June 18, 1815: Waterloo

  • The cannibal has left his lair.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 9, 1815.
  • The Corsican ogre has just landed at the Juan Gulf.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 10, 1815.
  • The tiger has arrived at Gap.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 11, 1815.
  • The monster slept at Grenoble.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 12, 1815.
  • The tyrant has crossed Lyons.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 13, 1815.
  • The usurper was seen sixty leagues from the capital.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 18, 1815.
  • Bonaparte has advanced with great strides, but he will never enter Paris.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 19, 1815.
  • Tomorrow, Napoleon will be under our ramparts.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 20, 1815.
  • The Emperor has arrived at Fontainbleau.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 21, 1815.
  • His Imperial and Royal Majesty entered his palace at the Tuileries last night in the midst of his faithful subjects.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 22, 1815.

 

 

 

Napoleon was such a world spanning figure that it was fitting that he return for one last bow before he departed the stage of history.  As Wellington said, the battle was a “damn close run” thing, and it is quite conceivable that Napoleon could have won, but for blunders by him and his subordinates.  Would it have made any difference if he had prevailed?  Likely not.  Massive Allied armies were on their way, and a victory by Napoleon in 1815 in the Waterloo campaign would likely have meant as little as the many victories he won in 1814 prior to his forced abdication.  By his return from exile Napoleon had demonstrated that he still posed a danger to the status quo in Europe, and after more than two decades of war Europe was not going to tolerate that.

However, let’s play pretend for a moment.  Let us assume that Napoleon had stayed on his self-made throne, what then?  He was prematurely old and he believed his time for war was past.  If he kept France, I think he would have been content.  France would doubtless have benefited from the good government that he could have bestowed on it, especially when he was no longer distracted by wars and rumors of war.  The Austrians, ever the political realists, probably would have been willing to have allowed the return of his son and heir.

What would Napoleon have done with the time remaining to him, especially if that time were greater than what he achieved on Saint Helena?  Assuredly he would have written his memoirs, and what books those would have been, especially if he chose to be honest!  Perhaps he would have played schoolmaster of Europe, and conducted classes on the art of war.  Such classes would have drawn officers from around the globe, eager to sit at the feat of the master.

Perhaps he would have put his spiritual affairs in order, as perhaps he did historically during his last years.

Alas for Napoleon he had none of these opportunities.  In the immortal phrase of Victor Hugo, God was bored by him, and 200 years ago Napoleon’s stunning career came to an end.  Let us give the last word on his career to the Emperor:

Well then, I will tell you. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I myself have founded great empires; but upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love, and to this very day millions will die for Him. I think I understand something of human nature; and I tell you, all these were men, and I am a man: none else is like Him; Jesus Christ was more than a man. I have inspired multitudes with such an enthusiastic devotion that they would have died for me but to do this it was necessary that I should be visibly present with the electric influence of my looks, my words, of my voice. When I saw men and spoke to them, I lighted up the flame of self-devotion in their hearts. Christ alone has succeeded in so raising the mind of man toward the unseen, that it becomes insensible to the barriers of time and space. Across a chasm of eighteen hundred years, Jesus Christ makes a demand which is beyond all others difficult to satisfy; He asks for that which a philosopher may often seek in vain at the hands of his friends, or a father of his children, or a bride of her spouse, or a man of his brother. He asks for the human heart; He will have it entirely to Himself. He demands it unconditionally; and forthwith His demand is granted. Wonderful! In defiance of time and space, the soul of man, with all its powers and faculties, becomes an annexation to the empire of Christ. All who sincerely believe in Him, experience that remarkable, supernatural love toward Him. This phenomenon is unaccountable; it is altogether beyond the scope of man’s creative powers. Time, the great destroyer, is powerless to extinguish this sacred flame; time can neither exhaust its strength nor put a limit to its range. This is it, which strikes me most; I have often thought of it. This it is which proves to me quite convincingly the Divinity of Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

Published in: on June 18, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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  1. The tragedy of Waterloo was that whoever won, Europe would have sunk into a nightmare of tyranny. This was the long wave of Enlightenment. My view is that Enlightenment in the mainstream form – the movement of Voltaire and the other rationalists, with Spinoza as a precursor – had nothing to do with the contemporary revolt against growing royal tyranny. Voltaire may have flirted with the liberal elements in British government – and that mainly because they treated parsons with appropriate scorn and had a libertine tinge – but his heroes were Frederick II of Prussia, a tyrant of unequalled ambition and egotism, and Catherine II of Russia, the terrible German usurper who first codified the Russian caste state and inequality in law. (Curious historical fact: although Russia is identified with inequality and serfdom, in fact its first written code of laws, the Old Pravda, had little difference in this from Western enactments such as the Magna Carta. It was the tragic history of Russia to follow that progressively crushed the instinct for freedom and equality; but it took the German woman to make such oppression law, black on white.) The fruit of the Enlightenment of these two admired despots began to be seen with the partition of Poland, an act of unequalled chicanery and cynicism that revolted even the old Emperess Maria Theresa, who was forced to take part by her son. What the powers did to Poland, theywere in 1815 to do to Europe, with no regard for precedent or for legitimacy. The Congress of Vienna was as enlightened an assembly as anyone could imagine: Wellington, Talleyrand, and above all Metternich, were all 100% spiritual descendants of Voltaire.

    But had Napoleon won, the tyranny would not have been any less. Napoleon would not have known how to be a constitutional leader if he wanted to, and he never wanted to. The only thing he had ever known in his life was the relationship of commander to soldiers, and of head of the family (although Luciano and Giuseppe were older than him) giving orders to refractary siblings. Plus, he did not know how to stop. He would never tolerate any disobedience, from any country. He annexated the Netherlands because his own brother Louis, as king of the country, gave him some back-talk in the interest of his own supposed subjects. He sent army upon army in Spain in the doomed quest to make the locals love their invaders. He never in h is life sought a political or compromise solutiont to anything, except at Tilsit in 1807, when he did not feel ready to face down Russia. And he soon made up for that.

    As for good government, I wonder if you have ever read a Napoleonic constitution. I read that of his puppet kingdom of Italy, and I assure you that it has nothing to do with any accepted doctrine of constitutional government. It is all about placing all resources at the command of the State. ONe of three official parliamentary bodies, for instance, is the Council of Sages, housed at Bologna (University city), whose sole mentioned Constitutional duty was to search every hear amogn the list of graduates for the most talented, and recruit those for service in teh bureaucracy. This was Napoleonic government: monstrously fiscal, horribly greedy for soldiers and bureaucrats. It is not widely known tha there was armed resistance in Italy against Napoleon, from first to last, and not only in the South: there were partisans, improperly called bandits, in the mountains of Piedmont and Lombardy, and Italians as well as Germans followed the Brave Andreas Hofer. When the war of 1814 happened, Milan rose in revolt and drove out the French and their collaborators, murdering the worst of them – the vampiric tax minister Prina – in a way that makes the execution of Mussolini look clean and sanitary. And the next day came the Austrians, and promptly suppressed the rebel government and went on to prove themselves even worse masters than the French had ever been


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