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Napoleon went forth to seek Virtue, but, since she was
not to be found, he got Power. — GOETHE.
Eden and Cedar Paul
GEORGE ALLEN & UNWIN LTD.
First published in England April 1927
Second and Third Printings June 1927
Fourth and Fifth Impressions July 1927
Sixth Impression (2nd Edition) September 1927
Seventh Impression November 1927
(All rights reserved)
Printed in Great Britain by
Unwin Brothers, Ltd., Woking
Moscia. Summer 1924
TABLE OF CONTENTS
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Buonaparte in 1783. The first known portrait,
drawn by his fellow-countryman Pontornini. Musee
Nationale, Versailles 4
General Bonaparte in 1797. After a painting by Jean
Guerin. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris
(From the "Corpus Imaginum " of the Photographic 37
General Bonaparte in 1796. Engraving from the
Kircheisen Collection 68
General Bonaparte. Unfinished portrait by Jacques Louis
David. From the collection of the Duke of Bassano. 101
(Photograph by Braun, Paris and Domach.)
General Bonaparte in 1797. Drawing by Wocher in
Basle. Town Library, Basle 142
General Bonaparte in 1798, during the voyage to Egypt.
Sketch by Andre Dutertre 159
Bonaparte as First Consul. Painting by Girodet. Musee
Nationale, Versailles 198
(Photograph in the Kircheisen Collection.)
Bonaparte as First Consul. Pencil sketch by J. D. A.
Ingres. Germain Bapst Collection 231
(Photograph in the Kircheisen Collection.)
Bonaparte in 1802, as First Consul. Engraving by
Alexandre Tardieu. After a drawing by Jean
Baptiste Isabey 264
Bonaparte as First Consul. Painting by J. D. A. Ingres.
Musee de Liege 297
(Photograph by Braun, Paris and Domach.)
The Coronation. Detail from the picture by Jacques
Louis David. Louvre, Paris 330
(Photograph in the Kircheisen Collection.)
List of Illustrations
Napoleon as Emperor. Painting by Vigneux. Count
Primoli Collection 362
(From the " Corpus Imaginum " of the Photographic
Napoleon as Emperor. Bust by Houdon, Musee de Dijon 394
(Photograph by J. E. Bulloz, Paris.)
The Emperor's profile. Sketched during Mass in the
Tuileries. Germain Bapst Collection 427
(Photograph in the Kircheisen Collection.)
Napoleon as Emperor in 1809. Woodcut from a medal
ByJ. P.Droz 460
Napoleon as Emperor. Engraving by Bourgeois, after a
painting by Jacques Louis David 493
(From the " Corpus Imaginum " of the Photographic
Napoleon as Emperor in 1814. Painting by Horace
Vernet. Tate Gallery, London 526
(From the " Corpus Imaginum " of the Photographic
Napoleon as Emperor in 1815. Engraving by Robert
Lefevre, after a painting by Muneret 557
Napoleon as Emperor in 1815. Woodcut, after a medal 590
Napoleon at St. Helena. Watercolour painting,
Probably by a Japanese, with a marginal inscription
in Chinese ideographs concerning the owner. 623
Death mask of Napoleon. By Dr. Antommarchi 656
1769. August 15th, Napoleon born.
1779. At School in Brienne.
1784.. At the military academy.
1785. Sub-lieutenant of artillery.
1789. To Corsica.
1791. April, lieutenant in Valence.
October, to Corsica.
1792. Putsch in Ajaccio. Banishment.
1793. Captain. Siege of Toulon.
1794. February, brigadier-general.
1795. June, at the Ministry for War.
October, suppression of the Paris rising.
Commander of the Army of the Interior.
1796. March 2nd, Commander of the Army of Italy.
March 6th, married to Josephine Beauharnais.
1796-7. Battles of Millesimo, Castiglione, Areola, Rivoli, Mantua.
1797. At the castle of Montebello.
Peace of Campo Formio.
1798. In Paris till May.
May 19th, embarcation for Egypt
Battle of the Pyramids.
1799. Jaffa, Acre, Aboukir.
October 7th, landing in France.
November 9th, coup d'etat of the eighteenth Brumaire.
December 24th, First Consul.
1800. June 14th, battle of Marengo.
December 24th, attempted assassination.
1801. Peace of Luneville.
Concordat with Pius VII.
1802. Peace with England.
Consul for life. Legion of Honour.
1804. March 21st, duke of Enghien shot.
May 18th, assumption of imperial title.
December 2nd, coronation.
1805. October, Trafalgar.
November, Vienna taken.
December 2nd, battle of
Peace of Pressburg.
1806. Confederation of the Rhine. Joseph, King of Naples.
Louis, King of Holland.
October 14th, battle of Jena.
Berlin. Continental System.
1807. Battles of Preussisch-Eylau and Friedland.
June 7th, treaty of Tilsit.
Jerome, King of Westphalia.
1808. Home. Madrid. Bayonne. Joseph, King of Spain.
Murat, King of Naples.
1809. Excommunication. Battles of Aspern-Essling,
Wagram, and Vienna.
1810. January, divorce.
April, married to Marie Louise.
1811. March 20th, birth of his son.
1812. Battles of Smolensk, Borodino, Vittoria, Moscow.
December, return to Paris.
1813. April, battles of Lutzen and Bautzen.
July, battle of Dresden.
Ocober 16th to 18th, battle of Leipzig.
1814. Battles of Brienne, La Rothiere, Champaubert,
Montereau, Bas-sur-Aube, Laon, Arcis-sur-Aube.
April 6th, abdication in Fontainebleau.
April 20th, embarcation for Elba.
1815. February 26th, sails from Elba.
March 13th, outlawed.
March 20th, Paris.
June, battles of Ligny and Waterloo.
June 23rd, second abdication.
July 13th, letter to the prince regent.
July 31st, declared a prisoner
1815. October 17th, arrival in St. Helena
1821. May 5th, death.
The story of Napoleon produces on me an
impression like that produced by the Revelation
of Saint John the Divine. We all feel there must
be something more in it, but we do not know
what. — GOETHE.
A young woman is sitting in a tent. Wrapped in a shawl,
she is suckling her baby, and listening to a distant rumbling and
roaring. Are they still shooting, though night has fallen ?
Maybe it is only the sound of one of those autumn
thunderstorms whose echoes reverberate from the mountains ;
or perhaps it is nothing more than the murmur from the
surrounding forest of pines and evergreen oaks, where foxes and
wild swine have their lairs. She looks like a gipsy, sitting
there with her white breast half covered by the shawl,
brooding within the murky tent, uncertain what the fate of the
day may have been. Now she hears the sound of hoof-beats. Is
it he ? He promised to come ; but it is a long way from the
fighting line, and the mists are rising.
The flap of the tent is thrown open, letting in a breath of
night air. A man enters. An officer in a coloured tunic and
wearing a plumed head-dress; a slim fellow, nimble of
movement ; a young patrician, in the middle twenties. He greets
the woman ardently. Springing to her feet, she gives the
nursling to her maid. Wine is brought. Taking the kerchief
from her head, she stands before him, showing chestnut
ringlets astray on a smooth, white brow. An eager question is
on her well-shaped lips. Add to the picture that she has a
long chin, a sign of energy; that her aquiline nose is thrown
into relief by the firelight; and that on her hip there gleams the
dagger which in this mountain land she never lays aside. We
see a lovely amazon, daughter of an ancient race, sprung
from men of action and resolution. The woman's forebears,
like the man's, have for centuries been leaders and warriors;
first across the water in Italy, and then in this craggy island.
But now, when all have gathered together against the
Corsica 's Struggle
hated enemy, have joined forces in the attempt to
drive out the French, here, in the wildest part of the
mountains, whither the brave girl of nineteen has
followed the husband fighting for their fatherland; who,
now, could recognise in her the brilliant patrician, the
magnet of all eyes? Here, nothing but pride and courage
show that she is of noble birth.
The man, full of life and vigour, ever in movement,
tells her all his news. The enemy has been beaten,
driven back towards the coast. There is no escape.
Envoys have been sent to Paoli.
" There will be a truce to-morrow. Letizia, we are
winning ! Corsica will be free ! "
Every Corsican longs for many children. It is a land
where an affront is instantly avenged by a dagger thrust;
where the vendetta is sacred; where family feuds last
from decade to decade and from century to century.
The man before us wants many children, to ensure
that his race shall persist; and the woman has learned
from mother and grandmother that children are tokens of
honour. She had become a mother at fifteen ; but the
baby she has just been nursing was her first boy.
The thought of freedom glows afresh, for the officer
is adjutant to Paoli, the leader of the people.
"No longer shall our children be the slaves of France !"
With the coming of spring, despondency prevails.
The enemy has landed reinforcements ; the children of
the island take up arms once more; again the young wife
accompanies her husband to the war ; this time she
carries a child beneath her heart, the child conceived
during the storms of the previous autumn.
" Often, in search of news, I would steal forth from our
mountain nook to the battle-field ; I heard the bullets
whistling, but I put my trust in Our Lady " — so she
would tell the story in later years.
In May, the Corsicans were defeated. There was
Buonaparte in 1783. The first known portrait, drawn by
his fellow-countryman Pontornini. Musee Nationale,
a terrible retreat through the dense forests and the rugged
mountains. Among the multitude of men and the few women,
rode Letizia, big with child, carrying her one-year-old boy in her
arms, seated on a mule. They reached the coast safely. In
June the defeated Paoli, accompanied by a few hundred of
his faithful followers, had to flee to Italy. In July Paoli's
adjutant, Letizia's husband, with other envoys, capitulated to
the conqueror. The insular pride was humbled. But in
August his wife brought the avenger into the world.
She named him Napolione.
This woman, who during the campaign had played the heroine
and had shown a man's courage, must now, in the great house
by the seashore, become a prudent and thrifty housewife. Her
young husband, fanciful by temperament, lived more on plans
than on income. For years his energies were mainly devoted
to the great lawsuit concerning his inheritance. As a student
in Pisa, where among his fellows he was known as Count
Buonaparte, he had lived well but learned little. After the
birth of his second son, he cut his studies short. How was he
to make a living ? In troublous times, a man of the world takes
the world as it is ; comes to terms with the conqueror; all the
more since the French, in order to secure their footing in the
island, are inclined to show favour to the Corsican nobility.
Soon he becomes assessor in the new lawcourts ;
superintendent of a nursery in which the king of France, eager
to turn the new possessions to account, wishes to grow
mulberries ; and when the distinguished marshal comes to stay,
no expense must be spared. There are still flocks of sheep in the
hills and vineyards along the coast; his brother, archdeacon
at the cathedral, is well-to-do; and his wife's half brother,
another priest, a merchant's son, is skilled in worldly affairs.
By the time his proud and beautiful wife has reached her
thirties, five boys and three girls have been born to her.
This is well accordant to the notions of the islanders, for
whom rivalries and vendettas are supreme virtues. But the
A Kingdom in a Garden
rearing of eight children is a costly matter; so, day by day, the
youngsters hear their parents talking about money. At length,
however, the father finds a way out of his difficulties.
Accompanied by his two eldest sons, now ten and eleven years
of age, he sails to France, and journeys from Toulon to
He brings recommendations from the marshal in
Corsica. The Buonapartes' Italian title of nobility is confirmed
by the Heralds' College in Paris. To the Corsican official
who has been loyal for a decade, King Louis makes a grant
of two thousand francs. The two sons and one of the
daughters are given scholarships in the Nobles' Schools. One
son is to be a priest; the other, an officer.
A taciturn boy, small, shy, and lonely, sits reading in a
corner of the garden. It is his own plot in the school garden at
Brienne, and he has made a fence round it. Really, only a
third of the enclosure is his own, for he has fenced in the
plots of neighbours on either side. They may come in too;
but woe to any one else who disturbs his privacy! He rushes
furiously at the intruder. A little while ago, when the boys
had had a fireworks' display, two of his schoolmates, who had
been slightly burned, had run away to his garden for
refuge. He had driven them out, flourishing a hoe at them.
No punishment will bring him to reason in this matter. The
masters shake their heads and let him go his own way.
" The youngster is made of granite," says one of them, "
but there is a volcano inside."
No one may touch this little kingdom of his in the garden,
though part of it is usurped. He has an ardent feeling
for his own independence. Writing to his father, he says : " I
would rather be the first among the workmen in a factory than
the last among the artists in the Academy." Did he get the
idea out of Plutarch ? Certainly he has an enthusiasm
for that author, the lives of the great men as sketched by
Plutarch, especially the Roman heroes. Of these, he is
always dreaming. No one tells us that he ever saw this boy
To his schoolfellows he seems half a savage, or at
best a queer foreigner. He knows scarcely a word of
French, and has little inclination to learn the language
of the foe. What a tiny little chap he is, and what a
ridiculous name ! His coat is too long. No pocket-money,
nothing to spend, and yet he claims to be of noble birth!
The scions of the French nobility laugh. Who cares about
Corsican noblemen ?
" If you Corsicans are such brave fellows, why did you let
yourselves be beaten by our unconquerable troops ? "
" We were one to ten," the lad angrily exclaims. "You
just wait till I'm grown up, and I will pay you Frenchmen
"Your father is nothing more than a sergeant, after all!"
An outburst of wrath from the boy, who challenges his
tormentor. The young Napoleon is " kept in." He writes to
his father : "I am tired of explaining my poverty ; of having
to endure the mockery of these foreign boys, whose only
superiority is in respect of money, for in nobility of feeling
they are far beneath me. Must I really humble myself before
these purse-proud fellows ? " The answer from the island is : "
We have no money. You must stay where you are."
He stays five years; and, just as his revolutionary feeling is
intensified by every slight, so does his self-confidence grow
proportionally with the growth of his contempt for his
fellows. The masters, indeed, monks one and all, have a good
opinion of him, although he does not make much headway
except in mathematics, history, and geography — subjects
which appeal to a precise mind, a seeing eye, and also to the
bitterness of spirit characteristic of one who belongs to a
For always his thoughts turn back to his native island.
In secret, he is angry with his father for having come to
terms with the French. He has made up his own mind. He
will get all he can out of the king at whose cost he now
The Brooding Lad
pursues his studies, so that in due time he may use the
knowledge against his patron. He has a presentiment that
some day he will set-Corsica free. As yet all the lad of
fourteen can do is to pore over books about his homeland, for
he who would make history must first study history. He
devours, too, all that Voltaire, Rousseau, and the great king
of Prussia shortly before his death, have written on behalf
of the liberation of Corsica.
Such a boy as this — solitary, suspicious, questing and
rebellious, brooding rancorously over vast designs — what is he
likely to become ? Precociously thoughtful; endowed with a
knowledge of men that is beyond his years. When Joseph,
his elder brother, wishes to abandon the priestly career and to
adopt the profession of arms, the youngster writes of him : " 1 .
He lacks courage to brave the perils of the battle-field. — He
will be a good garrison officer: well-grown and handsome,
quick-witted and therefore inclined to pay frivolous
compliments, with his talents he will always make a good
impression in society. But in battle ? 2. 'Tis too late to
make a change. He might have got a rich benefice, and
what an advantage that would have been to the family ! 3.
What branch of the service will he enter ? The navy ? (a) He
knows nothing of mathematics; (b) his health could never
endure life at sea. He is too light-minded for the sustained
work that will be needed if he is to be an artillery officer."
These are the reflections of a fifteen-year-old observer, who
sees in himself the qualities that his brother lacks ; and it
is a perfect description of Joseph, who was, indeed, his
From this same father, Napoleon had inherited
versatility and a vigorous imagination; from his mother
came pride, courage, and accuracy; from both was
derived his strong family feeling.
His First Sword
" Only the sword-belt belongs to France ; the edge is my
own," thinks the youth, as he first buckles on his sword.
At sixteen he has become a sub-lieutenant — and he will don
uniform a good many more times before he dies. He has
qualified for this rank by a year in the Paris Cadets' School,
where he spent his time as he had spent it at Brienne,
poring over books. A lad of Spartan tastes, he finds the
prodigal expenditure of the sprigs of the French nobility
(by whom he is utterly outshone) extremely distasteful.
Since, however, nature sets him, even more than most young
men, in the centre of his own world, he makes a virtue of
necessity, and pens a memorial to the effect that luxurious
living is unsuitable for budding soldiers. He must not get
into debt, for he knows how poor they are at home. Now,
when his father dies, the family affection of this Italian
becomes intensified. Though little more than a boy, he
begins to save money in order to help his mother.
After his examination, passed with fair credit, his
superiors wrote of him: " Reserved and diligent, he prefers
study to any kind of conversation, and nourishes his mind
upon good authors. . . He is taciturn, with a love for solitude ;
is moody, overbearing, and extremely egotistical. Though he
speaks little, his answers are decisive and to the point, and he
excels in argument. Much self-love, and overweening
Clad in his new uniform, the little sub-lieutenant goes
to join his regiment at Valence, compelled by his poverty to
walk a great part of the way. Three impulses stir his
youthful heart: to despise and make use of his fellow-
creatures, most of whom are empty-headed and
pretentious; to extricate himself from the clutches of
poverty; to learn much in order that he may rule others.
The means and the goal are one. He is to be a leader in
the struggle on the island, and then to make himself master
The Lieutenant Reads
How dull life is in this garrison town ! Of course, a
young man should learn to dance, should taste the pleasures of
lively society. He tries this, but soon abandons the attempt,
for his teeming pride makes him want to hide his poverty.
However, any one who holds converse with members of the
burgher class, lawyers and shopkeepers, hears strange talk,
gets wind of things that the young viscounts in Paris
never dream of. Is it really true ? Has the spirit of
Voltaire's and Montesquieu's and Raynal's writings actually
climbed down so soon, to stalk among the provincial petty
bourgeois ? Is the movement which these prophets were
conjuring up now seriously afoot ? Can it be that the
revolution is at hand ?
Books clamour it abroad. Reading is free as breathing ;
and when a man has read all the books in the lending
library, he can spare a franc or two now and again to buy a
new book. True, the youth lodges in a cafe, and the clicking of
the billiard balls in the next room is tiresome. But it would be
still more tiresome to move. In personal habits, he is
What about his sentiments ? Judge for yourselves. Like
every young man of his generation, he is keenly interested in
the State and society. There he sits in the room next the
billiard-room ; pale, lonely, in a hot and stuffy atmosphere.
While his comrades, after their short hours of duty, scatter to
seek distraction in gaming or the pursuit of women, the
impoverished lieutenant bends over his books, reading with
sure instinct about the things (and those only) that will be of
use to him in days to come : artillery, its principles and its
history ; the art of siege ; Plato's Republic; the constitution of
the Persian, the Athenian, the Spartan State; the history of
England ; the campaigns of Frederick the Great; French
finances; the Tartars and the Turks, their manners and
customs, and the topography of their countries; the history of
Egypt and the history of Carthage; descriptions of In dia;
English accounts of contemporary France: Mirabeau,
Buffon, and Machiavelli; the history and the constitution
of Switzerland; the history and constitution of China,
Alexander as Prototype
India, the Inca State; the history of the nobility and
the story of patrician misdeeds; astronomy, geology,
and meteorology; the laws of the growth of population ;
statistics of mortality.
He did not simply flutter the pages of his books, but was
an attentive reader. There is extant a whole series of copy-
books containing Napoleon's notes, penned in an almost
illegible handwriting. The contents of these, reprinted,
occupies four hundred pages. Here we find a map of
the Saxon heptarchy with a list of the kings for three
centuries; item, the varieties of foot-race in ancient
Crete; item, lists of the Hellenic fortresses in Asia
Minor; item, the dates of twenty-seven caliphs, with a
note of the strength of their cavalry, and an account of
the misconduct of their wives.
Especially frequent are memoranda concerning Egypt
and India, including even the measurements of the Great
Pyramid and a catalogue of Brahminical sects. He
copies a passage from Raynal: " In view of the position
of Egypt, lying betwixt two seas, and in fact betwixt the
East and the West, Alexander the Great conceived the
design of establishing the capital of his world-wide
empire in that country, and of making Egypt the centre
of world commerce. This most enlightened of the
conquerors had realised that if there was any practicable
way of amalgamating his conquests into one
consolidated State, it was by this use of Egypt, created as
a point of union between Africa, Asia, and Europe."
Thirty years later, he still had the words by heart. He
had read them so often..
At this date, too, he begins original composition,
drafting more than a dozen essays and projects : the
placing of artillery; suicide ; monarchical authority ; the
inequality of men ; and Corsica, above all, Corsica —
such were the topics. Rousseau, the most popular author
of those days, is pulverised by Napoleon's realism. The
young officer is epitomising Rousseau's views on the
origin of the human race (in the Discours sur I'origine et
les fondements de I'inegalite parmi les hommes), but
Imagination in Its Cave
abruptly he breaks off the epitome with the comment: " I
don't believe a word of this." Then come a couple of pages filled
with his own counterstatement. Human beings were not, to
begin with, solitary ; nor were they nomadic. They were
happy, and lived apart, because they were not numerous
enough to be forced into close contact. When the
population grew more thick upon the ground, " then
imagination came forth from the cave in which for so long it
had been prisoned : self-confidence, passion, and pride reared
their heads; there arose ambitious men with pale features, who
took control of affairs, and mastered the multicoloured
young popinjays, the Lotharios and lady-killers."
Do not we already hear him rattling his chains, in the dark
cavern where he himself is prisoned with his titanic
imagination ? Do not we see the fancy portrait of the young
author, pale of visage, full of hatred for the brilliant lady-killers
who are his messmates ?
Away from these fellows, who are Frenchmen ! His gaze
is still fixed upon his native isle, and it is to the advantage
of Corsica that he twists the new sociological outlooks. We
read in one of the essays : " How absurd to declare that divine
laws forbid us to shake off a usurper's yoke ! Were that so,
then every regicide who has clambered into the vacant throne
would be under God's protection, whereas in case of failure he
would have lost his head. With how much better right, then,
can a people drive out a usurping prince ! Does not this speak
for Corsicans ? . . . Thus we can shake off the yoke of
France, just as we shook off the yoke of Genoa. Amen."
Meanwhile, the fledgling genius wished to try its wings,
and this urge led Napoleon to draft a novel on Corsica, and
also some short stories. All were animated by hatred of
France, but none of them were ever finished. Still he was
learning his trade, spurred on by poverty, passion, and
sentiment. Imagination rules the world, but cannons are the
instrument whereby imagination realises its purposes. " I
have no refuge but my work. I only change my linen once
a week. Since I was ill, I have slept very little. ... I eat
only once a day."
He studies ordnance and munitions of war, always thinking
in figures, so that every one says that he is a born
mathematician. Now, side by side with the drafts of works of
imagination, he draws up specifications of all the localities in
the island where he would place batteries, dig trenches,
station troops — if he had but the power ! Beneath the
network of poetical thoughts with which he has covered the
island, he spreads over his maps a second network, wherein
crosses denote big guns. Maps, maps! In his room beside
the noisy cafe, he restudies everything conceivable, copies
whole speeches out of the report of the parliamentary
proceedings at Westminster, and sketches the remotest parts
of the earth. At the end of the last of his copy-books, the final
entry runs : " St. Helena, a small island in the Atlantic Ocean.
At this juncture he received a letter from his mother. Her
powerful patron, the marshal, was dead ; the house had lost its
main prop ; the mulberry orchard was no longer to be a means
of livelihood ; Joseph had no paid occupation ; could the second
son give any help ? Shortly after this appeal reached him, he
went home on furlough. Are we to consider him an unacknow-
ledged conqueror, returning to the island of his plans and
dreams ? Read what he wrote in his diary :
" Always alone, though in the midst of men, I go back
home that I may give myself up to my lonely dreams and to the
waves of my melancholy. Whither, now, do my gloomy
thoughts tend ? Towards death. Yet I stand on the
threshold of life, and may reasonably expect to draw breath
for many, many years. For the last six or seven years I
have been far away from my country. How great the joy —
to see my own people once more! — What demon, then, is it
that tempts me to self-destruction ? — Since misfortune dogs my
footsteps, and nothing gives me pleasure, why should I go on
bearing a life in which, for me, everything goes awry ? —
What a tragedy in the homeland ! My fellow-country
men, in chains, kiss the hand that beats them. — Proud,
buoyed up by a sense of his own worth, so lived of yore the
happy Corsican, giving his days to the service of the State,
and spending his nights in the arms of his beloved wife — the
nights which nature and affection made divine for him. With
the disappearance of freedom, those happy times have
vanished like a dream. Frenchmen, not only have you
stolen from us our greatest good, but now you are corrupting
our morals ! That is how I see my country, and yet I am
powerless to help. Are there not reasons enough for
quitting a world in which I must glorify those whom I
hate ? — If it were but the life of one individual which stood
between us and our liberties, I should not be slow to act. — Life
has become a burden to me, I have no enjoyment, nothing but
pain, — and because I cannot live after my own fashion,
everything is loathsome to me."
After a year spent in Corsica, a year rendered gloomy by
money troubles and family cares, he was still in this mood of
despair when his furlough expired. He returned not to
Valence, but to Auxonne. What did the change matter ?
But, at last, recognition comes. His new general, who
sees that this subaltern of nineteen is well informed, puts into
his hands the task of carrying out some works upon the
parade ground. " Difficult calculations are involved; and so,
for the last ten days, I have been busied from morning
till night at the head of two hundred men. This unusual
preferment has given some of my superiors a spite against
me. They are furious that so important a job should have been
taken out of their hands and given to a lieutenant."
The old depression recurs. Promotion will be
desperately slow, and when he becomes a captain he will be
retired on half-pay. He will return home, to be despised
because he is a pensioner of the French. At long last, he
Drums of the Revolution
will be buried in his native soil. Of that privilege, at least,
the French cannot rob him ! Were they, then, nothing but
froth, the dreams of liberty revealed in the books he had
read ? If mighty France herself was unable to shake off
the yoke of the nobility, to rid herself of venality and
nepotism, how was poor little Corsica to shake off the
French tyranny ?
The young author fills his diary with new schemes. He
would have had to pay heavily for it if the book had fallen
into the hands of his superiors. " Draft for a memorial
concerning monarchical authority. Set forth details as to
the usurped power which kings enjoy to-day in the twelve
monarchies of Europe. There are few of them who have not
merited dethronement." Thus does he vent his spleen in
the faithful diary; whilst in public on every royal
birthday, dressed in gala uniform, he must join in the
cry : Long live the king !
Another year of his youth is spent in the dull routine
of such service, while Napoleon holds his peace and waits,
dividing his energies between imaginative writing and
The year of destiny has opened. Into the most out-of-
the-way regions of the slumbering province comes the
presage of the trumpets that are about to sound. We are in
the month of June 1789. The melancholy lieutenant feels
that the day of vengeance draws near. Is the arrogance
of those who have so long humiliated him, to bring
destruction upon their own heads ? May it not be that the
call of the myriads is also the battle-cry of the island ? He
takes his Letters on Corsica; sends them to his admired
exemplar Paoli, in exile ; and writes :
" General! I came into the world when my country
was perishing. My cradle was surrounded by men with the
death-rattle in their throats, and by those whom despair had
driven to tears. . . . With them, hope vanished. Slavery
was the reward of our subjugation. To justify
themselves, the traitors have heaped calumnies upon
you. . . When I read this, my blood boiled, and I resolved
The First «F
to scatter the mists. Now I shall blacken with the brush of
shame all who have betrayed the common cause. ... If I
lived in the capital, I should find other means. . . . "Owing
to my youth, this undertaking may be fruitless; but I shall
be helped by my passion for truth, my love for my country,
and my enthusiasm. If you, General, will encourage in this
work a young man whose coming into the world you saw, I
shall gain confidence. . . . My mother, Madame Letizia,
has charged me to remind you of the old days in Corte."
We notice a new tone, a symphony of new tones : the soaring
emotion of the epoch ; the gesture of the tyrannicide ; the
whole equipment of scintillating words, not an uprush of
feeling (as in the pages of his diary), but deliberately chosen
with an eye to their effect. Only one thing is alarmingly
original, quite peculiar to the writer: the decisive " I " at the
opening of the letter, this " I" as a great thesis, fronting the
world. Immeasurable self-confidence is breaking a trail; for
now the drum-taps of a new era are sounding ; an era which will
give the palm, not to birth but to action, thus sweeping away
the only hindrance that has hitherto been insuperable. An
unprecedented claim is voiced, a claim which henceforward will
never cease to be heard. But at the close of the letter, with a
courteous turn of phrase, he slips back into the familiar,
implying that he looks to Paoli for protection. What
adroitness, what good manners, we find in all the letters of
this adolescent, who in person is still rough and enigmatical!
Paoli, the survival from an earlier day, is annoyed by such
arrogance, and answers with civil irony that young people
should not try to write history.
Four weeks after the sending of the letter, young people
begin to write history, for the first time in the eighteenth
century. They storm the Bastille ; the great signal has been
given ; and France leaps to arms. Even in the garrison town
of our young lieutenant, the masses riot and loot, until the
propertied classes join forces with the troops. Buonaparte
The Red Cockade
is at his post with his battery in the streets, and helps to
shoot down the people. This is the first time he has fired a
gun in real earnest. He acts under orders from the king's
officers; but there can be no doubt that he acts whole-
heartedly against the mob, which he despises no less than he
despises the nobility.
In the depths of his soul, he regards this as nothing more
than a dispute among foreigners. What does he care about
Frenchmen who raise their hands against other Frenchmen ?
His brain is fired by a single thought: " Corsica's hour has
come ! " Madness or enthusiasm, an ideal or merely a
catchword ? What matter ? Let us carry the message to
our island. Apply for leave ; and, in the turmoil of the new
movement, be the first to reach home !
Lieutenant Buonaparte landed on his island like a prophet
carrying a new doctrine to a foreign coast. He was the first
to bring the red cockade ; to promise liberty, equality, and
fraternity. Was not this a race of free mountaineers, who of
old had been self-governing, but for twenty years had groaned
under the heel of the oppressor — a conqueror who ruled through
the instrumentality of the nobles and the Church, but did not
understand the people ?
What did it matter to the young Jacobin that until
yesterday he had lived upon his patrician birth, that solely
because of his rank he had been educated at the king's cost ?
What was the king to him ? At length the peoples were to be
free to rule themselves. If the new France, just awakened, had
proclaimed the right of self-government, Corsica, which the
old France had loaded with chains, must proclaim its own
freedom. Citizens, the hour has struck ! To arms ! Let
every one wear the red cockade of the new era; let us form
a National Guard, as they have done in Paris ! Let us wrest
the means of power from the king's troops. I am an
artillerist, and I will be your leader !
Twenty years of age, pale of countenance, with cold,
blue-grey eyes, but with a mouth full of glowing phrases,
such is the aspect of young Buonaparte as he hastens
through the streets of Ajaccio. Every one in the little town
knows him, and he is followed by a growing number of
persons, some eager for liberty, and others in search of a
change of any kind. To the crowd in the square, he seems a
man bringing passionate hopes; his figure is that of a
tribune of the people. In this half-oriental atmosphere,
and among these quarrelsome families (so he says later), "
a man soon learns to study the human heart."
But there is a set-back. No reinforcements come from the
mountains ; and, when the regular troops put in an
appearance, they scatter the revolutionists. Within a few
hours, all have been disarmed, though, for prudence, no
arrests are made. This is a further source of
disillusionment. He is not even a martyr, but only a would-
be popular leader who has been defeated ; his position
borders on the ludicrous. Yet the fever is still burning in
his veins, and at all costs he must do something to cool
himself. A statement of grievances to the National
Assembly in Paris! First of all, in the florid style of the
day, an ode to the new freedom, and then a spate of
complaints and adjurations. To the gallows with the
king's servants! Arm the citizens of the island ! — A
committee promptly joins him in signing the document.
Weeks of waiting. What answer will come from
Paris? Here is the courier at last. The island is to be a
French province, having the same rights as the other
provinces; in accordance with Mirabeau's proposal, Paoli
and all the champions of liberty are free to return home.
The lieutenant is taken aback. A province ? In spite of
the new ideas, and indeed because of them, the Corsicans
are to remain Frenchmen ? A strange form of liberty! But
there, already, is the procession, headed by the
authorities, on its way to the cathedral, where the decree
from Paris is to receive a blessing. Buonaparte is prompt
to seize the rope which all are seizing. He pens fiery
manifestoes to his fellow-citizens, seeks supporters in the new
political club, and engineers his elder brother's election to
the town council. Meanwhile he continues to work at his
history of Corsica, and reads to his mother choice passages
of what he is writing.
" Can this be the great Paoli ? " That is the question
Buonaparte asks himself, when, after twenty years' exile,
the hero of his youthful enthusiasms returns amid popular
acclamations. "His talk and his appearance are so humdrum,
so politic, so unsoldierly." But it was expedient to keep on
good terms with Paoli, for he was to be the commander of
the National Guard. In the mountains, the young artillery
officer was for some time closely associated with the man
who had been his father's chief just before his own coming
into the world.
When they were sitting together or riding together —
the tried veteran and the darkly aspiring young
Corsican — the latter would eagerly expound to the former
his plans for an armed rising, and even for the forcible
severance of the island from the new France. On these
occasions, Paoli would look at Buonaparte with mingled
pride and alarm. He could not but feel that the author of the
Letters on Corsica really had a claim upon him. But the
young fellow had the devil in his body ; and (which was
worse) in his brain, for in the man's brain was the image of
the world throne in solitary splendour. Shaking his head,
Paoli would exclaim :
" There is nothing modern about you, Napolione. You
come from the age of Plutarch ! "
For the first time in his life young Napoleon felt that
he was understood. The Roman heroes of Plutarch were
alone adequate to his aspirations. Paoli was the first to
recognise the Roman in Buonaparte.
At length he has a phrase upon which his self esteem can
The First Place Is Occupied
luxuriate. Now, from his country retreat, when at Paoli's
instigation he writes a manifesto, the superscription penned by
his fevered imagination runs as follows : " 23rd day of January
in the 2nd year, from my study at Midilli." Ridiculous or
sublime ? However this may be, as soon as he has issued the
dictatorial pronunciamento the young man has to hasten back to
his military duties in France, for his furlough, though renewed
again and again, has finally expired. Is he to sacrifice this last
firm standing-ground ? To what end ? Why should he stay in
the island any longer ? The first place is occupied !
" I am in a peasant's hut writing to you, after a long talk with
the good folk. ... It is four in the afternoon; the weather is fresh
but mild ; I thoroughly enjoyed walking. No snow yet, but there
is snow in the air — Everywhere I have found the peasants
staunch; . . . they are all ready to die for the constitution — The
women are royalists almost without exception. No wonder for
that, seeing that Liberty is fairer than they, and eclipses them. In
Dauphine, the priests have taken the oath of fealty to the
constitution ; they laugh at the bishops. — ' Good society,' as it
is called (three out of four are aristocrats), affects admiration for
the British constitution. It is true that Peretti threatened
Mirabeau with a dagger. This is little to our credit. The Patriotic
Society must make Mirabeau a present of our national costume:
biretta, vest, knee-breeches and hose, cartridge pouch, stiletto,
pistol, and musket. It will certainly have a good effect."
Everything in this letter to Napoleon's maternal uncle, the
abbe Joseph Fesch, bears witness to observation and
calculation, the elements upon which the politician's influence
is based: the weather, the State, travelling on foot, the
conciliation of a man in high position, men's motives — all have
been the objects of careful consideration. Vanity and avarice,
these are the weaknesses to which an appeal can be
successfully directed. We see deep into his soul when, in a
bluntly-worded letter dating from those weeks, he arraigns an
opponent thus:" Your study of human nature has taught you the
price of every man's enthusiasm ; for you, the difference
between people's characters was summed up in a few gold
pieces more or less ! "
Gold pieces! Where were they t
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