1812, an extraordinary year!
Only five months after the publication of volume VIII – 1808 of the Correspondance générale, we are now publishing the volume for 1812.
We and Fayard allowed ourselves this extraordinary leap forward in the series so as have the publication date of the volume relating to the Russian campaign coincide with the bicentenary of the event itself. And it was “all hands on deck” for those involved in the project to ensure that the book came out in such a tight time frame. The 2,551 letters in this latest volume (edited by Thierry Lentz) reveal Napoleon's methodical approach to the preparation of the campaign and then clash with the Russian armies in the second half of the year. The preface is by Marie Pierre Rey, professor of Russian and Soviet History at the Sorbonne, and the volume itself traces this pivotal moment in the empire, from Napoleon's departure from Paris at the summit of his glory and his return one night in December after a defeat which his contemporaries initially had difficulty understanding.
The book, like the year 1812, is indeed extraordinary in all senses of the word. The number of letters is much greater than that of previous volumes. And the ratio of letters not published in the Second Empire edition is similarly high, namely 64%. This includes the letters intercepted by Colonel Davidov's Russian partisans which were provided for publication by different archival centres in Moscow. We would particularly like to thank some of the key people who helped along the way, notably Alexander Avdeev, Russian Federation Minister for Culture, Alexander Konstantinovich Orlov, Russian Federation Ambassador in France, and Mireille Musso, ex-French ambassador to Bielorussia. Nor should we forget the project volunteers who have given a great deal of their time in the preparation of this volume, or the archivists from our partner institutions: the Archives nationales, the Service historique de l'Armée de Terre and the Archives du ministère des Affaires étrangères, in Paris.
And whilst we are proud to have brought together the greatest number of Napoleon letters ever published on this amazing campaign, it should not be forgotten that given the destruction of the archives of the imperial secretariat at Orcha on 20 November, 1812, this corpus will never really be complete.
As is the custom, we have tried to make our book an indispensable work tool for professionals and amateurs alike. As a result it comprises two studies, one by Victor Bezostosnyi, the other by François Houdecek, setting the two armies and their preparations for the coming conflict face to face. We have also added a table of concordance of Lithuanian, Polish and Bielorussian place names, thus making it possible to identify sometimes obscure localities on modern maps. Also included in the apparatus criticus are the usual maps, a timeline and biographical and geographical indices. This is a book all libraries should have!
As regards the future, given that the project is now supported by a private benefactor, the Archives de France and the French national book centre, the CNL, we hope from now on to be able to produce two volumes per year. Thus 2013 should see the publication of volumes 9 (March 1809 – February 1810) and 10 (March 1810 – March 1811), edited by Patrice Gueniffey and Annie Jourdan respectively. The following volumes are already underway, and the correspondence team is mobilised to complete the publication of the 41,000 or so letters in the Fondation Napoléon's database.
But before that, enjoy your read about the extraordinary year of 1812!