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.