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"Blucher and the Elephant" Topic


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Prince Alberts Revenge09 Apr 2007 11:32 a.m. PST

I was wargaming a few years back and someone at the table mentioned that the Prussian general Blucher thought that he was pregnant with a baby elephant…any truth to this or is it completely false (which I imagine it is)?

nickinsomerset09 Apr 2007 11:46 a.m. PST

Typical Hussar!

Tally Ho!

Sergeant Ewart09 Apr 2007 11:49 a.m. PST

He thought it was a baby elephant because he could feel its trunk hanging down.

Buckeye AKA Darryl09 Apr 2007 11:49 a.m. PST

This is one of the stories about Blucher, but it goes even further, he claimed he was impregnated by a French Guardsmen, parent to said elephant. Hey the dude was old, but he could fight!

mweaver09 Apr 2007 11:55 a.m. PST

Not a well man, as I understand it…

nvrsaynvr09 Apr 2007 11:58 a.m. PST

As I understand it, it's a German idiom…

Steven H Smith09 Apr 2007 11:59 a.m. PST

From Andrew Robert's "Waterloo":

"Not everything about Blücher inspired confidence, however, since he suffered from occasional mental disturbances, including the delusions that he had been impregnated by an elephant and that the French had bribed his servants to heat the floors of his room so that he would burn his feet. The Prussian high command nonetheless exhibited a commendably broad/minded attitude towards these disorders; their army chief of staff General Gerhard von Scharnhorst wrote that Blücher ‘must lead though he has a hundred elephants inside him'."


There are some anecdotes about this old soldier that suggests that he was not too mentally stable. In June 1815 he made a short speech in front of his troops and announced that he was pregnant and about to give birth to an elephant, fathered by a French grenadier. He was removed from the front and placed in protective custody.

Stanhope's Notes of Conversations with the Duke of Wellington, 1831-1851 – Page 176 – mentions two incidents,
"The Duke of Cambridge told me that when Blucher died he was under the delusion of his being pregnant with an elephant—exactly the delusion under which the Duke (as he has formerly mentioned to me) saw him labouring previously at Paris."

DeanMoto09 Apr 2007 12:04 p.m. PST

Frederick the Great did say he could take himself to the devil.

SauveQuiPeut09 Apr 2007 12:09 p.m. PST

Recounted by Wellington to Stanhope:

Poor Blucher went mad for some time. He had shown off before some of our ladies, and got a fall from his horse and a blow on his head. This gave him all sorts of strange fancies. When I went to take leave of him, he positively told me he was pregnant! And what do you think he said he was pregnant of? – An elephant! And who do you think he said had produced it? – A French soldier!…
It was the last time I ever saw him. I went to him; he could hardly speak French, but he said (striking his side) 'Je sens un elephant la!'…I could only say, 'Je vous assure que vous vous meprenez!' and that he would soon get better. But he continued to express his surprise at there being a Frenchman in the case. 'Imaginez que moi – moi! un soldat francais!' I suppose he had dreamt it the night before.
He was a very fine fellow, and whenever there was any question of fighting, always ready and eager – if anything too eager.

vtsaogames09 Apr 2007 12:11 p.m. PST

A nut, but a tough nut. A sane chap might not have come back so quickly after being ridden over twice by enemy cavalry.

SauveQuiPeut09 Apr 2007 12:25 p.m. PST

Isn't there also a story from 1814, that after Boney beat him three times in four days he apparently had some kind of breakdown? Gneisenau had to take command and get the army safely away.

Anyone know the original source for that one?

Clampett09 Apr 2007 12:46 p.m. PST

"As I understand it, it's a German idiom…"

That's my understanding, too. Something along the lines of saying that going through a period of extreme difficulties was like being pregnant with an elephant. The British took it literally.

"he was pregnant and about to give birth to an elephant, fathered by a French grenadier."

Or in other words, the French army was going to cause him a lot of problems. Was Stanhope there at the time? How many of you have ever tried to speak metaphorically and stretched it too far? And how many of us have a favourite expession that we like to use over and over again?

Be careful about anything Andrew Roberts writes.

Steven H Smith09 Apr 2007 12:55 p.m. PST

But Scharnhorst had once said that he would prefer Blücher in a litter to any other able bodied man; Blucher must command, Scharnhorst now declared, "even though he have inside of him a hundred elephants."

Stanhope is quoting Wellington, who states he was there.

Arrigo09 Apr 2007 1:45 p.m. PST

it's false…

at least for everyone but Blucher himself (he had mental problems form young age, he had been discharged from the Army on that ground and recalled in service later). Another tale tell of him being the product of a female elephant and a french soldier.

Hundvig Fezian09 Apr 2007 2:19 p.m. PST

If it is a German idiom, I wonder if it became one because of Blucher, crazy or no? Sounds like it may have been an attempt at being droll that was badly misunderstood, and perhaps it went on to become part of the language?

Whatisitgood4atwork09 Apr 2007 3:10 p.m. PST

I too have read that it was a German idiom, meaning to have something weighing heavily on one's mind, with a tad of waiting for something important to happen thrown in.

I have wondered about the floor thing too. As an expression it seems related to 'being on tenterhooks', or being 'like a cat on a hot tin roof'.

We English speakers just love to laugh at foreigners for their quaint habits of not being English and doing thing like English folks do.

Mind you, I think everyody likes laughing at foreigners, even foreigners.

SauveQuiPeut09 Apr 2007 3:47 p.m. PST

After all, the story that Hitler had tantrums which involved throwing himself on the ground and actually chewing the carpets was due to a misunderstanding of a German expression.

Personal logo Lentulus Supporting Member of TMP09 Apr 2007 6:02 p.m. PST

I am reminded of that story about Wolfe – a pity he did not bite a few other generals.

Ivan DBA09 Apr 2007 11:42 p.m. PST

I believe the idiom explanation. If he had been truly that unbalanced, it is hard to believe that the Prussians troops would have followed him with such dedication.

Andrew May110 Apr 2007 1:15 a.m. PST

I didn't know about this! Thanks for filling me in on an interesting side note to Napoleonic histpry guys! Cheers!

50 Dylan CDs and an Icepick11 Apr 2007 5:43 a.m. PST

Well, he apparently said it to Grolman, who then repeated it to Scharnhorst. Grolman had spent a lot of time with Blücher from the summer of 1808 through the winter of 1808-09, and this is when the infamous "illness" took place, complete with the various stories of him delusional.

He might, after all, have had a bad flu or something else that gave him a wild fever. When I'm feverish my brain does all sorts of things that are hilarious in retrospect, but not much fun at the time!

Anyway, upon hearing from Grolman that "der Chef" was in a bad way, Scharnhorst sent that famous letter of support that included:

"You are our leader and our hero… even if you have to be carried before or behind us on a litter."

JeanLuc11 Apr 2007 11:47 a.m. PST

oh my ! why seek the truth ?
he was a hussar, and probably the oldest and only hussar exept vonzieten perhaps to have died of old age. So no wonder he was a bit nuts BUT he was a symbol for the Prussian army and, he being he, helped the revival of prussia.

Cacadore11 Apr 2007 5:28 p.m. PST

A lovely thread. This has to go on my water-loo wall.

I noticed particularly:

SauveQuiPeut

''he could hardly speak French''
with: 'Je sens un elephant la!''

So he can't speak much, but knows the French for 'elephant' and so tries to use what he can say in a joke? Too many humourless historians perhaps?

Rolf the Hermeneutic Meatloaft.
'' and this is when the infamous "illness" took place, complete with the various stories of him delusional. He might, after all, have had a bad flu or something else that gave him a wild fever. When I'm feverish my brain does all sorts of things that are hilarious in retrospect, but not much fun at the time!''

Blucher liked his drink.

What we really need is a German who's heard the 'expression'. Where is Hofshroer when you need him?

It should be said that old Marshal 'Vorworts!' Blucher, aside from being an inspiring, blood-thirsty (''take no prisoners'') leader, was also extremely loyal and honourable.

Cacadore11 Apr 2007 5:30 p.m. PST

Jean Luc
''he being he, helped the revival of prussia.''

I've gone off him now!

Oliver12 Apr 2007 12:44 a.m. PST

Well, being German, having stayed here for practically all my life and being no eremite, I never came accross the expression "to be pregnant with an elephant" to mean anything different than its literal sense.

A google search also yields only references to Blücher.

One possible reason could be that the idiomatic use of this expression got lost during the last 200 years, but Grimm's huge dictionary of the German language is silent on this possible idiomatic meaning as well.

Be it as it is, there is no doubt Blücher had a period of bodily illness combined with "melancholy", paranoia and halluzinations in summer 1808, from which it however seems he had recovered well by the end of the year.

There was another period after 11th or 12th March 1814, after the battle of Craonne, during which he suffered from an inflammation of the eyes, combined with hypochondria and apathy, and according to his adjudant Nostitz, he even thought of leaving the army.

Because he could not expose his eyes to sunlight and "hid" in a coach, there were rumours in the army that he had become insane again, but this alleged insanity is not confirmed by people who were close to him. Of course, if something isn't confirmed, it doesn't mean it isn't there …

However, when general Yorck, commanding I army corps, out of anger about the attritions suffered by his army corps, announced to leave the army in these days, Blücher wrote him a cordial letter with his own hands, which helped to have Yorck stay.

It seems, on 22nd/23rd March 1814, when offensive actions restarted, Blücher had recovered and regained his optimism and fighting spirit.

This information is taken from Unger's 1908 biography of Blücher.

I never came accross any reference to Blücher being insane in 1815. Mightbe Wellington was mixing up something from memory, or mightbe Blücher had another short mental attack.

Robert le Diable12 Apr 2007 8:26 a.m. PST

Technically, of course, it wasn't a "baby elephant" but an embryonic one….
Even taking into account the note by Oliver above, that Blucher meant the expression in a "metaphorical" sense (as distinct from a "proverbial" one) does seem more likely than that the old boy actually believed it literally. On the other hand, perhaps they made the schnapps stronger in those days. Anyone tried mixing it with rhubarb, by the way? "Ich stinke etwas".

Cacadores II12 Apr 2007 9:51 a.m. PST

Oliver

''Well, being German, having stayed here for practically all my life and being no eremite, I never came accross the expression "to be pregnant with an elephant" One possible reason could be that the idiomatic use of this expression got lost during the last 200 years, but Grimm's huge dictionary of the German language is silent on this possible idiomatic meaning as well.''

Although, as you're probably aware, there are huge differences in idiomatic usage between outlying German regions – so much so that it can be a trial for uneducated Germans to understand each other on occaisons.

Also, of course….. Prussian still exists as a separated, rural (if revived as a medium of Prussian culture), absolutely non-germanic but Slavic language not too dissimilar to Polish – a fact that I found rather interesting in the light of Prussian separate-ness through history.

Oliver12 Apr 2007 10:43 a.m. PST

Yes, I agree, I just wanted to point out that this idiomatic expression (if it ever was one) is generally unknown today in Germany – if someone used it on television or radio, everybody would believe he meant it literally.

Blücher himself was born in Mecklenburg.

The Old Prussian language, spoken in East Prussia and belonging to the Baltic branch of Indo-European languages, died out in the 17th or 18th century, being replaced by German dialects.

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