Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2015 Issue

Cayenne, The Dry Guillotine. Part 3/3: Jean-Jacques Aymé, Affliction of Job

D60df569-0e70-4c41-9dbe-db1db3a6c725

Jean-Jacques Aymé

 “I had loved the French Revolution with a passion,” confesses Jean-Jacques Aymé in his book Déportation et Naufrage de J.J Aymé (Paris, chez Maradan). But that was before being arrested following the attempted coup of Fructidor 18th, and being deported to the land of the “dry guillotine”, Cayenne (French Guyana). His relation first came out with no date, but he wrote: “Two books have already been published on the matter.” He meant Ramel’s and Pitou’s, respectively published in 1799 and 1805 (see previous articles). Though deported over the same reasons, he was sent to Cayenne on another ship, and didn’t come across them over there—Ramel had already escaped by the time he arrived.

 

Despite his stated lack of resentment, Aymé’s book is a bitter one. His tone is cold, deprived of humour—and his words are tough. In his very first sentence, he stated: “Nothing appears less interesting in the great History of the Revolution, than the episode of individual misfortunes.” And his particular misfortunes, he thought, “portray the cruelty of those who have usurped the sovereign power.” As an idealistic young man, Aymé had joined various political movements to partake in the building of the Republic—even the famous Conseil des 500. “I wished to have known no other sovereign power than the law,” he confessed, “and I felt I was pursuing a delusive chimera.” Reality soon caught up with him, and he found out that passions could lead you to hell—or to Cayenne, which was almost the same. He claimed he held no grudge against anyone, but denounced the hypocrisy of deportation—then seen as a humane punishment compared to the guillotine. “Ye coldly barbarous men!” he wrote. “Accompany me in the details I am about to offer, and your compassionate hearts will enjoy a spectacle worthy of all their boasted clemency.” Running away from the wrath of the Directoire the day before his being arrested, Aymé escaped his enemies for a while, and was hiding as Ramel and his friends were taken to Rochefort “into iron cages” (see previous article). He was eventually arrested at a checkpoint, and then sent to the prison of the Temple, which he called a new Bastille. During the journey that led him to Rochefort, he had several occasions to run away—but he didn’t. Unlike Pitou or Ramel, he gave quite a satisfactory reason for this: “I knew that the little property I had was under sequestration.” And Raymé was no bachelor: “Let me at least save my wife and children from the horrors of indigence.” Thus he boarded the ship La Décade for a 96 day-long journey at sea—the antechamber of the tropical hell awaiting him.

 

Call me Job

 

Pitou drew up a list of the deportees to Cayenne in his book, and Jean-Jacques Aymé appears in it: “Aymé (Jean-Jacques), 46 year old, people representative.” For his part, Ramel only mentioned one “Job” Aymé. The confusion apparently came from some misunderstanding early in his career. “It is not only in Europe that I have been obstinately called Job Aymé,” he wrote, “the same error has passed the seas and was established at Cayenne (...) It was in vain that I called myself Jean-Jacques, for I was positively assured that it was Job.” Was it because he was given almost more than a man can bear? The English publisher of his book (London, J. Wright—1800), maybe uncertain of the correct spelling, took no chance, and credited the book to J.J. Job Aimé—with a i instead of a y in Aymé (“aimé” means “loved” in French).

 

In Cayenne, Aymé and his likes were under the care of Agent Jeanet Dudin, whom Pitou described as a mean man, appointed to Cayenne by Danton, his relative. “When this great revolutionist (Danton) had reaped the fruits of his principles,” wrote Aymé, “Jeannet was alarmed and flew for safety to the United States; but when Robespierre had, in turn, paid the debt due to his crimes, Jeannet returned to Cayenne.” Aymé also portrayed him as a cunning man, “caring as little for republicanism as for royalty, and considering nothing but his pleasure and his interest.” He was, in short, a complete pirate. Ramel had very harsh words against him too, and Aymé sent his reader to his book for more details.

 

A merchant named Belleton, who was living in Cayenne, saved Aymé as he was about to be sent to the deadly desert of Konanama, where the deportees suffered from the climate and the dreadful insects, dying by the hour (see previous article). “We are from the same province,” Belleton told the unfortunate prisoner, “I am come to offer (...) a place upon my plantation.” Indeed, the French colonists in Cayenne saved many deportees. The legal situation of the deportees was quite complex, as they were urged to create their own establishment—but it was made utterly impossible for them to comply. To be employed by a colonist was then the best thing that could happen to them. Meanwhile, the Directoire boasted of being magnanimous. “Read the newspapers,” wrote a bitter Aymé, “and you’ll find out that “Cayenne is a wonderful place (...)”, thatthe deportees don’t need anything...” Indeed, several of them don’t want anything any more; they are dead.

 

Bliss in Hell

 

Aymé went through the usual torments linked to Cayenne: fever, disease, loss of weight and physical weakness. But Belleton did spare him the worst. Talking about Barbé-Marbois, Rovère and Brothier, “who alone remained of the first deportation”, as they were about to be transferred to Konanama, Aymé underlined: “Although they were in a very bad situation, at Sinnamary, they knew Konanama was still worse.” But when his benefactor left him alone on his estate, Aymé rapidly felt lonely. Yet, from the bottom of his pit, he found some kind of comfort: “I oftentimes went on board my canoe with a book,” he wrote, “at the rising or setting of the sun (...) as the tide bore me gently along, and to enjoy the beauty of the surrounding scene. (...) The finest circumstance that occurred to me on these occasions, was the descent of a company of flamands, with their flame-coloured plumage (...).” An unexpected description of hell, isn’t it?

 

One interesting passage of Aymé’s book concerns black people, or the Negroes as he called them. He said they were not the perverted creatures described by most white people, but noticed their animosity: “It is certain that they do not love white people, and that they apply themselves to do them mischief. If they perceive that anything belonging to a colonist is likely to receive injury (...), they will take care not to inform him of the circumstance, and to do everything in their power to retard his discovery of it.” Their society was very active at night, when they exchanged all sorts of crucial information. “Their first question, when they meet one another (...) is, what news? but it is in vain that you put the same question to them.” Just like in any colony, the Negroes never really mistook the interest of their masters with their own, and “to do nothing is their supreme felicity”—a sort of revenge against slavery. “The negro who has neither wants nor ambition will never work but by compulsion; (...) in one word, (...) the liberty of the blacks is incompatible with the prosperity of the colonies. At the same time, I would not have it imagined that I invite government to give them back their irons, and to recommence the traffic (...). Let us not believe those who tell us that we save the lives of those unfortunate beings whom we go to Africa to purchase since they were prisoners of war whom their conquerors would exterminate, if they did not entertain the hope of selling them to us.”

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.
  • <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Published Half Plate Ambrotype of a North Carolina Confederate Officer. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two 19th Century Books Pertaining to Canada's Red River Settlement. $400 to $800
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two Books With Fore-Edge Paintings of British Architectual Landmarks. $400 to $600
    <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), "Torte a la Dobosch" from <i>Wild Raspberries</i>. $1,000 to $3,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990), <i>Pop Shop II,</i> One Plate screenprint in colors, on wove paper, 1998. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Thomas Rowlandson (British, 1756-1827), Twenty-Two Prints from the <i>Tours of Dr. Syntax</i>. $500 to $1,000

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions