Impressions from a Lost World: The Discovery of Dinosaur Footprints

Why was Napoleon of Interest?

Many Americans closely followed news of European countries, which many of their ancestors had left, or even fled, in hopes of a better life in America. Napoleon Bonaparte was a figure of fascination and often revulsion as he stormed across Europe, taking more and more countries under his control. Whatever the difficulties Americans faced, since 1779 they had lived in a republic, free of the oppression in Europe.

Edward Hitchcock learned his opinions of Napoleon at the knee of his Uncle Ep (Epaphras Hoyt), his mother's scholarly brother, who considered Napoleon a despot and the antithesis to American democratic ideals. Perhaps a 12-year-old Edward was listening when the sad news arrived in Uncle Ep's home on March 4, 1805, that Bonaparte had been crowned Emperor of France. A year later, they rejoiced to learn that Alexander, Emperor of Russia, had won a battle against the monster. It was eight more years before the little group in Deerfield saw in the Franklin Herald that Napoleon was on the run and would be exiled to Elba. Thus, Napoleon had been an important part of Edward's understanding of the world beyond American shores.  

Now 21 years old, Hitchcock wrote his play. According to a cousin, George Sheldon, in an article for New England Magazine in 1898 (the article is about the house in which Hitchcock was born and raised):

"In its pages can be seen reflected the sentiment of the time, which ranked Napoleon as the most heartless and cruel despot the sun ever shone upon, and Alexander, the czar of Russia, as the friend of humanity and the prince of peace. It gives us queer notions of our democracy to see the emperor stigmatized in this production as 'a mud sprung reptile,' 'a filthy toad,' a 'base born Corsican.'"

Uncle Ep and many of his local contemporaries saw Czar Alexander (ruled 1801-1825) as a heroic opponent of Napoleon, extolling the czar's educational reforms and building of universities. As time went by, however, he became less liberal and more oppressive. At his death, he was succeeded by his younger brother, Nicholas I, to whom Dexter Marsh unsuccessfully attempted to send fossil footprints.