Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Napoleon Hearts Science

Napoleon Bonaparte was the big bag bogeyman for much of the Regency period. Nothing would have made him happier than to invade England, and the English knew it. His face and figure featured in many a satirical cartoon of the day. Boney. The Corsican Monster.

The promoter of science and technology.

From an early age, Napoleon showed a skill for mathematics, so much so that he was originally put into artillery school in the military. He was still a young general, his star rising, when he was voted into the equivalent of the French Academy of Sciences. Many would whisper the scientists were merely attempting to curry favor. But he reciprocated by insisting that more than 150 scientists join the “expedition” to Egypt when he and the French army attempted to conquer that country in 1798. On the trip, he held scientific discussions aboard ship, raising the brows of the other military leaders and crew alike. But that expedition ended up discovering the Rosetta stone and opening the study of Egyptology.

Once back in France, Napoleon put not only his political prowess behind scientific advancements but his finances. He paid exorbitant salaries to scientists and engineers and offered prizes to have the most learned men of the day come speak on emerging areas, like electricity. One of these was Alessandro Volta, the Italian chemist credited with inventing the battery.

He pushed France to improve iron-smelting skills, supposedly because he wanted to be able to build bigger monuments. After seeing Robert Fulton test his submarine in the Seine in 1800, Napoleon awarded him with a grant to continue advancing the technology. Unfortunately, Fulton couldn’t figure out the fine points of propulsion. He lost his grant and returned to the United States. A shame Loveday Penhale of the Regent's Devices series hadn’t been there to help him. Doesn't it just look like a device she and Celeste Blanchard would have created? 😊

Others remembered his work. When Napoleon was defeated and exiled to St. Helena, there were allegedly plans to rescue him, by submarine!

One biographer claims Napoleon said if he hadn’t been the leader of France, he would have been a scientist on the scale of Galileo and Newton. Now, that sounds like the arrogant emperor England loathed!

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