Hamil Grant.

The soul of Napoleon online

. (page 12 of 17)
Online LibraryHamil GrantThe soul of Napoleon → online text (page 12 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

soul and character of this arch-toiler among men.
Like the practical being the Corsican was, he in-
sisted, too, on the necessity of religious education
as a good preparation for ethical instruction,
though in this respect we may presume that he
regarded such training from the point of view of
the political ruler who wants to find his subjects
docile and amenable to laws of order.

" Man requires a future," he said in a phrase
addressed obviously to the clerics, " and whatever
some may say, it is necessary to him. So then,
every religion professing to teach the existence of
God ought to be protected, and all the more so
since the God of a nation arrived at maturity is
no longer the God of its youth. When men were
savage their God was a savage and wrathful God ;
when they grew humane their God became gentle.
Time reveals the true God— the God who forgives."



The Emperor was no lover of precocity in
children, a fact which we can easily co-ordinate
with his dislike of the super-woman, or precieuse.
Precocious wit and imagination in forward
children — a quality which often pleases very
foolish mothers, by the way — are not to be
tolerated, in Napoleon's opinion, for " the mind
that outruns the body has no solid basis : the
child grows dull or remains feeble." In all educa-
tion of children the first process must be to
exercise the memory and the body ; and as an
aid to the cultivation of memory he suggested
Geography and History, in which studies both the
eye and the ear receive their meed of exercise.
Of foreign languages — in which he was not himself
especially apt — he very properly thought little as
contributing to the formation of a strong or pro-
found intellect ; a view which modern education-
ists are showing some disposition to adopt, since
the acquisition of a language must be based for
the greater part on a gift of what the French well
term psittacisme (Greek psittakos, a parrot), or
parrotry, and we cannot disagree with Napoleon,
who maintained that the gift of many tongues
rarely distinguishes a man of profound learning
or even real ability.

"It is the business of nurses to begin them,'*
said Napoleon, " and of valets de chambre to
go on with them. It may even be questioned
whether the language of Virgil and Horace should
enter into the plan of an education " — a view
which we are sorry to hear expressed, although


we find ourselves leaning towards his blunt
opinion that " the facility for acquiring languages,
which so many fools admire, is at bottom little
better than a brevet of incapacity and ignorance."

The great object of the teacher in the early
stages of instruction^-about the age of ten —
should be, in Napoleon's opinion, to " bend the
mind towards labour, and if the master succeeds
in giving his pupil an appetite for work the future
is safe." As might be expected, he placed much
faith in the intellectual training to be gained by
the study of Geometry, which (he held) exercises
at once the judgment, the memory and the
imagination by its processes and figures. Its
graduated progress from what is simple to what
is complicated, makes it mental food for every
age and puts it within the reach of every intellect,
he said. Children of all capacities, from ten to
thirteen, may begin its elements, and by means
of these we may sound their capacities. Like
the penetrating observer of human nature that he
was, the great soldier added the following profound
truth which our pedagogues, present as well as
past, seem foolishly inclined to overlook : —

" From thirteen to sixteen the blood is en-
riched and heated ; desires arise ; images wander
through the brain and the thoughts begin to clothe
themselves. This is the dawn of the imagination,
and the moment for bridling and guiding it
properly is also the moment for giving the studies
of the pupil a new direction and different matter
to feed upon."


Wisdom which cannot, in truth, be too strongly

According to Napoleon, the age of puberty is
that in which the poets, versifiers and artists are
to be distinguished and separated from the
mathematicians and the yOuths of practical mind
— a theory which cannot fail to give unfortunate
students of the classic Gepp much matter for
retrospective thought.

If anything, in our view, is calculated to demon-
strate the essential atheism of Napoleon, we think
it is to be found in the extraordinary publication,
meant for general use in French schools, issued
under the Emperor's auspices, and entitled The
Imperial Catechism. By the Organic Articles of
the Concordat, it was enacted that there should
be only one liturgy and one catechism for the
churches of France, and in order to settle once and
for all the Erastian condition of the ecclesiastical
power. Napoleon set his bureau de reclame to the
task of putting God and the Clergy in their proper
place. In pursuance of this idea, he had The
Imperial Catechism published — with the im-
primatur of the helpless Papal Legate — and issued
in 1806. It is hardly necessary to say that the
object of this Catechism was to rear the rising
generation in Imperial ideas and to assure the
future of Napoleon's dynasty. With his custom-
ary forethought in all political adventures, the
Emperor, before issuing his new book of religious
instruction, had the opinion voiced, through
his agent Portalis, that the large diversity in


existing catechisms was wholly detrimental to
the proper spiritual formation of French children.
By basing his new catechism on that of Bossuet,
as to its essential religious ideas, he was able to
say that it was but a second edition of the old
work of the Bishop of Meaux. The book was
indeed published under the saintly protection of
that long-departed prelate.

Monsieur de Portalis, who was the chief Imperial
agent in this matter, was not, it would seem, less
unscrupulous than his master in mishandling
religious teachings, or in reading them to his own
purposes, and accordingly decided to execute his
work in such a fashion that the new generation
should have no doubts whatever as to the relative
importance of Napoleon and the Almighty. A
letter which he addressed to the Emperor in this
connection is worth quoting ; it is dated 13th
February 1806 :

" . . . At this moment the institutions of
France may be said to have returned to their
normal condition, and since Frenchmen have the
happiness of living under the greatest of princes,
I think that the time has come to bring to your
Majesty's notice that part of the Catechism which
deals with the relations of the subject to his
sovereign. Before the new order of things much
had been said on this matter, and teachers spoke
in very vague terms of the submission which men
owed to the chiefs of the State according to the
words of the Gospel. It seems to me. Sire, that
the time has gone for indulging in generalities of


such a nature, and it is now necessary to attach
the conscience of the people to the august person
of Your Majesty, whose rule and whose victories
are guarantees of the safety and the prosperity of
France. To recommend in a general way subjects
to obey their sovereigns would not, in the present
instance, be directing their obedience towards its
proper end. Ordinary precepts may suffice in
ordinary times, more especially when men are
living in an order of things which has existed for
a long time. But in these days the word sovereign
is but a vague expression which each person de-
fines according to his own lights and prejudices.
I have therefore thought it necessary to inculcate
new precepts with especial reference to Your
Majesty's person. To do so will remove all am-
biguity by fixing all hearts and minds on him who
alone ought to be the object of their veneration."
Portalis did not confine his loyal solicitude to
the person of the Emperor, but drew up his Cate-
chism in such a way that its doctrines must also
form an enduring appeal on behalf of Napoleon's
successors on the throne. The Emperor, we are
sorry — if perhaps not surprised — to hear, read
this letter with great pleasure ; with such obvious
pleasure, indeed, that we are inclined to suspect
that Portalis had been commanded to address it
according to the terms stated. In the original
catechism of Bossuet that prelate had written but
a small paragraph which emphasised the subject's
obligation of obedience to the sovereign, and the
sovereign in those days had been Louis XIV.


Napoleon was not so easily satisfied, however.
Obedience to the authorities had by 1806 become
the corner-stone of the new Imperial fabric, and
here is wdiat we find in the new book of religious
instruction :

Question : Is submission to the Government of
France a dogma of the Church ?

Answer : Yes. The Gospel teaches that he
who disobeys the State disobeys God. The
Church imposes upon us very especial obligations
towards the Government of France, which protects
religion and the Church. It commands us to
love it, to cherish it and to be ready to make all
possible sacrifices for its service.

This particular passage the official theologians
objected to, on the ground that it could not be
reconciled with the claim of the Catholic or
Universal Church to be the impartial mother of
all nations. The Emperor agreed, but was, never-
theless, insistent that his name should count for
something in the Catechism, and accordingly a
new dogma was interpolated after the following
extraordinary fashion : —

Question: What are the duties of Christians
towards the princes who rule them, and, in par-
ticular, what are our obhgations to Napoleon I.,
our Emperor ?

Answer- : Christians OAve to the princes under
whom they live, and we owe in particular to our
Emperor, Napoleon I., love, respect, obedience,
loyalty, Military Service, the taxes necessary
for the defence of the Empire and his throne,


and fervent and frequent prayers for his prosperity
and happiness and that of the State.

Question : Why are we bound to fulfil all these
obligations towards our Emperor ?

Answer : In the first place, because God, who
creates empires and distributes them according
to His will, by endowing our Emperor with
genius, whether for Peace or War, has given him
to us for our Sovereign Lord, and has appointed
him the instrument of His power upon Earth.
Therefore when we honour and serve our Emperor,
we are also honouring and serving God Himself.
In the second place, because our Lord Jesus Christ,
by His precept and example, has taught us what
we owe to our sovereign. He was born in the
time of Augustus and obeyed the laws of Augustus ;
He paid the required tax ; He ordered us to
give to God what belongs to God and to give to
Caesar what belongs to Caesar.

Question : Are there not some very special
reasons which must strongly attach us to Napoleon
I., our Emperor ?

Answer : Yes, because he is the man whom God
has raised up in difficult circumstances in order
to re-establish the national Faith of our fathers,
and to be its protector. He has brought back
public order by his profound wisdom and energy ;
he defends the State with his mighty arm ; he
has become the anointed of the Lord through
the consecration which he has received from the
Sovereign Pontiff, the chief of the Universal


Question : What are we to think of those who
fail in their duties towards our Emperor ?

Answer : According to St Paul, the Apostle,
such people would be capable of resisting God
Himself and His established order, and are
deserving of eternal damnation.

Question : The obligations which we owe to
our Emperor, do they not likewise bind us
towards his legitimate successors according to
the established Constitution of the Empire ?

Answer : Most certainly they do ; for we read
in the Scripture that God, Lord of Heaven and
Earth, by an act of His supreme will, and by virtue
of His fore-knowledge, grants kingdoms not only
to one person in particular, but also to that
person's family.

Question : What is our duty towards our
magistrates ?

Answer : We must honour, respect and obey
them, and this because they are the depositaries
of the authority of our Emperor.

Question : What other obligation are we bound
to observe towards our rulers ?

Answer : We are forbidden to disobey them,
to do them harm, or to speak badly about

The indefatigable Portalis did not allow his
imperiomania to stop here. In a further letter
addressed to Napoleon, he suggests that many
reforms could be effected in the ritual, in the
police regulations and bye-laws governing burials,


marriages, the celebration of feasts, the perform-
ance of sacramental rites — all of which, he says,
are somewhat behind the times and fail of accord-
ance with our new ways.

It would serve little purpose to discuss the
question whether the Cardinal-Legate, Caprara,
then the agent of the Vatican in Paris, was, as
has been asserted, a venal spirit wholly under the
influence of the Corsican, and equally as atheistic
as Napoleon himself, as was said. The Catechism,
it is certain, honoured neither those who drew
it up, nor the sovereign who allowed it to be
published, and remains a lasting monument to
Napoleon's contempt for the intelligence of com-
moner mankind.

In a few weeks after the publication of this
Catechism, with the Legate's imprimatur, the
Emperor purchased a palace at Bologna from
Caprara and paid the prelate's very heavy debts.
This in addition to having appointed him Arch-
bishop of Milan, thus drawing the Cardinal within
the sphere of the intimate influence of the King of
Italy, as the Corsican had also become. Napoleon
was the last man in the world to neglect an advan-
tage, and in making the extravagant claims which
were advanced in the Imperial Catechism, fully
realised, we may suppose, that his pretensions,
being not less arrogant than those which the
Church frequently claimed for the Vicars of Christ,
could hardly be rejected by a Pope who virtually
bespoke the politico-spiritual supremacy of the
world. And accordingly we are not surprised


to learn that the majority of the French Bishops
• — practically a band of Galileans 7nalgre eux —
appended the sigillum of their approval to an
apotheosis which must have moved even Caligula
himself to mirth and mockery.


The Press after Brumaire — Difference bettvecn French
and English Journalism — Wholesale Suppression of
Sheets — Liberty of the Press ceases — Newspaper
Morality — Napoleon s Journalistic Precis — Monsieur
Fievee, Chief Censor — Le Moniteur becomes Official
Organ — Napoleon's Private Paper — Value of Official
Organs — Government's Duty to the Nation — Lucus a
non Lucendo — A Newspaper without News — Monsieur
Suard, Editor — Le Journal des Debats — Napoleon
and Fractious Editors — Le Mercurc de France —
Monsieur de Chateaubriand — Napoleon's own Press
Agency — Bengnot and the Emperor — Les Ideologues
— La Route d'Antibes — The Adaptable Sub-Editor —
The Hundred Days — Napoleon s Opinion of the Press
— Caustic Remarks on Journalists and Writers — His
Earliest Venture as a Newspaper-Onmer — TheCourrier
de T Amnee — Napoleon's Personal Corps of Special

THE great day of Brumaire, by making
Bonaparte master of the destinies of
France, put a term to whatever Uberty
the Press had up till then enjoyed.
Many conditions combined to play into the hands
of the new Dictator in respect of all matters
connected with popular liberties, and not the
least of these was the national weariness which
looked, with perhaps an excusable enough resent-
ment, on all movements which were likely to
protract the general unrest attending upon the
aftermath of the Revolution. The difference
between French journalism and English journalism,
then as now, has always lain in the fact that the
former possesses a greater literary quality, and
that therefore the personal equation counts for a
larger force in French newspapers. Accordingly
the fine work of the ideologue superabounded
in the critical Press of Paris, and this was
altogether opposed to Bonaparte's manner of
considering the functions of a public institution.
Shortly after the establishment of the Consul-
ate, accordingly, Bonaparte, of his own initiative,
issued the famous edict of 17th January 1800,
suppressing all sheets in Paris which possessed
a political bearing, with the exception of thirteen.
The principal among the survivors were the
Moniteur, the Journal des Debats, the Journal de
Paris, the Gazette de France. This drastic enact-
ment also went into operation in the Departments.
Until that date there had been seventy-two
political papers in Paris and about three times



that number in the provinces. The Constitution
of February, 1800, made next to no mention of the
liberty of the Press, and, as we have said, patriots
and philosophers were too wearied by the factious
conditions of the Revolutionary decades to care
much about the fate of an institution which, for all
its potential might, neither politics nor society
had ever taken au grand serieux. The lot of the
dispossessed journalists excited, therefore, not the
least concern, and it is recorded by Felix Rocquain
that the general public saw with not a little
Schadenfreude the removal to obscurity of a class
of individuals who were notorious lovers of the

In April of this first Consular year, Bonaparte
instructed Fouch^ to supply him with a report
concerning the character and disposition of the /
various editors left in charge of the surviving
thirteen sheets. It was urged that their morality /

should be beyond any suspicion of being cor-
ruptible — their political morality, obviously. A
special department was established in the Ad-
ministration, the object of which was to keep
watch upon the newspaper offices, and it is
interesting to note that this censorship was
entrusted to prominent military men. The First
Consul was daily supplied — Baron Fain has told
us much anent this^with a precis of all that the
newspapers were talking about, in much the same
way as an important Minister is supplied by
his personal secretary with a tabular digest of
the morning's mail. The zeal of Fouche was


consequently not less under observation than the
editors upon whom he was charged to report, an
important consideration for Bonaparte, since his
minister of police— an ex-Christian Brother —
was supposed to represent the old Jacobin or
extreme Revolutionary faction. And so, in order
effectively to watch the watchman, the Consul
appointed Fievee, formerly editor of the Gazette
de France, his private adviser on all journalistic
matters. Fievee, it may be observed, remains
best kno^vn to us by an aphorism which he is said
to have fathered : " Politics, even in representa-
tive governments, is what we do not talk about." ^
Ordinary newspaper readers received only a part
of the truth from their sheets ; but Bonaparte
received the whole truth from Fievee, and accord-
ingly knew what, and what not, to suppress.
Madame de Genlis and that Barere, on whom
Macaulay lavished much of his high-class jour-
nalese, were also paid spies who reported on the

The Moniteur became the official organ of
the Consular political establishment, although
a Bulletin de Paris was also established as an
official sheet of the First Consul, the articles of
which were written in his own cabinet, under his
eyes, and often at his dictation. Despite this
high patronage, however, the Bulletin had no
circulation, and Fievee, an expert journalist,
explained the reason of this to Bonaparte.

^ We quote this aphorism simply, and without professing to see
either its wit or its wisdom.


" Official organs," he said, " are not worth the
paper they are written on, and they are not a
month old before everyone knows who edits them,
as well as for whom and for what cause they are
published. Intelligent Frenchmen will con-
sequently not read them, more especially those
who are looking for political guidance. They are
read mainly by such as are anxious to know just
what the Government t] jinks, and once readers
find that official editors are seeking to form their
political views, they revolt and go into direct

Fievee goes on to point out that so long as
governments fail to disclose their programmes
frankly to the nation, a wholesome and educative
type of journalism is not possible, and then
addresses himself to the moral taught by British

" Nothing," he says, " is easier than for the
English writer to choose his side, for nothing
fundamental is ever in discussion in that country,
and all men know there what are the issues in
dispute. But what is not in dispute in poor
France ? We are supposed to be a Republic,
which is not true ; we speak of liberty, yet have
no liberty ; it is said that the Revolution has
ended, when another is really about to start. No
man tells the First Consul what he really thinks.
Does the First Consul tell anyone what he thinks ?
All this militates against a proper presentment
of public and governmental opinion."

In pursuance of his policy of reducing the Press


to the least possible significance as an institutional
factor in the life of France, Bonaparte adopted a
system of withholding from all but the official
organs the various bulletins and police notices
and reports which constituted, as " nouvelles et
fails divers " — town talk and life's little incidents
— almost the only resource of the dailies of that
time. And the iron finality of his determination
to discourage anything like individual enterprise
on the part of a newspaper may be divined from
the following extraordinary commandment, writ
rubric in the office tablets : —

" Whenever any news unfavourable to the
Government becomes the subject of rumour, it
must not be published until it is found by verifica-
tion that it is already known to everybody."

There was short shrift, as may be imagined,
for all who failed in their observance of the new
Press regulations. The Democratic Republican of
Audi complains of the high prices of cereals at a
time when Lucien Bonaparte and his brother
Joseph were attempting to effect a corner in the
grain market. Lucien was then Minister of the
Interior and gives his instructions as follows : —

"It is of the first consequence to destroy
immediately so dangerous an instrument in the
hands of agitators. I order you, therefore, to
suppress this paper without any consideration
whatsoever of loss or hurt to either editor or
shareholders, and to arrest anyone wiio dares to
show any sign of opposition to the authorities."

Even ordinary literary criticism became a


perilous pitfall for outspoken writers who thought
that their functions did not stop at aesthetic
discussions about style and art. The Ami des
Lois was suppressed because a facetious reporter
indulged his humour by making sarcastic remarks
about the appearance and attitudes of a certain
" meeting of men who honour the Republic " ;
and even the Academy was to be treated as if its
deliberations were as necessary to the lives of man-
kind as the Immortals invariably thought them.

One of the papers which had been authorised
on the establishment of the Consulate was the
Publiciste, whose editor Suard was a friend of
Madame de Stael. This publication refused to
print the official apology for the murder of the
Due d'Enghien, and in the letter in which Suard
took up his stand of honourable opposition to
Bonaparte, he wrote, in effect :

" I am now sixty years of age and, my character
not ha\ing weakened with the years, I mean to
finish my career as I have run it. The coup
d'etat to which you ask me to subscribe I regard
as an act of violence to all my notions of equity
and political justice. ]My second objection is to
the interference with properly constituted legal
authorities in the trial of the Due d'Enghien, a
summary act which puts the personal safety of
all citizens at the mercy of arbitrary officials. I
decline, therefore, to write against my convictions."

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryHamil GrantThe soul of Napoleon → online text (page 12 of 17)