BLTC Press Titles


available for Kindle at Amazon.com


The Revolt of the Netherlands

Friedrich Schiller


The Secret Doctrine, Volume I Cosmogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky


The Characters of Theophrastus

Theophrastus


Some Experiences of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross


On reading

by Georg Morris Cohen Brandes

Excerpt:

Moreau then took the truce-maker aside, and agreed to the capitulation, on condition that the town should have no contribution levied upon it, and that the garrison should be allowed to march out with its arms and baggage. The enemy agreed. The Governor's orders, however, had been: "When the council has been heard, the Governor of a fortress must decide alone and on his own responsibility. He must follow the firmest and most intrepid counsel not absolutely inconsistent with practicability."

Day broke. The constant coming and going of the ambassadors, the cessation of the firing, the frightful stillness, like the silence in a room where some one is dying, made the. troops begin to feel uneasy. Were they to lay down their arms after having defended themselves so well? Misgivings increased. Murmurings went through the ranks, the indignation of the inhabitants mingling with that of the soldiers. The words "coward" and "traitor" were linked with Moreau's name.

It was 9 o'clock in the morning. Suddenly the cannonade in the direction of Quercq became deafening. All started at the sound. Then followed an explosion of hope and resentment in the cry: "It is the Emperor's cannon! The Emperor is coming! C'est le canon de I'Empereur!" — the shout that during the whole war had been the signal for fresh courage among the French and terror in the hearts of the enemy. The enemy might stand against Napoleon's generals, but he trembled before the approach of the man himself.

On every side the cry arose: " Tear the capitulation to pieces, the Emperor is coming! The dispute was still unsettled as to how many cannon the French might take with them, — two or more. The altercation grew hot. Then General Woronzof said in Russian to L6wenstern: "Let them take all their artillery with them, and mine too, so long as they vacate the fortress and go!"

The document was scarcely signed when the sound of the cannonade was distinctly heard near at hand. Moreau grew pale; he seized Lowenstern by the arm, and cried: "You have tricked me. The firing is coming nearer. It is Bliicher who is fleeing. Had I not surrendered the Emperor would have driven Bliicher into the Aisne. He will have me shot. I am lost."

Napoleon pardoned him; but there is evidence to show that if the Governor had not capitulated when he did, the enemy would have raised the siege the next day.

There was a saying in France at that time that a man should always fire his last shot, because it might be the one to kill the enemy. Moreau did not fire his last shot. If he had, according to all human calculation, the enemies of France would have been beaten, and the Europe of today might have been different.

I know no story more suggestive, or more profound, than this of the siege of Soissons. I know none more moral.

There is no need to raise the objection that it is exceedingly uncertain whether Napoleon, had he not beaten the Russians, Prussians, and Austrians in 1814, would not still have been ruined by some later combination of circumstances. It is quite as possible that he would have held out. He had become a different man; he was no longer swayed by ambitious dreams alone. All the greatness in him had been developed as it had never been before.

But even conceding the argument for a moment, the case only becomes greater and more important. We will suppose it thus: If Soissons had been held, Europe would have been spared fifteen years of terrible reaction. The fate of Europe was hanging on a thread. And it was snapped, not by cowardice or treachery, not by terrible privation, in the presence of which all better men are at their post, but by loyal, honorable small-mindedness. In this story we have the psychology of honorable small-mindedness.


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