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The Napoleon of the People   By: (1799-1850)

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THE NAPOLEON OF THE PEOPLE

By Honore De Balzac

Translated by Ellen Marriage and Clara Bell.

PREPARER'S NOTE

The Napoleon of the People was originally published in Le Medicin de Campagne (The Country Doctor). It is a story told to a group of peasants by the character of Goguelat, an ex soldier who served under Napoleon in an infantry regiment. It was later included in Folk tales of Napoleon: Napoleonder from the Russian, a collection of stories by various authors. This translation is by Ellen Marriage and Clara Bell.

THE NAPOLEON OF THE PEOPLE

Napoleon, you see, my friends, was born in Corsica, which is a French island warmed by the Italian sun; it is like a furnace there, everything is scorched up, and they keep on killing each other from father to son for generations all about nothing at all 'tis a notion they have. To begin at the beginning, there was something extraordinary about the thing from the first; it occurred to his mother, who was the handsomest woman of her time, and a shrewd soul, to dedicate him to God, so that he should escape all the dangers of infancy and of his after life; for she had dreamed that the world was on fire on the day he was born. It was a prophecy! So she asked God to protect him, on condition that Napoleon should re establish His holy religion, which had been thrown to the ground just then. That was the agreement; we shall see what came of it.

Now, do you follow me carefully, and tell me whether what you are about to hear is natural.

It is certain sure that only a man who had had imagination enough to make a mysterious compact would be capable of going further than anybody else, and of passing through volleys of grape shot and showers of bullets which carried us off like flies, but which had a respect for his head. I myself had particular proof of that at Eylau. I see him yet; he climbs a hillock, takes his field glass, looks along our lines, and says, "That is going on all right." One of the deep fellows, with a bunch of feathers in his cap, used to plague him a good deal from all accounts, following him about everywhere, even when he was getting his meals. This fellow wants to do something clever, so as soon as the Emperor goes away he takes his place. Oh! swept away in a moment! And this is the last of the bunch of feathers! You understand quite clearly that Napoleon had undertaken to keep his secret to himself. That is why those who accompanied him, and even his especial friends, used to drop like nuts: Duroc, Bessieres, Lannes men as strong as bars of steel, which he cast into shape for his own ends. And here is a final proof that he was the child of God, created to be the soldier's father; for no one ever saw him as a lieutenant or a captain. He is a commandant straight off! Ah! yes, indeed! He did not look more than four and twenty, but he was an old general ever since the taking of Toulon, when he made a beginning by showing the rest that they knew nothing about handling cannon. Next thing he does, he tumbles upon us. A little slip of a general in chief of the army of Italy, which had neither bread nor ammunition nor shoes nor clothes a wretched army as naked as a worm.

"Friends," he said, "here we all are together. Now, get it well into your pates that in a fortnight's time from now you will be the victors, and dressed in new clothes; you shall all have greatcoats, strong gaiters, and famous pairs of shoes; but, my children, you will have to march on Milan to take them, where all these things are."

So they marched. The French, crushed as flat as a pancake, held up their heads again. There were thirty thousand of us tatterdemalions against eighty thousand swaggerers of Germans fine tall men and well equipped; I can see them yet. Then Napoleon, who was only Bonaparte in those days, breathed goodness knows what into us, and on we marched night and day. We rap their knuckles at Montenotte; we hurry on to thrash them at Rivoli, Lodi, Arcola, and Millesimo, and we never let them go... Continue reading book >>




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