Napoleon LS w/ 2 Autograph Words from Elba Re: Renovation Delays to Royal Residence on the Eve of his Love Assignation w/ Polish Noblewoman Marie Walewska, Ex-Nicholson Napoleon Collection
3pp letter in French signed by Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) as "Np" at the bottom of the third page. Also containing one cross-out and two autograph words in Napoleon's hand. Written from Napoleon's mountain retreat at the Santuario della Madonna del Monte near Marciana, Elba on August 30, 1814. On cream bifold paper inscribed in an elegant clerical hand. With light expected folds and a tiny pin hole found in the upper left hand corner of the first page, else near fine. 7.25" x 9." Accompanied by a nearly complete French transcript and English translation of the letter, as well as materials relating to the item's purchase at auction in October 2001. Ex-Nicholson Napoleon Collection.
"Able was I ere I saw Elba." This well-known palindromic phrase alludes to the angst Napoleon must have felt during his 300-day-long exile on Elba, between early May 1814 and his escape in February 1815. On the cusp of previously controlling the world, Napoleon was relegated to Elba, an 86-square-mile Italian land-spit, following the terms of the Treaty of Fontainebleau, signed on April 11, 1814. Correspondence dating from Napoleon's exile on Elba is extremely rare.
In late August 1814, then, nearly four months into his exile, Napoleon was touring the island he now called home. Elba is the largest island in the Tuscan archipelago, located about 30 miles east of Napoleon's birthplace, Corsica, and about 6 miles southwest of mainland Italy.
Between August 23 and September 4, 1814, Napoleon stayed at the Hermitage, a sixteenth-century retreat adjoining a church called La Madonna del Monte (Madonna of the Mountain) on the slopes of Mount Jupiter near Marciana on the west side of Elba. La Madonna, with its quaint church frescoes and secluded mountain spring, was the perfect place to meet with his mistress, the Polish noblewoman Marie Walewska (1786-1817), for a brief visit beginning September 1, 1814. Walewska was accompanied by Alexandre Joseph (1810-1868), Napoleon's likely love child. Walewska left the island less than two days later after their bittersweet reunion.
Napoleon and Walewska's affair began in 1806 and wrapped up in 1810, just before Napoleon discarded first wife Josephine Beauharnais to marry Austrian archduchess Marie Louise. According to Walewska's memoirs, she first became Napoleon's mistress with the sole aim of advancing Polish independence, but her feelings soon deepened into true love and affection. Walewska's visit in September 1814 meant that she, along with Napoleon's mother and sister Pauline, joined Napoleon for various lengths of time in exile on the island, something his second wife Marie Louise of Austria never did. (Indeed, Napoleon never saw his wife again after January 1814.)
This letter was thus written on the eve of Walewska's arrival to Elba. Napoleon does not betray any emotion about the imminent arrival of Marie Walewska. Instead, he focuses on the state of renovations of his rooms at Forte Longone, a seventeenth-century fort located in Porto Azzurro in the eastern part of the island, which Napoleon maintained as an occasional pied-à-terre.
The letter shows that, despite his recent reversals, Napoleon was still every inch the Emperor: unchanged is his authoritative tone, his sense of entitlement, and his impatience with mere mortals. The letter is addressed to his longtime subordinate Henri Gratien, Count Bertrand (1773-1844). In it, Napoleon exhibits the same amount of micromanagerial control that he often did during his erstwhile military campaigns. Now, however, this officiousness was directed towards the project at Forte Longone. All of his misspent genius now went towards supervising the renovation of the rooms and arranging the furniture. Napoleon had definite ideas of what he considered essential features, and the rooms had better be "habitable," he warned.
Translated in part, with paragraph breaks added for improved legibility:
"Monsieur Count Bertrand, I receive your letter of the 29 and I reply to it forthwith. I send you the key to the desk which is in my library, you will find there a red leather wallet containing the key to my armoire; have a care to remove everything that is found inside. Tear down the wall separating my bedroom from my bathtub. If the fireplace can be placed in the middle facing the window, the bed will be able to be placed lengthwise; if that is not possible, do it how you can; it would be convenient if that were done [by] Saturday night, so that I can go there Sunday; as much as the stay at La Madonna is agreeable is agreeable [sic] in the heat, it is equally inconvenient in bad weather. =
If the lodging at Longone is truly finished, [and] I will be obliged to leave La Madonna, I will see no inconvenience in going to Longone. Let me know how it us with the lodging. =
I am angry that they have not yet done the ceiling of the room upstairs. Give the order that they put on the beam 3 flat iron bands, each 4 feet in length; that will consolidate the beam, and one will be assured that it will no longer break. The beam at Livorno would be placed in reserve [Napoleon has crossed out the word "mise" and written the words "en reserve"] in case of this event. =
I don't really understand what you have told me about the gallery, the dining room and my office; these rooms don't have ceilings, and it seems to me that in putting up a beam, in passing it underneath the ceiling, it would remediate everything, it would thus not be necessary to wait for Livorno for the beams, since those are only 3 feet and ones of this size can be found in the stores…=
Ensure personally that they work on the windows upstairs and on the theater, because the architect does nothing to command it, and I would not be shocked if he still has not done anything; here however [is] the moment when these rooms become necessary to me. =
To recap, tomorrow, put three flat iron bands on the beam upstairs. = 2nd tear down the wall separating my bedroom from my bathtub. = 3rd move the armoire which is in the room where my iron bed is, because I suppose that it is not possible to leave it where it is; if however, it would be possible, leave it there; it would be concealed by the bed, and one could paint it in a manner where you wouldn't see it. = 4th If it is possible to ensure the progress of the windows, arrange the four windows on the garden side, making them large and placing them below those upstairs. =
It is necessary that my bedroom and my library are finished in a habitable manner [by] next Monday. = Find out the precise length that the beam must have in order to remove the stairway from the gallery… and the time it would take to destroy the stairway, tear down the wall, construct the gallery ceiling and arrange it. = On this I pray that God keeps you in his holy care = at La Madonna the 30 August 1814.
Shortly after Marie Walewska left Elba, Napoleon did indeed travel from La Madonna del Monte to Forte Longone on the other side of the island, where he resided between September 5-September 24, 1814. Forte Longone, also known as Forte San Giacomo, was a defensive complex constructed by the Spanish in the early seventeenth century. It was comprised of fortifications, a governor's palace, an armory, a garrison, a hospital, and several churches. (Today, the fort serves as a prison.) The rooms at Forte Longone were only one of Napoleon's royal residences. His primary residence on the island was at the Palazzino dei Mulini in Portoferraio, located in a bay to the northwest of Porto Azzurro.
While governor of Elba, Napoleon implemented many improvements. He transferred his formidable administrative skills, honed by building an empire, to perfecting the infrastructure, societal order, and military of the island nation of approximately 12,000-14,000 citizens.
Henri Gratien, Count Bertrand had first served with Napoleon in Egypt in the 1790s. Bertrand served as Napoleon's aide-de-camp, general, regional governor, and after 1813, Grand Marshal of the Palace. Bertrand's numerous promotions cemented his personal fidelity to Napoleon; he followed Napoleon to Elba in 1814 and to St. Helena in 1815. In 1840, Bertrand retrieved Napoleon's remains from St. Helena for interment in Les Invalides in Paris.
The materials include:
1. Nearly complete French transcription of the letter.
2. Nearly complete English translation of the letter, along with past catalog description supplemental materials (photocopies of Napoleon's various residences on Elba, etc.)
3. A letter dated October 3, 2001 and an invoice dated October 18, 2001 from Alexander Autographs (Greenwich, Connecticut), related to the sale of the Napoleon signed letter.
This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.
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