Top 10 Fascinating Napoleon Quotations

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Napoleon I the Great (15 August 1769-5 May 1821) is one of history’s greatest conquerors, but he is far more complex than a mere military man. He wrote and spoke of just about every aspect of life he could, as evidenced by the multi-volume collections of his numerous letters and memoirs. His ideas give great insights into Napoleon as a lover and philosopher, among other things. While researching this influential man for my book, Meteors that Enlighten the Earth: Napoleon and the Cult of Great Men, I came across many fascinating quotations that could fill multiple lists, but I have found ten remarks in particular that I find striking for various reasons. This list features ten of these most intriguing words of the great man in semi-chronological order. Rather than provide my analysis of them, I shall present the quotations to you with some background context and allow you to discuss your own thoughts on them in the comment section below the list.

10. Napoleon on Oral Sex

oral-sex-napoleon

Written to Josephine in April 1796: “A kiss on your heart, and one much lower down, much lower!”

While Napoleon is most typically known as a conqueror of armies, as is the case with many male conquerors throughout history, he also enjoyed conquests of women. He married twice and had several mistresses during his life and had one legitimate and two illegitimate children through these relationships. Yet, by far the most celebrated love of his life was his first wife: Josephine de Beauharnais. While Napoleon campaigned in Italy, he wrote extensively to his wife, who did not reciprocate in kind and in his correspondences, he reveals himself as someone romantic to the point of obsession with his wife, including remarks in a perhaps surprisingly risqué manner.

9. Napoleon REALLY Loves Josephine

really-loves-josephine-napoleon

Written on 21 November 1796: “I am going to bed with my heart full of your adorable image. I cannot wait to give you proofs of my ardent love. How happy I would be if I could assist you at your undressing, the little firm white breast, the adorable face, the hair tied up in a scarf a la creole. You know that I will never forget the little visits, you know, the little black forest. I kiss it a thousand times and wait impatiently for the moment I will be in it. To live within Josephine is to live in the Elysian fields. Kisses on your mouth, your eyes, your breast, everywhere, everywhere.”

Here we once again get a sense of Napoleon’s thoughts while fighting a bloody war that lasted for months. He does not merely report about military life, but dreams of sexual encounters with his wife as what real heaven (the Elysian fields) is. We thus once again see the side of a man whose thoughts were hardly focused solely on bloodshed even while fighting a war.

8. Napoleon Being More Romantic

pleasing-woman-napoleon

“A beautiful woman pleases the eye, a good woman pleases the heart; the first is a jewel, the second is a treasure.”

Now the previous two quotations might make Napoleon seem almost perverted in his letters to his wife, and yet, he also had a tender side as well that demonstrated he valued women for more than just their physical attributes.

7. Napoleon’s Opposition to Torture

torture-napoleon

Written in 1798, while in Egypt: “The barbarous custom of whipping men suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this method of interrogation, by putting men to the torture, is useless. The wretches say whatever comes into their heads and whatever they think one wants to believe. Consequently, the Commander-in-Chief forbids the use of a method which is contrary to reason and humanity.”

Given the debates held even in modern democracies about whether or not torture is justified, for example, when trying to stop terrorists, Napoleon’s words here are perhaps still relevant two hundred years later. Even in his day, an Enlightened conqueror realized the problems inherent in this form of interrogation. Moreover, the quotation is consistent with his approach to conquering Egypt. He brought with him an army of scholars in addition to his soldiers who among other things discovered the Rosetta stone.

6. Napoleon Anticipates Karl Marx on Religion

marx-napoleon

Written in 1806: “Religion associates with Heaven an idea of equality which prevents the rich from being massacred by the poor.”

When it came to religion, Napoleon understood its value, but approached it as a utilitarian would. In Egypt he played the role of someone who respected Islam. He also proposed creating a Palestine for Jews and called a Grand Sanhedrin while emperor. He reconciled with the Pope and had him attend Napoleon’s coronation. Later, Napoleon held the Pope as a virtual prisoner and annexed Rome to be the second city of the French Empire. In these various actions, we see a man who used religion as a means by which to prevent further chaos as occurred in the French Revolution. What he actually believed (or did not believe) is debatable, but he did nevertheless identify organized religion as beneficial for society to not descend into anarchy.

5. Napoleon on Dogs and Men

dogs-napoleon

Written September 1816: “If you do not like dogs, you do not like fidelity; you do not like those who are attached to you; and, therefore, you are not faithful.”

As a dog owner (I had two basset hounds and now have a dachshund and yes, I named one after Napoleon’s first wife and another after his second!), I understand where he is coming from in this remark. Napoleon reflected toward the end of his life on how people betrayed him (1816 is after his final defeat and during his final exile). He remembered, for example, an incident on a battlefield where a dead soldier lay guarded by his dog. Napoleon was moved by how everyone had abandoned this soldier except his dog. The defeated Napoleon on St. Helena felt abandoned and even betrayed by many and so it is hardly a shock that he would identify canine faithfulness as a supreme quality worthy of respect.


4. Napoleon on his Biggest Mistake

santo-domingo-napoleon

“The Santo Domingo affair was a foolish business on my part. It was the greatest mistake I ever made in my administration. I should have treated with the black leaders as with provincial authorities, appointed Negro officers in all the black regiments, kept Toussaint L’Ouverture as viceroy, sent no troops, and left everything to the blacks, except for giving them a few white advisers, a treasurer for instance, and even these I would have wanted to marry black women. That way, seeing that they were not surrounded by the threat of white power, the Negroes would have come to trust my policy.”

Winston Churchill, when discussing the hypothetical capture of Hitler during World War II, denounced any idea of sending Hitler to St. Helena as an insult to Napoleon’s memory. While plenty of authors have tried to draw parallels between Napoleon and Hitler, the two are opposites in terms of their actions with regards to genocide. This particular quotation by Napoleon reflects the distinction between the two men. Yes, both fought and lost grandiose wars to conqueror Europe, but their methods varied and their opinions on their methods varied as well. One does not find Hitler lamenting the Holocaust as something that was morally regrettable. Napoleon, however, realized that of all the unforgivable blemishes in his career, re-instituting slavery was the worst. Granted slavery in itself is not as disgusting as full on annihilation, but it is unquestionably one of the most shameful aspects of human history. In an age in which Britain, America, and France were all some years from abolishing slavery in 1833, 1865, and 1848, respectively, Napoleon commenting decades earlier is a sign of maturity and intellect that an unfortunate number of his contemporaries did not share.

3. Napoleon on Polygamy

polygamy-2-napoleon

“The question of freeing the blacks is a complex and difficult problem. In Africa and Asia it has been solved, but only by the means of polygamy. There a single family has both white and Negro members. Since the head of the family has white, black, and mulatto wives, his white and mulatto offspring are brothers, are brought up in the same cradle, bear the same family name, and share the same table. Should it prove impossible, then, to authorize polygamy in our colonies, limiting the legal number of wives to two, one white, one black?”

With this quotation, we have Napoleon further elaborating on his non-racist ideas in a manner inconsistent with the mainstream viewpoints of his time and in a manner somewhat paralleling Alexander the Great. When Alexander invaded Persia, he encouraged marriages between Greco-Macedonians and Persians. He even married two Asian women: Roxana and Stateira. Not all of his Greco-Macedonians were enthusiastic about these policies. Yet, they served as part of a dream to unify people. It is only fitting that Napoleon, who greatly admired Alexander, also contemplated intermarriage as way of unifying peoples. Even during his reign, he considered proposals to encourage marriages among Catholics, Jews, and Protestants to bring together the various peoples of his empire. Ultimately, Napoleon appears to have hoped that neither religion nor race would be dividing factors among we humans who after all are really belong to one HUMAN race.

2. Napoleon’s Anticipation of the European Union

europeon-union-napoleon

“There are dispersed in Europe, upwards of 30,000,000 of French, 15,000,000 of Spaniards, 15,000,000 of Italians, and 30,000,000 of Germans; and it was my intention to incorporate these people each into one nation. In this state of things, there would have been some chance of establishing, in every country, a unity of codes, principles, opinions, sentiments, views, and interests. Then, perhaps, by the help of the universal diffusion of knowledge, one might have thought of attempting, in the great European family, the application of the American Congress, or the Amphictyons of Greece. The impulse is given; and I think, that since my fall, and the destruction of my system, no grand equilibrium can possibly be established in Europe, except by the concentration and confederation of the principle nations. The sovereign, who, in the first great conflict, shall sincerely embrace the cause of the people, will find himself at the head of all Europe, and may attempt whatever he pleases. Europe thus divided into nationalities freely formed and free internally, peace between States would have become easier: the United States of Europe would become a possibility.”

Now realistically, Napoleon did not have the means by which to conquer and thereby unify the word, but he did come close with Europe and when explaining what he was attempting to establish, we have him reflecting on his love of history by referencing the examples of Ancient Greece and contemporary America as models for Europeans to follow. In his time, it was clear that in order to establish a unified Europe, the crowned heads of centuries-old monarchies would not accept such an idea through diplomacy. So, he tried to accomplish his dream via warfare, which of course failed. In fact, it took even worse wars than those fought by Napoleon for Europeans to finally realize that they best chance for stability lied in peaceful unification and so ultimately the dreams of a “United States of Europe” were ultimately realized through decades of diplomacy in the aftermath of humanity’s worst conflicts.

1. Napoleon’s Tragic End

death-napoleon

26 April 1821, less than a month before his death: “I have just seen my good Josephine, but she didn’t want to kiss me. She slipped away the moment I wanted to take her in my arms. She was sitting there; it was as if I had last seen her only the night before. She hadn’t changed, always the same, still completely devoted to me. She told me we were going to see each other again and never again leave each other. She has promised me. Did you see her?”

We end our list by coming full circle. We started with Josephine and so we shall end with her. After all, Napoleon’s reported last word was, “Josephine.” When all was said and done, when he began his final physical decline into death, his thoughts were not of great military campaigns or even fantastic political ambitions, but of the love of his life. In these dying utterances, we see not some larger than life legend, but a man, reflecting on his lost love.


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78 Comments

  1. Brant Meredith on

    I was always taught that Napoleon was just a ruthless, evil dictator with short man syndrome. after what we learned in class, and this article, i believe that he is not the man people has made him out to be. from respecting the Islamic religion to not allowing torture it shows that even while invading a country, you can still respect the beliefs and equality of others.

  2. In the beginning of the lecture I went into it thinking he was without a doubt an exploiter but the more I heard of him I want to say he’s without a doubt a liberator. Despite invading many countries and places he gave the same rights to them as he would give his own people. The main thing that caught my eye was that he told his soldiers to never torture the enemy. Also, unlike most commanders, Napoleon was brave and so brave that it can almost be considered crazy. Overall, I believe he was a good man.

  3. Hallie Fetterman on

    I found that the most shocking part of this article was that numerous authors have attempted to draw parallels between Hitler and Napoleon. I believe the two cannot be compared because Hitler was not a good man whereas Napoleon had the makings of becoming a good man. His stance on abolishing torture was admirable, as was his contribution to civilization through the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. As stated in the article, Napoleon’s worst act was re-instituting slavery. His quotation about the Santo Domingo affair reveals that upon reflection he knew he should have acted differently. By the time he comes to this realizatio,n however, it is too little too late. Based off of this information, I believe Napoleon had more tendencies to act like an exploiter earlier in his life, but those tendencies did not necessarily overtake his later years.

  4. I think that Napoleon was a fantastic leader! He showed a lot of love for his wife Josephine, although it seemed to be more of a physical and sexual attraction the way he talked in his letters to her. I really enjoyed the last quotation and the part where they said his last word was “Josephine”. That shows that he was attracted to her sexually and that he really did love her. Napoleon was very successful and he knew exactly what needed to be done. I really liked that Napoleon was against torturing men. He stated in the seventh quotation that it was useless. I believe that Napoleon was a liberator. He always wanted more land, but when he did conquer other people’s land, he still took their beliefs nad values into hands. Overall I think Napoleon was very successful and a great man. I think it’s ridiculous that they even tried to compare him to Hitler because they are exact opposites.

  5. Napoleon was a liberator and a lover. He overtook so much for the time period that it was his greatest legacy, but he should have known when to stop and not been greedy. It was almost too much for one man to lead all of that area, and trying to overtake Russia was brave but obviously not the best move he’s ever made.

  6. Honestly, I really had no opinion of Napoleon either way–good or bad. I didn’t know that much about him and had never studied him. From what I have learned, I believe that he was an exceptional thinker and leader. Do I agree with every decision/battle he made/fought? Of course not. But that doesn’t take away from his ability to strategize and command. As for his personal life, his heart appears to have been truly dedicated to his first wife, Josephine, and that is beautiful, but it is unfortunate that he wasn’t willing to be true to her, and, just like all of those non-dog lovers out there, he showed her no loyalty when he divorced her.

  7. While some can argue that at the end of his epic regime, Napoleon had become the very thing in which he stood for. He was tyrannical, gawdy and saw himself as something of a god-like figure, all aspects of a ruler a young Napoleon would not have endorsed. Nonetheless there simply is no military commander, or ruler of a country comparable to Napoleon. Time and again he was able to defeat his foes even when heavily overmatched.

  8. Napoleon was an amazing leader. He progressed so fast in military and had a real quality of leadership inside him. I believe that Napoleon had a clever aspect to him, and he used his way with people to be manipulative and achieve what he truly wanted. I think its interesting to see how he “used religion as a means by which to prevent further chaos as occurred in the French Revolution”. Napoleon had much more aspect him besides the revolution and military. I think him and his wife had a amazing story. So in the end, he knew how to win battles, and how analyze situations that leads to military and political success. His hunger of power may have been his downfall but he had a brilliant mind, and that can not be over looked.

  9. Napoleon was , in my belief, an exploiter who eventually became a liberator. He conquered nations ruthlessly and often showed no mercy towards his opponents. Although he was attempting to expand the power of France, he did so in a violent and blood-filled way. Many men were sacrificed and some of his battles that he led involved some of the greatest number of battle casualties in history. This was all due to his campaign ideas and goals. Therefore, in this way, I believe Napoleon left behind a great military, but did so at a price to many lives. However, after being exiled from France, he seemed to contain a few regrets such as the way he treated Negroes during his ruling. He also muttered the name of his long lost love right before he died, showing that he indeed can be sympathetic. Inc conclusion, Napoleon was a ruthless military rules, but after being defeated, he seemed to show a side of him that may not have been so bad after all.

  10. Dr. Zarzeczny,
    Between reading through this and our class lectures, I think that Napoleon was a great leader for that time. Today, his tactics would come across as crazy, forcing his men to move at times when he knew they wouldn’t all make it and taking insane risks. However, it was things like this that set him apart from every other leader. His narsarcism is what drove him to greatness and also what destroyed him in the end, he couldn’t stop himself.

  11. I believe that Napoleon was a liberator and he worked hard at trying to understand from different points of view even when he didnt agree such as with religion. He can be seen as a great man although he cheated on Josephine but it is apart of life. Josephine could not bear children and it should have been expected that Napoleon would cheat but that does not mean he did not still love her. I was excited to learn Napoleon’s thoughts on torture which is torture is useless and I believe that more people should come to realize that. Once of the best things Napoleon did was try to unite Europe, although he fault many bloody battles, this showed how much he started to care. Many other people may see this as Napoleon being greedy or selfish but I think he was trying to be positive. He was a very intelligent man and in that he was able to admit his mistakes. One of his mistakes was the way he treated the negroes so it was amazing to see two qoutes mentioning how he could have done better. Napoleon was a true liberator and he showed it.

  12. Dr. Zarzeczny,
    I really loved this article! I am always a fan of great quotes from great people. From what we have learned in class, and from reading Napoleon’s own words, I have to say that Napoleon was a liberator. Although he engaged in violent warfare and caused an unimaginable number of deaths, his intent was not to become tyrannical. His idea of uniting all the European countries into one nation seems to be indicative of what he was trying to do. Napoleon even recognized his error in the way he handled things at Santo Domingo which hardly sounds like an exploiter. If he truly was an exploiter, he would not have lamented over the Santo Domingo affair the way that he did. Napoleon’s view on torture is possibly the most telling sign that he was more of a liberator than an exploiter. He proved to be very much against the use of torture. One would assume that a true exploiter would encourage the use of torture to get what they wanted; however, Napoleon did not do this. Overall I believe that the evidence points to Napoleon being more of a liberator rather than an exploiter.

    • Dr. Matthew D. Zarzeczny, FINS on

      Dear Dani,

      Thanks! I am pleased to read that and I appreciate all these thoughtful comments from our readers!

      Sincerely,

      Matthew

  13. Tammy Thompson on

    Napoleon’s success on the battlefield defines him as one of the greatest military commanders in history. This, I believe, was his most important legacy. The reverberations of the Napoleonic wars were felt across Europe long after Napoleon’s death. While Napoleon was a great conqueror, he exploited the lands he conquered for the benefit of France (and himself), attaining money and land to broaden his empire. The most interesting fact about Napoleon perhaps was his romantic nature, and that his only concern upon death was that of Josephine.

  14. Overall I see Napoleon as more of an exploiter than a liberator. I feel that all he really wanted to accomplish in life was conquering more land and nations so that he could build up his empire, and that he would use any means necessary to accomplish this, which to me is selfish. Napoleon also re-instituted slavery, and although he realized that this was one of his greatest mistakes, it was a mistake that effected numerous amounts of people negatively. Although I am portraying Napoleon in a negative light, I do think that he did accomplish many great things as well. He was a very intelligent man, especially with military tactics, and was madly in love with his wife Josephine. He was able to bring France, which was an unstable nation, and turn it into an empire with power and influence in the world.

  15. After learning about Napoleon last week, I would have to say that I found him to be more of an exploiter than a liberator. Although Napoleon was known for his military strategy and success of winning battles, we learn of a man who exploited his success for his own political goals. Napoleon was willing to make his own peace deals for his own benefits. Also, Napoleon had re-instituted slavery which would bring harm to a lot of people and was still focusing on only his success, rather than that of France’s. Learning about Napoleon this past week, has allowed me to understand more about military battles, and France in general and have found it a very useful lesson.

    • Dr. Matthew D. Zarzeczny, FINS on

      Dear Jared,

      Great! I am happy you learned some good information!

      Best,

      MZ

  16. Last week was very enlightening to learn about Napoleon, I was surprised by the sentiment spirit this leader of the French had for his lovers, and for the faithfulness of a dog. The bloodshed of the soldiers, and the civilians, to numerous to count, has still persuaded me to find him an exploiter than a liberator. His responsibility to his countrymen, and the nation of France should have been his top priority, instead of conquering Europe. This endeavor, and expense could have re-built his nation, and enforced his ideals that he is so eloquently quoted. His march into Russia was a diabolical loss of life and disertion, that should never be forgotten, even though he may live in the dreams of all, who wish to conquer. As a military leader, a persuader of men to follow, a charismatic conqueror, this past week of class gave a complete picture of the man who was not “King” of France, but crowned himself, Emperor.

  17. When we were first learning about Napoleon in class, I also thought he was an exploiter. He was always out for more; he invaded so many countries to get more land until he was finally defeated. Like the above person said, he even crowned himself Emperor. However, the more I learned in class on him I changed my opinion of him. He actually tried to learn about other people and believed in everyone having rights. I just didn’t know the man had a raunchy romantic side to him, very interesting to say the least.

  18. Hi Dr. Zarzenczy,

    With all of the information presented to us thus far in Western Civ II, it is my belief that Napoleon was on a journey of maturation. When young and first in a position of power, he was all about liberation, the people, and justice. However, as time went on, the naivety started to cease and Napoleon became more and more of an exploiter. When he first started leading France, Napoleon took on military conquests that were accomplishable and realistic. Unfortunately, as time went on and Napoleon’s ego began to get in the way, he started taking on military exploits such as Russia. Which only resulted in massive loss of life and a major loss for France. Through out Napoleon’s journey through leading France, it is my belief that he started first as a liberator but sadly ended his life as an exiled exploiter.

    Thanks,

    Rachel Kirsch

  19. Dan Heidenreich on

    After learning about Napoleon these past couple days I have landed on the decision that he was more of an exploiter than a liberator. A liberator would have his or her mindset on the good of the people and or the country they are in control of. Napoleon was more worried about conquering anything he could get his hands on. Even though that outlook on things made him one of the most historical leaders in all of history it does not make him a liberator. Some of the measures that he took to acquire land were cynical. With everything that has been said I stand by my opinion on Napoleon being more of an exploiter than liberator.

  20. Before learning more about Napoleon, I would have definitely said he was an exploiter. Having listened to the lectures the past week in addition to this article, however, I would say he was a liberator and a decent man. Napoleon did whatever he had to do to get the job done, but he never treated the enemy unnecessarily bad. He respected their values and customs; I really like that he didn’t approve of torturing the enemy. It makes me realize that even though he may not have been a perfect individual, he was human, and never forgot that his enemies were also humans. Moreover, the fact that he was quoted talking about how a woman’s heart is a treasure indicates that he loved just like we all do, and had a tenderness that may not have necessarily been obvious to someone just reading a history textbook. He may let his power go to his head, but he helped France become a much greater influence in the world.

  21. Clifford Vickery on

    I enjoyed this because it shed light on many sides of Napoleon that are seldom seen. However i feel like napoleans actions may have only contradicted his writings. He speak of a unity and equal rights but spends most of his life fighting and opressing others. He refers to a good woman as a “treasure” but spends most of his time off “jewel” hunting. As much as Napoleon was physically engaged in war. I fell he was also engaged in an internal war. It seems like Napoleon has a sence of Right and wrong however historically fails to take that into consideration and self interests always prevail.

  22. David Morrisnewell on

    I think Napoleon was a great military leader, but I also think he needed to learn when and where to quit. Not necessarily give up, but if he had found a good stopping point, maybe he would have lived longer and possibly viewed less as an exploiter.

  23. My fiancee is a YSU graduate with a degree in history. She studied for a year in Europe. She has come to convince me, mostly because of his love for Josephine, that Napoleon was more good than bad. His life was far more intriguing than I had ever thought before this year. Before February, most of my knowledge of Napoleon was taken from The Count of Monte Cristo…

  24. Number 5, I think its pretty true in some circumstances. Ive seen it reflected in some men that I know of that dont like dogs and they either committed adultery, divorced eventually, violent in their relationship, etc. Now of course i’m not saying this is always true. Every situation is different. Maybe its just coincidence between the two but in someway its true, but not always. Good analysis from Napoleon though

  25. Christie Wade on

    This is a great article- it really makes you realize that, while a powerful leader, Napoleon is a person just like the rest of us. His love for Josephine and dogs is what made this stand out to me the most!

    • Dr. Matthew D. Zarzeczny, FINS on

      Dear Christie,

      Thanks! I am glad you enjoyed it! Wow! Seventy comments already! I am pleased that so many of you have found this list worth commenting on. Would you like to see more lists of fascinating quotations by famous people?

      Best,

      Matthew

  26. I think this article shows how Napoleon wasn’t a nasty leader like some think. He deeply cared for Josephine and even hallucinated about her on his deathbed. Napoleon’s main downfall was his ambition for land and to conquer the world, but honestly who can blame him? If you can conquer that much land, you are going to want more. It is human nature.

  27. By far i found this to be the most interesting article straight from the beginning. Kind of though maybe their should have been top 10 romantic Napoleon and top 10 Napoleon quotes. I saw the romantic part of it quite interesting from a guy like Naopeon.

    • Dr. Matthew D. Zarzeczny, FINS on

      Dear Yevgeniy,

      Good suggestion! Napoleon wrote many, many love letters to his wives that make him seem far less like the stereotypical tyrant.

      Sincerely,

      Matthew

  28. Mark Jackson on

    What I found interesting in this article was the fact that Napoleon was actually quite human. The majority of the time he is depicted as a little angry man on a horse. However, These quotes show that Napoleon had a different side to him. My favorite quote was the quote about dogs. I like how he compares dogs hand being faithful to a cause. Napoleons men, I am sure, had to be dog lovers.