Magazine article The Spectator

Medicine and Letters

Magazine article The Spectator

Medicine and Letters

Article excerpt

I don't much care for Napoleon, but I've always had a sneaking sympathy for Napoleon III. His boundless ambition combined with an ultimate lack of ruthlessness, his self-importance and vanity combined with flashes of insight into his own personal insignificance, make him a far nicer man than his odious uncle.

I mean no self-praise when I say that men who are failures are in general much more attractive than men who are resounding successes.

It was my sympathy for the Emperor of the French that impelled me to pick up a little volume entitled Napoleon III (My Recollections) by Sir William Fraser, Bart.

Sir William was elected MP for Barnstaple in 1852, but was unseated because he was deemed to have won by bribery. A social climber on a positively mountaineering scale, he seems to have bumped into royalty all over the place.

He also seems to have been something of a foot fetishist. He says of Napoleon the Little: 'His feet were not badly shaped, but un-meaning.' I confess that here I looked down at my feet and wondered what, apart from their evident function in locomotion and in preserving me upright, they meant.

Sir William later dilates on his opinion, without necessarily clarifying it: 'I have always considered that the foot and the boot together strongly mark the characteristics of human beings. Napoleon III had little to admire in this respect:

beyond his feet being of moderate size in proportion to his height. There was none of that muscular and nervous individuality about his feet which adds dignity to a human being. They were what I should describe as "saw-dust feet". …

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