THE CONTROVERSY ROUND THE CHARACTER OF NAPOLEON

NAPOLEON has continued for more than a century to recede in reputation from the extremes both of greatness and vileness. We can see first the romantic, unkempt young man, the enthusiastic student of Rousseau and Euclid; later, romance giving way to megalomania and unkemptness to pomp; then the awakened somnabulist of St. Helena. This Corsican adventurer of Italian extraction had enormous powers of work and digestion (which broke down under abuse), supreme confidence, decision, and tenacity, an excellent memory, considerable military and organising ability, and hints of rarer qualities, which were extinguished by success. He was unscrupulous and untruthful, callous and vain, vulgar and hypocritical, and his judgment was sometimes grievously at fault. He was, emphatically, one of the most successful men working in the eighteenth century conventions rather than the precursor of anything novel, and even his generalship, which, judged by results, was supreme, derived from eighteenth-century antecedents, and did not improve when it departed from them. Napoleon's later manner was not his best, and it was unfortunately his later manner which the nineteenth century copied.