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Napoleon Bonaparte page 5

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He hurried to Paris, where he arrived almost alone. Irretrievable as all men knew his ruin to be, he demanded that his ministers should find him money and three hundred thousand men to continue the war. While men were still to be found in that France which he had so cruelly wasted, he had no better wish for them than that they should feed with their lives the devouring fire which his ambition had kindled. But all Frenchmen were sick of this murderous and now hopeless fighting. Napoleon had to abdicate his throne, and then he had to surrender himself to an English ship-of-war. He wrote to the Prince Regent that he had closed his political career, and now came, like Themistocles, to throw himself on the hospitality of the British people. But the British people could accept no such trust. The government intimated that they could not again leave him opportunity to disturb the peace of Europe. He was told that his place of residence during the remainder of his life was to be St. Helena, an island in the South Atlantic, remote from any inhabited land. He declared that he would not go there, and pointed to a refuge in suicide. But he accepted his fate. The early portion of his residence in St. Helena was not heroic. It was full of angry negotiations with the governor, and vehement complaints against all the conditions and circumstances by which he was surrounded. Then he was smitten by the disease of which his father had died, and of which he himself had long expected to die,-cancer in the stomach. He suffered much pain; he was subject to deep and prolonged depression of mind. And then the conqueror died. Thus darkly closed a career, the most brilliant in its success, the most influential to produce vast and enduring change on human affairs, which has ever been permitted to man.

A Bourbon was again upon the throne of France, and Europe was at peace. It was well nigh a quarter of a century since the distracted nations had known rest. Men almost in middle age had no recollections excepting of war. Millions of lives had been squandered; treasure beyond computation had been wasted; the progress of mankind had been absolutely arrested. A huge inheritance of debt was bequeathed, to press upon the resources of future generations and diminish their enjoyments. But vast as these evils were, the compensations were not inadequate. The energy and patience begotten in the long years of trial survived to gain in the coming time those victories of peace for which the next half-century is so renowned. In the great upheaval the old European despotisms were shaken to their foundations, and the people began to assert their claim, not merely to justice, but to power. And the miseries of twenty-three years of fighting seemed to have awakened so strong a repugnance to war, that ever since the nations have resorted with lessened frequency to that most ill-chosen of all methods for reaching the adjustment of a difference.

The influence which Napoleon exerted upon the course of human affairs is without parallel in history. Never before had any man inflicted upon his fellows miseries so appalling; never before did one man's hand scatter seeds destined to produce a harvest of political change so vast and so beneficent. Assuming, as he did, the control of a people who had flung aside their government, it was a necessity of his position, not merely to defer to democratic influences at home, but also, as opportunity offered, to extend their dominion among foreign states. It was he who roused Italy from her sleep of centuries, and led her towards that free and united national life which she at length enjoys. It was he who, by destroying the innumerable petty states of Germany, inspired that dream of unity which it has required more than half a century to fulfil. He was the dreaded apostle of democracy. When Washington died, Napoleon invited his soldiers to mourn the man who had fought for liberty and equality. It was his intention, had he effected a landing in England, to proclaim the sovereignty of the people. By the institutions which he created, by the doctrines which he was obliged to profess, by the very violences of which he was guilty, he communicated to the human mind an impulse which it can never lose. And even when he became utterly and shamelessly despotic-when he laid intolerable burdens upon the people, when he squandered their lives, when he trampled on the life of nations-even then his influence was favourable to popular rights. For the hatred which his despotism evoked, and the vast combination of forces which it rendered necessary, united the people, and taught them to know their own strength. For a time the kings who had conquered him were irresistible. But his career had created and strengthened impulses in presence of which kings are powerless. Napoleon, himself one of the most selfish and remorseless of despots, made the overthrow of despotism and the final triumph of liberal principles inevitable in all European countries.

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