The Man Behind the Curtain
The purchase of the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon’s France was the defining moment of the presidency of Thomas Jefferson and proof of his extraordinary vision.
As Napoleon finalized the agreement, he said, “This accession of territory affirms forever the power of the United States, and I have given England a maritime rival who sooner or later will humble her pride.”
In that single moment, with the stroke of a pen, the fledgling United States gained all or part of present-day Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, parts of Minnesota, most of North Dakota, nearly all of South Dakota, northeastern New Mexico and those portions of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of the Continental Divide.
Perhaps most importantly, we gained New Orleans. You've got to love New Orleans.
Yes, yes, yes, you’ve known of Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon and the Louisiana Purchase since you were in the eighth grade.
But what of the man behind the curtain, Napoleon’s little brother, Lucien Bonaparte?
Without Lucien Bonaparte there would be no Napoleon, no Louisiana Purchase, no New Orleans.
In what was perhaps the pivotal moment of the coup d'état that brought his brother to power in 1799, 24 year-old Lucien mounted a horse and galvanized the grenadiers by pointing a sword at Napoleon and swearing to run him through if he ever betrayed the principles of Liberté, égalité, fraternité. The following day Lucien arranged for Napoleon's formal election as First Consul.
Lucien Bonaparte was Colonel Parker to his brother’s Elvis, Don King to his brother’s Muhammad Ali.
Following their rise to power, Lucien was the inspiration behind the reconstitution of the dispersed Académie Française in 1803. This action restored the literary pursuits of the French nation.
Lucien collected paintings in his maison de campagne at Brienne, was a member the salon of Jeanne Françoise Julie Adélaïde Récamier and wrote a novel, La Tribu indienne. He maintained a strong interest in the arts throughout his life and in addition to his novel, wrote memoirs, travel journals, and an epic poem, Charlemagne, ou, L'église délivrée.
All this was during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson.
In 1810, shortly after James Madison became president of the United States, Lucien Bonaparte was captured by the British on his way to America. Although a prisoner, Lucien was settled comfortably in the English countryside where he wrote his long, epic poem, Charlemagne, ou, L'église délivrée, as a way to pass the time.
That poem was published in French by a London publisher in 1814 and was translated into English the next year as Charlemagne, or the Church Delivered, an Epic Poem in 24 Books. The work received an indifferent reception and Lucien later bitterly regretted writing it.
Lucien’s capture caused a rift between the brothers when Napoleon assumed Lucien had defected to the British. Lucien had not, in fact, been thrilled with how Napoleon was leading France and had spurned a number of imperial honors from his brother before going into self-imposed exile in Rome.
When you visit the art gallery and museum in Wizard Academy’s soon-to-be-completed tower, you’ll see a 4×5 inch pencil sketch of Napoleon Bonaparte drawn by his brother Lucien shortly after they took control of the government in 1799. The sketch is signed “Lucien Bonaparte.” Wizzo bought it in a Sotheby’s auction a number of years ago.
Since then, the wizard has been able to acquire an 1815 first edition of Lucien’s epic poem in English. That poem fills 2 leather-bound, hardback books.
Lucien’s sketch of his brother Napoleon, along with the books, will be displayed in the same room as the 16th century Spanish Galleon bell we strongly suspect to be from the Trinidad or Concepcion of Ferdinand Magellan. Upstairs in the library you’ll find a signed copy of the first edition of the first book of Dr. Seuss, a Salvador Dali original watercolor of Don Quixote and many other artifacts strange and wonderful.
“Strange and wonderful.” Yes, those are the words. After all, this is the art gallery in the tower of Wizard Academy, America’s nontraditional business school.
Thank you for being part of it.