The Objects

11th Jun 1815

Source: NYPL: 
Helen Maria Williams, (1816)
Digital Collections, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lennox, and Tilden Foundation

Helen Maria Williams Comments on the 100 Days

Contributed by: Devon Cox

The British novelist and poet Helen Maria Williams (1759–1827) was an astute social commentator and historian. Having created a stir with her pro-Revolutionary 'Letters written in France in the summer 1790', she returned to commenting on events taking place in France during the 100 days. Her 'A Narrative of the Events which Have Taken Place in France from the Landing of Napoleon Bonaparte on the First of March 1815, till the Restoration of Louis XVIII' was published the same year.

Letter 9 of her Narrative recounts the series of political events taking place in June, from Napoleon’s resurrection of the ancient tradition of the Field of May to the establishment of a Chamber of Representatives. She wrote that ‘the more reflecting citizens of Paris mourned over the evils which menaced their unhappy country. The armies of Europe already begirted its frontiers, and the miseries of civil war desolated its western coasts. Napoleon, however reluctant to depart, saw the necessity of joining his army, and only waited to receive the address of the legislature in answer to his imperial speech at the opening of the session.’

But the address of the legislature was not entirely appealing to Bonaparte. The newly established Chamber of Representatives nominated Jean Denis, comte Lanjuinais as President (see the object for 4th June). Williams aptly noted the mutual dislike between Lanjuinais and Bonaparte. She commented on Bonaparte’s impatience with the administrative constraints of democracy, illustrated in his condescending tone: ‘‘You may meditate,’ says he, ‘on the constitution I have given you; you may prepare organic regulations; but, beware, touch not the ark itself: you know the danger that awaits such profanation. My ministers will tell you the rest.’’

There was little hiding Williams’ perspective on the situation. She clearly saw Bonaparte not as a liberating hero but as an oppressive and arrogant tyrant. ‘When all the ceremonials were completed’, she wrote, ‘Bonaparte, smiling within himself at his re-shackled slaves, set off for the frontier’. Though unsatisfied with the Chamber of Representatives, and with allegiances and borders in dispute, Napoleon set off for the fields of Belgium on 12th June.