History of The Expedition to Russia, Undertaken by The Emporer Napoleon, in The Year 1812 by General Count Philip de Segur (1825)
To the Veterans of The Grand Army;
I have undertaken the task of tracing the History of the Grand Army and its Leader during the year 1812. I address it to such of you as the ices of the North have disarmed, and who can no longer serve their country, but by the recollections of their misfortunes and their glory. Stopped short in your noble career, your existence is much more in the past than in the present; but when the recollections are so great, it is allowable to live solely on them. I am not afraid, therefore, of troubling that repose which you have so dearly purchased, by placing before you the most fatal of your deeds of arms. Who is there of us but knows, that from the depth of his obscurity the looks of the fallen man are involuntarily directed towards the splendor of his past existence--even when its light illuminates the shoal on which the bark of his fortune struck, and when it displays the fragments of the greatest of shipwrecks?
For myself, I will own, that an irresistible feeling carries me back incessantly to that disastrous epoch of our public and private calamities. My memory feels a sort of melancholy pleasure in contemplating and renewing the painful traces which so many horrors have left in it. Is the soul, also, proud of her deep and numerous wounds? Does she delight in displaying them? Are they a property of which she has reason to be proud? Is it rather, that after the desire of knowing them, her first wish is to impart her sensations? To feel, and to excite feeling, are not these the most powerful springs of our soul?
But in short, whatever may be the cause of the sentiment which actuates me, I have yielded to the desire of retracing the various sensations which I experienced during that fatal war. I have employed my leisure hours in separating, arranging, and combining with method my scattered and confused recollections. Comrades! I also invoke yours! Suffer not such great remembrances, which have been so dearly purchased, to be lost; for us they are the only property which the past leaves to the future. Single, against so many enemies, ye fell with greater glory than they rose. Learn, then, that there was no shame in being vanquished! Raise once more those noble fronts, which have been furrowed with all the thunders of Europe! Cast not down those eyes, which have seen so many subject capitals, so many vanquished kings! Fortune, doubtless, owed you a more glorious repose; but, such as it is, it depends on yourselves to make a noble use of it. Let history inscribe your recollections. The solitude and silence of misfortune are propitious to her labours; and let truth, which is always present in the long nights of adversity, at last enlighten labours that may not prove unproductive.
As for me, I will avail myself of the privilege, sometimes painful, sometimes glorious, of telling what I have seen, and of retracing, perhaps with too scrupulous attention, its most minute details; feeling that nothing was too minute in that prodigious Genius and those gigantic feats, without which we should never have known the extent to which human strength, glory, and misfortune, may be carried.
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