The French Contribution

Another Frenchman …

Posted on January 26, 2009. Filed under: Guide Posts, The French Contribution |

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was a well known writer and aviator well known for his books about aviation adventure. Extracts from his thought …

The one thing that matters is the effort. True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done, the zest of creating things new. It is in the compelling zest of high adventure and of victory, and in creative action, that man finds his supreme joys.

How could there be any question of acquiring or possessing, when the one thing needful for a man is to become – to be at last, and to die in the fullness of his being.

 I have no right, by anything I do or say, to demean a human being in his own eyes. What matters is not what I think of him; it is what he thinks of himself. To undermine a man’s self-respect is a sin.

He who has gone, so we but cherish his memory, abides with us, more potent, nay, more present than the living man. 


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Napoleon as Orator and Health at Waterloo …

Posted on January 3, 2009. Filed under: Personalities, The French Contribution |

Some one has written thus re the little Corsican. “One canot forget that Napoleon abandoned one army in Egypt, left the remnants of another in the snows of Russia and then strutted inot the dabacle of Waterloo”.  Well, here is what Houston Peterson, the noted authority on eloquence, says about this great leader of men.

“As a military orator, as a general addressing his troops, Napoleon was unsurpassed’. He invented a style of eloquence reminiscent of Caesar – brief, bold, declarative, familiar yet imperial in its bold sweep and cadence. It made an instant appeal to valor and the soldiers of the Republic died for him unquestioningly’. He spoke in a clipped, terse, passionate style, with an effect which  startled the world.

‘As a parliamentary speaker, confronted by a hostile or doubtful audience, he was a failure. His forte was not debate or eloquent persuasion but crisp proclamation, announcing his victories or his sovereign decisions. His genus rapidly put him in  a position where only the latter were needed”.

And now his Health at W;aterloo  –  Oroland  Barries

On February 26, 1815 Napoleon left Elba with one thousand of his devoted soldiers in seven small boats. They landed in Cannes three days later and began a march to Paris. However, Napoleon fell ill at Grasse, just after leaving Cannes. He had begun the march on horseback so he could be seen by everyone along the way, but his pain was so great he had to continue in a carriage. The bad roads and potholes made things worse. He rested for a while and then continued on horseback. Reports indicate that his “dysuria” had returned, undoubtedly a recurrence of the attack suffered at Borodino earlier. It has also been alleged that the attack was due to prolapsed hemorrhoids. The attack lasted two days, and then the march to Paris was resumed. Napoleon arrived in Paris on March 20th.

Napoleon was tired. After a few hours of work he needed rest, unlike his former vigor. He often sat silently and appeared sad. Between March and May his health grew much worse. He also had repeated attacks of dysuria. He recalled Dr Corvisart to his side, but the latter’s own health was failing too.

His condition was deteriorating rapidly as the showdown at Waterloo approached:

The night after the battle of Ligny on June 16-17, 1815, Napoleon fell seriously ill. He was at the castle of Fleurus near Charleroi. Napoleon was completely exhausted and was unable to rise from his bed for many hours. In the morning he was too weak to even issue important orders to Marshal Grouchy until well after 8am. Napoleon had become obese and was also suffering from another illness, much more immediately serious – prolapsed bleeding hemorrhoids. He had had hemorrhoids for many years, probably due to his chronic constipation and constant riding for long hours in the saddle.

On the night after Ligny however, Napoleon was suffering from seriously strangulated piles – prolapsed hemorrhoids pushed outside of his anal sphincter. He had spent most of the day during the battle of Ligny on horseback, which was certainly a credit to his endurance, but it must have been horrendous for him, certainly distracting. This “secret” was kept confidential until Adolph Thiers interviewed both Jerome and Marchand when authoring his Histoire du Consulat et de l’Empire. During the interview, Jerome was very unspecific, stating that Napoleon had a “little weakness of the blood vessels”. However, Jerome really spilled the beans just before his death in 1860 telling the whole truth about the incident.

A combination of stress, pain and his failing health probably was behind his defeat. His prodigious memory and ability to micromanage his forces weren’t there for him. For example, he left behind his best general, Louis-Nicolas Davout, back in Paris. He brought Michel Ney instead, whose cavalry failed to properly attack the British and take out their artillery.

A younger Napoleon, healthier and with a mind clear of pain wouldn’t have made  mistakes

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The Charismatic Napoleon Bonaparte …

Posted on December 31, 2008. Filed under: Personalities, The French Contribution |

As for me, I have the gift of electrifying men” – Napoleon Bonaparte

“That devil of a man exercises a fascination on me that I cannot explain even to myself, and in such a degree that, though I fear neither God nor devil, when I am in his presence I am ready to tremble like a child, and he could make me go through the eye of a needle to throw myself into the fire” General Vandamme, on Napoleon Bonaparte.

Napoleon was a French military and political leader who had a significant impact on the history of Europe.  He ruled France as First Consul of the First French Republic and as Emperor of the First French Empire.

Born in Corsica he was trained as an artillery officer. He rose to prominence during the French Revolution when he snuffed out the dying embers of that Revolution with a ‘whiff of grape shot’.

He was then given comnand of an army in total disarray. He shaped it into a fighting force with his charismatic oratory and having invaded Italy captured it in a classic campaign.

As a military orator, as a general addressing his troops, Napoleon was  unsurpassed’.

‘He invented a style of eloquence reminiscent of Caesar – brief, bold, declarative, familiar yet imperial in its bold sweep and cadence. It made an instant appeal to valor and the soldiers of the Republic died for him unquestioningly’.

‘As a parliamentary speaker, confronted by a hostile or doubtful audience, he was a failure. His forte was not debate or eloquent persuasion but crisp proclamation, announcing his victories or his sovereign decisions. His genus rapidly put him in  a position where only the latter were needed”.

He spoke in a clipped, terse, passionate style, with an effect which  startled the world.

In 1799, his only talented brother, Lucien, helped him stage a coup d’état and installed him as First Consul. Five years later he crowned himself Emperor of the French. Lucien refused Napoleon’s diktat to give up the woman he loved and so banished himself to England

In the first decade of the nineteenth century (“Roll up that map of Europe – it will not be needed these ten years” – Pitt the Younger, Prime Minister, like his father, of England), he turned the armies of France against every major European power and dominated continental Europe through a series of startling military victories – epitomized in battles such as Austerlitz , Friedland, Vimiera, Badajos, Salamanca, Tolouse – indeed some 60 major battles!

He led successful campaigns against the First and Second Coalitions arrayed against France. He maintained France’s sphere of influence by the formation of extensive alliances and the appointment of friends and family members to rule other European countries as French client states.

As long as he stayed married to Josephine, a woman of easy virtue, his star remained in the ascendant. Having divorced her, he could either marry into the Russian or Austrian Monarchy. He chose the Austrian Monarchy.

His invasion of Russia in 1812 marked a turning point in his fortunes. His Grande Armée was wrecked in the campaign and never fully recovered. In 1813, the Sixth Coalition defeated his forces at Leipzig, invaded France and exiled him to the island of Elba.

Less than a year later, he returned (‘Able was I ere I saw Elba’ – his sentence which can be read backwards) and was finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815.

Napoleon spent the last six years of his life under British supervision on the island of Saint Helena, where he died in 1821. The autopsy concluded he died of stomach cancer though Sten Forshufvud and other scientists in the 1960s conjectured that he had been slowly poisoned with arsenic.

Napoleon scored major victories with a modernised French army and drew his tactics of concentration and ‘shock’ from different sources. His campaigns are studied at military academies the world over and he is widely regarded as one of history’s greatest commanders.

While considered a tyrant by his opponents, he is greatly remembered for the establishment of the Napoleonic Code, which laid the administrative foundations for much of modern Western Europe.

Here follow some of his more relevant observations –

A leader is a dealer in hope.

I am sometimes a fox and sometimes a lion. The whole secret of government lies in knowing when to be the one or the other.

If I always appear prepared, it is because before entering an undertaking, I have meditated long and have foreseen what might occur. It is not genius which reveals to me suddenly and secretly what I should do in circumstances unexpected by others; it is thought and preparation.

Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.

The strong man is the one who is able to intercept at will the communication between the senses and the mind.

Water, air, cleanliness – these are the chief articles in my pharmacy.

There are only two forces in the world, the sword and the spirit. In the long run the sword will always be conquered by the spirit.


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Coco Chanel …

Posted on April 4, 2008. Filed under: Personalities, The French Contribution |

“Coco” Chanel was a fashion designer whose modernist philosophy, menswear-inspired fashions, and pursuit of expensive simplicity made her arguably the most important figure in the history of 20th-century fashion. Her influence on haute couture was such that she was the only person in the field to be named on TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

“The alertness of the woman!  The charm!  She was mesmerizing, strange, …  alarming, witty”.


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‘Chandigarh’ & Le Corbusier’s architecture …

Posted on February 20, 2008. Filed under: Personalities, The French Contribution |

Albert Mayer and Matthew Nowicki were the original choices for designing Chandigarh. After the death of the latter and the pull out of the former, Corbusier was given charge. The basic framework of the master plan and its components – the Capitol, City Center, University, Industrial area, linear parkland and even the neighborhood unit – was retained as the basic module of planning.

However, the curving outline of Mayer and Nowicki was reorganized into a mesh of rectangles, and the buildings were characterized by an ‘honesty of materials’. Exposed brick and boulder stone masonry in its rough form produced unfinished concrete surfaces, in geometrical structures. This became the architectural form characteristic of Chandigarh, set amidst landscaped gardens and parks.

The city plan is a grid pattern with the city divided into rectangular patterns, forming identical looking sectors. The rectangular sector measures 800 m x 1200 m. The sectors act as self-sufficient neighbourhoods, each with its own market, places of worship, schools – all within 10 minutes walking distance from within the sector.

The numbering of the Sectors is also a wee unique – meaning that if the Sector Nos of any two Sectors, lying North South of one another, are added up then the sum is divisible by the number 13. For example, Sectors 11 and 15 are located North South of one another. Now adding of their Nos gives 26. And this is divisible by 13. Its true of all Sectors.

The original two phases of the plan delineated sectors from 1 to 47, with the exception of 13. The Assembly, the secretariat and the high court are the three monumental buildings designed by Le Corbusier in which he showcased his style to the maximum.

An interesting aside is that any addition of North/South Sector Nos results in a sum that is always divisible by the No 13.

The city was to be surrounded by a 16 kilometer wide greenbelt to ensure that no development could take place in the immediate vicinity of the town, thus checking suburbs and urban sprawl.

Le Corbusier, chosen name of Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris,(1887 – 1965). Swiss-born architect, designer, urbanist, writer and painter who became a French Citizen. Famed for his contributions to Modern Architecture, dedicated to providing better living conditions for residents of crowded cities. His iconic buildings live on in central Europe, India, Russia, and Nortt/South America. Was also urban planner, painter, sculptor, writer, furniture designer. Laid out Chandigarh, the planned city.

His Views as architect are given below –

The home should be the treasure chest of living.  Space and light and order. Those are the things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep.

Modern life demands, and is waiting for, a new kind of plan, both for the house and the city. I prefer drawing to talking. Drawing is faster, and leaves less room for lies.

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Stendhal …

Posted on February 5, 2008. Filed under: Guide Posts, Light plus Weighty, The French Contribution |

Stendhal was a writer famed for his acute analysis of his characters’ psychology. Considered one of the earliest and foremost practitioners of realism.

Love has always been the most important business in my life; I should say the only one. People happy in love have an air of intensity. If you don’t love me, it does not matter; I can love for both of us.

A wise woman never yields by appointment. Never had he found himself so close to those terrible weapons of feminine artillery.

What is really beautiful must always be true. Only great minds can afford a simple style.   

Power, after love, is the first source of happiness. Pleasure is often spoiled by describing it.

The man of genius is he and he alone who finds such joy in his art that he will work at it come hell or high water.

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Moliere – the French Satirist …

Posted on September 19, 2007. Filed under: Guide Posts, Quotes, The French Contribution |

Molière. playwright and actor, was well ensconced in the great mastery of comedy.

Perfect reason flees all extremity and leads one to be wise with sobriety. If everyone were clothed with integrity, if every heart were just, frank, kindly, the other virtues would be well nigh useless

 A wise man is superior to any insults that can be heaped upon him and the best reply to unseemly behoviour is patience and moderation.

A man’s entire wealth hereafter is the good that he does in this world to his fellows. Every good act is charity.

Of all follies, there is none greater than wanting to make the world a better place. He who follows his lessons, tastes a profound peace and looks upon all else as manure.

Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, then for a few close friends and finally for money. Books and marriage go ill togther.

Of all the noises known to man, opera is the most expensive.

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Francis la Rochefoucauld …

Posted on June 20, 2007. Filed under: The French Contribution |

Francis Rochefoucauld  was an author of maxims and memoirs. He stands as an example of the accomplished nobleman.

Great souls are not those who have fewer passions or more vices but those who have greater designs. Few things are impracticable in themselves; and it is for want of application, rather than of means, that men fail to succeed.

Decency is the least of all laws but yet it is the law which is most strictly observed. Perfect behaviour is born out of complete indifference.

A wise man thinks it more advantageous not to join the battle than to win. Gracefulness is to the body what understanding is to the mind.

Before we set our hearts tto much on anything, let us examine how happy are they, who already possess it.

I have always been an admirer. I regard the gift of admiration as indispensable if one is to amount to something; I don’t know where I would be without it.

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Alexis de Tocqueville on America …

Posted on May 22, 2007. Filed under: American Thinkers, Searching for Success, The French Contribution |

Alexis de Tocqueville was a French political thinker and historian best known for his book, ‘Democracy in America’  which was written on his return after travelling widely across America. He stands as an eminent representative of the liberal political tradition.

America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.

There is hardly a pioneer’s hut which does not contain a few odd volumes of Shakespeare. I remember reading the feudal drama of Henry V for the first time in a log cabin.

The Indian knew how to live without wants, to suffer without complaint, and to die singing.

As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?

In no other country in the world is the love of property keener or more alert than in the United States, and nowhere else does the majority display less inclination toward doctrines which in any way threaten the way property is owned.

In the United States, the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own.

Consider any individual at any period of his life, and you will always find him preoccupied with fresh plans to increase his comfort.

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Charles de Gaulle … as Great as they come …

Posted on April 13, 2007. Filed under: Guide Posts, Light plus Weighty, Personalities, Quotes, The French Contribution |

Charles de Gaulle was a general and statesman and stands amongst the great leaders in modern French history. He led the Free French Forces during World War II and later founded the French Fifth Republic and served as its first President. He oversaw the development of French atomic weapons and promoted a pan – European foreign policy, seeking to diminish U.S. and British influence. He was the target in the book, which was made into a film – ‘The Day of the Jackal”. Here are some gems from his thought.

Deliberation is the work of many men. Action, of one alone. Faced with crisis, the man of character falls back on himself.

Authority doesn’t work without prestige, or prestige without distance.

Don’t ask me who has influenced me. A lion is made up of the lambs he’ has digested, and I’ve been reading all my life.

A great country worthy of the name does not have any friends.

I have heard your views. They do not harmonize with mine. The decision is taken unanimously

You may be sure that the Americans will commit all the stupidities they can think of, plus some that are beyond imagination.

When I am right, I get angry. Churchill gets angry when he is wrong. We are angry at each other much of the time.

 And don’t forget to get killed. You’ll live. Only the best get killed. The cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men.

How can anyone govern a nation that has 246 different kinds of cheese?

The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.

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