Napoleon: For and Against

By Pieter Geyl; Olive Renier | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
THE NAPOLEONIC LEGEND

THE first to provide a portrait in which there was nought but unblemished beauty, endearing humanity, greatness and virtue, was Napoleon himself. On St. Helena he set about the task of shaping his reputation for posterity. The Mémorial, in which the Marquis Las Cases noted his conversations,1 a book which had an immeasurable influence in France, and which was the first and foremost source of what is called the Napoleonic legend, was peculiarly suited to become a popular classic. Anecdotes and reminiscences chosen at random from the whole miraculous life are interwoven with speculations, the whole within the framework of the Longwood tragedy and the bitter struggle with Sir Hudson Lowe, which Las Cases describes from day to day. This plan gives the book its human note. It catches the emotions as well as the interest of innumerable readers. It presents Napoleon not just as the aloof, mighty Emperor, but as somebody who, for all his incomparable cleverness, greatness and luck, is nevertheless accessible, one of ourselves.

From this living, variegated backcloth emerges the political Napoleon. He is before everything else the son of the Revolution, the man who consolidated the possession of equality, and made good his country's escape from feudalism by restoring order, by ridding France of those factions which had practically dissipated the fruits of the Revolution, and by wresting peace from the monarchs who hated France and the Revolution. That peace (Lunéville, 1801, Amiens, 1802, when Bonaparte had only just become First Consul) was a breathing space, which brought sudden over- whelming popularity to the victorious young hero. There was nothing Napoleon liked better to recall after his downfall, and the fact could hardly be denied, but how brief was that respite! How endless, bitter and bloody were the campaigns which followed, up to the disasters and the final collapse! It was all the fault, so the Napoleon of the Mémorial would have us believe, of those self-same monarchs, and of envious Britain. His conquests had adorned the

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1
Le Mémorial de Sainte Hélène; some editions carry the title Mémoires de Napoléon, which properly belongs to the Mémoires dictated by Napoleon and dealing mainly with his campaigns.

-23-

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Napoleon: For and Against
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Preface - To the First Dutch Edition 7
  • Part One - The Antithesis at the Beginning 13
  • Chapter I - Chateaubriand 17
  • Chapter II - Madame de Staël 19
  • Chapter III - The Napoleonic Legend 23
  • Part Two - The First Chroniclers 33
  • Chapter I - M. Mignet 35
  • Chapter II - Baron Bignon 37
  • Chapter III - Armand Lefebvre 45
  • Chapter IV - Adolphe Thiers 53
  • Part Three - Reaction against the Legend 69
  • Chapter I - Jules Barni 73
  • Chapter II - Edgar Quinet 77
  • Chapter III - Pierre Lanfrey 86
  • Chapter IV - Comte D'Haussonville 106
  • Chapter V - Hippolyte Taine 133
  • Part Four - Admirers 149
  • Chapter I - Prince Napoleon 156
  • Chapter II - Henry Houssaye 160
  • Chapter III - Arthur - LéVy Polemic against Taine 169
  • Chapter IV - FréDéric Masson 177
  • Chapter V - Count Albert Vandal 230
  • Part Five - The Problem of Foreign Policy 233
  • Chapter I - Old Acquaintances 235
  • Chapter II - Emile Bourgeois 241
  • Chapter III - Two More Old Acquaintances 250
  • Chapter IV - Albert Sorel 254
  • Chapter V - Edouard Driault 308
  • Part Six - The Antithesis at the End 349
  • Chapter 1 356
  • Chapter II - A. L. Guérard 362
  • Chapter Ill - G. Pariset 364
  • Chapter IV - Jules Isaac 371
  • Chapter V - Charles Seignobos 373
  • Chapter VI - Jacques Bainville 376
  • Chapter VII - Louis Madelin 390
  • Chapter VIII - Gabriel Hanotaux 403
  • Chapter IX - Georges Lefebvre 446
  • Chronological Table 451
  • Index 465
  • Index of Authors 475
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