Publication of the Correspondance générale de Napoléon Ier : April 2005 : 4th report on this Fondation Napoléon project

Author(s) : BARTHET Emilie
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The second volume of the Correspondance générale de Napoléon Bonaparte went on sale in book shops 20 April, 2005

I – The publication of the second volume

The second volume of this series of twelve is dedicated to the Egyptian Campaign and Bonaparte's political ‘arrival'. After the young general's « apprenticeship » (1) appears the man of war/man of politics.

The 1,272 pages and 2,550 letters (dated 1798 to 1799) show the change in general's future: he becomes a player on a state and political level, escaping from the straightjacket of the military life into the broader more comfortable guise of Consul.

Furthermore, on looking over this correspondence readers cannot help being struck by how little space is taken up in the commander in chief's daily duties by the activities of the Commission des sciences et des arts of the Armée d'Orient – and even less for the work of the Institut d'Égypte. Bonaparte is much more concerned with difficulties of all sorts: food supplies, diseases (such as desert blindness and dysentery), clothing (the French uniform was poorly adapted to the extremes of temperature in the desert), relations with local leaders, etc. Whilst in part a military and scientific adventure, this Egyptian Campaign was for Bonaparte above all real « test gallop in Consular politics » to quote the phrase used by Thierry Lentz, editor of this new volume.
Just as with volume one, volume two is designed as a work tool, with particularly useful appendices:
a glossary of terms specific to Egypt including many arabic words, such as a « tartare » a Ottoman diplomatic letter;
a table of concordance for the Revolutionary and Gregorian calendars ; conversion tables for weights, measures and currencies, (including those used by Egyptians);
maps showing troops movements and battles, from Toulon to Alexandria and into Syria.

As for Bonaparte's coming to power, the decree of 19 Brumaire, An VIII, setting up the provisional consulate, is given in its entirety as well as the composition of the different provisional legislative commissions established by the decree. Just as in volume one, there is a detailed timeline for the two years in question putting Bonaparte's personal development in context.

Also included are two studies, one by Gabriel Madec, special collaborator with Thierry Lentz on this volume, on Bonaparte's headquarters in Egypt. Using a brief synoptic table, he explains the military and civilian decision-making system. At the centre of complex situation, Bonaparte runs a ‘classic' military administration as well as Egyptian specificities such as groups of interpreters, country experts, geographers, and engineers.

The second study is by Pierre Branda and concerns finances in Egypt, showing how money was central to the Egyptian campaign. Estève, financial administrator often had to deal with issues central to the war effort.

There are in addition, three indices, that of names including biographical sketches.
The Fondation has also made a point of publishing information regarding known letters but for which a text could not be found, the ‘lettres sans texte' (recorded by date, place, and addressee). Information for these letters comes for the most part from autograph sale catalogues containing resumes or extracts of the letters in question.
Henri Laurens, professor at the Collège de France, specialist in Egyptian studies honoured the Fondation by prefacing the volume. We are proud to extract the following quotation: « The scholarly erudition here has given an everyday quality to the adventure, so that we can now get a more realistic picture of the great epic and some of its darker events – which may not be excused but which must be understood. The team who put together this second volume is to be congratulated. Every great historical enterprise, as Thucydides put it, is a possession for ever.»

II – Work in progress


Collection report

In total, 71 French institutions have provided copies of Napoleon letters.

Institutions from Switzerland, the Holy See, Italy, Slovenia, the US, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Russia, Monaco – more than 40 countries and 106 institutions  – have provided copies of 2,500 letters.
The search for letters by Napoleon has been built upon an enormous bibliography: 183 books and 43 periodicals.
Collectors have also been generous in their collaboration: 65 private individuals have sent us 400 letters.

The profession of autograph sales have provided us with copies of more than 2,600 letters, notably, Étude Gros et Delettrez, Aristophil, the Galerie Arts et autographes, and the bookshop Passé Présent in Nice.


The comparison of letters with previously published versions in order to give today the most accurate version continues apace. The database used by the volunteer « Corresponding Members » has in it more than 15,000 letters. Since the beginning (October 2002), 105 people have been trained to work with the database software used for the Napoleon Correspondence project.

The stats

The database software gives a precise picture of the current situation:
• 40 % of the letters which we publish do not appear either in the edition of reference, namely, Correspondance de Napoléon Ier publiée par ordre de Napoléon III, or in Lettres et Dernières lettres inédites de Napoléon Ier by Brotonne, or in Lettres inédites de Napoléon Ier by Lecestre, or in Lettres d'amour à Joséphine by Jean Tulard.
• 16 % of the letters previously published in the Correspondance de Napoléon Ier publiée par ordre de Napoléon III, are published here corrected after consultation of the originals.

III – An intense publication schedule

The provisional programme for the publication of the next ten volumes will be as follows: (2)
• volume 3, for the years 1800 -1802, in October 2005;
• volume 4, for the years 1803 – August 1805, in Feburary 2006;
• volume 5, for the period September 1805-1806, in October 2006;
• volume 6, for the year 1807, in November 2006;
• volume 7, for the year 1808, in April 2007;
• volume 8, sur l'année 1809, in April 2007;
• volume 9, for the period 1810 – mid 1811, in October 2007;
• volume 10, for the period mid 1811 – 1812, in November 2007;
• volume 11, for the period January – October 1813, in April 2008;
• volume 12, for the period November 1813 – 1821, in October 2008.
For further information or to participate in the this « historical adventure », contact Émilie Barthet by telephone at +33 (0)1 56 43 46 07 or by email at

(1) Napoléon Bonaparte, Correspondance générale, publiée par la Fondation Napoléon, t. I « Les apprentissages 1784-1797 ».
(2) The following information is provisional and may be modified by the Fondation Napoléon.
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