Chateaubriand's memoirs, XX, 6

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XX, 5 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XX, 7


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XX, chapter 6
The Fourth Coalition – Prussia vanishes – The Berlin Decree – War against Russia continues in Poland – Tilsit – A plan to divide the world between Napoleon and Alexander – Peace



During the course of 1806, the Fourth Coalition breaks up. Napoleon leaves Saint-Cloud, arrives at Mainz, and removes the enemy’s supplies from Saalburg. At Saalfeld, Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia is killed. At the twin battles of Auerstadt and Jena, on the 14th of October, Prussia vanishes; I no longer found it on my return from Jerusalem.

The Prussian Bulletin says it all in a sentence: ‘The King’s army has been beaten. The king and his brothers still live.’ The Duke of Brunswick soon died of his wounds: in 1792, his proclamation had roused France; he had saluted me on the road when, a poor soldier, I went to join the brothers of Louis XIV.

The Prince of Orange, and Mollendorf, with several other officers trapped in Halle, were granted permission to retreat by virtue of its capitulation.

Mollendorf, who was more than eighty years old, had been the companion of Frederick, who praised him in his History of his Time, as did Mirabeau in his Secret History. He was present at our disaster of Rosbach and was witness to our triumph at Jena: thus the Duke of Brunswick saw Assas die at Klosterkamp, and Ferdinand of Prussia fall at Auerstadt, guilty only of his hatred, born of a generous spirit, for the murder of the Duc d’Enghien. Those spectres from the old wars of Hanover and Silesia had endured the cannon fire of our two Empires: but the powerless shadows of the past could not prevent the march of the future; between the smoke from our old campfires and our new, they had appeared, and vanished.

Erfurt capitulates; Leipzig is seized by Davout; the passages of the Elbe are forced; Spandau yields; at Potsdam, Bonaparte takes Frederick’s sword captive. On the 27th of October 1806, the great King of Prussia, hears soldiers marching through the dust surrounding his empty palaces in Berlin, in a manner which reveals they are foreign grenadiers: Napoleon has arrived. While a monument to philosophy fell beside the Spree, I, in Jerusalem, was visiting an imperishable monument to religion.

Stettin, and Custrin surrender; there is a great victory at Lübeck; the capital of Wagria is carried by assault; Blücher, destined to reach Paris twice, falls into our hands. It is the story of Holland and its forty-six towns, captured during a campaign in 1672 by Louis XIV.

On the 21st of November the Berlin Decree establishing the Continental System appeared, a far-reaching decree which placed England under total ban, and was on the verge of being fulfilled; the decree seemed foolish, its results were immense. Regardless of the fact that, on the one hand, the continental blockade created the manufacturing industries of France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy, on the other it spread English trade throughout the globe: by embarrassing the governments within our alliance, it appalled industrial interests, fomented hatred, and contributed to the rupture between the Ministry of the Tuileries and that of St Petersburg. The blockade then was a questionable act: Richelieu would not have initiated it.

Silesia, following quickly on Frederick’s other States, is overrun. The war between France and Prussia has begun on the 9th of October: in seventeen days our soldiers, like a host of birds of prey, have glided through the defiles of Franconia, and over the waters of the Saal and Elbe; the 6th of December finds them before the Vistula. Since the 29th of December, Murat has been garrisoned in Warsaw, from which the Russians, who have arrived too late to aid the Prussians, have retreated. The Elector of Saxony, promoted to being a Napoleonic king, accedes to the Confederation of the Rhine, and agrees in case of war to supply a contingent of twenty thousand men.

The winter of 1807 sees a suspension of hostilities between the French and Russian Empires; but those Empires are on a collision course and a change in their destiny can be observed. However, Bonaparte’s star is still in the ascendant despite his aberrations. On the 9th of February, 1807, he inspects the battlefield at Eylau: that place of carnage gives us one of Gros’ finest paintings, adorned with an idealised head of Napoleon. After fifty-one days of siege, Dantzig opens its gates to Marshal Lefebvre, who was continually saying to his gunners during the siege: ‘I know nothing about it; but make me a hole and I will pass through.’ The former sergeant in the French Guards became Duke of Dantzig.

On the 14th of June 1807, Friedland costs the Russians seventeen thousand dead and wounded, as many prisoners, and seventy cannon; we paid too dearly for it; we had a different kind of enemy; we no longer achieved success except by freely opening French veins. Könisberg is taken; an armistice is concluded at Tilsit.

Napoleon and Alexander meet in a pavilion, on a raft. Alexander keeps the King of Prussia, whom one is scarcely aware of, on a leash: the fate of the world floats on the Niemen, where it will later be fulfilled. At Tilsit, a secret treaty in ten articles was discussed. By this treaty, European Turkey would be devolved to Russia, as well as whatever Muscovite conquest and weaponry could achieve in Asia. For his part, Bonaparte would become master of Spain and Portugal, would reunite Rome and its dependencies with the Kingdom of Italy, would cross to Africa, seize Tunis and Algiers, possess Malta, and invade Egypt, the Mediterranean being open only to French, Russian, Spanish and Italian vessels: these were the cantatas playing endlessly in Napoleon’s brain. A plan to invade India by land had already been agreed in 1800 between Napoleon and Emperor Paul I.

Peace is concluded on the 7th of July. Napoleon, hateful from the first to the Queen of Prussia, chose not to respond to her intercessions. She stayed, forlornly, in a little house on the right bank of the Niemen, and was honoured by being twice invited to the Emperors’ dinners. Silesia once invaded unjustly by Frederick, was given to Prussia: the rights of that previous injustice were respected; what was achieved by force was sacred. One region of Polish territory passed under the sovereignty of Saxony; Danzig’s independence was re-established; those killed in its streets and ditches counted for nothing: ridiculous and pointless wartime murders! Alexander recognised the Confederation of the Rhine, and Napoleon’s three brothers Joseph, Louis and Jérôme, as Kings of Naples, Holland, and Westphalia.