Quotations and Commentary

Edited by L. James Hammond

© L. James Hammond 2003



Napoleon the Man, by Dmitri Merezhkovsky

3--Napoleon, on his ultimate goal: “‘A pan-European code of laws, pan-European judicial system, currency, weights, and measures....The whole population of Europe would have become as one family, and every man, while he travelled abroad, would still have found himself at home.’”

4--“‘I always loved the sound of village bells,’ [Napoleon] said at St. Helena. ‘I never could fathom the impression produced on Bonaparte by the sound of church bells,’ wrote his schoolfellow Bourrienne. ‘It fascinated him.’”


Like all geniuses, Napoleon was under the sway of his unconscious more than most people are. This accounts for his susceptibility to music and to the sound of bells. It also accounts for his premonitions and his intuitions.


Napoleon was interested in parapsychological phenomena; this interest probably resulted from his own experience of parapsychological phenomena.


--“In his poor little room at Auxonne, the seventeen-year-old lieutenant of artillery Bonaparte writes in his diary: ‘Always alone in the midst of men, I go back home that I may give myself up to my lonely dreams and to the waves of my melancholy. Whither will my thoughts tend tonight? Towards death....How far removed human beings are from nature! How base they are and contemptible!...Life has become a burden to me, because the men I live with and probably am doomed to live with in the future are as different from me as moonlight differs from sunshine.’”

--“When undressing at night he would throw off his clothes and toss them on the floor as an unfamiliar and useless burden: the natural condition of his body was that of antique nudity, chaste and unashamed.”

5--“‘He has a certain embonpoint [plumpness] which does not belong to our sex,’ remarks Las Cases....The feminine traits suddenly appear in this most virile of men not only in the body but in the spirit....‘See, doctor,’ [Napoleon] says one day to Dr. Antommarchi at St. Helena, emerging quite naked after his morning rub of eau de cologne, ‘see, what beautiful arms, what rounded breasts, what a smooth white hairless skin....Any beauty might envy such a torso!’”

--“‘O Napolione! There is nothing modern in you, you are a man from Plutarch!’ exclaimed the veteran Corsican hero, Paoli, after a glance at the nineteen-year-old Bonaparte.”

--Napoleon: “‘In reality there is nothing really noble or base in this world.... Frankly, I am base, essentially base. I give you my word, that I should feel no repugnance to commit what would be called by the world ‘a dishonourable action’.”

6--Napoleon: “‘It is both difficult and unusual to find a combination of all the qualities which go to make a great general. The most desirable combination, which places a man at once into a prominent position, is the equilibrium between mind or talent and character or valour.’”


The combination of intellect and character is important not only in military matters, but in many other areas of life, too.


--Napoleon: “‘Work is my element, I am created for it. I can gauge the limit of endurance of my feet, or of my eyes, but that of my work I have yet to find.’ ‘I am always at work: at dinner, in the theatre; if I wake in the night, I begin to work’.... This state of superhuman, seething, inconceivable energy lasted without truce or respite for thirty years.”


Some modern writers have argued that Napoleon was poisoned. (One is reminded of another famous prisoner, Rudolph Hess, who, according to some people, was murdered in Spandau prison.) One can understand why the British and other European peoples might have feared that Napoleon would escape from St. Helena and regain power, and thus might have poisoned him. But whether Napoleon was poisoned or not, it is difficult to imagine him living to a ripe old age. He died at age fifty-two; one suspects that Napoleon had to die at that age or earlier, since the intensity with which he lived must have worn him out, and since his career had run its course. Napoleon himself was one of those who believed that when one’s destiny was fulfilled, one’s life would not be protracted. 


--“‘Women held sway over him for perhaps five or six days in the year, and even then...’ Josephine remarks sadly.”

--“Though the wealthiest sovereign in Europe, he himself never owned any property....He left France almost penniless; when, on St. Helena he was obliged to sell his silver plate, and was interred at the expense of his gaolers—the British.”

--“The precision of his work is perhaps even more marvellous than its immeasurable volume....With childish glee he points out a mistake of twenty centimes in a report dealing with millions of francs. One day, meeting one of the ladies-in-waiting with the Empress’s laundry bill in her hands, he took it from her and declared the laundry charges too high; began to bargain over each item and compelled the prices to be reduced.”

7--Napoleon: “‘War is a strange art: I have fought sixty big battles and learnt nothing beyond what I knew already at the first.’”

--Napoleon: “‘I believe I am the bravest man in war who ever existed,’ he says simply without a shadow of boastfulness just because the conversation turned that way.”

--“He had fought sixty big battles and countless small ones, nineteen horses had been killed from under him, and yet he had only been wounded twice.”

--Napoleon: “‘You disbelieve me, but I do not regret my past grandeur; you see me slightly affected by what I have lost.’ ‘It seems as if nature itself created me to endure great misfortunes.’”

--Napoleon: “‘The greatest enjoyment of oneself comes in moments of danger.’”

8--Stendhal: “‘Letizia [Napoleon’s mother] was always firmly persuaded that the entire vast edifice (the empire) would collapse.’”

--Rémusat: “‘[Napoleon] was fond of everything which inclined towards reverie: the poems of Ossian, subdued light, melancholy music. He loved to listen to the murmur of the wind, spoke with rapture of the roar of the sea; was inclined to believe in ghosts and was generally superstitious....Listening to subdued and slow music, he would fall into a kind of trance which none of us dared interrupt by the slightest movement.’”

--“He rhapsodises of how he and the Empress will spend his old age ‘in visiting, with my own horses like a plain country couple, every corner of the empire; in receiving complaints, redressing wrongs, in doing good everywhere and by every means!...These were among my dreams!’”

9--“A few days before his abdication and attempt at suicide in Fontainebleau, he was in such a profound state of reverie, that ‘when persons entered the apartment in answer to his summons, he failed to notice them; looked at them as if unseeing, and sometimes more than half an hour would elapse before he addressed them.’”

--“In 1810 a gala reception was held at Compiègne after the celebration of the marriage with Marie-Louise....Napoleon left the salle de jeux and entered the drawing-room. The whole crowd of courtiers pressed after him. ‘When he reached the center of the apartment,’ writes an eye-witness, General Thiébault, ‘the emperor stood still, crossed his arms on his breast, fixed his eyes on a spot about six paces in front of him, and remained thus motionless as if turned to stone. Everyone stood still too in a wide semi-circle round the room with bated breath in complete silence....’ Five, six, seven, eight minutes elapsed.”


One is reminded of the famous trances of Socrates.


--“He sleeps on the fields of battle, ‘during the combat,—far in the rear of the firing line’....At Wagram, at the climax of the battle, suddenly he orders a bearskin to be spread on the ground, lays himself down and drops into dead sleep; this lasts about twenty minutes; on waking up he continues to give orders as if he had never been asleep at all.”

--“‘He possessed a kind of magnetic premonition of his future destinies.’”

--“‘I always had an inner sense of what awaited me....Nothing ever happened to me which I did not foresee, and I alone did not wonder at what I had accomplished.’”

--When he was seventeen, Napoleon wrote a story about a Corsican king, Theodor, who was imprisoned by the British. While in prison, Theodor wrote to the British prime minister, Walpole, as follows: “‘I wanted to make my people happy, and for one brief moment I succeeded; but fate was fickle to me, I am a prisoner...’ writes Theodor to Walpole, who replies: ‘You suffer, you are unfortunate: this is sufficient to give you a right to the compassion of the British people.’”


It seems as if the young Napoleon foresaw his future.


--Napoleon: “‘During the period of conspiracies they used to try and scare me with the story that Georges was dogging my footsteps in order to assassinate me. The utmost he could do however was to murder my aide-de-camp. It was impossible to murder me at the time. Had I already fulfilled my destiny? I feel as if I am being driven towards an unknown goal. As soon as it is attained and there will no longer be any use for me, an atom will be sufficient to annihilate me; but until then, all human efforts whether in Paris or in the army will be powerless to prevail against me.’”

--Napoleon: “‘The circumstance which served to fill up the measure of my distress, was that I beheld the decisive hour gradually approach. The star grew dim; I felt the reins slip from my hands, and I yet could do nothing.’”

--Napoleon: “‘At the commencement of my rise, during the Consulate, my sincere friends and warm partisans frequently asked me with the best intentions and as a guide for their own conduct, what point was I driving at? and I always answered that I did not know....I was not master of my action, because I was not fool enough to attempt to twist events into conformity with my system. On the contrary, I moulded my system according to the unforeseen succession of events....I have no will-power. The greater the man, the less will-power he requires; he is entirely governed by events and circumstances.’”

--“‘The first time I saw Bonaparte in the gloomy halls of the Tuileries palace I said to him: ‘How sad it is here, General,’ and he replied: ‘Yes, sad as greatness,’” writes Roederer. ‘Always there is a melancholy about him, even in his army orders and war bulletins.’”

--“‘When in a confidential mood he confessed that in all conditions of life he was sadder beyond comparison than his comrades.’ ‘I was not created for pleasure,’ he would say in melancholy tones.”

--“At the summit of his power the Emperor Napoleon wears on his breast a wallet with poison.”

--“On the 8th of August, 1769, seven days before Napoleon’s birth, a comet appeared....Three months before Napoleon’s death, a comet again appeared....’A comet [said Napoleon] was the sign which predicted the death of Caesar...and now prophesies my own.’”


Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte, by Bourrienne, edited by R. W. Phipps


The editor of this book has probably improved on the original;  he has inserted numerous interesting footnotes, many of which consist of quotations from other memoirs of the period.  He has also excised certain passages of the original, though the book is still four volumes in length, and each volume consists of about four hundred pages.


Introduction--“His favorite phrase, which was every moment on his lips, must not be forgotten—‘What will history say—what will posterity think?’....He often observed to me that with him the opinion of posterity was the real immortality of the soul.”

1--“I was one among those of his youthful comrades who could best accommodate themselves to his stern character. His natural reserve, his disposition to meditate on the conquest of Corsica, and the impressions he had received in childhood respecting the misfortunes of his country and his family, led him to seek retirement, and rendered his general demeanour, though in appearance only, somewhat unpleasing.”

--“When at Brienne, Bonaparte was remarkable...for his piercing and scrutinising glance, and for the style of his conversations both with his masters and comrades. His conversation almost always bore the appearance of ill-humour, and he was certainly not very amiable.”

--“During play-hours he used to withdraw to the library, where he read with deep interest works of history, particularly Polybius and Plutarch....I often went off to play with my comrades, and left him by himself in the library.”

--“He had no taste for the study of languages, polite literature, or the arts.... Bonaparte and I won the prizes in the class of mathematics, which, as I have already observed, was the branch of study to which he confined his attention, and in which he excelled.”

5--During the Italian campaign, Napoleon “sought for men and found none. ‘Good God,’ said he, ‘how rare men are! There are eighteen millions in Italy, and I have with difficulty found two, Dandolo and Melzi’....Who does not remember Oxenstiern’s remark to his son, who trembled at going so young to the congress of Munster: ‘Go, my son. You will see by what sort of men the world is governed.’”

12--“The Directory, far from pressing or even facilitating [the expedition to Egypt], ought to have opposed it. A victory on the Adige would have been far better for France than one on the Nile. From all I saw, I am of opinion that the wish to get rid of an ambitious and rising man, whose popularity excited envy, triumphed over the evident danger of removing, for an indefinite period, an excellent army, and the possible loss of the French fleet. As to Bonaparte, he was well assured that nothing remained for him but to choose between that hazardous enterprise and his certain ruin. Egypt was, he thought, the right place to maintain his reputation, and to add fresh glory to his name.”


The Egyptian expedition shows the same recklessness and imprudence on the part of Napoleon that are shown in the Russian campaign. Sometimes Napoleon acts more like an adventurer seeking posthumous fame than someone who wants to accomplish something beneficial to mankind.


Napoleon had enough prudence to refrain from attacking England; he should also have refrained from the Egyptian expedition and from the Russian campaign. English naval supremacy made the Egyptian expedition unwise, just as it made the invasion of England unwise. English naval supremacy made it impossible for Napoleon to preserve the French fleet, which was destroyed in the Battle of Aboukir Bay, and it also made it impossible for Napoleon to preserve his conquest of Egypt, and to colonize Egypt.


Napoleon thought that he could keep the English navy out of the Mediterranean by threatening to invade England, and forcing the English navy to defend England. That strategy failed, however, since France wasn’t strong enough then to cope with England, Egypt and Austria simultaneously. Thus the Egyptian expedition accomplished nothing, just as the Russian campaign accomplished nothing.


Did Napoleon become overly self-confident and imprudent late in his career, as is often said, or can these traits be found in him as early as the Egyptian expedition? Even at the time of the Egyptian expedition, Napoleon was thinking about marching from Egypt to India, and about marching from Egypt through Syria to Constantinople, conquering Turkey, and then making his way from Turkey to Vienna, and conquering Austria. These aren’t the plans of a sober man.

15--“Availing himself of the departure of the English fleet for the Mediterranean, the alarm excited by his Egyptian expedition, the panic that would be inspired by his sudden appearance at Boulogne, and his preparations against England, he hoped to oblige that power to withdraw her naval force from the Mediterranean, and to prevent her sending out troops to Egypt. This project was often in his head. He would have thought it sublime to date an order of the day from the ruins of Memphis, and three months later, one from London. The loss of the fleet [in the Battle of Aboukir Bay] converted all these bold conceptions into mere romantic visions.”

--“Instead of being aided by the inhabitants...we found all against us: Mamelukes, Arabs, and fellahs. No Frenchman was secure of his life who happened to stray half a mile from any inhabited place, or the corps to which he belonged.”


Napoleon almost always had the populace of the countries that he conquered against him. This popular opposition surprised him; he expected to be welcomed as one who would liberate the people from feudalism, from monarchy, and from oppression. He failed to anticipate the power of nationalist feelings, and the hatred of foreign invaders.


16--While he was in Egypt, Napoleon “fell violently in love with Madame Fourés, the wife of a lieutenant of infantry....This connection soon became the general subject of gossip at headquarters. Through a feeling of delicacy to M. Fourés, the General-in-Chief gave him a mission to the Directory. He embarked at Alexandria, and the shop was captured by the English, who, being informed of the cause of his mission, were malicious enough to send him back to Egypt, instead of keeping him prisoner.”

18--“On arriving before Jaffa, where there were already some troops, the first person I met was Adjutant-General Grésieux, with whom I was well acquainted. I wished him good-day, and offered him my hand. ‘Good God! what are you about?’ said he, repulsing me with a very abrupt gesture; ‘you may have the plague. People do not touch each other here!’ I mentioned the circumstance to Bonaparte, who said, ‘If he be afraid of the plague, he will die of it.’ Shortly after, at St. Jean d’Acre, he was attacked by that malady, and soon sank under it.”


Napoleon himself feared neither dying from the plague nor dying in battle; perhaps his fearlessness enabled him to survive, just as Grésieux’s fears resulted in his death.


--During the march from Syria back to Egypt, “a most intolerable thirst, the total want of water, an excessive heat, and a fatiguing march over burning sandhills, quite disheartened the men, and made every generous sentiment give way to feelings of the grossest selfishness and most shocking indifference....I saw the amputated, the wounded, the infected, or those only suspected of infection, deserted and left to themselves....We were constantly surrounded by...the dying, who, stretched on the sides of the road, implored assistance in a feeble voice, saying, ‘I am not infected—I am only wounded’; and to convince those whom they addressed, they reopened their old wounds, or inflicted on themselves fresh ones. Still nobody attended to them. ‘It is all over with him,’ was the observation applied to the unfortunate beings in succession, while every one pressed onward.”

--“Our little army arrived at Cairo on the 14th of June [1799], after a painful and harassing march of twenty-five days....The deceitful mirage was even more vexatious than in the plains of Bohahire’h. In spite of our experience an excessive thirst, added to a perfect illusion, made us goad on our wearied horses towards lakes which vanished at our approach, and left behind nothing but salt and arid sand.”

--“Bonaparte preceded his entry into the capital of Egypt by one of those lying bulletins which only imposed on fools. ‘I will bring with me,’ said he, ‘many prisoners and flags’....I confess that I experienced a painful sensation in writing, by his dictation, these official words, every one of which was an imposition....He observed, when signing the bulletin, that he would yet fill the world with admiration, and inspire historians and poets.”

26--“After leaving the Council he used to enter his cabinet singing, and God knows how wretchedly he sung!....When there was no Council he remained in his cabinet, conversed with me, always sang, and cut, according to custom, the arm of his chair, giving himself sometimes quite the air of a great boy. Then, all at once starting up, he would describe a plan for the erection of a monument, or dictate some of those extraordinary productions which astonished and dismayed the world.”

28--“All the various workings of his mind were instantaneously depicted in his countenance; and his glance changed from mild to severe, and from angry to good-humoured, almost with the rapidity of lightning. It may truly be said that he had a particular look for every thought that arose in his mind.”


This seems to be characteristic of genius.


--“He used often to say to me, ‘You see, Bourrienne, how temperate, and how thin I am; but, in spite of that, I cannot help thinking that at forty I shall become a great eater, and get very fat. I foresee that my constitution will undergo a change. I take a great deal of exercise; but yet I feel assured that my presentiment will be fulfilled.’ This idea gave him great uneasiness....All the time I was about him, he was haunted by this presentiment, which, in the end, was but too well verified.”

--“Bonaparte had two ruling passions, glory and war. He was never more gay than in the camp, and never more morose than in the inactivity of peace. Plans for the construction of public monuments also pleased his imagination, and filled up the void caused by the want of active occupation. He was aware that monuments form part of the history of nations....But why did he wish to stamp false initials on things with which neither he nor his reign had any connection; as, for example the old Louvre? Did he imagine that the letter ‘N’, which everywhere obtruded itself on the eye, had in it a charm to controvert the records of history...?”

--“‘My power’, he would say... ‘depends on my glory, and my glory on my victories. My power would fall were I not to support it by new glory and new victories. Conquest has made me what I am, and conquest alone can maintain me.’”

--“One of Bonaparte’s greatest misfortunes was, that he neither believed in friendship nor felt the necessity of loving. How often have I heard him say, ‘Friendship is but a name; I love nobody. I do not even love my brothers. Perhaps Joseph, a little, from habit and because he is my elder.’”

--“In a tête-à-tête interview, anyone who knew his character, and who could maintain sufficient coolness and firmness, was sure to get the better of him....I observed that he did not like a tête-à-tête; and when he expected anyone, he would say to me beforehand, ‘Bourrienne, you may remain’; and when anyone was announced whom he did not expect, as a minister or a general, if I rose to retire he would say in a half-whisper, ‘Stay where you are.’”

(footnote)--According to Meneval, “‘a most gracious smile illuminated his countenance when he was cheered by good humour, or by the wish to be agreeable’....Madame de Rémusat praises his smile and Molé said ‘he never saw a smile more amiable, or at least more distinguished, more refined, than that of Napoleon and that of Chateaubriand. But neither the one nor the other smiled every day.’”


This special smile is characteristic not only of Napoleon and Chateaubriand but of genius in general.


Shakespeare attributes a special smile to several of his characters. In Troilus and Cressida, for example, Pandarus says of Troilus, “I think his smiling becomes him better than any man in all Phrygia.”(I, ii, 127) Like Michelangelo, Shakespeare often portrayed genius—that is, he portrayed himself, and thereby portrayed genius.


--“Sometimes, in a small circle, he would amuse himself by relating stories of presentiments and apparitions....On one occasion of this kind he said, in a very grave tone of voice, ‘When death strikes a person whom we love, and who is distant from us, a foreboding almost always denotes the event, and the dying person appears to us at the moment of his dissolution.’ He then immediately related the following anecdote: ‘A gentleman of the Court of Louis XIV was in the gallery of Versailles at the time that the King was reading to his courtiers the bulletin of the battle of Friedlingen gained by Villars. Suddenly the gentleman saw, at the farther end of the gallery, the ghost of his son, who served under Villars. He exclaimed, “My son is no more!” and next moment the King named him among the dead.’”

31--“Bonaparte held the liberty of the press in the greatest horror; and so violent was his passion when anything was urged in its favor that he seemed to labor under a nervous attack.”

--To Metternich, Napoleon said, “‘You see me master of France; well, I would not undertake to govern her for three months with liberty of the press.’”


The Mind of Napoleon: A Selection from His Written and Spoken Words, edited by J. C. Herold, Columbia University Press, 1955

17--“I always have loved to analyze, and if I ever fell seriously in love I would take my love apart piece by piece.”

19--“I rather agree with Gassion, who said that he did not love life enough to give it to other beings.”

44--“Who can deny the sagacity of dogs? There is a link between all animals. Plants are so many animals which eat and drink, and there are gradations up to man, who is only the most perfect of them all. The same spirit animates them all in a greater or lesser degree.”

50--“There is no man who has not wanted to kill himself several times in his life.”

55--“Mohammed came at a moment when general opinion was ready for a single God....A man is but a man, but often he can do much; often he is a tinderbox in the midst of inflammable matter.”


As Hegel would say, the great man represents the spirit of the age. He is formed by the age, and since he articulates the tendencies of the age, he in turn forms the age.


Napoleon understood history and politics. He was well read, and he was a genius.


69--“England, having attained the peak of her prosperity, is on the decline and from now on can only lose.”

91--Napoleon’s valet: “the prince arch-chancellor...was discussing with the Emperor a metaphysical point of Kant’s. But the Emperor settled the question by declaring that Kant was obscure and that he did not like him; and he brusquely left the prince.”

144--“Out of every three marriages in each of the administrative more than two marriages between Jews and Jewesses are to be authorized; the third must be a mixed marriage between Jew and Christian.”

166--“Mankind is young and the earth is old. The human race has existed for six to seven thousand years at most, and thousands of years from now man will be quite different from what he is at present. Sciences will be so advanced then that perhaps a way will have been found to prolong life indefinitely....How many discoveries will have been made thousands of years from now!”

168--“Corvisart [Napoleon’s personal physician] had many doubts and did not always answer my questions. Horeau was sure of everything and explained everything. The one was a learned physician, the other an ignoramus.”

184--“‘Tragedy warms the soul, elevates the heart, can and must create heroes.’”

202--“Don’t talk to me of goodness, of abstract justice, of natural law. Necessity is the highest law; public welfare is the highest justice.”

204--“Take courage, be ahead of your age, enlarge your imaginations, see far into the distance, and you will realize that the great men whom you believe to be violent, cruel, and what not are merely politic.”

--“It is for the sake of a remote, indeterminate goal, which they themselves do not fully apprehend, that men become heroes and that the inspired minority triumphs over the inert masses.”


The life-instinct motivates men to become heroes. They don’t “fully apprehend” their goal because they’re motivated by the life-instinct, which is unconscious. All human beings are motivated by their instincts, and thus don’t “fully apprehend” their goals.


205--“Remember that a man, a true man, never hates.”

206--“The strong are good; only the weak are wicked.”

208--“What the people wants is almost never the same as what the people says. Its will and needs ought to be found not so much in the people’s mouth as in the ruler’s heart.”

209--“Men who have changed the world never achieved their success by winning the chief citizens to their side, but always by stirring the masses. The first method is that of a schemer and leads only to mediocre results; the other method is the path of genius and changes the face of the world.”

223--“The art of the police consists in punishing rarely and severely.”


This, unfortunately, is a lost art. Our modern police punish frequently and gently.


231--On Talleyrand: “One may say that this man is immorality personified. I have never known a being more profoundly immoral.”

254--“From now on, Europe has only one enemy. That enemy is the Russian colossus.”

289--“In war, men are nothing, one man is everything.”

291--“A military leader must possess as much character as intellect. Men who have a great deal of intellect and little character are the least suited; they are like a ship whose masts are out of proportion to the ballast; it is preferable to have much character and little intellect.”

293--“The art of war consists, with a numerically inferior army, in always having larger forces than the enemy at the point which is to be attacked or defended. But this art can be learned neither from books nor from practice: it is an intuitive way of acting which properly constitutes the genius of war.”

311--“I often would have found it very difficult to assert with any degree of truth what was my whole and real intention....I never was truly my own master but was always ruled by circumstances.”

313--“In his vast manner of looking at the world, Napoleon saw only two great States—the Orient and the Occident. ‘What does it matter,’ he used to say, ‘whether two nations are separated by rivers or mountains, or that they speak different idioms? Except for a few shadings, France, Spain, England, Italy, and Germany have the same traditions, the same religion, the same costume. A man in these countries can marry only one wife, and there are no slaves. These are the great divisions that separate the civilized inhabitants of the globe into two halves. Except for Turkey, Europe is but one province of the world. When we make war, we make civil war.”

--“I have a few ideas that aren’t ripe yet, but they are far-reaching. There is not enough sameness among the nations of Europe. European society needs a regeneration. There must be a superior power which dominates all the other powers, with enough authority to force them to live in harmony with one another—and France is best placed for that purpose.”

332--“I had ambition, a great deal of it—but the grandest and noblest, perhaps, that ever was: the ambition of establishing and consecrating at last the kingdom of reason and the full exercise, the complete enjoyment, of all human capabilities!”

339--“All men have the same dose of happiness....I would have been no less happy as Monsieur Bonaparte than as the Emperor Napoleon.”


Circumstances don’t create happiness or unhappiness, the mind itself does. Under favorable circumstances, the super-ego becomes severe, and the mind imposes tasks on itself, while under unfavorable circumstances, the super-ego becomes indulgent. Thus the mind attains a medium between extreme happiness and extreme unhappiness. Everyone enjoys “the same dose of happiness.”


Napoleon: A Pictorial Biography, by André Maurois

--“Paoli was the first man on whom Napoleon modelled himself. The Corsican leader had commanded troops before he was thirty; he constantly quoted Plutarch, whose work became Napoleon’s catechism.”

--“[Napoleon] became an officer at the age of sixteen years and fifteen days.”

--Napoleon knew Corneille “by heart” and recited his works.

--“At about age nineteen, Napoleon read the Essai général de Tactique by the Comte de Guibert [who] codified modern military strategy. Achieve superiority at a key point, launch an all-out attack at this point, exploit the element of surprise by swiftness of movement: the theory of what is later to be called Napoleonic strategy is all there in Guibert.”

--“[Napoleon] does not share either of the dominant French passions: Royalism and Jacobinism.”


This helped Napoleon to reach power, since after the Reign of Terror, both Royalists and Jacobins were discredited. As his career progressed, Napoleon became more favorably disposed toward monarchy; he made several of his siblings monarchs, and he saw himself as the founder of a new monarchical dynasty.


--“Bonaparte never lacked courage on the battlefield but he had a horror of rows. Incapable of holding his own against a hostile assembly, jostled and insulted, he had an attack of faintness.”

--“In 1802 [Napoleon] created the national order of the Legion of Honour, similar to the orders of chivalry under the Kings of France. The object: to form an aristocracy of merit, which would be self-perpetuating.

--“[Napoleon] had a Court protocol and nobility....In eight years [Napoleon] created 4 princes, 30 dukes, 388 counts and 1,090 barons.”

--Stendhal: “‘[Napoleon] never had a plan.’”

--“[Napoleon’s] mind was at work day and night, constantly replenished by the replies to his endless questions: ‘How many men? How many shells per gun? How many bags of corn?’ And, even when he was with the Empress and her entourage in the evening: ‘How many children?’ And he remembered it all.”

--“Never did a leader have so much wealth at his disposal as Napoleon and keep less for himself.”


The Personality of Napoleon, by J. H. Rose

1--Carlyle: “‘I confess, I have no notion of a truly great man that could not be all sorts of men.’”

--Rousseau prophesied “that [Corsica] would some day astonish the world.”

5--“A typical example of [Napoleon’s] decisive mastery of civil affairs when in the midst of war is seen in his varied work on the eve of the battle of Austerlitz. After explaining his plan of battle to his leading officers, he turned aside to dictate the organisation of the large boarding-school at St. Denis.”

--“The impulse imparted by his public works to material prosperity can scarcely be overestimated. To this task he applied himself unceasingly; and his keen eye for geography no less than his discernment of the elemental needs of mankind enabled him to mark out the lines of development for the communications and commerce of France and a large part of Europe.”

--“To the end of his days Napoleon remained a ‘Mercantilist’ [that is, he opposed free trade and he believed in protectionism; one might call Napoleon an economic nationalist].”

--“[Napoleon’s aim was] to make his Empire a self-sufficing unit.”

--“Napoleon doubtless expected that the extension of national commerce within the wide bounds of the French Empire would make up for the loss of oversea commerce [a loss which resulted from his war with England and from his prohibition of trade with England]; but the event signally falsified his hopes, and may be considered the fundamental cause why Russia, Sweden, and most of the Continental States successively turned against him in 1812-13.”


If Napoleon had studied Adam Smith, and pursued a free trade policy, his Empire might have lasted longer; the nations on the continent would have been less inclined to rebel against him, and England would have been less inclined to make war on him.


--“From the beginning of the Consulate he resolved strictly to control the Press....Bonaparte ordered his librarian to keep a close watch on all books, pamphlets, and placards.”

6--Napoleon, to the German poet, Wieland: “I assure you that the historian whom you are always quoting, Tacitus, has never taught me anything. Do you know any greater, yet often more unjust, detractor of mankind? To the simplest actions he assigns criminal motives....And what a style! What unrelieved obscurity!”

8--“[In 1815] Napoleon had desired to make his way to the United States, but that was refused....Probably he would have advised, and even headed an expedition for the conquest of Canada; for in an interview with Major Vivian at Elba in the previous January he prophesied that Canada would soon fall to the United States.”

--“[At St. Helena] reading of the French classics became his chief recreation.... Voltaire’s tragedy, Zaïre, was his favourite, as was the case in his youth....He read it aloud so frequently as to need often to pause and exclaim: ‘Mme. de Montholon, vous dormez.’ Finally she and Gourgaud resorted to the device of hiding the book as the only means of thwarting this importunate preference.”

--“[Napoleon] said to Gourgaud that suicide was the act of a coward.”


Memorial of St. Helena, by Las Cases

8/15--Dictated by Napoleon: “‘On attaining the age of puberty, [Napoleon’s] temper became morose and reserved; his passion for reading was carried to excess; and he eagerly devoured the contents of every book that fell in his way.’”

--“Circumstances and reflection have considerably modified his character. Even his style of expression, now so concise and laconic, was in his youth diffuse and emphatic. At the time of the Legislative Assembly, Napoleon assumed a serious and severe demeanour, and became less communicative than before. The Army of Italy also marked another epoch in his character. His extreme youth, when he went to take the command of the army, rendered it necessary that he should evince great reserve, and the utmost strictness of morals. ‘This was indispensably necessary,’ said he, ‘to enable me to command men so much above me in point of age. I pursued a line of conduct truly irreproachable and exemplary. I proved myself a sort of Cato.’”

9/15--“His appearance in the command [of the Army of Italy] produced a revolution in his manners, conduct, and language. Decrès has often told me, that he was at Toulon when he first heard of Napoleon’s appointment to the command of the Army of Italy. He had known him well in Paris, and thought himself on terms of perfect intimacy with him. ‘Thus’, said he, ‘when we learned that the new General was about to pass through the city, I immediately proposed to introduce my comrades to him, and to turn my connexion to the best account. I hastened to him full of eagerness and joy; the door of the apartment was thrown open, and I was on the point of rushing towards him with my wonted familiarity, but his attitude, his look, the tone of his voice, suddenly deterred me. There was nothing offensive either in his appearance or manner; but the impression he produced was sufficient to prevent me from ever again attempting to encroach upon the distance that separated us.’”

--“The army was subdued by his genius, rather than seduced by his popularity: he was in general very severe and reserved.”


Napoleon seems cold, taciturn, unapproachable and enigmatic. This passage makes it appear that Napoleon was open and communicative by nature, but that he became reserved as a result of being in a position of power. Perhaps everyone who is in a position of power is forced to become distant and aloof.


--“Napoleon [was] hated by the aristocrats of Europe as a Marius, by the demagogues as a Sylla, and by the republicans as a Caesar.”


Napoleon was able to unite France through moderate, middle-of-the-road policies in both politics and religion. He was neither anti-aristocracy nor pro-aristocracy, neither anti-religion nor pro-religion.


Napoleon, by Emil Ludwig

I, 3--small, a second son

13--Napoleon: “‘He who has courage despises the future.’”

II, 9--Talleyrand was “lamed by an accident in childhood.”

III, 7--Napoleon’s “guiding principle”: ‘he will not go far who knows from the first whither he is going’.”