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

The Congress of Vienna

"All Europe's bound-lines, drawn afresh in blood."

—Mrs Browning.

N APOLEON'S great empire had passed away. His fall restored peace to the troubled nations of Europe, whose boundaries he had destroyed.

A great congress of European kings and statesmen, now met at the Austrian capital, Vienna, to readjust these boundaries and to reinstate kings to their rightful thrones. It was a wondrous meeting. There was the Emperor of Austria himself, with his thin figure and sallow face, the father of Maria Louisa, Empress of the French in name alone; there was the manly form of the Tsar of Russia, Alexander, with his wife, to whom the musician Beethoven had been playing; there was the King of Prussia, tall and very grave; the white-haired King of Denmark; and numerous other great men, including the Duke of Wellington.

Picnics, balls, and banquets were the order of the day. Hundreds of royal carriages, painted in green and silver, rolled through the streets of Vienna, carrying the Emperor's guests from place to place. Outside all these festive scenes sat Maria Louisa. Her father's guests were assembled to undo the work of Napoleon her husband, even now an exile at Elba. Right away from the gay throng, she lived at her palace, her servants still wearing the French liveries of the court of Napoleon, her little son still dressed in the embroidered uniform of a French hussar, playing with his French toys.

Meanwhile the work of the Congress was progressing. Louis XVIII. had been recalled from England—where he had lived since the death of his brother Louis XVI.—to take possession of the throne of France. Ferdinand of Spain returned from exile to rule over his Spanish kingdom once more; the Pope returned to Rome; the Prince of Orange was made King of Holland.

Suddenly, one day, the news rang through Europe that Napoleon had escaped from Elba, and was even now in France. The news took eight days to reach Vienna. The Congress met, and the great Powers drew up a declaration. "Napoleon," they said, "was an enemy to Europe; and, as a disturber of the peace of the world, must be treated as an outlaw."

"Ah, Wellington," said Alexander of Russia, "it is for you once more to save the world."

Ever since Napoleon had been at Elba, he had been in communication with the French. He heard of the unpopularity of Louis XVIII.; he knew that his own powers were not dead. Once more he determined to risk everything.

He made his preparations very secretly. He had a French ship painted in English colours at Naples, and brought round to Elba. Then one Sunday night, at nine o'clock, he quietly embarked with a thousand soldiers, on board the Inconstant. On doubling the island of Corsica, they fell in with a French cruiser. Its captain hailed the Inconstant and, hearing it came from Elba, asked how the Emperor was.

"He is marvellously well," answered Napoleon himself, ordering his soldiers to lie flat on deck to escape notice.

That danger was passed, and the little ship sailed on towards the coast of France.

"I shall reach Paris without firing a shot," prophesied Napoleon, as he stepped ashore near Cannes.

It was March 1, ten months since he had embarked for Elba. No force opposed his landing. A few days later, he issued the proclamation he had prepared.

"Soldiers," it ran, "we have not been beaten. In my exile I have heard your voice. I have arrived once more among you, despite all perils. Come and range yourself under the banner of your old chief."

He reached Grenoble in safety. But here was a crisis: Royalist troops barred the road. Amid a breathless silence, Napoleon advanced alone. He was a familiar figure, in his grey cloak and cocked hat.

"There he is! Fire on him!" cried a Royalist.

Not a shot was fired.

"Soldiers," cried a well-known voice, "if there is one among you, who wishes to kill his emperor, he can do so. Here I am."

Then the old shout, "Long live the Emperor!" burst forth on all sides as the soldiers, with tears running down their cheeks, flocked round Napoleon, vowing to be faithful again.

They were the soldiers of Louis XVIII.: they had refused to fire on Napoleon. The scene decided the fate of the expedition.

Soon Napoleon was at the head of 14,000 men, marching on Paris. On the evening of March 20 he entered the capital. Louis XVIII. had fled to Ghent that morning. As the well-known figure was recognised, a great shout arose, and as Napoleon stepped from his carriage, at the gates of the Tuileries, he was seized by French officers and carried up the grand staircase of the palace. It was for the fallen emperor "a moment of triumph, for which it was almost worth paying the price of Waterloo and St Helena."

For the next hundred days Napoleon ruled France once more. He had been gladly accepted by the French people, but rejected by Europe. With a marvellous courage, he now determined to march against Europe. And the four allies—Russia, Prussia, Austria, and England—prepared to march against France.

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