Richard Whately

Did Bonaparte Exist?

LET those who pretend to philosophical freedom of inquiry, who scorn to rest their opinions on popular belief, and to shelter themselves under the example of the unthinking multitude, consider carefully, each one for himself, what is the evidence proposed to himself in particular, for the existence of such a person as Napoleon Bonaparte. I do not mean whether there ever was a person bearing that name, for that is a question of no consequence, but whether any such person ever performed all the wonderful things attributed to him. Let him then weigh well the objections to that evidence, and if he then finds it amount to anything more than a probability, I have only to congratulate him on his easy faith.

Let us consider what sort of a story it is that is proposed to our acceptance. It carries an air of fiction and romance on the very face of it: all the events are great, and splendid, and marvellous-great armies, great victories, great frosts, great reverses, "hair-breadth 'scapes," empires subverted in a few days-everything happening in defiance of political calculations, and in opposition to the experience of past times; everything upon that grand scale so common in epic poetry, so rare in real life, and thus calculated to strike the imagination of the vulgar, and to remind the soberthinking few of the "Arabian Nights." Every event, too, has that roundness and completeness which is so characteristic of fiction; nothing is done by halves; we have com


plete victories-total overthrows-entire subversion of empires-perfect re-establishments of them-crowded upon us in rapid succession. To enumerate the improbabilities of each of the several parts of this history would fill volumes; but they are so fresh in every one's memory, that there is no need of such a detail. Let any judicious man, not ignorant of history and of human nature, revolve them in his mind, and consider how far they are conformable to experience, our best and only sure guide. In vain will he seek in history for something similar to this wonderful Bonaparte: "Naught but himself can be his parallel."

Will the conquests of Alexander be compared with his? They were effected over a rabble of effeminate, undisciplined barbarians, else his progress would hardly have been so rapid: witness his father, Philip, who was much longer occupied in subduing the comparatively insignificant territory of the warlike and civilised Greeks, notwithstanding their being divided into numerous petty states, whose mutual jealousy enabled him to contend with them separately. But the Greeks had never made such progress in arts and arms as the great and powerful states of Europe which Bonaparte is represented as so speedily overpowering. His empire has been compared to the Roman. Mark the contrast: he gains in a few years that dominion, or at least control, over Germany, wealthy, civilised, and powerful, which the Romans in the plenitude of their power could not obtain, during a struggle of as many centuries, against the ignorant half-savages who then possessed it!

Another peculiar circumstance in the history of this extraordinary personage is that, when it is found convenient to represent him as defeated, though he is by no means defeated by halves, but involved in much more sudden and

total ruin than the personages of real history usually meet with; yet, if it is thought fit he should be restored, it is done as quickly and completely as if Merlin's rod had been employed. He enters Russia with a prodigious army, which is totally ruined by an unprecedented hard winter-everything relating to this man is prodigious and unprecedented; yet in a few months we find him intrusted with another great army in Germany, which is also totally ruined at Leipsic, making, inclusive of the Egyptian, the third great army thus totally lost yet the French are so good-natured as to furnish him with another, sufficient to make a formidable stand in France. He is, however, conquered, and presented with the sovereignty of Elba. Surely, by-the-bye, some more probable way might have been found of disposing of him, till again wanted, than to place him thus on the very verge of his ancient dominions. Thence he returns to France, where he is received with open arms, and enabled to lose a fourth great army at Waterloo. Yet so eager were these people to be a fifth time led to destruction, that it was found necessary to confine him in an island some thousand miles off, and to quarter foreign troops upon them, lest they should make an insurrection in his favour!

Does any one believe all this, and yet refuse to believe a miracle? Or rather, what is this but a miracle? Is it not a violation of the laws of nature? For surely there are moral laws of nature as well as physical, which, though more liable to exceptions in this or that particular case, are no less true as general rules than the laws of matter, and therefore cannot be violated and contradicted beyond a certain point, without a miracle. Nay, there is this additional circumstance which renders the contradiction of experience more glaring in this case than in that of the miraculous his

tories which ingenious sceptics have held up to contempt: all the advocates of miracles admit that they are rare exceptions to the general course of nature, but contend that they must needs be so, on account of the rarity of those extraordinary occasions which are the reason of their being performed. A miracle, they say, does not happen every day, because a revelation is not given every day. It would be foreign to the present purpose to seek for arguments against this answer: I leave it to those who are engaged in the controversy, to find a reply to it; but my present object is to point out that this solution does not at all apply in the present case. Where is the peculiarity of the occasion? What sufficient reason is there for a series of events occurring in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which never took place before? . What, for instance, would the great Hume, or any of the philosophers of his school have said, if they had found in the antique records of any nation such passages as these:

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"And it came to pass after these things that Napoleon strengthened himself, and gathered together another host instead of that which he had lost, and went and warred against the Prussians, and the Russians, and the Austrians, and all the rulers of the north country, which were confederate against him. And the ruler of Sweden also, which was a Frenchman, warred against Napoleon. So they went forth, and fought against the French in the plain of Leipsic. And the French were discomfited before their enemies, and fled, and came to the rivers which are behind Leipsic, and essayed to pass over, that they might escape out of the hand of their enemies; but they could not, for Napoleon had broken down the bridges; so the people of the north countries came upon them, and smote them with a very grievous slaughter.

"Then the ruler of Austria and all the rulers of the north countries sent messengers unto Napoleon to speak peaceably unto him, saying, Why should there be war between us any more? Now Napoleon had put away his wife, and taken the daughter of the ruler of Austria to wife. So all the counsellors of Napoleon came and stood before him, and said, Behold now these kings are merciful kings; do even as they say unto thee; knowest thou not yet that France is destroyed? But he spake roughly unto his counsellors, and drave them out from his presence, neither would he hearken unto their voice. And when all the kings saw that, they warred against France, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and came near to Paris, which is the royal city, to take it: so the men of Paris went out, and delivered up the city to them. Then those kings spake kindly unto the men of Paris, saying, Be of good cheer, there shall no harm happen unto you. Then were the men of Paris glad, and said, Napoleon is a tyrant; he shall no more rule over us. Also all the princes, the judges, the counsellors, and the captains, whom Napoleon had raised up, even from the lowest of the people, sent unto Louis, the brother of King Louis whom they had slain, and made him king over France.


And when Napoleon saw that the kingdom was departed from him, he said unto the rulers which came against him, Let me, I pray you, give the kingdom unto my son; but they would not hearken unto him. Then he spake yet again, saying, Let me, I pray you, go and live in the island of Elba, which is over against Italy, nigh unto the coast of France; and ye shall give me an allowance for me and my household, and the land of Elba also for a possession. So they made him ruler of Elba.

"In those days the pope returned unto his own land.

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