After Waterloo; Reminiscences of European Travel 1815-19
Frye, Major W. E. After Waterloo; Reminiscences of European Travel 1815-19. Edited with preface and notes by Salomon Reinach. London: Heinemann, 1908. 423 pages. Hardcover. (Out of Print.)
An odd book —interesting but odd. The preface to this rather peculiar book explains a lot. Major Frye has structured After Waterloo as though it were a series of letters home. His very first sentence is, "I proceed to the fulfillment of my promise, to give you from time to time the details of my tour" Yet the style is not really letter-like at all. There are no questions about the health of loved ones, or any comments on anything other than the tour that Major Frye was making. The editor, Salomon Reinach, concludes, and probably quite correctly, that the book was put into this style much later. But if you have an interest in European travel in the early nineteenth century I would very much recommend Frye as a good and detailed read. He was a rather serious traveler, but he seemed to have the knack of being in the right place at the right time.
I picked up the book because I was looking for alternative battlefield memoirs from Waterloo. Major Frye did not fight at Waterloo but he visited there soon after the battle and again some two months later. On June 22nd he visited Waterloo and wrote, "The sight was too horrible to behold...the multitude of carcasses, the heaps of wounded men with mangled limbs unable to move, and perishing from not having their wounds dressed or from hunger, as the allies were, of course, obliged to take their surgeons and waggons with them...both allied and the French, remain in an equally deplorable state."
But the book is more than mere battlefield commentary, for Frye added details that provide a great deal of perspective on life in Brussels and on the attitudes of the inhabitants as to both the battle and the aftermath. He says further, on the 23rd of June, "It was suggested by some humane person that they who went to see the field of the battle from motives of curiosity would do well to take with them bread, wine and other refreshments to distribute amongst the wounded, and most people did so." Major Frye returned to the battlefield with his brother-in-law and nephew in mid-August, by that time the bodies were at least covered, but signs of the battle remained. "Cuirasses, helmets, swords, and various other spoils of war found on the spot, were offered for sale by some boys and eagerly bought up as relics."
Major Frye's European tour lasted some four years, mainly through France, Switzerland and Italy. These were the years in which Europe was rebuilding after the Napoleonic Wars and so his eye was not just on travel but on the effects of war. Frye also had an eye for detail, and there was little that was too small to escape his notice, from distances traveled to people and buildings of note along the way. "I started from Lucca in a cabriolet and in two hours arrived at Pisa, putting up at the Tre Donzelle on the Quai of the Arno. Between Lucca and Pisa are the Bagni di Lucca, a favourite resort for the purpose of bathing and drinking the mineral waters."
After Waterloo is a very thick book and I must say I didn't take this all in one gulp. Instead I tended to read it in bits according to my interests at the time. His observations are certainly good to compare against other travelers through these parts at around the same time. I bought Frye for his detail on Waterloo, and the army of occupation in France, he is certainly worth it just for that.
Reviewed by Anne Woodley, editor of the Regency Collection On-Line.