Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

welfare of the people, and public services without number, refuted the charge, and repelled the aspersion.

A fellow-citizen, connected by no personal tie, incited by no personal prejudice, but who spontaneously unites in lamenting the final exit of a public actor of great worth and eminence, ventures this effusion of respect and veneration. In estimating the weight of this loss, he cannot but cast his eye over the present face of political society, and indulge a momentary and melancholy reflection on the small, reduced, attenuated list of illustrious men who are now in active life, engaged in the service, and enjoying the gratitude of the people! How few of the patriots of the revolution, how few of the fathers of the constitution, how few of all those who, by their counsels or achievements, acquired liberty, prosperity, and glory to their country, now participate in her employments and public functions! Many have descended to the tomb; many has party spirit, more cruel than the grave, consigned to exile! In a constellation so reduced, so thinly scattered, the extinction of a single star seems to create an immense void.

TRAVELS IN FRANCE FOR THE FORT FOLIO.

LETTER LXXI.

Nantes, March. You will not be surprised to see my letter dated from Nantes, after what I mentioned to you in my last . We were beginning to like Paris extremely. We had been at several private parties, and were invited to others; but it was necessary to break the spell, and we resolutely did so early in March, and took the road to Orleans in rather bad weather. From Orleans we followed the course of the Loire to Nantes, and have already engaged our passage on board of an Amerv *an ship at Paimbteuf. I will now return to my journal, and, having my notes before me, it will still be as if I had continued to write to you every day. We were at the play one evening, and seated near the stage, when, in consequence of some preparations in the box appropriated to the emperor, it was perceived that he was expected. The play was already begun, but the actors no longer commanded the attention of the audience, who remained with their eyes fixed upon the imperial box, and were expressing a sort of tumultuous expectation, when the emperor entered. He was received with shouts and applause. These he answered by a slight bow, and then seated himself in an elbow chair, while three chamberlains, who are in the nature of the lords in waiting of the English courts, remained standing behind. I had, upon this and upon some other occasions, an opportunity of examining his person and countenance, at my leisure, and the impression left upon my mind is that of a muscular man, of about five feet four inches, with very broad shoulders, and short legs. He cannot be very unlike what historians describe Pepin to have been, whom he certainly resembles in fortune; nor is he unlike a description which I have somewhere read, of Robert, eldest son of William the conqueror, who was surnamed Courte hose. He has small, piercing, deeply sunk, dark gray eyes, a prominent nose, a chin out of proportion large, a good mouth, short coal-black hair, a forehead that would have satisfied Lavater, a countenance which denotes a man not too well pleased at any time, and easily made angry, and outrageously violent when he is so, with a complexion of bilious, sun-burnt, cadaverous satlowness, which baffles all description. I am told that he sometimes condescends to joke with those about him, but I saw nothing like it in his face, and I will be sworn that no man ventures to joke with him. His manner appears harsh and sudden ; his voice is hoarse and unmusical, and I have been informed that he never looks those in the face to whom he speaks. He was dressed with the utmost simplicity ; was attentive to the play; took a vast deal of snuff; spoke once or twice to the chamberlain nearest him; stole a sidelong look or two at the audience; started up at the end of the piece; advanced rapidly to the edge of the box; made a hasty bow, and withdrew.

I endeavoured, every time that I saw this great personage, to consider him attentively, and as much without the effect of prejudice to his disadvantage as I was conscious of feeling none in his favour, and certain of not being dazzled by his high rank and great achievements; and I tried to determine within myself what would have been my opinion of such a looking person, had I met him in private life. No flatterer will ever be found imprudent enough to apply to him those lines of Racine which seemed made for Louis XIV.* His air and mein are those of a singular rather than of a distinguished individual. On a race-ground in our country, where all sorts of people collect, I should probably, if asked my opinion of such a person, have said, there goes no common man. 1 presume, by that dismal complexion of his, that he lives in some sickly place, but he seems alert and active, and is, I could lay a wager, a bold rider through the woods, a skilful card-player, and a good shot. There is nothing mean in his countenance, but there is nothing inviting. His manners appear rough. I suspect that he is far from happy at home, and rather disposed to quarrel when abroad; and the Lord have mercy upon his negroes. In France I should have supposed him a foreign subaltern, living chiefly by his ingenuity at cards, and ready to defend his winnmgs by his sword; and in Italy, where the police is very defective, I should have been uneasy to have met him at the corner of a wood.

With all that mankind has seen and suffered, it was yet to be experienced what an individual is capable of effecting, who, with good natural abilities, and a good education, with health, personal courage, and that degree of temperance which leaves him at all times the full command of all his faculties, is restrained by no sense of propriety, and checked by no feeling of remorse; who, moving forward in the execution of his designs with incalculable rapidity, spares neither bribes, nor threats, nor violence, nor injustice; who, with habits which bespeak extreme impatience, has a slow regular pulse, and never loses his recollection a moment; who acts deliberately with all the energy and impetuosity of passion; who forms the plan of a campaign as he would form the plan of a game at chess, thinking no more of the thousands who would be left upon the field of battle than of the pieces which are to be taken off the board; who, supposing himself born to rule over the herd of mankind, will brook no contradiction, and thinks nothing impossible; who is artful, selfish, arrogant, unfeeling, and inexorably vindictive. Future ages will speak with admiration of his successful campaigns and brilliant victories, of his passage of the Alps, of his ininroad into Germany, and his battle of Austerlitz. They will admire all the extraordinary designs that he has had the courage to attempt, and the abilities to execute; overcoming, as it was said of Cromwell, all his enemies by arms, and all his friends by artifice. But they will apply to him many passages of Cicero's address to Cxsar, in behalf of Marcellus. They will regret that no such arguments as those of the Roman orator found way to his mind, and that, favoured by Fortune in

• Dani quelle obscurite que le Cicl 1'cut fait naitre,
Lc inonde, en le voyant, ciit recomiu son maitrc.

war, and by that general disposition throughout the nation, of submitting to any authority that could ensure their internal tranquillity, he should not have been animated by a far more dignified ambition and have availed himself of so glorious an opportunity to establish the best of all reputations. But he has made to himself a scheme of happiness of his own, and, looking down with contempt upon the puny efforts and grovelling prejudices of mankind, he cares not at whose expense it is accomplished.

He was born, in the year 1769, at Ajacio in Corsica, in a country where, unfortunately, as it should seem at present for a large portion of mankind, the worst tendencies of the Italian character had been long nourished by all the evils of an oppressive government and all the horrors of civil war. Every parish and district of the island was divided into parties, who fostered some hereditary cause of hatred, and this gave rise to quarrels at every moment, and frequently to assassinations. There were villages from which it was necessary to have two roads to the next market town, that individuals of the hostile parties might meet as seldom as possible.

From the situation and profession of his father, who was a lawyer and from the description I have heard of the appearance and furniture of the house they lived in, the circumstances of the family must have been far from brilliant. The business of a lawyer, indeed, on an island where there was no law out of the reach of cannon shot from the batteries of the different forts, must have been a poor one, and we may conceive how readily they embraced the proposal made to them by the French general commanding in the island, of having one of their sons educated at the military school in Paris.

The son thus to be provided for was the present emperor, who seems to have been considered, by all his relations, and from an early period of his life, as a very superior being to themselves. He is said to have been soon distinguished for the austere regularity of his manners, for his application to books, and for a degree of impatience under the authority of his superiors, and a repugnance to all arbitrary power, a sentiment which, though it naturally belongs to a liberal mind, is yet not unfrequently connected with the love of power in those who cherish it.

The mathematics, and particularly as they are connected with the military sciences, formed his principal object of study ; and his friends found no difficulty in procuring a commission for him, at a proper time, in a regiment of artillery. He afterwards quitted the corps for a few months, and retired to Corsica, but returned to France in 1793. His mother and sisters now accompanied him, and established themselves at Marseilles, where they kept a house which was by no meat? Vol.. Ih. M

frequented by the best company ; and where one of the sisters thought herself fortunate in contracting a marriage with an obscure Italian, who, having been originally the marker at a billiard table, and then a musician in a regimental band, had got together a little money as an under commissary in the army; and this is the couple who are now prince and princess of Lucca and Piombino.

While the ladies remained at Marseilles, the brother joined his regiment and distinguished himself at Toulon, but was so offended at having been put under arrest, for a few days, after the siege, on account, it is said, of his extreme severity towards the remaining inhabitants, that, though now a brigadier, he was desirous of quitting the service, and trying his fortune in some distant country. He was prevented by the government, however, as Hampden and Cromwell were prevented, in the last century, from going to America, and remained to fulfil a much more brilliant destiny.

Barras, who had known him at Toulon, who knew his courage and skill, and how little likely he was to be moved by scenes of distress, pointed him out as a proper person to command the armed force in 1795, which repelled a remnant of Jacobins, whosenumbers were swelled by thousands of concealed royalists, and was so well satisfied with his behaviour, as to propose to him a very advantageous marriage with the present empress.

There is something in this part of his history which must embarrass his flatterers not a little: for it is difficult to comprehend, how a person of his sober and abstemious life, and austere deportment, could have been brought, by avarice or by ambition, to form a connexion which, even at that low stage of morality, was thought discreditable. Had he then cherished some distant expectation of what he has since attained to, I should have supposed him under the same sort of persuasion that the emperor Severus was, who, in uniting himself in marriage, had preferred a lady not altogether unlike the present empress, for she, as well as the wife of Severus, is said to have had a brilliant fortune promised her by a soothsayer, or to have been, what the astrologers said of Julia Domna, of royal nativity. You will see the story of this last in Gibbon. She possessed, it appears, many good qualities, and many charms and allurements, and was admired, upon all occasions, for her gentleness and humanity; but the irregularity of her conduct in private life afforded ample subject to the pen of Scandal, nor was it possible, says the historian, for the most extravagant panegyrist to rank chastity among her virtues.

His success in Italy, and his bold approach towards Vienna in 1797, are well known ; but it is nrt, perhaps, sufficiently remembered, that, carrying, as it were, the sword in one hand, and poison in the other,

« AnteriorContinuar »