Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXIV, 3

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXIV, chapter 3
Bonaparte takes refuge with the English fleet – He writes to the Prince Regent



Despite these comments, the Emperor resolved to give himself up to his conquerors. On the 13th of July, Louis XVIII having already been in Paris five days, Napoleon sent the captain of the English ship Bellerophon the following letter, addressed to the Prince Regent:

‘Royal Highness,
Prey to the factions which are dividing my country, and the enmity of the greatest powers of Europe, I have ended my political career, and I come, like Themistocles, to ‘sit at the hearth’ of the British people. I place myself under the protection of their laws, which I ask of Your Royal Highness as the most powerful, most constant and most generous of my enemies.
Rochefort, the 13th of July, 1815.’

If Bonaparte had not for twenty years heaped outrage upon the English people, their government, their King and the King’s heir, one might be able to find some propriety of tone in this letter; but how had this Royal Highness, so despised and insulted by Napoleon, suddenly become the most powerful, most constant, and most generous of enemies, merely by being victorious? Napoleon could not have been convinced of what he was saying: and these days what is not true is not eloquent. The phrases that reveal the fact of fallen greatness addressing itself to an enemy are fine; the banal example of Themistocles is superfluous.

There is something worse than a lack of sincerity in the step Bonaparte took; there is a lack of consideration for France: the Emperor was pre-occupied only by his personal disaster; when the fall came, we no longer counted for anything in his eyes. Without reflecting that in giving England the preference over America, his choice represented an insult to national grief, he solicited asylum from a government that, for twenty years, had paid Europe to fight against us, from a government whose Commissioner with the Russian Army, General Wilson, had urged Kutuzov, during the retreat from Moscow, to finish us off completely: the English, fortunate in the final battle, were camped in the Bois de Boulogne. Go then, Themistocles, and sit quietly by the British hearth, while the earth has not yet finished drinking the French blood shed for you at Waterloo! What part would the fugitive have played, if he had been entertained on the banks of the Thames, with France invaded, and Wellington dictator of the Louvre? Napoleon’s noble fate served him better: the English allowing themselves to be drawn into a short-sighted and spiteful policy lacked a final triumph; instead of humiliating their supplicant by admitting him to their castles and their banquets, they rendered the crown they thought they had taken from him brighter for posterity. He grew greater in his captivity by virtue of the fear instilled in all the Powers: in vain the Ocean enchained him, Europe in arms camped on the shore, her gaze fixed on the sea.