(Thomas Hancock) Arnold CHAPLIN (1864-1944) .
Distinguished doctor and Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. (1864-1944).
Precise and old fashioned as a physician, he was gifted with a dry humour and with a shrewdness that made him the ally of the true scholar but an enemy to the spurious - G.H. Brown
He combined his medical practice with an interest in the History of Medicine, a love of French and English literature, and of old books and prints. He was appointed Harveian Librarian by the Royal College of Physicians in 1918, and remained in that largely honorary post until his death in 1944.
Chaplin's A St Helena Who's Who or, a directory of the island during the captivity of Napoleon , which was first published in 1914, still remains a valuable source for anyone interested in Napoleon's Captivity.
His earlier study, The Illness and Death of Napoleon Bonaparte (A Medical Criticism) (1913) is now less well known, but provides a highly readable and careful analysis of the historical evidence about the diagnosis and treatment of Napoleon by his various doctors on St Helena.
His East Anglian nonconformist background almost certainly tells us a great deal about him.
His family had been resident in Fulbourn Cambridgeshire since the seventeenth century, and no fewer than ten of his ancestors had fought with Cromwell's Ironsides.
A High Church Tory would almost certainly have tried to keep that secret!
From that alone one could probably safely deduce that, irrespective of his impartial scholarship, his sympathies were probably Whig/Liberal, and that he certainly would not be an apologist for the Tory Government that had imprisoned Napoleon on St Helena.
There is evidence enough for this and for Chaplin's admiration of Napoleon in the language used in The Illness and Death of Napoleon Bonaparte :
.. Napoleon had crowded into the space of twenty years mental and bodily activities far in excess of those of any other man, ancient or modern .. p.6
It was now a melancholy picture, the greatest genius, and the most powerful energy of modern times, at the age of fifty-one, a prisoner, with strength exhausted, and body racked with pain, slowly creeping about Longwood, leaning for support on the arm of an attendant. p. 30
Forsyth the apologist of Sir Hudson Lowe .. p. 38
the whole history of the illness of Napoleon, together with the manner in which it was regarded, is far from edifying .. p. 94
everything connected with Napoleon, the mighty law-giver, is of surpassing interest .. p. 95
Also his verdict on the poor quality of the doctors who attended Napoleon at the end -
thrust into undue prominence on the stage. When the curtain fell, they passed from the light, were heard of no more, and are remembered now only on account of their professional association with the great Napoleon p. 94His comments on the exhumation:
On October 16th, 1840, the British Government performed an act of reparation by giving up the body of the great Emperor to its rightful owners, the French Nation. Appendix III p. 109and his concluding sentence which has echoes from Napoleon's own Will:
The body was carried to Paris and, there with regal pomp, the last wish of Napoleon was fulfilled, and he rested on the banks of the Seine, in the midst of the people he had loved so well. p. 112
British Napoleonists in the Edwardian Era
It is probably worth remembering that the Edwardian Era was the era of the Entente Cordiale - relations with France, encouraged by the francophile King himself, had never been stronger.
Chaplin was one of a number of Britons of this period who were fascinated by and to varying degrees sympathetic to Napoleon. All the following have been referred to in previous posts on this blog:
Lord Rosebery, very briefly Liberal Prime Minister, the author of Napoleon the Last Phase (1900) and collector of Napoleonic memorabilia.
Sir Walter Runciman, shipping magnate, sometime Liberal Member of Parliament, and author of the polemical, Tragedy of St. Helena.
William Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme, soap magnate, sometime Liberal M.P. and collector of Napoleonic memorabilia.
George Leo de St. M. Watson, about whom nothing seems to be known other than the publication of two books: A Polish Exile with Napoleon: Embodying the Letters of Captain Piontkowski to General Sir Robert Wilson and Many Documents from the Lowe Papers (1912) and The Story Of Napoleon's Death Mask (1915) (1)
One might almost include Winston Churchill in this list: although he never got round to writing the book about Napoleon that he had planned. Although a Liberal at this time, he had a Tory background. He differed from the others also in his military background. He was first and foremost a soldier. Churchill was certainly a francophile though, and he remained so all his life.
1. Watson was apparently a friend of Chaplin's; he is mentioned explicitly in the introduction to A St Helena Who's Who :
.. in 1912 my friend Mr. G. L. de St. M. Watson published " A Polish Exile with Napoleon," which was based on an exhaustive analysis of the " Lowe Papers," and he has shown conclusively that it is by no means safe to accept blindly Forsyth's able advocacy of the policy of the British Authorities. The work Mr. Watson has accomplished in his minute criticism of the "Lowe Papers " is invaluable, and to him, in common with all students of the captivity, I am deeply indebted, not only for his book, but for the ready way in which he has given me the benefit of his able criticism and advice. Chaplin, like most of the Edwardian Napoleonists mentioned, was scathing about the scholarship of Forsyth, who had tried to rescue the reputation of Sir Hudson Lowe in A History of the Captivity of Napoleon at St Helena (1855).