May 9 1815: Peace or War

byron-and-hobhouse

On May 9 1815, John Cam Hobhouse, in Paris, writes to Lord Byron.

My dear Byron, A letter this day arrived has brought me news which induces me to contemplate a male counterpart of Pamela or virtue rewarded, divested of all servile conditions and comparisons –The Peer is defunct, and the lady, as those must wish to he who love their Lords – well – I always said so, and, considering probabilities, no great credit for me neither –

This letter incloses a small ring which I beg her Ladyship will condescend to accept, fausto omine, “a young Napoleon – “Torquatus velo parvulus” – The Dictator, as he now stiles himself, is making advances in popular favour – and the promptitude with which he has listened to public opinion in convoking the representatives of the people simultaneously with the electoral colleges, which are to meet at the end of this month, contrary, it must be owned, to his original intention at the publication of the new constitution, has convinced the people of their own power and of his good sense – the best guarantees for a future establishment of all things on a liberal basis – It is natural to suspect the intentions of such a person, but as we know of no safeguard against the perversities of Princes but an uninterrupted exertion of popular influence, and as the world is too old to trust to any other virtue except that which originates from wholesome restraints, I do not see what wisdom there is in wishing to find, or waiting for, in Napoleon that self controuling principle, divested of all selfish inclinations which regulates the conduct of no human individual much less of any sovereign – If our sage government have any desire to prescribe just bounds to the internal capacity for exertion in the Emperor, they must not go to war, & they must leave him and his subjects to settle the terms upon which his present dictatorship is to assume the shape of regular authority – A contrary conduct insures the chance at least of wresting from the admiration and gratitude of a nation whom he may save from dismemberment that absolute power which alone forms all the pretext of the present aggressive system on the part of the allies – Already there are symptoms of a wish on the part of the military and a portion of the republicans themselves to leave unshackled the hands of the executive until the great question of national independance shall be settled by an appeal to arms –I recollect well that the day after the constitution appeared a very liberal person who had been in the king’s household, and was banished by the Imperial edict on that account, and who moreover was the very man who prevented the blowing up of Paris upon the entry of the allies, upon my asking him his opinion on the new plan for national liberty said, “oh we have one thing to do first – to fight you gentlemen –” In the same spirit there appear every day, in the midst of the various remonstrances against the form and the articles of the constitution, pamphlets and single sheets appealing to the people of the necessity of trusting the sovereign power to the man who can the best ward off foreign invasions, and this line of argument is adopted by an additional number of reasoners and in stronger terms in proportion as the expectation of war becomes more general and decisive – As long as there remained any hopes of England retaining her friendly demonstrations in favour of France, no one dared to oppose the cry of liberty, or to advance any other demand as a requisite preliminary – but since the majority of 273 in support of war or rather against peace, increasing alarm has suggested the necessity of confiding supreme power to the hands in which it has been, by the fortune & predominance of a great man, already placed – several brochures have appeared with these & similar titles – “A Dictator is requisite” – “The People and a Dictator will save our honour and our country” – Let us talk of a constitution afterwards” – It cannot be said that the Emperor throws difficulties in the way of peace for the sake of encouraging that state of warfare which may suggest these excuses for despotism for if ever a government was sincere, and had reason to be so in wishing for peace, it is that of Paris at this present moment – Whatever may be the inclinations of Napoleon or his future views, no doubt can be thrown upon his immediate efforts for the establishment of peaceful relations with all the powers of Europe – Convinced of the augmented influence which would be bestowed upon himself personally by any great military success, he is too good a judge of the chances of war to put his crown & life at once to such a test. Add besides that it is absolutely indispensable that he should keep the first promise he made to his subjects in reentering upon sovereign power, that he would do his utmost to maintain
the peace – The unrestrained liberty or rather license of the press & of conversation prevents the possibility of an immediate recurrence on his part to his ancient principles of military despotism – which however, I repeat, may be forced upon him by the emergency of foreign invasion – If upon no better grounds than those alledged by the allies, France is attacked, every friend to freedom must wishher success – The question of Napoleon’s character need not be considered {by us} – for in the present state of this country it concerns France alone – We have nothing to dread from it except we begin the attack – Nothing indeed can he more preposterous than the conduct of England – she sees a snare in that moderation in which Napoleon now places all his glory; and if he were otherwise would go to war with his intemperance The same acquaintance with the versatility of military fortune which is one of the inducements that prevent the Emperor from staking every thing on that die should surely have some weight with the allied cabinets – With all their good wishes for action I presume that the reason which has kept them from immediate operations has been a fear of being matched in the field by a preponderating force – but if this fear (and there could be no other) had any influence before, it should augment rather than diminish in importance as the completion of the French regiments proceeds with reduplicating vigour –
The King left the army at about 85.000 men – there are now at least 220.000 in the field & within these ten days, 10.000 have marched daily through Paris, at least so says the minister at war – and I can answer for unceasing drums and chauntings of the Marseillois hymn by long lines of recruits through all the streets at every hour in each day – This army may be beat – the days of Rosbach may return – all is possible but I suppose that all of
you are agreed we shall be ruined by the victory – {κλαίει νικθείς ό δέ νικησας άπώλονεν –}

{Pray let me know whether you think we shall have peace or war, and direct to Perregaux & Co. Paris
– ever yours,
J.C.H.}

May 15, 12.000 [blot: “Raga”]muffins of the fauxbourghs St

. Antoine & St . Monceau passed before the Emperor at the review yesterday – they marched through the streets they cried a bas la canaille a bas les royalist<e>s – the fellows looked like our dustmen – After what is contained in the Moniteur of yesterday (14) I suppose Castlereagh will be hanged – I shall see the original papers – Let me request you will send these letters to their address.

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