Quotations by Napoleon Bonaparte


Rascality has limits; stupidity has not.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 17-Nov-17
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Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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Do you know, Fontanes, what most amazes me in the world?  The inability of force to maintain anything at all.  There are only two powers in the world: the sword and the mind.  In the long run, the sword is always defeated by the mind.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
(Attributed)

In Albert Camus, November 1939, Notebooks: 1935-1942 [tr. Thody (1963)]

Added on 21-Apr-10 | Last updated 21-Apr-10
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The battlefield is a scene of constant chaos. The winner will be the one who controls that chaos, both his own and the enemy’s.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
(Attributed)

Frequently misquoted, ungrammatically, as "... both his own and the enemies."

Added on 17-Nov-10 | Last updated 17-Nov-10
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Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
(Attributed)

Often quoted by Andrew Jackson, to whom it is also attributed.
Added on 2-Feb-12 | Last updated 2-Feb-12
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Ability is of little account without opportunity.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
(Attributed)

Quoted in The Homiletic Review (Nov 1895)
Added on 27-Feb-13 | Last updated 27-Feb-13
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If you wish to keep your private affairs secret, keep your servants well paid.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
(Attributed)

Quoted in In the Words of Napoleon, tr. Daniel Savage Gray (1977).
Added on 11-Oct-13 | Last updated 11-Oct-13
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One should never forbid what one lacks the power to prevent.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
(Attributed)

An aphorism he frequently used. See Sophocles.
Added on 14-Sep-15 | Last updated 14-Sep-15
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What is history but a fable agreed upon?

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
Memoirs of Napoleon by Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne (1829-1831)

Also attrib. to Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 15-Apr-09
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In war, three quarters turns on personal character and relations; the balance of manpower and materials counts only for the remaining quarter.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
Observations sur les affaires d’Espagne (27 Aug 1808)

Also translated: "In war, moral considerations make up three-quarters of the game; the relative balance of manpower accounts only for the remaining quarter." "Even in war moral power is to physical as three parts out of four." “Morale is to material as is the ratio of three to one.”
Added on 12-Oct-07 | Last updated 12-Oct-07
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From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
Comment to the Abbe du Pradt (1812)

Referring to the retreat from Moscow. See Paine.
Added on 21-Aug-14 | Last updated 21-Aug-14
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In order to govern, the question is not to follow out a more or less valid theory but to build with whatever materials are at hand. The inevitable must be accepted and turned to advantage.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
Deathbed statement (17 Apr 1821)
Added on 7-Sep-15 | Last updated 7-Sep-15
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Strategy is the art of making use of time and space. I am less chary of the latter than the former. Space we can recover, lost time never.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
Letter to Baron von Stein, Dammartin le St. Père (7 Jan 1814)

Alt. trans.: "One always has a chance of recovering lost ground, but lost time -- never."
Added on 18-Sep-14 | Last updated 23-Apr-19
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The art consists in making others work rather than in wearing oneself out.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
Letter to Eugène Beauharnais (27 Feb 1806)
Added on 29-Feb-16 | Last updated 29-Feb-16
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All great events hang by a single thread.  The clever man takes advantage of everything, neglects nothing that may give him some added opportunity; the less clever man, by neglecting one thing, sometimes misses everything.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
Letter to Talleyrand (26 Sep 1797)
Added on 2-Jul-10 | Last updated 2-Jul-10
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The first qualification of a diplomat is the ability to keep silent.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
Letter to Talleyrand (4 Jul 1802)
Added on 23-Sep-09 | Last updated 23-Sep-09
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It is only one step from victory to disaster. My experience is that, in a crisis, some detail always decides the issue.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
Letter to Talleyrand (7 Oct 1797)
Added on 5-Jun-09 | Last updated 5-Jun-09
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It is only a step from victory to disaster. My experience is that, in a crisis, some detail always decides the issue.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
Letter to Tallyrand (7-Oct-1797)

Napoleon's Letters, tr. J. M. Thompson, 1934
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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He who fears losing his reputation is sure to lose it.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
Letter to the Executive Directory (16 Apr. 1797)

The Bonaparte Letters and Despatches, Vol II (1846), p. 299 "The Third Plan": "But he who fears to lose his glory is sure to lose it."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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A consecutive series of great actions never is the result of chance and luck; it is always the product of planning and genius. … Is it because they are lucky that they have become great? No, but by being great, they have been able to master luck.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
Remarks to Emanuel Las Cases (14 Nov 1816)

In The Mind of Napoleon: A Selection from His Written and Spoken Words, ch. 56 [ed. J. Herold (1955)]
Added on 2-Dec-15 | Last updated 2-Dec-15
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