Imágenes de páginas

theories, their dreams of classical Republics. If, then, a man would write the annals of the Empire con amore, he must put aside all inclinations for the Constituent Assembly. M. Thiers does write con amore of the Empire. If his former work was an apotheosis of the Republic, the present is an apotheosis of Napoleon; the glories and splendours of the Consulate (for the volumes yet published do not extend beyond 1802) are painted in more firm and glowing colours than the tempests of '89 and '90, and the enthusiasm of the mature ex-minister for Napoleon is more ardent than that of the young aspirant was for Mirabeau. In what way, then, does M. Thiers reconcile his present with his former creed ? How does he contrive to maintain the imperial régime without sacrificing his inclinations for the constitution of the year 1?

If we rightly comprehend the policy which was introduced into the administration of France by Napoleon when First Consul, we shall see how the writer is enabled to unite two such seemingly opposite sympathies.

In the almost boundless range of subjects on which Napoleon's transcendant genius was exercised, and the dazzling variety of his achievements and projects, it seems at first as if no general guiding and governing principle could be discerned; or rather it seems as though, at the summit of all systems, he had seized into his own hands not only the reins of government in his own country, but the laws and springs by which all action, of whatever sort, is accomplished, and, equally master of all, regulated and ordered them according to the nature and properties of each. Other great men have devoted the energies of life to the elaboration and enforcement of some one idea, to the perfection of some one particular branch of art, or the exhaustion of some special sphere of action; and this is the characteristic of genius, as distinct from talent, which is a facility of adaptation to many different sorts of things. Talent implies versatility, it takes up with whatever comes in its way to be done, enters with readiness into new modes and ideas, and wields with equal ease machinery of the most different kinds. Genius is stubborn, uncomplying ; occupied with its own ideas, it will not stoop to learn what has no interest for it. Conscious of secrets, and a power which no existing systems can bear, it disdains to be initiated into the petty artifices by which the machine of actual life and politics is regulated. Hence great genius is often found accompanying much narrowness of mind, and the greatest men have been the most powerless and incapable in action; while, on the other hand, the men of most success in conduct have been men of mere talent-men of expedients, deficient in general views-men of no principles. In Napoleon these wholly distinct faculties, genius and talent, were united in a greater degree than perhaps in any other man. He was not only great, but original, in everything; not in his own sphere only, but in everything he touched alike; so that, indeed, it is difficult to assign him any sphere narrower than the whole compass of human action. In each department his sagacity invented and originated; and his talent was the only one which could carry through his own daring ideas.

In an intelligence so diversified and so flexible we should not expect to find any ruling law, any dominant principle of action, such as masters while it vivifies the genius of other great men, urging them on a prescribed career apparently in spite of themselves. But as it is in physical nature, where the most prodigal and fantastic variety cannot escape the classification of science, so in the still more perplexing complexity of the human mind, no character so capricious, arbitrary, and multiform, but may be brought under some general rules. There are some who have attempted to find this common denominator, in Napoleon's case, in self-interest. They maintain that he applied his prodigious powers to govern France solely for his own interest; and by this simple answer they think the whole problem solved. But it is not solved. First, because the assertion is not true. It is not intended to lay claim for Napoleon to a disinterested patriotism, or even to assert that he did not end by becoming intensely selfish; but it was not true in the early part of his career. The characteristic of selfishness is caution; it is not compatible with daring and hazardous effort, with ardent aspirations after glory: the supposition is negatived even by the careless exposure of his person in his early battles. And, secondly, even though true, it is too general a proposition; it is not enough to assign self as a motive, for that is no more than might be said, according to the very same parties, of every one else in the world. If we were to grant that his own greatness was the one object before Napoleon's eyes in all his undertakings, we should not be at all nearer answering the question. Were there any general political views according to which his measures were conceived, and his administration regulated ?

Such there undoubtedly were, and we would point to the first years of the Consulate, as the period from which these principles may be collected ; the period, in short, embraced in the present volumes, as especially worthy of the study of the philosophical politician, as much so as the Italian campaign is by the soldier. And it is more peculiarly instructive to us, as having a most direct bearing on our present condition and circumstances.

For it was the genius of the First Consul that conceived, or at least first practised, and upon a scale, and with a success and éclat which have never been equalled since, that very system of policy which is now adopted universally by the ministers of all the constitutional states in Europe, and which is indeed the only one which can be adopted with any hope of permanence in such states. This is, the principle of governing without what are called principles; or rather of continuing the administrative functions of the body politic, while cutting off entirely its political functions; allowing the state a social existence, and denying it an ideal life.

There is such a thing as a Science of Politics. To this belongs the division of States into monarchies, aristocracies, democracies, &c. with the various arrangements which each of these classes admits, and the modes of taxation, representation, &c., proper to each. It is true that no existing States are, or can be, exact copies of such abstract polities, any more than straight lines or right angles exist in matter. But in a State which will not admit at all of the application of abstract principles, which cannot be said to have a constitution, in which laws and institutions are a chaos of contradiction and inconsistency, in which neither one, the many, or the few, can be said to be the source or the possessors of power in such a State, how can a Statesman hold, or act upon any theory of politics, or do anything else but continue the machine in the same anomalous state in which it came into his hands, incapable of applying a remedy to any, even its most ruinous deficiencies? His only resource is to deny the science itself, or to deny its applicability, to meet each new emergency by some new expedient, and so to adjourn from day to day the dissolution momentarily impending.

Or, to put the same policy in another point of view. The idea of a State is that of a large family, that all its members should be of the same mind, should think the same thing. This perfect harmony and agreement, this complete ' idem relle atque idem nolle,' was sought

to be attained in the old Greek republics by continual expulsion or massacre of the dissident minority. Opposition of opinion or interest within the bosom of the State they would not tolerate; it destroyed, to their view, the being of the State. But experience shows that entire uniformity of opinions and aim cannot be established in any society; that, reduce the numbers of which it is composed as low as you will, you cannot reach it; nay, that hardly any two men can be found who

agree in everything. It must be enough then for the being of the State if, in all main and essential points, in all the great and vital interests of the community, there be between its members unity of feeling and purpose-if

, abstracting from innumerable lesser differences, it can be brought to act together in matters that concern the whole nation. But it is obvious

that there are limits to this divergence; there are points, irreconcilable difference on which must be fatal to national life. And as it is impossible to fix the point at which these limits have been reached, political union may have been fatally broken long before it is discovered ; and the nation may have passed through slow decay to death, while its social system remains undisturbed. Then is actually realized that condition of the body politic, which is the highest conception some theorists are able to form of it, that it resembles, namely, any other voluntary association of men who unite in action for some one specific purpose, such temporary coalition implying no harmony of sentiment, or fusion of will. The specific purpose, they say, in the case of the State, is the protection of life and property. Men unite in the laws by which this is secured, and this is enough; all beyond is out of the cognizance of the State, and ought to be left to individual discretion. Writers, such as Dr. Arnold, and Mr. Gladstone, have thought to refute this material theory on abstract grounds. But on the appeal to facts, the theory is amply vindicated. For such is the actual present condition of every nation in Europe, in a greater or less degree, in proportion as its government is more or less free. Opinion is broken up, not into two or three great sections, but almost into units-nay, men have no stable opinions; they are the creatures of every passing hour, and they have no faith in the very doctrines they seem to be adopting. It is not that the high and cardinal questions of human existence are neglected; on the contrary, speculation is rife in those regions : but we are employed in raising an endless succession of fleeting theories, which their authors are the first to retract, in building showy castles of cards which we dare not inhabit, and drawing paper schemes to which we have not courage to conform our practice.

In such a condition of things, what ground is there for the Statesman to move upon ? For a scientific statesman, for one who believes in a truth in Politics, and aims at establishing and enforcing that truth on others - none. Let him attempt to unite the nation in any common expression of that higher truth with which alone man's immortal part is concerned, and support falls from under him like handfuls of sand. He must give up his belief, or the government. For others are ready to take his place, who will be content to unite opinion, and the national energy in those directions in which alone it admits of being united,—the material interests.

This was the task which the First Consul undertook for France, and performed with a triumphant success, which was only inferior to the skill and talent which secured it. This is the policy which may be learned from studying the first years



the man

of his administration, and which, as being the only choice that the modern statesman has, make the Consular administration so valuable an object of study. For we should have a very false idea of Napoleon if we were to look upon his military exploits as the prominent and characteristic features of his history, as they certainly are the most striking and world-famous. If we did, we must class him only with Alexander, or with Charles XII. But war, with him, was merely a subordinate instrument towards a more comprehensive end. His victories were, after all, only the moving power with which he worked one section of his cabinet, the Foreign department; and though the whole powers of his mind might for the moment be thrown into the campaign, yet in the vast compass of his policy it formed but one item among many of quite equal importance, and which received in their turn quite an equal share of his attention.

To achieve great things it is not enough to be a great man; he must come exactly at the crisis that demands his peculiar powers. This was eminently the case with Napoleon. Had he come upon the stage in the earlier years of the Revolution, he might still have been the victorious general, or been renowned in some other province; but he would not have been


was, the man who made France his own, and then, by means of it, had nearly conquered Europe. He gained France; gained ascendency over the minds of his countrymen, the most absolute mastery over their wills, by their voluntary surrender, that was ever achieved by man.

Of all the various descriptions of power that may be gained, none can compare with this. A military despot makes himself obeyed by force of arms, and is feared and hated. An autocratic constitution the most ancient, Russia, or Turkey, produces but submissive slaves, the tameness of passive obedience. But to command the active and enthusiastic obedience of millions, to fascinate them till their wills are concentrated into the one will of the magician, collected into it as rays of light into one focus, deprived of all that was individual in them, except their energy, creates a power in the moral world, before which none other can stand, one which is very rarely gained in any considerable degree by man, -by none to such an extent as by Napoleon. It is a power indeed in the moral world, like that of the Titans in the physical,-ruinous to him who gains it; too overwhelming to find an adequate antagonist among men, it leads him to make war upon heaven. Napoleon fell a victim to the disease of the old Greek tyrants, YBPIE.

There was then a favourable conjunction of affairs without, met by an aptitude from within, contributing to put this power into the hands of the First Consul. This peculiar crisis was

« AnteriorContinuar »