Story of Modern France - Helene Guerber

Entry into Berlin

Napoleon's distribution of crowns and duchies proved another severe shock to conservative European monarchs, who argued that "if a king of royal lineage like Ferdinand of Naples can be summarily deposed, and a commoner like Joseph Bonaparte placed on the throne in his stead, no kingdom in Europe will henceforth be secure!" To prevent a similar fate from overtaking them, they felt that all sovereigns should band together against this bold innovator and chastise him for his presumption.

This was the general verdict, and it gave rise to the Fourth Coalition (1806), to which England contributed funds, while Prussia and Russia did the main part of the fighting. Napoleon, who had been watching proceedings closely, and had made ready for war by collecting forces and supplies in the states of his German allies, now deemed it best that operations should begin before the allies could make further preparations. With that purpose in view, he had his court journal publish such offensive articles about the Prussians in general, and about their beautiful Queen Louise in particular, that every loyal Prussian rose up in wrath against him. Even before war was openly declared, Napoleon was on his way to attack the Prussians, exciting his ignorant soldiers the while by insisting that the foe was "insulting the victors of Austerlitz!"

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


By masterly tactics, Napoleon managed to place himself in the rear of two Prussian armies, and to attack one of them with overwhelming forces at Jena where the queen herself had been reviewing and encouraging the Prussian troops. Here Napoleon, torch in hand, himself superintended the placing of his guns, and quickly won another of his great victories. The picture of Napoleon at Jena, by Vernet, shows the emperor at the moment when, reviewing his troops, he overhears an impatient soldier whispering urgently, "Forward, forward!" To these words the great general severely replies: "What's this? It can be only a beardless youth who tries to prescribe what I shall do. Let him wait until he has commanded in twenty pitched battles, before pretending to give me any advice!"

On the same day one of Napoleon's generals defeated the other Prussian army (at Auerstadt, a few miles north of Jena), so Prussia's strength was annihilated for a time. In spite of the heroic courage and dauntless patriotism of the people the French soon gained possession of the large fortress of Magdeburg, and at the end of a three weeks' campaign entered Berlin as conquerors.

This triumphal entrance of the French army into Berlin, and the ungenerous conduct of the emperor toward people and queen, rankled sorely in Prussia for many a year, as did the fact that he bore off to Paris, as a trophy, the sword which lay on Frederick the Great's coffin, and which had once gloriously carved the fortunes of the country. Besides, Napoleon made the vanquished pay for the war, vindictively saying in regard to the Prussian nobles, "I will make them so poor that they shall be obliged to beg their bread!" This, as you perceive, was not chivalrous, but Napoleon was truthful and generous only when it suited his ends to appear so, and proudly considered himself the rest of the time above observing the usual laws of conduct and morality. Still, he rewarded the Germans who helped him, by making the Saxon duke a king, and by organizing properly the Confederation of the Rhine.

It was while in Berlin that Napoleon devised a plan to ruin England without invading that country. This consisted in forbidding any of the continental European countries to allow her ships in their ports, to buy any of her goods, or to sell her any supplies. As England is largely a manufacturing country, and depends upon selling her manufactured products abroad,—getting raw materials and food in exchange,—this blockade, if strictly carried out, meant little less than ruin and starvation for her. To help in making the blockade strict, Napoleon decreed that all Englishmen found in continental countries should be made prisoners of war, and that no letter written in English or addressed to any Englishman should be allowed to pass into or out of the continent. Such was the fear Napoleon inspired that nearly all the European nations in time submitted, or pretended to submit, to this "Continental System," or "Continental Blockade." As a result, England was somewhat crippled, and the continental countries also were injured by the interference with trade that had been profitable to both parties; but so many English goods were smuggled in that the blockade proved a failure.

It was also at Berlin that Napoleon performed an act of spectacular generosity in favor of the German governor of the city, Von Hatzfeld, who had been left there in command on condition that he should be loyal to Napoleon, rather than to his own country. But a letter written by Von Hatzfeld to the Prussians, betraying some of Napoleon's plans, accidentally fell into the French emperor's hands. The governor's wife, deeming her husband innocent, yet knowing that he would be shot if court-martialed, fell at Napoleon's feet, wildly beseeching his intervention, until he showed her the letter proving her husband's guilt. Seeing the poor woman almost swoon at this revelation, Napoleon suddenly gave the letter to her, bidding her cast it into the fire with her own hand, thus destroying the only proof of her husband's treachery. You can imagine with what joy the wife obeyed, and how grateful she felt thereafter to the man to whom her husband owed his life!