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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Taine and Prince Napoleon
By Ferdinand Brunetière (1849–1906)
 
FOR the last five or six months, since it has been known that a prince, nephew, cousin, and son of emperors or kings formerly very powerful, had proposed to answer the libel, as he calls it, written by M. Taine about Napoleon, we have been awaiting this reply with an impatience, a curiosity which were equally justified,—although for very different reasons,—by M. Taine’s reputation, by the glorious name of his antagonist, by the greatness, and finally the national interest of the subject.  1
  The book has just appeared; and if we can say without flattery that it has revealed to us in the Prince a writer whose existence we had not suspected, it is because we must at once add that neither in its manner nor in its matter is the book itself what it might have been. Prince Napoleon did not wish to write a ‘Life of Napoleon,’ and nobody expected that of him,—for after all, and for twenty different reasons, even had he wished it he could not have done it. But to M. Taine’s Napoleon, since he did not find in him the true Napoleon, since he declared him to be as much against nature as against history, he could, and we expected that he would, have opposed his own Napoleon. By the side of the “inventions of a writer whose judgment had been misled and whose conscience had been obscured by passion,”—these are his own words,—he could have restored, as he promised in his ‘Introduction,’ “the man and his work in their living reality.” And in our imaginations, on which M. Taine’s harsh and morose workmanship had engraven the features of a modern Malatesta or modern Sforza, he could at last substitute for them, as the inheritor of the name and the dynastic claims, the image of the founder of contemporary France, of the god of war. Unfortunately, instead of doing so, it is M. Taine himself, it is his analytical method, it is the witnesses whom M. Taine chose as his authorities, that Prince Napoleon preferred to assail, as a scholar in an Academy who descants upon the importance of the genuineness of a text, and moreover with a freedom of utterance and a pertness of expression which on any occasion I should venture to pronounce decidedly insulting.  2
  For it is a misfortune of princes, when they do us the honor of discussing with us, that they must observe a moderation, a reserve, a courtesy greater even than our own. It will therefore be unanimously thought that it ill became Prince Napoleon to address M. Taine in a tone which M. Taine would decline to use in his answer, out of respect for the very name which he is accused of slandering. It will be thought also that it ill became him, when speaking of Miot de Melito, for instance, or of many other servants of the imperial government, to seem to ignore that princes also are under an obligation to those who have served them well. Perhaps even it may be thought that it poorly became him, when discussing or contradicting the ‘Memoirs of Madame de Rémusat,’ to forget under what auspices the remains of his uncle, the Emperor, were years ago carried in his city of Paris. But what will be thought especially is, that he had something else to do than to split hairs in discussion of evidences; that he had something far better to say, more peremptory and to the point, and more literary besides, than to call M. Taine names, to hurl at him the epithets of “Entomologist, Materialist, Pessimist, Destroyer of Reputations, Iconoclast,” and to class him as a “déboulonneur” among those who, in 1871, pulled down the Colonne Vendôme.  3
  Not, undoubtedly, that M. Taine—and we said so ourselves more than once with perfect freedom—if spending much patience and conscientiousness in his search for documents, has always displayed as much critical spirit and discrimination in the use he made of them. We cannot understand why in his ‘Napoleon’ he accepted the testimony of Bourrienne, for instance, any more than recently, in his ‘Revolution,’ that of George Duval, or again, in his ‘Ancien Régime,’ that of the notorious Soulavic. M. Taine’s documents as a rule are not used by him as a foundation for his argument; no, he first takes his position, and then he consults his library, or he goes to the original records, with the hope of finding those documents that will support his reasoning. But granting that, we must own that though different from M. Taine’s, Prince Napoleon’s historical method is not much better; that though in a different manner and in a different direction, it is neither less partial nor less passionate: and here is a proof of it.  4
  Prince Napoleon blames M. Taine for quoting “eight times” ‘Bourrienne’s Memoirs,’ and then, letting his feelings loose, he takes advantage of the occasion and cruelly besmirches Bourrienne’s name. Does he tell the truth or not? is he right at the bottom? I do not know anything about it; I do not wish to know anything; I do not need it, since I know, from other sources, that ‘Bourrienne’s Memoirs’ are hardly less spurious than, say, the ‘Souvenirs of the Marquise de Créqui’ or the ‘Memoirs of Monsieur d’Artagnan.’ But if these so-called ‘Memoirs’ are really not his, what has Bourrienne himself to do here? and suppose the former secretary of the First Consul to have been, instead of the shameless embezzler whom Prince Napoleon so fully and so uselessly describes to us, the most honest man in the world, would the ‘Memoirs’ be any more reliable, since it is a fact that he wrote nothing?…  5
  And now I cannot but wonder at the tone in which those who contradict M. Taine, and especially Prince Napoleon himself, condescend to tell him that he lacks that which would be needed in order to speak of Napoleon or the Revolution. But who is it, then, that has what is needed in order to judge Napoleon? Frederick the Great, or Catherine II., perhaps,—as Napoleon himself desired, “his peers”; or in other words, those who, born as he was for war and government, can only admire, justify, and glorify themselves in him. And who will judge the Revolution? Danton, we suppose, or Robespierre,—that is, the men who were the Revolution itself. No: the real judge will be the average opinion of men; the force that will create, modify, correct this average opinion, the historians will be; and among the historians of our time, in spite of Prince Napoleon, it will be M. Taine for a large share.  6
 
 
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