Histoire de Napoléon, par M. de Norvins, illustrée par Raffet, (Paris: Furne et Cie, 1827)
There are two books which all Napoleon fans (and bibliophiles) should have on their shelves: the first is Jacques de Norvins' Histoire de Napoléon, published in 1827 and illustrated by Raffet, and the second is Laurent de l'Ardèche's work with engravings by Horace Vernet, published in 1839.
As Baron de Marquet de Montbreton, Jacques de Norvins (1769-1854) became an émigré in 1792, returning to France during the Directoire, only to be arrested after the coup d'État of 18 fructidor in 1797. Remaining in prison for two years, he was to be released as a result of a request made by Mme de Staël to Napoleon Bonaparte after the coup d'état of 18 Brumaire (1799). From then on he professed great admiration for the future emperor, as mirrored in the first line of his book: “Napoleon has been the study of my life since 18 Brumaire”.
The defeat at Waterloo brought an end not only to Napoleon's but also to Norvins' administrative career. Also like for his august master, it gave him the time to put his papers in order so as to set about writing a history of Napoleon, payin special attention to trying to describe the character of “this extraordinary man”.
Today it is not the text as much as the illustrations which attract the most attention. Raffet was an exceedingly gifted artist and his illustrations (translated into engravings) in this book are remarkable. The vignettes, decorative bands and plates which fill its pages make it a beautiful Napoleonic album, just made for flicking through. And each time you take it down you see different details in the different scenes, which spread from battles to bivoaucs, crowd scenes to still lives, from portraits of the imperial family to those of imperial dignitaries.
The book was so popular that publishers soon issued it in periodical form, and it ran through twenty-two editions, that last appearing in 1854.
Title: Histoire de l'Empereur Napoléon
Publisher and publication date: Paris, Furne, 1827
Physical description: 572 p., engravings, vignettes, and maps of Napoleon's expeditions
Consultable at the Bibliothèque M. Lapeyre,
Fondation Napoléon: N B 0 norvi
Vols II and III of Norvins' work can be downloaded here (external link).
For a portrait by Ingres of Norvins when he was chief of police in Napoleonic Rome now held at the British National Gallery, click here (external link).
Author: LHEUREUX-PRÉVOT, Chantal