Napoleon: For and Against

By Pieter Geyl; Olive Renier | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
TWO MORE OLD ACQUAINTANCES

BEFORE I come to Sorel, I must recall the conceptions of Masson, and deal briefly with a book, in which the author of Napoléon intime, ten years after the appearance of that work, set himself to deal with the problem of Napoleon's foreign policy.


MASSON; ENGLAND THE ENEMY; NAPOLEON THE LIBERATOR OF THE NATIONS

We already know that Masson had dealt at length with foreign policy in volumes III and IV of his Napoléon et sa famille, and that he gave his own interpretations which do not agree too well with one another.1 It is possible to gather from those thirteen volumes that the true motive force of Napoleon's European policy was his family sense. On this showing the Emperor did not so much use his brothers to administer le grand empire; he undertook his wars and founded the empire on the fruits of his victories, in order to provide thrones for his brothers. The idea will be remembered from Balzac's story;2 it seems somewhat in conflict with more authentic versions of the Napoleonic legend, although Balzac's veteran and his peasant audience found in it nothing to offend them. But in the introduction to his eighth volume (published in 1906), Masson takes the completely different viewpoint advanced by Vandal. Napoleon's policy and his wars are no longer determined by his omnipotent will. The Emperor, and France, are prisoners of the iron necessity of the struggle with England. Probably it was not under the influence of Vandal, but of Sorel, that Masson wrote in this strain. No one else at any rate worked up the theme of the implacable conflict between France and England to such a hymn of hate, even though his outburst can certainly be regarded as typical of feelings which no doubt Napoleon found in existence, but which he subsequently fanned so successfully that even at the present day they have not lost their hold on the French mind.

____________________
1
See above, pp. 205 sqq.
2
See above, p. 27.

-250-

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