(By the editor of the French edition of 1830.)
The life of any one who has played a distinguished part offers many points of view, the number of which increases in proportion to the influence he has wielded upon the movement of events. This has been greater in the case of Napoleon than of any other personage in history. The product of an era of convulsions, in all of whose changes he took part, and which he at last closed by subjecting all ideas under a rule, which at one time promised to be lasting, he, like Catiline, requires a Sallust; like Charlemagne, an Eginhard; and like Alexander, a Quintus Curtius. M. de Bourrienne has, indeed, after the manner of Commines, shown him to us undisguised in his political manipulations and in the private life of his Court. This is a great step towards a knowledge of his individuality, but it is not enough. It is in a thorough acquaintance with his private life that this disillusioned age will find the secret springs of the drama of his marvelous career. The great men of former ages were veiled from us by a cloud of prejudice which even the good sense of Plutarch scarcely penetrated. Our age, more analytical and freer from illusions, in the great man seeks to find the individual. It is by this searching test that the present puts aside all illusions, and that the future will seek to justify its judgments. In the council of state, the statesman is in his robe, on the battlefield the warrior is beneath his armor, but in his bedchamber, in his undress, we find the man.
It has been said that no man is, a hero to his valet. It would give wide latitude to a witty remark, which has become proverbial, to make it the epigraph of these memoirs. The valet of a hero by that very fact is something more than a valet. Amber is only earth, and Bologna stone only a piece of rock; but the first gives out the perfume of the rose, and the other flashes the rays of the sun. The character of a witness is dignified by the solemnity of the scene and the greatness of the actor. Even before reading the manuscript of M. Constant, we were strongly persuaded that impressions so unusual and so striking would raise him to the level of the occasion.