Napoleon Translations

Title of Original Work

Fragment politique, extrait des papiers de Napoléon, mort à St Hélène

Author(s) of Translation

Samantha Mowry
Conor Murphy

Document Type


Date of Translation Publication

Fall 2009

Original Work Publication Date


Translator's Note

What is of importance in this text is not necessarily its historico-political significance—its bibliographical facts and political offerings—but instead the particular insights into Napoleon's personality: his desires, anguish, and, most importantly, the carnal role of power within his political domination. This text reveals a great fall from power.

Tézenas de Montbrison here presents Napoleon’s confessions to his closest confidant, Henri Gatien Bertrand, a celebrated soldier and "his most faithful companion in work and misfortunes," who accompanied Napoleon throughout the majority his career and to the two sites of his exiles, Elba and Saint Helena. This conversation took place on the island of Saint Helena—the location of his death—and was published in July of 1821, two months after his passing. Written in rhyme and meter and including a glorifying introduction, this piece is part of a four-part series of poems, heretofore untranslated, published as the public awaited the release of his memoirs.

One must preserve a certain skepticism in regards to the intended function of this text: it operated to some extent as propaganda. We can extrapolate this skepticism, quite simply, from the history of propaganda in early 19th century Europe, the exalting introduction, and the other more explicitly propagandist pieces within and outside DePaul University’s archives. This fact does not radically rupture our relation to the text but nonetheless the reader is well advised to monitor this intentionality, asking simply whether Napoleon’s anguish itself is fabricated or manipulated or if it is instead its inciting incident, here claimed to be Napoleon’s more philanthropic desire to be a rightful king.

Napoleon speaks of his alienation and his torment, beginning by comparing himself to Prometheus and later revealing his last remaining desire after a renowned career: to be a legitimate king. Napoleon confides in Bertrand his rise from lowly origins, the necessity of a sovereign state's strength, a deliberation on suicide, his fated end and the role of chance, the flattery of his entourage, in addition to his response to Waterloo. Each line, far different from some of the stark militaristic documents in our collection, echoes Napoleon’s discontent, allowing us precious insight into his personality, which is to say his immediate relation to the world.