The Personal Habits and Sayings of the Emperor Napoleon

The Personal Habits and sayings of the Emperor Napoleon  (1924) 
by Stephen Leacock

Extracted from Harper's magazine, v.149 1925, pp. 126-127.



WHY are there so few great men? Perhaps it has occurred to you, dear reader, to wonder why so few men succeed in raising themselves above the average level. Or perhaps it hasn't. Very few things seem to occur to you anyhow. But if it did you would ask yourself why cannot we all raise ourselves above the average? The answer is, very simply, that we all can if we try.

In short, anybody who wishes to take a long step forward in the success movement should study the lives and careers of great men. And he should not study them in the dull pages of the college histories. There, only a very partial and limited account is found. He should study them in the much more human and vivid records supplied in the advertising pages of the success magazines. For example, it is very doubtful whether Bancroft ever knew that George Washington was in the habit of taking four deep breaths just before eating. If he did he never mentions it. Nor does he make any reference to the fact that Benjamin Franklin once said that no perfect breakfast food had as yet been found (that, of course, was in his day: it has been found since, as we shall see). In the same way Lord Macaulay, a man otherwise well informed, does not seem to know that Oliver Cromwell once said the secret of making money lies in scientific investment. Nor was Shakespeare aware that the cloak or mantle which Julius Cæsar wore on the day he overcame the Nervii and which he wore when he was stabbed by his assassins was undoubtedly made by the famous Knit-Right process, now so widely known.

In short, as a result of the wonder movement of success, the whole of our history is being rewritten. We are getting to know things about our great men which we never knew before—intimate, personal things that we never knew before.

And of all the historical characters whose careers are being thus illuminated, there is one who stands out conspicuously above all others—the Emperor Napoleon.

This great man enjoys in the success movement an eminence over all others. It is the aim of everybody to be a Napoleon in his own particular line of activity, and a great many are succeeding. You can see their pictures any day. There are at least thirty-seven Napoleons now doing business. There is a "Napoleon of Billiards," and a "Napoleon of Water Polo," and a "Napoleon of the Rubber Shoe Industry," and there is also a man who is the "Napoleon of Pants Designers," and another who is the "Napoleon of the Ladies' Shirtwaist Business." There is a dog who is the Napoleon of Airedale Terriers, and there is a cow who is the Napoleon of Holstein milk-givers.

In short, it is becoming a very important thing to learn how to be a Napoleon.

You have only to turn over the back pages of any of our greatest journals—the serious pages where they teach people how to live and how to sell things—to see little pictures of Napoleon inserted everywhere. Sometimes there is just his head under his hat; sometimes a full-length picture to show his hands clasped behind his back. And in each case there is some little motto which Napoleon said or some statement about his habits. From among the years and over the wastes of the South Atlantic, Napoleon is still teaching us how to live and how to sell things.

From these statements thus printed I have pieced together a component picture of Napoleon in which is shown those the personal things which made him what he was.

Anybody who wants to be a Napoleon has only to imitate these things. I admit that they are a little complicated. But even Napoleon couldn't have learned that all at once. He must have picked them up bit by bit.

In the first place, the great Emperor was an early riser. The hour of three in the morning saw him in the saddle or at his desk. "Early rising," he once said when talking of a well-known breakfast food, "not only peptonizes the stomach, but with the aid of a simple remedy obtained at all drug stores, restores tone and vigor to the lost digestion."

Napoleon also sat up late. He never ought his couch till three in the morning. "The later the hour," he once said, in referring to a new patent oil lamp, "the better the brain."

It was the practice of Napoleon to chew his food twenty minutes before swallowing it. Eating a sirloin steak took him all day. Napoleon was in the habit of eating standing up. He also ate lying down. He could even sit and eat.

Before coming to any great decision Napoleon always made a point of taking four deep breaths through his nose. While talking the great Emperor habitually kept his mouth firmly shut.

Napoleon always wore wool next to his skin. He once said, in an interview which he seems to have given to a well-known firm of woolen manufacturers in Paterson, New Jersey, "There is nothing like wool."

In the same way he always said, "There is nothing like a delicious cup of Ozo when exhausted from the pulpit and the platform."

Napoleon drank, but always with the strictest avidity.

Napoleon made little use of tobacco except in the form of snuff or cigars or cut plug.

During his exile at St. Helena Napoleon is reported to have said, "If I had taken a course in Personal Leadership, I should not have landed here."

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926.

The author died in 1944, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 75 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.