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Napolean -the greatest military general who died in a secluded island

 

Jawahar Lal Nehru- the first Prime Minister of India who was not only a statesman but a prolific writer as well as well has written a great deal about the ‘Greatest Military General’ Napoleon. The terse and lucid writings of Nehru prompted even the greatest historians and authors of the world to observe that his (Nehru’s) write-ups are so simple and aptly meant for those students who are interested in having an edge on the English language.

Here i will present the story of Napolean through the prism of Jawahar Lal Nehru.

“Out of the French Revolution emerged Napoleon. France, Republican France that had challenged and dared the kings of Europe, succumbed to this little Corsican. A strange wild beauty had France then. A French poet, Barbier, has compared her to a wild animal, a proud and free mare, with head high and shining skin: a beautiful vagabond, fiercely intolerant of saddle and harness and rein, stamping on the ground, and frightening the world with the noise of her neighing. This proud mare consented to be ridden by the young man from Corsica, and he did many wonderful deeds with her. But he tamed her also and made the wild free thing lose all her wildness and freedom. And he exploited her and exhausted her till she threw him down and fell down herself.”

“What manner of man was Napoleon then? Was he one of the great ones of the earth, the ‘Man of Destiny’ as he was called, a mighty hero and one who helped in freeing humanity from its many burdens?  Or was he as famous historian HG Wells and some others say, a mere adventurer and a wrecker who did great injury to Europe and civilization? Probably both these views are exaggerated, and probably both contain some measure of the truth. All of us are curious mixtures of the good and the bad, the great and the little. He was such a mixture but unlike most of us, extraordinary qualities went to make up this mixture. Courage he had and self-confidence and imagination and amazing energy and vast ambition. He was a very great general, a master of the art of war, comparable to the great captains of old – Alexander and Chengiz. But he was petty also and selfish and self-centered and the dominating impulse of his life was not the pursuit of an ideal, but the quest of personal power.”

‘My mistress’ he once said, ‘Power is my mistress’, The conquest of that mistress has caused me so much that I will allow no one to rob me of her or to share her with me. Child of the Revolution he was, and yet he dreamt of vast empire and the conquests of Alexander filled his mind. Even Europe seemed small. The East lured him and especially Egypt and India. “Only in the East, he said early in his career when he was 27 “have there been great empires and mighty changes, in the East over 600 million people dwell. Europe is a molehill.”

Napoleon Bonaparte was born in 1769 in the island of Corsica which was under France. He had mixed French-Corsican and Italian blood. He was trained in a military school in France, and during the Revolution was a member of the Jacobin Club (The Society of the Friends of the Constitution, renamed the Society of the Jacobins, Friends of Freedom and Equality after 1792 and commonly known as the Jacobin Club or simply the Jacobins, was the most influential political club during the French Revolution of 1789.) But probably he joined the Jacobins merely to advance his own interests, and not because he believed in their ideals. In 1793 he won his first victory at Toulon. The rich people of this place, afraid of losing their property under the revolutionary regime had actually invited the English and handed over the remains of the French Navy to them. This disaster coupled with others at the time had been a great blow to the young Republic, and every available man and even women were called upon to enlist.  Napoleon crushed the rebels and defeated the English force at Toulon by a masterly attack. His star began to shine brightly now, and at the age of 24 he was a general. Within a few months however, he got into trouble when Robespierre (Robespierre was a prominent French lawyer and statesman, widely recognized as one of the most influential, and controversial figures of the French Revolution) was guillotined, and he was suspected of belonging to his party. But the only party he really belonged to had a membership of one only – namely Napoleon. Then came the Directory, ( The Directory was the governing five-member committee in the French First Republic from 26 October 1795 until 10 November 1799) and Napoleon proved that far from being a Jacobin, he was a leader of counter-revolution and could shoot down the common people without turning a hair. This was the famous ‘whiff of grapeshot’ in 1795. The phrase “whiff of grapeshot” is often used to describe a decisive, violent action taken to suppress opposition or unrest. On that day Napoleon wounded the Republic. Within ten years he had put an end to the Republic and become Emperor of the French.

In 1796 he became the commander of the Army of Italy and he astonished Europe by a brilliant campaign in northern Italy. The French had still something of the fire of revolution. But they were in rags and had neither proper clothes nor shoes nor food nor money. He had this tattered and footsore band across the Alps, promising them food and all good things when they reached the rich Italian plain. To the people of Italy on the other hand he promised freedom, he was coming to liberate them from oppressors. A strange mixture of revolutionary jargon with the prospect of loot and plunder. So he played cleverly on the feelings of both the French and the Italians and being partly Italian himself he produced a great impression. As victories came to him his prestige grew and his fame spread. In his own army he shared in many ways the lot of the common soldier, and he shared also his danger, for an attack usually found him wherever danger threatened most. He was ever on the lookout for real merit and rewarded it immediately even on the battlefield. To his soldiers he was like a father – ‘a very young father’ known affectionately as the ‘Petit Corporal’ and often addressed by them as ‘tu’. Is it any wonder that this young general in his 20s became the darling of the French soldiers?

Having triumphed all over northern Italy and defeated Austria there, and put an end to the old Republic of Venice, and made a very undesirable imperialistic peace, he returned to Paris as the great conquering hero. He was beginning to dominate France already. But he felt perhaps that the time was not ripe for him to seize power, and so he arranged to go with an army to Egypt. From his youth onwards he had felt this call of the East, and now he could gratify it, and dreams of vast Empire must have floated in his mind. He just managed to escape the English fleet in the Mediterranean and reached Alexandria.

Egypt was then part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, but this empire had declined and in effect the Mamelukes ruled Egypt nominally under the Sultan of Turkey. Revolutions and inventions might shake Europe but the Mamelukes still lived after the fashion of the Middle Ages. It is said that when Napoleon approached Cairo, a Mumeluke Knight in brilliant attire of silk and damascened armor, rode up to the French Army and challenged the leader to single combat. The poor man was met most unchivalrously by a volley. Soon after Napoleon won the Battle of the Pyramids. He was fond of the dramatic poses. Riding in front of his troops before the Pyramids he addressed them: “Soldiers forty countries are looking down upon you.”

Napoleon was master of war on land and he continued to win. But on sea he was helpless. He did not understand it and he does not seem to have had competent admirals. England just then had a genius in command of her navy in the Mediterranean. This was Horatio Nelson. Nelson came, rather audaciously, right into harbor one day and destroyed the French fleet at what is called the ‘Battle of the Nile’. Napoleon was thus cut off from France in a foreign country. He managed to escape secretly and reached France, but in doing so he sacrificed his army of the East.

In spite of victories and some military glory, the great eastern expedition had been a failure. It is interesting to note however that Napoleon took with him to Egypt a whole crowd of savants and learned men and professors with books and all manner of apparatus. There were daily discussions of this “Institute”, in which Napoleon joined as an equal, and the savants did a great deal of good work of scientific exploration. The old riddle of the hieroglyphics was solved by the discovery of a granite slab containing an inscription in three scripts – Greek and two variants of Egyptian picture writing. With the help of the Greek, the other two scripts were deciphered. It is also interesting to find that a proposal to cut a canal at Suez interested Napoleon greatly.

When in Egypt Napoleon opened negotiations with the Shah Persia and Tipu Sultan in South India. But nothing came of them because of his powerlessness at sea. It was sea-power that ultimately broke Napoleon and it was sea- power that made England great in the 19th century.

France was in a bad way when Napoleon returned from Egypt. The Directory was discredited and unpopular and so everybody turned to him. He was willing enough to assume power. A month after his return in November 1799, with the help of his brother Lucien, he forcibly dispersed the Assembly, and thus put an end to the constitution as it then existed under which the Directory had governed.  This coup d’etat, as such forcible State actions are called, made Napoleon the master of the situation. He could only do it because he was popular and people had faith in him. The Revolution had long been liquidated, democracy even was now disappearing and a popular general held the field. A new constitution was drafted under which there were to be 3 consuls (this name was taken from ancient Rome) but the chief of these with full power was Napoleon who was called First Consul and was appointed for 10 years. During the discussions on the constitution, someone suggested that there should be a president with no real power whose chief business would be to sign documents and formally represent the Republic something like constitutional kings or the French President of today but Napoleon wanted power not merely the livery of royalty. He would have none of this stately but powerless President. “Away with this fat hog,” he cried.

This constitution with Napoleon as First Consul for 10 years was put to the vote of the people and it was almost unanimously adopted by over 30,00,000 votes. Thus the people of France themselves presented all power to Napoleon, in the vain hope that he would bring them freedom and happiness.

On the very first night after the coup d’etat, before the new constitution was framed or passed, he appointed two committees to draft a legal code. This was the first act of his dictatorship. After long discussions, in which Napoleon joined, this code was finally adopted in 1804. It was called the Code Napoleon. Judged by the ideas of the Revolution or by modern standards, this code was not advanced. But it was an advance on existing conditions, and for 100 years it was, in some respects, almost a model for Europe. In many other ways he introduced simplicity and efficiency in the administration. He interfered in everything and had a wonderful memory for details. With his amazing energy and vitality, he exhausted all his co-workers and secretaries. One of these co-workers writes about him during this period: ” Ruling, administering, negotiating—with that orderly intelligence of his, he gets through eighteen hours work a day. In three years he has ruled more than the kings ruled in a century.” This, no doubt, is exaggerated, but it is clear that Napoleon had, like Akbar, an extraordinary memory and perfectly ordered mind. He said himself: ” When I wish to put away any matter out of my mind, I close its drawer and open the drawer belonging to another. The contents of the drawers never get mixed up, and they never worry me or weary me. Do I want sleep? I close all the drawers and then I am asleep.” Indeed, he was known to lie down on the ground in the middle of a battle and sleep for half an hour or so and then get up for another long spell of intensive work.

He had been made First Consul for ten years. The next step in the ladder of power came after three years, in 1802, when he had himself made Consul for life, and his powers were increased. The Republic was at an end, and he was a monarch in all but name, and inevitably, in 1804, he declared himself Emperor, after taking a vote of the people. He was all-powerful in France, and yet there was a great difference between him and the autocratic kings of old. He could not base his authority on tradition and divine right. He had to base it on his efficiency and on his popularity with the people, especially the peasants, who were all along his most faithful supporters because they felt that he had saved their lands for them. ” What do I care,” said Napoleon once, ” for the opinion of drawing-rooms and the babblers ! I recognize only one opinion, that of the peasants.” But the peasants also grew weary at last of supplying their sons for the warfare that was almost continuously going on. When this support was withdrawn, the mighty edifice that Napoleon had created began to totter.

For ten years he was Emperor, and during these years he rushed about all over the Continent of Europe and carried on striking military campaigns and won memorable battles. All Europe trembled at his name and was dominated by him as it has never been dominated by anyone else before or since. Marengo (this was in 1800, when he crossed with his army the Great St. Bernard pass in Switzerland, all covered with the winter snow), Ulm, Austerlitz, Jena, Eylau, Fried land, Wagram, are the names of some of his famous victories on land. Austria, Prussia and Russia all collapsed before him. Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, a great part of Germany called the Confederation of the Rhine, Poland called now the Duchy of Warsaw, were all subject States. The old Holy Roman Empire, which had long existed in name only, was finally ended.

Of the major European Powers, England alone escaped disaster. The sea, which was ever a mystery to Napoleon, saved England. And because of the security given by the sea, England became the greatest and most relentless of his enemies. Right at the beginning of his career, Nelson destroyed Napoleon’s fleet in the Battle of the Nile. On October 21, 1805, Nelson won a greater victory still against the combined French and Spanish fleets off Cape Trafalgar on the south coast of Spain. It was just before this sea battle that Nelson gave his famous signal to his fleet: ” England expects that every man will do his duty.” Nelson died in the hour of triumph, but his victory, proudly cherished by the English people and commemorated in the Nelson column and Trafalgar Square in London, destroyed Napoleon’s dream of invading England.

Napoleon retaliated by an order closing all the harbours on the continent of Europe to England. There were to be no communications with her of any kind, and England, ” the nation of shopkeepers “, was to be subdued in this way. England, on her part, blockaded these ports and prevented trade between Napoleon’s Empire and America and other continents. England also fought Napoleon by ceaseless intrigue on the Continent and lavish distribution of gold to his enemies and to neutrals. She was helped in this by some of the great money houses of Europe, notably the Rothschilds.

Yet another method adopted by England against Napoleon was propaganda. This was a novel kind of campaign then, but it has since become common enough. A Press campaign against France, and especially Napoleon, was started. All manner of articles, pamphlets, news-sheets, cartoons making fun of the new Emperor, and spurious memories, full of falsehoods, were issued from London and smuggled into France. Nowadays a Press campaign of falsehood has become a regular part of modern war. During the Great War of 1914-1918 the most extraordinary lies were told unblushingly by all governments of the countries involved, and in this art of manufacturing and circulating falsehood the English Government seems to have been easily first. It had a long century-old training since the days of Napoleon.

Wherever Napoleon went, he carried something of the French Revolution with him, and the peoples of the countries he conquered were not wholly averse to his coming. They were weary of their own effete and half-feudal rulers, who sat heavily upon them. This helped Napoleon greatly, and feudalism fell before him as he marched. In Germany especially was feudalism swept away. In Spain he put an end to the Inquisition. But the very spirit of nationalism that he unconsciously evoked turned against him and ultimately defeated him. He could overpower the old kings and emperors, but not a whole people roused against him. The Spanish people thus rose against him and for years sapped his energy and resources. The German people also organized themselves under a great patriot, Baron von Stein, who became the implacable enemy of Napoleon. There was a German war of liberation. Thus Nationalism, which Napoleon himself had aroused, allied to sea-power, brought about his fall. But in any event it would have been difficult for the whole of Europe to tolerate a dictator. Or perhaps Napoleon himself was correct when he said afterwards: ” No one but myself can be blamed for my fall. I have been my own greatest enemy, the cause of my disastrous fate.”

This man of genius had the most extraordinary failings. He always had a touch of the parvenu, the upstart, about him, and he nourished a strange desire to be treated as an equal by the old and effete kings and emperors. He advanced his own brothers and sisters in the most absurd way, although they were thoroughly incompetent. The only decent brother was Lucien, who had helped Napoleon at a critical moment during the coup d’etat of 1799, but who subsequently fell out with him and retired to Italy. The other brothers, vain and foolish, were made kings and rulers by Napoleon. He had a curious and vulgar passion for pushing on his family. Almost every one of them played him false and deserted him when he was in trouble. Napoleon was also very keen on founding a dynasty. Early in his career, even before he had gone on the Italian campaign and become famous, he had married Josephine de Beauharnais, a beautiful but rather flighty lady. He was terribly disappointed at having no children by her, for he had set his heart on a dynasty. So he decided to divorce Josephine and marry another woman, although he liked her. He wanted to marry a Russian Grand Duchess, but the Tsar would not agree to this. Napoleon might be almost the master of Europe, but the Tsar considered it somewhat presumptuous of him to aspire to marry into the Russian imperial family ! Napoleon then more or less forced the Hapsburg Emperor of Austria to give him his daughter Marie Louise in marriage. He had a son by her, but she was dull and unintelligent and did not like him at all and made him a bad wife. When he was in trouble, she deserted him and forgot all about him.

It is very strange how this man, who towered above his generation in some ways, fell a victim to the empty glamour which the old idea of kingship exercised. And yet, often enough, he spoke in terms of revolution and made fun of these effete kings. He had deliberately turned his back on the Revolution and the new order; the old order neither suited him nor was it prepared to have him. So between the two he fell.

Gradually this career of military glory goes to its inevitable tragic end. Some of his own ministers are treacherous and intrigue against him; Talleyrand intrigues with the Tsar of Russia, Fouche intrigues with England. Napoleon catches them in their treachery and yet, strange to say, merely upbraids them and allows them to continue as his ministers. One of his generals, Bernadotte, turns against him and becomes a bitter enemy. His family, except for his mother and his brother Lucien, continue to misbehave, and often work against him. Even in France discontent increases and his dictatorship becomes hard and ruthless, many people being imprisoned without trial. His star is definitely on the decline, and many a rat, foreseeing the end, deserts the ship. Physically and mentally he is also declining, although still young in years. He gets violent colic pains right in the middle of a battle. Power also corrupts him. His old skill is still there, but he moves more heavily now; often he hesitates and is in doubt, and his armies are more cumbrous.

In 1812, with a mighty army—the Grande Armee it was called —he moves to the invasion of Russia. He defeats the Russians and then advances without much opposition. The Russian armies retreat and retreat and refuse to fight. The Grande Armee seeks them in vain, and at last reaches Moscow. The Tsar is inclined to give in, but two men, a Frenchman, Bernadotte, Napoleon’s old colleague and general, and the German nationalist leader, Baron von Stein, whom Napoleon had declared an outlaw, prevail upon him not to do so. The Russians set fire to their own beloved city of Moscow to smoke the enemy out. And when news of the burning of Moscow reaches St. Petersburg, Stein, sitting at table, raises his glass to it and cries : ” Three or four times, ere this, I have lost my baggage. We must get used to throwing away such things. Since we must die, let us be valiant! ”

It is the beginning of winter. Napoleon decides to leave burning Moscow and to return to France. And so the Grande Armee trudges back wearily through the snow with the Russian Cossacks ever by their sides and at their heels, attacking them, harassing them continuously, cutting down stragglers. The bitter cold and the Cossacks between them take toll of thousands of lives, and the Grande Armee becomes a ghostly procession—all on foot and in rags, footsore and frost-bitten, wearily dragging themselves along. Napoleon also marches on foot with his grenadiers. It is a terrible and heart-breaking march, and the mighty army becomes smaller and smaller and almost vanishes away. Just a handful of people return.

This Russian campaign was a terrible blow. It exhausted France of her man-power. Even more so it aged Napoleon, and made him careworn and weary of strife. But he was not to be allowed to rest in peace. His enemies surrounded him and, although he was still the brilliant commander winning victories, the net drew closer and closer. Talleyrand’s intrigues increased, and some even of Napoleon’s trusted marshals turned against him. Weary and disgusted, Napoleon abdicated from the throne in April 1814.

A great congress of the European Powers was held in Vienna to make a new map of Europe, now that Napoleon was out of the way. Napoleon was sent to the little island of Elba in the Mediterranean. Another Bourbon, another Louis, brother of the one who was guillotined, was brought out from wherever he had been living in seclusion and was placed on the throne of France as Louis XVIII. The Bourbons were thus back again, and with them came back much of the old tyranny. So this was the end of all the brave doings of five and twenty years since the Bastille fell! In Vienna the kings and their ministers argued and quarrelled among themselves, and during the intervals had a good time. They felt enormously relieved. A great terror had been removed, and they could breathe again. Talleyrand, the traitor who had betrayed Napoleon, was popular with this crowd of kings and ministers, and played an important part in the Congress. Another famous diplomatist at the Congress was Metternich, the Foreign Minister of Austria.

In less than a year Napoleon had had enough of Elba, and France had had enough of the Bourbons. He managed to escape in a little boat, and landed at Cannes on the Riviera on February 26, 1815, almost alone. He was received enthusiastically by the peasants. The armies that were sent against him, when they saw their old commander, the ” Petit Caporal “, shouted ” Vive l ‘Empereur ” and joined him. And so, triumphantly, he reached Paris and the Bourbon King fled away. But in all the other capitals of Europe there was terror and consternation. And in Vienna, where the Congress was still dragging on, the dancing and the feasting came to a sudden end, and a common fear made the kings and ministers forget all their squabbling and concentrate on the one task of crushing Napoleon anew. So all Europe marched against him, but France was weary of warfare. And Napoleon, although only forty-six, was a tired old man, forsaken even by his wife, Marie Louise. He won some battles, but finally he was defeated at Waterloo, near the city of Brussels, by the English and Prussian armies, under Wellington and Blucher, just 100 days after he landed. This period of his return is therefore called ” The Hundred Days “. Waterloo was a hardly contested battle and victory hung in the balance. Napoleon had very bad luck. It was quite possible for him to have won it, but even so he would have had to go down some time later before a combined Europe. Defeated as he was now, many of his supporters tried to save themselves by turning against him. A struggle was hopeless, and he abdicated for the second time, and going to an English ship in a French port, handed himself over to the captain, saying that he wanted to live quietly in England.

But he was mistaken if he expected liberal and courteous treatment from England or Europe. They were too frightened of him, and his escape from Elba had convinced them that he must be kept far away and securely guarded. So, in spite of his protests, he was declared a prisoner and sent, with a few companions, to the far-away island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. He was considered ” the prisoner of Europe “, and several Powers sent commissioners to keep watch on him in St. Helena, but in reality, the English had the full responsibility for guarding him. Even on that far-away island, cut off from the world, they brought quite an army to keep watch on him. This lonely rock of St. Helena was described at the time by Count Balmain, the Russian Commissioner there, as ” that spot in the world which is the saddest, the most isolated, the most unapproachable, the easiest to defend, the hardest to attack, the most unsociable . . .” The English Governor of the island was an extraordinarily uncouth and barbarous person, and he treated Napoleon very shabbily. He was kept in the most unhealthy part of the island in a wretched house, and all manner of irritating restrictions were placed on him and his companions. Sometimes he did not even have enough wholesome food to eat. He was not allowed to communicate with friends in Europe, not even with his little son, whom, in the days of his power, he had given the title of King of Rome. Indeed, even news of his son was not allowed to reach him.

It is surprising how meanly Napoleon was treated. But the Governor of St. Helena was but the tool of his government, and it seems to have been the deliberate policy of the English Government to ill-treat and humiliate their prisoner. The other Powers of Europe were consenting parties to this. Napoleon’s mother, in spite of her old age, wanted to join him in St. Helena, but the Great Powers said no ! This shabby treatment given to him is a measure of the terror which he still inspired in Europe, although his wings had been clipped and he lay powerless in a far-away island.

For five and a half years he endured this living death in St. Helena. It is not difficult to imagine how this man of vast energy and ambition must have suffered, cooped up in that little rock of an island and subjected daily to petty humiliations. He died in May 1821, and even after death he was pursued by the hatred of the Governor, and a wretched grave was provided for him. Slowly, as the news of the ill-treatment and persecution of Napoleon reached Europe (news travelled slowly in those days), there was an outcry against it in many countries, including England. Castlereagh, the English Foreign Minister, who was chiefly responsible for this ill-treatment, became very unpopular because of this and also because of his harsh domestic policy. He felt this so much that he committed suicide.

It is difficult to judge great and extraordinary men; and that Napoleon was great in his own way and extraordinary there can be no doubt. He was elemental, almost like a force of Nature. Full of ideas and imagination, he was yet blind to the value of ideals and unselfish motives. He tried to win and impress people by offering them glory and wealth. When therefore his stock of glory and power lessened, there were few ideal motives to keep by him those very people whom he had advanced, and many basely deserted him. Religion was to him just a method of keeping the poor and the miserable satisfied with their lot. Of Christianity he once said: ” How could I accept a religion which would damn Socrates and Plato? ” When in Egypt he showed some favour to Islam, no doubt because he thought this might win him popularity with the people there. He was thoroughly irreligious, and yet he encouraged religion, for he looked upon it as a prop to the existing social order. ” Religion,” he said, ” associates with heaven an idea of equality, which prevents the poor from massacring the rich. Religion has the same sort of value as vaccination. It gratifies our taste for the miraculous, and protects us from quacks. . . . Society cannot exist without inequality of property; but this latter cannot exist without religion. One who is dying of hunger when the man next to him is feasting on dainties can only be sustained by a belief in a higher power, and by the conviction that in another world there will be a different distribution of goods.” In the pride of his strength, he is reported to have said: ” Should the heavens fall down on us we shall hold them off with the points of our lances.”

He had the magnetism of the great, and he won devoted friendship from many. His glance, like Akbar’s, was magnetic. ” 1 have seldom drawn my sword,” he said once; ” I won my battles with my eyes, not with my weapons.” A strange statement for a man who plunged Europe into war. In later years, during his exile, he said that force was no remedy, and that the spirit of man was greater than the sword. ” Do you know,” he said, ” what amazes me more than all else ? The impotence of force to organize anything. There are only two powers in the world : the spirit and the sword. In the long run the sword will always be conquered by the spirit.” But there was no long run for him. He was in a hurry, and right at the beginning of his career he had chosen the way of the sword; by the sword he triumphed, and by the sword he fell. Again, he said : ” War is an anachronism; some day victories will be won without cannon and without bayonets.” Circumstances were too much for him—his vaulting ambition, the ease with which he triumphed in war, and the hatred of the rulers of Europe for this upstart and their fear of him, which allowed him no peace to settle down. He was reckless in sacrificing human lives in battle, and yet it is said that the sight of suffering greatly moved him.

In his personal life he was simple, and never indulged in any excesses, except excess of work. According to him, ” However little a man may eat he always eats too much. One can get ill from over-eating, but never from under-eating.” It was this simple life which gave him splendid health and vast energy. He could sleep when he liked and as little as he liked. To ride 100 miles in the course of the morning and afternoon was not an extraordinary thing for him. As his ambition carried him across the European Continent, he began to think of Europe as one State, one unit, with one law, one government. ” I shall fuse all the nations into one.” Later, chastened by his exile in St. Helena, this idea came back to him, and in a more impersonal form : ” Sooner or later, this union [of European nations] will be brought about by the force of events. The first impetus has been given; and after the fall of my system, it seems to me that the only way in which an equilibrium can be achieved in Europe is through a league of nations.” More than 100 years later, Europe is still groping and experimenting with a League of Nations!

He wrote a last testament in which he left a message for his little son, whom he had called the King of Rome, and news even of whom had been so cruelly kept away from him. He hoped that his son would reign one day, and he told him to reign in peace, and not to have recourse to violence. ” I was obliged to daunt Europe by arms; in the present day, the way is to convince by reason.” But the son was not destined to reign. He died in Vienna in his youth, eleven years after his father.

But all these thoughts came to him during his exile, when he was much chastened, and perhaps also he wrote to influence posterity in his favour. In the days of his greatness, he was too much of a man of action to be a philosopher. He worshipped only at the altar of power; his real and only love was power, and he loved it not crudely but as an artist. ” I love power,” he said—” yes, I love it, but after the manner of an artist: as a fiddler loves his fiddle in order to conjure from it tone and chords and harmonies.” But the quest for over-much power is a dangerous one, and sooner or later downfall and ruin come to the individuals or nations who seek it. So Napoleon fell, and it was as well that he fell.

Meanwhile the Bourbons reigned in France. But it has been said that the Bourbons never learned anything and never forgot anything. Within nine years after Napoleon’s death, France had had enough of them and overthrew them. Another monarchy was established and, as a gesture of good-will to the memory of Napoleon, his statue, which had been removed from the top of the Vendome column, was placed on it again. And the unhappy mother of Napoleon, blind through age, said: ” Once again the Emperor is in Paris.”

 

Neyaz Elahi

Neyaz Elahi, who switched from Electronic to Print Media is a Kashmir based Accredited Journalist who has written extensively on Kashmir for local, national and international web portals. He is currently associated with Srinagar based News Agency Kashmir News Trust (KNT).

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