Napoleon: For and Against

By Pieter Geyl; Olive Renier | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
FRÉDÉRIC MASSON

HIS MENTAL APPROACH AND HIS VIEW OF HISTORY

AMONG writers about Napoleon there is no more singular figure than Frédéric Masson. None was more wholehearted in his admiration, none more passionate, more one-sided, more partisan, and also none more sincere, more honest, none was more convinced that he served truth, or more courageous in its service and more indifferent to what others would say of his revelations and his assertions. He had need of both courage and indifference. Not only did he arouse the irritation, the fury, the sarcasm of his opponents -- what did he care about that, being magnificently contemptuous of the 'detractors'! But even his fellow-Bonapartists were disconcerted, hurt, incensed, when he began his great work on the Bonaparte family, and in no way spared the 'Napoleonides', rather enjoying pulling them down that the greatness of his hero might appear the more brilliant. This was hard on the descendants, who fancied themselves as the bearers of the glorious tradition, while it gave unholy joy to the detractors. But Masson did not allow himself to be put out, and went on fearlessly, year after year, volume after volume.

As regards his attitude to Napoleon himself, it had nothing apologetic. One has only to read the introduction to Napoléon chez lui, at the outset of the enormously lengthy series which he announced in 1894, with great self-assurance, at the age of forty-seven. Napoleon is for him the representative of military glory, and also of the State, of Authority. Nothing seems to him more natural than that professors, journalists and lawyers yapped at his hero. In his own day Napoleon's inexorable laws 'muzzled these three mouths of the Revolution'. 'He obliged the lawyers to defend their clients without insulting either the government or any private persons. He obliged the professors to teach their pupils the subjects for which they were paid, without preaching to them either atheism or contempt of the law. He obliged the literary men to respect their country's lawful government, not to reveal to the

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