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Lot #212
Napoleon Rare Handwritten Letter in English to Emmanuel, comte de Las Cases (One of Three Known)

Excessively rare handwritten letter in English—one of three known—by Napoleon Bonaparte, playfully criticizing his tutor's work: "You had done a very good book. It is not however that is not somme fautes but you schal may corect them in the next edition"

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Estimate: $100000+
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UPDATE: For further insight into Napoleon's relationship with Count Emmanuel de Las Cases and his study of the English language, see 'Napoleon's English Lessons' by Peter Hicks, in which this letter is transcribed.


Description

Excessively rare handwritten letter in English—one of three known—by Napoleon Bonaparte, playfully criticizing his tutor's work: "You had done a very good book. It is not however that is not somme fautes but you schal may corect them in the next edition"

Rare unsigned handwritten letter in English by Napoleon Bonaparte, one page, 6.5 x 8, March 6, 1816. Handwritten letter to French atlas-maker and author Emmanuel, comte de Las Cases, who accompanied Napoleon on his exile to Saint Helena, acting as his secretary there and tutoring him in English; Las Cases is famed for an admiring book about Napoleon, Le Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène ('The Memorial of Saint Helena'). Napoleon pens a rare, playful letter in English, headed, "Sir Count Lascases." Anonymously poking fun at Las Cases' celebrated atlas, Napoleon writes, in full (spelling and grammar retained): "j write you this letter for say to you that you had done a very good book. It is not however that is not somme fautes but you schal may corect them in the next edition: then schal you may sell you work five pound ever exemplary. upon that j pray god that he have you in his holy and worthy guard." Napoleon writes from "Longwood," the mansion on the island of Saint Helena where he resided while in exile. Addressed on the integral leaf in Napoleon's hand: "Counte Lascases, Longwood, very urgent." The letter is tipped into a bound folio, 10 x 13.75, with quarter-leather spine and marbled boards; also inside the volume are two letters by a descendant of Las Cases, and a photograph of a letter by Napoleon. In fine condition.

Accompanied by a hardcover edition of Le Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène [Tome Premier] by Le Comte de Las Cases, published in Paris by Magen et Comon. In it, Las Cases makes reference to the present letter in his entry for March 7th (translated): "A moment before dinner, I went, as usual, to the living room; the Emperor played a game of chess there with the Grand Marshal. The valet on duty at the drawing room door came to bring me a letter; it said on it: very urgent. Out of respect for the Emperor, I hid to try to read it; it was in English: it said that I had done a very beautiful work; that he was not, however, free from faults; that if I wanted to correct them in a new edition, there is no doubt that the work would be much better; and with that, we prayed to God to have me in his worthy and holy guard. Such a letter, so unexpected and somewhat out of place, it seemed to me, aroused my surprise, a little my anger; the red color came to my face; it was to the point that I had not given myself the time to consider writing it. As I looked through it, I recognized the hand, despite the unusual beauty of the writing, and I couldn't help but laugh a lot about it. But the Emperor, who saw me from the side, asked me from whom the letter that had been given to me was. I replied that it was a piece of writing that had left me with an initial feeling very different from the one it would leave me with. I said it so naturally, the mystification had been so complete, that he began to laugh until he cried. The letter was from him; the schoolboy had wanted to make fun of his master, and try his hand at his expense. I keep this letter carefully; the cheerfulness, the style and the circumstance make it more precious to me than any diploma that the Emperor could have given me at the time of his power."

This letter, along with two others—the only known English letters by Napoleon—were kept by Las Cases and later bound together in a single volume (the other two were excised and sold; one, dated March 9th, achieved over £150,000 at auction in 2021). This compelling example reveals Napoleon as a playful trickster and a quick study—in spite of his broken English, the meaning is clearly communicated. For further insight into Napoleon's relationship with Count Emmanuel de Las Cases and his study of the English language, see 'Napoleon's English Lessons' by Peter Hicks, in which this letter is transcribed.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Fine Autograph and Artifacts
  • Dates: #680 - Ended December 06, 2023





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