(Publication in French)
The famous memoirs of Gaspard Gourgaud (1783-1852) remained hidden for many years in the family’s private papers. They were to be published in French in a much bowdlerised form at the turn of the 19th century and shortly after WWII, as well as appearing in English in 1903 and 1932. Here in this publication, for the first time, readers have access to the full unabridged version of Gourgaud’s up-close-and-personal account of Napoleon in exile, from the departure from France after Waterloo, right up to Gourgaud’s departure from St Helena in 1818 and his publication of an account of the iconic 1815 battle. This is a really gritty story, detailing how the exiled Emperor toyed with the young Gourgaud’s (almost too) passionate attachment to his sovereign, and how the frustrated ordnance officer suffered loneliness and boredom on the island. He was deeply attached to his mother, but he was equally eager for other female company, pursuing many women on the island, but notably (and unsuccessfully) the out-of-his-league Laura Wilks and the Baroness Sturmer. Another leitmotiv of his journal is his deep-seated jealousy of his relationship with Napoleon, and he suffered greatly that his hated rival, the Comte de Montholon, gradually replaced him as the closest person to the Emperor in Longwood House. Indeed, on leaving Longwood House, Gourgaud even left a graffiti on his bedroom wall declaring Montholon a filthy liar. Unlike the other more noble accounts of the St Helena episode, Gourgaud’s encompasses literally all life on the island, from random anonymous walkers in the street to the prostitutes in Jamestown, with all the greater and lesser figures (British and otherwise) in between.
The historian and British politician Lord Rosebery famously refered to the journal as “The one capital and superior record of life at St Helena“.
General Gourgaud (1783-1852) was Napoleon’s First Ordnance Officer and had a brilliant military career before his via crucis on St Helena. He was held in disgrace during the Restoration, only to be made pair de France by Louis-Philippe after 1830, and he participated in the return of Napoleon’s mortal remains in 1840.
This volume is the second, after the proto-Mémorial by Las Cases, in the short series entitled “La Bibliothèque de Sainte-Hélène”, edited and presented by Thierry Lentz.
– Thierry Lentz (Director of the Fondation Napoléon) is a unanimously recognised specialist of the First Empire. His latest book Bonaparte n’est plus! [Bonaparte is no more!] has just been published by Perrin.