These letters appear in Anarchy Archives with the permission of John Clark who translated and edited (with Camille Martin) A Voyage to New Orleans (Thetford, VT: Glad Day Books, 2004).
A Voyage to New Orleans: Letters from Louisiana
Translated and Edited by John Clark and Camille Martin
"The countryside is uniform and without a horizon, like the sea."
To Elie Reclus. No date. Fortier Plantation, near New Orleans.
My good fellow,
I can't send you de quibus until April 8, and then ten pounds will still be all I can manage. You don't need to send me any clothes unless they've already been ordered, because in fact I have all the scandalous clothing that I need because of the heat, and in New Granada I won't be a "would-be-gentlemen" in French clothing, but I will be a gentleman in cotton. What's more, Cape didn't make me the frock coat he was supposed to.
Bring serious books; I won't tell you which ones, since you know what I like, and besides, we'll share our studies when we get together.
Pélissier says for whoever wants to hear it that you're an iron bar covered in silk.
As for me, I'd be bored if I were willing to admit it. The countryside is uniform and has no horizon, like the sea. I'm alone in a large house. I'm going to give lessons on the ABCs to children who have been studying them for four years without learning them, and I grab hold of every book available, including (listen and shudder) novels written by the author of Waverley.
As I write I have beside me two rattlesnakes, and although they are nicely huddled together in a box, I turn around every now and then to see if they're clumbing up my legs as in the case of the late Zinzendorf of bygone memory.
"...the Americans are completely sympathetic to the Cossaks; there's not a single democrat who forgets to mention the Tsar in his prayers."
To Elie Reclus. No date. Fortier Plantation. Care of Roman and Kenion, 2 New Levee, New Orleans.
I went out specifically to look for a letter in which you give me the details about the new friends you've just made—but nix. So don't fail to swallow all the information that was contained in your epistle and regurgitate it to me by way of the next mail delivery.
As for your ideas about your future in America, I advise you to remain temporarily in Massachusetts where you'll have more opportunities and be more appreciated. Bring along an abundance of letters and continue to try your hand at teaching until we have the means to establish our home. In Louisiana you face a problem that I wasn't expecting: English. Precisely because the official language is spoken so badly there, teachers are required to have the most impeccable pronounciation. In England, our English was admired, but it seems to me that people here are not very satisfied with mine.
But if you absolutely want to come to Louisiana, you'll very easily find a position. No more than a week ago a physician, M. de la Faye, a nice but slightly crazy Martinican (he was ruined by the liberation of his seven hundred slaves, but was still courageous enough to say "They did well to ruin me") sent me his daughter Blanche as a pupil. That would have brought me an extra thousand francs, but I would have bought these thousand francs too dearly, not counting the indelicacy there would have been giving lessons outside M. Fortier's household. If you come here, M. de la Faye will be your bosom pal and fervent admirer. There's also one of the largest colleges of Louisiana where I almost became a tutor in geology, chemistry, physics, etc. We'll have the advantage of being a few miles from one another if you take a position as a professional there, though the Director has the air of a wigmaker and I basically no more than a lout. I don't trust him. Two weeks ago a position opened up with M. Fortier's brother in law. If you had been there, you could have taken the position and would have devoured a salary of 4000 francs; but other similar opportunities can be found. Another thing—if you settle in Texas, the government gives you 200 acres of land, on the condition that you work it and make it productive for five years. Even if everything doesn't go so well at the outset, I can sustain you, considering the piastres that fall into the bowl.
My friend Fortier made a proposition the other day that shows his kindness and is something I hope I'll be able [to] take advantage of: "If you settle on the banks of the Amazon," he said, "I'll give you 125 piastres for my son Michel and 400 for my other children. With a capital of 3000, you can buy some land in an area that you think likely to become significant after the future colonization of the banks of the Amazon, and as is fair, half of the land will belong to you." What's more, I couldn't be doing better, I'm treated as politely as if I were a guest, and with as much affection as if I were a member of the family.
Try to get here before the end of the year, since from December to January I'll have a month of vacation that I hope to spend in the mountains of Mexico or elsewhere. And keep clearly in mind that you have to give the lie to all the pronouncements of the kinfolk, you you have to make a dime and manage to produce children who are something more than beggars.
Don't forget to write me again with the substance of the lost letter...As for the signs of the times, I want you to know that the Americans are completely sympathetic to the Cossacks; there's not a single democrat who forgets to mention the Tsar in his prayers.
"For the Irish and the Germans, last year's epidemic was reminiscent of the famous plagues of the Middle Ages..."
To his mother. No date. M. Fortier's, New Orleans.
I see from your last letter that you still harbor fears on my account because of the disease that ravages this land. At one time I would have given you a variety of reasons, and to my mind good ones, for not having any fears for me. But today I can completely lay all your fears to rest, since I have just passed through this disease as if I had passed through fire without being burned. Try heard not to feel any retrospective worry for me, for I really didn't suffer very much, and never had any fear of a fatal outcome. True, my convalescence lasted for some time, and was accompanied by a succession of headaches, rapid heartbeat other symptoms. However, I've already been perfectly well for two weeks, and now the "brilliant" north wind strengthens my muscles and boosts my energy like a gymnastic workout. So, dear mother, you should do absolutely nothing but rejoice about my sickness, since as result I will never have a relapse of yellow fever, and I can go to New Orleans, to Vera Cruz, and from Vera Cruz to Rio, and remain at the very source of the infectious disease without running the slightest risk.
I thought that I might well escape this epidemic, since up to last year yellow fever had never appeared in the countryside. Everyone thought that this year would follow the rule, but that was not to be the case. However, the fever jumped over entire parishes without a single victim, while it struck certain isolated plantations with tragic results. I was the last to become ill, and two or three days after my convalescence we had the first hoarfrost, which destroyed once and for all every feverish miasma. I don't need to tell you that I was cared for with the utmost affection. The doctor—who is, besides, the best friend I have in Louisiana—stayed for three nights in the bedroom next to mine and M. Fortier invented needs for me just to have the pleasure of taking care of them.
I feel like a complete egoist to speak at such length of a fever that that caused me so little suffering. It's only for you that I would allow myself to go into these details, because if I were there in Orthez, I know that you'd ask me for them. But once more, please don't imagine that I suffered the slightest bit. I never doubted for a single instant that I'd recover. Besides, the illness is seldom dangerous for Frenchmen. For the Irish and the Germans, last year's epidemic was reminiscent of famous plagues of the Middle Ages, but only one Frenchmen in twenty was stricken.
Your letter gave me great pleasure. I'm happy to hear that Onésime, about whom it was impossible to have any new for three years, completed his studies brilliantly. It seems that at the moment he's rather undecided, and doesn't know which way to turn. Butt whether he studies medecine, agriculture, or mechanics, I can only rejoice, for in any case, he can become a useful person. As for me, all my sympathies incline me toward agriculture, but I'm not egoistic enough hto want to lead my brothers along the path I have chosen. When I was in Ireland I thought that I had become a laborer for good, but when I was set straight on this and decided that I ought to leave Europe, I had to take care of the most urgent matters, and for that reason became a teacher again. But I nevertheless continue my studies in agriculture and when my pupil, Michel Fortier, goes to college and when my other students become little grils who are too big for the to remain here, I'll be proud and happy to become what my grandfather once was. According to your letter, it seems that Uncle Reclus was somewhat revolted to learn that I had been a porter. As for me, it's one of the most pleasant memories of my adventurous life. Please don't imagine that my decision to roll barrels of pork caused me the slightest suffering. Far from it. Very simply, when my last piaster was spent I had to earn one each day as a laborer. I didn't have enough false pride to think myself obliged to suffer from hunger. If I had been stronger I would have continued in that trade longer, though I'll admit that sometimes the bags of salt strained my back.
"In the Creole milieu, the spririt of family is so strong that one endures contact only with regret."
I was touched to the bottom of my soul by your solicitude. Before I took ill, you already had great anxieties about my health, and now that I've recovered, you fear that there will be detrimental consequences. I can reassure you, dear Mother, by telling you that I enjoy remarkably good health. Thanks to my poor memory, I've already forgotten my few days of illness. Also I hope that you'd want to allow me at my age to decide whether or not to wear a flannel sweater. Think about it, dear Mother, I'm twenty-five years old and every morning I practice hydrotherapy, bathing my entire body. So I hope that I will be permitted, dear Mother, to get along very well without having flannel on my skin. Besides, if I wore a flannel, I'd feel so old that without a doubt I'd soon get rheumatism.
Permit me to tell you that you are badly mistaken in thinking that I've found in this household a father and mother. I've certainly misled you completely if my expression of the gratitude that I owe them for the care that they lavished upon me during my illness led you to believe that my relations with them are those of a son to a parent. No, truly, and I don't even know if I have the right to say that I've found a friend in this family. Although I may have been here for over a year, I have never ceased to be treated as a outsider whom one respects and of whom one is even a bit fond, but from whom one keeps a certain distance because one still doesn't know him and doesn't wish to know him. Friendship isn't possible where there is no confidence, and between us, there have never been any confidences, but at most a few little indiscrete remarks. With these gentlemen I'm on a perfectly even footing, and M. Septime, at whose place I stay, is a good friend who laughs, makes jokes and tells little stories, but at the table he always treats me as ceremoniously as if I were a guest. With the other gentlemen I'm still at the stage of deep hats' off, official shaking of hands, and the sacramental "I hope that you are doing well." If I stayed here for twenty years, it would be the same, for I'm an outsider. In the Creole milieu, the spirit of family is so strong that one endures contact with outsiders only with regret. If one is obliged to allow them into ones home, they are accepted as a necessary evil, and the ceremonious politeness they are accorded demonstrates on a daily basis that they must be careful not to think themselves at home. Ah! Dear Mother, how mistaken you are in thinking that I could find a mother here (even if I had sought one); I can hardly be considered to even know Mme. Fortier, with whom I talk seriously and politely during two hours in the evening. When she goes to her house in town and I have a few days off, I don't think I even have the right to visit her, according to convention. Don't think that I would wish to speak ill of persons whom I sincerely like and who themselves like me to the degree that they think it is appropriate to do so. I just wanted to explain the nature of the relationship between us.
So you see that I'm a bit alone, with the exception of two hours in the evening, I'm perfectly solitary and speak to no living soul. My only friendsa re on the table, they are my books. When I've finished reading and scribbling I go walking along the Mississippi and silently look at the quiet waters that will lose themselves in the current of the Gulf, and, after their long voyage across the Atlantic, will perhaps break on the rocks of Biarritz. I follow them in my thoughts and visit you in my imagination.
Since you're waiting for it, I'll send you my picture the first chance I have, but I haven't changed.
May you all be happy.
"It seems to me absolutely impossible that we should not know how to get along in America, where the land summons the farmer and the labor summons the worker."
To his mother. M. and Mme. Fortier's, New Orleans, June 28, 1855.
I received your letter this morning and I'm replying to it just to give you a sign of life, for your pain seems to me too profound and deep-rooted for a remembrance of me to be able to help heal it. Nevertheless, God knows how happy I would be if I could console you a little. Many things have happened that have bitterly grieved your soul and you seem to fear everything in the future. I don't want to go over the past, for fear of expressing an opinion or writing a word that wounds you, and besides, what's the use of returning to what no longer is, and which neither force nor rage can ever give us back? I prefer, if you can trust my words a bit, to try to reassure you concerning the future.
I don't know whether my brother has a definite intention to come to America. But if he comes, it would be illusory for you to fear that he nd his family might go hungry. Here one doesn't need talent or even courage in order to live comfortably. All that is needed is a little good will, and surely nobody could deny that my brother is a man with energy and talen. I recall that we were able to survive and would even have been able to live comfortably if we hadn't had so many friends, in an overpopulated England, where thousands of schoolmasters and schoolmistresses fight fiercely over a crust of stale bread, so it seems to me absolutely impossible that we shouldn't know how to get along in America, where the land summons the farmer and the labor summons the worker. As for me, if my beliefs didn't incline me to consider wealth a veritable crime, and if I were shameless enough to accept the suffering of those that I know to be in misfortune, I would devote myself to becoming rich in the space of a few years. Fortunately, it's more to my taste to live in poverty, and I know that on this subject Elie thinks as I do. In my opinion, my brother is very lucky not to have what is called a post in France. There's no position there without more or less tyrannical authority, and it's beyond a doubt that my brother's beliefs would put him in a bad light in the eyes of all those great men adorned with sashes and titles. He would accept a position only to lose it. And what could he do then in a land that's so crowded that you can hardly turn around without stepping on your neighbor's toes? As for me, rather than worshipping the golden calf in France, I'd prefer a hundred times more living in some valley in Santo Domingo, having only a loincloth to wear and bananas to eat. As for his becoming a minister, only a Jesuit could recommend this alternative to my brother. If I'm not mistaken, this Jesuit has turned up.
Believe me, dear Mother, this little colony that we're going to establish will be charming and my brother's family will find happiness there.So, when you see that your fears aren't realized, all that's left is to forget the past that has caused you to suffer.
...I'm sending you my picture. If it doesn't get there, I'll send another one. Also, ask M.P. if he received a barrel of sweet potatoes I sent him, because M. Fortier offered to send a second one if the first didn't reach its destination.
I'm in good health, but there are always some minor illnesses in M. Fortier's family. First one complains, then another.
Goodbye, dear Mother.
"What you say about the Yankee vomito has remarkable accuracy. In this vomito, one doesn't vomit his entrails, he vomits his spirit, his heart, he vomits himself."
To Elie Reclus. March, 1855. M. Fortier's, New Orleans.
Greatest of brothers,
My leter is not at all pecunious and I have already given you the reasons. I'm even to a certain point in debt, since I haven't yet been paid the 7 pounds that Darrigrand lent to Mannering. So if you leave Liverpool (April 5?) to try to go to New York, given the few sous you will have saved or borrowed here and there. When you arrive in Boston or New York, write me, either by telegraph or otherwise, and I'll come to your rescue with a broadside of piastres. If I'm supposed to send you some pecunious substance before April 5, I won't really have the time, since to do so I would have to travel to New Orleans, and I can't leave whenever I want. Kefa! kefa? ....but here's what I'm going to do in a month, that is, around April 15. I'll send 10 or 12 pounds, which is all I'll be able to spare then, either to help you run off to America if you haven't left yet, or to reimburse the decent gentleman who will have advanced you this amount. The letter will be addressed to Lady F., and you should explain to her the meaning of this letter if you leave before it arrives.
Darrigrand is supposed to be dying from a chest ailment. He's going to leave for Europe.
I received a mamaternal letter. Summary: O my son, son of my heart, put on your flannel sweater. Otherwise, she's very goodhearted: for fear of injuring me and reawakening bad feelings between us, she carefully avoids speaking about the Bible, conversion, grace from above and other pious topics, and I was certainly touched by this motherly delicacy, which meant at the same time forsaking the cause of the Almighty.
I'm not of the opinion that we should go immediately to Mexico. There are the passports, the police, the gendarmes, the [illegible], and the Santa Ana, another Napoleon III, elected by the will of the people.
Popocatepetl and Orizaba and Perote and the Plateau of Anahuac and the mines of Xihuatitlan and the magueys and the thieves, all of that would without a doubt be quite interesting to see, but in New Granada we'll find a world of nature that is every bit as beautiful as that in Mexico and much further beyond our expectations. It's the country that holds the future if South America, since it's the place where all the forces come together, build up and flow at the same time into two seas, etc. What can you say of the plateau of Ambato, where the seasons are superimposed more than anywhere else, and where a single glance can take in the blue depths of the Pacific and the torrents that descend toward the Amazon...There are no passports or gendarmes, but there are, if I'm not mistaken, nice people who aren't at all Yankee. Another conclusive reason: from New Orleans to Vera Cruz, 25 piastres; from New Orleans to Chagres, 25 piastres; from Chagres to Darien, let's assume nothing to avoid misunderstanding. From Darien to Bogota, pedibus, joy, corn crabs, baying at the moon, the Pantagruelesque pleasures. Mexico will come later on. What do you say?
Mannering still hasn't found anything. He doesn't want an easy job, so consequently he's going to find nothing at all. He's pursuing his education, something that is indeed taking quite a bit of time.
What you say about about the Yankee vomito has remarkable accuracy. In this vomito, one doesn't vomit his entrails, he vomits his spirit, his heart, he vomits himself. There's nothing left for you but a flabby thing, like the empty goatskins that were filled in days of yore with Val de Penas.
So, brother of my soul.
"...the United States [is] a great auction house in which everything is for sale, the slaves and the owner into the bargain, votes and honor, the Bible and consciences. Everything goes to the highest bidder."
To Elie Reclus. No date. From the Fortier brothers' plantation, near New Orleans.
I'm sending you 24 pounds, but I needed almost two weeks of negotiations to get the draft. Try to do what you can with the 24 pounds: pay a debt, a few sous for the kids, I don't know what. I can't send anything directly to the house, so if there's a need to do so, it's your responsibility, de facto and de jure. My advice is for you to send them something if possible, then, after two or three months, I'll send them a stuffed crocodile and some other crazy things like this, which will give mama as much pleasure as a hundred crowns...
You judge the United States well, but not harshly enough. It's a great auction house in which everything is for sale, the slaves and the owner into the bargain, votes and honor, the Bible and consciences. Everything goes to the highest bidder. But since the mind needs some kind of nourishment, they feed it with baloney, and all of a sudden their minds are much more enriched than those of those poor ignoramuses who think that learning produces knowledge, whereas it's actually enough just to know the name of something in order to rant on about it. Often I've been stupefied by an America that is so highly respected abroad (outside), but is so far from respectable within, and have asked myself how it shows the progress that each people must necessarily achieve in its evolution. The truth of the matter is that it all comes down to development in space, achieved by the continual migration from the Atlantic to the Pacific, to progress in time, since Americans enter working life at the end of childhood, and to progress in the vegetative life of man, since everyone has a little bread to eat. But this great progress is almost completely independent of their will, and is imposed by a series of new relations between man and the Earth and between one race and another. These new relations have posed for humanity new questions that must be answered, willingly or unwillingly. Fortunately, every problem contains within itself its own solution, and the Americans will certainly not be to blame if a mixing of the races takes place and the Negro, Indian and white end by resembling one another both physically and morally, blending into a single nation. IT would be interesting to investigate the extent to which the southern Negro has become Creole and the northern Negro has become Yankee, to determine the degree to which the planter has adopted the habits and the character of the Negroes, from whom he has already borrowed language, how many steps Negroes and Yankees have taken along the path to that coppery shade that is the model American countenance. Here's an interesting subject for study that we can pursue when we get together.
However, the Americans have achieved a great deal of progress for humanity that I've reflected on only very briefly. In the present era of social reconstruction, human nature must be explored all the way down to the dregs, which is what the Americans undertake with particular pleasure in regard to certain vices. They explore lying and impudence with indomitable energy, and move mountains by the force of prevarication, for in these days of wavering faith, it's up to hypocrisy to work miracles. It's incredible just to listen to them. All Yankees are apostles of civilization. An angel of peace is contained in each ball of cotton. A sweet Gospel verse is engraved on each blade of bowie-knife. The "goddam" that they always have on the tip of their tongues becomes the "shibboleth" of the nations. Society, independence, civilization and freedom are nothing but words, but after all, words have a certain value. The child, when left to himself—as you have pointed out to me—begins with the most real and most philosophical ideas. He first draws the trunk, then the branches, and then the other leaves. But the man who teaches the child begins at the other extreme. He focuses on the form, on the external appearance and goes from the outside to the inside. He teaches names and forgets only the things themselves, whereas nature teaches the things and forgets only the names. Thus the two forms of education complete and pervade one another. The educations of Americans resembles the kind that our pedants give us, they know the names of things; they speak of the bare facts to the whole world, and later, we give an explanation of those facts. To make use of an Anglo-Saxon comparison, they place the glasses on the table waiting for us to come fill them...Eh!
A fact that will no doubt interest you is that they sympathies of the American people are completely with Russia, everyone is crazy about Nicholas; the ministers of the Holy Gospel pray for him, women sigh at the thought of him, the bold go to serve in his army.
How wonderful are the signs of the times!
Greetings, o man. Tell Herzen he's a good fellow.
"I saw a certain newspaper defending the sacred Ark of slavery because it's a necessary evil, because the temperature reaches 100 degrees in the summer, and because only the Negroes know how to cut sugarcane."
To Elie Reclus. No date. New Orleans.
In case the first bank draft was lost, here's the second one to replace it. If this one also gets lost I have a third at your service. At least by the beginning of October I hope to have another of the same amount to send to you. And what the hell, you'll end up saying good-bye to the...hassles over there and coming to get a taste of those over here, which will at least have the advantage of novelty. Kidnap the girl from the national guard quickly, for after all, you don't have to stick to formalities with the uncle of a porter, say a quick good-bye to poverty, to hunger, to the filthy jackets with holes, come here and find a change of scenery, new experiences, and new revelations. A change of place produces a really magical change in the interior decoration --- all the dead ideas that I burned on a slow fire within myself in Berlin and London, each object reminds me of them. D. was a Saint Paul and X, my good people, was none other than Jesus Christ; but since I've seen the golden waves of the tropics, since I've seen hummingbirds fly among the lataniers, I've made a bundle of all the rags of the old man and thrown them in the Mississippi. The Gulf Stream will carry them to the coast of England and you can fish them out if you need a change of rags. You'll experience the same thing: when you stroll through the Liverpool fog among the casks of palm oil and barrels of wheat waiting for departure of some John Howell, you'll stop being a Christian and stop "crushing the infamy," because it will have disappeared. Also, it may be that the American climate is anti-mystical and accounts largely for the general atheism of all the Yankees, from the Bostonians to the Creoles. Moreover, it's here that the most interesting ethnographic question of the century is posed: that of the fusion of the races. In France, it's the fusion of classes and principles; here it's fusion at gunpoint; in France they dream of a brotherhood of souls; here, the brotherhood of colors moves forward almost entirely by the brute force of gravity. But be that as it may, there's a perfect parallel between the two continents. Here the facts are so clear and so numerous that no one can mistake them; everyone knows that the slaves will fade away behind the gods, the kings, the executioners, the scholars, the men, the women, and everything else out of the past.
To begin with, the slave owners defend themselves; therefore they are defeated, since the essence of authority is that it must be unquestionable; it exists, because it exists. As soon as it gives a justification, even that of might makes right, it commits suicide. God struck himself down when he had the unfortunate idea of appearing on Mount Sinai, surrounded by thunder and lightning. I saw a master deny his slave the right to have a will of his own and in that way revealed to the latter the rights of the human person. I saw a certain newspaper defending the sacred Ark of slavery because it's a necessary evil, because the temperature reaches 100 degrees in the summer and because Negroes are the only ones who know how to cut sugarcane. What a beautiful sight to seee this fierce war in the press, in discussions, in conversations of every moment of the day and night, against the elusive phantom of human liberty. There's not a single Negro or white person who protests vocally on behalf of the rights of man; in all of the South not a word, not a line that asserts that man is the brother of man; and yet, in every newspaper, every planter, every woman rages against the silence, foams and howls at this nothing, at this gust that comes from who knows where, which no one produced but which threatens to sweep away the entire past. As for the sophisms they use, I'll refrain from repeating them; you only have to recall the pamphlets from the Rue de Poitiers to imagine the idiocies of the newspapers of Camp Street.
For those who understand the future, the question lies as Gaubert says, in the when, the how and the how much. Here are some facts regarding the solution to this problem that might interest you.
First, the proportion of Negroes and whites changes constantly in favor of the latter. The foolish are fearful that the blacks will free themselves where they outnumber the whites, whereas there's only hope for them where they are in the minority. When they are many, they have the mentality of a herd, rather than that of man; when they are alone, they look their adversary straight in the eye and size him up. Besides, all the whites who immigrate to the country compete with the blacks for menial jobs, and behind the Irish workers comes the powerful rear guard of machinery.
Slavery leaves the city to take refuge in the countryside, since the masters and slaves are driven out by the competition of free workers, and have no choice but to flee.
A landed aristocracy develops, fortunes are concentrated in a few hands, and soon nine-tenths of the slaves belong to the great lords of cotton, sugar and capital. The Canadians, who form the white proletariat, are gradually forced off their small farms. They sell their slaves one by one and daily become increasingly opposed to the interests of their dispossessors. The slaves, n changing their domicile, create an irreconcilable antagonism between the multitude of the poor and the few masters. Day by day, slaves become more and more a luxury.
The slave ceases to be immovable property and becomes movable property, as soon as roads and railroads have begun to be built. Movement is itself liberty...etc. Besides, slavery no longer really exists. It's no longer the slavery of antiquity...but that's for another time.
And how about Gaufrès and Hickel and everyone? Speak.
I shake your hand.
"If you only knew how far I am from all science, from all literature!"
To Elie Reclus. July 22, 1855. [New Orleans.]
I'm in New Orleans for four or five hours. I've come to come, and to take care of business for l'Homme. I know a baker, a decent fellow who sold me bread during my first month of poverty. He's a socialist and a republican inside and out. I asked him to find subscribers, and as is fitting I told him I'd take out a subscription for him. So without waiting a single day, if possible, subscribe with your own money to l'Homme for Londés, 159 Dauphine St., New Orleans. He's already gotten another subscriptions, and he'll take responsibility himself for sending it to you. So be prepared to pay the postage for the services of the social and democratic Republic. On the other hand, I don't know the fate of the first two mailings, one of two, and the other 6 books. So don't forget to tell me if you received the two bank drafts and another 24 pounds, since if you didn't get them, I could still perhaps get them to you. In any case, I hope to be able two months from now to send you a thousand francs,
Holy name of a dog! how far the journal l'Homme is from living up to its title? And when are we going to have the universal upheaval?
And Hickel? And all five hundred devils? So write me! And a bit more often than you do! If only you knew how far I am from all science, from all literature! Each of your letters gives me a whiff of that strange world in which one thinks, where life isn't completely like being a wooden horse on a merry-go-round, spending its whole life going around the same post.
Here the spirit of class is still inferior to that of caste."
To Elie Reclus. No date, 1855. Fortier Plantation, new New Orleans.
What are you up to, my good fellow? For long months I've heard absolutely nothing about you. The last letter I got from you left you in Paris with our friend Hickel, doing photography and mysticism. Since then, a phrase in a letter from mother led me to believe that you had returned to England, but this assumption isn't enough for me. Where are you? In Paris, Berlin, Geneva, New York, I know absolutely nothing about it, and to the extent I'm uncertain about you and Noémi, I'll also be uncertain about myself. Since I know nothing about what you're doing, I don't know what I myself should do. So write, not one letter, since the American post office specializes in losing letters, but two, three, four, enough so I'll finally find out what hole you've fallen into.
My lifestyle is still more or less the same. Papa Fortier asked me to stay with the family for another year under more or less the same conditions as in the past, and I accepted only on the condition that one fine day I might decide to take off for Mexico or New Granada. I have an understanding with M. Fortier that if you come I can leave whenever I want to. Besides, fro the family members I'm still an outsider they admire, even like a bit, but I'm far from being a friend, I'm treated with the greatest politeness, but without any true feeling of warmth. They think I'm a bit crazy, or as they put it politely, monomaniacal. As for the children, they like me very much, but it isn't very hard for me to understand why the parents find this affection inappropriate, especially in the case of the oldest of my pupils, a wide-eyed young woman entering her fourteenth year. All that they ask of me is to be a walking dictionary in the classroom and a good fellow at the dinner table; unfortunately, I'm something more than that. All that deosn't change the fact that they will be somewhat upset if I leave, since it will be rather difficult to replace me. Voil´...voil´. What's more, to give you an insight into the character of the Creoles, it's enough to tell you that la Faye, the good man who saved me from the laws of death, has been in this country for six years without making a single firend, even though he's warm, devoted, bold, learned, and eccentric, and you know that eccentricity makes at least as many friends as enemies; nevertheless, since the good la Faye belongs to no Creole tribe, it's as hard for him to find a friend as it would be for Chedorlaomer to become the intimate friend of Father Abraham. Here in the spirit of class is still subordinate to that of caste. Write so I can know which way to turn.
As for Mannering, he's a bit stupid. He wants with all his might to have a genteel occupation, but has little chance of finding one and doesn't know the first thing about the science of begging. So, while waiting for a job, he spends his time sleeping, chewing tobaccos, and staying bored, but you can't be bored free of charge in New Orleans. That explains why I don't have any money.
I'll be seeing you, in a few...months? Years?
Your good fellow Elisée
To Elie Reclus. No date. Countryside near New Orleans.
It's fine if you want to do it, but it's also fine if you want to do something else. As for me, I'm very determined, and unless I'm struck by lightning, I'll set out from here in the month of March for Santa Fe. In just a few days, I'll make the rounds of all the hotels and bordellos of New Orleans to find a professor who will agree to put on the iron collar and devour piastres in my place. I have my reasons for leaving. These reasons are crazy, that goes without saying, and it's precisely for that reason that I like them, for they are truly mine, and I didn't absorb them from "Poor Richard's Science." First, I'm tired of eating and drinking, of sleeping in a bed, tapping on a full coin purse, indeed, even checking the time on an authentic pocket watch (proh pudor!). I need to starve a little, sleep on pebbles, and sell my watch ( souvenir of eternal friendship)for a piece of howler monkey. Surely all of this will suit me better than robbing Negroes who have truly earned by their sweat and the blood the money put in my pocket. Since one thing leads to another, it is in fact I who hold the whip, and that doesn't please me at all.
But I have another reason...
It's virtue and morality, but above all the horror that I feel for slavery, the Church and the Creole chivalry that all compel me to clear out as soon as possible.
"What will you do there?" you still ask, dear, wise, Noemi? May the God that Voltaire invented in bygone days save me from knowing! I'm going straight ahead and I'll stop when I've sold my last button. I consider the lack of picaillons or maravedis as a clear manifestation of a celestial predilection for the place in which I find myself, and it is there that I once more seek to ravish poverty so that she might give birth to a piece of bread, a little straw, and a coat or two. I'll either become a Shepard or a dog groom, or a house painter, or a professor of obstetrics, or I might even paint my face balck and get a bit of a taste of the status of a Negro. All is fine for me, provided I can walk. But as soon as you say to me, dear sister, "I'm coming," then I'll stop in some charming valley, at the food of the haughty Andes, on the banks of a river than runs roaring down to the Amazon; I will claim New Grenada my ten hectares, and there I will build my charming cabin. Come, it will be delicious; later after three or four years in paradise have worn you out, it will be time to return to the old world.
However, if you're not coming out immediately (Which would not please God!), I certainly have a few poor excuses for projects that I might be able to carry out with a bit of luck. You know, or maybe you don't know, that for a long time I've been pregnant with geographical Mistouflet that I want to bring into the world in the form of a book. I've already scribbled enough; but that's not enough for me, I also want to see the Andes so I can cast a bit of my ink on their immaculate snow. For this I'm buying myself a mule, a mule for which I'm already searching vainly for a magnificent name, I load on it a crate full of thread, needles, pins, and I go from mountain to mountain and town to town selling them to grateful people. There you can buy fifty pounds of bananas for three needles; let's add generously seven needles for fifty pounds of manioc and I'm living incompletely Sardanapalesque abundance for one needle per day. Isn't it true, Noemi, that all these plans are quite sensible?
As for our friend Mannering, our poor friend is dead, miserably dead from yellow fever. He called for me by telegraph during his illness, but the dispatch took two weeks to go forty leagues. Poor Johnny's life was a failure. What killed him psychologically was first of all being a food fellow without learning how to tailor his own life with large strokes of the sword; what killed him physically was eating too much beefsteak. To slow down the blood and breathing, it's best, especially here, to live solely on fruits and vegetables, but he pounced greedily on the flesh of the American dinner table; so when death got hold of him, it burned him up like a match. When I learned of his death, I cried, "Mannering, come here, holy thunder!" But this invocation had no effect, I didn't see the slightest ghost; if there are any spirits, you have to ay that they are quite discrete! On the topic of American ideas, here are two good ones: Fulton gave Harris, the high priest of spiritualism, the plan for the male machine and a female machine that surrender themselves to transports of love at full steam and produce delicious little machinettes that grow nad think and develop to the age when they can mate. And that's not all: Napoleon, Tuscaloosa, Jesus Christ, Socrates, and Touissant Louverture sold shares to start a newspaper in qhich they extol the wonders to Elysium a bit, but above all the rubber of Goodyear, the show polish of Bell and the syringes of Thomisson. Napoleon has been given the responsibility for the publicity. The English say: "Time is money." These people say, "Humbug is money."
The Paya bookstore will take responsibility for the journal, I'll talk to them.
As for subscriptions, I'll send you two or three, if in fact I can find the,/
Soon I'll be sending you an article on the Mississippi. You'll have to wait a while longer before I send you an article on slavery.
I'll send you some sous in two weeks. To do that, I'll have to go to town.
Write me often. Your letters revitalize me. Remember that I'm leaving at the end of March and your letters often take over a month to get here. Address your letters to Roman and Kenion, etc.
Be and Live,
To his mother. Nov. 13, 1855.
Without letters, I feel as if I'm quite truly in another world; but a single one of your good, sweet words is enough to enable me to forget the long months of waiting; it does me good to hear myself called from time to time "my son," since without friends I've found it necessary to create a little world of my own, made up of books, maps, thoughts and memories. Your letters do me good: they carry me to your side, where I've left the better part of myself, my affection. Write me, sometimes, dear Mother, to fill up my solitude.
In any case, if you want to make sure that your letter gets to me, try to respond at the latest around the end of January; since it's very likely that I'll be leaving the Fortier family. These gentlemen have already known for a long time of my intention to leave at the end of the second year of my stay with them. I think that they would be very glad to see me remain, but it certainly won't be difficult for them to find a professor who is better versed in the rules about participles than I am and more enthusiastic about the beauties of Noel and Chaspal. My body feels weakened and debilitated beneath this heavy, humid atmosphere, and I need to regain my vigor and agility in a land of mountains and torrents. I need to walk, to see new lands, and above all to survey the Cordilleras, which I've dreamed of since childhood, and which are now so close on the other side of the Gulf of Mexico. As long as I have no family and haven't bought a patch of land to root myself in the soil, I think that this desire to wander and to see things will give me no rest. Besdies to see the earth is for me to study it; the only truly serious study I that would undertake is geography, and I think that it's a lot better to observe nature in her own abode than from deep in your study. No description, however beautiful as it may be, can be truthful, because it can't reproduce the life of the landscape, the rush of the water, the shimmering of the leaves, the song of the birds, the scent of the flowers, the changing forms of the clouds; to know them, you must see them. I've read many lines about the sea in the tropics, but never understood them until I saw with my own eyes the green isles, the trails of seaweed, the long processions of pink nautiluses and the great sheets of luminous light. So that's why I want to see the volcanoes of South America. Dear mother, who knows? Maybe before long I'll return and tell you about it.
Don't be afraid that I'll end up in poverty, for any such fear would be completely groundless. I'll know how to work in the South just as I knew how to work in the North, and I have very few artificial needs to satisfy. A vegetarian like I am can make a delicious meal of manioc and bananas, and in this way live on three sous a day. There are in fact certain parts of the upper Amazon where you can buy fifty pounds of bananas for three needles. Also, even if you're lazy, it's impossible to be poor there. All the same, I'll be tempted to throw myself into some kind of venture in agriculture or commerce. I think that nowhere could I succeed as easily as there. Perhaps I'll try to settle permanently on one of the Granadan or Peruvian tributaries, and maybe I'll have the good fortune to draw around me a few peasants from the old world who would be condemned to poverty there for the rest of their lives, but in South America, it's almost impossible not to live comfortably. Already the immigration seems to be shifting from the United States toward South America, and under the influence of this flood of foreigners, the Spanish republics advance before your eyes in civilization, commerce and industry. They have no reason to fear overpopulation, as the Know-Nothings in the United States purport to fear for their country, for the valley of the Amazon is rich and vast enough to support in abundance and luxury the twelve hundred million people on earth.
No doubt my uncle long ago received the letter in which I speak of my voyages on the Mississippi and my visit to Chicago and Lake Mighigan. I was quite pleased with the trip. This Mississippi, which fourteen hundred miles above its mouth is still just as wide and deep as where it empties into the sea, and which eats away entire islands in the space of a few months, and swallows up several hundred trees all at once with a thundering sound, can only leave in one's mind a profound impression of power and sublimity.
Goodbye, my dear Mother. Kiss my brothers and sisters for me. I send kisses to my father and I'm very grateful to hear that he's in good health...My successor with the Fortiers is a charming young lady from New England.