Montesquieu

This prince, who made use only of his own for­ces, brought on his fall by concei­ving desi­gns that could be car­ried out only with a long war, which his king­dom could not sus­tain.

It was not a state that was in decline which he under­took to over­turn, but a rising empire. The Muscovites used the war he was waging against them as a school. At each defeat they came clo­ser to vic­tory ; and while losing beyond their bor­ders, they were lear­ning how to defend them­sel­ves at home.

Charles thought he was mas­ter of the world in the was­te­lands of Poland, where he wan­de­red, and where Sweden had a scat­te­red pre­sence, while his prin­ci­pal enemy was gir­ding against him, sur­roun­ding him, esta­bli­shing itself on the Baltic Sea, and des­troying or cap­tu­ring Livonia.

Sweden was like a river whose head­wa­ters were being cut and at the same time diver­ted in their course.

It was not Pultova that doo­med Charles. If he had not been des­troyed there, he would have been elsew­here. Accidents of for­tune are easily repai­red ; but how to stave off events that conti­nually arise from the nature of things ?

But nei­ther nature nor for­tune ever oppo­sed him as much as he did him­self.

He did not base his actions on the cur­rent dis­po­si­tion of things, but on a cer­tain model he had concei­ved, and still he fol­lo­wed it very badly. He was not Alexander, but he would have been Alexander’s best sol­dier.

Alexander’s pro­ject suc­cee­ded only because it was sen­si­ble. The fai­lu­res of the Persians in their inva­sions into Greece, the conquests of Agesilaus and the retreat of the ten thou­sand, had shown just how super­ior the Greeks were in their man­ner of figh­ting and their type of wea­ponry ; and eve­ry­body knew that the Persians were too great to cor­rect them­sel­ves.

They could no lon­ger wea­ken Greece by divi­sions ; she was then reu­ni­ted under a chief who could not have had a bet­ter means of concea­ling her ser­vi­tude from her than to dazzle her by the des­truc­tion of her eter­nal ene­mies and the expec­ta­tion of conque­ring Asia.

An empire culti­va­ted by the most indus­trious nation on earth, one which tilled the soil out of reli­gious prin­ci­ple, fer­tile and abun­dant in all things, offe­red an enemy all sorts of means of sus­te­nance.

One could judge from the haugh­ti­ness of these kings, always vainly mor­ti­fied by their defeats, that they would pre­ci­pi­tate their fall by always giving bat­tle, and that flat­tery would never allow them to doubt their great­ness.

And not only was the pro­ject wise, but it was wisely exe­cu­ted. Alexander, in the rapi­dity of his actions, even in the heat of his pas­sions, pos­ses­sed, if I dare use this term, a burst of rea­son that gui­ded him, and which those who have tried to make a romance of his story, and whose mind was more spoi­led than his, have been una­ble to conceal from us.