The General Correspondence of Napoleon Bonaparte Volume 7: halfway there…

Author(s) : HOUDECEK François
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A year and a bit after the release of volume six, volume seven of the General Correspondence of Napoleon Bonaparte is finally out. Edited by Michel Kerautret and Gabriel Madec, this new opus bears the title Tilsit, the Empire's apogee and includes 3,020 letters, written over the course of just one year: 1807. Originally intended for spring 2010, a number of factors – entirely beyond our control, I might add – conspired to delay proceedings, forcing the book's publisher, Fayard, to look instead to an autumn release. It may feel like there is a long time-lapse between the arrival of one volume in bookshops and the next, but we can assure you that every effort is made to ensure that each edition sees the light of day as promptly as is humanly possible. Everyone involved – from the volume editors to the project volunteers, as well as the Fondation Napoléon team – is marshalled to this end.
First up: an initial glance at the project's progress. 2010 has seen great strides made in the collection of our letters, thanks in no small part to the involvement of a number of Russian archive centres. Amongst the various institutions based in Moscow that have passed on documents to the Fondation Napoléon, we should like to give particular mention to the essential contribution made by the Archive of Foreign Policy of the Russian Empire (AVPRI) in Moscow. Despite its reputation as an institution offering limited access to its documents, the centre threw open the doors to its entire collection of letters exchanged between the two emperors and placed them at our disposal. There may not have been many (a mere fifty-odd from the period), but their importance is vital in understanding the state of international relations during the First Empire. Although they were originally transmitted to the Commission established during the Second Empire, the documents have since that time remained locked away and inaccessible. A good number of these letters were indeed published by Napoleon III, but with certain variations (some more important than others). Over the course of the project, the original texts will gradually be recovered before being republished. Some were rather hurriedly crammed in and printed (see page 498 and onwards in volume sixteen of the edition released during the Second Empire), but their accompanying attachments were often left in their storage boxes, completely untouched. We will be publishing these documents alongside their respective imperial missive, thus offering supplementary information to Napoleon's dictations. This involvement has ensured that Russia now figures proudly on our lengthy list of French and foreign archive institutions that have participated, and continue to participate, in this monumental undertaking. We should therefore like to offer our most sincere thanks to all the individuals, notably Mme Mireille Musso, who have contributed to this success.
2010 will also see the completion of our letter inputting process, which has seen the database here at the Fondation Napoléon swell to, by our latest count, 40,713 letters, with just the two final months of 1813 left to integrate. By the time this particular stage of the project has reached its term, the total will have gone beyond 41,000 documents, a figure that far surpasses our original estimates made in 2002, at the very start of the project. 1811, and its 4,382 letters (the small matter of preparations for the Russian campaign!), has already surprised us with its sheer size, whilst 1813 will be a record-breaking year in the epistolary history of Napoleon. This latter may have been the year that saw the Empire begin to shrink, leading to the progressive collapse of the Napoleonic system, but Napoleon was no less busy for it. On the contrary, every minute detail regarding the operation and management of the Empire preoccupied him, giving rise to a profusion of letters that spilled forth from the hands of the imperial secretaries, outlining orders and instructions of every possible variety. In January, the imperial army, snowed under in Russia, had to be reformed, and plans for the spring campaign set in motion. In June, with armistice merely a tactic, the reorganisation of the army in preparation for the autumn campaign dominated Napoleon's official correspondence. At the same time, the day-to-day running of the empire still had to be managed (finance, police, etc.). In total, Napoleon spent more than six months away from France, a fact that explains in part the epistolary explosion. However, this surge is more than anything symptomatic of this particular period of the Napoleonic era. As of this date, we have 5,490 letters from this one year; with the two final months of the year still left to process, this statistic can only increase further.
Data capture and processing on such an immense scale would never have been possible without our project volunteers, who remain an essential cog in the correspondence machine, and we shall never grow tired of saying it. Although their numbers have decreased (health problems having obliged one or two team members to stop), their enthusiasm for the project remains as intense as their very first hours on the job. Much to our great satisfaction, these levels of motivation have remained as constant as ever over the course of 2010. Although the data capture process will soon be complete, other tasks still await, most notably the publication of the remaining volumes in the series. The manuscripts for 1808, the edition of which should appear next year, are currently being prepared, and Gabriel Madec has already finished annotating it. However, in an obvious change to the chronological order of things, but with the bicentenary fast approaching, 2012 is the obvious candidate for the release of the project's 1812 volume. Edited by Thierry Lentz, this opus will throw new light on the Russian campaign, such is the importance of the new additions (the volume contains 60% more letters than the previous edition). But let's not get ahead of ourselves (particularly as this volume contains a number of hidden treasures). Once the commemorations are behind us, we shall pick up back where we left off: Patrice Gueniffey is already well advanced on the volume for 1809, which will be published soon afterwards.
There's still a long road ahead of us, but we're well on our way.
François Houdecek
15 November 2010 (tr. H.D.W.)

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