Among historical there are few leaders of the first rank whose life and work would be studied more closely than those of Napoleon. The emperor of the French, holding his hand between the buttons of his vest in ceremonial portraits, or the commander of troops on the battlefield with a telescope and an indispensable cocked hat, is an image familiar to everyone from childhood. This visual series is accompanied by an accompanying event environment.
Here young Bonaparte rushes to the attack on Arkolsky bridge, and here in the Egyptian sands he reminds soldiers that “40 of centuries have been looking at them from the height of the pyramids”. And next to it is Napoleon, a mature and at the same time stiffened, who stands under cannon fire at the Preussish-Eylau cemetery or looks at the fire of Moscow. Then - a defeat, a silent retreat to the borders of France, a nervous twitch at Waterloo, masterfully depicted by Rodney Styger in the eponymous film by Sergey Bondarchuk.
“He was born on an island, he wanted to conquer the island all his life and died on the island,” represents Napoleon Talleyrand at the beginning of one of the commander’s numerous film biographies. In this strange triangle - Corsica, England, Saint Helena - denoting not so much geography as many different epochs, the main outline of Bonaparte’s life unfolds. Life, fascinated since then many writers, poets, composers, not to mention the political figures of later times.
The uniqueness of his fate was perfectly realized by his contemporaries, from Beethoven to Byron. At the end of his life, already at Saint Helena, Napoleon himself exclaimed: “What a novel my life!” The overthrown emperor, perhaps with his intuition, felt the approach of an era of romanticism, for which he would become one of the key characters. Fate, which lifted him out of petty or, as they would say in Russia, fine-minded nobles and made the ruler of France first, and then of Europe, in order to later mercilessly deprive of everything - the throne, the family, the Homeland, could not but excite the imagination. Quietly dying in 1821, Napoleon soon returned, for example, in the “Airship” of Lermontov, where
From the grave then the emperor
Waking up suddenly is;
He wears a triangular hat
And gray martial coat
However, these fantasies to some extent materialized when the ashes of Napoleon were transported from Saint Helena to France, where he finally rest in the House of Invalids. But if romanticism also gradually receded into the past, the Napoleonic legend, on the contrary, only grew stronger over the years. In France after the defeats of 1870, the most severe losses of 1914-1918. and then the humiliating occupation of 1940 d. Napoleon became an expression of national pride. The old continental rivals, as generations passed, began to put a person higher and higher, who was almost officially called the "Corsican monster." In Russia, for example, many after Pushkin could be sure that
Praise! he is to the Russian people
High draw indicated
And peace to the eternal freedom
From the gloom links bequeathed
Since the anti-Napoleonic coalition won, the European society unwittingly supported the Napoleonic myth itself, because otherwise the victory would not look convincing. In fact, Russia, Britain, Prussia, Austria, Sweden, Spanish partisans, small German states - and France alone is against them.
In reality, the situation was much more complicated, but these "nuances" do not penetrate into the mass consciousness. Where, however, there is a famous replica of Napoleon, who equated his personal military contribution to a hundred thousand soldiers: "Fifty thousand and I am one hundred fifty thousand." Try it, win. But the victory was won, and it became the most important national point of reference - in Britain, in Russia, and especially in Prussia.
It is appropriate to say here that not only the patriotic pride of the French or their victorious enemies ensured the vitality of the legend, not only an extraordinary fate, which would be enough for a dozen biographies, but also, as they would say now, Napoleon’s talent Public Relations areas. The phrases uttered by him on one occasion or another and included in the annals thanks to the reminiscences of contemporaries or the fantasies of enthusiastic biographers constitute an integral part of the classical image no less than a "gray walking coat."
"Donkeys and scientists in the middle!" "Neither red caps nor red heels." “Write short and unclear” - all this has also become a kind of “classic”. Just as the inevitable "From great to funny - just one step." For Bonaparte himself, “great” was, of course, all that he achieved on the battlefield right up to 1812. But what was funny?
The outcome of the Patriotic War made ridiculous plans and forecasts that the conqueror made before starting it, but laughter was hardly the dominant feeling among relatives and close hundreds of thousands who died on it from both sides. On such "trifles" the legend usually does not stop, as well as on how the retreating French troops at some point experienced such moral decay that they reached cannibalism. These crude realities of war do not correspond to Napoleonic pathos.
Kiss the banners of the Old Guard at the first renunciation - please. Hug Alexander in Tilsit in 1807 - as much as you like. But neither tens of thousands of civilians in the streets of the Spanish Zaragoza in 1809, nor the Russian peasants killed by the Napoleonic army on the road from Smolensk to Moscow and back do not climb into the legend and do not linger in the mass consciousness.
Napoleon came to power in France at the moment when, according to the general feeling, the state mechanism of the country was in a state close to disintegration. The predatory oligarchy, which took control of the uncontrolled power as a result of the French Revolution, provoked one crisis after another, plunging the country into the abyss of corruption, lawlessness, and wars, which the farther, the less looked like defensive.
In 1799, this regime was nearing its final, as evidenced by the various conspiracies to change it, and mature from the inside. Bonaparte, who left the army in Egypt, which was awaited by the inevitable defeat, was at the right moment in the right place. His participation in the Brumerian coup was due, on the one hand, to his popularity among the people, and on the other, to certain informal arrangements at the top.
However, the “conditions” taken on themselves in the case of Bonaparte were much easier than those of Anna Ioannovna, and, moreover, much more extensible. He had to restore order, create a working state mechanism, throw enemies from the French borders and establish civil peace in the republic.
As always, at first, the new head of state did exactly what was expected of him. Napoleon defeated the Austrians, muffled the armed resistance of the Chouans in Brittany, reformed the legislative and executive bodies of state power. Not very noticeably, they acquired a personalistic coloring: the first face appeared, on which the state apparatus as a whole gradually depended.
This configuration was based largely on military successes. Victories in wars became not only a means to defeat the enemies of France, but also the main way to consolidate the inner power of the commander, to make it indisputable, not subject to any criticism. All this was accompanied by the gradual tightening of the screws, the abolition of even the relative freedom of the press that existed before, references and executions of various opponents of the regime, the formation of a police apparatus under the leadership of the revolutionary terrorist Fouche.
Against the background of seemingly benevolent events like the conclusion of a long-awaited peace with other powers, the signing of a concordat with the Catholic Church or the streamlining of legislation (the famous "Napoleon Code") suddenly began to show features of a ruler who is not holding back anything. Opponents of the regime were subjected to executions both “left” and “right”. The most famous of the massacres was the execution of the Duke of Enghien - a member of the House of Bourbons, falsely accused of conspiracy.
At the same time, Napoleon’s power was based in no small measure on victories over external enemies, which naturally led him to new and new foreign policy adventures, which ultimately meant the prolongation of the war to infinity. Replacing the first consul who had ceased to arrange his post for the title of emperor, the new ruler of France led the war against England, Austria, Russia, Prussia, etc. The longer these wars went on, the more frustrating it became in France itself. But the emperor the farther, the more intolerant of this attitude of the French elites.
Those people who helped him in 1799, gradually fell into disgrace. And the wars, which at the beginning of Napoleon’s rule could be called defensive, became shamelessly aggressive, aggressive. The “Savior”, whom Napoleon saw as the post-revolutionary French elites, turned into an insatiable ambitious man, a man who could not stop, who ultimately did much more harm than good.
The continental blockade, which was designed to safeguard the interests of the French business class, ultimately demanded such sacrifices for its survival, which ceased to justify itself. And its preservation has become a system that requires more and more victims.
Not surprisingly, with the onset of defeats, the Napoleon system began to burst at the seams - first in Europe and then in France itself, where not only peasants and workers, but also businessmen and representatives of the military elite that Napoleon was trying to create. The overthrow of Bonaparte was no less an intra-French affair than the achievement of the anti-French coalition.
In 1814, as many historians have noted, Napoleon fell victim not only to external defeats, but also to the clearly expressed mood of the army, which refused to continue the senseless war. A brief return during the "100 days" could not change anything. Napoleon was incompatible with the very stability that many relied on in 1799.
In Marx’s light hand, in historiography, the opinion of Napoleon was largely reduced to a formula about a man who coped with the revolution at home and then transferred it abroad. Usually, this is understood as the various "anti-feudal reforms" implemented in Europe from Spain to Prussia. But it would be more fair to say that Napoleon transferred to Europe the absence of any rules erected in principle, which caused gradually increased resistance from the peoples who found themselves in the orbit of the French Empire.
Hence the war with Napoleon, in which compromise became a problem. The logic of unlimited conquest turned into a boomerang - a situation in which even large concessions no longer satisfy the enemy who wants to deal with the threat once and for all.
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But the Napoleonic legend is too strong to accept what was said. Probably there is some truth in this, for the legend is not something false, but there are selected facts from the life story of the one who gave birth to this legend. The eternal duality of Napoleon is inevitable. Not so much “rebellious liberty heir and murderer”, how many people who seemed to the French post-revolutionary elites a suitable candidate for the role of the one who put things in order,
Bonaparte destroyed their hopes with their aggressive wars. But in history, he will always be the one who defeated the two emperors at Austerlitz or “blew on Prussia” so that it ceased to exist for 6 days. Whatever the sober assessment of Bonaparte’s impact on French society, the mass consciousness will remember his “triumphal procession” in France in 1815, or his very first steps, including the assault of Toulon in 1793.
The legend lives, and in the very fact, one can probably discern the duality of human nature, which was called “citizen Bonaparte” in 1790-s, and “Your imperial majesty” in the second half of 1800's.