• 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
  • <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.
  • <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

Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2014 Issue

Master Adam, Craftsman-Poet: If I had a hammer...

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Master Adam.

If I had a hammer, or rather a brace, I would write verses to add my humble kingpin to the magnificent work of poetry—just like Master Adam Billaut did. In the 17th century, this carpenter-poet from Nevers, France, though deprived of all literary education, as Voltaire put it, turned poet in his workshop. But he was born a commoner in 1602, and was then reduced to create verses in the middle of his tools and bottles, to quote Chaudon’s Dictionary (Lyon, 1804). This situation lasted until he was 32; then he met the Abbot of Marolles who read his verses to the Duchess of Nevers, and then decided to promote them. “I was more than willing to expose his poems to the public who would undoubtedly like them as much as I did. The following year he came to Paris where he became acquainted with many people of quality,” wrote the Abbot. Mr. Adam’s life changed for the better—but during the Grand Siècle, a leopard couldn’t change its spots, or a commoner turn a respectable poet.

 

From Nevers to Paris

 

Adam Billaut came to Paris where he eventually became a relative of Saint-Amand who introduced him to several literary salons. The court soon grew infatuated with this carpenter who prided himself on writing verses. Adam got some recognition but could never rise above the rank of burlesque or Bacchic writer. As a matter of fact, noticing he had afterwards sunk into oblivion, the 1731 edition of Moreri’s Dictionary underlined: “It was quite inevitable for an author of his rank.” Adam used his social position as a selling point, entitling his first collection of poems-The Kingpins—and got trapped. But he was probably ready to endure a certain amount of mockery, or humiliation, to finally get the recognition he wished for.

 

In The Kingpins, he sought the Approbation of the Parnassus and published a hundred pages of dedicatory epistles from various poets.He loved praises, and begged for dedicatory verses,” read Moreri’s Dictionary. Everyone complied, and those who couldn’t write them had them written by friends.” Most of them were just basic plays on words about his ambivalent condition. Saint-Amand, his mentor, wrote he could build verses as well as furniture; Scarron said he was writing verses with a plane-pushing hand. Corneille, Benserade or Quinet were among the numerous writers who said a silly word about this silly work—Mr. Scudery even wondered whether he was a genius or a monster. The then famous painter Mr. Chauveau drew the portrait of the author that was added as a frontispiece to the first edition of The Kingpins (in-4°, chez Quinet—1644). A few months later, every one in Paris was singing along his song As soon as the light comes back to gild our hills—his most popular piece of work ever. “It is said,” continued Moreri’s Dictionary, “that he obtained a pension from Monsieur Duke of Orléans, Gaston Jean-Baptiste.” He became a curiosity at court where he was called the planing Virgil, and even ventured into politics. Indeed, in 1651, he published a Mazarinade—a text against Cardinal Mazarin—entitled Le Claquet de la Fronde, as well as an epigram on the same topic. “These pieces that brought nothing to his reputation,” underlined C. Moreau in his Bibliographie des Mazarinades (Paris, 1850), “were first re-published in the 1840 edition of his works.”

 

Pensions

 

When I first came across Adam’s works, I thought it was a joke—or a literary fraud. A craftsman-poet from the 17th century who entitled his works The Kingpins or The Plane? Come on... History recalls a few working-poets, though; such as Burns, a peasant; Hans Sacks, a shoemaker; or a pastry cook from the same period, who even stated that Adam’s works made more noise, but that his own were more fiery. They were the first working-artists in a time when education was the privilege of a few, and when birth was of the utmost importance. To come from a dignified family would place you above the rest, and insure you respect and privileges. To come from the rabble, on the contrary, made a vulgar man out of you; not even good verses could save you from such damnation. No doubt these working-artists were regularly mocked and made fun at in society. Furthermore, Adam could be trivial at times. As a matter of fact, Jean Pinet, who published his complete works in 1842, cut off the incriminating passages to print them separately. Adam wrote about wine and its consequences, about farting too; some asses and whores would also pop up every now and then. Worse, some of his poems lacked polishing—or should we say planing? Ferdinand Denis, who wrote the Biographic and literary notice of the Pinet edition, blamed it on the lack of time. Several persons of quality including Richelieu and the Prince of Condé generously promised Adam a pension—but talk is cheap, and most of these pensions were never honoured. Therefore, Adam was reduced to earning a living as a carpenter.

 

Some of his poems also happened to be boring—mostly those never-ending flattering epistles from his second collection, The Brace. “Among a lot of dull verses, we find a few happy lines,” stated Chaudon. Moreri’s Dictionary added: “His works did good to him, but can’t make him a good poet.” In 1842, mentalities had evolved regarding working-artists, and Ferdinand Denis justified the author: “The centuries have been misled; Voltaire himself saw in Master Adam nothing but a cabaret poet (...). But we must speak up now! To say that Adam Billaut was a disheartened poet with elevated thoughts (...) who was forced to sing Bacchic songs, and to liven up some noisy orgies where, a miserable host, he excited both mockery and admiration.” But Master Adam genuinely enjoyed the cabaret, as confessed to a Lord who complained of his not attending his dinners: “In this place (...) everything pleases my belly, / Here I despise war heartily, / And the bottom of a whore / Ain’t worth a glass of liquor.” There was something melancholic about him too—probably since the death of his beloved mother. “Ever since the sad and fateful hour, / When the messenger of despair came to tell me: (...) Your mother has died from the plague, / I haven’t stopped sighing, I haven’t stopped crying.” Death is omnipresent in his poems, and he had morbid images reminiscent of the poetry of the middle age. He was far from the fashionable love epigrams of the time—he knew it, and didn’t care. Ronsard was his model, but he saw a rose withering with tenderness, if not with pleasure: “Even though you are but a withered flower, / How happy I am, proud Rose / To see these changes chasing my rivals away forever.

 

Adam’s favour only lasted for a time. He was in an uncomfortable position, so he walked away and came back to Nevers. As Chaudon put it: “He stuck to mediocrity to preserve his happiness.” In his dictionary, Pierre Bayle wrote he was then living in poverty, which sounds quite exaggerated as his protector, Marie de Gonzague, appointed him bailiff of the court of accounts of the Nivernais before she left for Poland. The Duke of Nevers, from his part, graciously sheltered him until his death in 1662—Mr. Adam’s house still stands today.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <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.
  • <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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