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

The news reached him on his return from Leoben to Italy


brilliant results were due primarily to the consummate leadership of Bonaparte. His geographical instincts discerned the means of profiting by natural obstacles and of turning them when they seemed to screen his opponents. Prompt to divine their plans, he bewildered them by the audacity of his combinations, which overbore their columns with superior force at the very time when he seemed doomed to succumb. Genius so commanding had not been displayed even by Frederick or Marlborough. And yet these brilliant results could not have been achieved by an army which rarely exceeded 45,000 men without the strenuous bravery and tactical skill of the best generals of division, Augereau, Massena, and Joubert, as well as of officers who had shown their worth in many a doubtful fight; Lannes, the hero of Lodi and Arcola; Marmont, noted for his daring advance of the guns at Castiglione; Victor, who justified his name by hard fighting at La Favorita; Murat, the _beau sabreur_, and Junot, both dashing cavalry generals; and many more whose daring earned them a soldier's death in order to gain glory for France and liberty for Italy. Still less ought the soldiery to be forgotten; those troops, whose tattered uniforms bespoke their ceaseless toils, who grumbled at the frequent lack of bread, but, as Massena observed, never _before_ a battle, who even in retreat never doubted the genius of their chief, and fiercely rallied at the longed-for sign of fighting. The source of this marvellous energy is
not hard to discover. Their bravery was fed by that wellspring of hope which had made of France a nation of free men determined to free the millions beyond their frontiers. The French columns were "equality on the march"; and the soldiery, animated by this grand enthusiasm, found its militant embodiment in the great captain who seemed about to liberate Italy and Central Europe.

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In signing the preliminaries of peace at Leoben, which formed in part the basis for the Treaty of Campo Formio, Bonaparte appears as a diplomatist of the first rank. He had already signed similar articles with the Court of Turin and with the Vatican. But such a transaction with the Emperor was infinitely more important than with the third-rate powers of the peninsula. He now essays his first flight to the highest levels of international diplomacy. In truth, his mental endowments, like those of many of the greatest generals, were no less adapted to success in the council-chamber than on the field of battle; for, indeed, the processes of thought and the methods of action are not dissimilar in the spheres of diplomacy and war. To evade obstacles on which an opponent relies, to multiply them in his path, to bewilder him by feints before overwhelming him by a crushing onset, these are the arts which yield success either to the negotiator or to the commander.

In imposing terms of peace on the Emperor at Leoben (April 18th, 1797), Bonaparte reduced the Directory, and its envoy, Clarke, who was absent in Italy, to a subordinate _role_. As commander-in-chief, he had power only to conclude a brief armistice, but now he signed the preliminaries of peace. His excuse to the Directory was ingenious. While admitting the irregularity of his conduct, he pleaded the isolated position of his army, and the absence of Clarke, and that, under the circumstances, his act had been merely "a military operation." He could also urge that he had in his rear a disaffected Venetia, and that he believed the French armies on the Rhine to be stationary and unable to cross that river. But the very tardy advent of Clarke on the scene strengthens the supposition that Bonaparte was at the time by no means loth to figure as the pacifier of the Continent. Had he known the whole truth, namely, that the French were gaining a battle on the east bank of the Rhine while the terms of peace were being signed at Leoben, he would most certainly have broken off the negotiations and have dictated harsher terms at the gates of Vienna. That was the vision which shone before his eyes three years previously, when he sketched to his friends at Nice the plan of campaign, beginning at Savona and ending before the Austrian capital; and great was his chagrin at hearing the tidings of Moreau's success on April 20th. The news reached him on his return from Leoben to Italy, when he was detained for a few hours by a sudden flood of the River Tagliamento. At once he determined to ride back and make some excuse for a rupture with Austria; and only the persistent remonstrances of Berthier turned him from this mad resolve, which would forthwith have exhibited him to the world as estimating more highly the youthful promptings of destiny than the honour of a French negotiator.

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