(March 1817) “I saw the Emperor in his bath. He was reading a little book which I recognized as the New Testament in French. I could not resist making the remark that many people would refuse to believe that he read such a book, given that some people asserted and spread the rumor that he believed in nothing. Napoleon laughed and replied to me : ‘However, that is not true; I am far from being an atheist. In spite of all the iniquities and frauds of those who have preached religion and who, while constantly saying that their kingdom is not of this world, grab everything that falls into their hands, as soon as I was head of the government I did everything in my power to reestablish religion. But I wanted it to be the foundation and the support of morality and good principles, and not that it should supercede human laws. Man needs to have his imagination struck by something wondrous. It is better that he find it in religion than in the tricks of Madame Lenormand (footnote : a famous fortune-teller in Paris, consulted by kings and emperors). Besides, this religion is a great consolation and a great resource for those who need it, and no one can say what he will do in his last moments.’ ”
DELENDA RELIGIO (???)
That, faithful readers, is the last of three excerpts from Barry O’Meara’s work on Napoleon. The “good” doctor – as the cliché has it – made a packet from his two-volume best-seller, which was in its fifth edition just five years after its initial publication in English (you will have noted that French translations were still being made in 1860 !). Attacked by the Emperor’s former jailer, Sir Hudson Lowe, who accused him of francophilia to the point of treason, he had been disbarred from the medical rolls and was forced to earn his living pulling teeth in Edgeware Road until his gravy train came in. Barry had promised the Emperor to publish his book only after Napoleon’s death – which meant that after his own exile he had to wait three years. But then his book brought him fame and fortune (even before he inherited the considerable assets of that sick, rich, old widow), to the point that Lord Byron wrote of him in his “The Bronze Age” :
“The stiff surgeon who maintained his cause
Hath lost his place and gain’d the world’s applause.”
Indeed, until his death in 1836, Barry basked in the reputation of the “galantuomo” the Emperor had always recognized his physician to be. Barry supported Daniel O’Connell in the fight for the emancipation of Catholics and the freedom of a united Ireland (he was, however, as he told Boney, a Protestant). He was buried in St Mary’s Anglican Church, Paddington Green.