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In His Own Words



Translated by Herbert Edward Law
and Charles Lincoln Rhodes

Authorized Edition





A. C. McClurg & Co.


Published June, 1916

Copyrighted in Great Britain

JUL -I 1916


"^0 * I



Author's Preface ix

Translators' Preface xxi

The Character of Napoleon xxv


I On Success i

II Psychology and Morals . . . . li

III Love and Marriage 28

IV Things Political 35

V Concerning the Fine Arts .... 66

VI Administration 81

VII Concerning Religion . . . . . 107

VIII War 116

IX Sociology 140

Notes 149



THIS collection of Napoleonic aphor-
isms is not the first attempt of the
kind that has been made. The genius of
Napoleon has always challenged the atten-
tion of historians, as it has that of the
unpretending curious and lovers of strong
and beautiful maxims; and following the
Restoration, as after the rebirth of Imperi-
alism under Napoleon iii, there were those
who diligently collected these odds and ends
of the Emperor's thoughts. However, if
this attempt to popularize these reflections
of genius is not entirely new, I do not think
any other has been undertaken with the
same care and candor.

We are now sufficiently distant from Na-
poleon to judge him with the dispassionate-
ness of an age appreciative, but careful to
do justice. And just because there is little
concerning this great man which is not now
known, we are able to classify in a system-

Napoleon in His Own Words

atic way the products of his mind. With-
out attempting a too rigid classification,
therefore, I have attempted to present the
diverse aspects of the Napoleonic mentality,
and to view him successively in his charac-
ter of professor of psychology and morals,
of politics and administration; as an au-
thority on love and marriage ; as a patron of
the arts ; as a soldier and as a sociologist.

The first thing that strikes one in reading
these thoughts, these sentiments, these max-
ims, is the constant concern for sovereign
authority which they reveal.

Napoleon, in imagination, was constantly
concerned with the good of his subjects.
Whether in his literary works, properly so
called, or in his immense correspondence or
in his conversation or in his public speeches
or in his St. Helena confidences, he has taken
occasion to express himself on a multitude
of problems touching religion, science,
morals, art, politics and sociology. And
always he does it as a sovereign, as a master
conscious of his authority, obsessed with
the weight of his extraordinary responsibil-
ity and of the duty that devolved upon him.

Only rarely is his attention swerved from

Author^s Preface

the attainment of the final solution of a
social or moral problem. Almost always a
sure instinct brings him back to the stead-
fast aim of his efforts, and these efforts,
when they are analyzed, have no other aim
than a transcendental utilitarianism. To
bring to bear constantly throughout every
foot of the Empire, in every soul under his
authority, the powers of all for the aggran-
dizement and prosperity of the nation, that
was his unheralded but real anxiety and
purpose. To compel every citizen to render
all that he is capable of rendering of social
usefulness, to drag from men, in spite of
themselves and by an iron compulsion, all
that they possess of moral wealth and in-
fluence, to watch unceasingly the play of
institutions and their machinery, from their
simplest to their most intricate mechanism,
that nothing fail of the particular work as-
signed to it — that was his constant pur-

We need not be astonished therefore if
this obsession constantly betrays itself in the
seemingly unrelated subjects of psychology
and morals. Nor ought we to be surprised
to find among aphorisms relating to love,

Napoleon in His Own Words

this opinion of Napoleon concerning wom-
en : " The most important woman in the
world, living or dead, is the one who has
borne the most children ; " or among those
concerning Christianity, " The Christian
religion will always be the firmest support
of every government clever enough to make
it serve it; " or among those concerning art,
'' Tragedy is the school of genius ; it is the
duty of sovereigns to encourage and support
it;" or again, ''Books are too argumen-
tative not to corrupt a people by dishabitu-
ating it from fact."

These are the beliefs of a sovereign who
gives his thought chiefly to the play and
interplay of men and things on the stability
and power of the state. Truth never ap-
pears naked to such a mind; she is always
more or less draped. He never sees truth
objectively, but always in relation to some
one or some thing.

But what, in the last analysis, is this util-
itarianism which is the essence of Napo-
leon's genius? It is, in a word, the art of
adaptation carried to its highest expression.
To know how to create '' the man for the
place," as the trenchant English saying has

Author^s Preface

it, and to get the supremest possible out
of him — such is the whole secret of the
Napoleonic necromancy. This genius re-
quires for its highest exercise certain quali-
ties which the Emperor possessed in the
maximum of intensity.

In the first place he had an extraordinary
gift of insight. Napoleon was first of all a
dissector of souls — that is easily seen in run-
ning through the chapter on psychology and
that on politics. It is evident also in the
maxims collected under the title " Adminis-

Let us reflect that he had lived through
the most astounding years of history, those
during which the human heart revealed it-
self in all its nakedness ; that he had known
things at their worst, and seen at close range
the most sinister souls. But his knowledge
of the human being was not only of a
rigorous exactitude, he also knew the deep
furrows which nationality plows in tem-
perament; and, in particular, some of the
judgments of the French character he has
expressed have the quality of finality.

Moreover his insight has no tinge of
cruelty. He was himself too quivering with
[ xiii ]

Napoleon in His Own Words

life to linger a pessimist at the spectacle of
humanity. On the other hand he visions too
clearly not to take advantage at once of
what he sees or to profit by his experience.
For example, he observes that, " Men are
greedy for emotion," and he adds at once,
" their enthusiasm is his who can cleverly
arouse it." He says, " It is important to
recognize human weakness," but he ex-
claims as a conclusion, " and turn it to your
advantage rather than to oppose it." Thus
always, in him, policy followed close on

But keen insight alone is not sufficient to
continually fit men for the places to be
filled. It does not suffice to recognize ability
in men ; it is necessary to inspire them. Fol-
lowing insight, comes guidance. That is the
difficult thing. No mind was more single
in its will, no energy more irresistible than
his. With him, to form a purpose was to
execute it. His mind could conceive of
neither obstacles from within nor from
without which could swerve it. While his
prudence might suggest temporary yielding
to circumstances, he avowed it with a sort
of superior artlessness : " Pretexts never
[ xiv ]

Author^s Preface

fail the man who has the power to do what
he pleases." However, read and re-read
these aphorisms — those which are the fruit
of long experience, as his maxims of war,
those which were the spontaneous outburst
of the moment, or those which were the
result of ripened thought — the positive way
he says them gives them the seal of au-

But in addition to the power of insight,
and the gift of authority, a certain recog-
nition of the supremacy of moral ideas was
necessary thoroughly to understand the
citizen-subjects of the Empire, and to fore-
see how they would adjust themselves to
any given set of conditions. The Emperor
recognized this supremacy of moral ideas;
not as a deep and abiding conviction, nor as
a superstitious belief. The man who said
that a monarch ought to be acquainted with
all religions in order to be ready, on occa-
sion, to embrace them all, had but a modi-
cum of superstition, moral or religious. But
here, again. Napoleon's instinct for policy
came into play, and he realized that any
empire in which sound moral principles,
were not given free scope, was bound to fall.


Napoleon in His Own Words

For him, therefore, outwardly to conform
to morality, to preach morality, to defend
it, and to impose it on men and to require
it of them by all possible means, was merely
calculation. The result of it he intended
should be, everywhere and always, a realiza-
tion of the thought expressed by that char-
acter in Italian comedy who is made to say,
" I will make you happy in spite of your-
selves." Similarly, Napoleon might have
said to his subjects, " I will make you
moral, religious, and honest in spite of your-
selves," adding to himself, " because such is
to the supreme interest of the Empire."

Every means is good to him which will
firmly fix these truths in the French mind;
and he uses all means with consummate
adroitness. When the Grenadier Gobin
committed suicide for love. Napoleon at
once addressed his troops thus : '' A soldier
ought to overcome the melancholy and bit-
terness of hopeless passion; to abandon
himself to disappointment without resis-
tance, to kill himself in order to escape from
himself, is to abandon the field of battle
without gaining the victory." Thus he
shows by example to those willing to see it,
[ xvi ]

Author^s Preface

that moral qualities are indispensable; and
Napoleon knew how to utilize all means to
arouse them. Thus was strengthened in
each soul the conviction that, in proportion
to his ability, it was the duty of each citizen
to cooperate for the grandeur and prosperity
of the country represented in the person of
the Emperor.

Such are the qualities indispensable to
one, who, through a supreme utilitarianism
would fashion men in his own image and
make of them the instruments of his dom-
ination. But important as these qualities
are, obvious as it is that they should be
found in a sovereign, they are still insuffi-
cient to accomplish supreme results. There
must be added to them a sense of harmony,
an artistic instinct for the sculpture and
design of the monument to be raised, a
searching vigilance careful of the smallest
details, leaving nothing to chance ; in a word,
that sense of form which Napoleon pos-
sessed in the highest degree, and which
makes him kin to the world's great artists.

I recall M. Paul Bourget, one day, in one
of those satisfying conversations in which
he excelled, developing the theory, that, as
[ xvii ]

Napoleon in His Own Words

the Emperor's family was of Tuscan origin
one would expect to find in him an artistic
sense, an appreciation of form, an inherited
sense of balance and harmony. And this
indeed it is easy to recognise in his work,
which though a little massive, perhaps, is
admirably proportioned.

This impression is never so vividly pre-
sented to my mind as in considering the
minute care for the smallest details, with
which Napoleon occupied himself with an
untiring passion. In his maxims regarding
war there will be found one which is ex-
tremely characteristic in this respect. It is
where he is speaking of a commanding gen-
eral's addresses to his troops, and of the
necessity of issuing them on the day before
the battle or the day before that. " It is
not," he says, " that addresses tO' an army
at the moment of action make soldiers
brave; their usefulness lies in their effect
on the course of the campaign, in neutraliz-
ing rumors, and in furnishing matter for
camp-fire talk." What a keen and compre-
hensive understanding of camp life this last
phrase reveals ! And it is strikingly typical,
as it is suggestive, of that creative imagina-
[ xviii ]

Author'^s Preface

tion which enabled Napoleon to foresee and
estimate the action and reaction of things
and of words, to their most distant conse-
quences. The care for detail is there, and
whoever possesses it to this degree is born
to achievement, no matter in what direction
his activities lead him.

These, it seems to me, are some of the
conclusions this book has to suggest. There
is no pretense that it gives a new presenta-
tion of Napoleon, his qualities or his de-
fects; but it will serve to recall and fix in
the memory some of those utterances, which,
after a hundred years, still describe the social
order, and which are the fruits of a mind
which gained them at a cost entitling them
to be called experience.

Jules Bertaut



IT is now almost exactly a hundred years
since Waterloo. Every one of those
years has seen additions to the ever-growing
volume of Napoleonic literature. Opinion
regarding Napoleon is gradually becoming
clarified, as more and more the truth of
history is being separated from the interests,
the passions, and the limitations of knowl-
edge which have obscured it in the past.

This collection of Napoleon's sayings,
which M. Jules Bertaut has presented under
the title of Virilities, is one of the latest, as
in some respects it is one of the most im-
portant, of late contributions to the subject.
It is not that he has discovered new facts
about Napoleon. As he says himself, there
is probably little that concerns Napoleon
which is not now known. Because this is
so, we have been able to see Napoleon in
the light of fairly complete knowledge of
contemporaneous conditions. But what

Napoleon in His Own Words

M. Bertaut has done, is to enable us to see, as
it were, through Napoleon's own eyes. We
are able otherwise to know what Napoleon
did, and what were the circumstances that
influenced him. But herein M. Bertaut has
givien us, in brief, it is true, and by illustra-
tion rather than in complete detail, what
Napoleon said about the things he did, the
reasons he gave for doing them (which are
often only the reasons he wanted believed),
and the purposes he had in mind.

It is true that there is nothing in this
collection of Napoleon's sayings which has
not been published somewhere before in the
collected editions of his orders, his corre-
spondence, or his formal works. But they
are collated and made available here; and
they have this advantage over any similar
previous collection, that in making them,
M. Bertaut has had all the advantage of the
fuller knowledge we have of Napoleon than
any previous generation has had. Precisely
because little that concerns Napoleon is now
unknown, M. Bertaut has been able to make
his selections from the great mass of Na-
poleon's utterances in such a way as to pre-
sent most fully and clearly, within the limits

Translators* Preface

of space determined on, the workings of
Napoleon's mind — to get whatever light on
his character and motives his own words
can throw.

This work was well received by the
French people on its publication shortly be-
fore the outbreak of the present war; and
so it is believed it will be of interest to

In translating, the effort has been made
to present Napoleon's thought in its English
garb so as to convey the sense that Na-
poleon's forceful, nervous, though not al-
ways accurate French, conveys to French

In the notes, nothing more has been at-
tempted than to put the average American
reader on an equal footing, as to allusion
and reference to matters of French history
or French literature or French experience,
with the average French reader, as we may
assume him to be. It is only natural to
suppose that the average French reader has
such a degree of familiarity with these as
will enable him to catch, understandingly,
Napoleon's allusions to them; just as the
average American reader would be able to
[ xxiii ]

Napoleon in His Own Words

catch, understandingly, equivalent allusions
and reference to our own history and litera-
ture. Hence the notes are confined, with at
most one or two exceptions, to matters of
French history or literature or national ex-
perience. As to allusions to men or things
of other countries or peoples, it is assumed
that the average American reader is already
on an equal footing, as to them, with the
French reader.

It has been attempted to give to American
readers just what M. Bertaut has given to
his countrymen.

Herbert Edward Law
Charles Lincoln Rhodes

[ xxiv ]


NAPOLEON was a man of action.
His mind was cast in that mould
which sees in events, not the relations they
bear to each other as parts of a universe,
but their possibilities to him who can seize
them for his own benefit. His was not a
contemplative mind; he neither looked for,
nor studied, the causes of things, but the
effects. He has therefore written no phi-
losophy, though much cynical wisdom. Nor
did he speak or write to set men thinking,
but to influence their actions.

Though a man of action, few have writ-
ten more than he did. His correspondence,
in thirty-two volumes, the publication of
which was begun in 1858, is only a part of
the recorded mass of ideas which came
from his mind. What is included in this
little book is, therefore, but the merest frag-
ment of what there was to choose from.

[ XXV ]

Napoleon in His Own Words

But because Napoleon's mind and character
were of the cast and turn that they were,
what is here given will better serve its pur-
pose than would a much larger measure of
any other man's writings in regard to that

Whoever expects to find consistency, or
continuity, in what Napoleon has written,
will be disappointed, because Napoleon had
no profound convictions to weave them-
selves like golden threads in the web of his
acts or his words. He was neither a phi-
losopher developing a system of philosophy,
nor a publicist seeking to guide the course
of events in accordance with an underlying
and permeating, but consistent body of phi-
losophical or scientific laws. He spoke or
wrote for the immediate efifect of his words,
not for their future, or ultimate effect; nor
did he concern himself with any niceties of

Being a man of action, he was constantly
doing things. To make the things he did
best serve the purpose for which he did
them, he felt called on, or found it con-
venient, to give some reason or explanation
for doing them. He was guided in the
[ xxvi ]

The Character of Napoleon

reason or explanation he gave, not by his
real reason or purpose, but by what he
thought would serve him best at the time.
Naturally, there could be neither consist-
ency nor continuity in it. There was in it,
however, himself, the mirror and reflec-
tion of both his moral and his mental char-

It is because of this characteristic of Na-
poleon's utterances, that a selection from
his writings, such as this of M. Bertaut's,
can have, and does have, a real and an effec-
tive value. Few great men can be appraised
by samples of their writings. This is par-
ticularly true of those whose greatness
consists in their gift of ideas or good works
to the world. But Napoleon's greatness was
in his genius for coordination, for accom-
plishment. It included, of course, the power
to vision great things — great in their mag-
nitude and in the power required to bring
them about. But this accomplishment add-
ed nothing, or little to the world's store.
His combinations were of what already
existed, and though incomparably great and
marvelous exhibitions of the power of the
human mind to do, they created nothing;
[ xxvii ]


Napoleon in His Own Words

and though he conquered half of Europe he
left France no bigger than he found it.

And so Napoleon's writings are no
measure of the man, because they neither
express his thought, nor measure his great-
ness. His thought was expressed in action,
and his greatness in accomplishment. But
his writings do express his estimate of
moral relationships and of mankind. Moral
obligations he looked on as superstitions,
useful in holding the world in order for the
benefit of himself or anyone else, who, free
from such superstitions, was able to exploit
it. His estimate of mankind was of crea-
tures obeying certain impulses and suscep-
tible to certain kinds of stimulus, and
therefore very suitable for the use and
diversion of one, who, like himself, knew
how to use and control them.

It is these things, these qualities, that his
writings present. Unconsciously he has be-
trayed himself in them. What was said for
its immediate effect, becomes a measure of
ulterior motive. Just as astronomers de-
duce from the aberrations in the movements
of the planets the laws of the sidereal uni-
verse, so, from the inconsistencies and
[ xxviii ]

The Character of Napoleon

contradictions of his recorded utterances
can be clearly deduced the dominating mo-
tives of his acts.

The great defect of Napoleon's character
was that he had no profound convictions of
duty or obligation or right; at any rate, no
profound convictions commensurate with
his intellectual powers. Therefore he had
nothing to guide him in the selection of
objects for accomplishment except the lust
and greed of power to do, which grew with
the growth, through exercise and expe-
rience, of that power. That is why there is
so much that is inexplicable particularly in
the later years of his career. He is ever
urged on by the unsatisfied power of accom-
plishment, without having profound moral
convictions to guide him either in the choice
of aim or means.

In this selection from Napoleon's record-
ed utterances, insignificant and fragmen-
tary as it is as compared with the whole
volume of them, can be seen clearly this
lack of profound convictions. In their place
are cynical half-truths, clever sophistry,
self-deception, because the depth and sound-
ness of the moral sense in mankind is un-
[ xxix ]

Napoleon in His Own Words

realized by Napoleon. It is because his
writings do not represent or measure his
accomplishment, but^do represent the qual-
ity of his moral fiber, that Napoleon can, in
this respect, be appraised by sample; and
this collection which M. Bertaut has made
is an excellent sample.

H. E. L.

C. L. R.

[ XXX ]



In His Own Words



A PRINCE, criticised by his subjects,
should never attempt to justify him-
self to them.

Collective crimes incriminate no one.

The code of health for nations is not
that for individuals.

A sovereign ought always to confiscate
publicity for his own profit.

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.


Napoleon in His Own Words

Audacity succeeds as often as it fails;
in life it has an even chance.

The superior man is never in anyone's

Profit by the favors of Fortune while her
caprices favor you; fear only that she will
change out of spite; she is a woman.

Who saves his country violates no law.

Men, like paintings, need a favorable day.

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

Impatience is a great obstacle to success;
he who treats everything with brusqueness
gathers nothing, or only immature fruit
which will never ripen.


On Success

Men are like numerals — they are given
value by their position.

Second-rate men, however ambitious,
have only commonplace ideas.

When a man is a favorite of Fortune she
never takes him unav^ares, and, however
astonishing her favors may be, she finds
him ready.

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 me-
diocrity can act only according to routine.
Ability takes its flight unhindered.

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