Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2017 Issue

Chastellux’s Voyages: An Aristocrat in America.


The "ultra-rare" edition (Gallica-BNF).


Why is Chastellux much ignored today? wonders the Duke of Castries. Well, in 1786, Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville published a 89-page pamphlet (Philadelphia), entitled A Critical Examination of the Marquis de Chatellux's Travels in North America... The sub-title reads: “...in a letter addressed to the Marquis; principally intended as a refutation of his opinions concerning the Quakers, the Negroes, the people, and mankind.” Indeed, the way our traveller casually passed judgement on everything and everyone around him was resented by some—including a few of his hosts.


At one point, Chastellux met a Quaker named Benezet. “Wholly occupied with the welfare of mankind,” he says, “his charity and generosity made him be held in great consideration.” Monsieur le Marquis seemed to enjoy his company, but all of a sudden comes the spanking: “The law observed by many of them (the Quakers—editor’s note) of saying neither “you”, nor “Sir”, is far from giving them a tone of simplicity and candour. I know not whether it be to compensate for that sort of rusticity, that they in general assume a smooth and wheedling tone, which is altogether Jesuitical. Nor does their conduct belie this resemblance; concealing their indifference for the public welfare under the cloak of religion, they are sparing of blood, it is true, especially of their own people; but they trick both parties out of their money, and that without either shame or decency. It is a received maxim in trade to beware of them, and this opinion, which is well founded, will become still more necessary.”


Hypocrisy was probably a component of the Quakers society to a certain extent, but they were the first to stand against slavery in America. A noble cause? Well, not in Chastellux’s view. As the battle for abolition was raging in Europe and in the West Indies, the Marquis took (the wrong) side. “The more we regard the Negroes, the more we must be persuaded that the difference between them and us, consists in something more than complexion. As for the best, it cannot be denied that it is a very delicate point to abolish slavery in America. The Negroes in Virginia amount to two hundred thousand. (...) They would unquestionably form a distinct people from whom neither succour, virtue, nor labour, could be expected. (...) In the present case, it is not only the slave who is beneath his master, it is the negro who is beneath the white man.”


Mr de Chastellux then came to the conclusion that there was no other way to abolish slavery but to get rid of the Negroes. How? Gradually, he says. “The best expedient would be to export a great number of males, and to encourage the marriage of white men with the females (...). This commerce between the white men and negresses, could not fail of giving birth to a race of mulattoes, which would produce another of Quarterons, and so on until the colour should be totally effaced.” Yes, you read it right. Chastellux simply suggests eliminating an “inferior race” through eugenics—and suddenly, he becomes less funny.

Talking about slavery, it is absolutely necessary to put things back into perspective. Passing judgement on Chastellux in accordance to our current standards would be unfair. First of all, the term “eugenics” didn’t exist at the time. Then, this valuable book can’t be reduced to that short passage, and it is not our intention to rewrite history. Unfortunately, Chastellux was a brilliant man, as well as a very eloquent one; and it only made his statements worse in a time when the abolitionists were desperately fighting against the slave trade. Of course, many brilliant minds of the time genuinely thought that Black people were inferior, and yes, economics was the main concern of many abolitionists. Yet, the condition of the slaves was commonly deplored—even if as a “necessary evil”—, and only the most radical would deny them the name of men; and none was to be found among the “wheedling Quakers. “In vilifying the Quakers, you may prevent the good effects of their pious example,” Warville writes to Chastellux in his pamphlet. “In refusing the name of men to the Negroes, you give your sanction to the treating them like beasts of burthen, if not to the spilling of their blood. (...) In making the people contemptible, you invite their oppressors to rivet their chains.” As a matter of fact, these chains were not taken off before a hundred more years in America. Monsieur le Duc de Castries, if you are still wondering why Monsieur le Marquis de Chastellux is not unconditionally praised today, we may have a clue...


Thibault Ehrengardt




Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Jenner (Rev. George Charles). <i>The Evidence at Large...Respecting Dr Jenner's Discovery of Vaccine Inoculation,</i> presentation copy from Edward Jenner to Rev. Rowland Hill, 1805. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Houdini (Harry).- Maggi (Girolamo). <i>De tintinnabulis liber postumus...de equuleo liber,</i> Harry Houdini's copy, Amsterdam, H. Wetstein, 1689. £600 to £800
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Meyer (Henry Leonard). Coloured Illustrations of British Birds, and their Eggs , 7 vol. in 2 plus Illustrations of British Birds, 4 vol., 1842-50 and [1835-51]. £5,000 to £7,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Dickens (Charles). <i>An Entirely New Romantic Drama, in Three Acts, by Mr. Wilkie Collins, called The Frozen Deep,</i> 1857. £3,000 to £4,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Lighthouses and Islands of Ireland, c. 125 drawings, 1867. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Shelley (Lady Jane). Diary, 1853 & 1860. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Scottish Binding.- The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, bound in contemporary brown polished calf decorated with the figure of a Chinese spearman, by ?James Scott of Edinburgh, 1778. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Greene (Graham). <i>The Man Within,</i> first edition, signed by the author, 1929. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Mellan (Claude, 1598-1688). The Holy Face, or the Veil of St Veronica, [c. 1649 and later]. £800 to £1,200
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Desaguliers (John Theophilus). <i>A Dissertation concerning Electricity,</i> W. Innys, and T. Longman, 1742. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Le Jeune (Paul). <i>Relation de se qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France en l'anné 1636 enuoyée au R.Pere Provincial de la Compagnie de Iesus en la Province de France,</i> 1637. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Stumpf (Johann Rudolph). <i>Gemeiner loblicher Eydgnoschafft Stetten, Landen und Völckern Chronicwirdiger thaaten beschreibung, </i> Zurich, Froschauer, 1586. £3,000 to £4,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> George Washington, Letter Signed to General James Clinton, preparing for the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, 1778. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising to send reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Thomas Edison, Autograph Letter Signed, to Western Union President William Orton, 1878. $10,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> William, Bishop of Coventry, vellum charter granting the church of Rochdale to the Cistercian Abbey of Stanlaw, in Latin, 1222. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> FDR, Photograph Signed & Inscribed, framed with wood removed from the White House roof, 1927. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Jean Dubuffet, archive including many letters written while painting in NYC, 1951-72. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Mohandas K. Gandhi, Autograph Letter Signed, describing the source of his patience, 1939. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Lithograph portrait of Albert Einstein by Hermann Struck, signed by both, 1923. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Charles The Bold, Duke of Burgundy, Letter Signed to Johann IV of Nassau, in French, 1470. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Jean Cocteau, Autograph Letter Signed, in French, 1919. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Louis Armstrong, two Autograph Letters Signed to Erich Kauffmann, his lip salve purveyor, 1965-70. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Wernher von Braun, Autograph Letter Signed to Jonathan Cross, 1975. $5,000 to $7,500.
  • <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. $200,000 to 300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. $80,000 to $120,000
  • <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.
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    <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>

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