William Ellery Channing.

The complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction online

. (page 91 of 169)
Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 91 of 169)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

confide in their own spies, but must keep
watch over the machinery which we have
described, lest it jecoil upon themselves.

Bonaparte at the head of an army is a
dazzling spectacle ; but Bonaparte, heading
a horde of spies, compelled to doubt and
fear these base, instruments of his power,
compelled to divide them into bands, and
to receive daily reports from each, so that,
hj balancing them against each other and
sifting their testimony, he might gather the
truth ; Bonaparte, thus employed, is anything
but imposing. It requires no great elevation
of thought to look down on such an occupa-
tion with scorn ; and we see, in the anxiety
and degradation which it involves, the begin-
ning of that retribution which tyranny cannot

Another means by which the First Consul
protected his power can excite no wonder.
That he should fetter the press, should banish
or imprison refractory editors, should subje<^
the journals and more important works of
literature to jealous superintendence, ♦ these
were things of course. Free writing and
despotism are such implacable foes, that we
hardly think of blaming a tyrant for keeping
no terms with the press. He cannot do it.
He might as reasonably choose a volcano for
the foundation of his throne. Necessity is
laid upon him, unless he is in love with ruin,
to check the bold and honest expression of
thought. But the necessity is his own choice ;
and let infamy be that man's portion who
seizes a power which he cannot sustain, bat
by dooming the mind through a vast empHre
to slavery, and by turning the press, that
great organ of truth, into an instrument of
public delusion and debasement.

We pass to another means of removing
obstructions to his power and ambition, still
worse than the last. We refer to the terror
which he spread by his severities, just before
assuming the imperial power. The murder
of the Duke d'Enghien was justified by Napo-
leon as a method of striking fear into the
Bourbons, who, as he said, were plotting bis
death. This may have been one motive ; for
we have reason to think that he was about
that time threatened with as»issination. But
we believe still more that he intended to awe
into acquiescence the opposition which he
knew would be awakened in many breasts by
the prostration of the forms of the rephbdic.
and the open assumption of the imperial
dignity. There were times when Boniqxule
disclaimed the origination of the murder of
the Duke d'Enghien. But no other coukL
have originated it. It bears internal marks
of its author. The boldness, decision, and
overpowering rapidity of the crime, potst
unerringly to the soul where it was concoved.
We believe that one great recommendatioa
of this murder was, that it would strike
amazement and terror into France and Eu-
rope, and show that he was prep>ared to shed

Digitized by VjOOQIC



any blood, and to sweep before him every
obstruction, in his way to absohtte power.
Certain it is that the open murder of the
Duke d'Enghien. and the justly suspected
assassinations of Pichegru and Wright, did
create a dread, such as had not been felt
before ; and, whilst on previous occasions
some feint breathings of liberty were to be
heard in the legislative bodies, only one voice,
that of Carnot, was raised against investing
Bonaparte with the imperial crown, and lay-
ing France an unprotected victim at his feet.
There remain for our consideration other
means empl<^ed by Bonaparte for building
up and establishing his power, of a different
character from those we have named, and
which on this account we cannot pass without
notice. One of these was the Concordat
which be extorted from the Pope, and which
professed to re-establish the Catholic religion
in France. Our religious prejudices have no
influence on our judgment of this measure.
We make no objections to it as the restoration
of a worship which on many accounts we
condemn. We view it now simply as an in-
strument of p>ol!cy, and, in this light, it seems
to us no proof of the sagacity of Bonaparte.
It helps to conhrm in us an impression, which
other parts of his history give us, that he
did not understand the peculiar character of
his age, and the peculiar and original policy
which it demanded. He always used com-
monplace means of power, although the unr
precedeoted times in which he lived required
a system which should combine untried re-
sources, and touch new springs of action.
Because old governments had found a con-
venient prop in religion. Napoleon imagined
that it was a necessary appendage and sup-

Sytl of his sway, and resolved to restore it^
ut at this moment there were no foundations
in France for a religious establishment, which
could give strength and a character of sacred-
ness to the supreme power. There was com-
paradvely no faith, no devout feeling, and,
still more, no supersthion to supply the place
of these. The lime for the reaction of the
religious principle had not yet arrived ; and
a more likely means of retarding it could
hardly have been devised than the nursing
care extended to the chiurch by Bonaparte,
the recent Mussulman, the known despiser
of the ancient faith, who had no worship at
lieart but the worship of himself. Instead of
bringing rehgion to the aid of the state, it
was impossible that such a man should touch
it without loosening the faint hold which it
j^t retained on the people. There were none
so ignorant as to be the dupes of the First
Consul in this particular. Every man,
wcmian. and child knew that he was playing
the part of a juggler. Not one religious
aaxxaation coOld be formed with his cha-

racter or government. It was a striking
proof of the self-exaggerating vanity of
Bonaparte, and of his ignorance of"^ the
higher principles of human nature, that he
not only hoped to revive and turn to his
account the old religion, but imagined that
he could, if necessary, have created a new
one. "Had the Pope never existed before,
he should have been made for the occasion,"
was the speech of this political charlatan ; as
if religious opinion and feeling were things
to be manufactured by a consular decree.
Ancient legislators, by adopting and sympa-
thizing with popular and rooted superstitions,
were able to press them into the service of
their institutions. They were wise enough to
build on a pre-existing faith, and studiously
to conform to it. Bonaparte, in a countiy of
infidelity and atheism, and whilst unable to
refrain from sarcasms on the system which he
patronized, was weak enough to believe that
he might make it a substantial support of bis
government. He undoubtedly congratulated
himself on the terms which he exacted from
the Pope, and which had never been conceded
to the most powerful monarchs, forgetting
that his apparent success was the defeat of
his plans; for, just as far as he severed the
church from the supreme pontiff, and placed
himself conspicuotisly at its head, he destroyed
the only connection which could give it influ-
ence. Just so far its power over opinion and
conscience ceased. It became a coarse in-
strument of state, contemned by the people,
and serving only to demonstrate the aspiring
views of its master. Accordingly the French
bishops in general refused to hold their dig*
nities under this new head, preferred exile to
the sacrifice of the rights of the church, and
left behind them a hearty abhorrence of the
Concordat among the more zealous members
of their communion. Happy would it have
been for Napoleon had he left the Pope and
the church to themselves. By occasionally
recognizing and employing, and then insulting
and degrading, the Roman pontiff, he exas-
perated a large part of Christendom, fastened
on himself the brand of impiety, and awakened
a religious hatred which contributed its full
measure to his fall.

As another means employed by Bonaparte
for giung strength and honour to his govern-
ment, we may name the grandeur of his public
works, which he began in his consulate and
continued after his accession to the imperial
dignity. These dazzled France, and still im-
press travellers with admiration. Could \ie
separate these from liis history, and did no
other ^idication of his character survive, we
should undoubtedly honour him with the title
of a beneficent sovereign ; but, connected as
they are, they do little or nothing to change
our conceptions of him as an all-grasping,


Digitized by V^OOQIC



unprincfolcd uimrper. Paris was the chief
object of these labours ; and surely we cannot
wonder that he who aimed at universal domi-
nion should strive to improve and adorn the
metropolis of his empire. It is the practice of
despots to be lavish of expense on the royal
residence and the seat of government. Tra-
vellers in France, as in other countries of the
continent, are struck and pained by the con-
trast between the magnificent capital and the
mud-walled village and uninteresting province*
Bonaparte had a special motive for decorating
Paris, for •* Paris is France," as has often
been obserred ; and, in conciliathig the vanity
of the great city, he secured the obedience cw
the whole country. The boasted internal im-
provements of Napoleon scarcely deserve to
be named, if we compare their influence with
the operation of his public measures. The
conscription, which drew from agriculture its
most effective labourers, and his continental
system, which sealed up every port and anni-
hilated the commerce of his empire, drained
and exhausted France to a degree for which
his artificial stimulants of industry, and his
splendid projects, afforded no compensation.
Perhaps the most admired of all his public
nvorks is the road over the Simplon, to which
all travellers concur in giving the epithet,
stupendous. But it ought not to amaze us
that he, who was aspiring at unlimited domi-
nion, should establish communications be-
tween the different provinces of his empire.
It ought not to amaze us that he, who had
scaledf the glaciers of St. Bernard, should
covet some easier passage for pouring his
troops into Italy ; nor is it very wonderfiil
that a sovereign, who commanded the reve-
nues of Europe, and who lived in an age
when civil engineering had been advanced to
a perfection before unknown, should accom-
plish a bolder enterprise than his predeces-
sors. We would add, that Napoleon must
divide with Fabbroni the glory of the road
over the Simplon ; for the genius which con-
trived and constructed is more properly its
author than the will which commanded it.

There is, however, one great work which
gives Bonaparte a fair claim on the gratitude
of posterity, and entitles him to an honourable
renowti. We refer to the new code of laws
which vras given to France under his aus-
pices. His participation in this Mrork has
mdeed been unwarrantably Und ridiculously
magnified. Because he attended the meetings
of the commissioners to whom it was assigned,
and made some useful and sagacious sugges-
tions, he has been praised as If he had struck
out, by the miraculous force of his genius, a
new code of laws. The truth is, that he em-
ployed for this work, as he should have done,
the most eminent civilians of the empire ; and
it ii ais6 mxfc that fhese learned men hkv*

little claim to originality ; for, as our author
observes, the code " has few peeuliarities
making a difference between its principles and
those of the Roman law." In other words*
they preferred wisdom to noveltv. Still Bona^
parte deserves great praise for his interest in
the work, for the impulse he gave to those to
whom it was committed, and for the time and
thought which, amidst the cares of a vast
empire, he bestowed upon it. That his ann
bition incited him to this kbour, we doubt
not. He meant to entwine the laimls of
Justinian with those of Alexander. Bnt we
will not quarrel with ambition, when it is
wise enough to devote itself to the happiness
of mankind. In the present case, he showed
that he understood something of true glory ;
and we prize the instance more beca^ it
stands almost alone in his history. We
look on the conqueror, the usurper, the
spoiler of kingdoms, the insatiable despot,
with disgust, and see in all these characteis
sin essential vulgamess of mind. But, when
we regard him as a Fountain of Justice to a
vast empire, we recognise in him a resem-
blance to the just and benignant Deity, and
cheerfully accord to him the praise of bestow-
ing on a nation one of the greatest gifts which
it Is permitted to man to confer. It was. bow-
ever, the misery of Bonaparte, ft curse brought
on him by his crimes, that he could touch
nothing without leaving on it the polluting
mark of despotism. His usurpation took from
him the power of legislating with magnani-
mity, where his own interest was concerned.
He could provide for the administration of
justice between man and man. but not between
the citizen and the ruler. Pohtical offences,
the very class which ought to be submitted td
a jury, were denied that mode of trial. Juries
might decide on other criminal questions}
but they M^ere not to be permitted \o interposn
between the despot and the iU-fiated subjects
who might fall under his suspicion. These
were arraigned before "special tribunals, in-
vested with a half military character," tlie
ready ministers of nefarious prosecutions, and
only intended to cloak by legal forms the mar*
derous purpose of the tyrant.

We have thus considered some of tb*
means by which Bonaparte consolidated and
extended his power. We now see him ad-
vanced to that imperial throne on which be
had long fixed his eager eye. We see France •
alternately awed and dazaed by the influences^
we have described, and at last surrenderinffk
by public, deliberate acts, without a struggle
or a show of opposition, her rights, libeities^
interests, and pnower to an absolute master
and to his posterity for ever. Thus perfebed
the name and forms of the Republic. Thus
perished the hopes of {^hOftnthropy. Tfe« sir«
which A fHtr ykvs A^o ttaHtm^n^ tHtii4ll*

Digitized by VaOOQlC



shouts of a piKit peo|)le casting away their
chains, and cbuming their birthright of fre^
doni, now xang with the servile cries of long
life to a blood-stained usurper. There were
indeed generous spirits, true patriots, like our
own La Fayette, stiil left in France. But, few
and scattered, they were left to shed in secret
the tears of sorrowful and. indignant despair.
By this base and disastrous issue of their revo-
lution, the French nation not only renounced
their own rights, but brought reproach on the
cause of freedom, which years cannot wash
away. This to to us a more painful recollec-
tion than all the desolations which France
spread through Europe, and than her own
bitter sufferings, when the hour of retribution
came upon her. The fields which she laid
waste ate again waving with harvest ; and the
groans which broke forth through her cities
and villages, when her bravest sons perished
by thousands and ten thousands on the snows
of Russia, have died away, and her wasted
population is renewed. But the wounds which
she inflicted on freedom by the crimes per-
petrated in that sacred nanae, and by the al>-
ject spirit with which that sacred cause was
deserted, are still fresh and bleeding. France
not only 8ut>jected herself to a tyrant, but,
what is worse, she has given tyranny every-
where new pleas and arguments, and em-
boldened it to preach openly, in the face of
heaven, the impious doctrines of absolute
power and unconditional submission.

Napoleon was now Emperor of France {
and a man unacquainted with human nature
would think that such an empire, whose
bounds now extended to the Rhine, might
have satisfied even an ambitious man. But
Bonaparte obeyed that law of progress to
which the highest minds are peculiarly sub-
jected; and acquisition inflamed, instead of
appeasing, the spirit of dominion. He had
long proposed to himself the conquest of
Europe, of the world ; and the title of Em-
peror added intenseness to this purpose. Did
we not fear that t>y repetition we might im-
pair the conviction whidi we are most anxious
to impress, we would enlarge on the enormity
of the guilt involved in the project of universal
empire. Napoleon knew distinctly the price
which he must pay for the eminence which he
coveted. He knew that the path to it lay over
wounded and Slaughtered millions, over putre-
fying heaps of hisfellowK^eatures, overravaged
fields, smoking ruins, pillaged cities. He
knew that his steps would l>e followed bv the
groans of widowed nK>ther9 and famished
orphans; of bereaved friendship and despab*
Ing love; and that, in addition to this amount
of misoy, he would create an e^ual amount
of crime, by muUiplving indefimtely the in-
Btrumentt and participaton of his nqjine and
inttid. He kaaw tba priee, aad naolved to

pay it. But we do not insist on a topic
which few, very few as yet, understand or feel.
Turning, then, for the present from the moral
aspect of this enterprise, we will view it in
another light, which is of great importance to
a just estimate of his clauns on admiration.
We wiU inquire into the nature and fitness of
the meastues and policy which he adopted
for compassing the subjugation of Europe
and the world.

We are aware that this discussion may ex-
pose us to the charge of great presumption.
It may be said that men, biaving no access to
the secrets of cabinets, and no participation
in public affiurs, are not the best judges of
the policy of sudi a man as Napoleon. This
we are not anxious to disprove. We do not
deny the disadvantages of our position, nor
shall we quarrel with our readers for question- .
ing the soundness of our opinions. But we
will say. that though distant, we have not
been mdifferent observers of the great events
of our age. and that, though conscious of
exposure to many errors, we have a strong
persuasion of the substantial correctness of
our views. We express, then, without reserve,
our belief that the policy of Napoleon was
wanting in sagacity, and that he proved him-
self incapable, as we before suggested, of
understanding the character and answering
the demands of his cige. His system was a
repetition of old means, when the state of
the workl was new. The sword and the
police, which had sufficed him for enslaving
France, were not the only powers required for
his designs against the human race. Other
resources were to be discovered or created;
and the genius for calling them forth did not,
we conceive, belong to Napoleon.

The circumstances under which Napoleon
aspired to universal empire differed in many
respects fVom those under which former con-
querors were placed. It was easy for Rome,
when she had subdued kingdoms, to reduce
them to provinces and t^ govern them by force ;
for nations at that period were bound together
by no tie. They had tittle conununication
with each other. Differences of origin, of
religion, of manners, of language, of modes
of warfare; differences aggravated t>y long
and ferocious wars, and b^^ the general want
of civititation, prevented joint action, and
almost all concern for one another's fate.
Modem Europe, on the other hand, was an as«
semblage of civilised states, closely connected
l^ commerce, by titerature, by a common faith,
by interchange of thoughts and improve^
ments, and by a poticy which had for ages
proposed, as its chief object, the establishment
of such a balance of power as would secure
national independence. Under these infhi-
ences the human mind had made great pnn
gress ; and, in truth* tbt Fronch Rtmmion bad


Digitized by V^OOQIC



resulted from an unprecedented excitement bereavement through all her dwellings, was
and development of men's faculties, and from severely felt in France. But Napoleon knew
thecxtension of power andintelligenfce through the race whom it was his business to manage ;
a vastly wider class than had participated in and by the glare of victory and the title o f the
them at any former period. The very power Grand Empire, he succeeded in reconciling
which Napoleon was wielding might be them for a thne to the most painful domestic
traced to an enthusiasm essentially generous, privationSr and to an unexampled waste of
and manifesting a tendency of the civilized life. Thus he secured what he accounted the
world to better institutions. It is plain that most important instrument of dominion, a
the old plans of conquest, and the maxims of great military force. But, on the other hand,
comparatively barbarous ages, did not suit the stimulants which for this purpose he was
such a state of society. An ambitious man forced to apply perpetually to French vanity,
was to make his way by allying himself with the ostentation with which the inxincible
the new movements and excitements of the power of France was trumpeted to the world,
world. The existence of a vast maritime and the haughty, vaimting style which became
power like England, which, by its command the most striking characteristic of that in-
of the ocean and its extensive commerce, was toxicated people, were perpetual irritations
brought into contact with every community, of the national spirit and pride of Europe,
and which at the same time enjoyed the en- and implanted a deep hatred towards the
viable pre-eminence of possessing the freest new and insulting empire, which waited but
institutions in Europe, was of itself a suffi- for a favourable moment to repay with interest
oient motive for a great modification of the the debt of humiliation.

policy by which one state was now to be
placed at the head of the nations. The
peculiar character and influence of England,
Bonaparte seemed indeed never able to com-
prehend; and the violent measures by which
he essayed to tear asunder the old connections

The condition of Europe forbade, as we
believe, the establishment of universal mo-
narchy by mere physkal force. The sword,
however important, was now to play but a
secondary part. The true course for Napo-
leon seems to us to have been indicated, not

of that country with the continent, only gave only by the state of Europe, but by the

them strength, by adding to the ties of interest means which France in the beginning of her

those of sympatny, of common suflering, and Revolution had found most effectual. He

common danger. should have identified himself with some

Force and corruption were the great engines gr^t interests, opinion, or institutions, by

of Napoleon, and he plied them without dis- which he might have bound to himself a

guise or reserve, not caring how far he in- large party in every nation. He should have

suited, and armed against himself, the moral contrived to make at least a spedons cause

and national feelings of Eimope. His great against all old establishments. To contrast

reliance was on the miUtary spirit and energy himself most strikingly and most advan-

of the French people. To make France a tageously with former governments, diould

nation of soldiers was the first and main in- have been the key of his policy. He should

strument of his policy ; and here he was have placed himself at the head of a new

successfiil. The Revolution indeed had in no order of things, which should have worn the

small degree done this work to his hands. To fece of an improvement of the social state,

complete it« he introduced a national system Nor did the subversion of republican forms

of education, having fgr its plain end to train prevent his adoption of this course, or of

the whole youth of France to a military life, some other which would have secured to him

to frmiliarixe the mind to this destination the sympathy of multitudes. He might still

firon; its earliest years, and to associate the have drawn some broad lines between his

idea bi glory almost exclusively with arms, own administration and that of other states.

The conscription gave full efficacy to this tending to throw the old dynasties into the

system ; for, as every young man in the shade. He might have cast away the ancient

empire had reason to anticipate a summons pageantry and forms, distinguished himself

to the army, the first object in education by the snnplicity of his cstidblishments, and

naturally was to fit him for the field. The exaggerated the reUef which he gave to his

public honours bestowed on military talent, people, by saving them the burdens of a

and a rigorous impartiality in awarding pro- wasteful and luxurious court. He might ha\*e

Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 91 of 169)