Extract from ‘Life of Bonaparte, First Consul of France,’ by Charles-Yves Cousin d’Avallon

Author(s) : COUSIN D'AVALLON Charles-Yves
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This extract is taken from the translation of a biography of Bonaparte written by a contemporary French writer, Charles-Yves Cousin d’Avallon in 1802. The biography was translated into English and published the same year.


Life of Bonaparte, First Consul of France, From his birth to the Peace of Luneville.

To which is added, an account of his remarkable actions, speeches and replies, traits of character: With anecdotes of his different campaigns.
Translated from the French.

Nunc demum redit animus . . . . Unus qui nobis restituit rem . . . . Nam cum tyranny servitute oppressas tenerent Athenas, plurimos cives partim patria espulissent, partim intersectissent, non solum princeps, fed et folus bellum his indixit. Usus est non minus prudentii quam fortitudine, nam cedentes violari vetuit; cives enim civibus parcere sequum censebat.

Printed for G. and J. Robinson, Paternoster-Row.
By T. Davisdon, White Friars.

From the time of his arrival at Paris, till the 18th Brumaire (1) , he was employed in preparing and ripening the plan of the revolution which he was to effect on that day, conjointly with some of the members of the directory and the council of ancients, and those who wisned [sic] for a termination to so many political concussions. This did not prevent him, however, from attending several sittings of the institute, nor from visiting or receiving visits from the literati and generals. It is even said, that propositions were made to him from the directory to put himself at the head of the government. But reports like these should never be adopted by an historian who places his reliance on the most authentic testimony.

The plan which was fortunately to deliver France from the factions by which she was convulsed, uniting and annulling them, as it were, by their concentration, did not keep Bonaparte away from the entertainment given in his honour by the council of five hundred, on the 15th Brumaire, at which he was present with general Moreau. This entertainment was splendid, but not cordial; a certain party regarded Bonaparte with a jealous eye, and seemed to foresee what was to happen in the course of a few days.

Chapter XXIV.

Transactions of the 18th Brumaire.

The 18th Brumaire, year VIII. was, and ever will be to France, a remarkable epoch . . . . From that moment she began to respire, and to catch a glimpse of the halcyon days of peace, after nine years of revolutionary communication.
It was reserved for Bonaparte to consolidate the edifice, for which he had prepared the materials by his victories, to annihilate every faction, and to raise the republic triumphant on their ruins.

The events of this day deserve to be detailed; as by their importance they are attached to one of the most celebrated eras of the life of Bonaparte, and as they have had the greatest influence on posterior circumstances, which brought the revolution to its close. Hence it will not be inapplicable to precede them by a political and philosophical survey of the situation of France when the general arrived at Paris.

The national representation, almost entirely sold to the directorial power, was composed of heterogeneous elements, and abased by constant nullity. Harbouring in its bosom the most detestable passions, it had never been able to conceive any useful and protecting idea, nor to take advantage of any crisis to stay the revolution, and establish any plan of diplomacy, any certain system of war, finances, or government: the gulph of general bankruptcy appeared ever open, to swallow up every fortune, and involve whole families in destruction. Public education was almost generally abandoned, and delivered over to the most disgusting licentiousness. Nothing was to be found but venality, disorder, and devouring putrefaction in the social body, sinking beneath its afflictions. Invisible legions of spies and informers, pursuing their odious tasks, had become indispensable to a weak administration. steering without compass or guide. Suspicion and fear lurked in every mind; confidence and friendship were totally annihilated; distrust and egotism, contracting and drying up every heart, banished affectionate sentiments and generous passions; and an insurmountable apathy prevailed amongst almost all individuals as to the interests of the state.

Every thing was put up at public auction: offices and treasons were become objects of traffic; justice was only a name, patriotism a mark, liberty a phantom, and virtue a deception. Perfidious machinations, and obscure intrigues, in which the vile passion of cupidity conducted the steps of the legislators, involved every one in perplexity; and the state appeared like a drunken man, staggering, without support.

All the political sects, and every unbridled passion, were busy in speculating on the public misfortunes; and plots and conspiracies were gathering around us: some wished to give us a foreign prince, others would have a dictator, or plunge us again into the billows of arbitrary proceedings; assassinations were organised, and the government remained silent; la Vendée was rising again out of her ashes, and Machiavilian [sic] artifice fomented in secret interior dissensions. The nation was disgusted and betrayed; the intent of the revolution had failed; the fruits of our labours, sacrifices, and victories, were annihilated; the dregs of factions were in motion in the interior, and disputed with strangers for the tattered remnants of their country.

The exterior presented a frightful aspect: our conquests were lost in Italy; our armies were discouraged, and become the prey of contractors; an honourable peace could not be made; our legions were fighting in the name of a republic, no longer existing but in name; friendly nations and republics, created by us, were oppressed and despoiled by the very power that ought to have protected them; and the gold and intrigues of kings found their way into the directorial palace, and into our senate. Such was the situation of the French republic at the commencement of the year VIII.

The constitution of the third year had been so often violated, that no security could be expected from it; a crisis appeared necessary and inevitable; but the oath of fidelity was attended to, and the people were unwilling to overleap the limits of constitution.
Nevertheless, all Frenchmen felt the full force of their present and past evils, the smart of a long state of suffering, and the imperious necessity of a better order of things. They required a government capable of repairing the tottering ruins of the political edifice, or of rebuilding it on more solid foundations; but they knew not how or by whom such a change could be effected.

In the midst of this chaos, fortune brought back Bonaparte to Paris: his reputation was spread throughout the world. Having been absent more than a year, the events which had happened in that interval were but imperfectly known to him. His military talents gave him great influence over government, as well as over the general affairs of Europe; he was the only man that could stifle every party, or reconcile them, and bring about the interior and exterior peace of France, so ardently desired, after the long term of anarchy she had experienced.

Scarcely was he landed, when the leaders of every faction flocked about him to strengthen themselves with his suffrage. In the midst of this fluctuation, Bonaparte felt the necessity of speedily bringing into port the leaky vessel of the state; and, like another Alexander, resolved to cut the gordian knot, and take upon himself an immense responsibility, as well as an immense glory, by seizing, with a firm and steady hand, the reins of the state.

To have effected this change in a regular way, Bonaparte should have concerted it with the legislative body; but the slowness of formality might have baffled a revolution now become indispensable.

The 18th Brumaire was fixed on; and a small number of deputies assembling on the 16th at the house of Lemercier, president of the council of ancients, determined on the mode of execution. The day arrived, the council of ancients, by eight o’clock in the morning, issued a decree, by which the legislative body was transferred to St. Cloud, charged general Bonaparte with its execution, and placed their guards and all the troops of the seventeenth division under his orders. The decree was notified to him at his house in Rue des Victoires, where he was surrounded by a numerous staff. He immediately set off for the Tuileries, and there read the decree of the council.

When he had finished it, he addressed the representatives as follows:

“Citizen Representatives,

“The republic was perishing you; you were acquainted with it, and your decree must ensure its safety. Woe be it to them who wish to trouble and confuse it! I will take care to secure them, and generals Lefebvre and Berthier, with all my companions in arms, will lend me their assistance. Let them not revert to the past for examples to retard your progress: there is nothing in history to equal the end of the eighteenth century.
“Your wisdom has issued the decree; our arms shall put it in execution. We will have a republic founded on the right basis, on civil liberty, and national representation: we will have it, I swear! I swear it on my own name, and in that of my fellow-soldiers!”

At eleven o’clock the gates of the Tuileries were shut. Bonaparte reviewed the troops about the palace, which at a distance resembled the appearance of a camp.

The proclamation which he addressed to the troops stationed in Paris, is one of those strong and persuasive pieces of eloquence, which history will hand down to latest posterity; the ideas press on each other with rapidity; the kind of figure he makes use of, is best adapted to develope them, and to strike the imagination with greater effect.

“In what state,” said he, “did I leave France? – In what state have I found it! I left you in peace, and I find war! I left you conquests, and the enemy are passing your frontiers! I left your arsenals well supplied, and you are without arms: your cannon have been sold; robbery has been reduced to system; and the resources of the state are drained: recourse has been had to vexatious means, repugnant alike to justice and good sense: the soldier has been left without defence. Where are those heroes, the hundred thousand comrades whom I left covered with laurels?- what is become of them? – Alas, they are no more! . . . .”

On the news of the unexpected fitting of the council of ancients, the directory called an extraordinary meeting. Three out of the five, Barras, Gohier, and Maulin, were at the palace of the Luxembourg; the other two, Sieyes and Roger Ducos, had gone about nine o’clock to the commission of inspectors of the ancients. The directory, wishing to be informed of the cause of the tumult, sent for the ministers and military commandant of Paris: they came: the military commandant answered, that an irrevocable decree, which had just been issued, invested Bonaparte with the supreme command of all the troops in Paris; that he was now only a subaltern, and that they must address themselves to Bonaparte for any information they required.

The three directors, no longer supported by public force, perceived authority dropping from their hands. The reports which successively reached them, were sufficient testimonies that their reign was inevitably passed.

At noon, Barras sent his resignation to Bonaparte, by his secretary Botot.
While the latter was gone in search of him, the ex-director waited in a coach, at a short distance from the council of ancients, to hear the result of his message. Bonaparte was in the chamber of inspectors, when Botot asked to speak with him to execute his mission. He delivered the resignation, and enquired in a low voice, what Barras had to expect from him. Tell that man, answered Bonaparte, that I will see him no more; and that I will cause the authority I am invested with to be respected (2) .
Barras, notwithstanding, obtained leave to retire to his superb estate of Gros Bois, with a guard of thirty dragoons for his safety.

Moulin and Gohier were confined in their apartments at the Luxembourg. The former escaped during the night; the latter obtained leave the next day, after the revolution was effected, to retire to his own house.

The council of five hundred opened their sitting at noon: the deputies had been informed of the decree issued by the ancients; but, as is generally the case in large assemblies that have not had time to concert their measures, they were not all of a mind. They knew nothing of the causes which had determined the conduct of the ancients but from vague reports; their minds filled with distrust and fear, the greatest part of the deputies entered the council without any decided opinion, intending to be directed by the better information of their colleagues.
After the procès verbal had been read, every one wished to be heard. The president then read the message from the council of ancients, which transferred the legislative body to the palace of St. Cloud; and, in spite of opposition, dissolved the sitting, by virtue of the 103rd article of the constitution.

The councils having broke up, the two commissions of inspectors met in the apartment destined for the sittings of the ancients; and concerted their plans with Bonaparte. Two proclamations were posted on the walls of Paris; one addressed to the stationary guards, and the other to the troops of the line.

In the first, Bonaparte announced, that the council of ancients had commissioned him to take measures for the safety of the legislative body; that its removal to St. Cloud was necessary, in order to guarantee it from the danger with which it was threatened by the disorganisation of every part of the administration.

In the latter, he informed the soldiers that he had taken the command of the army for the sole purpose of executing measures devised solely for the benefit of the people.
“For two years past,” said he, “the republic has been badly governed; you have hoped that my return would put a stop to such a train of evils; you have celebrated it by an union which imposes on me the obligations I am attempting to fulfil. You will do your duty; you will second your general with the firmness and confidence I have ever remarked in you. Liberty, victory, and peace, will again establish the French republic in the rank it held among the nations of the earth, and which could only have been lost by folly and treason.”

These military proclamations were accompanied by two civil notices, exhorting the citizens to remain quiet, and pay no attention to the suggestions of those who are only happy in the midst of disorder; and informing them, that the measures which would be adopted were intended to re-establish interior order, to restore liberty, and fix the republic on sure foundations.

Chapter XXV.

Transactions of the 19th Brumaire (3)

The council of five hundred, assembled at St. Cloud, were deliberating on the subject of their removal, and the majority had determined that the names should be called over, and each member take an oath individually to defend the constitution, when Bonaparte entered the hall, without a hat, and unarmed, accompanied by a few grenadiers also without arms, whom he left at the door. Instantly all the council was in motion. “A general here!” cried they; “what does Bonaparte want with us? This is not your place. Outlaw him! No dictator!”

They all flocked round the generals, pushed him back, and menaced his life. Arena, one of the deputies, made a blow at him with a poignard, which a grenadier parried off, and received a wound in his arm. Lucien Bonaparte, the general’s brother, and president of the council of five hundred, at length with great difficulty obtained leave to speak: “The general,” said he, “had absolutely no other intention that to inform the council of the present situation of affairs:” – Here he was interrupted by clamours and threats; and he quitted the chair.

General Lefebvre entered with some grenadiers, and saved Bonaparte from the danger which threatened him. As soon as the latter had got safe out, he lost no time in sending relief to his brother.

At the instant Lucien Bonaparte was deposing his scarf on the president’s desk, the doors of the hall were thrown open, twenty grenadiers marched in, and advancing towards the desk, formed a circle round him, and thus delivered him from a situation where his life was in imminent danger.

The council was in the most extreme agitation. Murmurs, vociferations, and the bustle of quitting their benches, drowned every distinct articulation; nevertheless the distant sound of drums were distinguished beating the charge: on a sudden the doors of the hall a third time flew open; and a third time the spectators made their escape by leaping out of the windows.

An officer now appeared, followed by a numerous body of troops, and cried, with an elevated voice, General Bonaparte commands me to clear the hall. The grenadiers then advanced, and filled the first half of the hall. The other half was occupied by the deputies who had not yet retired.

The military halted a moment, to permit them to walk out; but about a dozen still remained at the rostrum, and at the president’s desk; and one of them cried, What are you, soldiers? you are only the guardians of the national representation . . . . and you dare menace its safety and independence! – Is it thus you tarnish the laurels you have acquired?
The troops, paying little attention to this harangue, advanced farther into the hall with drums beating, when the members quickly abandoned their posts, and in about five minutes the hall was totally evacuated (4).

The same day, during these transactions, the council of ancients likewise assembled at St. Cloud. After a few minutes’ deliberation, a tumultuous movement suddenly manifested itself in the assembly; the arrival of general Bonaparte was announced, who begged leave to make some important communications. A complete silence ensued; when he addressed them in the following extempore discourse:

“Representatives of the people, you are not under common circumstances; you are placed on a volcano: permit me to speak to you with the candour of a soldier, with the frankness of a citizen, zealous for the welfare of his country; and suspend, I beseech you, your judgement till I have finished what I have to say.
“I was living peaceably at Paris when I received the decree of the council of ancients, which informed me of their dangers, and those of the republic: I hastened to assemble by brother-soldiers, and we came to give you our assistance. Our intentions were pure and disinterested: as a reward for our services, yesterday they loaded us with calumnies, and talked of a modern Caesar, a second Cromwell (5); they reported that I intended to establish a military government.

“If I had wished to crush the liberty of my country, if I had wished to usurp the supreme authority, I should not have obeyed the orders you have me; I should have had no occasion for the mandate of the senate. More than once, in extremely favourable circumstances, have I been called to take the reins of government. After our triumphs in Italy I was invited to it by the desire of the nation, by the request of my comrades, and by that of the soldiers who have been oppressed in my absence; of the soldiers who are still obliged to carry on a most horrible war in the departments, which wisdom and order had calmed, and which folly and treason have again lighted up.

“The country has not a more zealous defender than myself; I am entirely devoted to the execution of your orders: but it is on you alone that its safety depends; for the directory is no more; four of the magistrates who composed it have given in their resignations: dangers press hard; the evil augments; the minister of police has just informed me that, in la Vendée, several places are already fallen into the hands of the Chouans. The council of ancients is invested with great power; but it is also animated by still greater wisdom; consult that alone, and the near approach of danger; prevent disturbances; let us endeavour to preserve the two things for which we have made so many sacrifices – liberty and equality.”

“And what is to become of the constitution of the third year?” cried a deputy, suddenly interrupting the orator.

“The constitution!” replied Bonaparte. “Does it become you to name it? is it at present anything more than a ruin? has it not been successively the sport of every party? have you not trampled on it on the 18th Fructidor, 28th Floreal, and 28th Prairial?(6) – The constitution! Has not every species of tyranny been exercised in its name from the day of its establishment? Who can in future be guaranteed by it? Is not its insufficiency attested by the numerous outrages committed under its sanction, by the very people who are swearing to it a derisory fidelity? All the rights of the people have been indignantly violated; and it is to re-establish them on a firm foundation that we must labour to consolidate the liberty and republic of France (7).

“I declare to you, that as soon as the danger shall be over, I will abdicate the command which has been confided to me. I will only be the supporting arm of the magistracy which you may think proper to nominate.”

Cornudet, taking up the discourse, confirmed the assertions of Bonaparte, and added, that he was acquainted with some criminal opinions against the general; which could only be developed in a general committee.

The spectators having withdrawn from the hall, Bonaparte continued:

“I might reveal to you things which would instantly confound my calumniators; Moulin themselves advised me to overturn the government, and put myself at the head of affairs; but I repulsed such overtures, because I wish to serve the French people only (8).”
Then casting his eyes on some soldiers, who were on duty within the hall, he besought them to turn their bayonets against him, if he ever deviated from the path of liberty. He concluded by engaging the ancients to take the most speedy measures to save the country.

On quitting the council, Bonaparte sent a detachment to signify to the five hundred their dissolution.
The council of ancients then went into a general committee, and created provisionally a consular commission, composed of the ex-director Sieyes, Roger Ducos, and general Bonaparte, under the title of consuls of the French republic; and a commission of twenty-five members to assist during the adjournment of the legislative body in the operations of government.

This great event, this new revolution in our revolution, was terminated like that of the 9th Thermidor, in the space of twenty-four hours.

Anecdotes on the Return of BONAPARTE, and on the Transaction of the 18th and 19th Brumaire (9).

It is to Bonaparte that La Fayette, confined with his wife and daughters in the dungeons of Austria, owes his deliverance. Madame La Fayette, with the youngest of her daughters, went to thank their deliverer. She met with a distinguished reception; which occasions some one to say: That is not surprising; virtue ought to be cherished by glory.

One of the happiest traits of eloquence of the 18th and 19th Brumaire, when every thing was remarkable, was the following:

During Bonaparte’s discourse to the ancients, when he used these words, we will save the republic and liberty, he was interrupted by a voice, exclaiming, Who will answer for it? – Grenadiers! cried the general, turning towards his fellow-soldiers, say if I ever deceived you when I promised you victory?

At the fête given to Bonaparte and Moreau, Brumaire 15th (10) , in the Temple of Victory, among the couplets that were sung and applauded, we remark the following, to the air of the Pas de Charge:

O Bonaparte! et toi Moreau!
Noms chers à la victoire!
Quel est le sublime pinceau
Qui peindra tant de gloire?
Championnet! Brune! Massena!
Que d’éloges à faire!
Ma foi, mettons et caetera;
Puis cherchons un Homère.

Les rois, fiers de quelques revers,
Pleins d’un orgueil extrême,
Prétendaient nous donner des fers
Jusque dans Paris même.

Nous, modestes dans nos succès,
Comme beaux en vaillance,
Aux rois nous donnerons la paix:
O la douce vengeance!

O Bonaparte! O Moreau!
For the conquest pre-ordain’d;
What pencil proud may hope to show
The glories ye have gain’d.
Massena! Championnet! And Brune!
What eulogies should throng!
Hold, hold, the rest – th’ entire platoon
Demand a Home’s song –

The race of kings with pride elate,
Yet stung with secret fright,
With setters strove t’ enslave our state,
And cramp each civic right.
But we, more modest in success,
As more in arms complete,
With peace the race of monarchs bless –
O vengeance heavenly sweet!

We shall here transcribe the reflections of an author who has written on the revolution, as they are closely connected with our subject.

“Ever since the year 1789 we have been governed by men without talents and principle, cruel without energy, ambition without magnificence, and prodigal to excess. In 1789, the constituents, after having been courageous against despotism, were weak against factions.
“The constitution of 1793, execrable evangelist of anarchy, terrified France beyond a possibility of rejecting it, and presaged all the crimes of horror.
“At length appeared the constitution of the year v, which could not be supported without considerable modifications; because it had created a legislative body which must necessarily govern the executive directory, or be oppressed by it. Hence the legislative body, misled by conspirators, was about to overturn the directory, when the 18th Fructidor saved it: but in saving it, the constitution was annihilated; and all respect for its civil code, lacerated with impunity, was entirely destroyed. From that moment, therefore, all its regulations have been either artfully eluded, or audaciously violated. Instability has ruined France; it was stability she invoked on the 18th Brumaire (11), and it began from that epoch to be restored to her.

“From that day we began to respire. We perceive, now that it is too late, or rather we could not before understand, that a government, to proceed with safety, and promote the welfare of all, must be concentrated; and that the more governors there are, the more the governed are exposed to a painful and unhappy situation. It was necessary that we should have a nine-years’ experience to convince us of what the most common sense might have pointed out.

O caecas hominum mentes!”

A wit, speaking of the 18th and 19th Fructidor, said, Never was a country so much afraid of being saved. We may say of the 19th Brumaire, Never was more joy exhibited for its deliverance.

Bonaparte frequently said, before the memorable 19th Brumaire, The revolution which is in agitation will be different from the former; it will occasion no proscriptions, and cause many to cease (12).

Some time after that day, when it was in contemplation to establish a first consul, Bonaparte often repeated, that so great a functionary ought to be a perpetual negotiator. Is not, in effect, honouring merit, a kind of negotiation with every one who respects it?

In the speech which he made to the council of ancients, on the 18th or 19th Brumaire, he exclaimed, Recollect that fortune and the god of war are with me.
“ I had worked up my passions,” said he the next day to his friends, “and I concluded with a bad phrase. The French are judges of propriety: I had no sooner pronounced the words, than a murmur made me feel them. But what could I do? I was spoiled on the road: they so often repeated those words to me all the way from Marseilles to Paris, that I could not get them out of my head.”

After the 18th, several officers of the navy, and chiefs of that department, were presented by citizen Bourdon to the executive commission, and were received by Bonaparte and Roger Ducos. The former said to them,
“The seamen are brave, and even experienced. The misfortunes they have met are only to be attributed to the bad management of the naval department; the captains have not sufficient means to cause their authority to be respected; too much lenity has encouraged insubordination in the crews. On land, undisciplined valour may sometimes be victorious; at sea, never (13).”

A few days after the 18th Brumaire, the consuls were presented with a pattern of the new consular dress. It was composed of a coat, à la Française, of white velvet, embroidered with gold, buttoned down to the waist, light blue pantaloons, the sword-belt over the coat, and the sword hanging perpendicular on the side; red boots, and cap of the same colour. It was observed to Bonaparte, that a red cap would not become him: No more than red heels, replied he.


(1) 9th November

(2) Many persons have doubted this answer of Bonaparte; but it is certain, that it was repeated by all the newspapers on the 19th Brumaire.

(3) 19th November.

(4) Happy 19th of Brumaire! you at length dispersed that factious assembly, which could work nothing but evil, without the least prospect of administering a balm to the wounds which a long revolution had inflicted.

(5) Bonaparte answered the deputies who called him Caesar and Cromwell, in the following manner:
“It would be a sacrilegious idea to attempt to destroy a representative government in the age of knowledge and liberty. No one but a madman would attempt to ruin the success of the republic over all the royalty of Europe, after having supported it with so much glory and peril.”

(6) 5th September, 18th May, 17th June

(7) This reply of Bonaparte is one of the finest specimens of oratory that exists; and its being spoken ex tempore, increases its beauty and sublimity.

(8) This speech discovers an unbounded frankness and loyalty. It was presumed with reason, that the vanquisher of Italy, and the conqueror of Europe, would never abase himself, as Lebrun says, so far as to descend to the throne of kings. Bonaparte aspired to a different glory; that of delivering France from the troubles which had agitated her for nine years past, and to terminate a revolution, the consequences of which no one could foresee. Success crowned our hopes, as well as those of the French people. He has closed the temple of war, and planted the olive on the rubbish of our factions.

(9) 9th and 10th November

(10) 6th November

(11) 9th November

(12) The effect fully agrees with this declaration. Speak, unhappy men, transported to Synamari! – You who had lost every hope of revisiting your native country!

(13) A truth of which France has never completely felt the importance; but the time is come when all things will be properly arranged.






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