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

  • Sotheby’s, July 11: Galileo, Document annotated and signed by Galileo, dated Padua, 1595. £500,000 to £700,000.
  • Bonhams, July 15-25: THE AUTOGRAPH COLLECTION OF ISRAEL WITKOWER. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: GEORGE WASHINGTON SIGNED DISCHARGE. June 9, 1783. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: "Shhhhh!" A DAVID SHANNON ILLUSTRATION FROM DAVID GETS IN TROUBLE. $2,500 - $3,500
    Bonhams, July 15-25: PICASSO, PABLO. Le Carmen des Carmen. Paris, 1964. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: RARE AUTOGRAPH OF AMERICAN NAVAL HERO CAPTAIN JAMES MUGFORD. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: KARA WALKER SILHOUETTES FOR TONI MORRISON'S FIVE POEMS. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: FIRST APPEARANCE OF PINOCCHIO IN ENGLISH. COLLODI, CARLO.New York, 1892. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: BONAPARTE, JOSEPHINE. Autograph Note (unsigned) in French. $1,000 - $1,500
    Bonhams, July 15-25: FROST ON MATTHEW ARNOLD.Autograph Letter Signed to Adams, July 27, 1934. $800 - $1,200
    Bonhams, July 15-25: ELIAS BOUDINOT'S COPY OF BARLOW'S COLUMBIAN EPIC. $800 - $1,200
    Bonhams, July 15-25: A SIGNED HART CRANE BROOKLYN BRIDGE POSTCARD TO EDWARD DAHLBERG. $600 - $800
    Bonhams, July 15-25: A STOCK CERTIFICATE SIGNED BY THE "QUEEN OF WALL STREET," HETTY GREEN. $700 - $900
  • Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: U.S. / European Shipping Archive 1800-1814. The Widow Bermingham & Sons Collection. €7,000 to €10,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Bunreacht na hÉireann. Constitution of Ireland. An important copy of the First Printing of De Valera’s new Constitution, approved in 1938. Signed by the Constitution Cabinet. €7,000 to €9,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: A Rare Complete Run of the Cuala Press Broadsides. €7,000 to €9,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Grose (Francis). The Antiquities of Ireland, 2vols. folio London (for S. Hooper) 1791. Magnificent Hand-Coloured Copy - Only 25 Copies. €3,000 to €5,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Cantillon (Richard). Essai sur la Nature du Commerce en General, Traduit de l'Anglois, Sm. 8vo London (Fletcher Gyles) 1756. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Gregory, (Lady Augusta). Spreading the News: The Rising of the Moon: The Poorhouse (with Douglas Hyde). Being Vol. IX of the Abbey Theatre Series. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Lavery (Lady Hazel). A moving series of three A.L.S. and a Telegram to Gen. Eoin O'Duffy, July-August 1927, expressing her grief at the death of Kevin O'Higgins. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Dampier (Wm.) Nouveau Voyage Autour du Monde, ou l'on descrit en particulier l'Isthme de l'Amerique…, 2 vols. in one, Amsterdam, 1698. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Howell (James). Instructions for Forreine Travel Shewing by what Cours, and in what Compasse of Time…, London, 1642. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Rowling (J.K.) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, 8vo, L. (Bloomsbury) 1999, First Edn., First Printing of Deluxe Collectors Edn. Signed. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: James (Wm.) A Full and Correct Account of the Military Occurrences of The Late War Between Great Britain and The United States of America. 2 vols. Lond. 1818. €650 to €900.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: The Laws of the United States, Published by Authority, 3 vols. Philadelphia (Richard Folwell) 1796. €600 to €800.

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