Category: France

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The worst love letters no one’s ever read

In honor of Valentine's Day, we're posting a few pages from a one-sided collection of love letters that make up a French epistolary novel called Lettres de Bendé, a Monreset.  The novel has an imprint of Amsterdam (fictitious?), and is dated 1762.  A researcher in France recently emailed us with a question about this book, and in the course of our investigations we found that we have the only recorded copy, according to WorldCat.

It's always exciting to find a unique copy, but there may be a good reason for this title's near extinction.  This isn't a happy love story.  Friedrich Melchior, baron von Grimm, explains in a review published in his Correspondance litteraire:

Ce sont les lettres d'une femme qui aime et qui n'est point aimée. Ajoutez qu'elle ne mérite pas de l'être, car elle est insipide, guindée, sans naturel, sans grâce. Si ces lettres n'étaient pas si mauvaises, on serait tenté de croire qu'elles ont été confiées à l impression par une femme qui n'avait que cette voie pour apprendre à son amant sa situation et ses sentiments.

These are letters written by a woman who loves but is not loved. What's more, she does not deserve to be loved because she is dull, affected, stiff, and ungraceful. If these letters were not so bad, one would be tempted to believe that they have been entrusted to printing by a woman who had no other way of apprising her lover of her situation and feelings.

Ouch.  Are they really that bad?  You be the judge.  Brush up on your French, and take a look at the few, perhaps not-so-tantalizing pages we offer below; the rest will be freely available in our digital library soon.

Title pageletterscolor_Page_275letterscolor_Page_276letterscolor_Page_277  letterscolor_Page_329 letterscolor_Page_330

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Salamanca, Wellington’s Masterpiece

Portrait of Wellington from Baines' History of the Wars of the French Revolution (London, 1817). The word Wellington is a facsimile of the General's signature.July 22, 2012 marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Salamanca. While Napoleon was in the midst of his Russian campaign, other generals were busy consolidating France’s position in Spain against a combined force of English, Portuguese, and Spanish rebels.

Though Wellington is probably best remembered for the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the battle at Salamanca is often called his masterpiece. On the afternoon of July 22nd, after a full day of fighting, Wellington recognized a weakness in the French army lines. His decisive orders for attack led to a rapid victory for the British forces.

The relative quickness of the British success following this action inspired friends and enemies. The French general Maximilien Foy famously declared “Wellington defeated an army of 40,000 in 40 minutes” when he wrote about his experience at Salamanca in his journal. Robert Southey’s account of the battle from his book Life of Wellington emphasized the dramatic moment Wellington gave his orders.Page from Southey's "Life of Wellington" (Dublin, 1816) describing the moment when Wellington gives the orders that will lead to victory at

“Lord Wellington was at dinner when he was informed of this movement [of French troops]: he saw at once the advantage which had been given; he rose in such haste as to overturn the table, …and in an instant was on horseback, issuing those orders which won the battle of Salamanca.”

While these accounts might not be strictly true, they do reflect the quickness of this stage of the battle and the strategic skill shown by Wellington.

Up to this point, Wellington had generally been regarded as a defensive general. Salamanca established his ability as a skillful soldier and tactician. This statement from Baines’ History of the Wars of the French Revolution is characteristic of many of the tributes to the battle and to Wellington:

Page from Baine's History of the Wars of the French Revolution (London, 1817) describing the battle of Salamanca.

“The battle of Salamanca was distinguished from all other battles hitherto fought in the peninsula, by several important circumstances: it was more masterly in the design, more gallant in the execution, and followed by consequences of far greater importance.”

In retrospect, observers recognized July 22, 1812 as a turning point in the Peninsular War, not only for Wellington’s reputation but for the morale of French army on the peninsula. British forces eventually drove the French armies from Spain and invaded Southern France in 1814. If British officer William Napier is to be believed, Wellington was aware of the shift on the afternoon of the battle. Napier recalls seeing Wellington late in the day at Salamanca “…alone, the flush of victory was on his brow… With a prescient pride he seemed only accept his glory as an earnest of greater things.” Those greater things would culminate in the Battle of Waterloo, and the final defeat of Napoleon.

Map of the Battle of Waterloo from Southey's Life of Wellington (Dublin, 1816).
Robert Muir’s Book Salamanca, 1812 (Yale University Press, 2001) is a source for more information about the battle and its’ importance.

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