• <b>Skinner Fine Books & Manuscripts <i>online</i> | May 18-26 | skinnerinc.com</b>
    <b>Skinner Auction | May 18-26:</b> <br>Lot 1051: Keller, Helen (1880-1968) Autograph Letter Signed and Cabinet Card, est. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Skinner Auction | May 18-26:</b> <br>Lot 1108: Washington, George (1732-1799) Military Discharge Signed, Headquarters, Newburgh, New York, 7 June 1783, est. $7,000-9,000
    <b>Skinner Auction | May 18-26:</b> <br>Lot 1131: Bayes, Jessie (1876-1970) Illuminated Manuscript, <i>Six Poems from Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore</i>. London, 1917, est. $15,000-17,000
    <b>Skinner Fine Books & Manuscripts <i>online</i> | May 18-26 | skinnerinc.com</b>
    <b>Skinner Auction | May 18-26:</b> <br>Lot 1144: Darwin, Charles (1809-1882) <i>On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life</i>. London: Murray, 1859, est. $60,000-80,000
    <b>Skinner Auction | May 18-26:</b> <br>Lot 1170: Fossati, Giorgio (1706-1778) <i>Raccolta di Varie Favole Delineate, ed Incise in Rame</i>. Venice: Carlo Pecora, 1744, est. $5,000-7,000
    <b>Skinner Auction | May 18-26:</b> <br>Lot 1224: Nielsen, Kay (1886-1957) <i>East of the Sun and West of the Moon, Old Tales from the North</i>. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1914,<br> est. $5,000-7,000
    <b>Skinner Auction | May 18-26:</b> <br>Lot 1284: Audubon, John James (1785-1851) <i>American Flamingo</i>. [from] <i>The Birds of America</i>, New York: Bien, 1860, est. $10,000-15,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop.</b> DARWIN, CHARLES. Iconic signed Darwin photograph "I like this photograph much better than any other which ..."
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> DARWIN, CHARLES. <i>Autograph Letter Signed</i>. Early Unpublished Darwin letter on the races of man.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> WRIGHT, WILBUR. Experiments and Observations in Soaring Flight. Journal of the Western Society of Engineers 8, no. 4 (August, 1903).
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. <i>The Meaning of Relativity.</i> FIRST EDITION IN ENGLISH. Signed and dated Oxford 1931.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> GARDNER, ALEXANDER. Antietam Bridge, Maryland. "One of the memorable spots in the history of the war."
  • <b>Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts, 8 June 2016, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams June 8:</b> Lot 1. ARISTOTLE. 384-322 B.C.E. De animalibus [De historia animalium. De partibus animalium. De generatione animalium.] US$ 300,000-500,000.
    <b>Bonhams June 8:</b> Lot 44. ARIOSTO, LUDOVICO. 1474-1533. Orlando Furioso in English Heroical Verse, by John Haringto[n]. [London: Richard Field, 1591.] US$ 70,000-90,000.
    <b>Bonhams June 8:</b> Lot 183. HARRISON, William Henry. Document Signed AS PRESIDENT ("W.H. Harrison"). US$ 40,000-60,000.
    <b>Bonhams June 8:</b> Lot 116. <br>ALI, MUHAMMAD. B.1942. U.S. Passport Signed ("Muhammad Ali") Twice, [Dublin, July 19, 1972].<br>US$ 25,000-35,000.
    <b>Bonhams June 8:</b> Lot 52. Bible In English. [Mearne, Samuel, binder.] The Holy Bible containing the bookes of the Old & New Testament. US$ 25,000-35,000.
    <b>Bonhams June 8:</b> Lot 130. EARHART, Amelia. 1897-1937. Archive of material on the purchase and outfitting of Earhart's Lockheed Electra 10e. US$ 15,000-20,000.
    <b>Bonhams June 8:</b> Lot 85. BURTON, Virginia Lee. 1909-1968. The Little House. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1942. US$ 15,000-20,000.
    <b>Bonhams London June 15.</b> Lot 68. CAMERON (Julia Margaret) Kate Keown [No. 5 Of Series of Twelve Lifesized Heads], [1866]. <br>£30,000-50,000.
    <b>Bonhams London June 15.</b> Lot 98. Karl Marx. Das Kapital. Kritik der politischen Oekonomie... Erster Band, FIRST EDITION, 1867.<br>£80,000-120,000.
    <b>Bonhams London June 15.</b> Lot 111. Isaac Newton Autograph manuscript, in English, headed "The Question stated about abstaining from blood". £50,000-70,000.
    <b>Bonhams London June 15.</b> Lot 112. Nobel Prize for discovering isotopes in stable elements, awarded to F.W. Aston in 1922. £200,000-400,000.
    <b>Bonhams London June 15.</b> Lot 140. Kay Nielsen (Prince Bismarck discovering the soldier), 1913. £15,000-20,000.
  • <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Leaves from<br>George Washington's Own Draft <br>of His first Inaugural Address. An Extraordinary Rarity!
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Declaration of Independence: Benjamin Tyler 1818 - First Print with Facsimile Signatures.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Thomas Jefferson Signed Act of Contress Authorizing Alexander Hamilton to Complete Famous Portland Maine Lighthouse.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Emanuel Leutze. Silk Flag Banner designed by Leutze, created by Tiffany & Co., and presented to Gen. John A. Dix, 1864.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> The "greatest of early American maps … a masterpiece" (Corcoran). Thomas Holme.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Lincoln Summons His Cabinet for a Historic Meeting to Discuss Compensated Emancipation.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Albert Einstein. Autograph Letter Signed. Einstein Counsels His Son ... Meaning of Life.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Normal Rockwell. Painting/Drawing Signed. Rockwell's "Barbeshop Quartet", 1936.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Frederick Douglass. Autograph Letter Signed to unknown correspondent. Washington, D.C.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Harry Truman. Autograph Manuscript Notebook for Kansas City Law School Night Class.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Robert E. Lee. Autograph Letter Signed, June 11, 1782. Hours after the Battle of Culpeper Court House, Lee Escapes Again.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> George Washington. Letter Signed, as Commander-in-Chief, Continental Army, to Elias Dayton, Headquarters, [Newburgh, N.Y.], June 11, 1782.

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>Sotheby's NY May 25.</b> Thomas Lynch, Jr., Signer of the Declaration from South Carolina: Document signed in full ("Thomas Lynch Junr").
    <b>Sotheby's NY May 25.</b> Thomas Jefferson, letter signed as Secretary of State. ("TH: JEFFERSON").
    <b>Sotheby's NY May 25.</b> Thomas Jefferson, the first U.S. Naturalization Act, signed as Secretary of State.
    <b>Sotheby's NY May 25.</b> Miniature edition of the Emancipation Proclamation printed for distribution to Union troops.
    <b>Sotheby's NY May 25.</b> General George Meade’s statement on the victory at Gettysburg, printed on the battlefield. July 4, 1863.
    <b>Sotheby's NY May 25.</b> Abraham Lincoln, letter signed, seeking the counsel of Navy Secretary Welles on the appropriate response to the Fort Pillow Massacre.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 26: Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books.</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 26:</b> Isaak de Graaf, manuscript map of Java, ink & watercolor on vellum, 1743. $180,000 to $220,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 26:</b> Maria Sibylla Merian, <i>Histoire générale des insectes de Surinam</i>,<br>72 hand-colored plates, Paris, 1771. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 26:</b> James Gillray, <i>The Plumb-pudding<br>in danger</i>, hand-colored etching, London, 1805. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 26: Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books.</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 26:</b> Visscher, Composite atlas with 73 maps in original hand-color in full, Amsterdam, after 1716.<br>$20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 26:</b> Mahmud Raif Efendi, <i>Cedid atlas tercümesi</i>, 25 hand-colored maps, Istanbul, 1803-1804.<br>$40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 26:</b> John James Audubon, <i>The Birds of America</i>, 7 volumes, 1839-44. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 26: Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books.</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 26:</b><br>A.B. Frost, <i>Shooting Pictures</i>, 12 chromolithographs, New York, 1895. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 26:</b> John Senex, <i>A New General Atlas</i>,<br>33 engraved maps & town plans, London, 1721. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 26:</b> Elihu Barker & Mathew Carey, <i>A Map of Kentucky from Actual Survey</i>, Philadelphia, circa 1794.<br>$10,000 to $15,000.
  • Christie's London: SHAKESPEARE, William. <i>Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies</i>, Edited by John Heminger (D. 1630) and Henry Condell<br>(D. 1627). £800,000–£1,200,000
    Christie's London: SHAKESPEARE, William. <i>Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. Published According to the True Orginal Copies.</i> The Second Impression. £180,000–£250,000
    Christie's London: SHAKESPEARE, William. <i>Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. Published According to the True Orginal Copies. </i>The Third Impression. £300,000–£400,000.
    Christie's London: SHAKESPEARE, William. <i>Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. Published According to the True Orginal Copies. </i> The Fourth Edition. £15,000–£20,000

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