Napoleon and Alexander von Humboldt are born in the same year, 1769. In fact, just weeks apart. Since the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy (MCMP) is funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, I thought I’d better check if there was any Napoleonic connection. It turns out that there is widely circulated anecdote about a meeting between Napoleon and Alexander von Humboldt. After being introduced at Napoleon’s court in 1804 (presumably before the coronation), the following exchange is said to have taken place:
“So, monsieur,” Napoleon asked, “you collect plants?” Humboldt smiled in modest agreement. Before walking away, Napoleon replied curtly, “So does my wife.” (NYT)
Perhaps it’s appropriate then that Alexander’s older brother — Wilhelm von Humboldt — exacted some measure of revenge as a principal delegate for Prussia at the Vienna Congress (1814-15), where Napoleon’s ultimate fate was sealed by members of the Sixth Coalition.