The General Correspondence of Napoleon Bonaparte Volume 8: project update

Author(s) : HOUDECEK François
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Progress update on the project to publish the General Correspondence of Napoleon Bonaparte, November 2011. Volume 8, published by the Fondation Napoléon and Fayard, deals primarily with the war in Spain.

Each volume of the correspondence is another stage behind us as we continue on the grand journey that we have set out on. Symbolically, volume eight is important because it sees the project reach the crest of the hill – eight volumes have now been published, out of a total of fourteen – and, like a cyclist, prepare to swoop onwards down the other side. Historically speaking, volume eight is also a turning point. Although the empire would continue to expand, with Napoleon at the height of his power, 1808 was to see the stirrings of a shift that would eventually prove to be the great man's undoing. But in 1808, no-one – not even Napoleon – could foresee this. This new volume, edited by Gabriel Madec, is the largest of the series; standing proud at 3,019 letters, 6,159 footnotes, 1,711 index entries, and 1,764 pages, it is the very image of French might at the apogee of Napoleon's rule over the continent!
2011 also represents a new stage in the management of the project, thanks notably to the efforts of all the volunteers working on this vast undertaking. 2010 marked the end of the letter input process in the Fondation Napoléon's databases. The accomplishment of this immense feat has offered us an overall view of the 40,900-odd letters that make up the Correspondence of Napoleon Bonaparte. What's more, the collection process conducted in collaboration with the various archive centres involved has been completed and provided we keep a close eye on any auctions taking place, we do not expect to turn up any more piles of previously-unseen letters, as has been the case in previous years. That said, sales catalogues and private collections can still throw up the occasional gold nugget, such as the extremely rare letter from 1816 addressed by Napoleon to his chargé d'affaire in London which came up at auction in October 2011. Details of the letter were transmitted to us by manuscript expert Jerôme Cortade and the Lafon-Castandet auction house, and the document will appear present and correct in the project's final volume. We should also add that we remain in constant contact with private collectors. One in particular, the Churchill collection, very graciously passed on information regarding one letter which belonged to the famous statesman. We should like to take this opportunity to offer our sincere gratitude to Mr Randolph Churchill for his involvement. His gesture is just one of many from a great number of collectors who have kindly passed on details of their documents to us, thereby helping us in our work.
The completion of the input process has not meant the end of our project volunteers' participation. They have now begun the task of proof-reading, correcting, and tidying up the database. The team may have been tightened up (twenty-odd individuals compared to forty-five previously) but the volunteers' enthusiasm has not dimmed and their effort remains at one hundred percent: in 2011 alone, these participants have contributed more than six thousand work hours to the Fondation Napoléon. This indispensable work enables us to keep errors within the database to a minimum whilst at the same time facilitating the assembly process.
It is this preparatory work that will have constituted the bulk of the work carried out by the correspondence project team in 2011. Volumes nine, ten, and eleven are now assembled, and their respective editors Patrice Guenniffey, Annie Jourdan, and Thierry Lentz, have begun annotating their letters. This work will also result in next year's highly anticipated publication of volume twelve, dedicated to 1812, which should arrive in the spring. Directed by Thierry Lentz, this new opus promises one or two surprises and plenty of previously unpublished documents. But that is enough anticipation for things to come. For now, we are delighted to see 1808 and its fascinating events in bookshops, following the volume's release on 9 November.

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