Napoleon: For and Against

By Pieter Geyl; Olive Renier | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
ADOLPHE THIERS

THE WRITER, HIS TIMES AND HIS WORK

I HAVE already said that Thiers Histoire du Consulat et de l' Empire was a work in twenty volumes1 (of at least five hundred pages each), that it appeared between 1845 and 1862, and that it was a tremendous success. Apparently Thiers wrote more quickly than the printer could print, since his afterthoughts on the completed work date from as far back as 1855. Merely as a physical feat the Histoire du Consulat et de l' Empire is quite out of the ordinary.

Thiers was from Provence, like Mignet, his contemporary, and the two were close friends. Already in Thiers's earliest work on the Revolution, however, it is clear that they were poles apart in their ideas. Since that time Thiers had become immersed in politics. He was made for the daily hurly-burly and the struggle for power. He was one of the journalists who gave impetus to the revolution of 1830 and under Louis Philippe he was soon in the government. In 1840, as Prime Minister, he almost involved France in war with England. He was now in opposition to his successor, the conservative, cautious, peace-loving Guizot (also a first-rate historian), who negotiated an entente cordiale with England. To glorify Napoleon as the implacable enemy of English imperialism was for Thiers a form of opposition to Guizot. Thiers also paid homage to Napoleon as the representative of the Revolution, the Revolution as it was understood by the bourgeoisie, and as the creator of unparalleled gloire. During his premiership Thiers had given a powerful impetus to the cult of Napoleon, which had been flourishing for a long time, by arranging for his remains to be brought back in state to France. Even before 1830 the parliamentary opposition used the name of Napoleon as the symbol of enlightenment and progress against the reactionary tendencies of the monarchy. After 1830, too, the memory of the hero, the leader who had given greatness to France, spelled danger to that unimaginative, dreary middle-class monarchy, under which, as

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1
I quote from the two-column edition published in Brussels in six volumes and more readily available in Holland.

-53-

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