Lewis Goldsmith (1763 – 1846) was born and educated in England, trained for the legal profession but abandoned it to become a writer/publisher/political agitator. He began writing political satire and translations of French works in 1792, and soon found that his views were so unpopular in England that London booksellers hardly dared to offer his books for sale. An enthusiast for the French Revolution, he was actually threatened with legal action over one book and, deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, he fled to Paris (1803), where Talleyrand introduced him to Napoleon who assisted Goldsmith in beginning a biweekly publication called the Argus which reviewed English affairs (in English) from a French perspective. Now, on Wikipedia, it says that Goldsmith claimed to have undertaken some secretive tasks for Napoleon, including trying to secure from the the Comte de Provence (future Louis XVIII) a renunciation of his throne, and when that failed, he was supposed to kidnap Louis, at which he drew the line. By 1807, Goldsmith’s support for the revolution had waned, and he returned to England. He was promptly arrested and imprisoned. After a brief stay, he was released and founded “the Anti-Gallican Monitor and Anti-Corsican Chronicle. . . through which he now denounced the French Revolution”.
Goldsmith’s Memoirs of the Court of St. Cloud (in this case, volume 7; all are available free from the Gutenberg Project) clearly show his disillusionment with the Bonaparte government as well as his formal and beautiful writing style. Purporting to be letters written to a British lord from a “gentleman” in Paris at St. Cloud where Napoleon chose to reside and hold court, these “memoirs” are full of perceptions and anecdotes of corruption and intrigue throughout all aspects of government and life in France in wonderfully balanced, witty passages. He discusses ambassadors from Russia and Prussia, communications between Napoleon and the Pope, the state of the army and navy being built up by Napoleon, the control over every aspect of life from taxes to the corrupt appointees to both government and church, their immoral behaviours severely punished if they were from the lower class and overlooked with amusement if they were from the upper class.
I absolutely love his complex yet clear style of prose. He is a master of tongue in cheek and understatement. I’ll give you some examples.
Ignorance and folly commonly select fools for their agents, while genius and capacity employ men of their own mould, and of their own cast.
And later, in praise of a diplomat,
[Prince Adam Czartorinsky] has travelled in most countries of Europe, not solely to figure at Courts, to dance at balls, to look at pictures, or to collect curiosities, but to study the character of the people, the laws by which they are governed, and their moral or social influence with regard to their comforts or misery. . . With manners as polished as his mind is well informed, he not only, possesses the favour, but the friendship of his Prince, and, what is still more rare, is worthy of both.
His description of Napoleon,
. . . our great little man. . . fretting, staring, swearing, abusing to right and to left, for one smile conferring twenty frowns, and for one civil word making use of fifty hard expressions, marching in the diplomatic audience as at the head of his troops, and commanding foreign Ambassadors as his French soldiers.
The writing is full of humour and insight that, taken in an historical perspective, are both interesting and illuminating. In Letter XXVII dated October 1805, he writes about the changes to the education system, and, after just having read the book by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Hitler’s Youth, I found it rather chilling:
In a military empire, ruled by a military despot, it is a necessary policy that the education of youth should also be military. In all our public schools or prytanees, a boy, from the moment of entering, is registered in a company, and regularly drilled, exercised, and reviewed, punished for neglect or fault according to martial law, and advanced if displaying genius or application. All our private schools that wish for the protection of Government are forced to submit to the same military rules, and, therefore, most of our conscripts, so far from being recruits, are fit for any service as soon as put into requisition. The fatal effects to the independence of Europe to be dreaded from this sole innovation, I apprehend, have been too little considered by other nations.
How utterly prophetic. And history repeats itself.
This book won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but I found it thoroughly interesting, entertaining, and well-written. * * * *