June 18, 1815: Waterloo

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  • The cannibal has left his lair.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 9, 1815.
  • The Corsican ogre has just landed at the Juan Gulf.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 10, 1815.
  • The tiger has arrived at Gap.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 11, 1815.
  • The monster slept at Grenoble.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 12, 1815.
  • The tyrant has crossed Lyons.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 13, 1815.
  • The usurper was seen sixty leagues from the capital.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 18, 1815.
  • Bonaparte has advanced with great strides, but he will never enter Paris.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 19, 1815.
  • Tomorrow, Napoleon will be under our ramparts.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 20, 1815.
  • The Emperor has arrived at Fontainbleau.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 21, 1815.
  • His Imperial and Royal Majesty entered his palace at the Tuileries last night in the midst of his faithful subjects.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 22, 1815.

 

 

 

Napoleon was such a world spanning figure that it was fitting that he return for one last bow before he departed the stage of history.  As Wellington said, the battle was a “damn close run” thing, and it is quite conceivable that Napoleon could have won, but for blunders by him and his subordinates.  Would it have made any difference if he had prevailed?  Likely not.  Massive Allied armies were on their way, and a victory by Napoleon in 1815 in the Waterloo campaign would likely have meant as little as the many victories he won in 1814 prior to his forced abdication.  By his return from exile Napoleon had demonstrated that he still posed a danger to the status quo in Europe, and after more than two decades of war Europe was not going to tolerate that.

However, let’s play pretend for a moment.  Let us assume that Napoleon had stayed on his self-made throne, what then?  He was prematurely old and he believed his time for war was past.  If he kept France, I think he would have been content.  France would doubtless have benefited from the good government that he could have bestowed on it, especially when he was no longer distracted by wars and rumors of war.  The Austrians, ever the political realists, probably would have been willing to have allowed the return of his son and heir.

What would Napoleon have done with the time remaining to him, especially if that time were greater than what he achieved on Saint Helena?  Assuredly he would have written his memoirs, and what books those would have been, especially if he chose to be honest!  Perhaps he would have played schoolmaster of Europe, and conducted classes on the art of war.  Such classes would have drawn officers from around the globe, eager to sit at the feat of the master.

Perhaps he would have put his spiritual affairs in order, as perhaps he did historically during his last years.

Alas for Napoleon he had none of these opportunities.  In the immortal phrase of Victor Hugo, God was bored by him, and 200 years ago Napoleon’s stunning career came to an end.  Let us give the last word on his career to the Emperor:

Well then, I will tell you. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I myself have founded great empires; but upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love, and to this very day millions will die for Him. I think I understand something of human nature; and I tell you, all these were men, and I am a man: none else is like Him; Jesus Christ was more than a man. I have inspired multitudes with such an enthusiastic devotion that they would have died for me but to do this it was necessary that I should be visibly present with the electric influence of my looks, my words, of my voice. When I saw men and spoke to them, I lighted up the flame of self-devotion in their hearts. Christ alone has succeeded in so raising the mind of man toward the unseen, that it becomes insensible to the barriers of time and space. Across a chasm of eighteen hundred years, Jesus Christ makes a demand which is beyond all others difficult to satisfy; He asks for that which a philosopher may often seek in vain at the hands of his friends, or a father of his children, or a bride of her spouse, or a man of his brother. He asks for the human heart; He will have it entirely to Himself. He demands it unconditionally; and forthwith His demand is granted. Wonderful! In defiance of time and space, the soul of man, with all its powers and faculties, becomes an annexation to the empire of Christ. All who sincerely believe in Him, experience that remarkable, supernatural love toward Him. This phenomenon is unaccountable; it is altogether beyond the scope of man’s creative powers. Time, the great destroyer, is powerless to extinguish this sacred flame; time can neither exhaust its strength nor put a limit to its range. This is it, which strikes me most; I have often thought of it. This it is which proves to me quite convincingly the Divinity of Jesus Christ.

 

 

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10 Comments

  1. For a palate cleanser after ABBA may I offer Wellington’s Victory? Yes, I know it wasn’t written for Waterloo but I’m not aware of any music that was.

  2. I came back to read this post, seeking relief from thinking about what a mishmash our Church presents the world today. I didn’t want to read the green letter from the cadre in the vatican today.
    Earlier this morning I was looking again at the 11th century and wishing , for a moment, that the forces of Good could take back Rome again, physically fighting for the Right. 😉 (you remember Urban and the politics of that day…) The son of Henry the HR emperor left his dad’s side, unwilling to go against God. Others in political power also had consciences that recognized Truth. Centuries later Napoleon learned the hard way about Who Jesus is.
    .
    “… Wonderful! In defiance of time and space, the soul of man, with all its powers and faculties, becomes an annexation to the empire of Christ. All who sincerely believe in Him, experience that remarkable, supernatural love toward Him. This phenomenon is unaccountable; it is altogether beyond the scope of man’s creative powers. Time, the great destroyer, is powerless to extinguish this sacred flame; time can neither exhaust its strength nor put a limit to its range. This is it, which strikes me most; I have often thought of it. This it is which proves to me quite convincingly the Divinity of Jesus Christ.”

  3. There is a lithograph, at one time ubiquitous and still occasionally to be met with in the bar parlour of country inns

    http://tinyurl.com/o6ausq2

    It depicts the famous handshake of Wellington and Blücher on the field of Waterloo.

    According to G K Chesterton, “They should have hung up a companion piece of Pilate and Herod shaking hands.”

    That much under-rated poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning caught the mood:

    “And kings crept out again to feel the sun
    The kings crept out – the peoples sat at home
    And finding the long invocated peace
    A pall embroidered with worn images
    Of rights divine, too scant to cover doom
    Such as they suffered – cursed the corn that grew
    Rankly, to bitter bread, on Waterloo.”

  4. “It depicts the famous handshake of Wellington and Blücher on the field of Waterloo.

    According to G K Chesterton, “They should have hung up a companion piece of Pilate and Herod shaking hands.””

    Like Belloc, Chesterton was not quite sane when it came to the subject of France. Napoleon was defeated largely because his adversaries copied his military methods, and the idea of a nation in arms which turned Prussia into a great power again. As for the Revolution of which Napoleon was both Avatar and Gravedigger, its influence, for both good and ill, remained after Waterloo.

  5. Chesterton may not have been quite sane on the subject of France, but he understood the English – no one better.
    “A war that we understood not came over the world and woke
    Americans, Frenchmen, Irish; but we knew not the things they spoke.
    They talked about rights and nature and peace and the people’s reign:
    And the ‘squires, our masters, bade us fight; and never scorned us again.
    Weak if we be for ever, could none condemn us then;
    Men called us serfs and drudges; men knew that we were men.
    In foam and flame at Trafalgar, on Albuera plains,
    We did and died like lions, to keep ourselves in chains,
    We lay in living ruins; firing and fearing not
    The strange fierce face of the Frenchman who knew for what he fought,
    And the man who seemed to be more than man we strained against and broke;
    And we broke our own rights with him. And still we never spoke.”
    As for Belloc, his tribute to Napoléon is surely just: “he gave a code of laws to a continent and restored the concept of citizenship to civilisation.” – Legibus armata et armis decorata, as the Corpus Juris says, “armed with laws and adorned with arms.”

  6. Chesterton’s idea that the British lost rights by fighting Napoleon was absurd. Rather they ensured their own continuing process of expanding rights, and avoided being governed by a dressed up military dictatorship. They were wise. It was under the Duke of Wellington’s government in 1829 that the great Catholic Emancipation Act passed Parliament. Chesterton, as usual, confused his opinions with history, to the detriment of history.

    Americans were citizens before Napoleon, and “citizens” under Napoleon had about as much to say with how France and the Empire were governed as subjects in the rest of Europe did in regard to their countries.

  7. Very interesting you two!
    To me, Chesterton is always looking for the deeper meaning. This line of GKC
    “We did and died like lions, to keep ourselves in chains” to me speaks to the ineluctable idea of “subjects” and the universal dignity of man..
    Nationalism. I am not the historian that either of you are, but do have been developing quite an interest in Irish history.
    .
    A quote concerning Wellington from http://www.historyhome.co.uk/peel/ireland/nick.htm
    .
    “It is probably true to say that any leanings Wellington had during the early 90s towards complete Catholic Emancipation, were checked by the events of 1798 and the years that followed. In addition, if Bonaparte could invade Spain and Portugal, why not Ireland, which clearly was the Achilles Heel of Great Britain? The French landing at Killala in ’98 in support for the Rising was evidence that such an invasion was possible, and, with the right amount of force, could strike a devastating blow. In addition, the aftermath of Revolution in France was soon to raise the spectre of social discontent and revolution in England, and the established order, already reeling from the Revolution and the regicide in France, was clearly very frightened by the prospect. Change in Ireland was out of the question.

    It might be possible to say that Wellington at the very least retreated behind a conservative if not reactionary facade until the genie of revolution was, as he thought, stuffed back into the bottle, and that, though he entertained positive opinions for the Catholic movement and wished to be moderate and evenhanded in all things, he could not support any change that would, as he saw it, threaten the stability of the United Kingdom. Therefore, his conversion to Catholic Emancipation in 1825 might simply have been a reconversion, or that he felt the time was now right to look again at the subject. ”
    .
    Perhaps Wellington’s nationalism over-rode his concern for man..
    I take it that your comment Donald about the lack of clout held by citizens of France as in other countries does speak to that universal plight of people who are under authority, and actually acknowledges that “deeper” meaning I read in Chesterton’s words.

    Pilate and Herod both were dealing with realities larger than they knew.

  8. Wellington was born in Dublin. Perhaps this had something to do with his support for Catholic Emancipation.

    Napoleon has his admirers and detractors. Quite surprisingly, Churchill admired Napoleon as a charismatic man of action. In my opinion, Napoleon can be described as a caudillo with more charisma than Franco, who invaded other countries and killed many people. He brought order to France, but he spilled plenty of blood along the way, both the blood of Frenchmen and foreigners. Some of the killing may have been in defensive wars, but much of it was in wars of aggression and aggrandizement. “What profits a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”

    As for myself, I prefer to live in a country where the politicians are boring. O, for more leaders with the character of Wellington.

  9. Michael and Donald – great exchange -Napolean was as much a monster as the roylas who feared him – But, i ask, is that 3:03 and 3:20 A.M. EDST ???? or some other time zone – have your beds been ‘ nicked ‘?

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