Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2018 Issue

Mr Cléry and “Fake-Book”, or the Last Days of Louis XVI.

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The Temple Tower was Louis XVI's final residence.

There was a post on Facebook the other day about the new evil of our times, fake news. Spreading through social networks, it has become a worldwide weapon of misinformation. This reminded me of an old book printed in 1800—fake news is nothing new.

 

The book I’m referring to is entitled Mémoires de M. Cléry, Valet-de-chambre de Louis XVI, ou Journal de ce qui s’est passé dans la tour du Temple, pendant la détention de Louis XVI; avec des détails sur sa mort... (Memoirs of Mr. Cléry, Journal of What Happened at the Temple Tower during the Detention of Louis XVI, featuring unknown details about his death), and it was allegedly printed in London*. It is the reworked version of a book first published in 1798**. In fact, the revised preface makes it clear that the first edition was actually the fruit of the ill-intentioned ghost writer to whom Mr. Cléry had given his notes. “In so much that the truth that came out of my mouth became a bunch of lies under his pen,” he writes. “My writer turned the petty hair-dresser that I am into a man of importance, whose political views might be of consequence on the European affairs.” Damn! Does modesty ever reach that point of self-denial? Well, this preface is, just like the whole book, a forgery.

 

This book was most likely printed in France, on order of the revolutionary government to belittle the emotional impact of the original memoirs of Mr. Cléry. Although the latter were not, so to speak, political—but the mere testimony of a heart-broken servant, who had witnessed the last moments of Louis XVI before he was beheaded in 1793—, they had become a thorn in the side of the new-born Republic. The exiled royalists still hoping, somehow, to regain power, used it as propaganda to expose the “tyranny” and “heartlessness” of the King’s enemies.

 

Curiously, this book that was several times reprinted became dangerous precisely because it contains no political statement. Mr. Cléry was just a servant—attached to the King since 1782, seven years before the Révolution—, and although he clearly blames the way the royal family was treated, he doesn’t really pass comment on historical events. The forged edition insists on his so-called incapacity to analyse them anyway: “My modest occupation has always prevented me from understanding the true causes of events, and from questioning those who knew.” But this was a pointless attack since the strength this book lies in the intimate portraits Cléry gives of the King and his relatives; by making them more human than “royal”, he inevitably awoke compassion among the public.

 

The opening scene of Cléry’s memoirs takes us to the Tuileries, Paris, in 1792, during the raid of August 10. A group of angry citizens swarmed the place, and Mr. Cléry escaped by magic. He then witnessed the massacre which took place on Louis XV Square through the window: “Some murdered, others cut the heads off the dead bodies; some women, casting away all modesty, mutilated the corpses, tore them to pieces and proudly exhibited their trophies.” The royal family was then transferred to the Temple Tower, where things got worse. One evening, as the servants were dining, “a head placed on a pike was thrown against the outside window,” Mr. Cléry writes. “They thought the King would be inside, and would see it. It was the severed head of Madame la Princess de Lamballe (one of the Queen’s ladies—editor’s note); although covered with blood, it was still quite recognizable. Her blonde and curly hair was floating around the pike.”

 

In the middle of chaos, life went on. Mr. Cléry describes the ordinary life of an extraordinary man: “The King usually woke up at six; he would shave himself, and then I would comb his hair, and dress him up. Then, he went to his reading room—it was so tiny, the guard had to wait outside, leaving the door constantly ajar. His Majesty knelt down to pray for five or six minutes’ time, and then read until 9. Meanwhile, after tidying the room and dressing the table, I would go downstairs to see the Queen.” The King was a keen reader, and Mr. Cléry discloses a few titles among his favourites: Buffon’s Natural History, Hume’s History of England, the Imitation of Christ or the works of Montesquieu. Regarding the latter, a curious note in the forged edition explains: “Louis XVI wanted to read Montesquieu, and thought he ought to ask the permission to the Pope, since the books of this philosopher were blacklisted by the Church—the Pope sent the permission to Versailles, in 1787.”

 

Everyday around seven, Cléry’s wife, who had remained outside, sent a man to declaim the latest news under the window of the Tower. Locked in the King’s reading room, Mr. Cléry didn’t miss a word. Then he went downstairs to see the Queen and the Princess. “A sign meant I had something to tell them—one of them would entertain the guard while I was talking to the other.” Nothing was spared to the royal family. As they were going out for their daily walk, the guards blew smoke in their faces, laughed at them; not to mention the writings on the walls such as “We’ll starve the Big Pig”, “The Cubs Shall be strangled”, or “The guillotine’s Waiting for You.” Louis XVI had never been a bloodthirsty monarch and was still loved by many. His suffering stoically under the hands of the “wicked” gave him the dimension of a martyr—and the revolutionaries a bad name.

 

Up until today, it is very hard to have a clear image of who Louis XVI truly was. A bad King? Not really. He was rather human, in fact. But he was not a good King, either, and proved himself unable to cope with the situation. In fact, he gave the feeling of watching idly as his kingdom was going to waste—he was probably too soft a man for such a tough period. Yet he remained the symbol of the Ancien Régime, and his execution meant that France was crossing the Rubicon—no turning back. But Cléry didn’t care about symbols; he focused on intimate moments, such as his last interview with the King, just before the execution. “I handed him his redingote. “I don’t need it, he said. Just give me my hat.” His hand then touched mine, which he gripped for the last time.” The King then went out with his executioners, while the valet remained in the Tower. “One hour later, I could hear a salvo, followed by the shouts of “Vive la nation! Vive la République!”... The best of Kings was no more...”

 

No one could read those lines without being moved by the stoic attitude of the King—as a matter of fact, a short note follows them in the forged edition: “There’s a fact no one who was inside the Tower would deny, and it is that when the King left to walk to the scaffold, he thought he was only moving to another prison.” Hence his courageous attitude?

 

Was the King’s death necessary? Maybe. On the contrary, nothing could ever justify the terrible death that his young son suffered later on—he died of mistreatment. Unfortunately, in those crucial times, compassion was a luxury the Révolution couldn’t afford—and didn’t want others to afford. And they were right to fear both the royal family and this little book, as shown by a very rare edition that came out in 1814***; on August 5, 1814, to be precise—as mentioned on the title page. It means it came out during the First Restoration, when the Bourbons (kings of France) came back to power between spring 1814 and March 1815. So the “royal seed” was not extinct, after all. Symbols are hard to kill.

 

History is a matter of facts and dates; and the former often vary according to the latter. This 1814 edition, given by the inheritors of the author, has a very powerful historical symbol—and symbols play a key role in history. French royalty had not perished with the last king, after all—and its (short-lived) resurrection was celebrated by these memoirs that portray the King as a martyr. Blessed are the meek, the Bible reads. But who are the meek? Well, it depends—on dates, and places.

 

 

T. Ehrengardt

 

  • * : Á Londres, De l’imprimerie de Baylis, 1800. 192 pages. 1 engraving.

  • ** : Á Londres, 1798. De l’imprimerie de Baylis. 239 pages / 3 engravings (First edition).

*** : Á Paris, chez Patris et Chaumerot. 255 pages / 3 engravings.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 27, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Cartwright (George). <i>A Journal of Transactions and Events, during a Residence of nearly Sixteen Years on the Coast of Labrador...,</i> first edition, with A.L.s. from the author, 1792. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Swift (Jonathan). <i>Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World,</i> 2 vol., first edition, Teerink's "A" edition, Printed for Benj. Motte, 1726. £15,000 to £20,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Fourier (Jean Baptiste Joseph). <i>Theorie Analytique de la Chaleur,</i> first edition, Paris, chez Firmin Didot, 1822. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 27, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Boccaccio (Giovanni). <i>Genealogiae Deorum,</i> additions by Dominicus Silvester and Raphael Zovenzonius, Venice, Vindelinus de Spira, 1472. £10,000 to £15,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Mary I. Letter signed at the head "Marye the Quene" to Lord Paget, 1 page, 7th June 1556. The recall from exile of nine persons opposed to the Marian regime. £10,000 to £12,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Nelson (Horatio). Autograph Letter signed "Horatio Nelson" and written to Francis Drake, British Minister at Genoa, discussing the disposition of his "Cruizers" near Genoa. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 27, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Darwin (Charles). Unpublished Autograph Letter signed to Walter Raleigh Browne, playing down his scientific knowledge of comparative anatomy, 1881. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Murphew (J.). <i>The fair in an uproar, or, the dancing-doggs.</i> As they perform in Mr. Pinkeman's New Opera in Bartholomew Fair, 1707. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Chaucer (Geoffrey). <i>The Workes,</i> by [Nicholas Hill for] Thomas Petit, dwellyng in Paules churche yarde at the sygne of the Maydens heed, 1550. £7,000 to £10,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 27, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Austen (Jane). <i>Emma: A Novel,</i> 3 vol., first edition, 1816. £7,000 to £10,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Greene (Graham). <i>Stamboul Train,</i> first edition, first issue, 1932. £8,000 to £12,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Churchill.- Fearon (Percy Hutton) "Poy". “Eat More Beef,” pen and ink cartoon with shading in blue pencil, [July 1928]. £400 to £600
  • <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>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.

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