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

The greater part of the Cispadane Republic


terms which he had granted to the Emperor were lenient enough. The only definitive gain to France was the acquisition of the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium), for which troublesome possession the Emperor was to have compensation elsewhere. Nothing absolutely binding was said about the left, or west, bank of the Rhine, except that Austria recognized the "constitutional limits" of France, but reaffirmed the integrity of "The Empire."[73] These were contradictory statements; for France had declared the Rhine to be her natural boundary, and the old "Empire" included Belgium, Treves, and Luxemburg. But, for the interpretation of these vague formularies, the following secret and all-important articles were appended. While the Emperor renounced that part of his Italian possessions which lay to the west of the Oglio, he was to receive all the mainland territories of Venice east of that river, including Dalmatia and Istria, Venice was also to cede her lands west of the Oglio to the French Government; and in return for these sacrifices she was to gain the three legations of Romagna, Ferrara, and Bologna--the very lands which Bonaparte had recently formed into the Cispadane Republic! For the rest, the Emperor would have to recognize the proposed Republic at Milan, as also that already existing at Modena, "compensation" being somewhere found for the deposed duke.

From the correspondence of Thugut, the Austrian Minister, it appears certain that Austria herself

had looked forward to the partition of the Venetian mainland territories, and this was the scheme which Bonaparte _actually proposed to her at Leoben_. Still more extraordinary was his proposal to sacrifice, ostensibly to Venice but ultimately to Austria, the greater part of the Cispadane Republic. It is, indeed, inexplicable, except on the ground that his military position at Leoben was more brilliant than secure. His uneasiness about this article of the preliminaries is seen in his letter of April 22nd to the Directors, which explains that the preliminaries need not count for much. But most extraordinary of all was his procedure concerning the young Lombard Republic. He seems quite calmly to have discussed its retrocession to the Austrians, and that, too, after he had encouraged the Milanese to found a republic, and had declared that every French victory was "a line of the constitutional charter."[74] The most reasonable explanation is that Bonaparte over-estimated the military strength of Austria, and undervalued the energy of the men of Milan, Modena, and Bologna, of whose levies he spoke most contemptuously. Certain it is that he desired to disengage himself from their affairs so as to be free for the grander visions of oriental conquest that now haunted his imagination. Whatever were his motives in signing the preliminaries at Leoben, he speedily found means for their modification in the ever-enlarging area of negotiable lands.

It is now time to return to the affairs of Venice. For seven months the towns and villages of that republic had been a prey to pitiless warfare and systematic rapacity, a fate which the weak ruling oligarchy could neither avert nor avenge. In the western cities, Bergamo and Brescia, whose interests and feelings linked them with Milan rather than Venice, the populace desired an alliance with the nascent republic on the west and a severance from the gloomy despotism of the Queen of the Adriatic. Though glorious in her prime, she now governed with obscurantist methods inspired by fear of her weakness becoming manifest; and Bonaparte, tearing off the mask which hitherto had screened her dotage, left her despised by the more progressive of her own subjects. Even before he first entered the Venetian territory, he set forth to the Directory the facilities for plunder and partition which it offered. Referring to its reception of the Comte de Provence (the future Louis XVIII.) and the occupation of Peschiera by the Austrians, he wrote (June 6th, 1796):

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