Friday's Guest Blogger: Every Friday, we are going to have a guest blogger blog about whatever they'd like. I will include a little introduction here for each guest.
Today's guest is a reader and long time customer of the Gothic. He has chosen to remain anonymous but I think you will find this nonetheless interesting.
Heard at the dinner table.
Man to my right, ‘What really blew me away was Napoleon’s chess set. They actually had Napoleon’s chess set. Can you believe it? The one he used at Saint Elba, where he died in exile.’
‘No. No.’ The woman to my left, ‘He was exiled to the island of Saint Helens.’
My two dinner companions were just about to step over the boundary of polite conversation and start an argument, and spoil our friendly dinner. The man had been describing his visit to Biltmore, the huge Vanderbilt mansion in Ashville, North Carolina. In one of the rooms he had seen a chess set that had supposedly belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte when he was banished to an island.
I happened to know that they were both right—and wrong. I was in a position to be the peacemaker.
‘You’re both right’, I said. ‘He was exiled in 1814 to the island of Elba, between northwest coast of Italy and his native island of Corsica, by the allied governments that had been fighting him. But early in 1815 he managed to escape and return to France. He was defeated again, this time at Waterloo. The allies wanted to be certain he could not escape again, so they had him taken to the island of Saint Helena, nearly in the middle of the South Atlantic, more than a thousand miles from the West Coast of Africa.’
Both of my dinner companions were elated: they were both ‘right’ and had demonstrated their erudition. I did not correct their little mistakes concerning the names of the islands.
But after a few moments the man turned to me and said, ‘I did not know that you were an historian.”
“I’m not’, I said.
‘You must be a geographer, then’ the woman said.
‘No, I’m not. I am a medical research scientist at Duke.’
‘Well, then, how do you know all this?’ they both asked.
‘I guess I just like to read’ I said. ‘And to know things.’
‘How interesting’ the man said. ‘I like to play golf.’