Louis Napoleon and the Second Empire

By J. M. Thompson | Go to book overview

PREFACE

I WAS led on from the Revolution and Napoleon to Louis Napoleon and the Second Empire because it seemed to me that the Restoration monarchies of 1815-48, however different in temper, formed together an interlude in post-revolutionary French history; whereas the Second Empire was the direct sequel of the First Empire, and the natural transition from the First to the Third Republic. Natural, not inevitable; for if Louis Napoleon had not been there in 1848 to claim the Bonapartist succession -- and the only one of his family fit to do so -- the Party of Order might have succumbed, and a period of anarchy might have been followed by another posthumous Monarchy or another premature Republic. So much seemed clear; but I had no fixed idea either of the developments of French public opinion after 1848, or of the part played by Louis himself during the eighteen years of his ascendancy. I have tried to present the evidence under both these heads, as it came to me, and without any wish to force conclusions upon the reader. The historian cannot remain unopinioned, but he always hopes for readers who will form their own views: he is a judge instructing a jury: the verdict is theirs.

If I have relied more than usual upon indirect evidence, it is because Louis, after he became Emperor, talked little and wrote less: there are few historical characters about whom observation counts for so much, and experiment (if the word may be allowed) for so little. If I have seemed to rely overmuch on English authorities, that may be excused by the importance which Louis always attached to his friendship with our country, which so often entertained him in exile, and where he kept so many friends. I might have spent the rest of my life accumulating more evidence from these and other sources -- here a little and there a little -- but there must always be an end to this kind of retouching: so I let the picture go as an impression, the best that I can hope to produce now, of a fascinating but puzzling character. I only wish that Mr. F. A. Simpson had not found it necessary to say that he cannot now finish the two volumes needed to complete the work he began so well thirty-four years ago.

I must thank Mr. Ivor Guest for the help that his book Napoleon III in England has given me, and for the photograph which appears as the frontispiece; and Sir Richard Graham for the drawing of

-vii-

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