WAS NAPOLEON UNLUCKY AT WATERLOO?

WELLINGTON invites comparison with Napoleon as a soldier, and the evidence is tantalising. Wellington had an unbroken series of successes against other commanders, while Napoleon had a much longer and more brilliant record, ending in 1813-14 with a few defeats against overwhelming numbers, so brilliantly resisted as to be moral victories. When they met at Waterloo Wellington won, with inferior numbers and a force of good Germans, bad Netherlanders, and some English, mostly half-trained. Napoleon admittedly was in a hurry and did the attacking, and but for the great Prussian numbers might have fought again. Perhaps he was not quite his old self. Wellington was not merely a cautious formalist who fought by the book: in India and Spain he was perhaps too daring. He was not a great innovator, nor was Napoleon. It is doubtful whether the Wellington of 1796 could have shown the qualities which Bonaparte, his exact contemporary, displayed that year in his Italian campaign, but when he reached maturity it was another matter. Napoleon emerges with a record of more successes, but it is by no means certain that he would have beaten Wellington had they met on equal terms at any date between 1805 and 1814.

Credit for wearing down Napoleon must largely go to Austria. The government of that ramshackle Empire resumed the conflict against him repeatedly, at the cost of much hardship to its subjects. After invading France with the Prussians in 1792, the Emperor carried on the war on France's frontiers until in 1797 Bonaparte's conquest of North Italy and invasion of Austria forced him to make the peace of Campo Formio. A second coalition was broken up by Moreau's great victory at Hohenlinden (1800), and Napoleon's more questionable one at Marengo in the same year, after which Austria again made peace (Luneville). In 1805 Pitt, unwisely perhaps, gave Napoleon a target and an opportunity by persuading Austria and Russia to form a third coalition. It did not last long: while Nelson's fleet was struggling home after Trafalgar, Napoleon was destroying one Austrian army at Ulm and then the chief Austro-Russian force at Austerlitz. Austria again made peace (Pressburg). When the French were entangled in Spain she once more attacked Napoleon, and in 1809 he was actually defeated at Aspern, but retrieved his fortunes at Wagram. Peace was made at Schonbrunn, and was cemented by Napoleon's marriage to an Austrian princess, Marie Louise. Metternich, who became Chancellor at this time, was quite Napoleon's equal in diplomacy, and in 1813, when it proved impossible to make Napoleon accept reasonable terms of peace, Austria helped to drive him back into France and to abdication.

The prestige which Austria now claimed was not, on some grounds, unmerited. She had made it a condition of helping Prussia and Russia in 1813 that Germany should be restored substantially to its condition before 1789. The destruction of Napoleon was a co-operative effort, in which England and Austria played the chief parts, with help from Russia, Spain, and Prussia.