Every once in awhile one comes across a truly unexpected treasure. At Kline Books we recently came into possession of the complete works of Victor Hugo (1802-85) in English printed in the nineteenth century. One of the volumes contained a letter from none other than the author himself, written in 1864 to an American named Charles Havens Hunts. At this point in Hugo's life he had been in exile from France since 1851 when Napoleon III declared himself emperor. Hugo lived on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel where he took up residence in the Hauteville House. Hunts had recently written a biography of Senator Edward Livingston (1764-1836), an American political reformer and advocate of prison reform. Victor Hugo wrote to Livingston as a young man in 1834, when the latter was serving as the United States minister to France, praising him for his humanitarian efforts. Hunts included this letter in his book and sent Hugo a copy. Hugo is writing back to express his thanks and his admiration for both Livingston and Hunts.
Hauteville House - 15 Mars 1864. Monsieur, precisely 30 years ago, in March 1834, I sent the letter you have mentioned in your remarkable book to Senator Livingston. Today, I stand closer to him and you. It is called "Law of Progress." The honest and sincere men that walked before them, often coming from opposing factions, always end up united. You too, are sending me an excellent book. This is the work of a noble and serious mind. I wish you all my best for the appeasement and enlargement of your illustrious republic. It will triumph for liberty. Acknowledge the expression of my sincere cordiality.
Monsieur Ch. Havens Hunts, author of the Life of Edward Livingston.
Letters like the ones written to Livingston and Hunts should give one pause from thinking of Hugo simply as a French writer. Much of Hugo's work, including Les Miserables (1862) was written in exile in English territory. Furthermore Hugo's interest in humanitarian causes led him to take an interest in the United States and form friendships with Americans.