Book Review: In Napoleon’s Shadow: Being the First English Language Edition of the Complete Memoirs of Louis-Joseph Marchand, Valet and Friend of the Emperor, 1811-1821 (edited by Proctor Jones) : MHQ
In Napoleon’s Shadow: Being the First English Language Edition of the Complete Memoirs of Louis-Joseph Marchand, Valet and Friend of the Emperor, 1811-1821, edited by Proctor Jones, Proctor Jones Publishing Company, $59.95.
Nothing especially new, this memoir does offer a keener insight into the character, habits, and thinking of one of the world’s most memorable military and political figures. Proctor Jones thankfully continues to publish firsthand sources on Napoleon, and in this weighty volume (more than eight hundred pages) we have something that was publicly available only forty years ago. Published in French then, it has previously been unavailable in English. The chief value of the book stems from Marchand’s intimate knowledge of the great man during his years of exile on Elba and St. Helena.
Just about anything printed about Napoleon should be approached with a skeptical eye, particularly alleged memoirs by his valets. In 1830, the story by the emperor’s first valet, Constant Wairy, emerged and was soon discounted as being embellished by his editors. However, Marchand’s book has at least one seal of authenticity–that of Jean Tulard, a member of the Institute of France and professor at the Sorbonne.
Marchand’s descriptions cover Napoleon’s movements, meetings, comments, and demeanor prior to and after the Battle of Waterloo. Marchand, by then a most trusted servant, had been placed in charge of much of the emperor’s portable wealth, and his actions during this desperate time are of considerable interest.
Marchand also witnessed the steady deterioration in the health of the fifty-two-year-old prisoner and his death on St. Helena. Again, there is not much new information here, but a description from a firsthand source has far more immediacy than a secondhand account.
The reader soon knows that the author was no modest household servant. For example, Marchand was chosen to record Napoleon’s Summary of Julius Caesar’s Wars, published in 1836. The emperor openly described Marchand as a friend and entrusted him with some of his most precious valuables. On his deathbed, Napoleon made Marchand a count, a title later confirmed by Napoleon III. This memoir is by a literate and knowledgeable man who fully realized he was writing about an era and a leader of great import.