Hamil Grant.

The soul of Napoleon online

. (page 11 of 17)
Online LibraryHamil GrantThe soul of Napoleon → online text (page 11 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

" Excuse me. Sire," replies Grassini, " but
your musician keeps me waiting. It is etiquette
in Italy for the first rehearsals of an opera to
take place at the j^iano of the Pr-rima Donna
Assolutissima. Paisiello, Cimarosa, Zingarelli —
all these, w^ho are quite as good as Monsieur Paer,
I imagine, waited on ??ie."

" So-ho ! " cries Napoleon, swallowing an oyster.
" What have you to say, Monsieur Paer ? "


The latter had laid the charge of insubordmation.

" I cannot, Sire," explains the grandiloquent
Maestro, " consent to wait on any prima donna,
however eminent, however absolute. I may once
have done so, and indeed, often carried my humble
operas round to the residences of famous cantatrices
— like any common bagman. But," and Paer
draws himself up to the last line of his five foot
two inches, and throws out a thirty-three chest,
" that was, your Majesty, before I had the honour
of being appointed director of music to the
Emperor of the French. I thought. Sire, that
it was due to my dignity to remain in my rank
— more befitting the glory of Fra "

" Ta, ta, ta," Napoleon interrupts testily
" Monsieur Paer, you shall visit Madame Grassini
once. Madame Grassini, you shall call on
Monsieur Paer twice. Bonjour.'"

Grassini in 1815 became the mistress of the
victorious Duke of Wellington. From what the
chroniclers tell us, she was not much impressed
by this Anglo-Irish soldier, and much preferred
her part-countryman, Bonaparte, for all his
brusqueness and unsentimentality. Here, how-
ever, we may presume that the Duke's hope-
less and unrequited infatuation for Madame
Recamier entered into the jjique of the singer —
an infatuation, by the way, which had once
obsessed Napoleon and which remained, as in
Wellington's case, also unrequited. Grassini was
a woman of considerable intellect, a quality which
rarely distinguishes singers, whether male or


female, and her hons mots had considerable vogue
in Paris and Milan. It is to this lady is attributed
the retort made to Bonaparte, who was accusing
the Italians of being natural thieves :

" Non tutti, ma huona parte,'' replied the singer,
who remembered the depredations of the young
Conqueror in the art -galleries of Italy.


JSIodern Views of Religiosity — Newman and Manning
— Men and the Alheislic View — Xnpoleun after the
Egyptian Campaigji—Real Value of Rcligiun — The
Corsican's Essential Unbelief — "An histinct of Spirit-
ualism" — A Sound German View — 21ie Chevalier
de Beauterne — A Napoleonic Press-Agent — The
Napoleonic Expression — Mans Simian Disposition
— "Christ is no Man" — Beauterne' s Puerilities —
Cardinal Fesch on his Nephew — Religion postulates
a Calvary — Monsieur de Nor-vi?is — Napoleon's Mind
too positive for Belief- — His Taste for Religious
Discussion — The Murder of Enghien — Napoleon's
Cynical Explanation — His Choiceof National Religions
— His Political Horror of Atheists

ANY work which attempted to show the
temperamental side of Napoleon would
be incomplete if it did not include some
account of his attitude towards spiritual
matters. All the more so, perhaps, at the present
time, when the psychologists of history, in their
studies of great men are becoming accustomed to
attribute given religious tendencies in their heroes
to specific qualities of temperament and soul, rather
than to a belief in God. Cardinal Newman, we
are nowadays assured, was attracted towards the
Church of Rome more by the artistic cravings of
his nature, than by the fact that his studies in
ecclesiastical doctrine had moved him to the
conviction that the Anglican Church possessed no
claim to represent the Christianity of the Apostolic
age, as Catholics would assert. Manning, a
strong presumption has it, saw the certainty of
a grand political role in the Roman Church with
the possibility of promotion to the Papacy — he
obtained, indeed, one vote towards that honour
in 1878 — if only backed by the support of Great
Britain, at a time when our country was strengthen-
ing her interests in Southern Europe. And if
personal ambitions and considerations can be
assumed to be the motives which turned men like
Manning and Newman into virtual apostasy,
we may not implausibly suppose that minor
spirits are moved to commit their heresies
because, let us say, the vestments of the Roman
Church suit their particular style of beauty, or
because the so-called Oxford manner is likely to



impress the female portion of Roman Catholic
congregations — as we sometimes think.

The definite adoption of the atheistic view by
any individual — for it is to the credit of thoughtful
men that they fight hard against this final sur-
render of their first ideal — is easily fixed in the
history of great characters, and it is clear enough
that when Bonaparte returned from Egypt, he
had finally given up all hope of a God.

" I have seen man in the savage state," he de-
clared, " only to realise that he is no better than
a dog." And though in the Concordat he adopted
an official religion, it was not — who needs to be
told ? — for any higher motive than that which
inspires the apostles of neo-Christianity themselves
— namely, that reHgion is a handy instrument of
pohtical influence, the main tendency of which
is to keep the people in subjection. Partisans
have, of course, adopted the \dew that Napoleon
re-established the Catholic religion in France
because of his inherent belief in that system —
entirely forgetful of the fact that so positive a
mind as that of the Corsican could entertain no
illusions at all that men who are educated to
accept the teachings of an arbitrary authority
must fall far below the standard of intellectuality
— and, therefore, manhood — of those whose spirit
of independence is nurtured in all such ideas
as are associated with the right to exercise
private judgment. Even IMonsieur Masson, whose
capacity for original research no one is likely to
deny, affects to think that Napoleon sincerely


believed in the religion which he replaced on the
altars of France — a view which is wholly incon-
sistent with a proper understanding of the

Even if it be conceded that at least the great
soldier was a Deist, we are unlikely to find
much satisfaction in this fact, considering the
definitions which the Deists give of their God —
an impersonal influence, a conscious force, notions
not so low as Pantheism and yet not so high
as Theism. Chateaubriand tells us that even in
his attacks upon the Church, Napoleon showed
that he possessed "an instinct of spiritualism"
and that his " irritations against the Church are
not of a philosophic nature, but bear the impress
of a religious character." Such opinions we may
take to mean that Napoleon did not overlook the
educative and ethical value of a religion which
Macaulay could speak of as the greatest monu-
ment of human policy that the world has known.
And if in his last will and testament the Corsican
declared himself to die in the Catholic faith, we
may be certain that dynastic reasons counted for
much in that somewhat belated auto-da-fe.

A German writer. Doctor Max Messer, declares
that Napoleon was the first great apostle of a
typically modern philosophy — namely, that of
religious individualism, in which the idea of God
assumes the proportions not so much of an idea
as of a sentiment. Like a true temperamentalist,
says the German, in effect. Napoleon had his
own God, just as Schiller had his ; the poet


maintaining that Christ was an liistorical necessity
and that civiHsation would not have been possible
had not some philanthropic instinct in the great
spirits of later antiquity enabled them to see the
possibilities for human culture inherent in the life
of Christ and his teachings.

" A State religion became, therefore," says
Messer, " equally an historical necessity for
Napoleon ; and as Schiller regretted the dis-
appearance of the ancient gods, so Napoleon felt
himself forced to express, as in 1798 on the Nile,
his admiration for certain qualities of the Moslem
religion, and in 1811 for those of the Protestant."

In the year 1840, when Louis Napoleon was
seeking to advance his pretensions to the throne
of his illustrious uncle, there appeared a work
which purported to show that the founder of
the dynasty had based his ultimate political
conceptions — the unification of all the States of
Europe under one head — to a large extent on the
idea that without the aid of Papalistic Christianity
no system of universal government, such as
Napoleon aspired to, would have been possible.
The author of this brochure was a certain Chevalier
de Beauterne, and if he had been an ascetic
Christian Brother, he could hardly have shown
a more child-like loyalty to his own Church, or a
greater naivete in setting forth the belief in its
doctrines, which he ascribed to a man whose mind
was of so positive a kind and method that we
may be certain it accepted nothing in the way
of hypothesis that did not immediately concern


itself with the practical business of his own vast

The object which the publication of this book
had in view did not, we feel sure, deceive people
in those days, and it was soon recognised to
be a frank appeal, with ulterior motives, to the
essential religiosity which supposedly underlies
the Latin character. Belonging though it did
to the class of political tricks which the French
very aptly describe as procedes connus, or known
processes, it nevertheless had a great vogue in its
time, and we think small blame to those who made
use of so plausible if impossible an hypothesis
as the religious sentiments of Napoleon in order
to further their own aims — all the more so that
we fail ourselves to see how a working or enduring
morality can be developed in young minds by
any code which rejects the idea of a Supreme
Being. The purely ethical religions have certainly
not succeeded in achieving a high standard of
virtue or civilisation, so far as we have studied.

All this does not, however, establish the case
for the religiosity of the Corsican, and it is our
conviction that his whole life provided a negation
of his having regarded religion as anything but
what it is — namely, an instrument of virtual ob-
scurantism when its application is made to over-
docile minds. Excessive emphasis has been laid,
we think, by commentators on the fact that, as
it is said, his recorded views on religion, given by
Gourgaud, Montholon, Bertrand and others, all
bear the impress of Napoleon's own particular


style of phrasing. The arts of simianism and
psittacism are not, however, confined to the spoken
language, and modern periodical literature shows us
often enough that the gift of happy expression can
be independent of even rudimentary scholarship.
A visit to one of our law-courts, or to our churches
or to the House of Commons itself, will indicate
very quickly how much of the essential parrot
there is left in the race, just as a superficial
observation of the social climbing classes shows
how near to the monkey is imitative man.

In the expressions of opinion, when in exile,
which we have of Napoleon, there is a pronounced
similarity of style which disconcerts as often as
it convinces, and if the Corsican was the complex
and many-sided character that we are taught to
believe him, then those who chronicled his sayings
must have been strangely fortunate in finding him
so often in the same mood. If, in any case, the
staccato and laconic style was Napoleon's style,
we may be very certain that among so imitative
a race as the French, it soon became a fashion,
and accordingly we find but little grounds for
attributing any particular phrase to Napoleon
simply because it appears to be expressed in a
style which was said to have been peculiar to him.
Monsieur de Beauterne may be right in his opinion
that the fond des pensees and the nerf dii raisonne-
ment are typically Napoleonic ; nevertheless into
more than one opinion to which the Chevalier
attaches much accoimt, we cannot but see that
Beauterne has read a meaning which Napoleon


could not at all have entertained. He is alleged,
for example, to have said once :

" I know men, and I declare to you that Jesus
Christ is no man " — a statement which, if it was
ever made by the master positivist, must be taken
to mean that Christ was so pronounced a type
of the mystic as to have ceased to retain the
ordinary qualities and characteristics of a man.
Napoleon, who, Madame de Stael assures us,
was accustomed to look upon ordinary beings as
" simple facts," would assuredly not have ad-
mitted that he was himself a man in the ordinary
sense, and we know that even as late as 3rd
December 1804, he could tell Decres that he
envied Alexander the Great the popular ignorance
of an age in which the Macedonian could success-
fully claim to be the son of Jupiter. Nor, in this
connection, must we overlook a common retort of
his to Josephine when the latter accused him of
infidelity : "I am not a man as other men, and
ordinary laws do not apply to such a being as

At all events we declare our total inability to
accept a phrase which he is said to have addressed
to Bertrand when the latter assured him that he
could not see the divinity of Christ :

" Well," Napoleon is alleged to have said,
" if you cannot see that Christ is the Son of God,
then I was wrong to make you a general."

At Rivoli we cannot imagine Bonaparte pausing
to think if Massena possessed, or not, a religion ;
or Soult, at Austerlitz ; or Ney, at the head of his


five thousand cavaliers on the slope of La Belle
Alliance. Beauterne is full of puerilities of this
kind, and in a later brochure based upon his book,
and bearing the imprimatur of the See of Tournai,
we are supplied with just such illustrations as are
supposed to move the first communicant's mind
to fervour. Thus : Bonaparte embracing the
Vicar of Christ in a kind of filial rapture ; or
Napoleon standing on the altar of the Tuileries
chapel, his sword buckled, his legs wide apart,
arms folded, and not looking particularly impres-
sive as he says to some cleric-looking person in
a soutane : " Desormais nous aurons la messe
ici tous les jours."

Beauterne — who was this gentleman by the
way ? We can find no trace of him in the bio-
graphies. May he not have been a kind of literary
John Doe ? — Beauterne, we repeat, was, or pre-
tended to be, so lacking in an appreciation of the
Napoleonic reclame as to present as conclusive
the opinions of that old sinner Cardinal Fesch
concerning the Christian sentiments of his illustri-
ous nephew. Cardinal Fesch, we may believe,
was hardly less a part of Napoleon's system than
were his marshals, or his minister of police, or
than Schulmeister. Indeed had Pius VII. been
translated between 1809 and 1814, we reasonably
presume that Fesch would have been imposed on
the College of Cardinals as the successor of Pius.
While talking about Napoleon's Christianity, the
Cardinal, says Beauterne, could not control his
feelings, and two great tears rolled down his


cheeks ; after which Fesch goes on to tell how
the young Napoleon was of so religious a turn of
mind that, like Rawdon Crawley of the Heavies,
he once had thoughts of taking up the Church as
a profession ! And, adds the prelatical ex-army
contractor. Napoleon chose the day of the Assump-
tion for his jour de fete — as if the great Corsican
had made special arrangements for being born
on the fifteenth day of August. And then the
Cardinal deplores that he has lost a letter of
two pages in which the youthful Bonaparte
tells him of his unalterable devotion to the faith
of his fathers, and how the young Corsican once
expressed his ambition to go to Pondichery to
convert the natives ! Quoting the naif Beauteme
we get :

" Before the battle of Marengo," said Fesch,
"I met my nephew, by arrangement, who told
me that if he won, he should return to France
and re-establish Religion in the country. He then
asked me what Cardinals he was likely to meet in
Italy, and on my mentioning one or two, he told
me to go on at once and tell them that he intended
to re-establish Catholicism in France — but only
within certain limits. As for the philosophers — his
sword, he said, would deal with those gentry. He
could have had permanent peace ^vith the English
had he consented to establish Protestantism in
France as the national religion, but Napoleon
would listen to none of England's overtures and
replied that he intended to re-establish the
Catholic Church in France solely because it was


the true religion. It was suggested to him that he
should create a religion of his own, and Napoleon
replied that in order to establish a new religion,
it was absolutely necessary for the founder to
ascend Mount Calvary."

This last statement is too obviously suggested
by Talleyrand's answer, in 1801, to a Theo-^
philanthropist cleric who complained that his
new religion did not seem to make much headway.

" Monsieur," replied the ex-Bishop, " Chris-
tianity was successful in finding One who was
willing to die for His faith. Perhaps if you were
to die for yours. Sir, success might attend on
your movement."

The Theophilanthropist's fervour did not, how-
ever, carry him to extremes of this painful nature.

Partisans have exhausted themselves, again, in
seeking to point to Napoleon's pious dispositions
in the face of death, forgetful that Napoleon's
ambition was restricted at St Helena to the
continuance of his name and the survival of his
dynasty. To have died the atheist— the potential
sun-worshipper he had so often declared himself
to be to his intimates — would have been the
destruction of all hope of his family reconquering
his throne in Catholic France, and no one knew
this better than himself. Nor does ^lonsieur
de Norvins — also a pro-Bonapartist writer —
impress us very much when he tells us, in that
grandiloquent style which marked the Romantic
age in France, that Napoleon was too penetrated
with the sentiment of his own greatness not to


I believe in the immortalitj'' of the Soul. It must
^ have been writers of this type who invented such
scenes as that in which Napoleon is represented
as addressing himself to a group of philosophic
doubters among his generals, on the way to
Egypt, pointing a fo^ hand upward, contemplating
the starry firmafnent afid saying in his high-
-pitched voice :

" Who made all that, gentlemen — who ? "
4 M. Thiers, too, when he treats us to a long
(N^;;^ discourse on the certainty that Napoleon's dis-
position turned him to religious ideas, appears
to overlook the fact that religion of this kind,
being natural religion, is no religion at all in the
opinion of orthodox Christian teachers, who insist
on practical virtues and take but little account
of virtues which are simply the expression of
a personal or natural disposition. Thiers even
cites as a token of Bonaparte's religiosity the fact
that he discussed willingly all subjects connected
•with philosophy and creeds — a token, we think
ourselves, which, being positive evidence of a
man's striving after a finality that is impossible,
also settles the case for his essential unbelief.
He is a sorry being, in any case, who is not moved
by the story of philosophic or theological thought,
and it would be surprising, moreover, if so political
a mind as that of Bonaparte had not early seized
upon the ethnical element in the importance of

With all the best intentions towards religious
belief, we cannot admit that its advocates prove


Napoleon to have looked upon it as anything
higher than a forceful aid to government, or, as
he termed it himself, a good instrument of order
and tranquillity in the community. And with
regard to the alleged discourses on the subject
with which he is said to have killed time at St
Helena and elsewhere, we are finally and firmly
convinced that they are nearly all suspect and that
the sentiments attributed to him there were subse-
quently invented by men whose interest it was to
serve the cause of Louis Napoleon.
. The man who sanctioned the murder of Enghien
was one who had long ceased to entertain the notion
that there existed a Supreme Judge of human
acts ; while the words with which he excused that
atrocious act showed that whether he had ever
believed in one or not, he already placed himself on
the level of divinity. The Almighty Himself could
not have explained the killing of Enghien with a
fuller sense of being the supreme dispenser of life
and death : t

" I have shed blood," said Napoleon ; " but
entirely without anger, and simply because I hold
that bloodshed enters of necessity into political
combinations." ^

Milton's Satan never placed his self-sufficiency :
on a higher altar than this. No ; the picture of -i-
Napoleon in Paradise can never satisfy us, nor ^
any suggestion that he believed in one, even ^
though Monsieur de Beauterne assures us that "i-
his hero's spirit is already there. — V ^

" ^Vhen I took over the direction of affairs in ,


France," said Napoleon once at St Helena, " I
had already formed my opinion as regards the
importance of religion in a State, and had firmly
decided to re-estabhsh it. Nevertheless, I found
myself forced to do battle with many prejudices
before I could take the final decision to make
Catholicism the State religion, and there were
many in my Council who urged me to make France

" ' Faisons-nous protestants,' they said, ' and
we shall thus get rid of the difficulty of the

" Yet by making Protestantism the national
faith, I should only have split France into two
camps and created endless trouble for myself
and the country. Catholicism, on the contrary,
assured me the support of the Pope, and in view of
our fortunate military situation in Italy, I had no
doubt that I could easily bend the Vatican to my
will — ^that is to say, I should entirely control
the vast influence exercised by the Chief of the
Christian world ! Although modern philosophers
have sought to show that Catholicism is anti-
democratic, and so have encouraged anti-
clericalism, and even religious persecution, I am
convinced that there is no religion which adapts
itself so well as Catholicism to the different forms
of government, or which is so favourable to a
democratic or a republican State.

" It is not the religious fanatics whom we have
to fear, but the atheists perverted by false
teachings. There is as much difference between


the religion of Jesus Christ and the infamous re-
ligion of Gregory VII. as there is between Heaven
and Hell. The teaching of Bossuet is the one we
must follow, and with such a spiritual director
we are not liable to go wrong. The moral of the
Gospel is equality, and so is most favourable to
Republican government."


Action, the Royal QuaUiij in Man — The Necessity oj
Religious Training — Dislike of Precocity in Children
— Geography and History essential in Early ^ ears
— Li7ignisfic Talent no Test of Mentality — Are the
Classics valuable? — "Bending the Mind to Labour"
— Faille of Geometrical Studies — The Age of Puberty
and its Mystic Revolutions — The Imperial Catechism
— Monsieur de Portalis, imperiomaniac — Napoleon
a?id God — So7ne Questions and Anstvers — Contempt
for Ordinary Intelligence — Cardinal Capraras Rule —
Napoleon and his Opportunity — The Super-Caligula

ACTION — action ! He who acts is master.
Activity is the royal quality in man.
Train the child to it and let its first
sports be a prelude to its exercises.
Graduate both so as to give the child agility and

Here we may presume the real Napoleon to
have spoken, when he drew up his system of
education for the little King of Rome, then in his
third year. His insistence on the cultivation of
energy and activity runs through the whole
curriculum which he thought to be most suitable
for the proper rearing of every youth, and in so
far provides us with a considerable insight into the

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryHamil GrantThe soul of Napoleon → online text (page 11 of 17)