Mémorial de Sir Hudson Lowe, relatif à la captivité de Napoléon à Sainte-Hélène, Paris, Léo Dureuil, 1830
Despite the title, (literally Memoirs of Sir Hudson Lowe regarding the captivity of Napoleon on St Helena), these memoirs are actually a fabrication put together by two Parisian hacks named Léon-Jérôme Vidal (1797-1873) and Alphonse Signol (18??-1830). Their identities, which they were unable to conceal (or perhaps unconcerned in doing so), were revealed barely four years after the publication of the “memoirs” in a bibliographic compendium – the Nouveau recueil d'ouvrages anonymes et pseudonymes (Paris, Librairie Gide, 1834 (p. 265) – compiled by a French bibliophile, Monsieur Manne.
In his day-to-day life, Léon-Jérôme Vidal held an office management position at the Ministry of the Interior, before seeing out his career as inspector general of prisons. At the same time, however, he continued to publish poems and pamphlets. A large number of these works of fiction were written in collaboration with Auguste-Marseille Barthélémy (1796-1867), author of the famous Bonapartist poems Napoléon en Egypte, Waterloo (1828) and Le fils de l'homme (1829). It is believed that Vidal was active in pro-Napoleonic circles or, at the very least, took his inspiration and much of the content for the Hudson Lowe Memorial from these groups.
Alphonse Signol was a well-known writer during the 1820s, thanks in the most part to his successful vaudeville theatre plays and a string of popular novels. A member of the Freemasons, in 1826 he published De la maçonnerie considérée dans quelques-unes de ses rapports avec la politique. He was also an ardent defender of duels, and even wrote an apology of the practice in 1829 in reaction to a law outlawing the contests. His end was to prove tragic but hardly unexpected: he was killed in a duel in 1830, the same year that his Hudson Lowe memorial was published. His skill as a writer certainly proved useful in polishing the style of the book, since the volume is written in an entirely readable prose.
Composed in the first person, the book is founded on the premise that Hudson Lowe must have felt obliged to justify his behaviour and actions whilst governor of Saint-Helena, and demonstrates that during his time on the island, Lowe was only following London's orders. Nevertheless, a close reading of the text reveals a number of rather glaring mistakes (textual study courtesy of Jacques Macé):
– On page 28, a Corsican spy by name of Suzzarrelli is mentioned as part of a story identical to that of Cipriani Franceschi.
– On page 94 and beyond, the memorial quotes the Russian commissioner Balmain, who in the text is married, and accompanied by a botanist. The individual concerned was in actual fact the Austrian commissioner Stürmer.
– On page 263, there are several references to an event that did actually take place and an officer named Lieutenant-Colonel Hyster. In reality, the individual involved was Lyster.
– On page 266, a certain Betsy appears as a chambermaid to Lady Lowe in an anecdote that figures amongst the numerous stories involving Betsy Balcombe, who was never a domestic servant.
This text remained an anecdotal curiosity until 1949, when a new edition – adapted, presented, and annotated by Maurice Bessy and Lo Duca – was published. As well as attaching a new title to the work (the “contre-mémorial”), the two editors also maintained in their introduction that the author of the book was indeed Hudson Lowe, without offering any sort of proof to support their claim. They concluded their preface with an indictment against the “moral baseness of Hudson Lowe [and his] glorification of the fall of the Empire”.
Hudson Lowe's authentic “memoirs” were in actual fact published by William Forsyth in 1853, under the title History of the captivity of Napoleon at St.-Helena; from the letters and journals of the late lieut. gen. sir Hudson Lowe, and official documents not before made public (London, J. Murray, 1853, three volumes). Soon afterwards, the work was translated into French and released, this time in four volumes, under the title Histoire de la captivité de Napoléon à Sainte-Hélène : d'après les documents officiels inédits et les manuscrits de sir Hudson Lowe (Paris, D'Amyot Ed., [1853?]).