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

The four months spent by Buonaparte at Auxonne were


The

four months spent by Buonaparte at Auxonne were, indeed, a time of disappointment and hardship. Out of his slender funds he paid for the education of his younger brother, Louis, who shared his otherwise desolate lodging. A room almost bare but for a curtainless bed, a table heaped with books and papers, and two chairs--such were the surroundings of the lieutenant in the spring of 1791. He lived on bread that he might rear his brother for the army, and that he might buy books, overjoyed when his savings mounted to the price of some coveted volume.

Perhaps the depressing conditions of his life at Auxonne may account for the acrid tone of an essay which he there wrote in competition for a prize offered by the Academy of Lyons on the subject--"What truths and sentiments ought to be inculcated to men for their happiness." It was unsuccessful; and modern readers will agree with the verdict of one of the judges that it was incongruous in arrangement and of a bad and ragged style. The thoughts are set forth in jerky, vehement clauses; and, in place of the _sensibilite_ of some of his earlier effusions, we feel here the icy breath of materialism. He regards an ideal human society as a geometrical structure based on certain well-defined postulates. All men ought to be able to satisfy certain elementary needs of their nature; but all that is beyond is questionable or harmful. The ideal legislator will curtail wealth so as to restore the wealthy to their

true nature--and so forth. Of any generous outlook on the wider possibilities of human life there is scarcely a trace. His essay is the apotheosis of social mediocrity. By Procrustean methods he would have forced mankind back to the dull levels of Sparta: the opalescent glow of Athenian life was beyond his ken. But perhaps the most curious passage is that in which he preaches against the sin and folly of ambition. He pictures Ambition as a figure with pallid cheeks, wild eyes, hasty step, jerky movements and sardonic smile, for whom crimes are a sport, while lies and calumnies are merely arguments and figures of speech. Then, in words that recall Juvenal's satire on Hannibal's career, he continues: "What is Alexander doing when he rushes from Thebes into Persia and thence into India? He is ever restless, he loses his wits, he believes himself God. What is the end of Cromwell? He governs England. But is he not tormented by all the daggers of the furies?"--The words ring false, even for this period of Buonaparte's life; and one can readily understand his keen wish in later years to burn every copy of these youthful essays. But they have nearly all survived; and the diatribe against ambition itself supplies the feather wherewith history may wing her shaft at the towering flight of the imperial eagle.[15]

At midsummer he is transferred, as first lieutenant, to another regiment which happened to be quartered at Valence; but his second sojourn there is remarkable only for signs of increasing devotion to the revolutionary cause. In the autumn of 1791 he is again in Corsica on furlough, and remains there until the month of May following. He finds the island rent by strifes which it would be tedious to describe. Suffice it to say that the breach between Paoli and the Buonapartes gradually widened owing to the dictator's suspicion of all who favoured the French Revolution. The young officer certainly did nothing to close the breach. Determined to secure his own election as lieutenant-colonel in the new Corsican National Guard, he spent much time in gaining recruits who would vote for him. He further assured his success by having one of the commissioners, who was acting in Paoli's interest, carried off from his friends and detained at the Buonapartes' house in Ajaccio--his first _coup_[16] Stranger events were to follow. At Easter, when the people were excited by the persecuting edicts against the clergy and the closing of a monastery, there was sharp fighting between the populace and Buonaparte's companies of National Guards. Originating in a petty quarrel, which was taken up by eager partisans, it embroiled the whole of the town and gave the ardent young Jacobin the chance of overthrowing his enemies. His plans even extended to the seizure of the citadel, where he tried to seduce the French regiment from its duty to officers whom he dubbed aristocrats. The attempt was a failure. The whole truth can, perhaps, scarcely be discerned amidst the tissue of lies which speedily enveloped the affair; but there can be no doubt that on the second day of strife Buonaparte's National Guards began the fight and subsequently menaced the regular troops in the citadel. The conflict was finally stopped by commissioners sent by Paoli; and the volunteers were sent away from the town.


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