Epilogue 1 Chapter 3

THE UNDERLYING ESSENTIALLY SIGNIFICANT FEATURE of the European events at the beginning of the present century is the military movement of masses of European peoples from west to east, and again from east to west. The original movement was that from west to east. That the peoples of the west might be able to accomplish the military march upon Moscow, which they did accomplish, it was essential (1) that they should be combined in a military group of such a magnitude as to be able to withstand the resistance of the military group of the east; (2) that they should have renounced all their established traditions and habits; and (3) that they should have at their head a man able to justify in his own name and theirs the perpetration of all the deception, robbery, and murder that accompany that movement.

And to start from the French Revolution, that old group of insufficient magnitude is broken up; the old habits and traditions are destroyed; step by step a group is elaborated of new dimensions, new habits, and new traditions; and the man is prepared, who is to stand at the head of the coming movement, and to take upon himself the whole responsibility of what has to be done.

A man of no convictions, no habits, no traditions, no name, not even a Frenchman, by the strangest freaks of chance, as it seems, rises above the seething parties of France, and without attaching himself to any one of them, advances to a prominent position.

The incompetence of his colleagues, the weakness and insignificance of his opponents, the frankness of the deception, and the dazzling and self-confident limitation of the man raise him to the head of the army. The brilliant personal qualities of the soldiers of the Italian army, the disinclination to fight of his opponents, and his childish insolence and conceit gain him military glory. Innumerable so-called chance circumstances attend him everywhere. The disfavour into which he falls with the French Directorate turns to his advantage. His efforts to avoid the path ordained for him are unsuccessful; he is not received into the Russia army, and his projects in Turkey come to nothing.

During the wars in Italy he was several times on the verge of destruction, and was every time saved in an unexpected fashion. The Russian troops—the very troops which were able to demolish his glory—owing to various diplomatic considerations, do not enter Europe until he is there.

On his return from Italy, he finds the government in Paris in that process of dissolution in which all men who are in the government are inevitably effaced and nullified. And an escape for him from that perilous position offers itself in the shape of an aimless, groundless expedition to Africa. Again the same so-called chance circumstances accompany him. Malta, the impregnable, surrenders without a shot being fired; the most ill-considered measures are crowned with success. The enemy's fleet, which later on does not let one boat escape it, now lets a whole army elude it. In Africa a whole series of outrages is perpetrated on the almost unarmed inhabitants. And the men perpetrating these atrocities, and their leader most of all, persuade themselves that it is noble, it is glory, that it is like C?sar and Alexander of Macedon, and that it is fine.

That ideal of glory and of greatness, consisting in esteeming nothing one does wrong, and glorying in every crime, and ascribing to it an incomprehensible, supernatural value—that ideal, destined to guide this man and those connected with him, is elaborated on a grand scale in Africa. Whatever he does succeeds. The plague does not touch him. The cruelty of murdering his prisoners is not remembered against him. His childishly imprudent, groundless, and ignoble departure from Africa, abandoning his comrades in misfortune, does him good service; and again the enemy's fleet lets him twice slip through their hands. At the moment when, completely intoxicated by the success of his crimes and ready for the part he has to play, he arrives in Paris entirely without any plan, the disintegration of the Republican government, which might have involved him in its ruin a year before, has now reached its utmost limit, and his presence, a man independent of parties, can now only aid his elevation.

He has no sort of plan; he is afraid of everything; but all parties clutch at him and insist on his support.

He alone—with the ideal of glory and greatness he has acquired in Italy and Egypt, with his frenzy of self-adoration, with his insolence in crime, and his frankness in mendacity—he alone can justify what has to be accomplished.

He is needed for the place that awaits him, and so, almost apart from his own volition, and in spite of his uncertainty, the lack of plan, and the blunders he commits, he is drawn into a conspiracy that aims at seizing power; and that conspiracy is crowned with success.

He is dragged into the assembly of the rulers. In alarm he tries to flee, believing himself in danger; pretends to faint, says the most senseless things that should have been his ruin. But the rulers of France, once proud and discerning, now feeling their part is over, are even more panic-stricken than he, and fail to utter the words they should have pronounced to preserve their power and crush him.

Chance, millions of chances, give him power; and all men, as though in league together, combine to confirm that power. Chance circumstances create the characters of the rulers of France, who cringe before him; chance creates the character of Paul I., who acknowledges his authority; chance causes the plot against him to strengthen his power instead of shaking it. Chance throws the Duc d'Enghien into his hands and accidentally impels him to kill him, thereby convincing the crowd by the strongest of all arguments that he has the right on his side since he has the might. Chance brings it to pass that though he strains every nerve to fit out an expedition against England, which would unmistakably have led to his ruin, he never puts this project into execution, and happens to fall upon Mack with the Austrians, who surrender without a battle. Chance and genius give him the victory at Austerlitz; and by chance it comes to pass that all men, not only the French, but all the countries of Europe except England, which takes no part in the events that are to be accomplished, forget their old horror and aversion for his crimes, and now recognise the power he has gained by them, acknowledge the title he has bestowed upon himself, and accept his ideal of greatness and glory, which seems to every one something fine and rational.

As though practising and preparing themselves for the great movement before them, the forces of the west made several dashes—in 1805, 1806, 1807 and 1809—into the east, growing stronger and more numerous. In 1811 a group of men formed in France is joined by an enormous group from the peoples of Central Europe. As the numbers of the great mass increase, the power of justification of the man at the head of the movement gathers more and more force. During the ten years of the preparatory period preceding the great movement, this man forms relations with all the crowned heads of Europe. The sovereigns of the world, stripped bare by him, can oppose no rational ideal to the senseless Napoleonic ideal of glory and greatness. They vie with one another in demonstrating to him their insignificance. The King of Prussia sends his wife to sue for the good graces of the great man; the Emperor of Austria considers it a favour for this man to take the daughter of the Kaisers to his bed. The Pope, the guardian of the faith of the peoples, uses religion to aid the great man's elevation. Napoleon does not so much prepare himself for the part he is to play as all around him lead him on to take upon himself the responsibility of what is being done and is to be done. There is no act, no crime, no petty deceit which he would not commit, and which would not be at once represented on the lips of those about him as a great deed. The most suitable fête the Germans could think of in his honour was the celebration of Jena and Auerstadt. Not only is he great; his forefathers, his brothers, his step-children, and his brothers-in-law are great too. Everything is done to deprive him of the last glimmering of reason, and to prepare him for his terrible part. And when he is ready, his forces too are in readiness.

The invading army flows towards the east and reaches its final goal: Moscow. The ancient city is taken; the Russian army suffers greater losses than were ever suffered by the opposing armies in the previous wars from Austerlitz to Wagram. But all at once, instead of that chance and genius, which had so consistently led him hitherto by an uninterrupted series of successes to his destined goal, an immense number of chance circumstances occur of an opposite kind from the cold caught at Borodino to the spark that fired Moscow; and instead of genius there was shown a folly and baseness unexampled in history.

The invading army flees away, turns back and flees again; and all the chances now are consistently not for but against him.

Then there follows the opposing movement from east to west, with a remarkable similarity to the eastward movement from the west that had preceded it. There were similar tentative movements westward as had in 1805, 1807 and 1809 preceded the great eastward movement. There was the same cohesion together of all into one group of immense numbers; the same adherence of the peoples of Central Europe to the movement; the same hesitation midway, and the same increased velocity as the goal was approached.

Paris, the furthest goal, was reached. Napoleon's government and armies are shattered. Napoleon himself is of no further consequence; all his actions are obviously paltry and mean; but again inexplicable chance comes in. The allies detest Napoleon, in whom they see the cause of all their troubles. Stripped of his power and his might, convicted of frauds and villainies, he should have been seen by them as he had been ten years before, and was a year later—a brigand outside the pale of the law. But by some strange freak of chance no one sees it. His part is not yet played out. The man who ten years back, and one year later, was looked on as a miscreant outside the law, was sent by them to an island two days' journey from France, given to him as his domain, with guards and millions of money, as though to pay him for some service he had done.