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

He came almost within sight of the French force near Crete


And this, on the whole, fairly well represents his mental attitude towards religion: at least, it was his work-a-day attitude. There were moments, it is true, when an overpowering sense of the majesty of the universe lifted his whole being far above this petty opportunism: and in those moments, which, in regard to the declaration of character, may surely be held to counterbalance whole months spent in tactical shifts and diplomatic wiles, he was capable of soaring to heights of imaginative reverence. Such an episode, lighting up for us the recesses of his mind, occurred during his voyage to Egypt. The _savants_ on board his ship, "L'Orient," were discussing one of those questions which Bonaparte often propounded, in order that, as arbiter in this contest of wits, he might gauge their mental powers. Mental dexterity, rather than the Socratic pursuit after truth, was the aim of their dialectic; but on one occasion, when religion was being discussed, Bonaparte sounded a deeper note: looking up into the midnight vault of sky, he said to the philosophizing atheists: "Very ingenious, sirs, but who made all that?" As a retort to the tongue-fencers, what could be better? The appeal away from words to the star-studded canopy was irresistible: it affords a signal proof of what Carlyle has finely called his "instinct for nature" and his "ineradicable feeling for reality." This probably was the true man, lying deep under his Moslem shifts and Concordat bargainings.

justify;">That there was a tinge of superstition in Bonaparte's nature, such as usually appears in gifted scions of a coast-dwelling family, cannot be denied;[101] but his usual attitude towards religion was that of the political mechanician, not of the devotee, and even while professing the forms of fatalistic belief, he really subordinated them to his own designs. To this profound calculation of the credulity of mankind we may probably refer his allusions to his star. The present writer regards it as almost certain that his star was invoked in order to dazzle the vulgar herd. Indeed, if we may trust Miot de Melito, the First Consul once confessed as much to a circle of friends. "Caesar," he said, "was right to cite his good fortune and to appear to believe in it. That is a means of acting on the imagination of others without offending anyone's self-love." A strange admission this; what boundless self-confidence it implies that he should have admitted the trickery. The mere acknowledgment of it is a proof that he felt himself so far above the plane of ordinary mortals that, despite the disclosure, he himself would continue to be his own star. For the rest, is it credible that this analyzing genius could ever have seriously adopted the astrologer's creed? Is there anything in his early note-books or later correspondence which warrants such a belief? Do not all his references to his star occur in proclamations and addresses intended for popular consumption?

Certainly Bonaparte's good fortune was conspicuous all through these eastern adventures, and never more so than when he escaped the pursuit of Nelson. The English admiral had divined his aim. Setting all sail, he came almost within sight of the French force near Crete, and he reached Alexandria barely two days before his foes hove in sight. Finding no hostile force there, he doubled back on his course and scoured the seas between Crete, Sicily, and the Morca, until news received from a Turkish official again sent him eastwards. On such trifles does the fate of empires sometimes depend.


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