We have observed Napoleon, during his Consulate, trying to give a new order and stability to postrevolutionary France by a Code of Civil Law, and a Concordat of peace and cooperation between his government and the traditional religion of the people. To these formative forces he proposed to add a third by reorganizing the educational system of France. “Of all social engines, the school is probably the most efficacious, for it exercises three kinds of influence on the young lives it enfolds and directs: one through the master, another through con-discipleship, and the last through rules and regulations.”22 He was convinced that one reason for the breakdown of law and order during the Revolution was its inability to establish, amid the life-and-death conflicts of the time, a system of education adequately replacing that which the Church had previously maintained. Splendid plans had been formulated, but neither money nor time could be spared to realize them; primary education had been left to priests and nuns, or to lay schoolmasters maintained just above starvation by parents or communes; secondary education had barely survived in lycées dispensing courses in science and history, with scant attention to the formation of character. Napoleon thought of public education in political terms: its function was to produce intelligent but obedient citizens. “In establishing a corps of teachers,” he said, with a candor unusual in governments, “my principal aim is to secure the means for directing political and moral opinions. … So long as one grows up without knowing whether to be republican or monarchist, Catholic or irreligious, the state will never form a nation; it will rest on vague and uncertain foundations; it will be constantly exposed to disorder and change.”23

Having restored the Church to association with the government, he allowed semimonastic organizations, like the Frères des Ecoles Chrétiennes, to attend to primary instruction, and nuns to teach well-to-do girls; but he refused to let the Jesuits reenter France. Nevertheless, he admired them for their strict organization as a dedicated guild of teachers. “The essential thing,” he wrote (February 16, 1805), “is a teaching body like that of the Jesuits of old.”24 “While I was with him,” Bourrienne recalled, “he often told me that it was necessary that all schools, colleges, and other establishments for public instruction be subject to military discipline.”25 In a note of 1805 Napoleon proposed that “a teaching order could be formed if all the managers, directors, and professors in the Empire were under one or more chiefs, like the generals, provincials, etc., of the Jesuits,” and if it were the rule that no one could fill a higher position in the organization unless he had passed through various lower stages. It would be desirable, too, that the teacher not marry, or that he defer marriage “till he has secured an adequate position and income … to support a family.”26

A year later (May 10, 1806) Antoine-François de Fourcroy, director general of public instruction, secured from the Corps Législatif a provisional decree that “there shall be established, under the name of the Imperial University, a body exclusively charged with the work of teaching throughout the Empire.” (The University of Paris, founded c. 1150, had been suppressed by the Revolution in 1790.) This new university was to be not merely a union of various faculties—theology, law, medicine, science, and literature; it was to be the sole producer of teachers for the secondary schools of France, and was to include all its living and teaching graduates. These “lycées” were to be established in one or more cities of each département, with a curriculum combining the classic languages and literatures with the sciences; they were to be financed by the municipality, but all their teachers were to be graduates of the university; and no one was to be promoted to a higher post unless he had previously held those below it,27 and had obeyed his superiors like a soldier obeying an officer. To persuade French youths to enter this treadmill, Napoleon provided 6,400 scholarships, whose recipients pledged themselves to the teaching profession and promised to defer marriage at least to the age of twenty-five. As their final reward they were to “have clearly before them the prospect of rising to the highest offices of the state.”28 “All this,” Napoleon told Fourcroy, “is only a commencement; by and by we shall do more, and better.”29

He did better, from his point of view, by restoring (1810), as a branch of the university, the École Normale, where select students, living in common under military discipline, were given special training by a prestigious faculty including such masters as Laplace, Lagrange, Berthollet, and Monge. By 1813 all college teachers were expected to be graduates of the École Normale; science began to prevail over the classics in the college curriculum, and set the intellectual tone of educated France. The École Polytechnique, established during the Revolution, was changed into a military academy, where the physical sciences became the servants of war. Several provincial universities survived the Emperor’s martial sweep, and private colleges were allowed to operate under license and periodical examination by the university. As the authoritarian mood relaxed, individual lecturers were permitted to use university halls to give special courses, and students were allowed to take these as they chose.

At the top of the intellectual pyramid was the Institut National de France. The French Academy, suppressed in 1793, had been restored in 1795 as Class II of the new Institute. Napoleon was proud of his membership in the Institute, but when its moral and political section, in 1801, presumed to discourse on how a government should be run, he ordered Comte Louis-Philippe de Ségur to “tell the Second Class of the Institute that I will have no political subjects treated at its meetings.”30 The Institute then contained many old rebels faithful to the Enlightenment and the Revolution, who privately laughed or wept at the official restoration of the Catholic Church. Cabanis and Destutt de Tracy had used the word ideology as the study of the formation of ideas; Napoleon called these psychologists and philosophers “ideologues” as men too immersed in ideas, and reveling in reason, to perceive and understand the realities of life and history. These intellectuals, spreading their notions through countless publications, were, in his judgment, obstacles to good government. “The men who write well and are eloquent,” he said, “have no solidity of judgment.”31 He cautioned his brother Joseph, then (July 18, 1807) ruling Naples: “You live too much with literary people.” As for the intellectuals who were buzzing in the salons, “I regard scholars and wits the same as coquettish women; one should frequent them and talk with them, but never choose one’s wife from among such women, or one’s ministers from among such men.”32

On January 23, 1803, he reorganized the Institute into four classes, omitting the moral and political category. Class I, which he valued most, was to study the sciences. Among its sixty members were Adrien Legendre, Monge, Biot, Berthollet, Gay-Lussac, Laplace, Lamarck, Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, and Cuvier. Class II had forty members, devoted to the language and literature of France; it replaced the old French Academy, and resumed work on the Dictionnaire; it included the old poet Delille, the famous dramatist Marie-Joseph de Chénier, the young historian Guizot, the Romantic stylist Chateaubriand, the philosophers Volney, Destutt de Tracy, and Maine de Biran. Class III, with forty members, dealt with ancient and Oriental history, literature, and art; here Louis Langlès pursued those studies of Persia and India that had already led to the École des Langues Orientales (1795); and Jean-Baptiste d’Ansse de Villoison discovered the Alexandrian commentators on Homer, so paving the way for F. A. Wolf’s revealing theorem that “Homer” was many men. Class IV—the Académie des Beaux-Arts—included ten painters, six sculptors, six architects, three engravers, and three composers; here shone David, Ingres, and Houdon.

Aside from his distaste for ideologues, Napoleon supported the Institute heartily, eager to make it an embellishment of his reign. Every member of the Institute received from the government an annual salary of fifteen hundred francs; each permanent secretary of a class received six thousand. In February and March each class presented to the Emperor a report of the work done in its department. Napoleon was pleased with the total picture, for (Méneval claimed) “this general review of literature, science, and art … showed that human intelligence, far from going back, did not halt in its constant march toward progress.”33 We may question the “constant,” but there is no doubt that the reorganization of science and scholarship under Napoleon placed their practitioners at the head of the European intellect for half a century.

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