F. Patrick Butler



Napoleon as host at a party:
"Madame, I do not like it when women mix in politics."
His attractive young guest:
"You are right, General; but in a country where they have their heads cut off, it is natural that they should want to know why."

Chapter 1: Friendship is only a word.

Chapter 1:  Friendship is only a word.

It may have been that Napoleon, a native of Corsica, was drawn to Rousseau because of Rousseau's unfinished work on what he called the Constitutional Project for Corsica in 1765, written four years before Napoleon was born. Whatever the reason, Napoleon favored Rousseau above all other authors and his interest went so far, history records, that he even emulated Rousseau's penchant for entering essay contests (where he attained the rank of fifteenth on one occasion). Napoleon was nine years old the year of Rousseau's death in 1778.

Napoleon, twenty-one years later and First Consul of France, visited the original site of Rousseau's grave outside Paris, on Stanislas Girardin's property in Ermenonville. According to Girardin, a biographer of sorts, the following conversation took place:
When he reached the Isle of Poplars, Bonaparte stepped in front of Jean-Jacques' tomb and said, 'It would have been better for the peace of France if this man had never lived.'
'And why, Citizen Consul?' - 'It was he who prepared the French Revolution.' - 'I should have thought, Citizen Consul, that it was not for you to complain of the Revolution.'
'Well,' he replied, 'the future will tell us whether it would have been better if neither I nor Rousseau had ever lived.' And he resumed his walk with a thoughtful air.


Will the historians tell us one day whether it would have been better if Napoleon had never lived?

There is no question that for centuries France has ruled Europe both culturally and politically, in part thanks to the Napoleonic period. And today it is not difficult to see that France continues to be caught between its desire to live with its neighbors and its desire to dominate them. The present leadership of the Quai d'Orsay (France's foreign ministry) understands this, but he is a poet, or at least writes of poetry, and states the poet's duty to see beyond the realities of today and prepare for the possibilities of tomorrow. For the French, at the heart of this vibrant future described by their foreign minister, there is only one consideration, the centrality of France - no less a clear echo of its immortal leader, Charles de Gaulle who said succinctly: "France cannot be France without greatness."

Read the minister's books and Europe is oddly absent. Paris, he says, will never be satisfied with being just a partner along with others. So the presiding leadership of France has a mission in Europe if not the world, and this is what drives the French, the eternal love affair of its people with greatness and the enduring fame of their most legendary leader - Napoleon Bonaparte - and the romantic spirit of his Reign.



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