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

And as duped by Buttafuoco in 1768


Then again, the concession of local self-government to the island, as one of the Departments of France, revealed unexpected difficulties. Bastia and Ajaccio struggled hard for the honour of being the official capital. Paoli favoured the claims of Bastia, thereby annoying the champions of Ajaccio, among whom the Buonapartes were prominent. The schism was widened by the dictatorial tone of Paoli, a demeanour which ill became the chief of a civic force. In fact, it soon became apparent that Corsica was too small a sphere for natures so able and masterful as those of Paoli and Napoleon Buonaparte.

The first meeting of these two men must have been a scene of deep interest. It was on the fatal field of Ponte Nuovo. Napoleon doubtless came there in the spirit of true hero-worship. But hero-worship which can stand the strain of actual converse is rare indeed, especially when the expectant devotee is endowed with keen insight and habits of trenchant expression. One phrase has come down to us as a result of the interview; but this phrase contains a volume of meaning. After Paoli had explained the disposition of his troops against the French at Ponte Nuovo, Buonaparte drily remarked to his brother Joseph, "The result of these dispositions was what was inevitable." [13]

For the present, Buonaparte and other Corsican democrats were closely concerned with the delinquencies of the Comte de Buttafuoco, the deputy for the twelve nobles of the island to the National Assembly of France. In a letter written on January 23rd, 1791, Buonaparte overwhelms this man with a torrent of invective.--He it was who had betrayed his country to France in 1768. Self-interest and that alone prompted his action then, and always. French rule was a cloak for his design of subjecting Corsica to "the absurd feudal _regime_" of the barons. In his selfish royalism he had protested against the new French constitution as being unsuited to Corsica, "though it was exactly the same as that which brought us so much good and was wrested from us only amidst streams of blood."--The letter is remarkable for the southern intensity of its passion, and for a certain hardening of tone towards Paoli. Buonaparte writes of Paoli as having been ever "surrounded by enthusiasts, and as failing to understand in a man any other passion than fanaticism for liberty and independence," and as duped by Buttafuoco in 1768.[14] The phrase has an obvious reference to the Paoli of 1791, surrounded by men who had shared his long exile and regarded the English constitution as their model. Buonaparte, on the contrary, is the accredited champion of French democracy, his furious epistle being printed by the Jacobin Club of Ajaccio.

After firing off this tirade Buonaparte returned to his regiment at Auxonne (February, 1791). It was high time; for his furlough, though prolonged on the plea of ill-health, had expired in the preceding October, and he was therefore liable to six months' imprisonment. But the young officer rightly gauged the weakness of the moribund monarchy; and the officers of his almost mutinous regiment were glad to get him back on any terms. Everywhere in his journey through Provence and Dauphine, Buonaparte saw the triumph of revolutionary principles. He notes that the peasants are to a man for the Revolution; so are the rank and file of the regiment. The officers are aristocrats, along with three-fourths of those who belong to "good society": so are all the women, for "Liberty is fairer than they, and eclipses them." The Revolution was evidently gaining completer hold over his mind and was somewhat blurring his insular sentiments, when a rebuff from Paoli further weakened his ties to Corsica. Buonaparte had dedicated to him his work on Corsica, and had sent him the manuscript for his approval. After keeping it an unconscionable time, the old man now coldly replied that he did not desire the honour of Buonaparte's panegyric, though he thanked him heartily for it; that the consciousness of having done his duty sufficed for him in his old age; and, for the rest, history should not be written in youth. A further request from Joseph Buonaparte for the return of the slighted manuscript brought the answer that he, Paoli, had no time to search his papers. After this, how could hero-worship subsist?


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