of the Army of Italy— if
Napoleon can help it. In speaking of Hoche,
whom, with Marceau, French experts rate on a


level equal to all that Bonaparte proved himself
to be in Italy, the Emperor declared that, had it
come to a definite rivalry between them, Hoche
would have been crushed. Moreau, Napoleon
admitted, was the only general sprung from the
Revolution who was capable of causing him any
anxiety. Yet he gives no credit to Moreau for
the victory of Hohenlinden, which, far more than
Marengo — too distant from the campaign's real
political objective, Vienna — decided the sub-
mission of Austria to Bonaparte's plans in 1800.
Napoleon at St Helena described this great battle
as a mere " rencontre heureuse," which — of course
— disclosed no military talent.

Then there was Massena — whom Disraeli,
through the mouth of Sidonia, claimed as a fellow-
Hebrew from the tribe of Manasseh : " Massena,"
said Napoleon, " possesses military talents before
which we must bow." This general, it will be
remembered, fought a three-day battle against
the Russians under Korsakoff, at Zurich, in 1799,
defeated them and saved France from invasion.
Yet when Massena in 1804 wished to take the
title Due de Zurich, in memory of the exploit which
had won him the admiration of all France,
Napoleon declined to sanction the choice on the
ground that the suggested title was too German
for a good Frenchman ! Massena had to content
himself with the dukedom of Rivoli, which re-
called a first-class Bonapartian exploit. Thie-
bault, an admirer of the Emperor, tells us that
the Corsican never quite forgave Massena, who


among soldiers and the people, held a reputation
hardly inferior to that of Napoleon himself, and
in order to destroy the Marshal's prestige with the
public, sent him to conquer Portugal with forces
entirely inadequate for the objecb in view.
Furthermore, in order to make any likelihood of
his great lieutenant's success all the more remote,
two hot-heads like Ney and Junot, men whom
only Napoleon himself could command, were
given him as coadjutors. Massena, adds
Thiebault, was too astute not to see through his
master's motives, and at first refused to undertake
the mission. Thiebault's conclusion is one that is
of interest in these days of great military exploit :

'' II semhle que le harnais militaire est idIus
lyropice quaucun autre a provoquer, chez quiconque
le porte, cette rage de gloire et cet entrainernent a
speculer sur la defaite du rival qui j^orte ombrage.^^

To which we may add another opinion in point
from the excellent Monsieur de Remusat, who
writes in the following strain, to his equally
excellent wife : —

"It is amusing to hear these military men
discuss one another ; how they run each other
down, showing, or seeking to show, for how much
good luck counts in successes which are won ;
and tearing to shreds every reputation which
outsiders like ourselves would have thought to be
established on the most solid foundations."

Taine was assuredly right when he declared
that all independence — even its possibility —
offended Napoleon, and that he could tolerate


around him only such spirits as wilhngly hugged
the chains of their slavery. Napoleon himself
admitted his obsession more than once, and com-
pared himself at times to an artist, or to a lover :

" I love power," he told Roederer, " but I love
it as only an artist loves his art."

And on another occasion :

" I have only one passion and one mistress —
France. I wake with her, I sleep with her. My
only mistress is power, and I worked too hard in
winning her, to allow myself easily to be robbed
of her, or even to be envied for possessing her."

Or again :

" Ambition is so much a part of my tempera-
ment, of my constitution, that it has become the
very blood of my veins and the very air which
I breathe."


Napoleon's Academic Tramijig — The Curriculum at
Brienne — The Classical atid Language Course — On
Literary Style — The Mathematical Studies — Religious
Instructio?i — At the Ecole Mililaire — The Suhaltern-
Sludent of Aiuvonnc — Impoiiance of History — Forma-
tion of Literary Tastes — What Rousseau taught
Napoleon — Machiavelli a Favourite — Was Bonaparte
a Mason ? — Sojne Literary Attempts — His " Heart's
Library" — So7ne English Books

CERTAIN French writers, among them
Monsieur Gustave Mouravit, agree in
thinking that the psychic side of
Napoleon is best divined from a study
of his private hbraries. Supposing this method
to be a fair test of the intellectual or spiritual
formation of an individual, we cannot fail to
derive much profit from tracing his literary
tastes back to the days of his early training
at Brienne, where the young Corsican spent
six years. French provincial colleges, whether
military or civil, have not, even in respect of the
various curricula followed, changed very much
within the past hundred years or so, and those
who have, as so many Britons now do, passed
a few years in a congregational school on the
Continent, will have no difficulty at all in recon-
structing for themselves the Academy of Brienne,
severe and semi-monastic, where the youthful
Bonaparte began his first steps in polite learning.
Then, as now, the so-called literary course began
with the seventh, or grammar class, after which
the pupil started his cours d^humanites. As a
King's Cadet and an officer-to-be, young Bona-
parte naturally chose the classical side, and in
due course ascended through " Sixieme Latine,"
Fifth, Fourth, Third, Second, to First, or
" Rhetoric." Latin was an essential — though
Napoleon in after life admitted to Wieland and
Goethe that he was no great Latinist.

Roman authors read all varied according to
the Forms, the lower taking very simple works



like those of Eutropius, or easy passages from
the Selectse or Colloquia of Erasmus, the Fables
of PhsediT-is. The middle forms read the Lives of
Cornelius Nepos — De Viris lUustribus, we presume,
the Eclogues, Caesar's Commentaries, Sallust's
Jugurtha and Catiline. The higher classes
read the Twenty-First Book of Livy, Cicero's
Catiline and Pro Milone, the Odes and the Satires
of Horace, the First, Second and Sixth Books of
the ^neid, and the Fourth of the Georgics.

The pupils in Rhetoric, we are told, were
taught that there were three kinds of Oratory —
namely, (1) the judicial ; (2) the demonstrative
and (3) the deliberative. Three kinds of literary
style — (1) the sublime style — " dont Vecueil est
Venflure, fatras loompeux de paroles steriles " ;
(2) the moderate style, like that of Telemaquey
and (3) the simple style, of which La Bruyere
was the chief model, and of which the literary
professor of the Minimes acuminously observed :
" ce style est j^lus difficile a attraper qiCon ne se
V imagined Literature was taught with evidently
more care for the training of the pupil's cultivable
mind than is the case in British Public Schools,
and a satisfactory knowledge was required from
each youth concerning the main characteristics
and methods of thought and expression of Homer,
Virgil, Lucian, ^sop, Phsedrus, Theocritus,
Milton, Voltaire, Tasso and Camoens. Voltaire's
Essay on Epic Poetry, passages from the Death
of Caesar and the Henriade were among the
compulsory subjects, though Corneille, Racine,


Fenelon, Bossuet, Massillon, Flechier and Boileau
were naturally the favourite authors in this
congregational academy. The oracle of the
Minimes was Boileau. A work by the Abbe
Vertot, entitled History of the Knights of Malta,
was looked upon as a classic and was learned by
heart ; Greek and Roman history, lectures on the
story of France from the days of the early kings
and an account of the "prodigious conquests " of
the British in India made up the History course.
Geography was studied somewhat perfunctorily,
though considerable attention was devoted to the
British Isles. There was no mention of Physics
or Natural History, but German was a fairly
general subject and the Mathematical schools
were good so far as they went, which was, for
the highest Form, in Algebra, to Logarithms and
the Theorem ; in Geometry, to advanced studies
of the Straight Line and Circle ; in Trigonometry,
to the Solution of Triangles.

Religious instruction was also given in the
form of discourses on difficult points in the
Catechism and, of course, there were classes in
Bible History, which the students for the most
part looked upon as the most tedious of all
lectures. Napoleon was not lacking in piety,
Chuquet tells us, when he first arrived at Brienne ;
but it is also certain that the general tone of the
school towards religious matters was well cal-
culated to kill any devotion he may once have
entertained for the Church, and he left there a
confirmed unbeUever, even as most of his con-


temporaries, who, after the manner of the esprits
forts so fashionable in that age, affected, more
especially in the upper lecture-rooms, to ridicule
all matters connected with spiritual belief. It
will interest those who have experience of this
kind of foreign school-life to learn that the most
popular professors among the priests were those
who went through the daily Mass with the greatest
dispatch. Thus a certain Pere Chateau, for
example, was able to gallop through the ceremony
au pas de charge, taking only four minutes and a
half to celebrate a *' dead " mass ; a certain Pere
Berton, an ex-grenadier, by the way, was a good
second favourite, with a record of from nine to ten
minutes ; while a very old stager, Pere Genin,
could even beat the Missal hi less than fourteen
minutes by the clock.

On leaving Brienne and proceeding to the
Military College in Paris, young Bonaparte's
studies concerned themselves almost wholly with
technical acquirements, and if the Corsican de-
voted much time to other reading, we are not
informed of the nature of the works which engaged
his interest. It was not until 1785, when he was
already a subaltern in the artillery, that he read
Rousseau's Co7ifessions which, he afterwards
admitted, much affected his world-philosophy at
the time. It seems a startling fact in these days
of rapid military promotion, but it is true that
Bonaparte remained for over five years a second
lieutenant before he received his first step.
During these years — which were divided between


his regimental service and Corsica — the young
subaltern gave himself up to all kinds of study
which was likely to contribute to his intellectual
formation, including original literary w^ork.

" My sense of time-economy was always large,"
he declared subsequently to the Prince-Primate
at Erfurt, " and even when I had nothing to do,
I was quick to realise that I had no time to lose."

When on garrison duty at Auxonne, he read
scores of historical works, including, as he tells us,
Marigny's History of the Arabs, several works
dealing with the government of Venice, Buffon's
Natural History, Mably's Observations on the His-
tory of France, a work on Frederick the Great,
Baron Tott's Souvenirs of Turkey, Barrow's
History of England, ^lirabeau's Lelires de Cachet,
Plato's Republic .

The literary tastes of Napoleon may be said
to have formed themselves during his garrison
years from 1785 to 1791, and the possession of
an extraordinary memory helped him to retain
all that he read. It was about this time, too,
that he began to show his preferences in regard
to the theatre. He was no lover of the play of
the comedy-of -manners type, and even of Moliere's
plays he could say that they were mere drawing-
room gossip — commerage de salon. His idea of
the educative in the drama was based upon the
stern realities of life, on destiny and on all those
conditions of existence which reveal men unto
themselves and force them to fight against the
adverse fate which is ever ready to overwhelm


the resigned and the supine. Like all true
Italians, he was a lover of Tragedy, and it is a
matter of record that himself, Joseph, Louis,
Lucien and their sister Elisa enacted many of the
masterpieces of Corneille and Racine at one time
or another in private. Voltaire, Napoleon always
held, was deficient in a proper understanding of
men, their motives and their passions, and failed
— like Tacitus — to appreciate the real nobleness
which invariably inspires the ambitions and
enterprises of all great men. Paul et Virginie
attracted his interest in these days, as naturally
did Montesquieu's Esprit des Lois. Men who
associated with him at that time tell us how it
was his habit to read aloud and so improve his
French accent, which always remained bad — so
much so indeed that sergeants, in reading the
military orders of the day, used to mimic his
pronunciation and say enfanterie for infanterie,
and emphasise the ton nasillard which character-
ised their young Corsican officer.

Rousseau, the author of the Social Contract, of
the Confessions and of Emile, counted for much
in forming his philosophic outlook about this
period, and helped him to attain that clear insight
into men's character which distinguished the
great intellectual rebel himself. In the days of
Auxonne he thirsted, like Rousseau, after Justice
and Liberty, fully agreed with Emile that
" society was bad and much corrupted by ex-
cessive civilisation," and sighed for the purity
of character which he found among the heroes of



c^ 9 his favourite Ossian. And strong with the idea
V '>^ that the Corsicans were the modern types of the
ancient GaeUc warriors, he decided to write a
history of his native island. In 1789 he trans-
lated Boswell's Account of Corsica and con-
cluded from a searching study of Cromwell that
-J^ " revolutions provide a good opportunity for men
* ^ violence rather than diplomacy."

y"^ All and everything touching on the campaigns

" -» of the great captains of the world helps to fill

^ up the busy days of mind-building, and he comes

^^ to the conclusion as a result of his researches in

'^ military history that :

^ " In the last analysis, it is the soldier who

governs ; one can only master a horse with boot
and spur." The horse meaning, of course, the

Chuquet is of opinion that Bonaparte became
a Mason about the Valence period, and draws the
conclusion therefrom that at any rate he had
ceased to be a Catholic on taking up his com-
mission ; a point of view which overlooks the
fact that at the close of the eighteenth and the
beginning of the nineteenth century — the Age
of Reason — Freemasonry counted all sorts and


conditions of prominent men within its fold,
many of whom outwardly professed anti-Masonic
religions and many who followed none at all.
There is little doubt, in any case, that he was as
favourable to Freemasonry as he was at heart
antipathetic to Jewry, and in all probability
haabeen initiated at some time or other into the
lower degrees. About 1790, Lucien tells us, he
wrote an essay in which, as Voltaire in his own
day had done, he sought to show that the life i
and teachings of Apollonius of Tyana — a mystical ^
contemporary of Christ — exceeded in their in-
fluence on the then existing world all that which
had been exerted by the Bethlehemite.

It was in 1791 that the Academy of Lyons
decided to award a prize, equal in value to about
£60 of our own money, for the best essay dealing
with the essential conditions of human happiness.
The young officer — then in his twenty-third year
— became a candidate for this award, and in due

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Online LibraryHamil GrantThe soul of Napoleon → online text (page 3 of 17)