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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Napoleon
By Madame de Staël (1766–1817)
 
From ‘Considerations on the French Revolution’

GENERAL BONAPARTE made himself as conspicuous by his character and his intellect as by his victories; and the imagination of the French began to be touched by him [1797]. His proclamations to the Cisalpine and Ligurian republics were talked of…. A tone of moderation and of dignity pervaded his style, which contrasted with the revolutionary harshness of the civil rulers of France. The warrior spoke in those days like a lawgiver, while the lawgivers expressed themselves with soldier-like violence. General Bonaparte had not executed in his army the decrees against the émigrés. It was said that he loved his wife, whose character is full of sweetness; it was asserted that he felt the beauties of Ossian; it was a pleasure to attribute to him all the generous qualities that form a noble background for extraordinary abilities….  1
  Such at least was my own mood when I saw him for the first time in Paris. I could find no words with which to reply to him when he came to me to tell me that he had tried to visit my father at Coppet, and that he was sorry to have passed through Switzerland without seeing him. But when I had somewhat recovered from the agitation of admiration, it was followed by a feeling of very marked fear. Bonaparte then had no power: he was thought even to be more or less in danger from the vague suspiciousness of the Directory; so that the fear he inspired was caused only by the singular effect of his personality upon almost every one who had intercourse with him. I had seen men worthy of high respect; I had also seen ferocious men: there was nothing in the impression Bonaparte produced upon me which could remind me of men of either type. I soon perceived, on the different occasions when I met him during his stay in Paris, that his character could not be defined by the words we are accustomed to make use of: he was neither kindly nor violent, neither gentle nor cruel, after the fashion of other men. Such a being, so unlike others, could neither excite nor feel sympathy: he was more or less than man. His bearing, his mind, his language, have the marks of a foreigner’s nature,—an advantage the more in subjugating Frenchmen….  2
  Far from being reassured by seeing Bonaparte often, he always intimidated me more and more. I felt vaguely that no emotional feeling could influence him. He regards a human creature as a fact or a thing, but not as an existence like his own. He feels no more hate than love. For him there is no one but himself: all other creatures are mere ciphers. The force of his will consists in the imperturbable calculations of his egotism: he is an able chess-player whose opponent is all humankind, whom he intends to checkmate. His success is due as much to the qualities he lacks as to the talents he possesses. Neither pity, nor sympathy, nor religion, nor attachment to any idea whatsoever, would have power to turn him from his path. He has the same devotion to his own interests that a good man has to virtue: if the object were noble, his persistency would be admirable.  3
  Every time that I heard him talk, I was struck by his superiority; it was of a kind, however, that had no relation to that of men instructed and cultivated by study, or by society, such as England and France possess examples of. But his conversation indicated that quick perception of circumstances the hunter has in pursuing his prey. Sometimes he related the political and military events of his life in a very interesting manner; he had even, in narratives that admitted gayety, a touch of Italian imagination. Nothing, however, could conquer my invincible alienation from what I perceived in him. I saw in his soul a cold and cutting sword, which froze while wounding; I saw in his mind a profound irony, from which nothing fine or noble could escape, not even his own glory: for he despised the nation whose suffrages he desired; and no spark of enthusiasm mingled with his craving to astonish the human race….  4
  His face, thin and pale at that time, was very agreeable: since then he has gained flesh,—which does not become him; for one needs to believe such a man to be tormented by his own character, at all to tolerate the sufferings this character causes others. As his stature is short, and yet his waist very long, he appeared to much greater advantage on horseback than on foot; in all ways it is war, and war only, he is fitted for. His manner in society is constrained without being timid; it is disdainful when he is on his guard, and vulgar when he is at ease; his air of disdain suits him best, and so he is not sparing in the use of it…. He took pleasure already in the art of embarrassing people by saying disagreeable things: an art which he has since made a system of, as of all other methods of subjugating men by degrading them.  5
 
 
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