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

And calculating man will alone attain


In

February, 1798, he paid a brief visit to Dunkirk and the Flemish coast, and concluded that the invasion of England was altogether too complicated to be hazarded except as a last desperate venture. In a report to the Government (February 23rd) he thus sums up the whole situation:

"Whatever efforts we make, we shall not for some years gain the naval supremacy. To invade England without that supremacy is the most daring and difficult task ever undertaken.... If, having regard to the present organization of our navy, it seems impossible to gain the necessary promptness of execution, then we must really give up the expedition against England, _be satisfied with keeping up the pretence of it_, and concentrate all our attention and resources on the Rhine, in order to try to deprive England of Hanover and Hamburg:[93] ... or else undertake an eastern expedition which would menace her trade with the Indies. And if none of these three operations is practicable, I see nothing else for it but to conclude peace with England."

The greater part of his career serves as a commentary on these designs. To one or other of them he was constantly turning as alternative schemes for the subjugation of his most redoubtable foe. The first plan he now judged to be impracticable; the second, which appears later in its fully matured form as his Continental System, was not for the

present feasible, because France was about to settle German affairs at the Congress of Rastadt; to the third he therefore turned the whole force of his genius.

The conquest of Egypt and the restoration to France of her supremacy in India appealed to both sides of Bonaparte's nature. The vision of the tricolour floating above the minarets of Cairo and the palace of the Great Mogul at Delhi fascinated a mind in which the mysticism of the south was curiously blent with the practicality and passion for details that characterize the northern races. To very few men in the world's history has it been granted to dream grandiose dreams and all but realize them, to use by turns the telescope and the microscope of political survey, to plan vast combinations of force, and yet to supervise with infinite care the adjustment of every adjunct. Caesar, in the old world, was possibly the mental peer of Bonaparte in this majestic equipoise of the imaginative and practical qualities; but of Caesar we know comparatively little; whereas the complex workings of the greatest mind of the modern world stand revealed in that storehouse of facts and fancies, the "Correspondance de Napoleon." The motives which led to the Eastern Expedition are there unfolded. In the letter which he wrote to Talleyrand shortly before the signature of the peace of Campo Formio occurs this suggestive passage:

"The character of our nation is to be far too vivacious amidst prosperity. If we take for the basis of all our operations true policy, which is nothing else than the calculation of combinations and chances, we shall long be _la grande nation_ and the arbiter of Europe. I say more: we hold the balance of Europe: we will make that balance incline as we wish; and, if such is the order of fate, I think it by no means impossible that we may in a few years attain those grand results of which the heated and enthusiastic imagination catches a glimpse, and which the extremely cool, persistent, and calculating man will alone attain."


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