Sunday, November 29, 2009

Should Have Listened to Barras....

During the chaotic, economically horrendous days of the Directory, the five member executive branch had a difficult time making decisions. They did not like the centralized republic that had come before, they did not like the constitutional monarchy that had come before that, and they did not like the absolute monarchy that came before that. The directors were generally aware that there needed to be Change, particularly since their really stupid economic and military policies led to disasters unheard of under the Committee of Public Safety and it was pissing off the Parisian mobs, the chouans (Royalist peasant armies), the Jacobins, the royalists, the peasants, the workers and just about anyone who was not more-or-less middle class or higher and who was not more-or-less corrupt and making money off of the chaos.

Thus, it came as no surprise that the directors hemmed and hawed and shuffled their papers when it came to making decisions about who would take up various governmental positions. Barras, who became a director after the fall of Robespierre and remained one until the fall of the directory, got immensely frustrated over in-directory quarreling over military positions, particularly as they pertained to one Napoleone Buonaparte, an upstart Corsican who was, shockingly, actually winning battles.

The directors were reluctant to make Buonaparte head of the Army of Italy, which was doing abysmally, mostly because Buonaparte, at that time, was considered to be Barras's pet project and the directors spent most of their time hating one another rather than doing anything more productive.

Barras, however, won the day by stating, quite flatly, "Promote this man or he will promote himself."

Unfortunately the directors did not listen later on, and Napoleone Buonaparte promoted himself to the position of Emperor.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


The talented and terribly funny Madame Berg has just won herself an internet by creating what one hopes will be a new internet sensation- the lolpitt. You too, can make William Pitt the Younger smile and preserve such a rarity for posterity!

The Amateur Historian wishes anew that she had photoshop skillz.

Go here to tell Madame Berg just how incredibly awesome she is or to see her incredibly cool costumes.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses

There is nothing the Amateur Historian likes more than a scathing review of a ridiculous novel and, though the British Romantics had some doozies, the prize for scathing reviews must go to Mark Twain, for outlining Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses, which, alas, were great indeed.

Fenimore Cooper was at the forefront of American Romanticism, whose variation on the return to nature and the exploration of the history of one's nation was an exploration (with varying degrees of success) of colonial days, where one could give blankets full of smallpox to natives so one could build oneself a little Roussean paradise in the now vacant backwoods. Cooper's adventure stories were extremely popular, but, in Mark Twain's opinion, an insult to the reader, to the Native Americans, to literature, to Romanticism, and to the English language itself.

Here are some particular gems:

- [The rules governing literary fiction] require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others. But this detail has often been overlooked in the Deerslayer tale.

- [The rules also] require that crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader as "the craft of the woodsman, the delicate art of the forest," by either the author or the people in the tale. But this rule is persistently violated in the Deerslayer tale.

-Cooper's gift in the way of invention was not a rich endowment; but such as it was he liked to work it, he was pleased with the effects, and indeed he did some quite sweet things with it. In his little box of stage-properties he kept six or eight cunning devices, tricks, artifices for his savages and woodsmen to deceive and circumvent each other with... He prized his broken twig above all the rest of his effects, and worked it the hardest. It is a restful chapter in any book of his when somebody doesn't step on a dry twig and alarm all the reds and whites for two hundred yards around. Every time a Cooper person is in peril, and absolute silence is worth four dollars a minute, he is sure to step on a dry twig. There may be a hundred other handier things to step on, but that wouldn't satisfy Cooper. Cooper requires him to turn out and find a dry twig; and if he can't do it, go and borrow one. In fact, the Leatherstocking Series ought to have been called the Broken Twig Series.

-In the matter of intellect, the difference between a Cooper Indian and the Indian that stands in front of the cigar-shop is not spacious.

-To believe that such talk really ever came out of people's mouths would be to believe that there was a time when time was of no value to a person who thought he had something to say; when it was the custom to spread a two-minute remark out to ten; when a man's mouth was a rolling-mill, and busied itself all day long in turning four-foot pigs of thought into thirty-foot bars of conversational railroad iron by attenuation; when subjects were seldom faithfully stuck to, but the talk wandered all around and arrived nowhere; when conversations consisted mainly of irrelevancies, with here and there a relevancy, a relevancy with an embarrassed look, as not being able to explain how it got there.

-There have been daring people in the world who claimed that Cooper could write English, but they are all dead now.

-. Now I feel sure, deep down in my heart, that Cooper wrote about the poorest English that exists in our language, and that the English of Deerslayer is the very worst that even Cooper ever wrote.

- I may be mistaken, but it does seem to me that Deerslayer is not a work of art in any sense; it does seem to me that it is destitute of every detail that goes to the making of a work of art; in truth, it seems to me that Deerslayer is just simply a literary delirium tremens.

One can read the review here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Going for a swim?

Ah, Bonaparte on the Bridge of Arcole, Antoine-Jean Gros's most famous work, and one of the earliest bits of propaganda for the Napoleonic legend! This portrait of Napoleon, looking much more handsome than he probably was in real life, leads the way across the bridge at Arcole to seize Austrian Italy and set up numerous sister republics within a more-or-less benevolent system of French cultural hegemony. Note how the zeitgeist of the era disorders his hair and how he moves forward, sword extended, carrying the French flag of quasi-republicanism and cultural dominance.

Please also note that, instead of tearing through the mist with sword and flag upraised, the future Emperor actually fell off the bridge at Arcole and into a swampy canal where he would have drowned had he not been fished out, with quite a lot of difficulty, by his panicked aides-de-camp.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

He had to resume hostilities to maintain the balance of power

William Pitt was an extremely reserved, almost haughty person in public, but, in private was extraordinarily affectionate. He did not make friends easily, but Pitt held on tenaciously to those who managed to break past his reserve, and to a point where his Romantic friendships still puzzle scholars (ex. William Wilberforce, who became an outspoken opponent of Pitt's draconian policies during the Wars of the French Revolution but whom Pitt still considered one of his closest friends, and with whom Pitt had an odd but extremely enjoyable amount of slashy subtext in the 2006 film Amazing Grace).

Pitt was willing to bend over backwards for his family, as well, and adored his nieces and nephews. At one point, his niece, Lady Hester Stanhope blacked Pitt's face, while some other family members pinned him down, to amuse the youngest members of the family. This struggle, which evolved into a pillow fight, was interrupted by several members of Pitt's cabinet, including Lord Castlereagh. Pitt's transformation of demeanor was remarkable; he wiped off his face, and straightened up to the point where Lord Roseberry said that, after Pitt had assumed his working personna, "his tall figure seemed to stretch to the ceiling and all these powerful men who came calling bent like willows before him".

Immediately afterwards, Pitt resumed the pillowfight. One wonders if the Cabinet Ministers were asked to join in.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Is the worse punishment living under Napoleon III or having to live with his textile choices?

On the subject of Napoleon III's questionable taste, the Amateur Historian cannot help but mention one Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables, Notre Dame de Paris and more Romantic poetry than Coleridge, Shelley and Keats combined could have produced. Granted, of the three mentioned here, two died young and one was addicted to opium and probably spent days on end watching his hand move, but the point remains: Hugo was a prolific Romantic. Why say, "The cannon broke free of its restraints" when you can stretch out such an action for an entire chapter?

Therefore, when Hugo believed Napoleon III had questionable taste, he did not merely say, "I hate you and everything you stand for, Napoleon III", he:

a. single-handedly forced a revolution (it did not work)
b. got exiled
c. wrote a 300 page volume of poetry called Les Chatiments, which can be translated either as The Punishments or Dear Napoleon III I Hate You and Everything You Stand For, And You Exiled Me to Jersey, Where There Is Nothing To Do Besides Nurture My Deep Hatred For You In Alexandrine Rhyming Couplets Filled With Classical Allusions No One Else Will Understand.

In Les Chatiments, Hugo takes a gleeful delight in calling Napoleon III Napoleon le petit (as opposed to Napoleon Bonaparte, who gets the better moniker of Napoleon le grand), a hypocritical murderer with the blood of mothers and children on his hands, the Judas Iscariot of French political theory and a mustachioed Caesar. He also points out the the style Napoleon III looks as if it is a melange of all styles that came before it- or rather, a melange of all the worst parts of the styles that came before, much in the same way that Napoleon III's regime was a melange of all the worst parts of all the governments that came before.

However, it is best not to take Hugo's criticisms at face value as, if one goes to the Maison Hugo in Paris, one can see that Hugo's idea of style was to carpet his ceilings.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Style Napoleon III

The Amateur Historian is not a fan of the Opera Garnier, which, in the Amateur Historian's humble opinion, looks as if the Baroque Era ate a bit of Romanticism that disagreed with it, then puked it up in the form of a building, then got so ashamed of what it had done, it kept flinging gold leaf, drapes, tassels, mirrors, tapestries and paintings at its mess. The Empress Eugenie, the wife of Emperor Napoleon III, during whose reign the Opera Garnier was first commissioned, did not like the building either.

When Garnier first submitted the designs for the Opera, the Empress looked at the bizarre Versailles-gone-so-froo-froo-wild-on-a-gold-leaf-bender plan and demanded what the building's style was supposed to be.

Garnier, looking at the Emperor, replied, "The style Napoleon III."

Needless to say, his design won.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Cato Street Conspirators: Thoroughly Impressive Idiocy

In the 1820s, the British government was still knee-jerk reactionary towards any sign of political radicalism. Napoleon had been defeated yes, but Ireland was still engulfed in various stages of repression and revolt, the Luddites were smashing machines, the vetrans of the Napoleonic wars were getting restless, the Peterloo Massacre had happened, rotten boroughs were beginning to smell and George III went off the deep end and told everyone he was related to a tree.

Thus, it does not come as a surprise to learn that a group of Spencean Philanthropists, so called because they followed the philosophy of the British radical Thomas Spence, tried to foment revolution and that the British government sentenced them all to death or deportation. However, this seems like something of an overreaction, given that, even in a time period full of constant revolt, riot and revolution that often did not operate along normal lines of logic, these Spenesan Philanthropists displayed the collective common sense of a box of hair and did not actually manage to be a threat to anything but themselves.

Their brilliant plan to overthrow the government was:
1. Kill Lord Liverpool and all his ministers at a dinner party.

That was it.

Technically, they had vague plans to form some sort of committee of public safety to oversee the radical revolution sure to follow, and who's to say it wouldn't've worked had there actually been a dinner party of all cabinet ministers to attack?

As the marichino cherry on top of thie sundae of fail!planing, the entire plot was created by none other than a police informant.

Good show gentlemen, good show.