It is a bold undertaking for an historian, especially an English one, to embark on writing a new biography of Napoleon. The shades of the great Napoleonic historians of the past look over one's shoulder: in France, Thiers, Sorel, Vandal, Georges Lefebvre; in Germany, Fournier and Kircheisen; in Russia, Tarlé; in England, Holland Rose of Cambridge; from Oxford, Rosebery, Fisher, J. M. Thompson. In the Preface to his Napoleon Bonaparte: his Rise and Fall (1952), Thompson declared that `there cannot be too many likenesses of a great man in the picture-gallery of history'. Let that in itself be my excuse.
Even since 1952, important new material on Napoleon has come to light, notably through the deciphering of the second and third volumes of General Bertrand's St. Helena diaries, the discovery in the Swedish Royal Archives of the Empress MarieLouise's letters to Napoleon, and of her letters to her son, the Duke of Reichstadt, in the Montenuovo archives. Among recent secondary works Professor J. Godechot's Institutions de la Révolution et de l'Empire, and Professor F. Crouzet's L'Économie Britannique et le Blocus Continental, based on an exhaustive survey of the English official records, may be singled out as of first-rate importance.
It was, moreover, only in the third decade of this century that the letters of Napoleon to Marie-Louise, the memoirs of Caulaincourt, Duc de Vicence, and those of Queen Hortense appeared.