Chateaubriand's memoirs, XX, 2

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XX, 1 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XX, 3


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XX, chapter 2
The Consulate: A fresh invasion of Italy – The Thirty-Day Campaign – The Victory of Hohenlinden – The Peace of Luneville



To make certain of the position he occupied, Napoleon needed to surpass his own previous miracles.

From the 25th to the 30th of April 1800, the French cross the Rhine, Moreau at their head. The Austrian army beaten four times in eight days fall back on one side on Voralberg, and on the other on Ulm. Bonaparte crosses the Great Saint Bernard Pass on the 16th of May; and on the 20th the Little Saint Bernard, the Simplon, the Saint Gothard, the Mont Cenis, and the Mont Genève, are assaulted and carried; we penetrate Italy through three defiles, considered impregnable, with caves for bears, cliffs for eagles. The army seize Milan on the 2nd of June, and the Cisalpine Republic is re-organised; but Genoa is obliged to surrender after a memorable siege, withstood by Masséna.

The occupation of Pavia and the fortunate affair of Montebello precede the victory at Marengo.

A defeat begins that victory: Lannes’ and Victor’s exhausted corps cease fighting and abandon the ground; the battle begins again with four thousand infantrymen led by Desaix supported by Kellerman’s cavalry brigade; Desaix is killed. Kellerman’s charge decides success; on a day that serves to confirm Mélas’ ordinariness.

Desaix, gentleman of Auvergne, second-lieutenant in the Breton regiment, aide-de-camp to General Victor de Broglie, commanded a division of Moreau’s army in 1796, and went to the Orient with Bonaparte. His character was selfless, uncomplicated and easy-going. When the treaty of El-Arish released him, he was detained by Lord Keith in the lazaretto at Livorno. ‘When the lights were extinguished,’ says Miot his companion on the voyage, ‘our general told us stories of ghosts and brigands; he shared our pleasures and calmed our quarrels; he had a great love of women and only wished to earn their love through his love of glory.’ On disembarking in Europe, he received a letter from the First Consul summoning him to his side; it was waiting for him, and Desaix said; ‘Poor Bonaparte is covered with glory, and he is not happy.’ Reading in the papers about the march of the army reserve, he wrote: ‘He will leave us nothing to do.’ Bonaparte left him the task of winning him victory, and then dying.

Desaix was buried among the Alpine summits, at the hospice of Mont Saint-Bernard, as Napoleon was buried on the heights of St Helena.

Kléber, assassinated, met his death in Egypt on the same day that Desaix found his in Italy. After the departure of the commander-in-chief, Kléber with eleven thousand men defeated a hundred thousand Turks under the command of the Grand Vizier, at Heliopolis; an exploit with which Napoleon had nothing to compare.

On the 15th of June, the Convention of Alexandria was signed. The Austrians retreated to the left bank of the lower Po. The fate of Italy was decided in this campaign known as the Thirty Days.

The victory of Höchstadt won by Moreau appeased the spirit of Louis XIV. However the armistice between Germany and Italy, concluded after the battle of Marengo, was denounced on the 20th of October 1800.

The 3rd of December brought the victory of Hohenlinden in the midst of a snow-storm; a victory obtained yet again by Moreau, a great general commanded by another great genius. The compatriot of Du Guesclin marched on Vienna. At twenty-five leagues from that capital, he concluded the suspension of hostilities at Steyer, with Archduke Charles. After the battle of Pozzolo, and the crossing of the Mincio, the Adige and the Brenta, the Peace Treaty of Lunéville was signed, on the 9th of February 1801.

And it was scarcely nine months since Napoleon had been on the banks of the Nile! Nine months were enough for him to overthrow a popular revolution in France and crush the absolute monarchies of Europe.

I am not sure if it is to this period that one ought to attribute an anecdote found in informal memoirs, or even whether the anecdote is worth the trouble of recalling; but there is no lack of tales concerning Caesar: life is not all on one level, sometimes one rises, often one falls: Napoleon received into his bed, in Milan, an Italian girl, sixteen years old, lovely as the dawn; in the middle of the night he sent her away, just as he would have ordered a bouquet of flowers to be tossed from a window.

On another occasion, one of these spring flowers slipped into the same palace as he; she entered at three in the morning, kept the witching hour, and chanced her youth in the jaws of the lion; more benevolent on that day.

Those pleasures, far from representing love, had no real power over the man of death: he would have set fire to Persepolis on his own account, not for the joys of a courtesan. ‘Francis I, ‘says Tavannes, ‘saw to business when he had finished with women: Alexander saw to women when he had finished with business.’

Women in general, and mothers in particular, detested Bonaparte; they had little liking for him as women, since they were not liked: lacking delicacy, he insulted them, or only sought them out momentarily. He inspired a degree of imaginative passion after his fall: in those days, for a female heart, the poetry of destiny was less seductive than that of misfortune; there are flowers among the ruins.

Following the example of Saint-Louis’ order of chivalry, the Legion of Honour is created: through that institution a ray of the old monarchy passes, and introduces a barrier to the new equality. The transfer of Turenne’s remains to the Invalides brought Napoleon esteem; Captain Baudin’s expedition carried his fame around the globe. All that might have harmed the First Consul failed: he defeats a plot by guilty parties on the 18th Vendémiaire and escapes the Infernal machine of the 3rd Nivôse; Pitt retires; Tsar Paul dies; Alexander succeeds him; Wellington has not yet come to notice. But India moves to take from us our control of the Nile; Egypt is attacked via the Red Sea, while the Capitan-Pasha lands there from the Mediterranean. Napoleon stirs Empires: all the earth is involved with him.