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Napoleon Bonaparte page 2

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Vast changes had occurred in England and France as the result of nine years of incessant war. The English fleet had been doubled in strength, and now consisted of eight hundred vessels, carrying one hundred and twenty thousand fighting men; a naval force such as the world had never seen. On the other hand, the navy of France, blighted by the overwhelming strength of England, had dwindled by one-half, and was destined to yet greater decay. On land, the fighting strength of Britain had grown from eighty thousand men to nearly half a million; while the French forces had swelled out from two hundred and seventy thousand to about a million of armed men. England was now spending sixty million sterling, and France twenty-two million. The old debt of France had been disowned, and she had not yet had time to contract any larger obligation than fifty-five million. The debt of England had been doubled, rising during those unhappy years from two hundred and forty-four million to the enormous sum of four hundred and eighty-four million. The trade of England had greatly increased-bringing power to bear these prodigious burdens. The imports and exports together had grown from forty million to seventy million. On the other hand, the foreign trade of France was almost literally extinct. Her flag had been chased from the sea by the terrible and now unresisted ships of England.

The reconciliation between Napoleon and England was too superficial to be enduring. Difficulties arose out of the continued aggressions of France on the Continent. The English newspapers spoke evil of Napoleon, and he vainly demanded the suppression of the offending journals. He gathered forces on the shores of the Channel, as if he meditated early invasion. England, on her part, delayed to evacuate Egypt and Malta, of which Napoleon vehemently complained. In the temper of both countries these troubles could have but one ending. After twenty months of peace, England broke off diplomatic relations, and the European people turned them again, without reluctance, to the familiar work of mutual destruction, from which they were not to rest again till twelve bloody years had passed.

England had now to brace herself for a prolonged and perilous conflict. Her purpose was so to weaken France as to remove what she deemed a menace to the welfare and independence of all European nations. Napoleon hoped so to humble England as to destroy the main obstacle which barred his path to universal dominion. Neutrality seemed no longer to be dreamed of. In the general madness, every European power fell into its place, on the one side or the other, and every people drank deeply of the miseries of war. A coalition of all governments hostile to France was at once framed. England and Russia were already in perfect accord. Sweden was controlled by Russia. Austria was slow to avow hostility; but her wounds were so deep and so recent that she could safely be reckoned upon. On the other hand, Spain leagued with Napoleon. Holland, Italy, Switzerland, and many of the small German states, were under his control. Prussia followed a timid and ungenerous course. Tempted by the possession of Hanover, she cultivated the friendship of Napoleon, and awoke from her dream of aggrandizement only to sink in ruin under the blows of the conqueror whom she had humbled herself to serve. Napoleon's first enterprise was a sufficiently arduous one. He prepared to invade England. He had undoubtedly persuaded himself that this undertaking was practicable, and he made his preparations on a scale which almost rendered it so. He assembled on the shores of the Channel one hundred and fifty thousand men in the highest state of discipline and equipment, with two thousand vessels for their transport. But England, with a powerful fleet, held command of the Channel, and rendered hopeless the attempt to convey an army across. Napoleon, with the help of his Spanish allies, brought together sixty ships of the line; but even with that immense force he shunned a sea-fight. He schemed rather to decoy the English ships into distant seas, so that the passage of his troops might be unobstructed. His own fleets were ordered to the West Indies, with secret instructions to return immediately to Europe. Nelson fell into the snare, and gave chase across the Atlantic, When he discovered the stratagem, he sent his swiftest ship to England to intimate the danger which impended. His warning was received in time, and a strong squadron, under Sir Robert Calder, was ready to meet the returning allies. A battle ensued, not memorable otherwise than by its results. These were in the highest degree momentous. The allies sustained a defeat, and instead of pressing on to the Channel, they took shelter in Ferrol. Had they dared all and sailed onward, a French army would probably have landed in England. Their retreat made the invasion at once and for ever impossible.

Three months later, Nelson met the combined fleets off Cape Trafalgar, and inflicted upon them a defeat which was well-nigh annihilating. This great triumph placed beyond challenge the naval supremacy of Britain, for it did not leave afloat any power fit to encounter her in battle. But the death of Nelson, perhaps the best-loved of all their heroes, changed into mourning the joy which this final assurance of their safety from all invaders naturally kindled in the hearts of the British people.

Napoleon (He was now Emperor of the French. He assumed the imperial dignity, in virtue of an Act of the Senate (1804), confirmed by a practically unanimous vote of the people) knew so soon as he heard of the retreat of his fleet that all his combinations were baffled, and that England was now beyond his reach. He indulged himself in a free expression of the boundless rage which the feeble conduct of his admiral inspired. And then, without the delay even of an hour, he turned him to a field where the most brilliant successes of his life awaited him. On the instant, he designed the campaign of Austerlitz. With a promptitude unexampled in the movements of so large bodies of men, his army moved from the shores of the Channel to confront his enemies on the Rhine.

Austria had now committed herself to another war with Prance. Near the valley of the Danube, around the fortress of Ulm, with no enemy near them, lay eighty thousand Austrian soldiers, meditating hostile action against French territory. In absolute secrecy, and with amazing swiftness, Napoleon provided for the converging of one hundred and eighty thousand Frenchmen around the supine and unsuspecting Austrians. In six weeks from the abandonment of his project of invasion the Austrians were surrounded, and every avenue by which they might regain a position of safety was securely barred by an overwhelming force directed by the matchless skill of Napoleon himself. The Austrian general, Mack, appalled by the sudden calamity which had fallen upon him, hastened to surrender.

The road to Vienna was once more open, and Napoleon lost no time in entering the capital of his foe. He supplied the wants of his army from the vast stores accumulated there. But his situation was full of peril, and admitted of no repose. A Russian army, strengthened by the remnants of the ruined Austrian force, was marching against him; and Prussia, offended by an indignity which he had offered, was arming suspiciously, although as yet she withheld any declaration of her purposes. Napoleon took up his position at Austerlitz, and artfully contrived to impress his enemies with the belief that he knew the dangers of his position, and was seeking a way to withdraw. Under this fatal delusion the Emperor Alexander directed his troops to march across the front of the French army in order to turn its right flank. Napoleon, at the head of an army almost equal in number and greatly more experienced, looked calmly on while the Russians involved themselves in this fearful peril, and foretold the ruin which he saw was now inevitable. Restraining the impatience of his troops, he waited till the cross-march had made irretraceable progress. And then the masses of his eager veterans, issuing from the mist which veiled the field, were launched against the disordered Russians. Although taken unawares, the allies fought stubbornly; but in the end their overthrow was complete, and they were driven from the field, weakened by a loss of thirty thousand men in killed, wounded, and prisoners. The dispirited emperors, deeming further resistance hopeless, hastened to negotiate for an armistice.

William Pitt had laboured to form a league of European powers to curb the dangerous ambition of Napoleon. Already the edifice which he had just completed lay in ruins before him. Broken by the toils and anxieties of his position, his health sank under the defeat of Austerlitz, and the great minister died a few weeks after the battle.

Prussia had at length determined to avenge the indignities to which Napoleon had subjected her, and had fixed the 15th December for the opening of hostilities. But when her envoy reached Vienna, on his way to intimate this warlike purpose to Napoleon, he found that the battle of Austerlitz had been fought. He prudently said nothing of war; nay, he arranged a treaty with Napoleon. It suited the conqueror's purpose for the moment, but he well understood and utterly despised the cowardly policy of the Prussian government. The destruction of Prussia now waited merely the convenience of the conqueror.

The treaty remained in force only for a few months. Napoleon's conduct to Prussia was studiously and intolerably insulting. The Prussian people, galled by the indignities which were heaped upon their country, clamoured for war. The government yielded to the pressure, and Prussia, without allies and with most imperfect preparation, rashly flung herself into a conflict with the giant power of Napoleon.

A few weeks sufficed to accomplish her overthrow. Her armies, miserably commanded, were surprised by the French at Jena and Auerstadt, and hopelessly defeated, their retreat being changed into rout by the hot pursuit of the French. The country was rapidly overrun. Eighty thousand prisoners were taken, and every fortress in the country surrendered. "Within one month from the breaking out of war the French entered Berlin, and Prussia lay helpless at the feet of her conqueror. The severities which he inflicted upon the unhappy people seemed to be dictated by unreasoning hatred rather than considerations of policy. He levied enormous contributions. He carried off the relics which the affection of the Prussians had placed on the tomb of the great Frederick. He declared that he would make the Prussian nobility so poor that they would have to beg their bread. The civil authorities were required to take an oath of fidelity to the French emperor as the source of their power. Prussia disappeared from among the great powers, and it was evident that Napoleon contemplated her speedy annexation to France.

There remained now only Russia and England to dispute the will of Napoleon. England, rendered finally safe from his assaults by the destruction of every fleet but her own, was relentless in her determination to reduce his intolerable power. But England, great as her strength was, had as yet taken no effective part in the war elsewhere than at sea. Russia alone had now to withstand the undivided force of the conqueror.

Napoleon marched one hundred thousand men to encounter the Russians, who advanced to the Vistula to meet him. So bitter had the hostility of the warring powers become, that even the severities of a northern winter did not impose a suspension of operations. Beside the town of Eylau, on fields thickly covered with snow, the two armies met and fought during all the daylight hours of that winter day. The slaughter was unusually horrible even in that age of blood. Fifty thousand men, dead and wounded, lay among the snow. The resistance of the Russians had been so stubborn that the enthusiasm of the French troops and the skill of their chief barely averted a defeat, which would have been well-nigh ruinous. Napoleon was saved from disaster only by the undue caution of the Russian commander, who chose to retreat after the battle contrary to the wish of his generals, who were eager to pursue the advantage they had gained.

Four months later the armies met again at Friedland, and once more Napoleon encountered a resistance more determined than he had ever experienced from the armies of Southern Europe. But this time he was victorious, and the Russians, weakened by terrible slaughter, retired from the field.

Alexander, left alone by the other great powers, who had a deeper interest in the struggle than he had, and disheartened by the losses of this campaign, immediately opened negotiations for peace. He deeply resented the refusal of England to aid him in his hour of danger. He felt that the safety of his own empire was more to him than the defence of other states which were able to do nothing for themselves. A week after the battle, the two emperors met en a great raft moored for their reception in the river Niemen. The imperial robbers laid there the foundations of the most gigantic scheme of plunder known to history. But their designs were baffled by succeeding events, and need not detain us here.

Napoleon was now supreme in Europe. Nothing in romance approaches the facts of his amazing career. He was yet only thirty-nine years of age; twelve years ago he was an unemployed officer of artillery, without influence or friends; now he made or unmade kings, and regulated at his pleasure the destiny of nations, no man daring to question what he did. His extraordinary power to fascinate gained for him an ascendency over the Emperor Alexander, which for a time was absolute. Austria was silently restoring her shattered strength, but as yet was too much broken to oppose her will to that of her conqueror. Prussia, shorn of nearly half her population and territory, and laid under crushing exactions, could only nurse in secret her purposes of revenge. Many of the smaller German states, Italy, and Holland were, for all warlike purposes, virtually French territory. The fleets of Denmark, Spain, and Portugal were at the command of this irresistible soldier. England alone maintained invincible hostility against the despotism which had now overspread the rest of Europe.

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