Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2014 Issue

Pulpit Preschi Prescha or the Art of Preaching


The art of preaching.

Most people enjoy reading fashionable books, I prefer weird books with unexpected subjects—some titles alone have haunted me for years like the wonderful Torrent de feu sortant de la face de DieuStream of Fire Proceeding for the Face of God. The other day, curiosity urged me to buy a bizarre book entitled L’Art de PrescherThe Art of Preaching. The vast majority of religious books are plain boring to me. But this one had arguments. First, it is anonymous—a good omen, usually the signature of some satirical writer. Plus, it was printed by Pierre du Marteau, the notorious fictive printer under whose name were printed forbidden or sulphurous works. I thus expected a dark satire of the hypocritical religious. I was wrong; but I was right—to buy it. Yes my brethren, the Lord moves in a mysterious way, and He drove me to an extinct literary genre, the sermon.


Pierre de Marteau


I soon found out about my anonymous author, Pierre de Villiers (1648-1728). According to F. X. de Feller’s dictionary, he was a highly respectable man. Now, that was a first blow—Feller was a conservative man, and a Voltaire-hater; which means he would have never said any good about any anti-clerical writer. Indeed, Pierre de Villiers was first a respected Jesuit, then a respected member of the congregation of Cluny. I got scared. What if I had spent some money over a boring religious book? But then, how come Pierre de Marteau was involved? A matter of privilège—the official authorization to publish a book—, maybe? Or was it a pirate edition? Though the preface mentions previous editions that allegedly earned this work general approbation, the National Library of France lists no anterior copy—another printer’s trick, probably. Disillusioned and resigned, I nonetheless opened my book, and started to read. “We need no help to make out a good piece of work,” wrote our author. “When good, it speaks for itself—and we listen, never mistaking a bad for a good.” As a matter of fact, his pretty fine verses spoke to me—and I lent an ear.


Bourdaloue & Massillon


Writers from the Grand Siècle unveiled the torments of Man’s heart, but always elegantly—and thus nurtured a precious and tortured literature. Everything was then subject to excellence—including sermons. Two eloquent preachers became famous at the time, Fathers Bourdaloue and Massillon. “Father Bourdaloue preached divinely well in Les Tuileries,” wrote Countess de Sévigné after the religious’ first sermon in front of Louis XIV in 1670. “His talent is way beyond everything we expected.” As a matter of fact, he was called the king of preachers, and the king’s preacher. But the gentle Massillon was a serious contender who also preached before the Sun King. “Father,” said the King at the end of one of his sermons, “when I hear other preachers, I’m quite satisfied with them. But anytime I hear you, I’m hardly satisfied with myself.” According to F. X. de Feller, Bourdaloue was more of a bold conqueror (...) when Massillon was more of a clever mediator. Their sermons were printed—Bourdaloue’s works filled sixteen in-8° volumes in 1707—and now clutter up the shelves of our booksellers. The Court attended their sermons with excitement. Countess de Sévigné wrote that she visited Bourdaloue, like a country—she was quite a colourful writer—and that every single person of quality was present. But her somewhat ironic remarks tell a lot about the state of mind of the Court: “Good God!” she voluntarily swore. “Everything is below the praises Bourdaloue deserves.” The Court was a carnivorous animal, harmful to beauty and simplicity. Sermons became fashionable, and ended up far from what they were in the mouths of the Early Church Fathers. In Les Caractères, La Bruyère—who attended Bourdaloue’s sermons—underlined the change: “Nobody seriously listens to the Holy Word any more, it has become an entertainment among others; a game with emulation and gamblers.” Furthermore, many young gamblers of quality embraced a religious career as other opportunities at the time were reserved to their eldest brothers. And many were motivated by fame and vanity. “People very different from Saints nowadays climb the steps of the pulpit,” deplored the author of L’Art de Prescher. Whether saints or devils, we can hardly believe that there was a time when young people dreamt of becoming a Bourdaloue!


Ghosts & Hypocrites


In order to teach how to preach, De Villiers gave counter-examples, and drew various portraits of bad preachers à la La Bruyère. “There’s no abbot at Court whom I shall not beat,” says a proud young preacher imagined by De Villiers, “My gestures are charming, my hands are moving elegantly, I know it. / At least twenty less talented abbots have preached, whom the pulpit offered a bishopric. / All is said, on Wednesday I’ll preach for the first time.” In the pulpit like anywhere else, eloquence starts with a good text. That’s why many preachers—mostly in the country, where they dreamt of the Court—hired ghost writers. “This is quite common,” wrote De Villiers, “and thousands of orators in France, / To complacent ghost writers owe their eloquence. /Everyday people in the country, / Hear the words of some absentee.” Nevertheless, the text wasn’t all. One needed memory as well. Even the greatest forgot their lines from time to time, and when asked about his best piece of work, Massillon—though some attribute the quote to Bourdaloue—answered: “The one I remember the best.” M. De Feller had a suggestion: “We might ease their difficulties by granting the preachers the right to take a quick look at their notes from time to time.” But some young preachers didn’t even care about their blunders; their flattering friends were always here to comfort them.


Martin & the flatterers: De Villiers went to listen to one Martin: “After his trembling introduction, he hesitated, repeated himself, and got confuse’, / He drifted on a sea of uncertainty, without oars or sails to use.” At the end of the sermon, his friends praised Martin. “Humble in the middle of glory,” writes De Villiers, “he deplored his laps in memory / Though otherwise finding his sermon quite satisfactory. / “Blanks?” laughed his friends, “There was none, you must be kidding!” / Who did notice anyway? No one who was listening.” / Upon hearing his friends, Martin smiled and felt better, / Taking their words for it, he remembered he was a terrific preacher. / Standing aside,” concluded the author, “I blushed with shame to see he wasn’t doing the same.”  

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 7. Ritter's unusual sun-dial world map, 1607. Est. $3500 to $4500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 16. Fascinating Japanese satirical map published prior to WWII, 1932. Est. $1400 to $2000
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 30. Newton's 2" miniature terrestrial globe, 1833. Est. $3500 to $4500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 318. Braun & Hogenberg's first plan of Moscow in contemporary color, 1575. Est. $2750 to $3500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 346. One of the most decorative 18th century maps of Malta, 1680. Est. $1200 to $1500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 412. The first printed map devoted to the Pacific in full contemporary color, 1589. Est. $8000 to $10000
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 425. Rare set of celebrated explorers of the New World, 1592. Est. $1900 to $2300
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 436. Two superb miniature atlases bound in one volume with 98 maps, 1682. Est. $5500 to $7500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 445. Part IV of de Bry's "Grand Voyages" by Girolamo Benzoni, 1613. Est. $2000 to $2500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 447. Tallis' "History of the United States of America" in six volumes, 1850. Est. $1500 to $1800
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 448. Mallet's miniature military masterpiece, 1672. Est. $1400 to $1700
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Malcolm X, Autograph Letter Signed, from prison, 1950. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Letter from Moses Walker, an enslaved Georgia man, to his mother at another plantation, 1854. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Signed cabinet card of Frederick Douglass, albumen photograph, Boston, circa 1879. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Placard from the Memphis Sanitation Worker's strike, 1968. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b><br><i>The North Star,</i> volume 1, issue 27, Rochester, NY, 1848. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Hand-tinted tintype of John Brown, circa 1860. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Poster signed & inscribed by Huey Newton, circa 1967. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Album of aerial views of the march on Montgomery, taken by federal troops, 1965. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Poster for the SNCC, photograph by Danny Lyon featuring John Lewis, circa 1962. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. $200,000 to 300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. $80,000 to $120,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Jenner (Rev. George Charles). <i>The Evidence at Large...Respecting Dr Jenner's Discovery of Vaccine Inoculation,</i> presentation copy from Edward Jenner to Rev. Rowland Hill, 1805. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Houdini (Harry).- Maggi (Girolamo). <i>De tintinnabulis liber postumus...de equuleo liber,</i> Harry Houdini's copy, Amsterdam, H. Wetstein, 1689. £600 to £800
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Meyer (Henry Leonard). Coloured Illustrations of British Birds, and their Eggs , 7 vol. in 2 plus Illustrations of British Birds, 4 vol., 1842-50 and [1835-51]. £5,000 to £7,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Dickens (Charles). <i>An Entirely New Romantic Drama, in Three Acts, by Mr. Wilkie Collins, called The Frozen Deep,</i> 1857. £3,000 to £4,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Lighthouses and Islands of Ireland, c. 125 drawings, 1867. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Shelley (Lady Jane). Diary, 1853 & 1860. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Scottish Binding.- The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, bound in contemporary brown polished calf decorated with the figure of a Chinese spearman, by ?James Scott of Edinburgh, 1778. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Greene (Graham). <i>The Man Within,</i> first edition, signed by the author, 1929. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Mellan (Claude, 1598-1688). The Holy Face, or the Veil of St Veronica, [c. 1649 and later]. £800 to £1,200
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Desaguliers (John Theophilus). <i>A Dissertation concerning Electricity,</i> W. Innys, and T. Longman, 1742. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Le Jeune (Paul). <i>Relation de se qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France en l'anné 1636 enuoyée au R.Pere Provincial de la Compagnie de Iesus en la Province de France,</i> 1637. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Stumpf (Johann Rudolph). <i>Gemeiner loblicher Eydgnoschafft Stetten, Landen und Völckern Chronicwirdiger thaaten beschreibung, </i> Zurich, Froschauer, 1586. £3,000 to £4,000

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions