Gateway to the Classics: The Struggle for Sea Power by M. B. Synge
The Struggle for Sea Power by  M. B. Synge

A Second Charlemagne

"When Europe crouched to France's yoke,

And Austria bent and Prussia broke."


W HEN the news of Trafalgar reached Napoleon, he had already given up the camp at Boulogne. The thousand ships in the harbour lay forgotten, the relics of a dismal failure. When Villeneuve, after giving Nelson a chase to the West Indies, had made for Cadiz instead of the coast of England, Napoleon's anger had burst forth.

"That Villeneuve," he had cried, choking with rage as he strode up and down his room, "is not fit to command a frigate. What a navy! What an admiral!"

His dreams of invading England by means of India, had vanished in the smoke and thunder of Aboukir Bay. His dreams of invading England herself, disappeared in the roar of the guns at Trafalgar.

But already his active brain was working on an alternate scheme, for bringing that proud nation to his feet. He could not conquer England, but he would conquer Europe. If he could not enter London, he would enter Vienna, the capital of Austria; Berlin, the capital of Prussia; Moscow, the capital of Russia,—all of which countries were at this time allied with England against France. He would conquer these, and so ruin England's trade in Europe; close every port against her, and so reduce her to submission. England was the mistress of the seas, but Napoleon would be master of the land.

In September of 1805 he left Paris for Germany. Already thousands of his troops were silently marching along a hundred roads from Boulogne to the Black Forest, to prevent the union of the allies. They were guided by the master-mind of Napoleon, and they marched to certain victory.

Four days before the battle of Trafalgar, a large Austrian army was compelled to surrender to the French at Ulm, on the banks of the Danube. And while Nelson was preparing for battle off Cape Trafalgar, Napoleon was receiving the homage of the vanquished Austrians, and sending off a waggon-load of Austrian trophies to speak of victory to the people at Paris. This cleared the way to Vienna, which Napoleon entered as a conqueror on November 13.

Three weeks later Russians and Austrians fought side by side at Austerlitz, a small town to the north of Vienna.

"English gold has brought these Russians from the ends of the earth," he told his soldiers. "In twenty-four hours that army will be mine."

The sun rose brightly on December 3, the morning of the battle. It shone on the faces of 73,000 Frenchmen, resolved to conquer or to die; it cast its shadows before the grey colours of the Russians and the white coats of the Austrians, as they pressed forward towards the frozen swamps of the little river that flowed by the town. And the "Sun of Austerlitz" passed into a proverb, as a sure omen for victory. It was the anniversary of Napoleon's coronation, too, and his soldiers cried with enthusiasm, that they would celebrate it in a manner worthy of its glory.

The day wore on, and the two Emperors—Alexander of Russia and Francis of Austria—beheld from the heights of Austerlitz, the complete destruction of their armies. 21,000 Russians and 6000 Austrians lay dead or dying on the field, while guns and banners fell into the hands of the victorious French.

Austerlitz completed, what Ulm had begun. The union of Russia and Austria with England against France, was undone. Undone, also, was the English statesman who had planned the union. The news of the defeat of Austerlitz killed William Pitt. The brilliant son of a brilliant father, Pitt had played a large part in his country during the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon to power.

"It is not a chip of the old block,—it is the old block itself," Burke had cried, when young Pitt had made one of his first speeches in the English House of Commons. He had loved England with all the fierce devotion of his father, the Earl of Chatham. He had refused to bow to the dictates of Napoleon. He had roused England to put forth her full strength to withstand the world-conqueror. He was "the pilot that weathered the storm." His last hopes for England lay in the help of Russia and Austria. Now that help was gone. He was already worn out with work and anxiety; the hollow voice and wasted form had long told his friends that death was not far off. But now the news of Austerlitz killed him. He never recovered from the blow. The terrible "Austerlitz look," as it has been called, never left his face again.

"Roll up that map," he said, his eyes falling on a map of Europe that hung in the house; "it will not be wanted these ten years."

"My country! How I leave my country," he murmured, as he lay dying in the new year of 1806.

"England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, I trust, save Europe by her example."

These famous words he left as a legacy to the country which he had loved long and passionately.

And still the mighty shadow of Napoleon crept on over the map of Europe. England had no Nelson now to conquer on the seas, no Pitt to lift up his voice in her council halls; and the great conqueror carried all before him. He had already made the Emperor of Austria renounce for ever the title of Roman Emperor, which had come down to him through the long ages of the past. It had been bestowed upon Charlemagne by the Pope nearly a thousand years before. It was now cancelled by a second Charlemagne, who ruled over an empire yet greater than the hero of the Middle Ages. The Pope was still sovereign of Rome, but "I am the Emperor!" cried Napoleon. "I do not intend the court of Rome to mix any longer in questions of the world. I am Charlemagne—the Emperor."

On October 14, 1806, the victory of Jena over the Prussians laid North Germany at his feet. As he had entered Vienna a year ago, so now he entered Berlin—a conqueror. Marching on into the heart of Poland, he now defeated the last foe left him in Europe. The summer of 1807 found him dictating peace to Alexander of Russia.

A famous meeting between the two Emperors took place on a raft moored on the river Niemen, at Tilsit.

"I hate the English as much as you do," said Alexander, as he embraced the conqueror Napoleon.

"If that is the case," answered Napoleon, "peace is made."

By this peace of Tilsit, Russia, Austria, and Prussia agreed with France, to close their ports against British trade.

"England," cried Napoleon triumphantly, "sees her merchandise repelled by all Europe, and her ships, loaded with useless wealth, seek in vain a port open to receive them."

Had he succeeded, the history of the world had indeed been changed.

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