Saint-Georges [Saint-George], Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de
- Gabriel Banat
(b Baillif, Guadeloupe, Dec 25, 1745; d Paris, June 9, 1799). French composer and violinist. He was the son of a Guadeloupe planter, George Bologne, and his African slave Nanon. Although his father called himself ‘de Saint-Georges’, after one of his properties, he was officially ennobled only in 1757, when he acquired the title of Gentilhomme ordinaire de la chambre du roi. (Some biographers have mistaken him for Pierre Boullongne-Tavernier, controlleur général of finance, whose nobility dated back to the 15th century; such confusion originated with de Beauvoir’s novel of 1840.) In 1747 George Bologne was accused unjustly of murder and fled to France with Nanon and her child to prevent their being sold. After two years he was granted a royal pardon and the family returned to Guadeloupe. In 1753 George took Joseph to France permanently.
At the age of 13 Saint-Georges became a pupil of La Boëssière, a master of arms, and excelled in all physical exercises, especially fencing. When still a student Saint-Georges beat Alexandre Picard, a fencing-master of Rouen, who had mocked him as ‘La Boëssière’s upstart mulatto’, and was rewarded by his father with a horse and buggy. On graduating, at the age of 19, he was made a Gendarme de la Garde du Roi and dubbed chevalier. After the end of the Seven Years War, George Bologne returned to his Guadeloupe plantations, leaving his son with a handsome annuity. The young chevalier became the darling of fashionable society; all contemporary accounts speak of his romantic conquests. In ...