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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 83

Seeley's Napoleon

Seeley's Napoleon.

Professor Seeley, in the Encyclopœdia Britannica, follows on the lines of Lanfrey, who demolished the Napoleonic Legend, as embodied in the glowing history by Thiers. Buckle wrote of The gigantic crimes of Alexander and Napoleon," which is the text of Lanfrey and Seeley.

Colonel Jung has lately published an interesting work on the youth of Napoleon, and indeed it is extremely nebulous, like the life of Shakespeare. Buonaparte languished seven years as a lieutenant. He first came into notice, against the English, at the siege of Toulon. Here he rose to Colonel of Artillery, and Brigadier-General. He received a wound, apparently from an English bayonet, and it was not discovered till after his death, being on one thigh.

He was not far off an experience, final, of the guillotine, through his friendship with the younger Robespierre. After very dark days, worse than those of Clive, he obtained the command of the Army in Italy, through the influence of Josephine with the Director Barras. His prodigious successes against the Austrians, at Montenotte, Castiglione, Arcoli, Rivoli, made him a dangerous man, and the Directory shunted him off in command of a vast expedition against Egypt. The French fleet and transports had a narrow escape from Nelson, who afterwards destroyed the fleet at the battle of the Nile.

Buonaparte's failure to penetrate into Syria, through the obstinate resistance of Sir Sydney Smith, at the little town of St. Jean d'Acre, partly caused his surreptitious return to Paris, deserting the Army. Then he played the Cromwell, dissolving the Legislature, and making himself First Consul, subsequently transmuted into consul for life. The next advance of the panorama is his crossing the Alps, and beating the Austrians at Marengo, which gained him the Empire.

For two years he maintained the camp of 150,000 soldiers at Boulogne, for the Invasion of England. The passage of the flotilla was to be secured by a device of luring the English fleet away, after the French fleet, which was to return unexpectedly, and obtain command of the Channel for a couple of days. This broke down. The French fleet, together with the Spanish, was

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Napoleon swung his Grand Army from Boulogne over to Moravia, where he defeated the Austrians and Russians at Austerlitz. Prussia had hung aloof, and the next year Napoleon overthrew this power at Jena. We could trace how he was the author of the present triumph of Germany. By limiting the Prussian army, he inspired Stein and Scharnhorst with the idea of putting all the young men of the population through the mill, under a short service system, which eventuated in the instrument wielded by the Emperor William, Bismarck, Moltke, and Roon, in their several departments of policy, organisation and direction. Yes, Napoleon was the author of Gravelotte, Sedan, and the second capture of Paris, as well as the first. War ever breeds war. The Revanche must come over Alsace and Lorraine.

The campaigns of Eylau and Friedland were devoted by Napoleon to beating the Russians. He had Russia pacified, and Prussia prostrate, when he gave Austria a knockdown blow in the campaign of Wagram. But Austria is the most elastic power ever known. Austerlitz, Wagram, Solferino, and Sadowa have all "destroyed" her. The Wagram campaign was nearly fatal to Napoleon. Defeated at Essling, he was driven back upon the island of Lobau, on the Danube, from which he emerged with reinforcements, and won Wagram, whereby he gained, too, the hand of Marie Louise.

Russia remained to be crushed. Napoleon led thither his army of half-a-million, which almost perished in the retreat over the snows of Russia from burnt Moscow, after winning Borodino, the bloodiest battle on record. Here the Russians gained that character which they maintained at Plevna. "Their columns are walls of flesh, hack and hew them as you will," said a French officer.

Napoleon's backbone was broken by this appalling disaster of 1812, conjoined with Wellington's successes in the Spanish peninsula; Vimiera, Talavera, Massena's repulse from before the lines of Torres Vedras, followed by the battles of Fuentes d'Onoro, Busaco, Barossa, Albuera, Salamanca, Vittoria, Orthez, the Pyrenees, Toulouse.

The immense battles, of which Leipsic was the chief, preceding Napoleon's Abdication, were an irresistible breaking down of his power, like Grant's wearing down of Lee. His return from Elba, with 1200 men, and re-conquest of France without shedding a drop of blood, is undoubtedly the most extraordinary event in all history.

Our articles on "Quatre Bras, Ligny," "Eve of Waterloo," and "Waterloo," based on Mr. Dorsey Gardner's book, took our readers over the details of the last struggle. Darting up into Belgium, Napoleon surprised Wellington and Blucher. He beat and drove back Blucher at Ligny, but the left hand of his army, page 5 under Ney, was unable to grip the four cross roads of Quatre Bras from Wellington. This contest was very like that in which Sheridan so magnificently wrenched away the position at Five Forks.

We showed how the five acts of the Drama of Waterloo ended in Napoleon's defeat, through the absence of Grouchy, with 30,000 men. Our limits do not allow of a discussion of the political and social side of Napoleon's life, to which we may recur.