Napoleon meets Metternich

In the course of a face-to-face meeting in Dresden in June 1813, Metternich, by now the Austrian foreign minister, reminded Napoleon of the appalling human cost of his wars. ‘In ordinary times,’ Metternich observed, ‘armies are formed of only a small part of the population. Today it is the whole people that you have called to arms.’ This was a matter also of ‘future generations’, he remarked, in reference to the extreme youth of many in the latest cohort of recruits who had perished on the Russian campaign. Napoleon made an extraordinary reply. ‘You are no soldier,’ he barked, ‘and you do not know what goes on in the soul of a soldier. I was brought up in military camps, I know only the camps, and a man such as I am does not give a fuck about the lives of a million men’ – ‘un homme comme moi se f(out) de la vie d’un million d’hommes.’ Metternich sometimes wondered how Napoleon did not shrink from himself in horror at the pain and injury he had inflicted. Here was the answer. A lasting peace with such a man was not possible. That the Napoleon who turned up to meet Metternich the day after this chilling exchange was the soul of amiability and charm merely confirmed his intuition.

Christopher Clark, reviewing Wolfram Siemann’s biography of Metternich, translated by Daniel Steuer, in LRB.

The Napoleon whom Metternich came to know resembled a Calabrian crime boss: tender to the point of indulgence with his family, formidably shrewd and utterly pitiless in his dealings with the wider world.

Must the history-makers be psychos? Reminded of the scene in Oliver Stone’s Nixon:



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