CHAPTER XV. THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO, 1815.
The Congress of Emperors, Kings, Princes, Generals, and Statesmen, who had assembled at Vienna to remodel the world after the overthrow of the mighty conqueror, and who thought that Napoleon had passed away for ever from the great drama of European politics, had not yet completed their triumphant festivities, and their diplomatic toils, when Talleyrand, on the 11th of March, 1815, rose up among them, and announced that the ex-emperor had escaped from Elba, and was Emperor of France once more. It is recorded by Sir Walter Scott, as a curious physiological fact, that the first effect of the news of an event which threatened to neutralise all their labours, was to excite a loud burst of laughter from nearly every member of the Congress. [Life of Napoleon, vol. viii. chap. 1.] But the jest was a bitter one: and they soon were deeply busied in anxious deliberations respecting the mode in which they should encounter their arch-enemy, who had thus started from torpor and obscurity into renovated splendour and strength:
"Qualis ubi in lucem coluber mala gramina pastus,
Frigida sub terra tumidum quem bruma tegebat,
Nunc positis novus exuviis nitidusque juventa,
Lubrica convolvit sublato pectore terga
Arduus ad solem, at linguis micat ore trisulcis." Virg. AEN.
Napoleon sought to disunite the formidable confederacy, which he knew would be arrayed against him, by endeavouring to negotiate separately with each of the allied sovereigns. It is said that Austria and Russia were at first not unwilling to treat with him. Disputes and jealousies had been rife among several of the Allies on the subject of the division of the conquered countries; and the cordial unanimity with which they had acted during 1813 and the first months of 1814, had grown chill during some weeks of discussions. But the active exertions of Tralleyrand, who represented Louis XVIII. at the Congress, and who both hated and feared Napoleon with all the intensity of which his powerful spirit was capable, prevented the secession of any member of the Congress from the new great league against their ancient enemy. Still it is highly probable that, if Napoleon had triumphed in Belgium over the Prussians and the English, he would have succeeded in opening negotiations with the Austrians and Russians; and he might have thus gained advantages similar to those which he had obtained on his return from Egypt, when he induced the Czar Paul to withdraw the Russian armies from co- operating with the other enemies of France in the extremity of peril to which she seemed reduced in 1799. But fortune now had deserted him both in diplomacy and in war.
On the 13th of March, 1815, the Ministers of the seven powers, Austria, Spain, England, Portugal, Prussia, Russia, and Sweden, signed a manifesto, by which they declared Napoleon an outlaw; and this denunciation was instantly followed up by a treaty between England, Austria, Prussia, and Russia (to which other powers soon acceded), by which the rulers of those countries bound themselves to enforce that decree, and to prosecute the war until Napoleon should be driven from the throne of France, and rendered incapable of disturbing the peace of Europe. The Duke of Wellington was the representative of England at the Congress of Vienna, and he was immediately applied to for his advice on the plan of military operations against France. It was obvious that Belgium would be the first battle-field; and by the general wish of the Allies, the English Duke proceeded thither to assemble an army from the contingents of Dutch, Belgian, and Hanoverian troops, that were most speedily available, and from the English regiments which his own Government was hastening to send over from this country. A strong Prussian corps was near Aix-la-Chapelle, having remained there since the campaign of the preceding year. This was largely reinforced by other troops of the same nation; and Marshal Blucher, the favourite hero of the Prussian soldiery, and the deadliest foe of France, assumed the command of this army, which was termed the Army of the Lower Rhine; and which, in conjunction with Wellington's forces, was to make the van of the armaments of the Allied Powers. Meanwhile Prince Swartzenburg was to collect 130,000 Austrians, and 124,000 troops of other Germanic States, as "the Army of the Upper Rhine;" and 168,000 Russians, under the command of Barclay de Tolly, were to form "the Army of the Middle Rhine," and to repeat the march from Muscovy to that river's banks.
The exertions which the Allied Powers thus made at this crisis to grapple promptly with the French emperor have truly been termed gigantic; and never were Napoleon's genius and activity more signally displayed, than in the celerity and skill by which he brought forward all the military resources of France, which the reverses of the three preceding years, and the pacific policy of the Bourbons during the months of their first restoration, had greatly diminished and disorganized. He re-entered Paris on the 20th of March, and by the end of May, besides sending a force into La Vendee to put down the armed rising of the royalists in that province, and besides providing troops under Massena and Suchet for the defence of the southern frontiers of France, Napoleon had an army assembled in the north-east for active operations under his own command, which amounted to between one hundred and twenty, and one hundred and thirty thousand men, with a superb park of artillery and in the highest possible state of equipment, discipline, and efficiency. [See for these numbers Siborne's History of the Campaign of Waterloo, vol. i. p. 41.]