Archive for the European Other Category
Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise to power is one of the great stories of European history. He was born the son of a minor noble on the island off the coast of Italy, yet in just a few decades he gained control of France and conquered most of Europe. He could do this because he had the skills and abilities required to seize favorable situations that he encountered and turn them to his own benefit. In his life, we can learn principles that are applicable to anyone, as well as dangerous traits common to many dictators in history who have abused their power.
1. Always Learning
The first characteristic of Napoleon is that he was diligent to always be improving himself and acquiring knowledge that would help him in future tasks. As a young man, he was a vivacious reader, studying history, science and philosophy. He especially enjoyed the ancient classics, and modeled himself upon their heroes, like Caesar or Alexander the Great.
Later in life, when he was planning a military campaign, he would read books about the place in which he would be operating. Studying the country’s history, geography and culture made him better prepared for whatever he would encounter, and help him to avoid errors that previous generals had made.
He was also a very good interviewer. Although he was a proud man, he was not afraid to demonstrate his ignorance if the person he was speaking to could enlighten him. He would often grill someone with deep and perceptive questions, getting from them any information that would be useful. Even as commanding general, he would often personally interview captured prisoners, hoping to gain any information from them that he could.
2. Good General
Napoleon entered the French army at a time when quick advancement was possible. The French Revolution resulted in many royalist officers leaving the army, and in constant wars which gave the opportunity for young officers like Napoleon to advance through victory. Napoleon was very successful in his military campaigns, and that laid the foundation necessary for his political achievements. He fought 60 battles in his career, and lost only seven, mostly towards the end. He was talented both strategically and tactically. In campaign after campaign he defeated larger armies with a smaller force, through methods like moving boldly and quickly, defeating them in detail, cutting off their lines of retreat, and doing what his enemies least expected. He was undoubtedly a brilliant general, and many have counted him as the best general in world history.
3. Efficient Organizer
Bonaparte was not just a great general, he was also good at logistics. One of his most famous maxims is that, “An army marches on its stomach.” If troops are not well equipped and well fed, they can not be expected to fight well. Napoleon was very skilled at logistics. He ensured that the preparations were in place to keep his troops fighting effectively. He wrote many letters just about shoes, to make sure that his army would be able to keep marching. He was also quite financially astute. Even when he was spending vast amounts of money on imperial palaces, from time to time he would review the accounts and refuse to pay bills that he thought were unreasonable. This logistical competence was necessary to win his victories.
One essential feature of Napoleon’s character was his brilliance. Not only was he very smart, he could also handle many topics at once. He could dictate letter after letter to his secretaries, on a wide variety of topics, often without even stopping to think. He could also compartmentalize his mind. Even in the midst of a very stressful campaign, he could put the present situation behind him and think with incredible clarity about another separate issue. This also allowed him to make the most of his time. Even in the midst of a battle, he could clear his mind of all the stress and seize a moment to take a fifteen minute nap, waking refreshed to continue to direct the battle. He had an immense capacity for work, sometimes working for several days with virtually no rest.
Napoleon had an immense memory for details. It is related that during the campaign of 1805, one of his commanders could not locate his division. As his aides began to search through their maps and papers to find the location, the emperor told it to them from memory, where it would be positioned during the next three days, along with the strength and status of each unit.
5. Good Government
One thing that is common to many dictators is that they improve the government in the countries over which they rule. The legend about Mussolini is that he made the trains run on time. This is also true of Napoleon. When he came to power in France, he fixed many of the nation’s problems. He ensured that contractors and troops got paid on time. He subjugated the bandits that that been plaguing parts of the country since the Revolution. He also instituted the Napoleonic legal code in France, which is still the basis for French law today. It brought to France a single set of laws, wiping out the confusing remnants of feudalism. The emperor considered this to be his greatest accomplishment, writing, “[W]hat nothing will destroy, what will live forever, is my Civil Code.” The stability that all these reforms brought increased Napoleon’s popularity with the people, and gave him a greater tenure in power than anyone had enjoyed since the French Revolution.
6. Convincing Propaganda
Napoleon was a master of propaganda and popular manipulation. He knew how important the people’s opinion was, and used his rhetorical power to shape it for his purposes. One way he did this was by skillfully riding the tide of public opinion. When the French Revolution first began, he was a supporter of the Jacobins. Yet as his career advanced, he eventually got himself appointed first consul, then dictator, overturning many of the revolutionary principles with the reestablishment of titles of nobility, special honors, dynastic houses, and himself as a sovereign dictator. “The Revolution is over,” he said, “I am the Revolution.” Napoleon got the French people to accept him as the embodiment of the Revolution, even as he reversed many of its principles.
Personally, he was a man of simple tastes, preferring to wear a military uniform. Yet he knew the people wanted a show, so he wore extravagant outfits and lived in fancy palaces. He was willing to use religion for his purposes – portraying himself as a Muslim to the Egyptian Muslim, as an atheist to the French revolutionaries, and as a Catholic to the European Catholics. Personally caring little about religion, he used it to appeal to whatever people group he needed.
Napoleon was also very involved with the French press. The newspapers were under tight control, and if they published anything with which the emperor did not agree, they would be shut down. He was very cognizant of how the papers shaped public opinion, and would often write columns for the newspapers to make sure they espoused exactly his views. In those columns he was far from honest. Bonaparte exaggerated whenever he thought necessary, inflating his victories and covering up his defeats. When he ran for control of France in popular elections, he won in landslides. Yet he, and doubtless countless Bonapartists under him, still felt it necessary to fake the election results, making them even more favorable than they actually were.
7. Popular Charisma
Many of the early qualities worked together to give him an incredible charisma and popularity with his soldiers and people. When he escaped from his exile on the island of Elba and landed on the shores of France, he soon met the 5th Regiment of the French army, who had been sent to capture him. However, he simply dismounted from his horse and walked up to them, saying, “Here I am. Kill your Emperor, if you wish.” With that, the troops immediately switched sides, and joined him on his quest to regain control of France.
On the battlefield, he carried with him an aura of victory, even in the worst situations. He exuded confidence to his troops, inspiring them and assuring them that victory was certain. This was crucial to his victories, for as he said, “Moral force rather than numbers, decides victory.” Victory made him popular with the men. They were fighting under the man that had turned their country into a world power – one of the greatest generals in world history. Off the battlefield he demonstrated care for his soldiers. He would often inquire after their welfare, making sure that they had the food and supplies they needed. As one historian has written, he “inspired Frenchman and foreigners alike with fierce loyalty and devotion.”
These factors gave him incredible popularity in France. People still loved him even after his downfall. For years Napoleonic memorabilia was banned in France, but people still smuggled it in. One of my ancestors was a soldier under Napoleon, one of his Old Guard. He immigrated to America after Waterloo, but he still said that if he heard that Napoleon had turned to France, he would drop his new life and return to Europe to fight under his old commander.
It was these seven characteristics that allowed Napoleon Bonaparte to achieve one of the most remarkable careers in the world. However, as he grew older, his abilities began to fade. He gained a lot weight, his health began to decline, and with it, his capacity for work. His pride and belief in his own destiny began to push him into wars he was not able to win, and his force of character turned into stubbornness. Although the older Napoleon was not the same as his younger self, he was still a force to be reckoned with. Even after he was defeated by the coalition, he escaped from the island of Elba, and in the Hundred Days regained control of France before being finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo.
In this video from the Battle of Waterloo 200th anniversary reenactment, see French cavalry charge English squares – one of the most memorable parts of the battle. If the squares stands firm, the cavalry cannot force their horses past the line of bayonets on every edge of the square, and the defenders are safe. But if they falter for a moment, the cavalry can cut them to pieces.
This past weekend thousands of reenactors gathered at Waterloo to commemorate one of the most important battles in European history!
It is come … to be taken for granted, by many persons, that Christianity is not so much as a subject of inquiry; but that it is now, at length, discovered to be fictitious. And, accordingly, they treat it as if, in the present age, this were an agreed point among all people of discernment; and nothing remained, but to set it up as a principal subject of mirth and ridicule, as it were by way of reprisals, for its having so long interrupted the pleasures of the world.
Bishop Joseph Butler, 1736, Analogy of Religion.
Today is Boxing Day, a traditional holiday in England and other places that involved, at one time, giving gifts to your servants. One English gentleman wrote this account of the holiday in 1731:
By that time I was up, my servants could do nothing but run to the door. Inquiring the meaning, I was answered, the people were coming for their Christmas-box: this was logic to me; but I found at last, that, because I had laid out a great deal of ready-money with my brewer, baker, and other tradesmen, they kindly thought it my duty to present their servants with some money for the favour of having their goods. This provoked me a little; but being told it was ‘the custom,’ I complied. These were followed by the watch, beadles, dustmen, and an innumerable tribe; but what vexed me the most was the clerk, who has an extraordinary place, and makes as good an appearance as most tradesmen in the parish; to see him come a boxing, alias begging, I thought was intolerable: however, I found it was ‘the custom’ too, so I gave him half-a-crown; as I was likewise obliged to do to the bellman, for breaking my rest for many nights together.
Having talked this matter over with a friend, he promised to carry me where I might see the good effects of this given box-money. In the evening, away we went to a neighboring alehouse, where abundance of these gentry were assembled round a stately piece of roast beef, and as large a plum-pudding. When the drink and brandy began to work, they fell to reckoning of their several gains that day: one was called a stingy dog for giving but sixpence; another called an extravagant fool for giving half-a-crown, which perhaps he might want before the year was out; so I found these good people were never to be pleased. Some of them were got to cards by themselves, which soon produced a quarrel and broken heads, In the interim came in some of their wives, who roundly abused the people for having given them money; adding, that instead of doing good, it ruined their families, and set them in a road of drinking and gaming, which never ceased till not only their gifts, but their wages, were gone. One good woman said, if people had a mind to give charity they should send it home to their families: I was very much of her opinion; but, being tired with the noise, we left them to agree as they could.
My friend next carried me to the upper end of Piccadilly, where, one pair of stairs over a stable, we found near a hundred people of both sexes, tome masked, others not, a great part of which were dancing to the music of two sorry fiddles. It is impossible to describe this medley of mortals fully; however, I will do it as well as I can. There were footmen, servant-maids, butchers, apprentices, oyster and orange-women, and sharpers, which appeared to be the best of the company. This horrid place seemed to be a complete nursery for the gallows. My friend informed me, it was called a ‘threepenny hop;’ and while we were talking, to my great satisfaction, by order of the Westminster justices, to their immortal honour, entered the constables and their assistants, who carried off all the company that was left; and, had not my friend been known to them, we might have paid dear for our curiosity.1
Learn the history of the holiday in our latest video.
1. Anecdotes of the Manners and Customs of London during the Eighteenth Century by James Peller Malcolm (London: Longman, Furst, Reesm, and Orme, 1810) vol. 1, p. 289-290.
The story of the Titanic is well known, how the “unsinkable” ship sank on her maiden voyage after hitting an iceberg. Many acts of heroism were performed that day, as the men gave up their seats for women and children in the boats, but no action is more famous than that of the band. They famously played on as the ship sank, encouraging the passengers and crew reportedly with the song Nearer by God to Thee. When the ship finally sank, not one of the band survived the icy waters. However, a violin was pulled from those icy waters, and it was recently proved to be the violin of the bandmaster, Wallace Henry Hartley.
Hartley was only 33 when he died on the Titanic. He was from England, and had been raised in the church and had followed his father into music. He had served on several ships before being assigned as bandmaster for the eight musicians aboard the Titanic. Hartley was engaged to Maria Robinson, and she had given him the violin. When Hartley and the other musicians could no longer play because of the rising water, he jumped into the water using the violin and it’s leather case as a life jacket. When his body was recovered from the frigid water, his violin was forwarded to his fiancée.
Scientists examining the violin have recently confirmed after years of study that they believe it to be genuine. You can see more pictures at The Daily Mail.