Obscurity and exile for Napoleon Bonaparte marked his final chapter. Napoleon’s first exile was short lived. In March of 1815, Bonaparte escaped Elba island and triumphantly marched to Paris where he returned to power. He once again led France into war. His army advanced to Belgium and trounced the Prussian forces on June 16, 1815. However, two days later, Napoleon’s army fell to defeat at Waterloo. An alliance of Britain and Prussia beat Bonaparte once and for all.
Fearing a repeat of yet another escape from exile and rise to power, the coalition of Napoleon’s enemies sent him into exile to live out his life at the very remote South Atlantic island of Saint Helena. His days were very calm and relaxing. He included reading and casual strolls along the beach. Eventually the routine bored him. He often stayed inside his quarters. On May 5, 1821, Napoleon Bonaparte died after his lengthy battle with stomach cancer.
I’ve wondered if Napoleon had finally come to grips with himself. He had lived a magnificent life as one of history’s most interesting and powerful leaders. Did he crash and burn out in his lonely exile away from the world and his beloved France?
I imagine his exile felt lonely to him at least much of the time. He probably felt lonely all of his life. The hunger for power and fame likely manifested because of his inner lonesomeness. But, apart from his small retinue on the island of St. Helena, he was probably not only lonely, but perhaps he was finally all alone.
Maybe he finally realized he had no more relationships with the public. He couldn’t turn to the Gods and the Heavens. Every form of familiar thought and habit had vanished. He must have felt profoundly lonely.
I wonder if that formerly great worldly leader found the meaning and some comfort in being truly alone. Did Napoleon finally release his attachments to achievement, ambition, arrogance, envy, greed, and status? If he did so, he was finally all alone. I also wonder if he not only felt all alone, but if he accepted and even embraced being all alone.
Maybe I’m projecting some of the readers’ and my own meanderings onto Napoleon’s existential crisis? Maybe he never did come to a positive relationship with his social and personal exile. Perhaps he felt vindictive and needed to validate his life’s actions? Was his uneasy relationship with himself at the root of his ambiguous place in history? Was this messy mental relationship with himself at the root of his stomach cancer?
Napoleon, like most human beings, built walls between himself and his fellow men and women. He was the epitome of nationalism, patriotism, and class. These are powerful ingredients of isolationism and loneliness. But could he have shed much of that? Was he really alone?
Was he alone in the beauty of being fully alone? Being fully alone is not isolation. Being alone is not being unique, even as unique of a man such as Napoleon Bonaparte. Being alone implied that his mind was free of influence. Being alone meant that he was finally free. Was he really free?
Only when one is completely and fully alone, can one really experience the grand beauty of life. It is only then that we are free to understand what is timeless and endless.
I wonder if he ever found that place at St. Helena.
The Blue Jay of Happiness thinks Napoleon may have found some peace because he once said, “The best cure for the body is a quiet mind.”
Napoleon couldn’t be more right, Peace begins from within and not from physical possesions nor power.