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European Hero Stories by  Eva March Tappan

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NAPOLEON BONAPARTE

[226] WHEN the American Revolution broke out, the French people sympathized with the Americans, and La-fa-yette' and others came to our aid. The reason for this sympathy was that just as the American colonists were ruled for the interest of England, so the masses of the people in France were ruled for the interest of a few. Half of the land of France was in the hands of the nobles and the clergy. They paid hardly any taxes, and therefore the other people had to pay twice as much as was fair. Worse than this, the king could put a man into prison for life without even accusing him of any crime. Every year the people became more wretched, and finally they abolished royalty, established a republic, and put the king to death. A few months after his execution there began in France a dreadful time, known as the Reign of Terror. The queen was beheaded and many thousands were executed for no reason except that they were nobles or were wealthy. A new instrument, the guil'lo-tine, was invented to carry on executions more rapidly. Such madness and cruelty seized upon the people that they used to go day after day to sit on the benches surrounding the guillotine and chat and jest while the machine was doing its awful work.


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NAPOLEON IN HIS IMPERIAL ROBES.

It is no wonder that the other European nations united against France; but in the midst of all the horrors of the Reign of Terror, France had formed an army and put in command over it a young [228] Cor'si-can named Na-po'le-on Bo'na-parte. The country was now ruled by five "directors." They ordered Napoleon to drive the Austrians from Italy. He succeeded in doing this, and also obliged Austria to give up to France her possessions in the Netherlands. Napoleon was the man of the day, and when he returned to Paris he found the people ready to do whatever he asked. He decided to have the country ruled by three consuls instead of by five directors; and the French were willing. He was the First Consul, of course, and he was the only one who ruled.

After matters had become more quiet Napoleon asked the people of France to decide whether he should not have the title of emperor. Almost every vote was in favor of it. Then there was a most brilliant coronation ceremony. Napoleon asked no one to crown him, but lifted the crown and placed it upon his own head, and then crowned his wife Josephine empress.

The other countries of Europe looked upon him as a usurper, and several united to oppose him. His worst enemies were England and Austria. He decided to cross the English Channel and invade England; but at the last moment he learned that the Russians and Austrians were marching toward the eastern limits of France. England must wait, he thought, and he marched far into Austria. There he met his enemies and gained a brilliant victory at Aus'ter-litz'. He formed a Confederation of the Rhine with himself as Protector; and so many German princes forsook Austria and joined the league, that the Austrian emperor was obliged to give up his title of ruler of the Holy Roman Empire and call himself simply the Emperor of Austria.

Napoleon went on with his victories, and soon he ruled France, [229] Belgium, Holland, much of Germany, and much of Italy. On the thrones of the conquered countries he placed his brothers and his generals. He was now on bad terms with Russia, and he set out with half a million soldiers to capture Moscow. Much the same thing happened as when the Swedes followed Peter the Great into Russia. "Time and distance and cold and hunger" were as fatal to the Frenchmen as they had been to the Swedes. Napoleon expected to take Moscow as a matter of course, and he supposed that there would be food and shelter in the city for his men. He entered Moscow, but the inhabitants had fled, carrying with them everything possible. Worse than that, fire soon broke out, probably kindled by some Russians who had remained for that purpose. The houses were of wood, and in a short time the French were without shelter or provisions. They were forced to set out on the long march to France in the bitter cold of the Russian winter. Men died by thousands from cold and starvation. The savage Cos'sacks attacked the lines constantly. Not one man in six returned to France from that terrible march.


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NAPOLEON'S RETURN FROM ELBA.

This was the beginning of Napoleon's downfall. Russia, Prus'sia, Sweden, and England now united against him. Great armies pressed into France, and Paris was obliged to surrender. Napoleon was sent to the little island of El'ba, off the coast of Italy. France became a kingdom again, and a brother of the king who had been executed was set upon the throne with the title of Lou'is XVIII. This new king had learned nothing from the Revolution, and it did not enter his mind that he could not treat the people just as his ancestors had treated them. Before long they were wishing that the emperor would come back. There began to be rumors in France that something might happen.

[230] The whole country knew that the violet was Napoleon's favorite flower, and people whispered to one another significantly, "In the spring the violets blossom." Meanwhile, a Congress was meeting at Vi-en'na to try to arrange the countries of Europe just as they were before Napoleon laid his hands upon them. The German states were formed into a league with the Emperor of Austria as president. Italy was divided among several powers, but Austria claimed a general control over the whole country. Both Austria [231] and Prussia were made somewhat larger. Wherever Napoleon had made a kingdom into a republic or had put one of his brothers into the place of a king, the former ruler was restored, or one of his family was set up on the throne.


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NAPOLEON A THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO.

Suddenly word was brought that Napoleon had escaped from Elba. The Congress laughed at the idea, but the report was true. He landed in France and went straight toward Paris. When his old soldiers caught sight of him, they forgot that they were the troops of King Louis; they remembered only that their beloved emperor had returned to them. They threw their arms around him and around one another. They shouted, and they wept for [232] joy. King Louis fled, and Napoleon was again emperor of the French.

But the countries that had united against him were bringing their troops together. The English and Prussians were already in Belgium. Then came the famous battle of Wa-ter-loo', and Napoleon was utterly defeated. He surrendered to the English, believing that they would let him live in peace in either America or England. They refused and carried him to the island of St. He-le'na, off the coast of Africa, and there he died six years later.

From the fifth to the nineteenth century is a long way. Looking back over the history of Europe, we can see that, first, wild tribes from Asia swept over the country; that the Franks gained in power until under Charlemagne they ruled nearly all western Europe; that the Teutons pushed on to the westward, to the British Isles, to Iceland, Greenland, and America; that the boundaries and laws of the nations gradually became more definite; that the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries were marked by feudalism and the crusades; that after this came a time of progress, of travel and exploration, eastward to China and westward to America; then followed the long years of struggle, each nation trying to make the most of itself, to win freedom, and sometimes to get the better of its neighbors.

But this is a small part of the real history of the countries of Europe. There were men who were brave in other places than on the battlefield or in voyages of discovery; there were poets and artists and builders and lawmakers and preachers; there were kind deeds and unselfish lives. If the tales of all these could be told, then, indeed, we should have a faithful history of the countries of Europe from the time when they were seized upon by [233] rude, wandering peoples to the present age and the measure of civilization which has now been attained.

SUMMARY

Why France sympathized with the American Revolution. — The early successes of Napoleon. — He becomes emperor. — Austerlitz. — The Confederation of the Rhine. — The Austrian emperor is forced to give up his title of ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. — Napoleon's victories. — His expedition to Russia. — The burning of Moscow. — Napoleon's retreat. — His exile to Elba. — The folly of Louis XVIII. — The Congress of Vienna. — The return of Napoleon from Elba. — The battle of Waterloo. — Napoleon is sent to St. Helena. — General view of the history of Europe.


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