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The Old Empire And The New
by [?]

During the Christmas festival of the year 800 the crown of the imperial dignity was placed at Rome on the head of Charles the Great, and the Roman Empire of the West again came into being, so far as a dead thing could be restored to life. For one thousand and six years afterwards this title of emperor was retained in Germany, though the power represented by it became at times a very shadowy affair. The authority and influence of the emperors reached their culmination during the reign of the Hohenstauffens (1138 to 1254). For a few centuries afterwards the title represented an empire which was but a quarter fact, three-quarters tradition, the emperor being duly elected by the diet of German princes, but by no means submissively obeyed. The fraction of fact which remained of the old empire perished in the Thirty Years’ War. After that date the title continued in existence, being held by the Hapsburgs of Austria as an hereditary dignity, but the empire had vanished except as a tradition or superstition. Finally, on the 6th of August, 1806, Francis II., at the absolute dictum of Napoleon, laid down the title of “Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation,” and the long defunct empire was finally buried.

The shadow which remained of the empire of Charlemagne had vanished before the rise of a greater and more vital thing, the empire of France, brought into existence by the genius of Napoleon Bonaparte, the successor of Charles the Great as a mighty conqueror. For a few years it seemed as if the original empire might be restored. The power of Napoleon, indeed, extended farther than that of his great predecessor, all Europe west of Russia becoming virtually his. Some of the kings were replaced by monarchs of his creation. Others were left upon their thrones, but with their power shorn, their dignity being largely one of vassalage to France. Not content with an empire that stretched beyond the limits of that of Charlemagne or of the Roman Empire of the West, Napoleon ambitiously sought to subdue all Europe to his imperial will, and marched into Russia with nearly all the remaining nations of Europe as his forced allies.

His career as a conqueror ended in the snows of Muscovy and amid the flames of Moscow. The shattered fragment of the grand army of conquest that came back from that terrible expedition found crushed and dismayed Germany rising into hostile vitality in its rear. Russia pursued its vanquished invader, Prussia rose against him, Austria joined his foes, and at length, in October, 1813, united Germany was marshalled in arms against its mighty enemy before the city of Leipsic, the scene of the great battles of the Thirty Years’ War, nearly two centuries before.

Here was fought one of the fiercest and most decisive struggles of that quarter century of conflict. It was a fight for life, a battle to decide the question of who should be lord of Europe. Napoleon had been brought to bay. Despising to the last his foes, he had weakened his army by leaving strong garrisons in the German cities, which he hoped to reoccupy after he had beaten the German armies. On the 16th of October the great contest began. It was fought fiercely throughout the day, with successive waves of victory and defeat, the advantage at the end resting with the allies through sheer force of numbers. The 17th was a day of rest and negotiation, Napoleon vainly seeking to induce the Emperor of Austria to withdraw from the alliance. While this was going on large bodies of Swedes, Russians, and Austrians were marching to join the German ranks, and the battle of the 18th was fought between a hundred and fifty thousand French and a hostile army of double that strength, which represented all northern and eastern Europe.