Napoleon - A Biography by Frank McLynn, chapter name CHAPTER THREE


Napoleon left the Ecole Royale Militaire, Paris, on z8 October 1 785 . Before heading south to join the La Fere regiment at Valence he went to see his patron, Bishop Marbeuf, whose luxurious quarters were at the Abbey Palace in St-Germain-des-Pres. Marbeuf gave him letters of introduction to a cleric of equivalent standing in Valence, Monsignor Tardivon. Although Napoleon was finished with Catholicism, he was still prepared to milk it for worldly advantage.

Two days later he departed southward on the Lyons stage. His route took him through Fontainebleau, Sens, Autun and Chalon-sur-Saone where, on 1 November he took the water coach down the Saone to Lyons. He completed his journey by post-boat and arrived in Valence on 3 November. Splendidly arrayed in the uniform of the La Fere regiment­ blue breeches, blue waistcoat, royal blue coat with red facings, pockets braided in red and epaulettes with gold and silver fringes - he was assigned to the bombardier company of Captain Masson d'Autevrive. The garrison at La Fere had seven artillery regiments (in turn divided into gunners, bombardiers and sappers) plus fifteen companies of workmen and miners. The La Fere regiment had the reputation of being a crack unit; it rose early, worked hard, and drilled as perfectly as an elite infantry regiment.

Second Lieutenant Bonaparte was the Number Four man in one of four bombardier companies. Each regiment contained twenty companies, fourteen of gunners, four of bombardiers and two sappers. Each company of about seventy men was commanded by a captain with three lieutenants under him. In the French system, five companies made up a brigade (commanded by a major), two brigades a battalion and two battalions a regiment. Napoleon underwent ten weeks of basic training, drilling first as a private, then as a corporal and finally as a sergeant. He afterwards paid tribute to this method of learning from the grass-roots up and attributed to it his famous 'common touch'.

On 10 January 1 786 he completed his probation as an officer. His duties were scarcely onerous:mounting guard,looking after the men,attending classes on mathematics, fortification, chemistry and physics. There was plenty of free time. From the copious notes Napoleon kept we know a great deal about how he spent his time: climbing Mont Roche Colombe, skating, visiting the towns of Romans and Tournon. He records that Valence, a town of s,ooo inhabitants, then chiefly notable for its citadel and a plethora of abbeys and priories, had more than its fair share of pretty women. Girls begin to be mentioned: on 4 December 1785, at a fiesta, he danced with a certain Mlle Mion-Desplaces. He was friendly with a Madame Gregoire de Colobier and her daughter Caroline, though the episode of eating cherries in the countryside with Caroline sounds suspiciously like a Rousseauesque fantasy (Rousseau did likewise with Mlle Galley).

Napoleon's principal problem was money. He had an income of r , r zo livres a year, made up of a basic salary of 8oo livres, plus zoo livres royal bounty and r zo livres lodging allowance. But because Carlo had died virtually penniless and Letizia had lost the protection of Marbeuf, Napoleon had to remit most of his earnings to Corsica to help his impoverished family; Letizia had a total of r ,zoo livres a year on which to keep herself and the younger children. Somehow or other she inveigled money for extras out of the notorious skinflint Archdeacon Luciano, who was the family miser. Napoleon therefore had to make do with very basic lodgings. He found a noisy room on the first floor of the Cafe Cercle, at the corner of the Grand-Rue and the rue du Croissant, where the landlady was a fifty-year-old spinster, Mlle Bou, who washed and looked after his clothes; the room and services cost just over eight livres. He took his meals in a cheap cafe named the Three Pigeons in rue Perollerie.

At Valence Napoleon launched himself on a career as a would-be writer. He penned a refutation of a book attacking his hero Rousseau. He wrote story called The Prophetic Mask about an Arab prophet who is defeated after a string of victories and commits suicide along with all his followers. Apart from underlining Napoleon's continuing fascination with the world of the Middle East, the tale and the sixteen-year-old lieutenant's notebooks testify eloquently at this time to a morbid preoccupation with suicide. How seriously should we take this? Partly it seems a fashionable Romantic pose, for Goethe's Werther, with his tired­ of-life melancholia, was a role model for educated young men of the time. But part of Napoleon's reflections on suicide do suggest a genuine pessimism about the world and the beginnings of a depressive illness. He wrote:


Always alone in the midst of men, I return to dream with myself and give myself up to all the force of my melancholy. What madness makes me desire my own destruction? Without doubt, the problem of what to do in this world . . . Life is a burden to me because I feel no pleasure and because everything is affliction to me. It is a burden to me because the men with whom I have to live, and will probably always live, have ways as di ferent from mine as the light of the moon from that of the sun. I cannot then pursue the only manner of living which could enable me to put up with existence, whence follows a disgust for everything.


The uneventful external tenor of life at Valence ended in August 1786 when the regiment was ordered up to Lyons to suppress a strike by silk workers; three 'ringleaders' were hanged and the strikers effectively cowed. Napoleon, who had often expressed his homesickness for Corsica, applied for leave and was granted it, to run from r October. Since officers in far-flung corners of France were allowed a month's travelling time in addition to leave, Napoleon set out for Corsica as soon as the military intervention in Lyons was complete. At Aix-en-Provence he visited his uncle Fesch, who had not yet completed his theological studies, and also Lucien, who had abandoned Brienne and come down to Aix to be trained as a priest. He finally reached Ajaccio on 1 5 September 1786, having been absent from the island for nearly eight years.

The reunion with Letizia and great-uncle Lucien was a particularly joyous one, though clouded by the financial shadows that hung over the family. Napoleon was shocked to find his mother doing all the household chores when he arrived home. He enquired about Joseph and learned that, in obedience to his father's wishes, he had given up all hope of a military career and turned to the paternal study, law. Hearing that he was now studying law at Pisa University, Napoleon wrote to him to say that the family honour required that Letizia be relieved of the worst drudgery; would Joseph therefore bring back a reliable servant? When Joseph came home a few months later, he brought with him the Italian domestic maid Saveria, who remained in Letizia's service for forty years.

To Joseph we owe a meticulous analysis of Napoleon's reading at the time: the classical authors in translation, especially Plutarch, Cicero, Livy, Cornelius Nepos and Tacitus; Macpherson's Ossian, Racine, Corneille, Voltaire, Montaigne, Montesquieu and, above all Rousseau and the Abbe Raynal. However, all the evidence suggests that Napoleon's reading was wide rather than deep. His knowledge of Rousseau was superficial and he was ignorant of much of Voltaire; he knew little of Montesquieu and less of Diderot; most surprising of all, he had not heard of Pierre Laclos's Les Liaisons Dangereuses, published four years earlier and significant both because it was heavily influenced by Rousseau and because Laclos, like Napoleon, was an artilleryman.

The entente between Napoleon and Joseph was particularly close during this leave. The two brothers held long, animated discussions on all the subjects that fascinated Napoleon. Joseph was said to have remarked later: 'Ah, the glorious Emperor will never compensate me for Napoleon, whom I loved so well, and whom I should like to meet again as I knew him in 1786, if indeed there is a meeting in the Elysian fields. ' But over both young men a financial shadow continued to hang, and in particular there was the problem of Carlo's mulberry groves. His investment was predicated on a subsidy from the French government which had been suspended because of financial retrenchment. Joseph had to return to his studies in Pisa, so it fell to Napoleon to try to sort out the implicit breach of contract.

On zr April 1787 Napoleon wrote to Colonel de Lance, his commanding officer in the La Fere regiment, enclosing a medical certificate stating that he was suffering from 'quartan ague', and requesting an extension of leave on grounds of illness. This was granted readily: Napoleon was informed he need not report back for duty until December 1787. To obtain leave after only nine months' service and then to be away from the regiment for what eventually turned out to be nearly two years suggests an extremely complaisant attitude to the professional officer by the ancien regime military authorities. Nor does there appear to have been any liaison between government departments, for nobody seemed to have questioned how Napoleon was too ill to be on military duty yet fit enough to make a long journey to Paris to lobby the financial bureaucracy about Carlo's mulberry groves. Such laxity was common in the pre- r 789 years: a colonel, for example, was required to be present with his regiment for only five months a year.

Napoleon's financial mission began when he left Corsica on r 2 September 1787. By the beginning of November he was installed at the Hotel de Cherbourg in the rue du Faubourg-St-Honore in Paris. For the first time he really got to know the French capital, having been a virtual prisoner at the Ecole Royale; he made the most of his time, visiting as many theatres as possible, with the Italian Opera a particular favourite. His audience with the Comptroller-General of Finance was abortive: nothing for the groves was offered. As if in compensation, Napoleon received the six-month extension of leave he had requested before leaving Corsica. This time he asked for prolongation on the ground that he wished to attend a meeting of the Corsican Estates; since he did not ask for pay, the request was granted.


The most significant event in the eighteen-year-old Napoleon's so­ journ in Paris was that he lost his virginity. On the freezing night of 22 November 1 787 he went to the Palais-Royal, then the red-light district, and picked up a prostitute. The Palais-Royal, bordering the Louvre and the Tuileries, had once belonged to Cardinal Richelieu and the due d'Orleans.  In  1 776 the gardens became the property of the due de Chartres, a libertine, who engaged the architect Victor Louis to build a theatre. While this was being constructed, a wooden gallery was put up, running alongside the gardens. Known as the camp des tartares, by 1 784 it was notorious for prostitution and petty theft; as the private property of the due de Chartres, it was safe from police raids. Meanwhile the theatre itself gradually took shape in the inner area of the Palais, which then became a centre for culture in its widest sense, both elite and popular. It was here that Napoleon made his first timid approaches to a fil de joie. He approached one who proved willing to talk about her experiences and what had driven her to this life. Encouraged by her ingenuousness, he took her back to his lodgings. They talked, then made love. Napoleon records that she was slight, slim and feminine and that she was a Breton,

from Nantes, who had been seduced by an army officer.

On New Year's Day 1 788 he arrived back in Ajaccio. The family's financial situation had worsened if anything and Letizia still had four children entirely dependent on her; in 1 788 Louis had his tenth birthday,

Pauline her eighth, Caroline her sixth and Jerome his fourth, and in addition there were fees payable for Lucien at the Aix seminary and Joseph at the University of Pisa. It is remarkable how quickly Napoleon, as the only breadwinner, was accepted as the head of the family, and how Joseph was quite prepared to defer to him. But by the time Napoleon departed from Ajaccio on 1 June 1 788 he had at least had the pleasure of seeing Joseph return from Pisa with the coveted title of Doctor of Laws. The La Fere regiment was by now stationed in Auxonne. Once again Napoleon dedicated himself to a Spartan existence. He lodged near the barracks, at the Pavilion de la Ville, where his room had a single cell-like window and was austerely furnished with just a bed, table and armchair. There was even less to do here than at Valence, and appearance at parade was required just once a week. In this period Napoleon became a genuine workaholic, alternating his writing of apprentice pieces with omnivorous reading, with special emphasis on history, Corsica and the theory of artillery. He was already learning to get by with a minimum of sleep; he rose at 4 a.m., took just one meal a day at 3 p. m. so as to save money, and went to bed at 10 p.m. after eighteen hours at his books.

The  ascetic  way  of life  seriously  affected  his  health.  Poor  diet,overwork and the cold and damp climate triggered physical exhaustion, which made his body prey to malaria. His only real friends in the barracks were the faithful Des Mazis and a Captain Gassendi, who appealed to Napoleon on three separate counts: as a man of letters, a distinguished geometer and an admirer of Corsica. But he fell out with an officer named Belly de Bussy; a duel was arranged, but intermediaries forced the two officers to compose their differences for the sake of the regiment. Evidently  Napoleon  did  sometimes  try the patience  of the  senior command, for he suffered a 24-hour arrest for reasons unknown; he was shut up in a cell with just a single law book for company - an experience he later claimed was useful when he came to draw up the Code Napoleon. But  on  the credit  side  Napoleon  attracted  the  attention  of the mathematics instructor, Professor Lombard, who in turn mentioned him to the commanding officer of all troops in Auxonne, Baron Jean-Pierre du Teil, as 'one to note'. Napoleon acquired an unrivalled knowledge of projectiles and ballistics and also honed his talents as a draughtsman. Among the most important influences on Napoleon the theoretician of artillery were the general's brother, Jean de Beaumont du Teil, whose handbook, published ten years earlier, stressed the massing of big guns at decisive moments in battle. Napoleon was also influenced by Jacques de Guibert, whose books stressed that a successful army depended on speed and should be prepared to live off the land. Yet another influence was the recently  published  work  by  Pierre  Bourcet,  which  prescribed  the separation of army divisions for the purpose of rapid movement, followed

by their rapid concentration just before a battle.

Such was Napoleon's dedication that in fifteen months at Auxonne he filled thirty-six manuscript notebooks with writings on artillery, history and philosophy. In August 1 788 he was singled out for his special aptitude and appointed commander of a demonstration company trying to devise ways of firing mortar shells from ordinary cannon. The danger of the work was offset by the opportunity to put favourite theories to the test. Napoleon also became the only second lieutenant to sit on a select regimental artillery committee. On z8 August he wrote to Fesch complaining of fever and warning that his appointment to the committee, over the heads of many captains, had caused considerable irritation and jealousy.

Du Teil liked to send his junior officers into the countryside to test their talent at choosing ground and spotting any topographical draw­ backs; often they would be asked to write a situation paper, explaining how a particular hill or village could be attacked or defended. The combination  of  assiduous  fieldwork  with  voracious  reading  turned


Napoleon into an artilleryman nonpareil. The one obstacle to rapid promotion under du Teil's benevolent eye was the nineteen-year-old's uncertain health. There was another protracted attack of fever in the final months of 1 788, after which Napoleon wrote to his mother that several fevers had laid him low; in common with most people in the eighteenth century, who knew nothing of the anopheles mosquito, he attributed his attacks of malaria to 'miasmata' arising from the nearby river. In similar vein he wrote to Archdeacon Lucien on 18 March 1 789: 'I have no other resource but work. I dress but once in eight days; I sleep but little since my illness; it is incredible; I retire at ten (to save candles) and rise at four in the morning. I take but one meal a day, at three; that is good for my health.'

At the beginning of April in the fateful year 1 789 du Teil received word of grain riots in the nearby town of Seurre. Napoleon was among one hundred officers and men immediately put on the twenty-mile march to Seurre to quell the disturbances. The rioters dispersed before the military came on the scene, but Napoleon and the troopers were kept on for two months, as a warning against any further uprising. After taking lodgings in the rue Dulac, Napoleon made his mark with the Intendant of Burgundy, who gave a supper for the officers and asked for the young Bonaparte as his personal escort on a horseback ride to Verdun-sur-les­ Doubs. On 29 May he returned to Auxonne, where he shortly afterwards wrote a famous letter to Paoli, lamenting that he was born at the very moment independent Corsica expired:

As the nation was perishing I was born. Thirty thousand Frenchmen were vomited on to our shores, drowning the throne of liberty in waves of blood. Such was the odious sight which was the first to strike me. From my birth, my cradle was surrounded by the cries of the dying, the groans of the oppressed and tears of despair. You left our island and with you went all hope of happiness. Slavery was the price of our submission. Crushed   the triple yoke of the soldier, the law-maker and the tax  our compatriots live despised.

Napoleon liked swimming, but in the summer of 1 789 he was seized by cramp in the Saone and nearly drowned. Superstitiously, he linked his own near-tragedy with the alarming events taking place that summer in Paris. On 1 5 July he wrote to Archdeacon Lucien in high excitement about the 'astonishing and singular' news reaching them. Soon the revolutionary current sweeping France affected Auxonne and even the La Fere regiment. On 19 July the local people rose in revolt, burnt the register of taxes and destroyed the offices of a Farmer-General. The men of the La Fere regiment stood idly by and, a little later, caught the spirit of mutiny themselves. They marched to du Teil's house, demanded money with menaces, got drunk and compelled some officers to drink with them and dance the farandole. Order was eventually restored, but du Teil thought it best to break up the regiment and canton it in different locations along the banks of the Saone. Napoleon, who on 23 August took an oath of fidelity to Nation, King and the Law, apparently confessed that he would have obeyed du Teil and turned his guns on the mutineers, even though his ideological sympathies were with the Revolution.

For some time Napoleon had been requesting another period of furlough, and this was eventually granted on 2 r August, but after the trouble with his regiment, du Teil thought that no leave at all should be granted. He was, however, overruled by the provincial governor who sensibly thought that such punitive action would simply increase the sum total of resentment. Napoleon's leave was granted from rs October but, given the usual month's 'long-distance' travelling time, he left for Corsica on 9 September. He accompanied the Baron du Teil as far as Lyons, then continued alone to Valence, where he took the river coach to the mouths of the RhOne. In Marseilles he visited his hero the Abbe Raynal before crossing to Ajaccio, where he arrived at the end of September 1 789.

On this leave, Napoleon began his career as Corsican politician - or troublemaker, as his critics would have it. Learning that the new military commander in Corsica, the Vicomte de Barrin, was a timid and irresolute man with just six battalions at his call, Napoleon trimmed and temporized with the Revolutionary faction, now dominant on the island. The politics of Corsica were of quite extraordinary complexity, with personal politics and class conflict overlying clan loyalties and ideological struggle. Early in 1789, the situation had been reasonably clear. To the famous meeting of the Estates-General in Versailles went the comte de Buttafuoco, who had asked Rousseau to write a constitution for Corsica, representing the nobility; Peretti della Rocca for the clergy; and for the Third Estate Colonna Cesari and X Saliceti.


However, the outbreak of the French Revolution in  1789 was,  for Corsica, like applying a match to a powder-keg. On the royalist side the vicomte de Sarrin was soon outflanked by firebrands like his deputy General Gaffori. Corsica largely embraced the Revolutionary cause, and the first Constituent Assembly adopted a resolution that the island was no longer conquered territory but an integral part of France. In February 1790 Saliceti was instrumental in getting the Assembly to grant an amnesty to Paoli and invite him to return to the island.

This was the context in which Napoleon, together with Joseph, who was turning himself into a professional politician, started to acquire a reputation as a small-time 'fixer'. He was in Bastia in early November 1 789, and the fact that a popular rising took place there five days after his arrival has always seemed more than coincidence. The first three months of 1 790 saw him active with Joseph in the election campaigns for the new Corsican assembly, and on 1 2 April he and Joseph were present at a nine­ hour meeting of the new Assembly at Orezza. It was no wonder that the commander of the Ajaccio garrison complained to the Minister of War in December 1789 as follows: 'This young officer was educated at the Ecole Militaire. His sister is at St-Cyr and his mother has received countless kindnesses from the government. This officer had much better be with his regiment since he spends all his time stirring up trouble.'

On 16 April 1790 Napoleon wrote to du Teil to request a prolongation of his leave, on the grounds that he was suffering from anaemia and needed to take the waters of Orezza. The request was so clearly bogus that it is surprising that du Teil granted an extension of four-and-a-half months with pay until October, but we must remember that by this time he was something of a cynosure with his commanding officer. It was not the water at Orezza Napoleon was interested in, but the hot air of political disputation, for between 9 and 27 September he and Joseph were in daily attendance at the Paolistas 'party conference'. The sessions were dominated by Paoli, who, aged sixty-six and whitehaired, had made a triumphant return to Corsica, landing at Bastia on 1 7 July, where Napoleon met him.

The Assembly held at Orezza halted the growing move for the partition of the island (for in addition to every other complexity, there was a separatist movement within Corsica) and settled on Bastia as the capital. The stage was now set for head-to-head conflict in the Corsican Assembly between the partisans of Buttafuoco and Paoli. In this tactical battle Saliceti decisively outpointed Buttafuoco and the clerical represen­ tative Peretti; the Third Estate and the Paolistas now held the whip hand in Corsica.

For the whole of 1 790 Napoleon was in effect a Corsican politician. He did try to rejoin his regiment in October, but his ship was driven back to Ajaccio several times by adverse winds. He used the time to get Joseph elected to the Ajaccio municipal council, even though the Bonapartes' enemies produced Joseph's birth certificate to show that he was too young to serve. With the Republican majority on the Council behind him,


Napoleon advocated stern measures against the island's reactionaries; hounding them from office Napoleon justified under the formula salus populi suprema lex. By the time of his departure in January 1791 he was both founder member and leading light of the Ajaccio Jacobin Club and was commissioned to write a philippic denouncing Paoli's enemy Buttafuoco.

At the end of the month Napoleon left Corsica, taking with him his twelve-year-old brother Louis, in order to ease the financial pressure on his mother. After spending a few days in Valence, he arrived in Auxonne on 1 1 February 179 1 . Technically he had overstayed his leave and was therefore liable to lose pay since the end of October, but he brought with him certificates from the municipal council at Ajaccio, stating that repeated and sustained storms in the Mediterranean had made a sailing impossible all that time. Colonel de Lance accepted this and put in a request, rubber-stamped by the Ministry of War, that the back salary be paid.

Napoleon's relations with Louis at Auxonne seem to have been largely a rerun of the disastrous overlap with Lucien at Brienne in 1784. The twelve-year-old slept on a mattress in a cabinet adjoining Napoleon's room and was taken aback at his brother's poverty: here was just a single room, poorly furnished, without curtains, a bed and two chairs and a table in the window covered with books and papers, at which Napoleon worked for fifteen to sixteen hours a day. Napoleon did his best to look after the lad, cooking him meals, including a cheap but nourishing broth, and teaching him a smattering of French, geography and mathematics. But the two were ill-matched in temperament, sensibility and intellect, and Louis was an ingrate. Napoleon wrote to Fesch that Louis had acquired some social graces and was a favourite with women, who wanted to mother him, but Louis himself hinted in a letter to Joseph that he hated it at Auxonne and wanted to go home.

If Napoleon still retained his favour with du Teil and his regimental colonel, he seems by his new-found Jacobin sympathies to have alienated the largely royalist officers in the mess. After one particularly acrimoni­ ous altercation a group of his brother officers tried to throw him in the Saone; this was reported to the commanding officer, who did his best to pour oil on troubled waters. Perhaps for this reason he was judiciously 'kicked upstairs' with a promotion to first lieutenant and a transfer at the beginning of June to the 4th Artillery Regiment at Valence.

Another factor in Napoleon's transfer was the general reorganization of artillery following a decree of the National Assembly in early 179 1 . To break down the old allegiances and substitute 'rational' solidarity with the new regime, the Assembly abolished the names of regiments, which were henceforth to be designated only by numbers. The La Fere became the First Regiment. Napoleon's new regiment, the Fourth, was formerly known as the Grenoble regiment. Napoleon once again showed himself scarcely to be a man of the 'new' rationalistic ideology of the Revolution, for he had a powerful sentimental attachment to the La Fere, and even petitioned to stay where he was. But the order was confirmed, so on 14 June he left Auxonne.

He arrived in Valence on r6 June and took his old room with Mile Bou. Once again he tried to involve Louis in his ambitions as a polymath, introducing  the  boy  to  astronomy,  law,  statistics,  English  politics, Merovingian history and the writings of Racine, Corneille and Rousseau. Yet Napoleon could not quite be the recluse of old, for the pace of events at Paris was forcing all Army officers to decide where they stood politically. Four days after Napoleon joined his new regiment at Valence, Louis XVI was involved in the disastrous flight to Varennes, which was the beginning of the end for the monarchy. As a result of the Varennes imbroglio, all Army officers were compelled to take a new oath, to the new Constitution and the National Assembly: to maintain the Constitu­ tion against all enemies internal and external, to resist invasion and to obey no orders except those validated by the Assembly's decrees; the oath had to be written by each officer in his own hand and signed by him. The oath caused schism in the Army, setting brother against brother, friend against friend . For example, Desaix, Napoleon's greatest general in later years, threw in his lot with the new regime, while his two brothers resigned. The net result was that royalist officers resigned in droves, opening up thousands of vacancies in the officer class and giving meaning to the Revolutionary ideal of social mobility. Many joined the emigres abroad. Thirty-two officers in the 4th Regiment refused to take the oath, but Napoleon signed his on 6 July. He had the reputation of being an ultrapolitical, overserious officer and had to pay heavy fines for violating the mess code against talking shop; because of his outspoken political views some of his comrades refused to speak to him and others would not sit next to him at table.

Napoleon joined the Club of Friends of the Constitution, the Jacobin society of Valence. There was an ali-day meeting of two hundred members on 3 July which Napoleon attended. As yet, however, he was still running with the hare and the hounds, for on 25 August he ostentatiously celebrated Louis XVI's birthday with his brother officers at the Three Pigeons.

Napoleon was by now bored and restless, and his workaholic reading programmes gave way to visits, to Grenoble, Tain, Tournu. One of his excursions had more point, for he visited General du Teil at his chateau of Pommiers and came away with yet another dispensation for leave, this time on the grounds that Archdeacon Lucien was dying. Behind this seemingly innocent visit was great Machiavellian calculation. On 4 August 1 79 1 , finding itself short of troops, the National Assembly authorized the raising of volunteer battalions in each departement. It was also decreed that serving officers could hold posts in such battalions without forfeiting their regular army rank. Napoleon applied to his new colonel, Campagnol, for leave, speaking vaguely of family business, but Campagnol turned him down, almost certainly because Napoleon had already spent thirty-two months of his first six years' service on leave. The ambitious young lieutenant simply went above his head to du Teil, who was now Inspector-General of Artillery.

The likelihood is that the Bonaparte brothers set off for Corsica, and a certificate from the municipality of Ajaccio shows Napoleon to have landed there in September, but historians have raised the difficulty that his name also appears as being among those present at a review of his regiment on 30 October. The most likely explanation is that some friendly officers covered for him to avoid becoming ensnarled in Army bureaucracy, perhaps even calling out 'present' when his name was called. Certain it is that by 16 October he and Louis were back in Ajaccio, at the Archdeacon's bedside.


There is an apocryphal sound to the story in Joseph's memoirs that the dying Lucien said: 'Napoleon, you will be a great man,' and then bade Joseph defer to him. On the other hand, Napoleon did later refer to the deathbed scene as 'like Jacob and Esau'. But there was nothing mythical or apocryphal about the money Lucien left the Bonapartes. The old miser, who was said to keep a chest of gold coins under his bed which he claimed was not his but the Church's, left a significant amount of money. By the end of 1791 Napoleon and Joseph were co-owners of a house and a vineyard in the environs of Ajaccio; in addition, Napoleon estimated he spent 5,ooo francs getting himself elected as Lieutenant-Colonel and second-in-command of a regiment of Corsican volunteers in 1792 - in an episode which merits further examination for the light it throws on Napoleon the Machiavellian.


Napoleon's release from abject poverty in late 1791 launched him into the final phase of his abortive career as a Corsican politician. What kind of political views did the ambitious first lieutenant hold at this juncture, itself a turning point in the wider French Revolution? To establish this we must examine the copious writings he churned out in the period1786--<) 1 . What becomes clear is that Napoleon wrote under a dual stimulus: he was still a fanatical Corsican nationalist and partisan of Paoli whom he worshipped only just this side of idolatry; and he took his immediate inspiration  from  his  undisciplined  and eclectic reading.

The 1786 composition Sur le Suicide reveals a mixture of Napoleon as fervent Paolista and young Werther. It evinces a hatred of France and his immediate physical surroundings, a barely suppressed eroticism and a ruthless desire for pleasures either forbidden or unaffordable, a thirst for fame and, as ever with the young Napoleon, the gallery touch. Napoleon so far seemed to have derived from his reading of the classical authors only the tawdry tricks of fustian rhetoric, as in the following: 'Frenchmen! Not content with bereaving us of all we cherish, you have, besides, corrupted our morals.'

His next significant composition was Sur !'Amour de Ia Patrie, written in Paris in 1787. The basic notion of love of a fatherland is illustrated entirely from antiquity or the history of Corsica, and France features merely as the personification of hubris or overweening ambition. But the most significant thing about this essay is that it was composed just five days after he lost his virginity to the Breton prostitute in the Palais Royal. Napoleon's guilt about sexuality is evident, for he pitches into modern woman and suggests that the female sex should emulate the women of Sparta. 'You, who now chain men's hearts to your chariot wheels, that sex whose whole merit is contained in a glittering exterior, reflect here upon your triumph [i .e. in Sparta] and blush at what you no longer are.' This essay is a priceless clue to Napoleon's inner psychic development. In thrall to a 'mother complex', Napoleon clearly found the encounter with the prostitute traumatic, as it threatened his ties to Letizia. At the unconscious level, therefore, the Spartan matron content to see her dead son brought home on a shield is conflated with the idealized picture of the 'Spartan' Letizia carrying Napoleon in the womb while fleeing in the maquis.

Usually, however, the spur for Napoleon's writings lay nearer the surface, in the books he had just devoured. His taste in reading was catholic, embracing a historical novel about Alcibiades, the back-to­ nature novel La Chaumiere Indienne by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, a popular psychology book The Art ofJudging Character from Men 's Faces by Jean Gaspard Lavater, Buffon's Histoire Naturelle, Marigny's History of the Arabs, Voltaire's Essai sur les M11?urs, Rollin's Ancient History, Lavaux's biography of Frederick the Great, Plato, Machiavelli and Coxe on Switzerland. The famous example of dramatic irony, which all biographers comment on, occurred when he was perusing the Abbe de Ia Croix's Geographie and wrote in his notebook 'St Helena, small island'. He was at one time totally absorbed in John Barrow's History of England and made a hundred pages of manuscript notes on it. Some critics of Napoleon say that he read too many second-rate authors, who simply put the reader through a series of paradoxical hoops in the eighteenth-century manner and produced a warped view of the world and historical events. But we should remember that he was also reading Montesquieu, Corneille, Plutarch, Adam Smith and other classics at the same time, so this thesis cannot be pushed too far.

A more interesting study is the use to which Napoleon put his omnivorous reading in his own writings. His early short story, Le Masque Prophete, derives heavily from Marigny's history of the Arabs, and the ghost story, Le Comte d 'Essex, set in England in 1 683 , relies wholly on Barrow's history. Another piece of fiction, inspired by his research for the projected history of Corsica, and containing a very strong subtext of support for the island's 'code of honour', was the romantic horror story he began to write in 1789 entitled Nouvelle Corse. Ostensibly a fantasy of utopia on a desert island, it is actually a grand guignol catalogue of murder and atrocity, where Frenchmen are slaughtered in droves because of an oath of vendetta. The story ends after eight pages, leaving critics to wonder how Napoleon could possibly have topped his opening which, in its absurdity, reminds one of the Goldwynism: Start with an earthquake and build up to a climax.

In many ways Napoleon's non-fictional output is even odder. The Lettres a Buttafuoco, written on 23 January 179 1 , reveal him as, at this stage of his life, a very unsubtle propagandist: he simply accuses the Corsican-born field marshal of treason and then produces a feeble version of Cicero or Demosthenes in full flight. 0 Lameth! 0 Robespierre! 0 Petion! 0 Volney! 0 Mirabeau! 0 Barnave! 0 Bailly! 0 Lafayette! This is the man who dares to sit beside you! Drenched in the blood of his brothers, tainted with every sort of crime, he dares to call himself the representative of the nation - he who sold it.


Paoli, whether through annoyance at the 'over the top' style or because Napoleon had mentioned representatives who sat on the left wing of the assembly, wrote curtly to Joseph: 'I have received your brother's pamphlet. It would have been more impressive if it had said less and been less partisan. '

But 179 1  saw a more important work, for the Academy of Lyons offered a prize of 1,200 livres (a year's salary) for an essay answering the question: 'What are the most important truths and feelings to instil into men for their happiness?' During the long periods of leisure at Auxonne and Valence in the spring and summer of 179 1, the talented young lieutenant got down to work. Although Napoleon did not win the prize (the Academy decided that none of the essays submitted was of sufficient quality), Napoleon's forty-page dissertation is an invaluable source for his political views as he passed his twenty-second birthday.

Napoleon's basic tenet that morality is a function of freedom is simply a rechauffie of Rousseau and Raynal and it sets the tone for what is to follow, which is eclectic when it is not being directly derivative. Napoleon poses himself the problem of reconciling feelings and reason and, not surprisingly, fails - not surprisingly, when we consider that Rousseau himself had not solved the conundrum. As Bertrand Russell later impishly remarked, Byron's Corsair, with his limitless freedom, is the clearest manifestation of the Romantic movement inspired by Rousseau, but the actual corsair, in Rousseau's ideal society, would find himself behind bars.

Napoleon's essay is remarkable for four things: the paradoxical insistence that the much trumpeted 'apostles of freedom' were the true tyrants, while the so-called tyrants were the real patriots; a sense of sexual confusion 'solved' by draconian prescriptions; social nostrums which, if written in the twentieth century, would merit the epithet 'quasi-fascistic'; and a continuing Francophobia and dislike of Christianity as a religion not of this world and hence an irrelevance in social theory. For Napoleon magnanimity is weakness - as when in Voltaire's Azire the dying hero forgives his assassin instead of crying out for vengeance and vendetta - and the true hero is not the 'bleeding heart' but the statesman who recognizes the iron dictates of necessity; hence Caesar was a great man while Brutus is an 'ambitious madman'.

Napoleon's fulmination against adultery, as when he says that adulterous bachelors should be denounced to the whole community, strongly suggests that sexuality in general, and this aspect in particular, contained some hidden menace which Napoleon dared not admit; in this sense his essay was a continuation of the thoughts expressed in Sur/'Amour de la Patrie. The dislike of capitalism, and preference for traditional, medieval types of society, which is such a feature of modern fascism, is clearly on view in Napoleon's contempt for documentary title over customary right as the key to ownership of land: 'What! are those the title deeds of such gentry? Mine are more sacred, more irrefutable, more universal! They reveal themselves in my sweat, they circulate with my blood, they are written in my sinews, my heart; indispensable to my existence and, above all, to my happiness.'

Coursing through the essay, i s the Rousseauesque conviction that Corsica was the acme of social and moral achievement. Scholars may dispute the fine points, but it is possible to discern for the first time a slight ebbing in the hitherto overt Paoli-mania. One factor may have been the snub Napoleon received from the great man while he was writing the Lyons essay. On 14 March 1791 Napoleon sent some chapters of his history of Corsica to Paoli and requested his help in getting access to certain documents that would make the projected history better grounded in unpublished sources. This was a fairly simple favour to ask, as Paoli's word on such a matter was tantamount to a command. But Paoli rebuffed the young man brutally, scouting the entire enterprise and writing curtly (on 2 April): 'Youth is not the age for writing history.'

The career of the young Napoleon and his early writings alert us to contradictory aspects of his personality that he never succeeded in integrating. The most obvious contradiction was that between the mathematician and the romantic dreamer. Napoleon was a devotee of science and believed in bringing logic and mathematical clarity to bear on problems. He also had a Gradgrind-like appetite for facts: in his early notebooks he lists the 40,000 lettres de cachet issued by Cardinal Fleury between 1 726-43, Mohammed's seventeen wives, Suleiman's consump­ tion of meat, and so on. This passion for encyclopedic knowledge and exact science collided with a countervailing current of extreme irration­ ality. As a disciple of the gathering Romantic movement, Napoleon entertained wild and unrestrained fantasies about war, tragedy and high adventure. As Bertrand Russell pointed out, this convergence of extreme rationality and extreme unreason was perhaps the most striking thing about Rousseau himself, and Rousseau at this time continued to be Napoleon's supreme intellectual mentor.

It is probable that the romantic fantasist represented the true Napoleon more deeply than the mathematician and man of science: the latter was what he was, the former what he aspired to be. This is borne out by his subsequent behaviour. Napoleon liked to cultivate a surface of calm, no matter how grave the crisis. The calmness and unflappability were supposed to denote a 'mathematical' rationality, but they concealed . a volcano beneath, which would often come spewing out in the form of violent rage. Certainty on this point is prevented only by another characteristic of Napoleon: his thespian persona, which meant that he often staged bogus rages to achieve certain ends or to observe their effects.


The tacking between contradictory polarities also explains Napoleon's ambiguous political persona. He was deeply committed to the anti­ monarchism and the anticlericalism of the French Revolution, yet had a visceral attraction for the hierarchical order of the ancien regime. Harsh critics said Napoleon was so keen to get to Corsica on leave in 179 1 because he had worked out that his career prospects were better there. Naturally there is a lot of truth in this, but it is also probable that Napoleon felt paralysed by the contradictory political impulses afflicting him in France in 1 79 1 and wanted to escape to Corsica to 'solve' the dilemma.

Overlaying Corsican culture with the values and ideology of Rousseau and the Enlightenment was bound to create confusions and contradic­ tions. Some point to the conflict between Napoleon's shameless indulgence of the Bonaparte family and his claim to represent modernity and reason, and conclude that the extreme irrationality noted above was the Corsican legacy, with France contributing the Revolutionary cult of reason. But the contradictions in Napoleon's thought and behaviour persisted long after he had jettisoned Corsica and all its works, so it may be that Napoleon's 'traditional' manifestations - the hatred of anarchy, the fear of the mob, the strong family feeling - simply meant that his heart was with the ancien regime even if his brain was with the Revolution. The deepest obstacle to Napoleon as a man of the Revolution always remained his profound pessimism about human perfectibility and his conviction that human beings were fundamentally worthless.

The final aspect of the young Napoleon worth dwelling on is a continuing uncertainty about sexual identity. This part of the early record is particularly murky. In 1 789, at Auxonne, Napoleon is said to have asked for the hand in marriage of one Manesca Pillet, stepdaughter of a wealthy timber merchant. Since Napoleon had no worthwhile prospects at this time and his suit was unlikely to be entertained by a wealthy bourgeois family, it may be that if such an overture was made, it was made, unconsciously at least, so that it would be rejected and Napoleon could continue to regard himself as a perfect Ishmael.

Another puzzling liaison from these early years is the friendship he allegedly struck up with a Corsican sculptor nine years his senior, Joseph Ceracchi by name. Certain students of Napoleon, Belloc among them, have hinted that the relationship was homosexual, and that the young Bonaparte was therefore fundamentally bisexual in orientation. All we know for certain is that Ceracchi tried to renew the acquaintance when Napoleon was famous, that he was rebuffed, turned against his old friend and was eventually executed for conspiracy in 1 802. However, it seems likely that Napoleon's sexual difficulties lay along quite other lines, which involved the island of his birth. The key psychological moment that saw the birth of the mature Napoleon was the traumatic denouement of the Corsican saga in 1792-93 ·