Victor Jacquemont Papers, 1822-1833

Mss.Ms.Coll.103

Date: 1822-1833 | Size: 0.5 Linear feet

Abstract

Born in Paris on August 8, 1801, the youngest of four sons of Venceslas and Rose Laisné Jacquemont, Victor Jacquemont became one of the rising stars of French natural history and an archetype for the scientist in the Romantic era. Combining youth, genius, and a rhapsodic love of nature with a life filled with masculine affection, star-crossed romance, and exotic climes, Jacquemont epitomized the romantic intellectual right up to the time of his untimely death in the Himalayas. In a career in which ill fortune and good fortune walked hand in hand, the figure of Jacquemont has all but overshadowed his substantial scientific accomplishments. The surviving correspondence of the ill-starred French botanist, Victor Jacquemont and his friend, Pierre Achille Marie Chaper (1795-1874) consists of 106 letters pertaining to the development of Jacquemont's scientific career and their personal and social commitments. The correspondence was published, though not translated, in James F. Marshall, Victor Jacquemont Letters to Achille Chaper: Intimate Sketches of Life Among Stendhal's Coterie (Philadelphia: APS, 1960), APS Memoir 50.

Background note

Born in Paris on August 8, 1801, the youngest of four sons of Venceslas and Rose Laisné Jacquemont, Victor Jacquemont became one of the rising stars of French natural history and an archetype for the scientist in the Romantic era. Combining youth, genius, and a rhapsodic love of nature with a life filled with masculine affection, star-crossed romance, and exotic climes, Jacquemont epitomized the romantic intellectual right up to the time of his untimely death in the Himalayas. In a career in which ill fortune and good fortune walked hand in hand, the figure of Jacquemont has all but overshadowed his substantial scientific accomplishments.

As a youth, Jacquemont pursued a course of classical studies at the Lycée Imperiale before entering into a scientific course at the Collège de France in 1817 to study chemistry under Louis Jacques Thenard (1777-1857). When a laboratory accident waylaid him, however, Jacquemont's interests drifted to botany. At the Château La Grange, home of the Marquis de Lafayette, Jacquemont had recovered sufficiently by 1820 to undertake a botanical tour of northeastern France, further whetting his enthusiasm for his new passion. His coterie of friends, including Adolphe Brogniart, Hippolyte Jaubert, Albert Kunth, and Adrien de Jussieu, helped sharpen Jacquemont's skills in botany, geology, and mineralogy, and together, they founded the Société d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris to promote their sciences. Jacquemont's social and intellectual ambit grew steadily, and by his twenty-first birthday, he had been received into the influential salon of étienne Delécluze in Paris, and later, into the circle gathered about Mme Pasta. He eventually counted among his valued associates such stellar figures as Stendahl and Prosper Mérimée.

Jacquemont's ascent into the stratosphere of French science was regularly accompanied by an appropriately romantic pairing of tragedy and good fortune. While taking part in a scientific excursion to the Alps in 1822, Jacquemont's friend Jaubert fell ill near the tiny village of Pinsot, requiring immediate care. The party of young scientists was taken in by a young engineer, Achille Chaper, with whom all found an immediate affinity. The bond between Jacquemont and Chaper, in particular, was instantaneous and life-long, and the two became intimate correspondents on matters social, political, personal, and scientific during the extensive periods when they were separated by science or social obligations.

Returning to his education in the fall of 1822, Jacquemont entered a course in medicine at the Faculté de Médecine in Paris, but nevertheless continued to work at the Jardin des Plantes and to take courses under Arago at the école des Mines. His relentless schedule had little impact upon his productivity: between 1820 and 1828, he contributed over 20 articles to scientific publications and never abated his naturalizing tours in and around France. Before long, however, the peculiar mix of good and ill fortune reentered the scene. Falling into a deep despair in 1826 over an "unhappy passion" for the Italian singer Adélaide Schïasetti, Jacquemont threatened to unravel. To divert him from his woes, Jacquemont's brother intervened to arrange a voyage to New York, to find solace in a new climate and in the company of an old friend, John B. Stevenson, a physician whom he had met at the Jardin des Plantes. Yet the Atlantic could not buffer against the tides of passion. While departing after a pleasant evening at the home of Pierre François Réal, Jacquemont's walking companion, the former Napoleonic officer, General Lalleman, suddenly launched into a deeply offending tirade. So insulting were the general's words, in fact, that Jacquemont immediately demanded satisfaction. Prevented by New York authorities from dueling in the States, Jacquemont vowed to avenge his wounded honor by traveling to Haiti, where civilized people could kill one another with honor (and where his brother Frédéric served as Consul). Lallemand, however, refused to follow, citing poverty among other excuses. Although the general never deigned to apologize, Jacquemont took comfort in the knowledge that the general's cowardice had been sufficiently demonstrated, and by January 1827, he felt free to leave Haiti, his honor restored.

The sojourn in Haiti, however, was not wasted. During his stay, Jacquemont engaged in some minor botanizing, but more importantly, he received an invitation from Pierre Louis Cordier of the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle to undertake a scientific survey in India, complete with full pay and full discretion over the course of the expedition. This morsel of scientific validation was irresistible, and Jacquemont immediately returned to France via the United States to prepare. A winter in Paris served to shore up his knowledge of Asian zoology and he returned to the Jardin des Plantes to bone up on techniques for the preservation of natural specimens. After finalizing his arrangements, he departed on August 26, 1828, sailing aboard the Zélée for Pondichery.

Almost terra incognita to the French, India represented a vast scientific challenge for a country eager for information about "tropical" colonial dependencies. His travels from the Punjab to Kashmir, Bombay to Bengal, brought Jacquemont into a starling array of botanical microhabitats and geological terranes, generating reams of data and thousands of specimens that eventually fed back into French scientific circles. His pioneering geological research in the Himalayas appears to have had little influence, but his remarks on the Indian flora -- largely descriptive, but including notes on biogeography, ecology, and taxonomy -- were received eagerly. Although botanical knowledge of the tropical portions of the subcontinent were becoming increasingly well known, the information returned from the Kashmir and Himalayas as far east as Tibet was largely original. The major publication resulting from Jacquemont's three years in Indian, Voyage dans l'Inde, was widely read, and comprehended a vast scope, venturing from botany and zoology into ethnography, colonial administration, and jurisprudence. His exertions under difficult conditions and precarious health, however, took their toll. Jacquemont died of disease in Bombay on December 7, 1832.

Scope and content

The surviving correspondence of the ill-starred French botanist, Victor Jacquemont and his friend, Pierre Achille Marie Chaper (1795-1874) consists of 106 letters pertaining to the development of Jacquemont's scientific career and their personal and social commitments.

Having met in Switzerland in 1822, Jacquemont and Chaper grew close in correspondence, sharing scientific ideas and gossip equally in ardent prose. The collection is far richer in documenting the first five years of friendship between the two, corresponding to the period in which Jacquemont began to transform himself from botanical dilettante into serious scientist. As such, the collection provides insight into the salon culture of 1820s Paris, and specifically the circle around Stendhal and Mérimée, as well as the vicissitudes of Jacquemont's love life, his unhappy affair with the actress Adelaide Schïasetti, and his changing ideas of love itself.

Although several lengthy letters describe Jacquemont's sojourn in the United States, Haiti, and India these episodes are, on balance, less well documented. There is, however, a fine letter describing Jacquemont's attempts to consummate a duel with General Lallemand, his revulsion at encountering chattel slavery in Brazil, and some fascinating commentary on the Himalayas -- geologically, botanically, and ethnographically.

The correspondence has been published in its entirety in James F. Marshall, Letters to Achille Chaper; Intimate Sketches of Life Among Stendhal's Coterie. American Philosophical Society Memoirs 50 (1960).

Collection Information

Provenance

The Jacquemont Papers were donated by Mrs. James F. Marshall in memory of James F. Marshall in November 1986. Accession number 86-1112ms.

Preferred citation

Cite as: Victor Jacquemont Papers, American Philosophical Society.

Related material

The Papers of Charles Baron Clarke (B C555) and The Royal Botanic Garden of Calcutta (580.7 R81) contain additional information on botany in nineteenth-century India.

Missing Title
  1. Jacquemont, Victor, Voyage dans l'Inde, pendant les années 1828 a 1832 (Paris: Didot Freres, 1841-1844), 4 vols. and atlas of 2 vols. (Call no.: 915.4 J16v)
  2. Jacquemont, Correspondance de Victor Jacquemont avec sa famille et plusieurs de ses amis... (Brussels: H. Dumont, 1834)
  3. Marshall, James F., Letters to Achille Chaper; Intimate Sketches of Life Among Stendhal's Coterie. American Philosophical Society Memoirs 50 (1960). (Call no.: B J16)

Bibliography

Jacquemont (Paris: Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, 1959). (Call no.: B J16b)

Gupta, Raj Jumar, "Botanical explorations of Victor Jacquemont (1801-1832)" Indian Journal of History of Science 1 (1966), 150-157. (Call no.: 509.05 In25, vol.1, no.2).

Maes, Pierre, Un Ami de Stendhal: Victor Jacquemont (Paris, Desclée de Brouwer, 1935).

Early American History Note

This manuscript collection falls outside the geographic scope of the Early American guide (British North America and the United States before 1840). It may be of interest to scholars interested in global history, international relations, imperialism, or the U.S. in the world.

Indexing Terms


Personal Name(s)

  • Chaper, Pierre Achille Marie, 1795-1874
  • Jacquemont, Victor, 1801-1832
  • Jaubert, Hippolyte François, c
  • Lafayette, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Du Motier, Marquis de, 1757-1834
  • Lamarck, Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet de, 1744-1829
  • Schïasetti, Adélaide
  • Stendhal, 1783-1842
  • Tracy, Antoine César Victor Ch

Subject(s)

  • Beyond Early America
  • Botany -- France
  • Dueling.
  • Geology -- France
  • Haiti -- Description and travel
  • Himalaya Mountains -- Description and travel
  • Humboldt, Alexander von, 1769-1859
  • India -- Description and travel -- 19th century
  • Natural history -- France
  • Slavery -- Brazil


Detailed Inventory

Victor Jacquemont Papers
1822-18330.5 Linear Feetbox 1
Jacquemont, Victor, 1801-1832.
Correspondence
  box 1
ALS to Pierre Achille Marie Chaper (1795-1874)
1822 August 83p.box 1
ALS to Pierre Achille Marie Chaper (1795-1874)
1823 November 11p.box 1
ALS to Pierre Achille Marie Chaper (1795-1874)
1823 November 71p.box 1
ALS to Pierre Achille Marie Chaper (1795-1874)
1823 November 301p.box 1
ALS to Pierre Achille Marie Chaper (1795-1874)
1824 January 71p.box 1
ALS to Pierre Achille Marie Chaper (1795-1874)
1824 April 21p.box 1
ALS to Pierre Achille Marie Chaper (1795-1874)
1824 April 261p.box 1
ALS to Pierre Achille Marie Chaper (1795-1874)
1824 May 21p.box 1
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1824 May1p.box 1
ALS to Pierre Achille Marie Chaper (1795-1874)
1824 June 161p.box 1
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1824 July 21p.box 1
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1824 July 184p.box 1
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1824 September 174p.box 1
ALS to Pierre Achille Marie Chaper (1795-1874)
1824 end of September4p.box 1
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1824 October 88p.box 1
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1824 October 243p.box 1
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1824 October 304p.box 1
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1824 November 16p.box 1
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1824 November 22p.box 1
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1824 December 112p.box 1
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1825 January 29p.box 1
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1825 February 62p.box 1
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1825 February 192p.box 1
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1825 August 138p.box 1
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1825 August 236p.box 1
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1825 August 286p.box 1
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1825 September 42p.box 1
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1825 October 193p.box 1
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1825 October 274p.box 1
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1825 November 54p.box 1
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1825 November 263p.box 1
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1825 December 18p.box 1
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1826 January 53p.box 1
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1826 February 241p.box 1
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1826 March 41p.box 1
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1826 March 61p.box 1
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1826 March 91p.box 1
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1826 April 233 p.box 1
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1826 May 273p.box 1
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1826 July 31p.box 1
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1826 August 21p.box 1
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1826 August 31p.box 1
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1826 October 292p.box 1
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1827 April 1312p.box 1
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1827 May 93p.box 1
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1827 June 73p.box 1
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1827 June 154p.box 1
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1827 July 62p.box 1
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1827 October 201p.box 1
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1827 October 221p.box 1
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1827 November 92p.box 1
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1827 November 161p.box 1
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1827 November 201p.box 1
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1827 December 112p.box 1
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1827 December 271p.box 1
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1828 January 71p.box 1
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1828 January 131p.box 1
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1828 January 271p.box 1
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1828 January 301p.box 1
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1828 February 53p.box 1
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1828 February 71p.box 1
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1828 February 201p.box 1
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1828 February 251p.box 1
ALS to Pierre Achille Marie Chaper (1795-1874)
1828 March 241p.box 1
ALS to Pierre Achille Marie Chaper (1795-1874)
1828 April 41p.box 1
ALS to Pierre Achille Marie Chaper (1795-1874)
1828 April 61p.box 1
ALS to Pierre Achille Marie Chaper (1795-1874)
1828 May 81p.box 1
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1828 May 91p.box 1
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1828 May 142p.box 1
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1828 May 182p.box 1
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1828 May 314p.box 1
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1828 June 293p.box 1
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1828 August 62p.box 1
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1828 August 212p.box 1
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1828 December 107p.box 1
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1829 August 275p.box 1
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1830 June 254p.box 1
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1831 July 216p.box 1
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1831 December 162p.box 1
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1833 June 153p.box 1
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1833 August 72p.box 1
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1833 December 93p.box 1