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the other days. Of course, you will let me know
before deciding on anything."

According to Talleyrand, in his account of
Goethe's interview, there is no mention of the
phrase " voiis etes un homme! " ; and, by the same
authority, Goethe does not allow Napoleon to
overlook the claims to high literary rank of
Lessing, Schiller, Wieland. The Emperor ex-
presses a wish to meet the last-named, and advises
the poet to study the plays which are being acted.
Goethe tactfully evades the suggestion that he is
the man to chronicle and describe for posterity
the Congress of Erfurt, as the Corsican suggests,
and declines to dedicate anything to the Emperor
of Russia on the ground that when he first
decided to devote himself to Letters, he also
took the resolution never to dedicate a work
to anyone, so as not to have to regret it, as he

" The great writers of the age of Louis XIV.
were not hke that," objects the Emperor rather

" True," replies Goethe, " but it is not so
very certain that they never regretted their
dedications." Which reply settles the matter.

On Napoleon's making an inquiry about
Kotzebue, the poet appeals for mercy for that
unfortunate pamphleteer and patriot. The
Emperor assures his visitor that he has no
sympathy with men like Kotzebue. Goethe seeks
to move him.


"Adieu, Monsieur Goet'!" says the Corsican
curtly, and draws the interview to a close.

The selection of the tragedies presented at
Erfurt had, says Talleyrand, been made with
great care and much art. Each historical subject
was made to point a political moral that applied
to those spacious days. Thus, in Mithri dates,
the hatred of that Prince for Rome suggested
Napoleon's hatred of Britain. The ideas of
immortality, of greatness, of destiny, which run
through Ijohigenia, served only to emphasise the
characteristics of the central figure of the Con-
gress. In Voltaire's Mahomet, especial instruction
had been given for the delivery of lines like the
following : —

" Qui I'a fait roi ? Qui I'a couronne ? La Victoire ! "

and :

" Au nom de conquerant et de triomphateur,
II veut joindre le nom de pacificateur."

Talleyrand, who was a first-class hater, must
be held suspect in what he says of coevals.
There is so remarkable a coincidence, however,
between his way of looking at Napoleon and that
of de Bourrienne — a fidelity of detail in all matters
which present the picture of the upstart, that we
cannot refuse to look at what he has to say of
Napoleon's pretensions to play the role of bel
esprit. The Emperor, says the Prince, in effect,
used to devote considerable time to " working
up " recondite, or at least learned, conversational



matter with which he surprised his company, when,
the occasion being astutely chosen, he would
spring it, impromptu-fashion, on some unprepared
unfortunate. He never had before him the fear
of a positive contradiction, since his exalted
position always enabled him to choose the means
of interrupting a conscientious objector to his
opinions, and in foreign countries, especially, it
was his habit to discuss matters which possessed
a bearing and suggestion altogether outside the
intellectual range of a military man.

Indeed, adds Talleyrand, the presence of a
Montesquieu or a Voltaire would have had no
terrors for Napoleon, whose self-assurance arose
perhaps from vanity, perhaps from the splendour
of his career. At Berlin in 1807, for instance, the
Prince tells us how the victor of Friedland had
addressed one of those intellectual omnivores
whom Germany so frequently produces. His
name was Johann von Miiller, and among his
productions were a few trifles like a compre-
hensive Bellum Cimhricum and a General History
of the World, in twenty-four tomes. Napoleon
requested him off-hand to fix the principal epochs
of human thought and action, and, impatient of
the historian's pause for consideration, set about
doing so himself. Says Talleyrand :

" I can still see the astonished face of Professor
Miiller, as Napoleon went on to show how the
rapid propagation and development of Christianity
had caused a reaction of Greek ideals against
those of Rome ; how cleverly Greece had adapted

THE r6LE of tragedy 117

herself to an intellectual role once her national
political grandeur had passed — conquHe qiCelle
avail ejfectuee en saisissant ce germe bienfaiteur
qui a eu tant d'' influence sur Vhumanite entiere " —
meaning, of course, the triumph of Christianity
over Pagan culture.

" Napoleon must have learned this last phrase
by heart,'' adds the sceptical Talleyrand, " for
I heard him repeat it in exactly the same words to
M. de Fontanes and also to M. Suard."

" Philosophers," concluded Napoleon to Johann
Miiller, " exhaust themselves in building up
systems ; but they shall look in vain for a better
philosophy than that of Christianity which has
reconciled man with himself and his fellows and
guaranteed order in all the world." A view
which few men of good intent would be found
to quarrel with, if only Christianity were what
Christianity was meant to be.
V Chancellor von Miiller — no relative of the late-
mentioned — a kind of president of the High Court
of Justice at Weimar, and a close friend and
confidant of Goethe, adds a few more details
concerning this historic interview.

" Tragedy," said the Emperor, " is the school
of kings and nations ; it is in some respects more
important than history and by far the highest
achievement of the poet. You, 'Monsieur Goet',
ought to write a Death of Ccesai\ but in a more
grandiose and elevated style than that of
Voltaire. Indeed, such a work might well become
the central task of your life. In such a tragedy


you would have to show the world how Caesar
could have achieved the happiness of mankind if
he had only been given the time to execute his
mighty conceptions. Come to Paris, Monsieur
Goet' ; I want you to come, and there you will
not fail to see a vaster vision for your powers of
observation, besides finding limitless treasure to
draw upon for your poetical inspirations."

And when the Sage had bowed himself out, the
Emperor, Miiller tells us, turned to Berthier
and Daru with the words : " That is a man ! "
Goethe himself maintained a profound silence
on all the incidents of the interview, and the
Chancellor remained in doubt whether this was
owing to his natural reserve or whether it was
inspired by a feeling of delicacy and propriety,
born of his perfect knowledge of the hypercritical
society amidst which he lived. The invitation
which Napoleon had given him to visit Paris
engaged Goethe's consideration for a long time,
and (says the Chancellor) he asked many questions
about the customs of Paris, about the arrange-
ments to be made, and only abandoned the idea
on reflecting that so long and tedious a journey
might prove too trying for his advanced age.

" It was in the very last years of his life,"
concludes the Chancellor, " that Goethe gave me
the details of his interview with Napoleon, and
it was not till a few days before his death that I
was able to induce him to give me permission
to amplify the laconic fragments of his own


The Imperial cortege in due course moved on
to Weimar, where Miiller was able to present
Wieland to the Conqueror. This luminary
occupied in those days in Germany very much
the same position that Voltaire had occupied in
France of his age, and, indeed, on his presentation
to the Emperor, Napoleon assured him that he
was known in Paris as the Voltaire of Germany.

" Which of your writings do you like best ? "
was the first question.

" Sire," replied the simple scholar, " I attach
no great value to any of my productions. I
wrote according to my heart."

'' But," persisted Napoleon, "there must be one
particular work to which you give preference over
the rest."

Wieland named his Agathon and Oberon, where-
upon Napoleon went on to make his famous re-
mark about genres tranches— o, correct rendering
of which phrase we prefer to leave to the literary
connoisseurs. The great soldier objected, it seems,
to Shakespeare's method, which " mixed tragedy
with comedy, the impressive with the burlesque,"
and, turning to both Wieland and Goethe, said :

" I am surprised that acute minds like yours
do not cultivate a style tranche, or exclusive.
Why, in your Agathon, Monsieur Wieland, do
you indulge in that equivocal tendency to mix
romance with history, and history with romance,
since all work of this kind tends to cause con-
fusion in the reader's mind ? I am aware," admits
the Emperor graciously, " that I am fighting against


great odds — all the more so because my remarks
apply to Monsieur Goet' as well as to yourself."

" Your Majesty may allow us to remark,"
replies Wieland, " that there are very few French
tragedies that are not a mixture of history and
romance. As regards my own work, I sought to
instruct and so I needed the authority of history ;
accordingly, I sweetened the pill of prolix learn-
ing by mixing stern reality with the imaginative
and the pleasing. Men's ideals are sometimes
better than their actions, and romances which
describe good men often describe them as better
than they really are, I think. Compare, Sire, the
Siecle de Louis XIV. with TSUmaque, in which
you will find the best lessons both for the governors
and the governed."

" I find," rejoins Napoleon, " that those who
represent righteous men in fiction always end
by proving that righteousness is only a chimgera.
History indeed has suffered much in this respect
from historians themselves."

The conversation is interrupted here by M. de
Nansouty, who announces the arrival of the courier
from Paris.

Wieland himself relates how on the occasion of
a great gala reception at the Grand-Ducal palace,
which he had not attended. Napoleon had a
carriage especially sent for him, and the man of
Letters, without delaying to change his ordinary
attire, at once proceeded to the Palace. Here he
arrived about eleven o'clock and was immediately
taken to the presence of the Emperor, who, in


consideration of the great author's seventy-five
years, good-naturedly overlooked his skull-cap
and slippers. For over an hour, Napoleon, in the
presence of a motley group of celebrities, discussed
the ancient classics with the old scholar, paying
particular attention to Tacitus, and in con-
nection with this academic rencontre, it is note-
worthy that Talleyrand affects to believe that the
Emperor had burned much midnight oil in prepar-
ing his case against Wi eland and the Roman.
Tacitus, it may be remarked, is said by properly
accredited authorities to be the first of the
psychologists of history and a profound analyst
of ulterior motives in political action. Accord-
ingly, he found but little honour with the Corsican
whose prejudice favoured the unquestioning spirit
among the critics.

" Tacitus," he said, " has taught me nothing.
Can you point out a greater or a more unjust
detractor of humanity ? In the simplest actions
he finds criminal motives. All his emperors are
monsters of iniquity inspired by different varieties
of evil genius, and they were not at all bad judges
who declared that the Annals are not so much a
history of Rome as an abstract of its criminal
records. Everywhere one is confronted with
accusers and accused — men who commit suicide
in the bathroom to escape punishment. Tacitus
is always decrying the informers (delatores), yet
where is a greater scandalmonger than himself ?
And the style — one long night of obscurity ! I
am no great Latinist myself, but the obscurity


of Tacitus is quite obvious to me in the ten or
'\ twelve Italian or French translations which I
; have read, and I have come to the conclusion
/ that this lack of clearness in his style arose from
sheer inability to see things as they really were.
I have heard him praised because he has inspired
tyrants with fear. He has inspired kings, in my
view, with the fear of their subjects, and that is
a bad thing for a nation. N'ai-je pas raison.
Monsieur Wieland ? But really I am monopolis-
ing you — ^we have not come here to talk about
Tacitus." And, casting a glance at the moving
scene before him, he calls attention to the Emperor
Alexander :

" See how well he dances," Napoleon observes,
and takes a pinch of snuff.

" I do not know why we are here, Sire," replies
the simple Wieland, " but I do know that your
Majesty makes me at this moment the happiest
man alive."

" Well, then, answer me," says Napoleon kindly.

" Sire," returns the writer, " from the way in
which your Majesty talks, I am led to forget that
you are twice a sovereign, and only see in you the
man of Letters. I know that you do not disdain
the title, for I have not forgotten your pride in
being a Member of the Institut. 1 will, therefore,
answer the man of Letters, and although I felt at
Erfurt that I defended myself but feebly against
your criticisms, I hope to make a better defence
of Tacitus.

" Of this historian," Wieland continued, " I


agree that his chief aim is to punish tyrants ; but
if he denounces them, he does not denounce them
to slavish men, who would revolt only to change
tyrants. Tacitus denounces tyrants to the
justice of history and to the human race, for it is
said by philosophers that the human race must
be tried by suffering until its reason acquires the
force which its passions have up till then held."

" Yet where is this force of reason ? " asks
Napoleon. " I look for it on all sides and see it

" Sire," repHes Wieland, " it is not so long since
Tacitus has come into fashion, and that in itself
indicates a marked advance of the human mind ;
for during centuries, Academies would not read
him, any more than Courts, and the slaves of
taste were as much afraid of him as the advocates
of despotism. It is only since Racine called him
the great painter of antiquity that your universities
and ours have felt disposed to inquire into the
possibility of his being really so. Your Majesty
declares that in reading Tacitus, you find de-
nunciation, assassination, robbery on all hands.
But, Sire, that is exactly what the Roman Empire
was when governed by the monsters whom
Tacitus so severely flayed. The genius of Livy
followed the Legions of the Roman Republic
throughout the world ; that of Tacitus con-
centrated itself on the law reiDOii:s (grejfe), and
it was here that the real history of the Empire
was to be found. It is indeed, in these alone that
we can read the historv of nations of those


unhappy ages, when princes and their subjects,
opposed to one another in principles and ideals,
lived in terror of each other. In such times there
is little else to chronicle but the daily records of
the criminal courts — ^when death at the hands
of the public executioner comes to be regarded
almost as the natural way of leaving life.

" Sire, Suetonius and Dion Cassius have
chronicled a far greater number of crimes than
Tacitus ever chronicled, but they chronicle them
in a style which is wholly devoid of energy,
whereas nothing is more terrible than the stylus
of Tacitus whose genius inclines before the spirit
of justice alone. As soon, indeed, as he perceives
the presence of Good — even in the reign of that
monster Tiberius — he swiftly seizes upon it and
gives to it the salience which he gives to everj''-
thing he touches. He can even praise a fool like
Claudius, where praise is really due, and this
august attribute of justice, Tacitus extends with
unerring impartiality to all conditions — to the
Republic as to the Empire, to subjects as well
as to their princes. By the quality of his genius,
one would think him capable of attaching himself
to the Republic, and his opinions about Brutus,
Cassius, Codrus would seem to confirm this view.
Yet, w^ien he speaks of the Emperors who suc-
ceeded in reconciling what was thought to be
irreconcilable — namely. Empire and Liberty — we
can feel that this system of governance appeals to
him as the fairest discovery of history."

Here a certain movement in the large group


of courtiers signifies, we may suppose, not so
much admiration at Wieland's probably prepared
eloquence as a desire to emphasise the obviously
implied compliment to Napoleon — truly an un-
deserved compliment, if ever was.

" Sire," the Sage continues, "if it is true to
say of Tacitus that tyrants are punished, once he
has portrayed them, how much more truthful is
it to say that righteous princes are rewarded once
he has traced their picture for posterity ! "

" I fight against odds. Monsieur Wieland,"
admits the Emperor darkly. " You sacrifice no
advantages, I see, and you must have known that
I was no admirer of Tacitus. Do you, by the
way, correspond with Monsieur Johann de Miiller
whom I met last year in Berlin ? " Napoleon
was much too astute, we can fancy, not to
have seen that all Wieland's eloquence had been
prepared against contingencies.

" Yes, Sire," replies the German very candidly.

" Ah, then, confess," laughs Napoleon, " that
he has written to you on the subject of Tacitus."

"It is true," admits honest old Wieland, " it
is indeed through him I learned that your Majesty
liked to discuss Tacitus, and also that you did not
admire him."

" I will not admit yet that I am beaten," de-
clares Napoleon ; "a thing I never admit very
easily. I return to-morrow to Erfurt, and we shall
resume our discussion about Tacitus. I have a
suflicient stock of ammunition in my arsenal to
show that for all his investigation of the motives


i of great men, he did not sufficiently develop the
h causes and the intimate springs of important
events. He did not study deeply enough the
mystery of facts and ideas, and failed so to adjust
them in the chain of events as to enable posterity
to judge correctly and impartially.

" History, as I understand it," Napoleon goes
on, " must be able to seize upon individuals and
1 nations and present them as they were in their
' own day. The historian should take into account
the external circumstances which must necessarily
have exercised a great influence on their actions,
and see clearly the limits of their influence. The
Roman Emperors were by no means so bad as
Tacitus has described them. I much prefer
Montesquieu to the Roman ; the Frenchman is
more just and his judgments nearer to truth."

It was then nearly midnight and Wieland began
to feel the strain of expressing himself in a language
which he was not accustomed to speak. " I
took the liberty," he says, '' of asking the Emperor
if I might retire."

" Allez,^' replied Napoleon graciously ; " bonne
nuit ! "

The Emperor, on another occasion, asked
Wieland which age he considered to be the happiest
for mankind — a question he had also put to the
! historian Miiller, at Berlin, in 1806, when the
Prussian gave liis verdict in favour of the ages of
^y the Antonines. In his turn, old Wieland replied,
with admirable wisdom :

" A decisive answer is not possible to such a


question. The Greeks, judged by their general
culture and by the poUtical freedom which they
enjoyed as citizens, had their ages of great
prosperity. Rome counted among her princes
more than one who might be called the good angel
of humanity. Other nations, too, can boast of
having had great and wise governors. Yet it
seems to me that the general history of the world
travels ever in one great circle, in which good and
evil, virtue and vice succeed each other continu-
ally. It is the duty of the philosopher to bring
out all the good there is in each age, so as to make
the bad supportable."


A Specious Sentimefd — Art, Merit, and the Xapoleonic
Cult — The Corsicans Native Materialism — A Political
Monument — Artists a " Waspish Lot" — Art to Order
— Feeding the Fraterniti/—Ecoti07ny in PmLUc Archi-
tecture — A Xapoleonic Art — The Emperor s Dislike
of Architects — Some Prices paid to Famous Artists —
The Corsican a Connoisseur without Pretensions —
Insistence on the Napoleonic Legend — How to hurt
Englishmen — The Imperial Reclame — Napoleon s Art
Collection at La Malmaison — xi List of Pictures

NAPOLEON once declared to Decres
that he did not want his reign to pass
and leave a single man of merit un-
recognised — a specious sentiment the
sincerity of which becomes accurately measurable
when we study the case of Madame de Stael, and
consider his mode of distinguishing Monsieur de
Chateaubriand. Merit which did not contribute
to the Napoleonic legend w^as, in the eyes of the
Corsican, no merit at all, and the established
mediocrity of all those who formed part of the
circle of his art patronage, whether as writers or
poets or painters, may be put down, sans phrase,
to the fact that artistic genius is a quality which,
on the highest planes, can achieve its particular
results only when it remains independent of, and
even uninspired by, objective sources. Certainly
the inspirations of a fighting soldier are not
calculated to assist its progress in any surround-
ings, or in any age — least of all such inspirations
as came from Napoleon, whose artisticity was
that of the geometrician or the mathematical
expert, wholly uncoloured by sentiment, entirely
lacking in the warmth of a higher or poetic vision,
and limited altogether to the actualities of current
circumstance. Accordingly, when he decided that
the Art of the first Imperial age of France should
bear an Imperial cachet, he limited its expression
not only as an artistic force, but also as one which,
had it been left to work out its original genius,
must have contributed by its own richer results
to the greater glory of his reign.



Despotism, it has been said, fears neither
mathematicians nor artists, and while anxious
for the advancement of all matters aesthetic, the
Corsican gave his patronage to the Fine Arts for
much the reason that inspires the great new-rich
art -collectors of to-day — namely, self-glorification,
not at all praiseworthy, and certainly not always
artistic. We could cite, if necessary, many proofs
here in point : he hastened on the building of
the Louvre, for example, because, as Bausset
(quoting the Emperor himself) says, it was neces-
sary, in view of his relatively ambiguous position
among the sovereigns of Europe, to possess a
grander palace than other kings. When Vignon
proposed his Temple of Glory, Napoleon agreed
on the condition that the edifice should be
completed within four years, because, as he
said :

" This monument is to some extent a political
monument, and must therefore be finished quickly,
so as to count for something in the national con-
ditions of the day."

No American raiser of sky-scrapers ever carried
business-like expediency to a higher point than
this, we think. And, as will be seen in due course,
if he associated with artists and treated them with
an amiability which one divines to be really
foreign to his nature, it was certainly not for any
regard for a class of beings who are to a great
extent a race apart, and as such could win
no sympathy from Napoleon's regimental mind
with its plans arrctes and its essentially fixed


notions. In regard to the artistic brotherhood,
indeed, we can well conceive of Napoleon de-
scribing them in the phrase attributed to Lord
Melbourne — " a waspish lot." All his affected
intimacies with writers, painters, sculptors and
musicians were calculated solely to make them
contribute to the magnificence of his legend.
Only this and nothing more.

" The Emperor," says a writer of that time,
" is most anxious to unite to the glory of a great
sovereign, the reputation of an enlightened pro-
tector of the Arts, which distinguished Pericles,
Augustus and Louis XIV., and the mot d^ordre to
the officials of the world of Art is to work towards
this end."

Talented artists were to be won over to official
views about art matters by good salaries, as well
as by the prospect of being permanently employed.
At one time he considered triumphal arches as
so many extravagances ; after 1806, however,
when his mania for immortality became an en-
during obsession, he decided to erect four such

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Online LibraryHamil GrantThe soul of Napoleon → online text (page 7 of 17)