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

Including that of the elementary schools


There

is no institution which better reveals the character of the French Emperor, with its singular combination of greatness and littleness, of wide-sweeping aims with official pedantry. The University, as it existed during the First Empire, offers a striking example of that mania for the control of the general will which philosophers had so attractively taught and Napoleon so profitably practised. It is the first definite outcome of a desire to subject education and learning to wholesale regimental methods, and to break up the old-world bowers of culture by State-worked steam-ploughs. His aims were thus set forth:

"I want a teaching body, because such a body never dies, but transmits its organization and spirit. I want a body whose teaching is far above the fads of the moment, goes straight on even when the government is asleep, and whose administration and statutes become so national that one can never lightly resolve to meddle with them.... There will never be fixity in politics if there is not a teaching body with fixed principles. As long as people do not from their infancy learn whether they ought to be republicans or monarchists, Catholics or sceptics, the State will never form a nation: it will rest on unsafe and shifting foundations, always exposed to changes and disorders."

Such being Napoleon's designs, the new University of France was admirably suited

to his purpose. It was not a local university: it was the sum total of all the public teaching bodies of the French Empire, arranged and drilled in one vast instructional array. Elementary schools, secondary schools, _lycees_, as well as the more advanced colleges, all were absorbed in and controlled by this great teaching corporation, which was to inculcate the precepts of the Catholic religion, fidelity to the Emperor and to his Government, as guarantees for the welfare of the people and the unity of France. For educational purposes, France was now divided into seventeen Academies, which formed the local centres of the new institution. Thus, from Paris and sixteen provincial Academies, instruction was strictly organized and controlled; and within a short time of its institution (March, 1808), instruction of all kinds, including that of the elementary schools, showed some advance. But to all those who look on the unfolding of the mental and moral faculties as the chief aim of true _education_, the homely experiments of Pestalozzi offer a far more suggestive and important field for observation than the barrack-like methods of the French Emperor. The Swiss reformer sought to train the mind to observe, reflect, and think; to assist the faculties in attaining their fullest and freest expression; and thus to add to the richness and variety of human thought. The French imperial system sought to prune away all mental independence, and to train the young generation in neat and serviceable _espalier_ methods: all aspiring shoots, especially in the sphere of moral and political science, were sharply cut down. Consequently French thought, which had been the most ardently speculative in Europe, speedily became vapid and mechanical.

The same remark is proximately true of the literary life of the First Empire. It soon began to feel the rigorous methods of the Emperor. Poetry and all other modes of expression of lofty thought and rapt feeling require not only a free outlet but natural and unrestrained surroundings. The true poet is at home in the forest or on the mountain rather than in prim _parterres_. The philosopher sees most clearly and reasons most suggestively, when his faculties are not cramped by the need of observing political rules and police regulations. And the historian, when he is tied down to a mere investigation and recital of facts, without reference to their meaning, is but a sorry fowl flapping helplessly with unequal wings.


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