That Poland was not restored to national rank by Napoleon I. was in some measure owing to the weather of the latter days of 1806. Those of the French officers who marched through the better portions of that country were for its restoration, but others who waded through its terrible mud took different ground in every sense. Hence there was a serious difference of opinion in the French councils on this vitally important subject, which had its influence on Napoleon's mind. The severe winter-weather of 1806-7, by preventing the Emperor from destroying the Russians, which he was on the point of doing, was prejudicial to the interests of Poland; for the ultimate effect was, to compel France to treat with Russia as equal with equal, notwithstanding the crowning victory of Friedland. This done, there was no present hope of Polish restoration, as Alexander frankly told the French Emperor that the world would not be large enough for them both, if he should seek to renew Poland's rank as a nation. So far as the failure of the French in 1812 is chargeable upon the weather, the weather must be considered as having been again the enemy of Poland; for Napoleon would have restored that country, had he succeeded in his Russian campaign. Such restoration would then have been a necessity of his position. But it was not the weather of Russia that caused the French failure of 1812. That failure was all but complete before the invaders of Russia had experienced any very severe weather. The two powers that conquered Napoleon were those which General Von Knesebeck had pointed out to Alexander as sure to be too much for him,—Space and Time. The cold, frosts, and snows of Russia simply completed what those powers had so well begun, and so well done.
In the grand campaign of 1813, the weather had an extraordinary influence on Napoleon's fortunes, the rains of Germany really doing him far more mischief than he had experienced from the snows of Russia; and, oddly enough, a portion of this mischief came to him through the gate of victory. The war between the French and the Allies was renewed the middle of August, and Napoleon purposed crushing the Army of Silesia, under old Bluecher, and marched upon it; but he was recalled by the advance of the Grand Army of the Allies upon Dresden; for, if that city had fallen into their hands, his communications with the Rhine would have been lost. Returning to Dresden, he restored affairs there on the 26th of August; and on the 27th, the Battle of Dresden was fought, the last of his great victories. It was a day of mist and rain, the mist being thick, and the rain heavy. Under cover of the mist, Murat surprised a portion of the Austrian infantry, and, as their muskets were rendered unserviceable by the rain, they fell a prey to his horse, who were assisted by infantry and artillery, more than sixteen thousand men being killed, wounded, or captured. The left wing of the Allies was annihilated. So far all was well for the Child of Destiny; but Nemesis was preparing to exact her dues very swiftly. A victory can scarcely be so called, unless it be well followed up; and whether Dresden should be another Austerlitz depended upon what might be done during the next two or three days. Napoleon did not act with his usual energy on that critical occasion, and in seven months he had ceased to reign. Why did he refrain from reaping the fruits of victory? Because the weather, which had been so favorable to his fortunes on the 27th, was quite as unfavorable to his person. On that day he was exposed to the rain for twelve hours, and when he returned to Dresden, at night, he was wet to the skin, and covered with mud, while the water was streaming from his chapeau, which the storm had knocked out of a cocked hat. It was a peculiarity of Napoleon's constitution, that he could not expose himself to damp without bringing on a pain in the stomach; and this pain seized him at noon on the 28th, when he had partaken of a repast at Pirna, whither he had gone in the course of his operations against the beaten enemy. This illness caused him to cease his personal exertions, but not from giving such orders as the work before him required him to issue. Perhaps it would have had no evil effect, had it not been, that, while halting at Pirna, news came to him of two great failures of distant armies, which led him to order the Young Guard to halt at that place,—an order that cost him his empire. One more march in advance, and Napoleon would have become greater than ever he had been; but that march was not made, and so the flying foe was converted into a victorious army. For General Vandamme, who was at the head of the chief force of the pursuing French, pressed the Allies with energy, relying on the support of the Emperor, whose orders he was carrying out in the best manner. This led to the Battle of Kulm, in which Vandamme was defeated, and his army destroyed for the time, because of the overwhelming superiority of the enemy; whereas that action would have been one of the completest French victories, had the Young Guard been ordered to march from Pirna, according to the original intention. The roads were in a most frightful state, in consequence of the wet weather; but, as a victorious army always finds food, so it always finds roads over which to advance to the completion of its task, unless its chief has no head. Vandamme had a head, and thought he was winning the Marshal's staff which Napoleon had said was awaiting him in the midst of the enemy's retiring masses. So confident was he that the Emperor would support him, that he would not retreat while yet it was in his power to do so; and the consequence was that his corps d'armee was torn to pieces, and himself captured. Napoleon had the meanness to charge Vandamme with going too far and seeking to do too much, as he supposed he was slain, and therefore could not prove that he was simply obeying orders, as well as acting in exact accordance with sound military principles. That Vandamme was right is established by the fact that an order came from Napoleon to Marshal Mortier, who commanded at Pirna, to reinforce him with two divisions; but the order did not reach Mortier until after Vandamme had been defeated. Marshal Saint-Cyr, who was bound to aid Vandamme, was grossly negligent, and failed of his duty; but even he would have acted well, had he been acting under the eye of the Emperor, as would have been the case, had not the weather of the 27th broken down the health of Napoleon, and had not other disasters to the French, all caused by the same storm that had raged around Dresden, induced Napoleon to direct his personal attention to points remote from the scene of his last triumph.[B]
[Footnote B: There was a story current that Napoleon's indisposition on the 28th of August was caused by his eating heartily of a shoulder of mutton stuffed with garlic, not the wholesomest food in the world; and the digestive powers having been reduced by long exposure to damp, this dish may have been too much for them. Thiers says that the Imperial illness at Pirna was "a malady invented by flatterers," and yet only a few pages before he says that "Napoleon proceeded to Pirna, where he arrived about noon, and where, after having partaken of a slight repast, he was seized with a pain in the stomach, to which he was subject after exposure to damp." Napoleon suffered from stomach complaints from an early period of his career, and one of their effects is greatly to lessen the powers of the sufferer's mind. His want of energy at Borodino was attributed to a disordered stomach, and the Russians were simply beaten, not destroyed, on that field. When he beard of Vandamme's defeat, Napoleon said, "One should make a bridge of gold for a flying enemy, where it is impossible, as in Vandamme's case, to oppose to him a bulwark of steel." He forgot that his own plan was to have opposed to the enemy a bulwark of steel, and that the non-existence of that bulwark on the 30th of August was owing to his own negligence. Still, the reverse at Kulm might not have proved so terribly fatal, had it not been preceded by the reverses on the Katzbach, which also were owing to the heavy rains, and news of which was the cause of the halting of so large a portion of his pursuing force at Pirna, and the march of many of his best men back to Dresden, his intention being to attempt the restoration of affairs in that quarter, where they had been so sadly compromised under Macdonald's direction. He was as much overworked by the necessity of attending to so many theatres of action as his armies were overmatched in the field by the superior numbers of the Allies. He is said to have repeated the following lines, after musing for a while on the news from Kulm:—
"J'ai servi, commande, vaincu quarante annees; Du monde entre mes mains j'ai tu les destinees, Et j'ai toujours connu qu'en chaque evenement Le destin des etats dependait d'un moment."
But he had hours, we might say days, to settle his destiny, and was not tied down to a moment. Afterward he had the fairness to admit that he had lost a great opportunity to regain the ascendency in not supporting Vandamme with the whole of the Young Guard.]
When Napoleon was called from the pursuit of Bluecher by Schwarzenberg's advance upon Dresden, he confided the command of the army that was to act against that of Silesia to Marshal Macdonald, a brave and honest man, but a very inferior soldier, yet who might have managed to hold his own against so unscientific a leader as the fighting old hussar, had it not been for the terrible rainstorm that began on the night of the 25th of August. The swelling of the rivers, some of them deep and rapid, led to the isolation of the French divisions, while the rain was so severe as to prevent them from using their muskets. Animated by the most ardent hatred, the new Prussian levies, few of whom had been in service half as long as our volunteers, and many of whom were but mere boys, rushed upon their enemies, butchering them with butt and bayonet, and forcing them into the boiling torrent of the Katzbach. Puthod's division was prevented from rejoining its comrades by the height of the waters, and was destroyed, though one of the best bodies in the French army. The state of the country drove the French divisions together on the same lines of retreat, creating immense confusion, and leading to the most serious losses of men and materiel. Macdonald's blunder was in advancing after the storm began, and had lasted for a whole night. His officers pointed out the danger of his course, but he was one of those men who think, that, because they are not knaves, they can accomplish everything; but the laws of Nature no more yield to honest stupidity than to clever roguery. The Baron Von Mueffling, who was present in Bluecher's army, says, that, when the French attempted to protect their retreat at the Katzbach with artillery, the guns stuck in the mud; and he adds,—"The field of battle was so saturated by the incessant rain, that a great portion of our infantry left their shoes sticking in the mud, and followed the enemy barefoot." Even a brook, called the Deichsel, was so swollen by the rain that the French could cross it at only one place, and there they lost wagons and guns. Old Bluecher issued a thundering proclamation for the encouragement of his troops. "In the battle on the Katzbach," he said to them, "the enemy came to meet you with defiance. Courageously, and with the rapidity of lightning, you issued from behind your heights. You scorned to attack them with musketry-fire: you advanced without a halt; your bayonets drove them down the steep ridge of the valley of the raging Neisse and Katzbach. Afterwards you waded through rivers and brooks swollen with rain. You passed nights in mud. You suffered for want of provisions, as the impassable roads and want of conveyance hindered the baggage from following. You struggled with cold, wet, privations, and want of clothing; nevertheless you did not murmur,—with great exertions you pursued your routed foe. Receive my thanks for such laudable conduct. The man alone who unites such qualities is a true soldier. One hundred and three cannons, two hundred and fifty ammunition-wagons, the enemy's field-hospitals, their field-forges, their flour-wagons, one general of division, two generals of brigade, a great number of colonels, staff and other officers, eighteen thousand prisoners, two eagles, and other trophies, are in your hands. The terror of your arms has so seized upon the rest of your opponents, that they will no longer bear the sight of your bayonets. You have seen the roads and fields between the Katzbach and the Bober: they bear the signs of the terror and confusion of your enemy." The bluff old General, who at seventy had more "dash" than all the rest of the leaders of the Allies combined, and who did most of the real fighting business of "those who wished and worked" Napoleon's fall, knew how to talk to soldiers, which is a quality not always possessed by even eminent commanders. Soldiers love a leader who can take them to victory, and then talk to them about it. Such a man is "one of them."
Napoleon never recovered from the effects of the losses he experienced at Kulm and on the Katzbach,—losses due entirely to the wetness of the weather. He went downward from that time with terrible velocity, and was in Elba the next spring, seven months after having been on the Elbe. The winter campaign of 1814, of which so much is said, ought to furnish some matter for a paper on weather in war; but the truth is, that that campaign was conducted politically by the Allies. There was never a time, after the first of February, when, if they had conducted the war solely on military principles, they could not have been in Paris in a fortnight.
Napoleon's last campaign owed its lamentable decision to the peculiar character of the weather on its last two days, though one would not look for such a thing as severe weather in June, in Flanders. But so it was, and Waterloo would have been a French victory, and Wellington where Henry was when he ran against Eclipse,—nowhere,—if the rain that fell so heavily on the 17th of June had been postponed only twenty-four hours. Up to the afternoon of the 17th, the weather, though very warm, was dry, and the French were engaged in following their enemies. The Anglo-Dutch infantry had retreated from Quatre-Bras, and the cavalry was following, and was itself followed by the French cavalry, who pressed it with great audacity. "The weather," says Captain Siborne, "during the morning, had become oppressively hot; it was now a dead calm; not a leaf was stirring; and the atmosphere was close to an intolerable degree; while a dark, heavy, dense cloud impended over the combatants. The 18th [English] Hussars were fully prepared, and awaited but the command to charge, when the brigade guns on the right commenced firing, for the purpose of previously disturbing and breaking the order of the enemy's advance. The concussion seemed instantly to rebound through the still atmosphere, and communicate, as an electric spark, with the heavily charged mass above. A most awfully loud thunder-clap burst forth, immediately succeeded by a rain which has never, probably, been exceeded in violence even within the tropics. In a very few minutes the ground became perfectly saturated,—so much so, that it was quite impracticable for any rapid movement of the cavalry." This storm prevented the French from pressing with due force upon their retiring foes; but that would have been but a small evil, if the storm had not settled into a steady and heavy rain, which converted the fat Flemish soil into a mud that would have done discredit even to the "sacred soil" of Virginia, and the latter has the discredit of being the nastiest earth in America. All through the night the windows of heaven were open, as if weeping over the spectacle of two hundred thousand men preparing to butcher each other. Occasionally the rain fell in torrents, greatly distressing the soldiers, who had no tents. On the morning of the 18th the rain ceased, but the day continued cloudy, and the sun did not show himself until the moment before setting, when for an instant he blazed forth in full glory upon the forward movement of the Allies. One may wonder if Napoleon then thought of that morning "Sun of Austerlitz," which he had so often apostrophized in the days of his meridian triumphs. The evening sun of Waterloo was the practical antithesis to the rising sun of Austerlitz.
The Battle of Waterloo was not begun until about twelve o'clock, because of the state of the ground, which did not admit of the action of cavalry and artillery until several hours had been allowed for its hardening. That inevitable delay was the occasion of the victory of the Allies; for, if the battle had been opened at seven o'clock, the French would have defeated Wellington's army before a Prussian regiment could have arrived on the field. It has been said that the rain was as baneful to the Allies as to the French, as it prevented the early arrival of the Prussians; but the remark comes only from persons who are not familiar with the details of the most momentous of modern pitched battles. Buelow's Prussian corps, which was the first to reach the field, marched through Wavre in the forenoon of the 18th; but no sooner had its advanced guard—an infantry brigade, a cavalry regiment, and one battery—cleared that town, than a fire broke out there, which greatly delayed the march of the remainder of the corps. There were many ammunition-wagons in the streets, and, fearful of losing them, and of being deprived of the means of fighting, the Prussians halted, and turned firemen for the occasion. This not only prevented most of the corps from arriving early on the right flank of the French, but it prevented the advanced guard from acting, Buelow being too good a soldier to risk so small a force as that immediately at his command in an attack on the French army. It was not until about half-past one that the Prussians were first seen by the Emperor, and then at so great a distance that even with glasses it was difficult to say whether the objects looked at were men or trees. But for the bad weather, it is possible that Buelow's whole corps, supposing there had been no fire at Wavre, might have arrived within striking distance of the French army by two o'clock, P.M.; but by that hour the battle between Napoleon and Wellington would have been decided, and the Prussians would have come up only to "augment the slaughter," had the ground been hard enough for operations at an early hour of the day. As the battle was necessarily fought in the afternoon, because of the softness of the soil consequent on the heavy rains of the preceding day and night, there was time gained for the arrival of Buelow's corps by four o'clock of the afternoon of the 18th. Against that corps Napoleon had to send almost twenty thousand of his men, and sixty-six pieces of cannon, all of which might have been employed against Wellington's army, had the battle been fought in the forenoon. As it was, that large force never fired a shot at the English. The other Prussian corps that reached the field toward the close of the day, Zieten's and Pirch's, did not leave Wavre until about noon. The coming up of the advanced guard of Zieten, but a short time before the close of the battle, enabled Wellington to employ the fresh cavalry of Vivian and Vandeleur at another part of his line, where they did eminent service for him at a time which is known as "the crisis" of the day. Taking all these facts into consideration, it must be admitted that there never was a more important rain-storm than that which happened on the 17th of June, 1815. Had it occurred twenty-four hours later, the destinies of the world might, and most probably would, have been completely changed; for Waterloo was one of those decisive battles which dominate the ages through their results, belonging to the same class of combats as do Marathon, Pharsalia, Lepanto, Blenheim, Yorktown, and Trafalgar. It was decided by water, and not by fire, though the latter was hot enough on that fatal field to satisfy the most determined lover of courage and glory.
If space permitted, we could bring forward many other facts to show the influence of weather on the operations of war. We could show that it was owing to changes of wind that the Spaniards failed to take Leyden, the fall of which into their hands would probably have proved fatal to the Dutch cause; that a sudden thaw prevented the French from seizing the Hague in 1672, and compelling the Dutch to acknowledge themselves subjects of Louis XIV.; that a change of wind enabled William of Orange to land in England, in 1688, without fighting a battle, when even victory might have been fatal to his purpose; that Continental expeditions fitted out for the purpose of restoring the Stuarts to the British throne were more than once ruined by the occurrence of tempests; that the defeat of our army at Germantown was in part due to the existence of a fog; that a severe storm prevented General Howe from assailing the American position on Dorchester Heights, and so enabled Washington to make that position too strong to be attacked with hope of success, whereby Boston was freed from the enemy's presence; that a heavy fall of rain, by rendering the River Catawba unfordable, put a stop, for a few days, to those movements by which Lord Cornwallis intended to destroy the army of General Morgan, and obtain compensation for Tarleton's defeat at the Cowpens; that an autumnal tempest compelled the same British commander to abandon a project of retreat from Yorktown, which good military critics have thought well conceived, and promising success; that the severity of the winter of 1813 interfered effectively with the measures which Napoleon had formed with the view of restoring his affairs, so sadly compromised by his failure in Russia; that the "misty, chilly, and insalubrious" weather of Louisiana, and its mud, had a marked effect on Sir Edward Pakenham's army, and helped us to victory over one of the finest forces ever sent by Europe to the West; that in 1828 the Russians lost myriads of men and horses, in the Danubian country and its vicinity, through heavy rains and hard frosts; that the November hurricane of 1854 all but paralyzed the allied forces in the Crimea;—and many similar things that establish the helplessness of men in arms when the weather is adverse to them. But enough has been said to convince even the most skeptical that our Potomac Army did not stand alone in being forced to stand still before the dictation of the elements. Our armies, indeed, have suffered less from the weather than it might reasonably have been expected they would suffer, having simply been delayed at some points by the occurrence of winds and thaws; and over all such obstacles they are destined ultimately to triumph, as the Union itself will bid defiance to what Bacon calls "the waves and weathers of time."
* * * * *
WRITTEN UNDER A PORTRAIT OF THEODORE WINTHROP.
O Knightly soldier bravely dead! O poet-soul too early sped! O life so pure! O life so brief! Our hearts are moved with deeper grief, As, dwelling on thy gentle face, Its twilight smile, its tender grace, We fill the shadowy years to be With what had been thy destiny. And still, amid our sorrow's pain, We feel the loss is yet our gain; For through the death we know the life, Its gold in thought, its steel in strife,— And so with reverent kiss we say Adieu! O Bayard of our day!
Much that is in itself undesirable occurs in obedience to a general law which is not only desirable, but of infinite necessity and benefit. It is not desirable that Topper and Macaulay should be read by tens of thousands, and Wilkinson only by tens. It is not desirable that a narrow, selfish, envious Cecil, who could never forgive his noblest contemporaries for failing to be hunchbacks like himself, should steer England all his life as it were with supreme hand, and himself sail on the topmost tide of fortune; while the royal head of Raleigh goes to the block, and while Bacon, with his broad and bountiful nature,—Bacon, one of the two or three greatest and humanest statesmen ever born to England, and one of the friendliest men toward mankind ever born into the world,—dies in privacy and poverty, bequeathing his memory "to foreign nations and the next ages." But it is wholly desirable that he who would consecrate himself to excellence in art or life should sometimes be compelled to make it very clear to himself whether it be indeed excellence that he covets, or only plaudits and pounds sterling. So when we find our purest wishes perpetually hindered, not only in the world around us, but even in our own bosoms, many of the particular facts may indeed merit reproach, but the general fact merits, on the contrary, gratitude and gratulation. For were our best wishes not, nor ever, hindered, sure it is that the still better wishes of destiny in our behalf would be hindered yet worse. Sure it is, I say, that Hindrance, both outward and inward, comes to us not through any improvidence or defect of benignity in Nature, but in answer to our need, and as part of the best bounty which enriches our days. And to make this indubitably clear, let us hasten to meditate that simple and central law which governs this matter and at the same time many others.
And the law is, that every definite action is conditioned upon a definite resistance, and is impossible without it. We walk in virtue of the earth's resistance to the foot, and are unable to tread the elements of air and water only because they are too complaisant, and deny the foot that opposition which it requires. Precisely that, accordingly, which makes the difficulty of an action may at the same time make its possibility. Why is flight difficult? Because the weight of every creature draws it toward the earth. But without this downward proclivity, the wing of the bird would have no power upon the air. Why is it difficult for a solid body to make rapid progress in water? Because the water presses powerfully upon it, and at every inch of progress must be overcome and displaced. Yet the ship is able to float only in virtue of this same hindering pressure, and without it would not sail, but sink. The bird and the steamer, moreover,—the one with its wings and the other with its paddles,—apply themselves to this hindrance to progression as their only means of making progress; so that, were not their motion obstructed, it would be impossible.
The law governs not actions only, but all definite effects whatsoever. If the luminiferous ether did not resist the sun's influence, it could not be wrought into those undulations wherein light consists; if the air did not resist the vibrations of a resonant object, and strive to preserve its own form, the sound-waves could not be created and propagated: if the tympanum did not resist these waves, it would not transmit their suggestion to the brain; if any given object does not resist the sun's rays,—in other words, reflect them,—it will not be visible; neither can the eye mediate between any object and the brain save by a like opposing of rays on the part of the retina.
These instances might be multiplied ad libitum, since there is literally no exception to the law. Observe, however, what the law is, namely, that some resistance is indispensable,—by no means that this alone is so, or that all modes and kinds of resistance are of equal service. Resistance and Affinity concur for all right effects; but it is the former that, in some of its aspects, is much accused as a calamity to man and a contumely to the universe; and of this, therefore, we consider here.
Not all kinds of resistance are alike serviceable; yet that which is required may not always consist with pleasure, nor even with safety. Our most customary actions are rendered possible by forces and conditions that inflict weariness at times upon all, and cost the lives of many. Gravitation, forcing all men against the earth's surface with an energy measured by their weight avoirdupois, makes locomotion feasible; but by the same attraction it may draw one into the pit, over the precipice, to the bottom of the sea. What multitudes of lives does it yearly destroy! Why has it never occurred to some ingenious victim of a sluggish liver to represent Gravitation as a murderous monster revelling in blood? Surely there are woful considerations here that might be used with the happiest effect to enhance the sense of man's misery, and have been too much neglected!
Probably there are few children to whom the fancy has not occurred, How convenient, how fine were it to weigh nothing! We smile at the little wiseacres; we know better. How much better do we know? That ancient lament, that ever iterated accusation of the world because it opposes a certain hindrance to freedom, love, reason, and every excellence which the imagination of man can portray and his heart pursue,—what is it, in the final analysis, but a complaint that we cannot walk without weight, and that therefore climbing is climbing?
Instead, however, of turning aside to applications, let us push forward the central statement in the interest of applications to be made by every reader for himself,—since he says too much who does not leave much more unsaid. Observe, then, that objects which so utterly submit themselves to man as to become testimonies and publications of his inward conceptions serve even these most exacting and monarchical purposes only by opposition to them, and, to a certain extent, in the very measure of that opposition. The stone which the sculptor carves becomes a fit vehicle for his thought through its resistance to his chisel; it sustains the impress of his imagination solely through its unwillingness to receive the same. Not chalk, not any loose and friable material, does Phidias or Michel Angelo choose, but ivory, bronze, basalt, marble. It is quite the same whether we seek expression or uses. The stream must be dammed before it will drive wheels; the steam compressed ere it will compel the piston. In fine, Potentiality combines with Hindrance to constitute active Power. Man, in order to obtain instrumentalities and uses, blends his will and intelligence with a force that vigorously seeks to pursue its own separate free course; and while this resists him, it becomes his servant.
But why not look at this fact in its largest light? For do we not here touch upon the probable reason why God must, as it were, be offset by World, Spirit by Matter, Soul by Body? The Maker must needs, if it be lawful so to speak, heap up in the balance against His own pure, eternal freedom these numberless globes of cold, inert matter. Matter is, indeed, movable by no fine persuasions: brutely faithful to its own law, it cares no more for AEschylus than for the tortoise that breaks his crown; the purpose of a cross for the sweetest saint it serves no less willingly than any other purpose,—stiffly holding out its arms there, about its own wooden business, neither more nor less, centred utterly upon itself. But is it not this stolid self-centration which makes it needful to Divinity? An infinite energy required a resisting or doggedly indifferent material, itself quasi infinite, to take the impression of its life, and render potentiality into power. So by the encountering of body with soul is the product, man, evolved. Philosophers and saints have perceived that the spiritual element of man is hampered and hindered by his physical part: have they also perceived that it is the very collision between these which strikes out the spark of thought and kindles the sense of law? As the tables of stone to the finger of Jehovah on Sinai, so is the firm marble of man's material nature to the recording soul. But even Plato, when he arrives at these provinces of thought, begins to limp a little, and to go upon Egyptian crutches. In the incomparable apologues of the "Phaedrus" he represents our inward charioteer as driving toward the empyrean two steeds, of which the one is virtuously attracted toward heaven, while the other is viciously drawn to the earth; but he countenances the inference that the earthward proclivity of the latter is to be accounted pure misfortune. But to the universe there is neither fortune nor misfortune; there is only the reaper, Destiny, and his perpetual harvest. All that occurs on a universal scale lies in the line of a pure success. Nor can the universe attain any success by pushing past man and leaving him aside. That were like the prosperity of a father who should enrich himself by disinheriting his only son.
Principles necessary to all action must of course appear in moral action. The moral imagination, which pioneers and produces inward advancement, works under the same conditions with the imagination of the artist, and must needs have somewhat to work upon. Man is both sculptor and quarry,—and a great noise and dust of chiselling is there sometimes in his bosom. If, therefore, we find in him somewhat which does not immediately and actively sympathize with his moral nature, let us not fancy this element equally out of sympathy with his pure destiny. The impulsion and the resistance are alike included in the design of our being. Hunger—to illustrate—respects food, food only. It asks leave to be hunger neither of your conscience, your sense of personal dignity, nor indeed of your humanity in any form; but exists by its own permission, and pushes with brute directness toward its own ends. True, the soul may at last so far prevail as to make itself felt even in the stomach; and the true gentleman could as soon relish a lunch of porcupines' quills as a dinner basely obtained, though it were of nightingales' tongues. But this is sheer conquest on the part of the soul, not any properly gastric inspiration at all; and it is in furnishing opportunity for precisely such conquest that the lower nature becomes a stairway of ascent for the soul.
And now, if in the relations between every manly spirit and the world around him we discover the same fact, are we not by this time prepared to contemplate it altogether with dry eyes? What if it be true, that in trade, in politics, in society, all tends to low levels? What if disadvantages are to be suffered by the grocer who will not sell adulterated food, by the politician who will not palter, by the diplomatist who is ashamed to lie? For this means only that no one can be honest otherwise than by a productive energy of honesty in his own bosom. In other words,—a man reaches the true welfare of a human soul only when his bosom is a generative centre and source of noble principles; and therefore, in pure, wise kindness to man, the world is so arranged that there shall be perpetual need of this access and reinforcement of principle. Society, the State, and every institution, grow lean the moment there is a falling off in this divine fruitfulness of man's heart, because only in virtue of bearing such fruit is man worthy of his name. Honor and honesty are constantly consumed between men, that they may be forever newly demanded in them.
We cannot too often remind ourselves that the aim of the universe is a personality. As the terrestrial globe through so many patient aeons climbed toward the production of a human body, that by this all-comprehending, perfect symbol it might enter into final union with Spirit, so do the uses of the world still forever ascend toward man, and seek a continual realization of that ancient wish. When, therefore, Time shall come to his great audit with Eternity, persons alone will be passed to his credit. "So many wise and wealthy souls,"—that is what the sun and his household will have come to. The use of the world is not found in societies faultlessly mechanized; for societies are themselves but uses and means. They are the soil in which persons grow; and I no more undervalue them than the husbandman despises his fertile acres because it is not earth, but the wheat that grows from it, which comes to his table. Society is the culmination of all uses and delights; persons, of all results. And societies answer their ends when they afford two things: first, a need for energy of eye and heart, of noble human vigor; and secondly, a generous appreciation of high qualities, when these may appear. The latter is, indeed, indispensable; and whenever noble manhood ceases to be recognized in a nation, the days of that nation are numbered. But the need is also necessary. Society must be a consumer of virtue, if individual souls are to be producers of it. The law of demand and supply has its applications here also. New waters must forever flow from the fountain-heads of our true life, if the millwheel of the world is to continue turning; and this not because the supernal powers so greatly cared to get corn ground, but because the Highest would have rivers of His influence forever flowing, and would call them men. Therefore it is that satirists who paint in high colors the resistances, but have no perception of the law of conversion into opposites, which is the grand trick of Nature,—these pleasant gentlemen are themselves a part of the folly at which they mock.
As a man among men, so is a nation among nations. Very freely I acknowledge that any nation, by proposing to itself large and liberal aims, plucks itself innumerable envies and hatreds from without, and confers new power for mischief upon all blindness and savagery that exist within it. But what does this signify? Simply that no nation can be free longer than it nobly loves freedom; that none can be great in its national purposes when it has ceased to be so in the hearts of its citizens. Freedom must be perpetually won, or it must be lost; and this because the sagacious Manager of the world will not let us off from the disciplines that should make us men. The material of the artist is passive, and may be either awakened from its ancient rest or suffered to sleep on; but that marble from which the perfections of manhood and womanhood are wrought quits the quarry to meet us, and converts us to stone, if we do not rather transform that to life and beauty. Hostile, predatory, it rushes upon us; and we, cutting at it in brave self-defence, hew it above our hope into shapes of celestial and immortal comeliness. So that angels are born, as it were, from the noble fears of man,—from an heroic fear in man's heart that he shall fall away from the privilege of humanity, and falsify the divine vaticination of his soul.
Hence follows the fine result, that in life to hold your own is to make advance. Destiny comes to us, like the children in their play, saying, "Hold fast all I give you"; and while we nobly detain it, the penny changes between our palms to the wealth of cities and kingdoms. The barge of blessing, freighted for us by unspeakable hands, comes floating down from the head-waters of that stream whereon we also are afloat; and to meet it we have only to wait for it, not ourselves ebbing away, but loyally stemming the tide. It may be, as Mr. Carlyle alleges, that the Constitution of the United States is no supreme effort of genius; but events now passing are teaching us that every day of fidelity to the spirit of it lends it new preciousness; and that an adherence to it, not petty and literal, but at once large and indomitable, might almost make it a charter of new sanctities both of law and liberty for the human race.
THE STATESMANSHIP OF RICHELIEU.
Thus far, the struggles of the world have developed its statesmanship after three leading types.
First of these is that based on faith in some great militant principle. Strong among statesmen of this type, in this time, stand Cavour, with his faith in constitutional liberty,—Cobden, with his faith in freedom of trade,—the third Napoleon, with his faith that the world moves, and that a successful policy must keep the world's pace.
The second style of statesmanship is seen in the reorganization of old States to fit new times. In this the chiefs are such men as Cranmer and Turgot.
But there is a third class of statesmen sometimes doing more brilliant work than either of the others. These are they who serve a State in times of dire chaos,—in times when a nation is by no means ripe for revolution, but only stung by desperate revolt: these are they who are quick enough and firm enough to bind all the good forces of the State into one cosmic force, therewith to compress or crush all chaotic forces: these are they who throttle treason and stab rebellion,—who fear not, when defeat must send down misery through ages, to insure victory by using weapons of the hottest and sharpest. Theirs, then, is a statesmanship which it may be well for the leading men of this land and time to be looking at and thinking of, and its representative man shall be Richelieu.
Never, perhaps, did a nation plunge more suddenly from the height of prosperity into the depth of misery than did France on that fourteenth of May, 1610, when Henry IV. fell dead by the dagger of Ravaillac. All earnest men, in a moment, saw the abyss yawning,—felt the State sinking,—felt themselves sinking with it. And they did what, in such a time, men always do: first all shrieked, then every man clutched at the means of safety nearest him. Sully rode through the streets of Paris with big tears streaming down his face,—strong men whose hearts had been toughened and crusted in the dreadful religious wars sobbed like children,—all the populace swarmed abroad bewildered,—many swooned,—some went mad. This was the first phase of feeling.
Then came a second phase yet more terrible. For now burst forth that old whirlwind of anarchy and bigotry and selfishness and terror which Henry had curbed during twenty years. All earnest men felt bound to protect themselves, and seized the nearest means of defence. Sully shut himself up in the Bastille, and sent orders to his son-in-law, the Duke of Rohan, to bring in six thousand soldiers to protect the Protestants. All un-earnest men, especially the great nobles, rushed to the Court, determined, now that the only guardians of the State were a weak-minded woman and a weak-bodied child, to dip deep into the treasury which Henry had filled to develop the nation, and to wrench away the power which he had built to guard the nation.
In order to make ready for this grasp at the State treasure and power by the nobles, the Duke of Epernon, from the corpse of the King, by whose side he was sitting when Ravaillac struck him, strides into the Parliament of Paris, and orders it to declare the late Queen, Mary of Medici, Regent; and when this Parisian court, knowing full well that it had no right to confer the regency, hesitated, he laid his hand on his sword, and declared, that, unless they did his bidding at once, his sword should be drawn from its scabbard. This threat did its work. Within three hours after the King's death, the Paris Parliament, which had no right to give it, bestowed the regency on a woman who had no capacity to take it.
At first things seemed to brighten a little. The Queen-Regent sent such urgent messages to Sully that he left his stronghold of the Bastille and went to the palace. She declared to him, before the assembled Court, that he must govern France still. With tears she gave the young King into his arms, telling Louis that Sully was his father's best friend, and bidding him pray the old statesman to serve the State yet longer.
But soon this good scene changed. Mary had a foster-sister, Leonora Galligai, and Leonora was married to an Italian adventurer, Concini. These seemed a poor couple, worthless and shiftless, their only stock in trade Leonora's Italian cunning; but this stock soon came to be of vast account, for thereby she soon managed to bind and rule the Queen-Regent,—managed to drive Sully into retirement in less than a year,—managed to make herself and her husband the great dispensers at Court of place and pelf. Penniless though Concini had been, he was in a few months able to buy the Marquisate of Ancre, which cost him nearly half a million livres,—and, soon after, the post of First Gentleman of the Bedchamber, and that cost him nearly a quarter of a million,—and, soon after that, a multitude of broad estates and high offices at immense prices. Leonora, also, was not idle, and among her many gains was a bribe of three hundred thousand livres to screen certain financiers under trial for fraud.
Next came the turn of the great nobles. For ages the nobility of France had been the worst among her many afflictions. From age to age attempts had been made to curb them. In the fifteenth century Charles VII. had done much to undermine their power, and Louis XI. had done much to crush it. But strong as was the policy of Charles, and cunning as was the policy of Louis, they had made one omission, and that omission left France, though advanced, miserable. For these monarchs had not cut the root of the evil. The French nobility continued practically a serf-holding nobility.
Despite, then, the curb put upon many old pretensions of the nobles, the serf-owning spirit continued to spread a net-work of curses over every arm of the French government, over every acre of the French soil, and, worst of all, over the hearts and minds of the French people. Enterprise was deadened; invention crippled. Honesty was nothing; honor everything. Life was of little value. Labor was the badge of servility; laziness the very badge and passport of gentility. The serf-owning spirit was an iron wall between noble and not-noble,—the only unyielding wall between France and prosperous peace.
But the serf-owning spirit begat another evil far more terrible: it begat a substitute for patriotism,—a substitute which crushed out patriotism just at the very emergencies when patriotism was most needed. For the first question which in any State emergency sprang into the mind of a French noble was not,—How does this affect the welfare of the nation? but,—How does this affect the position of my order? The serf-owning spirit developed in the French aristocracy an instinct which led them in national troubles to guard the serf-owning class first and the nation afterward, and to acknowledge fealty to the serf-owning interest first and to the national interest afterward.
So it proved in that emergency at the death of Henry. Instead of planting themselves as a firm bulwark between the State and harm, the Duke of Epernon, the Prince of Conde, the Count of Soissons, the Duke of Guise, the Duke of Bouillon, and many others, wheedled or threatened the Queen into granting pensions of such immense amount that the great treasury filled by Henry and Sully with such noble sacrifices, and to such noble ends, was soon nearly empty.
But as soon as the treasury began to run low the nobles began a worse work, Mary had thought to buy their loyalty; but when they had gained such treasures, their ideas mounted higher. A saying of one among them became their formula, and became noted:—"The day of Kings is past; now is come the day of the Grandees."
Every great noble now tried to grasp some strong fortress or rich city. One fact will show the spirit of many. The Duke of Epernon had served Henry as Governor of Metz, and Metz was the most important fortified town in France; therefore Henry, while allowing D'Epernon the honor of the Governorship, had always kept a Royal Lieutenant in the citadel, who corresponded directly with the Ministry. But, on the very day of the King's death, D'Epernon despatched commands to his own creatures at Metz to seize the citadel, and to hold it for him against all other orders.
But at last even Mary had to refuse to lavish more of the national treasure and to shred more of the national territory among these magnates. Then came their rebellion.
Immediately Conde and several great nobles issued a proclamation denouncing the tyranny and extravagance of the Court,—calling on the Catholics to rise against the Regent in behalf of their religion,—calling on the Protestants to rise in behalf of theirs,—summoning the whole people to rise against the waste of their State treasure.
It was all a glorious joke. To call on the Protestants was wondrous impudence, for Conde had left their faith, and had persecuted them; to call on the Catholics was not less impudent, for he had betrayed their cause scores of times; but to call on the whole people to rise in defence of their treasury was impudence sublime, for no man had besieged the treasury more persistently, no man had dipped into it more deeply, than Conde himself.
The people saw this and would not stir. Conde could rally only a few great nobles and their retainers, and therefore, as a last tremendous blow at the Court, he and his followers raised the cry that the Regent must convoke the States-General.
Any who have read much in the history of France, and especially in the history of the French Revolution, know, in part, how terrible this cry was. By the Court, and by the great privileged classes of France, this great assembly of the three estates of the realm was looked upon as the last resort amid direst calamities. For at its summons came stalking forth from the foul past the long train of Titanic abuses and Satanic wrongs; then came surging up from the seething present the great hoarse cry of the people; then loomed up, dim in the distance, vast shadowy ideas of new truth and new right; and at the bare hint of these, all that was proud in France trembled.
This cry for the States-General, then, brought the Regent to terms at once, and, instead of acting vigorously, she betook herself to her old vicious fashion of compromising,—buying off the rebels at prices more enormous than ever. By her treaty of Sainte-Menehould, Conde received half a million of livres, and his followers received payments proportionate to the evil they had done.
But this compromise succeeded no better than previous compromises. Even if the nobles had wished to remain quiet, they could not. Their lordship over a servile class made them independent of all ordinary labor and of all care arising from labor; some exercise of mind and body they must have; Conde soon took this needed exercise by attempting to seize the city of Poitiers, and, when the burgesses were too strong for him, by ravaging the neighboring country. The other nobles broke the compromise in ways wonderfully numerous and ingenious. France was again filled with misery.
Dull as Regent Mary was, she now saw that she must call that dreaded States-General, or lose not only the nobles, but the people: undecided as she was, she soon saw that she must do it at once,—that, if she delayed it, her great nobles would raise the cry for it, again and again, just as often as they wished to extort office or money. Accordingly, on the fourteenth of October, 1614, she summoned the deputies of the three estates to Paris, and then the storm set in.
Each of the three orders presented its "portfolio of grievances" and its programme of reforms. It might seem, to one who has not noted closely the spirit which serf-mastering thrusts into a man, that the nobles would appear in the States-General not to make complaints, but to answer complaints. So it was not. The noble order, with due form, entered complaint that theirs was the injured order. They asked relief from familiarities and assumptions of equality on the part of the people. Said the Baron de Senece, "It is a great piece of insolence to pretend to establish any sort of equality between the people and the nobility": other nobles declared, "There is between them and us as much difference as between master and lackey."
To match these complaints and theories, the nobles made demands,—demands that commoners should not be allowed to keep fire-arms,—nor to possess dogs, unless the dogs were hamstrung,—nor to clothe themselves like the nobles,—nor to clothe their wives like the wives of nobles,—nor to wear velvet or satin under a penalty of five thousand livres. And, preposterous as such claims may seem to us, they carried them into practice. A deputy of the Third Estate having been severely beaten by a noble, his demands for redress were treated as absurd. One of the orators of the lower order having spoken of the French as forming one great family in which the nobles were the elder brothers and the commoners the younger, the nobles made a formal complaint to the King, charging the Third Estate with insolence insufferable.
Next came the complaints and demands of the clergy. They insisted on the adoption in France of the Decrees of the Council of Trent, and the destruction of the liberties of the Gallican Church.
But far stronger than these came the voice of the people.
First spoke Montaigne, denouncing the grasping spirit of the nobles. Then spoke Savaron, stinging them with sarcasm, torturing them with rhetoric, crushing them with statements of facts.
But chief among the speakers was the President of the Third Estate, Robert Miron, Provost of the Merchants of Paris. His speech, though spoken across the great abyss of time and space and thought and custom which separates him from us, warms a true man's heart even now. With touching fidelity he pictured the sad life of the lower orders,—their thankless toil, their constant misery; then, with a sturdiness which awes us, he arraigned, first, royalty for its crushing taxation,—next, the whole upper class for its oppressions,—and then, daring death, he thus launched into popular thought an idea:—
"It is nothing less than a miracle that the people are able to answer so many demands. On the labor of their hands depends the maintenance of Your Majesty, of the clergy, of the nobility, of the commons. What without their exertions would be the value of the tithes and great possessions of the Church, of the splendid estates of the nobility, or of our own house-rents and inheritances? With their bones scarcely skinned over, your wretched people present themselves before you, beaten down and helpless, with the aspect rather of death itself than of living men, imploring your succor in the name of Him who has appointed you to reign over them,—who made you a man, that you might be merciful to other men,—and who made you the father of your subjects, that you might be compassionate to these your helpless children. If Your Majesty shall not take means for that end, I fear lest despair should teach the sufferers that a soldier is, after all, nothing more than a peasant bearing arms; and lest, when the vine-dresser shall have taken up his arquebuse, he should cease to become an anvil only that he may become a hammer."
After this the Third Estate demanded the convocation of a general assembly every ten years, a more just distribution of taxes, equality of all before the law, the suppression of interior custom-houses, the abolition of sundry sinecures held by nobles, the forbidding to leading nobles of unauthorized levies of soldiery, some stipulations regarding the working clergy and the non-residence of bishops; and in the midst of all these demands, as a golden grain amid husks, they placed a demand for the emancipation of the serfs.
But these demands were sneered at. The idea of the natural equality in rights of all men,—the idea of the personal worth of every man,—the idea that rough-clad workers have prerogatives which can be whipped out by no smooth-clad idlers,—these ideas were as far beyond serf-owners of those days as they are beyond slave-owners of these days. Nothing was done. Augustin Thierry is authority for the statement that the clergy were willing to yield something. The nobles would yield nothing. The different orders quarrelled until one March morning in 1615, when, on going to their hall, they were barred out and told that the workmen were fitting the place for a Court ball. And so the deputies separated,—to all appearance no new work done, no new ideas enforced, no strong men set loose.
So it was in seeming,—so it was not in reality. Something had been done. That assembly planted ideas in the French mind which struck more and more deeply, and spread more and more widely, until, after a century and a half, the Third Estate met again and refused to present petitions kneeling,—and when king and nobles put on their hats, the commons put on theirs,—and when that old brilliant stroke was again made, and the hall was closed and filled with busy carpenters and upholsterers, the deputies of the people swore that great tennis-court oath which blasted French tyranny.
But something great was done immediately; to that suffering nation a great man was revealed. For, when the clergy pressed their requests, they chose as their orator a young man only twenty-nine years of age, the Bishop of Lucon, ARMAND JEAN DU PLESSIS DE RICHELIEU.
He spoke well. His thoughts were clear, his words pointed, his bearing firm. He had been bred a soldier, and so had strengthened his will; afterwards he had been made a scholar, and so had strengthened his mind. He grappled with the problems given him in that stormy assembly with such force that he seemed about to do something; but just then came that day of the Court ball, and Richelieu turned away like the rest.
But men had seen him and heard him. Forget him they could not. From that tremendous farce, then, France had gained directly one thing at least, and that was a sight at Richelieu.
The year after the States-General wore away in the old vile fashion. Conde revolted again, and this time he managed to scare the Protestants into revolt with him. The daring of the nobles was greater than ever. They even attacked the young King's train as he journeyed to Bordeaux, and another compromise had to be wearily built in the Treaty of Loudun. By this Conde was again bought off,—but this time only by a bribe of a million and a half of livres. The other nobles were also paid enormously, and, on making a reckoning, it was found that this compromise had cost the King four millions, and the country twenty millions. The nation had also to give into the hands of the nobles some of its richest cities and strongest fortresses.
Immediately after this compromise, Conde returned to Paris, loud, strong, jubilant, defiant, bearing himself like a king. Soon he and his revolted again; but just at that moment Concini happened to remember Richelieu. The young bishop was called and set at work.
Richelieu grasped the rebellion at once. In broad daylight he seized Conde and shut him up in the Bastille; other noble leaders he declared guilty of treason, and degraded them; he set forth the crimes and follies of the nobles in a manifesto which stung their cause to death in a moment; he published his policy in a proclamation which ran through France like fire, warming all hearts of patriots, withering all hearts of rebels; he sent out three great armies: one northward to grasp Picardy, one eastward to grasp Champagne, one southward to grasp Berri. There is a man who can do something! The nobles yield in a moment: they must yield.
But, just at this moment, when a better day seemed to dawn, came an event which threw France back into anarchy, and Richelieu out into the world again.
The young King, Louis XIII., was now sixteen years old. His mother the Regent and her favorite Concini had carefully kept him down. Under their treatment he had grown morose and seemingly stupid; but he had wit enough to understand the policy of his mother and Concini, and strength enough to hate them for it.
The only human being to whom Louis showed any love was a young falconer, Albert de Luynes,—and with De Luynes he conspired against his mother's power and her favorite's life. On an April morning, 1617, the King and De Luynes sent a party of chosen men to seize Concini. They met him at the gate of the Louvre. As usual, he is bird-like in his utterance, snake-like in his bearing. They order him to surrender; he chirps forth his surprise,—and they blow out his brains. Louis, understanding the noise, puts on his sword, appears on the balcony of the palace, is saluted with hurrahs, and becomes master of his kingdom.
Straightway measures are taken against all supposed to be attached to the Regency. Concini's wife, the favorite Leonora, is burned as a witch,—Regent Mary is sent to Blois,—Richelieu is banished to his bishopric.
And now matters went from bad to worse. King Louis was no stronger than Regent Mary had been,—King's favorite Luynes was no better than Regent's favorite Concini had been. The nobles rebelled against the new rule, as they had rebelled against the old. The King went through the same old extortions and humiliations.
Then came also to full development yet another vast evil. As far back as the year after Henry's assassination, the Protestants, in terror of their enemies, now that Henry was gone and the Spaniards seemed to grow in favor, formed themselves into a great republican league,—a State within the State,—regularly organised in peace for political effort, and in war for military effort,—with a Protestant clerical caste which ruled always with pride, and often with menace.
Against such a theocratic republic war must come sooner or later, and in 1617 the struggle began. Army was pitted against army,—Protestant Duke of Rohan against Catholic Duke of Luynes. Meanwhile Austria and the foreign enemies of France, Conde and the domestic enemies of France, fished in the troubled waters, and made rich gains every day. So France plunged into sorrows ever deeper and blacker. But in 1624, Mary de Medici, having been reconciled to her son, urged him to recall Richelieu.
The dislike which Louis bore Richelieu was strong, but the dislike he bore toward compromises had become stronger. Into his poor brain, at last, began to gleam the truth, that a serf-mastering caste, after a compromise, only whines more steadily and snarls more loudly,—that, at last, compromising becomes worse than fighting. Richelieu was called and set at work.
Fortunately for our studies of the great statesman's policy, he left at his death a "Political Testament" which floods with light his steadiest aims and boldest acts. In that Testament he wrote this message:—
"When Your Majesty resolved to give me entrance into your councils and a great share of your confidence, I can declare with truth that the Huguenots divided the authority with Your Majesty, that the great nobles acted not at all as subjects, that the governors of provinces took on themselves the airs of sovereigns, and that the foreign alliances of France were despised. I promised Your Majesty to use all my industry, and all the authority you gave me, to ruin the Huguenot party, to abase the pride of the high nobles, and to raise your name among foreign nations to the place where it ought to be."
Such were the plans of Richelieu at the outset. Let us see how he wrought out their fulfilment.
First of all, he performed daring surgery and cautery about the very heart of the Court. In a short time he had cut out from that living centre of French power a number of unworthy ministers and favorites, and replaced them by men, on whom he could rely.
Then he began his vast work. His policy embraced three great objects: First, the overthrow of the Huguenot power; secondly, the subjugation of the great nobles; thirdly, the destruction of the undue might of Austria.
First, then, after some preliminary negotiations with foreign powers,—to be studied hereafter,—he attacked the great politico-religious party of the Huguenots.
These held, as their great centre and stronghold, the famous seaport of La Rochelle. He who but glances at the map shall see how strong was this position: he shall see two islands lying just off the west coast at that point, controlled by La Rochelle, yet affording to any foreign allies whom the Huguenots might admit there facilities for stinging France during centuries. The position of the Huguenots seemed impregnable. The city was well fortressed,—garrisoned by the bravest of men,—mistress of a noble harbor open at all times to supplies from foreign ports,—and in that harbor rode a fleet, belonging to the city, greater than the navy of France.
Richelieu saw well that here was the head of the rebellion. Here, then, he must strike it.
Strange as it may seem, his diplomacy was so skillful that he obtained ships to attack Protestants in La Rochelle from the two great Protestant powers,—England and Holland. With these he was successful. He attacked the city fleet, ruined it, and cleared the harbor.
But now came a terrible check. Richelieu had aroused the hate of that incarnation of all that was and Is offensive in English politics,—the Duke of Buckingham. Scandal-mongers were wont to say that both were in love with the Queen,—and that the Cardinal, though unsuccessful in his suit, outwitted the Duke and sent him out of the kingdom,—and that the Duke swore a great oath, that, if he could not enter France in one way, he would enter in another,—and that he brought about a war, and came himself as a commander: of this scandal believe what you will. But, be the causes what they may, the English policy changed, and Charles I. sent Buckingham with ninety ships to aid La Rochelle.
But Buckingham was flippant and careless; Richelieu, careful when there was need, and daring when there was need. Buckingham's heavy blows were foiled by Richelieu's keen thrusts, and then, in his confusion, Buckingham blundered so foolishly, and Richelieu profited by his blunders so shrewdly, that the fleet returned to England without any accomplishment of its purpose. The English were also driven from that vexing position in the Isle of Rhe.
Having thus sent the English home, for a time at least, he led king and nobles and armies to La Rochelle, and commenced the siege in full force. Difficulties met him at every turn; but the worst difficulty of all was that arising from the spirit of the nobility.
No one could charge the nobles of France with lack of bravery. The only charge was, that their bravery was almost sure to shun every useful form, and to take every noxious form. The bravery which finds outlet in duels they showed constantly; the bravery which finds outlet in street-fights they had shown from the days when the Duke of Orleans perished in a brawl to the days when the "Mignons" of Henry III. fought at sight every noble whose beard was not cut to suit them. The pride fostered by lording it over serfs, in the country, and by lording it over men who did not own serfs, in the capital, aroused bravery of this sort and plenty of it. But that bravery which serves a great, good cause, which must be backed by steadiness and watchfulness, was not so plentiful. So Richelieu found that the nobles who had conducted the siege before he took command had, through their brawling propensities and lazy propensities, allowed the besieged to garner in the crops from the surrounding country, and to master all the best points of attack.
But Richelieu pressed on. First he built an immense wall and earthwork, nine miles long, surrounding the city, and, to protect this, he raised eleven great forts and eighteen redoubts.
Still the harbor was open, and into this the English fleet might return and succor the city at any time. His plan was soon made. In the midst of that great harbor of La Rochelle he sank sixty hulks of vessels filled with stone; then, across the harbor,—nearly a mile wide, and, in places, more than eight hundred feet deep,—he began building over these sunken ships a great dike and wall,—thoroughly fortified, carefully engineered, faced with sloping layers of hewn stone. His own men scolded at the magnitude of the work,—the men in La Rochelle laughed at it. Worse than that, the Ocean sometimes laughed and scolded at it. Sometimes the waves sweeping in from that fierce Bay of Biscay destroyed in an hour the work of a week. The carelessness of a subordinate once destroyed in a moment the work of three months.
Yet it is but fair to admit that there was one storm which did not beat against Richelieu's dike. There set in against it no storm of hypocrisy from neighboring nations. Keen works for and against Richelieu were put forth in his day,—works calm and strong for and against him have been issuing from the presses of France and England and Germany ever since; but not one of the old school of keen writers or of the new school of calm writers is known to have ever hinted that this complete sealing of the only entrance to a leading European harbor was unjust to the world at large or unfair to the besieged themselves.
But all other obstacles Richelieu had to break through or cut through constantly. He was his own engineer, general, admiral, prime-minister. While he urged on the army to work upon the dike, he organized a French navy, and in due time brought it around to that coast and anchored it so as to guard the dike and to be guarded by it.
Yet, daring as all this work was, it was but the smallest part of his work. Richelieu found that his officers were cheating his soldiers in their pay and disheartening them; in face of the enemy he had to reorganize the army and to create a new military system. He made the army twice as effective and supported it at two-thirds less cost than before. It was his boast in his "Testament," that, from a mob, the army became "like a well-ordered convent." He found also that his subordinates were plundering the surrounding country, and thus rendering it disaffected; he at once ordered that what had been taken should be paid for, and that persons trespassing thereafter should be severely punished. He found also the great nobles who commanded in the army half-hearted and almost traitorous from sympathy with those of their own caste on the other side of the walls of La Rochelle, and from their fear of his increased power, should he gain a victory. It was their common saying, that they were fools to help him do it. But he saw the true point at once—He placed in the most responsible positions of his army men who felt for his cause, whose hearts and souls were in it,—men not of the Dalgetty stamp, but of the Cromwell stamp. He found also, as he afterward said, that he had to conquer not only the Kings of England and Spain, but also the King of France. At the most critical moment of the siege Louis deserted him,—went back to Paris,—allowed courtiers to fill him with suspicions. Not only Richelieu's place, but his life, was in danger, and he well knew it; yet he never left his dike and siege-works, but wrought on steadily until they were done; and then the King, of his own will, in very shame, broke away from his courtiers, and went back to his master.
And now a Royal Herald summoned the people of La Rochelle to surrender. But they were not yet half conquered. Even when they had seen two English fleets, sent to aid them, driven back from Richelieu's dike, they still held out manfully. The Duchess of Rohan, the Mayor Guiton, and the Minister Salbert, by noble sacrifices and burning words, kept the will of the besieged firm as steel. They were reduced to feed on their horses,—then on bits of filthy shell-fish,—then on stewed leather. They died in multitudes.
Guiton the Mayor kept a dagger on the city council-table to stab any man who should speak of surrender; some who spoke of yielding he ordered to execution as seditious. When a friend showed him a person dying of hunger, be said, "Does that astonish you? Both you and I must come to that." When another told him that multitudes were perishing, he said, "Provided one remains to hold the city-gate, I ask nothing more."
But at last even Guiton had to yield. After the siege had lasted more than a year, after five thousand were found remaining out of fifteen thousand, after a mother had been seen to feed her child with her own blood, the Cardinal's policy became too strong for him. The people yielded, and Richelieu entered the city as master.
And now the victorious statesman showed a greatness of soul to which all the rest of his life was as nothing. He was a Catholic cardinal,—the Rochellois were Protestants; he was a stern ruler,—they were rebellious subjects who had long worried and almost impoverished him;—all Europe, therefore, looked for a retribution more terrible than any in history.
Richelieu allowed nothing of the sort. He destroyed the old franchises of the city, for they were incompatible with that royal authority which he so earnestly strove to build. But this was all. He took no vengeance,—he allowed the Protestants to worship as before,—he took many of them into the public service,—and to Guiton he showed marks of respect. He stretched forth that strong arm of his over the city, and warded off all harm. He kept back greedy soldiers from pillage,—he kept back bigot priests from persecution. Years before this he had said, "The diversity of religions may indeed create a division in the other world, but not in this"; at another time he wrote, "Violent remedies only aggravate spiritual diseases." And he was now so tested, that these expressions were found to embody not merely an idea, but a belief. For, when the Protestants in La Rochelle, though thug owing tolerance and even existence to a Catholic, vexed Catholics in a spirit most intolerant, even that could not force him to abridge the religious liberties he had given.
He saw beyond his time,—not only beyond Catholics, but beyond Protestants. Two years after that great example of toleration in La Rochelle, Nicholas Antoine w as executed for apostasy from Calvinism at Geneva. And for his leniency Richelieu received the titles of Pope of the Protestants and Patriarch of the Atheists. But he had gained the first great object of his policy, and he would not abuse it: he had crushed the political power of the Huguenots forever.
Let us turn now to the second great object of his policy. He must break the power of the nobility: on that condition alone could France have strength and order, and here he showed his daring at the outset. "It is iniquitous," he was wont to tell the King, "to try to make an example by punishing the lesser offenders: they are but trees which cast no shade: it is the great nobles who must be disciplined."
It was not long before he had to begin this work,—and with the highest,—with no less a personage than Gaston, Duke of Orleans,—favorite son of Mary,—brother of the King. He who thinks shall come to a higher idea of Richelieu's boldness, when he remembers that for many years after this Louis was childless and sickly, and that during all those years Richelieu might awake any morning to find Gaston—King.
In 1626, Gaston, with the Duke of Vendome, half-brother of the King, the Duchess of Chevreuse, confidential friend of the Queen, the Count of Soissons, the Count of Chalais, and the Marshal Ornano, formed a conspiracy after the old fashion. Richelieu had his hand at their lofty throats in a moment. Gaston, who was used only as a makeweight, he forced into the most humble apologies and the most binding pledges; Ornano he sent to die in the Bastille; the Duke of Vendome and the Duchess of Chevreuse he banished; Chalais he sent to the scaffold.
The next year he gave the grandees another lesson. The serf-owning spirit had fostered in France, through many years, a rage for duelling. Richelieu determined that this should stop. He gave notice that the law against duelling was revived, and that he would enforce it. It was soon broken by two of the loftiest nobles in France,—by the Count of Bouteville-Montmorency and the Count des Chapelles. They laughed at the law: they fought defiantly in broad daylight. Nobody dreamed that the law would be carried out against them. The Cardinal would, they thought, deal with them as rulers have dealt with serf-mastering law-breakers from those days to these,—invent some quibble and screen them with it. But his method was sharper and shorter. He seized both, and executed both on the Place de Greve,—the place of execution for the vilest malefactors.
No doubt, that, under the present domineering of the pettifogger caste, there are hosts of men whose minds run in such small old grooves that they hold legal forms not a means, but an end: these will cry out against this proceeding as tyrannical. No doubt, too, that, under the present palaver of the "sensationist" caste, the old ladies of both sexes have come to regard crime as mere misfortune: these will lament this proceeding as cruel. But, for this act, if for no other, an earnest man's heart ought in these times to warm toward the great statesman. The man had a spine. To his mind crime was cot mere misfortune: crime was CRIME. Crime was strong; it would pay him well to screen it; it might cost him dear to fight it. But he was not a modern "smart" lawyer, to seek popularity by screening criminals,—nor a modern soft juryman, to suffer his eyes to be blinded by quirks and quibbles to the great purposes of law,—nor a modern bland governor, who lets a murderer loose out of politeness to the murderer's mistress. He hated crime; he whipped the criminal; no petty forms and no petty men of forms could stand between him and a rascal. He had the sense to see that this course was not cruel, but merciful. See that for yourselves. In the eighteen years before Richelieu's administration, four thousand men perished in duels; in the ten years after Richelieu's death, nearly a thousand thus perished; but during his whole administration, duelling was checked completely. Which policy was tyrannical? which policy was cruel?
The hatred of the serf-mastering caste toward their new ruler grew blacker and blacker; but he never flinched. The two brothers Marillac, proud of birth, high in office, endeavored to stir revolt as in their good days of old. The first, who was Keeper of the Seals, Richelieu threw into prison; with the second, who was a Marshal of France, Richelieu took another course. For this Marshal had added to revolt things more vile and more insidiously hurtful: he had defrauded the Government in army-contracts. Richelieu tore him from his army and put him on trial. The Queen-Mother, whose pet he was, insisted on his liberation. Marillac himself blubbered, that it "was all about a little straw and hay, a matter for which a master would not whip a lackey." Marshal Marillac was executed. So, when statesmen rule, fare all who take advantage of the agonies of a nation to pilfer a nation's treasure.
To crown all, the Queen-Mother began now to plot against Richelieu, because he would not be her puppet,—and he banished her from France forever.
The high nobles were now exasperate. Gaston tied the country, first issuing against Richelieu a threatening manifesto. Now awoke the Duke of Montmorency. By birth he stood next the King's family: by office, as Constable of France, he stood next the King himself. Montmorency was defeated and taken. The nobles supplicated for him lustily: they looked on crimes of nobles resulting in deaths of plebeians as lightly as the English House of Lords afterward looked on Lord Mohun's murder of Will Mountfort, or as another body of lords looked on Matt Ward's murder of Professor Butler: but Montmorency was executed. Says Richelieu, in his Memoirs, "Many murmured at this act, and called it severe; but others, more wise, praised the justice of the King, who preferred the good of the State to the vain reputation of a hurtful clemency."
Nor did the great minister grow indolent as he grew old. The Duke of Epernon, who seems to have had more direct power of the old feudal sort than any other man in France, and who had been so turbulent under the Regency,—him Richelieu humbled completely. The Duke of La Valette disobeyed orders in the army, and he was executed as a common soldier would have been for the same offence. The Count of Soissons tried to see if he could not revive the good old turbulent times, and raised a rebel army; but Richelieu hunted him down like a wild beast. Then certain Court nobles,—pets of the King,—Cinq-Mars and De Thou, wove a new plot, and, to strengthen it, made a secret treaty with Spain; but the Cardinal, though dying, obtained a copy of the treaty, through his agent, and the traitors expiated their treason with their blood.
But this was not all. The Parliament of Paris,—a court of justice,—filled with the idea that law is not a means, but an end, tried to interpose forms between the Master of France and the vermin he was exterminating. That Parisian court might, years before, have done something. They might have insisted that petty quibbles set forth by the lawyers of Paris should not defeat the eternal laws of retribution set forth by the Lawgiver of the Universe. That they had not done, and the time for legal forms had gone by. The Paris Parliament would not see this, and Richelieu crushed the Parliament. Then the Court of Aids refused to grant supplies, and he crushed that court. In all this the nation braced him. Woe to the courts of a nation, when they have forced the great body of plain men to regard legality as injustice!—woe to the councils of a nation, when they have forced the great body of plain men to regard legislation as traffic!—woe, thrice repeated, to gentlemen of the small pettifogger sort, when they have brought such times, and God has brought a man to fit them!
There was now in France no man who could stand against the statesman's purpose.
And so, having hewn, through all that anarchy and bigotry and selfishness, a way for the people, he called them to the work. In 1626 he summoned an assembly to carry out reforms. It was essentially a people's assembly. That anarchical States-General, domineered by great nobles, he would not call; but he called an Assembly of Notables. In this was not one prince or duke, and two-thirds of the members came directly from the people. Into this body he thrust some of his own energy. Measures were taken for the creation of a navy. An idea was now carried into effect which many suppose to have sprung from the French Revolution; for the army was made more effective by opening its high grades to the commons.[A] A reform was also made in taxation, and shrewd measures were taken to spread commerce and industry by calling the nobility into them.
[Footnote A: See the ordonnances in Thierry, Histoire du Tiers Etat.]
Thus did France, under his guidance, secure order and progress. Calmly he destroyed all useless feudal castles which had so long overawed the people and defied the monarchy. He abolished also the military titles of Grand Admiral and High Constable, which had hitherto given the army and navy into the hands of leading noble families. He destroyed some troublesome remnants of feudal courts, and created royal courts: in one year that of Poitiers alone punished for exactions and violence against the people more than two hundred nobles. Greatest step of all, he deposed the hereditary noble governors, and placed in their stead governors taken from the people,—Intendants,—responsible to the central authority alone.[B]