Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXII, 4

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXII, chapter 4
The Battles of Lützen, Bautzen and Dresden – Reverses in Spain



The levies of 1812, following one another, have halted in Saxony. Napoleon arrives. The honours of the former lost host are handed to two hundred thousand conscripts who fight like the grenadiers of Marengo. On the 2nd of May, the battle of Lützen is won: Bonaparte, in these fresh battles, scarcely used artillery any longer. Entering Dresden, he tells the inhabitants: ‘I am not unaware of the joy in which you indulged when the Emperor Alexander and the King of Prussia entered your walls. We can still see on the cobblestones the remains of the flowers that your young girls scattered in the path of those monarchs.’ Did Napoleon remember the young girls of Verdun? It was in the days of his youth.

At Bautzen, another triumph, but one after which the Commander of the Engineers, Kirgener, and Duroc, the Grand Marshal of the Palace, were buried. ‘There is a future life,’ the Emperor told Duroc, ‘we will meet again.’ Did Duroc care much about that meeting?

On the 26th and 27th of August, they reached the Elbe, on fields already famous. Returned from America, having seen Bernadotte in Stockholm, and Alexander in Prague, Moreau had both legs carried away by a cannonball, at Dresden, at the side of the Russian Emperor: a familiar outcome of Napoleonic destiny. They learned, in the French camp, of the death of the victor of Hohenlinden, by means of a stray dog, on whose collar was inscribed the name of the new Turenne; the animal, living on without its master, ran here and there among the dead: Te, janitor Orci (You, oh guardian of the Underworld)! The Prince of Sweden, who had become the Generalissimo of the Army of North Germany, had addressed a proclamation to his soldiers on the 15th of August:

‘Soldiers, the same feelings that guided the French in 1792, and which led them to unite, and combat the armies entering their territory, must now direct your valour against one who, having invaded the soil which bore you, still enslaves your brothers, your wives and your children.’

Bonaparte, incurring universal disapproval, set himself against liberty which attacked him on all sides, in all its forms. A Senatus-Consulte of the 28th of August annulled the judgement of a jury at Anvers: a very minor infraction, doubtless, of the rights of citizens, after the arbitrary enormities employed by the Emperor; but at the heart of the law is a sacred freedom whose cry must be heard: that oppression practised against a jury made more noise than the many other oppressions to which France fell victim.

Finally, in the south, the enemy trod our soil; the English, Bonaparte’s obsession and the source of almost all his mistakes, crossed the Bidasoa on the 7th of October: Wellington, the man of destiny, was the first to set his foot on the soil of France.

Insisting on remaining in Saxony, despite Vandamme’s capture in Bohemia and Ney’s defeat near Berlin by Bernadotte, Napoleon returned to Dresden. Then the Landsturm was levied; a patriotic war, similar to that which had freed Spain, was being organised.