Monday, 15 January 2007

The mystery of Napoleon’s hat (Part 2)

Many famous men have been distinguished by idiosyncrasies of appearance. Both Solomon and Louis Quatorze were known for the glory of their apparel; Charlemagne was renowned for the length of his beard (it is said he could kneel on it, though it is not recorded why this was necessary). Lloyd George had his hair bobbed; Cromwell had warts; and Keir Hardie wore a tweed cap. But a tweed cap, even though a contemporary photograph shows it to have had a retractable undercarriage which fastened on top with a piece of string, is not, for sheer Ă©talage, in the same class as Napoleon’s hat.

The principle on which this singular headpiece was designed is said to be a mystery even to experienced hatters. It is not known, for example, whether the back could be let down to facilitate the heaving of coal, or whether the front could be folded up to form the thing into a watering can. Its possibilities as a muffin dish, a font and an umbrella stand have also been canvassed from time to time by interested parties.

Those who have seen in a museum the hat which is treasured as a genuine Napoleonic relic have been impressed not only by its shape but by its size: it is enormous, and it is hard to imagine what went on inside the part of it that was not filled by the imperial cranium. Was it stuffed with despatches from the battlefield. Or with old newspapers? Did it perhaps contain a secret drawer for Josephine’s letters? Or was there a packet of sandwiches there and a flask of cognac for sudden emergencies?

That there must have been more in it than meets the eye seems certain, or how else could the little chap have kept the thing aloft? For on anyone with a head of even medium size it must have fallen about the shoulders like a cape.

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