Dreams of empire
The aimless longing for glory.
The phrase 'dreams of empire' is often associated with Napolean and it can't be doubted that he did dream of creating an empire. His dreams weren't aimless though as he set about his imperial ambitions with some considerable gusto.
The phrase pre-dates Napoleon and it is first found in print in William Somervile's blank verse poem Hobbinol, 1740:
Nor is thy grandeur, mighty Hobbinol!
Of longer date. Short is, alas! the reign
Of mortal pride: we play our parts a while,
And strut upon the stage ; the scene is chang'd,
And offers us a dungeon for a throne.
Wretched vicissitude! for after all
His tinsel dreams of empire and renown,
Fortune, capricious dame, withdraws at once
Hobbinol was Somervile's name for a generic character of English fiction, that is, the yeoman farmer. Hobbinol sits back in the Vale of Evesham in quiet rural repose and dreams of grand exploits that never were.