Napoleon used years on St Helena to learn English

Sun Jun 5, 2011 7:08am EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Vicky Buffery

PARIS (Reuters Life!) - Graying, ink stained notebook fragments showing Napoleon Bonaparte's efforts two centuries ago to grasp the English language go on auction in Paris at the weekend, alongside some 350 other Napoleonic artifacts.

Defeated by the British at Waterloo and held on the remote Atlantic island of Saint Helena until his death in 1821, the French emperor used his time in captivity to learn English -- although the scraps show the military mastermind to be a less-than-model pupil.

Written in Napoleon's spidery handwriting, the remnants of his lessons from a French count also in exile on Saint Helena show how the headstrong leader doodled to combat boredom, and struggled with the intricacies of English grammar.

"Even learning English, he couldn't shake off the soldier, the army man inside him. His doodles are of walls and designs of military fortifications," said Jean-Pierre Osenat, chairman of Paris-based auction house Osenat, which is handling the sale.

The auction house expects the paper scraps, mounted on three framed boards, to fetch up to 9,500 euros ($13,660) in total at Sunday's auction.

As ruler of France from 1804 to 1815, Napoleon established a powerful military empire extending over much of Western Europe before being defeated by the Duke of Wellington's forces at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. After attempting to flee to the United States, Napoleon surrendered to British forces on the coast of western France a month later.

It was while being transferred to Saint Helena that he voiced his shame at never having learnt English, and his companion in exile, the Count of Las Cases, happily obliged by giving him lessons over the subsequent years.

"It's incredible to think that after fighting the English for his entire life, Napoleon only decided to learn English at the end. He could have thought of it before," said Osenat.   Continued...