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

Such was the great day of Vendemiaire


for his geometrical genius.

With a few cannon, he knew that he could sweep all the approaches to the palace; and, on Barras' orders, he despatched a dashing cavalry officer, Murat--a name destined to become famous from Madrid to Moscow--to bring the artillery from the neighbouring camp of Sablons. Murat secured them before the malcontents of Paris could lay hands on them; and as the "sections" of Paris had yielded up their own cannon after the affrays of May, they now lacked the most potent force in street-fighting. Their actions were also paralyzed by divided counsels: their commander, an old general named Danican, moved his men hesitatingly; he wasted precious minutes in parleying, and thus gave time to Barras' small but compact force to fight them in detail. Buonaparte had skilfully disposed his cannon to bear on the royalist columns that threatened the streets north of the Tuileries. But for some time the two parties stood face to face, seeking to cajole or intimidate one another. As the autumn afternoon waned, shots were fired from some houses near the church of St. Roch, where the malcontents had their headquarters.[33] At once the streets became the scene of a furious fight; furious but unequal; for Buonaparte's cannon tore away the heads of the malcontent columns. In vain did the royalists pour in their volleys from behind barricades, or from the neighbouring houses: finally they retreated on the barricaded church, or fled down the Rue St. Honore. Meanwhile their bands from across the river, 5,000
strong, were filing across the bridges, and menaced the Tuileries from that side, until here also they melted away before the grapeshot and musketry poured into their front and flank. By six o'clock the conflict was over. The fight presents few, if any, incidents which are authentic. The well-known engraving of Helman, which shows Buonaparte directing the storming of the church of St. Roch is unfortunately quite incorrect. He was not engaged there, but in the streets further east: the church was not stormed: the malcontents held it all through the night, and quietly surrendered it next morning.

Such was the great day of Vendemiaire. It cost the lives of about two hundred on each side; at least, that is the usual estimate, which seems somewhat incongruous with the stories of fusillading and cannonading at close quarters, until we remember that it is the custom of memoir-writers and newspaper editors to trick out the details of a fight, and in the case of civil warfare to minimise the bloodshed. Certainly the Convention acted with clemency in the hour of victory: two only of the rebel leaders were put to death; and it is pleasing to remember that when Menou was charged with treachery, Buonaparte used his influence to procure his freedom.

Bourrienne states that in his later days the victor deeply regretted his action in this day of Vendemiaire. The assertion seems incredible. The "whiff of grapeshot" crushed a movement which could have led only to present anarchy, and probably would have brought France back to royalism of an odious type. It taught a severe lesson to a fickle populace which, according to Mme. de Stael, was hungering for the spoils of place as much as for any political object. Of all the events of his post-Corsican life, Buonaparte need surely never have felt compunctions for Vendemiaire.[34]


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