10/26/11 - the british who loved napoleon

In today's excerpt - not all of the British were against the idea of American independence in 1776—especially those who favored the end of the British monarchy. And not all of the British were against Napoleon when he came to power in the 1790s—even though he invaded much of Europe and brought war against Britain that only ended in the Battle of Waterloo. In fact, in the early days of Napoleon's reign, some of the British considered Napoleon to be "the French George Washington":

"E.Tangye Lean's book The Napoleonists describes in absorbing detail the way politicians of the Whig opposition and the leading writers and journalists of the period created an image of Napoleon as a man of destiny, the agent of progressive change in the world. He was pre­sented as everything that the reactionary Tories were not. Those in the habit of excusing and praising Napoleon took such pride in renouncing patriotism that they were perceived as agents of a mortal enemy, indeed traitors. Lord Holland might have been a Whig prime minister. He considered Napoleon 'the greatest statesman and the ablest general of ancient or modern times.' ...

"Charles James Fox, Lord Holland's uncle, was as quick to excuse and flatter Napoleon as he had been to hail the French Revolution. Here was the George Washington of France, a moderate man as well. In no circumstances would Napoleon seize power by force, and when he did so, Fox whitewashed it as the kind of reorganization of the state that military men are apt to go in for. Napoleon had made good the past, Fox told Lord Holland, he had 'thrown a splendour even over the violence of the Revolution.' After the Treaty of Amiens, Fox declared, "the Triumph of the French government over the English does in fact afford me a degree of pleasure which it is very difficult to disguise.' ...

"1814 was the crucial year whose series of battles forced Napoleon to abdicate. Already notorious, [the famous poet Lord] Byron was a foremost spokesman for those who glorified Napoleon as a superman redesigning the world on progressive lines. That January, he told his long-suffering publisher John Murray that Napoleon 'has my best wishes to manure the fields of France with an invading army,' a jaunty way of expressing his con­tempt for British purposes and British soldiers. Next month, he was writing, 'Napoleon! This week will decide his fate. All seems against him; but I believe and hope he will win.' That April, Paris capitu­lated. 'I mark this day!' Byron commented on hearing the news, 'I am utterly bewildered and confounded.' Immediately, in a matter of hours and in a spirit of distress at events, he wrote the ten stanzas of his 'Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte.' ...

"Exile to the island of Elba seemed to Napoleon's admirers an ending too inglori­ous to be tolerated. Whig politicians, Lord John Russell among them, visited Elba to pay their respects as though to an Emperor in a minia­ture court. Napoleon's escape from captivity thrilled them. Byron exulted, 'It is impossible not to be dazzled and overwhelmed by his character and career.' "


David Pryce-Jones


Treason of the Heart: From Thomas Paine to Kim Philby


Encounter Books


Copyright 2011 by David Pryce-Jones


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