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in which he fought, under whose commands the opposed generals acted,—and whether the persons who issued those commands did really perform the mighty achievements we are told of.
7. Let those, then, who pretend 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 Bonaparte;—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 amounts to anything more than a probability, I have only to congratulate him on his easy faith.
8. 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 uniform experience, will be rejected at once by all sound reasoners. Let us, then, consider what sort of a story it is that is proposed to our acceptance. How grossly contradictory are the reports of the different authorities, I have already remarked; 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.
9. All the events are great and splendid and marvelous ; great armies,- great victories,-great frosts,—great reverses, —“hair-breadth 'scapes,”-empires subverted in a few days; everything happening in defiance of political calculation, and
in opposition to the experience of past times ; everything 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 roundness and completeness which is so characteristic of fiction; nothing is done by halves; we have complete victories,- total overthrows,entire subversion of empires,- perfect re-establishments of them, — crowded upon us in rapid succession.
10. 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 conformable to experience, our best and only sure guide. In vain will he seek in history for something similar to this wonderful Bonaparte; “nought but himself can be his
LXXXV.—THE SAME SUBJECT CONCLUDED.
1. Now, if a free-thinking philosopher-one of those who advocate 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 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 supernatural—that you reject every account of miracles--if not because they are improbable ?
2. 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 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 wonderful 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.
3. Is it then too much to demand of the wary academic a suspension of judgment as to the “life and adventures of Napoleon Bonaparte ?” I do not 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 investigation, from the very circumstance of its having hitherto been 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 safely be affirmed, that it would be hard to invent any one more improbable than the received one. One may surely be allowed 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
4. 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 argument be adopted in all cases alike, and then it can no longer be attributed to hostile prejudice, but to enlarged and philosophical views.
5. If they have already rejected some histories, on the ground of their being strange and marvelous of their relating facts unprecedented, and at variance with the established course of nature,— let them not give credit to another history which lies open to the very same objections,—the 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 testimony of those who avowedly get money by the tales they publish, and who do not even pretend that they incur any serious risk in case of being detected in falsehood ?
6. 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 decidedly 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.
7. But if they are still wedded to the popular belief in this point, let them be consistent enough to admit the same
evidence 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 Bonaparte, they must at least acknowledge 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 renounce it altogether.
LXXXVI.—THE CONQUEROR'S GRAVE.
WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT.
1. Within this lowly grave a conqueror lies;
And yet the monument proclaims it not,
A simple name alone,
To the great world unknown,
Lean lovingly against the humble stone.
2. Here, in the quiet earth, they laid apart
No man of iron mold and bloody hands,
Who sought to wreak upon the cowering lands
Gentlest in mien and mind
Of gentle womankind,