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course sent in his contribution, the sentiments of
which indicated his revolt against the animalism
of Rousseau, who maintained, it will be remem-
bered, that food, a female and rest were all-
sufficient for a man's happiness. Bonaparte
advocated the necessity of reasoned sentiment
in the world as the proper inspiration of social
happiness and progress — sentiment being the
prmcipiu7n of society and reason the force which
held it together. Self-isolation was opposed to
nature ; sympathy was as much a craving of
man's soul, as food for his body ; action was


always superior to philosophy, even as sane
enthusiasm is always above philosophic indiffer-
ence, and reasoned self-expression is, en somyne,
the end of each man's life — these are, in effect,
some of the points of view he advances as requisite
for his new Utopia. He did not win the prize
which was declared to be, if somewhat discursive,
at least full of sound philosophy. The winner was
Denou, eight years older than Bonaparte, a man
who subsequently played a prominent role as a
politician and an intellectual on a lower stage than
his vast contemporary.

In 1793 Commandant Bonaparte, of the 12th
Battery of La Fere, published at his own expense
his Souper de Beaucaire, a discussion, between five
typical representatives of the social body, which
treated of the existing political situation in
France, and with especial reference to the city of
Marseilles, which then aspired, it would seem, to
play in Europe the role which had once belonged
to oligarchic Venice. That such a condition of
affairs could exist, indicated clearly the inherent
weakness of the French Government, and the
military representative at the Beaucaire supper-
table — Bonaparte, of course — goes on to show that
France can be saved only by a vigorous policy
which shall prove acceptable to the whole of the
nation, provided it be able to assert itself and
re-establish order everywhere — a policy in which
the sword must be allowed to play a capital role,
given the conditions of the day, suggests our
pragmatical officer, as we might presume. This


pamphlet went the way of the majority of ecrits
de circonstance ; it made no sensation in the
world, and a day was to come when Napoleon
could use bad language on his hypercritical and
caustic brother Lucien reminding him of certain
of the popular sentiments he then advanced.

" Oubliez-lc," he would shout at the mocking
Lucien ; " oubliez-le — forget it ! " ; and then goes
on to lecture him on the virtue of gratitude
among brothers.

In concluding this chapter, we think it well
to mention that the fallen Emperor's library
at St Helena was bequeathed to the Duke of
Reichstadt. It contained somewhat fewer than
500 volumes, which, we may suppose, were the
favourite works of the wonderful soldier —his
*' heart's library," to which the great disrated
could turn at any time for recreation, forgetful-
ness or consolation. The first masters of French
literature were nearly all represented, for a part
if not all of their masterpieces, and there lies not
a little pathos in the fact that the works on which
his youthful mind had fed at Brienne ever held the
first place in his interest. Historical tomes were
numerous, and among English books we find a
translation of Gibbon, a translation of Paradise
Lost and Hamilton's Memoirs of de Grammont.
There is also a Bible in eight volumes and a
history of Bonaparte as First Consul, in three
volumes. These apart, it is History — History
everywhere, the story of human action to which
he was to contribute so vast a chronicle himself.


At the death of the Duke of Reichstadt, in the
third decade of the nineteenth century, all these
volumes passed into the possession of the
Emperors of Austria, and are now shelved in the
vast Hofburg Library in Vienna in a special
section devoted to the legend of this mighty
adversary of the House of Habsburg.


Frenchmen and Conieille — Value of Napoleotis
Criticism — His Literanj Likes and Dislikes — His
Opinion of Corneille and Moliere — A Discussion of
Tragedy — Napoleon and Raynouard — Concerning
Voltaire — A Reading by Talma — Napoleon and the
Public Taste — Love and Tragedy — A Literary Ghost
— The Emperor s Criticism of the Mneid, Book II. —
His Opinion of the Iliad — Dislike of Shakespeare —
A Hypercritical View

FRENCHMEN are agreed, we think, in
assigning to Corneille the place which
Enghshmen give to Shakespeare, or
Germans to Goethe ; and, as every school-
boy knows, in France, England and Germany,
there may be found large bodies of opinion
which, excluding all possible competitors, home
or foreign, accord their champion, as against
the rest of the world's illuminati, a position
corresponding to that which certain theological
universities are wont to confer on their most
distinguished scholar — namely, the degree of
Solus. Although we prefer to leave to profounder
judges of the literary arts all decisions in matters
of this nature, and though far from accepting the
literary criticism of the great soldier as possessing
much value beyond that of an extraordinary
judge of human nature and human motives, we
maintain, nevertheless, that the judgments of so
important a student as Napoleon may always
be placed with, at least, corrective results beside
those of really competent professional critical
judges, and competent critics, it may be said, are
nearly as rare as Napoleons. xA.s he has assured
us himself, Napoleon was no great admirer of
Shakespeare ; his regard for Goethe we have
dwelt upon in another chapter, and shown that
it Avas based partly on the psychological study of
Werther and partly on the second-hand opinions,
given to him by Talleyrand, by Lannes and by
other men of purely political affairs, regarding the
tremendous prestige that the Sage of Weimar



enjoyed among the conservative elements of
Germany, Avhich then, as now, made the most
of its chosen literary instruments.

Shakespeare, said Napoleon, in effect, would
never have enjoyed the universal renown which
was his, had it not been that Voltaire, an exile
in England desirous of flattering Englishmen,
introduced the study of the English dramatist
to Frenchmen. Hamlet^ the exile boasted, he
only saw played once in his life, Macbeth twice,
Othello once, and what he had seen of Shakespeare
had not encouraged him to further study of the
English style of drama. On the other hand,
he had seen Le Cid eight times, Polyeucte six
times, Cinna twelve times, CEdvpe nine times.
The English dramatist he considered to be lacking
in political insight and to possess a genius which
was more applicable to the study of bourgeois
or provincial situations and conditions than
adapted for intrigues enacted on a grand and
imposing plane, and held that the colonising
gifts of the British, by spreading the English
language, had done more towards universalising
the Bard of Avon than any intrinsical genius
shown by his works.

" Corneille was, on the contrary," said
Napoleon, " at the supreme head of all the
tragical poets of all time. He had divined the
real nature of politics, and had he been trained
to affairs, would have made a great statesman.
It is not his versification that I admire most, but
his great sense of actualities, his vast knowledge


of the human heart, the profundity of his poHtical
nous. France owes to the sentiments which he
has voiced many glorious results. The fatalism
of the ancients Corneille has replaced by the
reasoned philosophy of State-politics, and he
is the only one among the poets of France who
has seized upon this truth. Had he lived in my
time I would have created him a prince." So
enthusiastic, indeed, was the Emperor for the
great French poet that at one time he expressed
his intention of ennobling the living descendants
of Corneille and of granting them suitable pensions
for the maintenance of their dignity.

Of Moliere's comedies he was no great admirer,
since tragedy, in his opinion, was the only form
of the drama which had a really educative value,
or any inspiration worthy of the name. Tartuffe,
he admitted, however, to be one of the master-
pieces of the stage, yet a piece for which he would
not himself have granted a theatrical licence,
owing to the way in which it ridiculed devotional
piety. Racine he esteemed very highly, and had
witnessed Bajazet seven times, Iphigenie ten
times, and Phedre on an equal number of occa-
sions. Mithridate, in respect of its famous plan
of campaign, he declared to be worthless, although
as a work of art this drama appealed to him,
Racine representing, in his view, on the whole,
the somewhat " easy-going philanthropism " of
the latter half of the seventeenth century.

Raynouard's Templiers he witnessed three times,
and disapproving of it for political reasons, com-


manded the author to come to the Tuileries in
order to discuss Tragedy with him. The char-
acter of King PhiHppe-le-Bel, in this piece, had,
it may be said, been depreciated, although in the
opinion of the Emperor he had been a good King
and France had not been too rich in good
monarchs. He had, said Napoleon, been the
first to put the Pope in his place, and had worked
for the people in his attempt to destroy the Order
of the Templars — composed mainly of younger
sons and possessing the third of the kingdom's
wealth — which had ceased to possess any utili-
tarian value, but had become dangerous to
the State. The Emperor's conversation with
Raynouard throws an interesting light upon his
conception of the drama.

" You should have represented the King," said
Napoleon, " in the act of declaring to a Council
of his Ministers that he intended to abolish the
Order. The Grand Master would then refuse to
dissolve the Brotherhood and Philippe would
finally be compelled to sentence him to death."

" My conception," replied Raynouard, " was
to make the King a weak character in order to
enhance the dramatic situation by leaving the
spectator in doubt whether the King would prove
harsh or merciful to the Order — whether he would
suppress it, or not."

" But," objects the Emperor, " the King in
this case represents the nation, and the nation
is opposed to the Templars, who are a band of
oligarchs working for their own interest and


against that of the people. The latter must,
therefore, be on the side of their real representa-
tive — the King. Your correct dramatic situa-
tion would have been to show Philippe bringing
about a magnificent and spectacular coup d'etat
by abolishing a veritable impei'ium in imperio.
A King of France can be put on the stage only
to be admired. Again, you must get this point
into your head — namely, that Politics plays in
modern drama the role that Fate played in the
drama of the Ancients."

And the Emperor goes on to show where the
poet's technique fails in the following lines
which Philippe addresses to the rebelHous Grand
Master : —

" Choose between my clemency and my hatred —
The scaffold awaits you ! "

" That," cries Napoleon, " is altogether wrong !
A King does not talk of his hatred, but of his
justice. He may consign to the scaffold, but
never talks of one."

On the subject of Brutus, the work of Voltaire,
whose style the Emperor declared to be full of
turgidity and tinsel (de boursouflure et de clin-
quant) and whose temperament was incapable of
understanding men and matters, or the move-
ment of the passions. Napoleon said :

" The Romans were guided by the love of their
country, just as we are by our honour. Now,
Voltaire does not depict the true sublimity of
Brutus sacrificing his children, despite his own


agony, for the safety of Rome ; he makes of iiim
a monster of pride sacrificing them at a great
crisis solely to the glorification of his own name.
The whole tragedy is of a kind, and Lucretia
becomes a madwoman who almost glories in
the seduction which must make the ages talk of

And of the same author's Mahomet he tells us
that the Prophet is nothing better than an im-
postor who might have been brought up at the
Ecole Polytechnique ; he is made to murder his
father — an entirely wrong idea, says Napoleon,
who adds that really great men are never
ciniel without necessity. Altogether Voltaire's
Mahomet is too little for Napoleon, who gives
instructions on one occasion to Monsieur de
Fontanes saying :

" / will reconstruct the plays and you can
look after the versification."

Legouve was another dramatist who came under
Imperial criticism, when his Death of Henri IV.
was submitted to the Censor. Talma was com-
manded to read the play and the Imperial family,
including Josephine, was present for the occasion.
A line sonorously declaimed by the great tragedic
actor awakens the Imperial ire. It runs :

" Je tremble — je ne sais quel noir pressentiment. . . ."

This is too much for Napoleon's conception of
kingliness ; he interrupts Talma at once, declar-
ing that the phrasing must be altered :

" A King may tremble," he explains, " since


he is a man like other men ; but he should never
admit it."

The words are accordingly changed and Talma
goes on to describe how some bloody villain
creeps forward and plunges ten inches of dagger
into the royal chest.

" Le pauvre homme ! L 'excellent homme ! "
cries Napoleon, with obvious after-thoughts,
while poor Josephine, ires cmue, turns on the
opportune tear.

A certain Nicolo Buonaparte, a resident of
Florence, wrote a comedy in 1568, called La
Vedova (The Widow), and Napoleon, with praise-
worthy family pride, wished to have the play
translated and produced in Paris in his day. It
was found, however, that the work was far too
indecent even for that age, and accordingly was
not acted. Nevertheless, Napoleon made few
mistakes in his judgments as to what the public
really wanted, and the views of the people,
dramatists always admitted, in nearly all cases
coincided with those of the Emperor, a fact which
may recommend itself to many psychologists of
History, who tell us, with considerable cogency,
that the great leaders of any epoch are almost
invariably men who constitute in themselves a
kind of resume of the mentality and tempera-
mentality of the age in which they live. Arnault
once read his Dom Pedro, or The Prince and the
Peasant, to the Emperor, who was far from
charmed to hear an agricultural labourer giving
counsel to a sovereign.


" Your peasant is a tribune of the Plebs," he
told the author, " and I don't care for him."
So, too, thought the first-nighters, who hissed
the piece rather severely on its presentation. It
was the opinion of the Corsican that Corneille
alone knew how to make kings act and talk, j^
verse being only the embroidery of the dramatic
stuff, as he expressed it in his excellent native
mother-wit. To Baour-Lormian, who had written
a tragedy called Mahomet II., Napoleon, dislik-
ing the piece, declared that love scenes were of
no use in tragical pieces, and that the serious
dramatist should rely on history rather than
on romance for his effects. What the author
wanted was large conceptions ; the word-painting
and the ringing phrase could wait.

We must not overlook the tradition that
Napoleon was himself the composer of a tragedy
called Hector, the authorship of which was said
to have been officially attributed to an alleged
literary ghost. Luce de Lancival. This gentle-
man, who had already written several plays, was
without apparent reason one day given the
Legion of Honour and a pension worth £300
a year. Some obscure pamphleteer sought in a
publication to show that Lancival's Hector was
really the work of Bonaparte himself, who had
once wiled away the empty hours of his incar-
ceration in the Temple, many years before, in
composing this tragedy. On attaining to supreme
power he resurrected his lucubration, confiding
it to Lancival for alterations and repairs. The


dramatist did all that was required of him,
tenderly edited Hector and submitted it, in his
own name, to the Theatre Franyais, where it was
swiftly turned down with Homeric honours. A
few days afterwards, during a rehearsal, an aide-
de-camp arrived at the theatre with the following
letter addressed to the director : —

" The mummers (histrions) of the Theatre
Fran^ais will immediately start rehearsing the
tragedy Hector, which they had the audacity and
ill-taste to refuse. Signed : Nap." When we
have added that the above story appears in a
pamphlet entitled, Bonaparte, his Family and his
Court, by a Chamberlain malgre lui, we think the
credibility of this pamphleteer becomes a little
more than suspect.

Brother Scots will be interested to hear that a
play entitled Edward in Scotland, by Alexander
Duval, was enacted in 1802, and the audience
much applauded a scene in which the Pretender
retorts to an English colonel, who proposes as a
toast the death of all who support the Stuarts :
" I drink the death of no man," says Charles
James, and the public applauded, thinking of the
exiled Bourbons, no doubt. Bonaparte went to
see the play and Duval affects to think that the
First Consul shed a tear over the sufferings of the
poor Stuart exile ! Bourbon partisans who were
present, like the Due de Choiseul, took every
available opportunity of making demonstrations,
and Bonaparte had the play withdrawn. Some
indication of the political temper of those days


is also shown in the extra-theatrical comedy
which attended on the representation of a play
called U Antichambre, by Dupaty, in which the
Consular court comes in for considerable ridicule,
Bonaparte himself being mimicked, as well as
members of his family. In his first anger
the Consul sentenced the author to exile in San
Domingo, but pardoned him as he was taking
ship at Brest for the West Indies.

The Imperial critic on one occasion delivered
his opinion of Virgil in the following words : —

*' The Second Book of the ^Eneid is held to be the
masterpiece of this epic, and it certainly deserves
the reputation, considered from the point of style.
I cannot, however, rate it very high from other
points of view. Thus, the wooden horse may
have been a popular tradition, but to introduce
it into an epic poem is ridiculous and entirely
unworthy of a grandiose theme. You will find
nothing like this in the IHad, where everything
conforms strictly and truthfully to the real
practice of war. How can we imagine the
Trojans so stupid as not to have thought of send-
ing a fishing-smack to the island of Tenedos, in
sight of Troy, in order to assure themselves if
the thousand ships of the Greeks had reached
there, or if they were on their way to attack the
city ? How can we believe that Ulysses and his
friends were such fools as to risk putting them-
selves into the hands of their enemies by cribbing
themselves in that ridiculous wooden machine ?
And supposing the^iorse to have contained even


one hundred armed men — how could such a
weight have been moved to the walls of Troy,
across the bay and over two rivers which were
overlooked by the very towers of the citadel ?

" The tragic episode of the sons of Laokoon,
however impressive, cannot excuse the absurdity
of the narrative, which really shows that the
destruction of Troy and the entire action of the
Second Book were executed and accomplished
within the space of a few hours— an achievement
which must in practice have required at least a
fortnight. Had Homer described the fall of
Troy he would not have treated it simply as
one treats the taking of a fort. Homer had
seen war, whilst Virgil had simply thought out
his ideas of war like a schoolmaster who knows
his book. It took Scipio seventeen days to raze
Carthage to the ground ; and Moscow was burned
out only after eleven had passed. The Third
Book is but a copy of the Odyssey, while the
Fourth lacks every agreement with the dramatic

" The Iliad," said Napoleon, " is like Genesis
and the Bible, and is for all time. Homer was
at once a poet, an orator, an historian, a legislator,
a geographer and a theologian. He is the
Encyclopaedist of his epoch. The universal
approval which men have given him has been
well won and I have always read him with
enthusiasm. A contrast which much struck me
in Homer was the coarseness of social habits and
the ethical grandeur of ideas — heroes hunting


game and dressing their own food, yet moving
worlds to vast endeavour with their eloquence."

And here finally is what the Emperor had
to say of the Bard of Avon, whom he had
read, we imagine, only through the medium of
translations :

" Certain French people fall in love with
England at first sight, and are willing to accept
one single opinion as sufficing to settle finally
the matter of England's literary glory. But
Shakespeare was forgotten for two centuries even
in England. It pleased Voltaire, then in Geneva
and seeing much English society at the time,
to praise the English poet in order to flatter his
great friends from London. It became the fashion
to call Shakespeare the greatest writer of all
time. I have read Shakespeare, however, and
can say that there is nothing in him which
approaches either Corneille or Racine. It is
impossible indeed to read his plays seriously.
Myself I find them so feeble as to be almost
pitiful. As for Milton, there is only his address
to the Sun and a few other pieces which count
for anything ; the rest is mere rhapsody. And
I much prefer Vely to Hume. France has no
cause to envy England for anything ; even
her own citizens desert her as soon as they

Napoleon once objected to La Fontaine's famous
fable of the Wolf and the Lamb on the ground
that it taught might to be greater than right,
and was consequently bad for children. It was


immoral, he further held, because the wolf was
not choked when he devoured the lamb !

In History he stood out for Machiavelli, saying :
" Tacitus wrote novels. Gibbon is a brawler.
]Machiavelli is the only historian worth reading."


Talma and Bonaparte — The Actor coaches the First
Cotisid — The Emperor coaches the Actor — Frie7idly
Relations of the Ttvain — Napoleon on Critics and
his Love for Cinna — Concerning Mademoiselle Mars
a7td her Sister — An Unexpected Scene — Mademoiselle
Boiirgoin and Chaptal — An Imperial Rebuke

IT is unfortunate that Talma, the Kean
of the French stage, should have left us
next to nothing in the way of records
dealing with his long and uninterrupted
intimacy with Napoleon whom he had known
in the days which followed on the Toulon
episode, when the young Corsican was an un-
employed ex-commandant in Paris. There are
letters extant — suspect, it must be added — in
which the poor officer writes to the affluent and
friendly actor, asking him if he has a few dollars
(ecus) at his disposal, and it is to Talma, we think,
that young Bonaparte confessed that he had once
put his watch in pawn for a couple of pieces of
gold. Of all the celebrities on the stage of that
period. Talma alone enjoyed an intimacy with
Napoleon, which came near to that possessed by
Duroc, the Earl Marshal of the Empire, and the
only individual to whom the Corsican allowed
the privilege of free brotherly speech with him-
self. The Emperor at St Helena gave the dis-
claimer to the many stories which charged him
with having been a bad borrower, when he said
that he and Talma only became acquainted in
1800. Talma also denied the suggestions. Others
assert that they had known each other since

Whatever the facts, and they are not of very
great importance, there is no doubt that in 1802
Talma began to pay very frequent visits to the
First Consul, in the course of which, it is said, the
great actor used to give the chief of the State



lessons in princely deportment, a course of in-
struction the real significance of which could not
have escaped the astute Frenchman. Admirers
of Bonaparte who attributed all god-like gifts to
their hero, denied that the Corsican had ever
sought instruction from an actor how to play the
monarch, and if the lessons were ever given, it is

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Online LibraryHamil GrantThe soul of Napoleon → online text (page 4 of 17)