Something I originally missed in my research on honour and prisoners of war was the emotional toll of captivity. Prior to the recent flourishing of the subject, these prisoners had been primarily studied by men, with the most recent book having been published in the 1960s. Due to the perspective of these authors, the emotions of the men were either edited out or contained only positive associations; for instance, when they spurred action that the historians agreed with such as, attempting to escape. However, prisoners often wrote about doing things like breaking down in floods of tears, both from emotional distress and occasionally from physical pain. They talk about fear for their health and grief for their family and friends. They discuss anger that resolved itself in duels, and jealousy and disgust that manifested as gossip. They discuss despair that drove men to attempt escape, and despair that drove men to attempt suicide.
The book “Napoleon and his British Captives” by Michael Lewis was for many years the only in-depth study of the plight of British prisoners of war in France. Lewis frequently writes about the honour of prisoners of war, and he does not hide his admiration for the prisoners who demonstrate a ‘civilised’ national character. ‘Civilisation’ was an important narrative that prisoners of war engaged in to protect themselves, and it was frequently echoed in state propaganda. These claims to civilisation justified the war against the upstart Napoleon and the corrupting influence of the Revolution, and therefore, anyone who acted dishonourably in the eyes of his fellow prisoners was actively undermining the war effort. It is therefore of great importance to distinguish between the behaviours viewed as dishonourable in the 19th century, when these men were writing, and the behaviours deemed dishonourable by Lewis and other commentators due to their own conceptions of masculinity.
The National Maritime Museum’s holdings give us a special insight into the writing of Napoleon and his British Captives, as they have a collection of Lewis’ notes and personal papers from when he was putting together his research. These include not only some of the source material he used, and his notations, but occasionally letters and notations from men and women who provided their family records to be included or in response to the book. Together, these papers provide a compelling look into the editorial process of how the book was produced.
One example of this editorial process can be seen in the comparison of how Lewis discusses two prisoners of war, Edward Boys and William Henry Dillon. Edward Boys was a midshipman off H.M.S. Phoebe, and is held up as a paragon of honour and masculinity. Boys was a favourite of Lewis’, which is made clear by his description of his character. Boys held himself to a high standard, drawing lines between escape attempts that were acceptable for detenus (civilians who had been rounded up and confined by the French after the collapse of the Peace of Amiens in 1803) and ‘true’ prisoners of war on parole. Detenus were generally allowed to escape in whatever manner least endangered their fellow prisoners, while true prisoners of war felt they had the honour of the service to uphold. This meant, in the case of officers on parole, that they needed to have the parole revoked, and to be imprisoned within the walls of the citadel before they could attempt to escape. Some even considered that being imprisoned in the gatehouse rather than in the actual citadel was insufficient for a truly honourable escape. Lewis uses Boy’s understanding of these finer points of honour in escape as the ultimate example of correct behaviour and ‘ethical’ consideration . Boy’s loyalty to his friends and his resolve to attempt escape when he despaired at not being exchanged, fits neatly into Lewis’ framework of appropriate and honourable masculine emotion.
By contrast, William Henry Dillon was a Lieutenant with an excellent chance of promotion when he was captured under flag of truce. Lewis transcribed and edited seven of Dillon’s journals chronicling most of his naval career. His esteem for Dillon is somewhat less apparent, as he is critical of Dillon’s hesitation to attempt escape. Dillon was a prisoner of war unlawfully taken. There was great difficulty in exchanging him due to this ambiguous status. He is gently encouraged by both the British and the French to attempt escape; as this would resolve the problem without either side having to negotiate. Dillon is enthusiastic to begin with, but then reconsiders. Escape could mean three to six months of hardship, starving somewhere in a field, and Dillon was not interested. The offer of a carriage to carry him part of the way did not invest him with confidence in the venture, so he changed his mind. He continued to be despondent about his promotion chances and release until 1807, where he writes that he took up a razor, went out into the garden and was “in the act of drawing it across his neck,” when someone came out and told him he had been exchanged. He then travelled to Paris in style and had a few days of sightseeing before returning to London to continue his naval career.
Lewis discusses Dillon in a very different tone than Boys, and his disappointment in his lack of resolve is evident. His discussion of Dillon’s suicidal ideation reflects this. Lewis discusses several suicides that were attributed to despair at overwhelming debt, but none of these are given the same descriptive attention as that of the attempt by Dillon. Lewis clearly thinks that Dillon’s suicide attempt was theatrical, with qualities ‘more like a novel, than a sober piece of history’ and a ‘leaning towards the dramatic’. Lewis gives Dillon some credit, that he would not admit to weaknesses that he did not have, but his identification of those weaknesses, and even their description as weaknesses, betrays a very particular understanding of mental health and suicide that begs for correction. In his opinion, Dillon first ‘fails to support his sorrows,’ and second, has a ‘failure of nerve at the crucial moment’. Lewis shows his hand again when he explains that he thinks that no more than three or four prisoners ‘succumbed to their [sorrows]’ in this way. Having just previously listed four, it seems that Lewis believed that these were the only suicides that occurred, as they were the only ones he for which he found evidence.
It is worth examining more closely however, Lewis’s assertion that Dillon would not admit to weaknesses he did not have, since all of this begs the question as to why Dillon would choose to mention a suicide attempt at all. This type of question comes up often in studying these prisoner of war writings. When prisoners had nearly full control over their own narratives, when they knew that their words could become public, or were specifically writing for the public, why admit to things that would have reflected poorly on the writer? The answer is that either these things were not as shameful in 18th century culture as they are or were in our cultures, or that there was power to be derived from admitting to certain emotions.
Many of these writers were advocating for themselves or their fellow prisoners. Donations were solicited from, and given by the British public, to support the prisoners, and some description of their measure of misery was necessary to elicit sympathy. This explains some of the incidents prisoners related in their memoirs. As Elodie Duché discusses in her article on the charitable networks that supported the prisoners, the words of prisoners were often used by religious leaders, charity organisations like Lloyds Register, and men and women of social standing to advocate for generous donations for their support. These appeals show that use of the emotional content and expressive power of prisoner narratives was very effective. Rather than ridiculing the despair and pain expressed by prisoners as unmanly, these appeals used these emotions to fit into the masculine ideal of ‘sentiment’ and the national character of ‘humanity’ that was in contrast to the ‘uncivilised inhumanity’ of their French captors.
These prisoners were often ambitious men who would not willingly have embarrassed themselves or impugned their own honour. This evidences a certain earnestness to these stories and the emotions they portray. If a story of contemplating suicide, or any of the other emotional outbursts at pain or sadness they chronicled had jeopardised their careers or advancement, they likely would have edited these things out entirely. Instead, we can see that their inclusion proves that these emotions hold currency that is not the currency of shame or dishonour. Thus, while late commentators felt that these emotions did not fit with their masculine ideal, the prisoners themselves clearly did.
 Michael Lewis, Edward Fraser, and John Goldsworth Alger are the predominant citations, there is however a short study done by the cryptically named Mrs. Oliver Elton, who was children’s book writer previously styled Letitia Maynard MacColl.
 The flourishing has been the product of work by historians of both sexes, but for other women working on this subject consider Élodie Duché and Anna McKay.
 For instance, the case of Thomas Eyles as recounted in the narrative of John Tregerthen Short: “One of our number, named Thomas Eyles, caught a severe cold, and had the shingles all over his back, which made him very weak…. We had not gone far before our friend Eyles (who was still unwell) was obliged to lie down and cry, and begged of us to leave him there to die. We gave him part of the little money we had, and there reluctantly left him. The next day he was taken and put into Nieuport jail.” pg. 89-90
 Lewis, Michael. 1962. Napoleon and His British Captives. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd.
 National Maritime Museum LES series, but particularly LES/6/3
 Boys, Edward. 1827. Narrative of a Captivity, Escape, and Adventures in France and Flanders: Between the Years 1803 and 1809. Printed for Richard Long, Finsbury Place. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=I6kOAAAAYAAJ.
 Lewis, pp 195-196.
 This edited version is available through the Naval Records Society, the journals in their unedited form are available in the NMM collections as LES/6/7/1-7.
 Lewis, pp 176-178.
 For a discussion of the 18th century understanding of suicide see: Andrew, Donna T. 2013. Aristocratic Vice: The Attack on Duelling, Suicide, Adultery, and Gambling in Eighteenth-Century England. New Haven: Yale University Press.
MacDonald, Michael. 1986. “The Secularization of Suicide in England 1660-1800.” Past & Present 111: 50–100. http://www.jstor.org/stable/650502.
 Duché, Élodie. 2014. “Charitable Connections: Transnational Financial Networks and Relief for British Prisoners of War in Napoleonic France, 1803-1814.” Napoleonica La Revue 21 (3): 74–117. https://doi.org/10.3917/napo.153.0074.