I believe, said Austerlitz, they know they have lost their way, since if you do not put them out again carefully they will stay where they are, never moving, until the last bath is out of their bodies, and indeed they will remain in the place where they came to grief even after death, held fast by the tiny claws that stiffened in their last agony, until a draft of air detaches them and blows them into a dusty corner.
Suppose someone sits down where you are sitting right now and announces to me that he is Napoleon Bonaparte. The last thing I want to do with him is to get involved in a technical discussion of cavalry tactics at the Battle of Austerlitz. If I do that, I'm getting tacitly drawn into the game that he is Napoleon Bonaparte.
How happily, said Austerlitz, have I sat over a book in the deepening twilight until I could no longer make out the words and my mind began to wander, and how secure have I felt seated at the desk in my house in the dark night, just watching the tip of my pencil in the lamplight following its shadow, as if of its own accord and with perfect fidelity, while that shadow moved regularly from left to right, line by line, over the ruled paper.
W. G. Sebald
The Parisian is to the French what the Athenian was to the Greeks: no one sleeps better than he, no one is more openly frivolous and idle, no one appears more heedless. But this is misleading. He is given to every kind of listlessness, but when there is glory to be won he may be inspired with every kind of fury. Give him a pike and he will enact the tenth of August, a musket and you have Austerlitz. He was the springboard of Napoleon and the mainstay of Danton. At the cry of "la patrie" he enrols, and at the call of liberty he tears up the pavements. Beware of him!
Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo. Shovel them under and let me work- I am the grass; I cover all. And pile them high at Gettysburg. And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun. Shovel them under and let me work. Two years, ten years,and passengers ask the conductor- What place is this? Where are we now? I am the grass. Let me work.
Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo. Shovel them under and let me work- I am the grass; I cover all. And pile them high at Gettysburg And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun. Shovel them under and let me work. Two years, ten years, and the passengers ask the conductor: What place is this? Where are we now? I am the grass. Let me work.
The old oak, utterly transformed, draped in a tent of sappy dark green, basked faintly, undulating in the rays of the evening sun. Of the knotted fingers, the gnarled excrecenses, the aged grief and mistrust- nothing was to be seen. Through the rough, century-old bark, where there were no twigs, leaves had burst out so sappy, so young, that is was hard to believe that the aged creature had borne them. "Yes, that is the same tree, " thought Prince Andrey, and all at once there came upon him an irrational, spring feeling of joy and renewal. All the best moments of his life rose to his memory at once. Austerlitz, with that lofty sky, and the dead, reproachful face of his wife, and Pierre on the ferry, and the girl, thrilled by the beauty of the night, and that night and that moon- it all rushed at once into his mind.
A little while ago, I stood by the grave of the old Napoleon-a magnificent tomb of gilt and gold, fit almost for a dead deity-and gazed upon the sarcophagus of rare and nameless marble, where rest at last the ashes of that restless man. I leaned over the balustrade and thought about the career of the greatest soldier of the modern world. I saw him walking upon the banks of the Seine, contemplating suicide. I saw him at Toulon-I saw him putting down the mob in the streets of Paris-I saw him at the head of the army of Italy-I saw him crossing the bridge of Lodi with the tri-color in his hand-I saw him in Egypt in the shadows of the pyramids-I saw him conquer the Alps and mingle the eagles of France with the eagles of the crags. I saw him at Marengo-at Ulm and Austerlitz. I saw him in Russia, where the infantry of the snow and the cavalry of the wild blast scattered his legions like winter's withered leaves. I saw him at Leipsic in defeat and disaster-driven by a million bayonets back upon Paris-clutched like a wild beast-banished to Elba. I saw him escape and retake an empire by the force of his genius. I saw him upon the frightful field of Waterloo, where Chance and Fate combined to wreck the fortunes of their former king. And I saw him at St. Helena, with his hands crossed behind him, gazing out upon the sad and solemn sea. I thought of the orphans and widows he had made-of the tears that had been shed for his glory, and of the only woman who ever loved him, pushed from his heart by the cold hand of ambition. And I said I would rather have been a French peasant and worn wooden shoes. I would rather have lived in a hut with a vine growing over the door, and the grapes growing purple in the kisses of the autumn sun. I would rather have been that poor peasant with my loving wife by my side, knitting as the day died out of the sky-with my children upon my knees and their arms about me-I would rather have been that man and gone down to the tongueless silence of the dreamless dust, than to have been that imperial impersonation of force and murder, known as 'Napoleon the Great.
Robert G. Ingersoll