John R. Whittaker
The University of Hull
It has been written that "Lamartine's poetry springs from a great unifying theme, the theme of dispossession, of disinheritance." It therefore seems logical that exile, that is to say the dispossession of one's native land, the disinheritance of one's national culture, should be the guiding theme of his play Toussaint Louverture, a "poème dramatique" which is closely associated with his political struggle for the emancipation of slaves. Lamartine leaves us in no doubt that his signing of the act to free black slaves, as a member of the provisional government in 1848, represented the key moment of his political career: "Ma vie n'eut-elle eu que cette heure, je ne regretterais pas d'avoir vécu." Nevertheless, the theme of exile seems to be at variance with the subject of the play, which is racial conflict, from the cynical exploitation of one race by another to armed conflict between the two.
Toussaint Bréda (1743-1803), later known as Louverture, was a black Haïtian. On account of his race, he would have been born with the status of a slave though, having become his master's coachman, he was freed by him in 1776. It seems that he subsequently possessed a dwelling and even some slaves of his own. He moved to the eastern side of the island when the Spanish freed their slaves in 1793, though he returned to the French colony in the following year, during which the Revolutionary government brought about the first formal declaration of the abolition of slavery. Becoming a general in the French army, he was victorious against the English and the Spanish, assuming the leadership of a unified autonomous island on which the freedom of former slaves was guaranteed. In due course, unfortunately, his political aims came into conflict with those of Napoléon Bonaparte, who reinstated slavery in 1802, sending his brother-in-law Charles Leclerc and 32000 soldiers to regain control of the island. Fierce fighting ensued, with the French eventually gaining the upper hand, though suffering considerable losses. Toussaint, having sought no more than a constitutional amendment to re-establish the status of the island as a French colony, surrendered and attempted to retreat into the background. No doubt the French considered him dangerous. Captured by subterfuge, he was deported to France, where he was imprisoned in the Fort de Joux, and died some months later from tuberculosis. In his absence, his compatriots continued the struggle for freedom and, by 1804, Haïti had become the world's first black republic. The action of Lamartine's play is confined to the period from the arrival of Leclerc on Haïti to a point preceding Toussaint's capture.
The theme of exile is chorally presented in the first scene by the words of the Marseillaise Noire:
Members of the black races are here described as being banished [proscrits] from the world, exiled from their true human nature, turned into a foul race of animals. We are to understand that this is no consequence of racial difference, but of racial prejudice. Needless to say, slavery entailed not only this metaphorical exile, but also physical displacement from the African homeland. They may not hope to return there, but the Republican concept of Liberty enables their discovery of a wider homeland, and also a rediscovery of their humanity.
It is during the choral movement of this first scene that we are presented with complex issues relating to exile and racial conflict. There is the allusion to the white mistress who would have her slaves beaten if they failed to fan her adequately, or if they did not prevent the insects biting. Her unjust behaviour has become an essential part of local folk memory. If she has now returned to her homeland, assuming that this is France, she will be rightly exiled from her position of colonial superiority. The choir of negresses rejoice in the thought that she will now have to fan herself. There is more than a hint that they consider a sensitive white skin to be inappropriate in the Haïtian environment. Having just sung of inter-racial concord, they reveal the basis of continuing racial conflict. Linking homeland to race excludes inter-racial concord of the kind described in the Marseillaise Noire, and is scarcely practicable for people of African race who find themselves in Haïti. It is nevertheless a frequent error. At this point, our attention is drawn to Adrienne, a child of mixed race, for whom the question of homeland is not so easily resolved. In what is fundamentally the language and imagery of the Méditations, she introduces the idea that the homeland is where the heart is. Her father was a white Frenchman whose portrait she still carries and which she keeps hidden from the hatred of black people.
In the play, as for the real Toussaint Louverture, the question of nationality presents additional problems. Toussaint sought to establish his status as Haïtian leader by claiming French nationality. Lamartine presents this as a trick to get rid of the French:
The problem for Adrienne is that Toussaint has offered his sons to France. They in turn have become exiles, in a land of white women with complexions tinted by the snowy dawn, riding from palace to palace in golden chariots. She wonders whether Albert has forgotten her, and whether his admiration for Napoléon has replaced his love for father, mother, race and nation. On cue, the French fleet arrives on the horizon, ready to retake the island and restore slavery.
A letter is brought ashore, addressed to Toussaint and bearing the signature of Bonaparte. With elegant bluntness it makes clear:
We are now some distance away from the inter-racial concord of the Marseillaise Noire. From here until the end of the play, the guiding force is that of racial conflict and Toussaint's desire for the blacks to be avenged. Images of exile and dispossession recur even more frequently, underlining the distance from the ideal world portrayed in the opening scene of the play. The theme of exile is examined closely in the scene where Toussaint asks Adrienne whether she loves her country. She replies:
As Lamartine wrote elsewhere, "Un seul être vous manque et tout est dépeuplé." The cruellest aspect of exile is the absence of human points of reference and this absence changes the nature of the landscape. Toussaint's answer that, as the angel of the black people, her place is in Paradise, is reminiscent of St Peter's image of the righteous as aliens in a foreign land. Adrienne declares that her place in life is next to him. Recognition of place is an essential prerequisite for exile, for until we are aware that we have a place, we cannot suffer from the delocalisation that exile entails.
When Toussaint's sons Albert and Isaac land, they begin to rediscover their native land. They catch sight of what they think might have been their house, but they are accompanied by Salvador, who treats with derision the concept of homeland and says:
Act III scene vi presents some crude racism on the part of a group of soldiers who decide to demolish the tent-like dwelling of the disguised Toussaint. After a recital of gratuitous insults, they state that the orders are:
When Adrienne is cast into a dungeon, a solitary exile from all she holds dear, Toussaint's resourceful younger son Isaac, a "breeches part" played by an actress, manages to locate her and to bring her and Albert together. Albert is persuaded to file away her chains and she declares that in so doing he has again become Toussaint's son. The implication is that it is only through resistance that one can be true to oneself. In Act V scene vii it becomes clear to Toussaint that racial difference is an insurmountable obstacle to national unity with the French. The reported words of Napoleon, "La liberté des noirs sera le deuil des blancs", rule out the ethos of the Marseillaise Noire. It is in the final scene of the play, in the final dialogue between Toussaint and Albert, that we have the ultimate agony of the concept of patrie, in the sense of fatherland. Albert says that his heart is with the land of his birth, but that he has sworn allegiance to the First Consul and must keep his promises. Being French implies for him a rejection of the self and a suppression of the emotions. Nationality therefore implies exile from a personal homeland, even though it has been misguidedly imposed by others, and not least by Toussaint.
Lamartine's audience would probably have been aware of Toussaint's final exile, how he was taken to France and imprisoned, how he wrote pleading forgiveness from Napoleon Bonaparte and was not answered. In the manner of the classical tragedy, the story is already known and the art of telling it is in the orchestration of its horror. The play gains a good deal of impact from the brutal contrast between the first and the last scenes: from peace and concord to battle and racial hatred. We are left in no doubt of the dehumanising effect of the military exercise, generally described in France as an attempt to restore order.
Images of exile and racial conflict are presented in this play for political reasons. As a play with a political objective, the manner of Toussaint Louverture has something in common with Lamartine's renowned skills as an orator: the presentation of a clear objective near the beginning, the simplification of complex issues, the presentation of a striking example, a constant awareness of an audience whose opinion needs to be swayed. When Toussaint cries "aux armes" in the last line, the audience should be inspired to rise with him and play their part in the struggle to return to the inter-racial harmony of the Marseillaise Noire. Ironically, by the time of the first performance, the legislative argument had been won and the act abolishing slavery signed for nearly two years. Racial conflict continues, and its equation with exile from the true homeland of human nature is an idea which has not lost any of its potency in the years since the play was written. It is strange that exile should be so accurately portrayed in a play which lacks features of territorial displacement, and which nearly maintains unity of place. The images of exile in Toussaint Louverture are all the more effective, in that they focus on the human phenomenon, and show that geographical location may be no more than a collection of peripheral details. Most important, exile is shown to take place in more than one direction and more than one dimension. It may be separation from the homeland, as for the French soldiers in hostile Haïtian territory, or it may be separation from one's true identity and chosen role, as for the disguised Toussaint.
Despite the adverse critical reception which followed the play's opening, and the "imperfections" which Lamartine was to acknowledge in his preface, the audiences appear to have liked it, perhaps due to the skills of the famous actor, Frédéric Lemaître, who took the leading role. As the only one of Lamartine's plays to be performed with success in his lifetime, it reveals a lesser-known area of the poet's output and also provides an interesting mid-nineteenth-century example of awareness of the dangers of racial prejudice. The impact of the play may be measured by the persistence of its subject in black Francophone culture. Examples are to be found in Aimé Césaire's La Tragédie du roi Christophe, also his essay on Toussaint Louverture, la Révolution et le problème colonial and in Édouard Glissant's Monsieur Toussaint.
 J.C. Ireson. Lamartine: A Revaluation. Hull: The University of Hull, 1969, p.38.
 Lamartine tells the story of his campaign for the abolition of slavery, and of the play's intention in this direction, in his preface which is reproduced by Léon-François Hoffman in Alphonse de Lamartine: Toussaint Louverture. Exeter: Exeter University Press, 1998, p.4.
 Loc. cit.
 There are many accounts of the life of Toussaint Louverture, with slight differences in detail according to the perspective from which they are written. Dominique Chathuant, "1789-1848: Les Abolitions françaises de l'esclavage" Bulletin de Liaison des Professeurs d'Histoire-Géographie de L'Académie de Reims. no 15, 1998, available at https://www.ac-reims.fr/datice/bul_acad/Hist-Geo/bul15/Chathua.htm, begins with the valid point that the accounts in history textbooks tend to be Bonapartist insofar as they make no mention of the restoration of slavery.
 Toussaint Louverture. Act I scene i, in A. de Lamartine. Oeuvres poétiques complètes. ( Marius-François Guyard. ed.) Paris: Gallimard, 1963, pp.1264-65.
 Lamartine. Oeuvres ..., p.1271.
 Lamartine. Oeuvres ..., p.1273.
 Lamartine. Oeuvres ..., p.1295.
 Lamartine. Oeuvres ..., pp.1304-05.
 Lamartine. Oeuvres ..., p.1306.
 Lamartine. Oeuvres ..., p.1307
 In "L'Isolement", Les Méditations. in &Oeuvres poétiques complètes. (ed. cit.), p.4.
 1 Peter 2:11. Historical accounts suggest that Toussaint had a comprehensive knowledge of the Bible, though we tend to underestimate the extent to which biblical sources influence Lamartine's style. See John R. Whittaker, "Romantic Poets' Treatment of the Bible: A Devotional Exercise ?" in (Un-Faithful Texts? Religion in French and Francophone Literature from the 1780s to the 1980s. (ed. Paul Cooke and Jane Lee) New Orleans: University Press of the South, 2000, pp.27-38.
 Lamartine. Oeuvres ..., p.1321.
 Lamartine. Oeuvres ..., p.1325.
 Lamartine. Oeuvres ..., p.1331.
 Lamartine. Oeuvres ..., pp.1352-53.
 Lamartine. Oeuvres ..., p.1367.
 Lamartine. Oeuvres ..., p.1393.
 Guyard, ed. cit., p.1297; Hoffman, ed. cit., pp.4-5.
 Aimé Césaire. La Tragédie du roi Christophe. Paris: Éditions Présence Africaine, 1963; Toussaint Louverture, la Révolution et le problème colonial. Paris: Éditions Présence Africaine, 1960; Édouard Glissant, Monsieur Toussaint. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1961.
Dr John R. Whittaker taught French for ten years in secondary schools before becoming Lecturer, and then Senior Lecturer in French at La Sainte Union College of Higher Education, Southampton, U.K. from 1987 to 1995. He was subsequently Senior Lecturer in Education. Since July 2000, he has been a member of the Performance Translation Centre in the Department of Drama at the University of Hull, U.K., where he is engaged in a project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board, examining Translation and the British Stage. Apart from this, his main research interests are in the poetry of the Romantic period. Recent publications comprise: 'Albert Samain' in the volume 'Nineteenth-Century French Poets' of the Dictionary of Literary Biography , Columbia SC: Bruccoli Clark Layman Inc., 1999. 'French Studies: The Romantic Era' in The Year's Work in Modern Language Studies 1999, London: Modern Humanities Research Association, 2000. 'Romantic Poets' Treatment of the Bible: A Devotional Exercise ? ' in (Un)Faithful Texts: Religion in French and Francophone Literature, from the 1780s to the 1980s, New Orleans: University Press of the South, 2000. 'François-René de Chateaubriand', 'Victor Hugo (Novels)', 'Victor Hugo (Plays)' and 'Jean-Jacques Rousseau' in The Encyclopedia of Literary Translation into English, Chicago and London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2000.