The General Correspondence of Napoleon Bonaparte Volume 5: the project thus far…

Author(s) : HOUDECEK François
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A new volume, and a new update. Even if the exercise seems routine, the work certainly isn't. Each week, the never-ending search for Napoleon's letters throws up new discoveries, particularly during this bicentenary period. New, previously unknown, letters are appearing all the time at auction and the supplementary volume that will be released at the end of the project becomes longer with the passing of each month.(1)
2008 has been rich in collaborations and collections. Amongst the most important in terms of collaboration has been our relationship with the Musée des lettres et manuscrits and the Aristophil Society, which together have kept us updated regularly with all their latest acquisitions. This very beneficial collaboration has brought to light letters that for a long time remained in often-inaccessible private collections. On top of this, the project has also greatly benefited this year from the opening up of the Duc de Plaisance's archives which are currently held privately.(2)
Our relationships with foreign collections have also been very active this year, facilitated by Peter Hicks, Historian and chargé d'affaires internationales at the Fondation, who has acted as intermediary. Professor Hicks has worked tirelessly in uncovering examples of Napoleon's letters held in foreign archives in the United States and Europe, such as the Archivio di Stato di Pistoia. A good number of letters that we have discovered in the archives and at auctions were already known, but they have allowed us nevertheless to enrich our understanding of Napoleon's correspondence.
The enthusiasm shown by the correspondence team members shows no sign of diminishing. Week after week, the forty-odd volunteers, without whom the project could not continue, enrich the Fondation's correspondence database. For 2008, more than 5,700 hours have been dedicated to the project, enlarging the database by more than 2,600 letters. The digitised collection now numbers a little more than 34,500 letters, of which merely a third has appeared in the first five volumes of the project, and of which 35 % is previously unpublished. And yet even if this pace is maintained, it will still take at least two years of work to completely process the collection of correspondence draft versions held at the Archives Nationales (classification AF IV 861-908).(3) At this present time, we are processing the letters for 1810 (classification AF IV 883 to 887), and it is highly likely that our initial estimation of 36,500 letters for the project will be exceeded.
With the publication of this fifth volume, we enter a new phase. From this point onwards, the project will pick up speed and our releases are going to appear more regularly. With volume 5 barely off the press, volume 6 is on its way to Fayard,(4) our partners in the publication process, and should be available for spring 2009. Our editors, Michel Kerautret, Gabriel Madec, Patrice Gueniffey and Annie Jourdan, are busy at work on the next 'opus'. This project is certainly staying the course.
François Houdecek
Project manager for the Correspondance de Napoléon
(Tr. and ed. H.D.W.)


(1) At present, the supplementary volume will contain about one hundred letters that should have otherwise appeared in the previous four volumes.
(2) Special thanks once again go to Georges de Laguiche, descendent of the Architrésorier, who provided us with the letters written by Napoleon to Charles-François Lebrun and his son, Anne-Charles Lebrun.
(3) Once again, we would like to thank the Archives nationales, the Service Historique de la Défense and the Ministère des Affaires étrangères for their participation in this project. Without their support and assistance, this volume would not have been possible.
(4) The publication of the Correspondance générale is supported by the Archives de France, the Fondation La Poste and the Comité national du livre.

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