THE two last works, those of Lanfrey and of d'Haussonville, dissimilar as they are, have this much in common, that their authors could not shake off the influence of Thiers. They correct, they amplify him, but he still dominates the territory in which they operate. This is not so in the case of Taine. It is not, as with Quinet, because he soars above the period in the ample sweep of his speculations. He delves deep into his subject, but his method is so different that the reader forgets his immediate predecessors. Nevertheless there is a relationship with all those who have come under review in this section. Like them he was a spiritual heir, if a bitterly disillusioned one, of Mme de Staël. Like them he had his place in the reaction against the Napoleonic legend. Indeed, in him this reaction culminated.
The first volume devoted to Napoleon, in Taine great work Les Origines de la France contemporaine, appeared in 1890. It contained the brilliant 'portrait', as an introduction to a discussion of the institutions which Napoleon gave to France. I shall, in the first instance, confine my attentions to this portrait.
Taine is in a different category from writers such as Thiers, d'Haussonville or Lanfrey. Nor can Quinet compare with him. The hundred and forty pages of the chapter on Napoleon belong to literature. No one has a greater capacity for making his readers see a character. Taine's Napoleon, a creature devoid of all humanity, an evil demon let loose on France and Europe, is alive, is alive with a gripping, an overwhelming intensity. This does not mean that Taine's Napoleon must be true to life. Imagination plays too important a role in the writing of history, and what is imagination but the projection of the author's personality? It is to a supreme degree the Napoleon of Taine, and Taine, a creative imagination without a peer, was by no means the calm, objective observer he declared -- and believed -- himself to be.1
Deeply shocked as he was by the defeat of 1870, and no less by____________________