Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Arnold Chaplin: Distinguished Physician and Napoleonic Scholar

(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. 94
His 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. 109
and 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).


MissElisabeth said...

Interesting post.
I can never read enough about Napoleon's retarded diagnoses. There are so many books about that certain subject.

You always write about people I've never heard of. Which is a good thing.

John Tyrrell said...

You are very kind to me for writing about most obscure topics!

Perhaps I am covering up my real ignorance about Napoleon.


MissElisabeth said...

Obscure topics???
I'm lost..
What do you mean?

John Tyrrell said...

I was referring to Arnold Chaplin rather than Napoleon's final illness - the latter I grant you is a fairly important topic, to Napoleonists at least.



MissElisabeth said...

Well ahum.. Let me rewrite my comment than!

Oh, yes.. Arnold Chaplin, what a delightful fellow.
What a strange complicated character he was! He wrote quite a few nice thing about good ol'Boney, yet he was British!
Surprising how many British were actually positive about Napoleon.

How was that?
I'm just messing with you, don't get angry ;)

John Tyrrell said...

Of course I won't get angry with you.

I also find the attitudes of Brits towards Napoleon quite fascinating - which is why I have devoted so much of my blog to it; I have also been surprised to find how many of Napoleon's family spent time in Britain - including one who got killed fighting for the British army.

Few Brits know this of course! For many he is simply the "Corsican Ogre" or simply "Boney"

MissElisabeth said...

Oh they still call him Boney and the Corsican Ogre??!

The French stopped making fun of Nelson since 1900 or something.
The British sure know how to hold a grudge.

The Dutch dont have these problems. We have no one worth remembering from the past. We have a few explorers that discovered just about nothing and fought with a polar bear for a few months.

We discovered the wheel though...
Around 1934...

John Tyrrell said...

Made me laugh.

I am probably exaggerating. On second thoughts most people probably don't know who Napoleon was.

MissElisabeth said...

Glad to be of service, lol

Well, again, we have the same problem over here.
A couple of years ago, Disney made a movie about a cute labrador puppy in a hot air balloon. His name was Napoleon.

So now everyone thinks I'm fascinated with lab puppies in hot air balloons.

And I hate labradors..

But the history education in Holland
I'm sure there are far more classy ways to describe it, but for me it

I cant even remember I ever heard Napoleon's name during one of my classes.
A truckload about the second world war, and pretty much about how evil the Dutch were during the Golden Age. But nothing about Napoleon.