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

Of the poets he selected the so called Ossian


Secure within their mighty walls, the knights might have held the intruders at bay, had they not been divided by internal disputes: the French knights refused to fight against their countrymen; and a revolt of the native Maltese, long restless under the yoke of the Order, now helped to bring the Grand Master to a surrender. The evidence of the English consul, Mr. Williams, seems to show that the discontent of the natives was even more potent than the influence of French gold in bringing about this result.[99] At any rate, one of the strongest places in Europe admitted a French garrison, after so tame a defence that General Caffarelli, on viewing the fortifications, remarked to Bonaparte: "Upon my word, general, it is lucky there was some one in the town to open the gates to us."

During his stay of seven days at Malta, Bonaparte revealed the vigour of those organizing powers for which the half of Europe was soon to present all too small an arena. He abolished the Order, pensioning off those French knights who had been serviceable: he abolished the religious houses and confiscated their domains to the service of the new government: he established a governmental commission acting under a military governor: he continued provisionally the existing taxes, and provided for the imposition of customs, excise, and octroi dues: he prepared the way for the improvement of the streets, the erection of fountains, the reorganization of the hospitals and the post office. To the university he gave special attention, rearranging the curriculum on the model of the more advanced _ecoles centrales_ of France, but inclining the studies severely to the exact sciences and the useful arts. On all sides he left the imprint of his practical mind, that viewed life as a game at chess, whence bishops and knights were carefully banished, and wherein nothing was left but the heavy pieces and subservient pawns.

After dragging Malta out of its mediaeval calm and plunging it into the full swirl of modern progress, Bonaparte set sail for Egypt. His exchequer was the richer by all the gold and silver, whether in bullion or in vessels, discoverable in the treasury of Malta or in the Church of St. John. Fortunately, the silver gates of this church had been coloured over, and thus escaped the fate of the other treasures.[100] On the voyage to Alexandria he studied the library of books which he had requested Bourrienne to purchase for him. The composition of this library is of interest as showing the strong trend of his thoughts towards history, though at a later date he was careful to limit its study in the university and schools which he founded. He had with him 125 volumes of historical works, among which the translations of Thucydides, Plutarch, Tacitus, and Livy represented the life of the ancient world, while in modern life he concentrated his attention chiefly on the manners and institutions of peoples and the memoirs of great generals--as Turenne, Conde, Luxembourg, Saxe, Marlborough, Eugene, and Charles XII. Of the poets he selected the so-called Ossian, Tasso, Ariosto, Homer, Virgil, and the masterpieces of the French theatre; but he especially affected the turgid and declamatory style of Ossian. In romance, English literature was strongly represented by forty volumes of novels, of course in translations. Besides a few works on arts and sciences, he also had with him twelve volumes of "Barclay's Geography," and three volumes of "Cook's Voyages," which show that his thoughts extended to the antipodes; and under the heading of Politics he included the Bible, the Koran, the Vedas, a Mythology, and Montesquieu's "Esprit des Lois"! The composition and classification of this library are equally suggestive. Bonaparte carefully searched out the weak places of the organism which he was about to attack--in the present campaign, Egypt and the British Empire. The climate and natural products, the genius of its writers and the spirit of its religion--nothing came amiss to his voracious intellect, which assimilated the most diverse materials and pressed them all into his service. Greek mythology provided allusions for the adornment of his proclamations, the Koran would dictate his behaviour towards the Moslems, and the Bible was to be his guide-book concerning the Druses and Armenians. All three were therefore grouped together under the head of Politics.


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