Napoleon Bonaparte Quotes in War and Peace
“There’s war now against Napoleon. If it were a war for freedom, I could understand it, I’d be the first to go into military service; but to help England and Austria against the greatest man in the world . . . is not right.”
Prince Andrei merely shrugged his shoulders at Pierre’s childish talk. He made it look as though he could not reply to such stupidity; but in fact it was hard to reply to this naive question in any other way than Prince Andrei had done.
“If everyone made war only according to his own convictions, there would be no war,” he said. […]
“Well, what makes you go to war?” asked Pierre.
“What makes me? I don’t know. I have to. Besides, I’m going . . .” He paused. “I’m going because this life I lead here, this life— is not for me!”
“Voilà une belle mort,” said Napoleon, looking at Bolkonsky.
Prince Andrei understood that it had been said about him, and that it was Napoleon speaking. […] But he heard these words as if he was hearing the buzzing of a fly. He not only was not interested, he did not even notice, and at once forgot them. […] He knew that it was Napoleon— his hero— but at that moment, Napoleon seemed to him such a small, insignificant man compared with what was now happening between his soul and this lofty, infinite sky with clouds racing across it. To him it was all completely the same at that moment who was standing over him or what he said about him; he was only glad that people had stopped over him and only wished that those people would help him and bring him back to life, which seemed so beautiful to him, because he now understood it so differently.
Rostov stood at the corner for a long time, looking at the feasting men from a distance. Painful work was going on in his mind, which he could not bring to an end. Terrible doubts arose in his soul. Now he remembered […] the whole hospital with those torn-off arms and legs, that filth and disease. He imagined so vividly now that hospital stench of dead flesh that he looked around to see where the stench could be coming from. Then he remembered that self-satisfied Bonaparte with his white little hand, who was now an emperor, whom the emperor Alexander liked and respected. Why, then, those torn-off arms and legs, those dead people? […] He caught himself in such strange thoughts that it made him frightened.
Understandably, these and a countless, endless number of other causes, the number of which depends on countless different points of view, presented themselves to contemporaries; but for us, the descendants, who contemplate the enormity of the event in all its scope and delve into its simple and terrible meaning, these causes seem insufficient. For us it is not understandable that millions of Christians killed and tortured each other because Napoleon was a lover of power, Alexander was firm, English policy cunning, and the duke of Oldenburg offended.
“Here it is, the reward for all those of little faith,” he thought, looking at his retinue and at the troops approaching and forming up. “One word from me, one movement of my hand, and this ancient capital des Czars is destroyed. […] [H]ere she is lying at my feet, her golden cupolas and crosses playing and glittering in the sunlight. But I will spare her. On the ancient monuments of barbarism and despotism, I will write great words of justice and mercy . . . Alexander will take precisely that most painfully of all— I know him.” (It seemed to Napoleon that the main significance of what was happening lay in his personal struggle with Alexander.) “From the heights of the Kremlin—yes, yes, that’s the Kremlin—I will give them the laws of justice, I will show them the meaning of true civilization; I will make the generations of boyars remember the name of their conqueror with love.”
…[W]hen it is no longer possible to stretch the so-elastic threads of historical discourse any further, when an action clearly contradicts all that mankind calls good and even just, historians resort to the saving notion of greatness. It is as if greatness excludes the possibility of the measure of good and bad. For the great man there is no bad. There is no horror that can be laid to the blame of someone who is great.
[…] Grand, to their minds, is the property of some sort of special animals known as heroes. And Napoleon, in his warm fur coat, clearing off for home from his perishing men […] feels que c’est grand, and his soul is at peace.
For Russian historians— strange and terrible to say— Napoleon, that most insignificant instrument of history, who never and nowhere, even in exile, displayed any human dignity— Napoleon is the object of admiration and enthusiasm; he is grand. While Kutuzov, a man who, from the beginning to the end of his activity in 1812, from Borodino to Vilno, while always being true to himself in all his acts and words, shows an example uncommon in history of self-denial and awareness in the present of the future significance of the event— Kutuzov seems to them something indefinite and pathetic, and when they speak of Kutuzov and the year twelve, it is as if they are always slightly embarrassed.