The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte - Vol. III. (of IV.)
by William Milligan Sloane
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9
Home - Random Browse

Probably all this is true: the professional soldier's point of view is terrible to the laity. Kossuth declared to a trustworthy witness that he had seen the letters of Maria Louisa which betrayed her husband to her father; and no one has ever denied that Napoleon was a fair judge of character, and called a spade a spade when he was angry. And angry he was. Here was the man who had plumed himself on the Bonaparte-Hapsburg alliance, who had hitherto professed the most ardent personal esteem for Napoleon himself, and who had so far found Austria's highest welfare in supporting the Napoleonic system. And what was his conduct? A complete and sudden reversal of his previous behavior, personal insolence, and public scorn. Then and there he demanded the suspension, at least temporarily, of the treaty of alliance between Austria and France—a paper solemnly negotiated by himself but little more than one short year earlier; then, too, he demanded a further prolongation of the armistice while the peace congress held its sessions, and, coldly throwing every other consideration to the winds, gave his victim to understand that Austria was no longer a mediator, but an armed arbiter, determined to regain her glory by the line of least resistance—that is, by alliance with Russia, in order to secure a continental peace, to which Great Britain should not be a party.

Is it wonderful that under such provocation Napoleon's hot Corsican blood boiled over, or that his unruly tongue uttered startling language? The time had come when he must recognize masters and laws, and it was not easy. At thirty, as he liked to boast, he had gained victories, appeased a popular storm, fused parties, and rallied a nation. Further, for years he had made sport of European dynasties, and in particular had found that of Austria both double-faced and time-serving. Having taken a leaf from her book, he had become her dupe, and it was hard to bear the consequences. The stormy side of the famous interview is therefore unimportant historically; its only significance is that it marks the last stage in the evolution of Austrian diplomacy. Being now strong enough to reassert equality with France in the councils of Europe, the Hapsburg empire was about to act. Metternich believed that Alexander's aid would be more valuable than Napoleon's, and in a letter to his master, written two days after the famous interview, he explained that through a continental peace lay the line of least resistance. The arrangement he suggested to Napoleon would leave England and France to renew the struggle and fight until exhausted, while Austria, Russia, and Prussia were recuperating. Napoleon's one weapon against England was his Continental System; on the morrow of a victorious campaign he could not so easily throw it down. If there was to be a continental peace, and not a general one, it must be made after a final decisive victory; and to assemble his troops for a grand battle with Austria, Russia, and Prussia, he needed time. The Poischwitz armistice was his first fatal blunder; before the close of the interview he consented to its prolongation until August tenth, ostensibly that the Congress of Prague might arrange terms for a continental peace; and this was his undoing.

The Congress of Prague was a puppet-show, and has no place in history except as it displayed the character of Metternich, deceiving himself to its close with the belief that he was what he professed to be—an armed mediator turning the course of European politics back into dynastic channels. In reality it was as Napoleon said—he believed himself to be directing everybody, when everything was directing him. Behind the puppets were Alexander's fatalism, Prussia's regenerated nationality, the half-awakened sensibility of Austria, and lastly, British gold with British victories. Wellington had finally focused the national power of Spain, and was actually menacing the soil of France. His famous "march to Vitoria," as it has been called because of the decisive battle fought at that place on June twenty-first, 1813, forced Napoleon finally to abandon Spain. Already the Emperor had withdrawn his choicest veterans thence, and he was well aware how futile any further struggles for Joseph's throne must be. His conduct, therefore, was perfectly consistent; with a bold front he laid down the ultimatum of uti possidetis for the congress, and left for Mainz, where he remained from July twenty-fifth to August first, arranging his military plans for the defense of the Pyrenees, and despatching Soult, who went against his will, for the campaign which sealed the marshal's reputation as a great soldier. Doubtless, too, Napoleon felt that distance from the absurd congress would absolve him from the guilt of its empty pretense.

There, too, he met his empress; perhaps he fondly dreamed that she might intercede with her sire; in the long interviews they held he was probably drilling her in the functions of a regent chosen to sustain in Paris the tottering cause of her consort and her child. Fouche, too, was recalled from his suspicious retirement to untangle the thread of Austrian duplicity. But the long hours of consultation, arrangement, and execution were mainly concerned, we may suppose, with the hurrying in of new levies, the raising of cavalry, the creation of artillery, and the general preparation for the life-and-death struggle which was soon to take place. The Danish alliance was strengthened, and Murat by strenuous efforts was kept within the shadowy lines of the vanishing Napoleonic system. Beugnot, then head of the French regency of Berg, was one day called at a moment's notice to act as amanuensis, and in a flurry twice took his Emperor's chair. "So you are determined to sit in my seat," was Napoleon's simple remark; "you have chosen a bad time for it." The mayor of Mainz was St. Andre, a stanch conventional of the old school; another day he and Beugnot, with the Prince of Nassau, accompanied the visitor on a river excursion, and the Emperor, scanning with intense interest the castle of Biberich, leaned far over the boat. "What a curious attitude," whispered the veteran revolutionary to the terrified Beugnot; "the fate of the world depends on a kick or two."

The fate of the world was not in jeopardy, and the seat of Napoleon as Emperor of the West was not to be occupied by another; but the affairs of the Continent were to be readjusted, the beneficent work of the Revolution was to be transferred to other hands, and the notion of Western empire was to vanish like other baseless fabrics. The diplomacy of Lord Aberdeen, Castlereagh's envoy at Vienna, had succeeded before Napoleon returned to Dresden, and the treaty of eventual triple alliance, signed at Reichenbach on June twenty-seventh, was made good on August first by Francis, who agreed, in return for an enormous subsidy from Great Britain, to join Russia and Prussia with two hundred thousand men. The rosters of Austria's army had been surreptitiously obtained by French agents in Prague. Napoleon was aghast as he read the proof of her gigantic efforts. At once he redoubled his own, and began to unfold a marvelous diplomatic shrewdness. With Poland's three despoilers thus united in England's pay, his isolation would be complete; a few days only remained until the expiration of the armistice; he had but one arrow left in his quiver, and he determined to speed it: to bribe Austria into neutrality by accepting her conditions and restoring the national equilibrium of Europe.

The proposition was made, and staggered Francis; for two days he dallied, and then made a counter-proposition with a new clause, which secured, not the emancipation of states, but dynastic independence for the sovereigns of the Rhine Confederation. This drew the veil from Metternich's policy. Afraid of a German nationality in which Prussia would inevitably secure the hegemony, he was determined to perpetuate the rivalries of petty potentates, and regain Austria's ascendancy in Germany as well as in Italy. This, too, would strip Napoleon of his German troops, and confine France to the west shore of the Rhine, even though it left Westphalia and Berg under French rulers. Such a contingency was abhorrent to one still pretending to Western empire, and Napoleon in turn procrastinated until the evening of the ninth, when, as a final compromise, he offered the dismemberment of Warsaw, the freedom of Dantzic and Illyria, including Fiume, but retaining Triest. But by this time dynastic jealousy had done its work at Prague, and when these terms were communicated to the plenipotentiaries unofficially, Cathcart's bellicose humor, which was heightened by the news from Wellington, served to complement Alexander's jealousy of Austria's rising power. The Prussian nationalists, too, saw their emancipation indefinitely postponed; and since the communication of Napoleon's ultimatum was unofficial, and an official notification had not arrived at midnight on the tenth, the commissioners of Russia and Prussia rose at the stroke of the clock, and informed Metternich that, their powers having expired, he was bound by the terms of Reichenbach.

Metternich kept up his mask, and continued to discuss with Caulaincourt the items of Napoleon's proposition, but the other diplomats gave vent to their delight. Humboldt lingered until Austria's formal declaration of war was under way to Dresden; simultaneously beacons, prearranged for the purpose on Bohemian hills, flashed the welcome news to the expectant armies of Russia and Prussia. Napoleon still stood undismayed by forms, for under the terms of the armistice a week's notice must be given before the renewal of hostilities. On the thirteenth he offered Austria everything except Hamburg and Triest; on the fifteenth he offered even these great ports. But technical right was on the side of war, and his proposals were refused.

Where the blame or merit for the renewal of hostilities rests will ever remain a matter of opinion. Amid the tangles of negotiation, it must be remembered that on March twenty-fourth, 1812, Russia and Sweden began the coalition; that Russia and Prussia were forced into union on February twenty-eighth, 1813, by the element of interest common to Alexander's dynasty and the Prussian people; that Great Britain entered on the scene in her commercial agreement with Sweden on March third, 1813; and that English diplomacy combined with the interests of Austrian diplomacy to complete and cement the coalition with the necessary subsidies. If we view the negotiations of Poischwitz and Prague in connection with Napoleon's whole career, they appear to have run in a channel prepared by his boundless ambition; if we isolate them and scrutinize their course, we must think him the moral victor. Whatever he may have been before, he was now eager for peace, and sincere in his professions. Believing himself to have acted generously when Austria was under his feet, he was outraged when he saw that he had been duped by her subsequent course. The concessions to which he was forced appear to have been made slowly, because what he desired was not a continental peace in the interests of the Hapsburgs, but a general peace in the interest of all Europe as represented by the Empire and the dynasty which he had founded. At this distance of time, and in the light of intervening history, some credit should be given to his insight, which convinced him that strengthened nationality, as well as renewed dynastic influence, might retard the liberalizing influences of the Revolution, which he falsely believed himself still to represent. For the duration of the Holy Alliance this was to a certain extent true. It will be noticed that throughout the closing negotiations no mention was made of the "Continental System." That malign concept of the revolutionary epoch perished in Napoleon's decline, and history knows its name no more.


Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9
Home - Random Browse