A Century of French History

THE old claim of France to the hegemony of the European continent may now be considered as dormant, if not extinct. But neither the arrogance with which it has so often been asserted or maintained, nor the humiliating disasters which have sometimes been the result, should prevent us from acknowledging its original validity and its general operative force. The magnificent advantages of the country in position, extent, climate, and soil, the manifold capacities, vivacious temperament, and elastic spirit of the people, and the unity and solidity acquired by the nation at a period when most others were still divided and unorganized, were obvious grounds of superiority, and of a preponderating influence amounting at times to a virtual supremacy. And besides the magnitude of her resources, France had a further title to preëminence, which, though less manifest, cannot be set aside as a mere fiction or empty boast, — a title resting on inheritance and descent. It is not a French, but a German historian who has depicted Cæsar’s conquest of Gaul as “ a bridge connecting the past glories of Hellas and Rome with the prouder fabric of modern history,” but for which “ our civilization would have hardly stood in any more intimate relation to the Romano-Greek than to the Indian and Assyrian culture.” Romanized Gaul was the chief depositary of the diminished heritage bequeathed by the ancient to the modern world, the chosen centre for its preservation and diffusion ; and the nation which, by a long process of re-conquest and re-creation, established itself in full possession of its ancient birthright derived from this source the primary impulse and inspiration of its aggressive and propagandizing career. Hence the strong attractiveness which has been not less conspicuous than its aggressiveness, — the aroma of civilization which it has seemed to exhale, and which has exerted a seductive charm quite distinct from that of intellectual greatness or individual achievement. While France is the only nation that has ever provoked universal hostility, it is also the one which has been most assiduously courted and imitated, which alone has succeeded in reconciling alien populations to its sway and binding them to its interests, and which has initiated the great movements that have modified the general organization of society. For most readers, the interest of French history lies in what may be termed its sensational character, in the crises and convulsions in which it abounds; for the student, it has the further and special value of exhibiting with the greatest clearness and completeness the chief stages of political development since the fall of the Roman Empire, — the rise and growth of feudalism in the Middle Ages, the establishment of monarchical supremacy in the fifteenth century, and the triumph of democracy at the close of the eighteenth century.

Four works before us — three of them by American writers, all of them the fruit of careful and critical study — deal with separate phases or detached portions of this eventful history during the century between the death of Louis XIV., in 1715, and the final overthrow of Napoleon at Waterloo. Mr. Perkins has followed up his elaborate work on Richelieu and Mazarin with a volume of which the main subject is the Orleans Regency, although the larger half of it is occupied with a preliminary review of the reign of Louis XIV.1 Working on a scale so much smaller than that of his former book, he has not aimed at anything like the same minuteness of research or fullness of treatment; but he is likely to reach a larger circle of readers, and to leave a stronger impression of his ability as a narrator. He handles the details of his present story with a firm and easy grasp ; his style is vigorous and pointed as well as lucid ; and his attitude of cool dispassionateness suffices in general for the treatment of characters that make no strong appeal to our sympathies, and no imperative demand for subtle insight or vivid portraiture. Writing on a more familiar theme than before, he can afford to confine himself to its salient aspects ; but his brevity is of the kind that indicates, not a mere cursory inspection, but ample knowledge, conscious power, and purposed self-restraint.

Of the figures that stand out on this small but not overcrowded canvas, Louis XIV. is naturally the most prominent, though not perhaps intrinsically the most interesting. That resplendent embodiment of royalty, the object of greater reverence and adulation than had been bestowed on any previous ruler since the deified Cæsars, represents the culmination of a system which he did nothing to create, and which he insensibly did something to impair. The feudal power had been undermined and overthrown by Louis XI. ; feudal turbulence, after its many vain attempts to dislocate the new order, had been finally quelled by Richelieu and Mazarin; feudal privilege was still suffered to exist, but only that it might add by reflected beams to the lustre of the crown. The country was more tranquil and prosperous than it had been at any previous period ; between the people and the sovereign were only the servants of his power and the obsequious attendants on his favor; and France, without a rival in strength and order, in culture and wealth, occupied that position of ascendency among the states of Europe which, in earlier and darker days, acute and impartial observers had described as its natural destiny. That advantage should have been taken of this state of things to extend the boundaries of the kingdom was in the order of nature as understood by nations and their rulers at most epochs. A long series of wars ensued, of which the final result was disastrous to France ; stripping her of conquests made at the outset, dimming the glory of her victories by terrible repulses and defeats, and reducing her for a time to a condition bordering on exhaustion, but revealing also her matchless recuperative energies, and carrying the conviction that her power, when ably directed, could be held in check only by general and combined resistance. It was the prestige of the monarch, not of the nation, that suffered eclipse.

In sketching the character of Louis Mr. Perkins shows discrimination and fairness; but he scarcely succeeds in presenting that complete and concrete image in which qualities and defects form an inseparable whole. They are balanced rather than blended, with the effect of some indefiniteness and inconsistency. In one place (page 26) we are told that “ the character of Louis XIV. was so curious, and in some respects so complex, that it is difficult to decide how much credit he should receive for what was accomplished during his reign; ” that his vanity was “colossal,” his ambition “ unbounded,” his extravagance “reckless; ” but that “he was far from being a commonplace man,” and that, “ whether for good or evil, he left the marks of his policy and of his beliefs on the government, the people, and the traditions of France.” In another place (page 139) we read that “ the character of Louis XIV. is symbolized in stone and mortar by the palace he erected” at Versailles. “Whoever cares to gain a just conception of what manner of man Louis XIV. was cannot do better than to stroll through the vast and tasteless gardens, where even nature ceases to be beautiful, and look upon the great row of monstrous buildings which close the view. The palace resembles its master ; it is grandiose, commonplace, and dull.” It is difficult to reconcile these descriptions, or either of them with a third (pages 161-163), which, if it stood alone, might be accepted without much objection. Here the mainspring of Louis’s conduct is indicated by the remark that “ he had an elevated conception of the office which he held, and he endeavored to live up to his ideal.” But when it is added that “ no man on the world’s stage has better played the part of the king,” and that, though not a great man, “ we may justly call him a great king,” we seem to be carried back to Versailles and invited to accept the ideal of kingship which ruled in that incense - laden atmosphere. A great king, according to more modern conceptions, is of necessity and emphatically a great man, a predestined ruler ; one who does not merely magnify his office, but whose capacities are equal to its highest demands and heaviest responsibilities. Louis was, obviously, not a king after this pattern. Had he found France weak and distracted, his was not the hand that could have raised it from that condition; it was because he found it strong and consolidated that he was able for a time to impose his will upon the world and to dazzle it with his successes. But neither was he, to our apprehension, commonplace or dull. He had clear perceptions within a limited range, a native shrewdness of judgment, often shown both in action and in speech, a natural fitness for the conduct of affairs, great industry, firmness of mind and evenness of temper, and an unrivaled grace of deportment. These qualities would have sufficed to distinguish him in many important stations. They would have fitted him to fill his actual position with credit, and even with éclat, if his conception of it had been less “ elevated ” and more enlightened. Some glimmering consciousness of this fact may have dawned upon him on his deathbed, when, after protesting that he owed no reparations to individuals, he added that for those which he owed to his people he could only trust to the mercy of God.

In his treatment of the Regency, Mr. Perkins brings out with impartial clearness the two aspects of that period which have made it the object of unmeasured obloquy and of equally unmeasured eulogy, — the cynical shamelessness of its manners and its comparative breadth of thought and practical activity. The new atmosphere was laden with grosser impurities than the old, but it was less stifling. The decorous stateliness of Versailles was exchanged for the vulgar bustle of the Palais Royal. Instead of repression, there was tolerance ; instead of reverential assent and applause, there were discussion and criticism ; instead of an iron routine and immutable traditions, there was scope for experiment and adventure; instead of an ostentatious sanctimoniousness, there were unbridled levity and flaunting licentiousness. What, then, must be the final verdict on the character and efficiency of the government of Philip of Orleans and his minister Dubois ? The best, and perhaps the worst, that can be said of its policy is that it was one of expedients; that it was hampered by no prejudices, but had no vitalizing principles. The maintenance of peace on a firm and equitable basis was an obvious and prime necessity, and credit is due for the skillful management and sensible arrangements by which this object was secured. The ruinous state of the finances was partially and temporarily repaired by a common kind of clumsy and dishonest patchwork, while the attempt to stimulate industry and commerce, and roll up boundless wealth, by the banking and colonization schemes of Law, was more preposterous and more disastrous than the project for its support of which the government of M. Carnot has been doing penance with sackcloth and lighted taper. The temporizing attitude between Jesuits and Jansenists may have been dictated by shrewdness as well as indifference, but it is no proof of enlightenment. We cannot judge of reforms in administration which were planned, but for lack of time or energy were never carried out. In fine, one may say that, while much was weakened or destroyed by this régime, nothing was established. The chief claim made for it by Mr. Perkins is that it inaugurated a new spirit; that it stimulated men to think and investigate; that its experiments, though failures, cleared the way for more successful efforts; that at least in its negative results it was a precursor of the Revolution. This view may be accepted without compelling us to put high estimate on the persons who, as much by their lack of earnestness and belief as by their keenness or perspicuity of vision, exerted this emancipating influence.

The lively picture which Mr. Perkins has given us of the period and the actors is more effective than his generalizations ; and the strongest impression it leaves is that of a comedy, — one in which there was no Tartuffe, but also no Alceste.

The subject of Mr. Lowell’s book is not exactly indicated by its attractive title,2 which would lead us to expect a narrative of the events that immediately preceded the outbreak of the Revolution, — a picture of the situation when it was one, not of gradual and latent preparation, but of open agitation and suspense. Instead of this, we have a description of the state of the country, its institutions and social arrangements, in the eighteenth century, down to the assembly of the States-General. The administration and the court, the church, the nobility, the army, the courts of law, the finances, the condition of the people, the stream of new ideas that was flooding and permeating society, form the main topics of the twenty-three chapters into which the work is divided. It embraces a large amount of information, derived from recent as well as older sources, and presented in a compact and well-arranged form, making it pleasant to read and serviceable to consult. The inappropriateness of the title is rendered more evident by the failure to bring into a focus the significant facts and inevitable tendencies of a state of things which was already in process of dissolution. The general impression conveyed is, as the author himself remarks, that of “ a great, prosperous, modern country.” This view receives an apparent support in the growth of trade and manufactures, and the increase of wealth and population, during a long period of peace, but it must be pronounced an illusory one. The real condition was that of disorganization and impending collapse. Society was split into totally distinct and dissimilar sections, with no community of interests, and few relations but those of mutual hostility. The increase of wealth that gave a semblance of national prosperity was confined to the middle class, — the traders, the capitalists, the bourgeoisie generally, — which looked with envy and hatred at the class above it, and with scornful contempt on the class below it, while profiting by the necessities and incapacity of both. The nobility, exempt from the duties and responsibilities which it had formerly borne, retained its immunities as an order, and its jealous isolation as a caste. The peasantry, loaded with nearly the whole burden of taxation, as well as with feudal services and exactions for which they no longer received any equivalent, were for the most part, as Tocqueville asserts, in a worse condition than that which had been their lot in the fourteenth century. In a word, feudalism, which had once, as a living organism, exerted a cohesive force and performed indispensable functions, was now a dead weight and obstruction, both for the state, to which it lent an artificial splendor, and for the mass of the people, whose energies were crushed, and whose capacities for development were stifled by its oppressive and putrefying remains. The long continuance of this state of things without any open conflict or explosion only added to the material and intensified the virulence of the evil. And, meanwhile, a light such as had never before been turned on the nature and foundations of government and of society was pouring its fullest blaze on institutions which had been the outgrowth of circumstances, and which now rested only on tradition and usage. Conceptions and sentiments corresponding to nothing that existed, contradictory of all that existed, were spreading and fermenting throughout the whole community. An ideal world and a real world, with no feature in common, stood clearly revealed in menacing opposition. Under this far-reaching and dazzling illumination, gradual or partial change was impracticable and futile; sudden and complete change was revolution ; and all the circumstances of its origin, as well as of its inception and progress, conspired to render the revolution as violent as it was thorough.

The prominence and importance of the philosophical literature of the period justify the large amount of space which Mr. Lowell has given to this branch of his subject. But here, again, his exposition lacks the appropriate application. He discusses the characteristics and analyzes the productions of all the notable writers, giving, of course, the chief consideration to Rousseau ; but he does not indicate with precision or insistence their influence on the course of events, which is the all-important point. This is the more to be regretted since Taine’s treatment of this matter is as shallow in ideas as it is turgid and declamatory in style. He dissects the new doctrines in order to expose their fundamental unsoundness and perverse tendencies, and denounces their influence as wholly baleful and pernicious. But this is very much as if one should estimate the value of Puritanism or of the mediæval Church simply by its dogmatic content and the aberrations from a conceivable line of progress which were among the results. True historical criticism proceeds on a different principle. As the French Revolution is to be judged as a whole, so the philosophy of which it was the offspring, and of which it bore the stamp in all its diverse features. must be judged by the necessities from which it sprang, the spirit by which it was animated, and the whole circle of its action. It arose in a time of stagnation and decay. Literature of a higher kind there was none ; religion of an exalted and inspiring character there was none; statesmanship there was none; practical wisdom there was none. The spirit of speculative inquiry concentrated in itself all that was still vital in the moral and intellectual forces of society. It stood alone as a means of regeneration, with nothing to support, guide, or control it. It was fain to draw all its material from abstractions, and to face the existing order, not in the spirit of compromise, but in that of unflinching and unqualified attack. It was thus primarily and of necessity a purely negative and destructive force. Nevertheless, it did not simply clear the way for a positive and constructive activity, but embodied, amid all its errors, the germinating principle of subsequent developments. The teaching of Rousseau opened men’s eyes to the fact that the conceptions on which their life was based were artificial, conventional, and false. It roused them from torpor, and stimulated them to the search for higher aims and worthier means. It pointed them from custom and tradition to nature, — a term, now as then, open to wild and misleading interpretations, but then, as ever, the shibboleth of true progress in all social arrangements as well as in literature, science, and art. Thus the new doctrine, ugly and venomous under some aspects, wore yet a precious jewel in its head. The convulsions to which it gave rise were not the pangs of dissolution, but the birth-throes of a new era. The visions which it evoked, though far from being fully realized, were no mere illusions. There is hardly a phase of life or thought in which the nineteenth century may claim superiority to the eighteenth that does not bear the traces of that renovating influence.

“ Beware,” writes Emerson, “ when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet! ” Nothing in history better illustrates the force of this warning than the French Revolution. It was an uncontrolled reign of ideas. Its good and its evil, its glories and its horrors, all sprang from this source. Neither great practical ability on the one hand, nor base and mercenary motives on the other, had any part in it. From first to last, the men who initiated and conducted the movement were pure propagandists, inspired or intoxicated, strongminded or fanatical, all alike mastered and absorbed by a disinterested passion, with no remarkable gift beyond that of verbal expression, no power save that of exciting and guiding opinion. If the resistance of the government had been strong and determined enough to bring about a civil war, — which Mirabeau came to desire as the one means of staying the fury of the attack and saving the monarchy, — a different class of actors might have come to the front and controlled the course of events. As it was, the heavy bombardment of the philosophers was followed by the rattling fire of the pamphleteers, and then the orators, who formed the storming party, mounted the breaches, swept away all resistance, and proceeded to demolish the crumbling fortress, with the result, among others, that most of them were buried beneath the ruins. The study of the subject demands, therefore, in a greater degree than that of ordinary changes in government or legislation, an acquaintance with the speeches of the period; and the selection which Mr. Stephens has recently edited 3 will form a most useful accompaniment to his own or any other history of the Revolution. A people possessing, as he remarks, “ a natural aptitude for public speaking, a language peculiarly fitted for the development of eloquence, and an educational system which has always recognized rhetoric as an important study,” found itself, for the first time in its history, in the enjoyment of an unbounded liberty of discussion, and, as if in the sudden discharge of a long-repressed accumulation, poured forth a stream of eloquence surpassing that of ancient Athens — in quantity. As regards quality, the variety is extraordinary, embracing as it does the masterpieces of Mirabeau and Danton, with their vigorous argumentative power, and their flashes of intense feeling and condensed thought, the glowing rhetorical appeals of Vergniaud, the tortuous harangues of Robespierre, the frothy declamations of Barrère, and innumerable other effusions, many of them of a kind not represented in Mr. Stephens’s volumes, but none of them lacking significance in connection with the march of events. Read in this association, they involve us in the stormy atmosphere of the time: we are listening to the roll of the thunder and the ceaseless pattering of the rain, and we share in the agitations of the hour. But it must be confessed that it is a different thing to read them in cold blood, or, with some striking exceptions, to study them simply as specimens of oratorical art. Any one, however, who turns to them for this purpose will find every needful help in Mr. Stephens’s excellent Introductions, general and special.

The oratory of the Revolution had one rival in efficiency, — the guillotine ; and as the latter instrument increased its activity, the former rapidly declined in splendor and potency. The chief speakers disappeared from the scene in quick succession, and the stream of eloquence, which had started as a full and fiery torrent, dwindled and languished, until, under the Directory, it sank into a slender current of ditch water. The end was reached, not through a natural exhaustion, but by a sudden cataclysm. A new power arose, more absolute and imperious than the old monarchy, and the nation was relegated to its pristine silence. Thenceforth, for many years, there were no audible sounds but the roar of cannon and beat of drums, the proclamation of edicts and the boastful strains of martial bulletins. The conflict of opinions, the struggle of factions, the repetition of phrases, had ceased. There was but one thinker, one speaker, one will. Attention hung mute and breathless on the action of a single figure, the most picturesque, and in some respects the most problematical, in all history.

We are, happily, not called upon at present to discuss anew the character and career of Napoleon. On this subject Mr. Ropes said his say some time ago, with what degree of assent or dissent on the part of his audience it were idle to inquire. He now returns to the closing scene of the great drama in order to discuss it from the standpoint of purely military criticism, with a view to explaining more fully than has yet been done what seems to him “ the almost inexplicable result, — the complete defeat, in a very brief campaign, of the acknowledged master of modern warfare. 4 Of his qualifications for the task there can be no question, and the clearness of his method and style will render the details intelligible to the mass of persons, unfamiliar with the technique of war, for whom, despite the vaster operations of earlier and more recent times, the campaign of Waterloo still retains its unique interest. Intrinsically, too, the campaign is one of the easiest to comprehend. The strategy was simple ; its objects were obvious ; there were no natural obstacles to interfere with its execution, and no manœuvres on either side requiring the exercise of extraordinary skill to manage or to baffle them. The distances were so short and the movements so continuous that the encounters at Ligny, at Quatre Bras, and at Waterloo seem almost like different phases of a single battle. From the mound at Mont St. Jean an unobstructed view over a gently rolling country, unbroken by hills or large rivers, embraces nearly the whole field of operations. Mr. Ropes abstains from the kind of description which a writer less intent on his immediate object would have been tempted to indulge in ; but he gives, it need hardly be said, all the topographical indications that are necessary, supplemented by a volume of maps, in which the same features are successively reproduced, with no change except in the positions of the armies. Notwithstanding this apparent simplicity of the subject, it is one which, as the reader is aware, and from causes which he will easily conjecture, has given rise to a greater amount of controversy than any other in the annals of war. Numerous questions connected with it have been warmly debated, not merely by writers swayed by national or personal prejudices, but by others with whom such motives either did not exist, or were neutralized by the spirit of scientific inquiry. The special merit of Mr. Ropes’s work lies, we think, not in an absolute freedom from bias or in any entirely fresh light which is thrown upon disputed points, — a result scarcely possible without the production of hitherto unpublished evidence, — but in the fact that, by confining his narrative to the details which are necessary for the comprehension of these points, by stating each of them in due sequence with the utmost clearness and precision, and by bringing forward all the conflicting statements and opinions, with nearly everything that has been said in support of them, he puts the reader in a position to estimate their relative value and importance, and to arrive at such a judgment, uninfluenced by extraneous considerations, as he may be otherwise competent to form.

It is worthy of note that, putting aside the fabrications concocted at St. Helena, and long since ruled out of court, the censure which has been cast on the conduct of the allies is confined to a few points, in regard to which there is no uncertainty as to the main facts, and no doubt as to where the responsibility should rest. The questions involved are purely those of military criticism, and the only authorities entitled to be heard are substantially in accord. The cantonments of both the English and the Prussian army were too extended ; the concentration of the scattered corps was too long deferred ; Blücher’s formations and tactical movements at Ligny were faulty in the extreme ; above all, Wellington was guilty of an inexcusable error in retaining at Hal the large force which he had posted there in anticipation of a flanking movement on his right. These mistakes were redeemed by the firmness and tenacity of both commanders, by their well-arranged concert of action for the final struggle, and by Wellington’s skillful disposition and splendid management of his troops on the decisive field. On the other hand, there is scarcely a single act or measure on the side of the French which has not been a subject of adverse criticism. The successive strategical movements, the tactical arrangements and manœuvres in each of the three battles, the nature and intent of the orders that were given, and how far and in what spirit they were executed, the mental or physical condition and capacity of Napoleon, of Ney, of Soult, of Grouchy, and of subordinate officers, — all these matters have been brought under discussion as explanatory of the disastrous result. Two of them are of prime importance, and in regard to each of these there is, happily, a consensus of opinion on one point. The question is not whether " some one blundered,” that fact being too palpable to admit of contradiction, but only to whose act or negligence the blunder should be attributed. It is simply a question of evidence, — one on which any reader may, without presumption, express his own conclusions.

While the battles of Quatre Bras and Ligny were in progress, a French corps, twenty thousand strong, under D’Erlon, wandered backward and forward between these two fields without coming into action on either. Had it remained with Ney, there can scarcely be a doubt that Wellington, who was enabled to hold his ground against successive attacks only by the aid of the small reinforcements that were slowly gathered in, would have been driven back, defeated for the first time in his career. Had it moved against Blücher’s right wing, as it was in a position to do at a critical moment, his defeat must have been far more severe than it was, — possibly so crushing as to prevent his subsequent junction with Wellington. Instead of this, its appearance in a quarter from which it was possible that a hostile force might be advancing led Napoleon to arrest his attack upon the Prussian centre, when, as Mr. Ropes says, “ he was all ready to give the finishing blow,” and, by thus causing a delay of two hours, actually contributed to lessen the victory which it should have rendered more complete. The blame of this extraordinary incident has been tossed about between Ney, Napoleon, D’Erlon, and the officer — whether Laurent or Labedoyère is uncertain — who carried or gave the order which originally led to the mishap. It is to this last-mentioned person that Mr. Ropes, in concurrence with Charras, whose examination of the testimony is elaborate and impartial, imputes the fault ; and it must be allowed that the theory which ascribes the order to Napoleon himself, though in some respects the more plausible, rests on apparently irreconcilable facts. It is true that to an unprofessional reader it appears almost inconceivable that a mere staff officer should have felt himself at liberty to exercise independent authority in such a fashion ; but it would be obviously improper to apply the rules by which ordinary mortals are fain to straighten out their insignificant affairs to operations in which the fate of emperors and nations is at stake. The further question, however, remains, why Napoleon, when he had ascertained the real character of the approaching force, did not order it into action. He was counting on assistance from Ney, and had sent him written orders to manœuvre with that aim; yet when D’Erlon appeared, as if in answer to the summons, he let slip the opportunity of using it. This neglect is strongly condemned by almost all critics. Clausewitz excuses it on the ground of the lateness of the hour. Mr. Ropes considers that Napoleon must have supposed that D’Erlon had come upon the field under orders from Marshal Ney, expressly to remain and take part in the action,” and asks, " Why, then, should he send him any orders ? ” The puzzled layman can only ask in return, Why, if such orders were obviously unnecessary, do writers like Jomini and Charras insist that they should have been given ? What further mystifies us is that Mr. Ropes proceeds to admit that " we can see now that this would have been wise,” and explains the omission by the fact that “ at this moment Napoleon had all he could attend to in organizing the decisive movement on Ligny.” Charras, however, as if in anticipation of this remark, says that a message of five words, promptly transmitted, would have sufficed ; and it is incredible that Napoleon, when he received the information for which he had waited so long, should have been unable to avail himself of it by so simple a step. Accident had brought him a large reinforcement ; D’Erlon’s corps had come within the circuit of his own combinations ; it now formed virtually a continuation of his line of battle, and the proper employment of it was not less important than that of the forces already engaged. A false movement had turned out one of the most fortunate of accidents, and if advantage had been taken of it, the “ super-serviceable staff officer” to whom it was due, instead of being made a scapegoat, would have been entitled to applause for his foresight and zeal. But in this case there would have been no talk of error or accident; the movement would have been ascribed to a brilliant inspiration, and the credit of it would have been claimed by and given to Napoleon.

The other question requiring to be noticed is, of course, that which relates to the mission and movements of Grouchy. The general facts and the points of controversy are too familiar to need recapitulation, but a reader whose impressions have been gathered from a decision such as that of Thiers, that “ to Grouchy, to Grouchy alone,” is attributable the catastrophe at Waterloo, may be surprised to learn with what a close approach to unanimity professional criticism has reached the opposite conclusion. Mr. Ropes’s treatment of this matter leaves little to be desired. That Grouchy, when he found that the Prussians had retreated on Wavre, should, instead of following them in that direction, have sought at once to place his army between them and Napoleon is now seldom disputed with any show of reason. Whatever his orders, and whatever the doubts whether such a movement would have had the success and led to the decisive results that have been assumed, — a point on which Charras and Mr. Ropes take opposite views, — this was clearly the course which the circumstances not only justified, but demanded; and Grouchy’s failure to take it proves his lack of capacity for the post assigned to him. On the other hand, for the long delay in starting the pursuit, for the strange failure to ascertain by timely reconnaissances the direction of the retreat, for the false assumptions in this regard which governed the instructions originally given to the marshal, for the lack of definiteness in these instructions, and for subsequent omissions to furnish him with information and precise directions, Napoleon alone is responsible. But this is not all. There was a fault greater than these, and underlying these. The project, of which the execution was entrusted to Grouchy, should never have been formed. By detaching so large a force from his command, Napoleon incurred unnecessarily numerous risks, and threw away his greatest chance of speedy and complete success. After beating the Prussians, he should have massed his whole army without delay, and, leaving only a small corps for observation in his rear, marched against Wellington in greatly preponderating strength. On this point Mr. Ropes is in accord with most preceding critics, from Marshal Soult downwards. Whether, if the right course had been adopted, Wellington would perforce have been overwhelmed before the arrival of his allies, whether their junction with him could have been effected, and whether, if effected, it would have saved the day, are questions on which diverse opinions have been expressed, but which are of necessity insoluble.

What was the cause of this portentous error, and of many other mistakes in the conduct of the campaign ; above all, the loss of time at every important stage, — in the advance across the frontier, in beginning the attack at Ligny, in resuming operations on the following day, in opening the battle at Waterloo, — and that general lack of energy and decision which leads Charras to characterize the campaign as one of hesitations and delays ? Napoleon’s physical ill condition affords only a doubtful, or at the most a partial, explanation of this want of promptitude in resolve and action, so contrary to his usual methods and distinctive characteristics. The real and deeper source lay in his mental state, in his consciousness of the fatality of his position. The illusions under which he had replaced himself in power, and which for a time he had communicated to the mass of the French people, had been quickly dispelled. The stern fact loomed up that he had taken this step, as Thiers, the most eloquent and most credulous of his advocates, has expressed it, “ in defiance of Europe, in defiance of France, in defiance of common sense.” But, having taken it, he had no choice but to go on, trusting in those elements of chance on which, in the downward course of his fortunes, he had so often and so vainly relied. Mr. Ropes, however, appears to think that Napoleon’s position was not of this nature, and that his calculations were based on sound principles. This view colors his whole narrative, and seems to us to vitiate his judgments on several controverted points. It is most conspicuous in his general outline of the situation. Napoleon, he says, on his return from Elba, “ proclaimed his policy to be strictly one of peace, and we have every reason to believe that his intentions were sincerely pacific.” It seems singular that, with “ every reason ” for this belief, it should have found so little acceptance both at the time and since. There was, and is, at least one reason for doubt, — the contrast between the sentiments proclaimed by Napoleon at this epoch and his past career. An interval of tranquillity, of immunity from attack, was of course an essential necessity, and consequently the object of his immediate but useless efforts. But to believe, with M. Thiers and Mr. Ropes, that this man, after so long “breathing out tbreatenings and slaughter,” had suddenly and without a miracle been transformed into an apostle of the gospel of peace is to disbelieve in the general consistency of human nature. There is, however, no need of argument in this case. His return from Elba was itself a violation of the existing peace and a virtual declaration of war, an abrogation of the Treaty of Paris and a challenge to the powers that had framed it. The notion that he could avert the natural consequences by pacific professions was a vain illusion, quickly dispelled.

What, then, was the outlook when the powers at once renewed their alliance against him and proceeded to array their forces ? He hoped, Mr. Ropes writes, “ that if fortune should favor him in 1815 as in 1805 and 1806, . . . he would not find it impossible to make peace with his father-in-law, the Emperor of Austria, and that Russia, whose interests in the war were remote and really theoretical, would willingly retire from the contest.” Russia had precisely the same motives for its hostility as the other powers, — its long experience of Napoleon’s insulting domination, the invasion from which it had suffered so cruelly and for which it had inflicted a still more terrible retaliation, the part which it had taken in his overthrow, and the pledges which it had given to treat him as a common enemy. Any hopes which he may have founded on his connection with the Austrian Emperor were equally groundless. Fathersin-law have not, perhaps, the same ill reputation as mothers-in-law, but they can be very disagreeable on occasion ; and as in the preceding year Francis had been able to repress the natural yearnings of his partiality for so remarkable a son-inlaw, there could be little chance of his yielding to them now, when he had his daughter and his daughter’s son in his own possession, and when every tie of interest, honor, and patriotism bound him to remain firm. If, indeed, Napoleon should, in Mr. Ropes’s words, “ be able to repeat in Belgium the astonishing successes of Austerlitz and Jena,” it was impossible to foretell the results. Yet they would not be the same as on those occasions. The most complete victory over Wellington and Blücher would not open to him the gates of Vienna or Berlin ; it would only enable him to turn against the far larger armies assembled on the Rhine. But what were the chances of his obtaining such a victory ? The numerical force of his army was little more than half that of the combined English and Prussian armies ; and although his troops were, on the whole, superior in fighting quality, this advantage was to a large extent counterbalanced by the fact that most of their old leaders were gone, and that the few who were present had little heart in the enterprise and little confidence in the issue. Mr. Ropes, however, thinks that the prospects were highly favorable. The armies of Wellington and Blücher “ were bound,” he tells us, “ in case of disaster to either or both, to follow lines of retreat which were wholly divergent.” “ The bases of the two armies were situated in opposite directions,” and “ it was of course probable that, if either of these armies should be obliged to retreat, it would retreat towards its own base,” which “ would be to march away from its ally.” He even goes so far as to say that Blücher, as Napoleon calculated, would adopt this course if he should simply “ decline an engagement; ” from what motive, except to indulge in a fit of the sulks, it is hard to imagine. That either army, if vanquished or routed, would seek to retire by its own line of supply was likely enough ; ceasing to be available for further operations, it would have no alternative. But in any less disastrous contingency would this be the right thing to do ? Did Blücher act wrongly, after his defeat at Ligny, in marching towards his ally, instead of going off in the opposite direction ? Mr. Ropes will assuredly not say this. But if the proper thing for the allies to do was that which they actually did, why should it have been assumed that they would do the exact opposite ?

The simple and obvious fact is that Napoleon’s calculations were based, not on probabilities, but on improbabilities. Nor could it be otherwise. It was necessary, for the complete success by which alone he could hope to secure standing-ground on his slippery uphill path, with an abyss behind him, that all the chief errors should be on the side of the enemy, and that all the accidents should be in his own favor. What actually occurred was nearly the reverse of this, and resulted partly from the fact that, having based his calculations on a false theory, he was compelled to act upon it after its falsity was proved, or to retire from the contest. The conflict that always springs from the consciousness of a false position will better account for his hesitations and delays than his physical condition.

For, in fact, he had acted in the same manner on previous occasions of the like nature. It is sufficient to cite two notorious instances, — his fatal stay at Moscow after the expectations with which he had undertaken his expedition had proved futile, and his failure to withdraw the French garrisons from Dresden and other remote places before the battle of Leipzig. The facts in both these cases were plain to other men’s perceptions ; he alone, with his unrivaled keenness of vision, was blind to them. The world has not attributed those faults to physical infirmities, nor has it allowed them to affect its estimate of his military genius. He was in truth " the acknowledged master of modern warfare,” but he was also the most reckless of adventurers. All his mighty structures were erected upon foundations of sand, and when he saw his projects crumbling about him, he made gigantic but hopeless efforts to sustain them. There is a fascinating splendor in the desperate tenacity and the brilliant exploits by which, in his later years, he held the world at bay. The Napoleon of 1814 is more captivating to the imagination than the Bonaparte of 1796. But his career was all of a piece : it was that of a prodigious power unamenable to the restraints of law. All his enterprises, grand or mean, had self-aggrandizement for their ultimate aim. In all his calculations, fortune — that is to say, the incalculable — was the predominating element. Mr. Ropes, if we remember rightly, admitted in his former book that Napoleon’s conduct, after the tide turned against hitn, was that of a gambler. But indeed the same spirit governed him throughout, and rendered most of his great achievements fruitless. In 1815 he played his last stake, — played it against greater odds and under more hopeless conditions than he had ever encountered before, — confronted and outlawed by Europe, and distrusted by France, which he had drained of its resources ; which, if he succeeded at first, would be loath to support him further; which was certain to abandon him if he failed. This combination of circumstances could not fail to affect his spirit, and it leaves his defeat anything but “ inexplicable.”

And so, after the lapse of a century, the experiment of Louis XIV. had been repeated, on a far vaster scale, but with a like result. Yet in each instance the vanquished nation preserved its territory intact. Since then it has met with a heavier reverse, and has seen itself stripped of the provinces which had so long formed the bulwark of its one assailable frontier. No one who loves France could view without regret its loss of Alsace and Lorraine. But no reflecting mind could fail to acknowledge that Germany was justified in the seizure of them by the need of securing itself against future aggressions, or would sympathize with an attempt to recover them by another war. And in truth, with all the continuous preparations for future international struggles, the thoughts of most men are now directed to questions of a wider scope and deeper meaning. The old problem, the eternal problem, is still before us. Doctrines not less strange or less subversive than those of the eighteenth century are preparing a new upheaval for the fast-approaching twentieth century. After all that has been accomplished by the Revolution and its results, society is still divided, and is again tending to convulsions, possibly to reconstruction.

  1. France under the Regency. With a Review of the Administration of Louis XIV. By JAMES BRECK PERKINS. Boston and New York : Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1892.
  2. The Eve of the French Revolution. By EDWARD J. LOWELL. Boston and New York : Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1892.
  3. The Principal Speeches of the Statesmen and Orators of the French Revolution. 1789-1795. Edited, with Introductions, Notes, and Indices, by H. MORSE STEPHENS. In two volumes. Oxford: Clarendon Press. New York: Macmillan & Co. 1892.
  4. The Campaign of Waterloo. A Military History. By JOHN CODMAN ROPES. With Atlas. New York : Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1893.