OBSERVATIONS SUR LES MALADIES DES NEGRES, by [SLAVE MEDICINE.] DAZILLE,…

OBSERVATIONS SUR LES MALADIES DES NEGRES, by [SLAVE MEDICINE.] DAZILLE, Jean-Barthélemy < >
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  • Another image of OBSERVATIONS SUR LES MALADIES DES NEGRES, by [SLAVE MEDICINE.] DAZILLE, Jean-Barthélemy
  • Another image of OBSERVATIONS SUR LES MALADIES DES NEGRES, by [SLAVE MEDICINE.] DAZILLE, Jean-Barthélemy
  • Another image of OBSERVATIONS SUR LES MALADIES DES NEGRES, by [SLAVE MEDICINE.] DAZILLE, Jean-Barthélemy
More reasonable and humane in approach that other similar works of the time

OBSERVATIONS SUR LES MALADIES DES NEGRES, leurs causes, leurs traitemens et les moyens de les prévenir. A Paris, Chez Didot le jeune, Libraire, quai des Augustins.

1776. 8vo, pp. xvi, 316, [4] approbation and privilege du roi; with woodcut head- and tail-pieces; light dampstaining affecting upper fore-edge from title-page through the preliminary leaves, and then sporadically throughout along upper margin, with some occasional light soiling, small tear with loss to lower corner of final endpaper, otherwise clean and crisp; evidence of previous book-label on front paste-down, with later signature crossed out and illegible on front free endpaper; in contemporary full mottled calf, spine in compartments with raised bands, tooled in gilt with red morocco lettering label, boards slightly sprung, head of spine chipped exposing bands, with small nick at tail, small loss of calf at lower margin of rear board, covers a little scratched and scuffed, with light wear to extremities; a good copy. Scarce first edition of one of the earliest, indeed arguably the first, formal study of the health conditions and illnesses of black slaves in the Americas, and which though ultimately penned to serve the amoral ends of the French authorities at the time, and certainly makes for uncomfortable reading today, is acknowledged by scholars as being of importance in the genre, and for being more reasonable and humane in its approach than others of the period.
Jean-Barthélemy Dazille (1732-1812) entered the navy as a surgeon in 1755, and spent the next two decades working and travelling the coasts of America and the East Indies, including witnessing the bombardment of Quebec in 1759. He later studied medicine in Paris under Antoine Petit, eventually gaining his degree from the faculty of Douai, and his name appears in the register for the l’École de médecine in 1771.
Much of his early career was spent in Saint Dominigue, and he returned there in 1775, having been appointed as honorary médecin du roi, by the Inspector General of Naval Health in France and the colonies, Pierre-Isaac Poissonnier (1720-1798), who together with his brother, Antoine-Poissonnier-Desperriéres (1723-1793?), formed a formidable ‘diumvirate’ in control of all medicine in the royal navy, and thus over medicine in the colonies. Known as the ‘Pearl of the Antilles,’ Saint Dominigue was the most important French colony in the eighteenth century. It boasted a large population, not only in size but also in density. Plantations existed throughout the colony, and produced three major commodities: sugar, coffee, and indigo. The average plantation housed two hundred slaves, but evidence exists to suggest instances of landholdings where more than a thousand slaves worked.
The health of the slave population was therefore seen as being vital for prosperity and colonialism, for without the slaves, there would be ‘no culture, no products, no wealth’ (p. 2). To be concerned with their health, therefore, was of importance to ensure that not only the colonies would prosper, but ‘to the commerce of the nation in general, and to the prosperity of the state’ (p. 3).
As much as he was under no illusions about the economic significance of his subject, or the reasons behind why he was sent to Saint Dominigue, in his dedication to the state minister for the navy, Sartine, Dazille notes that Africans have been ‘enslaved by the greed of Europe’ and are the most ‘unhappy and neglected part of the human species’, and makes a plea, presumably to both his paymasters as well as to plantation owners directly, that they should be helped out of a sense of ‘humanity’, and not just for political and personal interest. Based upon over twenty-five years of first hand experience and observation, the present work, whilst covering topics such as ‘fievres putrides’, ‘maladies vermineuses’, ‘des maladies vénériennes’ and ‘tetanus’, makes some attempt to recognise the significant detrimental affect upon health caused by the considerable hunger and deprivation that slaves endured. The work highlights the fact that most diseases were the result of insufficient nourishment, lack of clothing, and forced labour, and that much could be done to improve matters by providing better food and care, as Londa Schiebinger discusses in Chapter five of her work, ‘Secret Cures of Slaves’, as highlighted by this online summary of the book: ‘Dazille was a French colonial physician par excellence, yet he railed against anatomists concerned with the minute intricacies of skin color while physicians and surgeons arrived in the colonies grossly ignorant of the causes and treatments of tropical disease. To remedy the situation he published his Observations sur les maladies des nègres... For Dazille, the largest health problem was not bodily differences between Europeans and Africans but neglect in the care of slaves—insufficient nourishment, lack of proper clothing, and excessive labor that often exceeded their strength. He treated the ill under his care without regard for color and nearly lost his commission by insisting that slaves in royal hospitals receive the same rations of wine and blankets as soldiers’. This more humane approach to the treatment and care of all those in his care, led him subsequently to work to improve conditions in hospitals, as well as undertaking a study of water quality in Saint-Dominigue, Dazille realising that stagnant and contaminated water was often the cause of disease. With with his two further publications of 1785 (Observations Générales sur les maladies des climats chauds) and 1788 (Observations sur le tetanos) (and an expanded second edition of the present work in 1792), the three works form what is considered to be one of the most significant records of colonial and tropical medicine written during the eighteenth century.

Bibliography: Blake p. 110; Garrison-Morton 1601.1; Sabin, V. p. 277; see James E. McClellan, Colonialism and Science: Saint Dominigue and the Old Regime, Chicago, 2010, ff. 140; see also Londa Schiebinger, ‘Secret Cures of Slaves’, Stanford Press, 2017; see also Elsa Dourin, 'La clinique de la race: la sexualité morbide au coeur de l'idéologie esclavagiste' in Sexualité, identités & corps colonisés, Paris, 2019, pp. 237-245.

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