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FrRevol_501-550.indd 11 3/16/12 1:13 PM CHAPTER XVI OfLiterature Under Bonaparte. This very police for which we have not terms contemptuous enough, terms which put a sufficient distance between an honest man and the creature who could enter into such a den, was entrusted by Bonaparte with the charge of directing the public mind in France. In fact, when there is no freedom ofthe press, and when the power ofthe police does not confine itself to matters ofcensorship, but dictates to a whole people the opinions which they are to entertain on politics, on religion, on morals, on books, and on individuals, into what a state must a nation fall which has no other nourishment for its reflections than that which despotic authority permits or prepares? We have therefore no reason to be surprised at the degradation ofliterature and literary criticism in France. There is certainly nowhere more talent or more quickness in attaining proficiency than among the French. We may see what astonishing progress they are constantly making in the sciences and in erudition, because those two paths have no connection with politics; whilst literature can now produce nothing great without liberty.' The masterpieces of the age of Louis XIV will be adduced in opposition to us; but the slavery ofthe press was much less severe under that sovereign than under Bonaparte. Toward the end of the reign ofLouis XIV, Fenelon and other reflecting men were already engaged in the discussion of questions essential to the interests of society. Poetical genius in every country exhausts itself periodically and revives only at certain intervals. But the art of prose composition, which is inseparable from thought, embraces necessarily the whole philosophical sphere of ideas; and when men of letters are doomed to wheel about in madrigals and idylls, the dizziness offlattery soon seizes them; and they can produce 1. On the connection between literature and politics, also see Madame de Stael, Politics, Literature, and National Character, 139- 265. 5zz FrRevol_501-550.indd 12 3/16/12 1:13 PM PART IV nothing that will pass beyond the suburbs ofthe capital and the boundaries of the present time. The task imposed on writers under Bonaparte was singularly difficult. They were to combat with fury the liberal principles of the Revolution, but were to respect all the interests which depended on it; so that liberty was annihilated while the titles, estates, and offices of the revolutionaries were sacred. Bonaparte one day said, speaking ofJ. J. Rousseau, He was the cause ofthe Revolution. For mypart, I have no reason to complain ofhim; for it was in the Revolution that I caught the throne. Such was the language which was to serve as a text for writers to sap incessantly constitutional laws and the everlasting rights on which they are founded, and yet exalt the despotic conqueror who had been produced by the storms ofthe Revolution , and had afterward calmed them. When religion was concerned, Bonaparte seriously declared in his proclamations that France should distrust the English because they were heretics; but when he wished to justify the persecutions which had been endured by the most venerable and the most moderate ofthe heads ofthe church, Pope Pius VII,2 he accused him of fanaticism. The watchword was to denounce as a partisan of anarchy whoever published any kind of philosophical opinion; but if a noble seemed to insinuate that the ancient princes were more skillful than the new in the dignity of courts, he was without fail marked out as a conspirator . In fine, it was necessary to reject all that was valuable in every system of opinions to make up the worst of human plagues, tyranny in a civilized country. Some writers have endeavored to frame an abstract theory ofdespotism in order, if I may say so, to whitewash it anew, and so give it an air of philosophical novelty. Others, on behalfofthe upstart men, have plunged into Machiavellianism, as if depth were to be found there; and have held up the power of the creatures of the Revolution in the light ofa sufficient security against the return of the old governments, as if there were only interests in the world, and the career of the human species had no connection with virtue. All that remains of this trickery is a certain combi2 . Pope Pius VII was arrested by Napoleon's men in July 1809 after refusing to sign a new Concordat. He was able to return to the Vatican...


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