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Lot 94: Hugo, Victor. Important collection of eight autograph letters, in French, to Victor Schoelcher.Platinum House
July 11, 2014
Calabasas, CA, USALive Auction
94. Hugo, Victor. Important collection of eight autograph letters, in French, to Victor Schoelcher, a crusading republican leader living in exile in London following his resistance to Louis-Napoléon. Schoelcher fought with Hugo against Louis-Napoléon in the coup d’etat of December 1851, for which action he was declared a criminal and outlawed. His Histoire des crimes du Deux-Décember, published in 1853, is his chronicle of the affair. The collection includes:
Autograph letter unsigned, 4 pages small octavo, Marine Terrace, [St. Helier], 14 June , to Victor Schoelcher.
In translation, Hugo writes in full: Once again, I am writing on paper of the size of Napoleon le Petit Forgive me for that; I will go straight to the point. I am taking advantage of Front’s going to London to enclose a few lines I wrote, since you are kind enough to look for my writing. These lines are from Les Burgraves; I wrote them ten years ago but they can apply to the current situation as a whole. They deal with Germany in the 13th century but the suffering of peoples is nothing new! I am enclosing also my portrait for our brave friend Dulac. The next time you shake his hand, put something from me into your gesture. Not only what you want from me for your book is quite possible, but it is done already. It was done when wrote to me. I had anticipated your thought. I had found a way to quote in a line the nickname ‘President Obus’ [“the Bomb President”, Napoleon III], while mentioning, of course, that it had been given to the man by you. Naturally, a note will be attached to this line, announcing your book -- your two books. I had not told you about it because I wanted to give you this little surprise when you read the book. The photograph I am sending to you shows a beautiful expression, but again it gives rise to the very judicious observation you have made. Besides, the blurriness is not without a certain charm. But these days, Charles [Hugo’s son, who was an amateur photographer] is making great progress and one of these days we will send you pictures that will be quite sharp! You tell me that you would like to continue working on the Vitazelly matter. I would be very grateful to you for it, because I am afraid Jeffs might aggravate it somewhat if he is left to his own devices. Besides, I really need money. The 1,500 francs I had to give the printer has made a big hole in my funds. And perhaps you know what happened to me with Landolphe? Naturally, I quite agree with you about the manifesto... I am waiting for what you will send me. Front will bring you some copies of the speech on Jean Bousquet. There is a great fuss about this speech, and it is good. Everyone at the table -- which does not turn - loves you. As for me, I am yours, cordially, with all my heart.
Les Burgraves Hugo’s last play to be performed, debuted in 1843 and closed after only a few performances. It was an epic poetic drama taking place in the eerie Rhine valley, amid the vine-covered ruins which were the headquarters of the hereditary rulers of the area, the Burgraves. The hero of the play is a 90-year old retired burgrave and the drama focuses on his long war against the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Les Burgraves was not a critical or popular success, but it remained close to Hugo’s heart, and he felt that the public had not appreciated his work; it was especially galling when a rival playwright’s work premiered simultaneously and enjoyed a long and lucrative run. Later in life the poet dictated his thoughts: “M. Hugo no longer cared to expose his thoughts to easy gibes and anonymous hisses; moreover he had less need of the theater now, as he was soon to speak from the tribune.”
Hugo wrote a widely admired and widely-published funeral oration in honor of the exile Jean Bousquet. During his residence on Jersey, the exiles used the funerals of their colleagues as a means of political expression. Hugo’s final comment, about the table not turning, is a reference to his family’s dabbling in spiritualism, specifically their attempts to hold conversations with the dead, including their recently dead daughter Leopoldine and figures from history including Moliere, Shakespeare, Marat, Charlotte Corday and Jesus Christ. Seances proved to be one of the principal diversions during the long evenings of their Jersey exile.
Autograph letter unsigned, 3 pages small octavo, Marine Terrace, [St. Helier], 30 June . To Victor Schoelcher.
Hugo writes in full: You must have been waiting for my answer. I do not understand. You should have received a letter from me, handed to you personally, ten to twelve days ago. I had answered yours right away, about what you were kind enough to ask of me about your excellent and generous book . I had told you that it had been done before you even asked. I have found another way to use the name “President Obus” [“the Bomb President,” Napoleon Ill], which you once gave to this man , in a line of the poem and it will be quite easy to attach a footnote to this line. I had not mentioned this before because I wanted you to discover it when you read the book. In the same letter I sent ten days ago, I had enclosed the autograph you wanted along with the portrait for our brave friend Dulac. Along with these documents, I had also sent you a copy of the speech I delivered on April 23, at the St Jean graveyard, and I suggested that if you needed more copies of it, Mr. Front was going to take about a hundred of them to London. What puzzles me the most is that I had asked the person to whom I gave the letter to do something for me in Brussels, which he did faithfully. In fact, it is quite possible that you have received the letter by now; in that case, everything is fine. Anyway, I am enclosing in this letter a portrait for Dulac, which is quite the opposite of yours: a peaceful expression after the threatening one. If you have not received the autograph, please let me know. I will send you another one. As for the speech, you can ask Front. Le Flo got your letter and is going to write to you. Ribeyrolle’s book has been published. Have you read it? This too is an excellent publication. As for Ledru Rollin, I am waiting for what you announced to me in your previous letter. The weather here is not much better than in London. However we sometimes see a patch of blue sky, and when we can catch a glimpse of France on the horizon, it makes us so happy! Living in the North does not suit me any better than it does you. Why did God not put the sun where freedom lies? Was he afraid it would be redundant? I long for Spain, I long for you. I told you, in the letter you have not received, that everyone at the table (which does not turn) loves you. I repeat it in this letter. Ex imo corde [with all my heart]. What is going on with Jeffs and Vitazelly? No news. I had put on the address Fulham road; make a complaint at the post office.
Hugo refers back to the letter described above included in this collection, dated 14 June , which apparently had not been delivered to his correspondent. In this letter, he adds some additional information regarding three leading French exiles in Jersey and in England. General Adolphe Le Flô was Ambassador to Russia before his opposition to Napoleon III provoked his banishment in 1851. He returned to France in 1857 and became Minister of Defense. Charles Ribeyrolle, a regular visitor to the Hugo’s table on Monday evenings, was Editor-in-Chief of the exile’s primary newspaper, L’Homme. When Victor Hugo was expelled from Jersey in 1855, it was because of his support for Ribeyrolle’s paper, which had run afoul of Queen Victoria in a conflict over her friendship with Napoleon III. Alexandre Ledru-Rollin was perhaps one of the most important French exiles living in the British Isles. A former candidate for President, he spent his more than 20 year exile agitating for the republican cause and issuing manifestos. His left-wing socialist politics made Hugo uneasy, provoking him to say several years earlier: “Today we pass from brilliant men to flaming men, from Lamartine [then Premier of the Provisional Government] to Ledru-Rollin . . .God help us!”
Autograph letter signed with initials, 2 pages small octavo, Marine Terrace, [St. Helier], July 26, 1853, to Victor Schoelcher; integral address panel.
Hugo writes in full: A few days ago, a poor dignified woman in exile died in Jersey. Our fellow exiles have asked me to speak on that grave in your name, as I did for Jean Bousquet. I refused at first, because I disapprove of exiles continually using the same orator, thus embcxlying all views in one speaker. But they have insisted so eagerly and imperiously (for the public good, they said), that I had to accept, or I should say, obey. I gave my speech this morning and it has been printed right away. Give it to The Morning Advertiser and Le Courrier de l’Europe if you think it is worth it. It will not be printed in the Jersey papers until tomorrow, London would then have the news first, as far as there is anything new in it. In my previous letter, I forgot to ask if you would mind if Front returned to me, from the bundle of letters and documents he gave you, the few pieces which deal essentially with Africa and Cayenne and do not relate to your plan. If I ask too much and you want to use them, treat me as a friend and do not hesitate to say no. All the best, from the bottom of my heart.
In a lengthy postscript Hugo adds: That your seat remains empty at dinner makes everyone sad. People like you very much here. Best regards to all, and especially to our colleague Dulac. A bunch of Protestants have arrived here from London and Brussels, who are in favor of the guillotine. I was quite hard on them the other day during a meeting called on the occasion of the death of that poor woman . I thought they were terrorists; I have been told they support Ledru Rollin . I should be very surprised . I wish they would change their motto.
Among the French exiles on Jersey, a funeral could become a forum for political dissent. According to Davidson, in his biography Victor Hugo: “Sometimes one of the exiles died and a funeral oration was delivered over his grave...[this] served as an opportunity for a discourse, reported in the local papers and finding its way into those of foreign countries. These speeches are all variations ...of the same theme ‘Long live Republicanism, Liberty, and Fraternity! Down with Tyranny!
Autograph letter, unsigned, 3 pages small octavo, Marine Terrace, [St. Helier], August 2 . To Victor Schoelcher; with integral address leaf.
Hugo writes in full: Yes, my dear friend, you are right to notice it, and I am as happy as you are about it. We agree on all points and I think -- since there is no reason to be excessively modest regarding such great duties –I think that this will be one of the greatest strengths in the future. You are absolutely right about the confiscation, and while reserving the judicial and civil actions I once told you about, which are highly ethical, necessary and just, and which you accept as I do, while reserving that, I totally agree with you and I shall take the first opportunity to make the statement that I think as useful as you do. The softness of poetry might not be quite adequate, but do not worry, I will have many other opportunities. Here, in spite of an almost unanimous decision, Dejacque whom you know thought he had to speak after me. His speech is insignificant, fortunately enough, but it could not have been so. I told the exiles that I would not agree to act as their spokesman and speak in their name any longer, since they are unable to enforce their decisions. I do not care for the regrettable confusion which took place about the seigniorial manifesto to happen again. I thank you for all the trouble you have gone through and you are willing to go through again about this Vitazelly matter. This man is a singular knave. I am enclosing his note, endorsed by me, and I will rely totally on what you will tell me in your letter, my dear friend. I shall write to Jeffs. In the meantime, would you be kind enough to thank him on my behalf? According to what you tell me, we have to decide against England and Belgium for the property of the books. It does not quite depend on me any more, but on our friends in Brussels. I am going to write them about it. I believe that they will go for a country on the continent. In any case, all the information you give me is really invaluable and will be extremely useful to me. I am delighted that you had the speech published in the Morning Advertiser. A committee in charge of propagating this speech has been appointed here. I assume it will have made the mistake of sending it to the Courrier de l’Europe. If so, would you be kind enough to hand to Mr. Mereston the enclosed two copies on my behalf and thank him for us all for the invaluable help he has been providing us. The speech is starting to spread. It has not reached Paris yet, but it is in Brittany already. We have heard of it. It seems to produce an excellent effect. In my first speech, my objective was to reassure people; with this one, I intend to rally the women to us. I think that these are two good steps. I have received a very good letter from Dulac, our brave friend and colleague. I will answer it soon. Shake his hand for me when you see him. My dear friend, do not stop sending us books. Your books are almost like religious texts, since they are stamped with so much truthfulness and honesty. They convey right here and now the verdicts of the future. Who cares about momentary success? Do not worry; nothing you write is lost History is there, recording it all. Today is Tuesday. We will think of you dearly tonight . Ribeyrolles is having dinner with us. But you, when will you join us?
The book Hugo refers to in this letter is Les Châtiments, his lyrical annihilation of Napoleon III and follow-up to the devastating Napoléon le Petit. Hugo began work on Les Châtiments shortly before his arrival on Jersey; a highly edited version was produced in Brussels before the final version was published in Jersey in October. In Les Châtiments, Hugo administered his coup de grace to the dictator. In his own words: “Napoleon le Petit being in prose was only half the task. The creature was only cooked on one side: I am now turning him over on the grill.” The achievement of Les Châtiments was to enlarge the vocabulary of abuse and to show that Hugo’s principles of brotherhood and charity did not apply to his enemies.
Autograph letter unsigned, 4 pages small octavo, Marine Terrace, [St. Helier], 30 August , to Victor Schoelcher.
Hugo writes in full: Well, my dear friend, has Vitazelly paid up? Have you and Mr.Jeffs found some ways to force this knave to act as an honest person? I would be delighted if he paid, but I would be amazed [the French phrase Hugo uses here is much cruder, which explains what follows], well, you know what I mean; besides, I never pronounce that word. I have told everyone that he has paid. There is no sense hanging the dirty linen of exile out my window. We have had a hurricane and a storm here, and now the sun is back; but, alas! It is not the sun we long for, you and I; it is a hardly yellow sun in a hardly blue sky. What we need is the real heavenly fire and azure, while waiting for the real Republic and Liberty. I yearn for Lisbon. In fact, we do not only long for the sun, we long for you. A solid friendship, with good conversation, pouring out our intimate feelings to one another, sharing desires for the same future, has become necessary to us whom you have guided, since it seems to us that you are still among us. Oh! This time will come back and those who shook hands will shake hands again. Our excellent friend Dulac has moved quite far from me, about a league away; this is why I have not been able to hand my letter for you to him; but I let him know about it and I will wait for him to work on the leaflets. He asked me to wait for him to get settled. My speech has been reprinted here. I am enclosing a copy for you. It has been reprinted in many English provincial papers, which I get, and even in an Irish paper, The Independent, in Wexford. French papers reported that by the grave, I called for the Emperor’s assassination. That’s ridiculous. But in fact, it is a good suggestion. My previous speech comes back to me through Canadian as well as Brazilian papers. It feels so good to see the north echo the south in this great cry of Universal Republic.’ I have been happy to know that A. is out of danger. When you see him, shake his hand for me. I am all yours, my dear friend or “tuus,” as Cicero used to say. Ex imo corde [from the bottom of my heart].
When Hugo arrived on Jersey he naturally became the central figure in the colony of French and other nationals who had formed an exile community on the island. As the ranking celebrity, Hugo assumed the role of the group’s spokesperson. The fact that the circle of exiles included Poles, Italians and Hungarians gave Hugo a global platform and a forum for speeches, which were later widely published, on various public occasions including Polish Independence Day and the anniversary of the French Revolution of February, 1848, or at the funerals of other exiles. The theme of these speeches and orations was his passionate cry for the death of tyranny and the promotion of Republicanism, liberty and fraternity.
Autograph letter, unsigned, 3 pages small octavo, Marine Terrace, [St. Helier], 15 November , to Victor Schoelcher.
Hugo writes in full: Do you have...any newspaper or book in which was published my letter to Madame Chapman (you remember -- the one you asked me to write at the assembly)? If you do, could you please send it to me? If memory serves me right, it was quite appropriate and explained clearly and succinctly the whole question of slavery in the United States. I would transcribe the best paragraph of it and send it to you for my friends. I didn’t keep a copy of the letter, and if you don’t have it either, I will write a new short piece. Do not ever hesitate to use me; my pleasure is to do what you wish, especially about such a great cause, so close to our hearts! Slavery and the republic! What terrible nonsense! Alas! Other nations have intelligence, courage, thought, and heart, but logic belongs to France alone. You will reply : not France in this day and age. In this day and age, France is not France any more. There is only one France: the France of the Centuries, whose name is Liberty and Enlightenment. Everyone at the table drinks to your health each week . Your health is our obsession here at Marine Terrace -- we want you to get well. So please send me the good news saying that you are cured. Ex imo. Can you please mail this letter? Thank you for the other ones. I do not understand R.; I have given him your address though.
Hugo’s hatred of slavery became a personal crusade with the trial of American abolitionist John Brown, during which Hugo vehemently protested Brown’s condemnation and appealed against his hanging. His sorrow at the execution was genuine and he pointed out that the execution took place on the ill-omened date of December 2, the anniversary of Louis-Napoleon’s coup d’etat. Hugo observed, “Republic has done this thing. From kings crimes are to be expected, but the crime of a People is too hard to bear.” Hugo went so far as to sketch an image of Brown on the scaffold, comparing him in the caption to the martyred Jesus Christ. He viewed the approaching American Civil War as an inevitable ideological split over the slavery issue. To him, the oppression of blacks by whites was insupportable, as illustrated in his reply to a letter written to him by a Haitian: “Your letter moves me. You are a noble specimen of black humanity so long downtrodden. Since there is only one God, one Father, we are all brothers. There are on the earth neither black men nor white men: there are souls. You are one. Before God all souls are white.”
Autograph letter unsigned, 4 pages small octavo, Marine Terrace, [St. Relier], 6 December , to Victor Schoelcher.
Hugo writes in full: Marine Terrace is sad to spend this winter without you. Last year, at the same time, you had just joined us here. I would read Le Livre de la Mer [The Book of the Sea] to you and you would give us such pleasant family evenings by readings your noble and generous book. It made us so happy. Happy is the right word, since to exiles, being avenged means being consoled, and you avenged us while consoling us. Now you are away and we are alone; our love has to cross the fog, the hurricanes and the sea. It is sad. My dear friend, I am afraid Jeffs’s intentions are not good, because he was asking for benefits that publishers over there could not grant him. Besides, I was aware that an untranslatable verse would not create such a considerable stir in England as Napoleon le Petit did. We both know that the English like facts [Translator’s note: the French phrase Hugo uses might also mean that the English hate anything new but that they will have to get used to it.]; last year, they hated and despised Mr. Bonaparte; this year, they accept him and take up with him; next year, they will admire him. So I do not care for success in England. I only care about France, and I have had good news from there. The book is spreading and they keep publishing it in all kinds of forms, prints, autographs, etc. The fact that it is written in verse will prejudice its success in England, whereas it will contribute to it in France. Verse is perfidious in a way, because it engraves itself on the memory. So I am sure about what will happen in France. And I would rather have one hundred readers in Paris than 10,000 readers in London.You give me bad news about your meeting in London; the news I have to give you from here is better. A banquet for all the exiles worldwide took place on November 29, to celebrate the anniversary of the Polish revolution. I was asked to give a speech, which I did. I am sending you a copy of it. Of course, I spoke again about abolishing death penalty, the sword [ofjustice] being broken along with sabres, which was applauded warmly. As you see, things are somewhat better here than where you are. If you think it might be good to have this speech printed either in the Courrier de l’Europe or in The Morning Advertiser, please put it at their disposal. I hope that by now you will no longer call me a naughty ungrateful man. Front must have handed my note to you. Would you believe that as I am writing to you, I still have not received the book? The copies that have been sent to me have been held up for two weeks because of some incident. It is too bad, because there are many quotations from the book in the papers here and we are losing sales. What about Vizatelly’s debt? Today is Tuesday and everyone will talk about you at the dinner table tonight. Can’t you can feel how much we love you?
Again, the book of verse Hugo refers to here is undoubtedly Les Châtiments his devastating literary follow-up to Napoleon le Petit. By the time of this letter Les Châtiments was enjoying wide distribution, often through smuggled and pirated editions, throughout Europe and England. The book’s reception in France was overwhelming.
Autograph letter signed (“V”), 3 pages small octavo, Marine Terrace, [St. Heller], 17 December . To Victor Schoelcher.
Hugo writes in full: Two years ago you were here; then you were doing better and we were too, since a friend’s health is as important as our own. Another year is ending, another year will start and we are still away from France, away from the future, away from the light, away from all we love, away from you, my dear Schoelcher. Yesterday was my wife’s birthday and we talked about you softly and sadly. Let us try to arrange something with Spain, or at least with Portugal. It is going to be all the more urgent because it seems that Sir Robert Peel is urging Lord Palmerston to throw Kossuth and me out somehow. After that, if England drives us out, Spain will be even less willing to take us. Where shall we go? And when I meet up with the world, then I shall meet the grave. That was Hemani’s answer. Maybe it will be my destiny too. Let us go where our duty is. I cannot tell you how deeply touched and ashamed I am that you still find the time to take care of my silly adventures with Vizetally, Jeffs and the others, in spite of the pain you are suffering. Your suggestion regarding the last three pounds seems fair to me. Will Jeffs agree with it? Jeffs is almost spelled like ‘Jew.’ Please thank your loyal and brave Constance for me. Could you ask her to mail the enclosed for me? Forgive me again. Thank you again. Everyone at the table drank to your health yesterday.
While Hugo would not be forced to leave Jersey for another year, the stage was already set for his banishment to Guernsey. Hugo’s humanitarian opposition to the Crimean War made him appear unpatriotic in both France and England, and the noisy criticism he endured in the press had begun to make him an embarrassment to the English government. He had also run afoul of Lord Palmerston personally, when, a few months earlier he had written the Prime Minister to appeal for a commutation of the death sentence of a Jersey murderer named Tapner. Palmerston, a renowned dandy, was outraged by Hugo’s words: “I once met you at a dinner . . .what impressed me was the expert way in which you knotted your tie. I had been told that you were celebrated for the expertness with which you did that. I see now that you know how to tie a knot around another man’s neck too!” So angered was Palmerston that he had Sir Robert Peel introduce a measure in Parliament designed to force Hugo out and end the sort of personal quarrel between Hugo and the distinguished man whom the French people have chosen as their leader. Hugo quickly fired a return shot, which was published in the English press on 22 December, in which he reiterated his determination to continue his crusade against Napoleon III: “Yes, the gentleman who speaks of a personal quarrel is right My quarrel with M. Bonaparte is a personal quarrel -- the old personal quarrel that goes on between the judge on his bench and the accused in the dock.”
While Hugo hated Jersey’s provincial society and did his best to outrage its citizens, he was unwilling to leave the island because, he said, “From here I can see France . . .the sea, France at the edge of it, how sad it would be to lose this horizon.” However, it seemed at the time that Spain would offer him a reasonable home should the English expel him, as the Spanish government was moving in a more liberal direction and, additionally, a Spanish nobleman had offered him the use of his castle.
The present collection constitutes an extraordinary correspondence rich in both lite