Louis-Nicolas Davout, 1770-1823: the Marshal's library: collecting books in Napoleonic France: an exhibition of material from the Rare Book Collection. Monash University Library, 26 August - 17 October 1994
The exhibition was held in the Rare Books Exhibition space, Sir Louis Matheson Library, Monash University from 26 August - 17 October 1994. The happy accidents that a private collection in Melbourne holds a bundle of papers relating to the library of Marshal Louis-Nicolas Davout (1770-1823), and that we have been given Frenche access to the material, make the present exhibition possible. The aim is to show - with the aid of titles acquired over more than thirty years in support of French studies at Monash - a sample of the sorts of books that Davout owned. The wider interest of this is that he accumulated a collection that reflected many of the tastes and preoccupations of the generation of the Revolution and of the First Empire. In other words this is a French “gentleman’s library” of the early nineteenth century with all that that rather conventional description implies. Davout belonged to a poor noble family from Burgundy with strong military traditions. He trained as an officer, and, having espoused the Revolution, advanced through the ranks in the latter part of the 1790s. The first list of his books was compiled some time between his acquisition of the castle at Savigny-sur-Orge in 1802 and his promotion to marshal in 1804. Davout was one of Napoleon's ablest lieutenants and a thoroughly professional soldier. His victories at Auerstadt in 1806 against the bulk of the Prussian army and at Eckmuhl in 1809 were celebrated by the conferral of the titles of Duke and Prince respectively. At the end of his active career he was Napoleon's Minister for War during the 100 Days. The library reflects Davout's military interests in its titles relating to tactics, battles and army organisation and in its large number of maps and plans (including the England Napoleon contemplated invading). This area falls outside Monash's concerns, but we are able to show - with a little help from a private collection (items asterisked in the catalogue) - the main trends of the rest. Almost everything is in French, including the works of authors from classical antiquity. Standard reference works abound alongside large sets of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century authors who had become an established part of the canon. Enlightenment philosophers are strongly represented, alongside the great preachers of the age of Louis XIV, and other religious works. Science and, even more, travel are also present in some quantity. Booksellers' and binders' accounts among the papers, and a substantial list of titles recommended for a library of this kind, indicate clearly enough the objective of providing a ready-made storehouse of the accepted culture of the time. Nonetheless there are personal emphases. Even though one can imagine that many of Davout's sets remained on the shelves to be admired rather than consulted, this was not just a library for show. There is evidence that the maps and the professional books accompanied him on his campaigns. As far as possible we have exhibited the editions that Davout owned. But not, of course, his own copies of them. In some cases we have had to be content with other, mostly earlier, editions of the same authors. It was not a collection of rare books, but a selection of what was conceived to be the best of contemporary and near-contemporary, as well as classical, literature (in the widest sense of that term). As such, it is certainly instructive for the modern student of the culture of 1800 and 1810.
Some items kindly loaned by private collectors