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

During his first sojourn at Auxonne June


His

reading of Rousseau having equipped him for the study of human society and government, he now, during his first sojourn at Auxonne (June, 1788--September, 1789), proceeds to ransack the records of the ancient and modern world. Despite ill-health, family troubles, and the outbreak of the French Revolution, he grapples with this portentous task. The history, geography, religion, and social customs of the ancient Persians, Scythians, Thracians, Athenians, Spartans, Egyptians, and Carthaginians--all furnished materials for his encyclopaedic note-books. Nothing came amiss to his summarizing genius. Here it was that he gained that knowledge of the past which was to astonish his contemporaries. Side by side with suggestions on regimental discipline and improvements in artillery, we find notes on the opening episodes of Plato's "Republic," and a systematic summary of English history from the earliest times down to the Revolution of 1688. This last event inspired him with special interest, because the Whigs and their philosophic champion, Locke, maintained that James II. had violated the original contract between prince and people. Everywhere in his notes Napoleon emphasizes the incidents which led to conflicts between dynasties or between rival principles. In fact, through all these voracious studies there appear signs of his determination to write a history of Corsica; and, while inspiriting his kinsmen by recalling the glorious past, he sought to weaken the French monarchy by inditing
a "Dissertation sur l'Autorite Royale." His first sketch of this work runs as follows:

"23 October, 1788. Auxonne.

"This work will begin with general ideas as to the origin and the enhanced prestige of the name of king. Military rule is favourable to it: this work will afterwards enter into the details of the usurped authority enjoyed by the Kings of the twelve Kingdoms of Europe.

"There are very few Kings who have not deserved dethronement[12]."

This curt pronouncement is all that remains of the projected work. It sufficiently indicates, however, the aim of Napoleon's studies. One and all they were designed to equip him for the great task of re-awakening the spirit of the Corsicans and of sapping the base of the French monarchy.

But these reams of manuscript notes and crude literary efforts have an even wider source of interest. They show how narrow was his outlook on life. It all turned on the regeneration of Corsica by methods which he himself prescribed. We are therefore able to understand why, when his own methods of salvation for Corsica were rejected, he tore himself away and threw his undivided energies into the Revolution.

Yet the records of his early life show that in his character there was a strain of true sentiment and affection. In him Nature carved out a character of rock-like firmness, but she adorned it with flowers of human sympathy and tendrils of family love. At his first parting from his brother Joseph at Autun, when the elder brother was weeping passionately, the little Napoleon dropped a tear: but that, said the tutor, meant as much as the flood of tears from Joseph. Love of his relatives was a potent factor of his policy in later life; and slander has never been able wholly to blacken the character of a man who loved and honoured his mother, who asserted that her advice had often been of the highest service to him, and that her justice and firmness of spirit marked her out as a natural ruler of men. But when these admissions are freely granted, it still remains true that his character was naturally hard; that his sense of personal superiority made him, even as a child, exacting and domineering; and the sequel was to show that even the strongest passion of his youth, his determination to free Corsica from France, could be abjured if occasion demanded, all the force of his nature being thenceforth concentrated on vaster adventures.


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