I’m Fully In Favour of Fivity.

Count lascases — Since sixt week j learn the Englich and j do not any progress. Six week do fourty and two day. If might have learn fivity word four day I could know it two thusands and two hundred. It is in the dictionary more of fourty thousand; even he could must twinty bout much of tems for know it our hundred and twenty week, which do more two yars. After this you shall agrée that to study one tongue is a great labour who it must do into the young aged.

The Public Domain has a fascinating article up about Napoleon’s attempt to learn English, which he disliked and had some trouble with, to say the least.

…His English teacher was Count Emmanuel de Las Cases, an historian and loyal supporter who had been allowed to voyage with him to Saint Helena. The Count would later turn their fifteen months of conversations into a publishing sensation, Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène (1822–23). The book recorded Napoleon’s day-to-day life on the island, his sentiments on religion and philosophy, his argument that the ideals of the French Revolution had lived on in the empire. It would be printed and reprinted throughout the century, and do much to turn the perception of Napoleon from a dictator into a liberator — a slayer of tyrannical dynasties more than a founder of his own. It is also the primary window through which we can view the development of Napoleon’s English.

According to Count Las Cases, his pupil “had an extraordinary intelligence but a very bad memory: this latter particularly upset him.” As a result, Napoleon grasped English grammar with an impressive ease but vocabulary with a painful slowness.

When it came to speaking English, the Count relates, “The pupil wished only to recognise [French] pronunciation.” Perhaps the former emperor could not bear to do his vanquishers the honour of speaking their language their way. Perhaps his approach to English mirrored his general approach to foreign territory — he liked to make it his own:

Click on over to The Public Domain for the full story!


  1. rq says

    A glimpse into the human. Poor guy, English isn’t easy -- though I love his insistence (as stubborn and unhelpful as it may be) to pronounce everything the French way.

    After this you shall agrée that to study one tongue is a great labour who it must do into the young aged.

    Says it all.

  2. says

    rq, yes, it does say it all. Languages are best learned by a very young brain. English is an incredibly annoying language, and it’s difficult to learn, because all the rules don’t make sense. As languages go, it’s a blunt hammer as opposed to the feather quill of other languages.

    It’s like you and Ice Swimmer exchanging handy words in Finnish and Latvian in the Ilma post -- to express such in English, you need 5 words to your one. I don’t blame Napoleon at all for being unimpressed.

  3. Raucous Indignation says

    Napoleon’s health was failing at his end of life. The conditions on Saint Helena were harsh and hastened his death. I can understand the fivity of it all.

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