Research Subjects: Napoleon Himself

Napoleon, The Man, Encapsulated. 1769 - 1821

By Victor Blair

To the victor goes the spoils, and the prerogative of writing history their way!

Napoleon has been condemned by the politician, admired by the soldier, misunderstood by the historian and applauded by the commoner. He has been, belittled literally, by generations of British writers as a short, stocky man, ruthlessly cruel and egotistical to the point where self-glorification displaced love of country and countrymen….In London, he was a sinner, in Paris, a saint…

In fact, Napoleon was of average height for his day 5'6", lean in his youth, and a giant in historical stature. Even his harshest critics have conceded that his egoism was the driving force towards greatness, and that his self-conceit was at least earned by genius and determination.

He was known to cry at the sight of thousands dead, like after the battle of Borodino, and as well as during his divorce from Josephine. When Marie-Louise his second wife, gave birth to Napoleon II and complications developed which threatened both mother and child, Napoleon didn't hesitate, "Save the mother!" he told the doctor, although an heir to his dynasty was foremost in his mind.

His sense of humor was 'limited', and he demanded that all court painters refrain from putting a smile on any of his portraits.

In humanitarian affairs, Napoleon, consolidator of the Revolution, freed all slaves in the countries that he conquered and eliminated feudalism as well. In fact, throughout Europe, he spread the French Revolutionary ideals that kindled nationalism.

Superstitiously, he believed in 'his star' that oversaw his health and guided his decisions. Alexander I of Russia said, "I met a man who was rough, virile, practical and convinced of his lucky star. Fortunately with all his genius he has a vulnerable side….it is vanity!"

In religion…He recognized all religious freedoms, did away with the Holy Roman Empire, and allowed suppressed Judaism to flower. His last will and testament begins; "I die in the apostolic and Roman Religion, in the bosom of which I was born over 50 years ago."

Though Napoleon was the greatest genius of his time, he never acquired the crown of greatness --- the high wisdom born of reflection and introspection which knows its own powers and limitations, and never abuses them; that fine sense of proportion which holds the rights of others in the same solemn reverence, which it demands for its own. No man ever made practical realities of so many of liberty's dreams, yet it was by despotism that he gave liberal and beneficent laws in his Code Napoleon.

Ingeniously, he wrote, "The pursuit of detail is the religion of perfection." This was Napoleon's philosophy…This was his legacy!


Bonaparte, Napoleon. Napoleon's Last Will and Testament New York : Paddington Press; 1977.

Brice, Raoul. The Riddle of Napoleon London : Putnam;1937.

Geyl, Peter. Napoleon: For and Against New Haven : Yale University Press; 1949.

Herold, J. Christopher The Age of Napoleon New York : American Heritage; 1963.

Ludwig, Emil. Napoleon New York : Boni & Liveright; 1926.

Tarbell, Ida M. A Short Life of Napoleon Bonaparte New York : S.S. McClure;1896.

Troyat, Henri Alexander of Russia New York : E.P. Dutton; 1982.


Napoleon Himself Index ]

Search the Series

© Copyright 1995-2005, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.

Top | Home ]