Source: Malta Historica. New Series. 10(1990)3(293-314)

[p.293] Two Unknown Writings by M. A. Vassalli

G. Cassar Pullicino

The publication in this issue of Melita Historica of two hitherto unknown writings in French by Mikiel Anton Vassalli (1764-1829) calls for some comment to place them in their proper perspective.

The twenty years between Vassalli’s deportation to Tunis on January 15, 1801 and his return to Malta from France on June 19, 1820 [1] constitute the least documented period of his life. In the basic biographical work Vassalli and his Times, A. Cremona pinpoints the various lacunae in our knowledge of his exact whereabouts and movements following his banishment from Malta: “We do not know whether Vassalli stayed at Tunis for any period or proceeded on his way for any other destination, but it is quite certain that eventually he found his way to France where he hoped to find some means of earning a living. Evidently he had no better haven or refuge where he could be welcomed ... We can approximately calculate the length of time he remained in France, but in which district or town he passed this long period amounting to twenty years, we do not know”. [2]

Elsewhere in the same biography Cremona stresses that “it is not known for certain in which town or province of France Vassalli was during the time he was absent from Malta, but it is obvious that in 1814 he was living at Marseilles”. [3]

Related to this obscure period of Vassalli’s exile is a statement by one of his sons, M.A. Vassalli Formosa de Fremaux, who published a small book in 1861 entitled Suggestions in accordance with Mr. Amabile Bonello’s Project of Emigration in the Coasts of North Africa. On the very first page of this pamphlet the author proudly mentioned that he was the son of a man to whom the great Napoleon had given the title of “Le Fondateur du Coton en France”, and that this title was also to be found in some of his father’s documents, written by the French authorities, and others extant in some of the archives of France.

Cremona unsuccessfully tried to trace these papers. “So far”, he wrote, “I have been able to find out nothing at all about these documents of his father and Schlienz makes no mention of them among all those which he found in the house of the elder Vassalli after his death”. [4] There the matter rested for a very long time, and everyone seemed to have accepted the fact that it was utterly impossible to lift the shroud of darkness surrounding Vassalli’s activities between 1801 and 1820.

After more than half a century from the publication of the original edition of Cremona’s pioneering work, [5] and as a result of long years of intermittent, at times discouraging search it has now become possible, with the help and cooperation of friends and archivists both locally and in France, [6] to make a small but concrete contribution towards the elucidation of this obscure chapter in Vassalli’s biography.

[p.295] The material which it has been my good fortune to obtain consists of (i) a letter dated March 24, 1810, addressed by Vassalli from Marseilles to the Prefect of the Département du Gard and enclosing five copies of (ii) an 8-paged pamphlet entitled Instruction abrégée sur la culture du coton, dated June 25, 1809 and written by Michel-Antoine Vassalli, described on the title-page as “Agent du Gouvernement chargé de la dite culture”. The purpose of the pamphlet was “pour servir aux Agriculteurs des Départements Meridionaux de l’Empire Français”.

A close examination of these two hitherto unknown documents, preserved in the Archives du Gard (Ref. 12 M 44), makes it abundantly clear that, besides their agricultural interest, various points of biographical importance emerge from their contents. These may be briefly listed here:

(i) From 1787 to 1791, when he was still studying in Rome, [7] Vassalli carried out small-scale experiments in cotton-growing in that city; [8]

(ii) In the years 1803, 1805, 1806 and again in 1807 he carried out similar experiments, but on a much larger scale, in the two departments of the island of Corsica, [9] Napoleon’s birthplace;


(iii) In April, 1808 Vassalli also made such experiments in Marseilles, besides other large-scale tests in the territory of Salon, in the Department of Bouches-du-Rhône. Moreover, he had seen and observed the results of cotton cultivation in the Departments of Liamone and Var. [10]

(iv) By 1808, or 1810 at the latest, Vassalli was definitely stationed at Marseilles. This antedates by four to six years the year of birth of his eldest son, Grabiel, who, according to his death certificate registered in Malta on July 30, 1863, was born at Marseilles in 1814. Cremona rightly considered this fragmentary piece of evidence as “insufficient, however, to fill the blank in this large part which comprised almost the quarter of Vassalli’s life; ... in that year, therefore, (1814) his (i.e. Grabiel’s) father was living in that French town (Marseilles). How long he had been there we do not know; whether it were ever since he had left Malta or years later, nor what he was doing there.” [11]

The text of Vassalli’s letter dated 24th March, 1810 reads as follows:

Marseille, le 24 Mars An 1810

Des Cotonnières
Le Département
des Bouches-du-Rhône

du Gouvernment pour la culture du Coton,
Professeur des Langues Orientales
A Monsieur le Préfet du Département du Gard

Monsieur le Préfet

Délégué par le Gouvernement pour faire des expériences sur la culture du Coton, d’après les essais faits en grand dans le territoire de Salon, ceux que je fis à Marseille l’année 1808, et tant d’autres que j’avais faits pour mon compte auparavant, je suis parvenu, Monsieur, à connaitre quelles sont les espèces qui prospèrent le mieux, dans les Départements meridionaux de l’Empire.

Son Excellence le Ministre de l’Interieur, qui a toujours approuvé les procédés de ma culture, et ensuite l’instruction succinte que je publiai l’an dernier, vient d’expédier en divers Départements, différentes espèces de graines du Coton, pour y être cultivées dans la courante année; ainsi je me hâte de vous envoyer, conjointement à celle-ci, cinq exemplaires de mon instruction sur cette nouvelle culture; afinque vous puissiez, dans le tems opportun, faire connaitre aux propriétaires et cultivateurs de votre Département, les espèces de graines du Coton qui puissent prospérer dans leurs respectifs terrains, les époques variables, et les operations relatives à leur culture.

Agreez, Monsieur le Préfet, l’hommage, avec lequel je suis

Votre très humble serviteur,


Both in the letter addressed to the Prefect of the Gard Department and in the pamphlet containing his instructions for cotton cultivators Vassalli is designated as “Agent du Gouvernement pour la culture du Coton” and as “Agent du Gouvernement chargé de la dite culture”. In the letter this description is followed immediately by the words “Professeur des Langues Orientales”. Different interpretations may be given to the second title. Taken literally, it could mean that Vassalli had been teaching these languages in Marseilles to earn his living and was known as such. However, we cannot say whether he taught such languages privately or at some college of higher institution. Further research is therefore necessary to clarify this point. The above literal interpretation, however, seems highly questionable and perhaps the real reason has to be sought elsewhere.

Vassalli attached great importance to this designation. In 1788 he applied for a lectureship in Oriental Liturgy and Syro-Chaldaic at the University of the Sapienza in Rome and later he was “possibly, a member of the Staff at the Sapienza”. [12] In October, 1790 Antonio Simone Assemani, Professor at the Sapienza and at the College of the Propaganda Fide in Rome, called him “Master of Oriental Languages” in an approbatory letter which follows the Preface of Vassalli’s Maltese Grammar Mylsen (1791) (... ab eruditissimo Viro Michaeli Antonio Vassallo Melitensi Orientalium Linguarum Magistro...”. [13] In 1793 he called himself Professor of Oriental Languages on the title page of his Tria Monumenta Lapidea Sepulcralia. Again, in the documents relating to a court case instituted in Malta against Vassalli in 1795 he signed his submissions of September 4, 1795 and styled himself [p.298] “Professore di Lingue Orientali”. [14] In July, 1798, in a petition presented to the French Commission of Government he applied for the vacant Chair (Lectureship) of Arabic at the University of Malta. [15] One may conclude from the above that Vassalli set great store by this academic title of “Professor of Oriental Languages” and quite understandably therefore he might have continued to use it after his name for reasons of prestige on certain occasions such as the one we are referring to.

Vassalli’s letter was issued on paper bearing a printed official letter-head reading “Direction des Cotonnières dans le Déparement des Bouches-du-Rhône”. One notes that it was addressed to the Prefect or chief administrative officer of another Department, that of Gard, and there was an unmistakable tone of authority about it. In fact the letter clearly stated that the Minister of the Interior had approved the procedure for cotton growing explained by Vassalli in his pamphlet. Moreover, the same Minister had just sent different samples of cotton seeds to various Departments, to be cultivated during that year (1810). Five copies of Vassalli’s Instruction abrégée were forwarded under cover of the letter so as to enable the Prefect of the Gard Department to ensure that landowners and farmers under his jurisdiction familiarised themselves with the new guidelines for cotton cultivation described in the pamphlet. One may safely infer from this that Vassalli may have addressed a similar letter to the Prefects of other Departments in the South of France. This inference is reinforced by the fact that Vassalli’s pamphlet, as we read in the heading just before the opening paragraph, was intended to help agriculturists in the Southern Departments of the French Empire.

It is possible that Vassalli may have been connected somehow with an earlier attempt in 1807 to promote the cultivation of a Maltese variety of cotton in the same Department of Bouches-du-Rhône. In a letter addressed to Mr. P. Pace on September 29, 1969 Prof. F. Crouzet, of the University de Paris - Sorbonne, wrote as follows: “... from 1806-07 to 1812 the government attempted to encourage cotton growing in that area (Bouches-du-Rhône). In a circular letter to the Prefects, of 13 February, 1807, the Minister of the Interior announced that a bounty of 1 Franc per kilogram of clean raw cotton ready to be spun, would be granted. The prefects were told to persuade the farmers to grow cotton, especially a variety which came from Malta. Instructions and seeds were distributed, but these attempts eventually failed, because the climate was unfavourable. Vassalli played an important part in them.”

[p.299] One notes that Vassalli made a similar appeal in his letter to the Prefect of the Department of Gard. It also seems that this was the standard policy followed in countries or states forming part of the French Empire. We read, for example, that in Italy “il Governo di Roma nel 1810 e ‘11, oltre a pubblicare e diffondere istruzioni per la coltura e distributee gratuitamente il seme, istituì un premio di un franco per ogni chilogramma di cotone pulito e pronto per essere filato”. [16]

In the light of the above the additional title “Professeur des Langues Orientales” at the head of the letter may be interpreted as yet another sign of Vassalli’s authority. His academic record and linguistic attainments, coupled with the fact that he had been authorised by the French Government to carry out experiments in cotton cultivation, that he formed part of the “Direction des Cotonnières” and that his functions as “Agent du Gouvemement chargé de la dite culture” were not limited by any mention of a particular French Department would therefore distinguish him from ordinary Agents appointed for specific Departments.

Among other duties, a Government Agent was expected to provide or hire the necessary labour and carry out the various stages of the cultivation process. We can get an idea of what this involved from the details of the work carried out between March 4 and May 5, 1810, in the property of a Monsieur Cameron by a fellow-Maltese, Zammit, who was Government Agent in the neighbouring Department of Var from November 4, 1809 up to and including the first three months of 1811. [17] The three months between March and May 1810 coincide with the period during which the instructions contained in Vassalli’s pamphlet were to come into effect. The preparation of M. Cameron’s land and the sowing process entailed a total of 349 man-days comprising the breaking of the clods, the levelling of the soil, the construction of water conduits, the digging of holes and their manuring, covering, [p.300] and moistening, as well as the actual sowing and the covering of the cotton seeds. Other work included holes dug at the circumference of the plantation for the “coton vivace ou taillé” and the raising of platforms supporting the whole plantation for the conservation of the manure in case of heavy rainfall or to facilitate irrigation in case of drought. [18] On the basis of the available material one can say that Vassalli had higher responsibilities, for as Director in charge of cotton cultivation he must have exercised a good measure of control over various Departments of the South of France.

As if to underline his expertise in this field, Vassalli concluded his Instruction abrégée by expressing his intention to publish a more complete and detailed treatise on the subject of cotton growing: “Je sais que ces instructions ne sont pas suffisantes à tout agriculteur; aussi suis-je déterminé à donner tous les details necessaires et bien plus amples dans un ouvrage qui contiendra le cours entier de la culture du cotonnier, dans lequel toutes les opérations annuelles, en commensant par le choix et la position du sol, par la première préparation jusqu’à la dernière reprise de la récolte, seront indiquées et traitées, époque par époque, avec toutes les règles, les exceptions et les variations possibles”.

[p.301] One also notes that, as Government Agent and Director of Cotton Plantation, Vassalli took his duties seriously. To reassure those who, on account of an unusually long winter, despaired of the chances of ever introducing successfully cotton planting in France, he wrote as follows in the penultimate paragraph of his pamphlet: “Pour obvier à cet inconvénient d’une saison extraordinaire dans ces belles contries de l’Empire, j’ai cru de mon devoir, en ma qualité d’agent du Gouvernement, chargé de la culture du coton, de donner pour le moment au public ces instructions, qui, quoique très-succintes, serviront cependant à tout homme qui possède quelque connaissance en agriculture. En indiquant les espèces de coton qui ont réussi ou qui peuvent prospérer dans ces climats; car l’objet le plus essentiel est la connaissance de ces espèces, qui sont celles qui donnent une floraison hâitive et par consequent une récolte précoce, j’ai voulu en même tems faire connaître les opérations principales de cette culture, que j’ai pratiquée avec succès sur divers points du Continent”.

There is no doubt that Vassalli’s pamphlet made some impact in cotton-growing circles in the South of France. In fact, in February 1810 M. Paris, “Sous-Préfet de l’arrondissement de Tarascon, département des Bouches-du-Rhône, correspondant de la Société d’Agriculture du département de la Seine”, refers to it in his Mémoire sur la culture comparative de diverses espèces de cotonniers.” [19] M. Paris gives the information that Vassalli’s pamphlet appeared in the series Bibliothèque Physico-Economique on September 1, 1809. This could mean, in effect, that the pamphlet to which M. Paris referred was a second edition, or reprint, of that dated June 25, 1809 which we are reproducing as an Appendix.

Moreover, one finds that L’Académie de Marseille had undertaken the distribution of Vassalli’s pamphlet and issued the reprint made up of 600 copies. This is what we read under the heading “Cultures Industrielles – Coton” in an encylopaedic work on Les Bouches-du-Rhône, published in 1928: “Parmi les cultures industrielles le coton est celle dont l’introduction hanta le plus les imaginations, tout d’abord sous l’Empire, alors que les guerres, puis le Blocus continental firent sentir durement la privation de cette matière première. Les premiers essais furent tentés en 1808 et l’Académie de Marseille répandait une Instruction populaire sur la culture du coton qu’elle faisait réimprimer en 1809 à 600 exemplaires.” [20]

Vassalli was thus directly involved in the French Government’s import-substitution efforts which were necessitated by the Continental Blockade. By the [p.302] Berlin Decree of November, 1806 Napoleon had declared that “the British Isles are in a state of blockade”; all commerce with them and all trade in goods coming from Great Britain and her colonies were forbidden. This meant that all commerce was prohibited between the British Isles and the lands over which Napoleon had power or influence. In retaliation, in January and November, 1807 the British Government laid down by Orders in Council that if Great Britain might not trade with Europe, neither should the neutral powers, and the French lands were placed under blockade. Her Navy cut off French Europe from trade with the rest of the world and as a result the price of such necessaries as cotton and other products of Britain’s colonies or of the tropical countries with which she traded rose enormously. [21] To remedy partly the situation, France decided to expand its import substitution policy and to promote locally the growing of cotton.

Attempts to find alternative ways to import cotton had been made but were unsuccessful because of the resulting prohibitive prices. In 1863 Monsieur Barthet, Vice-President of the “Société Départementale d’Agriculture” recalled how some speculators from Marseilles in 1811 tried to import cotton overland. He wrote: “J’avais alors vingt ans ... Une maison de Marseille eut l’idée de faire venir le coton par voie de terre. A cet effet, elle établit une ligne de bureaux de roulage qui s’etendait jusqu’en Dalmatie. Il arriva, en effet, une certaine quantité de coton, mais il était tellement grevé de frais que le prix de revient, rendu en France, dépassait 1.200 francs les 100 kilos. Cette spéculation ne réussit pas ...”. [22]

The French Government then conceived a project to try and grow cotton in Provence. In 1811 an experiment was carried out on a piece of land in the neighbourhood of Salon, a town in the department of Bouches-du-Rhône where, as we have seen, Vassalli had already carried out large-scale tests in 1808 and from where he had issued his pamphlet in 1809. It is almost certain, therefore, that Vassalli was the ‘cultivateur maltais’ entrusted with the project to which the abovementioned M. Barthet referred at some length: “Le Gouvernement conçut alors le projet d’essayer la culture du coton en Provence: à cet effet il fit venir un cultivateur maltais avec une certaine quantité de graines de coton ... C’est dans les environs de Salon qu’une pièce de terre de bonne qualité, exposée au Midi et pouvant à volonté être arrosée, fut convenablement préparée ... Grâce à des [p.303] conditions atmosphériques favorables, ces graines levèrent fort bien; les jeunes plantes furent l’objet des plus grands soins et, l’été de 1811 ayant donné une somme de chaleur suffisante, la récolte du coton fut fort bonne ... On en fit 8 balles qui pesaient ensemble de 11 à 1.200 kilos ... Soumis à l’appréciation des negociants ..., ce coton fut trouvé de qualité supérieure ...” [23]

In spite of this successful attempt, however, the experiment was not repeated. More pressing problems, the military setbacks resulting from the invasion of Russia and the disastrous retreat from Moscow in 1812, not to mention the fact that the Continental System was more or less abandoned by Napoleon in 1813, [24] pushed back all thought of further experiments with cotton growing, while Napoleon´s final defeat at Waterloo in 1815, the return of peace and the resumption of normal cotton trading made it possible for regular commerce with the Levant via Marseilles to be resumed.

Summing up, the veil surrounding Vassalli’ whereabouts and activities after his exile in 1801 has been partly lifted. His presence in Corsica, for varying periods of the year, if not continously, between 1803 and 1807 has been established on the basis of his own statements. From 1808 to 1815, and possibly later, he was living at Marseilles or other towns, such as Salon, within the Department of Bouches-du-Rhône. Vassalli’s active role, during the Continental Blockade up to 1811, in implementing the French Government’s policy of growing cotton locally in the Bouches-du-Rhône and neighbouring Departments has been defined and documented, although no actual reference has been traced to support the younger Vassalli’s claim that there exist documents to prove that Napoleon had given the title of “Le Fondateur du Coton en France” to his father. Much, much more remains to be done. We still do not know for how long Vassalli stayed at Tunis after his banishment from Malta. It is also important to ascertain whether Vassalli remained at Marseilles after Napoleon’s downfall or whether he left that town for a safer place when the Bourbon Louis XVIII was restored to the throne of France in 1815, after Waterloo. Clarification of this point might help eventually to trace the exact place and date of birth of his second son, Mikiel, so far assumed to have been born probably at Marseilles in 1815. We also need to know when Vassalli left France, whether it was his experience of the cotton industry that led him to make his way to Spain - maybe to Barcelona where Maltese cotton merchants had settled and set up business since before the Revolution [25] - and in which town of Spain he was living when his youngest son, [p.304] Savier, was born, probably in 1817. [26] Another lacuna in our knowledge is how and when he went back to France before he finally embarked at Marseilles on board the English brigantine Saint Francis and returned to Malta on June 19, 1820 after a journey of five days. [27]

These are the main lines of investigation which will no doubt engage the attention of other researchers in the future. Every bit of additional information concerning Vassalli helps to build up a picture of the full personality of this extraordinary and unfortunate Maltese genius born before his time, with a clear vision of Malta’s national identity. In this spirit these two hitherto unknown writings by Vassalli are being published, and in the same spirit we augur that others will successfully continue the search for Mikiel Anton Vassalli.



[p.307] APPENDIX




D’après les Expériences réitérés faites par Michel-Antoine VASSALLI, agent du Gouvernement, chargé de ladite culture,

Pour service aux Agriculteurs des Départements Méridionaux de l’Empire Français.

Je distingue toutes les espèces de Coton en trois classes; savoir; Coton Arborescens, Coton Arbuste, et Coton Herbacé. Dans les climats chauds, toutes y sont vivaces.

L’arborescens, comme celui du Brésil, de Fernambouc, de la Georgie, etc., ne réussit pas en plein champ dans nos départemens méridionaux: car, comme il demande Plus de tems que les autres pour pousser les branches à fleur, l’hiver les tue avant de fleurir. J’ensemençai de ce Coton, à Marseille, le 24 du mois d’avril de l’an dernier, et il sortit de la terre à la mi-mai. Aux premiers jours d’octobre, les plants étant parvenus presqu’à la hauteur d’un homme, poussèrent les boutons à fleur; mais huit jours après ils furent desséchés par le froid, avant de fleurir. L’espèce du Coton de la Georgie, dont les plants étaient plus éléves à cette époque, n’avait encore que de belles feuilles.

Dans la classe du coton arbuste, il y a des



espèces qui réussissent très-bien en France, telles sont celles du Siam Blanc à graine verte, du Siam Nankin, du Gallipoli , et toutes les autres espèces de colon arbuste , dont la plante et les feuilles ressemblent à celles de Siam ci-dessus mentionnées; comme le coton à courte soie, le coton à filoselle, etc. Mais le coton à graine lisse, brune ou noire, comme celui de Cayenne, qui a été acclimaté en Espagne et dans l’ile d’Iviça, réussit médiocrement dans les départemens les plus chauds, et dans les autres il demeure sans succès.

Les espèces de coton herbace forment la classe qui, en France, réussit presque tous les ans, comme le coton de Syrie, de Saint-Jean-d’Acre, de Chypre, de Kircagas, de Malte, de Pantalarie, et toutes les espèces de coton barbaresque qui ont les feuilles échancrées.

Cependant jusqu’à présent toutes les expériences que j’ai faites, soit sur le Continent, soit dans les deux départemens de l’ile de Corse, me font apprécier de préférence le coton de Siam blanc à graine verte. Celui-ci a l’avantage de s’acclimater aisément et de se perfectionner dans nos climats, tant en blancheur qu’en finesse et soyeusité, de manière qu’il m’a donné occasion de l’appeler à tous égards, Coton Français.

Le coton d’Acre et celui de Kircagas acquièrent aussi de la perfection dans nos departemens. Outre les espèses ci-dessus mentionnées, toutes celles qu’on cultive aux environs de Smyrne et dans la Turqui européenne, comme le Souboujac, le



coton de Salonique, etc., doivent pareillement réussir en France.

Au surplus, de toutes les observations que j’ai eu occasion de faire en plusieurs lieux et circonstances, soit sur les petits essais de culture de coton que je fis à Rome, depuis l’an 1787 usqu’en 1791; soit sur les grands essais que je fis en Corse, dans les ans 1803, 1805, 1806 et 1807, et à Marseille l’an dernier; soit sur les cultures faites par d’autres agriculteurs que je vis et observai dans les départemens du Liamone, du Var, et dans celui des Bouches-du-Rhône, j’acquis et formai des dates aussi certaines que sures. Ainsi je trouve constante et invariable la suivante règle générale:

Toutes les espèces de coton, dont la plante pousse les branches avec les boutons à fleur à la cinquième, sixième et au plus tard à la septième feuille caulinaire, réussissent, sans exception , dans les departemens méridionaux. Toutes les autres espèces qui tardent plus à sortir leurs boutons à fleur, réussissent moins, principalement dans les lieux où l’été est de courte durée.

Après avoir donné connaissance des espèces, il faut maintenant parler des époques et des opérations relatives à leur culture.

L’époque du semis du coton varie dans nos climats. Elle doit se faire ordinairement vers la mi-printems, et quand on s’apperçoit que l’hiver est fini. Ainsi, si la saison est tardive, on retarde l’ensemencement, et si elle est hâtive, on l’anticipe. Le germination bien développée des arbres fruitier



D’été, et la fermentation de la terre, nous assurent que l’époque est propice et véritable. Cependant les espèces de coton de Siam à graine verte, celui de Gallipoli et celui à, courte soie, si on anticipe un peu leur ensemencement à l’époque ordinaire, végéteront en tout ou en partie: car la graine de ces espèces n’est pas si facile à se pourrir; tandis que toutes celles du Levant et les espèces du coton barbaresque ne peuvent rester dessous la terre sans végéter, car autrement elles pourrissent de suite.

Quand le semis s’anticipe, il ne faut pas tremper la graine, l’humidité pouvant lui causer de la putrefaction, la terre n’étant pas assez en fermentation pour lui communiquer à l’instant les premiers mouvemens de la germination.

Pour être assuré que la graine du coton germs et sorte de la terre, il faut que celle-ci soit légère, meuble et dans l’état de fermentation.

Mais il ne faut pas couvrir la graine avec beaucoup de terre; la quantité de deux doigts lui est suffisante.

Pour que le coton atteigne facilement le point nécessaire de sa maturité dans nos climats, il doit être clair-semé et les vaseaux éloignés de manière que les plantes, dans leur croissance, ne s’entre-touchent pas. Ainsi on tâche que chaque vaseau soit placé loin de l’autre à la distance d’environ un métre, si le cotonnier est des espèces de Siam, à graine verte, ou



d’espèces semblables; et de deux tiers de mètre seulement , s’il est des herbacés.

On sème dans chaque vaseau six à huit graines, pour s’assurer de deux ou trois plantes, et on place ces graines ensemble , et unies sur un même point, pour s’entraider à lever la terre; alors elles auront la force de pousser et de sortir vigoureusement, même quand la superficie de la terre se formerait en croûte par la pluie. Quelque motif qu’on puisse opposer à. cette assertion, l’expérience le détruit, car nos climats et nos sols diffèrent beaucoup de ceux de l’Amérique, du Levant , etc.

Un vaseau contenant un, deux ou trois pieds de coton, est toujours considéré comme une seule plante.

Si toutes les graines qu’on a mises en terre sortent, on les éclairera deux fois; la première, dix jours après la partance, c’est-à-dire, quand les plantes auront poussé la quatrième feuille, et alors on laisse quatre plantes par vaseau. Le dernier éclaircissage sera nécessaire, quand les plantes auront bien développé la cinquième feuille, non comprises les deux séminales: alors on ôte un ou deux pieds, pour n’en laisser en place que deux dans les terres grasses et de bonne qualité où la végétation est plus vigoureuse, et trois dans les terres médiocres ou maigres.

A l’égard du cotonnier de Siam à graine verte et d’espèces semblables, il faut observer que lorsqu’au milieu des vaseaux,, il meurt



quelque pied, il faut toujours avoir l’attention, en éclaircissant, de laisser deux pieds seulement dans les vaseaux circonvoisins, mais jamais davantage.

Lorsque les plantes des espèces àt feuilles échancrées commencent à fleuirir, et que la tige devient rouge jusqu’à la moité au moins, il est nécessaire alors de les étêter.

Quand le coton arbuste est ensemencé dans des terres grasses et fraîches ou irrigables, l’étêtement est également utile; mais aux espèces à graine lisse et brune on noire, cette opération est plus tôt nuisible.

Comme l’entre-touchement et les humidités sont contraires, dans la saison automnale, à la maturité des cocons, et mettent en pure perte tous les soins et toutes les dépenses; en conséquence, on doit prendre toutes les précautions possibles afin que les plantations vers la fin de leur végétation ne deviennent pas trop gênées. Cela arrive quand elles sont épaisses; car le coton, pour mûrir parfaitement, demande un air libre et ventilé.

Ainsi, à l’approche de la maturité, on cessera tout arrosage, et si le cas l’exige, on effeuillera les plantes les plus vigoureuses pour donner de l’air aux gousses, et empêcher la putréfaction en cas de longues pluies et de vents orientaux, qui ordinairement causent des humidités très-nuisibles aux cocons prêts à mûrir.

Il ne faut jamais récolter le coton avant qu’il ait mûri. Ceux qui, par ignorance de cette partie



de culture, coupent les cocons non ouverts et les forcent à s’ouvrir et dessécher au four, en recueillent une très-petite quantité, faible et mauvaise, et ils se voient contraints tous les ans d’avoir recours à l’étranger pour avoir de la graine.

Le coton récolté s’expose de suite au soleil pendant l’espace de quatre heures ou plus, opération qu’il faut renouveler avant de l’égrainer. Au défaut de soleil, on l’expose sur le moment dans les lieux secs, ventilés et couverts.

Le coton des espèces d’Acre, de Kircagas, de Malte indigène, et de toutes les espèces barbaresques, ou qui ont les feuilles échancrées, est naturellement d’une qualité très - forte et très-adhérente à la graine; ainsi , pour bien l’égrainer, il faut faire usage de cylindres d’acier.

Le coton de Gallipoli, toutes les espèces de Siam, celle à courte soie, le coton à filoselle peuvent être égrainés par le moyen de ces cylindres et par ceux en bois dur. Mais ces derniers suffisent pour le coton à graine lisse, la graine n’ayant qu’une faible adhérence.

L’hiver de cette année ayant été long et par conséquent la terre étant entrée en fermentation très-tard, la majorité des personnes qui, ont ensemencé le coton à l’époque ordinaire, ne se sont pas apperçues que la saison était très-reculée, en sorte que la graine n’a pu lever. Cette circonstance a donné lieu à plusieurs de croire et de dire que la culture du coton en France est presqu’impossible à réussir.



Pour obvier à cet inconvénient d’une saison extraordinaire dans ces belles contrées de l’Empire, j’ai cru de mon devoir, en ma qualité d’agent du Gouvernement, chargé de la culture .de coton, de donner pour le moment au public ces instructions, qui , quoique très-succintes, serviront cependant à tout homme qui possède quelque connaissance en agriculture. En indicant les espèces de coton qui ont réussi ou qui peuvent prospérer dans ces climats; car l’objet le plus essentiel est la connaissance de ces espèces, qui sont celles qui donnent une floraison hâtive et par consèquent une rècolte prècoce, j’ai voulu en même tems faire connaître les opèrations principales de cette culture, que j’ai pratiquèe avec succès sur divers points du Continent.

Je sais que ces instructions ne sont pas suffisantes à tout agriculteur; aussi suis-je dèterminè à donner tous les dètails nècessaires et bien plus amples dans un ouvrage qui contiendra le cours entier de la culture du cotonnier, dans lequel toutes les opèrations annuelles, en commençant par le choixet la positiondu sol,par la première préparationjusqu’à la dernière reprise de la récolte, seront indiquées et traitées, époque par époque, avec toutes les règles, les exceptions et les variations possibles.

Fait à Salon, Département des Bouches-du-Rhône, le 25 juin 1809.


[1] The date of Vassalli’s arrival from Marseilles on June 19, 1820 has been established by Frans Ciappara in his article ‘M.A. Vassalli in the Correspondence of Inquisitor Carpegna’, Sunday Chronicle, (Malta), October 2, 1988.

[2] A. Cremona (Transl. May Butcher), Vassalli and his Times, Malta, 1940, p.69.

[3] Ibid., p.84.

[4] Ibid., p.126. Christoph-Friedrich Schlienz was a Lutheran from the College of Basle who later became an Anglican priest. He spent fifteen years in Malta (1827-1842) as Director of the Church Missionary Society’s printing press: K. Sant, ‘Waħda mill-aħħar ittri ta’ M.A. Vassalli’, Sijon, (Malta) Vol.6, No.4, 1973, p.96a, footnote 4.

[5] A. Cremona, Mikiel Anton Vassalli u Żminijietu, Malta, 1937.

[6] It is my pleasant duty to thank those who have helped with advice or material in the preparation of this study. First and foremost I am indebted to Mr. P. Pace, at present occupying the post of Education Officer in the Department of Education, who in 1969 passed on to me the initial results of his research on this subject undertaken on my suggestion, when, owing to circumstances beyond his control, he could not pursue the subject further and changed his field of study for the degree of M.A. In 1968, with the approval of Prof. J. Aquilina, at that time Head of the Department of Maltese at the University of Malta, he had prepared under my supervision a dissertation for the degree of B.A. (Hons.) in Maltese about Vassalli’s interest in the Cotton Industry as it emerges from his Lexicon (1796).

Since then I have tried, through long but intermittent correspondence with the Directors of various archive departments in the South of France, to widen the area of research concerning Vassalli so as to include his wife and her family - the De Fremaux - his three sons as well as his stay in Marseilles and his movements in other localities between 1801 and 1815. Much of the material I was looking for eluded the search, but, as if to compensate for this disappointment, information was unexpectedly obtained concerning another Maltese cultivator, Zammit, who like Vassalli was engaged in cotton growing activities in the neighbouring department of Var.

I owe a great debt of gratitude to the many Directors of archival services in France who gave much of their time to attend to my numerous queries during all these years. As regards Vassalli, I wish particularly to express my thanks to M.F. Rebuffat, Archiviste, Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie de Marseille, to M. Robert Debant, Directeur des Archives du Gard, and Mlle Madeleine Villard, Conservateur en Chef, Services d’Archives des Bouches-du-Rhône. From M.F. Dufitel, Directeur des Services d’Archives du Var, I received valuable help in tracing documents relating to Zammit’s activities in that area in 1809-1811. Enquiries made through the Archives Départementales de le Corse, Ajaccio, for documents on Vassalli’s presence in Corsica between 1803 and 1807, proved fruitless. A special word of thanks is also due to Prof. F. Cunen, former Head of the Department of French at the University of Malta, for his encouragement to continue the research when disappointing results were causing my interest to flag.

[7] Recent research has shown that Vassalli was already in Rome in July, 1785 and that he was a registered student at the Sapienza for the biennium 1788/90. See Mgr. C. Sant, ‘M.A. Vassalli’s Sojourn in Rome (1788/90)’, Sunday Times, (Malta) April 3, 1983, and F. Ciappara, ‘M.A. Vassalli studied for the Priesthood’, Sunday Times, (Malta) March 9, 1986.

[8] M.A. Vassalli, Instruction abrégée sur la culture du coton, Salon, Département des Bouches-du-Rhône, 1809, p.3. These experiments in Rome were carried out at a time of increasing cotton cultivation in Calabria and of a corresponding decline in Apulia, Sicily and other Southern Italian regions: G. Mangano, La Cotonicultura nel Mezzogiorno, Firenze, Istituto Agricolo Coloniale Italiano, 1912, p.8.

Vassalli’s practical experience of cotton cultivation dated back to childhood in his native village of Żebbuġ. He was born into a family of farmers in 1764. His father grew cotton in his fields, which he leased to others in 1766 when he felt that his end was near: F. Ciappara, op.cit., and Mons. L. Cachia, Mikiel Anton Vassalli: Ħajtu fil-qosor, 1988, pp. l-2. In 1770 his mother married another farmer and thus from an early age Vassalli could familiarise himself with the terminology and various processes involved in cotton growing. In fact, no less than 97 words relating to the cotton industry figure in his Lexicon (1796), reflecting his practical knowledge of its techniques: P. Pace, M.A. Vassalli u l-Industrija tal-Qoton... unpublished thesis, University of Malta. By the second half of the 18th Century this labour intensive industry had become one of the main foreign currency earners in these islands. According to a report on the economic situation of Malta in 1776 cotton was the principal crop sown for export purposes, providing employment for the majority of workers in Malta and Gozo. “One third of the island was taken up by cotton cultivation, even stony fields and abandoned lands were leased for the purpose”: J. Debono, ‘The Chamber of Commerce and the Cotton Trade of Malta in the Eighteenth Century’, Melita Historica, Vol. X, No. l, New Series, 1988, p.32.

[9] M.A. Vassalli, op.cit., pp.2-3.

[10] Ibid., p.3. Liamore is a river in the west of Corsica. From 1793 to 1811 the river Liamone gave its name to one of the two departments of Corsica: Larousse du XXe Siècle en six volumes... Tome Quatrième, Paris, Larousse, 1931, p.437.

[11] A. Cremona (Transl. May Butcher), Vassalli and his Times, 1940, p.70.

[12] F. Ciappara, op.cit.

[13] M.A. Vassalli, Mylsen Phoenico-Punicum sive Grammatica Melitensis, Romae, 1791, p.55.

[14] Carmel G. Bonavia, ‘M.A. Vassalli’s Commercial Activity’, Sunday Times, (Malta) October 30, 1988.

[15] J. Cassar Pullicino, ‘M.A. Vassalli in 1798-99’, Sunday Times, (Malta) February 21, 1982.

[16] G. Mangano, op.cit., p.10. P. Pace (op.cit., pp.36-37) quotes from C. Ballot’s L’Introduction du Machinisme dans l’Industrie Française, Lille,1923, and mentions similar incentives offered to Italian farmers by Richard, an influential entrepreneur: ......Son activité décorante s’était éntendue à la production de la matière première. En 1808, il entreprit de cultiver le coton dans les environs de Castellamare avec des graines recuillies dans les balles de cotons américains; pour développer la culture, il donna à chaque cultivateur, des graines et 100 francs par arpent, et lui achets d’avance sa recolte, à 20 sous la livre; en 1809, il essaya de cultiver le coton dans le Var; en 1810, il fit des essais dans les environs de Rome et demanda au gouvernement une avance de 300,000 l. pour faire cette culture en grand”.

[17] In his Instruction abrégée (p.3) Vassalli mentioned that he had seen and observed the cotton cultivated by agriculturists in the departments of Liamore and of Var. During the years of the Continental Blockade there were various attempts to encourage cotton growing in Var, Zammit’s name figuring as one of the Government Agents for cotton cultivation since 1809 at least, well before the date of Vassalli’s circular letter of March 24, 1810. I owe this information to the kindness of the Directeur des Services d’Archives du Var, who wrote to me as follows from Draguignan on June 13, 1980: “... Dans le Var, les essais de culture de cette plante furent nombreux. Un dossier assez important figure dans nos collections concernant l’agriculture à l’époque Impériale. De l’examen de ces pièces il ressort que le gouvernement français a fait de gros efforts pour inciter les cultivateurs à planter le coton, regardé comme une source nouvelle de profit et un moyen de concurencer les laines et les chanvres. Il existe une correspondence important sur le sujet et j’ai trouvé une piece du Ministère de l’Intérieur, adressée le 31 mars 1811, à M. le Baron d’Azémar, Préfet du Var. Cette lettre autorise l’autorité Préfectorale à ne pas poursuivre en justice le sieur Zammit pour une pièce considérée fausse, mais à réduire ses comptes d’une manière juste et raisonnable. Une lettre de la main de Mr. Zammit est jointe au dossier, adressée au Préfet du Var, pour le remercier...”. Copies of the correspondence concerning Mr. Zammit were later forwarded to the present writer.

[18] Details of the various stages entailed in the cultivation process are contained in a statement attached to Mr. Zammit’s letter addressed from Hyères to the Prefect of Var on the 24th April, 1811. Two declarations at the foot of the statement, signed at the Mairie de la Ville d’Hyères on the 23rd April, 1811 ‘pour servir et valoir a ce que de droit’ certified that Zammit had duly paid the sum of 550 francs to cover labour wages, and that a further 100 francs had been paid to Mr. Cameron for the transport of manure to the plantation.

Zammit had called at Draguignan, the capital of the Var department, before proceeding to Hyères, to pay his respects to the Baron d’Azémar and thank him for his help in connection with the regularisation of some accounts he had presented relating to his work as Agent. Zammit asked the Prefect to address the acknowledgement of his letter to Marseilles, care of Castillon, wig-maker, at No. 1, Rue de la Loge, where he would be staying as from the 25th of the month.

Considering that both Vassalli and Zammit were engaged on cotton cultivation activities during 1809-1811, and that they both had connections with Marseilles, one wonders whether Vassalli knew, or had met Zammit between 1809 and 1811.

[19] Paris, Imprimerie de Madame Huzard, Février 1810, p.65, footnote 1.

[20] Le Bouches-du-Rhône”, Encyclopédie départementale, publiée sour la direction de Paul Masson, Tome VII, Le Mouvement Economique: L’Agriculture, Paris, Marseille, 1928, p.583.

[21] A.J. Grant and H. Temperley, Europe in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (1798-1938) 5th ed., London, 1939 pp. 136-137; F. Markham, Napoleon and the Awakening of Europe, Pelican ed.,1975, pp. 112-115; C.D. Hazen, Modern European History, Rev. ed., London, Bell, 1919, pp.215-217, 232-235.

[22] P.Masson, op.cit., p.583. M. Barthet’s article was published in the Bulletin de la Société d’Agriculture des Bouches-du-Rhône, 1863, pp.36-39.

[23] Ibid., p.583.

[24] F. Markham, op.cit., p.115.

[25] J. Debono, ‘The Cotton Trade of Malta’. Archivum - Journal of Maltese Historical Research, No. 1, 1981, pp.95-102.

[26] A. Cremona, op.cit., pp. 117-118.

[27] F. Ciappara, ‘M.A. Vassalli in the Correspondence of Inquisitor Carpegna’, Sunday Cronicle (Malta), October, 1988. The articles by F. Ciappara quoted in this study have been substantially reproduced in Melita Historica (Vol. X, No. 2, 1989, pp. 145-155) under the title “Mikiel Anton Vassalli: A Preliminary Survey”.