Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2015 Issue

Cayenne, The Dry Guillotine

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One of the most fearful periods in French history was probably the aftermath of the Revolution of 1789. Men had become political wolves, cutting each other’s throats over ideas or interests—enemy of the Republic one day, executioner the morrow, no one was safe. The Jacobins and Robespierre plunged the country into the Terror in 1793—that’s when blood had no time to dry on the restless guillotine—, and then the Directoire took over. In the middle of this new and bubbling Republic, some remained faithful to the King, and organized the resistance. When caught, they were shortened at the widow (or guillotine); others were deported to Cayenne, in French Guyana. In 1798, after a failed royalist coup, 193 of them were shipped to this cursed land. Three of them wrote their stories: Ange-Louis Pitou (Voyage à Cayenne, dans les deux Amériques et chez les Anthropophages—Paris, 1805), Jean-Jacques Aymé (Déportation et Naufrage de J.J Aymé, Ex-Législateur—Paris, 1800) and Jean-Pierre Ramel (Journal de l’Adjujant-Général RAMEL, l’un des déportés à la Guyane...—Londres, 1799). Let’s explore the triumvirate of the books of deportees.

 

 

PART ONE: Louis-Ange Pitou, Hell’s Angel.

 

The Bastille was taken on July 14th, 1789. Louis-Ange Pitou arrived in Paris three months later, infatuated with the revolutionary ideas of the time. He had no money, knew no one but he was young and had ambitions; as well as a good education. The story goes that he witnessed a terrible scene on his very first day in Paris: a crowd carrying the severed head of an innocent baker! Pitou was so horrified that he turned royalist. From that day on, he started to plot against the Republic, joining dozens of illegal newsletters, becoming a spy and an agitator. His pleasant manners soon earned him many acquaintances—he even met a grateful Queen Marie-Antoinette at one point. Now a National Guard, he started to attend many assemblies of Sans-Culottes (name of the revolutionaries) as an undercover agent. His brother, who was fighting with the Royalists in Vendée (West of France), needed arms. Thus, Pitou smuggled 300,000 francs worth of weapons and ammunitions during the summer of 1793! - a perilous activity, that soon cost the life of his brother. Pitou, who lived many lives in one, then became a chansonnier, or street singer; behind the church of Saint-Germain, he stood up on a table and sang songs of protest in front of a numerous and agitated audience; as a result, he became a jailbird. Everyday the water runs to the well, and after the failed royalist coup of Fructidor 18th, (September 4th, 1797*) the bottom dropped out; Pitou was sentenced to deportation to Cayenne alongside a few criminals, a handful of harmless non-juring priests and many royalist conspirators such as Jean-Pierre Ramel, Pichegru or Tronçon-Ducoutray. As a traitor and a conspirator, Louis-Ange Pitou deserved death; but he bribed a few officials, and saved his head—only to end up in hell, Cayenne (French Guyana).

 

 

Field of ambition, slaughterhouse of deportees

 

Since 1795, it had become fashionable to send political prisoners to Cayenne—it was a sure way to get rid of them for quite a long time, if not forever, while pretending to be magnanimous; you didn’t spill the blood of your enemies, did you? But as Tronçon-Ducoudray, who met his death in Cayenne, put it: French Guyana was nothing but a dry guillotine—and it remained active until the 1940s. “This land where we find ourselves,” writes Pitou, “has always been, since discovered, the field of ambition, the retreat of the outlaws, the graveyard of the Africans and the slaughterhouse of the Europeans banned from their country.” This is an extract from his famous Voyage à Cayenne... (1805). As the two other books aforementioned, it is considered as a travel book. The first edition came out in 1805, in two in-octavo volumes illustrated with two folding plates—the government allegedly seized a first manuscript of the relation before printing, circa 1800. Though described as “of little literary interest” by Philippe Descoux in an article about Louis-Ange Pitou published in Les Contemporains (1901), the book was successful. When reprinted in 1807, it wasn’t to be found At the author’s anymore, but At Pitou’s, Bookseller. Indeed, thanks to the benefits generated by the first edition, he had established himself as a bookseller in Paris, and started to print his old songs; but he soon went bankrupt. Nowadays, this is a sought-after book, which won’t go for less than a few hundreds of euros, though usually modestly bound—this tough economical period was poor in magnificent bindings, mainly for that type of books. Some of his digressions might be slightly boring, but there are not so many, and as soon as he comes back to his personal testimony, his book gets fascinating. Arrested in Paris, he was sent to the prison of Bicêtre: “I was thrown among the worst villains ever, who robbed me of everything, up to my shirt (...), telling me I’d better keep quiet if I didn’t want to get murdered that night. I shut up, but cried at will.” His book takes us into the belly of the beast; at one point, he’s given a shirt with a hole: “The shirt belonged to one of the poor victims murdered here two years before (the famous massacre of 1792, as he apparently mixes up his first encounters with the law and his final condemnation); the hole had been made by the sword that had been driven into his stomach!” Thrown into a cell full of lepers, he writes: “Some worms as thick as my finger fell from the living corpses above me, who were up to four on the same mattress.” Transferred to the Conciergerie, he stayed there long enough to catch a glimpse at a scary chest, “where they had stocked the hair of the victims put to death the previous day**.” And this was just the beginning!

 

* The revolutionists adopted a new calendar. Year 1 started on September 22nd, 1792. A worthy piece of information regarding old books, as many of the publishers of the time adopted the so-called “new style” on their title pages—hence the numerous mentions of An V de la République (Year 5 of the Republic), An III, etc.

 

** The executioner cut the hair of the victims so that the blade of the guillotine would meet as little resistance as possible. 

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> Sir Isaac Newton, <i>Opticks,</i> first edition, first issue, London, 1704. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> Johannes Jacobus Canis, <i>De modo studendi in utroque iure,</i> first edition, Padua, 1476. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> Pope Clemens V, <i>Constitutiones,</i> Nuremberg, 1482. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> Nicolaus Panormitanus de Tudeschis, <i>Lectura super V libris Decretalium,</i> Basel, 1480-81. $5,000 to $7,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> Michael Faraday, <i>Experimental Researches in Electricity,</i> complete set, first editions, London, 1832-56. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> William Gilbert, <i>Tractatus sive physiologia nova de magnete,</i> Sedini, 1628. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> John Bulwer, <i>Philocophus,</i> first edition of the first book in English on the deaf, London, 1648. $1,000 to $2,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> James Cook, complete set, 9 volumes, London, 1773-84. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 24:</b> Nicolaus Bertrand, <i>Opus de Tholosano[rum] Gestis ab Urbe Condita,</i> with the earliest known view of the city of Toulouse, 1515. $2,000 to $3,000.
  • <center> <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts Including Americana<br>November 6, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> RATZER, Bernard. <i>Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767.</i> London: Jefferys and Faden, “Jan.y” 12, 1776. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> [KELMSCOTT PRESS]. COCKERELL, Sydney C. <i>Some German Woodcuts of the Fifteenth Century.</i> Hammersmith: The Kelmscott Press, 1897 [issued 1898]. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> [GOLDEN COCKEREL PRESS]. KEATS, John. <i>Lamia, Isabella, the Eve of Saint Agnes and Other Poems.</i> Waltham Saint Lawrence, Berkshire: The Golden Cockerel Press, 1928. $6,000 to $8,000
    <center> <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts Including Americana<br>November 6, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> [GRANT, Ulysses S.— GRANT, Julia, First Lady]. Carved Applewood and 18-karat Gold Jewelry Suite, Browne & Spaulding, Jewelers, New York City, 1865. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> [LINCOLN ASSASSINATION]. GARDNER, Alexander. <i>Incidents of the War |Sic Semper Sicariis</i> [caption title]. Washington, D. C.: Philip & Solomons, 1865. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> A COMPLETE COLLECTION of 115 titles published in R. R. Donnelley's Lakeside Classics series. Chicago, 1903-2017. COMPLETE RUN OF THE LONGEST-RUNNING CONTINUOUS SERIES OF BOOKS IN THE WORLD. $5,000 to $7,000
    <center> <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts Including Americana<br>November 6, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> GLEIZES, Albert. METZINGER, Jean. <i>Du Cubisme.</i> Paris, 1947. LIMITED EDITION, number 19 of 20 copies on papier d'Auvergne. $3,000 to $4,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> [THE LITTLE REVIEW]. ANDERSON, Margaret, ed. POUND, Ezra, ed. HEAP, Jane, ed. <i>The Little Review.</i> Vol. I, No. 1 through Vol. XII, No. 2. 1914-1929. $3,000 to $4,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> [MOUNTENEY, Leonard, binder]. LOUŸS, Pierre. <i>Songs of Bilitis.</i> Chicago: Argus Books, 1931. $2,000 to $3,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 6:</b> [HANCOCK, John]. Partly-printed U.S. Loan-Office Transfer Certificate issued on behalf of Hancock. Sgn’d on recto by William Imlay, as Commissioner of Loans of Connecticut. 28 February 1793. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DE CORDOBA, JACOB. <i>Map of the State of Texas.</i> New York, 1866. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ARNOLD, BENEDICT. Autograph bookseller's receipt for Dr. John Dickinson, Signed ("B. Arnold"), February 1767. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. 4 Typed Letters Signed ("A Einstein") to Cleveland E. Dodge offering early reports on the meetings of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> EISENHOWER, DWIGHT D. Typed Letter Signed ("Dwight D. Eisenhower") to General Henri Giraud written from a secret bunker in Gibraltar on the eve of Operation Torch, November 4 [but 6], 1942. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> Early Broadside Printing of the GADSDEN PURCHASE, Puebla, August 16, 1854. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ALLEN, ETHAN. Autograph Letter Signed to Crevecouer during the Constitutional Debates in Congress, 2 pp, August 29, 1787. $30,000 to $50,000.
  • <center><b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers<br>Library of a Midwestern Collector<br>November 5, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> DARWIN, Charles. <i>On the Origin of Species.</i> London John Murray, 1859. FIRST EDITION. THE VERY FINE MELLON-GARDEN COPY. $120,000 to $180,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> ECKERT, J. P, H. H. GOLDSTINE, and J. G. BRAINERD. <i>Description of the ENIAC and comments on electronic digital computing machines.</i> N.p., 1945. FIRST EDITION, INSCRIBED BY GOLDSTINE. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> EUCLID. <i>Elementa geometriae.</i> Translated from the Arabic by Adelard of Bath. Venice: Erhard Ratdolt, 25 May 1482. FIRST EDITION. $60,000 to $80,000
    <center><b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers<br>Library of a Midwestern Collector<br>November 5, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> [HAMILTON, Alexander, James MADISON and John JAY]. <i>The Federalist: A Collection of Essays…</i> New York: John and Andrew M'Lean, 1788. FIRST EDITION. $60,000 to $80,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> GALILEI, Galileo. <i>Dialogo...Dove ne i congressi di quattro giornate si discorre sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo Tolemaico, e Copernicano.</i> Florence, 1632. FIRST EDITION. $30,000 to $40,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> JOYCE, James. <i>Ulysses.</i> Paris: Shakespeare and Company, 1922. FIRST EDITION, ONE OF 100 COPIES SIGNED BY JOYCE. $120,000 to $180,000
    <center><b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers<br>Library of a Midwestern Collector<br>November 5, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> KEYNES, John Maynard. <i>The General Theory of Employment Interest and Money.</i> London: Macmillan, 1936. FIRST EDITION. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> NEWTON, Isaac, Sir. <i>Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica.</i> London: Joseph Streater for the Royal Society, 1687. FIRST EDITION. $150,000 to $250,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> ROWLING, J. K. <i>Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.</i> London: Bloomsbury, 1997. FIRST EDITION, SIGNED BY ROWLING. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Nov. 5:</b> SMITH, Adam. <i>An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.</i> London: for W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1776. FIRST EDITION. $70,000 to $90,000

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