October 3 1816: Napoleon Talks

3d. After breakfast, the Emperor took two or three turns in the garden. We were all with him. He spoke of the communications which the Governor had to make to us, and took a review of the different conjectures— some good, some bad—which each of us formed on the subject. The weather was tolerable; he ordered the calash, and we went round the wood. The heat and the heaviness of the atmosphere, though the sun was obscured, obliged him to go into the house again. He sat down and dictated to my son until five o’clock.

We again tried to take a few turns in the garden; but the air was cold and damp. He went in-doors again, and made me go to converse with him. He turned over an English book, and stopped at a part relating to jurisprudence, and the criminal codes of France and England, endeavouring to compare them. Every body knows how extremely well versed he is in our codes; but he has little knowledge of that of England, and, with the exception of some general points, I could not answer his questions. In the course of the conversation he said: Laws which in theory are a model of clearness become too often a chaos in their application; because men, with their passions, spoil every thing they touch, &c. . . Men can only avoid being exposed to the arbitrary acts of the judge, by submitting to the despotism of the law, &c. . . I had at first fancied it would be possible to reduce all laws to simple geometrical demonstrations; so that every man who could read, and connect two ideas together, would be able to decide for himself; but I became convinced, almost immediately that this idea was absurd. However,” added he, “I should have wished to start from some fixed point, and follow one road known to all; to have no other laws but those inserted in the code; and to proclaim, once for all, that all laws which were not in the code were null and void. But it is not easy to obtain simplicity from practical lawyers: they first prove to you that simplicity is impossible, that it is a mere chimera; and endeavour next to demonstrate that it is incompatible with the stability and the existence of power. Power, they say, is exposed alone to the unforeseen machinations of all: it must therefore have, in the moment of need, arms kept in reserve for such cases: so that, with some old edicts of Chilperic or Pharamond, ferreted out for the occasion,” said Napoleon, “nobody can say that he is secure from being hanged in due form and according to law.

“So long as the subjects of discussion in the Council of State,” said the Emperor, “were referable to the code, I felt very strong; but when they diverged from it, I was

quite in the dark, and Merlin was then my resource —he was my light. Without possessing much brilliancy, Merlin is very learned, wise, upright, and honest; one of the veterans of the good old cause: he was very much attached to me.

“No sooner had the code made its appearance, than it was almost immediately followed by commentaries, explanations, elucidations, interpretations, and the Lord knows what besides. I usually exclaimed, on seeing this: Gentlemen, we have cleaned the stable of Augeas ; for God’s sake do not let us fill it again!” &c.

— Napoleon on October 3 1816 from  Memoirs of the Life, Exile, and Conversations of the Emperor Napoleon, Volume 3 By Emmanuel-Auguste-Dieudonné comte de Las Cases

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