Snippets from Great Literature

I am at a loss today to write anything original as well as worthwhile so I decided to just make an article of some quotes that I read from some very good books that I have been browsing through this week. One may even call these books great literature.

The book I have chosen is by Thomas Carlyle. The book itself is On Heroes, Hero Worship and the Heroic in History. Here are some snippets from the chapter on Cromwell and Napoleon.

Speaking of Napoleon Carlyle says:

Regarding Sincerity: Napoleon does by no means seem to me so great a man as Cromwell. His enormous victories which reached over all Europe, while Cromwell abode mainly in our little England, are but as the high stilts on which the man is seen standing; the stature of the man is not altered thereby. I find in him no such sincerity as in Cromwell; only a far inferior sort. No silent walking, through long years, with the Awful Unnamable of this Universe; “walking with God,” as he called it; and faith and strength in that alone: latent thought and valour, content to lie latent, then burst out as in blaze of Heaven’s lightning!

On what makes a man great: So too in Practice: he, as every man that can be great, or have victory in this world, sees, through all entanglements, the practical heart of the matter; drives straight towards that. When the steward of his Tuileries Palace was exhibiting the new upholstery, with praises, and demonstration how glorious it was, and how cheap withal, Napoleon, making little answer, asked for a pair of scissors, clips one of the gold tassels from a window-curtain, put it in his pocket, and walked on. Some days afterwards, he produced it at the right moment, to the horror of his upholstery functionary; it was not gold but tinsel! In St. Helena, it is notable how he still, to his last days, insists on the practical, the real. “Why talk and complain; above all, why quarrel with one another? There is no result in it; it comes to nothing that one can do. Say nothing, if one can do nothing!” He speaks often so, to his poor discontented followers; he is like a piece of silent strength in the middle of their morbid querulousness there.

On what Napoleon believed in: And yet by the nature of him, fostered too by his military trade, he knew that Democracy, if it were a true thing at all, could not be an anarchy: the man had a heart-hatred for anarchy. On that Twentieth of June (1792), Bourrienne and he sat in a coffee-house, as the mob rolled by: Napoleon expresses the deepest contempt for persons in authority that they do not restrain this rabble. On the Tenth of August he wonders why there is no man to command these poor Swiss; they would conquer if there were. Such a faith in Democracy, yet hatred of anarchy, it is that carries Napoleon through all his great work.

As an aside I know of an Islamic admonition which goes: Better one hundred years of the Sultan’s tyranny than one year of people’s tyranny over each other.

Other notable takeaways from the book:

But at this point, I think, the fatal charlatan-element (in Napoleon) got the upper hand … he believed too much in the Dupability of men; saw no fact deeper in man than Hunger and this! He was mistaken. Like a man that should build upon cloud; his house and he fall down in confused wreck, and depart out of the world …Alas, in all of us this charlatan-element exists; and might be developed, were the temptation strong enough. “Lead us not into temptation” (the Christian prayer)

On the self-deception that ruined Napoleon in the end:  He cannot understand it: inconceivable that the reality has not corresponded to his program of it; that France was not all-great, that he was not France. “Strong delusion,” that he should believe the thing to be which is not! The compact, clear-seeing, decisive Italian nature of him, strong, genuine, which he once had, has enveloped itself, half-dissolved itself, in a turbid atmosphere of French fanfaronade.

I can testify to the harm that self-deception does. I have myself been a victim to it. As a result, I believe strongly that one should never tell lies to oneself. I suppose everybody tells lies to others at times.  We would prefer to avoid it is we could but we do it if absolutely necessary. But never tell lies to yourself. Self-deception and lack of intellectual integrity have brought down more men than just Napoleon.

Combine that with Sun Tzu’s maxim in The Art of War: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

These three paragraphs above will save you from the terrible harm that self-deception does to a person.

(The quotes  from Carlyle above were sourced from – )

I’ll end here.  Hope you liked the article and learnt from it. Stay tuned for more.

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1 Comment

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