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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 dramatically up the ranks of the French Army during 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). He died in exile on the island of Saint Helena.

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.


  • You Frenchmen, not content with having robbed us of everything we held dear, have also corrupted our character. The actual condition of my country, and the impossibility of changing it, is another reason for escaping from an earth, where I am obliged to praise men from a sense of duty, whom I must hate from a sense of virtue. When I arrive in my fatherland, what attitude am I to hold—what language am I to use? A good patriot ought to die when his fatherland has ceased to exist. If the deliverance of my fellow-countrymen depended upon the death of a single man, I would go immediately and plunge the sword which would avenge my country and its violated laws into the breast of tyrants.
    • 'On Suicide' (May 1786), quoted in Oscar Browning, The Boyhood and Youth of Napoleon: Some Chapters on the Life of Bonaparte, 1769–1793 (1906), p. 284
  • 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
  • Hand weapons were the main weapons of the ancients; it is with his short sword that the legionary conquered the world. It is with the Macedonian lance that Alexander conquered Asia.
    • Precis des Guerres Cesar Das Napoleon I
  • 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 sanhedrin is at least useful to me.*
  • 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 Correspendance Napoleon edited by Henri Plon (1861), Vol. V, No. 3605, p. 128
  • Even in the midst of war I have never neglected the establishment of useful institutions and the promotion of peace and order at home. There still remains much to be done, and I certainly shall never rest from my labours. But is not military success still more necessary to dazzle or to content our people? Remember that a First Consul bears no resemblance to those Kings by the grace of God who look on their countries as their inherited property. Their authority is supported by ancient tradition. With us ancient tradition has fallen into contempt, and carries less than no weight. The French Government of to-day bears no sort of resemblance to that of the countries which surround us. Hated by its neighbours, obliged to deal at home with large classes of enemies, we have need to impose on our friends and foes by deeds of glory gained only by war.
  • 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
  • Anarchy is the stepping stone to absolute power.
    • Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon's War Maxims: With His Social and Political Thoughts (1804-15), Gale & Polden, (1899) p. 148
  • Commerce unites men and make them; therefore it is fatal to despotic power.
    • Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon's War Maxims: With His Social and Political Thoughts (1804-15), Gale & Polden, (1899) p. 150
  • Quant à moi, je ne vois pas dans la religion le mystère de l'incarnation, mais le mystère de l'ordre social; elle rattache au ciel une idée d'égalité qui empêche que le riche ne soit massacré par le pauvre.
    • I do not see in religion the mystery of the incarnation, but the mystery of the social order; religion attaches to heaven an idea of equality that stops the rich from being massacred by the poor.
      • Statement, March 4, 1806, as reported in Opinions de Napoléon sur divers sujets de politique et d'administration, recueillies par un membre de son conseil d'état (1833), p. 223
  • My intention is that the main village where the insurrection started shall be burnt, and that thirty of the ringleaders shall be shot; an impressive example is needed to contain the hatred of the peasantry and of that soldiery. If you have not yet made an example, let there be one without delay... Let not the month pass without the principal village, borough, or small town which gave the signal for the insurrection being burned, and a large number of individuals being shot... Traces must be left in the cantons which have rebelled.
    • Letter to the commander-in-chief on the revolt in Hesse (8 January 1807), quoted in Pieter Geyl, Napoleon For and Against (1949), p. 172
  • I am not satisfied with the order which is kept in Madrid; Belliard is too weak; with the Spaniards it is necessary to be severe. I have arrested here fifteen of the worst characters, and I have ordered them to be shot. Arrest thirty at Madrid... If you treat the mob with kindness, these creatures fancy themselves invulnerable; if you hang a few, they get tired of the game, and become as submissive and humble as they ought to be.
    • Letter to Joseph Bonaparte, King of Spain (10 January 1809), quoted in The Confidential Correspondence of Napoleon Bonaparte with His Brother Joseph, Sometime King of Spain: Selected and Translated, with Explanatory Notes, from the "Mémoires Du Roi Joseph". Vol. II (1855), p. 15
  • Conscripts, for shame! It was on you that I was basing my hopes. I expected much from your young courage, and you are running away!
  • Where do you think you are going? Can’t you see that the battle is won? Come on, stand firm!
    • During the final stages of the Battle of Lutzen
  • 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
  • All authority is in the throne; and what is the throne? This wooden frame covered with velvet? No, I am the throne.
  • 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)
  • England will repent of bringing the Russians so far: they will deprive her of India.
    • Comment made to Lord John Russell, Elba 1814, as recorded in Russell's journal and quoted in Lady John Russell: A Memoir (1910) edited by Desmond McCarthy and Agatha Russell. p. 56
  • 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
  • The Princes of this house have abandoned their capital. Not like soldiers of honor who cede to the circumstances and set backs of the war, but like the perjured, who are pursued by their own w:remorse.
    • Andrew Roberts.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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
  • J'aurais dû mourir à Waterloo
    • I ought to have died at Waterloo
      • Mémorial de Sainte Hélène
  • Mahomet 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.
  • 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.
  • I have fought sixty battles and I have learned nothing which I did not know at the beginning.
    • Napoleon: A Biography by Frank McLynn, p. 145. Translated from Gourgaud's Journal de Sainte-Hélène 1815-1818, entry of 25 December 1817.
  • Two of my Marshalls are racing to get under their orders the Italian troops; i leave it to Suchet who has better ambitions than Macdonald. The Italians will soon be recognized again as the first soldiers of Europe. I'm very proud of my brave Italian army.
    • Cited in De Laugier, Vicissitudes of the Italian people from 1801 to 1815, to. X, Firenze, 1836, p. 43 – Aless. Zanoli, About the Italian army, historical-statistical outline from 1796 to 1814, vol. II, Milano, 1845, p. 145.
  • 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
  • Les hommes ordinaires ont succombé, disait-il; les hommes de fer ont été faits prisonniers; je ne ramène avec moi que les hommes de bronze.
  • Mémoires du colonel Combe sur les campagnes de Russie 1812, de Saxe 1813, de France 1814 et 1815. Paris 1853. p. 184
  • `` A general of ordinary talent, occupying a bad position and surprised by a superior force, seeks his safety in retreat; but a great captain supplies all deficiencies by his courage, and marches boldly to meet the attack. By this means he disconcerts his adversary, and if this last shows any irresolution in his movements, a skilful leader, profiting by his indecision, may even hope for victory.
  • 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 day to the 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
  • 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]
  • The true conquests, the only ones that cause no regret, are those made over ignorance.
    • (November 26, 1797) as quoted in Andrew Roberts Napoleon: A Life p. 157
  • A journalist is a grumbler, a censurer, a giver of advice, a regent of sovereigns, a tutor of nations. Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than an hundred thousand bayonets.
    • Appears to be fabricated as it is not known from surviving print before 19 March 1845 when it appeared in Mississippi Democrat in an article titled 'The Press' and in The North-Carolina Standard on its own as a column filler. On April 17, 1845 a longer version of "The Press" article appeared in The Guard (Holly Springs, Miss.) crediting the article to the New Orleans Jeffersonian, a newspaper edited by Col J F H Claiborne (Life of Col. J.F.H. Claiborne by Franklin L. Riley, P. 232). Claiborne was also a US congressman and "ranked among the most eloquent orators of the House of Representatives" (ibid P.221). It is known he was in agreement with the sentiment of the quote having said, "The journalist has a grander mission, and if conscientiously pursued, it is the highest and noblest of all avocations" (ibid P. 228). The relevant issue of the Jeffersonian does not appear to have survived but is possibly the original source of the invented quote. Claiborne again uses the "quote" in 1846 in a tribute to Professor Thomas R. Dew (Richmond Enquirer (Richmond, Va.), October 20, 1846). The "quote" then quickly spreads across the english-speaking world, arriving in England by 26 April and appearing in The Sentinel (Sydney, Australia) on 5 November 1845. It appears to be unknown in french.

Napoleon in Exile (1822)

  • Had it not been for that fatal suspension of arms, in 1813, to which I was induced to consent by Austria, I should have succeeded. The victories of Lutzen and Wurtzen (Bautzen) had restored confidence in the French forces. The King of Saxony was triumphantly brought back to his capital; one of the corps of the French army was at the gates of Berlin, and the enemy had been driven from Hamburg. The Russian and Prussian armies were preparing to pass the Vistula, when the cabinet of Austria, acting with its characteristic perfidy, advised the suspension of hostilities, at a time when it had already entered into engagements with Russia and Prussia; the armistice was only a delusion to gain the time necessary to make preparations, it being intended to declare against France in May. The unexpected successes obliged it to act with more circumspection. It was necessary to gain more time, and negociations went on at the congress of Prague. Metternich insisted that Austria should have the half of Italy, and made other exorbitant conditions, which were only demanded in order to be refused. As soon as she had got her army ready, Austria declared against France. After the victory of Dresden, I was superior, and had formed the project to deceive the enemy, by marching towards Magdeburgh, then to rcross the Elbe at Wittenberg, and march upon Berlin. Several divisions of the army were occupied in these manoeuvres, when a letter was brough to me from the King of Wirtemberg, announcing that the Bavarian army had joined the Austrians, and to the amount of eighty thousand men, were marching towards the Rhine, under the command of Wrede; that he, being compelled by the presence of that army, was obliged to join his contingent to it, and that Mentz would soon be invested by a hundred thousand men.

Memoirs of Napoleon (1829-1831)

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.

The Consulate and The Empire (1834)

  • Well, then, had I been at Martinique, I should also have been on the side of the English, because above all things it is necessary to save one's life. I am for the whites, because I am white; I have no other reason, yet that is reason good enough. How was it possible to grant liberty to the Africans, to men without any kind of civilization, who did not even know what a colony meant, or that there was such a place as France?
    • Si j'avais été à la Martinique, j'aurais été pour les Anglais, parce qu'avant tout il faut sauver sa vie. Je suis pour les blancs, parce que je suis blanc; je n'en ai pas d'autre raison, et celle-là est la bonne. Comment a-t-on pu donner la liberté à des Africains, à des hommes qui n'avaient aucune civilisation, qui ne savaient seulement pas ce que c'était que colonie, ce que c'était que la France?
    • "Le Consulat et L'Empire" by A. C. Thibaudeau, Volume 3, pg 323. Translated in "The Life of Napoleon Buonaparte" by William Hazlitt, pg 271.

Political Aphorisms, Moral and Philosophical Thoughts (1848)

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.

With Napoleon in Russia: The Memoirs of General De Caulaincourt, Duke of Vicenza (1933)

  • If you make everything difficult, the really hard things seem less so.

Napoleon : In His Own Words (1916)

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.
  • 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.
  • ‘I shall bring the nobles of this court so low they shall be obliged to beg their bred.’

- Said to Count Nesch after the battle of Jena-Austedt in Berlin.


It is hunger that makes the world move.
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.)
  • Surely in a matter of this kind we should endeavor to do something, that we may say that we have not lived in vain, that we may leave some impress of ourselves on the sands of time.
    • From an alleged Letter of to his Minister of the Interior on the Poor Laws. Pub. in The Press, Feb. 1, 1868.
  • 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
  • Leave the Artillerymen alone, they are an obstinate lot.
    • As quoted in The Dictionary of Military and Naval Quotations (1966) by Robert Heinl, Jr.
  • Tristan is very idle. He confessed to the Emperor that he did not work every day. "Do you not eat every day?" said the Emperor to him; "Yes, Sire." "Well, then, you ought to work every day; no one should eat who does not work." "Oh! if that be the case, I will work every day," said the child, quickly. "Such is the influence of the belly," said the Emperor, tapping that of little Tristan. "It is hunger that makes the world move."
    • As attributed in Count Emmanuel de Las Cases, "Journal of the Private Life and Conversations of the Emperor Napoleon at Saint Helena", 1824.
  • 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. While exiled on the rock of St. Helena, Napoleon 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, in Henry Parry Liddon (1868) The Divinity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; Eight Lectures. New edition.[2] pp. 147-148, and in Henry Parry Liddon (1869) The Divinity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; Eight Lectures. Fourth edition. [3] pp. 147-148.
  • ‘Do you know,’ Napoleon once said to Fontanes, ‘what fills me most with wonder? The powerlessness of force to establish anything. There are only two powers in the world: the sword and the mind. In the end, the sword is always conquered by the mind.’
    • Albert Camus, Lyrical and Critical (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1967), essays selected and translated from the French by Philip Thody, p. 104 [4]


  • Able was I ere I saw Elba.
  • Credited to "J.T.R." of Baltimore, 1848[1]
  • 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
  • Religious wars are basically people killing each other over who has the better imaginary friend.

Quotes about Napoleon

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
Napoleon, far more Italian than French, Italian by race, by instinct, imagination, and souvenir, considers in his plan the future of Italy, and, on casting up the final accounts of his reign, we find that the net profit is for Italy and the net loss is for France. ~Hippolyte Taine
Arranged alphabetically by author
  • His views on politics and society, owing much to Rousseau's Du Contrat Social, display Buonaparte the egotist and Buonaparte the mathematician-engineer in uneasy collaboration. For society is conceived as of one great machine, constructed according to correct calculations which in turn are based on the right data. There is little sense of free association between individuals or groups, little sense of any natural community larger than the Corsican-style family or clan; no sense of organic social growth. Instead there are the competing egotisms of individuals, bridled or organized by the higher egotism of the State, whose will impels and directs the whole national apparatus. Buonaparte's ideal State enjoyed this untrammelled power because it was the organ of the people's will. Naïvely he believed that only hereditary monarchies could be tyrants. He scorned the ancien régime in France, with its agglomeration of different societies, partly regional, partly aristocratic, guild or religious; this is what constitutes the "privilege" which he and other progressives wished to sweep away. Buonaparte's chief complaint against the Catholic Church, for instance, lay in the very fact that it was independent of the State... Buonaparte's political ideas thus point straight towards the tyranny of the Consulate and the Empire; indeed towards every modern tyranny where the State bosses the entire life of the people in the people's name.
  • Bonaparte busied himself with extinguishing what yet remained of the freedom of expression won during the Revolution and with crushing what yet remained of organized opposition, whether royalist, Jacobin or merely intellectual. On 17 January 1800 he shut down sixty out of seventy-three existing newspapers; by the end of 1800 only nine remained, and those under strict censorship. The theatre was censored from April 1800. With his excessive sensitivity to personal criticism and ridicule, Bonaparte took a direct interest in this censorship... In July 1803 he ordered that bookshops be prohibited from placing new works on sale until seven days after a copy had been submitted to the censor "so that, as soon as there is an undesirable work, it can be stopped."
    The systematic opening of private correspondence, the ubiquitous police spy, and imprisonment without trial completed Bonaparte's practical interpretation of the "sacred right" of liberty guaranteed by the Constitution.
  • That contempt of humanity, that misprision of the opinion of others, that Caesarean pride, that insensitive heart and that profound moral indifference, these characteristics which distinguished Napoleon were not those of a Frenchman.
    • Jules Barni, Napoléon premier et son historien M. Thiers (1869), quoted in Pieter Geyl, Napoleon For and Against (1949), p. 76
  • In France Napoleon tamed the revolution and put it into the imperial straitjacket (and, in so doing, perhaps did more than the revolution itself to make a Bourbon restoration permanently impossible); beyond the borders of France he was the missionary and disseminator of the ideas of the revolution. Hence, as the Napoleonic legend grew through the succeeding century, the literary champions of Napoleon in France tended to be men of the Right, whereas outside France it was generally the Left which made him its idol-a perfectly natural phenomenon which Mr. Taylor needlessly attributes to the perversity of the English Left. This ambiguous role is the common destiny of heirs of revolutions, whose business it is to consolidate and stabilize the achievements of the revolution at home and capitalize them abroad.
  • One asks oneself by what sleight of hand Bonaparte, who was so much the aristocrat, who hated the people so cordially, has been able to obtain the popularity which he enjoys. For there is no gainsaying the fact that this subjugator has remained popular with a nation which once made it a point of honour to raise altars to independence and equality. Here is the solution.
    It is a matter of daily observation that the Frenchman's instinct is to strive after power; he cares not for liberty; equality is his idol. Now there is a hidden connection between equality and despotism. In both these respects Napoleon had a pull over the hearts of the French, who have a military liking for power and are democratically fond of seeing everything levelled. When he mounted the throne, he took the people with him. A proletarian king, he humiliated kings and noblemen in his anterooms. He levelled the ranks, not down but up. To have dragged them down to plebeian depths would have flattered the envy of the lowest; the higher level was more pleasing to their pride. French vanity, too, enjoyed the superiority which Bonaparte gave us over the rest of Europe. Another cause of Napoleon's popularity is the affliction of his latter days. After his death, as his sufferings on St. Helena became better known, people's hearts began to soften; his tyranny was forgotten; it was remembered how, having vanquished our enemies and subsequently having brought them into France, he defended our soil against them; we fancy that if he were alive today he would save us from the ignominy in which we are living. His misfortunes have revived his name among us, his glory has fed on his wretchedness.
    The miracles wrought by his arms have bewitched our youth, and have taught us to worship brute force. The most insolent ambition is spurred on by his unique career to aspire to the heights which he attained.
  • 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.
  • The Emperor is mad, completely mad, and will destroy us all; this will all end in some horrible crash.
    • Denis Decrès, quoted in Theodore Ayrault Dodge, Napoleon: A History of the Art of War, from the Beginning of the Peninsular War to the End of the Russian Campaign, with a Detailed Account of the Napoleonic Wars, Volume III (1907), p. 427
  • I never admired the character of the first Napoleon; but I recognize his great genius. His work, too, has left its impress for good on the face of Europe. The third Napoleon could have no claim to having done a good or just act.
  • 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.
  • For the Napoleonic myth is based less on Napoleon’s merits than on the facts, then unique, of his career. The great known world-shakers of the past had begun as kings like Alexander or patricians like Julius Caesar; but Napoleon was the ‘little corporal’ who rose to rule a continent by sheer personal talent. (This was not strictly true, but his rise was sufficiently meteoric and high to make the description reasonable.) Every young intellectual who devoured books, as the young Bonaparte had done, wrote bad poems and novels, and adored Rousseau could henceforth see the sky as his limit, laurels surrounding his monogram. Every businessman henceforth had a name for his ambition: to be—the clichés themselves say so—a ‘Napoleon of finance’ or industry. All common men were thrilled by the sight, then unique, of a common man who became greater than those born to wear crowns. Napoleon gave ambition a personal name at the moment when the double revolution had opened the world to men of ambition. Yet he was more. He was the civilized man of the eighteenth century, rationalist, inquisitive, enlightened, but with sufficient of the disciple of Rousseau about him to be also the romantic man of the nineteenth. He was the man of the Revolution, and the man who brought stability. In a word, he was the figure every man who broke with tradition could identify himself with in his dreams.
    For the French he was also something much simpler: the most successful ruler in their long history. He triumphed gloriously abroad; but at home he also established or re-established the apparatus of French institutions as they exist to this day. Admittedly most—perhaps all—his ideas were anticipated by Revolution and Directory; his personal contribution was to make them rather more conservative, hierarchical and authoritarian. But his predecessors anticipated: he carried out. The great lucid monuments of French law, the Codes which became models for the entire non-Anglo-Saxon bourgeois world, were Napoleonic. The hierarchy of officials, from the prefects down, of courts, of university and schools, was his. The great ‘careers’ of French public life, army, civil service, education, law still have their Napoleonic shapes. He brought stability and prosperity to all except the quarter-of-a-million Frenchmen who did not return from his wars; and even to their relatives he brought glory. No doubt the British saw themselves fighting for liberty against tyranny; but in 1815 most Englishmen were probably poorer and worse off than they had been in 1800, while most Frenchmen were almost certainly better off; nor had any except the still negligible wage-labourers lost the substantial economic benefits of the Revolution. There is little mystery about the persistence of Bonapartism as an ideology of non-political Frenchmen, especially the richer peasantry, after his fall. It took a second and smaller Napoleon to dissipate it between 1851 and 1870.
    He had destroyed only one thing: the Jacobin Revolution, the dream of equality, liberty and fraternity, and of the people rising in its majesty to shake off oppression. It was a more powerful myth than his, for after his fall it was this, and not his memory, which inspired the revolutions of the nineteenth century, even in his own country.
    • Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution (1962), Chap. 3 : The French Revolution
  • He found his best satisfaction not in pleasure but in toil. He could live with little food, little sleep - and very little dalliance. The one thing he could not dispense with was work, and work in prodigious quantities.
    • Tighe Hopkins in The Women Napoleon Loved
  • A little while ago, I stood by the grave of the old Napoleon, a magnificent tomb, and I gazed upon the sarcophagus of rare and nameless marble, where rest at last the ashes of that restless man. I leaned over the balustrade and thought about the career of the greatest soldier of the modern world. I saw him walking upon the banks of the Seine, contemplating suicide. I saw him at Toulon—I saw him putting down the mob in the streets of Paris—I saw him at the head of the army of Italy—I saw him crossing the bridge of Lodi with the tri-color in his hand—I saw him in Egypt in the shadows of the pyramids—I saw him conquer the Alps and mingle the eagles of France with the eagles of the crags. I saw him at Marengo—at Ulm and Austerlitz. I saw him in Russia, where the infantry of the snow and the cavalry of the wild blast scattered his legions like winter's withered leaves. I saw him at Leipsic in defeat and disaster—driven by a million bayonets back upon Paris—clutched like a wild beast—banished to Elba. I saw him escape and retake an empire by the force of his genius. I saw him upon the frightful field of Waterloo, where Chance and Fate combined to wreck the fortunes of their former king. And I saw him at St. Helena, with his hands crossed behind him, gazing out upon the sad and solemn sea. I thought of the orphans and widows he had made—of the tears that had been shed for his glory, and of the only woman who ever loved him, pushed from his heart by the cold hand of ambition. And I said I would rather have been a French peasant and worn wooden shoes. I would rather have lived in a hut with a vine growing over the door, and the grapes growing purple in the kisses of the autumn sun. I would rather have been that poor peasant with my loving wife by my side, knitting as the day died out of the sky—with my children upon my knees and their arms about me—I would rather have been that man and gone down to the tongueless silence of the dreamless dust, than to have been that imperial impersonation of force and murder, known as 'Napoleon the Great'.
  • 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.
  • Do not think that he will restore Poland: he thinks only of himself. He hates every great nationality and still more the spirit of independence. He is a tyrant, and his only aim is to satisfy his own ambition. I am sure he will create nothing durable.
    • Tadeusz Kościuszko, quoted in J. Holland Rose, 'Napoleon and Poland', in W. F. Reddaway, J. H. Penson, O. Halecksi and R. Dyboski (eds.), The Cambridge History of Poland: From Augustus II to Pilsudski (1697–1935) (1941), pp. 212-213
  • If there is one characteristic and striking trait in the innumerable conversations noted down by those who could approach him most intimately, it is the absence of all unforced utterances. He is always seen concerned, either to gauge the intentions of the other person, or to make an impression on his mind so as to lead him towards a certain conclusion; it would be trouble wasted to look for a moment of abandon, of enthusiasm, of sincere outpouring, be it about himself or others. Even when he allows himself to be carried away in these coquetries of cat-like grace, the charm of which contemporaries have so repeatedly described, he does not lose sight of the effect that he is aiming at; even his rash words are calculated. He is impenetrable to those near to him as well as to strangers. It would even be impossible to point out, in the whole of his life, a single one of those sayings of philosophic self-mockery which delight us in Caesar or in Frederick, because they show us the man rising above his role, commenting on himself with a judgment unclouded by his own success... Napoleon is always on the stage, always concerned about the impression he is making... He is lacking in that final human greatness which consists in estimating one's self at its true value, and as a result of his incurable self-conceit he remains on the level of small minds.
    • Pierre Lanfrey, Histoire de Napoléon, Vol. II (1867), pp. 336 sqq., quoted in Pieter Geyl, Napoleon For and Against (1949), p. 87
  • What! Will you submit to give your country a master taken from a race, of origin so ignominious that the Romans disdained to employ them as slaves?
    • Jean-Denis Lanjuinais, speech to the senate after Napoleon became Emperor (1804), quoted in Hewson Clarke, An Impartial History of the Naval, Military and Political Events in Europe from the Commencement of the French Revolution to the Entrance of the Allies Into Paris and the Conclusion of a General Peace, Including a Copious & Original Narrative of the Origin & Progress of that Revolution, Biographical Memoirs of Buonaparte & Other Principal Persons, Together with a Comprehensive Account of the Transactions in America & the East & West Indies, Embellished with Fine Engravings (1815), pp. 1116-1117
  • I have always been the victim of my attachment to him. He only loves you by fits and starts, that is, when he has need of you.
    • Jean Lannes, statement during the Siege of Danzig (March 1807), quoted in John Holland Rose, The Life of Napoleon I, Vol. II (1902), p. 193
  • A dîner, il nous disait qu'il se trouvait beaucoup mieux, et nous lui avons fait observer, à ce sujet, que, depuis quelque temps néanmoins, il ne sortait plus, et travaillat huit, dix, douze heures par jour.
    «C'est cela même,» disait-il: «le travail est mon élément; je suis né et construit pour le travail. J'ai connu les limites de mes jambes, j'ai connu les limites de mes yeux; je n'ai jamais pu connaître celles de mon travail.»
    • At dinner, he told us that he was much better, and we pointed out to him, about this, that, for some time however, he had not been out, and had been working eight, ten, or twelve hours a day. "That is just it," said he: "work is my element; I was born and made for it. I have found the limits of my legs; I have found the limits of my eyes; but I have never been able to find the limits of my labour."
  • Although Napoleon's individual ambitions were not realised, his actions have nevertheless left the deepest impress on society. In France, the new state had not yet taken definite shape, and it was Napoleon who gave it an administrative framework that bore the marks of a master hand. The Revolution of 1789 had thrust the middle classes forward into power, but this power had then been disputed by a rising democracy. Under the protection of the emperor, the notables succeeded in recovering it, and grew in wealth and influence. Once they had got rid of the menace of the common people, they were prepared to govern and to restore liberalism. In Europe, the spread of French ideas, the influence of England, the advance of capitalism and the consequent rise of the middle classes, all tended in the same direction and resulted in a marked speeding up of evolution and the introduction of the modern order. The expansion of culture, the proclamation of the sovereignty of the people and the spread of Romanticism foreshadowed the awakening of nationalism, and Napoleon’s territorial rearrangements and reforms encouraged these trends. Capitalism was taking root in the West, and the blockade provided protection for its early stages. Romanticism had long been fermenting in Europe, and Napoleon provided its poets with the perfect hero. But though Napoleon’s influence was considerable, this was only in so far as it followed the currents that were already carrying European civilisation along with them. If historical determinism is to be brought into the picture, this is where its effects may be observed.
  • But Palmerston likes to put his foot on their necks! Now, no statesman must triumph over an enemy that is not quite dead, because people forget a real loss, a real misfortune, but they won’t forget an insult. Napoleon made great mistakes that way; he hated Prussia, insulted it on all occasions, but still left it alive. The consequence was that in 1813 they rose to a man in Prussia, even children and women took arms, because they had been treated with contempt and insulted.
  • At the battle of Waterloo, when Napoleon's cavalry had charged again and again upon the unbroken squares of British infantry, at last they were giving up the attempt, and going off in disorder, when some of the officers in mere vexation and complete despair fired their pistols at those solid squares.
  • The spirit which had produced the revolution, which had changed the whole constitution of society in France, and had given battle to all the monarchies of Europe, was not wholly extinct; and, as the calamities of anarchy faded from the remembrance of the people, would probably become stronger and stronger. To destroy it utterly, to prevent it from ever reviving, to turn the minds of men into a course different from that in which they had moved during the greater part of the eighteenth century, was the chief object of the policy of Napoleon. He is said to have observed that nobody could conceive the difficulties of governing a people who read the social contract and the spirit of the laws. His whole conduct showed that he was possessed by an ambition at once the meanest and the most gigantic that ever entered into any heart. Too selfish to govern in conformity with the liberal principles of the age, he attempted to compress the spirit of the age into conformity with his maxims of government. Political science was to be forced backwards. The public mind of Europe was to sink into second childhood, lest the depraved ambition of one man should encounter a single obstacle.
    • Thomas Babington Macaulay, Napoleon and the Restoration of the Bourbons: The Completed Portion of Macaulay's Projected "History of France from the Restoration of the Bourbons to the Accession of Louis Philippe", ed. Joseph Hamburger (1977), p. 56
  • The press was placed under the most severe and watchful restraint. The jealously of the emperor was not confined to the writings of the living, but extended to works which had long been classical. Louis the Fourteenth, though a despot and a conqueror, had listened with respect to the noble discourse in which the eloquence of Massillon exposed the folly and wickedness of ambition. Bonaparte dreaded the effect which those sermons might produce on a people exhausted by taxes and conscriptions. Louis the Fourteenth, superstitious as he was, defended the Tartuffe of Molière against the hypocrites and bigots of his court. Bonaparte expressed his regret that such a piece should be in possession of the stage, and declared that, if it had been new, he would not have suffered it to be performed. Coming after a revolution produced by the force of public opinion, he was more competent than any of his predecessors to estimate that force, and was more solicitous than any of them to guard against it... Every writer of every age who had set forth the evils of despotism he regarded as his personal enemy. He spoke with bitterness of the masterly portraits of Tacitus, of those lessons of benevolence which are conveyed in the sweet and glowing language of Fénélon, and of those bold attacks on political and social abuses which form the redeeming part of the writings of Voltaire. He hated madame de Staël, and persecuted her with unmanly cruelty. Other despots were content to prescribe to their subjects what they should not write; the French emperor dictated almost the whole literature of France: he made it a crime not to flatter him.
    • Thomas Babington Macaulay, Napoleon and the Restoration of the Bourbons: The Completed Portion of Macaulay's Projected "History of France from the Restoration of the Bourbons to the Accession of Louis Philippe", ed. Joseph Hamburger (1977), pp. 56-67
  • If the plans of Napoleon had succeeded, if he had been able to humble Russia, to drive the English from Spain, to keep down the whole continent by military force, if his life had been prolonged to the full age of man, and if his power had lasted as long as his life, it is scarcely possible to estimate the amount of evil which he would have produced. He would have renewed, perhaps for centuries, the expiring lease of tyranny... The insolence of office would have succeeded to the insolence of birth. The old aristocracy would have fallen, only that a new aristocracy, of the basest and most pernicious kind, might rise in its stead; an aristocracy of placemen, oppressing the people, and oppressed by each other. A new generation would have grown up skilfully trained and broken in to slavery, – a generation which would have derived all its political notions from books mutilated by censors, and conversations watched by spies. The government would have been like that of the Byzantine empire, or that of China, – a vast official hierarchy, rising by numerous gradations, with an oppressed people beneath and a solitary tyrant at the summit; and the human intellect would have languished as it languished under the emperors of the east, and as it has for ages languished in China.
    • Thomas Babington Macaulay, Napoleon and the Restoration of the Bourbons: The Completed Portion of Macaulay's Projected "History of France from the Restoration of the Bourbons to the Accession of Louis Philippe", ed. Joseph Hamburger (1977), p. 60
  • After the first Revolution had transformed the semi-feudal peasants into freeholders, Napoleon confirmed and regulated the conditions in which they could exploit undisturbed the soil of France which they had only just acquired, and could slake their youthful passion for property. But what is now ruining the French peasant is his small holding itself, the division of the land and the soil, the property form which Napoleon consolidated in France. It is exactly these material conditions which made the feudal peasant a small-holding peasant and Napoleon an emperor. Two generations sufficed to produce the unavoidable result: progressive deterioration of agriculture and progressive indebtedness of the agriculturist. The “Napoleonic” property form, which at the beginning of the nineteenth century was the condition of the emancipation and enrichment of the French countryfolk, has developed in the course of this century into the law of their enslavement and their pauperism. And just this law is the first of the “Napoleonic ideas” which the second Bonaparte has to uphold. If he still shares with the peasants the illusion that the cause of their ruin is to be sought not in the small holdings themselves but outside them – in the influence of secondary circumstances – his experiments will shatter like soap bubbles when they come in contact with the relations of production.
    • Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
  • [I]t was not until he left the military school that he gave himself up with ardour to study. He has often told me that since that date he has constantly worked sixteen hours a day. Nevertheless he already had within him the germs of the qualities which were brought out by education, and which, under the influence of events, developed to the highest degree. These dominating qualities were pride, and a sentiment of his dignity, a warlike instinct, a genius for form, the love of order and of discipline.
    • Claude-François de Méneval, Memoirs to Serve for the History of Napoleon I from 1802 to 1815, Vol. I, translated by Robert H. Sherard (1894), p. 107
  • Like a final signpost to other ways, there appeared Napoleon, the most unique and violent anachronism that ever existed, and in him the incarnate problem of the aristocratic ideal in itself—consider well what a problem it is:—Napoleon, that synthesis of Monster and Superman.
  • "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."
  • Bonaparte was a man of iron energy and was remorseless in the pursuit of his goal. But in those days there were not a few energetic, talented, and ambitious egoists besides him. The place Bonaparte succeeded in occupying would not have remained vacant.
    • Georgy Plekhanov, The Fundamentals of Marxism
  • As long as there had been a civilian government, and a constitution, and a republic, there were at least the roots from which liberty might still spring, to blossom once more; now there came, with the sword, a regime on principle opposed to liberty.
    • Edgar Quinet, La Révolution (1865), quoted in Pieter Geyl, Napoleon For and Against (1949), p. 78
  • The ideal of Napoleon was the Empire of Constantine, and of Theodosius. He inherited this tradition as did all the Italian Ghibellines, from his ancestors... Instead of assisting the liberation of the individual conscience, he always postulated a Pope, of whom he would be the Emperor and master. It is a conception which takes its origins from the idea of the Ghibellines and the medieval commentators. When he dreams of the future it is always of the submissive world of a Justinian or a Theodosius, as imagined by the medieval imperialist thinkers. In the midst of such concepts modern freedom seemed an anachronism; worse, to him it could appear only as the people's whim, as a snare for his power.
    • Edgar Quinet, La Révolution (1865), quoted in Pieter Geyl, Napoleon For and Against (1949), pp. 83-84
  • 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
  • From the early days of the French Revolution political prophets had been foretelling that this revolution would find its embodiment in a man, who, through it, would subdue France and govern her with a power greater than that which had been Louis XIV's. Bonaparte saw it, as it had been divined by Mirabeau and Catherine, but with his Roman vision of history he had a clearer conception of it than the others. He more particularly feels it, since this history, which is revealed to his intellect, lives in him and seems to be living for his sake. He does not analyse it, he finds no subtle delectation in it; he goes for it, clearing away one obstacle after another; he sets out for the Empire after the fashion of Columbus, who reached the new world while imagining that he was encircling the old. The others are fearing, expecting or blindly seeking the predicted and inevitable "Man". He knows him, for he will be that man. He reveals to himself his ambition, as his destiny finds its explanation in history.
    • Albert Sorel, L'Europe at la Révolution Française. Cinquième Partie: Bonaparte et le Directoire 1795–1799 (1903), pp. 179-180, quoted in Pieter Geyl, Napoleon For and Against (1949), p. 261
  • Condottiere without manners, without fatherland, without morality, an oriental despot, a new Attila, a warrior who knew only how to corrupt and annihilate.
    • Madame de Staël, quoted in Caroline Moorehead, Dancing to the Precipice: Lucie de la Tour Du Pin and the French Revolution (2010), p. 357
  • Napoleon, far more Italian than French, Italian by race, by instinct, imagination, and souvenir, considers in his plan the future of Italy, and, on casting up the final accounts of his reign, we find that the net profit is for Italy and the net loss is for France. Since Theodoric and the Lombard kings, the Pope, in preserving his temporal sovereignty and spiritual omnipotence, has maintained the sub-divisions of Italy; let this obstacle be removed and Italy will once more become a nation. Napoleon prepares the way, and constitutes it beforehand by restoring the Pope to his primitive condition, by withdrawing from him his temporal sovereignty and limiting his spiritual omnipotence, by reducing him to the position of managing director of Catholic consciences and head minister of the principal cult authorized in the empire.
  • That illustrious war chief became the pacifier of France: he restored the country's national cohesion; that is his glory, his incontestable glory, against which nothing will prevail. Could he have achieved through liberty that pacification which he accomplished by authority? Supposing that this great winner of victories had been able to triumph over himself, could he at least have granted to the French certain political rights, have allowed some control, have called the nation to exercise certain liberties, have prepared her for a more intimate knowledge of affairs, thus helping her on the way to a more normal destiny? Did such an attempt hold out any prospect of success, could it even be undertaken, on the morrow of unheard-of convulsions, at a time when the parties of violence were under control, rather than exterminated, when so few Frenchmen had acquired any feeling and any taste for legality; at a time especially when France, triumphant though she was, within her extended frontiers and in the wide development of her offensive and defensive fronts, nevertheless remained a vast fortress besieged by Europe? If Bonaparte in that crisis had made a beginning with the founding of liberty, he would have proved himself superior to his age, superior to himself. It is impossible to say whether the undertaking would have surpassed his genius; it was certainly above the reach of his character. But while not attempting this, he devoted the respite left him by his truce with Europe to proceeding with his work of interior reconstruction and to reinfusing order and greatness into all parts of the Commonwealth.
    • Albert Vandal, L'avènement de Bonaparte (1902), quoted in Pieter Geyl, Napoleon For and Against (1949), pp. 231-232
  • A quarter of an hour later came Napoleon. I received him with Countess Tauenzien at the foot of the staircase. He is excessively ugly, with a flat, swollen, sallow face; he is very corpulent besides, short, and entirely without figure; his great round eyes roll gloomily about, the expression of his features is severe, he looks like the incarnation of fate. Only his mouth is well shaped, and his teeth are good also.
    • Sophie Marie von Voß, diary entry on Napoleon's meeting with Queen Louise of Prussia at Tilsit (6 July 1807), quoted in Sophie Marie Countess von Voss, Sixty-Nine Years at the Court of Prussia, Vol. II, translated by Emily and Agnes Stephenson (1876), p. 109
  • 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.

Le Moniteur Universel

  • 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.
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  1. The Golden Rule and Gazette Of The Union, Saturday July 8 1848, page 30, article titled "Ingenious arrangement of words";
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