Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2021 Issue

M. Pierre Viaud: Another Chapter in the “People-been-through-...it” Series.


Original in the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.

In the “People-been-through-..it” series, please welcome Pierre Viaud! In 1766, he survived a shipwreck off the coast of Florida only to go through 81 days of pain and hunger, being forced to kill and eat his Negro slave! Back to France, he published a relation of his ordeal: Naufrage et Aventures de M. Pierre Viaud (Bordeaux, 1770). A terrible tale, indeed—too terrible to be true?


This is not really a travel book, but rather a focus on an 81-day long nightmare. The preface of the second edition (Bordeaux/Paris, 1770) reads: “This book won’t tell you about Viaud’s life, but only about his shipwreck and his misfortune.” Straight to the point, then—when Viaud embarked on Le Tigre in Saint-Domingue, West Indies, with the intention to reach Louisiana. It wasn’t long before the ship hit a reef off the shore of Florida. And hell broke loose. Still aboard the wrecked ship, the crew had no choice but to try to reach the nearby shore—one bold sailor jumped into the raging sea only “to be crashed against a rock.” When they eventually made it to the shore it was like jumping from the frying pan—isolated in the wilderness, the survivors met a “Savage” by the name of Antonio, who pretended to help them out only to scatter them through various islets and to rob them of their last belongings.


The little group soon disbanded and Mr Viaud was left with Miss Lacouture and a Negro slave, whom he had bought in Saint-Domingue. Trying to reach the continent, they embarked on a terrible journey. At night, fierce beasts attacked them: “Several bears came so close that we could make them out in the light of our fire! We also spotted some tigers of considerable size—maybe fear showed them bigger than they were to us.” They were also swarmed by insects, and beaten so badly that “I could hardly open my eyes.” (Viaud). But the worst pain was hunger. They became so desperate for food that “we’d pick up a handful of sand and try to eat it up before spitting it away.” And then one night—“my lost eyes fell upon my Negro.” With Miss Lacouture, they jumped on him in the middle of the night and slashed his throat open. “As soon as the fire was ready, I cut my Negro’s head, tied it on a stick and placed it over the flames—I regularly turned it over so it would be well-cooked.” Then they spent the rest of night tearing out their victim’s flesh to smoke it while surrounded by the fierce roaring of wild beasts. Man against wild? Eat or be eaten.


At the end of the day, Viaud and Miss Lacouture were rescued—they even saved the latter’s son, whom they had to abandon, thinking he would die shortly. Back to civilization, Viaud wrote his story to a friend who allegedly insisted that he publish it. “In complying,” the publisher writes, “he was only hoping that honest and sensitive people would pity him.” His book enjoyed considerable success, and was translated into several languages, including English (Adventures of Monsieur Pierre Viaud...—London, 1771—coming with a nice frontispiece). Yet several readers doubted its veracity. Fake travel books were fashionable and notwithstanding the mention “A true story...” on the title page, Viaud’s story seemed weird. The preface was a bit clumsy: “One would hardly believe that a man could go through such hardship—and in this we can say that truth is not here plausible. But everything reported in this relation has been verified.”


But what did the publisher verify exactly, he claimed that Viaud was hailing from the city of Bordeaux, France, while he was actually born—as corrected in the next edition—in Rochefort? There are some surprising passages as well; the act of cannibalism therein described was a sure way to sell the book—and did Viaud really start by eating his victim’s head? That sounds unlikely, as almost all relations of cannibalism insist on the fact that people who were forced to eat another human being would rather start with unidentifiable parts. At one point, a bear climbs at a tree to catch Viaud’s Negro—but Viaud chases it away with kindled branches, just like in a children’s storybook. What about Miss Lacouture’s son, then? About to be buried, he is suddenly declared alive! A wonderful happy ending. To make it short, there’s something fishy about this relation.


At the time, it was attributed to Dubois-Fontanelle (1727-1812), a journalist and a writer. It was even published in the series Imaginary Voyages, Dreams, Visions and Cabalistic Novels (1787—with a full-page engraving depicting the murder scene)! The compiler warns: “Some may be surprised to find this relation in a series dedicated to imaginary tales (...). We do not contest the veracity of Mr Viaud’s adventures (...) but they are so extraordinary it seems they’ve been invented.” Yet, thanks to various and modern researches, we know that Pierre Viaud did exist—he’s the ancestor of a well-known French writer, Pierre Loti, born Louis-Marie-Julien Viaud (1850-1923). He was a sailor, and he actually embarked from Bordeaux to Saint-Domingue in 1765, as stated in his book. Plus, James Grant, then Governor of Florida, officially attested the shipwreck of Le Tigre. The publisher even added the certificate given to Viaud by Mr Sevettenham, Commandant of Fort Saint-Marc, in the Appalachians. It reads: “I therefore testified that Mr Wright (who rescued Viaud—note of the author) introduced me to Mr Viaud and a woman, whom he had found on a desert island in a state of despair, almost dead from hunger, and who had nothing to eat but a few oysters and the remains of a Negro they had killed in order to save their own lives.” Sevettenham also partly confirms the story of Miss Lacouture’s son.


So, real or fake? Viaud’s relation is believed nowadays to be a true story rewritten by a novelist who gave in to sensationalism. Notwithstanding, the “People-been-through-...it” series is a bottomless pit, and the shipwreck of La Méduse that took place a few decades later, and which gave birth to one of the most terrible relations ever, is here to remind us that even the most fertile imagination will never beat reality. No matter what you may imagine in your worst nightmares, “People-been-through-...it” already.


Thibault Ehrengardt

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, June 29:</b> LIFE OF OSLER, PRESENTATION COPY TO NEPHEW NORMAN GWYN. CUSHING, HARVEY. 1869-1939. <i>The Life of Sir William Osler.</i> Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1925. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Bonhams, June 29:</b> OSLER TO HALSTED MENTIONING CUSHING AND WELCH. Autograph Letter Signed ("Wm Osler") to William Stewart Halsted on medical matters, 2 pp, January 19, 1919. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Bonhams, June 29:</b> CUSHING PRESENTATION COPY TO LUCIEN PRICE. CUSHING, HARVEY. <i>Intracranial Tumours.</i> Springfield, 1932. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <b>Bonhams, June 29:</b> OSLER ON HIS CHILDHOOD. Autograph Letter Signed ("Wm Osler") to Mabel [Brewster] on returning home to Staplehurst. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Bonhams, June 29:</b> SCULTETUS, JOHANNES. 1595-1645. <i>Cheiroplotheke, seu armamentarium chirurgicum XLIII.</i> Ulm: Balthasar Kühnen, 1655. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Bonhams, June 29:</b> VICQ D'AZYR, FELIX. 1748-1794. <i>Traite d'anatomie et de physiologie.</i> Paris: Didot l'aine, 1786. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Bonhams, June 29:</b> TAGAULT, JEAN. C.1499-1546. <i>De chirugica institutione libri quinque....</i> Lyon: Guillaume Rouillé, 1549. $400 to $600.
    <b>Bonhams, June 30:</b> EDWARD S. CURTIS (1868-1952). Autograph Logs and Journals from his 1927 Alaska Expedition. $7,000 to $ 9,000.
    <b>Bonhams, June 30:</b> EDWARD S. CURTIS (1868-1952). Cañon de Chelley, 1904. Oversized orotone, 17 x 22in in original Curtis Studio frame. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, June 30:</b> EDWARD S. CURTIS (1868-1952). 26 cyanotypes, featuring images of Cheyenne tribes from Volume VI of <i>North American Indian,</i> c.1907, made by Curtis in the field. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, June 30:</b> EDWARD S. CURTIS (1868-1952). The Vanishing Race, 1904. Oversized orotone, 18 x 24in in original Curtis Studio frame. $20,000 to $30,000.
  • <center><b>Cowan’s<br>American Historical Ephemera<br>& Photography<br>June 25, 2021</b>
    <b>Cowan’s, June 25:</b> [CIVIL WAR] -- [SHERIDAN, Philip Henry]. Personal headquarters flag of Philip Henry Sheridan used when he led the 2nd Michigan Cavalry. Spring - Summer 1862. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Cowan’s, June 25:</b> [EARLY PHOTOGRAPHY]. Half plate daguerreotype of firefighter Walter Van Erven Dorens. [San Francisco]: n.p., [ca 1854-1856]. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Cowan’s, June 25:</b> [LINCOLNIANA]. Abraham Lincoln banner possibly made for the 1864 presidential campaign. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <center><b>Cowan’s<br>American Historical Ephemera<br>& Photography<br>June 25, 2021</b>
    <b>Cowan’s, June 25:</b> [REVOLUTIONARY WAR - CONTINENTAL CONGRESS]. [HOLTEN, Dr. Samuel]. An archive of letters related to Danvers, Massachusetts, physician and statesman Dr. Samuel Holten. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Cowan’s, June 25:</b> [UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD]. CARBUTT, John, photographer. Exceptional collection of 27 stereoviews from the series, "Excursion to the 100th Meridian, October 1866." Chicago, [1866]. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Cowan’s, June 25:</b> [ALASKAN GOLD RUSH]. William Steele West and family, extensive archive of photographs, diaries, correspondence, and personal items. [Ca 19th - 20th century]. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <center><b>Cowan’s<br>American Historical Ephemera<br>& Photography<br>June 25, 2021</b>
    <b>Cowan’s, June 25:</b> [TAYLOR, Zachary]. Quarter plate daguerreotype featuring the 12th President of the United States. N.p.: n.p., [ca 1845]. $8,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Cowan’s, June 25:</b> [WASHINGTON, George]. Signed Society of the Cincinnati document. $5,000 to $7,000.
    <b>Cowan’s, June 25:</b> LINCOLN, Abraham. Autograph endorsement signed ("A. Lincoln"), as President. [Washington], 29 September 1862. 1 page, 4to, old creases. $5,000 to $7,000.
    <center><b>Cowan’s<br>American Historical Ephemera<br>& Photography<br>June 25, 2021</b>
    <b>Cowan’s, June 25:</b> JEFFERSON, Thomas. Autograph letter signed ("Th. Jefferson"), as United States President, to Robert Patterson. Washington DC, 2 July 1805. 1 page, 4to, evenly toned, small tear from seal. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Cowan’s, June 25:</b> [EARLY PHOTOGRAPHY] -- [ALCOTT, Elizabeth Sewall]. Ninth plate ruby ambrotype attributed to Elizabeth Sewall Alcott. N.p., [ca 1856-1857]. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Cowan’s, June 25:</b> [WESTERN AMERICANA]. RUSSELL, Andrew Joseph, photographer. <i>Salt Lake City, From the Top of the Tabernacle.</i> [1869]
  • <b><center>Sotheby’s<br>Livres et Manuscrits :<br>de Cervantès à Houellebecq<br>18 – 25 June</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, 18 – 25 June:</b> Jouve, Paul -- François-Louis Schmied -- Rudyard Kipling. <i>Le Livre de la Jungle,</i> 1919.<br>€ 80,000 to € 120,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 18 – 25 June:</b> Cervantès Saavedra, Miguel de. <i>El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha.</i> Bruxelles, 1607.<br>€ 30,000 to € 50,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 18 – 25 June:</b> Buren, Daniel - Aimé Césaire. Cahier d'un retour au pays natal. Solstice, 2004. 1/140 ex. Avec 1/20 suites d'œuvres originales.<br>€ 4,000 to € 6,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 18 – 25 June:</b> [Musique] - Gioacchino Traversa. Six sonates à violon seul. [Vers 1770].<br>€ 3,000 to € 5,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Jun 24:</b> C.F. Payne, <i>Micawber, Imitating Norman Rockwell’s “Triple self-portrait,”</i> mixed media, 2002. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Jun 24:</b> Brian Froud, media illustration published in <i>The Land of Froud,</i> 1977. Estimate $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Jun 24:</b> Haddon Sundblom, <i>All a Girl Needs,</i> oil on canvas, published in <i>The Ladies’ Home Journal,</i> 1942. $8,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Jun 24:</b> Adrianne Lobel, <i>My One and Only,</i> 26 scenic concept collages for the Broadway musical, 1983. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Jun 24:</b> Charles Schulz, original four-panel pen and ink <i>Peanuts</i> comic strip, 1971. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Jun 24:</b>Jack Davis, mixed media cartoon for <i>Playboy,</i> 1959. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Jun 24:</b> Charles Addams, mixed media cartoon for <i>The New Yorker,</i> 1937. $6,000 to $9,000.
  • <center><b>Galleri Bygdoy Allé<br>Sales Exhibition Catalogue 47<br>Part III<br>Antiquarian Temptations:<br>Rare Books, Atlases & Maps,<br>Photos & Manuscripts</b>
    <b>Galleri Bygdoy Allé:</b> PIETER MORTIER. “Le Neptune Francois ou Atlas Nouveau des Cartes Marines. Levées et Gravées par ordre Exprés du Roy…” Paris, 1693.
    <b>Galleri Bygdoy Allé:</b> MARC CHAGALL illus. SHAKESPEARE. “The Tempest.” Large folio. Monte-Carlo, 1975. Signed by the artist.
    <b>Galleri Bygdoy Allé:</b> JOHN SPEED and followers. “A New and Accurate Map of the World.” Hand-colored engraving. London (1626 – 1627 – circa 1650) – 1676.
    <center><b>Galleri Bygdoy Allé<br>Sales Exhibition Catalogue 47<br>Part III<br>Antiquarian Temptations:<br>Rare Books, Atlases & Maps,<br>Photos & Manuscripts</b>
    <b>Galleri Bygdoy Allé:</b> MATTHÄUS SEUTTER. “The Colossus Series.” Set of 4 prints, contemporary hand-colored engravings, each c. 57x49cm. Augsburg c. 1730
    <b>Galleri Bygdoy Allé:</b> (CHARLES LE BRUN). “La Grande Galerie De Versailles, et Les Deux Salons qui L’Accompagnent, peints Par Charles Le Brun premier Peintre de Louis XIV…” Paris, 1752.
    <b>Galleri Bygdoy Allé:</b> G. BRAUN – F. HOGENBERG. “Danorum Marca.” Contemporary hand-colored engraving, 33x48cm. Cologne, 1588.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions