Monday, December 31, 2012

Excerpt from Les Miserables

Victor Hugo

Chapter VII. Napoleon in a Good Humor

The Emperor, though ill and discommoded on horseback by a local trouble, had never been in a better humor than on that day. His impenetrability had been smiling ever since the morning. On the 18th of June, that profound soul masked by marble beamed blindly. The man who had been gloomy at Austerlitz was gay at Waterloo. The greatest favorites of destiny make mistakes. Our joys are composed of shadow. The supreme smile is God's alone.
Ridet Caesar, Pompeius flebit, said the legionaries of the Fulminatrix Legion. Pompey was not destined to weep on that occasion, but it is certain that Caesar laughed. While exploring on horseback at one o'clock on the preceding night, in storm and rain, in company with Bertrand, the communes in the neighborhood of Rossomme, satisfied at the sight of the long line of the English camp-fires illuminating the whole horizon from Frischemont to Braine-l'Alleud, it had seemed to him that fate, to whom he had assigned a day on the field of Waterloo, was exact to the appointment; he stopped his horse, and remained for some time motionless, gazing at the lightning and listening to the thunder; and this fatalist was heard to cast into the darkness this mysterious saying, "We are in accord." Napoleon was mistaken. They were no longer in accord.
He took not a moment for sleep; every instant of that night was marked by a joy for him. He traversed the line of the principal outposts, halting here and there to talk to the sentinels. At half-past two, near the wood of Hougomont, he heard the tread of a column on the march; he thought at the moment that it was a retreat on the part of Wellington. He said: "It is the rear-guard of the English getting under way for the purpose of decamping. I will take prisoners the six thousand English who have just arrived at Ostend." He conversed expansively; he regained the animation which he had shown at his landing on the first of March, when he pointed out to the Grand-Marshal the enthusiastic peasant of the Gulf Juan, and cried, "Well, Bertrand, here is a reinforcement already!" On the night of the 17th to the 18th of June he rallied Wellington. "That little Englishman needs a lesson," said Napoleon. The rain redoubled in violence; the thunder rolled while the Emperor was speaking.
At half-past three o'clock in the morning, he lost one illusion; officers who had been despatched to reconnoitre announced to him that the enemy was not making any movement. Nothing was stirring; not a bivouac-fire had been extinguished; the English army was asleep. The silence on earth was profound; the only noise was in the heavens. At four o'clock, a peasant was brought in to him by the scouts; this peasant had served as guide to a brigade of English cavalry, probably Vivian's brigade, which was on its way to take up a position in the village of Ohain, at the extreme left. At five o'clock, two Belgian deserters reported to him that they had just quitted their regiment, and that the English army was ready for battle. "So much the better!" exclaimed Napoleon. "I prefer to overthrow them rather than to drive them back."
In the morning he dismounted in the mud on the slope which forms an angle with the Plancenoit road, had a kitchen table and a peasant's chair brought to him from the farm of Rossomme, seated himself, with a truss of straw for a carpet, and spread out on the table the chart of the battle-field, saying to Soult as he did so, "A pretty checker-board."
In consequence of the rains during the night, the transports of provisions, embedded in the soft roads, had not been able to arrive by morning; the soldiers had had no sleep; they were wet and fasting. This did not prevent Napoleon from exclaiming cheerfully to Ney, "We have ninety chances out of a hundred." At eight o'clock the Emperor's breakfast was brought to him. He invited many generals to it. During breakfast, it was said that Wellington had been to a ball two nights before, in Brussels, at the Duchess of Richmond's; and Soult, a rough man of war, with a face of an archbishop, said, "The ball takes place to-day." The Emperor jested with Ney, who said, "Wellington will not be so simple as to wait for Your Majesty." That was his way, however. "He was fond of jesting," says Fleury de Chaboulon. "A merry humor was at the foundation of his character," says Gourgaud. "He abounded in pleasantries, which were more peculiar than witty," says Benjamin Constant. These gayeties of a giant are worthy of insistence. It was he who called his grenadiers "his grumblers"; he pinched their ears; he pulled their mustaches. "The Emperor did nothing but play pranks on us," is the remark of one of them. During the mysterious trip from the island of Elba to France, on the 27th of February, on the open sea, the French brig of war, Le Zephyr, having encountered the brig L'Inconstant, on which Napoleon was concealed, and having asked the news of Napoleon from L'Inconstant, the Emperor, who still wore in his hat the white and amaranthine cockade sown with bees, which he had adopted at the isle of Elba, laughingly seized the speaking-trumpet, and answered for himself, "The Emperor is well." A man who laughs like that is on familiar terms with events. Napoleon indulged in many fits of this laughter during the breakfast at Waterloo. After breakfast he meditated for a quarter of an hour; then two generals seated themselves on the truss of straw, pen in hand and their paper on their knees, and the Emperor dictated to them the order of battle.
At nine o'clock, at the instant when the French army, ranged in echelons and set in motion in five columns, had deployed-- the divisions in two lines, the artillery between the brigades, the music at their head; as they beat the march, with rolls on the drums and the blasts of trumpets, mighty, vast, joyous, a sea of casques, of sabres, and of bayonets on the horizon, the Emperor was touched, and twice exclaimed, "Magnificent! Magnificent!"
Between nine o'clock and half-past ten the whole army, incredible as it may appear, had taken up its position and ranged itself in six lines, forming, to repeat the Emperor's expression, "the figure of six V's." A few moments after the formation of the battle-array, in the midst of that profound silence, like that which heralds the beginning of a storm, which precedes engagements, the Emperor tapped Haxo on the shoulder, as he beheld the three batteries of twelve-pounders, detached by his orders from the corps of Erlon, Reille, and Lobau, and destined to begin the action by taking Mont-Saint-Jean, which was situated at the intersection of the Nivelles and the Genappe roads, and said to him, "There are four and twenty handsome maids, General."
Sure of the issue, he encouraged with a smile, as they passed before him, the company of sappers of the first corps, which he had appointed to barricade Mont-Saint-Jean as soon as the village should be carried. All this serenity had been traversed by but a single word of haughty pity; perceiving on his left, at a spot where there now stands a large tomb, those admirable Scotch Grays, with their superb horses, massing themselves, he said, "It is a pity."
Then he mounted his horse, advanced beyond Rossomme, and selected for his post of observation a contracted elevation of turf to the right of the road from Genappe to Brussels, which was his second station during the battle. The third station, the one adopted at seven o'clock in the evening, between La Belle-Alliance and La Haie-Sainte, is formidable; it is a rather elevated knoll, which still exists, and behind which the guard was massed on a slope of the plain. Around this knoll the balls rebounded from the pavements of the road, up to Napoleon himself. As at Brienne, he had over his head the shriek of the bullets and of the heavy artillery. Mouldy cannon-balls, old sword-blades, and shapeless projectiles, eaten up with rust, were picked up at the spot where his horse' feet stood. Scabra rubigine. A few years ago, a shell of sixty pounds, still charged, and with its fuse broken off level with the bomb, was unearthed. It was at this last post that the Emperor said to his guide, Lacoste, a hostile and terrified peasant, who was attached to the saddle of a hussar, and who turned round at every discharge of canister and tried to hide behind Napoleon: "Fool, it is shameful! You'll get yourself killed with a ball in the back." He who writes these lines has himself found, in the friable soil of this knoll, on turning over the sand, the remains of the neck of a bomb, disintegrated, by the oxidization of six and forty years, and old fragments of iron which parted like elder-twigs between the fingers.

Every one is aware that the variously inclined undulations of the plains, where the engagement between Napoleon and Wellington took place, are no longer what they were on June 18, 1815. By taking from this mournful field the wherewithal to make a monument to it, its real relief has been taken away, and history, disconcerted, no longer finds her bearings there. It has been disfigured for the sake of glorifying it. Wellington, when he beheld Waterloo once more, two years later, exclaimed, "They have altered my field of battle!" Where the great pyramid of earth, surmounted by the lion, rises to-day, there was a hillock which descended in an easy slope towards the Nivelles road, but which was almost an escarpment on the side of the highway to Genappe. The elevation of this escarpment can still be measured by the height of the two knolls of the two great sepulchres which enclose the road from Genappe to Brussels: one, the English tomb, is on the left; the other, the German tomb, is on the right. There is no French tomb. The whole of that plain is a sepulchre for France. Thanks to the thousands upon thousands of cartloads of earth employed in the hillock one hundred and fifty feet in height and half a mile in circumference, the plateau of Mont-Saint-Jean is now accessible by an easy slope. On the day of battle, particularly on the side of La Haie-Sainte, it was abrupt and difficult of approach. The slope there is so steep that the English cannon could not see the farm, situated in the bottom of the valley, which was the centre of the combat. On the 18th of June, 1815, the rains had still farther increased this acclivity, the mud complicated the problem of the ascent, and the men not only slipped back, but stuck fast in the mire. Along the crest of the plateau ran a sort of trench whose presence it was impossible for the distant observer to divine.
What was this trench? Let us explain. Braine-l'Alleud is a Belgian village; Ohain is another. These villages, both of them concealed in curves of the landscape, are connected by a road about a league and a half in length, which traverses the plain along its undulating level, and often enters and buries itself in the hills like a furrow, which makes a ravine of this road in some places. In 1815, as at the present day, this road cut the crest of the plateau of Mont-Saint-Jean between the two highways from Genappe and Nivelles; only, it is now on a level with the plain; it was then a hollow way. Its two slopes have been appropriated for the monumental hillock. This road was, and still is, a trench throughout the greater portion of its course; a hollow trench, sometimes a dozen feet in depth, and whose banks, being too steep, crumbled away here and there, particularly in winter, under driving rains. Accidents happened here. The road was so narrow at the Braine-l'Alleud entrance that a passer-by was crushed by a cart, as is proved by a stone cross which stands near the cemetery, and which gives the name of the dead, Monsieur Bernard Debrye, Merchant of Brussels, and the date of the accident, February, 1637.[8] It was so deep on the table-land of Mont-Saint-Jean that a peasant, Mathieu Nicaise, was crushed there, in 1783, by a slide from the slope, as is stated on another stone cross, the top of which has disappeared in the process of clearing the ground, but whose overturned pedestal is still visible on the grassy slope to the left of the highway between La Haie-Sainte and the farm of Mont-Saint-Jean.
[8] This is the inscription:--
                       D. O. M.
                    CY A ETE ECRASE
                       PAR MALHEUR
                    SOUS UN CHARIOT,
                    MONSIEUR BERNARD
                    DE BRYE MARCHAND
               A BRUXELLE LE [Illegible]
                      FEVRIER 1637.
On the day of battle, this hollow road whose existence was in no way indicated, bordering the crest of Mont-Saint-Jean, a trench at the summit of the escarpment, a rut concealed in the soil, was invisible; that is to say, terrible.

Le Defecit

The Defecit

Cartoon 1789 - Collection Banque Nationale de Paris (Paris: Editions Hervas, 1988)
The financial minister, Necker, looks on and says "the money was there last time I looked." The nobles and clergy are sneaking out the door carrying sacks of money, saying "We have it."

Dances of the Early Renaissance (15th Century)

As the arts and sciences flourished in the European Renaissance, dance quickly rose to preeminence.  Dance increased in sophistication and social importance through the 14th century, but unfortunately no choreographic descriptions survive from this century.  It is from preserved music tabulatures and literature, such as Boccaccio's Decameron, that we know the names of these lost dances, which include the balli, carola (carole), stampita (estampe, istampita, stantipes), salterello, rotta, trotto and farandole.  Only treatises from later centuries give us any hint as to what these 14th century dances might have looked like.

The 15th century is the first period in western history to have dances documented well enough for reconstruction.  Several surviving manuscripts describe the dances of the aristocracy, for whom dance was an important courtly pastime.  The dances from the northern courts (primarily Burgundy – a large area north of the Alps including some of present-day France, Germany and the Netherlands) tended to be conservative and Gothic.  Southern France (Provence) was more innovative, while Italy was the hotbed of the avant garde.

The primary dance of the Burgundian court was the stately Bassedanse.  This was a memorized sequence of steps performed as a processional, danced to music in "perfect (i.e. triple) time.  One surviving Burgundian dance source is the beautiful handwritten Brussels manuscript, penned in gold and silver ink by an anonymous scribe.  The Italian courts also danced the Bassadanza (as they spelled it), although it was lighter in spirit and somewhat more intricate than the Burgundian Bassedanse.  But the epitome of Italian court dance was the Ballo.  The 15th century Balli were beautifully designed choreographies for a set number of dancers that featured a wide variety of steps, figures and rhythms.  Unlike the Bassadanza, the music and dance phrases of the Balli were inseparable.

Both Bassadanzi and Balli were composed by highly respected dance masters, following specific guidelines of scientific and artistic movement.  The first and most important dance master of the Renaissance was Domenico da Piacenza (ca. 1395 - ca. 1465).  Two of his students represented the next generation of dance masters:  Guglielmo Ebreo (also known as Giovanni Ambrosio) and Antonio Cornazano.  Fortunately all three left detailed manuscripts describing dance theory, deportment, specific choreographies and corresponding music.

While these surviving 15th century instruction books described the dances from the highest courts, the dances of the artisans, burghers, lower classes and peasants remained unrecorded until the end of the 16th century.

— Richard Powers 

15th century Apothecary images

Interior of an apothecary's shop. Illustration fromIllustrated History of Furniture, From the Earliest to the Present Time from 1893 by Frederick Litchfield (1850–1930)

French apothecary (15th century).

Sunday, December 30, 2012


Recently I read a piece by an American living in Europe, recounting how he had found himself in heated argument with a Frenchman who hammered him with America's rap sheet of historical faults and crimes -- it looked like the usual list, if you're familiar with that dreary experience.
Among them, of course, was slavery. The American wrote that he largely conceded the point of slavery to his foe, remarking only that it was not really an American institution, just a Southern one.
This seemed lame to me, not only because it was, in fact, a national institution, as I have been at pains to tell people for some years now, but because the American could have turned the tables nicely on the Frenchman, if he'd known a little more about French history.
So, in case this ever happens to you, be prepared. Here's a primer. Really, the essential numbers can be summed up like this:

  • Slaver voyages: France, 4,200; British North America/United States, 1,500.
  • Slaves transported: France 1,250,000, British North America/United States, 300,000.
  • Slaves delivered to: French West Indies: 1,600,000, British North America/United States, 500,000.*
In the history of the Atlantic slave trade, the French turned four times as many Africans into slaves as the Americans did, they used them far more brutally, and French slavers not only got a head-start on Americans, they continued the slave trade -- legally -- until 1830, long after the rest of Europe had given it up. And they kept at it clandestinely until after the U.S. Civil War. France officially abolished slavery in its colonies only 14 years before Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, and then only under pressure from slave uprisings.The French New World settlers outstripped the Americans in their greed for slave labor. When the U.S. acquired Louisiana from France, the first governor sent out from Washington reported back that, "No subject seems to be so interesting to the minds of the inhabitants of all parts of the country which I have visited as that of the importation of brute negroes from Africa. This permission would go further with them, and better reconcile them to the government of the United States, than any other privilege that could be extended to this country. ... White labourers, they say, cannot be had in this unhealthy climate."

French interlopers had jumped into the Atlantic African slave trade in the early 16th century, a century before the first Yankee set sail for Africa. Nearly 200 ships bound for Sierra Leone sailed from three Norman ports between 1540 and 1578. A Portuguese renegade, sailing under the French flag as Jean Alphonse, was one of the pioneers of the "triangle trade" between Africa, the New World and Europe.
The French government sought to promote plantation economies in its West Indies colonies. With capital, credit, technology -- and slaves -- borrowed from the Dutch, these islands began to thrive as sugar export centers. The Dutch established the first successful French sugar mill in 1655. By 1670, Martinique, Guadeloupe, and St. Christopher had 300 sugar estates.
Realizing slaves were the key to this, a monopoly Compagnie des Indes Occidentales, largely financed by the state, was organized in 1664. A French fleet took many factories from the Dutch in Gorée and the Senegambia in the 1670s. In 1672, the French government offered a bounty of 10 livres per slave transported to the French West Indies. This spurred the formation of a second monopoly company, Compagnie du Sénégal, founded in 1673. By 1679 it had 21 ships in operation.
French slavery totals in the 17th century were lower than they might have been due to incompetence, bankruptcies, and mismanagement and strict royal rules about buying from, or selling to, other empires. By the 1720s, however, French private traders had broken the monopolies and the slave trade boomed under the French flag.
During the 1730s alone, the French shipped probably more than 100,000 slaves from Africa. The government raised the bounty per slave delivered to 100 livres, and in 1787 upped it again to 160. By the 1760s the average number of slaver ships leaving French ports was 56 a year, which does not sound like a large number, but they were big ships, averaging 364 slaves per boat. The attendant horrors of the Middle Passage, of course, were multiplied in the bigger ships. In 1767 the French overtook the British in sugar production for the first time.
Conditions on sugar plantations were harsh (though French sugar colonies were no better or worse than Spanish, Dutch, or British ones). During the eight-month sugar harvest, slaves sometimes worked continuously almost around the clock. Accidents caused by long hours and primitive machinery were horrible. In the big plantations, the captives lived in barracks; women were few and families nonexistent.
Compared to this, North American cotton plantation slavery featured much less ferocious labor and allowed family units to exist. Which is one reason France required a steady flow of thousands of slaves a year -- to replace the ones the French had worked to death -- while America's slave population grew naturally even after the U.S. slave trade had ended.
Nantes by far was France's leading slave port. Between 1738 and 1745, Nantes alone carried 55,000 slaves to the New World in 180 ships. All told, from 1713 to 1775 nearly 800 different vessels sailed from Nantes in the slave trade. But Bordeaux, Le Havre, and La Rochelle were leaders in the trade, too. Saint-Malo, Harfleur, and Rouen also played a part. French slave ships bore such ironic names as Amitié (La Rochelle) and Liberté (belonging to Isaac Couturier in Bordeaux). The novelist Chateaubriand's father, of Saint-Malo, was active in the slave trade in the 1760s. In 1768, Louis XV expressed his pleasure at the way "les négociants du Port de Bordeaux se livrent avec beaucoup de zèle au commerce de la traite des nègres."
In the late 1660s, the French settled the abandoned western half of the island of Santo Domingo, and by the early 1680s this new colony, which the French called Saint-Domingue, had 2,000 African slaves. By the 1740s, Saint-Domingue had replaced Martinique as the empire's largest sugar producer. Its 117,000 slaves that year represented about half the 250,000 slaved in the French West Indies. Coffee, introduced in 1723, only made the plantations more profitable -- and increased the demand for slaves.
By the late 1780s Saint Domingue planters were recognized as the most efficient and productive sugar producers in the world. The slave population stood at 460,000 people, which was not only the largest of any island but represented close to half of the 1 million slaves then being held in all the Caribbean colonies. The exports of the island represented two-thirds of the total value of all French West Indian exports, and alone were greater than the combined exports from the British and Spanish Antilles. In only one year well over 600 vessels visited the ports of the island to carry its sugar, coffee, cotton, indigo, and cacao to European consumers." [Herbert S. Klein, "The Atlantic Slave Trade," Cambridge, 1999, p.33]
To keep the supply of African captives flowing, the French government had permanent establishments at the Senegal River and Whydah on the Gold Coast. French free traders worked seasonal camps from the Senegal to the Congo and even East Africa, where they became serious competitors to the Portuguese in Mozambique. The slaves they bought there went to the French Indian Ocean island colonies, which also were thriving on sugar exports.Slavery went deeper than this in French society. In the 17th century, the French navy galleons were manned by slaves, including hundreds of Turks (some of them captured by the Austrians after the Siege of Vienna). In 1679, the Senegal Company provided 227 African slaves for this purpose.
Nor was their slaving activity limited to Africans. As late as 1820s the French were engaged in a slave trade in Sumatra, on the island of Nias (in the news recently as an earthquake site), taking 1,000 slaves a year from there to Ile de Bourbon (modern Réunion).
The rise of the French slave trade meant the number of black Africans living in France grew. A law of 1716 clarified their position by allowing masters from the islands to keep their slaves captive while in France. But a law of 1738 decreed black slaves could not stay in France more than three years, otherwise they would be confiscated by the Crown (and likely put to work on the royal navy's galleys).
The motive for this was the French authorities' eagerness to preserve their nation's racial purity, as illustrated by a royal declaration of 1777 which forbade entry of any black into France because "they marry Europeans, they infect brothels, and colors are mixed." The restrictions rarely were enforced, however, and six years after the 1777 decree a ministerial circulairecomplained that blacks continued to be imported. Merchants in Nantes kept so many black men and women in their fine houses that they could give négrillons or négrittes to members of their household as tips, and by the time of the Revolution there were enough nègres in Nantes to form a battalion (which got a dreadful reputation for murder and pillage).

The leading figures of the Enlightenment condemned slavery, but they made little impact on French popular or political opinion. Abbé Raynal in 1770 published a book (in Amsterdam) arguing that slavery was contrary to nature and thus wrong. The clergy of Bordeaux, however, demanded it be prohibited as an outrage to religion and the parlement of Paris ordered it burned by the public executioner.
The French Revolution brought such antislavery men to power. English abolitionists like Thomas Clarkson were delighted and encouraged the French liberals to put their words into action. The Declaration of the Rights of Man in August 1789 had stated, "Men are born free and are equal before the law."
So you might think, in the interest of consistency, the French would have ended the slave trade and liberated their chattels at that time. You'd be wrong.
Société des Amis des Noirs had formed. One of its leaders was Condorcet, who urged France to follow the example of America, which had set an end date to the slave trade and where leaders from all sections looked forward to the day, expected soon, when American slavery would die a natural death. Condorcet held up America as an example to France in this regard because America's leaders knew they would "debase their own pursuit of liberty if they continued to support slavery."
But the négriers of Nantes were powerful and influential. The Constituent Assembly took up the topic of the slave trade in March 1790. So far from curtailing slavery or the slave trade, it simply passed a decree, "Whoever works to excite risings against the colonists will be declared an enemy of the people."
The French Assembly even had the equivalent of the American three-fifths clause, which gave the West Indian colonies 10 deputies in Paris, even though they numbered only a few tens of thousands of free settlers. But the Assembly rejected a few free mulattoes who turned up among the West Indian deputies and refused to seat them.
Shortly afterwards, a delegation from the newly founded and revolutionary Armée Patriotique of Bordeaux reached Paris and told both the Jacobin Club and the Assembly that five million Frenchmen depended on the colonial commerce for their livelihood, and that both the slave trade and West Indian slavery were essential for the prosperity of France. Another committee was then entrusted to make a report on slavery. That body, however, did little more than denounce attempts to cause risings against the colonists. Mirabeau was shouted down when he tried to oppose this. The assembly voted for the committee's proposals for inaction and, until 1793, the French slave trade continued to receive a subsidy in the form of a bonus for every slave landed. Nantes in fact enjoyed its best year ever as a slave city in 1790, sending forty-nine ships to Africa. For the slave merchants in that politically radical city, the word "liberty" seems to have signified the idea that the slave trade should be open to all. [Thomas, p.522]
Mulattos in Saint-Domingue, learning that their hopes for equality in the new system had been quashed in the Assembly, rose in revolt, and turmoil spread through the colonies. This forced the leaders of the Revolution to reopen the issue and condemn slavery -- in principle. It was not enough. Saint-Domingue's slaves then rose in a bloody insurrection. There were 450,000 blacks, most of them slaves, against only 40,000 whites (mulattoes numbered about 50,000).Finally, in August 1791, the Assembly declared anyone who landed in France to be free, but it was too late to save Saint-Domingue. The British had occupied the colony and re-instated slavery, and by the time they handed it back to France at the Peace of Amiens (1802) the French had gotten over their flirtation with emancipation and were back in the slavery business. Saint-Domingue fell in the only successful slave revolt in history and was reborn as the free nation of Haiti. Meanwhile the shortage of sugar in Paris that resulted from the slave revolt precipitated the riots that brought the Revolution crashing down from its high ideals into authoritarian repression.

In 1794 the Convention in Paris declared the universal emancipation of slaves, but it did not actually outlaw the slave trade. Yet even this proved unenforcable; the colonies required slaves, and under Napoleon, slavery was reintroduced.
The French never recovered Haiti, though they coveted it for a generation, and France's slave trade had been temporarily shut down by the Napoleonic Wars. But after the restoration of the Bourbons the French retained Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guiana on the South American continent, all major sugar-producing colonies.
If it had not been for British pressure, the slave trade might still be tolerated in France. But the British had taken a strong anti-slavery position. The French press railed at the British for using morality as a cloak for their supposed desire to rule the world. And the French desire to keep the British at bay, and to compete with them in the seas, seems to have had a lot to do with the French decision to turn officially against the slave trade.
But it also is true that an abolitionist movement had taken root among the fashionable in Paris, headed by Madame de Staël and the Marquis de Lafayette. It was built on admiration of the English abolitionists, a rise of Christian morality, and a cult ofle bon nègre. They began to circulate petitions and pamphlets. Prominent French writers led the opposition to the change, with racist diatribes against Africans.
When the Duc de Broglie became prime minister, he brought abolitionist sympathies and opinions with him into the government. In 1817 the French government published a decree curtailing the slave trade to French colonies, but the enterprising merchants of Nantes and Bordeaux simply switched their destinations to Cuba.
The entire slave trade finally was declared illegal in France in March 1818. But that merely converted a tolerated trade to a clandestine one. With the local banks and political interests dominated by slave traders and their money and marriage ties, there was little hope of enforcement. French officers expelled from the Navy after the Restoration had taken up the slave trade. Their comrades still in the fleet turned a blind eye to their activities, or were easily bribed to do so. The French filled in the market for slaves in Cuba and Brazil in place of the Spanish, who had foresaken the trade as immoral.
Twice as many ships left French ports on the slave trade in 1819 as had sailed the year before. In 1820, the British Navy's annual report on the fleet's work in interdicting the slave trade noted that the Americans were next to Britain in their "good intentions," "sincerity," and practical work to end the trade. Spain, Holland, and Portugual got bad grades. "But France, it is with deepest regret I mention it, has countenanced and encouraged the slave trade, almost beyond estimation or belief." It was so bad that "France is engrossing nearly the whole of the slave trade," and in the 12 months ending in September 1819 "60,000 Africans have been forced from their country, principally under the colours of France." They were taken mostly to Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Cuba. [Paul Johnson, "The Birth of the Modern," p.330]
As late as 1825, slave chains and manacles could be openly purchased in Nantes. On average, French négriers in the 1820s brought in 4,000 slaves per annum. Guadeloupe was the center of this activity, absorbing 38,000 slaves from 1814-1830. Martinique followed with 24,000, and French Guiana with 14,000. "[I]t was an unusual trade in that French merchants from Nantes continued to dominate the trade to the end and were the only Europeans still active in the trade after 1808." [Klein, p.198] As late as 1830, Nantes kept 80 ships engaged in the slave trade.
The French, like the Americans, even after they had ended the slave trade refused to stand for the British Navy -- the only maritime power large enough to police the Atlantic -- boarding and searching their vessels. Under cover of national prde, the merchants of Nantes and Bordeaux continued to ship slaves even after the American government had, like the British, begun to use its authority to curb the trade.
In 1820, a British cruiser chased a French slaver, La Jeune Estele, whose captain, once he saw himself being overtaken, started throwing barrels overboard. In each was a pair of slave girls, age 12 to 14. Public opinion in Britain was shocked, but in France the people blamed the British.
In 1821, an over-zealous U.S. Navy lieutenant named Stockton seized four French-flagged vessels off Africa, convinced that they really were slavers from North America. He manned them with American crews and sailed them to Boston. But the French government was outraged -- at least one of the vessels, La Jeune Eugénie, certainly was French, and it was going for slaves. The French ambassador called on Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and loudly threatened war if satisfaction was not made. President Madison hastily backed down and assured the French that the Americans no longer would search vessels under French or any other foreign flag. Stockton's supicions were reasonable, however. Slave traders of other nations often sailed under the French flag to avoid British searches.
Only in 1830, under Louis-Philippe, was the slave trade made a crime and punishment enforced. A treaty with Britain even allowed British naval searches of French vessels in certain cases. Yet as late as 1848, recently imported slaves from West Africa were found on Martinique and Guadeloupe.
During the 1840s, the government in Paris talked of the eventuality of emancipation, but it always found a reason not to act. One common excuse was that the government was too cash-strapped to pay the slaveowners the compensation they deserved for the loss of their property.
Slavery finally was abolished in Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, and Réunion by the government that came to power after the 1848 revolution, spurred by slave uprisings in the colonies. A year later legislation passed granting the owners of France's 248,560 slaves compensation from a sum of $120 million francs.
Even the end was not really the end. From 1850 to 1870 some 18,400 Africans were carried to the French West Indies illegally, probably by Cuban slavers.
*Figures are from Hugh Thomas, "The Slave Trade," Simon & Schuster, 1997. The numbers necessarily are estimates, but historians are in broad agreement about them. There's a "low" and a "high" figure for African slavery, and Thomas' numbers represent the low figure. But the overall comparison does not change much if you use the (earlier) higher numbers: Slaves delivered to French West Indies come in as 1,635,700, compared to 559,800 for British North America and the U.S.

Images of 15th century midwives

Medieval female physician – From an early 15th century English manuscript [Midwives and Medical Texts: Women’s Healing Practices in the Crown of Aragón, 1300-1600]

Address to the National Assembly in Favor of the Abolition of the Slave Trade

Indigo Farm in Haiti

 February 5, 1790 -Society of the Friends of Blacks 
As they argued in France, the uncertainty created instability in the colonies. The free blacks and mulattos agitated for full rights. The planters feared that Paris might abolish slavery and take away their livelihood, and began to talk about independence.
Vincent Ogé presented the views of the mulatto property owners to a meeting of the white planter delegates who had come to Paris. In October 1790, 350 mulattos rebelled in Saint Domingue. The rebellion was put down, the rebels were arrested and the leaders, including James Ogé, were executed. On May 15th, the National Assembly succumbed to pressure and granted political rights to all free blacks and mulattos who were born of free mothers and fathers. It only affected a few hundred people but the planters were infuriated and refused to follow the law.
Just a few months later, on 22 August 1791, the slaves of Saint Domingue again rose up in rebellion, in what was eventually to become the first successful slave revolt in history. The National Assembly reacted by rescinding the rights of free blacks and mulattos on September 24th. Once again the slaves reacted with violence. They burned down plantations, murdered their white masters, and attacked the towns. The fighting went on even as the new

Indigo Farm in Saint Dominique (Haiti)

Legislative Assembly (it replaced the National Assembly in October 1791) met at the end of March 1792. On March 28th, the assembly voted to reinstate the political rights of free blacks and mulattos. Nothing was decided about slavery.
The slave rebellion continued. In the fall of 1792, as the Revolution in mainland France began to radicalize, the French government sent two agents to Saint Domingue to gain control of the slave revolt. The rebel slaves then made agreements with the British and Spanish in the area. The British and Spanish had promised freedom to those slaves who would join their armies. It was not a matter of principle - they did not intend to end slavery in their own colonies. But they saw an opportunity to weaken France.
The rebellion and invasions took their toll on Saint Dominique. The economy had nearly collapsed and drastic measures were needed. The National Convention (the more radical assembly of the Jacobins that replace the Legislative Assembly in France) finally voted to end slavery in all the French colonies on February 4, 1794. Thousands of whites fled the island, and even the Mulattoes were not pleased. Many owned slaves themselves and were opposed to the move.
The decree from faraway Paris did not solve the problems in the colonies. Some local officials disregarded the decree, others converted slavery into a forced labor system, and others took no action at all. The decree was never fully implemented.
A leader of the slaves had emerged in the conflicts. Toussaint L'Ouverture, a slave who had learned to read and write, embraced the enlightenment philosophy of equality and liberty. He was a brilliant general, and large areas of Saint Dominique came under his control.
Eventually the Jacobin government in France fell like those governments before it. When Napoleon took control in France, he attempted to put Saint Dominique on a sound footing. By 1800 the plantations were producing for France only one fifth of what they had in 1789. He reinstituted slavery in the colonies, and denied rights to free blacks. He send an expeditionary force to retake Saint Dominique. Through deception the French captured Toussaint and took back to France. Napoleonordered that Toussaint be imprisoned in the Alps and murdered by lack of food and warmth. However, the fight went on and the slaves were finally successful in driving out the French. In 1804 Saint Dominique became the independent republic of Haiti. The first successful slave revolt in history was over.

Slavery and The Haitian Revolution
Since the revolutionaries explicitly proclaimed liberty as their highest ideal, slavery was bound to come into question during the French Revolution. Even before 1789 critics had attacked the slave trade and slavery in the colonies. France had several colonies in the Caribbean in which slavery supported a plantation economy that produced sugar, coffee, and cotton. The most important of these colonies was Saint Domingue (later Haiti), which had 500,000 slaves, 32,000 whites, and 28,000 free blacks (which included both blacks and mulattos). Some free blacks owned slaves; in fact, the free blacks owned one-third of the plantation property and one-quarter of the slaves in Saint Domingue, though they could not hold public office or practice many professions (medicine, for example).
The slave system in the colonies was regulated by a series of royal edicts, the most important of which was promulgated by Louis XIV in 1685. Taken together, the edicts constituted the Code noir, or slave code. This code prescribed a harsh regime of penalties for slaves who resisted their captivity, especially if they tried to harm their masters in any way. Saint Domingue provided extraordinary sources of wealth to the French. To protect their investments, French slaveholders had to learn at least a minimal amount about their slaves. One of the most astute commentators, Médéric-Louis-Elie Moreau de Saint-Méry, wrote a massive two-volume work on life in Saint Domingue in the 1780s. He described many of the features of slave life that worried slaveholders, including voodoo imported from Africa, the presence of many people of mixed race (mulattos), the threat of slaves becoming Maroons (runaways), and the intense fear among slaveholders that their slaves would try to poison them. After the French Revolution broke out, planters looked back on pre-1789 conditions, trying to understand how slavery might have been better organized. Their observations provide yet another contemporary perspective on the plantation and slave system.
The Caribbean colonies were quick to respond to the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789. The white planters of Saint Domingue sent delegates to France to demand representation at the new National Assembly, as did the mulattos. Several prominent deputies in the National Assembly belonged to the Society of the Friends of Blacks, which put forth proposals for the abolition of the slave trade and the amelioration of the lot of slaves in the colonies. When these proposals fell on deaf ears, some deputies sympathetic to blacks turned to arguing that full civil and political rights should be granted to free blacks in the colonies. Before long, radical journalists in Paris began to take up the cause of black slaves, pushing for the abolition of slavery, or at least for a more positive view of the Africans. The pioneering feminist and playwright, Olympe de Gouges, also wrote a pamphlet challenging the colonial pro-slavery lobby to improve the lot of the blacks.
As the agitation in favor of granting rights to free blacks and abolishing the slave trade gathered steam, the colonies became filled with uncertainty and expectations began rising, especially among the free blacks and mulattos. In response, the white planters mounted their own counterattack and even contemplated demanding independence from France. Less is known about the views of the slaves because hardly any of them could read or write, but the royal governor of Saint Domingue expressed concern about the effects of the Revolution on the colony's slaves. In October 1789 he reported that the slaves considered the new revolutionary cockade (a decoration made up of red, white, and blue ribbons worn by supporters of the Revolution) a "signal of the manumission of the whites . . . the blacks all share an idea that struck them spontaneously: that the white slaves kill their masters and now free they govern themselves and regain possession of the land." In other words, the black slaves hoped to follow in the footsteps of their white predecessors, freeing themselves, killing their masters, and taking over the land.
Most deputies feared the effects of the loss of commerce that would result from either the abolition of slavery or the elimination of the slave trade. Fabulous wealth depended on slavery, as did shipbuilding, sugar-refining, and a host of subsidiary industries. Slaveowners and shippers did not intend to give up their prospects without a fight. The U.S. refusal to give up slavery or the slave trade provided added ammunition to support their position.

To quiet the unrest among the powerful white planters, especially in Saint Domingue, the colonial committee of the National Assembly proposed in March 1790 to exempt the colonies from the constitution and to prosecute anyone who attempted to spark uprisings against the slave system. But the steadily increasing agitation threatened the efforts of the National Assembly to mollify the white planters and keep a lid on racial tensions. The March 1790 decree said nothing about the political rights of free blacks, who continued to press their demands both in Paris and back home, but to no avail. In October 1790, 350 mulattos rebelled in Saint Domingue. French army troops cooperated with local planter militias to disperse and arrest them. In February 1791 the mulatto leaders, including James Ogé, were publicly executed. Nevertheless, on 15 May 1791, under renewed pressure from the abbé Grégoire and others, the National Assembly granted political rights to all free blacks and mulattos who were born of free mothers and fathers. Though this proviso limited rights to a few hundred free blacks, the white colonists furiously pledged to resist the application of the law.
Just a few months later, on 22 August 1791, the slaves of Saint Domingue rose up in rebellion, initiating what was to become over the next several years the first successful slave revolt in history. In response, the National Assembly rescinded the rights of free blacks and mulattos on 24 September 1791, prompting them once again to take up arms against the whites. Slaves burned down plantations, murdered their white masters, and even attacked the towns. Fighting continued as the new Legislative Assembly (it replaced the National Assembly in October 1791) considered free black rights again at the end of March 1792. On 28 March, the assembly voted to reinstate the political rights of free blacks and mulattos. Nothing was done about slavery.
In the fall of 1792, as the Revolution in mainland France began to radicalize, the French government sent two agents to Saint Domingue to take charge of the suppression of the slave revolt. In order to gain their freedom, rebel slaves now made pacts with the British and Spanish in the area. The British and Spanish promised freedom to those slaves who would join their armies, even though they had no intention of abolishing slavery in their own colonies. They simply wanted to benefit from France's problems. Faced with the threat of both British and Spanish invasions aimed at taking over the colony with the aid of the rebel slaves, the French government agents abolished slavery in the colony (August–October 1793). Although the National Convention initially denounced this action as part of a conspiracy to aid Great Britain, the Convention eventually voted to abolish slavery in all the French colonies on 4 February 1794. Many mulattos opposed this move because they owned slaves themselves. After more than two years of rebellion, invasion, attack, and counterattack, the economy of Saint Domingue had nearly collapsed. Thousands of whites fled to the United States or back to France.
For all the deputies' good intentions, the situation remained confused in almost all the colonies: some local authorities simply disregarded the decree, others converted slavery into forced labor, others were too busy fighting the British and Spanish to decide one way or the other. Out of the fighting emerged one of the most remarkable figures of the era, Toussaint L'Ouverture, a slave who learned to read and write and in the uprising rose to become the leading general of the slave rebels. Toussaint faced incredible obstacles in creating a coherent resistance. By 1800 the plantations were producing only one-fifth of what they had in 1789. In the zones controlled by Toussaint, army officers or officials took over the big estates and kept the former slaves working under military-style discipline. In 1802, once he had consolidated his hold on power in mainland France, Napoleon Bonaparte reestablished slavery and the slave trade in those colonies still under French control and denied political rights to free blacks. He sent a major expeditionary force to Saint Domingue to enforce his will. It captured Toussaint and sent him back to France, where he died in prison. Nevertheless, the former slaves continued their revolt and in 1804 they established the independent republic of Haiti. The French army limped home after losing thousands to disease and sporadic fighting. A slave rebellion had succeeded.
Americans in the new United States followed the events in Saint Domingue with anxious interest. Since the southern states relied on thousands of slaves to work their plantations, a slave revolt in the world's richest plantation colony was bound to excite their concern. In addition, when white settlers began fleeing Saint Domingue, many of them came to the United States. Newspapers in the United States published letters offering eyewitness accounts (and rumors) about the uprising. The accounts in the Pennsylvania Gazette are excerpted here.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Slavery and the French Revolution

"Execrable Human Traffick, or The Affectionate Slaves"
by George Morland - 1789 (The Menil Collection - Houston, Texas)

"Why are Black people enslaved? The color of people's skin only suggests a slight difference. There is no discord between day and night, the sun and the moon and between the stars and dark sky. All is varied; it is the beauty of nature. Why destroy nature's work?"
Olympe de Gouges, Reflections on Black People, 1788

Even before 1789 critics had attacked the slave trade and slavery in the colonies. France had several colonies in the Caribbean, the most important of which was Saint Domingue (later called Haiti). There were 500,000 slaves there in 1789 and they provided the labor for sugar, coffee, and cotton plantations.
The behavior of slaves and the actions of slave owners in the colonies was regulated by a series of royal edicts, called the Code Noir, or slave code.
When the Revolution began in 1789 the free mulattos of Saint Domingue discussed the rights of free blacks.Vincent Ogé presented the views of his fellow mulatto property owners to a meeting of the white planters in 1789.Assembly of Colonists
Both groups sent their representatives to France to demand representation in the National Assembly. There were those in the National Assembly who believed in rights for blacks and worked for abolition of slavery. Some were members of the Society of the Friends of Blacks, a French abolition organization. However, there was not much support for aboliton among the revolutionaries. They also argued for full rights for free blacks - There were about 28,000 free blacks and mulattos in Haiti, many of whom owned slaves of their own. More radical revolutionaries continued to urge abolition. Olympe de Gouges, who also championed rights of women, wrote Reflections of Black People, a pamphlet urging improvement of the situations of slaves and free blacks.

15th Century

Significant dances

  • The ballo first appeared circa 1453 as danced by Italian courtiers. The ballo’s multi-rhythmic music could include the following forms: bassadanza, quadernaria, saltarello, and piva. The variations supported pantomimic dances (movement phrases highlighting dramatic storytelling). As the name “ballo” implies, it was a precursor to “ballet.”

Historical context

  • The Medicis rule Florence, which becomes the center of Renaissance Humanism.
  • Joan of Arc leads the French army to important victories over the English in the Hundred Years’ War, which ends in 1453.
  • Henry Tudor rules as the first in the Tudor dynasty in England.
  • Ferdinand and Isabella rule Spain; the Spanish Inquisition occurs.
  • Christopher Columbus, born in Genoa, discovers the American continent; Spanish colonists impose on American Indians.


  • Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the mechanical printing press, prints the Bible; the Vatican founds their library.


  • John Dunstable develops counterpoint: the art of combining several melodies.
  • The first printed music appears.

Visual artists:

  • Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Sandro Botticelli, and Albrecht Dürer produce early Renaissance and classical works.


  • Previously made from wood, metal printing plates are introduced to Europe.

Daily life:

  • In England, Edward IV passes an edict outlawing the “hustling of stones”—i.e., bowling—or other sports.

15th Century dance step

This is a partial list created for a 1995 workshop in Charlottesville, Virginia. This lists includes only those steps used for dance reconstructions used at that workshop (these will be published later on this web site). If you wish to know more about 15th century dance, you may refer to The Art of Courtly Dance in the Early Renaissance, by Dr. Ingrid Brainard.
Continenza (c)
A small step to the left (or right) side. Rising up on the toes, step sideways on the left foot only about the width of the foot. As the right foot is brought over to close with the left, lower the heels. One German source describes it as “treading the bellows.” There are usually two steps in one measure of music.
Double (D)
Three steps starting on the left (or right) foot. The first step is made bending the knee slightly, the second step is made rising up on the toes and the third step is made with the foot flat. Doubles can also be done entirely on the flat of the foot.
Mezavolta (mV)
A half turn in place, in one step. Turn can be over the right shoulder or the left.
Movimento (M)
A movement or gesture, the exact nature of which was not specified. Can be a movement of the foot or leg, the shoulders, or the arm.
Piva (P)
A quick double. Original descriptions are vague, but the following are possible: Starting on the left (or right) foot make three quick steps rising up on the toes on the third step.
Alternate Piva:
Starting on the left foot, take a step and on the second beat of the measure, rise up onto the toe while bringing right foot up slowly. Then step right and left with a flat foot.
Positura, posata (po)
A pose or posture, usually pausing in place.
Ripresa (r)
A step to the left (or right) side. Step sideways on the left foot, bending the knees slightly. As the right foot is brought over to close with the left, straighten the knees. One source describes it as “wave -like.” The step usually takes one measure of music.
Reverance (R)
Stepping back on the left (or right) foot, bend both knees until the knee of the rear foot touches the ground. Then stand up, straightening the knees. Keep the body upright.
Alternate Reverance — Men:
On the first beat, move the left foot slightly forward. On the second beat, move the left foot behind the right, bending the knees slightly. On the third beat, straighten the knees and start moving the body forward, coming up on the toes. On the fourth beat, close the feet together and lower the heels. All this can be done removing and replacing the hat.
Alternate Reverance — Ladies:
On the first beat, wait in place. On the second, bend the knees slightly. On the third, straighten the knees and rise up on the toes. On the fourth, lower the heels.
Saltarello (Sal)
A double with a hop. One version: starting on the left (or right) foot, step with a flat foot, on the second beat hop on that foot and on the third and fourth beats take two more steps on the flat of the foot. As the timing of the hop was not originally specified, it could occur anywhere in the sequence.
Single (S)
A single step on the left (or right) foot. Singles can end by bringing the other foot up to close the feet together, or pausing to keep the feet apart. In the Bassadanza, two singles occur in one measure, with a steps on the first and third beats of the measure.
Volta tonda, volta Gioso (Vt)
A full turn around in place. Do two singles, the first stepping across in front of the left foot with the right and the second with the left almost in place to turn most of the way around. Then do a ripresa on the right to finish the turn and to set you back where you began. The Volta tonda could also be entirely with single steps.

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