Sat, 22 Mar 1997 From Bob Corbett:

Today's mail brought an unusual surprise. A 97 year old children's book came, the oldest children's book in my library I believe. It is a very thick 400 pages with a cover that reminds one of old Rover Boy books. Two people, one a boy, on a ship looking so much like pirates.

The books is: A ROVING COMMISSION OR THROUGH THE BLACK INSURRECTION IN HAYTI. By G.A. Henty, published in London in 1900.

The introduction indicates that it will depict a "savage" Hayti, but it can't help but allow the French weren't any better:

"Horrible as were the atrocities of which the monsters of the French Revolution were guilty, they paled before the fiendish outrages committed by their black imitators in Hayti. Indeed, for some six years the island presented a saturnalia of massacre, attended with indescribable tortures. It may be admitted that the retaliation inflicted by the maddened whites after the first massacre was as full of horrors as were the outrages perpetrated by the blacks, and both were rivaled by the mulattos when they joined in the general madness for blood. The result was ruin to all concerned."

Six years? That puzzles me a good deal. I wonder which six years they pick? Perhaps this is a thesis that everyone is a barbarian who isn't English? :)

Most impressive for a youth novel, however, is the vocabulary: fiendish, saturnalia, indescribable, retaliation ... and that's the first paragraph. Dang, and I remember "Run Spot run. See Dick run. See Jane run."

Don't know when I'll ever get around to reading this book, but it is a most curious addition. Anyone know anything about the book or the author? Anyone else ever know of this book before today?

Bob Corbett

Judith Thorn comments:

Yes, Henty was a Brit who wrote colonial adventure books. I have about a dozen myself. The roving commission is not among my possessions but there is a copy of it at the Beineke Library/ yale where I read it. Most of the books cast an historical scene with a child who is a stowaway or viewer of the action in which the Brits because of their love of order and supreme understanding save the day. The were written in the late Victorian period which if you follow colonialism and travel writing was a real jamboree for the English.

From: Madison Smartt Bell

Bob-- I read some G.A. Henty novels as a kid and enjoyed them hugely. He was an author of Victorian adventure stories aimed at the young (though as you point out they are pretty sophisticated novels compared to the pap aimed at the same demo now). They're injected with moral uplift as well as exoticism (the latter somewhat sketchily researched which probably explains the 6-year bit). And yes, no one who isn't English can be quite human. But I found them very entertaining anyway.
This remind me to ask if you know about the Haitian Revolutionary bit in Robert Penn Warren's Band of Angels? I keep meaning to go back and look at that, my memory of it's very blurry....

saluez... msb


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