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Boldness and Blackberries

The story goes that during the Austerlitz campaign, the French forces under Napoleon sought to capture a crucial bridge over the Danube River, then being defended by the opposing Austrians. The bridge was well-fortified, and had been set with explosives so that it could be destroyed if there was ever any threat of capture. With no hope of seizing the bridge by force alone, the commander of the French troops settled on an alternate strategy.

A small contingent of high-ranking French officers approached the bridge under a flag of truce. They claimed – falsely – to have come at the request of the Austrians’ own commander, to discuss the finer, local points of an armistice between their two nations. This bought them time as the confused Austrians sent word to their general that his “guests” had arrived. Meanwhile, the French officers were left largely to their own devices behind the Austrian lines, where they made a concerted effort to distract the artillery corps from the careful, creeping advance of their own soldiers towards the bridge.

When one attentive Austrian spotted the approaching enemy and lit a fuse to demolish the bridge the Napoleonic officer Marshal Jean Lannes struck the man and began shouting in French at how the damnable fool was endangering the – non-existent – armistice. Full of false anger, he demanded of the Austrian commander – who had, by then, arrived – that the bridge be surrendered at once and the Austrian encampment withdrawn; all in the interest of peace, of course. His gambit worked: the French took control of the disputed bridge without firing a shot.

There are many possible lessons to draw from this story – about trust and deception, and how the ideal of peace can be manipulated in the cause of war. But perhaps its simplest message is to underline the ancient Latin proverb: Fortuna Audaces Iuvat – “Fortune favors the bold.” The similar motto employed by Great Britain’s elite Special Air Service is even more decisive: “Who Dares Wins”. Read one way, that is, of course, easily disproven: not all who dare, win. Courage alone cannot guarantee success. But seems undeniably true that who wins dares: no challenge has ever been met and overcome without the will to take some risk in proportion to it.

This summer, I spent a pleasant morning picking blackberries with my children, niece, and nephew, near their grandmother’s house. It was already late in the season, and the bushes certainly been visited many times by many other people. But there were still a great many sweet, dark berries to be found there – enough for two whole pies, with plenty left over. They just had to be sought: in amongst the thorns, and the spiders’ webs, where previous hands had been afraid to reach.

Somewhere in your life, and mine, there is a berry we’ve seen but haven’t collected yet; a bridge we’ve yet to capture. It might be small or large; something dramatic or one little step in a much longer sequence of change. It is waiting there: a minor itch or a major wound, the unmet challenge persists. The great German author, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – who was such an influence on Ralph Waldo Emerson and others of our Transcendentalist ancestors – penned this advice: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!” So let us take the challenge now and in the month ahead, you and I, to be bold.


In Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson


First Parish Church

225 Cabot St

Beverly, MA 01915


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