He developed a strong body, learned to swim, fight, climb trees. He liked especially a farm the family owned in the hills above Ajaccio. I went there with Jean Graziani, an architect helping restore the old house there. “He loved this farm,” Jean said. “He did not speak only once about it, but many times.” I could understand that affection: There was the smell of sun-warmed earth, olive trees, grape vines, the base of a great oven. I re¬membered one of his relatives had boasted: “The Buonapartes have never paid for bread, wine, and oil.”
“He was in some ways a Corsican,” Jean said. “Here the family is very important, very close; so it was with Napoleone, all his life. And he was very proud, like most Corsi¬cans. His mother told him to always put up a good front, to have a nice parlor to receive friends, even if he had to eat only bread.”
But there was one Corsican convention that the boy Napoleone would not accept. In Corsica the first son is the most important, the others less so. Napoleone, the second son, constantly harassed and competed with the first, Giuseppe—Joseph.
ATT THE AGE OF NINE, Napoleone went off to France to school, along with Giuseppe. Napoleone, with a royal scholarship, attended the Royal Military School of Brienne, in Cham-pagne. Here he spent five years, seeing his family twice.
According to the testimony of classmates, he was a loner, didn’t talk much, didn’t play much. He read a lot, reflected. The school influenced him. It expounded the rationalist philosophy of the Cartesians; he was taught to classify, to arrange things logically. Teaching was by memorizing, reciting. He had an extraordinary memory, filing things away in his head as if in some giant and al¬ways accessible cabinet. And the texts he memorized were those of the ancient Greeks and Romans. A young cadet might well come to admire ancient Rome and its institu¬tions, might dream of himself becoming an Alexander, a Caesar.
From Brienne, Napoleon went to the Ecole Militaire in Paris, graduating in 1785.
For seven years he led the life of a lieutenant in garrison, poverty-stricken, often on leave, usually in Corsica. He skimped to buy books, read, and was influenced by the ro¬manticism and political thought of Rous¬seau. He wrote himself, on politics, history, the nature of man, a dreamy romance.
These were the years of the French Revo¬lution and its turmoil. In 1789 a mob stormed the Bastille; in ’92 the monarchy was overthrown, a republic declared; in ’93 the Reign of Terror commenced, with the heads of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette dropping into the executioners’ baskets, along with the heads of thousands of others. Rival revolutionary groups competed for power. “As things are,” Napoleon wrote his brother Joseph, “I see only one thing clear; I must keep on the right side of those who have been and can be my friends.”