The Napoleonic Letters

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August 2, 2015 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

For all the doom and gloom involved in world history, it’s actually a pretty funny entity.  Being the emotional and irrational beings that we are, hilarity would naturally ensue.  For all the tyranny and naval might of the British Empire, all of which was engrained in our head as children, no one ever mentioned that during the American Revolution, the English sent a spy over to try and poison General Washington…by putting tomatoes in his salad.  From someone throwing a shoe at George W. Bush during a meeting, to the secret service having to prevent Andrew Jackson from assassinating his own would-be-assassin, history itself is the largest, and therefore best lampoon of humanity.

Our own past actions serve as the ultimate satire of ourselves, our human condition (whatever the fuck that means), and our best attempts at understanding our own existence primarily through the mechanism of creating a perceived sense of order from the chaos that defines our entire viewpoint of the universe.  Just look at South America’s habit of forcing dictators out of power, only to force said dictator back into power a decade later.  Or, better yet, Roman Emperor Caligula once declared war on the god Poseidon and had his navy throw spears into the sea to try and wound the god.  Before he became a revolutionary, Pancho Villa was a local milkman, and Lyndon Johnson supposedly had a habit of walking around the White House completely naked.

Oddly enough, despite the fact that comedy and insanity are often at the forefront of history, any reference to love, one of the most frequent causes of insanity, is almost completely stricken from the history books.  When Stalin’s first wife, Kato, died from typhus, he declared “This creature softened my heart of stone. She died and with her, died my last warm feelings for humanity”.[1]  He then had her entire family executed over the next 30 years.  Even though he was no longer president, Nixon’s approval rating, and hindsight index went through the roof when video cameras caught him weeping incessantly at his wife’s funeral.  Andrew Jackson would gladly duel any man who insulted his wife, and some medieval king of England once spent an entire week in bed with his wife and her mother.  Love makes people act in funny ways.

THIS guy once wrote “I thought that I loved you months ago, but since my separation from you I feel that I love you a thousand fold more”.

Better yet, love makes people do crazy things, like apologize without actually being sorry.  Some people however, just can’t handle being in love; for some reason they just lack this ability.  The best example of history, comedy, and love intersecting all at once is Napoleon Bonaparte, or more specifically the series of love letters he would exchange with his first wife, Josephine.  As you could probably imagine, Napoleon was one of those people that couldn’t handle being in love.  What can I say?  He was a weird guy.

His letters range in content and intent from sounding like an erotic novel read by depressed, middle-aged housewives who watch Lifetime original movies, to a heartbroken 15 year old schoolboy whose first girlfriend just dumped him for the older jock.  They really convey an emotional versatility not typically seen by would-be-dictators, as Napoleon comes off as being either arrogantly perverse or plagued by cuckolded paranoia.  Some of the more elated letters are pretty much the 18th—19th century version of sexting:

***

  • “A kiss on your heart, and one much lower down, much lower!”
  • “I cannot wait to give you proof of my ardent love. How happy I would be if I could assist you at your undressing.”
  • “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.[2]
  • “I hope before long to crush you in my arms and cover you with a million kisses burning as though beneath the equator.”

***

Cool it Napoleon!  Really have some semblance of self-control.  Love without restraint is obsession, and either he was sickly in love with Josephine, or he simply wasn’t getting laid nearly as often as a dictator should be.  I mean, am I crazy to assume that most guys would feel like tools if they texted a woman that they wanted to live inside of her?  In some of the more smitten love letters, Napoleon sounds really desperate, with no real sense of self-respect or dignity:

***

  • “Believe me it is not in my power to have a single thought which is not of thee.”
  • “Your letters are the joy of my days, and my days of happiness are not many.”
  • “Since I left you, I have been constantly depressed. My happiness is to be near you.”
  • “I thought that I loved you months ago, but since my separation from you I feel that I love you a thousand fold more.”

***

This guys has to seriously calm the fuck down!  He sounds like the nerdy kid in class who on Valentine’s Day one of the pretty girls gave him a card because she felt bad for him, and now he’s fixated on her because he thinks she likes him.  In case I forgot to mention this before, while she was married to Napoleon, Josephine was having an extremely torrid affair with an officer in Napoleon’s army.  Once Napoleon found out about this, the tone of his letters changed dramatically to that of the embittered, jilted lover:

***

  • “I don’t love you anymore; on the contrary, I detest you. You are a vile, mean, beastly slut.”
  • “You don’t write to me at all; you don’t love your husband; you know how happy your letters make him, and you don’t write him six lines of nonsense.”
  • “You are wicked and naughty, very naughty, as much as you are fickle.”

***

This guy has a serious impulse control problem.  He’s kinda like the last one in your group of friends to start dating, and then takes the relationship way too seriously way too quickly.  What’s interesting is that the moment he found out about Josephine’s affair, he immediately stopped loving her.  Like, he literally turned off his feelings for her, which again, makes it seem like he was just obsessed with her.

After he forced her to end her affair, Napoleon embarked on numerous affairs of his own in retaliation.  He would often compare Josephine to his mistresses to her face, and lavish them with expensive gifts, the latter of which he stopped doing to his wife.  It probably doesn’t mean much coming from an Aries, but this guy is way too sensitive for his own good.  Even after his vents his rage at Josephine, he’s still terminally depressed over her transgressions:

***

  • “It is sad when one and the same heart is torn by such conflicting feelings for one person… I need to be alone.”
  • “I am tired of grandeur; all my feelings have dried up. I no longer care about my glory.  At twenty-nine I have exhausted everything.”
  • “My mistresses do not in the least engage my feelings. Power is my mistress.”
  • “Without his Josephine, without the assurance of her love, what is left him upon earth? What can he do?”

***

Might I add that at the time he wrote that last line, Napoleon was head of the French army, and was just about to begin his conquest of Europe.  Ascribing to the bi-polar disorder that every dictator seems to be afflicted with, many of the angry lines were written in the same letter as the lustful, hopeless (pathetic) romantic lines.  Adding insult to injury, the British army intercepted one of these letters where he forlornly bemoans the loss of his love with Josephine and made sure that the British newspapers published.  This left Napoleon embarrassed, and humiliated in a way that he had never, and would never know for the rest of his life.  Talk about a public breakup.

Imagine if your wife was cheating on you with some random guy who works down the hall from you, and then your archenemy finds out and tells everyone else who you’ve ever disliked, and for the rest of your life, they mock you for it whenever they see you.  An entire nation that he was at war with was now publishing his very raw, and unjustifiably over-dramatic melancholia.  But that was Napoleon.  He was an over sensitive, love struck school boy who couldn’t control his emotions and couldn’t find a balance between creepy seduction and relentless jealousy.  Sometimes strong emotions, especially those connected with love, are best kept to yourself for fear of their destructive and embarrassing potential, for evidence, look no further than Napoleon Bonaparte.


[1] Granted, only someone as batshit insane as Joseph Stalin would refer to the love of their life as “This creature”.

[2] Classical version of paradise.

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