Notes From Emil Reich’s “Foundations of Modern Europe” Part XIV

This will be the last part of this chapter (finally, eh?) picking up from, “The stories according to which Alexander I. of Russia, or later on Prince Metternich, the Austrian statesman, duped Napoleon, are on a level with the well-known legend that Blücher, as the Prussians say, or the Duke of Wellington, as the English say, brought about the downfall of Napoleon.”


Napoleon was duped and defeated by one man only: by himself. After 1810 he completely overrated himself, and persistently deceiving himself about the nature of tasks, the impossibility of which he was the first to point out (such as the Peninsular War and the Russian War), he finally roused the whole of Europe into a coalition: that is, he contrived to create a European union such as has never been known in the whole of history, not in the time of Charles V., nor of Louis XIV.; and the end was – St. Helena.

In 1796 Napoleon married Josephine Beauharnais, a frivolous but exceedingly charming widow of thirty-three, who cared nothing for Napoleon, and probably never could understand him, but who was loved by the young general with the most passionate devotion, and had to her very end, in 1814, the most remarkable power over him.

Barras, one of the Directors, and a former lover of Josephine, procured Napoleon the position of general-in-chief of the Italian army, and so began the ever memorable campaign of 1796. That campaign was only one of four attacks which the French in 1796 were planning against the English on the one hand, and against the House of Habsburg on the other.

The attack on England was to be by sea, viâ Ireland; the attack on Austria was to be carried out by two considerable armies, one under Jourdan, in the valley of the Main, the other by Moreau, in the valley of the Danube. Finally, Napoleon with a small army of from 30,000 to 40,000 men was to make what was then considered a diversion in Lombardy, where Austria still had the Milanese and other Italian dominions. Napoleon’s campaign was at the beginning considered to be the least important of the great attacks planned by Carnot. In fact, the Directors consented to the Italian campaign mainly in hopes of seizing the rich towns of Lombardy, of extorting money and works of art, and other treasures. As a matter of fact, however, all their attacks on England by sea in 1796-1797, as well as the campaigns of Jourdan and Moreau, quickly turned out to be failures; so that the whole weight of the French attack on the Habsburgs came to rest on the shoulders of the young hero in Italy. He alone of all the generals sent by Carnot against England and Austria was completely successful. In less than a month he conquered the western half of Lombardy, and in a few more months the other half and the whole of central Italy, and in less than a year after crossing the Austrian Alps in Carinthia, Carniola, and Styria, he stood a few miles from terror-stricken Vienna.

From his battles beginning in April, 1796, at Montenotte, Dego, Mondovi, when he successfully separated Beaulieu, the Austrian general, from Colli, the Sardinian commander, to his great battles for the reduction of the so-called “quadrilateral” (i.e. the fortresses of Peschiera, Verona, Legnago, and Mantua, all south of Lake Garda), he and some of his generals, especially Augier and Masséna, invariably practised the true principles of the “rules of the art,” that is, concentration and placing one’s self on the enemy’s connections; so that the victories of Lonato and Castiglione, of Arcole and Rivoli, not only defeated the Austrian armies under Wurmser and Alvinczy respectively, but also secured for Napoleon the possession of the best, most formidable, and yet unconquered of the four fortresses, i.e. Mantua. In February, 1797, Napoleon’s rapid march on the Pope’s little army as far as Tolentine, where the Pope made peace with the French, and his equally rapid march across the Austrian Alps to Leoben, were only in the nature of appendices to his great campaign in Lombardy. Nobody appreciated this campaign more profoundly than did Napoleon himself. He knew that he had not only won a series of brilliant battles, and revealed the remarkable gifts of his generals, but he himself stood fully revealed to his own mind. What none of his contemporaries as yet saw, he alone grasped with absolute clearness, to wit, that his was the rôle of the final saviour of France; that his was to be the career of the modern Cromwell. He felt the value of each card he held, and mapping out his life carefully, he hastened to make peace with the Austrians at Campo Formio, with a view of returning to Paris at the earliest possible opportunity to occupy the position he was already determined to obtain. This accounts for the surprisingly lenient conditions he granted to the Austrians at Campo Formio. Austria obtained the territory of the Venetian Republic, including Dalmatia, and thus for the first time in her history she obtained a direct outlet on the Adriatic, having had a maritime outlet so far only in Belgium, at that time the “Austrian Netherlands.” Napoleon was prompted in his attitude also, by the motive of making Austria appear as a traitor to Germany. France obtained all the territory west of the Rhine, and the first act of the great Napoleonic  drama was finished in scenes of unparalleled glorification, when Napoleon on returning to Paris was made the subject of an apotheosis by his enraptured fellow-citizens.

Huh. That was kind of short. Sorry about that.

Notes From Emil Reich’s “Foundations of Modern Europe” Part XIII

This will be picking up right after the phrase, “we need, therefore, not be astounded that his unprecedented military victories have always been considered to follow rather from a systematic strategy – or, as he used to say, des règles de l’art (“the rules of the art”) – than from mere luck or fortunate incident.”

There is now little doubt that Napoleon was the greatest strategist of modern times. The word strategy, although in constant use in newspapers and in common conversation, is rarely grasped in its technical and true meaning. It may be reduced to a very simple expression, in fact, to a single word. Strategy really means a line: the line of operations -that is, the direction which leads a general if he is victorious, to a decisive victory, to a victory that forces his opponent to surrender. In campaigns it is not sufficient to win battles. There has scarcely ever been a general of any note who has not won a greater or smaller number of engagements. What makes a general is not the number of his tactical victories, not the number of persons and arms taken. It is only the rapidity of decisive actions that constitutes a great general. Military leaders who make their points only after wearisome fighting for years and years, entailing enormous loss of men and treasure, may, indeed, be called good generals, but they are certainly not great strategists. In the Thirty Years’ War, for instance, although the number of clever and efficient generals on both sides was very great, there was only one great general – Gustavus Adolphus; for he alone knew where and when to give battle, and he alone arrived rapidly at a decisive and final success. To make this point absolutely clear we have only to compare the campaign of Napoleon in 1805, on the Upper Danube, with the campaign of Marlborough and Prince Eugène in the same region almost exactly one hundred years before, in 1704.

The military problem that both Marlborough and Napoleon had to solve was practically identical. For Marlborough’s and Eugène’s main point was to separate the French general, Tallard, from his German ally, the Bavarian elector, Max Emmanuel; in other words, to prevent the junction of the French and Bavarian armies. In Napoleon’s case the problem was to prevent the junction of the Austrian general, Mack, at and around Ulm, with his ally, the Russian general, Kutusow. Marlborough and Eugène were unable to prevent the junction of their opponents, and were therefore forced to fight a formidable battle, the battle of Blenheim, entailing severe loss on both of them. Napoleon, on the other hand, so arranged the marches of the various columns, and so successfully duped Mack as to the real route of the French army, that Mack’s army, with slight exceptions, was forced to surrender to Napoleon after a few unimportant engagements. These remarks are made from a purely technical standpoint; for, historically, every one knows that Marlborough was in a considerably less advantageous position than was the Emperor, owing to his (Marlborough’s) being hampered by the Dutch and the German princes. It is for this reason that Napoleon’s campaigns to the present day are constantly being studied in all the military schools, whereas even in Prussia or Germany the campaigns of Frederick, with few exceptions, are never made the subject of elaborate study in military schools.

The campaigns of Napoleon are, indeed, typical and classical campaigns; there are dominated by a leading and general strategic idea arising from a complete knowledge of the country. Thus in 1796 we see Napoleon enter Italy from the south on the so-called Corniche, or the route from Savona to Genoa, and in 1800 again we see him enter Italy by the Lake of Geneva and the Little St. Bernard.

His dominating idea was to place himself between the enemy and the enemy’s communications. In addition to that, he invariably sacrificed minor points to the essential points. Even in 1809, when he was again forced to fight Austria in the valley of the Danube, he intentionally ignored the preparing Walcheren expedition, that is to say, the forty thousand English soldiers sent to fall upon his flank in Belgium, for he correctly estimated that if he succeeded in defeating Austria, the English would be in the air without his striking at them at all. If, on the other hand, he was unsuccessful with Austria, his prestige and his military position would be completely ruined. It is well known that Napoleon constantly taught the system of concentration, the system so powerfully imitated by the German generals in the Franco-Prussian War, and a system constantly sinned against in out own times for non-military considerations. Napoleon, who was both ruler and general, had the advantage of not permitting political considerations to warp his military judgment. That strategy was the most important feature of Napoleon’s military genius is evident from the fact that he neither stimulated the invention of new arms, nor favored the adoption of any new mechanical invention. The rifle of his soldiers was still the old rifle of Louis XVI., and so was the cannon. Fulton’s immortal invention – first offered to Napoleon – found no favour with the Emperor. Napoleon clearly saw its possible value; but, as we now know, Fulton’s steamship was then very primitive. Another still more striking proof is that Napoleon invariably held it to be his duty to arrive on the battlefield with more soldiers than his enemy. In fact, while he thought, and in his military correspondence incessantly repeats, that a campaign ought if reasonably prepared (“in accordance with the rules of the art”) never to be lost, he just as frequently insists on the precarious nature of a battle. Battles, he says, very frequently depend on some incident or misunderstanding, on particular events that nobody can foresee. It is therefore safer, he adds, to trust to numbers. Yet he himself repeatedly bear his adversaries when he was in numerical inferiority – especially at Austerlitz in 1805, and at Dresden in 1813. As to the question whether Napoleon’s luck must not be considered as a considerable element of his success, it can certainly not be denied that like all great captains his was an astounding luck. Yet we cannot but admit, especially after a study of his correspondence, that until 1810, that is, so long as he did not overrate himself, and had still contrived to stave off the European coalition against himself, Napoleon’s wonderful success was chiefly based on the wonderful care and genius with which he prepared it. Neither England nor any other country possessed a statesman or general equal to him. Pitt’s greatness was in home matters, and he died in January, 1806. The Austrian statesmen were great neither at home nor abroad, and Prussia was governed by a beautiful, but politically insignificant queen, and a senseless, heavy king. The throne of Spain was disgraced by the most wretched of her numerous royal failures, and on the throne of Russia was a Czar who joined to the vanity of a fop, the cunning of a Tartar and the sentimentality of a false mystic. He was in no wise a match for Napoleon’s statecraft or military genius. The stories according to which Alexander I. of Russia, or later on Prince Metternich, the Austrian statesman, duped Napoleon, are on a level with the well-known legend that Blücher, as the Prussians say, or the Duke of Wellington, as the English say, brought about the downfall of Napoleon.

Notes From Emil Reich’s “Foundations of Modern Europe” Part XII

This is the second part of the first chapter on Napoleon picking up after, “In the case of Napoleon, however, we can do more than merely state the interesting fact that the first Emperor of the French in modern times came from Corsica.”


The Corsicans, although their history has generally been ignored, were in reality one of the most remarkable nations in the Mediterranean. Unlike the people of the island of Sardinia who have at no time in history played an important rôle, the Corsicans had been waging a secular war against the mighty republic of Genoa, and forty years before the birth of Napoleon the Corsicans fought that war of national resistance not only against the Genoese but frequently against mighty French armies too. So great was their military capacity and genius that they repeatedly defeated both the French and Genoese armies; it was only at the end of forty years’ uninterrupted fighting that the French were enabled to take possession of the island to some extent. During these great national fights, Arrigo de la Rocca, the Paolis, and numerous other Corsicans showed the greatest genius for military and political work, and Napoleon Bonaparte may be said to be only the climax of a long series of heroes who, trained in the most unequal war, had naturally acquired gifts of perspicacity such as at that time no other European nation had the opportunity of developing. At any rate, we cannot, in an estimate of Napoleon’s military genius, omit the fact that he lived in one of those border countries attacked by neighbouring and mighty empires in which at times the constant habit of fighting against great odds has brought to light the Themistocles, the Robert Bruces, the Shamyls, etc., and Napoleon.

However, to point out only the Corsican antecedents of Napoleon would be manifestly unfair to the connection of Napoleon with France proper. It cannot be denied that Napoleon was the embodiment and final culminating development of the French Revolution. That that great event would ultimately lead to some towering personality was, long before the advent of Napoleon, the common belief of most Frenchmen, and of most thinking persons outside France. Napoleon himself, at St. Helena, repeatedly expressed his conviction that had he not been the Emperor of the French, somebody else would have played his rôle. The French, after trying every possible party, could not but see that the salvation of the country was neither in the moderates not in the radicals; neither in the return to the laws of the ancien régime, nor in the maintenance of an absolutely democratic republic. Under these circumstances it was evident that only one powerful will and mind was able to steer France through the maze of wars and policies that had ever since 1795 completely changed and displaced the old political life of Europe. It is, moreover, a usual phenomenon in history that vast and deeply agitated movements, whether of a political or a mental character, are terminated by the appearance of a personality which combines their various elements and thus controls them. Thus arose the great founders of religions at the end of long, sometimes secular religious revolutions; so came Henry IV. to France, Cromwell to England, Bismarck to Germany.

The relation of these great personalities to their time is that of the blossom to the leaf and stem. They can neither be said to have created their time, nor to be nothing but the creation thereof – they are both. Napoleon is unthinkable without the French Revolution, and the French Revolution without Napoleon would represent only wild and bootless anarchy. The French Revolution and Napoleon form the most important event in modern history.

In person this extraordinary man was small, well-knit, with classical features, of robust health, and most temperate in his habits. He ate very little and drank less; his usual beverage being a little Sauterne. In youth he was very thin and pale; after his thirty-eighth year he became rather bloated and heavy. He required little sleep and took it at odd times during the day or the night. His power of work was immense; he frequently tired out a number of secretaries without in the least feeling fatigued himself, and could turn from one subject to another without the least effort. He used to say that all the subjects and persons interesting him were put away into so many “drawers,” and when he wanted subject “A,” he only pulled out its respective “drawer.” His love and sense of detail were just as remarkable as his power of grasping great dominating traits covering an immense array of details. He delighted in reading military reports of the minutest kind, and his memory had stored away all the numberless details of his armies, his ships, his fortresses and his officials, of all of which he had the most accurate and ready knowledge. He frequently corrected reports, sent to him by his governors or agents, about far-off provinces from memory without consulting any reference book or minutes. In fact, it is quite correct to say that his mind was essentially “topographical,” that is, on his mind was impressed a huge map of Europe in which every physical feature, such as mountains, rivers, lakes, brooks, ravines, passes, gorges, were carefully entered together with all the political and social information of each country. For great as his genius was, his successes were undoubtedly due to superior information in the first place.

Like Richelieu, who through his agents was the best informed man in France about the actual state of his country, so Napoleon, trusting nobody, invariably had the most accurate personal information about the country he was going to contend with; and although he mostly fought in countries of which very detailed maps had long been made, yet he constantly demanded fresh and better maps. He despatched his best-trained officers to survey anew even such a well-known country as Bavaria, and he was constantly studying all the maps he could secure. In addition to that he had the real “objective” temper which enables the man of genius to see things not in the light of his desire or personal “bias,” but in their own light.

Nobody was more just to the capacity or resources of his enemies, or less conceited with regard to his own genius than Napoleon. As a rule he neither overrated nor underrated his enemies. His strategical classical victory at Ulm in 1805 was due mainly to his correct appreciation of the Austrian general, Mack, who was then generally held to be a strategist of the first order, whom Napoleon, however, rightly judged to be a muddle-headed dilettante.

On the other hand, Napoleon fully appreciated the gifts of Archduke Charles, his great opponent. And as with individuals, so with nations; whatever judgment he passed in public for political purposes (such as the famous words spoken of the English that they were “une nation de boutiquiers” – a nation of shopkeepers), in his correspondence with his friends and officials we note that he had a very just appreciation of the great qualities of the English, and even of those of the Portuguese and Spanish. His successes, therefore, were based on the best attainable information and on incessant work; we need, therefore, not be astounded that his unprecedented military victories have always been considered to follow rather from a systematic strategy – or, as he used to say, des règles de l’art (“the rules of the art”) – than from mere luck or fortunate incident.

Notes From Emil Reich’s “Foundations of Modern Europe” Part XI

I might not post all the chapters on Napoleon. I haven’t decided yet.


Napoleon. -I

Of all the characters of modern history Napoleon has been most admired and most condemned. He is generally credited with having been the greatest captain of modern times, one of the greatest statesmen, and at the same time one of the most selfish and ruthless characters on record. On the other hand, numerous historians, both French and non-French, are almost fanatic in their unconditioned admiration of the genius as well as of the character of the great emperor. The number of documents, books, and essays published on the career of the incomparable Corsican is so immense, and is increasing so constantly, that we might easily indulge in the belief that we are at present fully equipped for an equitable and adequate appreciation of Napoleon. However, as in the case of the French Revolution, we must not for a moment ignore the fact that we are as yet not in a position to pass final sentence on a man whose personality was deeper and more complex than that of Goethe; whose diplomatic activity was more comprehensive than that of Richelieu, Kaunitz, and Metternich put together; whose military exploits covered the whole of Europe and parts of Africa and Asia;and whose activity as a legislator was so immense that modern France may truly be said to be the direct offspring of the administrative measures and institutions decreed by Napoleon.

Personality as a rule does not yield to analysis; but when personality becomes one of dimensions so vast and of depths so unfathomable as was that of the great Emperor of the French, all the resources of psychological or ethical analysis fail us. If, moreover, one considers the incredible mass of misrepresentations spread wholesale all over the Napoleonic literature in Europe and America, the pose of so many modern historians as judges on a man like Napoleon cannot but seem absurd. Every student of history knows that nearly three hundred and fifty years after the death of Charles V. we are not yet in a position to pronounce definitely on the character and historical position of that sombre Habsburg. It is absurd to think that we are already capable of giving a right historical perspective to a ruler of infinite superiority to Charles V., and whose death occurred not quite three generations ago. Certainly with regard to Napoleon, if in any case of historical study, the student must give up the faintest tendency to rash and immodest judgment. The actions and facts made or directly inspired by Napoleon are in number so immense that by picking out some of them one can easily believe Napoleon to have been afflicted with the greatest or most villainous of vices; just as by selecting other facts one can demonstrate him to have been a man of the most exalted and sublime character. Like every great doer, Napoleon did both good and bad actions, generous and mean ones, he was grateful and ungrateful.

In 1796-1797, on the Bridge of Lodi or in the swamps of Arcole, he showed extraordinary physical courage. In 1814, after his first abdication, he showed extreme physical cowardice. He was an excellent husband, yet he brutally divorced his first wife, whom at heart he never ceased to love. He was a faithful son and brother, yet he treated, at times, the members of his family with extreme severity. Nor need we be astonished at all that. It is the symptom and essence of a great personality to harbour in one and the same soul the most conflicting qualities, the most contradictory tendencies. Napoleon, who can properly be compared only to Alexander the Great and Cæsar, showed in his varied life the same bewildering mass of apparently incoherent phenomena that has made a judgment on the great king of Macedon and on the founder of the Roman Empire a matter of the utmost difficulty. To the present day we are still under the influence of Cæsar, let alone of Napoleon. Broad and comprehensive facts still bespeak the unique greatness of the two men, and to the present day the opinions on Cæsar differ as widely as do those on Napoleon.

While it is thus impossible to bracket the character and genius of Napoleon into one neat formula of ethical judgment, it is, we take it, not quite impossible to account for the strange fact that the greatest statesman and captain of modern times came from an obscure and, in point of European history, quite unimportant little island, from Corsica. Twice in modern times we may notice this peculiar connection of a political mind of the first magnitude with a place of origin quite out of proportion to the ultimate result. The builder of the mightiest body politic in modern times, the originator of the most important and in many ways the most imposing political association of the last four centuries, St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, came from the obscure, poor, and insignificant country of the Basques. The man whose powerful mind has framed, animated, and organized the “Society of Jesus” was a Basque. In the case of Napoleon, however, we can do more than merely state the interesting fact that the first Emperor of the French in modern times came from Corsica.

To be continued…