Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXIV, 13

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XXIV, 12 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXIV, 14


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXIV, chapter 13
The destruction of Napoleon’s world.



Imposuerunt omnes sibi diademata, post mortem eius…at multiplicata sunt mala in terra (Apocrypha: I Maccabees I.9).
'And after his death they all put crowns upon themselves…and evils were multiplied in the earth.'

This comment from Maccabees on Alexander seems made for Napoleon: ‘The crowns had been taken up, and the evils of the earth were multiplied.’ Twenty years have barely passed since Bonaparte’s death and already the French and Spanish monarchies are no more. The map of the world has altered; one must learn a new geography; divorced from their legitimate sovereigns, nations have been thrown to chance-met sovereigns; famous actors have left the stage onto which unknown actors step; the eagles have flown from the summit of a tall pine now toppled into the sea, while frail shellfish have attached themselves to the sides of the trunk which still acts as a protection.

As, in the final analysis, everything marches towards its end, the terrible spirit of novelty which traverses the world, as the Emperor described it, and which he opposed with the tide of his genius, once more takes its course; the conqueror’s institutions are failing; he will be the last great individual being; no one will rule from now on in our petty, levelling society; the shadow of Napoleon alone will be cast at the edge of the old destroyed world, like a phantom of the deluge on the brink of its abyss: distant posterity will discover that shadow above the gulf, into which unknown centuries shall fall until the day that social renaissance dawns.