A PERSONAL VIEW BY
JOHN TARTTELIN, M.A. FINS (Legion of Merit)
“No historian who believes strongly in their profession or their passion, having looked at the various arguments and seriously investigated the documents, can believe a word of these poisoning or substitution theories…” (Thierry Lentz) 1
There exists today a conspiracy between Thierry Lentz et sa bande to muzzle opposition and confine to the outer darkness all those views and opinions that do not accord with their own. From his arrogant Olympian heights he descends like a new Moses with his tablets of stone and cries: “L’histoire c’est moi!”
I might add at this stage that I wrote an article on the poisoning of Napoleon at Saint Helena in 1995 entitled Hairsay and Heresy, long before I had ever heard of Thierry Lentz. Theories, stories and evidence pertaining to the Emperor’s early demise have been building up for decades. If Lentz thinks he can trash the research and study of a great number of historians and toxicologists with a few puerile comments in an interview, he has got another think coming.
Napoleon was a singular phenomenon, the greatest man of the C19th. Admired by Germans like Goethe, Heine and Nietzsche and Englishmen like Hazlitt and Byron, his early death was mourned even by his former enemies like the British Peninsular historian Napier, and Wilson, the British attaché to Kutozov’s army during the Campaign of 1812. When graffiti appeared in the streets of London in 1821 asking people to mourn the passing of the greatest genius of their day, many Englishmen wept at the Emperor’s passing.
Napoleon, that mass of energy, a one-man nuclear furnace, who was able to work for twenty hours a day, day after day, and who needed very little sleep, died at the age of 51, an early death even for the beginning of the C19th, let alone for someone so full of life. He died on an outcrop of rock lost in the South Atlantic, having often declared that he was being poisoned by his British jailors. Napoleon was no fool and he obviously had suspicions of his own. Indeed, the Governor of the island, the reptilian Hudson Lowe, was a creature of the night if ever there was one. However, the Emperor was actually poisoned by one of his own, betrayed yet again by someone he had trusted.
In 1982 Ben Weider and David Hapgood published The Murder of Napoleon. Perhaps Lentz has heard of David Chandler, the former doyen of Napoleonic scholarship in the English-speaking world? This is what Chandler said of the book: “Fascinating and deeply researched. The story the authors unfold and the scientific evidence they furnish are more than enough to justify careful thought and reconsideration. This book could well lead to considerable changes in the history of Napoleon’s last years.” 2
Let’s take a closer look at that assessment by a man who knew more about Napoleon than McDonald’s knows about hamburgers. Chandler says the volume is “deeply researched” and he speaks of “scientific evidence”. Lentz says the poisoning debate is a result of a “vast media circus”. If that is the case then his contribution and that of his coterie amounts to little more than the entrance of the clowns. Chandler had more academic gravitas in his little finger than Lentz has in his whole body.
Chandler gave an interview to the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph on June 25th 2001. He was quoted by their reporter Thomas Harding as follows: “A leading British expert on Napoleon has given his backing to the theory that the deposed French Emperor was assassinated by his fellow countrymen.”
“ Dr. David Chandler, considered the foremost living authority on Napoleon, believes that history books should be re-written to include a final chapter on the conspiracy behind his death.” 3 Before he died Chandler had become convinced that Napoleon has been poisoned.
Another commentator on Ben Weider’s The Murder of Napoleon, Michael Baden, M.D., former chief medical examiner of New York City remarked that: “This fascinating account shows how modern forensic scientific techniques can be applied to help resolve old mysteries.” 4
In a germane contribution to this discussion, Jean-Claude Damamme, the Representative for France of the International Napoleonic Society said that: “Recently, various media reports have referred to a joint Swiss-Canadian-American study that rejects the “now largely discredited” (quotation) theories of Napoleon’s poisoning by arsenic. In this regard, one must ask who discredited these theories?” 5 It wouldn’t perchance be Lentz would it? And here the media circus is clearly against the poisoning of Napoleon, and not all for it as Lentz would have us believe.
As Jean-Claude Damamme goes on to say, the multi-national “study makes absolutely no mention of the work of Dr. Pascal Kintz, President of the International Association of Legal toxicologists, nor those of Prof. Robert Wennig of the University of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, whose analyses demonstrated – beyond question – a massive concentration of rat poison in the core of the Emperor’s hairs. There is only one explanation for this presence: the toxic substance must have entered through the digestive tract.”
Despite a by now decidedly large dose of Thierry ennui, I shall press on. Lentz says of his own book on the subject, La Mort de Napoléon: Légendes, mythes et mystères : “It is our refusal to allow such a noble and useful discipline as history to be taken hostage by these manipulators of public opinion that has driven us to write this book. We make no attempts to hide our surprise, nor our displeasure, in seeing those who at the same time as crying out “Freedom for History!”, manipulate it for their own media-driven ends.”
Physician heal thyself! It is Lentz who is warping and twisting the historically objective and scientific studies undertaken by Ben Weider and Sten Forshufvud, so as to discredit them in the eyes of the public and the mass media. He cannot be allowed to get away with this atrocious spin and manipulation. He himself is poisoning the discipline of history by his vile calumnies.
Just who does this man think he is?
On one side we have Weider, Forshufvud, Chandler, Damamme, Baden, Kintz and Wenning and on the other – Thierry Lentz. Who would a dispassionate reader believe I wonder?
The man who would like to “close these debates, once and for all” has bitten off more than he can chew. History is not written on tablets of stone proof-read by Thierry Lentz. History is a fluid and inexact discipline, more Art than science, with natural ebbs and flows of belief and conjecture. Occasionally there is an historical tsunami when the views of the many are given spate, are widely accepted, and shortly after are to be seen in full-flood – thus is a paradigm created. Lentz has been whining and dining with the media to affect a seismic shift of his own – but his ‘paradigm’ isn’t worth two cents, it is a plugged nickel as the Americans would say, counterfeit coin. It must not be allowed to be the accepted historical ‘currency’ amongst real historians and the public at large.
Napoleon was poisoned. “What proof do they have?” Lentz cries. Well Monsieur, proof-read all the above and then read Ben Weider’s book.
Yet another commentator on The Murder of Napoleon, ‘Steven Ross, professor at the U.S. Naval War College; authority on Napoleonic History’ adds: “An intriguing and well-written book. It makes a strong case and – unless someone has contrary medical evidence – compelling case that Napoleon was poisoned.” 6
One wonders if Lentz has ever read any of the books and articles that he would like to bury “once and for all”? It is a strange ‘historian’ who manages to open his mouth and blow off both of his feet at the same time. I shall not dwell any longer upon the antics of the clown prince of Napoleonic history.
When Ben Weider published The Murder of Napoleon in 1982 he was nearly sixty and he had devoted a lifetime of study to the subject. That same year Lentz was twenty-two and a total unknown. He still is, thankfully, in most of the English-speaking world.
There follows the article I wrote back in 1995, after having engaged in a lot of research of my own. By coincidence it was the same year that Ben Weider formed the International Napoleonic Society. Many years later in 2008 he read my review of his book The Wars Against Napoleon on Amazon and invited me to become a member of the INS.
I was lucky enough to know Ben for five brief months. I only ever had two phone conversations with him and never met him in person. He was a kind and generous man, especially with his time - despite being incredibly busy. I will not suffer his memory to be impugned and dishonoured by a person who seems immensely jealous of the organization Ben inaugurated and who has none of Ben’s integrity and sense of honour.
© 2011 John Tarttelin
M.A. FINS (Legion of Merit)