Napoleon’s 93,125 Euro (£80,636.90) English lesson

If you had enough money to buy a nice sports car, a small summer home, or to have a second hand language lesson, which would you choose?

Obviously, someone who went to a recent auction chose the language lesson.  But that’s not all they bought.

The Swiss Newspaper 24 heures reports that the written work for Napoleon Bonaparte’s first English lesson, given during his imposed exile at Saint Helena, was sold at auction for the sum of ninety three thousand, one hundred and twenty five Euros.

And no, that’s not because of the currency crisis, that English lesson is still worth $127,180 American dollars and eighty one cents.

One of the first things Napoleon learned to write in English was “What is it arrived” [sic].   The English wasn’t all that broken though, he also learned to write “How many were they” and “How do they do”.  Not bad for a beginner.

At the price paid for Napoleon’s lesson, the average Frenchman could buy nearly fifty thousand English grammar books.  However, none of these have authentic samples of the Emperor’s handwriting.

Napoleon at his study, painting
Napoleon at his study, by Jacques Louis David

And to think, Napoleon was able to conquer half of Europe, and rise to be the most powerful man in the world, without knowing a word of English.  That language lesson at Saint Helena cost him an empire.

The Corsican’s works in French also brought in a lot of money.  The notes Napoleon made for the speech he gave at the Battle of the Bridge of Arcole (which took place from the 15th to the 17th of November, 1796) went for €53,750.

That’ll pay for a year’s study at one of the world’s most expensive universities (and an entire degree in the UK, even with the newly raised tuition fees).  Unfortunately, you can’t have Bonaparte for a lecturer, no matter where you go.

What the Swiss newspaper found most surprising, however, was the cost of a letter written to Napoleon in neither English nor French.  The real winner of the auction comes from Egypt.

At the end of Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt, he got a letter from his ally Ya’qub Hanna.  That letter was written in Nashki, a cursive form of Arabic.

Hanna’s letter, only 29 lines long, is short enough to enter any amateur poetry competition.  Yet it sold for one hundred eighty seven thousand five hundred Euros.  That’s over a quarter of a million US dollars.  Try finding a competition that awards that kind of prize money!

That’s enough to buy a pretty nice holiday in Egypt, and a European tour to go with it, but probably not enough for a pyramid.

So, if you have any old notes lying around, it might be worth preserving them.  I wonder what Napoleon and Ya’qub would do with all that money?