50 years later... still forbidden in Russia

ERMOLOV, Aleksei Petrovich, also YERMOLOV

Zapiski Alekseia Petrovicha Ermolova o voine 1812 goda

[Notes of Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov about the war of 1812]

Publication: [Prince Peter Dolgoroukov, London, for] Tchorzewski, Londres and S. Gerstmann, Bruxelles, 1863.

ERMOLOV, Aleksei Petrovich, also YERMOLOV, Zapiski Alekseia Petrovicha Ermolova o voine 1812 goda

Important eye-witness account of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia: scarce first edition published in London because banned in Russia.

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Our Notes & References

The important émigré first edition – printed in London and forbidden in Russia – of this detailed account of the Great Patriotic War by one of the most distinguished Russian military leaders. A very good example with the rare printed wrapper bound-in.

When Napoleon attacked Russia in 1812, Russian troops began to retreat to Moscow. It was a period full of intrigues and Yermolov (1777 –1861) was instrumental in resolving some of them, particularly a conflict between two of the most prominent generals, Barclay de Tolly and Bagration. As a chief of Barclay’s staff, Yermolov covered up harsh words in their correspondence while appealing to Emperor Alexander I to replace Barclay de Tolly with Bagration.

Thanks to Yermolov’s efforts, decision was taken to unite the First and the Second Armies for the successful defence of the city of Smolensk. Yermolov distinguished himself at the Battle of Borodino, where he was lightly wounded leading a counterattack that recaptured the Great Redoubt. For his courage, he received the Order of St. Anna.

During the course of the war Yermolov kept detailed notes, which he reviewed and refined later. As Prince Dolgorukov, the editor, explains in his preface, Yermolov was reluctant to publish these notes, but eventually surrendered to the pleas of his friends and family. He gave the text to a trusted friend and advised him to improve and complete it; this friend however decided not to, and gave the original text to Dolgorukov for publishing.

This edition is of particular interest. It was printed in Dolgorukov’s own press, in Haymarket, London, and published simultaneously there and in Brussels. It was forbidden in Russia (probably because of Dolgorukov’s preface and general involvement) and there, in Moscow, the same year, another edition was published by Gote with the help of Yermolov’s son. Dolgorukov was surely aware of this project, as his preface specifically states that no Yermolov was involved in his own edition – just after having emphasized the hostility of the tsarist regime towards any glasnost and especially foreign publications.

A friend of Herzen, Dolgorukov had indeed been too outspokenly critical towards Russia, its system and its aristocrats; this inappropriate behaviour first led to a Russian exile and then, from 1859, to definitive expatriation in Western Europe until his death almost 10 years later.

At the end of the work, an addendum of more than 50 pp. includes letters, orders and other documents related to the history of the war against Napoleon. Some of them, especially the Tsar’s letters to generals, could still be sensitive material in the 1860s Russia. Unfortunately, we were not able to compare the content of both editions.

Interestingly, although this edition was forbidden in Russia, it is present in a few libraries of the country and we handled a copy which was once owned by a leading Russian aristocrat, Count Stroganov.


Avenir Nizoff (émigré, musician, and book collector who lived in Edmonton, Canada).


Svod. Kat. russk. nelegalnoi i zapreshchennoi pechati XIX veka 570; cf Bibliokhronika III, 87 for the Moscow edition.

Item number



Physical Description

Octavo (22.2 x 15.2 cm). Title, 219, IV pp.


Original publisher’s upper printed wrapper bound in modern calf-backed marbled boards, spine with raised bands, two green calf labels lettered in gilt, red speckled edges.


Slightly rubbed, wrapper browned, a bit soiled and with small creases; light occasional foxing, title with pencil inscription erased, occasional blue pencil underlining in text, usually very light, sometimes heavier, and Nizoff’s typical page numbers at end in pencil.

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