THE EMPEROR NAPOLEON.
THE second Napoleon who has governed France, and the second who has perished in exile the prey of painful disease, will cer- tainly not be regarded as a faint shadow of the First, even though both his successes and his reverses were somewhat feeble copies of those of his uncle, and though he fed himself too assiduously on the memories of the great founder of his family. The Emperor who died at Chislehurst on Thursday, though far superior in intelli- gence and in imagination to the Royal caste to which for so many years he belonged, and though he managed to give a stateliness and a ring to his public declarations which few of the Sovereigns of the earth can attain, was yet neither sovereign by genius and by strength of volition, like his uncle, nor by inborn pride of blood, like his conqueror and some others of his brother Sovereigns. There was nothing bourgeois about him, but there was also nothing of the air of a ruler born to the purple, if not in it. He seemed, even when on the throne, to need a certain strain and effort to keep him up to the level of his destiny. He was, too, a very shrewd observer even of himself, and that is hardly a royal part to play ; for kings, whether kings by genius or by birth, should not be conscious, as the late Emperor certainly was, of being historic phenomena—and often very perplexing his- toric phenomena,—as well as historic powers. The men who watch their own actions with a certain fatalistic curiosity, like the late Emperor, can never infuse that absolute imperative into their actions which is of the essence of the magic of the throne. There was nothing plebeian about the last Sovereign of France, but there was a certain Napoleonising assiduity about him which conveyed a constant sense of hesitation and self-distrust. His most successful achievements were obviously ventures, of the issue of which he was doubtful, and in the midst of which he stopped short in order not to risk a turn of fortune. Such was the Crimean war, such the Italian war. His failures showed the same sense of painstaking, hesitating reflectiveness,—like the tentative towards mediation on behalf of the South in the American war, towards the annexa- tion of Luxemburg and an enlargement of the French frontier on the Rhine, a year or two before his last mishap, and most of all, the dreamy and grandiose attempt to establish a " Latin " empire in Mexico. In the last disastrous war it was clear from the first that his own judgment was against his action, both as regarded the declaration of war itself and as regarded almost every military step taken before the Battle of Sedan. He knew not what to do, but he felt clearly enough that what he did do was of no good omen. The hesitating tendencies of his earlier reign had grown in dimensions, but he had no longer the strength to keep the arbitrament of events within his grasp. Yet his sagacity of judgment had by no means vanished ; only its balance was decidedly against himself, instead of, as before, decidedly, though by no means entirely, in his own favour. His own account of himself during that fatal war read almost like the lucid reverie of a somnambulist, seeing every- thing go to pieces, but bound by the fetters of a paralys- ing torpor from taking any part in an effort to save. The Third Napoleon was a ruler with ideas, but without instincts for government ; a man of doubts, and fears, and questionings, and like all such, always desirous to discover signs, and omens, and decisive indications in the external currents of events, in which
his hesitating mind might find a guidance it could not supply to itself. In intellect far above the mass of common rulers, he was probably enfeebled rather than strengthened by his dreamy imagination, which was constantly suggesting to him grand strokes of policy on the real wisdom of which he could not make up his mind, though he always hankered after such strokes as the proper signet stamp of a true ruler. Had he been less of a dreamer than he was, the feeble attempts at Strasburg and Boulogne would never have been made ; the Mexican expedition would not have been attempted; and,—probably, to the great loss of the world, but to the great gain of his own government, the Italian war would not have been undertaken ; while in place of all these grand, but questionable schemes, the English alliance would have been steadily adhered to ; Denmark would have been supported against Germany ; and Austria, had it then been necessary, against Prussia ; so that we should have had neither the new great national developments of modern Europe, nor the catastrophes which these have involved. That at least would have been, as it seems to us, the policy of a ruler possessing Louis Napoleon's sagacity, but without his dreamy political imagination ;—we should then have had a man who would not have tried his chance at all till 1848 ; who would not have attempted any of those enterprises which has rendered his reign so critical for modern Europe ; but who would have stuck to Free Trade and the English alliance, as at least per- fectly safe and intelligible lines of policy not involving any hidden dangers. The singularities of Louis Napoleon's mind, the imagi- native conceptions which made his reign striking, have certainly also made it unfortunate. He was a dreamer of dreams sufficiently great, but by no means of good augury for him- self. It was when his sagacity put the curb on his imagi- nation, as in making peace in 1859 before Prussia came into the field, and in his various retreats from the demands he made on Prussia after the war of 1866, that he delayed the final catastrophe by which his power was overthrown. His political dreams were the dreams of one rather infected with great ideas than possessed by them. He had not any distinctness of vision, or the tenacity of resolve which accompanies distinctness of vision. Great conceptions flitted before his eyes, and rather obscured than enhanced the homely sagacity of the sensible man of the world. It is worth notice that his only really statesmanlike dream, the reunion of disunited Italy, was one in which he had the help of a long experience to steady him. His political reveries were disas- trous not only to himself but to the world when they were not weighted by personal experience. In other cases, he saw a great policy through a glass darkly,—without sufficient vividness to inspire him, yet with sufficient vividness to bewilder the common-place sense of the statesman. Tens his foresight was blurred by images which at once fascinated and daunted him, which made it impossible to him to be a homely national sovereign like the Prussian monarch, and equally impos- sible to be a brilliant Founder like his Imperial uncle. It is remarkable that, we believe, his only literary dealing with poetry was an incomplete prose translation of Schiller's melancholy little poem on the gradual fading-away of youth's " Ideals,"—ambition not the least. The Emperor's ideal ambi- tions were just of the meteoric kind that Schiller depicted,— flashes which dazzled rather than lighted his path, and showed him heights he longed without daring to scale.
It is curious to observe that in his less exalted moods Louis Napoleon's real model-ruler was not his uncle, but our William
III. And really there were one or two points in the character of the Emperor, if you take no account of his somewhat erratic visions, and try to forget the self-indul- gence and, as we must now admit, the disease which made his later years of rule so inert, in which he resembled William, though the political situation in which be was placed could hardly have been more different. his frigid self-restraint and apparent apathy, his long-headed study of a people with whose temperament he had very little in common, his evidently sincere wish to interpret the national mind fairly and difficulty in doing so, and his apparently joyless ambition, now and then remind us of the great Dutchman. Nothing can be more sensible than the con- trast he draws in his "Historic Fragments" between the errors of the Stuarts and the sagacity of William of Orange. There was evidently a secret admiration and emulation of William, side by side in his mind with his admiration and emulation of the grander figure which was so much nearer to him ; but the former conception was much more within his reach than the latter. What he needed to make him resemble William was more iron, more conscience, a less self-indulgent nature, and less of passion for reverie. When he first became President he showed the hard- headed devotion to business which would have ensured him success in this humbler direction. For example, he completely mastered the details of the Railway system of France, and showed a very sound judgment on the railway schemes submitted to him. Had he continued to give just that kind of devoted attention tolhe organisation of the Army, the war of 1870 would not have found him as helpless as it did. It seems like a severe prophetic censure on himself, when we find him saying orthe Orleans Government in 1842 that its greatest crime " was not to have used the last twelve years of peace for the military organisation of the country, in such a fashion that France would never have to fear an invasion." It is difficult to think that at Wilhelms- hbhe, in 1870, this reproach, which he had directed against the government of his predecessor, could have failed to strike himself with all the power of a deliberately impar-
tial judgment. Between 1859 and 1870, he had had and wasted the very opportunity which the Government of Louis Philippe had according to him wasted between 1830 and 1842 ; and it was so much the worse in his case, that he was not only forewarned, but was adopting a policy of a much more ostentatious and of a much more imperious kind than that of the shrewd old bourgeois king whom he had condemned. The Emperor's cold sagacity was of a kind which, well used, would probably have earned even his son a trial as well as secured the throne for him- self. The uncertain flashes of genius by which he will be better remembered did nothing to secure his own regime, though some- thing to enlarge the hopes and national liberties of Europe. So far as he was a seer, he undermined the foundations of his own power ; especially since his higher snatches of policy led him into enterprises for which there was more need than ever of that diligent administration and that incessant vigilance from which in his late years he obviously shrank.
His life, on the whole, was certainly not enviable. For more than thirty years a dreaming exile, who really felt the pangs of exile with a truly French depth of emotion, if we may trust fre- quently recurring passages in his essays,—passages in which, writing from his prison at Ham, he declares that a prison in France is a far happier fate than liberty out of France,--then for twenty years a distrusted and unpopular ruler, who was haunted by conceptions of policy he seldom ventured to carry out,—then, again, a prisoner, and conscious of being responsible for the greatest collapse his country had ever suffered,—and finally once more an exile, and an exile suffering from mortal disease,—there was hardly anything in his life that was not clouded by failure, and the sense of painful, inadequate effort. He does not appear to have had any trace of that great alleviation of human ills, humour,—otherwise the Strasburg and Boulogne adventures, especially the latter, would hardly have come off ; and he had probably enough moral feeling not to be often free from self-accusation and self-reproach. Merely to touch great aims without fully reaching them, to dream clouded dreams of a magnificent policy which he could never distinctly master, to feel that his best ideas were those that his country ap- preciated least, and that when his powers were most needed they were waning and leaving him impotent in a whirlpool of troubles, that was his imperial lot. It was his somewhat inadequate con-. solatiou to think that he had really so far enriched his country as to make her capable of even greater pecuniary sacrifices than his last defeat inflicted on her, and that he had, on the whole, though with exceptions, steadily promoted that good understanding between France and England, and France and Italy, which may prove in the end to be almost an equivalent for the frightful calamity of the German war. But, taken as a whole, the career which terminated on Thursday in a painful death was hardly one to gild with any false fascination the chequered enterprises of adventurous ambition. Strange weakness and strange strength oddly intermingled, a period of success wh'eli began in blood and ended in a sea of blood, a joyless temperament and a reticent enthusiasm which both discomforted, and was discomforted by, the shrewdness with which it was combined,—these were not enviable gifts of destiny, though they were bestowed on a man who will cer- tainly live for ever in history as a statesman and ruler of no ordinary power and patience, though one who fell at last by his own fault.