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swept off by privateers: the peasant saw his homestead desolate: the
housewife dreamt of her larder emptied by taxes, and sons carried off
for the war. At Berlin, wrote Jackson, all was agitation, and
everybody said that _the work of last year would have to be done over
again_.

In England the current of public feeling was somewhat weakened by the
drifts and eddies of party politics. Many of the Whigs made a popular
hero of Napoleon, some from a desire to overthrow the Liverpool
Ministry that proscribed him; others because they believed, or tried
to believe, that the return of Napoleon concerned only France, and
that he would leave Europe alone if Europe left him alone. Others
there were again, as Hazlitt, who could not ignore the patent fact
that Napoleon was an international personage and had violated a
European compact, yet nevertheless longed for his triumph over the bad
old Governments and did not trouble much as to what would come next.
But, on the whole, the judgment of well-informed people may be summed
up in the conclusion of that keen lawyer, Crabb Robinson: "The
question is, peace with Bonaparte now, or war with him in Germany two
years hence."[469] The matter came to a test on April 28th, when
Whitbread's motion against war was rejected by 273 to 72.[470]

If that was the general opinion in days when Ministers and
diplomatists alone knew the secrets of the game, it was certain that
the initiated, who remembered his wrongheaded refusals to make peace
even in the depressing days of 1814, would strive to crush him before
he could gather all his strength. In vain did he protest that he had
learnt by sad experience and was a changed man. They interpreted his
pacific speeches by their experience of his actions; and thus his
overweening conduct in the past blotted out all hope of his crowning a
romantic career by a peaceful and benignant close. The declaration of
outlawry was followed, on March 25th, by the conclusion of treaties
between the Powers, which virtually renewed those framed at Chaumont.
In quick succession the smaller States gave in their adhesion; and
thus the coalition which tact and diplomacy had dissolved was
revivified by the fears which the mighty warrior aroused. Napoleon
made several efforts to sow distrust among the Powers; and chance
placed in his hands a veritable apple of discord.

The Bourbons in their hasty flight from Paris had left behind several
State papers, among them being the recent secret compact against
Russia and Prussia. Napoleon promptly sent this document to the Czar
at Vienna; but his hopes of sundering the allies were soon blighted.
Though Alexander and Metternich had for months refused to exchange a
word or a look, yet the news of Napoleon's adventure brought about a
speedy reconciliation; and when the compromising paper from Paris was
placed in the Czar's hands, he took the noble revenge of sending for
Metternich, casting it into the fire, and adjuring the Minister to
forget recent disputes in the presence of their common enemy. Napoleon
strove to detach Austria from the Coalition, as did also Fouché on his
own account; but the overtures led to no noteworthy result, except
that Napoleon, on finding out Fouché's intrigue, threatened to have
him shot - a threat which that necessary tool treated with quiet
derision.

A few acts of war occurred at once; but Austria and Russia pressed for
delay, the latter with the view of overthrowing Murat. That potentate
now drew the sword on behalf of Napoleon, and summoned the Italians to
struggle for their independence. But he was quickly overpowered at
Tolentino (May 3rd), and fled from his kingdom, disguised as a sailor,
to Toulon. There he offered his sword to Napoleon; but the Emperor
refused his offer and blamed him severely, alleging that he had
compromised the fortunes of France by rendering peace impossible. The
charge must be pronounced not proven. The allies had taken their
resolve to destroy Napoleon on March 13th, and Murat's adventure
merely postponed the final struggle for a month or so.

Napoleon used this time of respite to form his army and stamp out
opposition in France. The French royalist bands gave him little
trouble. In the south-west the _fleur-de-lys_ was speedily beaten
down; but in La Vendée royalism had its roots deep-seated. Headed by
the two Larochejacqueleins, the peasants made a brave fight; and
20,000 regulars failed to break them up until the month of June was
wearing on. What might not those 20,000 men, detained in La Vendée,
have effected on the crest of Waterloo?

Napoleon's preoccupation, however, was the conduct of the Jacobins in
France, who had been quickened to immense energy by the absurdities of
the royalist reaction and felt that they had the new ruler in their
power. A game of skill ensued, which took up the greater part of the
"Hundred Days" of Napoleon's second reign. His conduct proved that he
was not sure of success. He felt out of touch with this new
liberty-loving France, so different from the passively devoted people
whom he had left in 1814; he bridled his impetuous nature, reasoning
with men, inviting criticism, and suggesting doubts as to his own
proposals, in a way that contrasted curiously with the old
sledge-hammer methods.

"He seemed," writes Mollien, "habitually calm, pensive, and
preserved without affectation a serious dignity, with little of
that old audacity and self-confidence which had never met with
insuperable obstacles.... As his thoughts were cramped in a narrow
space girt with precipices instead of soaring freely over a vast
horizon of power, they became laborious and

This Pegasus in harness chafed at the unwonted yoke; and at times the
old instincts showed themselves. On one occasion, when the subject
turned on the new passion for liberty, he said to Lavalette with a
question in his voice: "All this will last two or three years?" "Your
Majesty," replied the Minister, "must not believe that. It will last
for ever."

The first grave difficulty was to frame a constitution, especially as
his Lyons decrees led men to believe that it would emanate from the
people, and be sanctioned by them in a great _Champ de Mai_. Perhaps
this was impossible. A great part of France was a prey to civil
strifes; and it was a skilful device to intrust the drafting of a
constitution to Benjamin Constant.

This brilliant writer and talker had now run through the whole gamut
of political professions. A pronounced Jacobin and free-thinker during
the Consulate, he subsequently retired to Germany, where he unlearnt
his politics, his religion, and his philosophy. The sight of
Napoleon's devastations made him a supporter of the throne and altar,
compelled him to recast his treatises, and drove him to consort with
the quaint circle of pietists who prayed and grovelled with Madame de
Krudener. Returning to France at the Restoration, he wielded his
facile pen in the cause of the monarchy, and fluttered after the
fading charms of Madame Récamier, confiding to his friend, De Broglie,
that he knew not whether to trust most to divine or satanic agencies
for success in this lawless chase. In March, 1815, he thundered in the
Press against the brigand of Elba - until the latter won him over in
the space of a brief interview, and persuaded him to draft, with a few
colleagues, the final constitution of the age.

Not that Constant had a free hand: he worked under imperial
inspiration. The present effort was named the Additional
Act - additional, that is, to the Constitutions of the Empire (April
22nd, 1815). It established a Chamber of Peers nominated by Napoleon,
with hereditary rights, and a Chamber of Representatives elected on
the plan devised in August, 1802. The Emperor was to nominate all the
judges, including the _juges de paix;_ the jury system was maintained,
and liberty of the Press was granted. The Chambers also gained
somewhat wider control over the Ministers.[471]

This Act called forth a hail of criticisms. When the Council of State
pointed out that there was no guarantee against confiscations,
Napoleon's eyes flashed fire, and he burst forth:

"You are pushing me in a way that is not mine. You are weakening
and chaining me. France looks for me and does not find me. Public
opinion was excellent: now it is execrable. France is asking what
has come to the Emperor's arm, this arm which she needs to master
Europe. Why speak to me of goodness, abstract justice, and of
natural laws? The first law is necessity: the first justice is the
public safety."

The councillors quailed under this tirade and conceded the
point - though we may here remark that Napoleon showed a wise clemency
towards his foes, and confiscated the estates of only thirteen of
them.

Public opinion became more and more "execrable." Some historians have
asserted that the decline of Napoleon's popularity was due, not to the
Additional Act, but to the menaces of war from a united Europe: this
may be doubted. Miot de Melito, who was working for the Emperor in the
West, states that "never had a political error more immediate effects"
than that Act; and Lavalette, always a devoted adherent, asserts
that Frenchmen thenceforth "saw only a despot in the Emperor and forgot
about the enemy."

As a display of military enthusiasm, the _Champ de Mai_, of June 1st,
recalled the palmy days gone by. Veterans and conscripts hailed their
chief with jubilant acclaim, as with a few burning words he handed
them their eagles. But the people on the outskirts cheered only when
the troops cheered. Why should they, or the "electors" of France,
cheer? They had hoped to give her a constitution; and they were now
merely witnesses to Napoleon's oath that he would obey the
constitution of his own making. As a civic festival, it was a mockery
in the eyes of men who remembered the "Feast of Pikes," and were not
to be dazzled by the waving of banners and the gorgeous costumes of
Napoleon and his brothers. The opening of the Chambers six days later
gave an outlet to the general discontent. The report that Napoleon
designed his brother Lucien for the Presidency of the Lower House is
incorrect. That honest democrat Lanjuinais was elected. Everything
portended a constitutional crisis, when the summons to arms rang
forth; and the chief, warning the deputies not to imitate the Greeks
of the late Empire by discussing abstract propositions while the
battering-ram thundered at their gates, cut short these barren debates
by that appeal to the sword which had rarely belied his hopes.

* * * * *




CHAPTER XXXIX

LIGNY AND QUATRE BRAS


A less determined optimist than Napoleon might well have hoped for
success over the forces of the new coalition. True, they seemed
overwhelmingly great. But many a coalition had crumbled away under the
alchemy of his statecraft; and the jealousies that had raged at the
Congress of Vienna inspired the hope that Austria, and perhaps
England, might speedily be detached from their present allies. Strange
as it seems to us, the French people opined that Napoleon's escape
from Elba was due to the connivance of the British Government; and
Captain Mercer states that, even at Waterloo, many of the French clung
to the belief that the British resistance would be a matter of form.
Napoleon cherished no such illusion: but he certainly hoped to
surprise the British and Prussian forces in Belgium, and to sever at
one blow an alliance which he judged to be ill cemented. Thereafter he
would separate Austria from Russia, a task that was certainly possible
if victory crowned the French eagles.[472]

His military position was far stronger than it had been since the
Moscow campaign. The loss of Germany and Spain had really added to his
power. No longer were his veterans shut up in the fortresses of Europe
from Danzig to Antwerp, from Hamburg to Ragusa; and the Peninsular War
no longer engulfed great armies of his choicest troops. In the eyes of
Frenchmen he was not beaten in 1814; he was only tripped up by a
traitor when on the point of crushing his foes. And, now that peace
had brought back garrisons and prisoners of war, as many as 180,000
well-trained troops were ranged under the imperial eagles. He hoped by
the end of June to have half a million of devoted soldiers ready for
the field.

The difficulties that beset him were enough to daunt any mind but his.
Some of the most experienced Marshals were no longer at his side. St.
Cyr, Macdonald, Oudinot, Victor, Marmont, and Augereau remained true
to Louis XVIII. Berthier, on hearing of Napoleon's return from Elba,
forthwith retired into Germany, and, in a fit of frenzy, threw himself
from the window of a house in Bamberg while a Russian corps was
passing through that town. Junot had lost his reason. Masséna and
Moncey were too old for campaigning; Mortier fell ill before the first
shots were fired. Worst of all, the unending task of army organization
detained Davoust at Paris. Certainly he worked wonders there; but, as
in 1813 and 1814, Napoleon had cause to regret the absence of a
lieutenant equally remarkable for his acuteness of perception and
doggedness of purpose, for a good fortune that rarely failed, and a
devotion that never faltered. Doubtless it was this last priceless
quality, as well as his organizing gifts, that marked him out as the
ideal Minister of War and Governor of Paris. Besides him he left a
Council charged with the government during his absence, composed of
Princes Joseph and Lucien and the Ministers.

But, though the French army of 1815 lacked some of the names far famed
in story, numbers of zealous and able officers were ready to take
their place. The first and second corps were respectively assigned to
Drouet, Count d'Erlon, and Reille, the former of whom was the son of
the postmaster of Varennes, who stopped Louis XVI.'s flight. Vandamme
commanded the third corps; Gérard, the fourth; Rapp, the fifth; while
the sixth fell to Mouton, better known as Count Lobau. Rapp's corps
was charged with the defence of Alsace; other forces, led by Brune,
Decaen, and Clausel, protected the southern borders, while Suchet
guarded the Alps; but the rest of these corps were gradually drawn
together towards the north of France, and the addition of the Guard,
20,800 strong, brought the total of this army to 125,000 men.

There was one post which the Emperor found it most difficult to fill,
that of Chief of the Staff. There the loss of Berthier was
irreparable. While lacking powers of initiative, he had the faculty of
lucidly and quickly drafting Napoleon's orders, which insures the
smooth working of the military machine. Who should succeed this
skilful and methodical officer? After long hesitation Napoleon chose
Soult. In a military sense the choice was excellent. The Duke of
Dalmatia had a glorious military record; in his nature activity was
blended with caution, ardour with method; but he had little experience
of the special duties now required of him; and his orders were neither
drafted so clearly nor transmitted so promptly as those of Berthier.

The concentration of this great force proceeded with surprising
swiftness; and, in order to lull his foes into confidence, the Emperor
delayed his departure from Paris to the last moment possible. As dawn
was flushing the eastern sky, on June 12th, he left his couch, after
four hours' sleep, entered his landau, and speedily left his
slumbering capital behind. In twelve hours he was at Laon. There he
found that Grouchy's four cavalry brigades were not sharing in the
general advance owing to Soult's neglect to send the necessary orders.
The horsemen were at once hurried on, several regiments covering
twenty leagues at a stretch and exhausting their steeds. On the 14th
the army was well in hand around Beaumont, within striking distance of
the Prussian vanguard, from which it was separated by a screen of
dense woods. There the Emperor mounted his charger and rode along the
ranks, raising such a storm of cheers that he vainly called out: "Not
so loud, my children, the enemy will hear you." There, too, on this
anniversary of Marengo and Friedland, he inspired his men by a
stirring appeal on behalf of the independence of Poles, Italians, the
smaller German States, and, above all, of France herself. "For every
Frenchman of spirit the time has come to conquer or die."

What, meanwhile, was the position of the allies? An Austro-Sardinian
force threatened the south-east of France. Mighty armies of 170,000
Russians and 250,000 Austrians were rolling slowly on towards Lorraine
and Alsace respectively; 120,000 Prussians, under Blücher, were
cantoned between Liège and Charleroi; while Wellington's composite
array of British, German, and Dutch-Belgian troops, about 100,000
strong, lay between Brussels and Mons.[473] The original plan of these
two famous leaders was to push on rapidly into France; but the
cautious influences of the Military Council sitting at Vienna
prevailed, and it was finally decided not to open the campaign until
the Austrians and Russians should approach the frontiers of France.
Even as late as June 15th we find Wellington writing to the Czar in
terms that assume a co-operation of all the allies in simultaneous
moves towards Paris - movements which Schwarzenberg had led him to
expect _would begin about the 20th of June_.[474]

From this prolonged and methodical warfare Europe was saved by
Napoleon's vigorous offensive. His political instincts impelled him to
strike at Brussels, where he hoped that the populace would declare for
union with France and severance from the detested Dutch. In this war
he must not only conquer armies, he must win over public opinion; and
how could he gain it so well as in the guise of a popular liberator?

But there were other advantages to be gained in Belgium. By flinging
himself on Wellington and the Prussians, and driving them asunder, he
would compel Louis XVIII. to another undignified flight; and he would
disorganize the best prepared armies of his foes, and gain the
material resources of the Low Countries. He seems even to have
cherished the hope that a victory over Wellington would dispirit the
British Government, unseat the Ministry, and install in power the
peace-loving Whigs.

And this victory was almost within his grasp. While his host drew near
to the Prussian outposts south of Charleroi and Thuin, the allies were
still spread out in cantonments that extended over one hundred miles,
namely, from Liège on Blücher's left to Audenarde on Wellington's
right. This wide dispersion of troops, when an enterprising foe was
known to be almost within striking distance, has been generally
condemned. Thus General Kennedy, in his admirable description of
Waterloo, admits that there was an "absurd extension" of the
cantonments. Wellington, however, was bound to wait and to watch the
three good high-roads, by any one of which Napoleon might advance,
namely, those of Tournay, Mons, and Charleroi. The Duke had other
causes for extending his lines far to the west: he desired to cover
the roads from Ostend, whence he was expecting reinforcements, and to
stretch a protecting wing over the King of France at Ghent.

There are many proofs, however, that Wellington was surprised by
Napoleon. The narratives of Sir Hussey Vivian and Captain Mercer show
that the final orders for our advance were carried out with a haste
and flurry that would not have happened if the army had been well in
hand, or if Wellington had been fully informed of Napoleon's latest
moves.[475] There is a wild story that the Duke was duped by Fouché,
on whom he was relying for news from Paris. But it seems far more
likely that he was misled by the tidings sent to Louis XVIII. at Ghent
by zealous royalists in France, the general purport of which was that
Napoleon _would wage a defensive campaign_.[476] On the 13th June,
Wellington wrote: "I have accounts from Paris of the 10th, on which
day he [Bonaparte] was still there; and I judge from his speech to
the Legislature that his departure was not likely to be immediate. I
think we are now too strong for him here." And, in later years, he
told Earl Stanhope that Napoleon "was certainly wrong in attacking at
all"; for the allied armies must soon have been in great straits for
want of food if they had advanced into France, exhausted as she was
by the campaign of 1814. "But," he added, "the fact is, Bonaparte
never in his life had patience for a defensive war."

[Illustration: PLAN OF THE WATERLOO
CAMPAIGN]

The Duke's forces would, at the outset of the campaign, have been in
less danger, if the leaders at the Prussian outposts, Pirch II. and
Dörnberg of the King's German Legion, had warned him of the enemy's
massing near the Sambre early on the 15th. By some mischance this was
not done; and our leader only heard from Hardinge, at the Prussian
headquarters, that the enemy seemed about to begin the offensive. He
therefore waited for more definite news before concentrating upon any
one line.

About 6 p.m. on the 15th he ordered his divisions and brigades to
concentrate at Vilvorde, Brussels, Ninove, Grammont, Ath,
Braine-le-Comte, Hal, and Nivelles - the first four of which were
somewhat remote, while the others were chosen with a view to defending
the roads leading northwards from Mons. Not a single British brigade
was posted on the Waterloo-Charleroi road, which was at that time
guarded only by a Dutch-Belgian division, a fact which supports Mr.
Ropes's contention that no definite plan of co-operation had been
formed by the allied leaders. Or, if there was one, the Duke certainly
refused to act upon it until he had satisfied himself that the chief
attack was not by way of Mons or Ath. More definite news reached
Brussels near midnight of the 15th, whereupon he gave a general left
turn to his advance, namely, _towards Nivelles_.

Clausewitz maintains that he should already have removed his
headquarters to Nivelles; had he done so and hurried up all available
troops towards the Soignies-Quatre Bras line, his Waterloo fame would
certainly have gained in solidity. A dash of romance was added by his
attending the Duchess of Richmond's ball at Brussels on the night of
the 15th-16th; lovers of the picturesque will always linger over the
scene that followed with its "hurrying to and fro and tremblings of
distress"; but the more prosaic inquirer may doubt whether Wellington
should not then have been more to the front, feeling every throb of
Bellona's pulse.[477]

Blücher's army, comprising 90,000 men, also covered a great stretch of
country. The first corps, that of Ziethen, held the bridges of the
Sambre at and near Charleroi; but the corps of Pirch I. and Thielmann
were at Namur and Ciney; while, owing to a lack of stringency in the
orders sent by Gneisenau, chief of the staff, to Bülow, his corps of
32,000 men was still at Liège. Early on the 15th, Pirch I. and
Thielmann began hastily to advance towards Sombref; and Ziethen, with
32,000 men, prepared to hold the line of the Sambre as long as
possible. His chief of staff, General Reiche, states that one-third of
the Prussians were new troops, drafted in from the Landwehr; but all
the corps gloried in their veteran Field-Marshal, and were eager to
fight.

Such, then, was the general position. Wellington was unaware of his
danger; Blücher was straining every nerve to get his army together;
while 32,000 Prussians were exposed to the attack of nearly four times
their number. It is clear that, had all gone well with the French
advance, the fortunes of Wellington and Blücher must have been
desperate. But, though the concentration of 125,000 French troops near
Beaumont and Maubeuge had been effected with masterly skill (except
that Gérard's and D'Erlon's corps were late), the final moves did not
work quite smoothly. An accident to the officer who was to order
Vandamme's corps to march at 2 a.m. on the 15th caused a long delay to
that eager fighter.[478] The 4th corps, that of Gérard, was also
disturbed and delayed by an untoward event. General Bourmont, whose
old Vendéan opinions seemed to have melted away completely before the
sun of Napoleon's glory, rewarded his master by deserting with several
officers to the Prussians, very early on that morning. The incident
was really of far less importance than is assigned to it in the St.
Helena Memoirs, which falsely ascribe it to the 14th: the Prussians
were already on the _qui vive_ before Bourmont's desertion; but it
clogged the advance of Gérard's corps and fostered distrust among the



Online LibraryJohn Holland RoseThe Life of Napoleon I (Volume 2 of 2) → online text (page 34 of 51)