Whately Postscript to Third Edition




It may seem arrogant for an obscure and nameless individual to claim the glory of having put to death the most formidable of all recorded heroes. But a shadowy champion may be overthrown by a shadowy antagonist. Many a terrific spectre has been laid by the beams of a halfpenny candle. And if I have succeeded in making out, in the foregoing pages, a probable case of suspicion, it must, I think, be admitted, that there is some ground for my present boast, of having killed Napoleon Buonaparte.

Let but the circumstances of the case be considered. This mighty Emperor, who had been so long the bugbear of the civilized world, after having obtained successes and undergone reverses, such as never befel any (other at least) real potentate, was at length sentenced to confinement in the remote island of St. Helena: a measure which many persons wondered at, and many objected to, on various grounds; not unreasonably, supposing the illustrious exile to be a real person; but on the supposition of his being only a man of straw, the situation was exceedingly favourable for keeping him out of the way of impertinent curiosity, when not wanted, and for making him the foundation of any new plots that there might be occasion to conjure up.

About this juncture it was that the public attention was first invited, by these pages, to the question as to the real existence of Napoleon Buonaparte. They excited, it may be fairly supposed, along with much surprise and much censure, some degree of doubt, and probably of consequent inquiry. No fresh evidence, as far as I can learn, of the truth of the disputed points, was brought forward to dispel these doubts. We heard, however, of the most jealous precautions being used to prevent any intercourse between the formidable prisoner, and any stranger who, from motives of curiosity, might wish to visit him. The “man in the iron mask” could hardly have been more rigorously secluded: and we also heard various contradictory reports of conversations between him and the few who were allowed access to him; the falsehood and inconsistency of most of these reports being proved in contemporary publications.

At length, just about the time when the public scepticism respecting this extraordinary personage might be supposed to have risen to an alarming height, it was announced to us that he was dead! A stop was thus put, most opportunely, to all troublesome inquiries. I do not undertake to deny that such a person did live and die. That he was, and that he did, everything that is reported, we cannot believe, unless we consent to admit contradictory statements; but many of the events reported, however marvellous, are certainly not, when taken separately, physically impossible. But I would only entreat the candid reader to reflect what might naturally be expected, on the supposition of the surmises contained in the present work being well founded. Supposing the whole of the tale I have been considering to have been a fabrication, what would be the natural result of such attempt to excite inquiry into its truth? Evidently the shortest and most effectual mode of avoiding detection, would be to kill the phantom, and so get rid of him at once. A ready and decisive answer would thus be provided to any one in whom the foregoing arguments might have excited suspicions: “Sir, there can be no doubt that such a person existed, and performed what is related of him; and if you will just take a voyage to St. Helena, you may see with your own eyes,—not him, indeed, for he is no longer living,—but his tomb: and what evidence would you have that is more decisive?”

So much for his Death: as for his Life,—it is just published by an eminent writer: besides which, the shops will supply us with abundance of busts and prints of this great man; all striking likenesses—of one another. The most incredulous must be satisfied with this! “Stat magni nominis umbra!”


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