THE Directory lasted from October 27, 1795, to November 19, 1799. It took its name from the form of the executive branch of the Republic, as determined by the Constitution of 1795. Its history of four years was troubled, uncertain, and ended in its violent overthrow.
Its first and most pressing problem was the continued prosecution of the war. As already stated, Prussia, Spain, and Holland had withdrawn from the coalition and made peace with the Convention. But England, Austria, Piedmont, and the lesser German states were still in arms against the Republic. The first duty of the Directory was, therefore, to continue the war with them and to defeat them. France had already overrun the Austrian Netherlands, that is, modern Belgium, and had declared them annexed to France. But to compel Austria, the owner, to recognize this annexation she must be beaten. The Directory therefore proceeded with vigor to concentrate its attention upon this object. As France had thrown back her invaders, the fighting was no longer on French soil. She now became the invader, and that long series of conquests of various European countries by aggressive French armies began, which was to end only twenty years later with the fall of the greatest commander of modern times, if not of all history. The campaign against Austria, planned by the Directory, included two parallel and aggressive movements against that country — an attack through southern Germany, down the valley of the Danube, ending, it was hoped, at Vienna. This was the campaign north of the Alps. South of the Alps, in northern Italy, France had enemies in Piedmont and again in Austria, which had possession of the central and rich part of the Po valley, namely, Lombardy, with Milan as the capital.
The campaign in Germany was confided to Jourdan and Moreau; that in Italy to General Bonaparte, who made of it a stepping-stone to fame and power incomparable.
Napoleon Bonaparte was born at Ajaccio in Corsica in 1769, a short time after the island had been sold by Genoa to France. The family was of Italian origin but had been for two centuries and a half resident in the island. His father, Charles Bonaparte, was of the nobility but was poor, indolent, pleasure-loving, a lawyer by profession. His mother, Laetitia Ramolino, was a woman of great beauty, of remarkable will, of extraordinary energy. Poorly educated, this “mother of kings” was never able to speak the French language without ridiculous mistakes. She had thirteen children, eight of whom lived to grow up, five boys and three girls. The father died when the youngest, Jerome, was only three months old. Napoleon, the second son, was educated in French military schools at Brienne and Paris, as a sort of charity scholar. He was very unhappy, surrounded as he was by boys who looked down upon him because he was poor while they were rich, because his father was unimportant while theirs belonged to the noblest families in France, because he spoke French like the foreigner he was, Italian being his native tongue. In fact he was tormented in all the ways of which schoolboys are past masters. He became sullen, taciturn, lived apart by himself, was unpopular with his fellows, whom, in turn, he despised, conscious, as he was, of powers quite equal to any of theirs, of a spirit quite as high. His boyish letters home were remarkably serious, lucid, intelligent. He was excellent in mathematics, and was fond of history and geography. At the age of sixteen he left the military school and became a second lieutenant of artillery. One of his teachers described him at this time as follows: “Reserved and studious, he prefers study to amusement of any kind and enjoys reading the best authors; is diligent in the study of the abstract sciences, caring little for anything else. He is taciturn and loves solitude, is capricious, haughty, and excessively self-centered. He talks little but is quick and energetic in his replies, prompt and incisive in repartee. He has great self-esteem, is ambitious, with aspirations that will stop at nothing. Is worthy of patronage.”
Young Bonaparte read the intoxicating literature of revolt of the eighteenth century, Voltaire, Turgot, particularly Rousseau. “Even when I had nothing to do,” he said later, “I vaguely thought that I had no time to lose.” As a young sub-lieutenant he had a wretchedly small salary. “I have no resources here but work,” he wrote his mother. “I sleep very little. I go to bed at ten, I rise at four. I have only one meal a day, at three o’clock.” He read history extensively regarding it as “the torch of truth, the destroyer of prejudice.” He tried his hand at writing, es- says, novels, but particularly a history of Corsica, for at this time his great ambition was to be the historian of his native land. He hated France and dreamed of a war of independence for Corsica. He spent much time in Corsica, securing long furloughs, which, moreover, he overstayed. As a consequence he finally lost his position in the army, which, though poorly salaried, still gave him a living. He re- turned to Paris in 1792 hoping to regain it, but the disturbed state of affairs was not propitious. Without a profession, without resources, he was almost penniless. He ate in cheap restaurants. He pawned his watch — and, as an idle but interested spectator, he witnessed some of the famous “ days “ of the Revolution, the invasion of the Tuileries by the mob on the 20th of June, when Louis XVI was forced to wear the bonnet rouge, the attack of August 10th when he was deposed, the September Massacres. Bonaparte’s opinion was that the soldiers should have shot a few hundred, then the crowd would have run. He was restored to his command in August, 1792. In 1793 he distinguished himself by helping recover Toulon for the Republic and in 1795 by defending the Convention against the insurrection of Vendemiaire, which was a lucky crisis for him.
Having conquered a Parisian mob, he was himself conquered by a woman. He fell madly in love with Josephine Beauharnais, a widow six years older than himself, whose husband had been guillotined a few days before the fall of Robespierre, leaving her poor and with two children. Josephine did not lose her heart, but she was impressed, indeed half terrified, by the vehemence of Napoleon’s passion, the intensity of his glance, and she yielded to his rapid, impetuous courtship, with a troubled but vivid sense that the future had great things in store for him. “ Do they “ (the Directors) “ think that I need their protection in order to rise?” he had exclaimed to her. “They will be glad enough some day if I grant them mine. My sword is at my side and with it I can go far.” “This pre-posterous assurance,” wrote Josephine, “affects me to such a degree that I can believe everything may be possible to this man, and, with his imagination, who can tell what he may be tempted to undertake?”
Two days before they were married Bonaparte was appointed to the command of the Army of Italy. His sword was at his side. He now unsheathed it and made some memorable passes. Two days after the marriage he left his bride in Paris and started for the front, in a mingled mood of desperation at the separation and of exultation that now his opportunity had come. Sending back passionate love-letters from every station, his spirit and his senses all on fire, feeling that he was on the very verge of achievement, he hastened on to meet the enemy and, as was quickly evident, “to tear the very heart out of glory.” The wildness of Corsica, his native land, was in his blood, the land of fighters, the land of the vendetta, of concentrated passion, of lawless energy, of bravery beyond compare, concerning which Rousseau had written in happy prescience twenty years before, “ I have a presentiment that this little island will some day astonish Europe.” That day had come. The young eagle it had nourished was now preening for his flight, prepared to astonish the universe.
The difficulties that confronted Bonaparte were numerous and notable. One was his youth and another was that he was unknown. The Army of Italy had been in the field three years. Its generals did not know their new commander. Some of them were older than he and had al- ready made names for themselves. They resented this appointment of a junior, a man whose chief exploit had been a street fight in Paris. Nevertheless when this slender, round-shouldered, small, and sickly-looking young man appeared they saw instantly that they had a master. He was imperious, laconic, reserved with them. “It was necessary,” he said afterward, “in order to command men so much older than myself.” He was only five feet two inches tall, but, said Massena, “ when he put on his general’s hat he seemed to have grown two feet. He questioned us on the position of our divisions, on the spirit and effective force of each corps, prescribed the course we were to follow, announced that he would hold an inspection on the morrow, and on the day following attack the enemy.” Augereau, a vulgar and famous old soldier, full of strange oaths and proud of his tall figure, was abusive, derisive, mutinous. He was admitted to the General’s presence and passed an uneasy moment. “ He frightened me,” said Augereau, “ his first glance crushed me. I cannot understand it.”
It did not take these officers long to see that the young general meant business and that he knew very thoroughly the art of war. His speech was rapid, brief, incisive. He gave his orders succinctly and clearly and he let it be known that obedience was the order of the day. The cold reception quickly became enthusiastic cooperation.
Bonaparte won ascendency over the soldiers with the same lightning rapidity. They had been long inactive, idling through meaningless manceuvers. He announced immediate action. The response was instantaneous. He inspired confidence and he inspired enthusiasm. He took an army that was discouraged, that was in rags, even the officers being almost without shoes, an army on half-rations. He issued a bulletin which imparted to them his own exaltation, his belief that the limits of the possible could easily be transcended, that it is all a matter of will. He got into their blood and they tingled with impatience and with hope. “There was so much of the future in him,” is the way Marmont described the impression. “Soldiers,” so ran this bulletin, “soldiers, you are ill-fed and almost naked; the government owes you much, it can give you nothing. Your patience, the courage which you exhibit in the midst of these crags, are worthy of all admiration; but they bring you no atom of glory; not a ray is reflected upon you. I will conduct you into the most fertile plains in the world. Rich provinces, great cities will be in your power; there you will find honor, glory, and wealth. Soldiers of Italy, can it be that you will be lacking in courage or perseverance?”
Ardent images of a very mundane and material kind rose up before him and he saw to it that his soldiers shared them. By portraying very earthly visions of felicity Mahomet, centuries before, had stirred the Oriental zeal of his followers to marvelous effort and achievement. Bonaparte took suggestions from Mahomet on more than one occasion in his life.
Bonaparte’s first Italian campaign has remained in the eyes of military men ever since a masterpiece, a classic example of the art of war. It lasted a year, from April, 1796, to April, 1797. It may be summarized in the words, “ He came, he saw, he conquered.” He confronted an allied Sardinian and Austrian army, and his forces were much inferior in number. His policy was therefore to see that his enemies did not unite, and then to beat each in turn. His enemies combined had 70,000 men. He had about half that number. Slipping in between the Austrians and Sardinians he defeated the former, notably at Dego, and drove them eastward. Then he turned westward against the Sardinians, defeated them at Mondovi and opened the way to Turin, their capital. The Sardinians sued for peace and agreed that France should have the provinces of Savoy and Nice. One enemy had thus been eliminated by the “rag heroes,” now turned into “winged victories.” Bonaparte summarized these achievements in a bulletin to his men, which set them vibrating. “Soldiers,” he said, “in fifteen days you have won six victories, taken twenty-one stand of colors, fifty-five pieces of cannon, and several fortresses, and conquered the richest part of Piedmont. You have taken 1,500 prisoners and killed or wounded 10,000 men. . . . But, soldiers, you have done nothing, since there remains something for you to do. You have still battles to fight, towns to take, rivers to cross.”
Bonaparte now turned his entire attention to the Austrians, who were in control of Lombardy. Rushing down the southern bank of the Po, he crossed it at Piacenza. Beaulieu, the Austrian commander, withdrew beyond the Adda River. There was no way to get at him but to cross the river by the bridge of Lodi, a bridge 350 feet long and swept on the other side by cannon. To cross it in the face of a raking fire was necessary but was well-nigh impossible. Bonaparte ordered his grenadiers forward. Halfway over they were mowed down by the Austrian fire and began to recoil. Bonaparte and other generals rushed to the head of the columns, risked their lives, inspired their men, and the result was that they got across in the very teeth of the murderous fire and seized the Austrian batteries. “ Of all the actions in which the soldiers under my command have been engaged,” reported Bonaparte to the Directory, “none has equaled the tremendous passage of the bridge of Lodi.”
From that day Bonaparte was the idol of his soldiers. He had shown reckless courage, contempt of death. Thenceforth they called him affectionately “The Little Corporal.” The Austrians retreated to the farther side of the Mincio and to the mighty fortress of Mantua. On May 16 Bonaparte made a triumphal entry into Milan. He sent a force to begin the siege of Mantua. That was the key to the situation. He could not advance into the Alps and against Vienna until he had taken it. On the other hand if Austria lost Mantua, she would lose her hold upon Italy.
Four times during the next eight months, from June, 1796, to January, 1797, Austria sent down armies from the Alps in the attempt to relieve the beleaguered fortress. Each time they were defeated, by the prodigious activity, the precision of aim, of the French general, who continued his policy of attacking his enemy piecemeal, before their divisions could unite. By this policy his inferior forces, for his numbers were inferior to the total of the opposed army, were always as a matter of fact so applied as to be superior to the enemy on the battlefield, for he attacked when the enemy was divided. It was youth against age, Bonaparte being twenty-seven, Wurmser and the other Austrian generals almost seventy. It was new methods against old, originality against the spirit of routine. The Austrians came down from the Alpine passes in two divisions. Here was Bonaparte’s chance, and wonderfully did he use it. In war, said Moreau to him two years later, “ the greater number always beat the lesser.” “You are right,” replied Bonaparte. “ Whenever, with smaller forces I was in the presence of a great army, arranging mine rapidly, I fell like a thunderbolt upon one of its wings, tumbled it over, profited by the disorder which always ensued to attack the enemy elsewhere, always with my entire force. Thus I defeated him in detail and victory was always the triumph of the larger number over the smaller.” All this was accomplished only by forced marches. “ It is our legs that win his battles,” said his soldiers. He shot his troops back and forth like a shuttle. By the rapidity of his movements he made up for his numerical weakness. Of course this success was rendered possible by the mistake of his opponents in dividing their forces when they should have kept them united.
Even thus, with his own ability and the mistakes of his enemies cooperating, the contest was severe, the outcome at times trembled in the balance. Thus at Areola, the battle raged for three days. Again, as at Lodi, success depended upon the control of a bridge. Only a few miles separated the two Austrian divisions. If the Austrians could hold the bridge, then their junction could probably be completed. Bonaparte seized a flag and rushed upon the bridge, accompanied by his staff. The Austrians leveled a murderous fire at them. The columns fell back, several officers having been shot down. They refused to desert their general, but dragged him with them by his arms and clothes. He fell into a morass and began to sink. “ Forward to save the General!” was the cry and immediately the French fury broke loose, they drove back the Austrians and rescued their hero. He had, however, not repeated the exploit of Lodi. He had not crossed the bridge. But the next day his army was victorious and the Austrians retreated once more. The three days’ battle was over (November 15-17, 1796).
Two months later a new Austrian army came down from the Alps for the relief of Mantua and another desperate battle occurred, at Rivoli. On January 13-14, 1797, Bonaparte inflicted a crushing defeat upon the Austrians, routed them, and sent them spinning back into the Alps again. Two weeks later Mantua surrendered. Bona- parte now marched up into the Alps, constantly outgeneraling his brilliant new opponent, the young Archduke Charles, forcing him steadily back. When on April 7 he reached the little town of Leoben, about 100 miles from Vienna, Austria sued for peace. A memorable and crowded year of effort was thus brought to a brilliant close.
In its twelve months’ march across northern Italy the French had fought eighteen big battles, and sixty-five smaller ones. “ You have, besides that, “ said Bonaparte in a bulletin to the army, “sent 30,000,000 from the public treasury to Paris. You have enriched the Museum of Paris with 300 masterpieces of ancient and modern Italy, which it has taken thirty ages to pro- duce. You have conquered the most beautiful country of Europe. The French colors float for the first time upon the borders of the, Adriatic.” In another proclamation he told them they were forever covered with glory, that when they had completed their task and returned to their homes their fellow citizens, when pointing to them would say, “He was of the Army of Italy.”
Thus rose his star to full meridian splendor. No wonder he believed in it.
All through this Italian campaign Bonaparte acted as if he were the head of the state, not its servant. He sometimes followed the advice of the Directors, more often he ignored it, frequently he acted in defiance of it. Military matters did not alone occupy his attention. He tried his hand at political manipulation, with the same confidence and the same success which he had shown on the field of battle. He became a creator and a destroyer of states. Italy was not at that time a united country but was a collection of small, independent states. None of these escaped the transforming touch of the young conqueror. He changed the old aristocratic republic of Genoa into the Ligurian Republic, giving it a constitution similar to that of France. He forced doubtful princes, like the Dukes of Parma and Modena, to submission and heavy payments. He forced the Pope to a similar humiliation, taking some of his states, sparing most of them, and levying heavy exactions.
His most notorious act, next to the conquest of the successive Austrian armies, was the overthrow, on a flimsy pretext and with diabolic guile, of the famous old Republic of Venice.
“Once did she hold the gorgeous East in fee ; And was the safeguard of the West : the worth Of Venice did not fall below her birth, Venice, the Eldest Child of Liberty.”
Such was the thought that came to the poet Wordsworth as he contemplated this outrage, resembling in abysmal immorality the contemporary partition of Poland at the hands of the monarchs of Prussia, Austria, and Russia. At least this clear, bright, pagan republican general could have claimed, had he cared to, that he was no worse than the kings of the eighteenth century who asserted that their rule was ordained of God. Bonaparte was no worse; he was also no better; he was, moreover, far more able. He conquered Venice, one of the oldest and proudest states in Europe, and held it as a pawn in the game of diplomacy, to which he turned with eagerness and talent, now that the war was over.
Austria had agreed in April, 1797, to the preliminary peace of Leoben. The following summer was devoted to the making of the final peace, that of Campo Formio, concluded October 17, 1797. During these months Bonaparte lived in state in the splendid villa of Montebello, near Milan, basking in the dazzling sunshine of his sudden and amazing fortune. There he kept a veritable court, receiving ambassadors, talking intimately with artists and men of letters, sur- rounded by young officers, who had caught the swift contagion of his personality and who were advancing with his advance to prosperity and renown. There, too, at Montebello, were Josephine and the brothers and the sisters of theyoungvictor and also his mother, who kept a level head in prosperity as she had in adversity — all irradiated with the new glamour of their changed position in life. The young man who a few years before had pawned his watch and had eaten six-cent dinners in cheap Parisian restaurants now dined in public in the old manner of French kings, allowing the curious to gaze upon him. A bodyguard of Polish lancers attended whenever he rode forth.
His conversation dazzled by its ease and richness. It was quoted everywhere. Some of it was calculated to arouse concern in high quarters. “What I have done so far,” he said, “is nothing. I am but at the beginning of the career I am to run. Do you imagine that I have triumphed in Italy in order to advance the lawyers of the Directory? . . . Let the Directory attempt to de- prive me of my command and they will see who is the master. The nation must have a head who is rendered illustrious by glory.” Two years later he saw to it that she had such a head.
The treaty of Campo Formio initiated the process of changing the map of Europe which was to be carried on bewilderingly in the years to come. Neither France, champion of the new principles of politics, nor Austria, champion of the old, differed in their methods. Both bargained and traded as best they could, and the result was an agreement that contravened the principles of the French Revolution, of the rights of peoples to determine their own destinies, the principle of popular sovereignty. For the agreement simply registered the arbitrament of the sword, was frankly based on force, and on nothing else. French domestic policy had been revolutionized. French foreign policy had remained stationary.
By the Treaty of Campo Formio Austria relinquished her possessions in Belgium to France and abandoned to her the left bank of the Rhine, agreeing to bring about a congress of the German states to effect this change. Austria also gave up her rights in Lombardy and agreed to recognize the new Cisalpine Republic which Bonaparte created out of Lombardy, the duchies of Parma and Modena, and out of parts of the Papal States and Venetia. In return for this the city, the islands, and most of the mainland of Venice, were handed over to Austria, as were also Dalmatia and Istria. Austria became an Adriatic power. The Adriatic ceased to be a Venetian lake.
The French people were enthusiastic over the acquisition of Belgium and the left bank of the Rhine. They were disposed, however, to be indignant at the treatment of Venice, the rape of a republic by a republic. But they were obliged to take the fly with the ointment and to adapt themselves to the situation. Thus ended the famous Italian campaign, which was the stepping-stone by which Napoleon Bonaparte started on his triumphal way.
He had, moreover, not only conquered Italy. He had plundered her. One of the features of this campaign had been that it had been based upon the principle that it must pay for itself and yield a profit in addition, for the French treasury. Bonaparte demanded large contributions from the princes whom he conquered. The Duke of Modena had to pay ten million francs, the republic of Genoa fifteen, the Pope twenty. He levied heavily upon Milan. Not only did he make Italy support his army but he sent large sums to the Directory, to meet the ever-threatening deficit.
Not only that, but he shamelessly and systematically robbed her of her works of art. This he made a regular feature of his career as conqueror. In this and later campaigns, whenever victorious, he had his agents ransack the galleries and select the pictures, which he then demanded as the prize of war, conduct which greatly embittered the victims but produced pleasurable feelings in France. The entry of the first art treasures into Paris created great excitement. Enormous cars bearing pictures and statues, carefully packed, but labeled on the outside, rolled through the streets to the accompaniment of martial music, the waving of flags, and shouts of popular approval; “The Transfiguration” by Raphael; “The Christ” by Titian; the Apollo Belvedere, the Nine Muses, the Laocoon, the Venus de Medici. During his career Bonaparte enriched the Museum of the Louvre with over a hundred and fifty paintings by Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens, Titian, and Van Dyck, to mention only a few of the greater names. After his fall years later many of these were returned to their former owners. Yet many remained. The famous bronze horses of Venice, of which the Venetians had robbed Constantinople centuries before, as Constantinople had long before that robbed Rome, were transported to Paris after the conquest of Venice in 1797, were transported back to Venice after the overthrow of Napoleon and were put in place again, there to remain for a full 100 years, until the year 191 5, when they were removed once more, this time by the Venetians themselves, for purposes of safety against the dangers of the Austrian war of that year.
After this swift revelation of genius in the Italian campaign the laureled hero returned to Paris, the cynosure of all eyes, the center of boundless curiosity. He knew, however, that the way to keep curiosity alive is not to satisfy it, for, once satisfied, it turns to other objects. Believing that the Parisians, like the ancient Athenians, preferred to worship gods that were un- known, he discreetly kept in the background, affected simplicity of dress and demeanor, and won praises for his “modesty,” quite ironically misplaced. Modesty was not his forte. He was studying his future very carefully, was analyzing the situation very closely. He would have liked to enter the Directory. Once one of the five he could have pocketed the other four. But he was only twenty-eight and Directors must be at least forty years of age. He did not wish or intend to imitate Cincinnatus by returning with dignity to the plow. He was resolved to “keep his glory warm.” Perceiving that, as he expressed it, “ the pear was not yet ripe,” he meditated, and the result of his meditations was a spectacular adventure.
After the Peace of Campo Formio only one power remained at war with France, namely England. But England was most formidable — because of her wealth, because of her colonies, because of her navy. She had been the center of the coalition, the pay-mistress of the other enemies, the constant fomenter of trouble, the patron of the Bourbons. “ Our Government,” said Napoleon at this time, “must destroy the English monarchy or it must expect itself to be destroyed by these active islanders. Let us concentrate our energies on the navy and annihilate England. That done, Europe is at our feet.” The annihilation of England was to be the most constant subject of his thought during his entire career, baffling him at every stage, prompting him to gigantic efforts, ending in catastrophic failure eighteen years later at Waterloo, and in the forced repinings of St. Helena.
The Directory now made Bonaparte commander of the army of England, and he began his first experiment in the elusive art of destroying these “ active islanders.” Seeing that a direct invasion of England was impossible he sought out a vulnerable spot which should at the same time be accessible, and he hit upon Egypt. Not that Egypt was an English possession, for it was not. It belonged to the Sultan of Turkey. But it was on the route to India and Bonaparte, like many of his contemporaries, considered that England drew her strength, not from English mines and factories, from English brains and characters, but from the fabulous wealth of India. Once cut that nerve and the mighty colossus would reel and fall. England was not an island; she was a world- empire. As such she stood in the way of all other would-be world-empires, then as now. The year 1914 saw no new arguments put forth by her enemies in regard to England that were not freely uttered in 1797. Bonaparte denounced this “tyrant of the seas” quite in our latter-day style. If there must be tyranny it was intoler- able that it should be exercised by others. He now received the ready sanction of the Directors to his plan for the conquest of Egypt. Once conquered, Egypt would serve as a basis of operations for an expedition to India which would come in time. The Directors were glad to get him so far away from Paris, where his popularity was burdensome, was, indeed, a constant menace. The plan itself, also, was quite in the traditions of the French foreign office. Moreover the potent fascination of the Orient for all imaginative minds, as offering an inviting, mysterious field for vast and dazzling action, operated powerfully upon Bonaparte. What destinies might not be carved out of the gorgeous East, with its limitless horizons, its immeasurable, unutilized opportunities? The Orient had appealed to Alexander
the Great with irresistible force as it now appealed to this imaginative young Corsican, every energy of whose rich and complex personality was now in high flood. “This little Europe has not enough to offer,” he remarked one day to his schoolboy friend, Bourrienne. “The Orient is the place to go to. All great reputations have been made there.” “ I do not know what would have happened to me,” he said later, “ if I had not had the happy idea of going to Egypt.” He was a child of the Mediterranean and as a boy had drunk in its legends and its poetry. As wildly imaginative as he was intensely practical, both imagination and cool calculation recommended the adventure.
Once decided on, preparations were made with promptness and in utter secrecy. On May 19, 1798, Bonaparte set sail from Toulon with a fleet of 400 slow-moving transports bearing an army of 38,000 men. A brilliant corps of young generals accompanied him, Berthier, Murat, Desaix, Marmont, Lannes, Kleber, tried and tested in Italy the year before. He also took with him a traveling library in which Plutarch’s Lives and Xenophon’s Anabasis and the Koran were a few of the significant contents. Fellow-voyagers, also, were over 100 distinguished scholars, scientists, artists, engineers, for this expedition was to be no mere military promenade, but was designed to widen the bounds of human knowledge by an elaborate study of the products and customs, the history and the art of that country, famous, yet little known. This, indeed, was destined to be the most permanent and valuable result of an expedition which laid the broad foundations of modern Egyptology in “The Description of Egypt,” a monumental work which presented to the world in sumptuous form the discoveries and investigations of this group of learned men.
The hazards were enormous. Admiral Nelson with a powerful English fleet was in the Mediterranean. The French managed to escape him. Stopping on the way to seize the important position of Malta and to forward the contents of its treasury to the Directors, Bonaparte reached his destination at the end of June and disembarked in safety. The nominal ruler of Egypt was the Sultan of Turkey, but the real rulers were the Mamelukes, a sort of feudal military caste. They constituted a splendid body of cavalrymen, but they were no match for the invaders, as they lacked infantry and artillery, and were, moreover, far inferior in numbers.
Seizing Alexandria on July 2 the French army began the march to Cairo. The difficulties of the march were great, as no account had been taken, in the preparations, of the character of the climate and the country. The soldiers wore the heavy uniforms in vogue in Europe. In the march across the blazing sands they experienced hunger, thirst, heat. Many perished from thirst, serious eye troubles were caused by the frightful glare, suicide was not infrequent. Finally, however, after nearly three weeks of this agony, the Pyramids came in sight, just outside Cairo. There Bonaparte administered a smashing defeat to the Mamelukes, encouraging his soldiers by one of his thrilling phrases, “Soldiers, from the summit of these pyramids forty centuries look down upon you.” The Battle of the Pyramids, July 21, 1798, gave the French control of Cairo. The Mamelukes were dispersed. They had lost 2,000 men. Bonaparte had lost very few.
But no sooner had the French conquered the country than they became prisoners in it. For, on August 1 Nelson had surprised the French fleet as it was lying in the harbor of Abukir Bay, east of Alexandria, and had captured or destroyed it. Only two battleships and a frigate managed to escape. This Battle of the Nile, as it was called, was one of the most decisive sea fights of this entire period. It was Bonaparte’s first taste of British sea power. It was not his last.
Bonaparte received the news of this terrible disaster, which cut him off from France and cooped him up in a hot and poor country, with superb composure. “Well! we must remain in this land, and come forth great, as did the ancients. This is the hour when characters of a superior order should show themselves.” And later he said that the English “will perhaps compel us to do greater things than we intended.”
He had need of all his resources, material and moral. Hearing that the Sultan of Turkey had declared war upon him, he resolved in January, 1799, to invade Syria, one of the Sultan’s provinces, wishing to restore or reaffirm the confidence of his soldiers by fresh victories and thinking, perhaps, of a march on India or on Constan- tinople, taking “Europe in the rear,” as he expressed it. If such was his hope, it was destined to disappointment. The crossing of the desert from Egypt into Syria was painful in the extreme, marked by the horrors of heat and thirst. The soldiers marched amid clouds of sand blown against them by a suffocating wind. They however seized the forts of Gaza and Jaffa, and destroyed a Turkish army at Mt. Tabor, near Nazareth, but were arrested at Acre, which they could not take by siege, because it was on the seacoast and was aided by the British fleet, but which they partly took by storm, only to be forced finally to withdraw because of terrific losses. For two months the struggle for Acre went on. Plague broke out, ammunition ran short, and Bonaparte was again beaten by sea power. He led his army back to Cairo in a memorable march, covering 300 miles in twenty-six days, over scorching sands and amidst appalling scenes of disaster and desperation. He had sacrificed 5,000 men, had accomplished nothing, and had been checked for the first time in his career. On reaching Cairo he had the effrontery to act as if he had been triumphant, and sent out lying bulletins, not caring to have the truth known.
A few weeks later he did win a notable victory, this time at Abukir, against a Turkish army that had just disembarked. This he correctly described when he announced, “ It is one of the finest I have ever witnessed. Of the army landed by the enemy not a man has escaped.” Over 10,000 Turks lost their lives in this, the last exploit of Bonaparte in Egypt. For now he resolved to return to France, to leave the whole adventure in other hands, seeing that it must inevitably fail, and to seek his fortune in fairer fields. He had heard news from France that made him anxious to return. A new coalition had been formed during his absence, the French had been driven out of Italy, France itself was threatened with invasion. The Directory was discredited and unpopular because of its incompetence and blunders. Bonaparte did not dare inform his soldiers, who had endured so much, of his plan. He did not even dare to tell Kleber, to whom he entrusted the command of the army by a letter which reached the latter too late for him to protest. He set sail secretly on the night of August 21, 1799, accompanied by Berthier, Murat, and five other officers and by two or three scientists. Kleber was later assassinated by a Mohammedan fanatic and the French army was forced to capitulate and evacuate Egypt, in August, 1 801. That ended the Egyptian expedition,It was no easy thing to get back from Egypt to France with the English scouring the seas and the winds against him. Sometimes the little sailboat on which Bonaparte had taken passage was beaten back ten miles a day. Then the wind would shift at night and progress would be made. It took three weeks of hugging the southern shore of the Mediterranean before the narrows between Africa and Sicily were reached. These were guarded by an English battleship. But the French slipped through at night, lights out. Reaching Corsica they stopped several days, the winds dead against them. It seemed as if every one on the island claimed relationship with their fellow citizen who had been rendered “illustrious by glory.” Bonaparte saw his native land for the last time in his life. Finally he sailed for France, and was nearly overhauled by the British, who chased him to almost within sight of land. The journey from the coast to Paris was a continuous ovation. The crowds were such that frequently the carriages could advance but slowly. Evenings there were illuminations every- where. When Paris was reached delirium broke forth.
He arrived in the nick of time, as was his wont. Finally the pear was ripe. The government was in the last stages of unpopularity and discredit. Incompetent and corrupt, it was also unsuccessful. The Directory was in existence for four years, from October, 1795, to November, 1799. Its career was agitated. The defects of the constitution, the perplexing circumstances of the times, the ambitions and intrigues of individuals, seeking personal advantage and recking little of the state, had strained the institutions of the country almost to the breaking point, and had created a widespread feeling of weariness and disgust. Friction had been constant between the Directors and the legislature, and on two occasions the former had laid violent hands upon the latter, once arresting a group of royalist deputies and annulling their election, once doing the same to a group of radical republicans. They had thus made sport of the constitution and destroyed the rights of the voters. Their foreign policy, after Bonaparte had sailed for Egypt, had been so aggressive and blundering that a new coalition had been formed against France, consisting of England, Austria, and Russia, which country now abandoned its eastern isolation and entered upon a period of active participation in the affairs of western Europe. The coalition was successful, the French were driven out of Germany back upon the Rhine, out of Italy, and the invasion of France was, perhaps, impending. The domestic policy of the Directors had also resulted in fanning once more the embers of religious war in Vendee.
In these troubled waters Bonaparte began forthwith to fish. He established connections with a group of politicians who for one reason and another considered a revision of the constitution desirable and necessary. The leader of the group was Sieves, a man who plumed himself on having a complete knowledge of the art and theory of government and who now wished to endow France with the perfect institutions of which he carried the secret in his brain. Sieves was a man of Olympian conceit, of oracular utterances, a coiner of telling phrases, enjoying an immoderate reputation as a constitution-maker. His phrase was now that to accomplish the desired change he needed “a sword.” He would furnish the pen himself. The event was to prove, contrary to all proverbs, that the pen is weaker than the sword, at least when the latter belongs to a Napoleon Bonaparte. Bonaparte, who really despised “this cunning priest,” as he called him, was nevertheless quite willing to use him as a stepping-stone. Heaping flatteries upon him he said: “We have no government, because we have no constitution ; at least not the one we need. It is for your genius to give us one.”
The plan these and other conspirators worked out was to force the Directors to resign, willy-nilly, thus leaving France without an executive, a situation that could not possibly be permitted to continue; then to get the Council of Elders and the Council of the Five Hundred to appoint a committee to revise the constitution. Naturally Sieves and Bonaparte were to be on that committee, if all went well. Then let wisdom have her sway. The conspirators had two of the Directors on their side and a majority of the Elders, and fortunately the President of the Council of Five Hundred was a brother of Napoleon, Lucien Bonaparte, a shallow but cool-headed rhetorician, to whom the honors of the critical day were destined to be due.
Thus was plotted in the dark the coup d’etat of Brumaire which landed Napoleon in the saddle, made him ruler of a great state, and opened a new and prodigious chapter in the history of Europe. There is no English word for coup d’etat, as fortunately the thing described is alien to the history of English-speaking peoples. It is the seizure of the state, of power, by force and ruse, the overthrow of the form of government by violence, by arms. There had been coups d’etat before in France. There were to be others later, in the nineteenth century. But the coup d’etat of 18th and 19th Brumaire (November 9 and 10, 1799) is the most classical example of this device, the most successful, the most momentous in its consequences.
But how to set the artful scheme in motion? There was the danger that the deputies of the Five Hundred might block the way, danger of a popular insurrection in Paris of the old familiar kind, if the rumor got abroad that the Republic was in peril. The conspirators must step warily. They did so — and they nearly failed — and had they failed, their fate would have been that of Robespierre.
A charge was trumped up, for which no evidence was given, that a plot was being concerted against the Republic. Not an instant must be lost, if the state was to be saved. The Council of Elders, informed of this, and already won over to the conspiracy, thereupon voted, upon the 18th of Brumaire, that both Councils should meet the following day at St. Cloud, several miles from Paris, and that General Bonaparte should take command of the troops for the purpose of protecting them.
The next day, Sunday, the two Councils met in the palace of St. Cloud. Delay occurring in arranging the halls for the extraordinary meeting, the suspicious legislators had time to confer, to concert opposition. The Elders, when their session finally began at two o’clock, demanded details concerning the pretended plot. Bonaparte entered and made a wild and incoherent speech. They were “ standing on a volcano,” he told them. He was no “ Caesar “ or “ Cromwell “ intent upon destroying the liberties of his country. “General, you no longer know what you are saying,” whispered Bourrienne, urging him to leave the chamber, which he immediately did. This was a bad beginning; but worse was yet to come. Bonaparte went to the Council of Five Hundred, accompanied by four grenadiers. He was greeted with a perfect storm of wrath. Cries of “Outlaw him, outlaw him!” “Down with the Dictator, down with the tyrant ! “ rent the air. Pandemonium reigned. He received blows, was pushed and jostled, and was finally dragged fainting from the hall by the grenadiers, his coat torn, his face bleeding. Outside he mounted his horse in the courtyard, before the soldiers.
It was Lucien who saved this badly bungled day. Refusing to put the motion to outlaw his brother, he left the chair, made his way to the courtyard, mounted a horse and harangued the soldiers telling them that a band of assassins was terrorizing the Assembly, that his life and that of Napoleon were no longer safe, and demanding, as President of the Five Hundred, that the soldiers enter the hall and clear out the brigands and free the Council. The soldiers hesitated. Then Lucien seized Napoleon’s sword, pointed it at his brother’s breast, and swore to kill him if he should ever lay violent hands on the Republic. The lie and the melo-drama worked. The soldiers entered the hall, led by Murat. The legislators escaped through the windows.
That evening groups of Elders and of the Five Hundred who favored the conspirators met, voted the abolition of the Directory, and appointed three Consuls, Sieyes, Ducos, and General Bonaparte, to take their place. They then adjourned for four months, appointing, as their final act, committees to cooperate with the Consuls in the preparation of a new constitution, rendered necessary by the changed conditions.
The three Consuls promised “fidelity to the Republic, one and indivisible, to liberty, equality, and the representative system of government.” At six o’clock on Monday morning every one went back to Paris. The grenadiers returned to their garrison singing revolutionary songs and thinking most sincerely that they had saved the Republic and the Revolution. No outbreak occurred in Paris. The coup d’etat was popular.
Government bonds rose rapidly, nearly doubling in a week.
Such was the Little Corporal’s rise to civil power. It was fortunate, as we have seen, that not all the ability of his remarkable family was monopolized by himself. Lucien had his particular share, a distinct advantage to his kith and kin.