5 APRIL 1873, Page 8


CERTAIN so-called " Memoires Secrets de Napol4on III." are about to be published, and a Paris journal, not renowned for love of Bonapartism, has printed some specimens. If the forthcoming volume does not contain information more accurate and outspoken than the extracts supplied by M. de Villemessant's newspaper, the value of the book will not be great. The portions given to the Parisian world, by way of a whet to its appetite, tell very little that can be in any way called new, and imply, if they do not explicitly state, several things that are not true. Indeed, the errors are so glaring, that one may fairly doubt whether the pages flowed directly from the Imperial pen or lips, and whether they are not based on hearsay. Thus the Emperor is made to say that he appointed Marshal Bazaine to the command of the Metz Army on the 13th, whereas the official documents show incontestably that Bazaine received his appointment on the 12th of August. Again, the reason alleged for the Emperor's departure from Metz is nonsensical. "On the 15th of August the Emperor and Prince Imperial were encamped with part of the army at Gravelotte. As the telegraph did not exist on this line, Napoleon III. could not receive news from the capital." Consequently, he determined to retire on Chalons. The telegraph, of course, reached to Metz, where the Emperor himself hall received despatches from his wife ; when he quitted the suburbs, whence he heard the roar and saw the smoke of the action at Borny, he removed to Grave- lotte because it was the first stage on the road to Chalons, whither he had already determined to go. The absence of a telegraph station at Gravelotte formed no element in his deter- mination. Another example of laxity of statement is this,— that when MacMahon first resolved to march from the Marne to the Meuse, the Emperor acceded to the plan, and restricted his interference to advising the Marshal not to get far from the railway on which he depended for provisions. The truth is, as MacMahon himself relates, that it was not until after the army had started, and a large deficiency of supplies had been reported by two corps commanders, that he resolved to lean more closely on the railway. These are slight inaccuracies, but they are of a nature to cast doubt either on the Emperor's memory or the authenticity of M. de la Chapelle's production.

What we most desire to know is why the Emperor or his Government went to war ? What were the secret springs of a

fatal decision, or had it any secret history at all No infor- mation on this head is apparently supplied by the volume, at least none is alluded to in the anticipatory notice brought out with such a flourish of trumpets. The drift of the Imperial confessions seems to be that Caasar lost his legions because his military apparatus was in many important respects painfully incomplete, and because his brain and nerve were not of that quality which enables a General to make the best of such materials as lie ready at his hand. It is absurd to say that Napoleon III. was deceived. He is made to com- plain that on July 6 Lebceuf promised 588,000 men, that then the number fell to 400,000, that three weeks later only 385,000 were found to be disposable, and that the number on the frontier was 220,000; while the Germans, estimated at 300,000, turned out to be thrice that number. If the Emperor ever put down such statements in writing, he must have mislaid his papers and lost his memory, It is on record that Lebceuf undertook to mobilise 300,000 men in three weeks, and 250.000 in fifteen days, out of a total in France, Algeria, and Italy of something short of 500,000 disposable for war. The Emperor Napoleon had been accustomed to military returns, and knew as well as anyone that the troops available for instant service must fall short of the number returned by the War Office as effective. Nor could he have been in doubt as to the strength of the North- German Army, since Colonel Stoffel's reports, both in 1866 and 1868, had supplied him with exact, accurate, and detailed information. He may have believed that the South Germans would not join the North, but any misconception on that head must have been of brief duration. But to say that he forced on a war. with a numerically weak army, so organised that even its actual strength could not become available until weeks had elapsed ; that its equipments were stowed away in central depots, and not ready to hand ; that its heads of departments were not up to their work, is not to produce an excuse, but an indictment against himself. Every single defect pointed out, and especially the more important ones, must have been as well known to him as they were to Von MIltke

and his Intelligence Department. It must have been a keen consciousness of imperfection, as well as the pants of a painful malady, that made him quit Paris, saddened, irresolute, apprehensive, or, as a close observer said at the time, a "beaten man."

In the " Memoires " we are told the Emperor compares his plan of campaign to that executed by his uncle in 1815. What he means, we suppose, was the projected passage of the Rhine at Maxau with intent to interpose between North and South Germany, between the troops on the right and left bank of the Rhine. Napoleon I. executed his able plan, Napoleon III, never got beyond paper. When he joined the army at Metz he did not impart either vigour or unity to its proceed- ings. The first attack on Saarbriick stands conspicuous as his solitary feat of arms, or approximation towards anything which can be called a plan. Helpless hesitation,—Spicheren and Worth followed. The Emperor naively admits that these events shook the confidence of the troops in the Chief of the State, "for the military reputation he had acquired during the short Italian campaign was not sufficiently established to bear up against adverse fortune." Accordingly he accepted the resignation of Lebceuf, and gave the command to Bazaine, "who had the confidence of the army and the country." Thus after figuring as a General for about a fortnight, he abandoned a post which he was unfitted to fill. After the 12th of August he ceased to exercise even the semblance of command, and never reap- peared performing an act of authority until at Sedan he ordered the white flag to be hoisted on the citadel of Turenne's birth- place. Had he shown a particle of his uncle's vigour, he might at least have forced his army, after Spicheren, to cross the Moselle, and compelled MacMahon and De Failly to rally at his side. Had he displayed any resolution either on the 22nd of August at Rheims, or on the 27th at Le Chene, he might have averted the disaster at Sedan, and saved an army strong enough to prevent even the German hosts from investing Paris. But he had to care for more than the safety of his only avail- able army,—he had to think of the dynasty. His military judg- ment was correct, but it exercised no more force than that of an acute looker-on. And he has the merit of frankly setting forth his own defects, his incompetence for the part he aspired to play.

The secret of his failure—for an able soldier can do a great deal of mischief even with 240,000 men—is that he was only a bookish captain. He had read of war, indeed, had really studied military operations, had strengthened a cool judgment, often just, provided there were ample time for deliberation, but he had none of the quickness and savoir-faire of a great or even respectable General. It is plain that when he got to Metz he did not know what to do with the corps he came to direct. The other day, Major-General Shute, his faculties sharpened, no doubt, by a recent perusal of certain striking passages in the official report on the Autumn Manceuvres of 1872, when he com- manded the Northern Cavalry, expressed a hope that officers of energy and known gallantry might not be superseded by book- worms, "by men who could do great things theoretically, but were nowhere when called upon to put their knowledge into practice." The sentence happily describes the soldier who is only brilliant on the drill-ground or on paper, and it applies exactly to the case of the late Emperor. He was nowhere when called upon to put his knowledge into practice,—the reverse of Ziethen, who could do nothing on paper and any- thing in the field. Napoleon I., and Frederick before him, to say nothing of other examples, showed what a smaller could do against a greater army ; and a Soult or Massena on the Rhine frontier would have forced from Von Moltke a greater display of skill, or the employment of still more powerful forces. In the hands of the Emperor and his Marshals, the host he was able to muster was simply thrown away, and if these " Memoires" be authentic, they make the truth plainer than ever.