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The Life of Napoleon I (Volume 1 of 2) by Rose

The Genevan philosopher had asserted that Christianity


Five

days later he again gives the reins to his melancholy. "Always alone, though in the midst of men," he faces the thought of suicide. With an innate power of summarizing and balancing thoughts and sensations, he draws up arguments for and against this act. He is in the dawn of his days and in four months' time he will see "la patrie," which he has not seen since childhood. What joy! And yet--how men have fallen away from nature: how cringing are his compatriots to their conquerors: they are no longer the enemies of tyrants, of luxury, of vile courtiers: the French have corrupted their morals, and when "la patrie" no longer survives, a good patriot ought to die. Life among the French is odious: their modes of life differ from his as much as the light of the moon differs from that of the sun.--A strange effusion this for a youth of seventeen living amidst the full glories of the spring in Dauphine. It was only a few weeks before the ripening of cherries. Did that cherry-idyll with Mdlle. de Colombier lure him back to life? Or did the hope of striking a blow for Corsica stay his suicidal hand? Probably the latter; for we find him shortly afterwards tilting against a Protestant minister of Geneva who had ventured to criticise one of the dogmas of Rousseau's evangel.

The Genevan philosopher had asserted that Christianity, by enthroning in the hearts of Christians the idea of a Kingdom not of this world, broke the unity of civil society, because it detached

the hearts of its converts from the State, as from all earthly things. To this the Genevan minister had successfully replied by quoting Christian teachings on the subject at issue. But Buonaparte fiercely accuses the pastor of neither having understood, nor even read, "Le Contrat Social": he hurls at his opponent texts of Scripture which enjoin obedience to the laws: he accuses Christianity of rendering men slaves to an anti-social tyranny, because its priests set up an authority in opposition to civil laws; and as for Protestantism, it propagated discords between its followers, and thereby violated civic unity. Christianity, he argues, is a foe to civil government, for it aims at making men happy in this life by inspiring them with hope of a future life; while the aim of civil government is "to lend assistance to the feeble against the strong, and by this means to allow everyone to enjoy a sweet tranquillity, the road of happiness." He therefore concludes that Christianity and civil government are diametrically opposed.

In this tirade we see the youth's spirit of revolt flinging him not only against French law, but against the religion which sanctions it. He sees none of the beauty of the Gospels which Rousseau had admitted. His views are more rigid than those of his teacher. Scarcely can he conceive of two influences, the spiritual and the governmental, working on parallel lines, on different parts of man's nature. His conception of human society is that of an indivisible, indistinguishable whole, wherein materialism, tinged now and again by religious sentiment and personal honour, is the sole noteworthy influence. He finds no worth in a religion which seeks to work from within to without, which aims at transforming character, and thus transforming the world. In its headlong quest of tangible results his eager spirit scorns so tardy a method: he will "compel men to be happy," and for this result there is but one practicable means, the Social Contract, the State. Everything which mars the unity of the Social Contract shall be shattered, so that the State may have a clear field for the exercise of its beneficent despotism. Such is Buonaparte's political and religious creed at the age of seventeen, and such it remained (with many reservations suggested by maturer thought and self-interest) to the end of his days. It reappears in his policy anent the Concordat of 1802, by which religion was reduced to the level of handmaid to the State, as also in his frequent assertions that he would never have quite the same power as the Czar and the Sultan, because he had not undivided sway over the consciences of his people.[10] In this boyish essay we may perhaps discern the fundamental reason of his later failures. He never completely understood religion, or the enthusiasm which it can evoke; neither did he ever fully realize the complexity of human nature, the many-sidedness of social life, and the limitations that beset the action even of the most intelligent law-maker.[11]


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