Page images

ranks of the guard." These last words completely subdued Napoleon. "Well, Victor," said he, stretching forth his hand to him, " remain with me. I cannot restore to you the command of your corps, because I have appointed General Gerard to succeed you, but I give you the command of two divisions of the guard; and now let every thing be forgotten between us."

The scene here described has at various times been the subject of misrepresentation; but it was thus Napoleon expressed his displeasure, and thus he was appeased.'

Of the emperor's personal courage the following instance is mentioned: 'How very far was Napoleon from suspecting, harassed as he was with timid counsels and discouraging accounts, that he was still capable of intimidating his enemies to such a degree as to make them adopt steps so, highly distinguished for caution! In attempting to manœuvre on their flanks, he fell into the new direction they had just taken, and found himself engaged with their advanced guard. Napoleon was personally exposed to the greatest danger. Enveloped in the dust of cavalry charges, he was obliged to extricate himself sword in hand. He several times fought at the head of his escort, and, instead of shunning the perils of the battle, he seemed on the contrary to defy them. A shell fell at his feet, he awaited the explosion, and quickly disappeared in a cloud of dust and smoke. He was thought to have been killed, but he got again upon his legs, threw himself on another horse, and went to expose himself once more to the fire of the batteries! . . Death refused him for his victim.'

The author seems to think with Buonaparte that his fall was the consequence of some fatality which he could not control; and yet he occasionally seems to think that, if all the emperor's adherents had remained true, he would have been enabled at least to keep the enemy so long in check that he might have made better terms.

It is at the period that Buonaparte took up his quarters at Fontainebleau that the narrative becomes most interesting. The success of the royalist party at Paris, now in the occupation of the Allies, enabled them to stipulate for Buonaparte's abdication; and, while he saw the probable necessity of consenting to their demands, he did not omit to prepare himself for a defence:

'Meanwhile the Duke of Vicenza arrived at Fontainebleau; and on the night of the 2d of April he presented himself to Napoleon.

[ocr errors]

Though the Allies had declared themselves against the person of. Napoleon, yet hope was not entirely lost. The Duke of Vicenza had obtained an interview with the Allied powers; and had succeeded in bringing about a return of feeling favorable to the interests of the King of Rome and the Empress Regent. This course also had its legitimacy, and carried with it great weight of opinion. It now balanced in the minds of the sovereigns the opposite resolutions that were suggested to them in favour of the Bourbons. But a speedy decision was necessary on the part of Napoleon; and the Duke of Vicenza now came to solicit his abdication.*

* M. Beauchamp, in his History of 1814, vol. II. says: "The Duke de Vicenza neglected nothing that could be urged in favour of the Regency. The Emperor Alexander seemed to hesitate- -Schwartzenberg had refused to march on Fontainebleau-Austria was favorable to the Regency."He afterwards adds: In spite of the abdication, the Regency might have been established seven days after the entrance of the Allies into Paris!"

Napoleon conceived that such a step should not be adopted precipitately; he resisted the solicitations of the Duke of Vicenza, and refused to explain himself. In the morning he mounted his horse to inspect the line of his advanced posts, and the whole of the day (the 3d) was spent in military operations.

The troops were in good spirits, and received with acclamations of joy the project of delivering the capital from the hands of the enemy. The young generals, inspired with military ardour, were ready to brave new danger and fatigue. But it was not thus with the officers in the more elevated ranks: enough has already been said to show how they were influenced by the events of Paris. They trembled at the thought of the miseries which a single movement might bring upon the wives, children, friends, &c. whom they had left in the capital. They dreaded to lose, in what might be called a headlong adventure, the rank and fortune which had been so dearly purchased, and which they had not yet enjoyed in peace; and the eagerness of the troops to make a rush upon the capital excited the highest degree of alarm.


Probably Napoleon had not kept sufficiently secret the proposal that had been made for his abdication. This delicate question was now publicly canvassed: the subject was whispered in the gallery of the palace, and even on the staircase of the cheval blanc. Unfortunately the abdication was agreeable to the views of a numerous party. It was the least disgraceful mode of getting rid of Napoleon, because they would thus be released from him by his own free will. It was therefore deemed most advisable to bring matters to a conclusion in this way; and in case Napoleon should reject the proposition, some even spoke of breaking the sceptre in his hand.

During this state of things, intelligence arrived that the senate had proclaimed the abdication. Napoleon received the senatus consultum on the night of the 3d, by an express from the Duke of Ragusa. The news was almost immediately circulated among all the most distinguished individuals in Fontainebleau, and it became the general topic of conversation.

On the 4th, orders were issued for transferring the Imperial headquarters to a position between Ponthierry and Essonne. After the parade which took place every day at noon in the court of the cheval blanc, some of the principal officers of the army escorted Napoleon back to his apart ment. The Prince of Neufchatel, the Prince of the Moskowa, the Duke of Dantzick, the Duke of Reggio, the Duke of Tarento, the Duke of Bassano, Grand Marshal Bertrand, and some other individuals, were assembled in the saloon, and the close of this audience was expected to be the signal for mounting horse and quitting Fontainebleau. But a conference had been commenced on the situation of affairs; it was prolonged until the afternoon, and when it ended, Napoleon's abdication became known.

One thing forcibly struck Napoleon, namely, the want of spirit evinced by his old companions in arms. He yielded to what was represented to him as the wish of the army.

But if Napoleon abdicated, it was only in favour of the succession of his son, and the regency of the Empress. The act of abdication which he wrote with his own hand was as follows:

"The Allied Powers having proclaimed that the Emperor Napoleon

was the only obstacle to the restoration of peace in Europe, the emperor, faithful to his oath, declares that he is ready to resign the throne, to quit France, and even to sacrifice his life for the welfare of the country, which is inseparable from the rights of his son, those of the regency of the empress, and the maintenance of the laws of the empire.

[ocr errors]

April 4, 1814.

"Given at our Palace of Fontainebleau.


This act was transcribed by a secretary; and the Duke of Vicenza prepared immediately to convey it to Paris. Napoleon directed the Prince of the Moskowa to accompany him. He wished that the Duke of Vicenza should also be accompanied by the Duke of Ragusa. The latter was Napoleon's oldest companion in arms; and he conceived that at a moment when the last interests of his family were about to be decided, he might stand in need of the faithful services of his old aid-de-camp. The Duke of Ragusa was therefore about to be furnished with the necessary powers, when some one represented to Napoleon, that in a negotiation in which the army was concerned, and was to be represented, it was proper to employ such a man as the Duke of Tarento, whose influence would be the greater, since it was known that he had lived less about the person of Napoleon, and perhaps enjoyed a less share in his affections. The Duke of Bassano, being questioned on this subject by Napoleon, replied, that whatever might be the opinions of Marshal Macdonald, he was a man of too much honour not to discharge faithfully a trust of such a nature. Napoleon immediately appointed the Duke of Tarento to be his third plenipotentiary. He gave orders that the plenipotentiaries, on their way through Essonne, should acquaint the Duke of Ragusa with what had taken place, and inform him that it was left to himself to decide whether he might not be most useful in remaining at the head of his corps; but that if he wished to fulfil the mission with which Napoleon had proposed to intrust him, he would instantly be furnished with powers to that effect. The three plenipotentiaries, having received their last instructions, stepped into the carriage that was waiting for them. MM. de Rayneval and Rumigny accompanied them as secretaries.

[ocr errors]

Immediately after their departure, Napoleon dispatched a courier to the empress. He had received letters from her, dated from Vendome. She was to arrive at Blois on the 2d; and it was requisite that she should be informed of the negotiation which had been entered upon. In this extremity, the absence of her father the Emperor of Austria was a misfortune which hourly increased. Our march on Fontainebleau had caused the roads to be intercepted, and had prolonged the stay of the Emperor Francis in Burgundy. Napoleon authorized the empress to dispatch to her father the Duke of Cadora, to solicit his intercession in favour of her and her son.

[ocr errors]

Overpowered by the events of the day, Napoleon shut himself up in his chamber. He was now about to receive the severest wound that had ever yet been aimed at his heart.


On the night of the 4th, Colonel Gourgaud, who had been dispatched with orders to Essonne, returned in the utmost speed, to announce that the Duke of Ragusa had forsaken his post, and repaired to Paris; that he was treating with the enemy; that his troops, having received secret orders to move, were at that moment passing the Russian cantonments, and that Fontainebleau remained undefended.

[ocr errors]

Napoleon at first could not credit what he heard: but when he could no longer find room to doubt the extraordinary facts that had been com municated to him, his eye became fixed, and he threw himself into a chair apparently absorbed in melancholy reflections. At length breaking this distressing silence, "Ungrateful man!" he exclaimed, "but he will be. more unhappy than I !"

'Napoleon naturally sought relief by giving vent to the painful feelings. which oppressed him. To the army he disburdened his heart in impressive terms :-But he must speak for himself:


[ocr errors]

"TO THE ARMY, Fontainebleau, March 5th, 1814. "The emperor thanks the army for the attachment it has evinced for him, and principally because it acknowledges that France is with him and not with the people of the capital. It is the soldier's duty to follow the fortune and misfortune of his general, his honour and religion. The Duke of Ragusa has not sought to inspire this sentiment in the hearts of his troops. He has gone over to the Allies. The emperor cannot approve the condition on which he has taken this step; he cannot accept of life and liberty at the mercy of a subject. The senate has presumed to dispose of the French government; but it forgets that it owes to the emperor the power which it now abuses. The emperor saved one half of the members of the senate from the storms of the revolution, and the other half he drew from obscurity, and protected against the hatred of the people. These men avail themselves of the articles of the constitution as grounds for its subversion. The senate blushes not to reproach the emperor, unmindful that, as the first body in the state, it has participated in every public measure. It goes so far as to accuse the emperor of altering acts in their publication.*

“A sign was a command to the senate, which was always ready to do more than it was required to do.+ The emperor has ever been accessible to the remonstrances of his ministers, and he therefore expected from them the most complete justification of the measures he adopted. If public speeches and addresses received the colouring of enthusiasm, then the emperor was deceived; but those who held this language must blame themselves for the consequences of their flattery.

"The senators have spoken of libels published against foreign govern

*The same reproach has also been cast upon Cæsar, and yet no disgrace is thereby attached to him in history. "I sometimes learn," says Cicero, "that a senatus consultum, passed on my recommendation, has been sent to Syria and Armenia, without my knowing that it had ever been executed; and many princes have addressed to me letters of thanks for having recommended that the title of king should be conferred on them, when I have been ignorant not only of their being elected kings, but even of their existence."-(Cicero's Familiar Letters, letter 9.)

+ The emperor above all things complained of the servile disposition of the senate. This was a great cause of dissatisfaction to him throughout the whole of his life. But in this respect he was like most men; he wished for things that were contradictory. His general policy was not in unison with his particular passions. He wished to have a free senate, that might secure respect to his government; but at the same time he wished for a senate that would be always ready to do whatever he wanted.'-(Montesquieu, Grandeur et Decadence des Romains.)

ments, forgetting that these libels were prepared in their own assembly! So long as fortune continued faithful to their sovereign these men also remained faithful to him. If the emperor despised mankind as he is said to have done, the world will now admit that it was not without reason. His dignity was conferred on him by God and the people, who alone can deprive him of it; he always considered it as a burden, and when he accepted it, it was with the conviction that he was enabled adequately to sustain it. The happiness of France seemed to be connected with the fate of the emperor; now that fortune frowns on him, the will of the nation can alone induce him to retain possession of the throne. If he is to be considered as the only obstacle to peace, he voluntarily makes the last sacrifice to France. He has, in consequence, sent the Prince of the Moskowa and the Dukes of Vicenza and Tarento to Paris, to open the negotiation. The army may be assured that the honour of the emperor will never be incompatiable with the happiness of France."

The enemy were, however, not less vigilant; their arms, and, as it is said, a less honest influence, had deprived Buonaparte of the assistance of those upon whom he relied, and without whom his daring projects could not be put in practice:

These movements on the part of the enemy wonderfully assisted those counsellors who maintained that Napoleon had no alternative but to break his sword. "How," said they, "shall we assemble those wrecks of our army on which dependence seems still to be placed? The different corps are so dispersed that even the generals who are nearest each other are, at least, more than a hundred leagues asunder. How, then, can they be made to act together? And are we, who are here, sure of being able to join them ?"

Next arrived the news of the night-the appearance of the enemy's scouts on the Loire-the occupation of Pithiviers ;-our communication with Orleans intercepted, &c. &c.

[ocr errors]

Napoleon listened coolly to all this. He appreciated justly the unequal strength of the net which was represented as being drawn around him, and he promised to break through it when the proper moment arrived.

"A road that is closed against couriers will soon open before fifty thousand men," said he; and yet, notwithstanding his confident tone, it was evident that he hesitated in the execution of his project; being doubtless restrained by a secret dissatisfaction which he could not overcome. He foresaw too well the difference that would exist between his future and his past circumstances.

He who had always commanded great armies, who had never manœuvred but to meet the enemy, who in every battle had been accustomed to decide the fate of a capital or a kingdom, and who had hitherto been accustomed to commence and conclude a war in one campaign, saw that he must henceforth assume the character of partisan leader, an adventurer roaming from province to province, skirmishing and destroying without the hope of attaining any decisive success.

The horrors of civil war also helped to darken the picture which was exhibited to him in the most unfavorable light. But it is vain to attempt to describe this interval of painful anxiety and hesitation. Suffice it to say that those who represented to Napoleon the possible chances of a civil war, had most influence in inducing him to form his resolution." Well, since I must renounce the hope of defending France," cried Napoleon,

« PreviousContinue »