• Christie's: The first four Folios of William Shakespeare’s collected works will be auctioned on 25 May.
    Christie's: The first four Folios of William Shakespeare’s collected works will be auctioned on 25 May.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 5: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 5:</b> Anne & Margot Frank's copy of <i>Grimm's Fairy Tales</i>, in which Anne wrote her own and Margot's name, circa 1940. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 5:</b> Albert Einstein, group of 4 letters Signed to Helmut L. Bradt regarding Bradt's emigration to the U.S., one bearing Nazi censor ink stamps, 1939-40. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 5:</b> Archive of items from Ludwig Bemelmans to producer Mary K. Frank, concerning <i>The Street <br>Where the Heart Lies</i>, 1959-62. <br>$10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 5: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 5:</b> Archive of correspondence to<br>Edwin A. Van Valkenburg from President Theodore Roosevelt and members of his family, 1913-21. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 5:</b> Oscar Wilde, manuscript notes panning a book on book collecting, circa 1886. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 5:</b><br>John Hancock, partly-printed document Signed as Governor of Massachusetts, Boston, 1781.<br>$4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 5: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 5:</b> Franz Liszt, Autograph Letter<br>Signed to Carl Gille, Rome, 1869. $4,00 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 5:</b> Joseph Conrad, photograph Signed and dated, 1918. $1,000 to $2,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 5:</b><br>Two Guns White Calf, photograph postcard Signed with his pictogram, 1929. $800 to $1,200.
  • Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts, 8 June 2016, New York
    Bonhams June 8: ARISTOTLE.<br>384-322 B.C.E. De animalibus <br>US$ 300,000-500,000.
  • <b>Ketterer Kunst Hamburg, Rare Books Auction on May 23/24.</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May Auction:</b> Mary Stuart. Ms. Parliament document (contemp. copy). 1567. <br>Est: € 2.000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May Auction:</b> Latin and French Book of Hours. About 1480. Est: € 65.000.
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May Auction:</b> Book of Hours by Germain Hardouyn. 1533. Est: € 18.000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May Auction:</b> G. P. Gallucci, Theatrum mundi. 1588. Est: € 5.000
    <b>Ketterer Kunst Hamburg, Rare Books Auction on May 23/24.</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May Auction:</b> J. Hill, The vegetable system. 1761-75. Est: € 60.000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May Auction:</b> <br>J. Honter, Rudimentorum cosmographicorum libri III. 1549.<br>Est: € 3.000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May Auction:</b> Two terrestrial and celestial globes by J. G. Doppelmayr. 1789 or later. Est: € 40.000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May Auction:</b> <br>G. de Maupassant, Contes choisies. 1891-92. Est: € 6.000
    <b>Ketterer Kunst Hamburg, Rare Books Auction on May 23/24.</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May Auction:</b> <br>K. Schwitters, HahnePeter. 1924.<br>Est: € 6.000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May Auction:</b> <br>I. G. Chernikhov, Arkhitekturnye fantazii. 1933. Est: € 3.000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May Auction:</b> <br>E. Baj, La Cravate. 1972. Est: € 3.000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May Auction:</b> <br>H. Bellmer & G. Bataille, Histoire de l'oeil. 1944. Est: € 3.000

Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2013 Issue

Le Rat du Châtelet, Of Rats and Men

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Le Rat.

 Just the other day, I came across an unusual book: 51 pages only, complete though incomplete, almost unknown but enjoying a certain popularity among a circle of connoisseurs and, last but not least, written by an anonymous rat.

 

This book is a political satire entitled Le Rat du Châtelet, or The Rat of Le Châtelet. It was published in 1790 by an anonymous writer—the title page doesn’t mention any printer either. A few months after the French Revolution (July the 14th, 1789), it was probably safer this way. Our writer transforms himself into a rat to crawl inside Le Châtelet, the scariest jail of Paris. At the time, this prison—now a mere square—sheltered the most vicious criminals; to such an extent that when the outraged people of Paris freed all prisoners on July the 13th, they made an exception for the 350 inmates of Le Châtelet. Famous people had been incarcerated (some even tortured) there before the Révolution, including François Villon—who allegedly wrote his masterpiece Frères humains inside—, Clément Marot or Louis-Dominique Cartouche. During the troubled times of 1789, the most virulent prisoners were still taken there, so our rat was crawling on thin ice. Let’s follow him into the dark underworld of Le Châtelet.

 

The bottomless pit

 

Traveling Le Châtelet with our rat is like visiting the kingdom of Hades: here, a lamenting ghostly Bankrupt lost in a remorseful loneliness; there, a stinking dormitory full of petty thieves with scabies; over there, some innocent citizens, victims of the guilty zeal of some newly converted revolutionaries. “Alas!” cries out our rat. “In which hands have we left the guides of our peace, liberty and rights? Who are those people, responsible for our safety?” Meet this man who, standing in a public gathering, carelessly uttered a word that sounded offending to the new Parisian Guard. He was called an aristocrat, arrested by a patrol and sent to Le Châtelet where Judge Dubois condemned him to suffer “three days of yoke,” and “to be whipped and marked, then sent to the galleys.” Fortunately, our inmate had connections, his sentence was commuted to a two-year imprisonment—lucky him! These stories might be true, or not. Names quoted in the book do not seem to fit reality, apart from the one Nicolas de Satou, identified as the aforementioned Judge Dubois.

 

It was dangerous to criticize the revolutionary government but crawling rats seldom bite. Refusing to be seen as a petty slanderer, our rat promises to name some monsters of infamy and others freedom mongers... shortly—meaning, in the second part of his diary. “If this first part happily entertains the reader, then his curiosity shall be rewarded by a second part.” Thus speaks the rat in the author’s note. But this second part never saw the light. Why? God only—and probably a little wet rat— knows the answer. Satirical writings were common at the time. Many were printed that were much more virulent. Let’s admit it, our rat wasn’t the most outspoken rodent of his time. But he knew what he was talking about as far as slang was concerned; and that’s the reason why this book is still sought-after nowadays.

 

Slang from Villon to Cartouche

 

At one point, our rat crawls among the rabble. “Was there any regout (problem)?” asks a prisoner to a newcomer. “Yes,” answers the other, “ I was fait (caught) while working the bauche (breaking a house); the marque (housemaid) crible au charron (shouted ‘thief’), bride the lourde of the longue (closed the door of the room), the mistringues (police) aboulent (arrived), they trimbalent (took me) to the cardeuil (police commissioner), they rapiote me (questioned me), but poitou (in vain); I had hidden my peignes (false keys) and my camelotte (booty). I did not reconnoblé (speak).” Some parts of this discussion remain unintelligible nowadays, even to a French-speaking person— and that was exactly the point. “Slang is the language of the purse robbers,” wrote Pierre Richelet in the 1706 Elzevir’s edition of his dictionary. “They express themselves in a way that made them unintelligible to anyone outside their cabal.” As soon as the 13th century, the police identified several slang words such as mouche (fly) for spy, or rossignol (nightingale) for picklock. In 1455, a bunch of criminals called the Coquillards (Scallopers, as they usually wore a scallop to join the pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela in order to cheat and steal from them), were arrested. They revealed some of their secret words such as envoyeur (sender) for murderer, or vendangeur (grape-picker) for thief. François Villon had some acquaintances with the Coquillards from whom he borrowed the slang words of Le jargon et jobellin dudit Villon, first published in 1498.

 

Closer to our book, slang enjoyed a peak of popularity after Louis-Dominique Cartouche* was arrested in 1721. A few books were written about the life of this notorious gang leader of Paris that featured slang—the most significant one being the poem Le Vice Puni ou Cartouche (1725), a parody of Voltaire’s La Pucelle by an anonymous author later identified as Nicolas Racot de Grandval, who appended a slang dictionary of some 300 terms to his work. Cartouche was eventually sent to the Abbey-of-climb-it-with-regrets (the gallows, according to the said dictionary), but slang had become fashionable in the Parisian salons, and was more and more used until it was fully recognized by linguists in the 19th century.

 

Since the days of Cartouche, slang has been thoroughly studied and Le Rat du Châtelet is quoted in many serious works on the subject. Was our rat a thief himself? Did he serve some time at Le Châtelet? We will probably never know. The passage of his book related to slang is only four pages long, but happens to be well documented. It also features words such as abouler (to come quickly—still in use nowadays) or loffe (fool, that sounds like the backward-slang for fol—mad). These testimonies are here used in their historical context—that’s what makes them unique, and so valuable.  

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>ALDE May 24:</b> Lot 1. Silver coin (1455), celebrating expulsion of English people in 1451.<br>Est: € 12,000-20,000.
    <b>ALDE May 24:</b> Lot 7. Heures à l’usage de Coutances. Paris, last quarter of 15th century. Est: € 30,000-40,000.
    <b>ALDE May 24:</b> Lot 9.<br>TERENCE. Lyon, Jean Trechsel, 1493. Est: € 20,000-30,000.
    <b>ALDE May 24:</b> Lot 8. Biblia latina. Nuremberg, Anton Koberger, 1478. Est: € 20,000-30,000.
    <b>ALDE May 24:</b> Lot 11. [Francesco Colonna]. Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. Venise, Alde Manuce, December 1499. Est: € 150,000-200,000.
    <b>ALDE May 24:</b> Lot 14. Marco<br>Vigerio della Rovere. Decachordum christianum. Fano, Girolamo Socino, 1507. Est: € 15,000-20,000.
    <b>ALDE May 24:</b> Lot 18. CONSTANTIN VII. De notevoli et utilissimi ammæstramenti dell’agricoltura. Venise, Gabriele Giolito de Ferrari, 1542. Est: € 40,000-50,000.
    <b>ALDE May 24:</b> Lot 19. TITE-LIVE. Latinæ historiæ principis. Lyon, Sébastien Gryphe, 1548.<br>Est: € 15,000-20,000.
    <b>ALDE May 24:</b> Lot 38. OTTOMAN CORAN. 17th century by Muhammad Hafiz (Imam Mehmed Effendi).<br>Est: € 20,000-30,000.
    <b>ALDE May 24:</b> Lot 45. Blaise PASCAL. Pensées. Paris, Guillaume Desprez, 1670. Est: € 100,000-120,000.
    <b>ALDE May 24:</b> Lot 52. George EDWARDS. A Natural History of uncommon birds. London, the author, 1743-1751. Est: € 20,000-30,000
    <b>ALDE May 24:</b> Lot 59. Jean de LA FONTAINE. Fables choisies. Paris, Desaint & Saillant, Durand, 1755-1759. Est: € 40,000-50,000.
  • Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 18. Blaeu, <i>Nova et Accuratissima Totius Terrarum Orbis Tabula</i>, 1660.<br>Est. $14000-$17000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 20. Pitt, <i>Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Geographica ac Hydrographica Tabula</i>, 1680. Est. $9500-$11000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 65. Ortelius, <i>Americae sive Novi Orbis, Nova Descriptio</i>, 1571. <br>Est. $6000-$7000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 84. Bailleul, <i>L'Amerique Divisee en Ses Principales Parties</i>, 1752.<br>Est. $19000-$22000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 99. Sayer & Bennett, <i>The American Military Pocket Atlas</i>, 1776. <br>Est. $10000-$12000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 269. Reid, <i>Plan of the City of Washington in the Territory of Columbia</i>, 1796. <br>Est. $2750-$3500
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 291. Carleton, <i>Map of Massachusetts Proper</i>, 1801. Est. $12000-$14000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 378. Keulen, <i>Pas Kaart vande Noord Oost Kust van Cuba en d'Oost Kust van Florida</i>, 1695. Est. $3250-$4000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 651. Ptolemy/Fries, <i>Tabula Superioris Indiae & Tartariae Maioris</i>, 1541.<br>Est. $3000-$4000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 688. Wit, <i>Nova Africa Descriptio</i>, 1660.<br>Est. $2750-$3500
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 706. Ortelius, <i>Maris Pacifici</i>, 1589.<br>Est. $8000-$9000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 727. Audubon, <i>Least Stormy-Petrel</i>, 1836. Est. $1400-$1700
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 741. Bordone, <i>Isolario</i>, 1547.<br>Est. $16000-$19000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 747. Teesdale, <i>A New General Atlas of the World</i>, 1835. Est. $2000-$2750
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 752. Colton, <i>Colton's Atlas of the World Volume I and II</i>, 1856.<br>Est. $2500-$3250
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 760. Prevost, <i>Histoire Generale des Voyages ... Tome Quatorzieme</i>, 1757. <br>Est. $2400-$3000
  • <b>19th Century Shop.</b> DARWIN, CHARLES. Iconic signed Darwin photograph "I like this photograph much better than any other which ..."
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> DARWIN, CHARLES. <i>Autograph Letter Signed</i>. Early Unpublished Darwin letter on the races of man.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> WRIGHT, WILBUR. Experiments and Observations in Soaring Flight. Journal of the Western Society of Engineers 8, no. 4 (August, 1903).
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. <i>The Meaning of Relativity.</i> FIRST EDITION IN ENGLISH. Signed and dated Oxford 1931.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> GARDNER, ALEXANDER. Antietam Bridge, Maryland. "One of the memorable spots in the history of the war."

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