"It must be admitted, my dear Las Cases, it is most difficult to obtain absolute certainties for the purposes of history. Fortunately it is, in general, more a matter of mere curiosity than or real importance. There are so many kinds of truth! The truth which Fouche, or other intriguers of his stamp, will tell, for instance ; even that which many very honest people may tell, will, in some cases, differ essentially from the truth which I may relate. The truth of history, so much in request, to which every body eagerly appeals, is too often but a word. At the time of the events, during the heat of conflicting passions, it cannot exist ; and if, at a later period, all parties are agreed respecting it, it is because those persons who were interested in the events, those who might be able to contradict what is asserted, are no more. What then is, generally speaking, the truth of history? A fable agreed upon. As it has been very ingeniously remarked, there are, in these matters, two essential points, very distinct from each other : the postitive facts, and the moral intentions. With respect to the positive facts, it would seem that they ought to be incontrovertible ; yet you will not find two accounts agreeing together in relating the same fact : some have remained contested points to this day, and will ever remain so. With regard to moral intentions, how shall we judge of them, even admitting the candour of those who relate events? And what will be the case if the narrators be not sincere, or if they should be actuated by interested or passions? I have given an order, but who was able to read my thoughts, my real intentions? Yet every one will take up that order, and measure it according to his own scale, or adapt it to his own plans or system. See the different colourings that will be given to it by the intriguer, whose plans it disturbs or favours : see how he will distort it. The man who assumes importance, to whom the ministers or the sovereign may have hinted something in confidence on the subject, will do the same thing ; as will the numerous idlers of the palance, who, having nothing better to do than to listen under windows, and invent when they have not heard. And each person will be so certain of what he tells! and the inferior classes of people, who will have received their information from these privileged individuals, will be so certain, in their turn, of its correctness! and then memoirs are digested, memoranda are written, witticism and anecdotes are circulated ; and of such materials is history composed! ... here again we have the admitted fable, which will be called history. Nor can it be otherwise. It is true that as there are many, they will be far from agreeing together."
Thursday, 24 May 2012
"again we have the admitted fable, which will be called history" - Napoleon
"What then is, generally speaking, the truth of history? A fable agreed upon."
Amazing quote on how authorised history is always a fable, made on November 20, 1816,
when Napoleon was being held prisoner by the British on St. Helena in the South Atlantic:
Las Cases, Emmanuel-Auguste-Dieudonné. Mémorial de Sainte Hélène: Journal of the Private Life and Conversations
of the Emperor Napoleon at Saint Helena, Volume 4. London: Henry Colburn & Co. 1823. pp.251-252 & 256.
Posted by The Black Rabbit of Inlé at 20:30