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"Bonaparte member of the Institute: a little known story"


FIGAROVOX / TRIBUNE - To commemorate the bicentenary of Napoleon's death, on May 5, Emmanuel Macron will deliver a speech at the Institut de France. The opportunity to recall that General Bonaparte had been elected member of the Institute on his return from the Italian campaign and that he ...

Young historian of the French Revolution and the Empire, Loris Chavanette recently published a selection of letters from Napoleon entitled

Between Eternity, Ocean and Night

(Bouquins, 2020).

His essay


The Terror on trial

, prefaced by Patrice Gueniffey (CNRS, reed. 2020) received the history prize of the Stéphane Bern Foundation from the Institut de France and the thesis prize from the National Assembly.

On May 5, by laying a wreath of flowers in front of Napoleon's tomb at Les Invalides and delivering a speech at the Institut de France for the two hundred years of his death, Emmanuel Macron intends to escape the controversy that has arisen. seized of this commemoration, the Institute helping him with it. Why this choice? Is he as apolitical as it seems? Tale of a lesser-known Napoleon.

If the French Revolution abolished the French Academy in 1793, it created two years later a National Institute with the aim of distributing rewards to deserving citizens, also to accommodate in the same institution all that the country contains. eminent talents. The latter were elected and divided into different classes, the first and most numerous being that of Physical Sciences and Mathematics. The century of Condorcet and Lavoisier therefore ended with the triumph of Reason after having begun with him.

However, on December 25, 1797, by 305 votes (unanimity minus 7 votes), the general of Corsican origin, barely 28 years old, but already covered with glory since the Italian campaign and the signing of an improbable peace with Austria, was elected within this first class of the most prestigious Institute of the Republic. He was received precisely in the mechanical section, without ever having produced the slightest scientific study, thus already bypassing the system thanks to his prodigious popularity, his apparent modesty - on his return from Italy, he wore the civilian dress with a round hat. and spent his evenings at the theater - and his incomparable art of winning the trust, friendship and even the dedication of the illustrious men of the Paris of the Directory.

The famous mathematician Gaspard Monge took Bonaparte under his wing by bringing this young novice into the Institute.

Among the latter, the famous mathematician Gaspard Monge, who took him under his wing by bringing this young novice with a sulphurous reputation into the Institute.

It must be said that a trained artilleryman since his time at the Auxonne school located in Burgundy, Napoleon had a natural predisposition for mathematics and mechanical sciences, he could carry on an expert conversation without becoming ridiculous.

To thank the members who carried their votes on him, swearing always to remain their "


", he wrote that "

the real conquests, the only ones which give no regrets, are those made on ignorance.


However, on a field other than the pleasantness of Paris, Napoleon did not skimp on the means in order to impose himself. In 1797, a seat had to be vacated at the Institute for it to be able to occupy it. Carnot was then the man in place, both recognized scholar and member of the government: it was he who gave up his seat. Nevertheless, Carnot abandoned it not willingly, but by force, following the military coup d'état operated, among others by Barras, on 18 Fructidor Year V (September 4, 1797), by which the royalist opposition to the regime was overwhelmed. , parliamentarians, intellectuals or journalists, seeing themselves by the dozen condemned to deportation to Guyana without trial. Carnot was wrongly associated with the conspirators, but he managed to escape through the Luxembourg Gardens and reach Germany. A seat at the Institute had therefore become vacant.

The street where Bonaparte resided is renamed in his honor rue de la Victoire. It still bears this name, and is located today in the 9th arrondissement of Paris.

However, in this little-known purge affair, a personage played an eminent role: it was Bonaparte himself because he allowed the realization of the coup d'etat by discovering the proofs of a royalist conspiracy and by sending a body of his army make the force of bayonets speak against a parliamentary assembly. By defending the Republic, in France and abroad, he therefore established himself as the strong man of the regime, and, before leaving to run for glory at the foot of the Pyramids the following year, he triumphed at the Institute. and had a little good time attending many of his sessions or enjoying the charms of his Joséphine in their house rue Chantereine, exceptionally renamed in her honor rue de la Victoire. It still bears this name, and is located today in the 9th arrondissement of Paris.

But mechanics, for Napoleon, were less an equation on a sheet of paper, than the smell of gunpowder on the battlefield.

Poet in action for Chateaubriand, he is also a scientist at work on the most formidable of terrains, himself lighting the fuse of the cannons on which he had written early treatises.

In 1798, here he is in Egypt.

Bonaparte is working to create an Institute in Cairo on the model of the French Institute;

this time, it is he who names his old friend Monge.

In 1798, here he is in Egypt. Bonaparte is working to create an Institute in Cairo on the model of the French Institute; this time, it is he who names his old friend Monge. However, he ended up losing the war and embarked for France, deserting his command, abandoning his men, trapped in the sands of the East. Back in Paris, he had his sights set on supreme power, and to achieve his second coup d'etat, for his benefit this time, he again played the modest, ensures that he wanted nothing for him, spends his evenings in civilian clothes. theater, visit the Invalides, court all that matters, and especially his colleagues at the Institute to whom he delivers a message of peace and moderation. He may soon need their support.

On October 23 and 27, 1799 as well as on November 2, Bonaparte attended the scholarly sessions without showing anything, and a few days later, on November 9 and 10, better known under the name 18 and 19 Brumaire, he put on his soldier's uniform and perpetrates his coup d'etat, driving out again the deputies of the democratic enclosure, to take the place at the top of the power, once again having been able to make it vacant by the use of force.

From that day on, Napoleon was no longer a member of the Institute like any other since he dominated the whole of France, presiding over the destinies of the nation henceforth. What fate did he reserve for the Institute? First, it was he who decided to install it on the Quai de Conti, at the College des Quatre-Nations, where it is today. Then in 1803 he restored the Académie française - ten years after its suppression by the Jacobins - but as an entity dependent on the Institute. Napoleon was even offered to be a member, which he refused, explaining that he had "

more important things to do.


The Emperor's policy was quite ambiguous with regard to the institution whose freedom of tone he repeatedly preached, especially when academics liked to discuss the revolutionary troubles and Mirabeau, on which Napoleon wanted. let no one say a word.

What does the Académie française have in common with politics?

he wrote in 1807 to his minister Fouché.

No more than the rules of grammar have with the art of war.


And the same year, as a token of his gratitude to the members of the mathematics class of the Institute, which had dubbed him exactly ten years previously, he offered him a statue of the encyclopedist d'Alembert, today 'hui at the Louvre.

When asked about the nature of his religious feelings, Napoleon replied: “I belong to the religion of the Institute.

Throughout the Empire, the Institute did work of full and entire submission to imperial glory, dedicating many praises to him, going so far as to offer him the title of Augustus or Caesar, an offer that Napoleon declined to reason that he preferred to be crowned with that of “Emperor of the French”. It is this capacity of Napoleon to unite around himself the supporters of old France and the new, scholars and artists of all disciplines, which is truly the mark of his reign. Moreover, the unfortunate Carnot, wrongly proscribed in 1797 in particular by the intervention of General Bonaparte, was pardoned by the First Consul in 1799, before being reinstated at the Institute a few weeks later, becoming by the same occasion his Minister of War.

Coming back to Napoleon and the Institute means understanding the great history thanks to the small one. When asked about the nature of his religious feelings, Napoleon replied: "I belong to the religion of the Institute." He was dearly rewarded for this since the Institute itself could have said, during this lapse of time when one name eclipsed all the others, that it was of the religion of Napoleon. To tell the truth, it was the feeling of the whole of France, conquered by the force of this spirit whose exceptional epic is celebrated today.

Let us not be frightened if the controversy breaks out over his heritage, and let us content ourselves with recalling that, in the field of knowledge, without Napoleon and his Egyptian madness, the Rosetta Stone would not have been discovered by the French army. and Champollion would doubtless not have announced to the world that he had just deciphered the hieroglyphics, by sending a letter to the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles Letters. It was in 1822; we will talk about it soon.

Source: lefigaro

All news articles on 2021-05-05

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