Sunday, Mar 19, 2023

 Amidst the battles and blood of the Napoleonic Wars, there was always time for great literature. Colonel Sir William Robe commanded the Royal Artillery in Spain in the Peninsular War. After taking part in Wellington’s victory over the French at Salamanca on 22 July 1812, he led his men into Madrid, and a month later, in August, was writing a little poem on the verso of the title page in Vol. 1 of his new copy of a miniature six volume, Spanish edition of Cervante’s Don Quixote.

An Old Soldier's Wish

Let me be Robed as here I write

True courage's scarlet hue,

Virtue and Honor's purest White,

And loyalty's true Blue.

Let mental improvement for lace on it shine

And Me have the right to say That Robe is Mine.

The poem is a clever take on his name, managing in a few lines to stake his claim to ownership of his book, and show how literature was like the fine lace adorning a military uniform. Robe was wounded in the subsequent Siege of Burgos (Sept -Oct, 1812) and carried four hundred miles on the backs of his men, along with his six little volumes.

We have for sale Robe’s copy of Don Quixote, with his ownership inscription “Wm. Robe, R. Artillery, Madrid, August 1812” on the title page of each volume, and the poem in his hand in Vol. 1. It is a lovely, well-illustrated set, in the original full mottled calf, published in 1797-98.

 Robe died, much decorated, at Shooters Hill, London on November 5, 1820, but his poem and Cervante’s six little volumes lived on.