July 10, 2012 cameron

Napoleon’s Letter To Las Cases

Oh how the Brits love to poke fun at Napoleon! Two hundred years has not dampened their joy in pinching his cheeks.

Via The Guardian:

Last month, one of just a handful of letters written by Napoleon in the language of his arch-enemies and sent to De las Cases for comment was sold at auction for $400,000, more than five times its anticipated price.

The one-page manuscript casts new light on Napoleon’s melancholy exile, which ended with his death, aged 51, in 1821. But it will also strike a chord with any teacher tasked with correcting students’ writing.

De las Cases recorded his time as imperial language teacher in his memoir and he says that Napoleon’s writing practice, often composed, like this letter, during sleepless nights, was returned corrected without delay.

But where did De las Cases start? The 125 word text presents numerous language errors from grammar mistakes to lexis transferred from French.

It opens: “Count Las Case. It is two o’clock after midnight. I have enow [sic] sleep, I go then finish the night into cause with you…” “Cause” has been borrowed from the French word causer meaning to chat.


The actual text of the letter reads:

Count Lascases
it is two o’clock after midnight, j have enow sleep j go then finish the night into to cause with you… he shall land above seven day a ship from Europa that we shall give account from anything who this shall have been even to day of first january thousand eight hundred sixteen. you shall have for this ocurens a letter from lady Lascases that shall you learn what himself could carry well if she had coceive the your
but j tire myself and you shall have of the ade at conceive any … upon this j intercede god etc etc
Longwood this nine march thousand eight hundred and sixteen after the nativity of our saviour

Now, here’s man in his early 50s, recently Emperor of The French, master of his domain, military genius, sponsor of the Code Napoleon – who has been imprisoned on a dank island in the middle of nowhere, removed from his land, his people, his family, his friends – and yet who has the presence of mind to try to learn, not just a new language, but the language of his enemies and wardens!

How many people in their 50s try to learn a new language?

Instead of poking fun at his attempts to learn English, we should be saluting his boldness. As ever, Napoleon refused to sit still, even when his lucky star had finally deserted him.

Show some respect!

Comments (4)

  1. Mick Spencer

    I am trying to find someone that may be interested in a AUTHENTIC…SIGNED…Napoleon Bonaparte document from the FIRST CONSUL. I live in The Okanagan..Vernon,BC. You can contact me through my email supplied. Thank You, Mick..:)

  2. neil houlton

    not all “Brits” poke fun at Napoleon, I have followed his career since buying “The Anatomy of Glory” in the early 1970’s. It’s time to stop this nonsense, come and speak to the thousands of wargamers, modellers and members of the “Napoleonic Assoc” who do so much to promote the study of this historical period in Britain. What’s need in our research is balance not childish name calling and finger pointing on either side. Ca ira!

  3. Rob Penfold

    Hi, probably a late reply, what is wrong with any view,none of us needs to agree with it unless we do.
    I am a newbie to the napoleon podcast, and as an Englishman, I consider myself lucky to be able to listen to two passionate individuals give their view on an individual who in my opinion is one of the great characters in history.
    On a subjective note, in my opinion, even Hitler/Stalin/Genghis khan could be considered to have had some good points?
    Regards to all who in a free democratic society have the right to debate and express their views.

  4. With the seal applied, the letter was set to be delivered the following day. But since nothing on the island was ever simple, when the letter arrived at Plantation House for forwarding, the Governor returned it to sender, in strict accordance with the island rule that only open letters could be delivered to correspondents, in this case, Las Cases. not present, he must have this information at second hand.  and gave the letter back to the British officer, Poppleton, who the same day re-delivered it to the Governor. Hudson Lowe was therefore able to see the content of the letter before supposedly forwarding it to his prisoner. Was the Governor offended by the contents, as Napoleon hoped, and as Las Cases claimed? Whatever, the answer, Lowe sat on the letter, only delivering it to Las Cases late in the day on Monday 16 December, two full days after having received it.

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