A review by Carroll Quigley
in The Catholic Historical
Review, Vol. 28, No. 2 (July 1942), pp. 260-261,
of a book.
NAPOLEON’S INVASION OF RUSSIA - 1812
by Eugene Tarlé. 422
pages. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1942.
Napoleon's Invasion of Russia -- 1812.
By Eugene Tarlé.
York: Oxford University Press. 1942. Pp. 422. $3.50.)
It goes without saying that this
is a timely book. But like most timely books, it is far from being an
adequate study of its subject. The chief criticism to be made against it
could be summed up in the words that, while almost exclusively concerned
with military history, most facts of military importance have been
omitted. For example, there is nowhere, any discussion of the
organization of the invading forces. In Chapter I we are promised: "The
next chapter will deal with the composition and peculiar character of
this army " (p. 51). But this promise is never fulfilled. As a result it
is almost impossible to follow the army on its march. We are told that
Davout was at Orsha, or Ney moved southeast, but these statements are
almost meaningless since the reader has never been told what forces were
subject to these men. The guerrilla warfare against the Grand Army can
only be understood if the disposition of that army on the march is
This failure to describe either the terrain
or the disposition of forces becomes acute when Professor Tarlé tries to
describe a battle. At Borodino the reader is left completely in the dark
as to the situation of the various French corps or the relative
positions of the points mentioned (the Koloeh "River", Semenovsky, or
Borodino itself.) As a result this account has the qualities of a cinema
scenario -- long-range views of a bloody chaos interspersed with
close-ups of incredible courage and gallantry (the orderly Bibilov
losing an arm or General Bagration dying on a hill side). But like most
cinema battles, the historian hardly recognizes it.
The impressionism of Tarlé's account fails to do justice to the great
retreat. There again the scenario-technique gives one the idea that the
French were fleeing like a flock of sheep. In fact, during the greater
part of this retreat the Napoleonic forces were organized in a rational
fashion and the duties of the various corps regularly rotated. One of
the great dramas of the retreat is the effort of the French officers to
maintain this discipline as well as the soldiers' morale. Tarlé says
nothing of either problem.
As a final example of the
inadequacy of this work we might examine the answer which is given to
the obvious question: why were they fighting? Almost nothing is said of
the Russian motives. The French motives are described as those of
capitalistic imperialism. Certainly Tarlé, who is one of the world's
authorities on the economic history of the Napoleonic period, must see
the anachronism of applying the Leninist interpretation of imperialism
to the last outburst of mercantilism. To prove his contention that the
Napoleonic empire was imperialist, Tarlé states that licenses to import
from England were granted to French merchants but were withheld from the
merchants of conquered countries (p. 406). In at least two other works
the author has described how these licenses were issued to the merchants
of subject countries "au même titre queles bénéficiaire français" (Le
Blocus continental et le Royaume d'Italie, p. 206). Consequently the
reviewer feels that this book can be explained in one of two fashions.
Either it was not written by Tarlé or it is a hastily written
pot-boiler. The former possibility is eliminated by the fact that the
style is typical of Tarlé.