The Companions of Jehu
36. Sculpture And Painting
When Roland returned to the Luxembourg, the clock of the palace marked one
hour and a quarter after mid-day.
The First Consul was working with Bourrienne.
If we were merely writing a novel, we should hasten to its close, and in order to
get there more expeditiously we should neglect certain details, which, we are
told, historical figures can do without. That is not our opinion. From the day we
first put pen to paper--now some thirty years ago--whether our thought were
concentrated on a drama, or whether it spread itself into a novel, we have had a
double end--to instruct and to amuse.
And we say instruct first, for amusement has never been to our mind anything but
a mask for instruction. Have we succeeded? We think so. Before long we shall
have covered with our narratives an enormous period of time; between the
"Comtesse de Salisbury" and the "Comte de Monte-Cristo" five centuries and a
half are comprised. Well, we assert that we have taught France as much history
about those five centuries and a half as any historian.
More than that; although our opinions are well known; although, under the
Bourbons of the elder branch as under the Bourbons of the younger branch,
under the Republic as under the present government, we have always
proclaimed them loudly, we do not believe that that opinion has been unduly
manifested in our books and dramas.
We admire the Marquis de Posa in Schiller's "Don Carlos"; but, in his stead, we
should not have anticipated the spirit of that age to the point of placing a
philosopher of the eighteenth century among the heroes of the sixteenth, an
encyclopedist at the court of Philippe II. Therefore, just as we have been--in
literary parlance--monarchical under the Monarchy, republican under the
Republic, we are to-day reconstructionists under the Consulate.
That does not prevent our thought from hovering above men, above their epoch,
and giving to each the share of good and evil they do. Now that share no one,
except God, has the right to award from his individual point of view. The kings of
Egypt who, at the moment they passed into the unknown, were judged upon the
threshold of their tombs, were not judged by a man, but by a people. That is why
it is said: "The judgment of a people is the judgment of God."
Historian, novelist, poet, dramatic author, we are nothing more than the foreman
of a jury who impartially sums up the arguments and leaves the jury to give their
verdict. The book is the summing up; the readers are the jury.
That is why, having to paint one of the most gigantic figures, not only of modern
times but of all times; having to paint the period of his transition, that is to say the
moment when Bonaparte transformed himself into Napoleon, the general into an
emperor--that is why we say, in the fear of becoming unjust, we abandon
interpretations and substitute facts.
We are not of those who say with Voltaire that, "no one is a hero to his valet."