Life Of Napoleon Bonaparte With A Sketch Of Josephine
Book: Life Of Napoleon
Author: Tarbell, Ida
Napoleon's Surrender - Sent To St. Helena - Life In Exile - Death Of Napoleon
When it became evident that it was impossible to escape to the United
States, Napoleon considered two courses - to call upon the country and
renew the conflict, or seek an asylum in England. The former was not only
to perpetuate the foreign war, it was to plunge France into civil war; for
a large part of the country had come to the conclusion of the allies -
that as long as Napoleon was at large, peace was impossible. Rather than
involve France in such a disaster, the emperor resolved at last to give
himself up to the English, and sent the following note to the regent:
"Royal Highness: Exposed to the factions which divide my country and
to the hostility of the greatest powers of Europe, I have closed my
political career. I have come, like Themistocles to seek the hospitality
of the British nation. I place myself under the protection of their laws,
which I claim from your Royal Highness as the most powerful, the most
constant, and the most generous of my enemies.
On the 15th of July he embarked on the English ship, the
"Bellerophon," and a week later he was in Plymouth.
Napoleon's surrender to the English was made, as he says, with full
confidence in their hospitality. Certainly hospitality was the last thing
to expect of England under the circumstances, and there was something
theatrical in the demand for it. The "Bellerophon" was no sooner in the
harbor of Plymouth than it became evident that he was regarded not as a
guest, but as a prisoner. Armed vessels surrounded the ship he was on;
extraordinary messages were hurried to and fro; sinister rumors ran among
the crew. The Tower of London, a desert isle, the ends of the earth, were
talked of as the hospitality England was preparing.
But if there was something theatrical, even humorous, in the idea of
expecting a friendly welcome from England, there was every reason to
suppose that she would receive him with dignity and consideration.
Napoleon had been an enemy worthy of English metal. He had been defeated
only after years of struggle. Now that he was at her feet, her own self-
respect demanded that she treat him as became his genius and his position.
To leave him at large was, of course, out of the question; but surely he
could have been made a royal prisoner and been made to feel that if he was
detained it was because of his might.
The British government no sooner realized that it had its hands on
Napoleon than it was seized with a species of panic. All sense of
dignity, all notions of what was due a foe who surrendered, were drowned
in hysterical resentment. The English people as a whole did not share the
government's terror. The general feeling seems to have been similar to
that which Charles Lamb expressed to Southey: "After all, Bonaparte is a
fine fellow, as my barber says, and I should not mind standing bare-headed
at his table to do him service in his fall. They should have given him
Hampton Court or Kensington, with a tether extending forty miles round
But the government could see nothing but danger in keeping such a
force as Napoleon within its limits. It evidently took Lamb's whimsical
suggestion, that if Napoleon were at Hampton the people might some day
eject the Brunswick in his favor, in profound seriousness. On July 30th
it sent a communication to General Bonaparte - the English henceforth
refused him the title of emperor, though permitting him that of general,
not reflecting, probably, that if one was spurious the other was, since
both had been conferred by the same authority - notifying him that as it
was necessary that he should not be allowed to disturb the repose of
England any longer, the British government had chosen the island of St.
Helena as his future residence, and that three persons with a surgeon
would be allowed to accompany him. A week later he was transferred from
the "Bellerophon" to the "Northumberland," and was en route for St.
Helena, where he arrived in October, 1815.
The manner in which the British carried out their decision was
irritating and unworthy. They seemed to feel that guarding a prisoner
meant humiliating him, and offensive and unnecessary restrictions were
made which wounded and enraged Napoleon.
The effect of this treatment on his character is one of the most
interesting studies in connection with the man, and, on the whole, it
leaves one with increased respect and admiration for him. He received the
announcement of his exile in indignation. He was not a prisoner, he was
the guest of England, he said. It was an outrage against the laws of
hospitality to send him into exile, and he would never submit voluntarily.
When he became convinced that the British were inflexible in their
decision, he thought of suicide, and even discussed it with Las Cases. It
was the most convenient solution of his dilemma. It would injure no one,
and his friends would not be forced then to leave their families. It was
easier because he had no scruples which opposed it. The idea was finally
given up. A man ought to live out his destiny, he said, and he decided
that his should be fulfilled.
The most serious concern Napoleon felt in facing his new life was
that he would have no occupation. He saw at once that St. Helena would
not be an Elba. But he resolutely made occupations. He sought
conversation, studied English, played games, began to dictate his memoirs.
It is to this admirable determination to find something to do, that we owe
his clear, logical commentaries, his essays on Caesar, Turenne, and
Frederick, his sketch of the Republic, and the vast amount of information
in the journals of his devoted comrades, O'Meara, Las Cases, Montholon.
But no amount of forced occupation could hide the desolation of his
position. The island of St. Helena is a mass of jagged, gloomy rocks; the
nearest land is six hundred miles away. Isolated and inaccessible as it
is, the English placed Napoleon in its most sombre and remote part - a
place called Longwood, at the summit of a mountain, and to the windward.
The houses of Longwood were damp and unhealthy. There was no shade.
Water had to be carried some three miles.
The governor, Sir Hudson Lowe, was a tactless man, with a propensity
for bullying those whom he ruled. He was haunted by the idea that
Napoleon was trying to escape, and he adopted a policy which was more like
that of a jailer than of an officer. In his first interview with the
emperor he so antagonized him that Napoleon soon refused to see him.
Napoleon's antipathy was almost superstitious. "I never saw such a horrid
countenance," he told O'Meara. "He sat on a chair opposite to my sofa,
and on the little table between us there was a cup of coffee. His
physiognomy made such an unfavorable impression upon me that I thought his
evil eye had poisoned the coffee, and I ordered Marchand to throw it out
of the window. I could not have swallowed it for the world."
Aggravated by Napoleon's refusal to see him, Sir Hudson Lowe became
more annoying and petty in his regulations. All free communication
between Longwood and the inhabitants of the island was cut off. The
newspapers sent Napoleon were mutilated; certain books were refused; his
letters were opened. A bust of his son brought to the island by a sailor
was withheld for weeks. There was incessant haggling over the expenses of
his establishment. His friends were subjected to constant annoyance. All
news of Marie Louise and of his son was kept from him.
It is scarcely to be wondered at that Napoleon was often peevish and
obstinate under this treatment, or that frequently, when he allowed
himself to discuss the governor's policy with the members of his suite,
his temper rose, as Montholon said, "to thirty-six degrees of fury." His
situation was made more miserable by his ill health. His promenades were
so guarded by sentinels and restricted to such limits that he finally
refused to take exercise, and after that his disease made rapid marches.
His fretfulness, his unreasonable determination to house himself, his
childish resentment at Sir Hudson Lowe's conduct, have led to the idea
that Napoleon spent his time at St. Helena in fuming and complaining. But
if one will take into consideration the work that the fallen emperor did
in his exile, he will have a quite different impression of this period of
his life. He lived at St. Helena from October, 1815, to May, 1821. In
this period of five and a half years he wrote or dictated enough matter to
fill the four good-sized volumes which complete the bulky correspondence
published by the order of Napoleon III., and he furnished the great
collection of conversations embodied in the memoirs published by his
This means a great amount of thinking and planning; for if one will
go over these dictations and writings to see how they were made, he will
find that they are not slovenly in arrangement or loose in style. On the
contrary, they are concise, logical, and frequently vivid. They are full
of errors, it is true, but that is due to the fact that Napoleon had not
at hand any official documents for making history. He depended almost
entirely on his memory. The books and maps he had, he used diligently,
but his supply was limited and unsatisfactory.
It must be remembered, too, that this work was done under great
physical difficulties. He was suffering keenly much of the time after he
reached the island. Even for a well man, working under favorable
circumstances, the literary output of Napoleon at St. Helena would be
creditable. For one in his circumstances it was extraordinary. A look at
it is the best possible refutation of the common notion that he spent his
time at St. Helena fuming at Sir Hudson Lowe and "stewing himself in hot
water," to use the expression of the governor.
Before the end of 1820 it was certain that he could not live long.
In December of that year the death of his sister Eliza was announced to
him. "You see, Eliza has just shown me the way. Death, which had
forgotten my family, has begun to strike it. My turn cannot be far off."
Nor was it. On May 5, 1821, he died.
His preparations for death were methodical and complete. During the
last fortnight of April all his strength was spent in dictating to
Montholon his last wishes. He even dictated, ten days before the end, the
note which he wished sent to Sir Hudson Lowe to announce his death. The
articles he had in his possession at Longwood he had wrapped up and
ticketed with the names of the persons to whom he wished to leave them.
His will remembered numbers of those whom he had loved or who had served
him. Even the Chinese laborers then employed about the place were
remembered. "Do not let them be forgotten. Let them have a few score of
The will included a final word on certain questions on which he felt
posterity ought distinctly to understand his position. He died, he said,
in the apostolical Roman religion. He declared that he had always been
pleased with Marie Louise, whom he besought to watch over his son. To
this son, whose name recurs repeatedly in the will, he gave a motto - All
for the French people. He died prematurely, he said, assassinated by the
English oligarchy. The unfortunate results of the invasion of France he
attributed to the treason of Marmont, Augereau, Talleyrand, and Lafayette.
He defended the death of the Duc d'Enghien. "Under similar circumstances
I should act in the same way." This will is sufficient evidence that he
died as he had lived, courageously and proudly, and inspired by a profound
conviction of the justice of his own cause. In 1822 the French courts
declared the will void.
They buried him in a valley beside a spring he loved, and though no
monument but a willow marked the spot, perhaps no other grave in history
is so well known. Certainly the magnificent mausoleum which marks his
present resting place in Paris has never touched the imagination and the
heart as did the humble willow-shaded mound in St. Helena.
The peace of the world was insured. Napoleon was dead. But though
he was dead, the echo of his deeds was so loud in the ears of France and
England that they tried every device to turn it into discord or to drown
it by another and a newer sound. The ignoble attempt was never entirely
successful, and the day will come when personal and partisan
considerations will cease to influence judgments on this mighty man. For
he was a mighty man. One may be convinced that the fundamental principles
of his life were despotic; that he used the noble ideas of personal
liberty, of equality, and of fraternity, as a tyrant; that the whole
tendency of his civil and military system was to concentrate a power in a
single pair of hands, never to distribute it where it belonged, among the
people; one may feel that he frequently sacrificed personal dignity to a
theatrical desire to impose on the crowd as a hero of classic proportions,
a god from Olympus; one may groan over the blood he spilt. But he cannot
refuse to acknowledge that no man ever comprehended more clearly the
splendid science of war; he cannot fail to bow to the genius which
conceived and executed the Italian campaign, which fought the classic
battles of Austerlitz, Jena, and Wagram. These deeds are great epics.
They move in noble, measured lines, and stir us by their might and
perfection. It is only genius of the most magnificent order which could
handle men and materials as Napoleon did.
He is even more imposing as a statesman. When one confronts the
France of 1799, corrupt, crushed, hopeless, false to the great ideals she
had wasted herself for, and watches Napoleon firmly and steadily bring
order into this chaos, give the country work and bread, build up her
broken walls and homes, put money into her pocket and restore her credit,
bind up her wounds and call back her scattered children, set her again to
painting pictures and reading books, to smiling and singing, he has a
Napoleon greater than the general.
Nor were these civil deeds transient. France to-day is largely what
Napoleon made her, and the most liberal institutions of continental Europe
bear his impress. It is only a mind of noble proportions which can grasp
the needs of a people, and a hand of mighty force which can supply them.
But he was greater as a man than as a warrior or statesman; greater
in that rare and subtle personal quality which made men love him. Men
went down on their knees and wept at sight of him when he came home from
Elba - rough men whose hearts were untrained, and who loved naturally and
spontaneously the thing which was lovable. It was only selfish, warped,
abnormal natures, which had been stifled by etiquette and diplomacy and
self-interest, who abandoned him. Where nature lived in a heart,
Napoleon's sway was absolute. It was not strange. He was in everything a
natural man; his imagination, his will, his intellect, his heart, were
native, untrained. They appealed to unworldly men in all their rude,
often brutal strength and sweetness. If they awed them, they won them.
This native force of Napoleon explains, at least partially, his hold
on men; it explains, too, the contrasts of his character. Never was there
a life lived so full of lights and shades, of majors and minors. It was a
kaleidoscope, changing at every moment. Beside the most practical and
common-place qualities are the most idealistic. No man ever did more
drudgery, ever followed details more slavishly; yet who ever dared so
divinely, ever played such hazardous games of chance? No man ever planned
more for his fellows, yet who ever broke so many hearts? No man ever made
practical realities of so many of liberty's dreams, yet it was by
despotism that he gave liberal and beneficent laws. No man was more
gentle, none more cruel. Never was there a more chivalrous lover until he
was disillusioned; a more affectionate husband, even when faith had left
him; yet no man ever trampled more rudely on womanly delicacy and reserve.
He was valorous as a god in danger, loved it, played with it; yet he
would turn pale at a broken mirror, cross himself if he stumbled, fancy
the coffee poisoned at which an enemy had looked.
He was the greatest genius of his time, perhaps of all time yet he
lacked the crown of greatness - that high wisdom born of reflection and
introspection which knows its own powers and limitations, and never abuses
them; that fine sense of proportion which holds the rights of others in
the same solemn reverence it demands for its own.