Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - February - 2012 Issue

French Books & Manuscripts from Justin Croft Antiquarian Books

Croftfbs2012

French Books & Manuscripts.

Justin Croft Antiquarian Books has issued a catalogue of French Books & Manuscripts. Though Croft is an English bookseller, and France and England were either in hot or cold wars with each other through most of these antiquarian times, the hatchet has finally been buried (and not in each other's skull). The English can now appreciate the culture and language of their nearby neighbors as found in the items contained in this catalogue. Here are a few of them.

Item 10 offers an interesting proposition on how to increase the population of France. Declining population may not be an issue today, but at the time this work was published – 1768 – many were concerned. With all of the wars in Europe, that might seem a logical fear, though Croft points out that France's population actually increased by 30% during the 18th century. Nevertheless, the pseudonymous “Cerfvol,” in Memoire sur la population... decries the supposed declining French population and expresses the fear that eventually there will be no one left. While conceding there were various causes of the problem, from excessive taxation to women's corsets, he hones in on one – the absence of divorce laws. In 18th century France, one could not readily obtain a divorce, and this, he feels, has reduced the production of children. That may sound counterintuitive, but his theory was that in societies where divorce was permitted, men were more willing to marry and produce offspring. Where marriage is a lifetime commitment, happy or not, men avoid getting married and hence have fewer children. Of course, we have since learned that being married is not a prerequisite to having children. Priced at £600 (British pounds, or about $925 U.S. Dollars).

As long as we are looking at interesting French theories, here is one from Louis Antoine de Caraccioli, expressed in 1759 in Le livre a la mode. This book is printed in green ink, and with very good reason. Caraccioli's theory is that people will be more interested in learning if printers do away with the tyranny of black ink, substituting colors more in tune to their subject matter. While this edition was in green, the preface announces that the next edition would be in red ink (it was). While Cerfvol's theory about divorce and population decline was serious, Caraccioli's seems more tongue in cheek. While his precise aim is unclear, Croft believes this was a satire about French literary society's relentless search for novelty. Item 9. £350 (US $540).

Item 73 provides some interesting insight into 18th century French medicine. It is a group of manuscript bills, prescriptions, and other document pertaining to the illness of one Michel Soulavie. Soulavie was a valet in the household of the Marquise de Bregancon when he fell ill in the spring of 1752. The Marquise's late husband had played a role in the French court, but he was not in the upper echelons of important nobility. Nonetheless, Soulavie was provided with all kinds of medical treatment, some evidently intended to be curative, others likely for pain. He was prescribed teas of fern and violets, spermaceti from whales, and naturally enough, he was bled a couple of times. Laudanum and a syrup from poppies were probably intended to reduce his pain. It was to no avail. M. Soulavie expired within a few weeks, and the final bills pertain to his coffin, funeral mass, and burial. £250 (US $385).

Item 61 is a manuscript prison notebook kept by one Georges Piat, about whom little information seems readily available. Life was not pleasant for Piat, though the French people probably had little sympathy for his plight. He was imprisoned in 1944 for collaboration with the hated pro-German Vichy regime. When the allies liberated France, there was little sympathy for those who collaborated with Germany. Many were summarily executed, but Piat was at least spared that fate. However, conditions were very tough, Piat being moved among prisons, subjected at times to solitary confinement, chained to his bed, and enduring frequent beatings by guards and other prisoners. Along with accounts of his personal distress, Piat offers his thoughts on philosophy, politics, ethics and religion, copies extracts from other writers, offers opinions on physical exercise, and provides notes on a variety of topics from boxing to the atomic bomb. He remained in prison at least until 1948. £1,500 (US $2,315).

Rare Book Monthly

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