With considerable reluctance, and after long debate, Napoleon assumed the pen, and acquiescing in the reasoning pressed upon him, wrote the following words, which we translate as literally as possible, as showing Napoleon's power of dignity of expression, when deep feeling predominated over his affectation of antithesis and Orientalism of composition:
"The allied powers having proclaimed that the Emperor Napoleon is the sole obstacle to the re-establishment of peace in Europe, the Emperor Napoleon, faithful to his oath, declares that he is ready to descend from the throne, to quit France, and even to relinquish life, for the good of the country, which is inseparable from the rights of his son, from those of the Regency in the person of the Empress, and from the maintenance of the laws of the empire. Done at our Palace of Fontainbleau, 4th April, 1814."
Caulaincourt and Ney were appointed to be bearers of this important document, and commissioners to negotiate with the allies, concerning the terms of accommodation to which it might be supposed to lead. Caulaincourt was the personal representative of Napoleon; and Ney, who had all along been zealous for the abdication, was a plenipotentiary proposed by the rest of the maréchals. Napoleon, it is said, wished to add Marmont; but he was absent with the troops quartered at Essonne, who, having been withdrawn in consequence of the treaty of Paris, were disposed of in that position. Macdonald was suggested as the third plenipotentiary, as an officer whose high character best qualified him to represent the army. Napoleon hesitated; for though he had employed Macdonald's talents on the most important occasions, he knew that the maréchal disliked, upon principle, the arbitrary character of his government; and they had never stood to each other in any intimate or confidential relation. He consulted his minister, Maret. "Send the Duke of Tarentum," replied the minister. "He is too much a man of honour not to discharge, with religious fidelity, any trust which he undertakes." Marshal Macdonald's name was added to the commission accordingly.39
When the terms were in the act of being adjusted, the maréchals desired to know upon what stipulations they were to insist on Napoleon's personal behalf. "Upon none," – said Buonaparte. "Do what you can to obtain the best terms for France: for myself, I ask nothing." They were instructed particularly to obtain an armistice until the treaty should be adjusted. Through the whole scene Buonaparte conducted himself with firmness, but he gave way to a natural emotion when he had finally signed the abdication. He threw himself on a sofa, hid his face for a few minutes, and then looking up, with that smile of persuasion which he had so often found irresistible, he implored his brethren of the field to annul the resolutions they had adopted, to destroy the papers, and follow him yet again to the contest. "Let us march," he said; "let us take the field once more! We are sure to beat them, and to have peace on our own terms."40 The moment would have been invaluable to a historical painter. The maréchals were deeply affected, but could not give way. They renewed their arguments on the wretched state of the army – on the reluctance with which the soldiers would move against the Senate – on the certainty of a destructive civil war – and on the probability that Paris would be destroyed. He acquiesced once more in their reasoning, and permitted them to depart on their embassy.41
Victor, and other Maréchals give in their adhesion to the Provisional Government – Marmont enters into a separate Convention; but assists at the Conferences held at Paris, leaving Souham second in command of his Army – The Commanders have an interview with the Emperor Alexander – Souham enters with his Army, into the lines of the Allies; in consequence, the Allied Sovereigns insist upon the unconditional Submission of Napoleon – His reluctant acquiescence – The Terms granted to him – Disapprobation of Lord Castlereagh – General Desertion of Napoleon – Death of Josephine – Singular Statement made by Baron Fain, Napoleon's Secretary, of the Emperor's attempt to commit Suicide – After this he becomes more resigned – Leaves Fontainbleau, 28th April.
The plenipotentiaries of Napoleon had been directed to confer with Marmont at Essonne, in their road to the capital. They did so, and obtained information there, which rendered their negotiation more pressing. Several of the generals who had not been at Fontainbleau, and had not had an opportunity of acting in conjunction with the military council which assembled there, had viewed the act of the Senate, adhered to by the other public bodies, as decisively closing the reign of Buonaparte, or as indicating the commencement of a civil war. Most of them were of opinion, that the interest of an individual, whose talents had been as dangerous to France as the virtues of Cæsar had been to Rome, ought not to be weighed against the welfare of the capital and the whole nation. Victor, Duke of Belluno, had upon these principles given in his personal adhesion to the Provisional Government, and his example was followed by many others.
But the most important proselyte to the royal cause was the Maréchal Marmont, Duke of Ragusa, who, lying at Essonne with ten or twelve thousand men, formed the advance of the French army. Conceiving himself to have the liberty of other Frenchmen to attend at this crisis to the weal of France, rather than to the interest of Napoleon alone, and with the purpose of saving France from the joint evils of a civil and domestic war, he made use of the position in which he was placed, to give a weight to his opinion, which that of no other individual could have possessed at the moment. Maréchal Marmont, after negotiation with the Provisional Government on the one hand, and Prince Schwartzenberg on the other, had entered into a convention on his own account, and that of his corps d'armée, by which he agreed to march the division which he commanded within the lines of cantonment held by the allies, and thus renounced all idea of further prosecuting the war. On the other hand, the maréchal stipulated for the freedom and honourable usage of Napoleon's person, should he fall into the hands of the allies. He obtained also a guarantee, that his corps d'armée should be permitted to retreat into Normandy. This convention was signed at Chevilly, upon 3d April.42
This step has been considered as a defection on the part of Marmont;43 but why is the choice of a side, betwixt the Provisional Government and the Emperor, more a desertion in that general than in any other of the maréchals or authorities who presently after took the very same step? And if the Duke of Ragusa by that means put further bloodshed out of question, ought it not to be matter of rejoicing (to borrow an expression of Talleyrand's on a similar occasion) that the maréchal's watch went a few minutes faster than those of his colleagues?
When Macdonald and Ney communicated to Marmont that they were bearers of Napoleon's abdication, and that he was joined with them in commission, that maréchal asked why he had not been summoned to attend with the others at Fontainbleau, and mentioned the convention which he had entered into, as acting for himself.44 The Duke of Tarentum expostulated with him on the disadvantage which must arise from any disunion on the part of the principal officers of the army. Respecting the council at Fontainbleau, he stated it had been convened under circumstances of such sudden emergency, that there was no time to summon any other than those maréchals who were close at hand, lest Napoleon had in the meanwhile moved forward the army. The commissioners entreated Marmont to suspend the execution of the separate convention, and to come with them, to assist at the conferences to be held at Paris. He consented, and mounted into Maréchal Ney's carriage, leaving General Souham, who, with all the other generals of his division, two excepted, were privy to the convention, in command of his corps d'armée, which he gave orders should remain stationary.
When the maréchals arrived in Paris, they found the popular tide had set strongly in favour of the Bourbons; their emblems were everywhere adopted; and the streets resounded with Vive le Roi! The populace seemed as enthusiastic in their favour as they had been indifferent a few days before. All boded an unfavourable termination for their mission, so far as respected the proposed regency.
The names and characters of the commissioners instantly obtained their introduction to the Emperor Alexander, who received them with his natural courtesy. "On the general subject of their mission," he said, "he could not treat but in concert with his allies." But he enlarged on the subject of Napoleon personally. "He was my friend," he said, "I loved and honoured him. His ambition forced me into a dreadful war, in which my capital was burnt, and the greatest evils inflicted on my dominions. But he is unfortunate, and these wrongs are forgotten. Have you nothing to propose on his personal account? I will be his willing advocate." The maréchals replied, that Napoleon had made no conditions for himself whatever. The Emperor would hardly believe this until they showed him their instructions, which entirely related to public affairs. The Emperor then asked if they would hear a proposal from him. They replied with suitable respect and gratitude. He then mentioned the plan, which was afterwards adopted, that Buonaparte should retain the imperial title over a small territory, with an ample revenue, guards, and other emblems of dignity. "The place," continued the Emperor of Russia, "may be Elba, or some other island." With this annunciation the commissioners of Buonaparte were dismissed for the evening.
Maréchal Marmont had done all in his power to stop the military movement which he had undertaken to execute, thinking it better, doubtless, to move hand in hand with his brethren, than to act singly in a matter of such responsibility; but accident precipitated what he desired to delay. Napoleon had summoned to his presence Count Souham, who commanded the division at Essonne in Marmont's absence. No reason was given for this command, nor could any thing be extracted from the messenger, which indicated the purpose of the order. Souham was therefore induced to suspect that Napoleon had gained intelligence of the Convention of Chevilly. Under this apprehension, he called the other generals who were in the secret to a midnight council, in which it was determined to execute the convention instantly, by passing over with the troops within the lines of the allies, without awaiting any farther orders from Maréchal Marmont. The division was put in movement upon the 5th of April, about five o'clock, and marched for some time with much steadiness, the movement being, as they supposed, designed for a flank attack on the position of the allies, but when they perceived that their progress was watched, without being interrupted, by a column of Bavarian troops,45 they began to suspect the real purpose. When this became known, a kind of mutiny took place, and some Polish lancers broke off from the main body, and rode back to Fontainbleau; but the instinct of discipline prevailed, and the officers were able to bring the soldiery into their new quarters at Versailles. They were not, however, reconciled to the measure in which they had been made partakers, and in a few days afterwards broke out into an actual mutiny, which was not appeased without considerable difficulty.46
Meanwhile, the commissioners of Buonaparte were admitted to a conference with the allied sovereigns and ministers in full council, but which, it may be conjectured, was indulged to them more as a form, that the allies might treat with due respect the representatives of the French army, than with any purpose on the part of the sovereigns of altering the plan to which they had pledged themselves by a proclamation, upon the faith of which thousands had already acted. However, the question, whether to adopt the projected regency, or the restoration of the Bourbons, as a basis of agreement, was announced as a subject of consideration to the meeting. The maréchals pleaded the cause of the Regency. The Generals Bournonville and Dessolles, were heard in reply to the commissioners from Fontainbleau, when, ere the debate had terminated, news arrived of the march of Marmont's division to Versailles. The commissioners were astounded with this unexpected intelligence; and the Emperor took the opportunity to determine, that the allies would not treat with Buonaparte save on the footing of unconditional abdication. With this answer, mitigated with the offer of an independent principality for their ancient commander, the maréchals returned to Fontainbleau, while the Senate busied themselves to arrange the plan of a free constitution, under which the Bourbons were to be called to the throne.
Napoleon, in the retirement of Fontainbleau, mused on the future with little hope of advantage from the mission of the maréchals. He judged that the sovereigns, if they listened to the proposal of a regency, would exact the most formidable guarantees against his own interference with the government; and that under his wife, Maria Louisa, who had no talent for public business, France would probably be managed by an Austrian committee. He again thought of trying the chance of war, and might probably have settled on the purpose most congenial to his nature, had not Colonel Gourgaud brought him the news, that the division of Marmont had passed into the enemy's cantonments on the morning of the 5th April. "The ungrateful man!" he said, "But he is more to be pitied than I am."47 He ought to have been contented with this reflection, for which, even if unjust to the maréchal, every one must have had sympathy and excuse. But the next day he published a sort of appeal to the army on the solemnity of a military engagement, as more sacred than the duty of a patriot to his country; which he might more gracefully have abstained from, since all knew already to what height he carried the sentiments of arbitrary power.
When the maréchals returned, he listened to the news of the failure of their negotiation, as a termination which he had expected. But to their surprise, recollecting his disinterested behaviour when they parted, he almost instantly demanded what provision had been made for him personally, and how he was to be disposed of? They informed him that it was proposed he should reside as an independent sovereign, "in Elba, or somewhere else." Napoleon paused for a moment. "Somewhere else!" he exclaimed. "That must be Corsica. No, no. – I will have nothing to do with Corsica.48– Elba? Who knows any thing of Elba! Seek out some officer who is acquainted with Elba. Look out what books or charts can inform us about Elba."
In a moment he was as deeply interested in the position and capabilities of this little islet, as if he had never been Emperor of France, nay, almost of the world. But Buonaparte's nature was egotistical. He well knew how little it would become an Emperor resigning his crown, to be stipulating for his future course of life; and had reason to conclude, that by playing his part with magnanimity he might best excite a corresponding liberality in those with whom he treated. But when the die was cast, when his fate seemed fixed, he examined with minuteness what he must afterwards consider as his sole fortune. To turn his thoughts from France to Elba, was like the elephant, which can transport artillery, applying his trunk to gather pins. But Napoleon could do both easily, because he regarded these two objects not as they differed from each other, but as they belonged, or did not belong, to himself.
After a night's consideration, the fallen Chief took his resolution, and despatched Caulaincourt and Macdonald once more to Paris, to treat with the allies upon the footing of an unconditional abdication of the empire. The document was couched in these words: —
"The allied powers having proclaimed that the Emperor was the sole obstacle to the re-establishment of peace in Europe, the Emperor, faithful to his oath, declares that he renounces for himself and his heirs the thrones of France and Italy, and that there is no personal sacrifice, not even that of life, which he is not ready to make to the interests of France."
Notwithstanding his having adopted this course, Napoleon, until the final adjustment of the treaty, continued to nourish thoughts of breaking it off. He formed plans for carrying on the war beyond the Loire – for marching to join Augereau – for penetrating into Italy, and uniting with Prince Eugene. At one time he was very near again summoning his troops to arms, in consequence of a report too hastily transmitted by a general much attached to him (General Alix, we believe,) stating that the Emperor of Austria was displeased at the extremities to which they urged his son-in-law, and was resolved to support him. On this report, which proved afterwards totally unfounded, Napoleon required the maréchals to give him back his letter of abdication. But the deed having been formally executed, and duly registered and delivered, the maréchals held themselves bound to retain it in their own hands, and to act upon it as the only means of saving France at this dreadful crisis.
Buonaparte reviewed his Old Guard in the courtyard of the castle; for their numbers were so diminished that there was space for them in that narrow circuit. Their zealous acclamations gratified his ears as much as ever; but when he looked on their diminished ranks, his heart failed; he retired into the palace, and summoned Oudinot before him. "May I depend on the adhesion of the troops?" he said – Oudinot replied in the negative, and reminded Napoleon that he had abdicated. – "Ay, but under conditions," said Napoleon. – "Soldiers do not understand conditions," said the maréchal: "they look upon your power as terminated." – "Then on that side all is over," said Napoleon; "let us wait the news from Paris."
Macdonald, Caulaincourt, and Ney, soon afterwards arrived at Fontainbleau, with the treaty which they had concluded on the basis already announced by the Emperor of Russia, who had taken the principal share in drawing it up. Under his sanction the commissioners had obtained such terms as never before were granted to a dethroned monarch, and which have little chance to be conceded to such a one in future, while the portentous consequences are preserved by history. By these conditions, Buonaparte was to remain Emperor, but his sway was to be limited to the island of Elba, in the Mediterranean, in extent twenty leagues, and containing about twelve thousand inhabitants. He was to be recognised as one of the crowned heads of Europe – was to be allowed body-guards, and a navy on a scale suitable to the limits of his dominions; and, to maintain this state, a revenue of six millions of francs, over and above the revenues of the isle of Elba, were settled on him. Two millions and a half were also assigned in pensions to his brothers, Josephine, and the other members of his family – a revenue more splendid than ever King of England had at his personal disposal. It was well argued, that if Buonaparte deserved such advantageous terms of retirement, it was injustice to dethrone him. In other points the terms of this treaty seemed as irreconcilable with sound policy as they are with all former precedents. The name, dignity, military authority, and absolute power of an Emperor, conferred on the potentate of such Liliputian domains, were ludicrous, if it was supposed that Napoleon would remain quiet in his retreat, and hazardous if he should seek the means of again agitating Europe.
It was no compliment to Buonaparte's taste to invest him with the poor shadow of his former fortune, since for him the most honourable retirement would have been one which united privacy with safety and competence, not that which maintained a vain parade around him, as if in mockery of what he had formerly been. But time fatally showed, what many augured from the beginning, that so soon as his spirit should soar beyond the narrow circle into which it had been conjured, the imperial title and authority, the assistance of devoted body-guards and experienced counsellors, formed a stake with which, however small, the venturous gamester might again enter upon the hazardous game of playing for the kingdoms he had lost. The situation of Elba, too, as the seat of his new sovereignty, so near to Italy, and so little removed from France, seemed calculated on purpose to favour his resurrection at some future period as a political character.
The other stipulations of this extraordinary treaty divided a portion of revenue secured to Napoleon among the members of his family. The most rational was that which settled upon Maria Louisa and her son the duchies of Parma, Placentia, and Guastalla, in full sovereignty. Except this, all the other stipulations were to be made good at the expense of France, whose Provisional Government were never consulted upon the terms granted.49
It was not till the bad effects of this singular treaty had been experienced, that men inquired why and on what principle it was first conceded. A great personage has been mentioned as its original author. Possessed of many good and highly honourable qualities, and a steady and most important member of the great European confederacy, it is doing the memory of the Emperor Alexander no injury to suppose, that he remembered his education under his French tutor La Harpe, and was not altogether free from its effects. With these there always mingles that sort of showy sensibility which delights in making theatrical scenes out of acts of beneficence, and enjoying in full draughts the popular applause which they are calculated to excite. The contagious air of Paris – the shouts – the flattery – the success to a point hitherto unhoped for – the wish to drown unkindness of every sort, and to spread a feast from which no one should rise discontented – the desire to sum up all in one word, to show MAGNANIMITY in the hour of success, seems to have laid Alexander's heart more open than the rules of wisdom or of prudence ought to have permitted. It is generous to give, and more generous to pardon; but to bestow favours and forgiveness at the same moment, to secure the future fortune of a rival who lies prostrate at his feet, to hear thanks and compliments on every hand, and from the mouths even of the vanquished, is the most fascinating triumph of a victorious sovereign. It is only the consequences which teach him how thriftless and unprofitable a prodigality of beneficence often proves, and that in the attempt so to conduct great national measures that they shall please and satisfy every one, he must necessarily encroach on the rules both of justice and wisdom, and may occasion, by a thoughtless indulgence of romantic sensibility, new trains of misfortune to the whole civilized world. The other active parties in the treaty were the King of Prussia, who had no motive to scan with peculiar scrutiny a treaty planned by his ally the Emperor Alexander, and the Emperor of Austria, who could not in delicacy object to stipulations in favour of his son-in-law.
The maréchals, on the other hand, gladly received what probably they never would have stipulated. They were aware that the army would be conciliated with every mark of respect, however incongruous, which could be paid to their late Emperor, and perhaps knew Buonaparte so well as to believe that he might be gratified by preserving the external marks of imperial honour, though upon so limited a scale. There was one power whose representative foresaw the evils which such a treaty might occasion, and remonstrated against them. But the evil was done, and the particulars of the treaty adjusted, before Lord Castlereagh came to Paris. Finding that the Emperor of Russia had acted for the best, in the name of the other allies, the English minister refrained from risking the peace which had been made in such urgent circumstances, by insisting upon his objections. He refused, however, on the part of his government, to become a party to the treaty farther than by acceding to it so far as the territorial arrangements were concerned; but he particularly declined to acknowledge, on the part of England, the title of Emperor, which the treaty conferred on Napoleon.50
Yet when we have expressed with freedom all the objections to which the treaty of Fontainbleau seems liable, it must be owned, that the allied sovereigns showed policy in obtaining an accommodation on almost any terms, rather than renewing the war, by driving Napoleon to despair, and inducing the maréchals, from a sense of honour, again to unite themselves with his cause.
When the treaty was read over to Napoleon, he made a last appeal to his maréchals, inviting them to follow him to the Loire or to the Alps, where they would avoid what he felt an ignominious composition. But he was answered by a general silence. The generals whom he addressed, knew but too well that any efforts which he could make, must be rather in the character of a roving chieftain, supporting his condottieri by the plunder of the country, and that country their own, than that of a warlike monarch, waging war for a specific purpose, and at the head of a regular army. Napoleon saw their determination in their looks, and dismissed the council, promising an answer on an early day, but in the meantime declining to ratify the treaty, and demanding back his abdication from Caulaincourt; a request which that minister again declined to comply with.
Misfortunes were now accumulating so fast around Napoleon, that they seemed of force sufficient to break the most stubborn spirit.
Gradually the troops of the allies had spread as far as the banks of the Loire. Fontainbleau was surrounded by their detachments; on every side the French officers, as well as soldiers, were leaving his service; he had no longer the power of departing from the palace in safety.
Paris, so late the capital in which his will was law, and where to have uttered a word in his disparagement would have been thought worse than blasphemy, was become the scene of his rival's triumph and his own disgrace. The shouts which used to wait on the Emperor, were now welcoming to the Tuileries Monsieur, the brother of the restored King, who came in character of Lieutenant-general of the kingdom; – the presses, which had so long laboured in disseminating the praises of the Emperor, were now exerting all their art and malice in exposing his real faults, and imputing to him such as had no existence. He was in the condition of the huntsman who was devoured by his own hounds.
It was yet more affecting to see courtiers, dependents, and even domestics, who had lived in his smiles, dropping off under different pretexts to give in their adhesion to the Bourbons, and provide for their own fortune in the new world which had commenced at Paris. It is perhaps in such moments, that human nature is seen in its very worst point of view; since the basest and most selfish points of the character, which, in the train of ordinary life, may never be awakened into existence, show themselves, and become the ruling principle, in such revolutions. Men are then in the condition of well-bred and decorous persons, transferred from an ordinary place of meeting to the whirlpool of a crowd, in which they soon demean themselves with all the selfish desire of their own safety or convenience, and all the total disregard for that of others, which the conscious habits of politeness have suppressed but not eradicated.
Friends and retainers dropt from the unfortunate Napoleon, like leaves from the fading tree; and those whom shame or commiseration yet detained near his person, waited but some decent pretexts, like a rising breath of wind, to sweep them also away.
The defection included all ranks, from Berthier, who shared his bosom councils, and seldom was absent from his side, to the Mameluke Roustan, who slept across the door of his apartment, and acted as a body guard. It would be absurd to criticise the conduct of the poor African,51 but the fact and mode of Berthier's departure must not escape notice. He asked permission to go to Paris about some business, saying he would return next day. "He will not return," said Napoleon, calmly, to the Duke of Bassano. – "What!" said the minister, "can these be the adieus of Berthier?" – "I tell you, yes – he will return no more."52 The abdicated sovereign had, however, the consolation of seeing that the attachment of several faithful servants was only tried and purified by adversity, as gold is by fire.53
The family connexions, and relatives of Napoleon, as well as his familiar friends, were separated from him in the general wreck. It will not be forgotten, that on the day before the battle of Paris, several members of Napoleon's administration set out with the Empress Maria Louisa, to escape from the approaching action. They halted at Blois, where they were joined by Joseph, and other members of the Buonaparte family. For some time this reunion maintained the character and language of a council of regency, dispersed proclamations, and endeavoured to act as a government. The news of the taking of Paris, and the subsequent events, disposed Joseph and Jerome Buonaparte to remove themselves to the provinces beyond the Loire. But Maria Louisa refused to accompany them, and while the point was yet contested, Count Schouwalow, one of the Austrian ministers,54 arrived to take her under his protection. The ephemeral regency then broke up, and fled in different directions; the brothers of Buonaparte taking the direction of Switzerland, while Cardinal Fesch, and the mother of Napoleon retreated to Rome.
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