Many bloggers, tweeters, newspaper columnists and other date nerds have already produced handy lists of the anniversaries coming up in 2015. The Big Two are of course the octocentenary of Magna Carta (sealed (not signed!) by King John on 15 June) and the bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo (18 June). Others include the sexcentenary of the battle of Agincourt (25 October), and the invasion of England by Cnut the Great of Denmark in September 1015 (he was subsequently involved with non-turning-back of waves). In 1515 (among much else), Dürer’s ‘Rhinoceros’ was engraved; in 1615 the shogunate was established in Japan, leading to a relatively peaceful period which lasted about 250 years; in 1715, the Old Pretender tried and failed to overthrow the house of Hanover; 1915, between world war, Typhoid Mary, rail crashes, fires, sinking ships, hurricanes and earthquakes, seems to have been rather depressing all round.
I thought I would have a look at some of the books published in 1815, and also at the those relating to Waterloo – possibly the most significant battle in European history? So, in 1815:
Clarke and McArthur, The Naval Chronicle, vols. 33 and 34. In the first half of the year, attention was focused mostly on the war in America, but volume 34 has a lot about the defeat of Napoleon and his departure into exile.
Elphinstone, Account of the Kingdom of Caubul, and its Dependencies in Persia, Tartary, and India, describing the geography, economy and political situation of the kingdom and providing a brief account of Afghan history.
Falconer, ed. Burney, A New Universal Dictionary of the Marine, over 800 pages of technical data on shipbuilding, navigation, the operation of ships, weaponry and provisions, as well as historical, legal and medical information, and even French vocabulary lists, and lists of clothing, books and equipment required by a young midshipman
Holland, Travels in the Ionian Isles, Albania, Thessaly, Macedonia, etc. Later physician to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Henry Holland spent at least two months of each year travelling. This early account gives a unique first-hand account of the Albanian vizier Ali Pasha (1740–1822), and contributed to the early nineteenth-century fascination with Greece that would later lead Lord Byron and others to join the Greek War of Independence.
Lagrange, Mécanique Analytique: this two-volume edition of 1811–15 was revised by the author before his death.
Lamarck, Histoire naturelle des animaux sans vertèbres: the first volume of this 7-volume set, published between 1815 and 1822.
Lewis and Clark, Travels to the Source of the Missouri River (3-volume set), one of the founding travel narratives of the United States.
Malcolm, The History of Persia (2-volume set). The product of a lifetime spent in India and the Middle East, for over a century this remained the most trusted chronicle of Persia; there is a companion 2-volume set of Sketches from Persia (1827).
Nichols, Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century, vol. 9 (and last).
Park, The Journal of a Mission to the Interior of Africa, in the Year 1805. This was published posthumously after Park’s second, fatal, expedition: he wrote ‘I would still persevere; and if I could not succeed in the object of my journey, I would at least die on the Niger.’
Taylor, Practical Hints to Young Females. Mrs Taylor of Ongar wrote several works of advice to the young: this one assumes that a girl’s aspiration, as well as her destiny, is to be a wife and mother: conduct towards the husband, and the rearing of children, are of prime importance. But there is also a chapter for the husband, pointing out his reciprocal duties to his wife as an equal partner in their relationship.
Vater, Litteratur der Grammatiken, Lexika und Wörtersammlungen aller Sprachen der Erde. A bibliography pertaining to ‘all the languages of the world’, including many Asian languages, and Vater’s research on Native American languages, his knowledge of which was virtually unrivalled in Europe at that time.
Wraxall, Historical Memoirs of my Own Time (2-volume set). These entertaining memoirs, which involved their author in a libel case, spare few from the distinguished circles in which the author moved from his merciless facility for description. His earlier Memoirs of the Courts of Berlin, Dresden, Warsaw and Vienna are just as lively.
Beamish, History of the King’s German Legion (2 vols.), 1832–7: an account of the Hanoverian army in exile, which accompanied Wellington from the Peninsula to Waterloo.
Kincaird, Adventures in the Rifle Brigade in the Peninsula, France and the Netherlands, from 1809 to 1815 (1830): unlike Simmons’ writings (below), this was intended for publication, and was one of the most popular accounts of Waterloo.
Siborne, History of the War in France and Belgium, in 1815: Containing Minute Details of the Battles of Quatre-Bras, Ligny, Wavre, and Waterloo (2 vols.), 1844: Siborne had been commissioned to build a scale model of the battlefield, and gathered accounts by participants to provide a work which remained standard.
Simmons, A British Rifle Man: The Journals and Correspondence of Major George Simmons, Rifle Brigade, during the Peninsular War and the Campaign of Waterloo (1899): edited by William Willoughby Cole Verner, and does what it says on the tin.
And of course there are Wellington’s dispatches (in eight volumes), Napoleon’s (in three), and two accounts of the ex-emperor on St Helena, by Betsy Abell, née Balcombe, the teenage daughter of the governor of the island, and by his personal physician, the feisty Irishman Barry O’Meara.