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Mr. Bonaparte of Corsica   By: (1862-1922)

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This etext was produced from the 1902 Harper and Brothers edition by David Price, email


by John Kendrick Bangs


Napoleon's father, Charles Bonaparte, was the honored progenitor of thirteen children, of whom the man who subsequently became the Emperor of the French, by some curious provision of fate, was the second. That the infant Napoleon should have followed rather than led the procession is so foreign to the nature of the man that many worthy persons unfamiliar with the true facts of history have believed that Joseph was a purely apocryphal infant, or, as some have suggested, merely an adopted child; but that Napoleon did upon this occasion content himself with second place is an incontrovertible fact. Nor is it entirely unaccountable. It is hardly to be supposed that a true military genius, such as Napoleon is universally conceded to have been, would plunge into the midst of a great battle without first having acquainted himself with the possibilities of the future. A reconnoitre of the field of action is the first duty of a successful commander; and hence it was that Napoleon, not wishing to rush wholly unprepared into the battle of life, assigned to his brother Joseph the arduous task of first entering into the world to see how the land lay. Joseph having found everything to his satisfaction, Napoleon made his appearance in the little island of Corsica, recently come under French domination the 15th day August, 1769. Had he been born two months earlier, we are told, he would have been an Italian. Had he been born a hundred years later, it is difficult to say what he would have been. As it was, he was born a Frenchman. It is not pleasant to contemplate what the man's future would have been had he been born an Italian, nor is it easy to picture that future with any confidence born of certainty. Since the days of Caesar, Italy had not produced any great military commander, and it is not likely that the powers would have changed their scheme, confirmed by sixteen centuries of observance, in Napoleon's behalf a fact which Napoleon himself realized, for he often said in his latter days, with a shudder: "I hate to think how inglorious I should have become had I been born two months earlier and entered the world as an Italian. I should have been another Joseph not that Joseph is not a good man, but he is not a great man. Ah! Bourrienne, we cannot be too careful in the selection of our birthdays."

It is the testimony of all who knew him in his infancy that Napoleon was a good child. He was obedient and respectful to his mother, and sometimes at night when, on account of some indigestible quality of his food or other cause, it was necessary for his father to make a series of forced marches up and down the spacious nursery in the beautiful home at Ajaccio, holding the infant warrior in his arms, certain premonitions of his son's future career dawned upon the parent. His anguish was voiced in commanding tones; his wails, like his subsequent addresses to his soldiers, were short, sharp, clear, and decisive, nor would he brook the slightest halt in these midnight marches until the difficulties which stood in his path had been overcome. His confidence in himself at this early period was remarkable. Quick to make up his mind, he was tenacious of his purpose to the very end.

It is related that when barely seven months old, while sitting in his nurse's lap, by means of signs which she could not fail to comprehend, he expressed the desire, which, indeed, is characteristic of most healthy Children of that age, to possess the whole of the outside world, not to mention the moon and other celestial bodies. Reaching his little hands out in the direction of the Continent, lying not far distant over the waters of the Mediterranean, he made this demand; and while, of course, his desire was not granted upon the instant, it is the testimony of history that he never lost sight of that cherished object... Continue reading book >>

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