« VorigeDoorgaan »
that they should be vigorously attacked on the roads leading to Troyes. He was only undeceived when his guns began to open on the enemy's cavalry, and when the heads of the allied columns were seen converging on the heights above Arcis.'
After the disastrous struggle of Arcis-sur-Aube, Napoleon resolved to carry out the project which, in a few days, involved him in utter ruin-to march rapidly on the Meuse and the Moselle, and, rallying to his army the large garrisons imprisoned in Metz and other fortresses, to descend on the allied rear, and to compel his enemies to accept a battle in a situation like that of Marengo. This movement, marked by his dazzling genius, and promising from a military point of view, nevertheless left Paris without defence, and in the existing state of the capital it was a mistake of the gravest kind, resembling to some extent the fatal march of MacMahon to Sedan in 1870. After some hesitation, the allies determined to march directly, and in force, on Paris, and, abandoning or neglecting their communications for the time, to strike boldly the enemy at the heart.
'The Emperor Alexander had proceeded a long way on the road from Sommepuis to Vitry, where he met the King of Prussia and the commander-in-chief. They immediately dismounted; they went up a hillock on the right of the road by which the emperor had arrived, and, seated on the turf, they made General Toll unfold the map of the theatre of war. The emperor explained very clearly the proposed movement, and, in order to get rid of jealous susceptibilities, attributed the credit to Prince Wolkonski. The king at once expressed his approval, declaring that he had entertained the idea for a long time. The Austrian commander showed some solicitude for his communications, and for the magazines of the army at Chaumont, and added that if they met a reverse, in seeking a victory, what would become of them all? The Czar replied that the loss of magazines would be a small thing compared with a great event which would bring the war at once to an end, and that the communications of the armies would be soon re-established. ... Prince Schwartzenberg yielded to this reasoning at last; and then the Emperor, rising in a kind of enthusiastic passion, pointed out Paris, and exclaimed, "Let us set off: the safety of us all is there!"
Intercepted despatches from Marie Louise and Savary, containing alarming accounts of the Government and of the state of Paris, as is well known, confirmed the allies' purpose; and the information given by M. de Vitrolles, corroborated by this decisive evidence, co-operated, doubtless, in the same direction.
The march to Paris brought the campaign of 1814 at once to a close. As M. de Vitrolles, however, has justly remarked, the ultimate result, it is all but certain, must have been the
ruin of Napoleon's power, whatever had been the operations in the field:-'If the allied armies had not made the advance, they would have combined in pursuing the French 'army, already harassed, morally enfeebled, and, so to speak, ' uprooted by its complete separation from Paris. . . . .. Napoleon was conquered . . . the decree of Fortune had gone ' out against him.'
This leads us to make a remark or two on the memorable campaign of 1814. In passages of it the transcendent powers of Napoleon were never more grandly shown; the ability with which he availed himself of the obstacles of the Marne and the Seine, and with forces utterly inferior in numbers more than once routed the allied hosts, was worthy of the general of 1796, and is an admirable specimen of skill in war. Nor does it detract in the least from his fame, that his success was in a great measure due to the jealousies and faults of the hostile commanders; nor do we care to point out, with theorists, how he committed several errors of detail; for in the military art, beyond all others, it is difficult to execute and easy to criticise. Nevertheless, if we view the campaign as a whole, and with reference to the entire theatre, we can at once perceive that Napoleon's strategy was out of proportion to his strength in the field; that sound and even rational military projects were sacrificed to political objects; and that as a general he made enormous mistakes. Even after Leipzig his real aim was to strike boldly for his whole Empire; he believed the allies would not venture to invade France in the depth of winter, and that he would have time largely to recruit his armies; and, with these fatal misconceptions, his plan for the campaign must be condemned almost without reserve. His garrisons on the Oder and Vistula were lost; but it was still possible to withdraw into France the powerful forces scattered beyond the Rhine, the Scheldt, the Alps, and the Pyrenees; and had he gathered together these divided masses, and concentrated them behind the Vosges and the Meuse, merely partially defending secondary points-operations wisely proposed by Soult-he would probably have driven the Coalition back, and almost certainly saved the capital. But he would not abandon the Imperial frontier, from Antwerp to Bâle, and from Milan to Perpignan; he left armies spread along this vast circumference, while France, the object of real attack, was defended by a handful of men; and the consequence was that, when the allies, surprising him by their rapid movements, poured across the Rhine in irre
VOL. CLX. NO. CCCXXVII.
sistible strength, he had but the shadows of legions to oppose to them, and a mere fragment of his still formidable force was available for the decisive contest waged between Châlons and the roads to Paris. Extraordinary, therefore, as were his exploits in the operations on the Marne and the Seine, he was outgeneralled on the whole in the struggle; he was taught the stern lesson he had so often taught, that the concentration of force on the points where the real prize of victory rests, is the true secret of success in war; and the cause doubtless was, as Charras has said, that in this, as in most of his later campaigns, the policy of the Emperor, in ' its ambitious folly, frustrated the marvellous powers of the strategist.'
The diplomacy of Napoleon, besides, in this contest with. Europe, was wholly different from what his blind worshippers have given out to the world. It has been alleged that he lost his Empire because he would not surrender the 'natural boundaries,' and that he refused to treat on any other bases. This, however, is a complete mistake, as even his garbled correspondence shows; he was willing to accept the France of 1792 after the defeats of Brienne and La Rothière; he withdrew this offer after Montmirail and Montereau, and insisted upon the conditions of Frankfort; and though he held out against other terms at Châtillon, he was ready enough, when Paris had fallen, to recur to what he had at first accepted. In truth-and he is not to be blamed for it he made his concessions and demands depend on the nature of his military situation; but it is idle to say that he was an heroic martyr who lost a throne for the frontier of the Rhine. His negotiations, too, there is little doubt, were scarcely sincere at any time. The following letter-the full text appears, we believe, for the first time in this book, though the substance has been long ago known—is significant in the highest degree. The writer was Maret, Duc de Bassano :
'The emperor desires (this was addressed to Caulaincourt) that you shall make no final engagement as to the cession of Antwerp, Mayence, and Alexandria. Should you be compelled to give up these fortresses, his intention is to regulate his conduct by the state of military affairs, even though the treaty should have been ratified... Though the cession should have been actually signed, he is determined not to surrender the three keys of France should the chances of war allow him to do this.'
While the allied armies were being set in motion, M. de Vitrolles had been seeking the Comte d'Artois. That
prince had, a few weeks before, received a commission from Louis XVIII. to do all that he could for Bourbon interests; but, wholly neglected by the Coalition, and treated in France as an unknown exile, he had listlessly wandered in FrancheComté, and had recently taken refuge in Nancy, dreading the fate of two unhappy partisans who had become victims of Napoleon's wrath. His hopes had fallen to the lowest point when M. de Vitrolles presented himself to him, explained the excited state of Paris, made him aware of the allies' purpose to treat conditionally with the Royal House of France, and boldly declared that the cause of the monarchy was about to triumph over every obstacle. This is M. de Vitrolles' account of their first interview:
The prince approached me with that noble, easy, and gracious manner which simply expressed his nature. When I had placed in his hands the letter of M. de Metternich, which, though not quite explicit, still announced a favourable change in the policy of the Great Powers of Europe, his emotion was intense; tears fell from his eyes; he rose, and, taking my hand, embraced me. "No, my friend," he exclaimed, "it is not you; it is Providence who has done all this!" "
To outward seeming the Comte d'Artois was a different being from the gay trifler who, years before, had eclipsed his rivals in the frivolities, the waste, and the luxury of Versailles. Age and misfortune had told on him; the butterfly pursuer of light loves had known the chastening of heartfelt sorrows; the brilliant squanderer was a poor exile; the profligate had become a devotee. Yet the character of man never really changes; and while the Comte retained the princely and charming manner of a grand seigneur of the old régime, he had still the levity, the pride of caste, and the blind obstinacy against change and progress which in a bygone age had made him the champion of the extreme pretensions of a failing cause. His conversations with M. de Vitrolles bring clearly out his distinctive qualities, and reveal the Charles X. of the future. The prince, on receiving the allies' message, passed from despair to extravagant hope; and the instant restoration of the House of Bourbon was already an accomplished fact in his mind. Not only, too, was the monarchy to revive: the king was to have his own ' again.' Royal and feudal France was to rise in majesty out of the cerements of a temporary grave, and the foolish reforms of Louis XVI. and his age, to which alone the Revolution was due, were, with that hideous farce, to be heard of no more :—
""Had not," he observed, "the States General led to a destructive
National Assembly, and a regicide Convention? The clergy were a respectable order; but why ought they to possess political power? The very Parliaments and their complaints had invariably injured the authority of the Crown, down to the time when they had been the first to sound the tocsin of the Revolution. Were not the Provincial Assemblies the work of Turgot and Necker?" ".
M. de Vitrolles, having lived many years in France, saw that notions like these would never do, and continued to hint that the restored monarchy ought to be a régime of a different type. At bottom, indeed, he believed as firmly in absolute royalty as the prince himself: the king was the only true source of power, honour, and even law; his subjects ought to enjoy privileges, but these were to be concessions from him; and the doctrine that Frenchmen had natural rights was a fallacy of the abhorred Revolution, which had covered the land with ashes and blood. There was, nevertheless, a real difference between the views of the two men. M. de Vitrolles, borrowing, unconsciously perhaps, from the ideas of the Imperial régime, wished to invest the monarchy with complete power, and to surround it with institutions antique in spirit; but its chief supporters were to be the men who formed the existing noblesse of the sword; and a sort of compromise was to be made with liberty, though this was to be almost illusory. This was his method, as we see, of putting the new wine into the old bottles, and of sewing the new cloth on the old garment, in the France of 1814:
'You will convene representatives of the great interests of France : States General to be consulted on legislation, and for the imposition of taxes. You will not have a noblesse imposing through the dignity of birth and fortune; but ascending to the principle of nobility, you will give the noblesse renewed life by associating with it our great military names. . . . It was, too, my favourite theme that the Provincial Assemblies, or Provincial Estates, ought to be the first boon granted by a beneficent Government.'
We notice these views because they explain much that was ere long to occur in France, and show how the Bourbons and their partisans were wholly opposed in thought and sentiment to the great body of the French people. M. de Vitrolles, however, as the allies' envoy, impressed on the Comte d'Artois that it was, for the time, necessary to fall in with the wishes of the Great Powers and to gain the support of Talleyrand and his fellows; and the prince, ready to promise anything, made no demur to the proposed arrangement. With his devoted follower, nevertheless, he indemnified