Napoleon: For and Against

By Pieter Geyl; Olive Renier | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
HENRY HOUSSAYE

'1814'; FOLLOW NAPOLEON TO THE END!

1814, by Henry Houssaye, appeared in 1888. The book had an amazing success, and brought its author into the Academy. (I must remark in passing that from that day to this the writer who was pro-Napoleon has had a much better chance of becoming a member of that illustrious company than one who had indulged in criticism. Besides Houssaye there are Vandal, Sorel, Masson, Madelin, Bainville, among those with whom I am concerned.) Houssaye, who had previously devoted himself to Greek history, continued to exploit his new mine, and followed up the weighty volume on 1814 with three weighty volumes on 1815. The last of these appeared in 1905.

1814 gives a very detailed account of the events of that year, the campaign in France, the abdication at Fontainebleau. The writer does not enter into discussions as to intentions and responsibilities. With all the greater assurance does he distribute blows and favours. The previous events, which had landed France and Napoleon in that tragic situation, he brushes aside in his introduction with a remark supposed to have been made by a peasant: 'It is no longer a question of Bonaparte. Our soil is invaded. Let us go and fight.' From this reasoning -- or refusal to reason -- follows naturally the thesis of complete solidarity between France and Napoleon. It leads the writer to take up a position of fierce hatred against all those who thought that in this crisis France could be saved at the cost of Napoleon. When finally, after miracles of leadership and energy, Napoleon's resistance against the allied armies is beginning to collapse, he appears at Fontainebleau ( Paris is in the enemies' hands) as the true hero of tragedy, abandoned by cowards, and Marmont, the marshal whose defection forces him in the end to abdication, is the traitor. We already know this interpretation from Thiers.1 With what vehemence does Houssaye's clear-cut account, for all its constant matter-of-factness, drive it home!

The villains of 1814 are Talleyrand and Marmont (the Prince

____________________
1
cf. above, p. 65.

-160-

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