Sunday, 23 September 2018

Book Review: 1812, Napoleon's Invasion of Russia, Paul Britten Austen



This single volume publication, on Bible-thin paper, is actually a three volume work. The product of 25 years of study, it collects and weaves together myriad short extracts from around 160 firsthand accounts, written by participants in these momentous events. The result is something really quite unique and very special.


Even in this single volume format it’s a weighty tome, and no mistaking! The one-thousand or so pages adding up to, as the author himself points out, something 'fairly vast.' He describes his book as a ‘word film’, and it really does have something of that quality. Certainly the drama of the events is heightened, coming as it were from the horses' mouths. 

And what horses! His sources range from the highest echelons (Caulaincourt, at Napoleon’s side), to the rank and file (the author’s own choice of lowlier men being ‘obscure little Swiss voltigeur Jean-Marc Bussy’). My only quibble on this score is that it's not always completely clear who's being quoted.



Caulaincourt and Bonaparte leaving Russia. [2]



Despite being ‘fairly vast’, the narrative sticks pretty resolutely to the central column of Napoleon’s Grande Armée. Amazingly, there's not sufficient space for much, if anything, about the flanking Corps. [1] I happened to have superb visual accounts of the 1812 campaign, by Faber Fu Faur and Albrecht Adam, at hand when I read this, which helped me visualise things. I just wish I had also had a really good book of maps; so much of the narrative info concerns movements, and particular locations, all of which would have been more easily followed if only one could glance back and forth between the text and some decent maps!


Pretty much all the books, at least amongst the more contemporary ones that I've been reading on this subject, make some use of firsthand accounts. But this particular telling of the story takes that modus operandi to new heights. In describing how he wrote the book Britten Austen said, I ‘invent nothing, hardly even a phrase, and certainly neither events nor persons. But resurrect them - in their own words.’ The book is remarkably vivid as a result, which is fantastic.

Swiss Infantry of the 4th Regt, Carle Vernet. [3]

For example, the adventures and sufferings of a certain Heinemann, survivor of a virtual massacre, as he escorts a wounded sergeant to the rear, before becoming a prisoner himself, are just one among many of the vivid episodes that vividly convey the exciting, moving and gripping dramas this book is packed with. In this instance there's actually a happy end to the story - in fact two happy endings (but I'll let you read the book and find out what they are!) - a rare and pleasant thing, given the huge loss of life in this campaign.

Allowing his sources to speak for themselves is certainly not the author simply being lazy. Again in his own words*: ‘Naturally … had to take my thousands of vivid fragments, longer or shorter, snip them and put them together in what I came to think of as a 'marching order', and generally help the reader not to go astray.’ But, rather endearingly, where his own voice is audible, I love it: I Iike a writer who says "i'sooth"! Indeed, his writing style is quite different in tone to all the other authors I've read so far on this subject, which is refreshing. He's also the only author, besides Burns, that I've encountered using the term 'agley', as in 'aft gang agley', as in when things go 'wrong'!

Paul Britten Austen

In conclusion, this is a pretty unique account of the Russia 1812 campaign. Vivid, gripping, and, for my money, totally essential reading. Can't recommend it highly enough!

* In deference to the author's own style!
————
NOTES:


[1] In a more academic book that sought to cover the whole campaign this might be a problem. But in this instance, the author is pursuing a different set of goals, chiefly to transport the reader to the time and place he’s writing about. And in this respect this book is a signal triumph.

[2] Given how much time Caulaincourt spent in close proximity to Napoleon, it's amazing how hard it is to find any contemporary images of them together!

[3] If pictures of Caulaincourt with the Emperor made me think of him as the invisible man, then what should I call poor old Jean-Marc Bussy? I could find no images of him at all. So instead I found some pictures by Carle Vernet, illustrating uniforms of the 1812 regulations (which Vernet also had a hand in designing). These guys playing footsie with each other look to be having an easier time of it than Bussy had! I did, however, find out that Bussy later became a police-man, and lived to the ripe old age of 88!

... then, a bit later, I found the picture below, by Knötel. This one has a Swiss Voltigeur, on the right. I guess Bussy must've looked something like this fellow?



Saturday, 22 September 2018

Book Review, The Campaigns of Napoleon, David Chandler



Well, this one really is an essential classic. And I'm lucky enough to own the very handsome Folio Editions trilogy, in hardback, in a nice slipcase (as pictured above). Lovely!

Vol I

In the first volume one of this superb trilogy, Chandler sets the scene, telling us about Napoleon's rise, from the petit noblesse of Corsica, thought the turbulent waters of the French Revolution, to military fame in Italy. We see Bonaparte adventuring in the near 'Orient' of Egypt and Syria, before returning and assuming power in the coup of Brumaire. 

Rivoli, Napoleon's star rises.

Chandler's narrative conveys his enthusiasm for his exciting and colourful subject admirably, balancing a clear passion with lucid objectivity and judicious critical insights. A good deal of space is given over to an analysis of Napoleon's early ideas, and how they evolved; where they came from, and how he put them into practice and developed them. 

And this all happens surprisingly early, both before, during and following on from his Italian campaigns, showing, as Chandler notes, a precociousness and audacity that would see Napoleon's star rapidly ascend. This first part of the story/trilogy is tremendously exciting, charting the improbable but seemingly inexorable rise of the young Napoleon. It has the colour and grandeur of Greco-Roman myth, which Napoleon would've liked and appreciated.

Vol II

In broad brushstroke terms this second volume starts with Ulm/Asterlitz, and ends at Borodino, thus running from late 1805 to late 1812. Here Chandler covers the 1805 campaign against Austria and Russia, culminating in Austerlitz, the 1806 war with Prussia (Jena-Auerstadt), on into the 1807 campaign in Poland against Russia (Eylau and Friedland). 

He then takes a Peninsular diversion, focussing mostly, in keeping with his title, on Napoleon's part in this theatre; from his 'ill considered decision to intervene in Spanish affairs', deputising to oft-incompetent subordinates, to his brief but effective personal intervention in the war itself, before returning to more central-European affairs, with the campaign against Austria in 1809.

Napoleon visiting the bivouacs, in the eve of Austerlitz.

One thing that struck me in all this was, well... no, two things really, were: firstly how minor the Spanish business seems in the larger picture, even though it would ultimately prove, as the suppurating 'Spanish Ulcer', a decisive contributory factor in Napoleon's downfall (a fact not so easily appreciated from the British perspective, with our tendency to obsess over our part in these wars).  And secondly, that for all the talk of continual or 'total' war [1], there are large periods of relative peace within the bulk of the territories under the Imperial jurisdiction. 

For example, between the end of volume one, and the start of volume two, or roughly 1802-1805 [2]. And, excepting the ongoing rumblings of the Peninsular, between 1809 and 1812 [3], when the narrative jumps from Wagram and the treaty Pressburg to the invasion of Russia. The latter debacle ends part two, and marks a foreboding and decisive end to the period of Napoleon's almost unassailable ascendency, and, in consequence, makes for a narrative that continues to be both gripping and dramatic.

Vol III

Napoleon's regrouping and rebuilding of the French and Allied armies, and his waging of the defensive campaigns of 1813, clearly excite Chandler. And he communicates his enthusiasm for this period both ably and contagiously. And then of course there's the audacious return from exile and the Hundred Days. 

This is factual history with excitement levels to eclipse all but the very best fiction. Indeed, history like this is better than practically all fiction, in my opinion. If someone made up a story like this, who would believe it? Napoleon returns from Elba with barely 1,000 men. And within days he's back in Paris - this whole story is the subject of the excellent 1815, The Return of Napoleon, by Paul Britten Austin - a whirlwind of activity, as he seeks peace whilst preparing for war. Encroyable!

Leipzig.

As you'd expect, Chandler's coverage of this whole exiting episode, set within the equally exciting larger epoch, strikes a perfect balance between the big picture and the smaller interesting details. Who needs or wants to read fiction, with history as exciting as this? And in how many stories -  especially 'real life' stories - is the final act a rather disappointing damp squib? Not so here. Commensurate with Napoleons own rather grandiose estimate of himself, this is a story that remains hugely exciting right to the end. And what a tragic yet epic ending it is!

Conclusion

Although Chandler is hardly a rank radical of the Jacobin variety, being in sober fact - as a professional military academic - far more likely to be on the conservative side of the spectrum, nevertheless, like Andrew Roberts in his turn (a more blatantly politically Conservative historian), one clearly senses the admiration, perhaps even the affection, Chandler has for his subject. And yet, again like Roberts, his excitement and awe don't cloud his judgement. We still get a balanced and critical view that gives both credit and finds fault where they are due.

All told, as I previously said in a post about a few of my favourite troilogies - of which this is most certainly one - this an epic account in every way. Being both hugely informative and great fun to read. For my money, this has to be amongst the very best and most essential writing on Napoleon's military career, a career which defined the story of Europe in the days that bear his name.



----------
NOTES:

[1] I've lost track of the number of times I've read authors describing the Napoleonic Wars as a foretaste of the World Wars of the 20th Century.

[2] Interestingly, Chandler gets around a commonly glossed over aspect of historical nomenclature here by calling his work 'The Campaigns of Napoleon'. The issue arises, I guess, because - strictly speaking, and despite Napoleon's involvement - the Wars of the 1st and 2nd Coalitions come under the heading of The Revolutionary Wars, whereas those of the following [x] coalitions are the Napoleonic Wars 'proper'. 

[3] These volumes are concerned, as the title makes clear, with military history. But these large eras of peace throughout the areas of French dominance deserve more study, in my view. Not just to counter the persistent image of Boney as nowt more than a bloody warmonger, but simply because they're interesting in themselves. There has certainly been study made of the general unrest that bubbled away in and across Napoleonic Europe, such as Broer's excellent Napoleon's Oher War.

Book Review: Napoleon's Other War, Michael Broers





Broers shines a light into the murky corners of Napoleonic Europe, a place which, according to this excellent and unusual book, appears to have contained many such corners, largely populated by bandits and/or freedom fighters. This is very welcome, as one is forever reading about how such uprisings against occupiers were forever counted on, whether by Napoleon himself or (just as often) his enemies.

There are chapters, no surprises here, on Spain. Such activity in The Balkans, however, is less widely written about. Even South America figures in this story, an area poorly served in both popular and academic history of the era (at least as far as my knowledge of the period extends). I was particularly interested in the Tyrol (Andreas Hofer, etc.), and this was covered, but I would've liked more depth and detail on this era, as this didn't add that much beyond what I'd learned in Jack Gill's superb 1809 Thunder On The Danube trilogy.


Andreas Hofer, freedom fighter or terrorist? By Koch.

The very early chapters on the the unrest in France itself, which Broers - rather contentiously to my mind - describes as the 'cradle of unrest' are very detailed, compared to much of the rest of the book (which is a rather slim volume in the world of Napoleonic literature) and interesting. He often refers to the difficulty of judging whether the men, and very rarely even women, at the centre of these stories were merely lawless brigands, or perhaps sometimes genuine freedom fighters.

He notes that lawlessness was widespread under the 'old order' (hence my problem with his depiction of the undoubted unrest of revolution and subsequent near continuous war of the Napoleonic era as the wellspring of such activity), and gives due credit to both Napoleon and his gendarmes, etc., as helping forge the 'modern world' as we know it, in which law enforcement reaches deeper into all of society.

'A Russian Peasant Loading A Dung Cart'. [1]

One of my main criticisms of this excellent book is its brevity. I could've enjoyed a lot more detail. Also there's a very large amount of repetition of certain ideas, which could've been trimmed and replaced with more detail on characters and events. I feel a little bad giving this just four bicornes, as I really enjoyed reading it, and it's almost alone in the easily available Napoleonic literature in devoting itself to such an important aspect of the period. The book is a very handsome hardback, with a beautiful cover showing Tyrolian guerillas, but there's the usual problem of not enough (or detailed enough) maps.

Michael Broers

So, not without some issues that could be improved upon, but nonetheless an excellent, very interesting and very welcome book.

----------
NOTES:

[1] Don't be fooled by the Cyrillic text. This is British establishment propaganda, from the hands of George Cruikshank. One things I don't recall now - as I'm posting this old review long after having read the book - is how much coverage there is of Russian 'brigandage'. Odd, really, given how that's one of my chief areas of interest... Hmmm? I'm tempted to say there can't have been very much, or I'd have made more mention of it in my review. However, in truth I can't recall. Might be due a re-visit?

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Miscellaneous: Titles of the 1er Empire



Started today, 20th Sept. 2018, this is very much just the beginning of a work in progress.

In a recent review of David Chandler's Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars I was grumbling about the confusion generated by Napoleon's habit of bestowing numerous titles on friends, family and followers.

Well, in this post I aim to create some sort of cross-referenced resource whereby one can enter or search for a name or title, and find out what other names and titles go with it. I might need some programming help to really make this happen. Initially it'll probably just be a set of lists... hmm?

Official undress uniform of a Marshal of the 1er Empire. [1]

Marshals

Augereau, Charles Pierre François, 1804 - Other titles: Duke of Castiglione (1757–1816), 
Bernadotte, Jean Baptiste Jules, 1804 - Other titles: Prince of Pontecorvo, King of Sweden & Norway.
Berthier, Louis-Alexandre, 1804 - Other titles: Prince of Neufchâtel and of Wagram, Duke of Valangin (1753–1815).
Bessières, Jean-Baptiste, 1804 - Other titles: Duke of Istria (1768–1813).
Brune, Guillaume, 1804 - Other titles: Count Brune (1763–1815).
Davout, Louis-Nicolas, 1804 - Other titles: Duke of Auerstädt, Prince of Eckmühl (1770–1823).
de Grouchy, Emmanuel, 1815 - Other titles: Marquis of Grouchy (1766–1847).
Jourdan, Jean-Baptiste, 1804 - Other titles: Count Jourdan (1762–1833).
de Kellermann, François Christophe, 1804 (Honorary) - Other titles: Duke of Valmy (1737–1820).
Lannes, Jean, 1804 - Other titles: Duke of Montebello (1769–1809).
Lefebvre, François Joseph, 1804 (Honorary) - Other titles: Duke of Danzig (1755–1820).
MacDonald, Jacques, 1809 - Other titles: Duke of Taranto (1765–1840)
Marmont, Auguste, 1809 - Other titles: Duke of Ragusa (1774–1852).
Masséna, André, 1804 - Other titles: Duke of Rivoli, Prince of Essling (1758–1817).
de Moncey, Bon-Adrien Jeannot, 1804 - Other titles: Duke of Conégliano (1754–1842).
Mortier, Édouard, 1804 - Other titles: Duke of Treviso (1768–1835).
Murat, Joachim, 1804 - Other titles: Prince of the Empire, Grand Duke of Clèves and Berg, King of Naples (1767–1815).
Ney, Michel, 1804 - Other titles: Duke of Elchingen, Prince of Moscow (1769–1815).
Oudinot, Nicolas, 1809 - Other titles: Duke of Reggio (1767–1847).
de Pérignon, Catherine-Dominique, 1804 (Honorary) - Other titles: Marquis of Grenade (1754–1818).
Poniatowski, Prince Józef Antoni, 1813 - Other titles: hereditary polish prince (1763–1813).
Saint-Cyr, Laurent de Gouvion, 1812 - Marquis of Gouvion Saint-Cyr (1764–1830).
Sérurier, Jean-Mathieu-Philibert, 1804 (Honorary) - Other titles: Count Sérurier (1742–1819).
Soult, Jean-de-Dieu, 1804 - Other titles: Duke of Dalmatia (1769–1851), Marshal General of France, 1847.
Suchet, Louis-Gabriel, 1811 - Other titles: Duke of Albufera (1770–1826).
Victor, Claude, 1807 - Other titles: Duke of Belluno (1764–1841).

Other individuals by surname

Bonaparte, Jerome - Prince of Montfort; King of Westphalia.
Bonaparte, Joseph - King of Spain (1808-1813); King of Naples & Sicily (1806-1808).
Bonaparte, Louis - King of Holland (1806-1810).
de Caulaincourt, Armand-Augustin-Louis - Duc d' Vicenza.
Clarke, Jenri Jacques Guillaume - Duc de Feltre; became a Marshal under the Bourbons.
Dumas, Guillaume-Mathieu - Intendant General (1812); Comte.
Junot, Jean-Andoche - Duc d' Abrantes.
Maret, Hugues-Bernard - Duc de Bassano; Comte.

Dukes, Princes, and other titles, etc.

Abrantes, Duc d' - Junot, Jean-Andoche
Bassano, Duc de - (Comte) Maret, Hugues-Bernard
Belluno, Duc de - Victor, Claude
Eckmühl, Prince d' - Davout, Louis-Nicolas
Feltre, Duc de - Clarke, Jenri Jacques Guillaume; made Marshal by Bourbons.
Fezensac, Baron- de Montesquiou-Fezensac, Raymond Aimery.
Intendant General (in 1812*) - Dumas
Moskva, Prince de - Ney
Naples, King Of - Murat
Neuchatel, Prince de - Berthier
Vicenza, Duc d' - de Caulaincourt, Armand-Augustin-Louis
Westphalia, King of - Jerome Bonaparte

* Acc. to Fezensac (dunno how long he held this post)

 This sign denotes titles not bestowed by Napoleon, such as pre-existing hereditary dukes, barons, etc. Some of these are guesses on my part! There are also instances of titles such as Marshal being bestowed on individuals listed here after Napoleon's defeat and final abdication in 1815.

----------
NOTES:

Primary source for all the above, Wikipedia.

[1] Official uniform of a Marshal of the Empire. Designed by painter Jean-Baptiste Isabey and designer Charles Percier.

Book Review: Military Maxims of Napoleon, ed. Chandler



This small hardback collects together 78 (I think?) maxims, of the man so often described, as indeed he is on the dust jacket blurb of this book, as 'history's greatest military commander'. 

But, as noted by W. E. Cairnes in his introduction to the 1901 edition of this collection 'Napoleon ... frequently violated his own maxims, sometimes with success, sometimes with disastrous results.' Maxim XVI, for example, finds him pointing out that one shouldn't do what he did at Waterloo or Borodino: 'A field of battle ... which he [the enemy] has previously studied and reconnoitred, should be avoided', and 'never attack a position in front which you can gain by turning'.

Borodino, as pictured by Lejeune.

But as Cairnes points out at another point in his intro, Napoleon's military genius was such he could as often achieve victory by burning the rule book as by following it. But it is perhaps sobering to note that where he went wrong he was usually contravening one or more of his own states principles. Napoleon himself also once said, and his own martial career proved him right, that great military leaders usually have a limited shelf-life, in terms of unmitigated success. 

The older Napoleon. Past his use-by date?

The maxims the themself are pithy and intriguing, and nicely presented in this edition (as pictured at the top of this post). Cairnes' turn of the century reflections - he looks at the then recent history of the Boer War through the lense of Boney's ideas - are also very intriguing. Chandler's intro is, one might say (a tad cynically, perhaps?), rather cursory, and possibly just an excuse to get his name on yet another interesting Napoleonic dust-jacket.

Although this is a lot less in-depth, nevertheless, I found it a lot easier to read and generally more satisfying than Jay Luvaas' ostensibly or potentially similar Napoleon On The Art Of War.

Book Review: Napoleon, David Chandler




Although this is far from the first book I've ever read on Napoleon or his era, I think it'd make a good starting point, and perhaps especially so for younger readers. Certainly I thoroughly enjoyed Chandler's history of Napoleon's life and military achievements. 

A quick, straightforward read, the book is short - a heavily illustrated 200 pages - and divided into just six chapters. These are:

Preparation and Promise - Napoleon's Corsican roots, and the beginnings of his youthful rise to prominence in pre-revolutionary and then revolutionary France. 

Italy, Egypt & Brumaire - Napoleon 's meteoric rise continues, as he makes his mark in Italy before embarking on and then abandoning an Egyptian adventure, eventually returning to France and intriguing his way to ascendency.

Brumaire, Napoleon seizes power, Bouchot.

The Years of Achievement - Napoleon's 'glory days', the founding of the myth of invincibility, and the seemingly unstoppable ascent of his 'star'. this section covers his most successful campaigns - Marengo, Ulm/Austerlitz, Jena, Eylau, Friedland, etc. - in the period 1800-7.

The Path to Failure - Napoleon opens the Spanish 'ulcer', and then disastrously overreaches himself, irrevocably leading to his own ultimate undoing, by opening up a second (and massive front), taking on the Russian 'Bear'. Whilst this period sees Boney sow the seeds of his own destruction, it also covers the successful 1809 campaign against Austria. 

Defeat and Abdication - The campaigns of 1813-14, and, of course the 'Hundred Days'. Europe finally pools resources, defeating Boney at Leipzig, and hounding him back into France. By now his enemies have adopted the best of French military measures, and have strategies for getting around Napoleon's wiles. Returning from Elban exile he tries one last gamble, which very nearly succeeds (it'd only have given a brief respite though, as war-weary France, short of men, horses or any further appetite for war, couldn't indefinitely face off a united Europe), but of course doesn't.

Napoleon fleeing the battlefield of Waterloo, Jazet after Steuben.

It all ends, militarily speaking, with Wellington and Blücher at Waterloo, which for many British readers will also be where their interest began. It certainly was for me, in the shape of an Airfix 'La Haye Sainte' toy soldier set!

Nap & His Art of War - The final chapter looks at Napoleon's character, and briefly sketches out his tactics and the tools of his trade, i.e. la Grande Armée, it's formation, history & structure, etc.

Given the small size of the book, everything is covered only very briefly, and yet a heck of lot is covered, and there's a lot of very interesting detail. Perhaps this is not so surprising an accomplishment as it might at first appear, given that Chandler's greatest and perhaps best known work is his three-volume Campaigns of Napoleon, which he'd completed before writing this shorter work for the general reader.

If Napoleon were a starter, this would be banquet.

Unlike Esdaile, in Napoleon's Wars, Chandler, whilst acknowledging political (and other) dimensions, concentrates firmly, and in typical old-school military buff fashion, on Napoleon's military story. I thought I'd read somewhere that Chandler didn't like Napoleon, and made that clear in his writing. Well, in my reading experience so far he seems at least as admiring as he is critical, although he undoubtedly is both. To my mind Chandler gives a pretty well balanced view, if also one that's starting to look a little old-fashioned. 

Many readers, myself included, will want to find out more about Napoleon's achievements outside of his military career. One needs to look elsewhere for that. But as a short, comprehensive and easy-to-read military history of Napoleon's career, this seems to me a good pretty good place to start.

David Chandler

Book Review: First Light, Geoffrey Wellum



I bought the attractive Penguin 'Centenary Collection' edition of this, from a favourite local bookshop Topping Books, Ely), as something to read during a recent short holiday. I wound up reading it before we went away, in the end. Seduced by the nicely retro cover, I started earlier than intended. And once started, I was utterly hooked.

Brian Kingcome, left, and 'Boy' Wellum, 92 Squadron, RAF, Biggin Hill, '41.

As Geoff Wellum himself says repeatedly, in his very engaging memoir, these were amazing, momentous times, and he had a particularly privileged part to play, albeit a privilege that came with awful risks and costs. Wellum's journey, from idyllic sounding school days, to aerial war in the skies over England and Europe, and all whilst incredibly young (his nickname was 'Boy'), is a fascinating, captivating and even awe inspiring story.


To be one of the 'few', and then one of the few of the few who made it through (phew!), and to then be able to put down the experience in words, as eloquently and as straightforwardly as Wellum does, all these things make this a very special and powerful book. And it all has a wonderful quintessentially English quality, in the best of ways.



Wellum's story has been dramatised.


Wellum himself observes on a number of occasions that having lived a life so full of high drama, adventure, and historical significance, all by the time he turned 21, was both incredible in itself, and also possibly an issue in later life: how can you follow experiences like these? Whilst I don't wish the world to find itself at war again, we do seem, by comparison, to live dull lives in dull times.


Wellum passed away, aged 96, in July, 2018


Wellum in his later years.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Book Review: Napoleon's Marshals, Ed. David Chandler



I don't know what you folks are like, in this respect, but, when it comes to reading books (or watching DVD series, for that matter), I like to systematically plod through; start at the beginning, and work to the end. Sometimes, however, a book lends itself to episodic study. And this is such a book.

The coveted marshal's baton. [1]

Nonetheless, even under such circumstances, I'd usually start at A and work stolidly to Z, just so as to be sure to cover all points and not miss anything. I'm pretty much the same with collections of music or film. If in this respect I'm a methodical plodder, my wife, by contrast, is a whimsical dipper. As a consequence, there are episodes of Sherlock Holmes or Poirot she's done to death (so to speak!), and others she still may never have seen.


Napoleon awards MacDonald his Marshal's baton at Wagram.

So, even when presented with the opportunity to dip in randomly, I rarely do it, and so strong is my aversion to such random reading that certain other other books that encourage this approach (I can think of two by philosopher A. C. Grayling, for example: Ideas That Matter, and The Good Book) remain on my shelves, practically unread.

However, my 'Jones' for things Napoleonic is sufficiently overpowering as to overcome this aversion. The handsome weighty hardback under review here, that has seduced me against my own principles is Napoleon's Marshals, by a collection (a who's who, in fact) of authors known for their interest in the period, under the editorial eye of Napoleonic über-buff, David Chandler.


Davou[s]t. [2]


Murat, beau sabreur, etc.

One of many things that helps me cross the threshold in this instance is the fact that one may be reading about a certain episode or period within the Napoleonic Wars - say for example Davout's incredible feat at Auerstadt, or the heroics of Ney in the retreat from Russia, the many nigh comical caperings of Murat, or Poniatowski's tragically short spell as a baton-wielder - and feel the urge to know more about that particular character.


Poniatowski.

Or, alternatively, a cumulative interest may build, as it has with me in regard to particular figures, such as Davout, for his staunch dependability, or Bernadotte for his far more volatile and Mercurial relationship with Napoleon. And in some instances, it's my general ignorance of a character, such as the oft-lauded Lannes, or Massena, of both of whom - despite noting the reverence frequently accorded their names - I have next to no knowledge at all.

At the time of posting this review I've only read the chapters on four or five of the Marshals (Murat, Ney, Bernadotte, Davout and - I think? - Berthier), and I've found them to be of quite a variable flavour, according to who wrote about who, ranging from gruffly factual to almost homely and anecdotal. Interestingly, thinking of an author like Delderfield, it struck me that even some pro historians and ex-miliatry types are as much or maybe even more given to romantic reveries as the seriously interested and knowledgeable amateur.

Bernadotte.

Massena.

A little patchy, in terms of prose quality, and quite varied in terms of levels of detail and interest - for some there's not a great deal to say, whilst for others, this format (according all 26 Marshals a roughly equal weighting of a chapter each) doesn't give enough room to go into sufficient detail - and with as much trad old-soldier's anecdote as scholarly meat... well? Having not read the entire book as yet, my current judgement is that this is, whilst not an out and out classic, still an essential addition to the Nappy Buff's library. 

----------
NOTES:

[1] This particular example might once have belonged to Marshal Jourdan.

[2] Why his name is sometimes rendered as Davoust, as on this print, has always confused me.