Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

the total disorganization of society in France. It was not merely that all existing law, precedent, or barrier of distinction, had been thrown down; that the constitution had been broken to pieces, that the institutions on which society reposes had been swept away, and the usages which support practice had been abolished: that public credit was null, that the State was, or had been insolvent, that there was little revenue, no commerce, that the roads were infested with brigands, that the armies were un paid at home, and unfortunate abroad; that, in short, all the symptoms of a total dissolution of the body politic were rifeall this, and much more than this, was true. But these were but the material evils, so to say, which the sick State had to complain of. They would furnish an admirable field for a talented man of business to set to rights, could he once get the position and power to set about so doing. But there lay the difficulty. There was no lack of able men who could have righted all these administrative evils, frightful as they were, had there been a standing place for them. But, in order to reach a position from which to bind up the material wounds, it was necessary to heal a much deeper sore,--that with which the national mind was afflicted. This was, in fact, the source and parent of all the external symptoms of disorder; this once removed, their cure would follow of itself; but, till this was reached, it was impossible even to attempt to eradicate the others. Before the physician could approach to prescribe for his patient's body, he must gain the command of his mind.

The disease that had seized on the mind of the French nation was mistrust, want of confidence,-not in men only, nor even in parties only,—but in politics—in systems. What else could be expected after the mad enthusiasm with which they had thrown themselves into the arms of so many systems in succession, and found them all equally helpless and impracticable. They were sick, not merely of convulsions and disorder, but of the very remedies which, ten years before, they had thought were to cure everything-constitution-making, and theoretical polities. They cared for neither republic nor monarchy, so that they could get order, and a solid executive.

In this state of opinion General Bonaparte came forward. He was the very man wanted. Able to administer each department better than even the special men in each, his known talent, already proved by success, and his military renown, were the first elements of public confidence. But all this would not have availed, had it not been for the general conviction that he was a man of no party. He was not only entirely unconnected with all actual parties, neither royalist, republican, nor partizan of the Directory, but it was felt that he was not at heart inclined to any one of the prevalent political creeds, that he worshipped in the inmost shrine of his heart no ideal constitution. In the temper in which France then was, the most just and valuable measures would have been viewed with distrust, if they had proceeded from any one who could have been suspected of wishing to turn them ultimately to the profit of some one of the many forms of government which had then their partisans. It was the footing on which young General Bonaparte claimed the adhesion of the nation, that he was a man of no party, of no principles; but that he proposed that, merging all such visionary distinctions, all should unite in furthering the common good of France. He hated doctrines; not this, that, or the other, but all general principles, as such; politicians who entertained such, he held in the greatest aversion, calling them “ideologists ; ' and though he would sometimes take pleasure in an argument with them in the salons, he held them unfit to be admitted to office. This dislike of systematic doctrine has been indeed shared by many-indeed it is common to all men of the world; but it took a peculiar shape in Napoleon's mind. From the elevated position he occupied, with an unlimited field of action opening before him, and unlimited means of accomplishment at his command, it seemed a mere weakness of mind to fetter these large energies by tying down one's exertions by the adoption of any set of connected opinions. Administrative success, the conciliation of the jarring views and passions of conflicting parties, the devising the measures, and the mode of carrying them, likely to reunite the suffrages of the greatest numbers, or of the most influential persons in a State,--here is the true field of the politician: to hang round his neck the millstone of a speculative creed in politics or morals, is voluntarily and needlessly to add to difficulties always sufficiently great whenever our fellow-men are the materials on which we have to work. To sell oneself to a party, is the resource of the weak, of those who, shunning inactivity, feel themselves impotent to cope single-handed with society ; but to bind oneself a slave to a set of abstract dogmas is a greater weakness still—it is to incur all the servitude, without the support, which the former conduct yields.

And we shall be better able to appreciate the wisdom of these views, if we will look for a few moments deeper into this matter. There are, in all, but two lines of policy practicable. One is that we have just been describing. Under all its disguises it is founded on the uniform plan of following opinion. All governments, even despotic, it has been acutely observed by Hume, rest upon opinion, and they only differ in the number or class of persons who form this opinion. In a military despotism it may be the soldiery; in feudal times it might be the armed barons ; in rude and ignorant communities it is those who monopolize the intelligence and wealth of the society; in civilized countries it is that larger proportion of the people who can bring their joint strength to act in concert when occasion requires. But in every society, there is a prevailing public opinion, generated from the juxtaposition of minds, just as heat is generated from the congregation of animal bodies. A

government will be strong and stable in proportion as it consults, attends to, identifies itself with this public opinion : it must defer to it entirely, but without seeming to follow it. It will not answer to resist it, at first, and then to give way in the end ; nor even to wait in passive neutrality till it has intelligibly expressed itself, and explicitly demanded a certain line of action. The statesman's art lies in anticipating, and yet not diverging from, the line of progress of the public mind, in gently sounding it, in watching and waiting for the breeze, and trimming his sails to it, while yet in the distant horizon, before a breath has yet really reached him. All statesmen, who have succeeded at all, have in some degree acted on this rule; few or none with that entire consistency and clearsightedness which distinguished young General Bonaparte during the triumphant opening scenes of the Consulate. The error of ordinary statesmen is, that they do not apply this rule universally; that they make reserves of some questions on which they presume to entertain opinions of their own, and to wish to carry these into effect, under cover of their general ! -popular measures;' they wish to strike a balance, as it were, between the government and the country, and to contravene opinion in some instances, because they yield so much besides to it. Or again, they wish to set limits to their inconsistency; and a minister cannot in decency change so rapidly as the phantom public, or cannot embrace, at one and the same time, such opposite extremes. Or lastly, in the most supple there may be some remains of conscience and conviction; so rarely is it that political infidelity, any more than religious, can be complete and total. But let the man arise who, to superior and tried ability, joins perfect freedom from the shackles of prejudice, entire emancipation of his intellect from the scholastic cobwebs of abstract truths; who thinks no measures of any value, but such as can be carried,' none hurtful or iniquitous, that are called for;' let him be gifted with that nice political tact that anticipates the will of a community before that will has found its own expression elsewhere, and ripened into a demand which there would be no merit in granting; and let him have the discrimination to distinguish the fictitious and ephemeral cry of a noisy party, from the genuine deep-seated wishes of the people—such a minister may be, not, perhaps, an absolute autocrat, but may enjoy the highest measure of power and success that can be extracted from the shifting and unstable materials of human affairs. Complete success in statesmanship is only for the unprincipled; for him, at least, who bows to no other principle than the necessity of success.

This brings us to mention another element of Napoleon's greatness, one which, however rare, seems indispensable to chief felicities. This is, a fortunate beginning,--that the racer have a good start. There is a greatness which is achieved by persevering and magnanimous resistance to misfortune, which is the crowning reward of years of struggle against adverse circumstances. Against such men we may fancy fortune exerting all her spite and rage, and yielding in the end to their indomitable energy. But there are others whom she seems to take a pleasure in launching forth upon the world with every favourable circumstance that it is possible to bestow. They seem to bear a charm with them, which commands the smiles and favours of all. They meet no opposition but such as tends to exercise and display their powers. They have the crest of the wave, and float on upon it, free from the tossings and undulations beneath them. Louis the XIV th's first ten years were a striking instance. Everything he did, he did well, and succeeded. This tide of fortune must not bear the appearance of fatality, or its magic

It is the prestige of success, to which it is essential that it be thought to be earned by the merit of the hero. It was the more striking in the instance of the First Consul, as it was a reaction from what had immediately preceded. The Directory seemed fated to fail in everything they put their hand to. The change is thus described by M. Thiers :

is gone.

' In public evils there are always a real evil and an imaginary evil, the one contributing to render the other insupportable. It is a great point gained to do away with the imaginary evil, for you diminish the sense of the real evil, and inspire him who has to endure it with the patience to await the cure. Under the Directory, people had made up their minds not to expect anything from a weak disrespected government; which, in order to repress faction, proceeded to violence, without obtaining any of the effects of strength. Everything that it did was taken in bad part; people would not expect from it any good, neither would they even believe it when, by accident, it accomplished some little.

• The accession of General Bonaparte, of whom the public was already in the habit of expecting everything in point of success, had changed this disposition. The evil that had afflicted the imagination was cured ; people had again confidence; they took everything in good part. His acts were certainly good in themselves ; it was good to release the Vendean hostages, to liberate the priests, to manifest pacific dispositions to Europe ; but, above all, the public was disposed to consider them as such. Such is the spell of confidence ! it is everything for a government at its outset, and for that of the Consul's it was immense. Money flowed into the treasury, from the treasury to the armies, which, content with these first supplies, awaited with fortitude those which were promised. Overawed by a power reputed superior to all resistance, the parties submitted : the oppressing parties, without claiming a right to oppress any more ; the oppressed parties with the confidence that they should be no more oppressed.'—Vol. i. p. 40.

The fall of Napoleon illustrates these remarks. He deserted, in process of time, from his original track; le ceased to be merely the minister of the will of the French nation; the empire, and the erection of a dynasty, were notions, principles, of his own, in which he was not followed by the sense of the people. He gained victories after this, but he no longer carried the enthusiasm of a nation along with him; it was one continued loss of popularity from the assumption of the empire till the overthrow, which was effected not more by Russian bayonets than by internal disaffection; for there was more than one period of the campaign of 1813-14, when a rising of the country, or even a vigorous demonstration of the towns in his favour, might have prevailed in the irresolute councils of the Allies to enforce a retreat.

To the consideration of Napoleon's fall the present volumes do not call us, and we return to what led us into these remarks, the difficulty of reconciling M. Thiers' present enthusiasm for Napoleon, with his splendid apology for the Constituent and the Convention in 1825. We shall, indeed, be curious to see how, in the sequel of his task, he will handle the oppressive despotism of the ten years of the empire. If he condemns it, or even laments it as a blunder, he will sadly mar the tone of his picture, which resembles the suite of rooms at Versailles, devoted to the history of that period, a set of tableaux illustrating the glories of Napoleon. And yet we cannot imagine on what ground a man who wishes to be a consistent advocate of any degree of constitutional freedom, can admire that despotism. At the same time so distinct is the policy of the First Consul from that of the Emperor, that an advocate of the Revolution may, without inconsistency, approve the one, and condemn the other. The First Consul only suspended the institutions of the Revolution for the purpose of restoring order and strength; the Emperor trampled upon, and overthrew them. But we are well aware that this is a distinction which would not suit M. Thiers' purpose. It is not the peculiar policy of the Consulate which it is his object to recommend, but the military and aggressive spirit of the empire. He constitutes himself the panegyrist of

« AnteriorContinuar »