Napoleon: For and Against

By Pieter Geyl; Olive Renier | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
OLD ACQUAINTANCES

How far was Napoleon responsible for the wars waged by France under his leadership? What was the aim of his foreign policy? Had he any aim at all? These are questions which arise with any examination of his character and period. We have already repeatedly had to touch on them in dealing with the works so far discussed. At the turn of the century they were given much attention in historical literature, indeed the whole discussion concerning Napoleon seemed to be revolving round them. Without doing too much violence to the chronological pattern of my survey, I can assemble a number of writers, with some of whom I have already dealt, while others will be new to us, in connection with the problem of foreign policy, of the wars and their object.


ONCE MORE BIGNON, ARMAND LEFEBVRE, THIERS AND LANFREY

Let me just recall what older writers thought on these matters. There was agreement between Bignon, Armand Lefebvre and Thiers in so far as all three stressed the unsoundness of the system, which was outgrowing its strength, yet each had his own way of looking at things.

Bignon gives enthusiastic approval to the first stage of this gigantic growth. All breaches of the peace are laid to the account of foreign powers. It is only in 1807 that he begins to have enough. Thiers is even more concerned than he is to prove how peace- loving Bonaparte was in his rise, but the date at which Bonaparte began to over-reach himself he puts somewhat earlier, after Austerlitz. In discussing the breaches of peace of 1803 and 1805 Thiers follows the broad outlines of Napoleon's own presentation. He sees him in a defensive attitude, and what he has to defend is France's power position as built up by the Republic and entrusted to him, that is, France within her natural frontiers, the Rhine and the Alps, and outside these boundaries, the spheres of influence necessary for her protection. I leave on one side for a moment the

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