Friday, May 31, 2013

What Tolstoy Said About Napoleon in "War & Peace"...

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WAR&PEACE: On the thirteenth of June a rather small, thoroughbred Arab horse was brought to Napoleon. He mounted it and rode at a gallop to one of the bridges over the Niemen, deafened continually by incessant and rapturous acclamations which he evidently endured only because it was impossible to forbid the soldiers to express their love of him by such shouting... He rode across one of the swaying pontoon bridges to the farther side, turned sharply to the left, and galloped in the direction of Kovno, preceded by enraptured, mounted chasseurs of the Guard who, breathless with delight, galloped ahead to clear a path for him through the troops. On reaching the broad river Viliya, he stopped near a regiment of Polish Uhlans stationed by the river.

"Vivat!" shouted the Poles, ecstatically, breaking their ranks and pressing against one another to see him.

Napoleon looked up and down the river, dismounted, and sat down on a log that lay on the bank. At a mute sign from him, a telescope was handed him which he rested on the back of a happy page who had run up to him, and he gazed at the opposite bank. Then he became absorbed in a map laid out on the logs. Without lifting his head he said something, and two of his aides-de-camp galloped off to the Polish Uhlans.

"What? What did he say?" was heard in the ranks of the Polish Uhlans when one of the aides-de-camp rode up to them.

The order was to find a ford and to cross the river. The colonel of the Polish Uhlans, a handsome old man, flushed and, fumbling in his speech from excitement, asked the aide-de-camp whether he would be permitted to swim the river with his Uhlans instead of seeking a ford. In evident fear of refusal, like a boy asking for permission to get on a horse, he begged to be allowed to swim across the river before the Emperor's eyes. The aide-de-camp replied that probably the Emperor would not be displeased at this excess of zeal.

As soon as the aide-de-camp had said this, the old mustached officer, with happy face and sparkling eyes, raised his saber, shouted "Vivat!" and, commanding the Uhlans to follow him, spurred his horse and galloped into the river.., heading for the deepest part where the current was swift. Hundreds of Uhlans galloped in after him. It was cold and uncanny in the rapid current in the middle of the stream, and the Uhlans caught hold of one another as they fell off their horses. Some of the horses were drowned and some of the men; the others tried to swim on, some in the saddle and some clinging to their horses' manes. They tried to make their way forward to the opposite bank and, though there was a ford one third of a mile away, were proud that they were swimming and drowning in this river under the eyes of the man who sat on the log and was not even looking at what they were doing. When the aide-de-camp, having returned and choosing an opportune moment, ventured to draw the Emperor's attention to the devotion of the Poles to his person, the little man in the gray overcoat got up and, having summoned Berthier, began pacing up and down the bank with him, giving him instructions and occasionally glancing disapprovingly at the drowning Uhlans who distracted his attention.

For him it was no new conviction that his presence in any part of the world, from Africa to the steppes of Muscovy alike, was enough to dumfound people and impel them to insane self-oblivion. He called for his horse and rode to his quarters.

Some forty Uhlans were drowned in the river, though boats were sent to their assistance. The majority struggled back to the bank from which they had started. The colonel and some of his men got across and with difficulty clambered out on the further bank... That evening.., Napoleon also gave instructions that the Polish colonel who had needlessly plunged into the river should be enrolled in the Legion d'honneur of which Napoleon was himself the head. 

(War & Peace Chapter II, Book Nine)

What Tolstoy 'FORGOT' to Say about Napoleon I in "War & Peace":

That Napoleon Plunged into the River to Rescue the Drowning Poles.

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THE FULL STORY: The Emperor [Napoleon i] knew that the welfare of every member of his forces was (it must be said) his responsibility. It was not a responsibility from which he withdrew for (as he put it) "I put myself in the position of being their father the moment they enlisted in my army. If I did not wish to assume this responsibility, I should have indeed retired to private life. That assuming this responsibility on my part has earned me the love of my soldiers is not something I take lightly. It makes me shudder to think of those who have taken power - and commanded armies - but have not felt this corresponding responsibility for human life. I should not rule without it, and could not live without it. Not to care about others is to live in hellish vanity, and not to act on that care is a misery."

Hence when [at the incident misdetailed by Tolstoy above]... Napoleon I realised that the Poles were indeed drowning, he did not hesitate. Throwing off his overcoat and gesturing that "all who can swim join me," he [threw aside his imperial business and] plunged into the river. As I have detailed earlier, Napoleon I was a sound swimmer and not afraid of depths or currents. He seized the nearest drowning Pole and pulled him to the bank. Forcing him [up the bank] (it must be said) but remembering that this was not the only victim of the rash act of the unit - "one can not be as gentle as one would wish when lives are at risk" Napoleon I frequently said. Then he once more returned to the river to rescue the others.

One of Napoleon's aides had summoned some small boats, which were beginning to gather to rescue more survivors - offered a position in one of the boats Napoleon refused. He could effect his own rescue from the water, and it was his responsibility to rescue the Poles who yet remained in the water.

Napoleon's next care was the horses... but [most made it alive from the river without assistance]...

Dripping wet on the river bank, Napoleon snatched up his riding crop and plyed it against the [euqally wet] commanding Polish officer. By what foolishness (the Emperor thundered) had "you, their commanding officer, put them - your soldiers - in this danger, this stupid wasteful useless danger? To impress me? Am I to be impressed with waste and foolishness? You do not 'show more loyalty to me' by doing such things..."

The officer stood there like a chidden child. "A child would not have done such a thing!" said Napoleon, "A child would have known that that river is dangerous, and there is nothing to be gained by crossing at a dangerous spot when there is a safe crossing immediately to hand! Were you plunged into the water to save a drowning lady, or in hope of charging into a battle which hangs in the balance? No..!"

Napoleon I was to remark that it is "one of the failings of the Polish race that they think such rash bold actions - which serve no purpose but seem gallant - are a mark of national pride. But I can only say that this time they truly believed they acted from loyalty, and I hope my admonishments to them that afternoon have taught this unit (at least) better."

(A Contemporary Biography by an Eyewitness)

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