Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

 

CONCLUSION.

___

NAPOLEON AT THE INVALIDES.

Death is the grand justice of the world; prejudices, antipathies and hatred of all types come to extinction in the tomb.  The moment when the coffin is closed up on a political character, the calumny, the accusations are abandoned and never return, and the truth, this girl of the sky, comes to alight, like a vigilant sentinel, on the step of his tomb to defend the memory of the citizen or the monarch who, during his life, was the butt of the poisoned arrows of political fanaticism or unpopularity; often blind and always simmering!

Nations themselves, like individuals, feel disarmed in the presence of a tomb.  The English government, not happy to have violated all the divine and human laws towards the captive Emperor, was baited, through six whole years, to torture the great man on the rock of Saint-Helena: it did not spare him either the reed scepter, nor the beverage of absinthe, nor the crown of thorns which had come to replace, on his broad face, the double diadem of Charlemagne and the Lombard Kings; it exhausted all: physical pains, mental pains, disgraces and humiliations.  Ah well! This England which was thus avenged for its commercial disappointments, this England which had attached the vulture of Prometheus to the sides of this giant who was incarnated France; this envious, irritable and jealous England, as a courtesan to which one wants to tear off the gold belt which veils its turpitudes; this England, we say, bowed itself in front of its martyr, from the moment when, dead and adorned in his battle dress, he left his wood palace of Longwood to take possession of his granite sepulcher.  It was surprised, by contemplating the Titan, which had succumbed to the weight of its chains, with its repentance of its relentless revenge; and, when it threw an apprehensive glance on the rock of Saint-Helena, the scaffold of Charles the Ist appeared less horrible to it. Stuart had only six days of anguish: the Caesar of France had undergone six years of anguish! Stuart had been drowned by insults of a fanatic army rabble: Napoleon constantly suffered the insults from a jailer that an impartial history will stigmatize with eternal contempt!*

*We know that in England , there is a party, which professes a sincere regard and honorable sympathy for our country, the memory of Napoleon and his old army.  This party could not be included in our legitimate recriminations, which, in good justice, can but hardly address the country’s government at that time.

England thus blushes at the cold persecutions, which it had exercised against a hero betrayed by fortune; and, to erase the least vestige of its resentments, it granted France its dead emperor!

One still remembers the enthusiasm with which the entire nation greeted the return of the ashes of Napoleon.  With the appearance of these venerated remains, the people and the army forgot at what price these majestic ashes were returned to us.

This late funeral was celebrated with magnificence worthy of dead heroes and living people. France , as in the time of the Carolingian monarchs, attended, by its representatives, to the apotheosis of the great man who had ruled over if for fifteen years.  The flags of our young army headed this great national mourning, and seemed to receive a new dedication by mixing the African laurels with the palms of Aboukir, Marengo, Austerlitz, Jena, Friedland, Wagram, Moskowa, Lutzen, Montmirail and Waterloo.  In this cortège, sparkled trophies of the past and trophies of the present, the people noticed with tenderness a group of soldiers very few in number and bent under the weight of age and fatigue of war: these men, clad in the old uniforms of the Empire, were all that was left of a heroic poem; they were the remains of the Old Imperial Guard.  While marching behind the coffin of their emperor, these invincibles recalled those Roman centurions who accompanied to the corpse by Caesar to the Janicule mount.

With the appearance of these mutilated remains of our phalanxes, victorious for such a long time, with the sight of these glorious coats still impregnated with the ice of Bérésina and the powder of Mount-Saint-Jean, the people themselves bowed! … Each one of these brave men represented a victory to them, because from these stars of honor which scintillated on their chests, so many times plowed by grapeshot and iron of the enemy, one could read this sublime currency of Napoleon: Honor and fatherland!

No, never were funerals of a monarch any brighter, nor been surrounded by more of what gives a crown to these funeral ceremonies: regrets and blessings.  To give an idea of the solemn gravity of this funeral, to make some account to posterity, it would be necessary to gather the scattered features of the funeral of Trajan, Marcus Aurelius and Constantine, combined with those of Charlemagne, Louis XII, of Guesclin and Turenne.  Grateful France, in this memorable day, indeed paid to the dead hero the homage due to the conqueror, the legislator, in a word, to the great man who held the dykes of the revolutionary torrent, by holding up at the point of his sword the altar of the true God and the throne of Louis XIV.

For this coffin so full of memories, for this majestic corpse, one needed a sepulcher worthy of him and France; it had been found: it was in the middle of his brave companions in glory, with these soldiers free from the falseness of battles, that the nation decreed an eternal burial place for Napoleon.  It was to the Invalides, in this sumptuous palace raised by the munificence of the great king to the valiant mutilated or dulled by age, that the coffin of the Emperor was deposited, as in a sanctuary where no sacrilegious hand could disturb his last sleep.  The night of eternity must be as calm for Napoleon as was it for him the night of Austerlitz.  Only here, as there, could he not be disturbed by the shadows of his lieutenants, in the midst of whom he will be presented at the last days of the world in front of the court of God.

If the heart, separated from the body, can give up the celestial residence to hover sometimes on the ground, with what joy will Napoleon have been seen surrounded by these French people that he cherished with such an amount of love! With so much happiness he will have contemplated the splendid residence that was assigned to him, according to this last expressed wish on Sainte-Helena: “I wish that my ashes rest on the edge of the Seine, in the middle of these people which I loved so much!”

The gold cupola of the monument of Louis XV covers this noble burial! French soldiers will keep it until France is erased by the time from the surface of the sphere!  The arts of the fatherland will come to devote in emulation this Saint-Jerome chapel, where the coffin of Napoleon, rid of the British chains, was lowered free, and by French hands, to the thunder of one hundred pieces of cannon.

Yes undoubtedly, with the voice of this bronze (cannon), with the sounds of these people, this old and young army fallen prey to a patriotic fever, the great captain would have quivered in his shroud; his hand would have gone instinctively to the hilt of his sword, and, by seeing his old brave men still grouped around his cenotaph, his mouth would have still been able to articulate these magic words which he pronounced after all the great days of France: “Soldiers! I am content with you!”

And you, noble remains of our wars of the Republic and the Empire; soldiers of Jemmapes, Valmy, the Pyramids, Marengo, Austerlitz, Jena, Friedland, Wagram, Moskowa and Waterloo; you, proud soldiers of the Imperial Guard, did we say what holy ecstasy seized your heart when you saw getting out of the hearse the body of the hero for whom you had poured out so much blood on all the battle fields of Africa and Europe?  Tell us what a noble pride seized you in the middle when you learned that the ashes of your beloved emperor would sleep from now on under the same shelter as you, throughout the century, and that only you would be the guards of this national treasure, of this palladium of glory and the grandeur of France !

Saint-Denis has Louis XIV, has Guesclin, has Bayard! At the Home of the Invalides, in the chapel of Saint-Jerome, Napoleon and all the famous captains, whose cloth formed while living, with the flags suspended on the vaults, the most invaluable ornament.

The Saint-Jerome chapel became the Mecca of the brave today.  In its marbled sacred enclosure, at every hour of the day, guests come to piously wander the crowned temple: to see them thus walking timidly, it would be believed that they are respectful children who fear to awake their deadened father.  Two mutilated soldiers, armed with lances, take care of the monument during the night, in front of which there is always a lamp whose mysterious clearness makes spring from the veins of the marble and the stained glasses, we do not know how, marvelous colors which invite one to prayer and meditation.

Often also, on the step of the tomb, one sees an old man bowing and requesting: it is an old grenadier of the Imperial Guard who comes to repeat to his emperor that the soldiers of France of today are worthy of their are elders, and that the wounded of Saint-Jean-in Acre and Mount-Saint-Jean approve of the wounded of Mostaganem and d’Isly.  A day will come when the nations of Europe, returning to a feeling of equity which always takes time, will bow their heads with respect only to the memory of the veterans of the Guard Imperial, of this phalanx of giants, imperishable in the memory of the men and whose name will live as long as the world!

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: June 2007

 

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