Napoleon was not a modest man. He had no doubt of his genius, or that it was innate. He was successful because of ‘the special gift I received at birth … Everywhere I have been, I have commanded … I was born for that.’ Luck and good fortune were important, but not decisive:
No sustained great acts are the work of chance and fortune; they always derive from calculation and genius. One rarely sees great men fail in their most perilous endeavours. Take Alexander, Caesar, Hannibal, the great Gustavus [Adolphus], and others: they always succeed. Is it because they had good fortune that they became great men? No, but because being great men, they proved capable of mastering good fortune.
He believed that the most necessary quality of a great commander was a cool head and bluntly told his brother Joseph, ‘We are two very different men … Everything goes to your head; you must be impassioned. Nothing goes to my head. Were I at the top of Milan cathedral and precipitated head first to the ground, I would fall calmly looking around me.’ As Bruno Colson, the editor of this fascinating new collection of Napoleon’s views on the nature and art