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قراءة كتاب The Modern Regime, Volume 1

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‏اللغة: English
The Modern Regime, Volume 1

The Modern Regime, Volume 1

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 6

former protectors.1127 Among the contending parties and fanaticisms which succeed each other he keeps cool and free to dispose of himself as he pleases, indifferent to every cause and concerning himself only with his own interests.—On the evening of the 12th of Vendémiaire, on leaving the Feydeau theatre, and noticing the preparations of the sectionists,1128 he said to Junot:

"Ah, if the sections put me in command, I would guarantee to place them in the Tuileries in two hours and have all those Convention rascals driven out!"

Five hours later, summoned by Barras and the Conventionalists, he takes "three minutes" to make up his mind, and, instead of "blowing up the representatives," he mows down the Parisians. Like a good condottière, he does not commit himself, considers the first that offers and then the one who offers the most, only to back out afterwards, and finally, seizing the opportunity, to grab everything.—He will more and more become a true condottière, that is to say, leader of a band, increasingly independent, pretending to submit under the pretext of the public good, looking out only for his own interest, self-centered, general on his own account and for his own advantage in his Italian campaign before and after the 18th of Fructidor.1129 He is, however, a condottière of the first class, already aspiring to the loftiest summits, "with no stopping-place but the throne or the scaffold,"1130 "determined1131 to master France, and through France Europe. Without distraction, sleeping only three hours during the night," he plays with ideas, men, religions, and governments, exploiting people with incomparable dexterity and brutality. He is, in the choice of means as of ends, a superior artist, inexhaustible in glamour, seductions, corruption, and intimidation, fascinating, and yet more terrible than any wild beast suddenly released among a herd of browsing cattle. The expression is not too strong and was uttered by an eye-witness, almost at this very date, a friend and a competent diplomat: "You know that, while I am very fond of the dear general, I call him to myself the little tiger, so as to properly characterize his figure, tenacity, and courage, the rapidity of his movements, and all that he has in him which maybe fairly regarded in that sense."1132

At this very date, previous to official adulation and the adoption of a recognized type, we see him face to face in two portraits drawn from life, one physical, by a truthful painter, Guérin, and the other moral, by a superior woman, Madame de Staël, who to the best European culture added tact and worldly perspicacity. Both portraits agree so perfectly that each seems to interpret and complete the other. "I saw him for the first time,"1133 says Madame de Staël, "on his return to France after the treaty of Campo-Formio. After recovering from the first excitement of admiration there succeeded to this a decided sentiment of fear." And yet, "at this time he had no power, for it was even then supposed that the Directory looked upon him with a good deal of suspicion." People regarded him sympathetically, and were even prepossessed in his favor;

"thus the fear he inspired was simply due to the singular effect of his person on almost all who approached him. I had met men worthy of respect and had likewise met men of ferocious character; but nothing in the impression which Bonaparte produced on me reminded me of either. I soon found, in the various opportunities I had of meeting him during his stay in Paris, that his character was not to be described in terms commonly employed; he was neither mild nor violent, nor gentle nor cruel, like certain personages one happens to know. A being like him, wholly unlike anybody else, could neither feel nor excite sympathy; he was both more and less than a man; his figure, intellect, and language bore the imprint of a foreign nationality.. .. far from being reassured on seeing Bonaparte oftener, he intimidated me more and more every day. I had a confused impression that he was not to be influenced by any emotion of sympathy or affection. He regards a human being as a fact, an object, and not as a fellow-creature. He neither hates nor loves, he exists for himself alone; the rest of humanity are so many ciphers. The force of his will consists in the imperturbable calculation of his egoism. He is a skillful player who has the human species for an antagonist, and whom he proposes to checkmate... Every time that I heard him talk I was struck with his superiority; it bore no resemblance to that of men informed and cultivated through study and social intercourse, such as we find in France and England. His conversation indicated the tact of circumstances, like that of the hunter in pursuit of his prey. His spirit seemed a cold, keen sword-blade, which freezes while it wounds. I felt a profound irony in his mind, which nothing great or beautiful could escape, not even his own fame, for he despised the nation whose suffrages he sought... "—"With him, everything was means or aims; spontaneity, whether for good or for evil, was entirely absent."

No law, no ideal and abstract rule, existed for him;

"he examined things only with reference to their immediate usefulness; a general principle was repugnant to him, either as so much nonsense or as an enemy."

Now, if we contemplate Guérin's portrait,1134 we see a spare body, whose narrow shoulders under the uniform wrinkled by sudden movements, the neck swathed in its high twisted cravat, the temples covered by long, smooth, straight hair, exposing only the mask, the hard features intensified through strong contrasts of light and shade, the cheeks hollow up to the inner angle of the eye, the projecting cheek-bones, the massive, protuberant jaw, the sinuous, mobile lips, pressed together as if attentive, the large, clear eyes, deeply sunk under the broad, arched eyebrows, the fixed, oblique look, as penetrating as a rapier, and the two creases which extend from the base of the nose to the brow, as if in a frown of suppressed anger and determined will. Add to this the accounts of his contemporaries1135 who saw or heard the curt accent or the sharp, abrupt gesture, the interrogating, imperious, absolute tone of voice, and we comprehend how, the moment they accosted him, they felt the dominating hand which seizes them, presses them down, holds them firmly and never relaxes its grasp.