Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Memories of Lafayette: collections in America

How Lafayette loved his American friends, and how they have loved him in return!  Here are some notes and links for the major American Lafayette collections. Without exception they are beautifully curated, most with extensive online descriptions and facsimiles.  Lafayette himself, lover of symbolic gesture and collector of memorabilia, would have appreciated it all....

Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania

Lafayette College holds an extensive collection of letters, manuscripts and memorabilia donated by the American Friends of Lafayette. (We are informed that they occupy "33 linear feet -- 96 boxes, 4 extra-oversize folders, 4 oversize shelves")  The  documents are mainly American in origin and relate either to Lafayette's participation in the American War of Independence or to his tour of the United States in 1824-5. Highlights includes letters of Lafayette to Washington and the manuscript of Lafayette's 1824 address to the US Congress.

In addition the collection includes almost a thousand prints, plus assorted memorabilia, mostly commemorative objects but also items which belonged to Lafayette himself.  Among them is this sword, with its Jacobin bonnet decoration, which the General surrendered to his Austrian captors in 1792. 

The print collection has been the subject of an ambitious digitisation project. 650 prints are now available to view online.

Collection portal: 
Cornell University Library, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections

Cornell University's Lafayette collection is "the largest of its kind outside France."  It includes not only over 11,000 original manuscripts, documents, and letters but also  furniture and artworks - among them the famous life-mask of Lafayette by Houdon, executed in 1785. The core of the collection belonged originally to the Lafayette family estate at Chavaniac.  It was sold in 1912 to the Parisian antiquarian dealer Dieudonné-Elie Fabius who added substantially to it in the following decades. It was purchased for Cornell in 1963 for the sum of 7 million dollars by the US  diplomat and collector Arthur H. Dean  who had been in Geneva engaged in disarmament talks with the Soviet Union at the time.  He was able to use his considerable influence - including personal acquaintance with the French Minister of Culture André Malraux - to secure the export of the collection from France.  In 1966, again financed by Dean, the University was able to add the collection of the Parisian book dealer Marcel Blancheteau.

Houdon Life-mask of Lafayette 1785
Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell

Summary: "The collection includes the oldest existing letter from Lafayette (1772), long missives he sent to his wife from America during the Revolution, other letters he wrote while imprisoned in Austria (1792-1797) and during his 1824-5 trip to the USA; texts of Lafayette's speeches, his commentary on public events, material compiled for inclusion in his memoirs, financial statements ; many letters from foreign correspondents on the progress of liberal causes in their countries, including letters from leaders of the Italian revolutionary movement; notes concerning the Belgian revolution, letters and documents on his involvement in the Italian and Polish revolutions, and documents concerning the management of family business affairs, including the management of the family estates."

Sixty images and documents have been digitized and presented on the Collection website.

 The Cornell curator Laurent Ferri,when asked for his highlights, picked out a letter of Lafayette to his wife, written in May 1777, in which declares his idealistic devotion to the American cause, translation as follows:

I offer my service to that interesting republic from motives of the purest kind… Her happiness and my glory are my only incentives… The happiness of America is intimately connected with the happiness of all mankind; she will become the safe and respected asylum of virtue, integrity, tolerance, equality, and tranquil happiness

A letter in broken English to Washington from Lafayette's six-year old daughter Anastasie wins the "cute kid" accolade: 
Dear Washington, I hope that papa whill come back son here. I am verry sorry for the loss of him, but I am verry glade for you self. I wich you a werry good health and I am whith great respect, Dear Sir, your most obedient servent, anastasie la fayette.

Main collection weblink 

"Lafayette: "Citizen of Two Worlds", Exhibition mounted for the 250th anniversary of Lafayette's birth, 25 Sept 2007- 28 April 2008 .

University of Chicago 
The University of Chicago Library holds a collection of letters amassed by Stanislas de Girardin, a member of the Legislative Assembly and close political ally of Lafayette. Both Girardin and his father  René Louis, Rousseau's host at Emenonville, were familiar correspondents of Lafayette. The collection was purchased in 1931 from the antiquarian dealers E.F. Bonaventure Inc. of New York who had secured it from the last descendants of the Girardin family.

 The website has a general description but no facsimiles. The collection comprises 221 letters bound into 13 vols. It includes:
Vol.1 (1774-80) Letters relating to the management of Lafayette's estate during his minority; details of expenditure incurred during his expedition to America.
Vols.2-6.(1791-1798).  Letters relating mainly to Lafayette's imprisonment and the efforts of his friends to free him.  Includes a copy of the famous letter written by his fellow prisoner Latour-Maubourg from Olmutz describing their imprisonment.
Later volumes include Lafayette's  personal correspondance with Fanny Wright (vol. 10) and with the actress and singer Maria Malibran (vol.11).as well as letters relating to various other members of the Lafayette family.
Holdings summary:

University of Cleveland
This is the microfilm of the La Grange collection. The Library of Congress has a copy too, but the Cleveland site has a full presentation and selected transcripts/facsimiles. The website recounts the story of how Cleveland benefactor John Horton contrived to secure the microfilm after striking up an unlikely friendship with the usually unapproachable René de Chambrun.  Mr Horton died in 2006 at grand age of 91.

Index to the Cleveland collection
Selected transcriptions and facsimiles.
Library of Congress Finding Aid

Story behind the acquisition

Exhibitions in 2015 

These were two major exhibitions held earlier this year to coincide with the arrival of  the replica ship Hermione in American waters.

New York Historical Society
Lafayette’s Return: The “Boy General,” the American Revolution, and the Hermione
 29 May - 16 August 2015
The exhibition concentrated mainly on the American War of Independence, and included exhibits from La Grange, as well as from the Cornell collection.

Boston Athenaeum 
Lafayette: an American icon June 17 – September 27, 2015
The Boston Athenaeum holds a Houdon of Lafayette and the exhibition, which included items from many American connections, was themed on Lafayette portraiture and iconography. A full list of the exhibits is available on the internet though not, sadly, with images.

Full list of American Lafayette sites on ArchiveGrid

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