Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:
In the first years of the 19th century, Napoleon decided he'd had enough of the Haitian patriot, freedom fighter, and self-proclaimed defender of the French Revolution, Toussaint Louverture. Louverture had organized slave revolts in Haiti and defeated armies sent by the Spanish, English, and the French. A man of the Enlightenment, he took the ideas of liberté, egalité, and fraternité quite seriously. Never sentimental, Napoleon realized that France's Caribbean colonies were heavy on the lucre, and that he needed slave labor to keep the profits flowing. Louverture had become a nuisance.
Louverture was tricked into a meeting and then captured by the French in 1802. He was brought back to France, where he lived and quickly expired in a little dungeon called Fort de Joux. But before his death, he’d managed to stir the hearts of quite a few. William Wordsworth was one. A youngish Wordsworth penned the following lines in honor of the great Haitian:
TOUSSAINT, the most unhappy 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.
Wordsworth saw Toussaint as a participant in the promising events of the time: Toussaint in Haiti, the sans-culottes in France, the revolutionaries in New York and Boston. Recent events — not to mention the last 200 years of Haitian history — have proven Wordsworth a poor prophet when it comes to Haiti.