Skip to main content

Napoleon vs the Rabbits

On July 7, 1807, Napoleon Bonaparte signed the first of the Treaties of Tilsit.  This was with Emperor Alexander I of Russia, which established an alliance between the French Empire and Imperial Russia that would endure forever, or for the next five years, whichever came first.  The second Treaty of Tilsit was signed on July 9 on behalf of the King of Prussia.  Prussia had already signed an armistice with France a couple weeks earlier, but the purpose of this treaty was to demand territory from Prussia.  From this territory, Napoleon set up the puppet states of the Kingdom of Westphalia, the Free City of Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland), and the Duchy of Warsaw.  Prussia was stripped of about half of its territory, and was forced to reduce its army significantly.  Russia entered into war with Great Britain and Sweden when it aligned itself with France, which was great news for France.  France was shaping up like a military juggernaut in Europe; no continental power seemed strong enough to stand up to them.

A medallion celebrating the first Treaty of Tislit.  Emperor Napoleon (right) and Emperor Alexander (left) embrace each other rather warmly.

Naturally, Napoleon and the French army was feeling pretty good about themselves as they returned to Paris.  Hoping to profit from the emperor’s good mood, Napoleon’s chief of staff, Marshall Alexandre Berthier, invited him and all the officers to his estate at Grosbois.  He promised them a hunting expedition, since the land had plenty of game on it.  Berthier was hoping for a great rabbit hunt, but his staff told him that there weren’t many rabbits on the land lately.  He remedied this by ordering a thousand rabbits be brought to Grosbois and released for the pleasure of the hunters.

When they arrived, the hunting party headed out to the grounds, loaded for rabbit.  As Napoleon, Berthier, and the rest of the hunting party approached, they suddenly found themselves on the defensive.  A swarm of rabbits was rushing toward them, coming from all directions.  The party quailed at the sight of them, and realized that they had to escape.  The finest specimens that the French military had to offer was able to figure out how to maneuver around a horde of rabbits, but it was not easy.  Reports state that Napoleon himself was visibly shaken by the rabbit attack.  What they had for dinner that evening is not recorded, but hopefully there was something in the larder chez Berthier, because they weren’t having rabbit that evening.

Eventually someone figured out what went wrong.  When Berthier stocked his lands with live game, he chose domestic rabbits, figuring that he would guarantee a success on the hunt, since they would be easier to catch than wild rabbits.  Wild rabbits would just run and hide.  What Berthier hadn’t counted on was the fact that domestic rabbits are used to counting on human beings for food.  The imperial hunting party were probably the first humans the domestic rabbits had seen in a few days, and they were probably hungry.  Maybe it wasn’t an attack, but it certainly wasn’t what anyone was expecting.  When Napoleon said, “An army marches on its stomach,” this is probably not what he meant.

Le capitaine dînera, by Louis Albert Guislain Bacler d’Albe (c. 1820).


Popular posts from this blog

Betty Crocker: A Brief Biography

Long have our supermarket shelves borne products with the name Betty Crocker.  This name has long since lodged in our heads an essential part of americana.  It seems to evoke the past.  It seems to always have evoked the past, a past when life was simpler and Mother and Grandmother cooked at home, using time tested recipes and only the purest ingredients.  We can’t go back to that simpler, wholesome past, but we can give ourselves a Proustian shot of nostalgia by tasting the past we remember, or the past we only wish we could remember, but know must be so good.  That is the Betty Crocker brand.  You might have seen drawings of her, but have you ever actually seen the legend herself?  Here’s an image of Miss Crocker from a 1953 television ad:

The full "Betty Crocker" TV commercial.

Okay, that’s actually actress Adelaide Hawley, who played Betty Crocker in a number of commercials for the brand from 1949 to 1964.  Betty Crocker was born in 1921, so this representation looks to be…

The Star-Spangled Banner: The Original Lyrics

If you’re an American (and quite possibly even if you’re not), you’ve certainly heard the tune called “To Anacreon in Heaven” numerous times.  It’s a stirring melody, and can often sound very proud, and if someone asked you to hum a few bars, you probably could do a creditable job of it, even if you have no musical ability at all.  The tune is that familiar.  Of course, it has another name that you probably know better: “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

But the song’s first name was “To Anacreon in Heaven”.  The song asserts that Anacreon is in heaven, right from the first line.  Whether Anacreon actually is in heaven, I’ll take no position on, but he most certainly is dead.  Anacreon was a Greek poet who lived from circa 582 BCE to 485 BCE, which is a remarkably advanced age for the times.  Anacreon was celebrated for his songs about drinking and love and having a good time.  Maybe not the weightiest of literature, but even the most serious poets and thinkers need to take a break now and …

At, Hashtag, And Per Se

Since the invention of the typewriter in the 1860s, there has been little change to the keyboard used in English.  The position of the letters has remained the same, and the numbers and punctuation have as well. The advent of the personal computer has required additional keys, most of which have found their own standard spots on the keyboard, but for the most part, there haven’t been many changes to the original design.

If you look at the above keyboard, you can see there have been some changes. Keys for fractions don’t really exist anymore; nor does a key to write the ¢ symbol. But the ¢ key on this 1900 model typewriter also includes the @ symbol, which has been common on keyboards since the dawn of typewriters. It’s older than that, even. But of course it is: how else would anyone write an email address? Except… who are you going to email in 1900? No one was emailing anyone before 1972. That’s when programmer Ray Tomlinson invented email. He figured that if you’re going to …