Infomotions, Inc.Historic doubts relative to Napoleon Buonaparte. / Whately, Richard, 1787-1863

Author: Whately, Richard, 1787-1863
Title: Historic doubts relative to Napoleon Buonaparte.
Publisher: Andover : W.F. Draper, 1874.
Tag(s): napoleon i, emperor of the french, 1769-1821; hume, david, 1711-1776. essay on miracles; buonaparte; napoleon buonaparte; napoleon; postscript; testimony; improbable; france; miracles; historic doubts; essay
Contributor(s): Eric Lease Morgan (Infomotions, Inc.)
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable; PDF
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 15,090 words (really short) Grade range: 14-18 (college) Readability score: 44 (average)
Identifier: historicdoubtsre00whatuoft
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Is not the same reason available in theology and in politics? Will you follow 

truth but to a certain point? BUKKE'S Vindication of Natural Society, 

The first author who stated fairly the connection between the evidence of testimony 
raid the evidence of experience, was Hume, in his ESSAT ON MIRACLES ; a work 
abounding in naxims of great use in the conduct of life. Edinburgh Rev. Sept. 1814. 


A N D V E R : 







SEVEBAL of the readers of this little work have derived much amusement 
from the mistakes of others respecting its nature and object. It has been 
by some represented as a serious attempt to inculcate universal scepti- 
cism ; while others have considered it as a jeu d'esprit, etc. The author 
does not, howeve'r, design to entertain his readers with accounts of the 
mistakes which have arisen respecting it ; because many of them, he is 
convinced, would be received with incredulity ; and he could not, without 
an indelicate exposure of individuals, verify his anecdotes. 

But some sensible readers have complained of the difficulty of deter- 
mining what they are to believe. Of the existence of Buonaparte, indeed, 
they remained fully convinced ; nor, if it were left doubtful, would any 
important results ensue ; but if they can give no satisfactory reason for their 
conviction, how can they know, it is asked, that they may not be mistaken 
as to other points of greater consequence, on which they are no less fully 
convinced, but on which all men are not agreed ? The author has accord- 
ingly been solicited to endeavor to frame some canons which may furnish 

a standard for determining what evidence is to be received. 
This he conceives to be impracticable, except to that extent to which it is 


accomplished by a sound system of logic ; including under that title 
a portion that which relates to the " laws of evidence" of what is 
sometimes treated of under the head of " rhetoric." But the full and 
complete accomplishment of such an object would confer on man the 
unattainable attribute of infallibility. 

But the difficulty complained of, he conceives to arise, in many instan- 
ces, from men's misstating the grounds of their own conviction. They are 
convinced, indeed, and perhaps with very sufficient reasons ; but they 
imagine this reason to be a different one from what it is. The evidence 
to which they have assented is applied to their minds in a different man- 
ner from that in which they believe it is and suppose it ought to be 
applied. And when challenged to defend and justify . their own belief, 
they feel at a loss, because they are attempting to maintain a position 
which is not in fact that in which their force lies. 

For a development of the nature, the consequences, and the remedies of 
this mistake, the reader is referred to " Hinds on Inspiration," pp. 30-46. 
If such a development is to be found in any earlier works, the author of 
the following pages at least has never chanced to meet with any attempt 
of the kind. 1 

It has been objected, again, by some persons of no great logical ac- 
curacy of thought, that as there would not be any moral "blame imputable 
to one who should seriously disbelieve, or doubt, the existence of Buo- 
naparte, so neither is a rejection of the Scripture histories to be considered 
as implying anything morally culpable. 

v i See Elements of Rhetoric, p. 1, ch. ii. j 4. 


ThQ same objection, such as it is, would apply equally to many of the 
parables of the New Testament. It might be said, for instance, that, as a 
woman who should decline taking the trouble of searching for her lost 
" piece of silver," or a merchant who should neglect making an advan- 
tageous purchase of a " goodly pearl," would be guilty of no moral wrong, 
it must follow that there is nothing morally wrong in neglecting to reclaim 
a lost sinner, or in rejecting the gospel, etc. 

But any man of common sense readily perceives that the force of these 1 
parables consists in the circumstance that men do not usually show this 
carelessness about temporal goods ; and, therefore, are guilty of gross 
and culpable inconsistency if they are comparatively careless about what 
is far more important. 

So, also, in the present case. If any man's mind were so constituted 
as to reject the same evidence in all matters alike if, for instance, he 
really doubted or disbelieved the existence of Buonaparte, and considered 
the Egyptian pyramids as fabulous, because, forsooth, he had no " ex- 
perience" of the erection of such huge structures, and had experience of 
travellers telling huge lies, he would be regarded, perhaps, as very silly, 
or as insane, but not as morally culpable. But if (as is intimated in the 
concluding sentence of this work) a man is influenced in one case by ob- 
jections which, in another case, he would deride, then he stands convicted 
of being unfairly biased by his prejudices. 

It is only necessary to add, that as this work first appeared in the year 
1819, many things are spoken of in the present tense to which the past 
would now be applicable. 


A Postscript was added to the third edition, which was published soon 
after the accounts of Bu:naparte's death reached us ; and another at the 
time of the supposed removal of his remains. A third, in reference to 
more recent occurrences, was added to the ninth edition. 




LONG as the public attention has been occupied by the ex- 
traordinary personage from whose ambition we are supposed 
to have so narrowly escaped, the subject seems to have lost 
scarcely anything of its interest. We are still occupied in 
recounting the exploits, discussing the character, inquiring into 
the present situation, and even conjecturing as to the future 
prospects of Napoleon Buonaparte. 

Nor is this at all to be wondered at, if we consider the very 
extraordinary nature of those exploits, and of that character ; 
their greatness and extensive importance, as well as the unex- 
ampled strangeness of the events, and also that strong addi- 
tional stimulant, the mysterious uncertainty that hangs over the 
character of the man. If it be doubtful whether any history 
(exclusive of such as is confessedly fabulous) ever attributed 
to its hero such a series of wonderful achievements compressed 
into so small a space of time, it is certain that to no one were 
ever assigned so many dissimilar characters. 

It is true, indeed, that party prejudices have drawn a favor- 
able and an unfavorable portrait of almost every eminent man ; 
but amidst all the diversities of coloring, something of the same 
general outline is always distinguishable. And even the vir- 
tues in the one description bear some resemblance to the vices 
of another. Rashness, for instance, will be called courage, or 


courage rashness ; heroic firmness and obstinate pride will 
correspond in the two opposite descriptions ; and in some lead- 
ing features both will agree. Neither the friends nor the ene- 
mies of Philip of Macedon, or of Julius Ca3sar, ever questioned 

With Buonaparte, however, it has been otherwise. This 
obscure Corsican adventurer, a man, according to some, of 
extraordinary talents and courage, according to others, of very 
moderate abilities and a rank coward, advanced rapidly in 
the French army, obtained a high command, gained a series of 
important victories, and, elated by success, embarked in an 
expedition against Egypt; which was planned and conducted, 
according to some, with the most consummate skill, according 
to others, with the utmost wildness and folly. He was unsuc- 
cessful, however ; and, leaving the army of Egypt in a very 
distressed situation, he returned to France, and found the nation, 
or at least the army, so favorably disposed towards him, that 
he was enabled, with the utmost ease, to overthrow the exist- 
ing government, and obtain for himself the supreme power ; 
at first under the modest appellation of consul, but afterwards 
with the more sounding title of Emperor. While in possession 
of this power, he overthrew the most powerful coalitions of 
the other European States against him, and, though Driven 
from the sea by the British fleetip, overran nearly the whole 
continent, triumphant. Finishing a war, not unfrequently, in 
a single campaign, he entered the capitals of most of the hostile 
potentates, deposed and created kings at his pleasure, and 
appeared the virtual sovereign of the chief part of the conti- 
nent, from the frontiers of Spain to those of Russia. Even 
those countries we find him invading with prodigious armies, 
defeating their forces, penetrating to their capitals, and threat- 
ening their total subjugation. But at Moscow his progress is 
stopped ; a winter of unusual severity, cooperating with the 


efforts of the Russians, totally destroys his enormous host ; 
and the German sovereigns throw off the yoke, ajid! com- 
bine to oppose him. He raises another vast army, which is 
also ruined at Leipsic ; and again another, with which, like a 
second Antaeus, he for some time maintains himself in France; 
but is finally defeated, deposed, and banished to the island of 
Elba, of which the sovereignty is conferred on him. Thence 
he returns, in about nine months, at the head of six hundred 
men, to attempt the deposition of King Louis, who had been 
peaceably recalled ; the French nation declare in his favor, 
and he is reinstated without a struggle. He raises another 
great army to oppose the allied powers, which is totally de- 
feated at Waterloo. He is a second time deposed, surrenders 
to the British, and is placed in confinement at the island of St. 
Helena. Such is the outline of the eventful history presented 
to us ; in the detail of which, however, there is almostevery^ 
conceivable variety of statement; while the motives and con- 
duct of the chief actor are involved in still greater doubt, and 
the subject of still more eager controversy. 

In the midst of these controversies, the preliminary question, 
concerning the existence of this extraordinary personage, seems 
never to have occurred to any one as a matter of doubt ; and 
to show even the smallest hesitation in admitting it, would 
probably be regarded as an excess of scepticism, on the ground 
that this point has always been taken for granted by the dis- 
putants on all sides, being indeed implied by the very nature 
of their disputes. 

But is it in &ct found that undisputed points are always 
such as have been the most carefully examined as to the evi- 
dence on which they rest? that facts or principles which are 
taken for granted, without controversy, as the common basis of 
opposite opinions, are always themselves established on suffi- 
cient grounds ? On the contrary, is not any such fundamental 


point, from the very circumstance of its being taken for granted 
at once^and the attention drawn off to some other question, 
likely to be admitted on insufficient evidence, and the flaws 
in that evidence overlooked ? Experience will teach us that 
such instances often occur. Witness the well-known anecdote 
of the Royal Society, to whom King Charles II. proposed as a 
question, whence it is that a vessel of water receives no addi- 
tion of weight from a live fish being put into it, though it does 
if the fish be dead. Various solutions, of great ingenuity, were 
proposed, discussed, objected to, and defended ; nor was it till 
they had been long bewildered in the inquiry, that it occurred 
to them to try the experiment ; by which they at once ascer- 
tained that the phenomenon which they were striving to ac- 
count for, which was the acknowledged base and substratum, 
as it were, of their debates, had no existence but in the in- 
vention of the witty monarch. 1 

Another instance of the same kind is so very remarkable 
that I cannot forbear mentioning it. It was objected to the 
system of Copernicus when it was first brought forward, that 
if the earth turned oh its axis, as he represented, a stone 
dropped from the summit of a tower would not fall at the foot 
of it, but at a great distance to the west ; in the same manner 
as a stone dropped from the masthead of a ship in full sail 
does not fall at the foot of the mast, but towards the stern. To 
this it was answered, that a stone, being a part of the earth, 
obeys the same laws, and moves with it ; whereas, it is no part 

1 " A report is spread (says Voltaire in one of his workejfchat there is in some 
country or other a giant as big as a mountain ; and men presently fall to hot 
disputing concerning the precise length of his nose, the breadth of his thumb, 
and other particulars, and anathematize each other for heterodoxy of belief con- 
cerning them. In the midst of all, if some bold sceptic ventures to hint a doubt 
as to the existence of this giant, all are ready to join against him and tear him 
to pieces." This looks almost like a prophetic allegory relating to the gigantic 


of the ship ; of which, consequently, its motion is independent. 
This solution was admitted by some, but opposed by others, 
and the controversy went on with spirit ; nor was it till one 
hundred years after the death of Copernicus that, the experi- 
ment being tried, it was ascertained that the stone thus dropped 
from the head of the mast does fall at the foot of it ! l 

Let it be observed that I am not now impugning any one 
particular narrative ; but merely showing generally, that what 
is unquestioned is not necessarily unquestionable ; since men 
will often, at the very moment when they are accurately sifting 
the evidence of some disputed point, admit hastily, and on the 
most insufficient grounds, what they have been accustomed to 
see taken for granted. 

The celebrated Hume 2 has pointed out, also, the readiness 
with which men believe, on very slight evidence, any story 
that pleases their imagination by its admirable and marvellous 
character. Such hasty credulity, however, as he well remarks, 
is utterly unworthy of a philosophical mind; which should 
rather suspend its judgment the more, in proportion to the 
strangeness of the account, and yield to none but the most de- 
cisive and unimpeachable proofs. 

Let it, then, be allowed us, as is surely reasonable, just to 
inquire with respect to the extraordinary story I have been 
speaking of, on what evidence we believe it. We shall be told 
that it is notorious; that is, in plain English, it is very much 

1 OVTCDS araXaiircapos rots iro\\6is f) ^jTijtrts rrjs aA.r?&e/as, Kai &ri T& 
crotjua jUaAAoz/ Tpeirwrai. Thucyd. b. i. c.20. 

2 " With what greediness are the miraculous accounts of travellers received, 
their descriptions of sea and land monsters, their relations of wonderful adven- 
tures, strange men, and uncouth manners!" Hume's Essay on Miracles, p. 
179, 12mo. ; p. 185,' 8vo. 1767; p. 117, 8vo. 1817. 

N. B. In order to give every possible facility of reference, three editions of 
Hume's Essays have been generally employed, a 12mo. London, 1756, and two 
Bvo. editions. 


talked about. But as the generality of those who talk about 
Buonaparte do not even pretend to speak from their own au- 
thority, but merely to repeat what they have casually heard, we 
cannot reckon them as in any degree witnesses ; but must allow 
ninety-nine hundredths of what we are told to be mere hearsay, 
which would not be at all the more worthy of credit even if it were 
repeated by ten times as many more. As for those who profess 
to have personally known Napoleon Buonaparte, and to have 
themselves witnessed his transactions, I write not for them ; if 
any such there be, who are inwardly conscious of the truth of 
all they relate, I have nothing to say to them, but to beg that 
they will be tolerant and charitable towards their neighbors, 
who have not the same means ef ascertaining the truth, and 
who may well be excused for remaining doubtful about such 
extraordinary events, till most unanswerable proofs shall be 
adduced. " I would not have believed such a thing, if I had 
not seen it," is a common preface or appendix to a narrative 
of marvels ; and usually calls forth from an intelligent hearer 
the appropriate answer, " No more will I." 

Let us, however, endeavor to trace up some of this hearsay 
evidence as far towards its source as we are able. Most per- 
sons would refer to the newspapers as the authority from which 
their knowledge on the subject was derived ; so that, generally 
speaking, we may say it is on the testimony of the newspapers 
that men believe in the existence and exploits of Napoleon 

It is rather a remarkable circumstance, that it is common to 
hear Englishmen speak of the impudent fabrieations of foreign 
newspapers, and express wonder that any oi\e can be found to 
credit them ; while they conceive that, in this favored land, the 
liberty of the press is a sufficient security for veracity. It is 
true they often speak contemptuously of sued "newspaper 
stories " as last but a short time ; indeed, they continually see 


them contradicted within a day or two in the same paper, or 
their falsity detected by some journal of an opposite party ; but 
still whatever is long adhered to and often repeated, especially 
if it also appear in several different papers (and this, though 
they notoriously copy from one another), is almost sure to be 
generally believed. Whence this high respect which is prac- 
tically paid to newspaper authority? Do men think that be- 
cause a witn*:>>> tirt.- been perpetually detected in falsehood, he 
may therefore be trie more safely believed whenever he is not 
detected ? or does adherence to a story, and frequent repetition 
of it, render it the more credible ? On the contrary, is it not 
a common remark in other cases, that a liar will generally 
stand to and reiterate what he has once said, merely becau 
he has said it ? 

Let us, if possible, divest ourselves of this superstitious ven 
eration for everything that appears " in print," and examine a 
little more systematically the evidence which is adduced. 

I suppose it will not be denied, that the three following are 
among the most important points to be ascertained in deciding 
on the credibility of witnesses, first, whether they have the 
means of gaining correct information ; secondly, whether they 
have any interest in concealing truth, or propagating falsehood ; 
and, thirdly, whether they agree in their testimony. Let us 
examine the present witnesses upon all these points. 

First, what means have the editors of -newspapers for gam- 
ing correct information? We know not, except from their own 
statements. Besides what is copied from other journals, foreign 
or British (which is usually more than three fourths of the news 
published), 1 they profess to refer to the authority of certain 

1 "Suppose a fact to be transmitted through twenty persons; the first com- 
municating it to the second, the second to the third, etc., and let the probability 
of each testimony be expressed by nine tenths (that is, suppose that of ten re- 



" private correspondents " abroad ; who] these correspondents 
are, what means'T^ey Have of obtaining information, or whether 
they exist at all, we have no way of ascertaining. We find 
ourselves in the condition of the Hindoos who are told by their 
priests that the earth stands on an elephant, and the elephant 
on a tortoise ; but are left to find out for themselves what the 
tortoise stands on, or whether it stands on anything at all. 

So much for our clear knowledge of the means of informa- 
tion possessed by these witnesses; next for the grounds on 
which we are to calculate on their veracity. 

Have they not a manifest interest in circulating the wonder- 
ful accounts of Napoleon Buonaparte and his achievements, 
whether true or false ? Few would read newspapers if they 
did not sometimes find wonderful or important news in them ; 
and we may safely say that no subject was ever found so inex- 
haustibly interesting as the present. 

It may be urged, however, that there are several adverse 
political parties, of which the various public prints are respec- 
tively the organs, and who would not fail to expose each other's 
fabrications. 1 Doubtless they would, if they could do so with- 

ports made by each witness, nine only are true), then, at every time the story 
passes from one witness to another, the evidence is reduced to nine tenths of 
what it was before. Thus, after it has passed through the whole twenty, the 
evidence will be found to be less than one eighth." La Place, Essai Philo- 
sophique sur les Probabilites. 

That is, the chances for the fact thus attested being true, will be, according to 
this distinguished calculator, less than one in eight. Very few of the common 
newspaper stories, however, relating to foreign countries, could be traced, if the 
matter were carefully investigated, up to an actual eye-witness, even through 
twenty intermediate witntfises; and many of the steps of our ladder would, I 
fear, prove but rotten ; few of the reporters would deserve to have one in ten 
fixed as the proportion of their false accounts. 

1 "I did not mention the difficulty of detecting a falsehood in any private or 
even public history, at the time and place where it is said to happen ; much more 
where the scene is removed to ever so small a distance. . . . . But the matter 
never comes to any issue, if trusted to the common method of altercation and 
debate and flying rumors." Hume's Essay on Miracles, p. 195, 12mo.; pp. 200, 
801, 8vo. 1767; p. 127, 8vo. 1817. 


out at the same time exposing their own ; but identity of inter- 
ests may induce a community of operations up to a certain 
point. And let it be observed that the object of contention 
between these rival parties is, who shall have the administration 
of public affairs, the control of public expenditure, and the dis- 
posal of places : the question, I say, is not, whether the people 
shall be governed or not, but by which -party they shall be 
governed ; not whether the taxes shall be paid or not, but 
who shall receive them. Now it must be admitted, that Buona- 
parte is a political bugbear, most convenient to any adminis- 
tration. " If you do not adopt our measures and reject those 
of our opponents, Buonaparte will be sure to prevail over you; 
if you do not submit to the Government, at least under our 
administration, this formidable enemy will take advantage of 
your insubordination to conquer and enslave you. Pay your 
taxes cheerfully, or the tremendous Buonaparte wilMake all 
from you." Buonaparte, in short, was the burden of_eyery 
song ; his redoubted name was the charm which always suc- 
l^cee^ed in unloosing the purse-strings of the nation. And let 
us not be too sure, 1 safe as we now think ourselves, that some 
occasion may no', occur for again producing on the stage so 
useful a personage. It is not merely to naughty children in the 
nursery that the threat of being " given to Buonaparte " has 
proved effectual. 

It is surely probable, therefore, that with an object substan- 
tially the same, all parties may have availed themselves of one 
common instrument. It is not necessary to suppose that for 
this purpose they secretly entered into a formal agreement ; 
though, by the way, there are reports afloat, that the editors 
of the Courier and Morning Chronicle hold amicable consulta- 
tions as to the conduct of their public warfare : I will not take 

1 See the third Postscript appended to this edition. 




upon me to say that this is incredible ; but at any rate it is not 
necessary for the establishment of the probability I contend 
for. Neither, again, would I imply that all newspaper editors 
are utterers of forged stories, " knowing them to be forged ; " 
most likely the great majority of them p^blish^what they find 
in other papers with the same simplicity that their readers 
peruse it ; and therefore, it must be observed, are not at all 
more proper than their readers to be cited as authorities. 

Still it will be said, that unless we suppose a regularly 
preconcerted plan, we might at least expect to find great dis- 
crepancies in the accounts published. Though they might 
adopt the general outline of facts one from another, they would 
have to fill up the detail for themselves ; and in this, therefore, 
we should meet with infinite and irreconcilable variety. 

Now this is precisely the point I am tending to ; for the fact 
exactly accords with the above supposition ; the discordance 
and mutual contradictions of these witnesses being such as 
would alone throw a considerable shade of doubt over their 
testimony. It is not in minute circumstances alone that the 
discrepancy appears, such as might be expected to appear in a 
narrative substantially true ; but in very great and leading 
transactions, and such as are very intimately connected with 
the supposed hero. For instance, it is by no means agreed 
whether Buonaparte led in person the celebrated charge over 
the bridge of Lodi (for celebrated it certainly is, as well as the 
siege of Troy, whether either event ever really took place or 
no), or was safe in the rear, while Augereau performed the 
exploit. The same doubt hangs over the charge of the French 
cavalry at Waterloo. The peasant Lacoste, who professed to 
have bf.n Buonaparte's guide on the day of battle, and who 
earned a fortune by detailing over and over again to visitors 
all the particulars of what the great man said and did up to 
the moment of flight, this same Lacoste has been suspected 


by others besides me of having never even been near the 
great man, and having fabricated the whole story for the sake 
of making a gain of the credulity of travellers. In the ac- 
counts that are extant of the battle itself, published by persons 
professing to have been present, the reader will find that there 
is a discrepancy of three or four hours as to the time when the 
battle began ! a battle, be it remembered, not fought with 
javelins and arrows, like those of the ancients, in which one 
part of a large army might be engaged, while a distant portion 
of the same army knew nothing of it, but a battle commencing 
(if indeed it were ever fought at all) with the firing of cannon, 
which would have announced pretty loudly what was going on 

It is no less uncertain whether or no this strange personage 
poisoned in Egypt an hospital full of his own soldiers, and 
butchered in cold blood a garrison that had surrendered. But, 
not to multiply instances, the battle of Borodino, which is rep- 
resented as one of the greatest ever fought, was unequivocally 
claimed as a victory by both parties ; nor is the question de- 
cided at this day. We have official accounts on both sides, 
circumstantially detailed, in the names of supposed respectable 
persons, professing to have been present on the spot ; yet to- 
tally irreconcilable. Both these accounts may be false ; but 
since one of them must be false, that one (it is no matter which, 
we suppose) proves incontrovertibly this important maxim, 
that it is possible for a narrative however circumstantial 
however steadily maintained however public and however im- 
portant the events it relates however grave the authority on 
which it is published to be nevertheless an entire fabrication ! 

Many of the events which have been recorded were proba- 
bly believed much the more readily and firmly from the ap- 
parent caution and hesitation with which they were at first 
published, the vehement contradiction in our papers of many 
pretended French accounts, and the abuse lavished upon 


them for falsehood, exaggeration, and gasconade. But is it 
not possible is it not indeed perfectly natural ? that the 
publishers even of known falsehood should assume this cautious 
demeanor, and this abhorrence of exaggeration, in order the 
more easily to gain credit ? Is it not also very possible that 
those who actually believed what they published, may have 
suspected mere exaggeration in stories which were entire fic- 
tions ? Many men have that sort of simplicity, that they think 
themselves quite secure against being deceived, provided they 
believe only part of the story they hear, when perhaps the 
whole is equally false. So that perhaps these simple-hearted 
editors, who were so vehement against lying bulletins, and so 
wary in announcing their great news, were in the condition ( f 
a clown who thinks he has bought a great bargain of a Jewr 
because he has beat down the price perhaps from a guinea to 
a crown, for some article that is not really worth a groat. 

With respect to the character of Buonaparte, the dissonance 
is, if possible, still greater. According to some, he was a wise, 
humane, magnanimous hero ; others paint him as a monster 
of cruelty, meanness, and perfidy: some, even of those who are 
most inveterate against him, speak very highly of his political 
and military ability ; others place him on the very verge of 
insanity. But allowing that all this may bo the coloring of 
party prejudice (which surely is allowing a great deal), there 
is one point to which such a solution will hardly apply, if 
there be anything that can be clearly ascertained in history, 
one would think it must be the personal courage of a military 
man ; yet here we are as much at a loss as ever ; at the very 
same times, and on the same occasions, he is described by dif- 
ferent writers as a man of undaunted intrepidity, and as an 
absolute poltroon. 

What, then, are we to believe ? If we are disposed to credit 
all that is told us, we must believe in the existence not only of 


one, but of two or three Buonapartes ; if we admit nothing but 
what is well authenticated, we shall be compelled to doubt of 
the existence of any. 1 

It appears, then, that those on whose testimony the existence 
and actions of Buonaparte are generally believed, fail in ALL 
the most essential points on which the credibility of witnesses 
depends, first we have no assurance that they have access 
to correct information ; secondly, they have an apparent inter- 
est in propagating falsehood ; and, thirdly, they palpably con- 
tradict each other in the most important points. 

Another circumstance which throws additional suspicion on 
these tales is, that the Whig party, as they are called, the 
warm advocates of liberty, and opposers of the encroachments 
of monarchical power, have for some time past strenuously 
espoused the cause, and vindicated the character of Buonaparte, 
who is represented by all as having been, if not a tyrant, at least 
an absolute despot. One of the most forward in this cause is 
a gentleman who once stood foremost in holding up this very 
man to public execration, who first published, and long main- 
tained against popular incredulity, the accounts of his atrocities 
in Egypt. Now, that such a course should be adopted for 
party purposes, by those who are aware that the whole story 
is a fiction and the hero of it imaginary, seems not very in- 
credible ; but if they believed in the real existence of this des- 
pot, I cannot conceive how they could so forsake their princi- 
ples as to advocate his cause and eulogize his character. 

After all, it may be expected that many who perceive the 
force of these objections, will yet be loath to think it possible 

l We entertain a suspicion concerning any matter of fact "when the witnesses 
contradict each other; when they are of a suspicious charac er; when they have 
an interest in what they affirm." .Home's Essay on Miracles, p. 172, 12mo. ; 
p. 176, 8vo. 1767; p. 113, 8vo. 1817. 


that they and the public at large can have been so long and so 
greatly imposed upon. And thus it is that the magnitude and 
boldness of a fraud becomes its best support ; the millions who 
for so many ages have believed in Mahomet or Brahma, lean 
as it were on each other for support ; and not having vigor of 
mind enough boldly to throw off vulgar prejudices, and dare 
be wiser than the multitude, persuade themselves that what so 
many have acknowledged must be true. But I call on those 
who boast their philosophical freedom of thought, and would 
fain tread in the steps of Hume and othey inquirers of the like 
exalted and speculative genius, to follow up fairly and fully 
their own principles, and, throwing off the shackles of authority, 
to examine carefully the evidence of whatever is proposed to 
them before they admit its truth. 

That even in this enlightened age, as it is called, a whole 
nation may be egregiously imposed upon, even in matters 
which intimately concern them, may be proved (if it has not 
been already proved) by the following instance : It was stated 
in the newspapers, that, a month after the battle of Trafalgar, 
an English officer who had been a prisoner of war, and was 
exchanged, returned to this country from France ; and begin- 
ning to condole with his countrymen on the terrible defeat they 
had sustained, was infinitely astonished to learn that the battle 
of Trafalgar was a splendid victory : he had been assured, he 
said, that in that battle the English had been totally defeated ; 
and the French were fully and universally persuaded that such 
was the fact. Now if this report of the belief of the French 
nation was not true, the British public were completely im- 
posed upon; if it was true, then both nations were, at the 
same time, rejoicing in the event qf the same battle, as a signal 
victory to themselves ; and consequently one or other, at least, 
of these nations must have been the dupes of their Government; 
for if the battle was never fought at all, or was not decisive on 


either side, in that case both parties were deceived. This in- 
stance, 1 conceive, is absolutely demonstrative of the point Li 

" But what shall we say to the testimony of those many 
respectable persons who went to Plymouth, on purpose, and 
saw Buonaparte with their own eyes must they not trust 
their senses ? " I would not disparage either the eyesight or 
the veracity of these gentlemen. I am ready to allow that 
they went to Plymouth for the purpose of seeing Buonaparte ; 
nay, more, that they actually rowed out into the harbor in a 
boat, and came alongside of a man-of-war, on whose deck they 
saw a man in a cocked hat, who, they were told, was Buona- 
parte. This is the utmost point to which their testimony goes ; 
how they ascertained that this man in the cocked hat had gone 
through all the marvellous and romantic adventures with which 
we have so long been amused, we are not told. Did they 
perceive in his physiognomy his true name and authentic 
history ? Truly this evidence is such as country people give 
one for a story of apparitions. If you discover any signs of 
incredulity, they triumphantly show the very house which the 
ghost haunted, the identical dark corner where it used to van- 
ish, and perhaps even the tombstone of the person whose death 
it foretold. Jack Cade's nobility was supported by the same 
irresistible kind of evidence ; having asserted that the eldest 
son of Edmorid Mortimer, Earl of March, was stolen by a beg- 
gar-woman, " became a bricklayer when he came to age," and 
was the father of the supposed Jack Cade. One of his compan- 
ions confirms the story by saying, " Sir, he made a chimney in 
my father's house, and the bricks are alive at this day to testify 
it ; therefore deny it not." 

Much of the same kind is the testimony of our brave country- 
men, who are ready to produce the scars they received in 
fighting against this terrible Buonaparte. That they fought 


and were wounded, they may safely testify ; and probably they 
no less firmly believe what they were told respecting the cause 
in which they fought : it would have been a high breach of 
discipline to doubt it; and they, I conceive, are men better 
skilled in handling a musket than in sifting evidence and de- 
tecting imposture. But I defy any one of them to come for- 
ward and declare, on his own knowledge, Avhat was the cause 
in which he fought, under whose commands the opposed gen- 
erals acted, and whether the person who issued those com- 
mands did really perform the mighty achievements we are told 

Let those, then, who pretend to philosophical freedom of 
inquiry, who scorn to rest their opinions on popular belief, 
and to shelter themselves under the example of the unthinking 
multitude, consider carefully, each one for himself, what is the 
evidence, proposed to himself in particular, for the existence 
of such a person as Napoleon Buonaparte: I do not mean, 
whether there ever was a person bearing that name, for that is 
a question of no consequence ; but whether any such person 
ever performed all the wonderful things attributed to him ; 
let him, then, weigh well the objections to that evidence (of 
which I have given but a hasty and imperfect sketch), and if 
he then finds it amount to anything more than a probability, I 
have only to congratulate him on his easy faith. 

But the same testimony which would have great weight in 
establishing a thing intrinsically probable, will lose part of this 
weight in proportion as the matter attested is improbable ; and 
if adduced in support of anything that is at variance with uni- 
form experience, 1 will be rejected at once by all sound r >ason- 

i "That testimony itself derives all its force from experience, seems very cer- 
tain The first author, we believe, who stated fairly the connection between 

the evidence of testimony and the evidence of experience, was Hume, in his 
Essay on Miracles; a work abounding in maxims of great use in the con- 
duct of life." Edin. Eeview, Sept. 1814, p. 828. 


ers. Let us, then, consider what sort of a story it is that i\ 
proposed to our acceptance. How grossly contradictory arc 
the reports of the different authorities, I have already re- 
marked : but consider by itself the story told by any one of 
them ; it carries an air of fiction and romance on the very face 
of it. All the events are great, and splendid, and marvellous ; l 
great armies, great victories, great frosts, great re- 
verses, " hair-breadth 'scapes," empires subverted in a 
few clays ; everything happened in defiance of political calcu- 
lations, and in opposition to the experience of past times ; every- 
thing upon that grand scale so common in epic poetry, so 
rare in real life ; and thus calculated to strike the imagination 
of the vulgar, and to remind the sober-thinking few of the 
Arabian Nights. Every event, too, has that rgmu^s&^aud 
completeness which is so characteristic of fiction, ; nothing is 
done by halves ; we have complete victories, total over- 
throws, entire subversion of empires, perfect reestablish- 
ments of them, crowded upon us in rapid succession. To 
enumerate the improbabilities of each of the several parts of 
this history, would fill volumes ; but they are so fresh in every 
one's memory, that there is no need of such a detail. Let any 
judicious man, not ignorant of history and of human nature, 
revolve them in his mind, and consider how far they are con- 
formable to experience, 2 our best and only sure guide. In 
vain will he seek in history for something similar to this won- 
derful Buonaparte ; " nought but himself can be his parallel." 

1 " Suppose, for instance, that the fact which the testimony endeavors to estab 
lish partakes cf the extraordinary and the marvellous; in that case, the evidence 
resulting from the testimony receives a diminution, greater or less in proportion 
as the fact is more or less unusual." Hume's Essay ^n Miracles, p. 173, 12mo. ; 
p. 176, 8vo. 1767; p. 113, 8vo. 1817. 

2 " The ultimate standard by which we determine all disputes that may arise ia 
always derived from experience and observation." Hume's Essay on Miracles, 
p. 172, 12mo.; p. 175, 8vo. 1767; p. 112, 8vo. 1817. 


Will the conquests of Alexander be compared with hie ? 
They were effected over a rabble of effeminate, undisciplined 
barbarians ; else his progress would hardly have been so rapid. 
Witness his father, Philip, who was much longer occupied in 
subduing the comparatively insignificant territory of the warlike 
and civilized Greeks, notwithstanding their being divided into 
numerous petty states, whose mutual jealousy enabled him to 
contend with them separately. But the Greeks had never 
made such progress in arts and arms as the great and powerful 
states of Europe, which Buonaparte is represented as so 
speedily overpowering. His empire has been compared to 
the Roman. Mark the contrast : he gains in a few years that 
dominion, or at least control, over Germany, wealthy, civilized, 
and powerful, which the Romans, in the plenitude of their 
power, could not obtain, during a struggle of as many centuries, 
against the ignorant half-savages who then possessed it ; of 
whom Tacitus remarks, that, up to his own time, they had 
been " triumphed over rather than conquered." 

Another peculiar circumstance in the history of this extraor- 
dinary personage is, that when it is found convenient to repre- 
sent him as defeated, though he is by no means defeated by 
halves, but involved in much more sudden and total ruin than 
'the personages of real history usually meet with, yet, if it is 
thought fit he should be restored, it is done as quickly and 
completely as if Merlin's rod had been employed. He enters 
Russia with a prodigious army, which is totally ruined by an 
unprecedented hard winter (everything relating to this man 
is prodigious and unprecedented) ; yet in a few months we find 
him intrusted with another great army in Germany, which is 
also totally ruined at Leipsic ; making, inclusive of the Egyp- 
tian, the third great army thus totally lost. Yet the French 
are so good-natured as to furnish him with another, sufficient 
to make a formidable stand in France. He is, however, con- 


quered, and presented with the sovereignty of Elba (surely, 
by-the-by, some more probable way might have been found 
of disposing of him, till again wanted, than to place him thus 
on the very verge of his ancient dominions) ; thence he returns 
to France, where he is received with open arms, and enabled 
to lose a fifth great army, at Waterloo ; yet so eager were there 
people to be a sixth time led to destruction, that it was found 
necessary to confine him in an island some thousand miles off, 
and to quarter foreign troops upon them, lest they make an in- 
surrection in his favor ! x Does any one believe all this, and 
yet refuse to believe a miracle ? Or, rather, what is this but 
a miracle ? Is it not a violation of the laws of nature ? for 
surely there are moral laws of nature as well as physical, which, 
though more liable to exceptions in this or that particular case, 
are no less true as general rules than the laws of matter, and 
therefore cannot be violated and contradicted beyond a certain 
point, without a miracle. 2 

1/r H bavnara iroAAcL 

Kcu TTOV TI Kal PpoTuti.' (ppevas 


AeSetSoA/ueVot ^euSetri iroiKL\ois 

'E^airaruvTi fj.v^oi TIND. Olymp. 1. 

2 This doctrine, though hardly needing confirmation from authority, is sup- 
ported by that of Hume; his eighth Essay is, throughout, an argument for the 
doctrine of "philosophical necessity," drawn entirely from the general uni- 
formity observable in the course of nature with respect to the principles of hu- 
man conduct, as well as those of the material universe ; from which uniformity, he 
observes, it is that we are enabled, in both cases, to form our judgments by 
means of experience; and if, says he, " we wouM explode any forgery in his- 
tory, we cannot make of a more convincing argument, than to prove that 
the actions ascribed to any person are directly contrary to the course of nature. 
.... The veracity of Quintus Curtius is as suspicious when he describes the su- 
pernatural courage of Alexander, by which he was hurried on singly to attack 
multitude?, as when he describes his supernatural force and activity, by which 
he was able to resist them. So readily and universally do we acknowledge a 
uniformity in human motives and actions as well as in the operations of body." 
Eighth Essay, p. 131, 12mo. ; p. 85, 8vo. 1817. 



Nay, there is this additional circumstance which renders the 
contradiction of experience more glaring in this case than in 
that of the miraculous histories which ingenious sceptics have 
held up to contempt. All the advocates of miracles admit that 
they are rare exceptions to the course of nature ; but contend 
that they must needs be so, on account of the rarity of those 
extraordinary occasions which are the reason of their being 
performed. " A miracle," they say, " does not happen every 
day, because a Revelation is not given every day." It would 
be foreign to the present purpose to seek for arguments against 
this answer ; I leave it to those who are engaged in the con- 
troversy, to find a reply to it ; but my present object is, to 
point out that this solution does not at all apply in the present 

Accordingly, in the tenth Essay, his use of the term "miracle," after having 
called it a " transgression of a law of nature," plainly shows that he meant to 
? include human nature: '* no testimony," says he, ''is sufficient to establish a 
miracle, unless the testimony be of such a nature that its falsehood would be 
; more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish." The term " prod- 
': igy " also (which he all along employs as synonymous with " miracle v ) is applied 
to testimony, in the same manner, immediately after: "In the foregoing rea- 
soning we have supposed that the falsehood of that testimony would be a 

kind of prodigy." Now had he meant to confine the meaning of u miracle," and 
" prodigy," to a violation of the laws of matter, the epithet " miraculous," ap- 
plied even thus hypothetically, to false testimony, would be as unmeaning as the 
epithets "green " or " square; " the only possible sense in which we can apply 
to it, even in imagination, the term "miraculous," is that of " highly improb- 
able," "contrary to those laws of nature which respect human conduct;" 
and in this sense accordingly he uses the word in the very next sentence : " When 
any one tells me that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider 
with myself whether it be more probable that this person should either deceive 
or be deceived, or that the fact which he relates should really have happened. 
I weigh the one miracle against the other." Hume's Essay on Miracles, pp. 
176, 177, 12mo. ; p. 182, 8vo. 1767; p. 115, 8vo. 1817. 

See also a passage above quoted from the same Essay, where he speaks of " the 
miraculous accounts of travellers; " evidently using the word in this sense. 

Perhaps it was superfluous to cite authority for applying the term (i miracle " 
to whatever is "highly improbable;" but it is important to the students of 
Hume, to be fully aware that he uses those two expressions as synonymous; 
since otherwise they would mistake the meaning of that passage which he justly 
calls "a general maxim worthy of our attention." 


case. Where is the peculiarity of the occasion ? What suffi- 
cient reason is there for a series of events occurring in the 
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which never took place 
before ? Was Europe at that period peculiarly weak, and in 
a state of barbarism, that one man could achieve such con- 
quests, and acquire such a vast empire ? On the contrary, she 
was flourishing in the height of strength and civilization. Can 
the persevering attachment and blind devotedness of the 
French to this man be accounted for by his being the descend- 
ant of a long line of kings, whose race was hallowed by hered- 
itary veneration ? No : we are told he was a low-born usurper, 
and not even a Frenchman ! Is it that he was a good and kind 
sovereign ? He is represented not only as an imperious and 
merciless despot, but as most wantonly careless of the lives of 
his soldiers. Could the French army and people have failed 
to hear from the wretched survivors of his supposed Russian 
expedition, how they had left the corpses of above one hundred 
thousand of their comrades bleaching on the snow-drifts of that 
dismal country, whither his mad ambition had conducted him, 
and where his selfish cowardice had deserted them ? Wher- 
ever we turn to seek for circumstances that may help to ac- 
count for the events of this incredible story, we only meet with 
such as aggravate its improbability. 1 Had it been told of some 
distant country, at a remote period, we could not have told 
what peculiar circumstances there might have been to render 
probable what seems to us most strange ; and yet in that case 
every philosophical sceptic, every free-thinking speculator, 
would instantly have rejected such a history as utterly un- 

1 " Events may be so extraordinary that they can hardly be established by 
testimony. We would not give credit to a man who would affirm that he saw 
u hundred dice thrown in the air, and that they all fell on the same faces." 
Edin. Review, Sept. 1814, p. 327. 

Let it be observed, that the instance hero given is miraculous in no other serge 
than that of being highly improbable. 


worthy of credit. "What, for : nstance, would the great Hum-;, 
or any of the philosophers of his school, have said, if they had 
found, in the antique records of any nation, such a passage as 
this ? " There was a certain man of Corsica, whose name was 
Napoleon, and he was one of the chief captains of the host of 
the French ; and he gathered together an army, and went and 
fought against Egypt; but when the king of Britain heard 
thereof, he sent ships of war and valiant men to fight against 
the French in Egypt. So they warred against them, and pre- 
vailed, and strengthened the hands of the rulers of the land 
against the French, and drave away Napoleon from before the 
city of Acre. Then Napoleon left the captains and the army 
that were in Egypt, and fled, and returned back to France. 
So the French people took Napoleon, and made him ruler 
over them, and he became exceeding great, insomuch as there 
was none like him of all that had ruled over France before." 

What, I say, would Hume have thought of this, especially 
if he had been told that it was at this day generally credited ? 
Would he not have confessed that he had been mistaken in sup- 
posing there was a peculiarly blind credulity and prejudice in 
favor of everything that is accounted sacred ; l for that, since 
even professed sceptics swallow implicitly such a story as this, 
it appears there must be a still blinder prejudice in favor of 
everything that is not accounted sacred ? 

Suppose, again, we found in this history such passages as 
the following : " And it came to pass after these things that 
Napoleon strengthened himself, and gathered together another 
host instead of that which he had lost, and went and warred 
against the Prussians, and the Russians, and the Austrians, 

1 "If the spirit of religion join itself to the love of wonder, there is an end of 
common sense ; and human testimony in these circumstances loses all pretensions 
to authority." fiwnie's Essny on Miracles, p. 179, 12mo.; p. 185, 8vo. 1767; p. 
117, 8vo. 1817. 


and all the rulers of the north country, which were confederate 
against him. And the ruler of Sweden, also, which was a 
Frenchman, warred against Napoleon. So they went forth, 
and fought against the French in the plain of Leipsic. And 
the French were discomfited before their enemies, and fled 
and came to the rivers which are behind Leipsic, and essayed 
to pass over, that they might escape out of the hand of their 
enemies ; but they could not ; for Napoleon had broken down 
the bridges ; so the people of the north e' untries came upon 
them, and smote them with a very grievous slaughter." .... 

" Then the ruler of Austria and all the rulers of the north 
countries sent messengers unto Napoleon to speak peaceably 
unto him, saying, Why should there be war between us any 
more ? Now Napoleon had put away his wife, and taken the 
daughter of the ruler of Austria to wife So all the counsellors 
of Napoleon came and stood before him, and said, Behold now 
these kings are merciful kings ; do even as they say unto thee ; 
knowest thou not yet that France is destroyed ? But he spake 
roughly unto his counsellors, and drave them out from his 
presence, neither would he hearken unto their voice. And 
when all the kings saw that, they warred against France, and 
smote it with the edge of the sword, and came near to Paris, 
which is the royal city, to take it : so the men of Paris went 
out, and delivered up the city to them. Then those kings 
spake kindly unto the men of Paris, saying, Be of good cheer, 
there shall no iiarm happen unto you. Then were the men 
of Paris glad, and said, Napoleon is a tyrant; he shall no 
more rule over us : also all the princes, the judges, the coun- 
sellors, and the captains whom Napoleon had raised up even 
from the lowest of the people, sent unto Lewis the brother of 
King Lewis / whom he had slain, and made him king over 

" And when Napoleon saw 'hat the kingdom was departed 


from him, he said unto the rulers which came against him, 
Let me, I pray you, give the kingdom unto my son ; but they 
would not hearken unto him. Then he spake yet again, say- 
ing, Let me, I pray you, go and live in the island of Elba, 
which is over against Italy, nigh unto the coast of France ; 
and ye shall give me an allowance for me and my household, 
and the land of Elba also for a possession. So they made 
him ruler of Elba.". . . . 

" In those days the Pope returned unto his own land. Now 
the French, and divers other nations of Europe, are servants 
of the Pope, and hold him in reverence ; but he is an abom- 
ination unto the Britons, and to the Prussians, and to the Rus- 
sians, and to the Swedes. Howbeit, the French had taken 
away all his lands, and robbed him of all that he had, and car- 
ried him away captive into France. But when the Britons, 
and the Prussians, and the Russians, and the Swedes, and the 
rest of the nations that were confederate against France, came 
thither, they caused the French to set the Pope at liberty, and 
to restore all his goods that they had taken ; likewise they 
gave him back all his possessions ; and he went home in peace, 
and ruled over his own city as in times past.". . . . 

" And it came to pass when Napoleon had not yet been a 
full year at Elba, that he said unto his men of war that clave 
unto him, Go to, let us go back to France, and fight against 
King Lewis, and thrust him out from being king. So he de- 
parted, he and six hundred men with him that drew the sword, 
and warred against King Lewis. Then all the men of Belial 
gathered themselves together, and said, God save Napoleon. 
And when Lewis saw that, he fled, and gat him into the land 
of Batavia ; and Napoleon ruled over France," etc. etc. etc. 

Now if A free-thinking philosopher one of those who ad- 
vocate the cause of unbiased reason, and despise pretended 
revelations were to meet with such a tissue of absurdities as 


this in an old Jewish record, would he not reject it at once as 
too palpable an imposture 1 to deserve even any inquiry into its 
evidence ? Is that credible, then, of the civilized Europeans 
now, which could not, if reported of the semi-barbarous Jews 
three thousand years ago, be established by any testimony? 
Will it be answered, that " there is nothing supernatural in all 
this ? " Why is it, then, that you object to what is supernatu- 
ral that you reject every account of miracles if not be- 
cause they are improbable ? Surely, then, a story equally or 
still more improbable is not to be implicitly received merely 
on the ground that it is not miraculous ; though in fact, as I 
have already (in note, p. 26) shown from Hume's authority, 
it really is miraculous. The opposition to experience has 
been proved to be as complete in this case as in what are 
commonly called miracles ; and the reasons assigned for that 
contrariety by the defenders of them, cannot be pleaded in the 
present instance. If, then, philosophers who reject every won- 
derful story that is maintained by priests are yet found ready 
to believe everything else, however improbable, they will surely 
lay themselves open to the accusation brought against them of 
being unduly prejudiced against whatever relates to religion. 

There is one more circumstance which I cannot forbear 
mentioning, because it so much adds to the air of fiction which 
pervades every part of this marvellous tale ; and that is, the 
nationality of it. 2 

"I desire any one to lay his hand upon his heart, and after serious consider- 
ation declare whether he thinks that the falsehood of such a book, supported by 
such testimony, would be more extraordinary and miraculous than all the mir- 
acles it relates." Hume's Essay on Miracles, p. 200, 12mo.; p. 206, 8vo. 1767; 
p. 131, 8vo. 18}7. 

Let it be borne in mind, that Hume (as I have above remarked) continually 
employs the term " miracle " and " prodigy " to signify anything that is highly 
improbable and extraordinary, 

2 " The wise lend a very academic faith to every report which favors the pas- 


Buonaparte prevailed over all the hostile states in turn, 
except England; in the zenith of his. power, his fleets were 
swept from the sea by England ; his troops always defeat an 
equal, and frequently even a superior number of those of any 
other nation, except the English; and with them it is just the 
reverse ; twice, and twice only, he is personally engaged against 
an English commander, and both times he is totally defeated 
at Acre and at Waterloo ; and to crown all, England finally 
crushes this tremendous power, which had so long kept the 
continent in subjection or in alarm, and to the English he sur- 
renders himself prisoner ! Thoroughly national, to be sure ! 
It may be all very true ; but I would only ask, if a story had 
been fabricated for the express purpose of amusing the English 
A nation, could it have been contrived more ingeniously? It 
would do admirably for an epic poem ; and, indeed, bears a 

considerable resemblance to the Iliad and the ^Eneid, in which 
V / 
* I Achilles and the Greeks, JEneas and the Trojans (the ances- 

; tors of the Romans), are so studiously held up to admiration. 

"Buonaparte's exploits seem magnified in order to enhance the 
glory of his conquerors, just as Hector is allowed to triumph 
during the absence of Achilles, merely to give additional splen- 
dor to his overthrow by the arm of that invincible hero. "Would 
not this circumstance alone render a history rather suspicious 
in the eyes of an acute critic, even if it were not filled with 
such gross improbabilities, and induce him to suspend his 
judgment till very satisfactory evidence (far stronger than can 
be found in this case) should be produced ? 

Is it, then, too much to demand of the wary academic 1 a sus- 

sion of the reporter, whether it magnifies his country, his family, or himself." 
Hume's Essay on Miracles, p. 144, 12mo. ; p. 200, 8vo. 1767; p. 126, 8vo. 1817. 

1 " Nothing can be more contrary than such a philosophy " (the academic or 
sceptica ) " to the supine indolence of the mind, its rash arrogance, its lofty pre- 


pension of judgment as to the " life and adventures of Napoleon 
Buonaparte ? " I do no pretend to decide positively that there 
is not, nor ever was, any such person, but merely to propose it 
as a doubtful point, and one the more deserving of careful in- 
vestigation from the very circumstance of its having hitherto 
h>een admitted without inquiry. Far less would I undertake 
to decide what is, or has been, the real state of affairs. He 
who points out the improbability of the current story is not 
bound to suggest an hypothesis of his own ;* though it may be 
safely affirmed that it would be hard to invent any one more 
improbable than the received one. One may surely be al- 
lowed to hesitate in admitting the stories which the ancient 
poets tell of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions being caused 
by imprisoned giants, without being called upon satisfactorily 
to account for those phenomena. 

Amidst the defect of valid evidence under which, as I have 
already shown, we labor in the present instance, it is hardly 
possible to offer more than here and there a probable conjec- 
ture ; or to 'pronounce how much may be true, and how much 
fictitious, in the accounts presented to us. For it is to be ob- 
served that this case is much more open to sceptical doubts 
even than some miraculous histories ; for some of them are of 
such a nature that you cannot consistently admit a part and 
reject the rest, but are bound, if you are satisfied as to the re- 
ality of any one miracle, to embrace the whole system ; so that 
it is necessary for the sceptic to impeach the evidence of all of 
them, separately and collectively; whereas here each single 
point requires to be established separately, since no one of them 
authenticates the rest. Supposing there be a state prisoner, 

tensions, aiid its superstitious credulity." Fifth Essay, p. 68, 12mo.; p. 41, 8*0. 

1 See Hume's Essay on Miracles, pp. 189, 191, 195, 12mo.; pp. 193, 197, 201, 202, 
8vo. 1767; pp. 124, 125, 126, 8vo. 1817. 


at St. Helena (which, by the way, it is acknowledged, many 
of the French disbelieve), how do we know who he is, or whj 
he is confined there ? There have been state prisoners, before 
now, who were never guilty of subjugating half Europe, and 
whose offences have been very imperfectly ascertained. Ad- 
mitting that there have been bloody wars going on for several 
years past, which is highly probable, it does not follow that the 
events of those wars were such as we have been told that Buo- 
naparte was the author and conductor of them ; or that such a 
person ever existed. What disturbances may have taken 
place in the government of the French people, we, and even 
nineteen twentieths of them, have no means of learning but 
from imperfect hearsay evidence ; and how much credit they 
themselves attach to that evidence is very doubtful. This at 
least is certain, that a M. Berryer, a French advocate, has 
published memoirs, professing to record many of the recent 
events of the history of France, in which, among other things, 
he states his conviction that Buonaparte's escape from Elba 

MENT. 1 And we are assured by many travellers that this was, 
and is, commonly reported in France. 

Now, that the French should believe the whole story about 
Buonaparte, according to this version of it, does seem utterly 
incredible. Let any one suppose them seriously believing 
that we maintained for many years a desperate struggle against 
this formidable emperor of theirs, in the course of which we 
expended such an enormous amount of blood and treasure as 
is reported ; that we finally, after encountering enormous risks, 
succeeded in subduing him, and secured him in a place of safe 
exile ; and that, in less than a year a*'ter, we turned him out 
again, like a bag-fox, or rather a bag-lion, for the sake of 
amusing ourselves by again staking all tint was dear to us on 

i See Edinburgh Review for October, A 842, p. 162. 


the event of a doubtful and bloody battle, in which defeat must 
be ruinous, and victory, if obtained at all, must cost us many 
thousands of our best soldiers. Let any one force himself for a 
moment to conceive the French seriously believing such a mass 
of absurdity ; and the inference must be that such a people must 
be prepared to believe anything. They might fancy their own 
country to abound not only with Napoleons, but with dragons 
and centaurs, and " men whose heads do grow beneath their 
shoulders," or anything else that any lunatic ever dreamed of. 
If we could suppose the French capable of such monstrous 
credulity as the above supposition would imply, it is plain their 
testimony must be altogether worthless. 

But, on the other hand, suppose them to be aware that the 
British Government have been all along imposing on us, and 
it is quite natural that they should deride our credulity, and 
try whether there is anything too extravagant for us to swal- 
low. And, indeed, if Buonaparte was in fact altogether a 
phantom conjured up by the British Ministers, then it is true 
that his escape from Elba really was, as well as the rest of his 
exploits, a contrivance of theirs. 

But whatever may be believed by the French relative to 
the recent occurrences in their own country, and whatever may 
be the real character of these occurrences, of this, at least, we 
are well assured, that there have been numerous bloody wars 
with France under the dominion of the Bourbons ; and we are 
now told that France is governed by a Bourbon king, of the 
name of Lewis, who professes to be in the twenty-third year 
of his reign. Let every one conjecture for himself. I am far 
from pretending to decide who may have been the governor 
or governors of the French nation, and the leaders of their 
armies, for several years past. Certain it is, that when men 
are indulging their inclination for the marvellous, they always 


show a strong propensity to accumulate upon one indiv idual 
(real or imaginary) the exploits of many ; besides multiplying 
and exaggerating these exploits a thousand-fold. Thus, the 
expounders of the ancient mythology tell us there were several 
persons of the name of Hercules (either originally bearing 
that appellation, or having it applied to them as an honor), 
whose collective feats, after being dressed up in a sufficiently 
marvellous garb, were attributed to a single hero. Is it not 
just possible, that during the rage for words of Greek deriva- 
tion, the title of "Napoleon" (NctTroAeW), which signifies "lion 
of the forest," may have been conferred by the popular voice 
on more than one favorite general, distinguished for irresistible 
valor ? Is it not also possible that " BUONA PARTE " may have 
been originally a sort of cant term applied to the " good (that is, 
the bravest, or most patriotic) part " of the French army, col- 
lectively, and have been afterwards mistaken for the proper 

! name of an individual? 1 I do not profess to support this con- 
jecture ; but it is certain that such mistakes may and do occur. 

' Some critics have supposed that the Athenians imagined AN- 
AS TIS ("Resurrection") to be a new goddess, in whose cause 
Paul was preaching. Would it have been thought anything 
incredible if we had been told that the ancient Persians, who idea of any but a monarchical government, had supposed 

1 It is well known with how much learning and ingenuity the Rationalists of 
the German school have labored to throw discredit on the literal interpretation 
of the narratives, both of the Old and New Testaments representing them as 
MYTHS, that is, fables allegorically describing some physical or moral phe- 
nomena philosophical principles systems, etc. under the figure of actions 
performed by certain ideal personages; these allegories having been, afterwards, 
through the mistake of the vulgar, believed as history. Thus, the real historical 
existence of such a person as the supposed founder of the Christian religion, 
and the acts attributed to him, are denied in the literal sense, and the whole of 
the evangelical history is explained on the " mythical " theory. 

Now it is a remarkable circumstance, in reference to the point at present N>f< re 
us, that an eminent authoress of this century has distinctly declared th* NV 
poleon Buonjfparte was NOT A MAN, but a SYSTEM. 


Aristocratia to be a queen of Sparta ? But we need not con- 
fine ourselves to hypothetical cases : it is positively stated that 
the Hindoos at this day believe " the honorable East India 
Company " to be a venerable old lady of high dignity, residing 
in this country. The Germans, again, of the present day de- 
rive their name from a similar mistake. The first tribe of them 
who invaded Gaul l assumed the honorable title of " Ger-man" 
which signifies " warriors " (the words " war " and " guerre," 
as well as " man," which remains in our language unaltered, 
are evidently derived from the Teutonic), and the Gauls ap- 
plied this as a name to the whole race. 

However, I merely throw out these conjectures, without by 
any means contending that more plausible ones might not be 
suggested. But whatever supposition we adopt, or whether 
we adopt any, the objections to the commonly received accounts 
will remain in their full force, and imperiously demand the 
attention of the candid sceptic. 

I call upon those, therefore, who profess themselves advocates 
of free inquiry, who disdain to be carried along with the 
stream of popular opinion, and who will listen to no testimony 
that runs counter to experience, to follow up their own 
principles fairly and consistently. Let the same mode of ar- 
gument be adopted in all cases alike ; and then it can no longer 
be attributed to hostile prejudice, but to enlarged and philo- 
sophical views. If they have already rejected some histories, 
on the ground of their being strange and marvellous, of their 
relating facts unprecedented and at variance with the estab- 
lished course of nature, let them not give credit to another 
history which lies open to the very same objections, the 

1 Germanise vocabulum recens et nuper additum; quomam qui primi Rhe- 
num transgressi Gallos expulerint, ac nunc Tungri, tune Germaui vocati sint; 
ita nationis nomen in nomeu gentis evaluisse paullatum, ut omnes, primum a 
victore ob metum, mox a seipsis invento nomine, Gennani vocarentur. Tacit' 
tus, de Mor, Germ. 



extraordinary and romantic tale we have been just considering. 
If they have discredited the testimony of witnesses, who are 
said at least to have been disinterested, and to have braved 
persecutions and death in support of their assertions, can 
these philosophers consistently listen to and believe the testi- 
mony of those who avowedly get money by the tales they pub- 
lish, and who do not even pretend that they incur any serious 
risk in case of being detected in a falsehood ? If, in other 
cases, they have refused to listen to an account which has 
passed through many intermediate hands before it reaches 
them, and which is defended by those who have an interest in 
maintaining it, let them consider through how many, and what 
very suspicious hands, this story has arrived to them, without 
the possibility, as I have shown, of tracing it back to any de- 
cidedly authentic source, after all, to any better authority, 
according to their own showing, than that of an unnamed and 
unknown foreign correspondent ; and likewise how strong an 
interest, in every way, those who have hitherto imposed on 
them, have in keeping up the imposture. Let them, in short, 
show themselves as ready to detect the cheats and despise the 
fables of politicians as of priests. 

But if they are still wedded to the popular belief in this 
point, let them be consistent enough to admit the same evi- 
dence in other cases which they yield to in this. If, after all 
that has been said, they cannot bring themselves to doubt of 
the existence of Napoleon Buonaparte, they must at least ac- 
knowledge that they do not apply to that question the same 
plan of reasoning which they have made use of in others ; and 
they are consequently bound in reason and in honesty to re- 
nounce it altogether. 



IT may seem arrogant for an obscure and nameless individ- 
ual to claim the glory of having put to death the most formi- 
dable of all recorded heroes. But a shadowy champion may be 
overthrown by a shadowy antagonist. Many a terrific spectre 
has been laid by the beams of a halfpenny candle. And if I 
have succeeded in making out, in the foregoing pages, a prob- 
able case of suspicion, it must, I think, be admitted, that there 
is some ground for my present boast of having killed Napoleon 

Let but the circumstances of the case be considered. This 
mighty emperor, who had been so long the bugbear of the 
civilized world, after having obtained successes and undergone 
reverses, such as never befel any (other at least) real potentate, 
was at length sentenced to confinement in the remote island 
of St. Helena, a measure which many persons wondered at, 
and many objected to, on various grounds, not unreasonably 
supposing the illustrious exile to be a real person ; but on the 
supposition of his being only a man of straw, the situation was 
exceedingly favorable for keeping him out of the way of im- 
pertinent curiosity, when not wanted, and for making him the 
foundation of any new plots that there might be occasion to 
conjure up. 

About this juncture it was that the public attention was first 
invited by these pages, to the question as to the real existence 
of Napoleon Buonaparte. They excited, it may be fairly sup- 
posed, along with much surprise and much censure, some de- 


gree of doubt, and probably of consequent inquiry. No fresh 
evidence, as far as I can learn, of the truth of the disputed 
points, was brought forward to dispel these doubts. We heard, 
however, of the most jealous precautions being used to prevent 
any intercourse between the formidable prisoner and any 
stranger who, from motives of curiosity, might wish to visit 
him. The " man in the iron mask " could hardly have been 
more rigorously secluded ; and we also heard various contra- 
dictory reports of conversations between him and the few who 
were allowed access to him ; the falsehood and inconsistency of 
most of these reports being proved in contemporary publications. 
At length, just about the time when the public scepticism 
respecting this extraordinary personage might be supposed to 
have risen to an alarming height, it was announced to us that 
he was dead ! A stop was thus put, most opportunely, to all 
troublesome inquiries. I do not undertake to deny that such 
a person did live and die. That he was, and that he did, 
everything that is reported, we cannot believe, unless we con- 
sent to admit contradictory statements ; but many of the events 
recorded, however marvellous, are certainly not, when taken 
separately, physically impossible. But I would only entreat 
the candid reader to reflect what might naturally be expected, 
on the supposition of the surmises contained in the present 
work being well founded. Supposing the whole of the tale I 
have been considering to have been a fabrication, what would 
be the natural result of such an attempt to excite inquiry into 
its truth ? Evidently the shortest and most effectual mode of 
eluding detection, would be to kill the phantom, and so get rid 
of him at once. A ready and decisive answer would thus be 
provided to any one in whom the foregoing arguments might 
have excited suspicions, " Sir, there can be ,no doubt that 
such a person existed, and performed what is related of him ; 
and if you will just take a voyage to St. Helena, you may see 
with your own eyes, not him, indeed, for he is no longer 
living, but his tomb ; and what evidence would you have 
that is more decisive ? " 


So much for his death: as for his life, it is just pub- 
lished by an eminent writer; besides which, the shops will 
supply us with abundance of busts and prints of this great man; 
all striking likenesses of one another. The most incredulous 
must be satisfied with this ! " Stat magni NOMINIS umbra ! " 



SINCE the publication of the Sixth Edition of this work, the 
French nation, and the world at large, have obtained an addi- 
tional evidence, to which I hope they will attach as much 
weight as it deserves, of the reality of the wonderful history I 
have been treating of. 'The great nation, among the many 
indications lately given of an heroic zeal like what Homer at- 
tributes to his Argive warriors, TLaacr^ai'EAE'NH^ opjjir)- 
jjiaTa re arova^a^ re, have formed and executed the design 
of bringing home for honorable interment the remains of their 
illustrious chief. 

How many persons have actually inspected these relics, I 
have not ascertained ; but that a real coffin, containing real 
bones, was brought from St. Helena to France, I see no reason 
to disbelieve. 

Whether future visitors to St. Helena will be shown merely 
t he identical place in which Buonaparte was (said to have been) 
interred, or whether another set of real bones will be exhibited 
in that island, we have yet to learn. 

This latter supposition is not very improbable. It was 
something of a credit to the island, an attraction to strangers, 
and a source of profit to some or the inhabitants, to possess so 
remarkable a relic ; and this glory and advantage they must 
naturally whh to retain. If so, there seems no reason why 


they should not have a Buonaparte of their own ; for there is, 
I believe, no doubt that there are, or were, several museums 
in England, which, among other curiosities, boasted, each, of a 
genuine skull of Oliver Cromwell. 

Perhaps, therefore, we shall hear of several well-authenti- 
cated skulls of Buonaparte also, in the collections of different 
virtuosos, all of whom (especially those in whose own crania 
the "organ of wonder" is the most largely developed), will 
doubtless -derive equal satisfaction from the relics they respect- 
ively possess. 


THE public has been of late much interested, and not a little 
bewildered, by the accounts of many strange events, said to 
have recently taken place in France and other parts of the 
Continent. Are these accounts of such a character as to allay, 
or to strengthen and increase, such doubts as have been sug- 
gested in the foregoing pages ? 

We are told that there is now a Napoleon Buonaparte at 
the head of the government of France. It is not, indeed, as- 
serted that he is the very original Napoleon Buonaparte him- 
self. The death of that personage, and the transportation of his 
genuine bones to France, had been too widely proclaimed to 
allow of his reappearance in his own proper person. But 
" uno avulso, non deficit alter." Like the Thibetian worship- 
pers of the Delai Lama (who never dies ; only, his soul 
transmigrates into a fresh body), the French are so resolved, 
we are told, to be under a Buonaparte whether that be (see 
note to p. 36) a man or "a system" that they have found, 
it seems, a kind of new incarnation of this their grand Lama, 
in a person said to be the nephew of the original one. 


And when, on hearing that this personage now fills the high 
office of President of the French Republic, we inquire (very 
naturally) how he came there, we are informed that, several 
years ago, he invaded France in an English vessel (the Eng- 
glish as was observed in p. 34 having always been sus- 
pected of keeping Buonaparte ready, like the winds in a Lap- 
land witch's bag, to be let out on occasion), at the head of a 
force, not of six hundred men, like his supposed uncle in his 
expedition from Elba, but of fifty-five (!), with which he landed 
at Boulogne, proclaimed himself emperor, and was joined by 
no less than one man ! He was accordingly, we are told, 
arrested, brought to trial, and- sentenced to imprisonment; but 
having, some years after, escaped from prison, and taken refuge 
in England (England again !), he thence returned to France ; 
AND so the French nation placed him at the head of the gov- 
ernment ! 

All this will doubtless be received as a very probable tale, 
by those who have given full credit to all the stories I have 
alluded to in the foregoing pages. 


WHEN any dramatic piece takes as the phrase is with 
the public, it will usually be represented again and again with 
still-continued applause ; and sometimes imitations of it will 
be produced ; so that the same drama in substance will, with 
occasional slight variations in the plot, and changes of names, 
long keep possession of the stage. 

Something like this has taken place with respect to that 
curious tragi-comedy the scene of it laid in France which 
has engaged the attention of the British public for about sixty 


years ; during which it has been " exhibited to crowded houses" 
namely, coffee-houses, reading-rooms, etc. with unabated 

The outline of this drama, or series of dramas, may be thus 
sketched : 


A. A King or other Sovereign. 

B. His Queen. 

C. The Heir apparent. 

D. E. F. His Ministers. 

G. II. I. J. K. Demagogues. 

L. A popular leader, of superior ingeuuity, who becomes ultimately 
supreme ruler, under the title of Dictator, Consul, Emperor, King, Presi- 
dent, or some other. 

Soldiers, Senators, Executioners, and other functionaries, Citizens, 
Fislnvomcn, etc. 

Scene, Paris. 

I. The first Act of one of these dramas represents a monarchy, some- 
what troubled by murmurs of disaffection, suspicions of conspiracy, etc. 

II. Second Act, a rebellion ; in which ultimately the government is 

III. Act the third, a provisional government established, on principles 
of liberty, equality, fraternity, etc. 

IV. Act the fourth, struggles of various parties for power, carried on 
with sundry intrigues and sanguinary conflicts. 

V. Act the fifth, the ree'stablishment of some form of absolute mon- 

And from this point we start afresh, and begin the same 
business over again, with sundry fresh interludes. 

All this is highly amusing to the English public to hear and 
read of; but I doubt whether our countrymen would like to be 
actual performers in such a drama. 

Whether the Fre ich really are so, or whether they are 
mystifying us in the accounts they send over, I will not pre- 
sume to decide. But if the former supposition be the true 


one, if they have been so long really acting over and over 
again in their own persons such a drama, it must be allowed 
that they deserve to be characterized as they have been in the 
description given of certain European nations, " An En- 
glishman," it has been said, " is never happy but when he is 
miserable ; a Scotchman is never at home but when he is 
abroad ; an Irishman is never at peace but when he is fighting ; 
a Spaniard is never at, liberty but when he is enslaved ; and a 
Frenchman is never settled but when he is engaged in a rev- 

Besides the many strange and improbable circumstances in 
the history of Buonaparte that have been noticed in the fore- 
going pages, there are many others that have been omitted, two 
of which it may be worth while to advert to. 

One of the most incredible is the received account of the 
persons known as the " Detenus." It is well known that a 
great number of English gentlemen passed many years, in the 
early part of the present century, abroad, by their own ac- 
count, in France. Their statement was, that, while travelling 
in that country for their amusement, as peaceable tourists, they 
were, on the sudden breaking out of a war, seized by this ter- 
rible Buonaparte, and kept prisoners for about twelve years, 
contrary to all the usages of civilized nations, to all princi- 
ples of justice, of humanity, of enlightened policy; many of 
vhem thus wasting in captivity the most important portion of 
their lives, and having all their prospects blighted. 

Now, whether these persons were in reality exiles by choice, 
for the sake of keeping out of the way of creditors, or of en- 
joying the society of those they preferred to their own domestic 
circle, I do not venture to conjecture. But let the reader con- 
sider whether any conjecture can be more improbable than the 
statement actually made. 

It is, indeed, credible that ambition may prompt an unscru- 
pulous man to make the most enormous sacrifices of human 
life, and to perpetrate the most atrocious crimes, for the ad- 


vancement of his views of conquest. But that this great man 
as he is usually reckoned even by adversaries this hero 
according to some this illustrious warrior and mighty sover- 
eign should have stooped to be guilty of an act of mean and 
petty malice worthy of a spiteful old woman, a piece of pal- 
try cruelty which could not at all conduce to his success in the 
war, or produce any effect except to degrade his country, and 
exasperate ours, this, surely, is quite incredible. " Pizarro, 1 ' 
says Elvira, in Kotzebue's play, " if not always justly, at least 
act always greatly." 

But a still more wonderful circumstance connected with this 
transaction remains behind. A large portion of the English 
nation, and among these the whole of the Whig party, are said 
to have expressed the most vehement indignation, mingled with 
compassion, at the banishment from Europe, and confinement 
in St. Helena, of this great man. No considerations of regard 
for the peace and security of our own country, no dread of the 
power of so able and indefatigable a warrior, and so inveterate 
an enemy, should have induced us, they thought, to subject this 
formidable personage to a confinement which was far less se- 
vere than that to which he was said to have subjected such 
numbers of our countrymen, the harmless, non-belligerent trav- 
ellers, whom (according to the story) he kidnapped in France, 
with no object but to gratify the basest and most unmanly spite. 

But there is no truth in that story ; and that it was not be- 
lieved by those who manifested so much sympathy and indig- 
nation on this great man's account, is sufficiently proved by 
that very sympathy and indignation. 

There are, again, other striking improbabilities connected 
with the Polish nation in the history before us. Buonaparte 
is represented as having always expressed the strongest sym- 
pathy with that ill-used people ; and they, as being devotedly 
attached to him, and fighting with the utmost fidelity and 
bravery in his armies, in which some of them obtained high 
commands. Now he jad it manifestly in his power at one 
period (according to the received accounts), with a stroke 


of his pen to reestablish Poland as an independent state. 
For, in his last Russian war, he had complete occupation of 
the country (of which the population was perfectly friendly) ; 
the Russian portion of it was his by right of conquest; 
and Austria and Prussia, then his allies, and almost his sub- 
jects, would gladly have resigned their portions in exchange 
for some of the provinces they had ceded to France, and which 
were, to him, of little value, but, to them, important. And, 
indeed, Prussia was (as we are told) so thoroughly humbled 
and weakened, that he might easily have enforced the cession 
of Prussian-Poland, even without any compensation. And 
the reestablishment of the Polish kingdom would have been as 
evidently politic as it was reasonable. The independence of 
a faithful and devoted ally, at enmity with the surrounding 
nations the very nations that were the most likely to com- 
bine (as they often had done) against him, this would have 
given him, at no cost, a kind of strong garrison to maintain his 
power, and to keep his enemies in check. 

Yet this most obvious step, the history tells us, he did not 
take ; but made flattering speeches to the Poles, used their 
services, and did nothing for them ! 

This is, alone, sufficiently improbable. But we are required, 
moreover, to believe that the Poles, instead of execrating 
this man who had done them the unpardonable wrong of wan- 
tonly disappointing the expectations he had, for his purposes, 
excited, thus adding treachery to ingratitude, instead of this, 
continued to the last as much devoted to him as ever, and even 
now idolize his memory ! We are to believe, in short, that 
this Buonaparte, not only in his own conduct and adventures 
violated all the established rules* of probability, but also caused 
all other persons, as many as came in contact with him, to act 
as no mortals ever did act before : may we not add, as no mor- 
tals ever did act at all ? 

Many other improbabilities might be added to the list, and 
will be found in the complete edition of that history, from 
which some extracts have been given in the foregoing pages, 


and which has been published (under the title of " Historic- 
certainties") by Aristarchus Newlight, with a learned com- 
mentary (not, indeed, adopting the views contained in the 
foregoing pages, but) quite equal in ingenuity to a late work 
on the " Hebrew Monarchy." 






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