F is for the Sieur de Folard

Jean Charles de Folard (1669-1752) was an aide de camp to Marshal Vendome in Italy when he was severely wounded at Cassano. He spent his convalescence reading widely and formulating a mass of ideas, many wildly extravagant, and a few in the long term influential. There is little sign that his views had any impact on the French conduct of the War of the Spanish Succession. In 1709, after being wounded again at Malplaquet, he attached himself to Villar’s staff, following the Marshal around in a coach, giving him unwanted advice. Villars only got rid of him by making him Governor of Bourbourg. On the conclusion of peace Folard went off to tell the Knights of Malta a thing or two about fortification. After being ejected from Valetta he went north to assist Charles XII of Sweden. Finally in 1724 he retired to France to write. Right: you’ll have skim-read all that; focus for a moment on ‘Sweden’.

Here is the bookplate that adorns the front flyleaf of my copy of Folard’s first book. Loberod looks Swedish, doesn’t it? And what about Harald Wiens: was he one of Charles XII’s officers? A relevant bookplate can add a lot of value. Ever the optimist I started digging around. Bookplates have a long history. A Carthusian monk called Hilprand Brandeburg had one in 1480. The earliest known Swedish example dates to 1595 when Senator Thure Bielke had one. So my dreams weren’t completely wild.

Alas, Luberod Castle has precisely nothing to do with Folard. It wasn’t built until 1799. In the Nineteenth Century it belonged to the bibliophile Count Jacob de la Gardie who amassed a collection of books. But it’s unlikely this book was ever in la Gardie’s library since most of that is now at Charlottenlund Castle. Probably my Folard was acquired by Harald Wiens whose father – a wine merchant – bought the castle in 1917.

Fingal Carl Oscar Harald Wiens (1880-1972) worked in the Swedish Ministry of Defence, rising to be Deputy Director before resigning in 1924 to devote himself to looking after Luberod. He was a book collector. To judge from the number of elzevirs with his bookplate you can find on the internet, he made a speciality of those neat little books printed In Leyden on good paper from 1583 onwards by one or other of the Elsevier family. (Elzevir is the English corruption of the name that the family spelled Elsevier or Elzevier more or less indiscriminately.) Most of Harald Wiens’ elzevirs are Latin classics – Plutarch, Horace and the like. So most likely his interest in Folard was as a commentary on Polybius rather than an attempt to revolutionise eighteenth century warfare.

Back to Folard. His books were never successful, partly because he offended many potential purchasers by unfavourably comparing their actions with those of their Roman predecessors. He took up tutoring. Here, in a cartoon by Jacques Desfontaines, he is seen teaching Maurice de Saxe, later Marshal General of France. The two men remained firm friends but Saxe was not uncritical and in particular rejected Folard’s suggestion for copying the Roman flying wedge (cuneus) by the use of deep columns. Below is the top half of page 91 of the English edition of Saxe’s Reveries.

The next one and a half pages consist of hard mathematics. Saxe starts by noting that men in file and men in rank take up different amounts of space. For that reason, when a column succeeds in breaking a line, there will be gaps when it changes face in order to roll up the defeated enemy. These gaps will leave it vulnerable to counter-attack.

Another admirer was Frederick the Great. In his blunt way the Prussian king opined that Folard “had buried diamonds in a dung heap.” He had one of his officers, Colonel von Seers, prepare a precis. It was the precis (titlepage below), published after his death, that made Folard’s name since it was read by many men who were later officers in Napoleon’s Grande Armee and who used Folard’s deep columns with a vengeance.

Which brings me to the subject of piracy. The 1760 edition above was published without permission of Frederick the Great, Colonel von Seers or Folard himself who was dead. If you are going to be pedantic you could say that the 1761 Leipzig edition is the true first edition of von Seers’ Esprit. Scroll back to the top to see the titlepage of the 1724 second edition of Folard’s Nouvelles Decouvertes. “Revue par l’auteur.” Only it wasn’t. Like a lot of stuff published in Brussels l’auteur had nothing to do with it. Caveat emptor.

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