The Mind of Napoleon

[Conversation, 1805] There is only one thing to do in this world, and that is to keep acquiring more and more money and power. All the rest is chimerical.

[Conversation, December 3, 1804, the day after his coronation] I come too late, nothing great remains to be done… Yes, I admit that I have had a fine career, I have gone far. But what a difference with antiquity! Look at Alexander: when he had conquered Asia and presented himself to the nations as the son of Jupiter, the whole Orient believed him, except for Olympias, who knew better, and except for Aristotle and a few Athenian pedants. Well, if I declared myself the sone of the Eternal Father… every fishwife would hoot when she saw me pass by. The masses are too enlightened these days: nothing great can be done anymore.

[Conversation, 1816] General rule: No social revolution without terror

[Incident, Saint Helena, 1815, related by Las Cases] Several slaves carrying heavy crates crossed our path. Mrs. Balcombe told them angrily to make room, when the Emperor intervened saying “Respect for the burden, Madam!”

[Reminiscence of Chaptal] Once among many times, Josephine was to take the waters at Aachen. The First Consul had me called and said “Josephine is leaving tomorrow for her water cure. I mist dictate her itinerary and outline her conduct. Write.” And he dictated twenty-one large sheets of paper.

[Letter, 1810] Poland exists only in the imagination of those who want to use it as a pretext for spinning dreams.

[Dictation, Saint Helena] A battle is a dramatic action which has its beginning, its middle, and its end. The battle order of the opposing armies and their preliminary maneuvers until they come to grips form the exposition. The countermaneuvers of the army which has been attacked constitute the dramatic complication. They lead in turn to new measures and bring about the crisis, and from this results the outcome of denouement.

[1808, letter] You say you have four hundred thousand men under arms, which is more than your monarchy ever had. You want to double their number: we shall follow your example. Soon even the women will have to be conscripted. When things come to this point, when all the springs are thus strained, war becomes desirable in order to bring about a release. Thus, in the physical world, at the approach of a storm, nature is in a state of tension, so painful that the outbreak of the storm is desirable because it relaxes the exacerbated nerves and restores heaven and earth to peaceful serenity. An acute but short pain is preferable to prolonged suffering.

[Note, August 27, 1808] In war, moral factors account for three quarters of the whole; relative material strength accounts for only one quarter.

[Conversation, 1800s] Military science consists in first calculating all the possibilities accurately and then making an almost mathematically exact allowance for accident. It is on this point that one must make no mistake; a decimal more or less may alter everything.

[Conversation, 1813] When an enemy army is in flight, you must either build a golden bridge for it or stop it with a wall of steel

Napoleon speaks of how Wellington devastated Spain during his retreat to Portugal:

In all of Europe, only Wellington and I are capable of carrying out such measures. But there is a difference between him and myself: in France… I would be criticized, whereas England will praise him.

There are a couple of interesting pages in this book where Napoleon explains all the reasons why he should have won the battle of Waterloo. Shoulda woulda coulda. More on Napoleon, his mind. Got this book after the recommendation of Scott Locklin‘s website.

Note to devoted readers: the pace of dispatches on this site will likely be diminished in the future as I’ve been directed by the System to write and produce ten episodes of a TV show.



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