Translated from the French.
With numerous illustrations specially designed by
F. De Myrbach, H. Dupray, J. A. Walker,
L. Sergent & Marius Roy.
The Werner Company, Publishers.
There is scarcely another topic in the whole range of literature, except it may be the
history of our own land, which possesses for American readers such an interest and
fascination as the extraordinary career of the first Napoleon.
Those eighteen years of his resplendent triumphs, followed by disaster almost as vivid
in dramatic intensity, would appear as time rolls on to enter more and more into the
realm of poetic legend. Whatever else might diminish the admiration inspired by
the great Emperor, is passing gently onward to the shades of oblivion, leaving only with the
present a kind of reverential awe for that "man of destiny
" who so long and
tenaciously held sovereign sway over the fortunes of Europe.
Even amid the sternest realities of life, and where the burning race for wealth
seems to be the chief task of existence, human nature still has longings for the unique,
the mighty and the marvelous. The imagination requires nourishment as well as the
stomach or brain, and its favorite sustenance has ever been found in the chronicles of
high achievement or in the records of those dauntless men who have wielded the sword
of history on desperate fields of war.
Neither fiction nor romance can claim any such
hold as these on the average human mind. And, if such stirring events have been recent, if
their narratives be given to us in the very words of those whom death has but lately
silenced, no other possible theme can exert such a thrilling influence on the hearts of
both young and old.
This will fully explain why the reading public, in all civilized lands, has given such
cordial welcome to the publication of authentic memoirs covering the period of the
French Revolution and the First Empire. These narratives not only teem with
the most precious historical matter, but they also shed light on the true genius of the
men who gave France her prolonged dominion on the European continent - an era which
has insured to its nations the survival of the better principles of the French Revolution.
As distinctly personal memoirs they also display the merit, so rare in our time of being
entirely free from the artifices of rhetoric, and of presenting to us the genuine, sincere
impressions of eye-witnesses and actors in the great drama - features that have aroused
the enthusiasm of every reader in France, and will be heartily appreciated wherever her
fame and name are held dear.
The loving veneration that still enshrines the image of the "Little Corporal,
and shadowy though it be, has always included those unconquerable French armies that
made feasible and realized, during half a lifetime, the stupendous enterprises of the man
from Corsica. Nowadays it is clearly seen that the soldiers who looked up to Bonaparte,
First Consul, and to Napoleon, Imperator, as to a being somewhat akin to the deities
of the ancients, were themselves of such heroic mold that their beloved leader, having
them in his wake, could well have dared to impose his haughty will on the leagued
sovereigns of Europe.
Whence did these Frenchmen of the early Nineteenth Century gather their sublime
energy? Were they taller or stronger than us, their descendants? Were their frames
more vigorous or their hearts any braver? Certain it is that the career they embraced
with alacrity at such a tender age - multitudes only in their fourteenth, fifteenth or
sixteenth year - must have steeled their natures so that the comforts of civilized life
held no allurement for them. In the rough school of war they must also have gained
an agility surpassing that of the gymnasium, while the fresh air and sunshine stimulated
their fighting instinct with all that this implies - keenness of perception, promptness of
decision and rapidity of execution.
But that which really made them invincible was
rather a condition of their mental being. Reared amid the storms of the Revolution
they had seen death too often and too closely to fear it at any moment, or in any
form it might take. They had chosen the military life from taste and preference rather
than from an impulse of obedience. They had gravitated into the army as iron glides
to the magnet, not from any yearnings for honor or reward, but that simply to be a
soldier, to wear a hussar's or chasseur's uniform, to go forth to the wars, to imperil
their lives, to do anything and everything in the nature of wild adventure, all had for
them an irresistilile attraction. They had no care for the morrow, no plans for the
future, no schemes for accomplishment.
In some corner of France they had doubtless
beloved relatives - a father, mother, young sisters. But they rarely corresponded and
always felt more at home with their regiments than elsewhere. There friendships were
formed, more especially by the men who continued long in the ranks, as chivalrous and
devoted as ever were those of the mediæval paladins - friendships in which all things
were shared in common, provisions and pleasures as well as sabre-strokes and gun-shots;
in which baseness was utterly unknown, and which, like highly-tempered swords, endured
right along to the rust of inefficacy unless death stepped in on a bullet to shatter the
Some text is missing here but
the Preface continues a little later on.
Researched & Compiled by Way-Mark.