Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop
Napoleon’s favorite quantity is more. He wants more people to lavish praise on him. He wants more places to conquer. He wants more things to adorn his quarters. In short, the man desires luxury. The more luxury Napoleon collects, however, the more he’ll have to expend to maintain it and the more targets he’ll provide his enemies.
It’s easy to forget when reading the opening paragraphs of this chapter that Napoleon is at war rather than in some pampered salon of Paris. Multiple valets attend him. They apply eau-de-Cologne to his cosseted body with the care and delicacy usually reserved for ancient artwork restoration. One valet appears to be brushing his chest hair. That’s something I’ve never heard of before. While all of these important matters are attended to, an aide-de-camp awaits with news of the mere trifling matters of the war effort.
He also has time to admire a fine portrait of his son, “The King of Rome.”
We can only assume that this desire for luxurious living has followed him everywhere he’s been. One doesn’t merely dip one’s toes into the golden waters of opulence. One dives rights in.
This chapter provides the reader with a concrete example of the folly of chasing after more. In Napoleon’s desire for more lands to conquer he has abandoned his focus. He receives news today of the western front of his war for more. Things have gone horribly wrong there. In the Battle of Salamanca the allied powers have earned a decisive victory over the French forces. Perhaps if he could forget his silken dreams of eastern dominance he would not have lost so dearly in the west. Or jeopardized the entire conquest project itself.
Nature’s wants are slight; the demands of opinion are boundless. Suppose that the property of many millionaires is heaped up in your possession. Assume that fortune carries you far beyond the limits of a private income, decks you with gold, clothes you in purple, and brings you to such a degree of luxury and wealth that you can bury the earth under your marble floors; that you may not only possess, but tread upon, riches. Add statues, paintings, and whatever any art has devised for the satisfaction of luxury; you will only learn from such things to crave still greater. Natural desires are limited; but those which spring from false opinion can have no stopping-point.
Seneca, On Philosophy, The Guide of Life