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

The Commissioners of the Convention


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CHAPTER IV

VENDEMIAIRE

The next period of Buonaparte's life presents few features of interest. He was called upon to supervise the guns and stores for the Army of Italy, and also to inspect the fortifications and artillery of the coast. At Marseilles his zeal outstripped his discretion. He ordered the reconstruction of the fortress which had been destroyed during the Revolution; but when the townsfolk heard the news, they protested so vehemently that the work was stopped and an order was issued for Buonaparte's arrest. From this difficulty the friendship of the younger Robespierre and of Salicetti, the Commissioners of the Convention, availed to rescue him; but the incident proves that his services at Toulon were not so brilliant as to have raised him above the general level of meritorious officers, who were applauded while they prospered, but might be sent to the guillotine for any serious offence.

In February, 1794, he was appointed at Nice general in command of the artillery of the Army of Italy, which drove the Sardinian troops from several positions between Ventimiglia and Oneglia. Thence, swinging round by passes of the Maritime Alps, they outflanked the positions of the Austro-Sardinian forces at the Col di Tenda, which had defied all attack in front. Buonaparte's share in this turning operation seems to have been restricted to the effective handling of artillery, and the chief credit here rested with Massena, who won the first of his laurels in the country of his birth. He was of humble parentage; yet his erect bearing, proud animated glance, curt penetrating speech, and keen repartees, proclaimed a nature at once active and wary, an intellect both calculating and confident. Such was the man who was to immortalize his name in many a contest, until his glory paled before the greater genius of Wellington.

Much of the credit of organizing this previously unsuccessful army belongs to the younger Robespierre, who, as Commissioner of the Convention, infused his energy into all departments of the service. For some months his relations to Buonaparte were those of intimacy; but whether they extended to complete sympathy on political matters may be doubted. The younger Robespierre held the revolutionary creed with sufficient ardour, though one of his letters dated from Oneglia suggests that the fame of the Terror was hurtful to the prospects of the campaign. It states that the whole of the neighbouring inhabitants had fled before the French soldiers, in the belief that they were destroyers of religion and eaters of babies: this was inconvenient, as it prevented the supply of provisions and the success of forced loans. The letter suggests that he was a man of action rather than of ideas, and probably it was this practical quality which bound Buonaparte in friendship to him. Yet it is difficult to fathom Buonaparte's ideas about the revolutionary despotism which was


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