Dictator or Deliverer? Napoléon Bonaparte, the man and the myth
As a young student I became madly fascinated by Napoleon Bonaparte. It was his prodigious mental capacity, the scope of his vision and outrageous self confidence that captured my imagination. For me, no other person in modern history could approach let alone surpass this man. I was taught by Irish nuns who were also intrigued by the man who asserted his will in the midst of chaos creating the code Napoleon, reforming the educational system and establishing the concept of merit in the public service to name but a few of his achievements. Of course to others he was seen as a dictator who tried to make the known world French. Every now and then in an Australian paper an article will appear entitled ‘What if the French had first discovered Australia?’ The article will then wistfully suggest that we would have a Brasserie on every corner, fine wine for lunch, afternoon naps and deep and meaningful philosophical discussions late into the night. If only…
Napoleon was of course interested in Australia and sent his best man, Nicolas Baudin, to investigate. Unfortunately he failed to achieve the Emperors request and died in the process. Napoleon was reputed to have said ‘Baudin did well to die, on his return I would have hanged him’
I thought of such things as I visited the tomb of Napoleon yesterday. This flamboyantly ornate memorial brought up other memories as well. The current President of France, Francois Hollande, sitting in the cold square of the building hugging his black coat last November while the names of the young people who died in the Paris attacks, were read aloud. I felt sadness at the memory of such terrible loss of life. Yet it was a fitting place to acknowledge these young people who in their own ways have dramatically influenced the life of modern France.