The Memorial of Saint Helena

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The Memorial of Saint Helena (French: Le Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène), written by Emmanuel-Auguste-Dieudonné Las Cases, is a journal-memoir of the beginning of Napoleon Bonaparte's exile on Saint Helena. The core of the work transcribes Las Cases' near-daily conversations with the former Emperor on his life, his career, his political philosophy, and the conditions of his exile. First published in 1823 after Napoleon's death, the work was an immediate and continuing literary success, receiving multiple translations and appearing in new editions throughout the 19th century and into the 20th. The work entered the popular imagination as something like Napoleon's own personal and political testament, and as such became a founding text in the development of the Napoleon cult and the ideology of Bonapartism.

Monument de Las Cases - Bas-relief Vous serez le Sully de Ste-Hélène... Bronze - Jean-Marie Bonnassieux

Composition and PublicationEdit

Las Cases began his journal on June 20, 1815, two days after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, and continued it until his expulsion from St. Helena on orders of the island's governor, Hudson Lowe, at the end of the following year.

According to Las Cases, the project of the Memorial commenced in early August, 1815 aboard the Bellerophon, where Napoleon was waiting for the ship that would transport him and a small party of companions to St. Helena. Napoleon suggests he finds comfort in the thought of suicide, but Las Cases insists there will still be purpose for them in the "desolate place" of exile:

"Sire, ... we will live on the past: there is enough in it to satisfy us. Do we not enjoy the life of Caesar and that of Alexander? We shall possess still more, you will re-peruse yourself, Sire!" "Be it so!" rejoined Napoleon; "we will write our Memoirs."[1]

At some point Las Cases began a daily routine of transcribing notes of the Emperor's conversation, leaving his son Emmanuel the task of producing a fair copy. From time to time Las Cases would provide Napoleon with excerpts to read, thus assuring himself of Napoleon's imprimatur.[2]

Being found in possession of personal letters that he was attempting to send surreptitiously to Europe, Las Cases was arrested on November 25, 1816, and expelled from St. Helena a month later. British authorities confiscated the manuscript of the Memorial and sent it to England in the keeping of the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, Henry Bathurst. The manuscript was not returned to Las Cases until five years later, following the Emperor's death.[3]

The Memorial was reprinted for the first time less than a year after its publication in 1823, and was translated into English, German, Italian, Spanish and Swedish. It was one of the bestselling books in France in the years between 1826 and 1840. In 1950, it was selected for inclusion in the French classics series La Pléiade.[3]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Emmanuel, comte de Las Cases [1836]. Memoirs of the life, exile, and conversations of the Emperor Napoleon. (Volume I) at Project Gutenberg
  2. ^ Houdecek, François. "Who Exactly was the Conte[sic] de Las Cases?". Napoleon.org. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  3. ^ a b Prevot, Chantal. "The Memorial: Chantal Prevot on the History of the Publication, October 2017". Napoleon.org. Retrieved 25 March 2018.