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

In reading of the exploits of Leonidas


Its

imperial future was opened up by the deft complaisance now shown by Charles Buonaparte. The reward for his speedy submission to France was soon forthcoming. The French commander in Corsica used his influence to secure the admission of the young Napoleon to the military school of Brienne in Champagne; and as the father was able to satisfy the authorities not only that he was without fortune, but also that his family had been noble for four generations, Napoleon was admitted to this school to be educated at the charges of the King of France (April, 1779). He was now, at the tender age of nine, a stranger in a strange land, among a people whom he detested as the oppressors of his countrymen. Worst of all, he had to endure the taunt of belonging to a subject race. What a position for a proud and exacting child! Little wonder that the official report represented him as silent and obstinate; but, strange to say, it added the word "imperious." It was a tough character which could defy repression amidst such surroundings. As to his studies, little need be said. In his French history he read of the glories of the distant past (when "Germany was part of the French Empire"), the splendours of the reign of Louis XIV., the disasters of France in the Seven Years' War, and the "prodigious conquests of the English in India." But his imagination was kindled from other sources. Boys of pronounced character have always owed far more to their private reading than to their set studies; and the young
Buonaparte, while grudgingly learning Latin and French grammar, was feeding his mind on Plutarch's "Lives"--in a French translation. The artful intermingling of the actual and the romantic, the historic and the personal, in those vivid sketches of ancient worthies and heroes, has endeared them to many minds. Rousseau derived unceasing profit from their perusal; and Madame Roland found in them "the pasture of great souls." It was so with the lonely Corsican youth. Holding aloof from his comrades in gloomy isolation, he caught in the exploits of Greeks and Romans a distant echo of the tragic romance of his beloved island home. The librarian of the school asserted that even then the young soldier had modelled his future career on that of the heroes of antiquity; and we may well believe that, in reading of the exploits of Leonidas, Curtius, and Cincinnatus, he saw the figure of his own antique republican hero, Paoli. To fight side by side with Paoli against the French was his constant dream. "Paoli will return," he once exclaimed, "and as soon as I have strength, I will go to help him: and perhaps together we shall be able to shake the odious yoke from off the neck of Corsica."

But there was another work which exercised a great influence on his young mind--the "Gallic War" of Caesar. To the young Italian the conquest of Gaul by a man of his own race must have been a congenial topic, and in Caesar himself the future conqueror may dimly have recognized a kindred spirit. The masterful energy and all-conquering will of the old Roman, his keen insight into the heart of a problem, the wide sweep of his mental vision, ranging over the intrigues of the Roman Senate, the shifting politics of a score of tribes, and the myriad administrative details of a great army and a mighty province--these were the qualities that furnished the chief mental training to the young cadet. Indeed, the career of Caesar was destined to exert a singular fascination over the Napoleonic dynasty, not only on its founder, but also on Napoleon III.; and the change in the character and career of Napoleon the Great may be registered mentally in the effacement of the portraits of Leonidas and Paoli by those of Caesar and Alexander. Later on, during his sojourn at Ajaccio in 1790, when the first shadows were flitting across his hitherto unclouded love for Paoli, we hear that he spent whole nights poring over Caesar's history, committing many passages to memory in his passionate admiration of those wondrous exploits. Eagerly he took Caesar's side as against Pompey, and no less warmly defended him from the charge of plotting against the liberties of the commonwealth[6]. It was a perilous study for a republican youth in whom the military instincts were as ingrained as the genius for rule.


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