Tuesday, April 10, 2012


"...nous pouvons opposer à l'Abbé Raynal un Washington..." — Jefferson

AM | @HDI1780

While working in Amsterdam on my book on Mariano Moreno, back in 2008, I made the decision to leave the "Jefferson and Moreno" chapter to the last minute (*). I was brimming with confidence; after all, I had read most of the Notes on the State of Virginia (the book quoted by Moreno in Gazeta de Buenos-Ayres, 28 November 1810), and the library of the Universiteit van Amsterdam had plenty of resources. But as soon as I started with the chapter, I realized that things were more complex than I had anticipated.

The passage quoted by Moreno —on the 'federal' structure of Indian tribes— was absent from the main part of the Notes. And the title —Observaciones sobre la Virginia— seemed a bit awkward as well. Google Images came to my rescue. Thanks to this picture, I realized that Moreno had read the French translation by André Morellet; the title —Observations sur la Virginie— matched Moreno's own Spanish translation. For once, it was Google Images, rather than Google Books, that provided the answers I was looking for. Still, the book was not digitized.

Then I came across this excellent article by Gordon S. Barker: "Unraveling the Strange History of Jefferson's Observations sur la Virginie", The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 2004. By then, all doubts had been cleared. Thinking that the original title was too humble, Morellet replaced it with Observations. And just has he had done ten years before with Beccaria's Dei delitti e delle pene, he took the book apart. (Interestingly enough, he has very little to say about the episode in his Mémoires: I, xv, p. 295).




PAR M. J***



Chez BARROIS, l'aîné, Libraire, rue du

Hurepoix, près le pont Saint-Michel


Moreno's translation seemed to make perfect sense by now. But it was only in Paris, at Bibliothèque Nationale, that I was able to read a microfilm version of Observations sur la Virginie. There are still many twists in this story, some of which are relevant in terms of my research work on Mariano Moreno (an avid reader of Histoire des deux Indes). The good news is that Google Books has now digitized Morellet's translation.

The date is incorrect: the book was published in early 1787. You can find the part on Raynal and the degeneracy controversy in pages 161 to 165. Because the footnotes have been taken back into the main body ot the text, the reference to the 1780 edition of Histoire des deux Indes becomes more visible in translation. Thus, thanks to Morellet's tricks, Jefferson's criticism of Raynal is rendered in (slightly) less harsh terms.

(*) Agustín Mackinlay. El Enigma de Mariano Moreno. Fundación y Equilibrio de Poderes en la Era de las Revoluciones. Buenos Aires: R & C, 2009.

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