I bring you something pretty different today. I don’t know why, but I could not resist this book (perhaps because I’m fascinated by antiques…)
The Napoleonic Wars: As Illustrated by J J Jenkins by J J Jenkins.
Originally published as Martial Achievements of Great Britain and Her Allies From 1799 to 1815 this is one of the most magnificent of all period art books to have been produced. The text is pure British propaganda but is overshadowed by the rarity of the art work. Includes 54 stunning color plates including a great Wellington portrait, his coat of arms and a list of subscribers to the Martial Achievements. This is one of the finest books of its type ever produced and an absolute must for the collector of British or Napoleonic military art and literature.
Thanks to Rosie Croft of Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
I was checking the publisher’s catalogue and read the comments about this book, that was a reproduction of the original version, and although I’m no expert in military campaigns or Napoleon (although I suspect, like most people, I’m intrigued by that fascinating historical figure) I felt this was the book to get on the subject. I love art, and a book full of illustrations of the period sounded like a must-have. And I was right.
The book, as some of the reviewers have commented, is all the better for being a straight reproduction, without added comments or attempts at bringing it up to date or explaining and contextualising it. It is old-fashioned, but gloriously so. Oh, it isn’t politically correct either, and I’m not sure any French nationals with strong feelings about Napoleon would appreciate the comments, which, as the description says, are pure British propaganda. A lot of the book centres on the campaign in Spain, for evident reasons, and the book is dedicated to the Duke of Wellington, and I think it is a great example of what books of the period on this subject would have been like, and I’m sure its original quality is reflected in the current edition.
I particularly enjoyed the illustrations, which have something of the naïveté of a talented and skilled amateur (they reminded me of the notebooks people kept in the XVIII and XIX century when they were travelling that often included watercolours or pencil drawings of the places they visited). The written accounts of the battles and episodes are aggrandising and do not go into deep analysis, but include war dispatches, lists of some of the fallen and wounded, easy-to-read descriptions of the events (how accurate is another matter), and also letters that at times can bring the real people to life for us. As a small example, the chapter “The Death of Moreau, 28th August 1813” includes a letter General Moreau addressed to his wife, three days after his wounding:
My dear Love, — At the battle of Dresden, three days ago, I had both legs carried off by a cannon-ball. That scoundrel Buonaparte is always fortunate. The amputation was performed as well as possible. Though the army has made a retrograde movement, it is not at all consequence of defeat, but from a want of ensemble, and in order to get nearer General Blücher. Excuse my hasty writing. I love and embrace thee with my whole heart. I charge Rappatel to finish. (Jenkins, 2018, pp. 117-8).
I recommend this book to anybody interested in military history, particularly in the Napoleonic campaigns, in art of the era, or who simply enjoy books from the XIX century and would like to have an excellent quality replica of a book of the era. This is a collectable for those who love books as artworks and it brings to life an era past but not forgotten. It would make a fabulous gift as well.
Jenkins, J.J. (2018, originally published 1815). The Napoleonic Wars as illustrated by J.J. Jenkins. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword Military.
Thanks to Rosie and her team for this treat, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!