Dog History: How A Dog Taught Napoleon The True Impact Of War

Napoleon Bonaparte.
Did you know that Napoleon Bonaparte had a soft spot for dogs? Or that poodles and other canines played important roles during the Napoleonic Wars, including duty as guards, mascots, and even medicine carriers?

It may seem hard to imagine poofy-haired pooches on the battlefield, but its true! There is quite a bit of literature describing various canines, mostly poodles, and the roles they played during the Napoleonic Wars. All of it is fascinating, and although I have no doubt that some of the tales are merely fanciful stories with dubious origins, a few of them are based on reliable sources.

The Memorial of Saint Helena is a collection of memories penned by Emmanuel, The Count de Las Cases, who somehow ended up acting as Napoleon's secretary during his exile at Saint Helena. The book draws upon years of regular conversation, and Emmanuel seems to have been very studious about keeping records of Napoleon's yammerings-on. In the memoir, the outcast-formerly-known-as-Emperor relates the story of a particular dog and how it affected him.

Here's the set-up: After a "great" military action in Italy, Napoleon is passing through the field of battle, while the dead bodies still lay about on the ground. Normally he wouldn't bat an eye at this bloodshed. After all, these wars caused several million deaths, and "The Little Corporal" was pretty used to it. This time, he sees something different.
"In the deep silence of a beautiful moon-light night," said the Emperor, "a dog, leaping suddenly from beneath the clothes of his dead master, rushed upon us, and then immediately returned to his hiding-place, howling piteously. He alternately licked his master's hand, and ran towards us; thus, at once soliciting aid and seeking revenge."
The dog was obviously confused, but its emotional reaction to the loss of this single life in a field piled with carnage touched Napoleon, who went on to describe his feelings about the scene.
"...no incident on any field of battle ever produced so deep an impression on me. I involuntarily stopped to contemplate the scene. This man, thought I, perhaps, has friends in the camp or in his company; and here he lies forsaken by all except his dog! What a lesson Nature here presents through the medium of an animal! What a strange being is man! And how mysterious are his impressions! I had, without emotion, ordered battles which were to decide the fate of the army; I had beheld, with tearless eyes, the execution of those operations, by which numbers of my countrymen were sacrificed; and here my feelings were roused by the mournful howling of a dog! Certainly at that moment I should have been easily moved by a suppliant enemy: I could very well imagine Achilles surrendering up the body of Hector at the sight of Priam's tears."
This was obviously an important moment in Napoleon's life, or he wouldn't have related it at all, much less with such intensity. All the war and killing came crashing home suddenly, and brought with it such strong emotions that the ex-Emperor felt the need to relate it years later, using words laced with more than a hint of regret and guilt.

And so it happened that Napoleon Bonaparte owed an entire emotional awakening, the realization of how bitterly destructive the war had been and how callous he had become to it...to a single dog!

1 comment:

  1. I saw the quote some time ago when I received it from a friend after losing my cherished Khari after 13 - thirteen years.

    This really does demonstrate the various sides of different people. It also caused me to look at some of Napoleon's other writings. It was worth the time, and impressed me -- that is, something of a spiritual side I had never imagined.
    Thank you, God bless, LPP

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