A pamphlet, recently published at Paris, and reprinted in London, intituled, ‘Les Adieux à Bonaparte’ is here presented, very rapidly sketched in our language. The attractions of the original publication consist in an unexpected freedom of discussion; in a view of the present state of politics in France; and in a more agreeable manner of writing than such a subject generally admits of. This translation is offered, in the hope that it may convey some gratification to those who have not read the original, and for the purpose of ameliorating the present condition of one of the victims to the misfortunes of which it treats.
A Hero, in history so called, is formed by the waste of blood and affliction. Happy is it for humanity, suffering under the calamities of war, and surrounded by the tombs of glory’s slaves, when she sees a great man created. That consolation seemed to have been granted to France, when Bonaparte darted from the crowd, and illumined like a meteor our political horizon. It is true that he began his career by commanding the troops which marched against the sections of Paris on the 13th Vendemiaire (4th October); that he revolutionized Venice, whose illustrious government had subsisted during fourteen centuries; that he shook the seat of the Catholic Church; and that it was he who gave the signal of the 18th Fructidor (4th September), which established the cruel tyranny of the Directors. But he stamped his name on many fortunate events; he shewed himself to be an able warrior and a generous conqueror; his exploits gave lustre to our national reputation; he prepared happiness for France by procuring peace; his victory of Arcola threw a dazzling veil over the horrors of our international revolution; and his negotiations at Leoben made us almost forget them entirely.
France would now have been in the enjoyment of tranquillity, if the hero who dictated terms of peace had himself watched over the consummation of his work. But a strange enthusiasm hurried him their deliverer; trusting for the maintenance of peace to a weak and tottering government, he abandoned his country to the chances of revolutionary events; he embarked for Egypt, with his chosen troops, and courageously went to seek enemies and tyrants on the banks of the Nile, as if they had not been to be met with at Paris. The multitude, who are fond of the marvellous, found something romantic in this expedition, which made them compare Bonaparte to the heroes of ancient fable. The capture of Malta seemed but the presage of other successes; our politicians began to see the French flag triumphant in the Mediterranean, and the delusion extended even to the shopkeepers of St. Dennis, whose imaginations were put an end to by the destruction of our fleet. The reputation of Bonaparte, contrary to reasonable calculations, grew with this reverse of fortune, which ought to have exposed his faults. His glory, like our Revolution itself, always finds an increase of splendour and influence, where annihilation ought to be looked for. His victories had excited admiration, his defeats and his embarrassments awakened interest. Every one’s attention followed him along the banks of the Nile; the description of his battles seemed to be a new Iliad or Odyssey; his laurels which had begun to fade during the residence of a month at Paris, flourished in an new world; the boldness, or rather the singularity of his enterprise, the strangeness of the country, which we went to subdue, the originality of his speeches and proclamations, all created surprise and curiosity. Removed from the eye of envy, at a distance from the theatre of intrigue, where the best-founded reputations are in a moment blighted, Bonaparte appeared always new, and consequently to Frenchmen always great. Their painful anxiety on account of his defeat at Acre, was unexpectedly terminated, by the news of his arrival at Frejus. The wonder and the interest which are attached to extraordinary adventures, the misery in which France had been plunged, the threats of the factious, the defeats of our armies, the want which the Republic felt of a deliverer, were circumstances which concurred to bestow on Bonaparte the homage of an infatuated people. He passed through our southern provinces amidst the most enthusiastic acclamations. Rumours of peace were spread as he advanced: it was forgot that he had fled from Egypt, like the children of Israel in former times, pursued by the hosts of Pharaoh; the prayers of the people reached Paris before him; all parties surrounded and tried to gain this miraculous man, who seemed to have returned triumphant from the land of the dead.
At first, he avoided all the snares laid for his ambition; he affected modesty, and appeared to devote himself to retirement. But, suddenly, the scene changed: he had scarcely risen from the dinner given to him, he endeavoured to get rid of his new hosts. The representatives of the nation, made subservient to him, went to St. Cloud to hold their last sitting. Perhaps Bonaparte, on that day, was not so great as those whom France saw yielding to his better fortune. If history consults the porter of the orangery, instead of the journals of the hour, she will give to each share of glory. Let historians characterise this Revolution; my province is to shew the consequences of it.
Our representatives were so odious, that altars of gratitude were raised to him who had delivered us from them; but our hopes went, unfortunately, beyond the good which was intended to be produced: every head was filled with its own romance, and Bonaparte was the hero. The unhappy are credulous, and we were all unhappy. Royalists imagined that Bonaparte was destined to clear the foundation of the new throne of the Bourbons. Republicans believed that he had quitted his army in order to chastise tyrants, and consolidate the Republic.
The brilliant dreams of all parties had filled the French with enthusiasm for Bonaparte, and for the day of 18th Brumaire (8th of November). Foreigners have better appreciated this Revolution that we did at Paris, either because certain circumstances are best judged of at a distance, or because those who have less to hope for, are not so easily led astray by their wishes. The opinion of foreigners is every day confirmed; but Time, with us, plays mountebank, tricks, and suffer us, only by daily degrees, to discover proofs of the falseness of our calculations. Time would, no doubt, suffice fully to convince those who still deceive themselves respecting the 18th Brumaire (8th of November); but let me be allowed to quicken his pace, and to draw aside, at once, the veil which, for political purposes, has been dexterously thrown over the consequences of that day.
FRANCE, AFTER THE REVOLUTION OF BONAPARTE, ON THE 8TH OF NOVEMBER, 1799.
In the present situation of France, hope, the faithful companion of the unfortunate, is her only remaining friend. I wish not to stifle its soothing influence; but I am anxious to direct it to its true object. The grossest of our errors has been, that we have expected happiness from those who had no inclination to bestow it; and that we have constantly trusted in men whose false conceptions of interest led them to betray us. Situated as we now are, we make great progress in our pursuit after happiness, if we can discover its real source. Is it attainable through Bonaparte? I will examine that question, by asking it of Royalists and Republicans, of France, of Europe, and of Bonaparte himself. Let it not be imputed to me that I desire to tarnish his glory: rather may it become more splendid, by deceiving our conjectures, and by bestowing on France that blessing which she dares not expect from him.
An opinion, formed during a revolution, becomes insensibly the regulator of all our ideas in politics, and of our prayers for private happiness, as well as national prosperity. In departing from this opinion, we see nothing but error and calamity; for it is to us truth, wisdom, virtue, peace, and happiness;…we wish the world to be governed by it; and such is the weakness of poor mortals, that is not enough to be happy, unless every individual be so in his own way, and according to his own system. Pursuing these reflexions, it will be perceived that Bonaparte has undertaken a very difficult task. Royalists look only for monarchy. Republicans, on the contrary, see no safety but in a republic. Can he listen to both parties?…Impossible! will he favour neither?…Then he makes enemies for both. He has no alternative but to declare for one or the other: he ought, therefore, to chuse that side which promises the most lasting fame, the most solid advantage, the most splendid, yet the calmest triumphs, and which, whilst it is the most congenial to the present age, will be acquiesced in by posterity.
In examining the conduct of Bonaparte, it is easy to see that he has not yet made his choice; and that he prefers the enmity of all parties to the attachment of any one of them.
The Royalists have no reason to believe that Bonaparte labours for them. If he had been inclined to listen to them, he would not have waged against them a war of extermination in the western departments. Ask the manes of Toustaint and Frotté what are the intentions of the First Consul? Martyrs are never made of those who serve the cause you are engaged to protect. In the course of the Revolution we have often seen the leaders of parties massacre those who were against them, but they have never ordered their own friends to be shot. When I heard of the death of the prisoners of La Vendée, it would have grieved me to find Bonaparte a Royalist; he might perhaps be forgiven for destroying enemies, but he could never efface the shame of having butchered his friends. However great may be the value of monarchy, it would be too painful to believe that it was sought to be purchased with the blood of Royalists.
Bonaparte, not contented to have ordered the execution of Royalists, has sought to give unpopularity to those princes, without whom monarchy is not to be looked for. All the world recollects his marked expressions respecting the chiefs of the Bourbons. We ought to feel, that he who respects no misfortune, has no intention to remove its cause; and it seems to be useless to appeal, for the laws of the ancient monarchy of France, to him who rejects the first law of Nature. Virtue in distress does not require my vindication; Europe pities and admires it. True courage does not consist in exposing the body to the dangers of battle; that is a species of heroism now common and almost hateful. The courage more rare, more affecting, more dignified, is that which enables us to support the frowns of fortune. Seneca has said, that ‘The sublimest sight this earth can shew to heaven, is a wise man struggling with the storms of fate.’ If the versatility of fortune should one day put Bonaparte’s courage to the test, Europe will then pronounce upon his pretensions as a hero.
There is in human nature so strong an inclination to believe what we hope for, that every idle tale has been adopted, every conjecture formed, every token laid hold of, to strengthen the opinions conceived of Bonaparte. I think I see Royalists hovering continually around the Tuileries, trying to discover a solitary fleur-de-lys, in order to justify their hopes. If Bonaparte’s ambition gave room to other sensations, what must he have felt on the day when he took possession of that palace? Did he not fancy, in the night when we first slepped in the chamber of Louis XVI, that the melancholy shades of the kings of France wandered round his bed, and demanded that throne which he had usurped? It is said that he appeared for a considerable time at the window where the grandson of Henry the Fourth sometimes shewed himself during his captivity. He must have seen, from thence, the spot where stood the scaffold of the royal family; but, if the fate of the princes do not affect him, let him reflect, that the usurpers of the monarchy have successively been overthrown in the place where he now is; for, at the Tuileries, Danton, Brissot, and Robespierre, have all been hurled from the Revolutionary throne, to finish their existence by the executioner’s axe. This palace, for ten years past, has only served as an inn on the road to the scaffold. Woe to him who does not profit by the lessons it presents on all sides! The father of Alexander employed one of his courtiers to remind him every day that he was mortal: Bonaparte ought to encharge, not one of his courtiers, but a friend, to direct his attention every morning to the square of the Revolution, and the burial-place of the Magdalenes.
To return the Royalists. the newspapers say that the theatres are going to bring out again Richard Cœur de Lion. This report is a source of hope to the Royalists. For my part, I will not be deluded; I shall say on my return from the representation, like the geometrician who had heard one of Racine’s tragedies, what have you demonstrated? In the time of the monarchy, we were permitted at the theatres to applaud Republicans, we were educated in the admiration of the Greek and Roman republics, and the court itself was not alarmed at the praises bestowed on Brutus. Bonaparte imitates the same kind of security: he places Kings in the same distant perspective, where they placed the Greeks and Romans, whose legislation we admired as an ideal policy not calculated for our manners nor for our times. It is easy thus to thrust kings into remote antiquity, and to confound the love we have for them with the interest inspired by the republics of Greece and Rome! I have no doubt that Bonaparte would read with pleasure an epic poem composed on Louis XVIII, if such a masterpiece could persuade the people that this prince had been dead for several centuries, and that he had been the contemporary of Eneas or Ulysses!
Besides, in permitting the representation of Richard Cœur de Lion, Bonaparte has only proved that he knows them better he dreads them less. What has he to fear from Royalists, who fight their enemies only with epigrams, and who are happy if they can find monarchy in a rhyme? The predecessors of Bonaparte reigned by terror; he invokes pleasure: the directors strove to divide and terrify the people; the first consul amuses and renders them effeminate. This method has succeeded: when he opened the prisons. In encouraging pleasure, in tolerating at the theatres ideas of monarchy, he says to the French: ‘You seek happiness, go find it at the opera; you wish for a king, go find him at the theatre; sing, dance, amuse yourselves, and let me reign over you in peace.’
But, says a Royalist, it is evident that Bonaparte is going to proclaim the king at Dijon. Why go so far? The people of Paris are always complaisant enough, and Bonaparte knows that their approbation is sure to follow whatever is done in the midst of them. Will they hesitate to approve of one whom they are expecting, after approving from the first moment him whom they did not expect? Or does he wish to ascertain the will of the majority? That will is easily known. One of his counsellors of state said, before the 18th Brumaire, that 99 Frenchmen out of 100 asked for a king: nothing has since been done to occasion a diminution of his proportion. The prayer of the nation, I am certain, is unanimous; and the inhabitants of St. Anthony can answer on this point for the distant citizens of Beaune. It is now a month since Bonaparte announced in the newspapers his departure for Dijon; and Europe, deceived by this solemn assurance, is surprised to find that we have a government which dared to conceive such distant projects, and which can look forward to events that are not to happen for three weeks. The truth is, that Bonaparte has no inclination to go to Dijon. He calculated, in the first place, that the report of his departure would excite the enthusiasm of volunteers, and facilitate the means of procuring a fleeting place: on the other hand he knows, that if the misfortunes of the campaign should render his presence with the army necessary, his departure will occasion less alarm after it had been for some time announced. In vain the newspapers still talk of his journey in the course of a fortnight; Bonaparte does not know what he shall do to-morrow. He dares not go to Dijon, lest he should leave behind him factions always ready to destroy him; he is afraid of remaining at Paris, at a time when powerful parties may be formed against him in the armies. In the morning he thinks of going to the Rhine; in the afternoon he wishes to be at Trebia. Shall the preservation of his frail government at home occupy his attention, or shall he go to dig out of their ruins the republics which he had so recently founded in Italy? Does his destiny carry him to the North or to the South? He is at the mercy of undeveloped events. You desire to know what will become of an agitated wave? The tempest must give the answer.
Bonaparte can, by one signal, relieve France from the horrors of war, and escape himself from the embarrassments of a tottering dominion. If he does not make his declaration at this time, when perils press upon him, and when every body is ready to second him, we must believe that he does not intend it at all. Yet he has not to learn that moments are precious, and that on the uncertain theatre of revolutionary events, nothing is so rare as opportunity; that what can be effected on one day, may not be possible the next; and that when the short period of enthusiasm is missed, we may be lost amidst the broodings of reflexion.
Notwithstanding every uncertainty, the Royalists indulge their hopes, whilst Bonaparte pursues his own ends; their hopes are the steps to the throne which he is about to mount. If he should succeed in consolidating his power there, and surmounting the obstacles which surround him, he will despise those of whose assistance he shall have availed, and who will again become his suppliants for their own concerns. When the fox got out of the well, by mounting on the horns of the goat, who in his turn wanted assistance; the fox answered him: ‘Farewell, use all your efforts to get out; I must be gone, for I cannot stay here.’
Why then are the Royalists, who form the most enlightened part of the nation, such easy dupes? Why do they so seldom see things in their true light? It is because the greatest number of them have not deigned to look into their own Revolution, but have sought the causes of present events in the revolutions of Greece and Rome on the sacred mount: they are ignorant of what is going forward in the Faubourg St. Antoine. They know how Marancelli brought about a revolution at Naples: they do not even now conceive what has been effected to produce one at Paris. They have read in Hume’s history, that Monk restored to England its legitimate sovereign: they conclude that Bonaparte will follow the same course. Thus they explain the present time by the history of past ages. But as the events of to-day have no resemblance to whatever before happened, the consequence is, that the learned have been almost uniformly mistaken, whilst instinct has judged better than reason. Besides, the Royalists being insulated, without the power of assembling, have not had the advantage of that communication of ideas which produces intelligence: each has indulged his own reflexions, which have not been matured by collision with those of others. Thence have arisen those wild speculations and those vague systems, which have contributed to divide them into so many parties, and which still give weight to so many false opinions. By this want of intelligence, we find explained their want of courage. Courage requires a degree of confidence in the powers of the mind, and a degree of self-possession, which those are not endowed with who are insulated from their fellow beings, and who may be said to advance through a dangerous path with the trembling caution of men who are hoodwinked.
There is likewise a great number of Royalists, who invent a convenient system of hope, blended with ease to themselves, by expecting Louis XVIII, as the Jews do their Messiah, who will come, they say, when God pleases. They have done so little in the service of their cause, that they cannot be very difficult respecting the demonstrations of zeal others; it is natural for them to impute intentions to Bonaparte, which justify to themselves their supineness. I know many a good Royalist who sits indolently by his fire side, declaiming from morning till night against the cowardice of Frenchmen. If you ask them what they themselves have done for royalty, you expect them to answer that Bonaparte is employed for them. One of the greatest misfortunes of the present generation, and particularly of the rich, is their dependence on others. In order to educate children, a person is hired. When an affair of importance is to be transacted, another is entrusted with it: If it be only the mount guard, somebody else is sent. It is to be regretted, that substitutes cannot be found to die for them. When the Jacobins have any thing to do, they are their own agents: their cause is, therefore, better supported. If the Royalists have hitherto succeeded badly, it is because they have confided in others who had not so much at stake themselves.
We now come to the Republicans… Do they dream of the republic, as the Royalists do of monarchy?… No; they do not deceive themselves so much as their too credulous adversaries.
On what did he maintenance of the republic depend? On the principles of national representation: but those principles did not survive the visit of St. Cloud; for you cannot give the name of national representation to the present obscure mass of tribunes and senators, who are not named by the people, and to whom are distributed, every morning at the Tuileries, general orders for the discipline of their thoughts during the day.
The constitution of the third year was not a work of perfection… I do not defend it; but, bad as it might have been, the maintenance of the Republic depended on it. Every Republican, and every one connected with the Republic, had sworn to defend it: Bonaparte breathed on this monument of legislation, and it crumbled to dust, notwithstanding the pledged support of three or four millions of oaths.
A fourth constitution was then taken out of one of the pigeon-holes of Sieyes; and General Lefebvre, according to orders given him, undertook to enforce the acceptance of it with the bayonet. The good people of France trembled, according to custom; and the new government, foreseeing this pliability, had proclaimed, beforehand, the acceptance they commanded. Republicans! Where, then, is your boasted sovereignty? But I dwell too long on a constitution which nobody thinks about. Foreigners have, indeed, employed themselves in learned and critical discussions of it; whilst, with us, the day after publication, it might be compared to those ancient ruins which are spoken of in remote countries, but which the inhabitants walk over with indifference. We even blushed at the sound of constitution, and called this, in the beginning, a social impact; but the subject soon dropped altogether.
The people have been told, for their consolation, that the Republic now was not to consist of forms, but to be found in persons… This has been enforced by a prodigal use of figures of rhetoric, which have more effect on the minds of the multitude than studied reasonings. It was said, ‘That a constitution is a pedestal which only gains notice from the statues placed upon it.’ This was followed up jocosely, by comparing a constitution to a building which is not to be judged of by architecture, but by the people seen at the windows. To pursue his metaphor, let us ask the Republicans what persons have hitherto been seen at the windows?
For my part, I have seen such vile company there, that I have been tempted to think it a house of bad fame. In the magistracy, I admit, some honest men have been received; but they seemed like exceptions to a system: for whenever a virtuous and enlightened man was found among them, he was sure to prove a Royalist. Our Republic was called chimerical, when it had the forms of a Republic: we must own that it is not less so now, when it depends on persons.
Do you recollect the day when Bonaparte went from the palace of the Medicis, to take up his abode in the palace of the Tuileries? Were you among the crowd which pressed to behold a new majesty? The Royalists saw some fleurs-de-lys, some signs of royalty: Did you, my dear Scevola, perceive any sign of republicanism? The sixty carriages, the six white horses, the liveried numbers… Did they recall to you any of the favourite ideas of equality? You, indeed, read an inscription on a post at the Carrousel, containing these remarkable words: ‘On this spot royalty was abolished in France, the 10th of August, 1792’; but the wand of office, which Benezech displayed, possessed not the magic power to shew you a Republic raised in its stead.
The liberty of the press has been called, thousands of times, the palladium of the republic; it was held sacred by all parties; even Robespierre respected it… But now the prisons are filled with printers and booksellers: an hundred journals have been suppressed in one day: Thus the mind is proscribed, and fame put in irons. The press, the people, and opinion, are sovereigns dethroned.
Bonaparte, be assured, has imbibed some notions of eastern politics. Examine his conduct; not a vestige of liberty can be traced: read his proclamations; you do not find mention made of the Republic; where are now our Brutus? Let them shew themselves; Caesar has passed the Rubicon!
During the progress of the Revolution I have remarked that the things against which there has been the greatest clamour have always taken place; much was said against dictators: we have a dictator. For ten years past the foreign faction has been denounced: we now are governed by a gentleman from Ajaccio. If the Jacobins were wise, they would not declaim as they do against kings; for kings too may come again. Although Bonaparte may not yet have intended to re-establish monarchy, he has nevertheless broken the Republican spell, rendered the Republic impossible. Ever since the 18th Brumaire, we have accustomed ourselves to consider unity as the foundation of good order, and monarchical ideas are become the principles of public opinion. Royalty presents itself now to the people of France, as liberty did in 1789, with all the charms of desire: every individual, according to his fears or hopes, anticipates the predicament he shall be under with his king: some pray for pardon or faults already forgotten; others claim the reward of their constancy; the whole nation see an end to their misfortunes. In short, the progress of events and of ideas, forces us irresistibly with it; and as those who overthrew monarchy could not arrest the course of the revolutions, so those who have strangled our infant Republic cannot stop the returning tide of monarchy.
But there are many men who are neither Royalists or Republicans; who have not read Montesquieu, and know not the definitions of Aristotle. The best government, according to their ideas, is that under which they can dance and vegetate at their ease. Men so importantly occupied are easily pleased; their philosophy in submitting to their lot is wonderful; some of them have danced and vegetated very well under Robespierre. They now find every thing in great tranquillity; they can go to the theatre without being incommoded with the tale of an insurrection, and they can walk at the Palais-Royal without being obliged to encounter seditious mobs. Such people know not of the bloody scenes of civil wars in our western departments; of the villages there deserted, and fields uncultivated; nor of the loud murmurs of famished people, whose bread is carried away, and whose sheltering hovels are destroyed. Is it not dreaded that despair will at last rouse the fury of the inhabitants of those provinces? Although three-fourths of them have been put to the sword, yet will the bones of the dead rise up in vengeance. ‘Revenge,’ said an ancient writer, ‘gives strength to the dead, and their ghosts will defend their sepulchres.’ The departments, now stunned by superior force, will soon recover the passions of hatred, which their oppressions must have rendered habitual. They will soon be roused by the remembrance of the past, and their dread of the future. In the heart of the capital, you may expect to see an assemblage of men with threatening brows, whose looks proclaim a new revolution: they will be joined by the seditious, who had been dispersed, but who re-assemble at the signal of revenge; and following them will come that crowd of starving adventurers, gaping for plunder, who are ready to assist in the destruction of every government. Already do murmurs of conspiracies dismay the public; already does anarchy resume its councils and hold its meetings. Government is reduced to the necessity of hawking its apology among the populace, and may soon be obliged to issue its decrees from the midst of them. Perhaps the time is not distant, when all parties will no longer fight on their knees, but rise and wage desperate war. Then an opera box will be no place of safety, nor will it be enough to sit on the defensive with no other weapons than fans.
You say that the cries of misery do not now awake your feelings. If it be so, suicides are more frequent than ever: we see every day in the midst of us, wretches, women as well as men, who rid themselves of life, rendered insufferable by the Revolution, and who curse, at their dying hour, this world, which affords them no asylum but the grave. Those who have courage to live, devour their grief in privacy: they shun the eyes of a cold frivolous world, concealing their tears and their wants more carefully than if they were crimes. Ascend into garrets, penetrate the dark, dwellings of despair; learn the terrible opinion they conceived in silence against those who govern: it will one day burst forth, like thunder from the heavens: woe to those who do not listen to it!
Yet some have derived comfort from one of Mallet du Pan’s late journals. We are in want of security, and we cling to every thing that offers it. We dare not look around, lest the danger we are in should stare us in the face. Sitting on a flaming volcano, and surrounded by burning lava, we listen with avidity to the voice of a man who tells us from his closet that the crater is shut. If you go to Longchamp, you there find brilliant assemblies, and figures walking about in apparent security; the luxury and pleasure of the place amuse you, and the contentment expressed in the countenances you meet, fills you with sympathetic satisfaction. Several travellers have described a tempest, which they have experienced at the Cape of Good Hope: the sky was serene, the sun shone bright, but the ocean was agitated, and the winds raged furiously from all quarters. Nothing is so dreadful at this contrast between the calm and the tempest: it paints exactly the situation of the Republic.
In the midst of our constant dissipation, there is one thing from which we are never seduced by our pleasures, whose idea is mingled with all our reflections, whose image soothes us in our public amusements; I mean the expectation of peace with Europe. The attention of the public is so completely filled with the consoling subject, that the usurpation of Bonaparte is scarcely thought of. This is, perhaps, the principal reason why he has so inconsiderable an opposition. Peace is the grand object of desire, and France, exhausted, seems to have promised empire to him who can attain it for them. Can the new government give it?
Europe never shewed such hostile dispositions toward us, as she has done since Bonaparte seized on the reins of government. She is alarmed to find Jacobinism royalised, and better able to spread its baneful influence in other states, by being under the will and dominion of one man. If I am interrupted and told that our government is strong, I answer, without stopping to argue on the definition of that epithet, that it is precisely because we have a strong government that war is made against us. The Jacobins were less to be dreaded, because their doctrines had become odious, and were destroying themselves; but all kings are interested in pulling down an usurper. England and Austria did negotiate with the Directory, but they have refused to listen to the proposals at the first consul. The usurpation of Bonaparte is more atrocious than any which preceded. Those who have governed France until now, had been thrust into power by the torrent of the revolution; and they were besides so numerous, that no one was singled out by hate, nor did particular responsibility attach to any one. But Bonaparte mounted the throne himself; and spurned from him all who could partake of power. He alone concentrates universal attention; his supreme authority, raised on the wreck of the monarchy and of the Republic, is the point towards which the coalition of Europe is directed; kings can aim a better blow now that the hydra has but one head. They will not lay down their arms when they have hitherto sought with more zeal than they have fought. Let the present state of the allies be considered: …the imagination can scarcely keep pace with the brilliant successes of the Germans and Russians during the last campaign; and the English have, more than ever, established their empire on the Mediterranean, and on the ocean. It is not probable, that victors will descend from their triumphal car, in order to compound with a revolution whose menaces obliges Europe to take arms, and to treat with a government whose successes will encourage all the wanderings of ambition, and make lawful sovereigns tremble.
Even the strength of our government proceeds from a cause not calculated to make the rest of Europe trust us. Government is strong, only because war puts extraordinary means in its power; Bonaparte is aware, that the constitution of the eighth year, which made him Consul, will be nothing after it shall cease to receive the protection of a bayonet. An usurper, whatever personal qualities he may possess, cannot reign in the affection of the people; but the armies, which he maintains to govern at home, must create distrust among his neighbours: besides, if he has rivals whom he dreads, he must remove them, by sending them to fight his foes… If it be necessary to quiet discontents among the people, he turns their turbulent passions to the frontiers: so that war is necessary to the maintenance of a recent usurpation. The usurper, then, and particularly he who owes his power to the military, cannot offer any security for his treaties; and nobody feels disposed to make peace with a man who constantly grasps the handle of his sword.
Negotiations have not succeeded with Bonaparte: he, therefore, tells his soldiers, that the way to peace is through victory; but that path is more difficult than ever… To be convinced of this, look at our armies… The men who have acquired so much glory, are now scarcely clothed. The conquerors of the world are obliged to beg alms;…they want the first necessaries of life; and General Lecourbe has only been able to give bows to those who asked for bread. The public treasury is empty, and the commissaries withdraw, because they can get no more money to make amends for the disgraces they undergo. If we are unsuccessful in the ensuing campaign, I do not know how our armies can be fed, but by eating Englishmen, like comrade Matthew, in the deserts of Siberia. In the midst of this distress, the defenders of our country cast a look behind;…they are ill disposed to pursue their usual road to victory; cold reflection has succeeded enthusiasm;…for misery creates apathy. Bonaparte, when he began the campaign of Italy, said to his soldiers, «You have neither ammunition or clothes; we shall find both beyond the Apennines». But Italy, and all other accessible countries, are already ravaged; we have left nothing among them but the detestation of the French name, and the cursed memory of our revolution. Our soldiers cannot find there either the clothes still promised them, or the ammunition which they stand in need of. They went formerly to battle, crying out, ‘Long live the Republic’; for the republic, they supported the rigors of seasons, the fatigues of war, and hunger, and thirst, and brayed death itself: but now for what is it they are to suffer? For whom are they to fight? I fear that those, who shed their blood for liberty, have none to spare for Bonaparte.
The conscripts obstinately refuse to join the army; and prefer a wandering life in the woods, before the misery which awaits them in camps: the soldiers desert in crowds, in Italy and on the Rhine; and are obliged to seek an asylum among our enemies.
There has been much boasting about the enthusiasm of the young Parisians, who are said to enlist under the standard of Bonaparte: the truth is, that the battalion of the First Consul contains only 75 volunteers:…the government has made a great noise about them, and has held them up to public view, as bird-catchers do with birds to entrap others; in vain has General Dumas revived the eloquence of the recruiting serjeants; his voice has only been heard in newspapers: the greatest part of those who offer their services to Bonaparte, only do so because they expect peace, and, with it, release and reward. When the campaign opens, it is necessary to have men determined to meet death; but Bonaparte has only men who wish to live; and who will forfeit their engagements the moment government fails in its promises, and tries to direct towards war the enthusiasm which they feel for peace.
Is Bonaparte sure that the generals will honestly serve a master who was once their comrade, and that they will submit to make conquests by which he alone is to profit? They know that every victory will increase the power of the First Consul; and that, the more they acquire fame, the more do they elevate him above themselves. Already do Bernadotte and Macdonald, companions of his fortunes, who have followed him in his most glorious successes, testify their dissatisfaction in the most marked terms, and refuse to lend their aid to his new plans of war.
Bonaparte feels his critical situation; he knows that his renown, his credit, his power, depend on one battle; and that a cannon, fired on the frontiers, can overthrow his feeble fabric of power and greatness at Paris; therefore, he sincerely desires peace…Let me suppose, for a moment, that he succeeds: as we greet, without examination, whatever we wish to possess, we shall receive it, as we did liberty, without knowing whether it be founded on principles which can ensure its enjoyment. But we ought not to desire merely peace, which can repair the misfortunes of the revolution, and be transmitted as a sacred inheritance to our children. It is not to be obtained by the intrigues of negotiation, nor is it to be found in the intoxication of victory. The Directory signed a peace…the peace of Leoben. What remains to us of that peace which our soldiers gained with their blood, and which France, during six years of miserable anxiety, had wished for?
Europe has fought against the principles of our revolution more than against ourselves. The peace which we shall make with foreigners, depends materially on that which we shall make among ourselves: the smallest symptoms of revolution will always arm Europe against us; not an account of the concern which kings take in our internal tranquillity, but from the fear of our disturbing theirs; it is a necessary policy of the coalesced powers, to make France turn her attention to her frontiers, whenever they are seriously alarmed respecting the principles of her government. Our friendship, therefore, with other nations, depends upon our resumption of principles of moderation and justice, which are the bases of good order; but whilst our government pursues other maxims, as a great lazaretto, with which it is necessary to cut off all communication. Bonaparte, I grant, held out a spirit of moderation which was applauded by all the world; but he cannot always follow his own system: he is the slave of events, and must bend to circumstances, in place of following the dictates of his mind. The death of Toustaint and Frotté makes us tremble for what he may yet do: he who murdered a child, and a disarmed enemy, when his ambition met with no opposition, will shed torrents of blood when disastrous events alarm him. War is not the only excuse for rigour in a new government: let Bonaparte’s situation be considered, in order to convince us that he must frequently have recourse to violent measures, for the maintenance of his authority. He has to encounter the feelings of individuals, respecting private rights; the pretensions of political parties; and our ancient prejudices: if he do not wait until time shall destroy those enemies, he must take up arms against them, and every trial of his power will be a new shock to humanity. What are the principles which direct an usurper in adopting measures for the establishment of his government? A false view of his own interest, and a desire to remove all obstacles to his will. When he forms a resolution, whosoever shews his spirit by opposing it, is an enemy who must be destroyed: whosoever attracts public notice, or betrays symptoms of independence, are rivals who must be got rid of. He suffers no dignity but what flows from him, nor any power but what is stamped by his momentary caprice. If his laws be good, they will be carried into effect, without opposition; if bad and ridiculous, the bayonet will compel their execution. You must die, said Octavius to a people who implored his clemency: it is the speech of all usurpers, whose power is disputed. Such is the invariable progress of a government, whose stability is not rooted in the opinions of the people, nor in sound principles: blood is required to inspire fear, and blood is again required for revenge, and to silence enemies.
This may appear to be exaggerated. In the midst of a calm we do not foresee the storm. Accustomed to live for the present day, we only judge of men and of events from partial views, without considering that new circumstances occasion new principles of politics; men are not naturally cruel, and do not shed blood, without proposing some advantage to themselves or to others; Robespierre was savage, only because he dreaded his adversaries: without them he would have evinced himself a moderate man. It is well known that Nero, for two years, had all the virtues of Titus, and that he regretted having been taught to write, when he was obliged to sign a death-warrant. But in the revolutions of empires, and in a crisis of despotism, every thing returns to chaos, and every man defends his prey with the nearest weapons: mankind is to be pitied in the midst of his disorder. Full of such truths, the greatest part of the French hope for and dread future events; by that mixture of hope and fear, of distrust and security, by which we are at the present characterised;
Internal tranquillity was not to be expected from Republican liberty; nor shall we find it under the despotism of a consul dictator. Despotism, however it may be supposed to controul the spirits of the people, is a turbulent government; it has no fixed principles. In this respect it resembles democracy, and therefore we have passed insensibly from one to the other. We have fallen suddenly from a Republic to the decayed government described by Montesquieu, which cannot subsist either with soldiers or without them. If Bonaparte were an Augustus or an Antonine, his comrades in arms would disturb his possession of the power which they have acquired for him. Men who for ten years have had no profession but that of war, who know no right but that of conquest, and who have no fortune but their bayonets, must occasion constant alarm to government, which will be often obliged to submit to the conditions they impose, and to abandon the citizens to the rapacity of the janissaries. The strength of the bayonets has been tried as St. Cloud; they will not stop here. Bonaparte’s own example may encourage his rivals; and his government, possessing no moral strength, will fall before that of the military. Republicans would then find themselves in the midst of a new revolution, where cartridges would become their rights of men, and their sanctuary of the law be a park of artillery. After having been the prey of factious tribunes, it only remains for France to be ravaged by turns, by the praetorian bands, and by the successors of Alexander. Already do the troops which are marching to the army of reserve, spread alarm in the neighbouring provinces. Frenchmen, cease to deplore your past misfortunes, reserve your tears for miseries yet to come!
It is said that Bonaparte proposes to discard the Jacobins: but he will be obliged to re-instate them, when surrounded by greater difficulties. He has often testified a detestation of their principles; but I do not believe him to be very sincere in his antipathy against a system which placed him on the throne; he is too great a gainer not to be grateful; he is aware that if he indulged a hatred against Revolutionary ideas he should encourage the discussion of his own rights; and that he cannot direct the public mind against the Jacobins, without drawing attention to himself . Therefore is it why he preserved those Republican forms by which he had been kept in subjection, nor can it be supposed that he will long detach from him those whose principles paved the way for his power, and who can assist in maintaining it by the dread in which they are held.
One of Bonaparte’s principal error was, that he suddenly set aside the Revolutionary opinions, without taking the precaution to guard himself against their future influence. The monster whom he vanquished on the 18th Brumaire (8th of November) is not dead; he is still near him; he measures the throne with a menacing eye. The usurper seized the reins of power from a depraved democracy, from anarchy and confusion; but his illegitimate authority, the excesses and the errors which he commits, awaken vengeance and revolt. Despotism can, for a while, subdue terrified factions; but the cries of despair which are raised under a military government, penetrate by degrees through the nation, until they are made to resound in the inmost recesses of the palace; and we then see democracy again produced amidst the horrors of renewed confusion. The nation, thus governed, at one time trodden by despotism, and next desolated by anarchy, is condemned to the punishment of Sisyphus. In vain will Bonaparte either flatter or terrify the Jacobins; experience has shewn, that he cannot wade back with impunity through the stormy seas of the revolution; and that the abyss can only be closed, by opposing to destructive principles the insurmountable barrier of a government interested in their destruction. A popular revolution is an extensive plague: if you have profited by this scourge of society, and then made terms with it, there will always remain of it more than enough to destroy you: you have no right to decry its ravages; for justice alone can raise its voice against iniquity. If any human institution can stop the torrent of those bloody abuses and cruel vexations, which compose a revolution, it must be a legitimate government.
Bonaparte, it is further said, intends to recall a great number of emigrants. The manner in which the commission has been formed, which is to decide the fate of so many victims, does not prove his intentions to be very sincere; although they may be recalled, he does not propose to restore their property. Are they to return like poor Lazarus, at the gates of the upstarts who are in possession of their estates? it seems as if life was granted to them at the expense of honour, and that they must be degraded before being made citizens. Government seems to say them: «We consent to recall you; but before coming among us, you must approve of all that has been done in your absence: you must confess that we were right in treating you as criminals, in robbing you, in burning your dwellings, in murdering your wives and disinheriting your children. We do recall you; but you must support our revolution; you must arm to maintain the principles you have been fighting against; and you must, with us, watch over the safety of those who imprisoned your families, and keep possession of your paternal estates .» So the government speaks: yet so great is the impatience of the emigrants of both sexes, and of all ages, to put an end to a long series of calamities, and such they trust to promises. They forget that the power which recalls them to day, cannot insure their safety to-morrow: that the protection of one party is the signal of persecution from another: and that the followers of Marius will one day be proscribed by Sylla.
I have proved that there is no safety for the nation under the present government. It will not be less difficult to shew that the government itself has no secure foundation; the more the nature of it is examined, and the more we try to find out its solidity, we perceive more strongly the mortal signs of its fall. on what principle is it maintained? Let me set aside, for a moment, the idea of terror, which is the main-spring of all new governments; and, forgetting past tragedies, suppose that it depends on the hope of better times. This hope has brought back to Bonaparte a great number of Frenchmen; but they are but a weak dependence: I lament the want of better security. I observe already, in our new-born government, all the vices which occasioned the downfall of the old monarchy; but none of the ideas or principles by which old states are preserved. Our manners are corrupted, the public morals are relaxed, the citizens are selfish, the disorder of the finances is at its height, but the new government is not protected by a respect for customs, by the force of habit, which makes us respect even what we disapprove of; and by prejudices which prevail, when laws cannot be put in practice. Philosophers may tell me, that prejudices can preserve nothing; I answer, that they err most egregiously: no prejudice is greater than theirs which supposes that a state can exist without prejudices. Prejudices are not always errors, they are frequently the amicable decisions of judgement, on points which men have not leisure to investigate; they are opinions taken up on good authority, and may be called sacred truths. Where there are no prejudices, there is nothing to be relied on; none of that moral strength which unites opinion; none of that enchantment which ought to surround power: every individual thinks himself authorised to discuss the law before he obeys it, and to scrutinise the decreed of government before submitting to them; the people reason respecting persons, as well as things; and where every one reasons, nothing can be respected. The moral world is divided into sects; society into factions. There is a perpetual revolution of rulers, and of the manners of the people: from those causes, the republics of Greece have perished, and so will ours… The bayonet may, for a moment, supply the want of the political charm of obedience, but it cannot inspire the respect, love, and confidence, on which the stability of empire depends. The Jews, whose scattered remains still form a nation in the midst of other nations, owe this distinction to ancient prejudices. Monarchical impressions subsist among ourselves; they have survived the overthrow of the throne, through the prejudices which long strove to prevent its ruin. The nobility have been destroyed; yet, the people cannot help feeling respect for an ancient institution; and the most zealous partizan of equality looks upon a ci-devant prince with a very different eye from that which he casts on a simple citizen; our present government is not only not supported by prejudices, but it is opposed by all those which it has destroyed. At the end of ten years, our monarchical ideas carry us back towards monarchy, whilst the three republican constitutions which have succeeded the ruins of each other, leave not a wreck in our remembrance. Our present government might fall, without exciting surprise; yet we cannot conceive why royalty was exploded. We submit to the destruction of what we have seen created; but we respect what has existed from our infancy. We have a lasting reverence for institutions whose images are mixed with our earliest impressions, and which are interwoven with all our thoughts. The instance of Cromwell will, perhaps, be cited against me. But Cromwell, in order to obtain his short-lived elevation, had at least respected some of the prejudices of his country, and called to his aid all the disillusions which he could borrow from an affectation of religion. Bonaparte neglects that morality which has survived throughout the revolution, and which is eternal and powerful as the divinity who gives its vigour. He has indeed ordered a pompous funeral for Pius VI: we know that a philosopher takes great pleasure in getting rid of a Pope; but we have read his decree concerning Pius VI, with the same feelings that we did his invocations to Mahomet: An affectation of respect towards a corpse, is widely different from that protection which he owes to the religion of his country; to religion, which gives respect to human institutions, and existence to empires.
The consular government is supportable only because the directors are fresh in our remembrance. Detestation of the Jacobins occasions half of the love borne toward Bonaparte: when the insignificance of the Jacobins shall be felt, and when the memory of recent oppressions fades, the grievance of usurpation will be complained of. It is easy to appear great after Merlin, and just and generous after Lareveillière: but Bonaparte’s comparative excellence will sink in proportion as his predecessors are forgot. Tacitus says, that the finest day after tyranny is the first: Bonaparte had but one fine day, and that was the morrow of the 18th of Brumaire (8th of November). Tallien, Legendre and Barras, were gods after the 9th of Thermidor (28th July), but the people demolished their altars as soon as they forgot Robespierre. France may be compared to a man who is cast by shipwreck on a desert rock: the impression of his recent danger, and the sight of the horrors which surround him, make him return thanks to heaven and bless the barren rock which is his asylum; but when day light appears, and the sea becomes calm, if he discovers at a distance an inhabited country, his anxiety makes him overlook the space of separation; his rock becomes frightful to him, and in his impatience to leave it, he is ready to throw himself at the mercy of the wings.
What charm can bind the nation to a government, which evinces symptoms of decay in its earliest infancy, and which threatens to bury in its ruins, those who embrace its protection? it has not yet shewn any thing but an heterogeneous mixture of elements which destroy each other, and of interests which are at variance. On one hand I see a king who proclaims a war of extermination against Royalists; on the other hand, a republic which cannot consolidate itself but by renouncing republicanism: I see a government which cannot exist without revolutionary ideas, and which is always ready to perish with them. I perceive nothing but a perpetual and monstrous maze of contradiction: it is still called a republic, because no new name can be found.
The council-board is become the rendez-vous of the most adverse factions, and the legislature is composed of those who pursue the most opposite views. Each party endeavours to wrest power into their own hands, and by their struggles government is continually shaken out of its seat. When the first consul has an object to gain, his agents are sure to cabal in favour of another. The circular orders of the minister of the police are contradicted by those of the minister of the interior. Each party explains the law according to their own wishes, and carry it into execution according to their opinions: Royalists and Republicans are reciprocally occupied in undoing what the others have done. It would seem that the anarchy which had so long agitated the nation, is now wholly transferred to their rulers. The system of balancing opposite interests is abandoned; but we are not better off by finding it succeeded by alarming warlike conflicts. Those who ought to unite for their common safety, are opposed; even brothers are inimical to each other; the ministerial offices are become forges of sedition; government, which ought not to care about the conspiracies of the people, who know that it is conspiring against itself, fills the prisons with as many pretended conspirators as the directory did; jealousies and hatred reign every where, from the dens of the Jacobins to the council of Bonaparte. A veil has been attempted to be thrown over one ministerial conspiracy, and some fraternal intrigues, directed against the government. At a time when it makes a parade of its strength, it is natural to conceal a conspiracy which would betray its weakness. Roederer, a ministerial journalist, has satisfied us that it did exist, by telling us very awkwardly that it did not.
The union, then, of all parties in the offices of government, has not united them in affection and opinion. After such a revolution as our’s, our attention remains fixed on those whom we dread; and the spirit of faction has preserved no eyes but those of hate. Royalists watch only Lamarque and Fouché, and Jacobins Barthelemy. Bonaparte has increased the enmity of factions against him, by endeavouring to conciliate them. One side does nothing but accuse him of usurping the authority of his king, the other is equally loud in complaining that he has superseded republicanism. He is surrounded by curses and poignards.
Whilst the subordinate elements of our government give us such serious alarm, the primary principle from which it is derived, is not more satisfactory. One man is the main-spring; the whole republic depends on Bonaparte; his will is our social compact; his caprices are laws; and the great nation, as it is called, hinges on the fate if this man. I am so impressed with this idea, that I every morning enquire with anxiety after the health of Bonaparte: when he is well, I think the republic sickens; when he rides on horseback, I fancy that the republic is mounted behind him. When Bonaparte goes to Dijon, the republic will quit Paris; and whenever the mind of the First Consul shall be deranged, the Republic will be a chaos. There is no security for Europe in a government which depends on bad digestion, on an apoplexy, on the bursting of a blood-vessel, or a sudden fever. If the Republic, thus transformed into one man, should fail us, I do not know what would be left in its stead. We reflect with horror on what had preceded, we look forward with dismay to what may follow. Great part of its credit is owing to the bitter remembrance of the past; its present existence is owing to our dread of the future. I should like to know what were the feelings of the French towards their First Consul. In order to destroy any momentary attachment in favour of the Republic, and to crush Bonaparte’s sceptre, the nation must be cured of the desperate disease of fear, and the suspicious morn of happiness must dawn on the wreck of the present system.
We are told that the government is established on the exploits of Bonaparte, and founded on the enchantment of his glory. But what is this enchantment to a restless and reasoning people, with whom so much pains is taken to make them philosophers? Philosophy will not be dazzled: in her eyes admiration is stupidity, and glory an empty sound. amongst a nation of philosophers, the most robust constitutions yields to frigid dissection, and the most brilliant laurels become twigs to him who depends on them for the support of his power. How can it be expected that any man should be supported by the éclat of his name, when the monarchy could not be defended by the glory of its innumerable triumphs, and by the admiration of fourteen centuries. Bonaparte himself knows well how to appreciate this enchantment of glory; the numerous troops which surround him, prove that he places no great reliance on the charm of his trophies.
This magic glory sheds no influence on those who are near him; he is at best a shining star in the midst of a darkened galaxy. The agents of government are not more respected now, than when under the directory; tribunes are not more revered than were representatives; and when some public functionary is named, who is esteemed, we are obliged to efface the impression of his office, by saying he is an honest man. The pompous costume of the counsellors of state, does not prevent the public from laughing at their excellencies; and we see some field-marshals of our new emperor, who regret that they are not serjeants still under their king. In begging employments, nothing is thought of but the means they may present of extorting money. The honours which the consul lavishes, honour nobody; his approbation receives not the echo of praise; the standard of example which he sets, has no followers. In short the governments does not reign in the opinion of the people, and Bonaparte’s glory is an impotent means of sway.
The extreme care which is taken to repress public opinion, is a clear proof that it is unfavourable to government. Lest truth should shake off its fetters, and arouse he stifled spirits, four or five thousand agents of the police are on the watch day and night, to pry into the thoughts of the citizens. It has been said, that the best government is that which occupies the attention of nobody: unfortunately the inquisition which surround us, puts us constantly in mind of ours, and occupies our attention about the means of security.
Bonaparte being unsuccessful in attempting to govern by opinion, now addresses himself to the divinity of the French, the goddess of fashion. He endeavours to put his laws under her protection, and to dazzle us with the splendour of luxury; but the time is yet too recent when popularity was sought for under rags; and we are astonished to see so sudden a transition from the tomb of Diogenes to regal state. The magnificence presented to our eyes, forms a distressful contrast with the misery of the people; and the golden stirrups of Bonaparte lose their intended effect with the man who cannot buy bread for his family: it is, besides, worthy of remark, that riches in France have lost their usual estimation, since they have been monopolised by jobbers and upstarts; fortune has lost part of her charms in the arms of her new favourites; and the splendour of gold is not more efficacious for the protection of the government, than glory which is not attached to it.
A great deal is said concerning glory: although we are but indifferent judges of this subject, I shall venture my opinion. It is true, that Bonaparte, in the field of battle, has gained brilliant successes; but successes give reputation, not glory. Let a man raise himself to fortune’s summit, he is a phenomenon which the vulgar gaze at with admiration; but the wise man is not dazzled; he discovers the spots in this luminous body, and its brilliancy is but phosphorus matter. A great man, one born for glory, has always an illustrious object in his mind, towards which he directs his noblest thoughts, and the most distinguished actions of his life. The life of a great man is like a drama, represented before surrounding nations, who are attentive spectators. In order to admire the work, and pronounce it deserving of immortality, it is not enough that it shall contain some good scenes, and some happy incidents; it must be seen to the denouement; it must lead to one object; and it must excite an uniform interest throughout. A man may achieve splendid deeds; but, if he has not in view one great end, he may, by chance, acquire glory, but not by his own genius; he is a distinguished adventurer, but not an hero. It is not enough to see some feats of a prince, a minister, or a general, in order to appreciate their glory; the whole tenor of their political lives must be embraced in one view. Therefore, posterity alone can proclaim an hero; and it is only in a funeral oration that you can pronounce on a great man. France, in its agitated state, knows not yet what is the object to which Bonaparte directs his views; so that it is impossible to form a judgment on the means which has employed, and still makes use of; we know not his merits, nor his glory. When we find out the enemies against whom he combats, we can make a just estimate of his courage; and when we see the obstacles he surmounts, we can appreciate his strength; but we have then seen him only in the shade: we hear, indeed, a voice which commands us to bow down to the ground, but we wait for the dawn of day, to shew us whether it be the voice of a dwarf or of a giant.
I shall be thought severe. Foreigners, it will be said, already place Bonaparte in the list of heroes: but foreigners have heard of his actions without looking at their consequences; and they have seen him in that distant perspective which is favourable to illusion. But we have been less seduced by theatrical effect, because we have seen the hero behind the scenes. Have we not, besides, the right to call in question the value of laurels which have cost us so dear? when the praises of Bonaparte are sounded in the presence of 200,000 fathers of families, they recall the remembrance of their children… I should be sorry if government derived no support but from a glory which occasioned such direful recollections.
‘If Bonaparte be not a great man, you will, at least, acknowledge that he is a successful one». I know that this is a phrase which all the world repeats; and, under the speciousness attached to it, the destinies of a great people would depend upon a single man. The back is turned on virtue under misfortune; nothing is to be apprehended from those under adversity: but an usurper is feared;…we attach ourselves to his triumphal car, and a fawning people burns incense of the altars of fortune. Weary of finding our wisdom so often deceived, and now recognizing only the strong side, we trust our country to a blind destiny, and chance becomes our divinity. Yet, the good fortune of Bonaparte is not infallible;…the plains of Acre give recent proofs of this;…the wrecks of the army of Egypt will convince France that his enterprises are not always conducted with wisdom, and favoured by fortune; and it is Africa that will reveal to Europe the secret of his errors, and of his defeats. Besides, the opinion entertained of his good fortune is but illusory; those who are seduced by it, are afraid to investigate the foundation of their belief, lest it should vanish: they may disguise their fears; yet all the world thinks that the government is temporary and provisional; they amuse themselves provisionally; they take possession of employments provisionally; they do every thing provisionally; they live provisionally: the scarcely dare to undertake a long journey, or begin any serious business; the sources of circulation are stopped; the merchant is idle in his counting-house; the banker sits on his money chest; every thing presents to us a government of future contingencies; every one is afraid to look forward; it is doubtful from what quarter light will arise, or the thunder roll. Uneasiness is not produced by war alone; it is produced by the instability of the government, and the experience already acquired of fortune’s fickleness…Witness the fears of the purchasers of national domains;- they are far from thinking Bonaparte always fortunate, and the Republic immoveable. Since Bonaparte is become the head of the state, national property meets with no buyers;… not because there is no money, but because there is no security. I am well persuaded, that those who talk a great deal about Bonaparte’s good fortune, would not trust their money upon his head: on this point, personal interest supersedes the conversations of coffee-houses, and Bareme and Cocker are the oracles. They may bestow on a citizen the highest eulogiums; they may surround him with acclamations; they may even trust him with the reins of the state; but they possess sufficient reflection not to give him their money.
It must be allowed, that France is haunted by a brooding, turbulent spirit; and there is more than one reason why Bonaparte, who appears to play with the sword of Damocles, should not be exempted from the fear which he inspires in others. If he sometimes, when absent from courtiers, and in the solitude of night, reflects on his situation, what must be his feelings, knowing that he is approached by rivals who hate him, by servants who deceive him, by enemies who menace him, and by friends who cannot defend him; by a ministry which renders him odious, and by a restless senate, impatient to declare their emperor a traitor to his country ? ‘Hasten, oh, Bonaparte! to escape from the perils which press upon you! Hasten to preserve your good fortune from the risk of future reverses; and confide your renown in the bosom of gratitude. The peace of Europe, the prosperity and honour of the French nation, are in your power. When France was covered with legislators, no individual was responsible for the misfortunes of the people; a terrible responsibility now oppresses you. See the numerous soldiers who advance in the field of battle; it is for you, and you alone, they are going to die; see France in mourning and consternation; it is from you that her grief and fear proceed; it is you by whom humanity suffers, and by whom Europe is shaken. If you wish to imitate Cromwell, reflect on the memory which he has left; if you would be Caesar, think on his tragic end; if Augustus, remember that he raised a throne which Nero took possession of; and if, from the summit of your vain power, you dare reflect with calmness, consider the fate of those who have preceded you in the career of ambition; and observe the ground strewed with the remains of our idols; see envy count your faults; see hate pursue you, and the world condemn you. Hasten to dissipate our fears and your own; hasten to fulfil our prayers, and achieve your glory. Be persuaded that you cannot, henceforward, rise, but by descending; and that you may occupy a place greater for you than the first, by obtaining the second. What I have said may seem harsh to you; yet it is not the language of hatred: I have never been seen among your friends nor enemies; I speak to you in the name of your contemporaries, who ask whether you are desirous of being a great man? I speak in the name of twenty-five millions of Frenchmen, who must soon decide whether they shall adore or detest you!
P.S. Having finished these fugitive effusions, I hear the signal of war renewed. In this war, Bonaparte has every thing to lose, and scarcely any thing to gain: if he is vanquished, his throne is overthrown; if he conquers, his authority will not be strengthened. I have enforced principles which victory itself cannot defeat: an enemy may be subdued, but the triumph of reason and virtue cannot be long delayed.