12 July 2016

Napoleon's Reading Habits

Louis-Étienne Saint-Denis, Napoleon: From the Tuileries to St. Helena, tr. Frank Hunter Potter (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1922), pp. 188-189:
The Emperor was infinitely fond of reading. The Greek and Roman historians were often in his hands, especially Plutarch. He could appreciate this excellent author more than anyone else. Therefore The Lives of Illustrious Men always appeared on the shelves of his campaign libraries. He often read Rollin. The history of the middle ages, modern history, and particular histories occupied him only casually. The only religious book which he had was the Bible. He liked to read over in it the chapters which he had heard read in the ruins of the ancient cities of Syria. They painted for him the customs of those countries and the patriarchal life of the desert. It was, he said, a faithful picture of what he had seen with his own eyes. Every time that he read Homer it was with a new admiration. No one, in his view, had known what was truly beautiful and great better than this author; consequently he often took him up again and read him from the first page to the last.
Ibid., p. 190:
If the Emperor had in his hands a book which interested him he would never lay it down till he knew it thoroughly. He read with his thumb, as the Abbé de Pradt said, yet nothing of its contents escaped him, and he knew it so well that long afterward he could make a detailed analysis of it, and even cite textually, so to speak, the passages which had struck him the most. If he heard anything spoken of with which he was not familiar, or of which he knew nothing, he would have all the books in his library in which it might possibly be treated of brought to him at once. He was not satisfied with a superficial knowledge; he went into the matter as deeply as possible. This was the way in which he proceeded to enlighten himself and to furnish his mind.
I've done a cursory search on Gallica, but haven't been able to find the original Souvenirs.