N.P. (Paris ?), c.1793. Hand-coloured pen & wash engraving. Image : 15 x 11cm (6" x 4 ½") ; overall : 19 x 16cm (7 ½" x 6 ¼"). At one time, the plate has been affixed in an album perhaps, using sellotape on the back. This has soaked through and impregnation the upper edge & first line of text. The verso of the plate has received some old repairs / reinforcing, but o/w it is clean and sound, with crisp fresh colours, & V.G. A fine French hand-coloured pen & wash engraving depicting an early minor engagement between an armed French cutter and a British fore-&-aft schooner under the Red Ensign. Both vessels are alongside each other and French sailors with cutlasses and pistols are about to board the schooner amongst cannon smoke. British sailors with cutlasses are posed to repel boarders, while one killed, falls over the stern. The picture was drawn by the French artist Labrousse who was active in the late 18th century ; and engraved by Félix Mixelle (1763-1837). The lettering at the head of the picture reads : "PILOT, Enseigne, Commandant le Lougre de la Republique, le Book." (Lougres were normally luggers, used by both the French and the English in naval warfare. Sometimes topsails were added – one is to be seen here – but this French vessel is single-masted). The lettering below reads : "Mes Camarades, ne craignes point le nombre des ennemis nous en aurons plus de gloire á les vaingre. Le 5 September 1793, V.S." (Version Française). This roughly translates : ‘My Comrades, do not fear the number of the enemy, we will have more glory and will vanquish them.’ The engagement took place the day before the Reign of Terror broke out in France, during which tens of thousands were guillotined across the country. Presuming this engagement to be a French victory, it is telling that a fight between two tiny vessels would be celebrated in an engraving. According to James, during 1793, British cruisers captured or destroyed 140 armed French vessels (52 naval, of which 30 were added to the British fleet) ; whereas the Royal Navy lost only 4 vessels, the largest being a 32-gun frigate, so this schooner was probably one of the other three. At this period, if any French captain hauled down his colours to an enemy however numerous, unless his ship was sinking, he was deemed a traitor and would face the guillotine on his return to France. An attractive and RARE French engraving of 1793.

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