Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2017 Issue

The Wreck of The Medusa, a Political Parable.


Plan of the raft.

This book takes us at the heart of the tragedy, depicting people who could have been our neighbours, including a poor 12-year-old boy named Léon, “who suddenly stopped living like an old lamp runs out of oil.” His death almost came as a relief. “As long as he had had the strength, he had run up and down the raft, calling for his mother, for food and water, stepping upon the legs of his comrades.” And the legs of the passengers, eaten up by salt, were as painful as open wounds.


There was also this “poor woman”, a cook, who had dedicated her life to feed the French soldiers. She was black. And her loving relationship with her husband moved the passengers to tears on the second day. But five days later, there was no room left for romanticism anymore: “there were only 27 of us left—out of which only fifteen seemed able to survive a few more days; the others, badly wounded, had run out of their minds. (...) We reckoned that they would drink 30 to 40 bottles of wine before they died—and those were highly valuable to us. (...) Driven by despair, we took the decision to throw them overboard. (...) Three sailors and one soldier took care of it, while we all looked away, shading bloody tears over those unfortunates. Among them was the (black woman)—and her husband. (...) This decision saved our lives.”


A brick from the expedition eventually rescued them—she was not looking for them, though; but for the wreck of the Medusa, where some riches had been left—but still had, for some of them, to walk through the desert to reach the colony—hence the coloured portrait of the king of the Moors, King Zaïde, added as a frontispiece to the second edition.


This book changed the life of its main author, Corréard, who was fired from his position following its unauthorized publication. It became so successful, that Corréard turned publisher in 1818. He multiplied the editions of his relation—which apparently sold like hot cakes—adding many parts and engravings, including one of Géricault’s painting. Both men knew each other well, and met several times while Géricault was working on his painting—Géricault also met Savigny, the co-author of the relation. As a matter of fact, Corréard appears on the painting, he is the man from the main group, who stretches his arm toward the horizon. Just like Géricault turned his painting into an allegorical cry for justice—including for the black slaves—, Corréard soon became a political figure. His bookshop, Au Naufragé de la Méduse / The Survivor of the Medusa, attracted the opponents of the Restauration. As soon as 1819, he printed a political almanac, Le Politique. Because of his positions and the pamphlets he published, he was condemned several times, including to eight years of prison. His certificate of bookseller was eventually revoked in September 1822—the government seized more than 8,000 books from him. He then unsuccessfully ran for the elections in 1848, and went to Fontainebleau to spend the end of his life. He died in 1857, far from the coast of Africa and the dangerous currents of politics.


The storm of the 19th century has calmed down, and might seem quite far from us. But as soon as you open this book, or take a look at Géricault’s masterpiece, you’ll feel the gale of terror and smell the horror. You’ll sight mankind, packed on a hand-made raft, drifting away on a dark and pitiless sea of pain and distress, led by arrogant and incompetent leaders who have no clue what direction to take—some things never change.



Thibault Ehrengardt

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>April 5<br>Printed Books, Maps, Atlases & Caricatures</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, Apr. 5:</b> Speed (John). <i>The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine...</i> bound with <i>The Prospect of the most Famous parts of the World,</i> Thomas Bassett & Richard Chiswell, 1676. £20,000 to £30,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, Apr. 5:</b> China. De Jode (Cornelis), <i>China Regnum,</i> Antwerp [1593]. £7,000 to £10,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, Apr. 5:</b> World. Hondius (Henricus), <i>Nova totius Terrarum Orbis Geographica ac Hydrographica Tabula.</i> Auct: Henr. Hondio. Amsterdam, circa 1630. £5,000 to £8,000.
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>April 5<br>Printed Books, Maps, Atlases & Caricatures</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, Apr. 5:</b> World. Blaeu (Willem Janszoon), <i>Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Geographica ac Hydrographica Tabula</i> auct: Guilelmo Blaeuw, Amsterdam [1635 - 58]. £5,000 to £8,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, Apr. 5:</b> Acosta (Emanuel). <i>Rerum a Societate Iesu in Oriente gestarum ad annum usque à Deipara Virgine…,</i> 1st edition, Dillingen: Sebald Mayer, 1571. £3,000 to £5,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, Apr. 5:</b> Ruggieri (Francesco). <i>Scelta di Architetture Antiche e Moderne della Citta di Firenze…,</i> 4 volumes bound in two, Florence, Appresso l'Editore, 1755. £3,000 to £4,000.
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>April 5<br>Printed Books, Maps, Atlases & Caricatures</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, Apr. 5:</b> Parry (William). <i>Journal of a Voyage for the Discovery of a North-West Passage,</i> 6 vols in 5, 1st editions, 1821-27. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, Apr. 5:</b> Hunter (John). <i>A Treatise on the Blood, Inflammation, and Gun-Shot Wounds,</i> 1st edition, 1794. £1,000 to £1,500.
    <b>Dominic Winter, Apr. 5:</b> Furber (Robert). <i>The Flower-Garden Display'd, in above Four Hundred Curious Representations of the most Beautiful Flowers…,</i> 1st quarto edition, London, 1732. £1,000 to £1,500.
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>April 5<br>Printed Books, Maps, Atlases & Caricatures</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, Apr. 5:</b> Friedman (Milton). <i>A Theory of the Consumption Function,</i> 1st edition, 1957. £500 to £800.
    <b>Dominic Winter, Apr. 5:</b> Clarkson (Thomas). <i>The history of the ... abolition of the African slave-trade,</i> 2 vols., 1808. £800 to £1,200.
    <b>Dominic Winter, Apr. 5:</b> Civil War Pamphlets. A sammelband of 19 pamphlets relating to events of the English Civil War, 1640-1661. £2,000 to £3,000.
  • <b><center>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Printed & Manuscript African Americana:<br>March 30, 2023</b>
    <b>Swann March 30:</b> Victor H. Green, <i>The Negro Motorist Green Book,</i> New York, 1949. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann March 30:</b> Papers of pianist-composer Lawrence Brown relating to Paul Robeson & more, various places, 1925-54. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann March 30:</b> Freedom Summer archive of civil rights activist Karen Haberman Trusty, Atlanta & elsewhere, 1963-64. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann March 30:</b> E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> New York, 1933. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann March 30:</b> Archive of letters from the sculptor Richmond Barthé to a close Jamaican friend, various places, 1966-85. $25,000 to $35,000.
  • <b>ALDE, Apr. 18:</b> CASAS (BARTOLOMÉ DE LAS). <i>La Découverte des Indes occidentales par les Espagnols,</i> Paris, 1697. €1,500 to €2,000.
    <b>ALDE, Apr. 18:</b> GARCILASO DE LA VEGA. <i>Primera parte de los commentarios reales, que tratan del orígen de los Yncas…,</i> Lisbonne, 1609 [1608 au colophon]. €8,000 to €10,000.
    <b>ALDE, Apr. 18:</b> GARCILASO DE LA VEGA. <i>Histoire des Yncas rois du Pérou. On a joint à cette édition l'Histoire de la conquête de la Floride,</i> Amsterdam, 1737. €800 to €1,000.
    <b>ALDE, Apr. 18:</b> LAET (JOHANNES DE). <i>L'Histoire du nouveau monde, ou description des Indes occidentales,</i> Leyde, 1640. €8,000 to €10,000.
    <b>ALDE, Apr. 18:</b> LAFITAU (JOSEPH-FRANÇOIS). <i>Mœurs des sauvages amériquains, comparées aux mœurs des premiers temps,</i> Paris, 1724. €1,200 to €1,500.
    <b>ALDE, Apr. 18:</b> ORRIO (FRANCISCO XAVIER ALEXO DE). <i>Solución del gran problema acerca de la población de las Americas,</i> Mexico, 1763. €1,500 to €2,000.
    <b>ALDE, Apr. 18:</b> [ROCHEFORT (CHARLES DE)]. <i>Histoire naturelle et morale des Îles Antilles de l'Amérique,</i> Amsterdam, 1716. €800 to €1,000.
    <b>ALDE, Apr. 18:</b> TURGOT (ANNE-ROBERT-JACQUES). <i>Mémoire sur les colonies américaines, sur leurs relations politiques avec leurs métropoles…,</i> Paris, 1791. €1,000 to €1,200.

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