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

Action Buonaparte might have had


Some

such thoughts seem to have flitted across the mind of Buonaparte in those months of forced inactivity. It was a time of disillusionment. Rarely do we find thenceforth in his correspondence any gleams of faith respecting the higher possibilities of the human race. The golden visions of youth now vanish along with the _bonnet rouge_ and the jargon of the Terror. His bent had ever been for the material and practical: and now that faith in the Jacobinical creed was vanishing, it was more than ever desirable to grapple that errant balloon to substantial facts. Evidently, the Revolution must now trust to the clinging of the peasant proprietors to the recently confiscated lands of the Church and of the emigrant nobles. If all else was vain and transitory, here surely was a solid basis of material interests to which the best part of the manhood of France would tenaciously adhere, defying alike the plots of reactionaries and the forces of monarchical Europe. Of these interests Buonaparte was to be the determined guarantor. Amidst much that was visionary in his later policy he never wavered in his championship of the new peasant proprietors. He was ever the peasants' General, the peasants' Consul, the peasants' Emperor.

The transition of the Revolution to an ordinary form of polity was also being furthered by its unparalleled series of military triumphs. When Buonaparte's name was as yet unknown, except in Corsica and Provence, France practically gained

her "natural boundaries," the Rhine and the Alps. In the campaigns of 1793-4, the soldiers of Pichegru, Kleber, Hoche, and Moreau overran the whole of the Low Countries and chased the Germans beyond the Rhine; the Piedmontese were thrust behind the Alps; the Spaniards behind the Pyrenees. In quick succession State after State sued for peace: Tuscany in February, 1795; Prussia in April; Hanover, Westphalia, and Saxony in May; Spain and Hesse-Cassel in July; Switzerland and Denmark in August.

Such was the state of France when Buonaparte came to seek his fortunes in the Sphinx-like capital. His artillery command had been commuted to a corresponding rank in the infantry--a step that deeply incensed him. He attributed it to malevolent intriguers; but all his efforts to obtain redress were in vain. Lacking money and patronage, known only as an able officer and facile intriguer of the bankrupt Jacobinical party, he might well have despaired. He was now almost alone. Marmont had gone off to the Army of the Rhine; but Junot was still with him, allured perhaps by Madame Permon's daughter, whom he subsequently married. At the house of this amiable hostess, an old friend of his family, Buonaparte found occasional relief from the gloom of his existence. The future Madame Junot has described him as at this time untidy, unkempt, sickly, remarkable for his extreme thinness and the almost yellow tint of his visage, which was, however, lit up by "two eyes sparkling with keenness and will-power"--evidently a Corsican falcon, pining for action, and fretting its soaring spirit in that vapid town life. Action Buonaparte might have had, but only of a kind that he loathed. He might have commanded the troops destined to crush the brave royalist peasants of La Vendee. But, whether from scorn of such vulture-work, or from an instinct that a nobler quarry might be started at Paris, he refused to proceed to the Army of the West, and on the plea of ill-health remained in the capital. There he spent his time deeply pondering on politics and strategy. He designed a history of the last two years, and drafted a plan of campaign for the Army of Italy, which, later on, was to bear him to fortune. Probably the geographical insight which it displayed may have led to his appointment (August 20th, 1795) to the topographical bureau of the Committee of Public Safety. His first thought on hearing of this important advancement was that it opened up an opportunity for proceeding to Turkey to organize the artillery of the Sultan; and in a few days he sent in a formal request to that effect--the first tangible proof of that yearning after the Orient which haunted him all through life. But, while straining his gaze eastwards, he experienced a sharp rebuff. The Committee was on the point of granting his request, when an examination of his recent conduct proved him guilty of a breach of discipline in not proceeding to his Vendean command. On the very day when one department of the Committee empowered him to proceed to Constantinople, the Central Committee erased his name from the list of general officers (September 15th).


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