At the end of the nineteenth century, Dr Edmund Andrews, First Surgeon at the Hospital of Mercy in Chicago, and Professor Cesare Lombroso, renowned psychiatrist from Turino, both studied Napoleon’s symptoms.  Dr Andrews’ study was published in English in an American newspaper.  Professor Lombroso’s study appeared in German in a Leipzig magazine.  I have translated from the French version quoted by Dr Cabanes at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Dr Andrews begins by examining documents.  Firstly, he quotes a passage from Mr de Norvins’ Histoire de Napoleon.

“When Napoleon, then a very young man, was at the Ecole militaire de Brienne, he was given a severe punishment for having violated one of the rules.  He was so affected by it that the school’s Commander, frightened by the nervous disorders manifested by the young man, put an end to the punishment.”

The same fact was reported, somewhat differently, by the Count de Segur.

“Made to kneel at the entrance to the refectory, the child had scarcely bent his knees, before vomitting suddenly and being seized by a violent attack of nerves.”

Dr Andrews does not attach a great deal of importance to this episode from Bonaparte’s childhood, which shows a particularly nervous susceptibility.  As for Lombroso, he mentions this convulsive attack, without commenting on it.

The next episode gives a bit more pause for thought.

From the beginning of the Empire, in 1804, there were already murmurs at the court that the Emperor was prone to epilepsy.  That same year, a lady of the court, perhaps Mme de Remusat, kept a diary of Napoleon’s trip to Mayence.  On 10 September, she writes from Coblence:

“It appears that Napoleon had, last night, a violent attack of the nervous illness or epilepsy to which he is subject.  He was indisposed for a long time before Josephine, who occupied the same bedroom, dared to ask for help;  but in the end, this state of suffering being prolonged, she wanted to have some light.  Roustam, who always sleeps at the Emperor’s door, was sleeping so soundly that she was unable to wake him.  The Prefect’s apartment is so far from being luxurious, that even simple articles of convenience are lacking.  There wasn’t even a bell;  the chamber valets were lodged very far away, and Josephine, half-naked, was obliged to partially open the door of the aide de camp on duty, to get some light.  General Rapp, a bit surprised by this nocturnal visit, gave her some;  and, after several anguished hours, this attack subsided.

“Napoleon forbade Josephine to say a single word of his indisposition.  So she made all of the people in whom she had confided this morning swear to secrecy.  But how can she hope that everyone will keep a secret which she, herself, is unable to keep?  Does she have the right to impose discretion on others when she lacks it herself?

“The Emperor was rather pale this evening, rather subdued;  but no-one took the liberty of enquiring after his health.  Everyone knows that it means disgrace, if anyone could believe that His Majesty was subject to some human failing.”

In reproducing this fragment of the Journal d’une dame du palais, Constant accompanies it with this note, which has its importance.:

“The Emperor has never been subject to any epilepsy attacks:  this is just another one of those stories of which so many have been recounted about him… ”

Somewhere else in his Memoires, Constant reports that he heard cries and moans coming from the imperial bedroom.  He rushed in and found Napoleon lying on his bed, mouth open, making inarticulate sounds, with one of his hands clutching his stomach.

Constant sat him up with difficulty and asked him:  “What is wrong?”  The Emperor immediately told him that he had had a terrible nightmare, in which he saw a bear lying on his body, trying to rip out his heart.

As Dr Andrews judiciously observes, epileptics do not have their mouths open during attacks, and if we refer to Constant’s story, it does not seem that we are in the presence of anything more than a dreadful nightmare or a terrifying vision.

Another account is that of Talleyrand.  He reports that the Count de Remusat, First Chamberlain, and himself witnessed an attack which shows great similarity with an epileptic fit.

One day, when Prince de Benevent had accompanied the Emperor to Strasbourg, Napoleon had entered Josephine’s bedroom:  he soon rushed out in a great hurry, seized Talleyrand by the arm, dragged him into a neighbouring bedroom and ordered him, in a stammer, to close the door.  Once inside, he fell in a heap and twisted about in convulsions, which Talleyrand described like this:

“He moaned and drooled;  he rolled on the ground in convulsions which lasted about a quarter of an hour.  Then he started to speak again, came to his senses and ordered us to keep quiet about what had just happened.  Half an hour later, he left for Carlsruhe.”

Talleyrand and Napoleon detested each other – and this is the only thing which would stop us giving great credit to this story.  That said, it is evident that the symptoms reported by Talleyrand:  loss of consciousness, convulsive movements, frothing at the mouth, leave little doubt as to the nature of the attack.

However, there was no initial, precursory cry, nor the coma-like sleep which follows the period of disordered movement.  Neither was there the speech difficulty, which persists for some time before the return of consciousness, which, itself, only comes back slowly and gradually.

On top of that, the patient usually has no memory of what has happened, whereas Napoleon seems to be fully aware of the disorder which has just attacked him.  It has never been shown either, that he ever suffered from that mental and physical fatigue which accompanies the smallest epileptic incident.

Drs Corre and Laurent have dismissed the epilepsy supposition for this reason alone, that the intelligence has always remained intact.

Professor Teobaldi, of the University of Padua, in a work on Napoleon, shows that “never did anyone see him fall from his horse, stop speaking, or suffer in public from nervous, convulsive troubles.  His doctors never found him to be epileptic.”  It is in fact remarkable that none of those called to treat Napoleon, at different times in his life, ever mentioned this pathological incident.

“Of all the doctors who, at different times, have served the Emperor and his family,” writes Dr Andrews.  “Six of them have published medical observations which they gathered about their imperial master…  These six doctors were Warden, O’Meara, Antommarchi, Arnott, Hereau and Corvisart.  In their letters or their memories, not one word can be found concerning epilepsy.  Only Hereau, who analyzed the work of the others, with the intention of making a report for the Duke of Reichstadt, the Emperor’s son, adds a remark, which appears to be an indirect answer to public rumour:  he assures the young Napoleon that his father was suffering from no illness which could have clouded his intellectual capacities.”

Third part tomorrow.

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