Napoleon ‘tried to learn English’

Living in countries like Japan or Taiwan (and probably S Korea and some other countries) where the vast majority of westerners are employed as ‘English teachers,’ one is keenly aware of the English-learning obsession.

Thanks to the Beeb for telling us who really started the craze.

Napoleon had his first lesson on 17 January 1816, when he asked las Cases to dictate to him some sentences in French, which he then translated, using a table of auxiliary verbs and a dictionary.

The surviving sentences appear to indicate Napoleon’s feelings towards his exile. He wrote:

“When will you be wise.

“Never as long as I should be in this isle.

“But I shall become wise after having crossed the line.

“When I shall land in France I shall be very content.”
According to historian Dr Peter Hicks, las Cases describes how Napoleon hated being sat down to work like a schoolboy but steeled himself for the task.

Dr Hicks said: “He was not necessarily anti-English. He had to fight because it was the enemy of France.”

He added: “In France people are amazed to find that he was learning English. But he didn’t do it for pleasure. He wondered how much money he could have saved in translation if he could have learnt English.”