The black Spartacus

by Chris Bertram on February 10, 2004

Two hundred years after the foundation of the world’s first black republic, “Ian Thomson, writing in the Guardian, hails Toussaint L’Ouverture”:,12084,1134518,00.html . For those who don’t know his story, C.L.R. James’s “The Black Jacobins”: is the place to look. And here is Wordsworth’s poem in full:

bq. Toussaint, the most unhappy man of men!
Whether the whistling Rustic tend his plough
Within thy hearing, or thy head be now
Pillowed in some deep dungeon’s earless den; —
O miserable Chieftain! where and when
Wilt thou find patience? Yet die not; do thou
Wear rather in thy bonds a cheerful brow:
Though fallen thyself, never to rise again,
Live, and take comfort. Thou hast left behind
Powers that will work for thee; air, earth, and skies;
There’s not a breathing of the common wind
That will forget thee; thou hast great allies;
Thy friends are exultations, agonies,
And love, and man’s unconquerable mind.



Andrew Edwards 02.10.04 at 9:48 pm

God, romatic poetry can be purple. Ugh.


Ophelia Benson 02.10.04 at 9:57 pm

Oh, no – I love Wordsworth. The very opposite of ugh. Great stuff.


Ophelia Benson 02.10.04 at 10:02 pm

Besides, look at it, for heaven’s sake – it’s not a bit purple. Plough, head, dungeon, miserable, patience, bonds, fallen, rise, comfort, powers, air, earth, skies, wind, allies, agonies, mind? What’s so purple?! Exaltation and unconquered maybe, but the rest? Not purple at all! Of the earth earthy. Peasanty in fact.

Or is it the sentiment that’s purple? Well…maybe a bit, but moving all the same, I think.


Conrad Barwa 02.10.04 at 10:55 pm

For those who don’t know his story, C.L.R. James’s The Black Jacobins is the place to look.

Peter Hallward also did a good summation of the Haitian Revolution in Radical Philosophy; bit strong on the revolutionary romanticism but then we are talking about the first major act of Black auto-emancipation in the New World; which has rarely been equalled in its impact, even if the revolutionary regime did degenerate:


John 02.11.04 at 2:55 am

James is wonderful, but rather Stalinist. Lots of stuff about how necessary Toussaint’s despotism and forced labor projects were, and so forth. Has anybody written a more measured account in latter years?

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