[PW] " An Army Marches on Its Stomach "

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com
Fri Dec 30 09:58:11 PST 2016

Thomas Carlyle's multi-volume work about Frederick the Great was
published over a period of years from 1858 to 1865.  The statement in
Book 2, Chapter 6 was ambiguous. The target notion was ascribed to
"our little Friend at Berlin" (as noted by Fred):

[Begin excerpt]
They were stronger than Turk and Saracen, but not than Hunger and
Disease. Leaders did not know then, as our little Friend at Berlin
came to know, that "an Army, like a serpent, goes upon its belly."
[End excerpt]

Strictly speaking the locution "came to know" does not imply that "our
little Friend at Berlin" coined the target phrase or even said the

Interestingly, Thomas Carlyle employed another simplified instance of
the saying in volume 7 of the same opus published in 1862. There was
no ambiguity in the text below. Carlyle credited Frederick the Great,
This instance omitted mention of the serpent:

Year: 1862
Title: History of Friedrich II of Prussia, Called Frederick the Great
Author: Thomas Carlyle
Volume 7
Publisher: Bernhard Tauchnitz, Leipzig
Quote Page 172 and 173


[Begin excerpt]
The main Army is to follow under Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau tomorrow,
Wednesday, "so soon as their loaves have come from Königsgrätz," — for
"an Army goes on its belly," says Friedrich often. Loaves do not come,
owing to evil chance, on this occasion: Leopold's people "take meal
instead;" but will follow, next morning, all the same, according to
[End excerpt]

The saying was ascribed to Napoleon by October 1862. This version used
the word "marched":

[ref] 1862 October 18, The Springfield Daily Republican, Gastronomy,
Quote Page 6, Column 1, Springfield, Massachusetts.

[Begin excerpt]
Napoleon said an army marched on its belly. Dismiss all incompetent
and hang all rascally commissaries, and decrease the number of deaths
in the army twenty-five per cent.
[End excerpt]

Lastly, here is a bonus citation in August 1861 with contiguous
quotations from Napoleon and Frederic. Passages like the one below
sometimes lead to misattributions when a reader inattentively attaches
the wrong name to a nearby quotation:

[ref] 1861 August 26, Janesville Daily Gazette, A Few Words On
Rations, Quote Page 1, Column 4, Janesville, Wisconsin.

[Begin excerpt]
Marshal McMahon says that vast events depend upon an army's not going
into action "till it has had its coffee." We quote these words from
Mrs. Parton, who adds that Napoleon says that what soldier needs most
is two things, "a full belly and a pair of shoes"—and tells us that
Frederic used to say, "An army, like a serpent, goes upon its belly."
[End excerpt]


On Fri, Dec 30, 2016 at 3:03 AM, ADSGarson O'Toole
<adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com> wrote:
> The Count de Las Cases claimed that Emperor Napoleon said "It is
> hunger that makes the world move." This adage was thematically related
> to the quotation under investigation although the military was not
> mentioned. Here are the details.
> Year: 1824
> Title: Journal of the Private Life and Conversations of the Emperor
> Napoleon at Saint Helena Author: The Count de Las Cases
> (Emmanuel-Auguste-Dieudonné comte de Las Cases)
> Volume 2 of 4
> Printed for Henry Colburn, London
> Quote Page 340 and 342
> Section Date: July 9 to 11, 1816
> https://books.google.com/books?id=cXE_AQAAMAAJ&q=belly#v=snippet&q=belly&f=false
> [Begin excerpt from section header page 340]
> The belly rules the world.
> [End excerpt from section header]
> [Begin excerpt from index page 374]
> Analysis of the fable of the Wolf and the lamb.—Condemns the moral of
> it: says that the belly governs the world
> [End excerpt from index]
> [Begin excerpt page 342]
> Tristan is very idle. He confessed to the Emperor that he did not work
> every day. "Do you not eat every day?" said the Emperor to him; "Yes,
> Sire." "Well, then, you ought to work every day; no one should eat who
> does not work." "Oh! if that be the case, I will work every day," said
> the child, quickly. "Such is the influence of the belly," said the
> Emperor, tapping that of little Tristan. "It is hunger that makes the
> world move."
> [End excerpt page 342]
> The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations Online says:
> [Begin excerpt]
> Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte) 1769–1821
> An army marches on its stomach.
> attributed, but probably condensed from a long passage in E. A. de Las
> Cases Mémorial de Ste-Hélène (1823) vol. 4, 14 November 1816; also
> attributed to Frederick the Great, in Notes and Queries 10 March 1866;
> see proverbs, Sellar and Yeatman
> [End excerpt]
> So I attempted to locate the pertinent passages in the section dated
> November 14, 1816 in volume 4 of the work by Count de Las Cases. The
> text below was the best I could find. I guess one might condense the
> words below to "An army marches on its stomach", but I do not find
> this quotation origin theory very plausible.
> Year: 1824
> Title: Journal of the Private Life and Conversations of the Emperor
> Napoleon at Saint Helena Author: The Count de Las Cases
> (Emmanuel-Auguste-Dieudonné comte de Las Cases)
> Volume 4 of 4
> https://books.google.com/books?id=ynE_AQAAMAAJ&q=stomachs#v=snippet&
> [Begin excerpt from page 196]
> There could be no perfect army, until in imitation of the Roman
> custom, the soldier should receive his supply of corn, grind it in his
> hand-mill, and bake his bread himself. We could not hope to possess an
> army, until we should abolish all our monstrous train of civil
> attendants, and commissary officers.
> [End excerpt]
> [Begin excerpt from page 197]
> "By the adoption of the ancient plan," said he, "an army might have
> marched to the further extremity of the world. But, it would require
> time to bring about such a transition. It could not have been
> accomplished by a mere order of the day. I had long entertained the
> idea of such a change; but however great might have been my power, I
> should never have attempted to introduce it by force. There is no
> subordination with empty stomachs. Such an object could only have been
> effected in time of peace, and by insensible degrees: I should have
> accomplished it by creating new military manners."
> [End excerpt]
> Garson
> On Thu, Dec 29, 2016 at 7:46 PM, ADSGarson O'Toole
> <adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Napoleon's belly obsession was more extreme than most modern people
>> are aware according to this 1849 citation: "The world is governed by
>> its belly".
>> Year: 1849
>> Title: England's Grievance Discovered: In Relation to the Coal-trade;
>> the Tyrannical Oppression of the Magistrates of Newcastle;
>> Quote Page 164
>> https://books.google.com/books?id=b11HAAAAYAAJ&q=Napoleon#v=snippet&
>> [Begin excerpt]
>> The beer question ever returns. It would be difficult to say how much
>> of the animosity of the nautical men of Shields against Newcastle, and
>> their consequent efforts to overturn the monopoly of the latter, has
>> had its origin in the beer. "The world," said Napoleon, "is governed
>> by its belly."
>> [End excerpt]
>> Garson

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