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FrRevol_451-500.indd 49 3/16/12 1:12 PM CHAPTER XIV On the Spirit ofthe French Army. It must not be forgotten that the French army was admirable during the first ten years of the war of the Revolution. The qualities which were wanting in the men employed in the civil careerwere found in the military: perseverance, devotedness, boldness, and even goodness when their natural disposition was not altered by the impetuosity ofattack. The soldiers and officers were often beloved in foreign countries, even where their arms had done mischief; not only did they meet death with that inconceivable energy which will at all times be found in their blood and their heart, but they supported the most horrid privations with unprecedented serenity. The fickleness of which the French are justly accused in political affairs becomes respectable when it is transformed into indifference to danger, and even indifference to pain. The French soldiers smiled in the midst of the most cruel situations and encouraged one another in the agonies of suffering, either by a sentiment of enthusiasm for their country or by a witticism which rekindled the cheerful gaiety to which the very lowest classes of society in France are always alive. The Revolution had brought the fatal art ofrecruiting' to singular perfection ; but the good which it had done by rendering every rank accessible to merit excited in the French army an unbounded emulation. It was to these principles offreedom that Bonaparte was indebted for the resources which he employed against liberty herself. Ere long the army under Napoleon retained little ofits popular virtues, except its admirable valor and a noble sentiment of national pride; but how much was it fallen, fighting for a single man, while its predecessors, while its own veterans, ten years 1. Reference to the Law Jourdan-Delbrel ofSeptember 5, 1798, which introduced mandatory military service. 499 FrRevol_451-500.indd 50 3/16/12 1:12 PM PART IV before, had devoted themselves only for their country! Soon too the troops ofalmost every Continental nation were forced to combat under the banners of France. What patriotic sentiment could animate the Germans, the Dutch, the Italians, when they had no security for the independence of their native land, or rather when its subjugation bore heavily upon them? They had no common tie except one and the same leader; and on that account nothing was less solid than their association, because enthusiasm for a man, whoever he may be, is necessarily fluctuating; the love only of our country and of freedom cannot change, because it is disinterested in its principle. That which constituted the particular prestige of Napoleon was the idea which was entertained of his fortune; attachment to him was attachment to oneself. A fond belief prevailed with respect to the various kinds ofadvantages to be obtained under his banners; and as he was both an admirable judge of military merit and knew how to recompense it, any private soldier in the army might nourish the hope ofbecoming a marshal of France. Titles, births, the services of courtiers had little influence on promotion in the army. There a spirit of equality prevailed in spite of the despotism ofthe government, because Bonaparte had need offorce, which cannot exist without a certain degree ofindependence. Accordingly, under the Emperor, that which was of most value was assuredly the army. The commissaries who afflicted the conquered countries with contributions, imprisonments, and exile; those clouds ofcivil agents who came like vultures after the victory to pounce upon the field of battle, did much more to make the French detested than the poor gallant conscripts who passed from childhood to death in the beliefthat they were defending their country . It belongs to men skilled in the military art to pronounce upon Bonaparte 's talents as a captain. But to judge of him in this respect merely by such observations as are within the reach of everybody, it appears to me that his ardent selfishness perhaps contributed to his early triumphs as it did to his final reverses. In the career of arms, as well as in every other, he was destitute of that respect for men, and of that sentiment of duty, without which nothing great is durable. Bonaparte, as a general, never spared the blood ofhis troops; he gained his astonishing victories by a prodigal waste of the soldiers which the Revolution had supplied. By marching without extra ammunition he ren5oo FrRevol_501-550.indd 1 3/16/12 1:12...


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