The American Historical Review/Volume 23/Reviews of Books/The French Revolution and Napoleon

The French Revolution and Napoleon. By Charles Downer Hazen, Professor of History in Columbia University. (New York: Henry Holt and Company. 1917. Pp. iv, 385. $2.50.)

This volume is a reprint of a portion of Professor Hazen's schooltext on Modern European History, minus the illustrations and bibliographies. The book is a war-product. It was the belief that, "To an age like our own, caught in the grip of a world war … there is much instruction to be gained from the study of a similar crisis in the destinies of humanity a century ago", that between the period of the French Revolution and Napoleon and our own there are "not only points of interesting and suggestive comparison, but there is also a line of distinct causation connecting the two". It was this belief that led to the publication as a separate volume of the portions of the Modern European History devoted to the French Revolution and Napoleon. The result has been a book outwardly attractive and charmingly written; it will probably be a popular text-book and, compared with other volumes of the same size, it will deserve to be popular. Tested by the ideal standard of what such a volume might be, it is more open to criticism. Correctness in the statement of fact and fundamental unity in the synthesis of facts should be the aim of every popular work and success in realizing these two aims should be the final test of the historical value of the book. In the volume under examination, there is a third criterion to be considered, namely the success with which the "instruction" of that period for the present is made clear.

As to the incorrect statements of facts, while there are fewer than in the majority of school-texts dealing with this same period, there are still more than necessary, more than should be allowed to stand in a revised edition of the work. Notwithstanding all that has been written upon the French Revolution the main facts have not yet been critically established; but few trustworthy monographs exist. It would be extremely difficult, even for the specialist on the period, to present the whole subject in a condensed synthesis and make no blunders in matters of fact. There are some trustworthy monographs and every writer on the Revolution should be familiar with them; facts should not be drawn, without critical examination, from general histories of the Revolution. Lack of space makes it impossible to do more than illustrate my point. A trustworthy account of the night of August 4, 1789, has been written by Aulard; Professor Hazen's account is evidently taken from Madelin's The French Revolution, and is full of inaccuracies. The insurrections of July and October, 1789, of June 20 and August 10, 1792, the massacres of September, 1792, the Worship of Reason of 1793 have all received monographic treatment and a knowledge of these monographs would have improved Professor Hazen's text. At times, the clan with which the narrative was written triumphed over historical accuracy. The statement (p. 185), for example, that "Louis was given a trial, a trial, however, before a packed jury, which had already shown its hatred of him", is not history but rhetoric. The same is true of the statement (p. 178) touching the September massacres.

The synthesis of the Revolution begins in a most promising manner with a treatment of the ancien régime, the beginnings of the Revolution, and the making of the constitution, and then reverts to the usual topics of the Legislative Assembly, the Convention, and Directory. The excellent chapter on the Making of the Constitution is, to my mind, an example of what the whole book should have been. The chapter devoted to the Convention is the least satisfactory of all, perhaps necessarily so. But it should have been made clear that from 1792 on and especially in the great year 1793 everything was conditioned by war and war should have been thrown into the foreground; it is the only method of treatment that gives significance to the facts of the internal history. A good synthesis of the Napoleonic Period is less difficult to realize than one of the Revolution and here it is well done.

The connection between these periods and the present war is not made especially clear; it is treated very incidentally. Perhaps it could not be made clear in a work that ends with the Congress of Vienna; it might have been shown in two chapters on the great world development that has led to a world war to solve, if possible, the problem of how this world society, the result of six thousand years of history, shall be finally organized. A successful synthesis of the Revolution and the Napoleonic Period and an understanding of their relation to the present war are possible only under the conditions created by a clear insight into the character of the development of the world's history.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1934, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 88 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.