“He converted the elements
which waited on his command into
entertainment. He was master of the revels to mankind.”
And so, after this solemn verdict on Shakespeare, after looking at the forlorn conclusions of our old and modern oracles, priest and prophet, Israelite, German, and Swede, he says: “It must be conceded that these are half views of half men. The world still wants its poet-priest, who shall not trifle with Shakespeare the player, nor shall grope in graves with Swedenborg the mourner; but who shall see, speak, and act with equal inspiration.”
It is not to be expected that Emerson should have much that is new to say about “Napoleon; or, the Man of the World.”
The stepping-stones of this Essay are easy to find:—
“The instinct of brave,
active, able men, throughout the middle
class everywhere, has pointed out Napoleon as the incarnate
“Napoleon is thoroughly modern, and at the highest point of his fortunes, has the very spirit of the newspapers.” As Plato borrowed, as Shakespeare borrowed, as Mirabeau “plagiarized every good thought, every good word that was spoken in France,” so Napoleon is not merely “representative, but a monopolizer and usurper of other minds.”
He was “a man of stone and iron,”—equipped for his work by nature as Sallust describes Catiline as being. “He had a directness of action never before combined with such comprehension. Here was a man who in each moment and emergency knew what to do next. He saw only the object; the obstacle must give way.”
“When a natural king becomes a titular king everybody is pleased and satisfied.”—
“I call Napoleon the agent or attorney of the middle class of modern society.—He was the agitator, the destroyer of prescription, the internal improver, the liberal, the radical, the inventor of means, the opener of doors and markets, the subverter of monopoly and abuse.”
But he was without generous sentiments, “a boundless liar,” and finishing in high colors the outline of his moral deformities, Emerson gives us a climax in two sentences which render further condemnation superfluous:—
“In short, when you have penetrated through all the circles of power and splendor, you were not dealing with a gentleman, at last, but with an impostor and rogue; and he fully deserves the epithet of Jupiter Scapin, or a sort of Scamp Jupiter.
“So this exorbitant egotist narrowed, impoverished, and absorbed the power and existence of those who served him; and the universal cry of France and of Europe in 1814 was, Enough of him; ’Assez de Bonaparte.’”
It was to this feeling that the French poet Barbier, whose death we have but lately seen announced, gave expression in the terrible satire in which he pictured France as a fiery courser bestridden by her spurred rider, who drove her in a mad career over heaps of rocks and ruins.
But after all, Carlyle’s
“carriere ouverte aux talens” is
expression for Napoleon’s great message to mankind.