Napoleon I of France

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The true character of man ever displays itself in great events.

Napoléon Bonaparte (15 August 17695 May 1821) was a French military general who rose to prominence in the French Revolution, becoming the ruler of France as First Consul of the French Republic (11 November 1799 - 18 May 1804), and then Emperor of the French and King of Italy under the name Napoleon I (18 May 1804 - 6 April 1814, and again briefly from 20 March - 22 June 1815).

Everything tells me I shall succeed.
My waking thoughts are all of thee...
The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished.
From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step.
What is a throne? — a bit of wood gilded and covered in velvet. I am the state...
France is invaded; I am leaving to take command of my troops, and, with God's help and their valor, I hope soon to drive the enemy beyond the frontier.
I generally had to give in.
I never was truly my own master but was always ruled by circumstances.
Ordinary men died, men of iron were taken prisoner: I only brought back with me men of bronze.

Quotes[edit]

  • Send me 300 francs; that sum will enable me to go to Paris. There, at least, one can cut a figure and surmount obstacles. Everything tells me I shall succeed. Will you prevent me from doing so for the want of 100 crowns?
    • Letter to his uncle, Joseph Fesch (June 1791), as quoted in A Selection from the Letters and Despatches of the First Napoleon. With Explanatory Notes (1884) edited by D. A. Bingham, Vol. I, p. 24
  • My waking thoughts are all of thee. Your portrait and the remembrance of last night's delirium have robbed my senses of repose. Sweet and incomparable Josephine, what an extraordinary influence you have over my heart. Are you vexed? Do I see you sad? Are you ill at ease? My soul is broken with grief, and there is no rest for your lover.
    • Letter to Joséphine de Beauharnais (February 1796), as translated in Napoleon's Letters to Josephine 1796-1812 (1901) edited by Henry Foljambe Hall
  • All great events hang by a hair. The man of ability takes advantage of everything and neglects nothing that can give him a chance of success; whilst the less able man sometimes loses everything by neglecting a single one of those chances.
    • Letter to Minister of Foreign Affairs, Passariano (26 September 1797), as quoted in Napoleon as a General (1902) by Maximilian Yorck von Wartenburg, p. 269
  • From the heights of these pyramids, forty centuries look down on us.
    • Speech to his troops in Egypt (21 July 1798) Variant translation: "Soldiers, from the summit of yonder pyramids forty centuries look down upon you...". Published in the autobiography of French general Eugène de Beauharnais.
  • What I have done up to this is nothing. I am only at the beginning of the course I must run. Do you imagine that I triumph in Italy in order to aggrandise the pack of lawyers who form the Directory, and men like Carnot and Barras? What an idea!
    • As quoted in Memoirs of Count Miot de Melito (1788 - 1815) as translated by Frances Cashel Hoey and John Lillie (1881), Vol. II, p. 94
  • I do not care to play the part of Monk; I will not play it myself, and I do not choose that others shall do so. But those Paris lawyers who have got into the Directory understand nothing of government. They are poor creatures. I am going to see what they want to do at Rastadt; but I doubt much that we shall understand each other, or long agree together. They are jealous of me, I know, and notwithstanding all their flattery, I am not their dupe; they fear more than they love me. They were in a great hurry to make me General of the army of England, so that they might get me out of Italy, where I am the master, and am more of a sovereign than commander of an army. They will see how things go on when I am not there. I am leaving Berthier, but he is not fit for the chief command, and, I predict, will only make blunders. As for myself, my dear Miot, I may inform you, I can no longer obey; I have tasted command, and I cannot give it up. I have made up my mind, if I cannot be master I shall leave France; I do not choose to have done so much for her and then hand her over to lawyers.
    • Conversation at Turin, as quoted in Memoirs of Count Miot de Melito (1788 - 1815) as translated by Frances Cashel Hoey and John Lillie (1881), Vol. II, p. 113
    • 'Monk' refers to George Monck, military ruler of Puritan England after Cromwell, who ultimately gave up power when he invited Charles II in and enabled the English Restoration
  • I hope the time is not far off when I shall be able to unite all the wise and educated men of all the countries and establish a uniform regime based on the principles of the Quran which alone are true and which alone can lead men to happiness.
    • Letter to Sheikh El-Messiri, (28 August 1798); published in Correspondance Napoleon edited by Henri Plon (1861), Vol.4, No. 3148, p. 420
  • The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know.
    • On the subject of torture, in a letter to Louis Alexandre Berthier (11 November 1798), published in Correspondance Napoleon edited by Henri Plon (1861), Vol. V, No. 3606, p. 128
  • A form of government that is not the result of a long sequence of shared experiences, efforts, and endeavors can never take root.
    • Statement (1803) as quoted in The Mind of Napoleon (1955) by J. Christopher Herold
  • From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step.
    • Speaking about troubles in the invasions of Russia (10 December 1812),as recorded by Abbé du Pradt, and quoted in History of Europe from the Commencement of the French Revolution in 1789, to the Restoration of the Bourbons in 1815, Vol. 3 (1842) by Sir Archibald Alison, p. 593
    • Variant translations:
      There is but one step from the sublime to the ridiculous.
      There is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous.
  • Le mot impossible n'est pas français.
    • The word impossible is not French.
    • Letter to General Jean Le Marois (9 July 1813), quoted in Famous Sayings and their Authors (1906) by Edward Latham, p. 138
    • Variant translation: You write to me that it is impossible; the word is not French.
    • Variant attribution : Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools.
    • The letter says: "Ce n'est pas possible", m'ecrivez-vous: cela n'est pas français.Original Source
  • If the art of war were nothing but the art of avoiding risks, glory would become the prey of mediocre minds.... I have made all the calculations; fate will do the rest.
    • Statement at the beginning of the 1813 campaign, as quoted in The Mind of Napoleon (1955) by J. Christopher Herold, p. 45
  • What is a throne? — a bit of wood gilded and covered in velvet. I am the state— I alone am here the representative of the people. Even if I had done wrong you should not have reproached me in public — people wash their dirty linen at home. France has more need of me than I of France.
    • Statement to the Senate (1814)[specific citation needed] He echoes here the remark attributed to Louis XIV L'état c'est moi ( "The State is I" or more commonly: "I am the State.")
    • Variant translation: A throne is only a bench covered with velvet...
  • France is invaded; I am leaving to take command of my troops, and, with God's help and their valor, I hope soon to drive the enemy beyond the frontier.
  • The Allied Powers having proclaimed that the Emperor Napoleon is the sole obstacle to the re-establishment of peace in Europe, he, faithful to his oath, declares that he is ready to descend from the throne, to quit France, and even to relinquish life, for the good of his country.
    • Act of Abdication (4 April 1814)
  • Unite for the public safety, if you would remain an independent nation.
    • Proclamation to the French People (22 June 1815)
  • Wherever wood can swim, there I am sure to find this flag of England.
  • Whatever shall we do in that remote spot? Well, we will write our memoirs. Work is the scythe of time.
  • I generally had to give in.
    • Statement on his relations with the Empress Josephine (19 May 1816), quoted in The Story of Civilization (1935) by Will Durant and Ariel Durant, p. 234
  • I may have had many projects, but I never was free to carry out any of them. It did me little good to be holding the helm; no matter how strong my hands, the sudden and numerous waves were stronger still, and I was wise enough to yield to them rather than resist them obstinately and make the ship founder. Thus I never was truly my own master but was always ruled by circumstances.
  • What then is, generally speaking, the [[truth of history? A fable agreed upon.
  • Women are nothing but machines for producing children.
    • The St. Helena Journal of General Baron Gourgaud (9 January 1817); as quoted in The St. Helena Journal of General Baron Gourgaud, 1815-1818 : Being a Diary written at St. Helena during a part of Napoleon's Captivity (1932) as translated by Norman Edwards, a translation of Journal de Sainte-Hélène 1815-1818 by General Gaspard Gourgaud
  • My maxim was, la carrière est ouverte aux talents, without distinction of birth or fortune.
  • Religions are all founded on miracles — on things we cannot understand, such as the Trinity. Jesus calls himself the Son of God, and yet is descended from David. I prefer the religion of Mahomet — it is less ridiculous than ours.
    • Letter from St. Helena (28 August 1817); as quoted in The St. Helena Journal of General Baron Gourgaud, 1815-1818 : Being a Diary written at St. Helena during a part of Napoleon's Captivity (1932) as translated by Norman Edwards, a translation of Journal de Sainte-Hélène 1815-1818 by General Gaspard Gourgaud, t.2, p. 226
  • Muhammad was a great man, an intrepid soldier; with a handful of men he triumphed at the battle of Bender (sic); a great captain, eloquent, a great man of state, he revived his fatherland and created a new people and a new power in the middle of Arabia.
    • Statement of 1817 quoted in Précis des guerres de César, écrit à Sainte-Hélène sous la dictée de l'empereur (1836) edited by Comte Marchand, p. 237. This work was written by Napoleon during his exile on St. Helena. Translated by Ziad Elmarsafy in The Enlightenment Qur'an.
  • Muhammad was a prince; he rallied his compatriots around him. In a few years, the Muslims conquered half of the world. They plucked more souls from false gods, knocked down more idols, razed more pagan temples in fifteen years than the followers of Moses and Jesus did in fifteen centuries. Muhammad was a great man. He would indeed have been a god, if the revolution that he had performed had not been prepared by the circumstances.
    • Campagnes d'Egypte et Syrie, Paris, Imprimerie Nationale, 1998, p. 275. Translated by John Tolan in European Accounts of Muhammad's Life. Napoleon wrote his memoirs on the island of Saint Helena. It is here he develops his portrait of Muhammad as a model lawmaker and conqueror.
  • Our hour is marked, and no one can claim a moment of life beyond what fate has predestined.
  • I see that everybody has lost their head since the infamous capitulation of Bailén. I realise that I must go there myself to get the machine working again.
    • Said after Dupont's capitulation at w:Bailén to the Spanish (1808), as quoted in The Art of Warfare on Land (1974) by David G. Chandler, p. 164
  • Ordinary men died, men of iron were taken prisoner: I only brought back with me men of bronze.
    • Statement of 1812, quoted in Napoleon's Cavalry and its Leaders (1978) by David Johnson
  • Among so many conflicting ideas and so many different perspectives, the honest man is confused and distressed and the skeptic becomes wicked … Since one must take sides, one might as well choose the side that is victorious, the side which devastates, loots, and burns. Considering the alternative, it is better to eat than to be eaten.
    • Letter to his brother, as quoted in The Age of Napoleon (2002) by J. Christopher Herold, p. 8
  • Depuis le premier jour jusqu'au dernier, il est le même, toujours le même, majestueux et simple , infiniment sévère et infiniment doux ; dans un commerce de vie pour ainsi dire public, Jésus ne donne jamais de prise à la moindre critique; sa conduite si prudente ravit l'admiration par un mélange de force et de douceur.
    • Sentiment de Napoléon sur la divinité de Jésus-Christ (1841), p. 59. Translated: "From first to last, he is the same, always the same, majestic and simple, extremely severe and extremely mild in the business of public life, so to speak, Jesus does not hold to any criticism, his prudent manner so delighted admiration by a mixture of strength and gentleness".
  • I am a monarch of God's creation, and you reptiles of the earth dare not oppose me. I render an account of my government to none save God and Jesus Christ.
    • Addressing members of the Catholic clergy assembled during ‘Bonaparte's Conference with the Catholic and Protestant clergy at Breda,’ May 1, 1810 (originally reported in the Gazette of Dorpt), as quoted in The life of Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of the French: with a preliminary view of the French revolution, Sir Walter Scott, Philadelphia: Leary & Getz, 1857, p. 91
    • Variant translation: God placed me on the throne, and you reptiles of the earth dare oppose me. I owe no account of my administration to the pope,— only to God and Jesus Christ.
      • As quoted in The Christian Observer, Volume 10, 1861, p. 261
  • Well then, I will tell you. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I myself have founded great empires; but upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love, and to this very day millions will die for Him. I think I understand something of human nature; and I tell you, all these were men, and I am a man: none else is like Him; Jesus Christ was more than a man. I have inspired multitudes with such an enthusiastic devotion that they would have died for me but to do this it was necessary that I should be visibly present with the electric influence of my looks, my words, of my voice. When I saw men and spoke to them, I lighted up the flame of self-devotion in their hearts. Christ alone has succeeded in so raising the mind of man toward the unseen, that it becomes insensible to the barriers of time and space. Across a chasm of eighteen hundred years, Jesus Christ makes a demand which is beyond all others difficult to satisfy; He asks for that which a philosopher may often seek in vain at the hands of his friends, or a father of his children, or a bride of her spouse, or a man of his brother. He asks for the human heart; He will have it entirely to Himself. He demands it unconditionally; and forthwith His demand is granted. Wonderful! In defiance of time and space, the soul of man, with all its powers and faculties, becomes an annexation to the empire of Christ. All who sincerely believe in Him, experience that remarkable, supernatural love toward Him. This phenomenon is unaccountable; it is altogether beyond the scope of man's creative powers. Time, the great destroyer, is powerless to extinguish this sacred flame; time can neither exhaust its strength nor put a limit to its range. This is it, which strikes me most; I have often thought of it. This it is which proves to me quite convincingly the Divinity of Jesus Christ.
    • In a statement about Jesus Christ, Napoleon while he was exiled on the rock of St. Helena he called Count Montholon to his side and asked him, "Can you tell me who Jesus Christ was?" Upon the Count declining to respond Napoleon countered. Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods, p. 149
  • There is but a step from the sublime to the ridiculous.
    • Napoleon's favourite maxim, quoted in The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte by William Hodgson (1841), p. 477
  • A cowardly act! What do I care about that? You may be sure that I should never fear to commit one if it were to my advantage.
    • Quoted by George Gordon Andrews in Napoleon in Review (1939)[1]

Memoirs of Napoleon (1829-1831)[edit]

More glorious to merit a sceptre than to possess one.
Memoirs of Napoleon was published in 10 volumes (1829-1831) by Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne who from 1797 to 1802 had been a private secretary to Napoleon.
  • Immortality is the best recollection one leaves.
  • Kiss the feet of Popes provided their hands are tied.
  • Malice delights to blacken the characters of prominent men.
  • More glorious to merit a sceptre than to possess one.
  • Those who are free from common prejudices acquire others.

Political Aphorisms, Moral and Philosophical Thoughts (1848)[edit]

Political Aphorisms, Moral and Philosophical Thoughts of Emperor Napoleon collected and published by Cte. A. G. de Liancourt; edited by James Alexander Manning; this work is also sometimes referred to as Maxims of Napoleon
  • When you have an enemy in your power, deprive him of the means of ever injuring you.
    • p. 30
  • He who fears being conquered is certain of defeat.
    • p. 146
  • The greater the man, the less is he opinionative, he depends upon events and circumstances.
    • p. 146
  • A constitution should be framed so as not to impede the action of government, nor force the government to its violation.
    • p. 246
  • The people must not be counted upon; they cry indifferently : "Long live the King!" and "Long live the Conspirators!" a proper direction must be given to them, and proper instruments employed to effect it.
    • p. 246
  • Hereditary succession to the magistracy is absurd, as it tends to make a property of it; it is incompatible with the sovereignty of the people.
    • p. 246
  • Orders and decorations are necessary in order to dazzle the people.
    • p. 248
  • Power is founded upon opinion.
    • p. 248
  • Sometimes a great example is necessary to all the public functionaries of the state.
    • p. 248
  • A Government protected by foreigners will never be accepted by a free people.
  • A great people may be killed, but they cannot be intimidated.
  • A great reserve and severity of manners are necessary for the command of those who are older than ourselves.
  • A king is sometimes obliged to commit crimes; but they are the crimes of his position.
  • A King should sacrifice the best affections of his heart for the good of his country; no sacrifice should be above his determination.
  • Greatness is nothing unless it be lasting.
  • Many a one commits a reprehensible action, who is at bottom an honourable man, because man seldom acts upon natural impulse, but from some secret passion of the moment which lies hidden and concealed within the narrowest folds of his heart.
  • The life of a citizen is the property of his country.
  • You cannot treat with all the world at once.

Napoleon : In His Own Words (1916)[edit]

Napoleon : In His Own Words (1916) edited by Jules Bertaut, as translated by Herbert Edward Law and Charles Lincoln Rhodes
Destiny urges me to a goal of which I am ignorant. Until that goal is attained I am invulnerable, unassailable. When Destiny has accomplished her purpose in me, a fly may suffice to destroy me.
Ch. I : On Success
  • There are only two forces that unite men — fear and interest. All great revolutions originate in fear, for the play of interests does not lead to accomplishment.
  • Audacity succeeds as often as it fails; in life it has an even chance.
  • The superior man is never in anyone's way.
  • There are so many laws that no one is safe from hanging.
  • Success is the most convincing talker in the world.
  • As a rule it is circumstances that make men.
  • Impatience is a great obstacle to success; he who treats everything with brusqueness gathers nothing, or only immature fruit which will never ripen.
  • One must indeed be ignorant of the methods of genius to suppose that it allows itself to be cramped by forms. Forms are for mediocrity, and it is fortunate that mediocrity can act only according to routine. Ability takes its flight unhindered.
  • Never depend on the multitude, full of instability and whims; always take precautions against it.
  • From triumph to downfall is but a step. I have seen a trifle decide the most important issues in the gravest affairs.
  • It is only by prudence, wisdom, and dexterity, that great ends are attained and obstacles overcome. Without these qualities nothing succeeds.
  • The man fitted for affairs and authority never considers individuals, but things and their consequences.
  • A congress of the powers is deceit agreed on between diplomats — it is the pen of Machiavelli combined with the scimitar of Mahomet.
  • Destiny urges me to a goal of which I am ignorant. Until that goal is attained I am invulnerable, unassailable. When Destiny has accomplished her purpose in me, a fly may suffice to destroy me.
  • Necessity dominates inclination, will, and right.
Ch. II : Psychology and Morals
  • Men have their virtues and their vices, their heroisms and their perversities; men are neither wholly good nor wholly bad, but possess and practice all that there is of good and bad here below. Such is the general rule. Temperament, education, the accidents of life, are modifying factors. Outside of this, everything is ordered arrangement, everything is chance. Such has been my rule of expectation and it has usually brought me success.
  • Whatever misanthropists may say, ingrates and the perverse are exceptions in the human species.
  • The great mass of society are far from being depraved; for if a large majority were criminal or inclined to break the laws, where would the force or power be to prevent or constrain them? And herein is the real blessing of civilization, because this happy result has its origin in her bosom, growing out of her very nature.
  • Imagination governs the world.
  • What are we? What is the future? What is the past? What magic fluid envelops us and hides from us the things it is most important for us to know? We are born, we live, and we die in the midst of the marvelous.
  • To do all that one is able to do, is to be a man; to do all that one would like to do, would be to be a god.
  • Man achieves in life only by commanding the capabilities nature has given him, or by creating them within himself by education and by knowing how to profit by the difficulties encountered.
  • It is a mistake, too, to say that the face is the mirror of the soul. The truth is, men are very hard to know, and yet, not to be deceived, we must judge them by their present actions, but for the present only.
  • One is more certain to influence men, to produce more effect on them, by absurdities than by sensible ideas.
  • It is not true that men never change; they change for the worse, as well as for the better. It is not true they are ungrateful; more often the benefactor rates his favors higher than their worth; and often too he does not allow for circumstances. If few men have the moral force to resist impulses, most men do carry within themselves the germs of virtues as well as of vices, of heroism as well as of cowardice. Such is human nature — education and circumstances do the rest.
  • Ordinarily men exercise their memory much more than their judgment.
  • There is nothing so imperious as feebleness which feels itself supported by force.
  • True character stands the test of emergencies. Do not be mistaken, it is weakness from which the awakening is rude.
  • How many seemingly impossible things have been accomplished by resolute men because they had to do, or die.
  • The fool has one great advantage over a man of sense — he is always satisfied with himself.
  • Simpletons talk of the past, wise men of the present, and fools of the future.
  • One must learn to forgive and not to hold a hostile, bitter attitude of mind, which offends those about us and prevents us from enjoying ourselves; one must recognize human shortcomings and adjust himself to them rather than to be constantly finding fault with them.
  • It is not necessary to prohibit or encourage oddities of conduct which are not harmful.
  • The best way to keep one's word is not to give it.
Ch. III : Love and Marriage
  • In love the only safety is in flight.
  • I do not believe it is in our nature to love impartially. We deceive ourselves when we think we can love two beings, even our own children, equally. There is always a dominant affection.
Ch. IV : Things Political
  • In politics nothing is immutable. Events carry within them an invincible power. The unwise destroy themselves in resistance. The skillful accept events, take strong hold of them and direct them.
  • It is only with prudence, sagacity, and much dexterity that great aims are accomplished, and all obstacles surmounted. Otherwise nothing is accomplished.
  • The great difficulty with politics is, that there are no established principles.
  • The truth is that one ought to serve his people worthily, and not strive solely to please them. The best way to gain a people is to do that which is best for them. Nothing is more dangerous than to flatter a people. If it does not get what it wants immediately, it is irritated and thinks that promises have not been kept; and if then it is resisted, it hates so much the more as it feels itself deceived.
  • Lead the ideas of your time and they will accompany and support you; fall behind them and they drag you along with them; oppose them and they will overwhelm you.
  • There is no such thing as an absolute despotism; it is only relative. A man cannot wholly free himself from obligation to his fellows. A sultan who cut off heads from caprice, would quickly lose his own in the same way. Excesses tend to check themselves by reason of their own violence. What the ocean gains in one place it loses in another.
  • We are made weak both by idleness and distrust of ourselves. Unfortunate, indeed, is he who suffers from both. If he is a mere individual he becomes nothing; if he is a king he is lost.
  • A prince should suspect everything.
  • In politics, an absurdity is not an impediment.
  • The most difficult art is not in the choice of men, but in giving to the men chosen the highest service of which they are capable.
  • Posterity alone rightly judges kings. Posterity alone has the right to accord or withhold honors.
  • Obedience to public authority ought not to be based either on ignorance or stupidity.
  • The laws of circumstance are abolished by new circumstances.
  • Some revolutions are inevitable. There are moral eruptions, just as the outbreak of volcanoes are physical eruptions. When the chemical combinations which produce them are complete, the volcanic eruptions burst forth, just as revolutions do when the moral factors are in the right state. In order to foresee them the trend of ideas must be understandingly observed.
  • One can lead a nation only by helping it see a bright outlook. A leader is a dealer in hope.
  • It is rare that a legislature reasons. It is too quickly impassioned.
  • Parties weaken themselves by their fear of capable men.
  • Democracy may become frenzied, but it has feelings and can be moved. As for aristocracy, it is always cold and never forgives.
  • We frustrate many designs against us by pretending not to see them.
  • To listen to the interests of all, marks an ordinary government; to foresee them, marks a great government.
  • Peace ought to be the result of a system well considered, founded on the true interests of the different countries, honorable to each, and ought not to be either a capitulation or the result of a threat.
Ch. V : Concerning the Fine Arts
  • A book in which there were no lies would be a curiosity.
  • All men of genius, and all those who have gained rank in the republic of letters, are brothers, whatever may be the land of their nativity.
  • It must be recognized that the real truths of history are hard to discover. Happily, for the most part, they are rather matters of curiosity than of real importance.
  • Dante has not deigned to take his inspiration from any other. He has wished to be himself, himself alone; in a word, to create. He has occupied a vast space, and has filled it with the superiority of a sublime mind. He is diverse, strong, and gracious. He has imagination, warmth, and enthusiasm. He makes his reader tremble, shed tears, feel the thrill of honor in a way that is the height of art. Severe and menacing, he has terrible imprecations for crime, scourgings for vice, sorrow for misfortune. As a citizen, affected by the laws of the republic, he thunders against its oppressors, but he is always ready to excuse his native city, Florence is ever to him his sweet, beloved country, dear to his heart. I am envious for my dear France, that she has never produced a rival to Dante; that this Colossus has not had his equal among us. No, there is no reputation which can be compared to his.
  • The division of labor, which has brought such perfection in mechanical industries, is altogether fatal when applied to productions of the mind. All work of the mind is superior in proportion as the mind that produces it is universal.
Ch. VI : Administration
  • Laws which are consistent in theory often prove chaotic in practice.
  • In practical administration, experience is everything.
Ch. VII : Concerning Religion
  • Aristocracy is the spirit of the Old Testament, democracy of the New.
  • The existence of God is attested by everything that appeals to our imagination. And if our eye cannot reach Him it is because He has not permitted our intelligence to go so far.
  • Jesus Christ was the greatest republican.
  • Charity and alms are recommended in every chapter of the Koran as being the most acceptable services, both to God and the Prophet.
  • The religious zeal which animates priests, leads them to undertake labors and to brave perils which would be far beyond the powers of one in secular employment.
  • Conscience is the most sacred thing among men. Every man has within him a still small voice, which tells him that nothing on earth can oblige him to believe that which he does not believe. The worst of all tyrannies is that which obliges eighteen-twentieths of a nation to embrace a religion contrary to their beliefs, under penalty of being denied their rights as citizens and of owning property, which, in effect, is the same thing as being without a country.
  • Fanaticism must be put to sleep before it can be eradicated.
  • Policemen and prisons ought never to be the means used to bring men back to the practice of religion.
  • You cannot drag a man's conscience before any tribunal, and no one is answerable for his religious opinions to any power on earth.
  • The populace judges of the power of God by the power of the priests.
  • I do not see in religion the mystery of the incarnation so much as the mystery of the social order. It introduces into the thought of heaven an idea of equalization, which saves the rich from being massacred by the poor.
    • Often paraphrased as “Religion keeps the poor from killing the rich.”
  • Man loves the marvelous. It has an irresistible charm for him. He is always ready to leave that with which he is familiar to pursue vain inventions. He lends himself to his own deception.
  • Our credulity is a part of the imperfection of our natures. It is inherent in us to desire to generalize, when we ought, on the contrary, to guard ourselves very carefully from this tendency.
Ch. VII : On War
  • A general must be a charlatan.
  • Unhappy the general who comes on the field of battle with a system.
  • It is often in the audacity, in the steadfastness, of the general that the safety and the conservation of his men is found.
  • The military principles of Caesar were those of Hannibal, and those of Hannibal were those of Alexander — to hold his forces in hand, not to be vulnerable at any point, to throw all his forces with rapidity on any given point.
  • An army which cannot be reenforced is already defeated.
  • A commander in chief ought to say to himself several times a day: If the enemy should appear on my front, on my right, on my left, what would I do? And if the question finds him uncertain, he is not well placed, he is not as he should be, and he should remedy it.
  • The moment of greatest peril is the moment of victory.
  • At the beginning of a campaign it is important to consider whether or not to move forward; but when one has taken the offensive it is necessary to maintain it to the last extremity. However skilfully effected a retreat may be, it always lessens the morale of an army, since in losing the chances of success, they are remitted to the enemy. A retreat, moreover, costs much more in men and materials than the bloodiest engagements, with this difference, also, that in a battle the enemy loses practically as much as you do; while in a retreat you lose and he does not.
  • Changing from the defensive to the offensive, is one of the most delicate operations in war.
  • An army ought to be ready every moment to offer all the resistance of which it is capable.
  • Never march by flank in front of an army in position. This principle is absolute.
  • In a battle, as in a siege, the art consists in concentrating very heavy fire on a particular point. The line of battle once established, the one who has the ability to concentrate an unlooked for mass of artillery suddenly and unexpectedly on one of these points is sure to carry the day.
  • There is a joy in danger.
  • War is a serious game in which a man risks his reputation, his troops, and his country. A sensible man will search himself to know whether or not he is fitted for the trade.
  • There is only one favorable moment in war; talent consists in knowing how to seize it.
  • He who cannot look over a battlefield with a dry eye, causes the death of many men uselessly.
  • In war, theory is all right so far as general principles are concerned; but in reducing general principles to practice there will always be danger. Theory and practice are the axis about which the sphere of accomplishment revolves.
  • The secret of great battles consists in knowing how to deploy and concentrate at the right time.
  • The art of war consists in being always able, even with an inferior army, to have stronger forces than the enemy at the point of attack or the point which is attacked.
  • The praises of enemies are always to be suspected. A man of honor will not permit himself to be flattered by them, except when they are given after the cessation of hostilities.
  • The most desirable quality in a soldier is constancy in the support of fatigue; valor is only secondary.
  • Policy and morals concur in repressing pillage.
  • Gentleness, good treatment, honor the victor and dishonor the vanquished, who should remain aloof and owe nothing to pity — In war, audacity is the finest calculation of genius.
  • In civil war it is not given to every man to know how to conduct himself. There is something more than military prudence necessary; there is need of sagacity and the knowledge of men.
  • Nothing is so contrary to military rules as to make the strength of your army known, either in the orders of the day, in proclamations, or in the newspapers.
  • War is a lottery in which nations ought to risk nothing but small amounts.
  • Achilles was the son of a goddess and of a mortal; in that, he is the image of the genius of war. The divine part is all that that is derived from moral considerations of character, talent, the interest of your adversary, of opinion, of the temper of the soldier, which is strong and victorious, or feeble and beaten, according as he believes this divine part to be. The mortal part is the arms, the fortifications, the order of battle — everything which arises out of material things.
  • Courage cannot be counterfeited. It is one virtue that escapes hypocrisy.
  • In war one must lean on an obstacle in order to overcome it.
  • In war, character and opinion make more than half of the reality.
  • That dependable courage, which in spite of the most sudden circumstances, nevertheless allows freedom of mind, of judgment and of decision, is exceedingly rare.
  • War is becoming an anachronism; if we have battled in every part of the continent it was because two opposing social orders were facing each other, the one which dates from 1789, and the old regime. They could not exist together; the younger devoured the other. I know very well, that, in the final reckoning, it was war that overthrew me, me the representative of the French Revolution, and the instrument of its principles. But no matter! The battle was lost for civilization, and civilization will inevitably take its revenge. There are two systems, the past and the future. The present is only a painful transition. Which must triumph? The future, will it not? Yes indeed, the future! That is, intelligence, industry, and peace. The past was brute force, privilege, and ignorance. Each of our victories was a triumph for the ideas of the Revolution. Victories will be won, one of these days, without cannon, and without bayonets.
  • It is not that addresses at the opening of a battle make the soldiers brave. The old veterans scarcely hear them, and recruits forget them at the first boom of the cannon. Their usefulness lies in their effect on the course of the campaign, in neutralizing rumors and false reports, in maintaining a good spirit in the camp, and in furnishing matter for camp-fire talk. The printed order of the day should fulfill these different ends.
  • What are the conditions that make for the superiority of an army? Its internal organization, military habits in officers and men, the confidence of each in themselves; that is to say, bravery, patience, and all that is contained in the idea of moral means.
  • The issue of a battle is the result of an instant, of a thought. There is the advance, with its various combinations, the battle is joined, the struggle goes on a certain time, the decisive moment presents itself, a spark of genius discloses it, and the smallest body of reserves accomplish victory.
  • In war, groping tactics, half-way measures, lose everything.
  • A man who has no consideration for the needs of his men ought never to be given command.
  • To plan to reserve cavalry for the finish of the battle, is to have no conception of the power of combined infantry and cavalry charges, either for attack or for defense.
  • The general of the sea has need of only one science, that of navigation. The one on land has need of all, or of a talent which is the equivalent of all, that will enable him to profit by all experience, and all knowledge. A general of the sea has nothing to divine. He knows where his enemy is, he knows his strength. A general on land never knows anything with certainty, never sees his enemy well, and never knows positively where he is.
  • In order not to be astonished at obtaining victories, one ought not to think only of defeats.
  • In war, luck is half in everything.
  • If I had not been defeated in Acre against Jezzar Pasha of Turk. I would conquer all of the East"
  • My most splendid campaign was that of March 20; not a single shot was fired.
Ch. IX : Sociology
  • In France, only the impossible is admired.
  • The sentiment of national honor is never more than half extinguished in the French. It takes only a spark to re-kindle it.
  • France will always be a great nation.
  • Give Me a Turkish Army. I will Conquer world.

* The Turks can be killed, but they can never be conquered.

  • Europe is a molehill. It has never had any great empires, like those of the Orient, numbering six hundred million souls.
  • Europe has its history, often tragic, though at intervals consoling. But to speak of any universally recognized national rights or that these rights have played any part in its history, is to play with the powers of public credulity. Always the first duty of a state has been its safety; the pledge of its safety, its power; and the limits of its power, that intelligence of which each has been made the depository. When the great powers have proclaimed any other principle, it has been only for their own purposes, and the smaller powers have never received any benefit from it.
  • Each state claims the right to control interests foreign to itself when those interests are such that it can control them without putting its own interests in danger. … other powers only recognize this right of intervening in proportion as the country doing it has the power to do it.

Attributed[edit]

Morality has nothing to do with such a man as I am.
A good sketch is better than a long speech. (A picture is worth a thousand words.)
  • You must not fear death, my lads; defy him, and you drive him into the enemy's ranks.
    • As quoted in Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern English and Foreign Sources (1899) by Rev. James Wood, p. 567
  • Morality has nothing to do with such a man as I am.
    • As quoted in The Story of World Progress (1922) by Willis Mason West, p. 433
  • Waterloo will wipe out the memory of my forty victories; but that which nothing can wipe out is my Civil Code. That will live forever.
    • As quoted in The Story of World Progress (1922) by Willis Mason West, p. 437
  • If I were an Englishman, I should esteem the man who advised a war with China to be the greatest living enemy of my country. You would be beaten in the end, and perhaps a revolution in India would follow.
    • Reported as being from an 1817 conversation in The Mind of Napoleon, ed. and trans. J. Christopher Herold (1955), p. 249. Reported as unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989).
  • Un bon croquis vaut mieux qu'un long discours.
    • A good sketch is better than a long speech.
      • Quoted in L'Arche de Noé (1968) by Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, p. 48; this has sometimes also been translated as "A picture is worth a thousand words", though it is not known to be the origin of that English expression.
  • I saw myself founding a religion, marching into Asia riding an elephant, a turban on my head and in my hand the new Koran that I would have composed to suit my needs.
    • As quoted in The British in Egypt‎ (1971) by Peter Mansfield, p. 1
  • Ability is nothing without opportunity.
    • As quoted in Have You Ever Noticed? : The Wit and Irony of Every Day Life (1985) by Joe Moore
  • The hand that gives is above the hand that takes. (La main qui donne est au-dessus de celle qui reçoit.)
    • Italian saying, quoted by Bonaparte during the first Italian campaign to highlight the financial dependence of the Directoire on the plunder from the Army of Italy, according to Lucian S. Regenbogen, Napoléon a dit : aphorismes, citations et opinions, p. 82.
  • Money has no motherland; financiers are without patriotism and without decency; their sole object is gain.
    • Attributed in Monarchy or Money Power (1933), by R. McNair Wilson. No primary source for this is known.
  • Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.
    • As quoted in The Military Quotation Book (2002) by James Charlton, p. 93
  • I am the instrument of providence, she will use me as long as I accomplish her designs, then she will break me like a glass.
    • As quoted in The Linguist and the Emperor : Napoleon and Champollion's Quest to Decipher the Rosetta Stone (2004) by Daniel Meyerson
  • If I had succeeded, I would have been the greatest man known to history.
    • As quoted in The Tyrants : 2500 Years of Absolute Power and Corruption (2006) by Clive Foss ISBN 1905204965
  • You call these baubles, well, it is with baubles that men are led… Do you think that you would be able to make men fight by reasoning? Never. That is only good for the scholar in his study. The soldier needs glory, distinctions, and rewards.
    • On awards, as quoted in Mémoires sur le Consulat. 1799 à 1804 (1827) by Antoine-Claire, Comte Thibaudeau. Chez Ponthieu, pp. 83–84. Original: "On appelle cela des hochets ; eh bien ! c'est avec des hochets que l'on mène les hommes… Croyez-vous que vous feríez battre des hommes par l'analyse ? Jamais. Elle n'est bonne que pour le savant dans son cabinet. Il faut au soldat de la gloire, des distinctions, des récomponses."
  • The future destiny of the child is always the work of his mother. Let France have good mothers, and she will have good sons.
    • As quoted in Mama Was My Teacher: Growing Up In A Small Southern Town (2004) by Dozier Cade, p. 77


Misattributed[edit]

  • Able was I ere I saw Elba.
    • The earliest publication yet located of this famous palindrome is in the "Witty and Whimsical" section of The Saturday Reader, Vol. II, No. 30 (31 March 1866), p. 64:
It is said that Napoleon, when asked by Dr. O'Meara if he really thought he could have invaded England at the time he threatened to do so, replied in the following ingenious anagram [sic]: — "Able was I ere I saw Elba." The reader will Observe that it reads the same backward or forward.
  • Of such attributions to Napoleon, there is little credence, as stated by William Irvine in Madam I'm Adam and Other Palindromes (1987): "The well-known ABLE WAS I, ERE I SAW ELBA, for example, is conveniently attributed to Napoleon, whose knowledge of English wordplay was certainly questionable, at best." There is no mention of such a palindrome in O'Meara's own work, Napoleon in Exile : or, A Voice from St. Helena (1822).
  • An army of sheep, led by a lion, is better than an army of lions, led by a sheep.
  • Give them a whiff of grapeshot.
    • This is often quoted as a command Napoleon issued when dispersing mobs marching on the National Assembly in Paris (5 October 1795), or it is occasionally stated that he boasted "I gave them a whiff of grapeshot" sometime afterwards, but the first known use of the term "whiff of grapeshot" is actually by Thomas Carlyle in his work The French Revolution (1837), describing the use of cannon salvo [salve de canons] against crowds, and not even the use of them by Napoleon.
  • A constitution should be short and obscure.
    • Quoted in The Life of Napoleon I by John Holland Rose as an exchange between Roederer and Talleyrand
      • Roederer tells us ("Œuvres," vol. iii., p. 428) that he had drawn up two plans of a constitution for the Cisalpine; the one very short and leaving much to the President, the other precise and detailed. He told Talleyrand to advise Bonaparte to adopt the former as it was "short and" — he was about to add "clear" when the diplomatist cut him short with the words, "Yes: short and obscure!"
  • Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
    • Often known as Hanlon's razor, this was attributed to Napoleon without source in Message Passing Server Internals (2003) by Bill Blunden, p. 15, ISBN 0071416382

Quotes about Napoleon[edit]

Washington and Bonaparte emerged from the womb of democracy: both of them born to liberty, the former remained faithful to her, the latter betrayed her. ~ François-René de Chateaubriand
I used to say of him that his presence on the field made the difference of forty thousand men. ~ Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington
Arranged alphabetically by author
  • The cannibal has left his lair.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 9, 1815.
  • The Corsican ogre has just landed at the Juan Gulf.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 10, 1815.
  • The tiger has arrived at Gap.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 11, 1815.
  • The monster slept at Grenoble.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 12, 1815.
  • The tyrant has crossed Lyons.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 13, 1815.
  • The usurper was seen sixty leagues from the capital.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 18, 1815.
  • Bonaparte has advanced with great strides, but he will never enter Paris.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 19, 1815.
  • Tomorrow, Napoleon will be under our ramparts.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 20, 1815.
  • The Emperor has arrived at Fontainbleau.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 21, 1815.
  • His Imperial and Royal Majesty entered his palace at the Tuileries last night in the midst of his faithful subjects.
    • Le Moniteur Universel, March 22, 1815.
  • Bonaparte robs a nation of its independence: deposed as emperor, he is sent into exile, where the world’s anxiety still does not think him safely enough imprisoned, guarded by the Ocean. He dies: the news proclaimed on the door of the palace in front of which the conqueror had announced so many funerals, neither detains nor astonishes the passer-by: what have the citizens to mourn?
    Washington's Republic lives on; Bonaparte’s empire is destroyed. Washington and Bonaparte emerged from the womb of democracy: both of them born to liberty, the former remained faithful to her, the latter betrayed her.
  • I don't know why, but the little bastard scares me.
    • Laura Harrington, in N, portraying a comment by one of his generals when he showed up to command the army of Italy.
  • "What do you think," said he, "of all things in the world would give me the greatest pleasure?" I was on the point of replying, removal from St. Helena, when he said, "To be able to go about incognito in London and other parts of England, to the restaurateurs, with a friend, to dine in public at the expense of half a guinea or a guinea, and listen to the conversation of the company; to go through them all, changing almost daily, and in this manner, with my own ears, to hear the people express their sentiments, in their unguarded moments, freely and without restraint; to hear their real opinion of myself, and of the surprising occurrences of the last twenty years." I observed, that he would hear much evil and much good of himself. "Oh, as to the evil," replied he, "I care not about that. I am well used to it. Besides, I know that the public opinion will be changed. The nation will be just as much disgusted at the libels published against me, as they formerly were greedy in reading and believing them. This," added he, "and the education of my son, would form my greatest pleasure. It was my intention to have done this, had I reached America. The happiest days of my life were from sixteen to twenty, during the semestres, when I used to go about, as I have told you I should wish to do, from one restaurateur to another, living moderately, and having a lodging for which I paid three louis a month. They were the happiest days of my life. I was always so much occupied, that I may say I never was truly happy upon the throne."
  • The genius continually discovers fate, and the more profound the genius, the more profound the discovery of fate. To spiritlessness, this is naturally foolishness, but in actuality it is greatness, because no man is born with the idea of providence, and those who think that one acquires it gradually though education are greatly mistaken, although I do not thereby deny the significance of education. Not until sin is reached is providence posited. Therefore the genius has an enormous struggle to reach providence. If he does not reach it, truly he becomes a subject for the study of fate. The genius is an omnipotent Ansich [in itself] which as such would rock the whole world. For the sake of order, another figure appears along with him, namely fate. Fate is nothing. It is the genius himself who discovers it, and the more profound the genius, the more profoundly he discovers fate, because that figure is merely the anticipation of providence. If he continues to be merely a genius and turns outward, he will accomplish astonishing things; nevertheless, he will always succumb to fate, if not outwardly, so that it is tangible and visible to all, then inwardly. Therefore, a genius-existence is always like a fairy tale if in the deepest sense the genius does not turn inward into himself. The genius is able to do all things, and yet he is dependent upon an insignificance that no one comprehends, an insignificance upon which the genius himself by his omnipotence bestows omnipotent significance. Therefore, a second lieutenant, if he is a genius, is able to become an emperor and change the world, so that there becomes one empire and one emperor. But therefore, too, the army may be drawn up for battle, the conditions for the battle absolutely favorable, and yet in the next moment wasted; a kingdom of heroes may plead that the order for battle be given-but he cannot; he must wait for the fourteenth of June. And why? Because that was the date of the battle of Marengo. So all things may be in readiness, he himself stands before the legions, waiting only for the sun to rise in order to announce the time for the oration that will electrify the soldiers, and the sun may rise more glorious than ever, an inspiring and inflaming sight for all, only not for him, because the sun did not rise as glorious as this at Austerlitz, and only the sun of Austerlitz gives victory and inspiration. Thus, the inexplicable passion with which such a one may often rage against an entirely insignificant man, when otherwise he may show humanity and kindness even toward his enemies. Yes, woe unto the man, woe unto the woman, woe unto the innocent child, woe unto the beast of the field, woe unto the bird whose flight, woe unto the tree whose branch comes in his way at the moment he is to interpret his omen.
  • Messieurs, nous avons un maître, ce jeune homme fait tout, peut tout, et veut tout.
    • Translation: Gentlemen, we have a master; this young man does everything, can do everything and will do everything.
    • Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès, reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), "Character", p. 105.
  • In early life he may have been a sincere republican; but he hated anarchy and disorder, and, before his campaign in Italy was over, he had begun to plan to make himself ruler of France. He worked systematically to transform the people's earlier ardor for liberty into a passion for military glory and plunder.

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