« PreviousContinue »
to the delight of his compatriots, by his exquisite sentiment and brilliant imagination. Praying Apollo and Minerva to preserve him many years more for the same purpose, we will now close these memoranda; adding only the expression of our regret, that the attempt to crowd within our narrow limits so great a variety of names, has compelled us to omit some that were worthy of notice, and to give but a feeble and imperfect abstract of a subject, which, considering our enlarged intercourse with Frenchmen, and the fashionable cultivation of their language in our country, is every day acquiring additional interest and utility.
Art. XII.—Life of Napoleon Bonaparte; with a Preliminary View of the French Revolution. By The Author Of Wa
Perceiving that the biography proper of Napoleon, by the author of Waverley,—no longer the Unknown, but the self-avowed—has been extended to six volumes, and believing that we eannot do justice to the work in a single artiole, we have concluded to pass in review, at present, the two only—the third and fourth of the whole set—in which the mighty conqueror is traced from his birth to his decisive triumph on the field of Marengo. After having disposed of these, we may hope to be able to bring into a moderate compass, the exposition we purpose to give hereafter of the contents of the remaining four, which seem to be quite as worthy of special attention as the others. Our readers, we think, can have no objection to form a separate acquaintance with the facts and passages, which we shall immediately proceed to offer to their curiosity. They will show the lights in which Sir Walter Scott has viewed the renowned subject of his work, and the spirit and manner in which he has exhibited him, until he reached the epoch above mentioned.
According to our author then,—whom we shall follow as regularly as is practicable in such an abstract—Napoleon BonaParte was born at Ajaccio, in the Island of Corsica, on the 15th of August, 1769. The name may be written indifferently Buonaparte, or without the u; it being without that letter in his baptismal register, though the father, Charles, used it in his signature. The Bonapartes were a family of some distinction in the middle ages, and became objects of persecution in the struggle between the Guelphs and Ghibellines; which latter circumstance drove one of them to Corsica, where he established himself, and where his successors were always enrolled among the noble natives of the island. The maiden name of Napoleon's mother, was Lsetitia Ramolini, a very beautiful woman in her youth.
His father, Charles, died at the age of about forty years, of an ulcer in the stomach; the same disease to which his son is affirmed to have fallen a victim. In his early boyhood, the latter received no other education than the simple and hardy one usual in the mountainous island of his birth. The family enjoyed the protection of Count de Marbevf, the French governor of Corsica, who, pleased with the young Napoleon, obtained for him the situation of a cadet in the Royal Military School at Brienne, in France. "The malignity of contemporary historians," says our author, "has ascribed a motive of gallantry towards Madame Bonaparte as the foundation of this kindness; but Count Marbeuf had arrived at a period of life, when such connexions are not to be presumed; nor did the scandal receive any currency from the natives of Ajaccio."
At the military school, the protege displayed uncommon ardour and aptitude for the abstract sciences, and made a progress in them, to which the strongest testimony was borne in the official reports of the institution. His habits were those of a recluse and severe student; but in the languages, modern and ancient, he was not at all conspicuous for his proficiency. Our author asserts, that he never acquired the art of writing or spelling French.
In 1783, being then only fourteen years of age, he was selected by the inspector of the twelve military schools, to be •ent to Paris for the completion of his education. While at Paris, he attracted the same notice as at Brienne, by the earnestness and success of his application to the mathematics. In his seventeenth year, he received his first commission as second lieutenant in a regiment of artillery, and was almost immediately afterwards promoted to the rank of first lieutenant in the same corps. Vivacity and energy particularly marked his manners at this period. About the same time, he entered an essay of his own for the prize offered by the Academy of Lyons on Raynal's question—" What are the truths and sentiments which should be inculcated on mankind for their happiness?" Sir Walter Scott, having mentioned that the prize was adjudged to the young soldier, adds, that when Talleyrand, many years afterwards, got the essay out of the records of the Academy, Bonaparte destroyed it, after he had read a few pages. Sir Walter supposes that no other copy existed; but this is a mistake; for we have the composition before us, as it was published last year at Paris by General Gourgaud, from a transcript in the handwriting of Napoleon. It does not appear to us to deserve the curiosity which our author expresses concerning the character of its contents. Rhapsody is its distinguishing trait; we find no other merit in it, than the admiration with which it glows for liberty and the character and designs of the Corsican patriot, Paoti.
was understood to have participated in the tone of exaggerated patriotism affected by his party. He endeavoured to shelter himself under his ignorance of the real tendency of the proceedings of those who had fallen; an apology which resolves itself into the ordinary excuse, that he found his late friends had not been the persons he took them for. According to this line of defence, he made all haste to disclaim accession to the political schemes of which they were accused. 'I am somewhat affected,' he wrote to a correspondent, 'at the fate of the younger Robespierre; but had he been my brother, I would have poniarded him with my own hand, had I been aware that he was forming schemes of tyranny.'
Buonaparte's disclaimers do not seem to have been very favourably received. He, among others, was superseded in his command, and for a time detained under arrest. This was removed by means of the influence which his countryman, Salicetti, still retained among the Thermidoriens, and Buonaparte appears to have visited Marseilles, though in a condition to give or receive little consolation from his family.
In May, 1795, he came to Paris to solicit employment in his profession. He found himself unfriended and indigent in the city of which he was at no distant period to be the ruler. Some individuals, however, assisted him, and among others the celebrated performer Talma, who had known him while at the Military School, and even then entertained high expectations of the part in life which was to be played by 'lepetit Buonaparte.'
On the other hand, as a favourer of the Jacobins, his solicitations for employment were resolutely opposed by a person of considerable influence. Aubry, an old officer of artillery, president of the military committee, placed himself in strong opposition to his pretensions.
Meantime, his situation became daily more unpleasant. He solicited Barras and Freron, who, as Thermidoriens, had preserved their credit, for occupation in almost any line of his profession, and even negotiated for permission to go into the Turkish service, to train the Mussulmans to the use of artillery. A fanciful imagination may pursue him to the rank of Pacha, or higher: for, go where he would, he could not have remained in mediocrity. His own ideas had a similar tendency. 'How strange,' he said, 'it would be, if a little Corsican officer of artillery were to become King of Jerusalem!' He was offered a command in La Vendee, which he declined to accept, and was finally named to command a brigade of artillery in Holland."
When the Convention itself fell into disrepute, and looked for protection chiefly to the five thousand regular troops who were assembled in and about Paris, the star of our soldier unexpectedly emerged. General Menou, who had been chosen to head their cause against the armed "sections" of Paris, evinced a degree of irresolution that rendered his removal necessary. The committee by whom the government was administered, anxiously sought a substitute. It was then, observes Sir Walter, that a few words from Barras, addressed to Carnot and Tallien, determined the fate of Europe for nearly twenty years. "I have the man," he said, "whom you want; a little Corsican officer, who will not stand upon ceremony." Barras had become acquainted with the genius and temper of Napoleon, at the siege of Toulon. The latter accepted the command of the Conventional forces, made the most skilful dispositions for defence, and beat back and dispersed, on the 4th of October, 1794, the National Guards, acting as assailants, to the number of more than thirty thousand. Several hundred men were killed and wounded in the affair.
Vol. i.—Ne. 2. 75
Five days after, Barras proposed to the Convention to appoint their defender, General Bonaparte, second in command of the Army of the Interior; a proposal which was adopted by acclamation. "The nature of the insurrection of the sections," remarks Scott, "was not ostensibly royalist, but several of its leaders were of that party in secret; and if successful, it would most certainly have assumed that complexion. Thus, the first step of Napoleon's rise commenced by the destruction of the hopes of the house of Bourbon, under the reviving influence of which, twenty years afterwards, he was, himself, obliged to succumb."
Barras, who had retained the chief command of the Army ol the Interior, soon resigned it to his new favourite, to be efficaciously applied to the improvement of the military department and the greater security of the Convention. Our author connects with the history of Napoleon's management, this anecdote:—
"As the dearth of bread, and other causes of disaffection, continued to produce commotions in Paris, the General of the Interior was sometimes obliged to oppose them with the military force. On one occasion, it is said, when Buonaparte was anxiously admonishing the multitude to disperse, a very bulky woman exhorted them to keep Uieir ground. 'Never mind these coxcombs with the epaulettes,' she said; 'they do not care if we are all starved, so they themselves feed and get fat.'—Took at me, good woman,' said Buonaparte, who was then as thin as a shadow, 'and tell me which is the fatter of us two.' This turned the laugh against the Amazon, and the rabble dispersed in good-humour."
As the first marriage of the hero belongs to this period, and is not the least interesting of the memorable occurrences in his life, we shall extract Sir Walter's pages on that subject:—
"A fine boy, often or twelve years old, presented himself at the levee of the General of the Interior, with a request of a nature unusually interesting. He stated his name to be Eugene Beauharnois, son of the ci-devant Yicomte de Beauharnois, who, adhering to the revolutionary party, had been a general in the Republican service upon thelihine, and falling under the causeless suspicion of the Committee of Public Safety, was delivered to the Revolutionary Tribunal, and fell by its sentence just four days before the overthrow of Robespierre. Eugene was come to request of Buonaparte, as General of the Interior, that his father's sword might be restored to him. The prayer of the young supplicant was as interesting as his manners were engaging, and Napoleon felt so much concern in him, that he was induced to cultivate the acquaintance of Eugene's mother, afterwards the Empress Josephine.
This lady was a Creolian, the daughter of a planter in St. Domingo. Her name at full length was Marie Joseph Rose Tascher de la Pagerie. She had suffered her share of revolutionary miseries. After her husband, General Beauharnois, had been deprived of his command, she was arrested as a suspected person, and detained in prison till the general liberation, which succeeded the revolution ot the 9th Thermidor. While in confinement, Madame Beauharnois had formed an intimacy with a companion in distress, Madame Fontenai, now Madame Tallicr. from which she derived great advantages after her friend's marriage. With a remarkably graceful person, amiable manners, and an inexhaustible fund of good- humour, Madame Beauharnois was formed to be an ornament to society. Barras, the Thcrmidorien hero, himself an ex-noble, was fond of society, desirous of enjoying it on an agreeable scale, and of washing away the dregs which Jacobinism had mingled with all the dearest interests of life. He loved show, too, and pleasure, and might now indulge both without the risk of falling under the suspicion of incivism, which, in the reign of Terror, would have been incurred by any at