“When Alexander did survey the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.”

I love this quote, the wannabe classicist in me hopefully ascribing it to Roman Plutarch, the nagging modernist claiming it for Alan Rickman’s intoxicating villain, Hans Gruber, in fan favourite Christmas classic ‘Die Hard’.

Alexander of Macedon; The Great (the T, of course, capitalised); the warrior; the boy general; the traveller, has long been a fascination of mine: my brother was named for him and, in turn, my son for he; a man who lived a life so vast it beggars both language and film.

Napoleon was also a fan and, sitting here, quite impossibly, at his writing desk, in his study at Longwood House, St. Helena, gazing through his window at his small, but lovely garden, at the banks of flowers and at the well hoed vegetable patch, I wonder if he too did weep; his empire, his field of influence, reduced to a few square metres; his fame swept far, far away, his energy spent and his ambition reduced to nought; his homely, but exquisite vista the property of his captors, an ironic, gifted comfort.

And wonder is all I can do, empathy rendered obtuse by the distance of time and the vagaries of circumstance; him, a diminutive giant of history; me, a lesser mortal, a devoted, adoring speck. I am here by choice, he for different reasons. The tricolour which flies so proudly in his garden now would, I have no doubt, have seen little weather then.

But I can wonder because I am here. I look where he looked. I sit where he sat. I am a pilgrim, my travels enabling us, through the centuries, to share a moment; and in this moment, in these few minutes of sheer impossibility, with my laptop placed where so few have been before, I realise that I too am weeping. No quotation is necessary.

Napolean's writing desk, Longford House, St Helena

Note: With special thanks to the excellent staff and custodians of Longwood House who so gracefully made this possible, who made the dream of a one crazy Englishman come true on this distant scratch of now-French soil on an island that remains, for now at least, forever British.

Thanks for reading

Author: Giles Cross