Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 28

  • Many historians say that the French did not win the battle of Borodino becaus_apoleon had a cold, and that if he had not had a cold the orders he gav_efore and during the battle would have been still more full of genius an_ussia would have been lost and the face of the world have been changed. T_istorians who believe that Russia was shaped by the will of one man—Peter th_reat—and that France from a republic became an empire and French armies wen_o Russia at the will of one man—Napoleon—to say that Russia remained a powe_ecause Napoleon had a bad cold on the twenty-fourth of August may see_ogical and convincing.
  • If it had depended on Napoleon's will to fight or not to fight the battle o_orodino, and if this or that other arrangement depended on his will, the_vidently a cold affecting the manifestation of his will might have save_ussia, and consequently the valet who omitted to bring Napoleon hi_aterproof boots on the twenty-fourth would have been the savior of Russia.
  • Along that line of thought such a deduction is indubitable, as indubitable a_he deduction Voltaire made in jest (without knowing what he was jesting at)
  • when he saw that the Massacre of St. Bartholomew was due to Charles IX'_tomach being deranged. But to men who do not admit that Russia was formed b_he will of one man, Peter I, or that the French Empire was formed and the wa_ith Russia begun by the will of one man, Napoleon, that argument seems no_erely untrue and irrational, but contrary to all human reality. To th_uestion of what causes historic events another answer presents itself,
  • namely, that the course of human events is predetermined from on high—depend_n the coincidence of the wills of all who take part in the events, and that _apoleon's influence on the course of these events is purely external an_ictitious.
  • Strange as at first glance it may seem to suppose that the Massacre of St.
  • Bartholomew was not due to Charles IX's will, though he gave the order for i_nd thought it was done as a result of that order; and strange as it may see_o suppose that the slaughter of eighty thousand men at Borodino was not du_o Napoleon's will, though he ordered the commencement and conduct of th_attle and thought it was done because he ordered it; strange as thes_uppositions appear, yet human dignity—which tells me that each of us is, i_ot more at least not less a man than the great Napoleon—demands th_cceptance of that solution of the question, and historic investigatio_bundantly confirms it.
  • At the battle of Borodino Napoleon shot at no one and killed no one. That wa_ll done by the soldiers. Therefore it was not he who killed people.
  • The French soldiers went to kill and be killed at the battle of Borodino no_ecause of Napoleon's orders but by their own volition. The whole army—French,
  • Italian, German, Polish, and Dutch—hungry, ragged, and weary of the campaign,
  • felt at the sight of an army blocking their road to Moscow that the wine wa_rawn and must be drunk. Had Napoleon then forbidden them to fight th_ussians, they would have killed him and have proceeded to fight the Russian_ecause it was inevitable.
  • When they heard Napoleon's proclamation offering them, as compensation fo_utilation and death, the words of posterity about their having been in th_attle before Moscow, they cried "Vive l'Empereur!" just as they had cried
  • "Vive l'Empereur!" at the sight of the portrait of the boy piercing th_errestrial globe with a toy stick, and just as they would have cried "Viv_'Empereur!" at any nonsense that might be told them. There was nothing lef_or them to do but cry "Vive l'Empereur!" and go to fight, in order to ge_ood and rest as conquerors in Moscow. So it was not because of Napoleon'_ommands that they killed their fellow men.
  • And it was not Napoleon who directed the course of the battle, for none of hi_rders were executed and during the battle he did not know what was going o_efore him. So the way in which these people killed one another was no_ecided by Napoleon's will but occurred independently of him, in accord wit_he will of hundreds of thousands of people who took part in the commo_ction. It only seemed to Napoleon that it all took place by his will. And s_he question whether he had or had not a cold has no more historic interes_han the cold of the least of the transport soldiers.
  • Moreover, the assertion made by various writers that his cold was the cause o_is dispositions not being as well planned as on former occasions, and of hi_rders during the battle not being as good as previously, is quite baseless,
  • which again shows that Napoleon's cold on the twenty-sixth of August wa_nimportant.
  • The dispositions cited above are not at all worse, but are even better, tha_revious dispositions by which he had won victories. His pseudo-orders durin_he battle were also no worse than formerly, but much the same as usual. Thes_ispositions and orders only seem worse than previous ones because the battl_f Borodino was the first Napoleon did not win. The profoundest and mos_xcellent dispositions and orders seem very bad, and every learned militaris_riticizes them with looks of importance, when they relate to a battle tha_as been lost, and the very worst dispositions and orders seem very good, an_erious people fill whole volumes to demonstrate their merits, when the_elate to a battle that has been won.
  • The dispositions drawn up by Weyrother for the battle of Austerlitz were _odel of perfection for that kind of composition, but still they wer_riticized—criticized for their very perfection, for their excessiv_inuteness.
  • Napoleon at the battle of Borodino fulfilled his office as representative o_uthority as well as, and even better than, at other battles. He did nothin_armful to the progress of the battle; he inclined to the most reasonabl_pinions, he made no confusion, did not contradict himself, did not ge_rightened or run away from the field of battle, but with his great tact an_ilitary experience carried out his role of appearing to command, calmly an_ith dignity.