« PreviousContinue »
RESCUED from a rustic grasp, the revolution fell into warlike hands: Bonaparte pounced upon and chained it down.
I have already compared the stature of that extraordinary man with that of Washington; it remains to be seen whether we have found in the Protector of England the equal to Napoleon.
Cromwell partook of the characters of priest, tyrant, and great man; his genius compensated his country for the loss of liberty. He had too much energy to succeed in creating any other power than his own; he ruined the institutions which he found or attempted to establish, just as Michael Angelo broke the marble under his chisel.
If the conqueror of the Irish and Scotch had been transferred to the stage of Napoleon, would he have been the conqueror of the Austrians, the Prussians, and the Russians? Unlike Bonaparte,
Cromwell did not create institutions, did not leave a code and an administration which still govern France and a great part of Europe. Napoleon reacted with an overstrained force; but he had an excuse in the necessity of crushing anarchy; his vigorous arm plunged his sword with too violent a thrust, and so that, passing through Anarchy, it pierced Liberty, who was behind her.
Vanquished nations have called Napoleon a Scourge; the scourges of God retain something of the eternity and the majesty of the wrath from which they emanate: Ossa arida . . . . dabo vobis spiritum, et viveris—“ Dry bones. . I will breathe upon you, and ye shall live." Bonaparte gave manifestations of this breath or this strength during the whole period of his career. Born in an island, and ending his days in another island, placed on the limits of three continents, thrown in the midst of those seas where Camoëns seemed to prognosticate his coming when he made it the abode of the Spirit of Storms, Bonaparte could not stir upon his rock without our being apprised of it by the concussion which he created; a step of the new Adamastor at the furthest pole was heard and felt at ours. Had Napoleon escaped from his gaolers and fled to the United States, his looks fixed upon the ocean would have sufficed to disturb the natives of the old world.
His mere presence
on the American shore of the Atlantic would have compelled Europe to encamp on the opposite shore.
When Napoleon for the second time quitted France, it was asserted that he ought to have buried himself under the ruins of his last battle. Byron, in his satirical ode against Napoleon, says: To die a prince-or live a slave,
Thy choice is most ignobly brave.
This was an incorrect estimate of the hope still kindling in a soul accustomed to dominion and thirsting after the future. Lord Byron imagined that the dictator of kings had abdicated his fame with his sword, that he was about to die away in utter oblivion; Lord Byron should have known that the destiny of Napoleon was a Muse, like all other great destinies; this Muse knew how to change an abortive catastrophe into a sudden turn of fortune which would have revived and imparted fresh youth to its hero. The solitude of Napoleon, in his exile and in his tomb, has thrown another kind of spell over a brilliant memory. Alexander did not die in sight of Greece; he disappeared amid the pomp of distant Babylon: Bonaparte did not close his eyes in the presence of France; he passed away in the gorgeous horizons of the torrid zone. The man who had shown himself in such powerful reality vanished like a dream; his life, which belonged to history, co-operated in the
poetry of his death. He now sleeps for ever, like a hermit or a paria, beneath a willow, in a narrow valley surrounded by steep rocks, at the extremity of a lonely path. The depth of the silence which presses upon him can only be compared to the vastness of that tumult which had surrounded him. Nations are absent; their throng has retired. The bird of the tropics, harnessed to the car of the sun, as Buffon magnificently expresses it, speeding his flight downwards from the planet of light, rests alone for a moment over ashes the weight of which has shaken the equilibrium of the globe.
Bonaparte crossed the ocean, to repair to his final exile, regardless of that beautiful sky which delighted Columbus, Vasco de Gama, and Camoëns; stretched upon the ship's stern, he perceived not that unknown constellations were sparkling over his head; his powerful glance for the first time encountered their rays. What to him were stars which he had never seen from his bivouacs, and which had never shone over his empire? Nevertheless, not one of them has failed to fulfil its destiny; one-half of the firmament spread its light over his cradle; the other half was reserved to illuminate his tomb.
MY DETENTION AT THE PREFECTURE OF THE POLICE.
GOD SAVE THE KING.
REVERTING from these political incidents to the subject of literature, and resuming it at the commencement of the restoration of Charles II. under which we have recorded the death of Milton, an observation at once suggests itself.
In the contest carried on between royalty and the people, the republican principle had Milton for its poet, the monarchical principle, Lovelace for its bard from these may be deduced the consequence of the relative energy of both principles.
Confined in the Gate-house at Westminster, under an order from the Commons, Lovelace composed the elegant and loyal song, which was long a favourite with the Cavaliers.