Paris, June 4
Greying, inkstained notebook fragments showing Napoleon Bonaparte’s efforts two centuries ago to grasp the English language go on auction alongside some 350 other Napoleonic artifacts.
Captured 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 armyman 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).
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 and taken hostage. 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. — Reuters
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