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Now the French, and divers other nations of Europe, are servants of the pope, and hold him in reverence; but he is an abomination unto the Britons, and to the Prussians, and to the Russians, and to the Swedes. Howbeit the French had taken away all his lands, and robbed him of all that he had, and carried him away captive into France. But when the Britons, and the Prussians, and the Russians, and the Swedes, and the rest of the nations that were confederate against France, came thither, they caused the French to set the pope at liberty, and to restore all his goods that they had taken; likewise, they gave him back all his possessions; and he went home in peace, and ruled over his own city as in times past.
"And it came to pass when Napoleon had not yet been
full year in Elba, that he said unto his men of war which clave unto him, Go to, let us go back to France, and fight against King Louis, and thrust him out from being king. So he departed, he and 600 men with him that drew the sword, and warred against King Louis. Then all the men of Belial gathered themselves together, and said, God save Napoleon. And when Louis saw that, he fled, and gat him into the land of Batavia; and Napoleon ruled over France.".
Now if a free-thinking philosopher-one of those who advocate the cause of unbiased reason, and despised pretended revelations were to meet with such a tissue of absurdities as this in an old Jewish record, would he not reject it at once as too palpable an imposture to deserve even any inquiry into its evidence? Is that credible, then, of the civilised Europeans now which could not, if reported of the semi-barbarous Jews 3,000 years ago, be established by any testimony? Will it be answered that "there is nothing supernatural in all this"? Why is it, then, that you object
to what is supernatural-that you reject every account of miracles-if not because they are improbable? Surely, then, a story equally or still more improbable is not to be implicitly received, merely on the ground that it is not miraculous, though in fact it really is miraculous. The opposition to experience has been proved to be as complete in this case as in what are commonly called miracles; and the reasons assigned for that contrariety by the defenders of them cannot be pleaded in the present instance. If, then, philosophers, who reject every wonderful story that is maintained by priests, are yet found ready to believe everything else, however improbable, they will surely lay themselves open to the accusation brought against them of being unduly prejudiced against whatever relates to religion.
There is another circumstance which I cannot forbear mentioning, because it so much adds to the air of fiction which pervades every part of this marvellous tale; and that is, the nationality of it.
Bonaparte prevailed over all the hostile states in turn, except England; in the zenith of his power his fleets were swept from the sea, by England; his troops always defeat an equal, and frequently even a superior, number of those of any other nation, except the English, and with them it is just the reverse; twice, and twice only, he is personally engaged against an English commander, and both times he is totally defeated, at Acre and at Waterloo; and, to crown all, England finally crushes this tremendous power, which has so long kept the Continent in subjection or in alarm, and to the English he surrenders himself prisoner! Thoroughly national, to be sure! It may be all very true; but I would only ask, if a story had been fabricated for the express purpose of amusing the English nation, could it
have been contrived more ingeniously? It would do admirably for an epic poem; and indeed bears a considerable resemblance to the Iliad and the Æneid, in which Achilles and the Greeks, Æneas and the Trojans-the ancestors of the Romans—are so studiously held up to admiration. Bonaparte's exploits seem magnified in order to enhance the glory of his conquerors, just as Hector is allowed to triumph during the absence of Achilles merely to give additional splendour to his overthrow by the arm of that invincible hero. Would not this circumstance alone render a history rather suspicious in the eyes of an acute critic, even if it were not filled with such gross improbabilities; and induce him to suspend his judgment, till very satisfactory evidence-far stronger than can be found in this case-should be produced?
Is it, then, too much to demand of the wary academic a suspension of judgment as to the "Life and Adventures of Napoleon Bonaparte"? I do not pretend to decide positively that there is not, nor ever was, any such person; but merely to propose it as a doubtful point, and one the more deserving of careful investigation from the very circumstance of its having hitherto been admitted without inquiry. Far less would I undertake to decide what is, or has been, the real state of affairs. He who points out the improbability of the current story is not bound to suggest an hypothesis of his own-though it may safely be affirmed that it would be hard to invent any more improbable than the received one. One may surely be allowed to hesitate in admitting the stories which the ancient poets tell, of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions being caused by imprisoned giants, without being called upon satisfactorily to account for those phenomena.
Amidst the defect of valid evidence under which, as I have
already shown, we labour in the present instance, it is hardly possible to offer more than here and there a probable conjecture; or to pronounce how much may be true, and how much fictitious, in the accounts presented to us; for it is to be observed that this case is much more open to sceptical doubts even than some miraculous histories, for some of them are of such a nature that you cannot consistently admit a part and reject the rest, but are bound, if you are satisfied as to the reality of any one miracle, to embrace the whole system, so that it is necessary for the sceptic to impeach the evidence of all of them, separately and collectively; whereas here, each single point requires to be established separately, since no one of them authenticates the rest.
Supposing there be a state prisoner at St. Helena—which, by the way, it is acknowledged many of the French disbelieve-how do we know who he is, or why he is confined there? There have been state prisoners before now, who were never guilty of subjugating half Europe, and whose offences have been very imperfectly ascertained. Admitting that there have been bloody wars going on for several years past, which is highly probable, it does not follow that the events of those wars were such as we have been told-that Bonaparte was the author and conductor of them, or that such a person ever existed. What disturbances may have taken place in the government of the French people, we, and even nineteen-twentieths of them, have no means of learning but from imperfect hearsay evidence; but that there have been numerous bloody wars with France under the dominion of the Bourbons we are well assured; and we are now told that France is governed by a Bourbon king of the name of Louis, who professes to be in the twenty-third year of his reign. Let every one conjecture for himself. I
am far from pretending to decide who may have been the governor or governors of the French nation, and the leaders of their armies, for several years past. Certain it is, that when men are indulging their inclination for the marvellous, they always show a strong propensity to accumulate upon one individual, real or imaginary, the exploits of many, besides multiplying and exaggerating these exploits a thousandfold. Thus, the expounders of the ancient mythology tell us there were several persons of the name of Hercules— either originally bearing that appellation, or having it applied to them as an honour-whose collective feats, after being dressed up in a sufficiently marvellous garb, were attributed to a single hero. Is it not just possible, that during the rage for words of Greek derivation, the title of "Napoleon," which signifies "Lion of the Forest," may have been conferred by the popular voice on more than one favourite general, distinguished for irresistible valour? Is it not also possible that "bona parte" may have been originally a sort of cant term applied to the "good (i.e., the bravest or most patriotic) part" of the French army collectively, and have been afterward mistaken for the proper name of an individual? I do not profess to support this conjecture; but it is certain that such mistakes may and do
However, I merely throw out these conjectures without by any means contending that more plausible ones might not be suggested. But whatever supposition we adopt, or whether we adopt any, the objections to the commonly received accounts will remain in their full force, and imperiously demand the attention of the candid sceptic.
-"Historic Doubts Relative to Bonaparte."