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

After overwhelming Europe and France


whole attitude towards European and colonial politics revealed a statesmanlike appreciation of the forces that were to mould the fortunes of nations in the nineteenth century. He saw that no rearrangement of the European peoples could be permanent. They were too stubborn, too solidly nationalized, to bear the yoke of the new Charlemagne. "I am come too late," he once exclaimed to Marmont; "men are too enlightened, there is nothing great left to be done." These words reveal his sense of the artificiality of his European conquests. His imperial instincts could find complete satisfaction only among the docile fate-ridden peoples of Asia, where he might unite the functions of an Alexander and a Mahomet: or, failing that, he would carve out an empire from the vast southern lands, organizing them by his unresting powers and ruling them as oekist and as despot. This task would possess a permanence such as man's conquests over Nature may always enjoy, and his triumphs over his fellows seldom or never. The political reconstruction of Europe was at best one of an infinite number of such changes, always progressing and never completed; while the peopling of new lands and the founding of States belonged to that highest plane of political achievement wherein schemes of social beneficence and the dictates of a boundless ambition could maintain an eager and unending rivalry. While a strictly European policy could effect little more than a raking over of long-cultivated parterres, the foundation
of a new colonial empire would be the turning up of the virgin soil of the limitless prairie.

If we inquire by the light of history why these grand designs failed, the answer must be that they were too vast fitly to consort with an ambitious European policy. His ablest adviser noted this fundamental defect as rapidly developing after the Peace of Amiens, when "he began to sow the seeds of new wars which, after overwhelming Europe and France, were to lead him to his ruin." This criticism of Talleyrand on a man far greater than himself, but who lacked that saving grace of moderation in which the diplomatist excelled, is consonant with all the teachings of history. The fortunes of the colonial empires of Athens and Carthage in the ancient world, of the Italian maritime republics, of Portugal and Spain, and, above all, the failure of the projects of Louis XIV. and Louis XV. serve to prove that only as the motherland enjoys a sufficiency of peace at home and on her borders can she send forth in ceaseless flow those supplies of men and treasure which are the very life-blood of a new organism. That beneficent stream might have poured into Napoleon's Colonial Empire, had not other claims diverted it into the barren channels of European warfare. The same result followed as at the time of the Seven Years' War, when the double effort to wage great campaigns in Germany and across the oceans sapped the strength of France, and the additions won by Dupleix and Montcalm fell away from her flaccid frame.

Did Napoleon foresee a similar result? His conduct in regard to Louisiana and in reference to Decaen's expedition proves that he did, but only when it was too late. As soon as he saw that his policy was about to provoke another war with Britain long before he was ready for it, he decided to forego his oceanic schemes and to concentrate his forces on his European frontiers. The decision was dictated by a true sense of imperial strategy. But what shall we say of his sense of imperial diplomacy? The foregoing narrative and the events to be described in the next chapters prove that his mistake lay in that overweening belief in his own powers and in the pliability of his enemies which was the cause of his grandest triumphs and of his unexampled overthrow.

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