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Art. VI. A Narrative of the Events which have taken place in .France, from the landing of Napoleon Bonaparte, on the 1st of Mtirch, 1815. Till the Restoration of Louis XVIII. With an Account of the present State of Society and Public Opinion. By Helen Maria Williams. 8vo. pp. 390. Price 9s. 6d. Murray. 1815.
A MORE than ordinary curiosity has, we believe, been ex**■ cited by this volume, owing to the former celebrity of the Author, and the opportunities it may be supposed she possesses, for forming an impartial opinion of recent events in France. As the enthusiastic champion of Jacobin liberty, it might be expected that Miss Williams would be far enough from exhibiting an unseasonable partiality towards the fallen despot, and that at the same time there would be no danger of her being carried into an excess of loyalty with regard to the restored monarch. This lady's political opinions, may not, indeed, be of greater importance than those of any other intelligent individual, except so far as they may be taken as indications of the state of opinion in France; but they would seem to vouch for the authenticity at least, of her statements.
The public, however, were not quite prepared to find Miss Williams adopting so very decidedly the tone of a royalist; and this extreme change in her sentiments has naturally been viewed with jealousy. The propensity we all feel to trace every human action to some intelligent motive, leads us to ascribe any such alteration, the reasons for which are not very obvious, either to interested considerations, or infirmity of character. Miss Williams appears to anticipate the surprise of her reader; and in reply to the remark of her correspondent, ' You were a Bo'napartist,' she exclaims,
'Yes, I admired Bonaparte; I admired also the French revolution. To my then youthful imagination, the day-star of liberty seemed to rise on the vine-covered hills of France, only to shed benedictions on humanity- I dreamt of prison-doors thrown open,—of dungeons visited by the light of day—of the peasant oppressed no longer— of equal rights, equal laws, a golden age, in which all that lived were to be happy. But how soon did these beautiful illusions vanish, and this star of liberty set in blood! How just was the reflexion of Monsieur Gorani at the time of revolutionary horrors, "Jo connaissnis les grands, mais je ne connaissais pas les pctits." Von, however, are not of the number of those who deny that liberty was formed to bless, and dignify mankind, because she has fallen on *• evil days, and evil tongues." p. 7.
In the illusions in which Miss Williams indulged with regard to the French revolution, the wisest and the best of her contemporaries for a time participated; and it was with a pardonable reluctance that these persons, who had no opposite bias to serve instead of foresight in clearing their perspective, and Vol. V. N.S. F
no predilections for the Antijacobiu party, abandoned the hope*? it had awakened, long after it had become reasonable to cherish them. But it is not so easy to account for the excess of this enthusiasm for liberty leading to an admiration of Bonaparte. His 'splendid victories,' his 'modesty of de'meanour,' his affected 'disdain of applause,' and his c Vt*'iieration for Ossian,' upon which the enthusiasm of this lady confessedly rested, constituted but very slender pretensions surely, to the credulous admiration for which our Author now finds it expedient to apologize. But enthusiasm must have some object which it may 'invest with the mist of obscure 'feeling,' and embellish with ideal qualities. Miss Williams admired Brissot; she admired Bonaparte; she admires—we believe with equal sincerity—the Bourbons.—She is doomed to be still the creature of 'beautiful illusions.'
In one respect we are, nevertheless, disposed to lay considerable stress on Miss Williams's testimony, so far as it relates to facts. It is not to be supposed, that living in the midst of fashionable society, in the very mart of opinion, she cither can be mistaken in her information, or that she would venture her own credit in society by false representations which would so easily be exposed. She affirms, that Bonaparte was not popular in France; that ' The tenderness professed by him for the people,
* and his sympathy for their sufferings under the reign of the 'Bourbons, raised a smile on the lips of the Parisians;' 'that 'Bonaparte could not dissemble to himself that, however 'agreeable his return might be to the citizens who had revelled
* in the sweets of subordinate power, he had not been happy in. ( securing the assent and affections of any other classes of his 'subjects;' and that he regained his short-lived empire by a 'military conspiracy.' 'A feeling of surprise, but a very 'slight degree of inquietude,' was at first excited at Paris, by the intelligence of his landing at Cannes: it was talked of
* less as a subject of alarm, than of speculation with respect to 'the motives of his expedition.'
< On the news of the possession of Lyons by Bonaparte and Lis army, now become formidable by its numbers, consternation began to operate on the Parisian world in the inverse ratio of its former incredulity. The same magical power which had led this extraordinary personage from his island to the center of France, seemed no less potent to protect his further attempts if it was his intention to wing' nis v.:,v to Paris. There was, however, no supernatural agency in this business; there was nothing even very astonishing in this revolutionary phantasmagoria.
'It was scarcely to be imagined that Bonaparte would have thrown 1 tiasclf with so much rashness and precipitation into the midst of France, with a handfull of followers, and have attempted to traverse a country through which, but a few months before, he had passed to nis place of exile, loaded with the execrations of its inhabitants, and, even under the protection of his European conquerors, compelled to seek at times his personal safety by assuming the meanest disguises; it could scarcely be imagined that he would have ventured to trace back his steps through this country as a conqueror, and have seated himself in the capital of the south, had he not depended on other forces than those of his followers, and assured to himself other means of success than the riches his Elbean sovereignty afforded. Suspicions arose at Paris that there existed some strange neglect in certain departments of the administrations of government. It was observed that not only the southern depot of Grenoble had furnished the invader with every implement of war, and that its garrison had shewn a singular alacrity in declaring themselves traitors, but that Lyons had been left without defence, or the arms necessary for the national guard. It seemed strange also that the fleet at Toulon had remained in the harbour, and that, were it merely to exercise the sailors, no cruize had taken place in the space that reaches from the Isle of Elba to the shores of Provence. It is certain that the conspiracy had been carried on during some months, with more good fortune than address. The discovery of one part of the plot was accidental, or, to borrow the pious ejaculation of the new minister of war, seemed to have been made by the miraculous interposition of Providence.
'Marshal Mortier, Duke of Treviso, who commanded the troops stationed in the north, had left Paris to return to his head-quarters at Lisle, when he met on the indirect road he had taken, a body of troops, consisting of about ten thousand men, on their march to Paris. The astonished Marshal demanded where they were going, and found that they had received orders to march upon Paris, to save the city from pillage, and rescue the king from the hands of the populace. He examined the orders, saw they were forgeries, and ordered his soldiers to march back instantly to their quarters.
* The town of La Fere, in Picardy, was a northern military depot, under the command of M. D'Aboville. The General Lefebre De~ aouettes had entered this town with troops drawn from the garrison of Cambray, under the command of General Lallemand and his brother, demanding military accommodation for two thousand men. The commander of La Fere observed that there was somewhat singular in this march; and having soon obtained proofs of the traitorous intentions of these generals, he put his garrison, at an early hour, in order of battle, and answered the invitation of joining Bonaparte, by the cry of "Vive le Roi!" in which he was joined
, by his troops, lite rebel generals sought their safety in flight, but were soon after taken.
'Thus Bonaparte's project was neither rash, nor ill-concerted. While he advanced by rapid marches to Lyons, for which due preparations had been made by the removal of all obstacles, and while the garrison of Grenoble assisted his arrival, his partizans in the north were to furnish him with arms, lead on the troops under their command, and take possession of Pans. The accidental'meeting of a powerful detachment of the northern army by Marshal Mortier,
and the firmness of D'Aboville at La Fere, disconcerted this part of the plan, but at the same time convinced the government that the conspiracy was not confined to the south, and to the troops that accompanied Bonaparte.' pp. 27—32.
'Thus,' remarks our Author, 'did this daring soldier in 'tlie space of three short weeks, transfer the seat of empire 'from his rocky exile to the palace of the Tuileries.' As the rapidity of his march, she adds, may appear a prodigy unexampled in history, so his pacific triumph might seem to bear the stamp of the general assent of the nation.
'Such conclusions would, however, be most erroneous. There was nothing miraculous in his journey. He was quietly conveyed to Paris in his caleche, drawn by four post-horses, which he found prepared at every relay; and it required but ordinary courage to advance through a country where all that was hostile to his purpose was defenceless and unarmed, and all that could have opposed his progress hailed him with acclamations of transport. But if the triumphal march of Napoleon Bonaparte, from the coast of Pro'vence to the capital of France, presents, when investigated in its details, no marvel to the imagination, it teaches, at least, a most tremendous lesson to mankind; it adds a new page of instruction on the danger of military influence; it shews us that no other ties are so powerful as those which bind the soldier to his chief. What the French army would have called rebellion, was resistance to the voice of their general. The military ravagers of other countries can never become the civic defenders of their own. Their bosoms beat high with the unextinguishable hope of what mankind, in its hour of madness, has agreed to call by the name of glory. They had acquired under Bonaparte that fatal ascendant which led them to consider even their own country as their conquest. Careless of its miseries, forming a class apart from their fellow-citizens, like the Janizaries of the east, or the Pretorian bands of the Roman empire, tiify consulted only their own triumph, and disposed of crowna and sceptres at their will. The land which gave them birth, and which they were destined to defend, they have covered with desolation, and have opened'an abyss to France from which'the heart recoils, and where the eye fears to penetrate.' pp. 46—-18.
Of the conduct of the Prince of Moskwa, Miss W. speaks in the strongest terms of reprobation. Whatever allowances may be made for many, in such times of vicissitude, 'no 'morality however lax, no charity however lenient, can forbear 'stigmatizing, with eternal ignominy, the conduct of certain 'actors in this turbulent drama;' at the head of which, in point of gnilt, she places Marshal Ney: and she affirms, that 'un'availing execrations against his black perfidy, hung upon every 'lip.' Yet even Marshal Ifcy has found lus apologists in this country.
The auxiliaries that the conspirators found in other classes ofthe community, are thus characterized.
.cThere still existed the remains of a party in France which had during a short time wielded the sceptre as despotically as Bonaparte himself. This was the faction of the Jacobins; once no less powetful ■witli the insignia of the red-cap, than Napoleon with his imperial crown, of whom some one, seeing him pass in pomp through the streets of Paris, observed, *' C'est Robespierre a cheval." The Jacobins had long been reduced to such death-like silence, that the race was deemed extinct. Bonaparte had received the first, ru-diment of his political knowledge in their school, and been denominated, by high authority, their child and champion. On his first entrance into power, he adopted the system of fusion, and employed such of the chiefs of the faction as had escaped the scaffold. He was, however, too prudent not to keep the party in proper subjection while he continued to practise their favourite maxim, the secret of all their power, " that of daring." The exile of some of the most turbulent leaders among the populace of the Fauxbourgs, by Bonaparte's orders, had reduced the rest to silence; and though they murmured at his injustice, they dreaded and worshipped his power.
'This class was at present too obscure to excite any apprehension in the government; with the exception of a few chiefs, they were to be found only in the poorest of the labouring tribe. They had, however, been useful on some occasions, and in revolutions no means of power ought to be neglected. Subsidies were necessary to raise these dormant allies into action; and subsidies were found by the relations and friends of Bonaparte, and largely distributed by their emissaries.' pp. 38—40.
Our Author's account of the state of opinion, during Bonaparte's second imperial reign, with respect to his 'new pro
* fessions of political faith,' is in striking contrast with the assurances of certain of his partisans, and tends most cruelly to derogate from the majesty of his character. 'Few,' she says, ' had been the dupes of this pretended conversion, but it 'was generally supposed, that the consideration of the peri'lous situation in which he had placed himself, might lead 'him to act his part in the comedy of patriotism, till he was
*firmly seated on his throne by the assembly of the Field of v May.' * He might then,' she adds, 'more easily seize the
* occasion of wielding unrestrained his old imperial sceptre.1
'Every one beheld Bonaparte smiling, under his air of penitence, at the toil and trouble of these new constitution-makers, bidding them good speed till they had again confirmed him in the possession of his throne, and then, like another Sampson, whose locks had escaped their shears, and laughing loud at their credulity, he would probably snap at once all the chains of popular sovereignty, laws, equality, and rights of man, and brandishing his imperial eagle,