Napoleon Bonaparte – A Portrait by Prince Metternich

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Metternich Volume II, Metternich to the Emperor Francis, Vienna, January 17, 1811

Pages 478-479

To examine into the reasons why this alarming state of things was brought about, at a moment when we should alone consider the present and the future, would be outside the aim of the present statement. The history of the last twenty years shows an uninterrupted succession of moral, political, military, financial mistakes made by all the European Powers. Not one is free from reproach ; not one worked for her preservation with means suited to the object, or in a way likely to lead to the wished-for goal. But all the fault does not lie with the Powers themselves. The appearance of a great Power rising from her ashes in the midst of Europe, with fresh and tremendous energies, was too wide-reaching, in its daily results, to be universally grasped, and thus turned to general account. If a temporary unity of purpose in the preponderating Powers of our time should occur, their paths would speedily diverge. The unavoidable weakness of coalitions would increase and develop with each undertaking, and experience unhappily shows that France knew how to appropriate the victories of the allies. The highest triumph of French policy was the Peace of Tilsit. By it Napoleon crowned the efforts which for years he had been making without result against the Russian cabinet. That which had been undone by the death of Paul I., all that had only been touched upon in the unfortunate Franco-Russian mediation of the year 1804, was accomplished by Napoleon at Tilsit. Since the year 1807, scarcely anything stood in the way of the completion of his work. The two great Powers who united were invincible — Austria and Russia — were separated. All the events which have already taken place since Tilsit, all those which probably would develop themselves only too quickly in the future, are, and will be, nothing but the results of this system of isolation.

In the years 1808 and 1809, the Russian cabinet acted with unexampled blindness. Unmindful of the last inevitable reaction on Russia herself, Count Romanzow gave to the policy of his sovereign an entirely wrong direction. Alexander was to come forward as a conqueror by the side of the greatest conqueror who had appeared for many centuries.

 

NAPOLEON BONAPARTE

A PORTRAIT

BY

PRINCE METTERNICH

Reproduced in full from Metternich, Volume I, pages 269-314

 

Among individuals by their position independent of this extraordinary man, there are few who have had so many points of contact and such direct relations with him as I have had.

In the different phases of these relations, my opinion of Napoleon has never varied. I have seen and studied him in the moments of his greatest success ; I have seen and followed him in those of his decline ; and though he may have attempted to induce me to form wrong conclusions about him — as it was often his interest to — he has never succeeded. I may then flatter myself with having seized the essential traits of his character, and with having formed an impartial judgment with respect to it, while the great majority of his contemporaries have seen as it were through a prism only the brilliant sides and the defective or evil sides of a man whom the force of circumstances and great personal qualities raised to a height of power unexampled in modern history.

Endeavouring with a rare sagacity and an indefatigable perseverance to make the most of what half a century of events seemed to have prepared in his favour ; animated by a spirit of domination as active as clearsighted ; skilful in appreciating every advantage which the circumstances of the moment offered to his ambition ; knowing how to turn to his own advantage with remarkable skill the faults and weaknesses of others, Bonaparte was left alone on the battlefield where blind passions and furious factions had raged and disputed for ten years. Having at last confiscated to his own advantage the whole Revolution, he seemed to me from that time to be the indivisible point on which all observations should be centred, and my appointment as Ambassador in France furnished me with peculiar facilities, which I have been careful not to neglect.

The judgment is often influenced by first impressions. I had never seen Napoleon till the audience which he gave me at St.-Cloud, when I delivered my credentials. I found him standing in the middle of one of the rooms, with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and six other members of the Court. He wore the Guard’s uniform, and had his hat on his head. This latter circumstance, improper in any case, for the audience was not a public one, struck me as misplaced pretension, showing the parvenu ; I even hesitated for a moment, whether I too should not cover. However, I delivered a short speech, the concise and exact style of which differed essentially from that which had come into use in the new Court of France.

His attitude seemed to me to show constraint and even embarrassment. His short, broad figrure. negligentt dress, and marked endeavour to make an imposing effect, combined to weaken in me the feeling of grandeur naturally attached to the idea of a man before whom the world trembled. This impression has never been entirely effaced from my mind : it was present with me in the most important interviews which I have had with Napoleon, at different epochs in his career. Possibly it helped to show me the man as he was, behind the masks with which he knew how to cover himself. In his freaks, in his fits of passion, in his brusque interpellations, I saw prepared scenes, studied and calculated to produce a certain effect on the person to whom he was speaking.

In my relations with Napoleon, relations which from the beginning I endeavoured to make frequent and confidential, what at first struck me most was the remarkable perspicuity and grand simplicity of his mind and its processes. Conversation with him always had a charm for me, difficult to define. Seizing the essential point of subjects, stripping them of useless accessories, developing his thought and never ceasing to elaborate it till he had made it perfectly clear and conclusive, always finding the fitting word for the thing, or inventing one where the usage of the language had not created it, his conversation was ever full of interest. He did not converse, he talked ; by the wealth of his ideas and the facility of his elocution, he was able to lead the conversation, and one of his habitual expressions was, ‘ I see what you want ; you wish to come to such or such a point ; well, let us go straight to it.’

Yet he did not fail to listen to the remarks and objections which were addressed to him ; he accepted them, questioned them, or opposed them, without losing the tone or overstepping the bounds of a business discussion ; and I have never felt the least difficulty in saying to him what I believed to be the truth, even when it was not likely to please him.

Whilst in his conceptions all was clear and precise, in what required action he knew neither difficulty nor uncertainty. Ordinary rules did not embarrass him at all. In practice, as in discussion, he went straight to the end in view without being delayed by considerations which he treated as secondary, and of which he perhaps too often disdained the importance. The most direct line to the object he desired to reach was that which he chose by preference, and which he followed to the end, while nothing could entice him to deviate from it ; but then, being no slave to his plans, he knew how to give them up or modify them the moment that his point of view changed, or new combinations gave him the means of attaining it more effectually by a different path.

He had little scientific knowledge, although his partisans encouraged the belief that he was a profound mathematician. His knowledge of mathematical science would not have raised him above the level of any officer destined, as he was himself, for the Artillery ; but his natural abilities supplied the want of knowledge. He became a legislator and administrator, as he became a great soldier, by following his own instinct. The turn of his mind always led him towards the positive ; he disliked vague ideas, and hated equally the dreams of visionaries and the abstraction of idealists, and treated as mere nonsense everything that was not clearly and practically presented to him. He valued only those sciences which can be controlled and verified by the senses or which rest on observation and experience. He had the greatest contempt for the false philosophy and the false philanthropy of the eighteenth century. Among the chief teachers of these doctrines, Voltaire was the special object of his aversion, and he even went so far as to attack, whenever he had the opportunity, the general opinion as to his literary power.

Napoleon was not irreligious in the ordinary sense of the word. He would not admit that there had ever existed a genuine atheist ; he condemned Deism as the result of rash speculation. A Christian and a Catholic, he recognised in religion alone the right to govern human societies. He looked on Christianity as the basis of all real civilisation ; and considered Catholicism as the form of worship most favourable to the maintenance of order and the true tranquility of the moral world ; Protestantism as a source of trouble and disagreements. Personally indifferent to religious practices, he respected them too much to permit the slightest ridicule of those who followed them. It is possible that religion was, with him, more the result of an enlightened policy than an affair of sentiment ; but whatever might have been the secret of his heart, he took care never to betray it. His opinions of men were concentrated in one idea which, unhappily for him, had in his mind gained the force of an axiom. He was persuaded that no man, called to appear in public life, or even only engaged in the active pursuits of life, was guided or could be guided by any other motive than that of interest. He did not deny the existence of virtue and honour ; but he maintained that neither of these sentiments had ever been the chief guide of any but those whom he called dreamers, and to whom, by this title, he, in his own mind, denied the existence of the requisite faculty for taking a successful part in the affairs of society. I had long arguments with him on an assertion which my conviction repelled, and of which I endeavoured to show him the fallacy, at any rate, to the extent to which he applied it, but I never succeeded in moving him on this point. •

He was gifted with a particular tact for recognising those men who could be useful to him. He discovered in them very quickly the side by which he could best attach them to his interest. Never forgetting, however, to seek the guarantee of their fidelity in a calculation of interest, he took care to join their fortune to his own, involving them in such a way as to cut off the possibility of retreat to other engagements. He had, above all, studied the national character of the French, and the history of his life proved that he had understood it rightly. He privately regarded the Parisians as children, and often compared Paris to the opera. Having reproached him one day with the palpable falsehoods which formed the chief part of his bulletins, he said to me with a smile, ‘ They are not written for you ; the Parisians believe everything, and I might tell them a great deal more which they would not refuse to
accept.’

This allusion to Napoleon’s habit of attributing all human actions to unworthy motives recalls the opinion which Montaigne has expressed on the celebrated historian Guicciardini. The following passage might be applied, word for word, to Napoleon ; ‘ I have remarked that of all the many acts and deeds, of all the many movements and courses, on which he passed his opinion, he does not attribute a single one to virtue, religion, and conscience ; as if these things were quite extinct in the world ; and of all actions, however good they may seem to be, he attributes the motive to some bad reason, or the gaining of some advantage. It is impossible to imagine that, amongst the infinite number of actions of which he judges, there should not be one produced by the voice of reason ; corruption cannot have seized men so universally that not one escapes the contagion. This leads me to fear that there may be something wrong in his judgment ; and it may chance that he has estimated others by himself. ‘ — (Essays, I. ii. c. 6). I think I have read somewhere that Napoleon had a great opinion of Guicciardini. Certainly he greatly admired Macchiavelli. But there was this important difference between Guicciardini and Macchiavelli, although both were truly the offspring of the age : the one was content to paint the general depravity of his contemporaries in the hideous colours of truth, without seeming to applaud them ; whilst the other is a most zealous and impudent panegyrist : all that has been done to absolve Macchiavelli from this reproach is only a tissue of evil sophisms. He was the man of his time, and that is all that can be said in his excuse.

It frequently happened that he turned his conversation into historical discussions. These discussions generally revealed his imperfect knowledge of facts, but an extreme sagacity in appreciating causes and foreseeing consequences. Thus he guessed more than he knew, and, while lending to persons and events the colour of his own mind, he explained them in an ingenious manner. As he always made use of the same quotations, he must have drawn from a very few books, and those principally abridgments, the most salient points of ancient history and the history of France. He, however, charged his memory with a collection of names and facts sufficiently copious to impose on those whose studies had been still less thorough than his own. His heroes were Alexander, Caesar, and, above all, Charlemagne. He was singularly occupied with his claim to be the successor of Charlemagne by right and title. He would lose himself in interminable discussions with me in endeavouring to sustain this paradox by the feeblest reasoning. Apparently it was my quality of Austrian Ambassador which I had to thank for his obstinacy on this point.

One thing which he always regretted extremely was, that he could not invoke the principle of Legitimacy as the basis of his power. Few men have been so profoundly conscious as he was that authority deprived of this foundation is precarious and fragile, and open to attack. He never lost an opportunity of anxiously protesting against those who imagined that he occupied the throne as a usurper. ‘ The throne of France,’ he said to me once, ‘was vacant. Louis XVI. had not been able to maintain himself. If I bad been in his place, the Revolution — notwithstanding the immense progress it had made in men’s minds in the preceding reign — would never have been consummated. The King overthrown, the Republic was master of the soil of France. It is that which I have replaced. The old throne of France is buried under its rubbish ; I had to found a new one. The Bourbons could not reign over this creation. My strength lies in my fortune : I am new, like the Empire ; there is, therefore, a perfect homogeneity between the Empire and myself

However, I have often thought that Napoleon, by talking in this way, merely sought to study the opinion of others or to confuse it, and the direct advance which he made to Louis XVIII. in 1804 seemed to confirm this suspicion. Speaking to me one day of this advance, he said : — ‘ Monsieur’s reply was grand ; it was full of fine traditions. There is something in legitimate rights which appeals to more than the mere mind. If Monsieur had consulted his mind only, he would have arranged with me, and I should have made for him a magnificent future.’

He was also much impressed with the idea of deriving the origin of supreme authority from the Divinity. He said to me one day at Compiègne, shortly after his marriage with the Archduchess, ‘ I see that the Empress, in writing to her father, addresses her letter to His Sacred and Imperial Majesty. Is this title customary with you ? ‘ I told him that it was, from the tradition of the old German Empire, which bore the title of the Holy Empire, and because it was also attached to the Apostolic crown of Hungary. Napoleon then replied, in a grave tone : — ‘ It is a fine custom, and a good expression. Power comes from God, and it is that alone which places it beyond the attacks of men. Hence I shall adopt the title some day.’

He laid great stress on his aristocratic birth and the antiquity of his family. He has more than once endeavoured to explain to me that envy and calumny alone could throw any doubt on the nobility of his birth. ‘ I am placed,’ he said to me, ‘ in a singular position. There are genealogists who would date my family from the Deluge, and there are people who pretend that I am of plebeian birth. The truth lies between these two. The Bonapartes are a good Corsican family, little known, for we have hardly ever left our island, but much better than many of the coxcombs who take upon themselves to vilify us.’

Napoleon looked upon himself as a being isolated from the rest of the world, made to govern it, and to direct every one according to his own will. He had no other regard for men than a foreman in a manufactory feels for his workpeople.• The person to whom he was most attached was Duroc. ‘ He loves me as a dog loves his master,’ was the expression he used in speaking to me about him. Berthier’s feeling for him he compared to that of a child’s nurse. These comparisons, far from being opposed to his theory of the motives which actuate men, were the natural consequence of it, for where he met with sentiments which he could not explain simply by interest, he attributed them to a kind of instinct.

Marshal Lannes was mortally wounded at the battle of Aspern. The bulletins of the French army related the occurrence, and gave the very words the Marshal had used. This is what Napoleon said to me about it : —
‘You have read the sentence I put into Lannes’ mouth ?— he never thought of it ! When the Marshal pronounced my name, they came to tell me, and immediately I declared he must be dead. Lannes hated me cordially. He spoke my name as atheists do the name of God, when they come to die. Lannes having called for me, I looked upon his case as hopeless.’

Much has been said of Napoleon’s superstition, and almost as much of his want of personal bravery. Both of these accusations rest either on false ideas or mistaken observations. Napoleon believed in fortune, and who has made the trial of it that he has ? He liked to boast of his good star ; he was very glad that the common herd did not object to believe him to be a privileged being ; but he did not deceive himself about himself : and, what is more, he did not care to grant too large a share to fortune in considering his elevation. I have often heard him say : ‘ They call me lucky, because I am able ; it is weak men who accuse the strong of good fortune.’

I will here mention an anecdote which shows to what an extent he relied on his innate energy and vigour of mind. Among the paradoxes which he liked to maintain on questions of medicine and physiology (subjects for which he had a natural predilection), he asserted that death is often only the effect of an absence of energetic will in the individual. One day at St. Cloud, he had had a dangerous fall (he had been thrown out of a carriage on to a great block of stone, narrowly escaping severe injury to his stomach) ;• the next day, when I inquired how he was, he replied very gravely : ‘ I yesterday completed my experiences on the power of the will ; when I was struck in the stomach I felt my life going ; I had only just time to say to myself that I did not wish to die, and I live ! Anyone else in my place would have died.’ If this is to be called superstition, it must, at any rate, be granted that it is very different from that which had been attributed to him.

I could almost imagine that this accident may have assisted to develop the germ of the malady to which Napoleon succumbed at St. Helena, and I am surprised that this has not been already remarked. It is true, however, that he has often told me that this malady was hereditary in his family.

It is the same with his courage. He was most tenacious of life ; but, since so vast a number of destinies were bound up with his, it was doubtless allowable in him to see something more in it than the pitiful existence of an individual. He did not, therefore, think himself called upon to expose ‘ Caesar and his fortune ‘ simply to prove his courage. Other great commanders have thought and acted as he did. If he had not that stimulus which makes break-neck daring, that is certainly not a reason for accusing him of cowardice, as some of his enemies have not hesitated to do. The history of his campaigns suffices to prove that he was always at the place, dangerous or not, which was proper for the head of a great army.

In private life, without being amiable, he was good-natured, and even carried indulgence to the point of weakness. A good son and good kinsman, with those little peculiarities that are met with more particularly in the family interiors of the Italian bourgeoisie, he allowed the extravagant courses of some of his relations without using sufficient strength of will to stop them, even when it would have been clearly to his interest to do so. His sisters, in particular, got from him everything that they wanted.

Neither of his wives had ever anything to complain of from Napoleon’s personal manners. Although the fact is well known already, a saying of the Archduchesse Marie Louise will put it in a new hght. ‘ I am sure,’ she said to me some time after her marriage, ‘ that they think a great deal about me in Vienna, and that the general opinion is that I live a life of daily suffering. So true is it that truth is often not probable. I have no fear of Napoleon, but I begin to think that he is afraid of me.’

Simple and even easy as he was in private life, he showed himself to little advantage in the great world. It is difficult to imagine anything more awkward than Napoleon’s manner in a drawing-room. The pains which he took to correct the faults of his nature and education only served to make his deficiencies more evident. I am satisfied that he would have made great sacrifices to add to his height and give dignity to his appearance, which became more common in proportion as his embonpoint increased. He walked by preference on tiptoe. His costumes were studied to form a contrast by comparison with the circle which surrounded him, either by their extreme simplicity or by their extreme magnificence. It is certain that he made Talma come to teach him particular attitudes. He showed much favour to this actor, and his affection was greatly founded on the likeness which really existed between them. He liked very much to see Talma on the stage ; it might be said, in fact, that he saw himself reproduced. Out of his mouth there never came one graceful or even a well-turned speech to a woman, although the effort to make one was often expressed on his face and in the sound of his voice. He spoke to ladies only of their dress, of which he declared himself a severe judge, or perhaps of the number of their children, and one of his usual questions was if they had nursed their children themselves, a question which he commonly made in terms seldom used in good society. He sometimes tried to inflict upon them questions on the private relations of society, which gave to his conversations more the character of misplaced admonitions – misplaced at least as to the choice of place and manner – than that of polite drawing-room conversations. This want of savoir-vivre more than once exposed him to repartees which he was not able to return. His feeling against women who mixed in politics or affairs almost amounted to hatred.•

In order to judge of this extraordinary man, we must follow him upon the grand theatre for which he was born. Fortune had no doubt done much for Napoleon ; but by the force of his character, the activity and lucidity of his mind, and by his genius for the great combinations of military science, he had risen to the level of the position which she had destined for him. Having but one passion, that of power, he never lost either his time or his means on those objects which might have diverted him from his aim. Master of himself, he soon became master of men and events. In whatever time he had appeared he would have played a prominent part. But the epoch when he first entered on his career was particularly fitted to facilitate his elevation. Surrounded by individuals who, in the midst of a world in ruins, walked at random without any fixed guidance, given up to all kinds of ambition and greed, he alone was able to form a plan, hold it fast, and conduct it to its conclusion. It was in the course of the second campaign in Italy that he conceived the one which was to carry him to the summit of power. ‘ When I was young,’ he said to me ; ‘ I was revolutionary from ignorance and ambition. At the age of reason, I have followed its counsels and my own instinct, and I crushed the Revolution.’

Madame de Staël applied to me in 1810, to obtain for her from Napoleon permission to live in Paris. Everybody knew the extraordinary value she placed on this favour, of which I need not attempt to discover the motives. I had no reason to take any particular interest in the request of Madame de Staël ; I knew, too, that my assistance would not be of much use to her. An opportunity, however, occurred, when I was able to make known to Napoleon the request of this celebrated woman. ‘ I do not want Madame de Staël in Paris,’ he said to me, ‘ and I have good reasons for saying so.’ I replied that it might be so, but it was no less certain that by this way of treating a lady he gave her a distinction which, without that, she might not, perhaps, have. ‘If Madame de Stael,’ Napoleon replied, ‘ would be or could be either a royalist or a republican, I should have nothing to say against her ; but she is a machine in motion which will make a disturbance in the salons. It is only in France that such a woman is to be feared, and I will not agree to it.’

He was so accustomed to think of himself as necessary for the maintenance of the system he had created that at last he no longer understood how the world could go on without him. I have no doubt that he spoke from a deep and thorough conviction when, in our conversation at Dresden in 1813, he said to me these very words : ‘ I shall perish, perhaps ; but in my fall I shall drag down thrones, and with them the whole of society ! ‘

The prodigious successes of which his life was full had doubtless ended by blinding him ; but up to the time of the campaign of 1812, when he for the first time succumbed under the weight of illusions, he never lost sight of the profound calculations by which he had so often conquered. Even after the disaster of Moscow, we have seen him defend himself with as much coolness as energy, and the campaign of 1814 was certainly that in which he displayed most military talent, and that with much reduced means. I have never been among those — and their number was considerable — who thought that after the events of 1814 and 1815, he tried to create a new career, by descending to the part of an adventurer, and by giving in to the most romantic projects. His character and the turn of his mind made him despise all that was petty. Like great gamblers, instead of being pleased vrith the chances of a petty game, they would have filled him with disgust.

The question has often been asked, Whether Napoleon was radically good or bad ? It has always seemed to me that these epithets, as they are generally understood, are not applicable to a character such as his. Constantly occupied with one sole object, given up day and night to the task of holding the helm of an empire which, by progressive encroachments, had finished by including the interests of a great part of Europe, he never recoiled from fear of the wounds he might cause, nor even from the immense amount of individual suffering inseparable from the execution of his projects. As a war-chariot crushes everything which it meets on its way, Napoleon thought of nothing but to advance. He took no notice of those who had not been on their guard ; he was sometimes tempted to accuse them of stupidity. Unmoved by anything which was out of his path, he did not concern himself with it for good or evil. He could sympathise with family troubles, he was indifferent to political calamities.

It was the same with the instruments he made use of. Disinterested generosity he had none ; he only dispensed his favours and kindnesses in proportion to the value he put on the utility of those who received them. He treated others as he thought himself treated by them. He accepted all services, without scrutinising either the motives, the opinions, or the antecedents of those who offered them to him, except to make use of them for his own purposes.

Napoleon had two aspects. As a private man, he was easy tempered and tractable, without being either good or bad. In his public capacity he admitted no sentiment ; he was never influenced either by affection or by hatred. He crushed or removed his enemies, without thinking of anything but the necessity or advisability of getting rid of them. This object gained, he forgot them entirely and injured them no more.

Many useless attempts have been made, and much learning vainly expended in order to compare Napoleon to such or such of his predecessors in the career of conquest and political revolution. The mania for parallels has been a real evil for history ; it has cast a false light on the most remarkable characters, and has often quite distorted the point of view from which they ought to be regarded. It is impossible to judge of a man when separated from the setting in which he was placed, and the circumstances which combined to act upon him. If nature, even, were pleased to create two individuals absolutely alike, their development in periods and situations which admit of no analogy would necessarily efface the first resemblance and confuse the unskilful painter who wishes to reproduce it. The true historian, he who is aware of the infinitely varied elements which ought to enter into the composition of his pictures, will gladly give up the vain idea of comparing Napoleon, either to the heroes of antiquity, the barbarian conquerors of the Middle Ages, a great king of the last century, or a usurper of the stamp of Cromwell. None of these chance resemblances can offer any new hght for the instruction of posterity ; but they inevitably falsify the truth of history.

Napoleon’s system of conquests was, too, of a quite peculiar character. The object of the universal domination to which he aspired was not the concentration of an enormous region in the immediate hands of the government, but the establishing of a central supremacy over the states of Europe, after the ideal disfigured and exaggerated in the Empire of Charlemagne. If momentary considerations made him abandon this system, if they led him to appropriate or to incorporate with French territory countries which for his own interests he ought not to have touched, these measures so injurious to the strength of his power, far from advancing the development of the great plan which he had really in his mind, only served to overturn and destroy it. This plan would have been extended to the Church. He wished to make Paris the seat of Catholicism, and to detach the Pope from all temporal interests, while assuring to him the spiritual supremacy under the aegis of Imperial France.

In these political and military combinations, Napoleon did not fail to reckon largely on the weakness and errors of his adversaries. It must be confessed that a long experience only too well justified him in following this principle. But it is also certain that he abused it, and that the habit of despising the means and capabilities of his adversaries was one of the principal causes of his downfall. The Alliance of 1813 destroyed him, because he was never able to persuade himself, that the members of a coalition could remain united and persevere in a given course of action.

The opinion of the world is still divided, and perhaps will always be, on the question, Whether Napoleon did in fact deserve to be called a great man ? It would be impossible to dispute the great qualities of one who, rising from obscurity, has become in a few years the strongest and most powerful of his contemporaries. But strength, power, and superiority are more or less relative terms. To appreciate properly the degree of genius which has been required for a man to dominate his age, it is necessary to have the measure of that age. This is the point from which opinions with regard to Napoleon diverge so essentially. If the era of the Revolution was, as its admirers think, the most brilliant, the most glorious epoch of modern history, Napoleon, who has been able to take the first place in it, and to keep it for fifteen years, was, certainly, one of the greatest men who have ever appeared. If, on the contrary, he has only had to move like a meteor above the mists of a general dissolution ; if he has found nothing around him but the débris of a social condition ruined by the excess of false civilisation ; if he has only had to combat a resistance weakened by universal lassitude, feeble rivalries, ignoble passions, in fact, adversaries everywhere disunited .and paralysed by their disagreements, the splendour of his success diminishes with the facility with which he obtained it. Now, as in our opinion, this was really the state of things, we are in no danger of exaggerating the idea of Napoleon’s grandeur, though acknowledging that there was something extraordinary and imposing in his career.

The vast edifice which he had constructed was exclusively the work of his hands, and he was himself the keystone of the arch. But this gigantic construction was essentially wanting in its foundation ; the materials of which it was composed were nothing but the ruins of other buildings ; some were rotten from decay, others had never possessed any consistency from their very beginning. The keystone of the arch has been withdrawn, and the whole edifice has fallen in.

Such is, in a few words, the history of the French Empire. Conceived and created by Napoleon, it only existed in him ; and with him it was extinguished.•

In the last months of the year 1853, two works appeared which, though not of equal importance, have a peculiar value for enabling us to form an opinion of the character of Napoleon. These works are the Memoirs of King Joseph (of Naples and Spain), and the History of Napoleon at St. Helena, from the papers left by Sir Hudson Lowe. In these two works the mind and character of the man are pourtrayed in situations the most opposite. In one he is the conqueror of the world : in the other a prisoner on an island in the ocean. To both these works Napoleon contributed not merely the matter, but he appears in them as the author as well as the subject of the history. What result does the impartial observer derive from the study of these works ? Certainly not an exalted estimate of the man who had for many years the destiny of human society in his hands.

As far as I am personally concerned, these books revealed nothing new, and did not even serve to correct the judgment forced upon me by long immediate contact — such contact as never existed between Napoleon and any other person not a Frenchman. His rare intellectual gifts, his strength of will and his weaknesses I always regarded without prejudice in the light of truth, and I have depicted, under strong control but yet fearlessly, not only myself but Napoleon in the most decisive moments.

These latest historical performances are all that have come from the pen of Napoleon’s companion at St. Helena, and greatly originate with Napoleon himself, setting before us, not the portrait of the man as he was, but as he wished to represent himself to the world.

The Coronation of the Empress Josephine

Shortly after his retirement from the ministry, Cardinal Consalvi related to me the following fact with regard to the invalidity of the Emperor Napoleon’s marriage with the Empress Josephine.

The Emperor Napoleon had invited the Pope to come to Paris to crown him alone. There was no question of the coronation of the Empress Josephine in the long negotiations which took place with the object of overcoming the repugnance of his Holiness to make this journey ; they did not even mention this princess to him when he was actually in Paris, till the evening before the coronation.

His Holiness begged repeatedly to be informed of the details and ceremonial of the fête ; but they avoided giving him the least idea of it, alleging frivolous pretexts which irritated the Pope so much that he declared he would not officiate at this solemn occasion if he was not informed some days beforehand of the part he was to take, and the form of the oath which was to be repeated. Then they promised to satisfy him, but by constant delays the commnnication he desired was not made till the evening before the day fixed for the coronation, and announced to the nation in the public papers.

The Holy Father perceived to his great surprise that it was intended to crown the Empress at the same time as Napoleon.

The Pope was undecided as to the part he ought to take : on one side, he had no proof of the validity of the Emperor’s marriage, which was contracted at a time when that sacrament was only considered as a civil contract ; on the other, how could he hesitate to celebrate the coronation the next day, when it had been publicly announced to the nation? A refusal on his part would have exposed him to humiliation, for Napoleon could have been crowned by the Archbishop of Paris or Cardinal Fesch, and the Pope would have been condemned to a situation which the éclat of his journey would have made the more ignominious ; besides Napoleon’s dissatisfaction would doubtless have rendered abortive the real object which induced the Holy Father to take this journey. He would have run the risk of obtaining no advantage from a step which could not at this time have been agreeable to the Catholic Powers or the Christian world. He had received repeated assurances that the articles inserted by the French Government at the conclusion of the Concordat, by the request of his Holiness, should be reformed and recast, and that arrangements should be made in ecclesiastical affairs and in favour of the French clergy. These considerations, important for the Sovereign Pontiff, had outweighed the censure which he did not conceal from himself must be incurred by a journey about which he had been long reproached. The Holy Father, nevertheless, constrained by the sentiment of duty, declared that he would not appear at the august ceremony, and that he would sacrifice all his interests if he did not receive direct proofs of the validity of the marriage between the Emperor and the Empress Josephine.

In the meantime, two or three French bishops, whom Cardinal Consalvi named to me, came to present their homage to the Holy Father ; he communicated to them the cause of the agitation and disquiet which his countenance betrayed. The bishops reassured him, and gave him details of the marriage of Napoleon with Josephine, and the sacramental bond by which they were united. The Holy Father, quite taken in, crowned them the next day; and it was not till several days after the ceremony that he learned that his credulity had been abused. He was inclined to speak out with vehemence, but was constrained by the consideration that he would draw general condemnation on himself if he informed the public that he had consecrated and crowned the Empress without first being sure of the tie which united this Princess to Napoleon, and that he had, so to speak, sanctioned a concubinage. He felt that the dissimulation and deceit which had been practised did not excuse him, and that he would be taxed with weakness ; he took, therefore, the part of silence, but never ceased to make the strongest remonstrances to Napoleon, and to persuade him to repair a wrong for which the Pope has never forgiven him.

The hot discussions arising from the misfortunes of the Pope commenced shortly afterwards, and this confidential communication was made to me at a moment when bitterness and animosity had brought affairs to a point when all conciliation became impossible, and it was given to me as an additional proof that the grievances of the Pope were of old standing, and were both many and great.

This circumstance was known only to the three Cardinals ; they were shocked at the unjustifiable perfidy of the bishops, but they also charged the Holy Father with having shown a little too much credulity on the occasion.

Reception of the Diplomatists after Napoleon’s Return from Tilsit, 1807

The Emperor, at the diplomatic audience of August 2, appearing to be in a very good humour, it was very generally whispered that since his arrival at Paris his manners had much changed, and that probably the Corps Diplomatique would not be again exposed to the insults to which it was too well known he often obliged them to submit. The following sketch will show how far this expectation was well founded : —

The Emperor, according to custom, began his round by the Cardinal Legate, but did not speak to him ; he came straight up to me, and conversed very pleasantly on different subjects. He asked after his Imperial Majesty ; spoke of his stay at Baden, &c. When he came to the Prince de Masserano, he said to him, ‘ I understand that the King of Spain has been ill : that will not have hindered him from hunting as usual twice a day.’

Then, addressing the Minister of Denmark, ‘ So you have allowed the Baltic to be violated. We laid down the principle that you were to be its guardians.’ The Baron de Dreger having replied in rather a long speech, which I could not understand, the Emperor replied, ‘ The thing will, I hope, now be arranged.’

To General Armstrong, Minister of the United States, he said (in French), ‘ Have you learned French yet ? ‘ This Minister neither spoke nor understood any language but English.

When the Emperor, in returning — for he always went twice round the circle — approached him again, the General turned his head to avoid the grammatical discussion which he probably feared.

After a long speech to the Ambassador of Portugal, he ended by saying, ‘ That cannot continue ; we must have peace or war.’

In returning, he talked again with me, and ended the circle by the following tirade, addressed in Italian to the Nuncio : ‘ You are bad Christians, you people at Rome ; you leave fifteen episcopal sees vacant, and then this pretension of making all the Bishops in the Italian kingdom go to Rome for investiture! The Emperor Joseph has already opposed it ; how could they suppose that I should consent at the present moment ? If Jesus Christ had instituted the pilgrimage to Rome, as Mahomet did that to Mecca, everyone would go ; but where do you find that written ? And why should you exact from the Archbishop of Milan what you do not require from the Archbishop of Paris or of Vienna ? ‘ The Nuncio wished to put in a word. ‘ The Holy Father,’ interrupted the Emperor, ‘ is a good man, but none of the people about him have any head. Now, if he gives up all sovereign power, and confines himself to spiritual power like Saint Peter, then the Bishops can be allowed to go there ; but I shall never allow my subjects to do fealty and homage to a foreign Prince.’ The Nuncio again seemed to wish to speak. ‘ Everything which is done there is without common sense,’ rejoined the Emperor ; and becoming more and more excited, he ended by saying, ‘Well, I shall be obliged to put you in order, and then I shall crush you so that you will be utterly ruined.’ With this speech he bowed his adieus to the circle, and the Diplomatic Corps took their departure.

The Court at Fontainebleau, 1807

The aspect of the Court at Fontainebleau could not but offer many objects of curiosity to an impartial observer.

This Court sometimes endeavoured to go back to the old forms, and sometimes rejected them as beneath the dignity of the moment. The Emperor hunted forty miserable deer which had been brought from Hanover and other parts of Germany to refill a forest twenty leagues round, because the kings too had their fixed days for hunting. He did not really care for the sport, except for the violent exercise, which suited his health ; and, besides, he merely went at full speed, right and left, through the forest, without regularly following the hunt. In this matter he was the despair of Marshal Berthier, who, as Master of the Hounds, wished to establish order in his department. The number of horses and equipages being quite insufficient, no one, except the foreign Princes, was admitted to these parties.

Three times a week there was a play at the Court. The actors of the Comédie Française received a thousand crowns for each representation ; this rate is the same as that of the old time. The other evenings were divided between the Courts of the Queen of Holland, the King of Westphalia, the Grand-Duchess of Berg, and the Princess de Bade. The Empress held her Court on Sundays. The diplomatic body was only received from time to time by the Princes, and they chose for this the time when the Emperor was absent ; neither I nor any of my colleagues had as yet seen him, except at a distance.

The Secretaries of State of France and of Italy, and the two ministers for the exterior and interior, were established at Fontainebleau, and kept open house for all foreigners. It would be difficult to give an idea of the prodigious expenses of the Court and of the ministers ; the chateau had been dilapidated, and the furniture sold ; now all is repaired, and while every corner of Paris, and all the principal towns of France, are full of new buildings, millions are spent for objects of pure luxury or mere fancy. On the fourteenth of this month there were fêtes in honour of the marriage of Prince Jerome with the Princess of Wurtemberg. On this same occasion, at Paris, they gave the ‘ Triumph of Trajan,’ a grand opera which had been preparing for several months.

The marriage of the Duc d’Arenberg and that of the Hereditary Prince of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen with Mesdemoiselles Tascher and Bonafoux — the first a niece of the Empress, and the second a niece of Prince Murat, whose name she now bears — were to have taken place the same day, but they have just been put off for one or two weeks. It does not look as if the first were to obtain the title of Imperial Highness, as the family of her future husband have flattered themselves. Monsignor the Grand-Duke of Wurzburg, and the Prince Primates of Nassau and Waldeck, are staying at the chateau. The first receives all the honours and respect due to his rank, and his Imperial Highness continues to gain the good opinions of everyone.

The Napoleonic Aristocracy, 1808

The Emperor Napoleon employed the last moments of his stay in Paris in unfolding his vast plan of organisation. The Moniteurs of March 14 and 16 contained all the arrangements concerning the execution of his plan. We are continually to see titles given to numbers of individuals ; all the members of the Legion of Honour taking the title of Chevalier, there will be some of these in the ranks of the army and in the artists’ studios.

The bestowal of these titles is a great object of interest to a foreign observer. Napoleon’s genius has seized new opportunities for connecting with his person, with his succession, with the extent of his conquests, even private interest, that most powerful motive, especially with individuals who have already experienced the Imperial favour, or desire to do so. He now disposes of the immense mass of domains which he had reserved to himself in the arrangements which followed the last war. A few examples will no doubt suffice for the calculation of the remainder of the favours about to be distributed. Marshal Ney told me himself that the leases of the different dotations in landed property which he had received in Italy, in Poland, and which were just announced to him in Westphalia and Hanover, amounted to five hundred thousand livres yearly. Altogether, his appointments, the Legion of Honour, and what he got under various titles from the coffers of the State, amounted to three hundred thousand francs. He assured me that his revenues were far from the maximum granted to many of his companions.

The Arch-Chancellor Cambacérès received a dotation of one hundred and fifty thousand francs ad perpetuum from the revenues of Parma, of which he took the title of Duke. The arch-treasurer Lebrun, while taking the title of Duc de Plaisance, received a like revenue. MM. de Ségur, de Champagny, and Maret, have each received between fifty and a hundred thousand francs a year from land in Westphalia and in Hanover. It is supposed that the ducal title is reserved for them, as well as for MM. Duroc, Coulaincourt, Savary, etc. etc. The latter found in his office just as he was about to return to St. Petersburg a cheque for five hundred thousand francs from the public treasury. Every general who returned here from the army, received one, two, or three thousand louis, to amuse himself with for a few days in Paris ; and this was given as the ground on which the Vice-Constable distributed the gratuity. The Imperial Guard has received a particular mark of the favour of the Sovereign, who has just allotted to all his officers a pension transmissible to their descendants in the direct line, namely, 500 francs to the sub-lieutenants, 1,000 to the lieutenants, 2,000 to the captains, and so on.

If the great point of attaching a great number of citizens of the Empire to his person and dynasty was one evident motive of these immense concessions, there are others which cannot escape the attention of the enlightened observer. The law which prevents the new nobility from selling to a foreigner, without special authority, the dotations they receive, clearly serves to unite these individuals in defence of their territories. The Imperial supremacy not only extends to the banks of the Vistula ; Napoleon has diminished the power and the means of the sovereigns, who rule the provinces of the great empire under his protection, by depriving them of a great mass of their revenues. He increased his own power by placing this wealth in the hands of French subjects, who, with this title, find themselves among the richest proprietors of the States of the Confederation. Twenty millions will flow every year into the interior of France ; the new nobility will throw them into the channels of industry, and this consideration alone gives a balance of twenty millions in favour of the Empire. Whether France exports more for a similar sum in the countries under her influence, or whether it comes to her from other causes, the fact is and will remain the same as to the result ; the landed estates, too, will maintain a very high value, if, little by little, the titled possessors are allowed to sell to foreigners, and to increase their property in France itself, a slow operation which will never pass beyond the hands of the government, and which some happy chances for the new dynasty will no doubt accelerate, whilst it can be arrested the moment the least danger threatens the existing order of things.

The old noblesse seems also to be favoured in the distribution of the new titles. This measure must greatly influence the views of the Emperor. Nothing could more effectively extinguish the old claims than their finding a new existence. The ashes of the house of Montmorency preserved in a cinerary urn since 1789 will be scattered to the winds in 1808. MM. Montmorency, de Mortemart and others are mentioned as likely to receive dotations and titles.

The only nominations to titles of nobility, besides those included in the last message to the Senate, have been just given to military men. Nearly all the marshals are made Dukes.

Augereau takes the title of Duc de Castiglione, Massena that of Rivoli, Ney that of d’Elchingen, Davoust that of Auerstadt, etc. etc. Marshal Duroc takes the title of Duc de Friuli ; Coulaincourt that of Vicenza ; Colonel Arrighi, a cousin of the Emperor, that of Padua ; Junot that of Abrantès. It should be , observed that the real Marquis d’Abrantès is expected here some day, soon, with a deputation from Portugal, of which M. de Lima will be one.

The ministers will be mostly dukes ; and all the titles have immense dotations. Nearly all the generals of brigade have received 10,o00 livres annually in perpetuity ; the colonels between 2,000 and 8,000. And, lastly, every passion was set in motion by a man who knew but one. Europe has been chased, and hunted down, and la curée is being enacted on her carcase at the present moment ; ambition, vanity, cupidity, all the passions are put in movement as accessories of the great work of destruction. Many will be satisfied by it, but not all ; some bait will be necessary for the rest : this bait will be sought in every direction, and history offers too many examples of the success of the system of dividing the best of the spoil among the collaborateurs to have escaped the attention of Napoleon.

Napoleon at the Fatal Ball at Prince Schwarzenherg’s, in Paris, July 1, 1810. From a Report sent to the Emperor Francis

Your Majesty’s Ambassador had fixed July 1 to give fête to their Imperial Majesties on the occasion of their marriage. All the arrangements were made with as much taste as magnificence. The programme• enclosed gives only a poor idea of the intention of the whole, or of the perfection with which the details were carried out.

Programme de la Fete. — Un groupe de musiqe placé dans la cour d’honneur jouera des fanfares et autres airs choisis a l’arrivé de Leurs Majestés, de la famille impériale, des grands dignitaires, &c.

Les musiciens du concert seront placé dans l’orchestre à sept heures.

Le concert ne commencera que lorsque les dames invitées seront arrivées, et continuera jusqu’à l’arrivées de Leurs Majestés.

Lorsque Leurs Majestés entreront dans la galerie, l’orchestre jouera une fanfare.

Leurs Majestés, conduites par son Excellence, traverseront la salle de concert et passeront dans le jardin ; Elles s’arrêteront un instant devant le temple d’Apollon : — les Muses qui l’entourent exécuteront un chœur.

Leurs Majestés passeront par l’allée de la cascade ; une harmonie placée dans la grotte souterraine s’y fera entendre.

De là Leurs Majestés iront sous le berceau de vigne, qui sera orné de chiffres, de fleurs, de guirlandes et de glaces. Au fond sera élevé un vaste buffet. En passant sous ce berceau, Leurs Majestés y entendront des concerts de musique vocale et instrumentale, l’un allemand et l’autre français — plus un solo d’un instrument nommé glass-cord (instrument nouveau inventé par Franklin).

En continuant à circular dans le jardin, Leurs Majestés arriveront en face d’un temple dédié à la Renommée. Trois figurantes qui seront au faite représenteront : la Victoire, Olio, Muse de l’histoire, et, au milieu, la Renommée. Les trompettes y executeront des fanfares et on y chantera un chœur. Devant ce monument brillamment illuminé seront des trépieds, où l’on brûlera des parfums.

• Leurs Majestés se rendront au pavillon impérial, sur une estrade où il y aura des siegés pour elles et Leur famille.

Ici s’exécutera une fête de château, suivie du feu d’artifice.

Après le feu, Leurs Majestés et Leur suite rentreront dans le salon d’honneur, et tout le monde se rendra par la galerie dans la salle de bal.

Leurs Majestés, après avoir pris des glaces, se rendront dans ladite salle.

Après le bal, festin dans le temple de la Renommée.

The Emperor arrived at the gates of Paris at a quarter to ten. Their Majesties changed their carriages there, and were received by the Ambassador, at the door of his hotel, about ten o’clock. The Emperor wore the ribbon of St.-Etienne over his coat. He had ordered that all persons decorated with Austrian orders should wear them. Those who had French orders wore them under their coats.

Their Majesties, after having walked round the gardens, and seen a charming ballet which was danced on a lawn in the garden of the Luxembourg, went through a great gallery newly constructed along the façade of the hotel to a ball-room made to hold 1,200 to 1,500 persons. The ball was opened by a quadrille. This quadrille finished, the Emperor came down from the raised part of the ball-room in order to walk round, according to his custom. Her Majesty the Empress, the Queen of Westphalia, the Queen of Naples, and the Vice-Queen of Italy remained in their places on this same platform. All at once a garland took fire in the gallery, and set fire to some of the draperies. The Emperor was only a few steps from the spot. Many persons tried to pull down the part that was burning ; their efforts set the draperies in motion, and may have helped to extend the flames ; at last the conflagration became general.

I was at the foot of the platform : I ascended the steps, in order to warn her Majesty the Empress of the accident ; begging her to follow me when I thought the right moment had arrived. The Emperor, who was with Prince Schwarzenberg, was, so to speak, forced by him to retire ; he crossed the ball-room, rejoined the Empress, and all four went out together. The Prince of Schwarzenberg did not leave their Majesties till, having crossed the gardens, they entered their carriages.

Seeing the Emperor and his august consort in safety, I wished to return to the ball-room. It was all on fire ; I met the crowd hastening towards me ; I got to the top of the steps that led to the ball-room ; I saw the Queen of Westphalia, who was fainting ; I seized hold of her, and carried her far enough to be out of all danger, when I left her to some persons about the Court.

The Queen of Naples, the Viceroy and the ViceQueen of Italy, six months enceinte, had remained on the platform, reassured by the coolness of the Viceroy. The first of these Princesses wanted to try and get away by the great door by which the Emperor and Empress had escaped ; she was soon so surrounded by the crowd that, being quite behind, she would inevitably have been caught by the fire, as many other persons were, but for the help of Monsignor the Archduke Grand-Duc and Marshal Moncey, who seized her and got her out. The Viceroy, seeing the lustres in the ball-room fall, and consequently not being able to get across the room, took his wife into the house by a small door which he discovered near by. No accident, therefore, happened to the Imperial family, who, following the example of the Emperor and Empress, showed the greatest calmness and courage.

Her Majesty the Empress was not alarmed for a moment ; and I am happy to be able to assure your Majesty that this frightful accident has not had the least ill effect upon her.

I have the honour to enclose, with this report, the Moniteur of to-day, which gives a detailed account of the event. It would be difficult to add anything to it. I had, however, another account written out to be inserted in the Gazette de Vienna. It seemed to me that we ought to pay a just tribute to the manner in which the Emperor behaved on this occasion.

He conducted his august consort only as far as the place where, in coming, they had changed carriages. He put her into the coach which had brought them from St.-Cloud, and returned himself to the Ambassador’s house. Present everywhere, giving orders both to save the house from the fire, and to guard its interior from the effects of disorder, directing, ordering everything, he remained there, for more than two hours, exposed sometimes to a heavy rain which came on, sometimes to the effects of the heat and smoke. He was alone, without any guard whatever, and evidently anxious to prevent any false interpretation of an event the sad character of which would not deter ill-natured people from turning it to account.

Many persons, who had been kept back or thrown down, were grievously injured by the flames. Prince Kourakin fell on the burning steps of the ball-room, and was only saved by a man who pulled him out by the legs. He had all his hair and the skin of his forehead, his hands, and his legs burned. The doctors do not think him dangerously injured. Madame la Princesse de la Leyen (mère) received injuries which seem to be mortal, both from being thrown down by the crowd and from burns. The wife of the Consul of Russia, Labensky, struck by a lustre in its fall and frightfully burned, died yesterday in the course of the day.

Amongst the persons most injured must be mentioned the second daughter of Prince Joseph Schwarzenberg ; the Prefect of Istria and his wife ; General Tousard and his wife ; Madame de la Force, and at least a dozen others more or less dangerously wounded. About twenty persons were slightly injured ; but one victim, who cannot be sufficiently deplored, and who perished from following the greatest of all sentiments, that of a mother trying to help her children, the Princess Pauline de Schwarzenberg, wife of Prince Joseph, fills all hearts.

Placed at the lower end of the ball-room, by the side of Madame de Metternich, near the Imperial platform, these two mothers threw themselves into the ‘ Anglaise,’ which was then being danced, in order to get hold of their daughters who — happily placed near the door into the garden— were saved by this accident from all danger. Madame de Metternich was dragged by the crowd into the garden, where she was immediately joined by her daughter and the eldest daughter of Princess de Schwarzenberg. That Princess perceiving her youngest daughter at some way off at the side of the great ball-room ran up to her, and carried her off; but the mother was soon thrown into the garden and separated from her child, who fell down insensible in a corner. The mother ran about weeping, and asking everyone if they had not seen her children. In the garden she had spoken to the King of Westphalia, to Minister Regnaud, and two or three other persons ; and we waited till four o’clock in the morning, in the most frightful anxiety about her, all efforts to find her having been useless up to that time. As she had been seen in the garden, there was no suspicion that she had been burnt. Covered with diamonds, she might have been seized and plundered by thieves, on the supposition that she had ventured alone into the street. The Emperor himself directed a search, all the houses in the neighbourhood being visited. It was not till five o’clock that, in moving the heaps of cinders and ruins of the ball-room, a dead body was discovered, entirely burnt, in a little recess which there was in the imperial platform at the end of the ball-room. Doctor Gall was the first to recognise it as the body of Princess Pauline de Schwarzenberg, and the inquest held by the Prefect of police confirmed the melancholy fact. It is only to be explained by the circumstance that the Princess, knowing the localities thoroughly, certain that the daughter she had been leading was left behind, and not being able to reach the door by which the crowd was going out, had returned to the ball-room by the interior of the house, that she had wished to cross the room to get to the little door by which the Viceroy had escaped, but that, suffocated by the smoke or by the intense heat, or perhaps crushed, by the fall of the roof, which first fell in at this part of the ball-room, she perished only a few steps from this same door, and a little behind the spot where the Imperial family had been placed.

I was the more inclined to this supposition as, after having put the Queen of Westphalia in safety, wishing once more to penetrate into the ball-room, and stopped by the crowd going out, I took the same road to get to the back of the ball-room and satisfy myself that no one was there. I did not meet a single person. When I came to the door of the ball-room, which communicated with the rest of the house, I was stopped for a moment by the general conflagration of all the walls and of the ceiling. The lustres had fallen ; the part of the roof on my right, where they afterwards found the body of the Princess, had fallen in ; the one over my head was still firm. I made some steps forward, and convinced myself that the ball-room was perfectly empty. All this building fell in two or three minutes afterwards. The Princess must have preceded me by only a very few minutes.

The second daughter of Prince Joseph de Schwarzenberg, the same who was separated from her mother, was saved by a Frenchman. She was badly burnt, but they hope to save her.

Such is the true account of an event which will be misrepresented in twenty ways ; but which obliges me to pay a tribute of just praise to your Majesty’s Ambassador, who carried himself with a calm, a courage, and a dignity beyond all expression. Occupied with the personal safety of the Sovereigns, he forgot his own frightful position. The employés of the Embassy, the Austrians in Paris, the couriers employed by the cabinet, rescued from the flames, at the peril of their lives, all those whom they were able to help, and many belonging to the French Court showed no less calmness and courage. At the moment when the fire was at its worst, the firemen being deficient, the preservation of the house, which began to burn in every direction, was entirely due to the efforts of persons in the company.

On the Flight of the King of Holland. From a Report to the Emperor Francis, Paris, July 28, 1810

It was by a courier sent to Paris by the Saxon Cabinet that the Emperor Napoleon was informed of the arrival of the King of Holland at Teplitz.

I saw the Emperor the same day, and when his Majesty told me of the news he had just received, I felt all the more authorised to express myself plainly on the subject, as the evening before his Majesty had talked freely with me about his brother’s proceedings. I said to the Emperor that I knew I should be doing your Imperial Majesty a service if I could inform you of the wishes of the head of the family in this respect, as I was certain that my Court would wish neither to fail in showing respect to a Prince of the Imperial family of France, nor to appear too attentive to him who had taken refuge with them. I added that I should be glad to know whether he would prefer that the King should be treated as a French Prince, or simply as a traveller.

The Emperor seemed pleased with the attention, and said that, the King having taken a private name, it appeared to him that he had no right to expect to be treated as a Royal personage. The Emperor expressed his satisfaction at his coming to us, and did not conceal that he had feared he would cross the seas, and that if he had gone to Russia it would hardly have pleased him better. I observed to the Emperor that, in coming to us, the King, no doubt, felt as if he were not leaving the family ; and in what followed, the Emperor returned twenty times to this idea, which seemed to flatter him so much.

He went into many details of the inconsistency of the King’s conduct, which he had publicly blamed in the article in the Moniteur of December 22. It cannot be denied that the King was really placed in a very false position ; he had only the choice between acting the part of Napoleon’s brother or that of a despoiled Sovereign; he must by choosing the former avoid a complication and yield to force ; if he followed the second, he must imitate the Prince of Brazil, and put himself at the head of the Colonies. This is the opinion of the public ; and this public, too, is still ignorant that he had made the amende honorable at Dresden, which might very well cause the supposition that outward evils had been added to moral misfortunes. The Emperor has lodged the Prince Royal at St.-Cloud ; but he is not the less anxious to justify the principles advanced in the above-mentioned article of the Moniteur, the reading of which has caused a sensation among those occupied with public affairs difficult to describe.

The Emperor of Austria has commanded that no notice is to be taken of the King’s stay. This measure is perfectly in accordance with the wishes of the Emperor of the French. I think, however, I ought to lay before your Majesty my conviction that, while leaving the King the strictest incognito, it would not be amiss to order the local authorities to show him particular attention. The Emperor will be pleased if the King on his return expresses himself gratified with his stay, and he thinks a great deal of these forms of mere courtesy. The Emperor, indeed, is more influenced by these little matters than it is possible to imagine.

The Church of La Madeleine

Napoleon talking one day with M. Molé about the edifices being constructed in Paris, the latter asked him when the Church of the Madeleine was to be thought of. ‘ Well,’ asked the Emperor, ‘ what do you wish me to do with it ? ‘ M. Molé replied that he had understood that his Majesty intended it for a temple de la Gloire. ‘ That is what people think,’ said Napoleon ; ‘ but I intend it for an expiatory monument for the murder of Louis XVI. ; the moment, however, for me to announce this has not yet arrived.’

A similar project was carried out a few years afterwards by Louis XVIII.

Napoleon’s Opinion of Chateaubriand

The following anecdote will serve to throw light on the claim made by M. de Chateaubriand and his friends of having been able to resist the seductive power which Napoleon knew how to exercise on his opponents : —

One day the Emperor of the French was passing in review the remarkable men of the time, and he said to me, ‘ There are men, and France unhappily abounds in them, who think themselves fit for everything, because they have one quality or one talent. Amongst these men is Chateaubriand, who joins the opposition, because I will not employ him. This man is a reasoner in the clouds, but gifted with great dialectic power. If he would use his talent in the line marked out for him, he might be useful. But he will not comply with this, and he is, therefore, good for notlhing. It is necessary either to be able to guide one’s self, or to submit to orders. He can neither do one nor the other : therefore I cannot employ him. He has offered himself to me twenty times ; but as it was to make me bend to his imagination, which always leads to errors, and not to obey me, I declined his services — that is to say, I declined to serve him.’

Napoleon’s Family

Napoleon had a great weakness for his family. There is no doubt that many of the changes of Sovereigns were due to the covetousness of his brothers and sisters.

All the members of this too numerous family were not, however, equally ambitious. Napoleon’s mother cared for nothing but money. Neither her turn of mind, nor her tastes inclined her towards social elevation. She had an immense income ; and, without the precise orders of her son, she would not have dreamed of doing anything but invest it. When her children turned her extreme economy to ridicule, she said to them, ‘ You don’t know what you do ; the world will not always go on in this way, and if ever you come back on my hands, you will be glad enough of what I have done to-day.’

In 1814, Madame Lætitia had amassed a large sum of money, which she hid in a corner covered by the portrait of her late husband. The fact and the place where the treasure was hid being mentioned to Napoleon, he went to his mother’s house, and took away the money. She must have taken from France a fortune of nearly six millions of francs.

I did not know either Joseph or Lucien Bonaparte personally ; I cannot, therefore, give any opinion about them. Napoleon thought well of Lucien’s mind, but he never ceased accusing him of uncontrolled and misdirected ambition.

In an interview that Lucien had with his brother at Milan, he offered as a pledge of reconciliation a declaration by his wife, given of her own accord, that she would be no obstacle to her husband’s fortune. The Emperor, after one of their conferences, said to the persons collected in the ante-room, ‘Lucien will not give up his rubbish ; he wants to prove to me that he has a hard head ; I will show him that mine is harder than his.’ From that time there was no question of a reconciliation. It is, in fact, known that, while agreeing to leave his wife, he insisted on the recognition of his children. His conduct in 1815 enables one to judge of the severity of his republican principles.

Napoleon has often described Joseph to me as a man gentle in mind and temper, but incapable of undertaking a career which required much vigour.

Louis was like a stranger in the family. Injustice alone could find anything to blame in his moral character.

Jerome was clever ; but the depravity of his manners, absurd vanity, and mania for imitating his brother in everything, covered him with ridicule.

Two of Napoleon’s sisters were remarkable from character ; the third from her great beauty.

Elisa, the eldest of the sisters— older, also, than Napoleon, had a masculine mind, and both in character and appearance closely resembled her brother. Ambition was her ruling passion ; and if the low extraction of her husband, Baciocchi, and his entire want of intellectual faculties, had not prevented it, there is no doubt that this branch of the family would have been raised to a very high position. Of the three sisters, she had, however, the least power over Napoleon, who feared and resisted her.

Caroline joined to a pleasant exterior uncommon powers of mind. She had carefully studied the character of her brother, and did not deceive herself as to his defects, or the danger to himself of the excess of his ambition and love of power. She also knew perfectly the weak side of her husband, and she would have guided him had it been possible for anyone to guide him.

Murat was nothing but a soldier ; but a soldier of the Revolution, and gifted with a certain instinct for domination, which I have constantly seen to be the apanage of Jacobins. Caroline exercised great power over the mind of her brother, and it was she who cemented the family bonds. Her desire was to create for herself and her family a position as independent as possible of Napoleon — independent even of the chances of his fortune — a fortune which she thought endangered by every act of violence resulting from his insatiable ambition.

Pauline was as handsome as it is possible to be ; she was in love with herself, and her only occupation was pleasure. Of amiable character and extreme good-nature, Napoleon entertained a different sentiment for her from that with which he regarded the rest of his family. ‘ Pauline,’ he has often told me, ‘ Pauline never asks me for anything.’ The Princess Borghese, on her side, used to say, ‘ I do not care for crowns ; if I had wished for one, I should have had it ; but I left that taste to my relations.’ She had a veneration for Napoleon which almost amounted to worship.

Josephine long held an empire over Napoleon ; she was gifted with a character of extreme benevolence and a quite peculiar social tact. Her mind was narrow, but in a good direction. Her excessive taste for expense often led to painful explanations between her and her husband. It would be unjust to attribute any of Napoleon’s ambitious flights to her influence. Without doubt, she would, if she could, have put spokes in the wheel of the chariot on which, however, she had, in the early days of his fortune, directly assisted to place the future Emperor.

Endowed with more intellect and a much larger ambition, Josephine’s daughter Hortense always played a part in Napoleon’s career. Napoleon loved her, and his kindness to her was the constant cause of jealousy between her and her sisters-in-law. More than one embarrassment in the personal situation of Napoleon, and even in the progress of affairs, was due to this cause.

Cardinal Fesch was a curious compound of bigotry and ambition. A sincere devotee, he yet was not far from believing Napoleon to be an instrument of heaven and a being almost supernatural. He thought his reign was written in the book of destiny, and looked on his flights of ambition as so many decrees of God.

Napoleon knew all the individual peculiarities of his family ; and did not conceal from himself that he had been much to blame in giving way to the love of power and insatiable covetousness of some among them.

He said to me one day in 1810, on the occasion of a long conversation in which he had just given me the history of his life : ‘ I have clouded and obstructed my career by placing my relations on thrones. We learn as we go, and I now see that the fundamental principle of ancient monarchies, of keeping the princes of the reigning house in constant and real dependence on the throne, is wise and necessary. My relations have done me more harm than I have done them good ; and if I had to begin again, my brothers and sisters should have nothing more than a palace in Paris, and a few millions to spend in idleness. The fine arts and charity should be their domains, and not kingdoms — which some do not know how to guide, and others commit me by carrying their imitation to the point of parody.

Napoleon took care to place near each of his brothers and relations a man whom he could trust. The fortune of M. Decazes sprang out of the post which he occupied as secretary to Madame Lætitia.

The Manuscript from St. Helena

At the time when it appeared the Manuscript of St. Helena made a great impression upon Europe.

This pamphlet was generally regarded as a precursor of the Memoirs which Napoleon was thought to be writing in his place of exile. One consideration only strikes one — namely, the peculiarity of the fact that the author has, in a short abridgment, given the résumé of a work which he was preparing to publish in extenso, and that in this abridgment he puts forth a number of sentiments and ideas of which the reproduction certainly formed the essential part of the work itself. This argument is, however, weakened by the consideration of the advantage which Napoleon might think he found in keeping the mind of Europe occupied with him and his thoughts; as well as by the boldness of the views expressed, and their agreement with the antecedents of his life.

Opinions were, however, soon divided with respect to this pamphlet ; and if there were no serious doubt raised on the nature of its contents, which were universally attributed to Bonaparte himself, some thought that it emanated directly from St. Helena, others only took it to be a compilation of the opinions and views of Napoleon on the principal acts of his political life, drawn up by some person who, formerly, had had the opportunity of becoming acquainted with the expression of his thoughts and views.

But to put together the thoughts of a third person, in a style so individual, it is necessary to suppose the author to be gifted with a very peculiar talent. The report soon spread that the work was conceived and executed by Madame de Staël. Madame de Staël, for her part, attributed it to Benjamin Constant, from whom she was at this time separated by some disagreement. Afterwards it came to be known that the author was the Marquis Lullin de Châteauvieux — a man in society, whom no one had suspected of being able to hold a pen.

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15 thoughts on “Napoleon Bonaparte – A Portrait by Prince Metternich”

  1. Of all the people I have read on Napoleon, the portrait that Metternich provides is the best.

    It is sober, scrupulous, perceptive, fair, accurate and correct.

    I read Metternich, following your lead, and he was such a joy to read. The man is a brilliant writer. A natural.

    Do you agree with his conclusions?

    I have a few caveats with his take on Napoleon’s views of religion.

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  2. Of all the people I have read on Napoleon, the portrait that Metternich provides is the best.

    If there is better I have yet to see it.

    Do you agree with his conclusions?

    I’m not sure where to look to disagree with them. His description depends on very nuanced personal observations of Napoleon made while Metternich was in crucial diplomatic contact with him as an opponent, then ally, then opponent again which no one else would be in a position to either confirm or deny short of Napoleon himself, and Napoleon’s view by itself couldn’t be trusted as a historical source.

    If errors were made in his account I suppose we could look to something that might be self-serving for Metternich. But I see nothing that particularly benefits Metternich’s reputation or politics.

    There may be factual points Metternich was not aware of that were revealed later by historians but his remarks aren’t meant as factual timelines. He intended them as character insights that may never be provable.

    Given how nuanced, detailed, and balanced both his praise and condemnation of Napoleon is I would be inclined to give it great credibility due to its apparent objectivity.

    I have a few caveats with his take on Napoleon’s views of religion.

    I’ve seen other descriptions of Napoleon’s religious sentiments described as Deist, but this could be speculation or wrong association on the part of those who try to link him to Enlightenment era sentiments, one of which was Deism.

    Occam’s razor suggests he considered himself Catholic generally, but held some unorthodox viewpoints, simply because his family was Catholic.

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  3. The only caveat is that Metternich underestimated how Machiavellian Napoleon was when it came to religion.

    Metternich’s view that Tilsit stood as the epitome of Napoleon’s power was correct.

    His view about the applicability of “good and evil” to Napoleon and men like him was surprising but also, again, correct.

    I remember the comment you made in the UR comments section; you said that Napoleon’s marriage to Marie Louise was like buying stock (N class shares).

    Following this, all Napoleon had to do was to maintain power and stability until his son took over.

    But he threw it all away due to the Russian campaign.

    What’s your thoughts on Napoleon’s view that men are motivated solely by “fear and self-interest”? (Something that Metternich contradicted him quite a bit.)

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  4. The only caveat is that Metternich underestimated how Machiavellian Napoleon was when it came to religion.

    I don’t see a contradiction: If Napoleon viewed Christianity as the only legitimate basis for political power was it Machiavellian of him to appropriate the Church at certain points to his benefit, or just consistent with how he viewed the appropriate role of religion to the state? He was not the only French ruler to see it this way with respect to the Pope.

    But he threw it all away due to the Russian campaign.

    His invasion of Russia was not really intended as an expansive invasion of Russia. What he wanted was to lure the Tsar’s army out into the open somewhere near modern Poland or Western Ukraine where he could defeat it, break off parts of Russia’s Westernmost territories to serve as buffer states between his satellites (during the start of the war Alexander I feared Napoleon would declare independence for Ukraine), and then force Russia to terms before leaving.

    If the Russians had tried to fight early on instead of withdrawing deeper into Russian territory he would have achieved this objective.

    What’s your thoughts on Napoleon’s view that men are motivated solely by “fear and self-interest”? (Something that Metternich contradicted him quite a bit.)

    I agree with Metternich (and Hamilton) that men are motivated by a mix of self-interest as well as more virtuous principles. Perhaps Napoleon’s dismissal of higher motivations came from his disillusionment with the Revolution.

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  5. “I don’t see a contradiction: If Napoleon viewed Christianity as the only legitimate basis for political power was it Machiavellian of him to appropriate the Church at certain points to his benefit, or just consistent with how he viewed the appropriate role of religion to the state? He was not the only French ruler to see it this way with respect to the Pope.”

    It is a small thing, perhaps Metternich was not aware of his instrumentalism. Yet, Metternich is right when he says that Napoleon really did believe that religion was necessary for society.

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  6. “If the Russians had tried to fight early on instead of withdrawing deeper into Russian territory he would have achieved this objective.”

    For all his brilliance, his sense of grand strategy was lacking or he did not have the discipline.

    The real issue was not Russia so much as England. It was because England and Russia were trading that led to Napoleon attacking Russia because of his blockade of England.

    The strategy, perhaps, should have been to create a division within England by using their economic interests against them.

    Thus, he should have opened Europe for trade and he should have tried to seduce the other European powers instead of threatening and attacking them.

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  7. It is a small thing, perhaps Metternich was not aware of his instrumentalism.

    Metternich was aware he used the Church at times to his ends. But this by itself doesn’t mean Napoleon viewed Christianity only as a tool for political power. The Church in that time was a political force to be reckoned with, often entangling itself with European politics. Moments when Napoleon did politically maneuver with the Church, which was necessary for whoever tried to govern France after the Revolution, were done for very selective reasons. They probably do not capture his entire opinion of Christianity and religion despite the fact this probably led to a (likely) misconception he cared nothing for its spiritual value.

    For all his brilliance, his sense of grand strategy was lacking or he did not have the discipline.

    His strategy was sensible, he failed because he veered from it. When the Russians kept avoiding battle (against the wishes of the Tsar who kept ordering his army to turn back Napoleon immediately) he should have retreated nearer to Poland and waited a year to resume the offensive.

    The strategy, perhaps, should have been to create a division within England by using their economic interests against them.

    That was the point of the Continental System. It did not work because trade with Britain was too valuable for other nations to follow France’s lead.

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  8. “His strategy was sensible, he failed because he veered from it. When the Russians kept avoiding battle (against the wishes of the Tsar who kept ordering his army to turn back Napoleon immediately) he should have retreated nearer to Poland and waited a year to resume the offensive.”

    This is correct, but it assumes the standard assumptions with Napoleon’s paradigm. My claim is that after Tilist (indeed, even before it) Napoleon should have transitioned to a different paradigm. Napoleon forgot that the purpose of war is to bring peace. His actions led only to more war. In short, he did not know where to stop both at the level of grand strategy and at the level of theater strategy.

    It does play out the old maxim that if you “live by the sword, you will die by the sword.”

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  9. Napoleon should have transitioned to a different paradigm. Napoleon forgot that the purpose of war is to bring peace. His actions led only to more war. In short, he did not know where to stop both at the level of grand strategy and at the level of theater strategy.

    He could have settled with Britain to drop the Continental System in exchange for an end to hostilities and recognition of his preeminence over Western Europe. But Britain may not have come to terms anyways because peace would have given French assets time to later threaten Britain’s overseas Imperial territories and because they still had a viable land ally in Russia as well as an ongoing proxy war in Spain to keep the war going.

    Pushing Russia further away from Europe and into Asia was probably a precondition to forcing England to terms, whether or not Napoleon wanted peace terms.

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  10. “He could have settled with Britain to drop the Continental System in exchange for an end to hostilities and recognition of his preeminence over Western Europe.”

    Indeed.

    “But Britain may not have come to terms anyways because peace would have given French assets time to later threaten Britain’s overseas Imperial territories and because they still had a viable land ally in Russia as well as an ongoing proxy war in Spain to keep the war going.”

    Again, indeed. But the English may well have fell for the bait. The Spanish intrigue that later turned into an “ulcer” should never have been embarked upon in the first instance.

    Napoleon could have made Poland and independent state and used it as a buffer against the Russians.

    All in all, it would have required a loss of prestige perhaps, and some short-term loss of profit for France, but it would not have lead to the “flower of French youth” thrown away in Russia.

    Alternatively, or rather, concurrently, the French really did need to build up a good navy to counter the English.

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  11. In other news, it is not looking so good in NK.

    Trump is supposed to be beginning a trade war with China tomorrow.

    Do you think a war with NK will help or harm his presidency?

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  12. Spain was his second greatest mistake after Russia.

    Fearing Russia, Poland would have remained a loyal satellite state of France whether or not Napoleon governed it directly or if the Poles governed themselves.

    A buildup of French naval forces would forced England to resume hostilities one way or other.

    I anticipate Trump will gain from a war. North Korea is an unambiguous threat to US territory itself and wars to defend US soil have always been ones where the President commands very strong backing to defeat it no matter how ugly the fight may get.

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  13. “Spain was his second greatest mistake after Russia.

    Fearing Russia, Poland would have remained a loyal satellite state of France whether or not Napoleon governed it directly or if the Poles governed themselves.”

    Agreed.

    “A buildup of French naval forces would forced England to resume hostilities one way or other.”

    They did need an execuse, the key would be not to give them one such as invading Spain.

    Perhaps, Napoleon could have used proxies instead such as allowing a different country to build up a navy (that France could draw upon).

    “I anticipate Trump will gain from a war. North Korea is an unambiguous threat to US territory itself and wars to defend US soil have always been ones where the President commands very strong backing to defeat it no matter how ugly the fight may get.”

    I have a feeling that Trump might be used as a cat’s paw here. Especially, if it goes bad.

    If there is a war, then Trump get’s the blame (hypocritically) and is shown the door – impeached or voted out in 2020.

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  14. They did need an execuse, the key would be not to give them one such as invading Spain.

    Any significant naval buildup on France’s part would have provoked Britain even without an invasion of Spain. There’s no excuse Napoleon could have given that would convince the British he wasn’t preparing to challenge the Royal Navy’s supremacy.

    I have a feeling that Trump might be used as a cat’s paw here.

    If it goes well his political position is greatly enhanced.

    Regardless of the ancillary political calculations, the decision whether there will be military conflict of some sort or other is entirely in Kim’s hands – disarm the ICBM program or Trump will be forced to order the military to destroy it.

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