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The Story of France by  Mary Macgregor

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"THE SUN OF AUSTERLITZ"

[421] WHEN Napoleon returned to paris after his brilliant victory at marengo, the crowds thronging the streets surrounded him, hoping to catch if it were but a glimpse of their idol. The city was illuminated, the people forgot to work, and danced and feasted in his honour.

But although the First Consul was worshipped by many of the people, he was hated by some. His chief enemies were among the Royalists and the Jacobins.

The Royalists hated him because he was now a king in all but name, the Jacobins because he was the head of the Republic. Plots were even made against his life.

Once, as he was driving to the opera, a barrel which had been filled with gunpowder was placed on the road by which he must pass. But his carriage got safely by before it exploded and Napoleon escaped, though when the explosion did take place many innocent people suffered in his stead.

The Royalists wished to kill the First Consul that the brother of Louis XVI. might be placed on the throne.

One of their plots was discovered, and the Duke of Enghien, who belonged to the house of Conde, was shot, although it was not proved that he had anything to do with the attempt to kill Napoleon.

The princes of Europe were very angry that Napoleon had dared to put this great noble to death. But the friends of the First Consul said it was time to make Napoleon king, so that a Bourbon might never again sit on the throne of France.

[422] Before long the French deputies and Senate agreed that it would be well that Napoleon should be crowned. Of the army and of the people he was already the idol, and they believed no honour too great for their hero.

So in December 1804 the Pope, at the request of the Virst Consul, journeyed toward Paris.

Napoleon determined to meet Pius VII. before he reached the capital. He therefore went off for a day's hunting, and on his homeward way, radiant with health and power, he leaped from his horse and awaited the Pope's carriage. As he drove up to the spot on which Napoleon stood, Pius VII. ordered his carriage to stop. Then the old man, clad in white and wearing on his feet only white silk shoes, alighted on the cold damp ground.

As Napoleon welcomed his guest, the general's carriage drove up. The doors on either side were opened, the Pope entering on the left while the First Consul took the seat of honour on the right.

Soon after his arrival the ceremony for which the Pope had come to France took place. Amid the greatest pomp, and clad in the richest robes, the Emperor Napoleon and the Impress Josephine mounted the steps of the new carriage provided for the great occasion and drove to the cathedral.

Here the emperor and the empress were anointed with holy oil. Then, as the Pope took the crown to place it on the emperor's head. Napoleon, reaching out his hand, himself placed the crown upon his own head.

The ceremony was over, and loud shouts of "Long live the emperor!" rent the air.

A year later Napoleon was in Milan cathedral, for he wished to be crowned King of Italy as well as Emperor of the French.

As he placed the iron crown of the Italian kings upon his head the emperor said, as the ancient kings of Lombardy had been used to do at their coronation, "God hath given it me; beware who touches it!"

[423] Having now satisfied one part of his ambitions, Napoleon turned once more to his long-cherished scheme of invading England.

He had already begun to prepare for it by setting up a huge camp at Boulogne, and ordering a fleet to be built to carry his troops across the Channel.

But the English fleet guarded the coast and scoured the Channel with such vigilance that Napoleon was forced to see that his plans would never be successful.

Other countries, too, were showing signs of impatience with the emperor. Before long Austria and Russia, as well as Sweden and England, entered into a league against Napoleon, for they thought that unless his ambition was curbed, he would wish to add their crowns to those that were already his.

For a time the league seemed to have little effect on the emperor's course. In Austria he gained victory after victory, and at length entered Vienna in triumph.

Here he heard bitter news. The French fleet, as well as many Spanish vessels, had been utterly destroyed by Lord Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar in October 1805. This put an end to Napoleon's power on the sea.

As was perhaps natural, the emperor believed that had he but been present at the battle such a disaster would never have befallen France. He determined, however, that this misfortune should be forgotten through the glory of a great victory on land. So one cold foggy morning in December Napoleon met the Russian and Austrian armies on the plain of Austerlitz.

The Russians were in a strong position on the hills, but for some reason they left the heights and began to descend to the plain.

When the emperor saw what the enemy was doing he was pleased indeed, and with his usual confidence he remarked, "In twenty-four hours they are mine."

In the fog the two armies had drawn nearer to each other [424] than they knew. Suddenly the sun shone out, the mist lifted, and the French found themselves face to face with the enemy.

As Napoleon led his men to the attack he cried: "Soldiers, this battle must be a thunder-clap."


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"SOLDIERS, THIS BATTLE MUST BE A THUNDERCLAP."

For a time it seemed that for all his genius, and in spite of the devotion of his men, the emperor would be defeated.

But the bravery of Lannes helped to turn the tide of battle, and after four or five hours of fiercest struggle, the French had once again won the victory.

The battle of Austerlitz was one of the greatest of Napoleon's many victories. It took place on the first anniversary of his coronation. Those of the soldiers who escaped the terrible slaughter of that day often spoke of the cheerful omen that had braced their hearts for the battle. It was "the Sun of Austeriitz."

After the battle was over, what was left of the Austrian and Russian armies wandered about the country more like bands of robbers than like the trained soldiers of a great army.

The famous English minister, William Pitt, was so troubled by the victory of Austeriitz, that his health, already feeble, grew worse, and soon afterwards he died.

But though the Powers leagued together against the emperor had been defeated, they did not mean to accept their defeat tamely.

Russia, aided now by Prussia, raised a large force and marched against the emperor. The chief commander of the Prussians was the Duke of Brunswick, a brave and gallant leader. Unfortunately his men were more used to peace than to war.

In October 1806 the armies met close to the town of Jena. Overlooking the town was a steep hill, on the top of which Napoleon ordered cannon to be placed.

Any one but the emperor would have thought it an im- [425] possible feat to get cannon to the top of such a steep ascent, but as you have heard, "impossible" was a word unknown to Napoleon.

There was no pathway up the hill. A road had to be made, at places, through rocks that seemed impassable.

The soldiers, however, began to dig and to blast, cheered by the words and the presence of the emperor, who himself encouraged them in their difficult task.

After untiring industry the task was accomplished, soldiers and cannon both being in position at the top of the hill that commanded Jena.

The Prussians did not know that they would be attacked by the emperor himself. They thought that he was far away with the main body of his troops, and that at Jena they had to fight only a small division of the French army.

Frederick-William, their king, had not even waited to join his allies, while his army was no larger than he believed his enemy's to be.

Moreover, they had not the faintest idea that the French troops had made a road to the top of the Landgrafenberg, as the hill overlooking Jena was called.

Early in the morning the French were astir, and soon the guns on the height began to pour their deadly fire down upon the Prussian army.

The Prussians were startled, and before long were in confusion. Another battle was also being fought at Auerstadt, about twelve miles away, in which the Duke of Brunswick was slain. He was beloved by his men, who ever after wore black uniforms in memory of their gallant leader. His son, too, vowed that he would be revenged on the French for his father's death.

It was evening when the battle of Jena was over, and the emperor saw that the Prussians were flying in all directions, pursued by the French cavalry.

Then Napoleon, with the kindness which won the devotion [426] of his men, rode over the battlefield, often dismounting give brandy to some wounded soldier.

If he found one alive where he least expected it, he "gave way to a joy it is impossible to describe."

Having defeated the Prussians, the emperor marched with his army through their land, plundering and burning as he went. On, until he reached Berlin, he marched entering the city in triumph as a conqueror.


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