La Captivité de Sainte-Hélène d’apres les rapports inédits du marquis de Montchenu, commissaire du gouvernement du roi Louis XVIII dans l’île.
First edition. Following Napoleon’s exile to St Helena, by a treaty of 2 August 1815, Prussia, Austria, Russia, and France were all invited to send Commissioners to Saint Helena, to monitor the former emperor’s captivity and to report upon it to their respective governments. Austria, Russia, and France accepted the invitation and sent commissioners: Graf Stürmer for Austria, Count Balmain for Russia, and the royalist comte de Montchenu for France (however, as Firmin-Didot points out, although de Montchenu styled himself ‘marquis’, there appears to be little justification for this beyond his own vanity). Each commissioner was responsible for reporting back to his government on the prisoner, and these reports form a valuable record of the island during Napoleon’s imprisonment on it. According to Henry Walter, sometime physician on St Helena, de Montchenu ‘was one of the old French Noblesse, and had been Page of Honour to Louis the Fifteenth, and in attendance on that monarch the night he died. The Marquis had emigrated, but returned to France on the first Restoration, followed the fortunes of Louis the Eighteenth to Ghent, came back with the King, and was rewarded by the appointment of Commissioner to St. Helena’ (Events of a Military Life (London, 1842), II, p. 70).
Julian Park writes in his introduction to Napoleon in Captivity (the edition of Balmain’s reports and correspondence he published in 1927), that, ‘[de Montchenu’s] official reports were of course written in phraseology of some dignity, but on his arrival at the island he wrote a circular letter to some of his friends which reeks with pomposity and arrogance. For instance: “Bonaparte does nothing that I do not know of the instant after; so reassure yourselves, my good compatriots, you will never see him again, I shall answer for it.” The marquis considered himself less the king’s commissioner than the agent of the whole Royalist party, charged by them as much as by Louis XVIII with watching le petit monstre’ (pp. xii-xiii). However, de Montchenu seems to have impressed most of those he encountered as a somewhat foolish and unattractive character – Walter, who treated de Montchenu, was rewarded for his efforts not with money or gifts, as he expected, but with a bouquet of flowery words of gratitude on the eve of the physician's departure, which he quotes to provide ‘a model for future Commissioners who wish to pay their doctors economically but handsomely’ (op. cit., p. 71). Park provides further examples, writing that de Montchenu ‘was regarded by the English as a buffoon. With his absurd boasting, his strange gallantry [...], his airs and graces, he was a caricature of the ancien régime. The English sailors called him “old munchenough” from his hearty appetite. Modern slang would call him a sponge, and his habit of accepting but not sending any invitations to dinners or soirées earned him the name of “Marquis de Montez-chez-nous.” [...] The governor [Sir Hudson Lowe] characterizes the Frenchman much more wittily than one would suspect [...] “The French Marquis, who has been an émigré for thirty years,” he wrote to Sir Henry Bunbury, “says that it was the people of intelligence [esprit] who caused the Revolution. Evidently he didn't take any part in it”’ (pp. xiii-xiv). Nonetheless, de Montchenu’s reports remain an important primary source for Napoleon’s final years, and their siginificance in the Napoleonic canon confirm Firmin-Didot’s hope that, ‘cette publication fera connaître le glorieux captif sous un aspect, sinon nouveau, du moins assez spécial, et que les pages qui vont suivre pourront servir à écrire le dernier chapitre de la grande Épopée’ (p. 7). The volume concludes with ‘Rapports adressés par le comte de Rohan-Chabot, commissaire de roi Louis-Philippe, lors de la translation des restes de l’empereur, en 1840’ (pp. -266) and a selection of pertinent texts, grouped under the head ‘Pièces justicatives’ (pp. -326).
This copy was previously in the library of the barrister, politician, soldier, and Napoleonic historian Sir Lees Knowles Bt, CVO, OBE, TD, DL, MA, LLM, who was educated at Rugby School and Trinity College, Cambridge (he later bequeathed funds to Trinity College, to establish the Lees Knowles Lectures). Knowles wrote, translated, and edited a number of works on Napoleonic subjects, including The War in the Peninsula. Some Letters of Lieutenant Robert Knowles; Arranged and Annotated by his Great-Great-Nephew Sir Lees Knowles (Bolton: 1913), Letters of Captain Engelbert Lutyens, Orderly Officer at Longwood, Saint Helena: Feb. 1820 to Nov. 1823 (London: 1915), and A Gift of Napoleon; being a Sequel to Letters of Captain Englebert Lutyens, Orderly Officer at Longwood, Saint Helena, Feb. 1820 to Nov. 1823 (London and New York: 1921), and Knowles refers on p. 13 of A Gift of Napoleon to La Captivité de Sainte-Hélène, before quoting the text of pp. 320-322 and then translating it into English on pp. 14-16 (Knowles’ notes on the original wrapper of this copy refer to p. 322, and he has also marked and annotated pp. 320-322). The numerous references to de Montchenu in Letters of Captain Engelbert Lutyens suggest that Knowles also used this volume to research and write that work; certainly it can be stated confidently that Knowles acquired this volume by 1921, and probably between 1903 (when he was created baronet) and 1915.