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"Impressions africaines"7 The Chevalier de Boufflers in Senegal, 1785-1787 ALEXANDER A. SOKAESKI Author of the short novel, Aline, Reine de Golconde, lionized poet of light satirical social verse, amateur portrait painter, seasoned Euro­ pean traveller, military officer forever in wait for a never-to-materialize engagement, absentee abbot of revenue monasteries in the Lorraine, chevalier de Malte, lover of the Countess Eleonore de Sabran, Stanislas Jean de Boufflers had led a life which in no way could be said to have prepared him, and perhaps even more so, many of his contempo­ raries, for Louis XVI's decision in October 1785 to name the chevalier to the post of Governor of Senegal. Never have the reasons for the chevalier de Boufflers' request nor those behind the king's affirmative resolution been satisfactorily ex­ plained. It has been asserted that the nomination was in point of fact a disgrace, the consequence of two songs whose protagonists hap­ pened to be the powerfully allied abbess of Remiremont and the queen herself. A number of critics and historians maintain that the pe­ titioner was motivated by strictly personal considerations, a desire to secure income other than that based on his abbeys and perhaps even to refurbish his personal finances, at that time deficient by 60,000 francs, combined with a desire to insure his own social position and thereby be deemed more worthy of his lover. It is highly unlikely, however, that the chevalier ever imagined that a more secure income 251 252 / SOKALSKI or a better social rank than the one already his by virtue of family con­ nections would accrue from a governorship considered neither par­ ticularly lucrative nor high profile. What this post may really have rep­ resented for its seeker, as has been suggested by Paul Bonnefon, was a last-ditch effort to achieve success, any kind of success: "... jouer son dernier coup de de et saisir sa derniere chance de reussite."2 Or, as another commentator, Pierre Vitoux, observes, although the office may have had little to recommend it to a man of Boufflers' social stat­ ure, the chevalier may well have felt that, "l'aventure peut faire naitre l'occasion de se distinguer."3 Indeed, the newly appointed governor does intimate several times that it is an "ambition folle et barbare," that it is this "fatale ambition" which directs him and affirms that his exile, as he calls it, is due entirely to "le crime des hommes qui ont donne l'empire du monde a l'ambition, au lieu de ne reconnaitre que 1'amour et le bonheur."4 Consequently, his petition would appear to have been motivated primarily by a sense of personal ambition, fu­ elled by a passion for adventure and travel. That it was granted would further seem to indicate an absence of other serious candidates. During his tenure as Governor of Senegal, the chevalier de Boufflers made two trips to the tropical colony and resided there altogether ap­ proximately sixteen months. Named to the post on October 9, 1785, he received his instructions5 on November 18, but it was December 8 before he even boarded the corvette Rossignol. His departure, in fact, was delayed another nine days by unfavorable weather. On January 16, 1786, the new governor disembarked at Saint-Louis-du-Senegal. After a stay of only six months he was back aboard ship en route for France. Boufflers' return without leave seemed precipitous, but had been contemplated since the end of March, stimulated by outrage at the conditions prevailing in the colony as well as by an earnest wish to plead the colony's case before the officials at Versailles. After sixty days at sea the vessel carrying him finally attained the Atlantic port of La Rochelle late in the night or early in the morning of August 13/14, 1786. By the following December, the peripatetic governor was once more bound for Senegal, reaching his destination this time on January 19, 1787. This second period of his government was to last a full ten months. The chevalier would quit the shores of West Africa on No­ vember 20/21 and only upon receipt of royal permission. Late that...


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