I’m submitting this for Illustration Friday’s topic “Surrender.”
I’ve never been a history buff, but I am beginning to enjoy it more and more. I’m reading a biography of Napoleon by Felix Markham and I encountered something fascinating. Apparently, as a schoolboy in Brienne France, Napoleon enthusiastically organized mock battles. In the unusually cold winter of 1797 Napoleon designed snow fortifications to serve as the battleground for snowball fights amongst the students. During his exile on the Island of Saint Helena, he said, “I have fought sixty battles, and I have learnt nothing which I did not know in the beginning.”
I’m amazed to ponder the poor students that had to exchange snowballs with a military genius who conquered practically all of Europe. After reading that bit, my mind wandered for the next ten pages. In my imagination, I constructed some middling student who marshaled the best of his resources to lead his gang of boys against Napoleon’s snow fortress, and years later as the London Times spat imprecatory statements against the “Thief of Europe” this man–this moderate man, this shoe salesman, reminisced about his day of glory when he and his fellows defeated Napoleon on the field of snow.
Perhaps, no such thing happened. Possibly Napoleon, stranded on Saint Helena, fallen from grace–“but yesterday a King!/ And armed with Kings to strive,” prone toward introspection–possibly he began to rehearse his greatest battles in his mind: The Battle of Jena-Auerstedt, the Battle of Austerlitz, the Battle of Lodi, and possibly amongst these great battles he remembered some bit of tactical genius he displayed during the winter of 1797 in the battles that raged between the schoolboys at Brienne.
Here is a modest tribute to the Great Emperor as a young man persisting to victory at the end of a long day.