Of Salaberry And Men
- by Thibault Ehrengardt
Travel books will make you explore unknown territories, including their narrators’ minds—the latter sometimes being even more fascinating. This is the case with Mr Salaberry’s travel to Constantinople, published in 7.
This is an uncommon travel book entitled Voyage à Constantinople...,* printed in Paris for Maradan in 7. The copy I came across the other day was quite fascinating. First it was uncut, and there’s something wild about those raw copies and their lumpy fore-edges. Then, it was published by Claude-François Maradan (1762-1823), a printer dear to the hearts of all sensitive men; didn’t he publish the first French edition of Lewis’ The Monk in 1797? Reçu librairie (admitted as a bookseller) in 1787, he published, among other things, a handful of unusual travels, which I personally call Maradan’s Small Voyages. The devil being in the details, I spotted the magical number 7. printed at the bottom of the title page. It stands, or rather floats in the midst of emptiness for Year 7 of the Republic—“new style,” as they would say—, that is to say 1799, “old style”—or before the French Révolution. I also read “printed at Crapelet’s” on the title page. Charles Crapelet (1762-1809) was famous for his quality printing of La Fontaine or Boileau’s works. As a matter of fact, our book is unusually well printed for the period, on a nice thick paper—there’s a hidden stamp that will appear when placed in front of a light, but I couldn’t decipher it. To end up, the slightly posterior Bradel binding features a crucial detail on the back, the name of its anonymous author—SALABERRY.
Charles-Marie d’Irumberry de Salaberry (1766-1847)—not to be mistaken with his relative Charles-Michel, the Canadian war hero of la bataille de Châteauguay’s fame—didn’t sign his narrative, but he was soon identified, as proven by our early 19th century binding. He was from the high society—a Noble—, and his narrative betrays his good education, his sure taste in literature, as well as his brilliant mind. He was also a pedant man, who apparently lived his life through the spectrum of his certainties. He had quite an “ampoulé”, or pompous style. From his elitist education, he had acquired a feeling of superiority, and he drew definitive judgements on things and men. Doubt was hardly ever on his mind—he was right by divine right, and all who thought or lived otherwise were just ignorant or poor old fellas. Yet, there is something irresistibly humorous and touching about his points of view, and we can’t help but enjoying them—sometimes with a slight feeling of guilt. Are you ready? This is the world according to Salaberry.
Of the French and The English
“The French spend money everywhere they go, but it’s always better to meet them in their own country. The English spend money nowhere, and at home even less. We are so grateful to an Englishman who shows kindness, when we are outraged at a French who shows none.”
Of the Hungarians
“Their love for liberty goes as far as childish pride; they are more attached to words than things, touchy about their country to an extreme, which is, according to them, the number one country in the world. They talk with utmost gravity and importance of their constitution and diet that we let them enjoy, just like, I’d say, we leave their toys to angry kids because they both do greater harm than good to their country and to the plurality inhabiting it; if you’re hearing about such men, women, young or old, then you’re hearing about the Hungarians.”
Of Turkish Women and Men
“Do you want to know the Turks? If I dare say, they are a people of antithesis. They’re both brave and fearful, good and fierce, firm and weak, active and lazy, pederast and devote, sensual and tough, refined and crude, one hand on a bouquet of roses and the other one on a cat dead for two days. All these qualities, whether good or bad, the bad ones being more present among the multitude, which depends on circumstances, are covered by a thick coat of ignorance and insensitivity that protect them from unhappiness. (...) It is quite a singular contradiction: they enslave their women and show them utmost respect at the same time—and they want you to show them the same! One of the worst things they can say to a European is: you’re a man who does not respect women.”
Of Maltese Women
“Bright black eyes, thin legs, a black feradgé that casts on their bodies a veil of spicy mystery; that’s what is common to all of them, as well a hairstyle that makes them look like willow trees.”
Of The Neapolitans
“When the Neapolitans speak, they seem to be singing; if they gesticulate, they seem to be dancing. (...) Their lives are like a continuous pantomime. When acting, they add to their natural—and they become false.”
“It is true enough that Nature itself offers both pleasant landscapes and arid deserts. Man lives here below on a battlefield; his life is nothing but a perpetual war. In society, people tear down each other; businesswise, they cheat each other; on the main road, people murder. Even in his pleasures, Man needs to feed his evil instinct—on stage or in society, Man needs a victim to laugh at; and everywhere some come together to enjoy themselves, others with bayonets on their rifles order them not to hurt each other.”
On his way back from Constantinople, Salaberry heard that King Louis XVI had allegedly fled to Luxembourg following the Révolution of 1789. “I thought this marked the beginning of the Civil War and I hurried back home to share the fate of my family.” His father was guillotiné, beheaded a few years later, and he himself enrolled in the royalist army in Vendée. How did he put it? Oh, yes—Man lives here below on a battlefield. At least, his travel book is a nice landscape on our way to hell.
* Voyage à Constantinople, en Italie e aux Îles de l’Archipel, par l’Allemagne et la Hongrie, Á Paris, chez Maradan—7. One in-8° volume: Half-title, title page, 331 pages, 1 page (Table des lettres).