Chateaubriand's memoirs, XX, 5

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XX, chapter 5
The Invasion of Germany – Austerlitz – The Peace Treaty of Pressbourg – The Sanhedrin



Europe, wounded, wished to apply a bandage to the wound: Austria adheres to the treaty of Petersburg concluded between Great Britain and Russia. Alexander and the King of Prussia have a meeting at Potsdam, which furnishes Napoleon with a subject for ignoble jest. The Third Continental Coalition is constructed. These coalitions are constantly reborn out of defiance and fear; Napoleon delighted in storms: he profited from them.

He makes a dash from the coast of Boulogne where he has decreed a column be erected, and has threatened Albion with a flotilla. An army organised by Davout streams towards the River Rhine. On the 1st of October 1805, the Emperor harangues his one hundred and sixty thousand soldiers: his speed of movement disconcerts Austria. There is fighting at the Lech, at Wertingen, at Günzburg. On the 17th of October, Napoleon appears before Ulm; to Mack he issues the order: ‘Lay down your arms!’ Mack and his thirty thousand men obey. Munich surrenders; the River Inn is passed, Salzburg taken, the Traun crossed. On the 13th of November, Napoleon enters one of those capitals he will re-visit time and time again: he traverses Vienna; chained by his own triumphs, he is drawn in their wake to the centre of Moravia to meet the Russians. On the left Bohemia rises; on the right Hungary; Archduke Charles hastens to Italy. Prussia, entering into the Coalition clandestinely and not yet having declared war, sends its Minister Haugwitz to carry an ultimatum.

The morning of Austerlitz arrives, the 2nd of December 1805. The allies are waiting for a third Russian corps which is no more than eight day’s march distant. Kutuzov maintains that the risk of battle must be evaded; Napoleon by his manoeuvres forces the Russians to accept a fight: they are defeated. In less than two months the French, starting from the Channel, advancing beyond the capital of Austria, have wiped out Catherine’s legions. The Prussian foreign minister came to congratulate Napoleon at his headquarters: ‘Here we have,’ said the conqueror, ‘a compliment whose destination fate has altered.’ Francis II presented himself in turn at the fortunate soldier’s camp: ‘I welcome you,’ Napoleon told him, ‘in the only palace I have seen in the last two months.’ – ‘You know how to take advantage of this dwelling so well,’ replied Francis, ‘that it must please you.’ Is it worth the effort for equal powers to fight? An armistice is agreed. The Russians retreat in three columns, in stages, in the order decided by Napoleon. After the battle of Austerlitz, Bonaparte does scarcely anything but make mistakes.

The peace treaty of Pressburg is signed on the 26th of December 1805. Napoleon makes kings of the Elector of Bavaria and the Elector of Wurtemberg. The republics Bonaparte had created he destroyed in order to transform them into monarchies; and perversely according to this method, on the 27th of December, at the palace of Schonbrunn, he declared that the dynasty of Naples had ceased to reign; merely in order to replace it with his own: at the sound of his voice, kings entered or leapt from windows. The designs of Providence were no less fulfilled than those of Napoleon: one saw both God and man on the march together. After his victory, Bonaparte commanded the building of the bridge of Austerlitz in Paris: the heavens commanded Alexander to pass over it.

The war begun in the Tyrol was pursued, while it continued in Moravia. In the midst of prostrations, when you find someone standing you breathe once more: Hofer, the Tyrolean, did not capitulate like his master; but magnanimity moved Napoleon not a jot; it seemed stupidity to him or madness. The Austrian emperor abandoned Hofer. When I crossed Lake Garda, immortalised by Catullus and Virgil, I was shown the place where the warrior was shot: that taught me all I needed to know of the courage of the subject and the cowardice of the king.

On the 14th of January 1806, Prince Eugène married the daughter of the new king of Bavaria: thrones appeared on all sides in the family of the Corsican soldier. On the 20th of February the Emperor orders the restoration of the church of Saint-Denis; he dedicates the reconstructed vaults to be the tomb of the princes of his race, but Napoleon will not be buried there: man proposes his grave; God disposes.

Berg and Cleves are settled on Murat, the Two Sicilies on Joseph. A memory of Charlemagne comes to Napoleon’s mind, and the University is re-established.

The Batavian Republic, driven to admiration of princes, sends a message on the 5th of June 1806 begging that Napoleon deign to grant it his brother Louis as king.

The idea of associating Batavia with France in the guise more or less of union arose from covetousness without rhyme or reason: it was to prefer a little cheese-making province to the advantages which would result from alliance with a great and friendly kingdom, while increasing to no purpose European fears and jealousies: it was to confirm the English in possession of India, while obliging them, for their security, to guard the Cape of Good Hope and Ceylon which they seized as soon as we invaded Holland. The scene was set for endowing Prince Louis with the United Provinces: the Tuileries Palace was granted a re-enactment of Louis XIV’s display of his grandson Philip V at Versailles. On the following day a gala lunch was held in the Salon de Diana. One of Queen Hortense’s sons enters; Bonaparte says to him: ‘Darling, repeat the fable you have learned, for us.’ The child immediately proclaims: ‘The frogs ask for a king,’ and continues:

The frogs, rendered weary
Of their state of democracy,
Made so much sound and fury
Jove sent a king to them, to keep the peace.

Sitting behind the new sovereign of Holland, the Emperor, as was a habit of his, pinched his ear: though he was at the pinnacle of society, he was not always the best of company.

On the 12th of July 1806 the Treaty of the Confederation of the Rhine is signed; sixteen German princes separating from the Empire, joining together and with France: Napoleon takes the title of Protector of the Confederation.

On the 20th of July a peace treaty between France and Russia is signed, Francis II, following the Confederation of the Rhine States, on the 6th of August renounces the title of Emperor Elect of Germany, and becomes hereditary Emperor of Austria: the Holy Roman Empire collapses. That immense event was hardly noticed; after the French Revolution, everything seemed trivial; after the fall of Clovis’ throne, one scarcely heard the sound of the German throne disintegrating.

At the start of our Revolution, Germany had a multitude of sovereigns. Two principal monarchies tended to attract the various powers to them: Austria created by time, Prussia by a single man. Two religions divided the country and relied, for better rather than worse, on the tenets of the Treaty of Westphalia. Germany dreamed of political unity; but Germany lacked the political training to achieve freedom, as Italy lacked the military training to achieve that same freedom. Germany, with its ancient traditions, resembled those basilicas with multiple bell towers, which sin against the rules of art, but represent the majesty of religion and the power of the centuries no less.

The Confederation of the Rhine was a great unfinished work, which demanded, much of the time, special knowledge of the rights and interests of its peoples; it suddenly fell to pieces in the mind of him who conceived it: of that profound scheme, only the fiscal and military workings survived. Bonaparte, his first designs of genius spent, saw only money and soldiers; the tax-collector and the recruiting-officer took the place of greatness. The Michelangelo of politics and war, he left portfolios full of vast sketches.

Disturber of everything, Napoleon conceived a grand Sanhedrin about this time: that assembly did not award Jerusalem to him; but, by a series of consequences, it allowed world finance to fall into Jewish hands, and because of that allowed a fatal subversion of the social economy.

The Marquis of Lauderdale came to Paris to replace Mr Fox in the pending negotiations between France and England; diplomatic discussions which boil down to this comment of the English Ambassador to Monsieur de Talleyrand: ‘It is muck’ (I employ the more polite expression) ‘in a silk stocking.’