Sunday, 15 May 2011

Rats or Cats? - Facing Phobias.

My mid week blog post involved the Emperor Napoleon and 30,000 rabbits. Writing that post reminded me of Napoleon’s reputation for being afraid of cats. Apparently this was an open secret amongst his contemporaries, friend and foe alike. Indeed, during an important political debate, an opponent got the upper hand and threw Napoleon off his stride, merely by bringing the subject of cats into the conversation.

Another example of this deep seated fear happened during the campaign for the Battle of Wagram. An Aide de Campe passed Napoleon’s tent and was alarmed to hear screams and cries for help. Fearing his leader to be in mortal danger, the Aide drew his sword and burst in.... to find Napoleon sweating profusely and wildly stabbing at the air…because a stray cat had wandered into the tent!

My favourite Napoleon-and-cat story, and wonderfully demonstrates the British sense of humour, takes place after the Emperor’s defeat by Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo. Sent into exile on the island of Saint Helena, Napoleon’s new residence was the damp, vermin infested estate at Longwood. Contemporary accounts report:

“Rats…came out at night…so thick as the floor appeared black.”

Over time reports filtered back to England that the French Emperor had been bitten by a rat. Magnanimous in victory and ever compassionate, posters appeared in English market places offering the princely sum of sixpence per cat for those collecting felines go to Napoleon’s aid. Strays and farm cats were rounded up by the wagon load and a special ship commissioned to carry this special live cargo to Saint Helena and rid the prisoner of his vermin infestation.
Poor Napoleon, this must have been a case of “good news” and “bad news” when that shipped docked!

Ahhh - Widget! (Guess where I stand on cats!)
I’m not a fan of spiders (to put in mildly) and if my house was infested with flies, I wouldn’t be overly pleased to receive boxes of spiders….so how about you? Would you rather put up with rats and flies….or be prepared to face a phobia?


  1. Oh my. Napoleon probably shouldn't have decided to take over the world. He could have been safe at home with zero cats in his life. Did Josephine have cats? Apparently not or they would not have been together. Phobias are not reasonable and yet they are powerful. I just learned why I have my phobia when reading the baby book my mother kept on me! Clear as a bell; no wonder. Now why was I never told about what happened to me! :)

  2. Intriguing Debbie, interesting how early experiences can influence later life even when we cant remember the inciting incident.


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