April 15 1815: An Argument Over Napoleon


On April 15 1815, Henry Crabb Robinson and William Hazlitt have a heated argument about Napoleon. Robinson writes in his diary:

April 15th — I called at the Colliers’, and finding that Miss Lamb was gone to Alsager’s, from whom I had an invitation, I also went. There was a rather large party, and I stayed till near two o’clock, playing”whist ill, for which I was scolded by Captain Burncy, and debating with Hazlitt, in which I was also unsuccessful, as far as the talent of the disputation was involved, though Hazlitt was wrong, as well as offensive, in almost all he said. When pressed, he does not deny what is bad in the character of Buonaparte. And yet he triumphs and rejoices in the late events. Hazlitt and myself once felt alike on politics. And now our hopes and fears are directly opposed. He retains all his hatred of kings and bad governments, and believing them to be incorrigible, he, from a principle of revenge, rejoices that they are punished. I am indignant to find the man who might have been their punisher become their imitator, and even surpassing them all in guilt. Hazlitt is angry with the friends of liberty for weakening their strength by joining with the common foe against Buonaparte, by which the old governments are so much assisted, even in their attempts against the general liberty. I am not shaken by this consequence, because I think, after all, that, should the governments succeed in the worst projects imputed to them, still the evil will be infinitely less than that which would arise from Buonaparte’s success. I say, ” Destroy him, at any rate, and take the consequences.” Hazlitt says, “Let the enemy of the old tyrannical governments triumph, and I am glad, and do not much care how the new government turns out.” Not that I am indifferent to the government which the successful kings of Europe may establish, or that Hazlitt has lost all love for liberty, but that his hatred and my fears predominate and absorb all weaker impressions. This I believe to be the great difference between us.

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