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The Life of Napoleon I (Volume 1 of 2) by Rose

And thus concludes his curious medley The Corsicans


After

a furlough of twenty-one months he rejoined his regiment, now at Auxonne. There his health suffered considerably, not only from the miasma of the marshes of the river Saone, but also from family anxieties and arduous literary toils. To these last it is now needful to refer. Indeed, the external events of his early life are of value only as they reveal the many-sidedness of his nature and the growth of his mental powers.

How came he to outgrow the insular patriotism of his early years? The foregoing recital of facts must have already suggested one obvious explanation. Nature had dowered him so prodigally with diverse gifts, mainly of an imperious order, that he could scarcely have limited his sphere of action to Corsica. Profoundly as he loved his island, it offered no sphere commensurate with his varied powers and masterful will. It was no empty vaunt which his father had uttered on his deathbed that his Napoleon would one day overthrow the old monarchies and conquer Europe.[9] Neither did the great commander himself overstate the peculiarity of his temperament, when he confessed that his instincts had ever prompted him that his will must prevail, and that what pleased him must of necessity belong to him. Most spoilt children harbour the same illusion, for a brief space. But all the buffetings of fortune failed to drive it from the young Buonaparte; and when despair as to his future might have impaired the vigour of his domineering instincts,

his mind and will acquired a fresh rigidity by coming under the spell of that philosophizing doctrinaire, Rousseau.

There was every reason why he should early be attracted by this fantastic thinker. In that notable work, "Le Contrat Social" (1762), Rousseau called attention to the antique energy shown by the Corsicans in defence of their liberties, and in a startlingly prophetic phrase he exclaimed that the little island would one day astonish Europe. The source of this predilection of Rousseau for Corsica is patent. Born and reared at Geneva, he felt a Switzer's love for a people which was< "neither rich nor poor but self-sufficing "; and in the simple life and fierce love of liberty of the hardy islanders he saw traces of that social contract which he postulated as the basis of society. According to him, the beginnings of all social and political institutions are to be found in some agreement or contract between men. Thus arise the clan, the tribe, the nation. The nation may delegate many of its powers to a ruler; but if he abuse such powers, the contract between him and his people is at an end, and they may return to the primitive state, which is founded on an agreement of equals with equals. Herein lay the attractiveness of Rousseau for all who were discontented with their surroundings. He seemed infallibly to demonstrate the absurdity of tyranny and the need of returning to the primitive bliss of the social contract. It mattered not that the said contract was utterly unhistorical and that his argument teemed with fallacies. He inspired a whole generation with detestation of the present and with longings for the golden age. Poets had sung of it, but Rousseau seemed to bring it within the grasp of long-suffering mortals.

The first extant manuscript of Napoleon, written at Valence in April, 1786, shows that he sought in Rousseau's armoury the logical weapons for demonstrating the "right" of the Corsicans to rebel against the French. The young hero-worshipper begins by noting that it is the birthday of Paoli. He plunges into a panegyric on the Corsican patriots, when he is arrested by the thought that many censure them for rebelling at all. "The divine laws forbid revolt. But what have divine laws to do with a purely human affair? Just think of the absurdity--divine laws universally forbidding the casting off of a usurping yoke! ... As for human laws, there cannot be any after the prince violates them." He then postulates two origins for government as alone possible. Either the people has established laws and submitted itself to the prince, or the prince has established laws. In the first case, the prince is engaged by the very nature of his office to execute the covenants. In the second case, the laws tend, or do not tend, to the welfare of the people, which is the aim of all government: if they do not, the contract with the prince dissolves of itself, for the people then enters again into its primitive state. Having thus proved the sovereignty of the people, Buonaparte uses his doctrine to justify Corsican revolt against France, and thus concludes his curious medley: "The Corsicans, following all the laws of justice, have been able to shake off the yoke of the Genoese, and may do the same with that of the French. Amen."


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