April 3 1816: History Will Decide


3d.— In the morning the Emperor dictated in the shady part of the garden. The day was delightfully clear and serene. He had been reading the account of Alexander’s expedition in Rollin’s History; and had several maps spread out before him. He complained that the narrative was destitute of taste, and without any proper plan. He observed, that it afforded no just idea of the grand views of Alexander; and he expressed a wish himself to write an account of the expedition.

About five o’clock i joined him in the garden, where he was walking attended by all the gentlemen. As soon as he perceived me, he said: “Come, we must have your opinion on a point which we have been discussing for the last hour. On my return from Waterloo, do you think I could have dismissed the Legislative Body, and have saved France without it ?”—u No,” I replied, “it would not have been dissolved voluntarily. You would have found it necessary to employ force; which would have excited protestations, and would have been regarded as scandalous. The dissatisfaction excited in the Legislative Body, would have spread through the whole nation. Meanwhile the enemy would have arrived; and your Majesty must have surrendered, accused by all Europe, accused by foreigners, and even by Frenchmen; perhaps loaded with universal malediction, regarded merely as an adventurer carrying every thing by violence. But as it was, your Majesty issued pure and unsullied from the conflict, and your memory will be everlastingly cherished in the hearts of those who respect the cause of the people. Your Majesty has by your moderation ensured to yourself the brightest character in history, while by a different line of conduct you might have incurred the risk of reprobation. * You have lost your power, it is true ; but you have attained the summit of your glory.”

“Well, this is partly my own opinion,” said the Emperor. “But after all, am I certain that the French people will do me justice? Will they not accuse me of having abandoned them! History will decide! Instead of dreading, I invoke its decree!— I have often asked myself whether I have done for the French people all that they could expect of me; for that people did much for me. Will they ever know all that I suffered during the night that preceded my final decision:

“In that night of anguish and uncertainty, I had to choose between two great courses: the one was to endeavour to save France by violence; and the other was to yield to the general impulse. The measure which I pursued was, I think, most advisable. Friends and enemies; the good and the evil disposed, all were against me, and I stood alone. I surrendered; and my decision being once adopted, could not be revoked. I am not one who takes half measures; and besides, sovereignty is not to be thrown off and on like one’s cloak. The other course demanded extraordinary severity. It would have been necessary to arraign great criminals and to decree great punishments. Blood must have been shed; and then who can tell where we should have stopped! What scenes of horror might not have been renewed! By pursuing this line of conduct, should I not have drowned my memory in the deluge of blood, crimes and abominations of every kind, with which libelists have already overwhelmed me? Should I not thereby have seemed to justify all that they have been pleased to invent? Posterity and History would have viewed me as a second Nero or Tiberius. If after all I could have saved France at such a price! …. I had energy sufficient to carry me through every difficulty ! . . . . But, is it certain that I should have succeeded? All our dangers did not come from without; the worst existed in our internal discord. Did not a party of mad fools dispute about the shades, before we had secured the triumph of the colour? How would it have been possible to persuade them that I was not labouring for myself alone, for my own personal advantage? How could I convince them of my disinterestedness, or prove that all my efforts were directed to save the country? To whom could I point out the dangers and miseries from which 1 sought to rescue the French people? They were evident to me, but the vulgar mass will ever remain in ignorance of them until they are crushed beneath their weight.

“What answer could be given to those who exclaimed: Behold the despot, the tyrant! again violating the oaths which he took but yesterday! and who knows whether amidst this tumult, the inextricable complication of difficulties, I might not have perished by the hand of a Frenchman, in the civil conflict! Then how would France have appeared in the eyes of the universe, in this estimation of future generations? The glory of France is to identify herself with me. I could not have achieved so many great deeds for her honour and glory without the nation, and in despite of the nation. France was inclined to elevate me to too high a point! …. As I said before, History wilj decide! . . .

He then adverted to the plan and details of the Campaign, dwelling with pleasure on its glorious commencement, and with regret on the terrible disaster that marked its close.
“Still,” continued he, ” I should have considered the state of affairs as by no means desperate, had I obtained the aid I expected. All our resources rested in the Chambers. I hastened to convince them of this; but they immediately Rose against me, under pretence that I was come to dissolve them. What an absurdity! From that moment all was lost.

“It would perhaps be unjust,” added the Emperor, “to accuse the majority of the Members of the Chambers; but such is the nature of all numerous bodies, that they must perish, if disunited. Like armies, they must have leaders. The chiefs of armies are appointed; but, in constituted bodies, men of eminent talent and Genius rise up and rule them. We wanted all this, and, thereore, in spite of the good spirit which might have animated the majority, all were in an instant plunged into confusion and tumult. The Legislative Body had perfidy and corruption stationed at its doors, while incapacity, disorder, and perversity prevailed in its bosom; and thus France became the prey of foreigners.

Time, which explains all things, has developed the little springs which brought about one of our greatest catastrophes. I received the following particulars from one wfao acted a part in the events of the day :—

On hearing that Napoleon had arrived at the Elysee from Waterloo, Fouche flew to the dissatisfied and suspicious Members of the Chamber, exclaiming, “To arms! He has returned desperate, and is about to dissolve the Chambers and seize the dictatorship. We cannot endure the restoration of tyranny.” He then hastened to the best friends of Napoleon. “Are yeu aware,” said he, “what a terrible fei mentation has risen up against the Emperor among certain deputies? We cau only save Napoleon by facing them boldly, by showing them the full power of our party, and how easily the Chamhers may be dissolved.”

Tbe friends of Napoleon, easily duped in this sudden crisis, failed not to follow, perh *ps even to overstep the suggestions of Fouche, who now returned to the distrustful party a,,d said, “You see his best friends are agreed on this point: the danger is urgent; and in a few hours there will be no remedy. “The Chamber will be no more, an<t we shall be very culpable in letting slip the only opportunity of opposing him.” Thus the permanency of the Chambers, the forced abdication of the Emperor, and the downfall of a great empire were brought about by petty intrigue, by anti-chamber report and gossip. Ah, Fouche! bow well the Emperor knew you, when he said, that your ugly foot was sure to be thrust into every body’s shoes.

For a moment, I entertained the idea of resistance. I was on the point of declaring myself permanently at the Tuileries, along with my Ministers and Counsellors of State. ] had thoughts of rallying round me the six thousand guards who were in Paris, augmenting them with the best disposed portion of the National Guard, who were very numerous, and the federate troops of the Faubourgs; of adjourning the Legislative Body to Tours or Blois; re-organizing before the walls of Paris, the wrecks of the army, and thus exerting my efforts singly, as a Dictator, for the welfare of the country. But would the Legislative Body have obeyed ? I might have enforced obedience, it is true; but this would have been a new cause of scandal, and a fresh source of difficulties. Would the people, have made common cause with me? Would even the army have continued constantly faithful to me? In the succession of events, might not both the people and the army have been separated from me? Might not plans have been arranged to my prejudice? The idea that so many dangers were caused by me alone, might have served as a plausible pretext, and the facilities which every one had experienced during the preceding year in gaining favour with the Bourbons, might to many have become decisive inducements.

“Yes,” continued the Emperor, “1 hesitated long, I weighed every argument on both sides; and I at length concluded, that I could not make head against the coalition without, and the royalists within; that I should be unable to oppose the numerous sects which would have been created by the violence committed on the Legislative Body, to control that portion of the multitude which must be driven by force, or to resist that moral condemnation which imputes to him who is unfortunate every evil that ensues. Abdication was therefore absolutely the only step I could adopt. All was lost in spite of me. I foresaw and foretold this; but still I had no other alternative.

“The Allies always pursued the same system against me. They began it at Prague, continued it at Frankfort, at Chatillon. at Paris, and at Fontainbleau. Their conduct displayed considerable judgment. The French might have been duped in 1814; but it is difficult to conceive how they could have been deceived in 1815. History will for ever tarnish the memory of those who suffered themselves to be misled. I foretold their fate when I was departing to join the army: Do not mumble* I said, the Grechi of the Lower Empire, who amused themselves in debating while the battering rams leveling the walls of their city. And, when forced to abdicate, 1 said, Our enemies with to separate me from tk* army; when they shall fiave succeeded, they will separate the army from you. You will then be mtrely a wretched fiocky the prey of wild beasts.'”

We asked the Emperor whether with the concurrence of the Legislative Body, he thought he could have saved France? He replied without hesitation, that he would confidently have undertaken to do so, and that he would have,. answered for his suecess.

“In less than a fortnight,” continued he, “that is to say, be* fore any considerable mass of the allied force could have assembled before Paris, I should have completed my fortifications, and have collected before the walls of the city, and out of the wrecks of the army, upwards of eighty thousand good troops, and three hundred pieces of horsed artillery. After a few days’ firing, the national guard, the federal troops, and the inhabitants of Paris, would have sufficed to defend the entrenchments, I should have had eighty thousand disposable troops at my command. It is well known how advantageously I was capable of employing this force. The achievements of 1814 were still fresh in remembrance. Champaubert, Montmirail, Craone, Montereau, were still present in the imagination of our enemies; the same scenes would have revived the recollection of the prodigies of the preceding year. I was then surnamed the hundred thousand men

“The rapidity and decision of our successes gave rise to this name. The conduct of the French troops was most admirable. Never did a handful of brave men accomplish so many miracle*. If their high achievements have never been publicly known, owing to the circumstances which attended our disasters, they have at least been duly appreciated by our enemies, who counted the number of our attacks by our victories. We were truly the heroes of fable!

“Paris,” said he, “would in a few days have become impregnable. The appeal to the nation, the magnitude of the danger, the excitation of the public mind, the grandeur of the spectacle, would have drawn multitudes to the capital. I could undoubtedly have assembled upwards of four hundred thousand men, and I imagine the allied force did not exceed five hundred thousand. Thus the affair would have been brought to a single combat, in which the enemy would have had as much to fear as ourselves. He would have hesitated, and thus I should have re* gained the confidence of the majority.

“Meanwhile I should have surrounded myself with a national senate or junta selected from among the members of the Legislative Body; men distinguished by national names, and worthy of general confidence. I should nave fortified my military Dictatorship, with all the strength of civil opinion. I should have had my tribune, which would have promulgated the talisman of my principles through Europe. The Sovereigns would have trembled to behold the contagion spread among their subjects. They must have treated with me, or have surrendered. . .”

“But, Sire,” we exclaimed, “why did you not attempt what would infallibly have succeeded?—Why are we here?”

“Now,” resumed the L’emperor, “you are blaming and condemning me! But, if you took a view of the contrary chances, you would change your tone. Besides, you forget that we reasoned in the hypothesis that the Legislative Body would have joined me; but you know what line of conduct it pursued. I might have dissolved it, to be sure. France and Europe perhaps blame me, and posterity will doubtless blame my weakness, in not breaking up the Legislative Body after its insurrection. It will he said, that I ought not to have separated myself from the destinies of a people who had done all for me. But by dissolving the Assembly, I could at most have obtained only a capitulation from the enemy. In that case, I again repeat, blood must have been shed, and I must have proved myself a tyrant. I had however arranged a plan on the night of the 20th, and on the 2tst measures of the most rigid severity were to have been adopted; but ere the return of day, the dictates of humanity and prudence warned me that such a course was not to be thought of, that I should miss my aim, and that every one was merely seeking blindly to accommodate himself to circumstances. But I must not begin again. I have already said too much on a subject which always revives painful recollections. I repeat once more that History will decide.”—The Emperor returned to his chamber desiring me to follow him.

— Emmanuel-Auguste-Dieudonné comte de Las Cases, in St Helena, writes for  April 3 1816.

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