Life and Times of Stein: Or, Germany and Prussia in the Napoleonic Age - Vol. 1

By Sir J. R. Seeley | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I.
THE SPANISH REVOLUTION.

WE are now arrived at the point in Napoleon's career which in a historical tragedy founded on the story of his life would make the natural commencement of the Fourth Act. We may suppose the first two acts of such a play to be occupied with his rise to supreme power, and the second to close with the Peace of Lunéville. The hero is left as First Consul in possession of the great conquest of the Revolution, the Left Bank of the Rhine, and holding the proudest position ever occupied by a man of the people at the age of thirty-two. The third act would bring us to the Peace of Tilsit, and leave him still in the enjoyment of the same unprecedented prosperity, but an object now of universal alarm, having brought to an end the Empire, humbled Austria, and crushed the army of Frederick. By this time the spectator is brought into the state of mind suitable to tragedy; he is full of troubled astonishment and misgivings about the ways of Providence. And now the fourth act when it begins shows still further advances in the hero's power and success; but these excite wonder no more, for partly that passion is exhausted and partly it was evident that power raised so high could not fail by a kind of momentum to rise much higher; the absorbing question now is to conjecture what point Destiny has reserved, where is the vulnerable heel, or what circumstance, probably insignificant at first sight, can convert a series of good fortune so long and uniform into a tragedy. We have arrived now at the very moment when the thwarting power for the first time visibly intervenes, and some of the most anxious spectators see with a thrill of joy their long suspense relieved, the fatal uniformity of bad fortune broken; when here and there a few venture to say that they see now what Providence was aiming at, and can once more believe in a Providence; when a few, and Stein among them, begin to understand not only that Napoleon will fall, but also how he will fall.

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