« AnteriorContinuar »
and Spandau surrendering as well as the strong towns on the Baltic, with the exception of those of East Prussia, whither the King had retreated. The tomb of the Great Frederic at Potsdam, where the Prussian King and Russian Emperor had so lately pledged alliance, was visited with emotion by Napoleon, who seized and bore away in triumph the sword and star which lay on the hero's tomb.
Napoleon hitherto was like the traveller who limits his exploration by his view, and is contented with having reached the summit of the nearest mountain. To be sure, when one was surmounted, another rose up to tempt his ambition. Italy first, Austria next; but when the last kingdom of Germany, Prussia, so renowned in arms, lay prostrate before him, with no military power beyond it, save that of Russia, which he had already beaten in the field, Napoleon felt as if the world was his. Another campaign might be necessary to humble Russia into due subservience. But this, he wrote, was child's play. The French Emperor was not wrong in the persuasion that Europe lay prostrate before him. He did not perceive, however, that its prostration was that of sovereigns and governments, not of peoples. He professed to be the representative of the great principles of the French Revolution. Were this true, he was in the fittest position to display and to prove it, by breaking the shackles which everywhere fettered the people, and by endowing them with that equality, that liberty, those rights which the Revolution promised. Had he done so he would bave been greater than Charlemagne, his throne and European influence founded on the gratitude of millions. But the representative of the great popular Revolution never thought of the people, except of that at home, to feed its vanity, to give it fêtes and edifices, museums and triumphal arches; whilst amongst his military aristocracy he distributed fiefs and titles, principalities and appanages, mimicking the ancient
SLAL: Empire in its worst elements and characteristics, and
surpassing it in despotism and faste.
The excuse he gave for this was, the necessity of combating England. Yet at Berlin, lord of the continent, he might have shut England from his thoughts. She had swept from the seas all his remaining fleets and vessels. But she was as powerless on the continent as he was at sea, provided the conqueror, even in declining to do anything for its people, had shown anything like a fair spirit to the vanquished. He offered in those days, indeed, his alliance to Austria Austria whom he had curtailed of half her empire. To which Austria could only reply by observing, that he surely could not be serious. * North Germany he determined to keep in his own hands. And this was his first serious error. For by keeping it in his jurisdiction, and treading down its population by the hoofs of his cavalry, and the exactions of his generals, he not merely made the government and officials his enemies, but the people. His conquest of Italy and of South Germany did not lead to this. If he oppressed and despised, he gave compensation, with a show of consideration and glory. But his occupation of Prussia was a galling tyranny, felt by the lowest as by the highest. And then he entered into his paper war with England. The cabinet of St. James's published about this time the documents relative to the late negotiations with France. This revealed the intention of Napoleon to give Hanover back to England instead of ceding it to Prussia as promised, and in fact showed that the distrust of Prussia, which led to the previous war, was well founded, the French Emperor manifestly playing fast and loose with Berlin. This with the advent of the Tories to power swelled his irritation to the utmost. He declared England in a state of blockade, or rather in a state of political and commercial coventry, and he not only confiscated and imprisoned, but pro
scribed everything English. He accused the government CHAP
XLIII. of that country as barbarous for seizing and capturing persons unconnected with war and solely devoted to commerce, forgetting the number of English travellers whom he had seized and still detained without any reason, but the merest spite. England replied to the Berlin decree, * first by stopping the coasting trade between one continental port and another even in neutral vessels, and later by an Order in Council declaring all these ports to be in a state of blockade. Moreover, the decree went to regulate and order in its own fashion the entire trade of the ocean, forbidding any vessel to approach or trade with France, unless it first traded at an English port. One extravagance was thus made to meet another. The Berlin decree, said Mr. Lafitte, though it did not prevent an English ship from putting to sea, prohibited every continental ship from leaving its port. One of the first effects of the prohibition was to place Holland and its king, Louis Bonaparte, in direct opposition to the French Empire. This rage, rather than enmity against England fell not so much upon it as upon all the maritime and even inland powers of Europe, which he undertook to coerce in the most extravagant manner for the accomplishment of this fantastic blockade. A more serious consequence was the invasion of Portugal and conquest of Spain by Napoleon, as well as his future invasion of Russia, the pressure of his arms being alone capable of forcing those countries into antagonism with England. Had he merely aroused the impatience and hostility of the governments of those distant lands, it would have been bad enough. But his usurpation and his armies provoked the people against him. And this present
See Bourrienne's account of the mans who smuggled a pound of absurdity of the Berlin decree of the sugar, whilst he gave permits for 21st of November 1806. Napoleon passing in all kinds of prohibited punished with death the North Ger goods and English manufactures.
CHAP. epoch marks the change in his fortune. Successful as
long as he merely combated governments and their armies, he soon met with reverses when he began to array his legions against the European people.
Yet at Berlin Napoleon had one great and generous thought, that of re-erecting and reconstituting Poland. Could he have persevered in it, he might have found at Warsaw what he subsequently found nowhere, a faithful ally and an attached people. Napoleon's first intention at Berlin was no doubt to punish Russia and Prussia by the restoration of Poland. " Let the Poles," wrote he to Murat, who had entered Warsaw, "show a firm resolution to be independent and engage to support the king, whom I shall give them.” To reconcile Austria to this change he made offer to it of Silesia in lieu of Gallicia. Determined on this he would grant no terms or armistice to Prussia, and went into winter quarters along the Vistula, intending to continue the conquest of East Prussia and the reduction of the Russians in the spring. The latter gallantly determined not to allow him the repose which he thought requisite. Benningsen with some 80,000 men advanced towards the Vistula, near the close of January 1807, hoping to get between the French corps and raise the siege of Dantzig and Gaudenz. Napoleon roused his army from their winter quarters to meet or rather to intercept him, proceeding from Warsaw in the direction of Konigsberg. Benningsen, well informed, retreated in time, and fought several engagements with the French, until on the 7th of February, both armies were in each other's presence at Eylau. The French were somewhat but not much inferior to the Russians. Benningsen determined to defend the village. And with this view his troops first occupied a hill in advance of Eylau, and then the church and cemetery of the place. In both positions they made a most desperate resistance, far more obstinate than the French had yet encountered, and were not dislodged till 10 at night.
On the following morning, the 8th, the ground being CHAP.
XLIII. covered with snow, Benningsen massed his forces in front of Eylau and commenced his attack upon the French there. After a murderous cannonade, Napoleon ordered forth two divisions to the attack, but they soon lost all direction amidst a blinding shower of snow. The Russians were preparing to take advantage of this error, which must have resulted in the destruction of the two divisions, when the emperor launched almost all his cavalry under Murat to make a circuit, fall upon
the enemy, and disengage the two columns of infantry. Napoleon in one of his letters attributes this operation almost solely to Murat. It was completely successful, and the Russians checked in the midst of their victory. Yet one of their divisions, in Murat's absence nearly became masters of Eylau, and of Napoleon himself, who was in the cemetery. And it was not without the greatest difficulty that they were repulsed. At last the Russians gave up the attempt to force the town, the carnage was immense. “Fancy,” wrote Napoleon, “10,000 corpses in the narrow space of a league square." He owned to 6000 wounded. The Russian loss was no doubt also great. But Benningsen, though he failed to retake Eylau, still claimed the victory. And the French by following him no further, but retiring to winter quarters, gave some colour to his exaggerated boasts.
This was the first serious check to the arms of Napoleon ;* he called it a victory, and had a right perhaps to do so, but it was no victory for him. An engagement of an entire day with an enemy but little his superior in numbers, maintained by fearful loss on his side, was very different from the previous results of his military genius. His letters indeed record the great
* The combat of Maida in Calabria during the previous July, a little before Jena, in which the
English overcame Regnier, was also