situation, which have coloured many parts of his narrative. M. Bourrienne represents himself as having been much attached to the Bourbons, and assures us that the ladies with whom he was most intimate, and the Empress Josephine herself, were strongly tinctured with the same feeling. These Memoirs, although extending already to six volumes, only come down to the battle of Ulm. The following is the avowed object of the author.

"It is not the entire life of Napoleon that I write. No one need expect to find in these Memoirs an uninterrupted series of all the events which have signalized his great career, nor the recital of the battles with which so many remarkable men have so usefully and so skilfully occupied thernselves. I shall speak very little of what I have not seen, of what I have not heard, or of that which is not supported by official documents. Let every one do as much.

The desire is so common to ascertain whether those who have distinguished themselves amidst the strise of human passions, who have changed the destinies of nations, or impressed their characters on the age in which they lived, have given in early life any prestiges of their future greatness, any indication of those powers

which were hereafter to awe the world, and shake the antique bulwarks of the earth even to their deep foundations, that we shall extract a few notices of the early life of Bonaparte from one who ought to know them well, and who could bave had no inducement to discolour the early history of his quondam friend and master.

“Persons have spoken much and very differently of the infancy of Bonaparte. Some have spoken of him with enthusiasm and a ridiculous exaggeration; others have painted him under the blackest colours, that they might have the pleasure of making a monster of him at a later period. It will always be thus with those whom genius or circumstances raise above their fellows.

Why should we always wish to find in the first movements of a child the germ of great crimes or great virtues. How often have we seen precocious children whose dispositions announced, it was supposed, a most brilliant future, remain idiots, and pass through life in insignificant obscurity. Bonaparte laughed himself much at these tales and at all those tricks with which his first years have been blackened or embellished in books, dictated by enthusiasm or hatred.

“We were scarcely eight years of age when our acquaintance commenced; it soon became very intimate. I was one of the pupils who knew best how to accommodate myself to his gloomy and severe charac

His recollections, his reflections on the conquest of his country, and the impressions which he received in his infancy of the evils that Corsica and his family had suffered, made him court solitude, and rendered his address, though in appearance only, very uncourteous. Our age placed us together in the classes of belles-lettres and mathematics. From


his entrance into school, he manifested a strong desire of acquiring knowledge. He studied Latin, however, with so much repugnance, that when he reached the age of fifteen, he was still very backward (faible) in the fourth class. I quitted him in this class early, but I remained constantly with him in the class of mathematics, where he was, in my opinion, indisputably the strongest in the whole school. I frequently exchanged with him for the solution of problems that were given us to resolve, and which he discovered on the spot with a facility that always astonished jne, themes and translations which he did not even wish to hear mentioned.

“ Bonaparte was, in general, but little loved by his comrades, who certainly were not his flatterers. He associated with them but little, and rarely took part in their pastimes. The subjection of his country to France, recalled always to his mind a painful sensation, which banished him from the violent exercises of his comrades. When the moment of recreation arrived, he ran to the Library, where he read with avidity books of history, especially Polybius and Plutarch.

“Our Professor of Mathematics, Father Petrauld, a very inferior man, was very fond of Bonaparte, and made much of him. He was proud to have him as a pupil, and he was right. The other Professors, with whom he would not labour, cared little for him. As nothing indicated that he would ever be a savant in us, the pedants of the house would willingly have set him down as an idiot. Nevertheless, through his pensive and reserved character, great intelligence could be perceived. If the monks, to whom were confided the education of youth, had had the tact of appreciating his organization, if they had had professors more profound in mathematics, if they had been able to give us an impulse more decided to chemistry, physics, astronomy, &c. I am convinced that Bonaparte would have carried into those sciences all the investigation, all the genius which he disclosed in a career much more brilliant it is true, but much less useful to humanity. Unfortunately for us, these monks knew nothing, and they were too poor to employ good masters. It is then false that Bonaparte, as has been often repeated, received at Brienne a finished education. The Minimes were incapable of giving one.

“ There was an inspector of the military schools charged every year to make a report on each pupil, whether he was educated at the expense of the state or of his family. I affirm, without fear of being contradicted by any one, that it was not upon the little Bonaparte that he, who should have read the notes of the pupils of Brienne in 1784, would have fixed his prognostics of greatness—but upon other pupils much better marked, whom, nevertheless, he left far behind him. In 1783, the Duke of Orleans and Madame de Montesson came to Brienne, and presided at the distribution of the prizes at the school. Bonaparte shared with me the prize of mathematics, the department to which he had limited his studies, and in which he excelled. When I was called for the seventh time, Madame de Montesson said to my mother,

Madame, my hands are fatigued ; take for this time the trouble of crowning your son.'

“ Although Bonaparte had little cause to praise his comrades, he disdained to make complaints against them; and when he had in turn the surveillance of any duty that was infringed, he went to prison rather than inform against the little culprits.”

Bonaparte left Brienne with the following report from M. Keralio :

"M. de Bonaparte, (Napoleon) born the 15th August, 1769, four feet ten inches, ten lines high, has finished his fourth class; he is of a good constitution, excellent health, of a character submissive, honest, grateful, and very regular in his conduct. He has always distinguished himself by his application to the mathematics. He knows passably well history and geography; he is very deficient in ornamental studies and in Latin. He will make an excellent marine. He deserves to pass to the military school of Paris.

M. Bourrienne adds, that he was well informed that in a private note sent to Paris on Bonaparte, he was described as of a “domineering temper, imperious and headstrong.” Bonaparte was educated at Brienne at the expense of the state, and on the same footing was transferred to Paris. Bourrienne could not accompany him, because the “ordonances" for the government of the military school at Paris, required four quarters of nobility in the escutcheon of each pupil. It is true M. Bourrienne had some antiquated claims to this distinction, but it required twelve thousand francs to repair the neglect of his ancestors to maintain these pretensions, and his mother refused or was unable to incur this

expense. During eight years that they were separated, (from 1784 to 1792) “our correspondence," says M. Bourrienne, “was very active. But so little was my foresight of the high destinies, of the pretended prodigies, which, since his elevation, have been discovered in his infancy, that I have not preserved a single letter of that epoch.”

As Bonaparte was restless, observant, and uttered his opinions freely and with energy, he did not remain long at the military school of Paris. “His superiors,” says M. Bourrienne, “tired of his decided character, anticipated the regular epoch of his examination, to give him the first vacant sub-lieutenancy that occurred in a regiment of artillery.” He was thus sent abroad to seek his fortunes in the world-and much of that world in a short time became tributary to his power.

The outlines of Napoleon's history are so well known, that it is unnecessary to follow his steps closely or regularly. We shall merely advert to those points which are more clearly developed in these volumeg, or those occurrences which serve to shed some light on his extraordinary character.

While serving in the army of Italy, as a general of brigade, about the time of the fall of Robespierre, he was sent on a private mission to Genoa, to examine, in fact, the condition of its fortresses and military preparations. As he was sent by the Terrorist Commissioners, as they were called, he was arrested by their successors as a suspected person, on account of this very mission. His defence of himself was frank and full of energy; it caused the commissioners to suspend the arrest, but not to restore him to his functions. He then returned to Paris. In a short time afterwards, he was deprived of his commission, for having refused to serve in La Vendee as a general of infantry.* It was in this state of destitution, that the insurrections of the fauxbourgs of Paris on the 13 Vendemiaire occurred, and opened his path to greatness and to glory.

Of the Italian campaigns little is said in these volumes. They were finished before Bourrienne joined Bonaparte. He was in time, however, to witness much of the applause which was lavished on this conqueror, and the enthusiasm which, from his very first movements as a commander, he had constantly excited. Yet the simple and magnificent monument which he sent from Italy to the Directory, the standard of the army of Italy, on which was inscribed the results of that campaign, was calculated to justify much of the feeling which the roused and agitated people of France so strongly exhibited. Add to this, the army and the country at large, felt and perceived that a new moral administration was about to supersede the disorders and profligacy of the past years. Bonaparte pursued with vigilance, and punished with severity all depredations on the public treasury, and made even the highest officers under his command disgorge their illegal acquisitions. The soldiers were supplied and watched over with a partiality and attention which they had not hitherto known. And the duties of the contractors and civil administrators were exacted with rigid punctuality. Hence, though watched by the Directory, no charge nor colour of complaint could be raised against him.

That Bonaparte was ambitious, no one, we presume, will deny. But like all strong passions, his ambition evidently increased by success and indulgence. In 1795, his views, M. Bourrienne assures is, were moderate, even humble. small house amidst his friends, and a cabriolet would render him the happiest of men.” On many occasions, similar feelings were freely expressed. But when the campaign of Italy had brought him fully into competition with his fellows, when he

* He disliked the war in La Vendee, and objected to a removal from the artillery to the infantry.

[ocr errors]

once had the means of feeling and displaying his own strength, when every eye was turned upon him, and all power seemed to bend before him—when, on his return to Paris in 1797, he saw fully the weakness of the government and the corruption of the men in power, and public opinion began to express openly his great superiority over all, who surrounded him-it is not surprising that his views became more elevated, and his desires soon began to indulge in those airy dreams that cheat man to his ruin. He found, however, that during peace he would be lost in France, and to keep up the celebrity of his name, and to withdraw himself from the watchful jealousy of the Directory, he projected his memorable expedition to Egypt. His imagination, always lofty and prone to exaggeration, became enthusiastic when he adverted to Asia. Europe,” he would say, is a mole-hill, there have never been great revolutions or great empires but in the East.” He saw in it, the cradle of all religions and of every metaphysical extravagance. Before leaving Paris, to Bourrienne, who asked whether he was really determined to quit France, he is said to have made the following reply. “Yes, I have tried all things. They do not want me. It would be necessary to overturn them and make myself king. But we cannot think of that yet. The nobility would never consent. I have sounded the ground-the time is not yet come. I should be alone. I wish to dazzle still more these good folks. Well then, we will go to Egypt.” It is somewhat singular, if the opposition of M. Bourrienne to Napoleon's assumption of imperial power, was as steady and strong as he represents it, that he should have continued to attach himself to the fortunes of a man who, so early in his political career, could have made such open avowals of his purposes. We fear M. Bourrienne's conscience only became awakened after he lost the favour of the First Consul. Of this, if our limits permit, we shall offer some other proof before we close this article.

The expedition to Egypt and the invasion of Spain, may be considered as the two most inexcusable enterprizes in the career of Bonaparte; they were both wanton invasions of an unoffending country, without any other pretext than the supposed interest of France and the aggrandizement of his own power and reputation. In both, the bitter ingredients of the chalice were commended to his own lips. If in Syria, such scenes as those of Jaffa occur, even the imperious necessity which M. Bourrienne pleads, cannot be separated from the original transgression. If, as we are informed, his prisoners were too numerous to be guarded, too numerous to be fed, and if released, were certainly to be again encountered, and vanquished and destroyed, even if necessity demanded their exeVOL, V.NO. 10.


« VorigeDoorgaan »