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ART. I.-Memoires de M. Bourrienne, Ministre d'Etat sur
Napoleon, le Directoire, le Consulat, l'Empire et la Restoration. 6 vols. 8vo. Paris. 1829.
The French Revolution is destined to become the theme of unnumbered dissertations. The memoirs that relate to the French Revolution, to its causes, incidents and actors, and particularly to him who for so long a time seemed destined to give it its permanent form and final character, already amount to many hundred volumes, and every season is bringing forth additions to these stores, and increasing the pages devoted to this very remarkable period in the history of the civilized world.
During the exaltation of Bonaparte, there were flatterers enough, he himself conspicuous among the number, to extol bis character, celebrate his exploits, and magnify his power. But since that power has waned, and other planets have become lords of the ascendant, multitudes have arisen to question the greatness that was apparently so pre-eminent, and tarnish the glory that once shone so specious and so fair. A few, either from the necessity of their position, or from a devotion to his memory, which rendered and still renders them insensible to his aberrations, occasionally appear as the defenders or apologists of all his actions; but the greater number undoubtedly consider the moment favourable to every developement which can lower his reputation or cast a shade over any point or portion of his character.
Bonaparte, during his rapid and brilliant career, had, indeed, committed offences against all parties in the state, and left VOL. V.NO. 10.
many embittered feelings ready to burst forth in complaints and censures, when the curb which for a time restrained them, was forever removed. The royalists, though favoured and protected by him, though relieved, with a few exceptions, from the severe and sanguinary decrees of the Convention, though restored to all their possessions which had not, before his accession to power, been absolutely alienated, though recalled to their country and their homes, could not forgive Napoleon for belonging to the revolution, for his usurpation of the throne of the Bourbons, and the execution of the Duke d'Enghien. The violent jacobins, on the other hand, were the objects of his constant suspicions, and we might almost say, unguarded denunciations; they were treated with scorn and contumely, and were many of them punished with more severity and a more utter disregard to the forms and principles of justice, than any other individuals who fell under his displeasure. Yet, strange to say ! it is among this party that many of his most devoted adherents and most unqualified eulogists have been found. The republicans who had looked through all stages of the revolution, for the Utopian shores which were to terminate their trials and their toils, beheld their visionary hopes obscured, and their airy dreams dissipated by one who was considered as a child of the revolution, and who had often announced himself as the assertor of the great principles of liberty and equality. And the friends of a limited monarchy, who hoped to see under a new dynasty, a well-regulated and balanced form of government, better adapted to the state of opinions and society in France, than the tumultuous and transient systems which the revolution had hitherto ushered in, were equally dismayed when they bebeld on the throne a chief, who knew no limits to his power but his own discretion, and recognised no principle or qualification but that necessity of which he alone was to be the interpreter and judge. Such, however, was the splendour of his administration, such the ascendancy which he acquired over the imagination and affections of his followers, that all these discordant parties were silenced before him, or followed his car of triumph with united acclamations—yet recollections were preserved of things which astonished or petrified as they passed, and, in the fullness of time, they are brought forth and submitted to the judgment of the world.
We can give only an occasional glance to the numerous works which, on this fruitful topic, are overloading the European, but particularly the French press, and must be satisfied with noticing those that possess some peculiar claim to our consideration.
Such ought to be the work before us. The school companion, afterwards the private and confidential secretary of Bonaparte, during an important period of his life, undertakes to inform us of his manners, character, private views and secret machinations, of the movements of his cabinet rather than of his armies-of many of those circumstances which, however they may influence the course of history, do not always appear on its pages.
We have read these memoirs with some pleasure, mingled however, with much disappointment. They are loaded with petty details; too much importance is given to the affairs of M. de Bourrienne. His views are never profound, and although Bonaparte conversed often with him freely, for he was fond of conversing with those around him, it is evident that, however he confided in his discretion, he did not appeal to his wisdom. We find none of those conferences or consultations which even Bonaparte, confident and boastful as he was of the superiority of his talents, must have held frequently with the ministers who surrounded him, and who formed that council of state from which ostensibly, all important measures were made to emanate. To Bourrienne he would mention sometimes seriously, sometimes jocularly, his opinions, his expectations or his projects, and to many of them this auditor has given an undue importance, as if nothing idle or without serious design, could ever be uttered by so dignified and profound a statesman. Still there are many recitals in these memoirs amusing and interesting, and some valuable materials for those who may hereafter compose the history of this enterprising, and for a long time most successful soldier. Some of these we will present to our readers.
We will first, however, devote a few moments to the author himself. M. Fauvelet de Bourrienne, whose family had claims to nobility, and belonged to the department of the Yonne, at eight years of age, was placed at the military school of Brienne, and was a classmate, and, during five years that they remained together at that school, the intimate companion fo Bonaparte. The latter was transferred in 1784, at the age of fifteen years, to the military school at Paris. Bourrienne continued at Brienne until 1787; in the following year he was sent to Vienna to join the train of the French ambassador at that court. By the advice of M. de Noailles, he went to Leipsic to study, in the University, the law of nations and modern languages, as preparations for a diplomatic life. He was thus.engaged when the Revolution commenced. In the winter of 1791-92, he travelled in Germany and Poland, and returned to Paris is April, 1792. He there met Bonaparte, and renewed the intimacy of their collegiate days. “I was not very happy,” says M. Bourrienne, “adversity pressed upon him. We passed our time as two young men of twenty-three years of age, who have nothing to do and have little money–he had still less than me.” In the course of that summer, M. Bourrienne was sent by Louis XVI. to Stutgard, as Secretary of Legation, and after the 10th of August, Bonaparte went to Corsica. A decree of the Convention of the 28th March, 1793, having recalled all the French agents from foreign courts, M. Bourrienne disobeyed the law, and was inscribed on the list of emigrants. In 1795 he returned to Paris, although still on the list of emigrants; again met his college friend, who having served in the siege of Toulon, and as an officer of artillery in the Italian army, and having been suspended by the representatives of the Convention with that army, had returned to Paris to look for employment. Bourrienne was arrested at Paris, but released, and passed the greater part of the two succeeding years in retirement at Sens, while Bonaparte was rendering his name so illustrious in Italy. Bonaparte, in the midst of his brilliant successes, made his old companion the offer of a place near him as private secretary, and after some hesitation, which is not clearly explained, this offer was accepted, and Bourrienne joined his now great friend just about the time that the preliminary treaty of Leoben was signed. After this, for some years he was the constant attendant of Bonaparte, accompanied him to Egypt. and on his return, and in the first years of the Consulate. In 1802, however, some disagreement arose between them, and towards the close of that year, Bourrienne was dismissed from his post of honour and confidence. For two years he continued without employment in Paris, ill-treated, as he reports, in his pecuniary concerns by the First Consul. He then was sent as Minister to Hamburgh, and continued in diplomatic stations in Germany, until the fall of Napoleon. At this period, he joined the Bourbons, and accepted some high though short-lived appointments from Louis XVIII, which have entitled him to a place in the Dictionary of Weathercocks, (Dictionnaire des Girouettes.) On the return of Bonaparte from Elba, he retired in a somewhat equivocal station to the Netherlands, and seems, since the final fall of Napoleon, to have made that country his general place of abode. It is in the neighbourhood of Brussels that these Memoirs have been prepared for publication.