Victor Séjour Essay - Critical Essays

Séjour, Victor

Introduction

Victor Séjour 1817-1874

Séjour was a pioneering African American playwright who achieved notable success in the nineteenth-century Parisian theater.

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION

Séjour was born Juan Victor Séjour Marcou et Ferrand in New Orleans. His father was Juan Francois Louis Séjour Marcou, who operated a cleaning establishment, and his mother was d'Eloisa Phillippe Ferrand. Séjour's parents held education in high esteem, and they sent their son to the Saint-Barbe Academy, where he proved himself a gifted student. When he was seventeen, Séjour wrote a poem celebrating the anniversary of La Société des Artisans, an association of free black mechanics to which he belonged. Les Artisans greeted the poem with enthusiasm. In 1836, when he was nineteen, his parents sent him to Paris to further his education. In Paris he met Cyrille Bisette, who edited the abolitionist journal La Revue des Colonies and who published Séjour's short story "Le Mulâtre" in his magazine in 1837. In 1841 Séjour published Le Retour de Napoléon, an heroic ode honoring the French emperor. Séjour's interest in heroic themes and his enthusiasm for Napoleon continued throughout his life. The success of this poem gained him entrance to Parisian literary circles, where he met Alexandre Dumas, père, and Émile Augier. Séjour's dramatic career began in 1844 when his five-act play Diégarias was performed at the Théâtre-Français. Throughout the 1850s and into the 1860s Séjour was one of the most popular playwrights of the Parisian stage. His plays of the period were warmly received, as audiences enjoyed the grandiose prose, sumptuous costumes, and spectacular settings. In 1860 he was made a member of the French Légion d'Honneur. By 1865, however, public tastes had shifted and Séjour's popularity had begun to wane; by the early 1870s he was destitute and ill. He died from tuberculosis in 1874.

MAJOR WORKS

During his career Séjour had more than twenty plays staged. Among his recurring dramatic themes are family relationships, nationalism, religion, and social justice. His plays reflect the influence of William Shakespeare, as well as his knowledge of other English Renaissance playwrights, such as Ben Jonson, and of French writers, including Victor Hugo, who was clearly a model for Séjour.

Diégarias, a verse drama in five acts, shows affinities to both Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice and The Jew of Malta by the Elizabethan dramatist Christopher Marlowe. As did Shakespeare, Séjour produced a play about the English King Richard III. And the verse drama La Chute de Séjan is possibly an adaptation of Jonson's Sejanus. Séjour's use of the monologue in his plays and the high-flown rhetoric of his characters have been compared to similar devices employed by Hugo. His dramas often depict great emotional extremes, focusing on passionate love, hate, jealousy, revenge, and intrigue.

CRITICAL RECEPTION

Séjour's plays were greatly admired and popular in the Paris of his day. Their passionate intensity and complexity were highly praised. But as literary tastes changed, such attributes were disparaged as overblown and convoluted. Today few critics place Séjour among the top ranks of nineteenth-century playwrights; most do, however, commend his achievement in providing thrilling and engaging melodramas to appreciative audiences, and for attaining remarkable success in an arena typically closed to African Americans. Placing him in the context of nineteenth-century Louisiana, T. A. Daley has declared simply: "New Orleans produced no finer poet, no better dramatist … than Victor Séjour."

Principal Works

PLAYS

Diégarias 1844

La Chute de Séjan [The Fall of Sejanus] 1844

Richard III 1852

Les Noces vénitiennes [Venetian Weddings] 1855

L'Argent du diable [The Devil's Money] [with Adolphe Jaime, fils] 1856

Le Fils de la nuit [The Son of the Night] 1856

André Girard 1858

Le Martyre du coeur [The Martyrdom of the Heart] 1858

Le Paletot brun [The Brown Overcoat] 1858

Les Grands Vassaux [The Chief Vassals] 1859

Les Aventuriers [The Adventurers] 1860

Compère Guillery [Comrade Guillery] 1860

Les Massacres de la Syrie [The Syrian Massacres] 1860

La Tirense de cartes [The Fortune Teller] [with Jean-François Mocquard] 1860

Les Mystères du Temple [The Mysteries of the Temple] 1862

Les Volontaires de 1814 [The Volunteers of 1814] 1862

Les Fils de Charles-Quint [The Sons of Charles the Fifth] 1864

Les Marquis Caporal [The Marquis Corporal] 1864

Les Enfants de la louve [Children of the She-Wolf] [with Théodore Barrière] 1865

La Madone des roses [The Madonna of the Roses] [with Barrière] 1868

OTHER MAJOR WORK

Le Retour de Napoléon [The Return of Napoleon] (poem) 1841

Overviews And General Studies

Charles Barthelemy Roussève (essay date 1937)

SOURCE: "Negro Literature in Ante Bellum Louisiana: Victor Séjour," in The Negro in Louisiana: Aspects of His History and His Literature, The Xavier University Press, 1937, pp. 82-90.

[In the following excerpt, Roussève provides an introduction to Séjour's life and works.]

If Camille Thierry was the greatest Negro non-dramatic poet in Louisiana before the Civil War, Victor Séjour, the dramatist, considering his works from the point of view of their volume and quality, and the popularity which came to them during his lifetime, was the greatest Louisiana-born Negro poet of his age. Like Thierry, he is represented in Les Cenelles.

The story of his rise to glory reads like a romantic novel. The son of Juan François Louis Victor Séjour, native of Santo Domingo, and Éloise Phillippe, of New Orleans, he was born probably in New Orleans June 2, 1817, according to his baptismal record at Saint Louis Cathedral. Some believe, however, that he was born as early as 1809; and the Dictionnaire Larousse du XXe Siècle states that his birth occurred in Paris in 1821. While his full name was Juan Victor Séjour Marcou et Ferrand, he chose to be called Victor Séjour. His father operated a prosperous cleaning and dyeing establishment at "25, rue de Chartres," in New Orleans. Séjour studied, as has been mentioned earlier, under Michel Séligny.

Victor Séjour became a member of "Les Artisans," an organization of free colored mechanics incorporated in 18341 and still in existence. When he was seventeen years old, Séjour, on the anniversary of the founding of the society, wrote a poem which much impressed the members. In 1836, convinced of his literary talent, his parents sent him to Paris to complete his education and to remove him from the wretched conditions to which his people were then a prey.

After his graduation he wrote in 1841 an ode, "Le Retour de Napoléon," the quality of which was sufficient to admit him into the literary circles of Paris. There he met Alexandre Dumas and Émile Augier. Diégarias, his first drama, was staged at the Théâtre-Français July 23, 1844. His Chute de Séjan was also presented there in 1849. Following the production of these heroic dramas in verse, he gravitated toward melodrama. Twenty-one of his works in this style were played in the theatres of Paris. They immediately proved immensely popular, for the Paris theatre-goers came in droves to their premières. Victor Séjour had "arrived."

Really devoted to his mother, when word reached him that she was in need he sailed to New Orleans to her rescue, and thence he returned to Paris.

For an extended period Victor Séjour was the idol of the Parisian theatres. Among his friends was Louis Napoleon, who made him his private secretary. Eventually tastes changed, however; and both his popularity and his purse suffered. Poor and ill, he evinced difficulty in finding directors to present his Cromwell and Le Vampire, Grand Drame Fantastique. At last, before his Vampire could be staged at La Gaieté, Séjour died in a hospital, a victim of galloping tuberculosis, on September 21, 1874. Kind and lovable, he was mourned by many. He is buried at Père La Chaise.

Tall, handsome, and distinguished, with sparkling brown eyes, and with a complexion too dark and lips too large for him to be taken for a Caucasian, Séjour was an impressive figure at Paris in the heyday of his glory. An admirer of Shakespeare and Hugo, he was conversant with the literature of the drama, and he knew all the secrets of the psychology of stagecraft. Kind and generous toward his actors, he earned their love, admiration, and esteem. He continually sought to improve his works, often presenting revised passages on slips of paper to players on their way to the stage.

In the catalogue of his works are dramas in prose and in verse. Among his pieces in prose are Richard III, Les Noces Vénitiennes, André Gérard, and Le Martyr du Coeur, all of which are in five acts. Le Fils de la Nuit and the comedy L'Argent du Diable are in three acts. Le Paletot Brun is a comedy in one act. Included among his dramas in verse are La Chute de Séjan and Diégarias, both of which are in five acts. His Cromwell and Le Vampire were never published. Séjour wrote only one play with an American setting—Les Volontiers de 1814, a drama in five acts and fourteen tableaux, dated 1862 and featuring the Louisiana volunteers against the British at the Battle of New Orleans.2

Diégarias, the five-act drama in verse with which Séjour started his career as playwright, has its setting in Castile. Its principal characters are Diégarias, a Jew who kept secret, even from his daughter Inès (the only female character), his name and creed; Don Juan de Tello, husband of Inès; Henry IV, king of Castile; and Abdul-Bekri, Moorish spy. The quality of Séjour's style at this early period and the nature of the title-character of the play are revealed in the following passage, spoken by Diègarias to Inès:

   Ta mère … ? Elle me dit un mot,
Et mon coeur étonné se rendit aussitôt.—
"Fuyons!"—Ma haine avait fait place à ma tendresse.
Heureux et confians [sic] nous partîmes—La Grèce
Nous reçut.—Lǵ mon sort s'adoucit, je devin
Riche et puissant. Je fus honoré; mais en vain,
Le repos me fuyait! mon injure passée,
Comme un crime, un remords, pesait sur ma pensée.
Bianca mourut, laissant, dans ses derniers adieux,
Le désir d'être transportée un jour dans ces lieux.—
Ce désir fut ma loi.—Je partis.—Par prudence,
Je pris un autre nom, je cachai ma croyance,
Si bien qu'après vingt ans … vingt ans d'exil enfin,
Nul ne revit en moi Jacob-Eliacin.—
.…3

Victor Séjour's Richard III was presented for the first time at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin on September 29, 1852. The work is respectfully dedicated to the dramatist's father, to whose rectitude and loftiness of spirit Séjour attributed whatever success had crowned his art. In the play, whose background is the War of the Roses, the corpse-strewn career of Richard III unrolls itself to its wretched close. In a gripping scene Richard, asking in marriage the hand of his niece Elizabeth, daughter of the queen dowager, and sister of the murdered children of Edward, is answered thus by the angry princess:

Ah! gardez votre trône!—Votre trône? Quelle est la femme qui voudrait s'y asseoir? Votre trône?—Non, ce n'est pas une compagne que tu peux avoir, c'est une accomplice; ce n'est pas un coeur candide et pur, c'est une furie qui puisse dormir en paix sous ton toit, dans l'enivrement de tes cruautés! …

Oui, tu t'es fait du meurtre une distraction! Oui, tu as tué mes deux frères, Edouard et Richard. Oui, tu as tué mon oncle Rivers, tué mon oncle Clarence, ton frère. Tu t'es fait un marchepied de cadavres pour escalader ce trône que tu viens m'offrir, à moi dont le coeur est morcelé par tes crimes. Oh! l'insensé tyran! la vapeur du sang t'a enivré! Je suis heureux de pouvoir te le dire en face: je ne te hais pas, je te méprise; je ne te hais pas, je te brave; je ne te hais pas, je te chasse!4

Just before the fall of the curtain in the last scene, as Richard, dead, is ordered placed into the sepulchre in which he had meant, had his plans succeeded, to seal the remains of Elizabeth, the happy people, rid of the ruthless tyrant, cry out hosannas to Elizabeth and her victorious lover Richmond:

Vive Richmond! vive Elizabeth!5

Les Noces Vénitiennes, first staged March 8, 1855, is a tale of hate, jealousy, revenge, intrigue, assassination, and heroism, into which is woven, like a golden thread, a beautiful story of love and devotion. The scene is principally in Venice, toward 1553. The principal characters are Orséolo, chief of the Council of Ten; his daughter Albone; and her beloved, Galiéno, a Venetian general. The mortal hatred, centuries old, between the families of Orséolo and Galiéno forms the source of the plot. Some insight into the nature of the play and its characters may be gained from the reading of a few passages. Raspo, a spy, speaks thus, soon after the curtain rises:

Où est-elle, la différence, entre un homme brusquement assassiné et un homme mort douloureusement dans son lit?6

A few Unes later Raspo says tersely, "Langue légère, tête de trop."7 In the act following, Albone, the noble seventeen-year-old beauty, now a captive, declares, "La mort n'est rien, la honte seul est à craindre.…"8 Orséolo, in the fourth act, speaks in this wise to Galiéno: "Dieu a mis les morts entre nous."9 In the last scene Orséolo dies showering maledictions upon Galiéno, who after many adventures is at last happily united with the beautiful Albone.

While Victor Séjour achieved fame as the author of numerous plays, it must not be forgot that his initial work in Paris was the heroic poem, "Le Retour de Napoléon." Probably because it was his only production of sufficient brevity, this ode is the only piece by which he is represented in Les Cenelles.… The poem illustrates the extent to which the sympathies and interests of Séjour, as well as those of other free people of color in ante bellum Louisiana, were associated with France.

Notes

1According to the present secretary, some of its ante bellum members were white men.

2Desdunes, op. cit., pages 38-43; Fortier, op. cit., page 43; Tinker, op. cit., pages 427-31; Gillard, John T., The Catholic Church and the American Negro, page 18; and Dictionnaire Larousse du XXeSiècle.

3Op. cit., Act I, Scene vii, page 9. Prose translation: Thy mother? She told me a word, and my astonished heart immediately understood. "Let us flee!" My hate had given way to tenderness. Happy and confident, we departed. Greece received us. There my fate became less harsh, I became rich and powerful. I was honored; but in vain, rest forsook me! my past suffering, like a crime, a remorse, weighed upon my mind. Bianca died, expressing, in her last farewell, a wish to be brought one day to this land. That wish became my law. I departed. Through caution I took another name, I hid my creed, so well that after twenty years—twenty years of exile, after all—none saw in me Jacob-Eliacin.…

4Op. cit., Act II, Scene ix, pages 36-37. Translation:

Ah! keep thou thy throne! Thy throne? Where is the woman who would sit thereon? Thy throne? No, 'tis no companion that thou canst have, 'tis an accomplice; 'tis not a heart sincere and pure, 'tis but a fury who could slumber in peace under thy roof, in the frenzy of thy cruelties! …

Yes, thou hast made of murder a pastime! Yes, thou didst kill my two brothers, Edward and Richard. Yes, thou didst kill my uncle Rivers, didst kill my uncle Clarence, thy brother. Thou didst make for thyself a footstool of corpses with which to climb to that throne which thou comest to offer to me, to me whose heart has been torn by thy crimes. Oh! the brutish tyrant! the smell of blood has made thee drunk! I am happy to be able to tell it to thy face: I do not hate thee, I scorn thee; I do not hate thee, I defy thee; I do not hate thee, I drive thee hence!

5Ibid., Act V, Scene v, page 101.

6Op. cit., Act I, Scene i, page 2. Translation: Where is the difference between a man brusquely assassinated and a man painfully dying in his bed?

7Ibid., Act I, Scene ii, page 2. Translation: Light tongue, superfluous head.

8Ibid., Act II, Scene vii, page 10. Translation: Death is nothing, shame alone is to be feared.…

9Ibid., Act IV, Scene vii, page 24. Translation: God has placed the dead between us.

A. E. Perkins (essay date 1942)

SOURCE: "Victor Séjour and His Times," in The Negro History Bulletin, Vol. V, No 7, April 1942, pp. 163-66.

[In the essay below, Perkins gives a brief literary biography of Séjour.]

Victor Séjour, Genius of Drama

Victor Séjour, the most versatile writer and brilliant dramatist among that unusual group of free colored Creoles who lived in Louisiana, along the Gulf Coast and Atlantic Seaboard, was born in New Orleans, June 2, 1817, illegitimate son of Eloisa Philippe Ferrand, and Juan Francisco Louis, Victor Séjour Marcos, a native of San Marcos (San Dominque).1 There is a lack of accord as to the date of his birth, varying from 1809 to 1821, but the record in St. Louis Cathedral establishes the correct date of his birth as that above. This liaison was legitimatized by marriage on January 13, 1825.2 The child preferred to call himself "Victor Séjour," and by that name he was baptized and known. He was baptized in the St. Louis Cathedral as shown in the register of baptisms for les hommes de couleur.3 His father also abbreviated his own name to François Marcou.4 He ran as a prosperous dyeing establishment at 25 rue de Chartres, then the main artery of trade in New Orleans.5

Victor received his early education under Michel Seligny at Saint-Barbe Academy. Seligny himself had received his education in Paris, says Nathalie Populus Mello, herself a brilliant pupil of Seligny.6

The people of color had many wealthy persons among them, and this group formed an organization known as the Société d'Economic, founded by Creole artisans.7 Upon the anniversary of his graduation, at the age of seventeen, he wrote a poem complimentary to these artisans. It made such a profound impression that a subscription was immediately raised to send Victor to Paris to be educated.8 Incidentally, this also shows the prosperous condition of some of these free people of color. His parents terminated his studies in Paris in 1836, for reasons of economy.9 He rested after leaving college for a brief while; then in 1841, he made his literary debut through a heroic poem appearing in Les Cenelles,10 "Le Retour de Napoléon." This poem opened the doors of the literary circles of Paris to him, where he met Alexandre Dumas and Emile Augier.11 It was perhaps his relation to these two famous characters that bent him towards a theatrical career.

Le Thêatre-Français in 1844, enjoyed his première adventure in Diégarias.12 While it was pompous and sophomoric, it well disclosed the versatility, wide range of imagination and dramatic powers of the author and actor. Diégariau is a Jew who keeps the secret of his racial identity even from his daughter Inès and Don Juan de Tello, her husband; Henry IV, King of Spain; and Abdul-Bekri, the Moorish spy. After twenty years he confesses himself to Inès. An extract of the translation of his confession follows.

Ta mère.… Elle me dit un mot.…
Fuyons!—Ma haine arait fait place à ma tendresse
Heureux et confiants nous partîmes
La Grece
Nous recut.… Je devins
Riche et puissant. Je fus honoré; mais en vain,
… Mon in jure passée.
Comme un crime, un remords, pesait sur ma pensée.
Bianca mourut, laissant, dans ses derniers adieux,
Le désir d'être transportée un jour dans ces lieux.
Ce désir fut ma loi.…
… Après vingt ans … d'exil enfin,
Nul ne revit en moi Jacob-Eliacin.
13

Séjour's star was rising. "Paris theatre-goers came in droves" to witness his plays. The height of his popularity may be imagined, as well as his ability and culture appreciated, when it is noted that he became in the hey-day of his career private secretary to Louis Napoléon.14

Séjour reached the height of his career about 1853, perhaps, when he was thirty-six years old, and in a prose drama of five A description acts. All Paris turned out to witness is premières.15 A description of the night in the Porte de Saint-Martin Théâtre of his first play of Richard III may serve to give a faint picture of this quandroon dramatist at the pinnacle. The theater is brilliantly lighted. His voice is clear and vibrant, his movements, precise and elegant, his interpretation and imitation are superb. As the curtain ascends for him a man of olive complexion bows with kingly mien. He commands. His voice rings out over the large audience and the house cheers and cheers. Victor Séjour has "arrived." Describing him a bit more minutely: His brown eyes have the fire and the reflection analogous to the panther on the chase. He is tall, broad-shouldered, and walks with self-assurance. He is descending le foyer via l'escalier. He carries a coat on his right arm, and upon close approach to him he resembles un Français du Midi. He has heavy lips and is of the exotic type.16 A woman exclaims from the crowd audibly: C'est lui! C'est l'auteur, Victor Séjour! (It is he! It is the author, Victor Séjour.)17 Séjour is at the pinnacle. His star swings to its zenith.

His Mother In Need

One might wonder why these free people of color so much sought and loved France. France was free. America was slave. And while the status of free people of color was in Louisiana more nearly, that of the whites, especially the mulatto race, than it was that of the slave, it was not yet without restraint, and at times these peoples, many of them well educated, refined, wealthy, and of the best blood of France, felt painful humiliation at mistreatment. That accounts for much of the desire for many of them to make Paris their home, not less than its classic atmosphere.

A call from his mother, who evidently had lost her husband by death, brought Séjour hastily to her, for she was in great need.18 But he found his birthplace now unbearable. Whether this state of his mind had been effected by the large freedom and opportunity that Paris had given him or by an actual changed social condition in New Orleans, is not definite. But it was probably both, for it was about this time that Governor Robert Wickliffe had recommended to the Legisature of Louisiana that "Public policy dictates that immediate steps be taken at this time to remove all free Negroes now in the State when such removal can be effected without violation of law. Their example and association have a most pernicious effect upon our slave population."19

Phelps says, "A class of quadroons grew up with alarming rapidity, and by a process of natural selection which may be easily inferred, developed just those characteristics which made them dangerous. Many of these quadroons, endowed with superior mental qualities, and ambitions impossible to the pure Negro, won their freedom, and demanded a place in the civilization of the whites."20

Séjour did not therefore tarry long in the city of his birth. But while in New Orleans, says Nathalie Populus Mello, he formed a liaison with an octoroon who accompanied him upon his return voyage to Paris. From this liaison a son was born.21

Such unions were not unusual at the time. It was taken by the society as an incident. It was the result of a social condition arising out of slavery. The large number of mixed bloods in Louisiana, and generally upon the Gulf and Atlantic coasts at the time, testifies to the general acceptance of this social condition as a matter of course.

Lyle Saxon says, "Now it must not be assumed that these women were prostitutes—they were not. They were reared in chastity, and they were as well educated as the times would permit. These were for the greater part the illegitimate daughters of white men and their quadroon mistresses.… Their chastity was their chief stock in trade, in addition to their beauty. Their mothers watched them as hawks watch chickens, accompanied them to the balls where white men were admitted and did not relinquish their chaperouage until the daughter had found a suitable 'protector.' … Sometimes these liaisons lasted for years, occasionally for life."22

In 1849, Séjour enacted his La Chute de Sejan, which seemed to be an adaptation of a play of Ben Johnson by the same name.23 In all he wrote for various Parisian theatres twenty-four plays,24 two of which were composed in collaboration with Théodore Barrière, one with Brésil and one with Jamie (fils). In 1856 he played Fils de la Nuit, and yet large audiences were flocking to hear him.25 Both a student and an admirer of Shakespeare and Victor Hugo, he probably knew the latter, as they were both noted dramatists. He understood the psychology of an audience. Desdunes says, "Séjour played the stage with the skill of a master."26

His Star Begins to Wane

It was in 1874 that Séjour made a contract with La Gaiété; to play Cromwell andLe Vampire, both fantatic dramas.27 But Séjour is now fifty-seven. The years are beginning to tell their tale. His revenues have stopped. Il est maintenant malade et pauvre. (He is now sick and poor.) On September 21, 1874, he fell to galloping consumption. The curtain coming down upon him swiftly, his tragic passing might well remind one of some of his major dramas.

His old friend, Pergallo, does not, however, forsake him in his last darkest hour. He will take care of the funeral. He conducts the sad and poorly attended cortege to Père-Lachaise. The simple casket is ready to be lowered into the tomb. Here we might wonder where were the crowds that followed him to the theaters and lionized him in the hey-day of his brief, passing glory.28

A man dressed in a blouse suit followed the cortege weeping inconsolably. Unauthorized he took hold of the cord.29

Permettez-moi, s'il vous plait; je suis le manouevre au théátre.

Cette raison u'est pas suffisante.

Je le sais, mais je vous prie. Il m'aimait. C'est moi qui tirais toujours la corde du bateau dans le Fils de la Nuit.

Pergallo yielded to Jean the cord.

There are probably two major reasons for Séjour's relative obscurity in American literature and dramatics. First, Séjour's mother tongue was French, and second, Negroes are not readily admitted into the circle literati. It would hardly be contended that Dunbar, Du Bois, William Stanley Braithwaite, James Weldon Johnson, Brawley, Locke, Kelly Miller, and Carter G. Woodson, all admittedly writers of great creative ability, experienced no greater difficulty in entering the circles literati than Ralph Waldo Emerson or Joel Chandler Harris experienced. Every one of them met unusual difficulty. Dunbar, because of his inimitable genius of humor and pathos, and Du Bois because of his rich, rare gift in literary expression as well as his unbending philosophy of that higher law of human equality, literally unbarred doors of color locked against them.

Séjour suffered in American even more than mese suffered, for regarding Negroes in terms of letters in 1850 was unthinkable in all but Latin America. In the South it was a crime. Victor Séjour, comme tant d' autres, était obligé de s'éloigner du pays qui l'avait vu naître?30

Prejudice was sharper against men of color than against women of color in New Orleans, that is, especially when men assumed the intellectual role. The titles pétite made-moisélle, mademoisélle and madame were terms commonly employed in New Orleans when addressing females of color of marked respectability. In the enumeration of free colored people in Woodson's Free Negro Heads of Families, 1830, polite reference frequently occurs, as Miss Meleric Borei, Mme. Jeanette Alexis, Mlle. Htte. Bumchartrean, Mme. Theophile, Ld. (Lady) Gabrielle, Widow T. Daubreuille, et cetera.31 The term F.L.C., Free Lady of Color, was used at times. Without doubt, people of color, men and women, free and slave, were treated better in New Orleans than in any other slave community.32

Séjour, however, and many other men of his social level, suffered, and as a result found residence in Paris rather than in New Orleans.33

He wrote poetry, drama and prose copiously.34 No account of his death is found in New Orleans newspapers. The Tribune, owned by the Roudenez brothers, San Domingan mulattoes, suspended operation in 1867. But Paris news-papers took account of his death. Announcements of it occurred in Le Soleil, September 23, 1874; in Le Figaro, September 24-25, 1874; and in Le Gaulois, September 22, 1874.35

Paul de Saint-Victor gives an analysis of Les Mystères du Temple in the Renaissance Louisianaise extolling it, September 24, 1862.36

In his compelling personal magnetism over his audiences, in his rare gift of penetration, interpretation, richness of vocabulary and vocal expression he had few equals.

His last days were sad. In his taking leave of the stage there was tragedy,—tragedy such as he himself had so inimitably enacted "before all Paris" as it turned out to see and hear him play.37

When he fell before the "fatal malady,"38 his popuarity had already begun to wane. Tastes were changing.39 A less serious age was coming on that demanded something light. Yet Séjour, the "unfathered quadroon," born in a slave society that hindered the expression of his genius, had through sheer audacity and courage ventured beyond its pale in quest of freedom and fame and had achieved them,—achieved them at fearful cost and sacrifice.

His was the glory of the setting sun in mystic eclipse, a brilliant and melancholy star moving across the heavens and illuminating its own pathway, and sinking with mournful éclat into the darkness below. It is for gratitude and pride to reclaim him and award to him the crown of dramatic excellence that he so grandly sought and achieved.

Notes

1Edward L. Tinker, Les Écrits de Langue Française en Louisiane au XIXeSiècle, p. 428.

2Ibid.

3Register of Baptisms, St. Louis Cathedral, Vol. XV, p. 174. B. No. de l'acte, 871.

4Edward L. Tinker, Les Écrits de Langue Française en Louisiane au XIXeSiècle, p. 428.

5Ibid.

6Ibid.

7Ibid.

8Ibid.

9Ibid.

10Les Cenelles pp. 55-59.

11Edward L. Tinker, Les Écrits de Langue Française en Louisiane au XIXeSiècle, p. 428.

12Charles B. Rousséve, The Negro in Louisiana, pp. 84-85.

13Charles B. Rousséve, The Negro in Louisiana, pp. 84-85. Translation: "Thy mother … ? She spoke a word to me. 'Let us flee!' My hate yielded to tenderness, Happy and confident we departed.… Greece received us … I became rich and powerful. I was honored, but in vain. My past, suffering, like a crime, a remorse, weighed upon my mind. Bianca (his wife) died, expressing, in her last farewell, a desire to be brought to this land. That wish became my law. After twenty years of exile, after all—none saw in me Jacob-Eliacin."

14Ibid., p. 83.

15Edward L. Tinker, Les Écrits de Langue Française en Louisiane au XIXeSiècle, p. 429.

l6lbid., p. 428.

17Ibid., p. 429.

18Edward L. Tinker, Les Écrits de Langue Française en Louisiane au XIXe Siècle, p. 429.

19A. E. Perkins, Who's Who in Colored Louisiane, p. 32.

20Ibid., p. 33.

21Edward L. Tinker, Les Écrits de Langue Française en Louisiane au XIXe Siècle, p. 429.

22Lyle Saxon, Fabulous New Orleans, p. 181.

23Edward L. Tinker, Les Écrits de Langue Française en Louisiane au XIXeSiècle, p. 428.

24Ibid.

25Edward L. Tinker, Les Écrits de Langue Française en Louisiane au XIXeSiècle, p. 429.

26R. L. Desdunes, Nos Hommes et Notre Histoire, p. 39.

27Edward L. Tinker, Les Écrits de Langue Française en Louisiane au XIXeSiècle, p. 429.

28Ibid.

29Ibid.

30R. L. Desdunes, Nos Hommes et Notre Histoire, pp. 38-39. Note: Free translation n. 47: Victor Séjour, as others, was obliged to leave his native land in order to escape its prejudices.

31Carter G. Woodson, Free Negro Heads of Families, p. 31 ff.

32R. L. Desdunes, Nos Hommes et Notre Histoire, p. 39.

33Ibid.

34Edward L. Tinker, Les Écrits de Langue Française en Louisiane au XIXeSiècle, p. 430.

35Ibid.

36Ibid.

37Ibid.

38Ibid.-Ante, p. 8.

39Ibid.

James V. Hatch and Ted Shine (essay date 1974)

SOURCE: An introduction to The Brown Overcoat by Victor Séjour, in Black Theatre USA: Plays by African Americans, 1847 to Today, revised and expanded edition, edited by James V. Hatch and Ted Shine, The Free Press, 1996, pp. 25-6.

[In the following essay, first published in 1974, Hatch and Shine stress the historical importance of Séjour's works.]

Born in New Orleans on June 2, 1817, of a Creole quadroon mother and a free Black man from Santo Dominigo, Juan Victor Séjour Marcon et Ferrand demonstrated a talent for writing poetry early on, at Saint Barbe Academy. At age seventeen, to complete his education, Victor was sent to Paris to remove...

(The entire section is 13190 words.)

Further Reading

Daley, T. A. "Victor Séjour." Phylon IV, No. 1 (First Quarter 1943): 5-16.

Biographical and critical survey of Séjour's career.

Peterson, Bernard L. Entry on Victor Séjour. In Early Black American Playwrights and Dramatic Writers: A Biographical Directory and Catalog of Plays, Films, and Broadcasting Scripts, pp. 172-75. New York : Greenwood Press, 1990.

Includes a brief biography and a descriptive catalogue of about twenty of Séjour's plays.

Additional coverage of Séjour's life and career is contained in the following source published by Gale Research: Dictionary of literary Biography, Vol. 50.

(The entire section is 91 words.)