August 29th, 2012


Sour Grapes on St Helena

I just happened serendipitously upon this 1816 quotation from Napoleon's St Helena memoir:

Mr. Pitt was the master of European politics; in his hands, he held the moral destiny of nations; he ill used his power; he set the world ablaze and he will be remembered in history like Herostratus amid the flames, the laments, the tears...

First, the initial sparks of our Revolution, then all the opposition to our national will and, finally, all the horrid crimes that resulted, are his doing. This universal conflagration for 25 years and the numerous coalitions that maintained it; the upheaval and devastation of the nations of Europe and the rivers of blood that resulted; the appalling debt of England which paid for it all; the foul system of loans that cripples our economies; the universal discontent of today; all of that was brought about by him. History will recognize him for the curse he truly was. This man, who was so exalted in his day, will one day be viewed as the incarnation of evil… But history will most reproach Mr. Pitt for the vile legacy he left after him: his unscrupulous Machiavellianism, his utter immorality, his cold, selfish nature, his contempt for justice and men’s fortunes.

Jeez! What a sore loser! I'm no expert in that period of history, but I could have sworn that quite a few of those things had to do with Mr B himself.

Napoleon's not alone in this, but there's nothing that puts me off a tyrant more than this whiny "He started it!" attitude. Why can't they just say "Bwa ha ha!" like they're meant to and, if defeated, mutter something like "You may have won this battle, but next time, victory will be mine!"? (Napoleon may well have said just this on Elba, but history appears not to have recorded it.)

Naturally, it begins with a manuscript...

One of the weirdest experiences of this summer was taking a break from marking summer exam papers to read Tolkien's Notion Club Papers, only to see the following opening lines:

These Papers have a rather puzzling history. They were found after the Summer Examinations of 2012 on top of a number of sacks of waste paper...

Of course, Tolkien has form when it comes to mixing up creative work and exam papers: that's where The Hobbit had its birth, after all. I rather wish I'd known The Notion Club Papers when I wrote this article, though, which takes the Hobbit incident as its starting point.