Autograph collectors collect in different ways, for different reasons. For some it is a matter of finding one really interesting letter or document by a series of major figures. Others collect all the letters they can find from one person who excites them. Others focus on a series - Prime Ministers or Presidents or Monarchs. Still others will focus on one period, such as the Peninsular War.
But I'd like to focus today on what I call "the details of history". The details are not great historical events. In fact, they are often forgotten, or at best ignored, by those who look at history in its epic sweep. But these details are fascinating, and, with a little work and delving, they can illuminate the byways of history.
Take the Peace of Amiens in 1802-3. For one happy year, France and England were at peace. The French cheerfully came over to visit England, in some cases to visit the French emigrés who had sought refuge in England. Richmond, as well as nearby Twickenham, was full of French emigrés. Crossing the Channel the other way, many Englishmen, and even more enthusiastically Englishwomen, travelled to France to discover the changes wrought by the Revolution and by Napoleon - not to mention the latest French fashions.
In both cases, some of those visitors chose to stay. The English entrepreneur and inventor, John Moor, was one of those. He went to France, set up in business, and some months after the breakdown of the peace, he showed he had every intention of staying put. France obviously agreed with him, so he appealed to the Finance Minister, in perfect French:
[Trans:] “I came to France a year ago, bringing with me an assortment of machines for the manufacture of lace [“dentelle à filet”]. I rented a house rue Thevenot, no. 5, and I have already successfully trained some pupils, all French, and I have taught them to use the machine for which I obtained a patent, as there is nothing similar on the continent.
As I wish to expand my manufacture in proportion to my capital, and finding the space at rue Thevenot too small, I rented from Citizen Gillet a part of the couvent des anglais on the rue de Charenton. But I would like to find a more permanent place; and to that end, allow me, Citizen Minister, to address myself to you . . ."
Unfortunately, the end of Moor's story is not entirely happy. His (English) associate, Mr. Armitage, went into business with Citizen Gillet, freezing him out of the picture. One cannot ascribe blame along national lines, there is something depressingly even-handed about the Englishman and the Frenchman joining forces to betray poor John Moor. The end of Moor's story is still a mystery. Perhaps there is a piece of paper in an archive, somewhere, which will tell us what became of him . . .