The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins. — H. L. Mencken

Story of Napoleon - H. F. B. Wheeler

A Broken Friendship and What it Brought


Napoleon now entered with renewed zest upon the work of perfecting his Continental System, and in so doing he quarrelled with his brother Louis, King of Holland. The young monarch had followed a liberal policy, devoting his time and energy to the interests of his people, and earning their respect if not their love. Napoleon always regarded the land of dykes and wind-mills as scarcely more than a province of France; Louis was determined that his country should be independent. He was no believer in the Emperor's plan to keep out British goods, so profitable a source of revenue, and as a consequence an extensive business was carried on between Holland and England. Napoleon threatened, Louis temporized, until the former, holding the trump card, finally settled to annex the Kingdom which so openly defied his wishes and commands. Louis was aware that this would probably be the end of the quarrel, for on the 21st September 1809, Napoleon had written a letter to him setting forth his many grievances. He charged the King with favouring Dutchmen who were well disposed towards England, with making speeches containing "nothing but disagreeable allusions to France," with allowing "the relations between Holland and England to be renewed," with violating the laws of the blockade which is the only means of efficaciously injuring this Power," and so on.

"To sum up," he concluded, "the annexation of Holland to France is what would be most useful to France, to Holland, and to the Continent, because it is what would be most harmful to England. This annexation could be carried out by consent or by force. I have sufficient grievance against Holland to declare war; at the same time I am quite ready to agree to an arrangement which would yield to me the Rhine as a frontier, and by which Holland would emerge to fulfil the conditions stipulated above."

The Emperor began by annexing the island of Walcheren. Gradually the encroachments were extended until the left bank of the Rhine was wholly French. Troops were drafted to Holland, the Dutch bitterly resenting the interference of Napoleon in affairs which they held were no concern of his. There was talk of an insurrection, of arming the country to resist the arbitrary claims of the despot. Finally the unhappy Louis abdicated in favour of his son, and retired to the confines of Bohemia. Little more than a week later Holland was definitely annexed to the Empire, thereby adding nine departments to France. In the following month Jerome Bonaparte, King of Westphalia, was offended by the appearance of French troops at the mouths of the Elbe and Weser. Indeed, it would appear as if Napoleon was intent upon alienating the affection of the members of his own Imperial family. Perhaps the most tried brother was Joseph, who deserved all pity in the far from enthusiastic reception his new Spanish subjects were according him. Lucien had long since quarrelled with the Emperor, and although the latter attempted a reconciliation he was unsuccessful. On obtaining Napoleon's permission to retire to America, the ship on which he sailed was captured by an English frigate, and for several years he lived the life of a country gentleman in the land he had been brought up to hate. The hapless Josephine was in retirement at Malmaison; Murat failed to see eye to eye with his brother-in-law, so much so that later the Emperor threatened to deprive him of his throne. In 1810 Napoleon also lost the services and support of Bernadotte by his election as Crown Prince of Sweden.

But while his brothers and friends were thus falling away from him Napoleon felt amply compensated in March 1811 by the birth of a son, who was given the high-sounding title of King of Rome. It will be remembered that Charlemagne, founder of the Holy Roman Empire, was styled "King of the Romans." "Glory had never caused him to shed a single tear," says Constant, the Emperor's valet, "but the happiness of being a father had softened that soul which the most brilliant victories and the most sincere tokens of public admiration scarcely seemed to touch."

Supreme in war, Napoleon was also one of the greatest administrators of whom we have record. As the story of his life has progressed we have noted how he set about the reformation of the governments of the various countries he had conquered or where his word was regarded as law. "The State—it is I," said Louis XIV., and Napoleon summed up his own mode of life on one occasion by quoting the remark, which was no mere figure of speech. He seldom took recreation; when he was tired of thinking of battalions he thought of fleets, or colonies, or commerce. As Emperor he sometimes hunted, but more from a matter of policy than because he loved sport, just as he went to Mass to set a good example, and to the first act of a new play to gratify public curiosity. M. Frederic Masson, the eminent Napoleonic historian, is authority for the statement that the Emperor once promised to attend a magnificent ball, and the most elaborate preparations had been made in his honour. Unfortunately the Imperial guest remained closeted with the Minister of Finance from eight o'clock in the evening until he heard a clock strike and was surprised to find that it was 3 A.M. The so-called pleasures of the table were miseries to him, and he ate his food with no regard whatever for convention or the menu. He would begin with an ice and finish with a viand.

The Memoirs  of Napoleon's three private secretaries, Bourrienne, Meneval, and Fain, afford us intimate views of the great man at work. Those of Bourrienne are the least authentic because they are not entirely his writing. The Emperor had an unfortunate habit from his secretary's point of view of dictating his correspondence in full, and he spoke at such a rate that it was almost impossible to note what he said in its entirety. To interrupt him was a breach of etiquette. Fain found it necessary to leave blanks, which he filled up when he was transcribing with the help of the context.

M. Masson thus describes the Emperor's work-room at the Tuileries:—

"The room which Napoleon made into his study was of moderate size. It was lighted by a single window made in a corner and looking into the garden. The principal piece of furniture, placed in the middle, was a magnificent bureau, loaded with gilt bronze, and supported by two griffins. The lid of the table slided into a groove, so that it could be shut without disarranging the papers. Under the bureau, and screwed to the floor, was a sliding cupboard, into which every time the Emperor went out was placed a portfolio of which he alone had the key. The armchair belonging to the bureau was of antique shape; the back was covered with tapestry of green kerseymere, the folds of which were fastened by silk cords, and the arms finished off with griffins' heads. The Emperor scarcely ever sat down in his chair except to give his signature. He kept habitually at the right of the fireplace, on a small sofa covered with green taffeta, near to which was a stand which received the correspondence of the day. A screen of several leaves kept off the heat of the fire. At the further end of the room, at right angles in the corners, were placed four bookcases, and between the two which occupied the wall at the end was a great regulator clock of the same kind as that furnished in 1808 by Bailly for the study at Compiegne, which cost 4000 francs. . . . There were books also in the back study, books in the cabinet of the keeper of the portfolio, along the side of the bedroom, and books also in the little apartment.

"Opposite the fireplace, a long closet with glass doors, breast high, with a marble top, contained boxes for papers, and carried the volumes to be consulted and the documents in use; no doubt also the equestrian statuette of Frederick II., which the Emperor constantly had under his eyes. This statuette was the only work of art which he ever personally desired to have.

"In the recess of the window was the table of the private secretary. The room was furnished with a few chairs. At night, to light his bureau, Napoleon used a candlestick with two branches, with a great shade of sheet iron of the ordinary kind."

There was also a back study, where the Emperor usually received his Ministers of State, a topographic study, and two small rooms. From this suite of apartments Napoleon may be said to have directed Western Europe.

Brief mention must be made of the Emperor's "campaign" library. The volumes were contained in two mahogany cases fitted with shelves; each book was noted in a miniature catalogue and had its special place, changes being made from time to time. Novels, historical memoirs, poetry, and the classics were invariably represented. No fewer than six chests of volumes were conveyed to Waterloo.

Meanwhile the rearrangement of Europe, always to the advantage of France, continued almost without cessation by the addition of a strip of territory here, some miles of another man's possessions there. Soon every inch of coast line from the Rhine to the Elbe was under Napoleon's domination. Oldenburg, a Duchy ruled by one of the Czar's relations, was swallowed up, the Hanseatic towns and Valais were incorporated in the ever-growing Empire. The restoration of Polish independence by the Emperor of the French seemed not improbable and annoyed the Czar intensely. The latter had good ground for thinking that Napoleon contemplated this course in the recent territorial acquisitions of the Duchy of Warsaw according to the terms of the Treaty of Schonbrunn. When he boldly asked for an assurance that the kingdom of Poland should never be re-established, Napoleon politely declined, contenting himself with the statement that he would not assist anyone else to do it, thereby leaving a loop hole for his own interference should he deem it necessary or desirable.

Such a reckless, or rather insane, policy made it evident that Napoleon no longer intended to share the world with the Emperor of all the Russias as he had suggested at Tilsit and Erfurt. We have already noticed that the Czar had entertained suspicions of his friend's loyalty, a doubt reciprocated by Napoleon, who was intensely annoyed that Russia had not kept strictly to the terms of the Continental System, the relaxation of which was considerably to the benefit both of Great Britain and of Russia. Alexander, also, had been at war with Turkey, and Napoleon, instead of aiding his ally, as the Czar had a certain amount of right to expect, endeavoured to prolong the contest to serve his own personal ends. This the Porte, suspecting ulterior motives, refused to do, and on the 28th May 1812 peace was restored, to be followed in July by peace between Russia and Great Britain. Sweden, coveting Norway and knowing that no help could be expected from France in the fulfilment of her hope, while possibly it might be received from Russia, also came to terms with the two reconciled Powers after hostile measures had been undertaken against her by Davout in Pomerania. Preparations for war were now made by France and Russia in real earnest. Following his usual plan Napoleon made overtures to England for a cessation of hostilities. His terms were that the present occupants of the thrones of Spain and Naples should be acknowledged by Great Britain and her troops withdrawn from their territory. He on his part undertook to recall his armies.

On the eve of the Emperor's departure for Dresden to dazzle and flatter his allies by a final display of grandeur worthy the Conqueror of Western Europe, Pasquier, his newly-appointed Prefect of Police, had an interview with him. The question of a shortage in the food supply of Paris had come up, and Pasquier had ventured to remark that the situation would be rendered more dangerous by the monarch's absence. "Napoleon appeared struck by these few remarks," Pasquier tells us. "When I had ended speaking, he remained silent, and pacing to and fro between the window and the fireplace, his arms crossed behind his back, like a man who is pondering deeply. I followed in his steps, when, facing me suddenly, he uttered the words which follow: 'Yes, there is doubtless some truth in what you tell me; it is one more difficulty added to the many I have to face in the greatest, the most difficult  undertaking I have ever attempted; but I must fain bring to a termination what I have begun. Farewell, monsieur le préfet.'"

On the 9th May 1812, the Emperor and his consort set out on their journey to the capital of Saxony. It was one long series of festivities culminating in a Court of Kings which included the Emperor and Empress of Austria, the Kings of Prussia, Saxony, Naples, Wurtemburg, and Westphalia, and the rulers of Saxe Weimar, Saxe Coburg, and Dessau. "His levee," says de Segur, "presented a remarkable sight. Sovereign princes waited for an audience from the Conqueror of Europe; they were mixed up to such an extent with his officers that the latter were frequently on their guard lest they should accidentally brush up against these new courtiers and be confounded with them." His description may be a little exaggerated, but it showed to what a supreme height Napoleon had risen, and how marked had been the change in his ideas since the days when he would have willingly laid down his life for Republicanism. At St Helena he stated that at Dresden he "appeared as the King of Kings." This was not meant in any blasphemous sense, but was merely the Emperor's summing-up of the unique and all-powerful position he then occupied. The inhabitants of Dresden waited in the streets for hours on the chance of getting a fleeting glimpse of the "little great man" who had done so much and who was expected to do considerably more in the forthcoming campaign. "It was not his crown," says Count Philip de Segur, "his rank, the luxury of his Court, but him—himself—on whom they desired to feast their eyes; a memento of his features which they were anxious to obtain: they wished to be able to say to their less fortunate countrymen and posterity that they had seen Napoleon." Englishmen who had every reason to hate him have left behind records which testify to the fascination exercised over them by the Emperor on various occasions. The Germans had nothing to thank him for, and yet they flocked in crowds to see their oppressor.

Far from giving way to the fears which he had confessed to Pasquier, the Emperor made light of the many difficulties which he knew to be insuperable to the task he had undertaken. To the Abbe de Pradt, Archbishop of Malines, whom he sent as envoy to Warsaw, he remarked, "I will destroy Russian influence in Europe. Two battles will do the business; the Emperor Alexander will come on his knees, and Russia shall be disarmed. Spain costs me very dear: without that I should be master of the world; but when I become such, my son will have nothing to do but to retain my place."

"Never was the success of an expedition more certain;" he assured his vassals, "I see on all sides nothing but probabilities in my favour. Not only do I advance at the head of the immense forces of France, Italy, Germany, the Confederation of the Rhine, and Poland, but the two monarchies which have hitherto been the most powerful auxiliaries of Russia against me, have now ranged themselves on my side: they espouse my quarrel with the zeal of my oldest friends." This was not strictly true, and savoured rather too much of his army bulletins and similar proclamations. Like the doctor with a nervous patient, he withheld some of the disagreeable features of the case. "The two monarchies," namely Austria and Prussia, had they dared, would have preferred to remain neutral, or if that were impossible, to come to terms with Russia, their last resource on the Continent against the aggressor who had treated them with such scant consideration. Prussia had "espoused" Napoleon's quarrel so far as to entertain hopes but a few months before of an alliance with either Russia or Austria.

The campaign of 1812 was to dwarf all Napoleon's previous efforts in magnitude; a mere summing-up of statistics can at most give but an inadequate idea of the immense armament which he deemed necessary if a death-blow was to be struck at the heart of the great Russian Empire. The flames of the Peninsular war were still flickering, which necessitated the locking-up of a large number of troops under Soult, Marmont and Suchet which Napoleon could have used to better purpose had affairs been more settled in that quarter. France was in very truth "a nation in arms." For home defence the able-bodied men from twenty-five to sixty years of age were divided into three classes, 900,000 of whom were to garrison the fortresses on the frontiers and watch the coasts, the remaining 300,000) ?> to drill and make themselves efficient for immediate service whenever necessary. A rich man considered himself fortunate if he could secure a substitute for less than 8000 francs. The price of the Emperor's friendship was also a costly one to those Princes whom he deigned to favour with his attentions. The Confederation of the Rhine was called upon to furnish 147,000 men, Italy some 80,000, Poland 60,000. France contributed 200,000 strong, other countries brought the total to the stupendous figure of 680,000 troops. Prussia found herself called upon to furnish 20,000 troops for the invasion of the Czar's territory, and enormous quantities of oats, rice, wheat, and other provisions, in addition to hospital accommodation, horses and carriages. Austria was to supply 30,000 soldiers, but she did so on the distinct understanding that her Polish provinces should be kept inviolate. Prussia asked nothing and expected nothing.

Napoleon's new army was one of the most cosmopolitan that ever came into being. There were French, Austrians, Prussians, Bavarians, Poles, Italians, Illyrians, Dutch, Swiss, even a sprinkling of Spaniards and Portuguese. These men did not all follow willingly. Indeed in 1811 no fewer than 80,000 French conscripts deserted or failed to answer the summons. A string of manacled recruits was not an uncommon sight in France. Napoleon was now "the common oppressor," the gold of glory had turned out to be tinsel.

While France was deploring, Napoleon was organizing his forces. He brooked no delay, would listen to no arguments, was deaf to the entreaties of those who failed to see his reason for making war with Russia. "The Emperor is mad, quite mad," Admiral Decres confided to a friend. "He will ruin us all, many as we are, and everything will end in a frightful catastrophe." Mad with ambition he certainly was, mad in intellect he certainly was not.

The army was divided into ten great corps. The first under Davout, the second under Oudinot, the third under Ney; the fourth was an Army of Observation, under Prince Eugene; the fifth consisted of Poles under Prince Poniatovski; the sixth, in which the Bavarians were included, under Saint-Cyr; the seventh, made up of the troops from Saxony, under Reynier; the eighth, of Westphalians under Vandamme, to be succeeded by Junot; the ninth was given to Victor, the tenth to Macdonald. An eleventh Army Corps under Augereau was afterwards created, largely augmented from the ninth. There were also the Austrians commanded by Prince Schwarzenberg, the Imperial Guard, and four divisions of Cavalry under Murat and Latour-Maubourg.

To oppose such a formidable host the Czar finally mustered some 400,000 troops. At the opening of the campaign he had considerably fewer men at his disposal than Napoleon. They were divided into three main armies. The first Army of the West, under Barclay de Tolly, numbered 136,000; the second Army of the West, commanded by Prince Bagration, totaled 39,000; the third, or reserve, under General Tormassoff, reached some 40,000. Other troops, drawn from various places, swelled the initial number to perhaps 250,000. As there is considerable discrepancy in the figures given by the most reliable authorities probably the exact military strength of the two nations will never be known.