THE ORIGINS OF CONTEMPORARY FRANCE - VOLUME 5
THE ORIGINS OF CONTEMPORARY FRANCE - VOLUME 5
HIPPOLYTE A. TAINE
BOOK FIRST. Napoleon Bonaparte.
Chapter I. Historical Importance of his Character and Genius.
Chapter II. His Ideas Passions and Intelligence.
BOOK SECOND. Formation and Character of the New State.
Chapter I. The Institution of Government.
Chapter II. Use and Abuse of Government Services.
Chapter III. The New Government Organization.
BOOK THIRD. Object and Merits of the System.
Chapter I. Recovery of Social Order.
Chapter II. Taxation and Conscription.
Chapter III. Ambition and Self-esteem.
BOOK FOURTH. Defect and Effects of the System.
Chapter I. Local Society.
Chapter II. Local society since 1830.
The following third and last part of the Origins of Contemporary
France is to consist of two volumes. After the present volume the
second is to treat of the Church the School and the Family describe
the modern milieu and note the facilities and obstacles which a
society like our own encounters in this new milieu: here the past and
the present meet and the work already done is continued by the work
which is going on under our eyes. - -The undertaking is hazardous and
more difficult than with the two preceding parts. For the Ancient
R?gime and the Revolution are henceforth complete and finished
periods; we have seen the end of both and are thus able to comprehend
their entire course. On the contrary the end of the ulterior period
is still wanting ; the great institutions which date from the
Consulate and the Empire either consolidation or dissolution have
not yet reached their historic term: since 1800 the social order of
things notwithstanding eight changes of political form has remained
almost intact. Our children or grandchildren will know whether it
will finally succeed or miscarry; witnesses of the denouement they
will have fuller light by which to judge of the entire drama. Thus
far four acts only have been played; of the fifth act we have simply
a presentiment. - On the other hand by dint of living under this
social system we have become accustomed to it; it no longer excites
our wonder; however artificial it may be it seems to us natural. We
can scarcely conceive of another that is healthier; and what is much
worse it is repugnant to us to do so. For such a conception would
soon lead to comparisons and hence to a judgment and on many points
to an unfavorable judgment one which would be a censure not only of
our institutions but of ourselves. The machine of the year VIII
applied to us for three generations has permanently shaped and fixed
us as we are for better or for worse. If for a century it sustains
us it represses us for a century. We have contracted the infirmities
it imports - stoppage of development instability of internal balance
disorders of the intellect and of the will fixed ideas and ideas that
are false. These ideas are ours; therefore we hold on to them or
rather they have taken hold of us. To get rid of them to impose the
necessary recoil on our mind to transport us to a distance and place
us at a critical point of view where we can study ourselves our
ideas and our institutions as scientific objects requires a great
effort on our part many precautions and long reflection. - Hence
the delays of this study; the reader will pardon them on considering
that an ordinary opinion caught on the wing on such a subject does
not suffice. In any event when one presents an opinion on such a
subject one is bound to believe it. I can believe in my own only when
it has become precise and seems to me proven.
Menthon Saint-Bernard September 1890.
BOOK FIRST. NAPOLEON BONAPARTE.
CHAPTER I. Historical Importance of his Character and Genius.
If you want to comprehend a building you have to imagine the
circumstances I mean the difficulties and the means the kind and
quality of its available materials the moment the opportunity and
the urgency of the demand for it. But still more important we must
consider the genius and taste of the architect especially whether he
is the proprietor whether he built it to live in himself and once
installed in it whether he took pains to adapt it to how own way of
living to his own necessities to his own use. - Such is the social
edifice erected by Napoleon Bonaparte its architect proprietor and
principal occupant from 1799 to 1814. It is he who has made modern
France; never was an individual character so profoundly stamped on any
collective work so that to comprehend the work we must first study
the character of the Man.
I. Napoleon's Past and Personality.
He is of another race and another century. - Origin of his paternal
family. - Transplanted to Corsica. - His maternal family. -
Laetitia Ramolino. - Persistence of Corsican souvenirs in Napoleon's
mind. - His youthful sentiments regarding Corsica and France. -
Indications found in his early compositions and in his style. -
Current monarchical or democratic ideas have no hold on him. - His
impressions of the 20th of June and 10th of August after the 31st of
May. - His associations with Robespierre and Barras without
committing himself. - His sentiments and the side he takes Vend?miaire
13th. - The great Condotti?re. - His character and conduct in Italy.
- Description of him morally and physically in 1798. - The early and
sudden ascendancy which he exerts. Analogous in spirit and character
to his Italian ancestors of the XVth century.
Disproportionate in all things but stranger still he is not only
out of the common run but there is no standard of measurement for
him; through his temperament instincts faculties imagination
passions and moral constitution he seems cast in a special mould
composed of another metal than that which enters into the composition
of his fellows and contemporaries. Evidently he is not a Frenchman
nor a man of the eighteenth century; he belongs to another race and
another epoch. We detect in him at the first glance the
foreigner the Italian and something more apart and beyond these
surpassing all similitude or analogy.-Italian he was through blood and
lineage; first through his paternal family which is Tuscan and
which we can follow down from the twelfth century at Florence then
at San Miniato ; next at Sarzana a small backward remote town in
the state of Genoa where from father to son it vegetates obscurely
in provincial isolation through a long line of notaries and municipal
syndics. "My origin" says Napoleon himself " has made all
Italians regard me as a compatriot. . . . When the question of the
marriage of my sister Pauline with Prince Borgh?se came up there was
but one voice in Rome and in Tuscany in that family and with all its
connections: 'It will do' said all of them 'it's amongst ourselves
it is one of our own families...'" When the Pope later hesitated about
coming to Paris to crown Napoleon "the Italian party in the Conclave
prevailed against the Austrian party by supporting political arguments
with the following slight tribute to national amour propre: 'After all
we are imposing an Italian family on the barbarians to govern them.
We are revenging ourselves on the Gauls.'" Significant words which
will one day throw light upon the depths of the Italian nature the
eldest daughter of modern civilization imbued with her right of
primogeniture persisting in her grudge against the transalpines the
rancorous inheritor of Roman pride and of antique patriotism.
From Sarzana a Bonaparte emigrates to Corsica where he establishes
himself and lives after 1529. The following year Florence is taken
and subjugated for good. Henceforth in Tuscany under Alexander de
Medici then under Cosmo I. and his successors in all Italy under
Spanish rule municipal independence private feuds the great
exploits of political adventures and successful usurpations the
system of ephemeral principalities based on force and fraud all give
way to permanent repression monarchical discipline external order
and a certain species of public tranquility. Thus just at the time
when the energy and ambition the vigorous and free sap of the Middle
Ages begins to run down and then dry up in the shriveled trunk a
small detached branch takes root in an island not less Italian but
almost barbarous amidst institutions customs and passions belonging
to the primitive medieval epoch and in a social atmosphere
sufficiently rude for the maintenance of all its vigor and harshness.
- Grafted moreover by frequent marriages on the wild stock of the
island Napoleon on the maternal side through his grandmother and
mother is wholly indigenous. His grandmother a Pietra-Santa
belonged to Sart?ne a Corsican canton par excellence where in
1800 hereditary vendettas still maintained the system of the eleventh
century; where the permanent strife of inimical families was suspended
only by truces; where in many villages nobody stirred out of doors
except in armed bodies and where the houses were crenellated like
fortresses. His mother Laetitia Ramolini from whom in character
and in will he derived much more than from his father is a
primitive soul on which Civilization has taken no hold. She is
simple all of a piece unsuited to the refinements charms and
graces of a worldly life; indifferent to comforts without literary
culture as parsimonious as any peasant woman but as energetic as the
leader of a band. She is powerful physically and spiritually
accustomed to danger ready in desperate resolutions. She is in
short a "rural Cornelia" who conceived and gave birth to her son
amidst the risks of battle and of defeat in the thickest of the
French invasion amidst mountain rides on horseback nocturnal
surprises and volleys of musketry.