American Poetry in the Age of Whitman and Dickinson

Posts Tagged ‘Napoleon

Napoleonicism

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Saturday, February 14, 1891

I had heard the criticism that Grant was greater than Napoleon. Napoleon fought all his battles in the accepted rules of war — Grant met new fields with new weapons. W. said, “There is a striking ring to that: in some ways it recommends itself to me — goes straight to the truth — at least about Grant. Whether Napoleon is the right man to quote on the other side I doubt. It seems to me Napoleonicism — to make a word—means the very thing praised in Grant. The old fellows would have said — ‘Cross the Alps? It is impossible — fatuous!’ Which only excited Napoleon the more to say, ‘Impossible? Then we will do it!’ — and other impossible things he did — till at last his mastership could not be denied. All genius defies the rules — makes its own passage — is its own precedent. But I can see how all this is emphasized in Grant: it is part of him. I more and more incline to acknowledge him. His simplicity was much like old Zack Taylor’s.”

— Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, volume 8

Dug this out for my friend Alex, a Napoleon specialist.

Written by Ben Friedlander

December 2, 2009 at 11:06 pm

Poems of Places 8

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From Poems of Places, vol. 9, France 1 (Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1880), edited by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

[Brienne]

In honor of the new school year, “The School-Boy King” by Walter Thornbury, a poem that also appears in A Metrical History of the Life and Times of Napoleon Bonaparte, edited by William J. Hillis (1896). There the poem is given the following introduction:

Of Napoleon’s early childhood little is positively known. Accepting the corroborated record, as it stands, it would appear that he was a child with a disposition and a manner peculiarly his own. Not a loving or a companionable boy, but rather of a sullen, retiring nature; melancholy and irritable in his temperament and impatient of restraint. While his companions were enjoying themselves at play, natural to their age, he would wander off by himself and spend hours, with no other company than his own thoughts. There is still to be seen in Corsica the isolated rock, known as “Napoleon’s Grotto.” Tradition tells us that this was the favourite resort of the child, destined to become the conqueror of the world. He, himself, has said: “In my infancy I was extremely headstrong; nothing ever awed me; nothing disconcerted me. I was quarrelsome, mischievous; I was afraid of nobody; I beat one; I scratched another; I made myself formidable to the whole family.”

At the age of ten Napoleon entered the Military School at Brienne, near Paris, where he remained upwards of five years. His career while at that school is very aptly and concisely told in the following verses.

Thornbury’s poem is written from the teacher’s point of view, which folds in a very stupid prejudice against Corsica. A more hagiographic assessment of the brilliant, raging boy opens Abel Gance’s Napoléon (1927), viewable at Dailymotion (here). A beautiful stretch of film, with music by Arthur Honegger. In the film, the teacher’s anti-Corsican prejudice makes us sympathize with Napoleon. Here are some screen captures of the classroom sequence: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ben Friedlander

September 2, 2009 at 3:08 pm