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

Many of them had resented the dictatorship of Paoli


Seeing that Charles Buonaparte had been an ardent adherent of Paoli, his sudden change of front has exposed him to keen censure. He certainly had not the grit of which heroes are made. His seems to have been an ill-balanced nature, soon buoyed up by enthusiasms, and as speedily depressed by their evaporation; endowed with enough of learning and culture to be a Voltairean and write second-rate verses; and with a talent for intrigue which sufficed to embarrass his never very affluent fortunes. Napoleon certainly derived no world-compelling qualities from his father: for these he was indebted to the wilder strain which ran in his mother's blood. The father doubtless saw in the French connection a chance of worldly advancement and of liberation from pecuniary difficulties; for the new rulers now sought to gain over the patrician families of the island. Many of them had resented the dictatorship of Paoli; and they now gladly accepted the connection with France, which promised to enrich their country and to open up a brilliant career in the French army, where commissions were limited to the scions of nobility.

Much may be said in excuse of Charles Buonaparte's decision, and no one can deny that Corsica has ultimately gained much by her connection with France. But his change of front was open to the charge that it was prompted by self-interest rather than by philosophic foresight. At any rate, his second son throughout his boyhood nursed a deep resentment against his father for his desertion of the patriots' cause. The youth's sympathies were with the peasants, whose allegiance was not to be bought by baubles, whose constancy and bravery long held out against the French in a hopeless guerilla warfare. His hot Corsican blood boiled at the stories of oppression and insult which he heard from his humbler compatriots. When, at eleven years of age, he saw in the military college at Brienne the portrait of Choiseul, the French Minister who had urged on the conquest of Corsica, his passion burst forth in a torrent of imprecations against the traitor; and, even after the death of his father in 1785, he exclaimed that he could never forgive him for not following Paoli into exile.

What trifles seem, at times, to alter the current of human affairs! Had his father acted thus, the young Napoleon would in all probability have entered the military or naval service of Great Britain; he might have shared Paoli's enthusiasm for the land of his adoption, and have followed the Corsican hero in his enterprises against the French Revolution, thenceforth figuring in history merely as a greater Marlborough, crushing the military efforts of democratic France, and luring England into a career of Continental conquest. Monarchy and aristocracy would have gone unchallenged, except within the "natural limits" of France; and the other nations, never shaken to their inmost depths, would have dragged on their old inert fragmentary existence.

The decision of Charles Buonaparte altered the destiny of Europe. He determined that his eldest boy, Joseph, should enter the Church, and that Napoleon should be a soldier. His perception of the characters of his boys was correct. An anecdote, for which the elder brother is responsible, throws a flood of light on their temperaments. The master of their school arranged a mimic combat for his pupils--Romans against Carthaginians. Joseph, as the elder was ranged under the banner of Rome, while Napoleon was told off among the Carthaginians; but, piqued at being chosen for the losing side, the child fretted, begged, and stormed until the less bellicose Joseph agreed to change places with his exacting junior. The incident is prophetic of much in the later history of the family.


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