Autograph manuscript, “Remarques, nottes [sic] instructions, réflexions et souvenirs rélatifs aux diverses parties de l’art nautique et militaire de la marine”. Horatio Nelson, Henri Pierre Philibert.
Autograph manuscript, “Remarques, nottes [sic] instructions, réflexions et souvenirs rélatifs aux diverses parties de l’art nautique et militaire de la marine”
Autograph manuscript, “Remarques, nottes [sic] instructions, réflexions et souvenirs rélatifs aux diverses parties de l’art nautique et militaire de la marine”

A French Naval Officer in the Age of Nelson

Autograph manuscript, “Remarques, nottes [sic] instructions, réflexions et souvenirs rélatifs aux diverses parties de l’art nautique et militaire de la marine”.

N.p. [France?]: [ca. 1806].

[231 pp]. 4to. A French Naval Officer in the Age of Nelson. Two loosely inserted leaves, engraved Neptune vignette laid down on front pastedown, engraved chart on rear pastedown, original roan backed boards. Item #257034

A detailed and comprehensive naval journal by a French naval officer during the Napoleonic era. The author (Philibert, according to a note on the pastedown), a highly literate and seasoned naval officer who saw action in the waters of Europe, the Americas and Africa, records in this notebook some of the major engagements, including battles with Nelson, in which he participated. On pages 161-182 he lists the "Marine Anglais En 1800," alphabetically by ship (showing Capt. Bligh as captain of the 64-gun Agincourt), and follows with a vivid, English-language description of the Battle of Aboukir Bay (the Battle of the Nile): "the British squadron under the command of Horatio Nelson approached...the French fleet in the morning of the 1st of August 1798, from the westward. The action commenced at sunset of the same day, in pursuance of the admiral's signal to engage from van to the centre...The action was continuous from about 6 o'clock in the evening of the first of august, till there in the morning of the 2d. It was then intermitted for about 2 hours and was afterwards continuous till about 2 in the afternoon of the 2d... Capn Westcott of the Majestic was killed early in the action, but her first lieutenant Cuthbert so ably conducted her afterwards, as to receive the honour of public mention in the Admiral’s official communication. Indeed, to the judgement and valour of all the officers, and to the courage of the crews, does the British admiral ascribe the success of this important day…”

He is an clearly admirer of the English navy and has a solid command of the English language. Another chapter, recording soundings taken in the English channel, is also written entirely in English, and among several other interesting features, pages 37-38 contain a bilingual dictionary of French-English naval vocabulary: "En haut tout le monde = All hands high!"... "Droit" = "Steady"..."Bon quart = All's Well..." Much of the journal, too, records extracts from the author’s extensive reading of contemporary travel and maritime literature, from Lady Craven’s account of her voyage to Constantinople, to Captain Bligh’s account of the mutiny on the Bounty in 1789. Scattered throughout, too, are fascinating discussions of recipes, uniforms (“en général nos matelots sont encore mal servis (?); leurs habillements sont mal faits, les manches sont trop courtes, il y a trop de disparité dans les couleurs … la plupart [des matelots] ont l'apparence de misérables pècheurs et de mendiants”), storage of biscuits, the cleaning of ships, the use of parrots, etc., etc., offering, in all, a fascinating and instructive view of life at sea in the late 18th century by a professional naval officer.

The first half of the journal also covers his service in American waters, with commentary about the Virginia coast, the Carolinas, Florida, Louisiana and the West Indies. The latter half contains notes about engagements during the Napoleonic Wars. Philibert catalogued the French and English losses after 1794, and includes ships lost in American waters. The journal also has accounts of the Franco-American naval war of 1798-1800.

The attribution to Philibert (from a pencilled note on front pastedown) is of great historical interest,

“Philibert (Pierre-Henry), born January 26, 1774 in Bourbon [i.e., present day La Réuinion, in the Mauritius Islands] was the son of a former controller and officer of the Navy. In 1786 he entered the Royal Navy as a volunteer. Revolution made him sign onto a vessel November 16, 1793. He successively became lieutenant in 1803, commander in 1811 and finally captain of second class in 1814. Captain Philibert had the finest record of service, was one of top officers of the Imperial Navy and deserves to be defended against unjust attacks. He distinguished himself at the Battle of Trafalgar and was, after the fight, as the ship returned to Algeciras captured by the English. He had already held several important commands and finally, that of a division composed of the frigates l'Étoile and la Sultane which distinguished itself during an ocean crossing in two battles against the English. Wounded several times, the commander Philibert was in 1815 made Knight of the Legion of Honour and Knight of St. Louis. Named Officer of the Legion of Honor in 1821, captain of the first class in 1822, he died in 1824.” (Memoirs of Baron Bonnefoux, Ship Captain from 1782 to 1855).

It is also noteworthy that Philibert was commander of the frigate la Saale on July 8, 1815, where Napoleon took refuge for four days awaiting his exile to St. Helena. While on board, Plans were made to prevent his exile and secure his escape; a request was made of Philibert to weigh anchor and set sail. Philibert refused to do so, and so changed the course of history.

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