Author Archives: David

Extra weird Dutch poetry

Cataloging the Dutch pamphlets in reverse chronological order has resulted in some interesting discoveries. As somebody who came into this project with no knowledge of Dutch history outside of the Napoleonic wars, I’ve certainly learned quite a bit. The reverse chronological order has actually been helpful in this respect, as it enables me to work backwards from a period of history I am at least somewhat comfortable in, and by examining the backgrounds to those events it becomes easier to figure out what these pamphlets are talking about without having to do too much additional research. (The fact that the vast majority of the Dutch pamphlets deal with major political upheavals makes research easier as well, since I can usually find English or French language sources that clarify the content of the pamphlets without having to muddle my way through yet more Dutch). As a result, I have a completely new perspective on the time period, since moving from effect to cause has resulted in a more nuanced view of history (at least on my end).


F 46 .655 v. 21 no. 9 title page

Considering that this will most likely be my final post on this blog, I have decided to share one of the most bizarre items I have had the pleasure of cataloging for this project. That item is the Antwoord van Daniel Raap … (F 46 .655 v. 21 no. 9). In a rare case of a pamphlet actually being honest about its content, the title page describes it as “extra raar” (lit. “extra weird”). What follows is fairly standard for the mid-18th century Dutch pamphlets, poetry describing the conflicts between Orangists and Republicans in the Netherlands. In this case, as Raap was the leader of the Doelists, it supports a return to the hereditary rule of the house of Orange-Nassau but advocated for democratic elections and absolute cognatic succession. There are quite a few pamphlets of this type in the collection, but this specific piece is noteworthy because of its inclusion of the Arlequin francois[sic].

F 46 .655 v. 21 no. 9 "Arlequin francois"

Arlequin francois is also a poem, but the language is nearly incomprehensible. Each line of the poem is a morass of grammatically intertwined Dutch and French. It’s unclear whether this choice was made just to be difficult, as a subtly comment on Franco-Dutch relations, or simply to make it easier to rhyme (as in the opening lines: “Rarekiek, messieurs, rarekiek watte vreemds enne bezondre / kieke rekt toe, watte dink, c’est par diable grand wondre”). The whole thing is totally bizarre, and appears to be some smack at the excesses of various factions. This fits with other items in the volume that suggest controversy surrounding the political activities of Amsterdam’s wine merchants. Inexplicable poetry has been a pretty common occurrence on this project, but bizarre linguistic mash-ups have been extra rare. Won’t some Dutch history expert come to the Newberry and figure out what this is supposed to be?

The Wit of French Pamphlets

One thing that has kept me amused throughout this cataloging project has been collecting humorous, entertaining, or witty quotations. As the project ends its final stages, I decided to look back at the lines I felt were worth saving. Sometimes, (as Shawn discussed in her previous post), the item in question has some witty marginalia. More often, whatever it is that caused me to write it down was simply a part of the original document.

Perhaps my favorite example of a manuscript annotation comes from a pamphlet in the French Revolution Collection, the Relation véritable et remarquable du grand voyage du pape en paradis. This pamphlet was part of a vehemently anti-religious series aping Dante’s Divine comedy. The anonymous commentator stated “Il n’y a pas cent ans qu’en France un pamphlet de ce genie eut fait bruler solemnellement son auteur” (Not even 100 years ago a pamphlet of this style would have caused its author to be solemnly burned). The manuscript continues for a while, contemplating how times have changed.

Most of the comments are found in otherwise completely serious pamphlets. The Voyage du comte de Haga, en France is a mostly serious rendition of Gustav III of Sweden’s travels in France under the pseudonym Count Haga. The preface however, simply reads: “Un livre sans préface est une femme de condition sans rouge. Ce principe posé, je dois en crayonner une : la voici.(A book without a preface is like a noblewomen without rouge. This principal stated, I must write one: here it is).

In some pamphlets, I chose to record both a claim and the reader’s counterclaim as they attempted to argue with the author of the pamphlet. For example, in the anti-Jacobin pamphlet Les paradoxes, ou Cinquième dialogue des morts de la révolution, the author of the pamphlet states regarding Charlotte Corday,  Si au lieu d’assassiner Marat au lit de la mort, elle eut enfoncé son coteau dans le cœur de Robespierre, elle n’en eut pas moins commis un crime, mais ce crime eut sauvé 30 mille Français. Robespierre seroit au Panthéon, mais nous aurions 30 mille citoyens de plus.” (If instead of murdering Marat on his deathbed, she [Corday] had planted her knife in the heart of Robespierre, she would have not committed any less of a crime, but this crime would have saved the life of 30 thousand French people. Robespierre would be in the Panthéon, but we would have 30 thousand more citizens). Some former owner took issue with this, adding in their own hand “Le chiffre est peut-être un peu exagère ; n’importe, dans ce nombre il y avait bien quelques partisans du l’ancien régime … ” (The number is perhaps somewhat exagerrated : certainly this number includes some partisans of the Ancien Regime …)

Some of the comments seem like jabs by the publisher to the author, or vice versa. In a note on a playbook for the Grand-bailliage, the editor states “On m’a fourni une très-grande quantité de notes sur les personnages de cette comédie ;  mais je ne suis pas méchant ; & je crois que le public les trouve déjà assez notés” (I was furnished with a very large quantity of notes on the characters in this comedy, but I am not mean, and I believe that the public will find them sufficiently noted already.)

Given the political nature of the French Revolution Collection, there is no shortage of amusing political rhetoric. The title of Case FRC 20391 is “Essai sur quelques changemens qu’on pourroit faire dès-a-présent dans les loix criminelles de France, par un honnête homme qui, depuis qu’il connoît ces loix, n’est pas bien sûr de n’être pas pendu un jour.” (Essai on several changes that can be made up to the present in the criminal laws of France, by an honest man who, since he knew the laws, isn’t completely sure of not being hanged someday)

Sometimes these political sentiments take the form of aphorisms, such as La Pique’s “comme il ne faut pas prendre médecine tous les matins, il ne faut pas non plus d’insurrection tous les jours” (Just as one mustn’t take medicine every morning, one must also not raise insurrection every day, Case FRC 20639) or Faure’s “Sommes-nous les représentans du peuple souverain, ou sommes-nous les représentans souverains du peuple ? ” (Are we the representatives of the sovereign people, or are we the sovereign representatives of the people? Case FRC 18502).

Frequently, the humor is unintentional and derives from the similarities between the author’s rhetoric and the more apoplectic political pundits of the modern age: “C’est mal à propos qu’on donne le nom de citoyens à ces hommes qui, n’ayant rien à perdre, sont disposés à tous les crimes. Les véritables citoyens sont ceux qui ont des posessions, les autres ne sont que des prolétaires ou faiseurs d’enfans, et ceux-ci n’auroient jamais dû être armés, ni voter, que comme en Angleterre. Méprisables soutiens de la licence, clubistes forcenés, Jacobins, que l’amour de la domination aveugle, vous ne serez que trop convaincus de cette dur vérité.” (It is inappropriate to give the name citizen to these men who, having nothing to lose, are disposed towards all crimes. The true citizens are those who have possessions, the others are nothing but proles or baby-makers, and these must never be armed, nor vote, as in England. Despicable supporters of licentiousness, enraged partisans, Jacobins, blinded by the love of domination, you will never be too convinced of this hard truth. Case FRC 14135)

Most of the intentionally humorous comments are not so vitriolic, they use humor as a tool to support their political views or ridicule their enemies. Case FRC 16897 states “On dit: que les jacobins sont des conspirateurs! On dit: ils soutenaient Robespierre. Calomnie atroce! Méchanceté noire! N’est-il pas evident que si nous étions pour Robespierre, le 9 thermidor à huit heurs du soir, nous étions contre lui, le 10 à la meme heure!” (They say that the Jacobins are conspirators. They say, they supported Robespierre. Atrocious slander! Black wickedness! Is it not evident that we supported Robespierre on 9 Thermidor at 8 at night, and we were against him on the tenth at the same time!)

The French pamphlets at the Newberry might not be the world’s greatest source of comedy, but they do serve to contradict the misconception that important historical events are necessarily accompanied by dusty prose or a lack of humor.

A Stranger in a strange language

Cataloging in a language I know nothing about has been an interesting experience. In addition to having no formal training in Dutch, I came to this with no knowledge of Dutch history outside of their contributions to the field of horticulture (thanks to a graduate school class that took place at the Chicago Botanic Garden). From a purely quantitative perspective, that means that cataloging these Dutch pamphlets, as similar as they are content-wise to the French Revolution Collection, is significantly more time consuming.

C.G. Allen’s Manual of European languages for librarians has been an invaluable resource. Less because of the vocabulary featured therein, but for its explanation of how Dutch orthography has changed over the centuries. The Dutch language underwent a major spelling reform in the 19th century.  Since only the first few items cataloged post-date those reforms, looking up unknown words (i.e., most of them) in a modern dictionary would be nigh impossible without the background presented there.

Of course, things have improved – I have now cataloged 16 volumes of Dutch pamphlets, and no-longer have to look up every every word. Being a Germanic language, there are enough similarities for me to muddle through, and the wholesale borrowing of many words from Latin and French (sometimes even retaining their traditional Latin declensions, much to the consternation of second-language Dutch learners everywhere, I’m sure) makes figuring out the meaning behind things much easier for those of us with formal training in both French and Latin.

Sometimes, a pamphlet comes along where the title is so glaringly similar to English (if you squint) that your humble cataloger immediately becomes wary of false friends. In the case of today’s special pamphlet, that fear was unjustified, but a closer look was still necessary.

F 46 .655 v. 36 no. 2 title page

The pamphlet in question is titled Groot A/B/C boek (Call no.  F 46 .655 v. 36 no. 2). For those readers not fluent with Dutch, yes, the title literally translates to “Great ABC book”.  So far so good. Unfortunately, this pamphlet is not actually an alphabet book, as the name would imply. To the author’s credit, the alphabet is present. The first page of the pamphlet presents the alphabet in six different typefaces: upper and lower case fraktur-style typefaces, upper and lower case italic typefaces, and upper and lower case roman typefaces. The author then helpfully points out the five vowels and gives a brief explanation of each before giving up on this whole “alphabet book” conceit entirely. The final ten pages of this pamphlet are, of course, political satire.  Not only that, but they consist entirely of parodies of religious writings: the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and a “sermon” on Bentink LXII, 5  (a reference to Willem Bentinck, a diplomat in the court of the stadtholder William IV.

F 46 .655 v. 36 no. 2 alphabet

F 46 .655 v. 36 no. 2 - the alphabet

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from working on so many 18th century pamphlets, it’s that no topic is to obscure to be turned into a political satire. Of course, it seems like the author of this one ran out of ideas on how to turn an alphabet book without any illustrations into a political satire pretty quickly, so went for the easy controversy by creating a religiously-themed satire, drawing parallels between supporters of the house of Orange-Nassau and the devoutly religious (and thus, implicitly criticizing the supporters who viewed the superiority of the stadtholders as obvious, gospel truth). The pamphlet even goes so far as to utilize the then-archaic blackletter typeface for the entire text.

F 46 .655 v. 36 no. 2 Het Willem onze

F 46 .655 v. 36 no. 2 - Het Willem onze

This pamphlet wasn’t complete without false friends – the parody of the Lord’s Prayer is entitled “Het Willem onze”, which my francophone brain immediately interpreted as “William XI” as opposed to the true Dutch meaning “Our William”, a parody of the “Our Father” (Cf. the German cognate Vaterunser , both from the Latin Pater noster). This has been one of the recurring difficulties for me in working with Dutch – not the English cognates, which almost universally mean exactly what they first appear to mean, but the numerous French cognates with completely different meanings. The most distracting has been the Dutch en, meaning “and” (and thus the Latin abbreviation etc. is commonly changed to enz.), which I continuously misinterpret as the French preposition.

Cataloging these materials in Dutch has definitely been a learning experience – not only from a linguistic perspective, but a historical one too. It also throws into sharp relief the amount of information available on the French Revolution – finding similar information on contemporary events in the Netherlands has been far more difficult, and the vast majority of sources are in Dutch as well.

For fans of unusual satire, this collection of Dutch pamphlets is really strong: later volumes (currently being cataloged) include a number of satires that take the form of auction catalogs and household inventories in addition to the more standard satirical poetry and drama. Keep an eye on this space for more exciting developments.

The Less naughty work of Théophile de Viau

Sometimes, the organization of the Saint-Sulpice Collection makes for interesting juxtapositions.  I mentioned in a previous post how the FRC pamphlets enable readers to piece together the stories of these, occasionally insignificant, historical figures.  The subject-based organization of Saint-Sulpice makes piecing these stories together even easier (as I touched on in my previous post regarding Louis IX). This time around I have a series of nine pamphlets on a more obscure individual, famed writer of blue poetry Théophile de Viau.  Viau was celebrated during his life, surpassing even Maleherbe as the most popular poet of 17th century France, but for reasons explained below, was largely ignored once classicism took hold in France until a brief rediscovery during the Romantic period instigated by swashbuckler author Théophile Gautier.

The pamphlets concerning Théophile de Viau represented in the Saint-Sulpice Collection pick up after his imprisonment and exile from France by Louis XII.  Viau’s relationship with the powers-that-be in France was complicated. One of the original libertines, Théophile de Viau was even more controversial than his contemporaries due to his Huguenot background. He fought against the French monarchy during the Protestant revolts of the early 17th century, but was pardoned and became a famed poet at the French court. This acceptance lasted less than five years, and Viau was officially banished in 1619. He left for England, only to be un-banished in 1620 when he returned to Paris only to be denounced by the Jesuits in 1623 and sentenced to being burned alive.  Viau prudently decided not to appear before Notre Dame as the Jesuits demanded, and after attempting to flee to England was captured and thrown in the Conciergerie. This point is where the Saint-Sulpice Collection begins to chronicle Viau’s life.

Case folio BX4060.A1 .S25 ser. 1 v. 75 no. 5

Uniquely, these pamphlets (many written by Viau himself or at least published under his name) are predominantly poetic in nature, and despite the controversy surrounding the sexually explicit and often heretical content of his work, the Sulpitians seem to have collected only pamphlets published in support of Viau.  (I’ll leave an analysis of why this might have been the case to the reader’s imagination) These poems are generally entreaties to the King, insisting that Viau has changed his ways, accepted Catholicism, and now understands that it was inappropriate to write so many naughty verses.

Case folio BX4060.A1 .S25 ser. 1 v. 75 no. 9

One rather interesting item amongst these pamphlets concerning Théophile de Viau is one written in response to his “apologetic” poetry by Tircis, a pseudonym of an as-yet unidentified friend of Théophile (Case folio BX4060.A1 .S25 ser. 1 v. 75 no. 9). This item expresses concern that Viau is more concerned with his own entertainment than he is with actually defending himself or getting out of prison.  Unfortunately, this item is incomplete. Indeed, the situation concerning Viau’s imprisonment was deadly serious: Jesuit François Garasse was attempting to prove that Viau’s poems contained coded references to homosexuality, an offense that could have incurred the death penalty.

Ultimately, Garasse’s efforts were unsuccessful, and support for Viau from other influential thinkers increased, spurring many of the pamphlets collected at the Newberry on the subject. Viau was permanently exiled from Paris in 1625 and died only one year later. His irreverent poetry was not well received by the classicists, and thus languished in obscurity until the romantic period.

Dutch preview

Here’s a preview of some of what I’ve been dealing with when it comes to the Dutch pamphlets, soon to appear in the Newberry’s catalog.

It’s always exciting to work on a new collection, since it usually means new skills to learn, new difficulties to overcome, and new topics to learn about. I began cataloging the Pamfletten-Verzameling(literally “Pamphlet Collection”) with the hope that I would be confronted with an array of new topics. Imagine my surprise when, in the very first volume I began to catalog, I came across a pamphlet on… the price of salt.

Title page of F 46 .655 v. 42 no. 9 p. 3

The focus on salt taxes in the French Revolution Collection has been something of a running joke amongst the project team, so  coming across this pamphlet (only in Dutch!) made me chuckle.  As Jessica mentioned in her previous post, we are working on this collection in reverse chronological order, so it makes sense that Dutch pamphlets published during the Napoleonic era would cover many of the same topics as their French counterparts.  The pamphlet in question, Besluit, houdende eene wet op het middle van het zout (Call no. F 46 .655 v. 42 no. 9), was published in 1809, when the Netherlands were directly controlled by France.  In fact, the king of the Kingdom of Holland was Napoleon’s younger brother, Louis Bonaparte, who had been named king of Netherlands by Napoleon in an attempt to establish a puppet government in the Netherlands.  This attempt largely failed, as Louis Bonaparte refused to play the part of the puppet king and placed the economic well-being of his Dutch subjects over what was politically expedient for the French First Empire, and Napoleon invaded Holland, dissolved the monarchy, and annexed the Netherlands directly to France after only four years.

In this context, the re-appearance of the economic impact of salt is totally unsurprising. Having materials from the same time period, published in (ostensibly) different countries by different rulers strengthens the Newberry’s collection by providing even more historical context and allowing scholars to compare and contrast how different governments dealt with the same issues. In this case, it is especially valuable to see primary sources demonstrating how the Bonaparte brothers dealt with conflicting loyalties and the complicated economic situation of the times.

The beginning of F 46 .655 v. 42 no. 9, showing Louis Bonaparte's decree

I have since begun cataloging quite a few more pamphlets from this collection, and my initial hopes that I would encounter new topics have certainly not been disappointed. There is plenty of excitement in store from these pamphlets, from complicated issues of international relations and the relative value of Belgian devolution to religious tracts targeted at sailors.  Stay tuned for more exciting news from the world of Dutch pamphlets.

The Birthplace controversy

BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 1 v. 47 no. 3

Plate from BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 1 v. 47 no. 3

As a collection composed primarily of biographical ephemera, the Saint-Sulpice Collection also holds value as a resource for those interested in the history of biography as a genre, and by extension to the study of scholarly communication itself. The Saint-Sulpice Collection includes biographies that blur historical fact with popular mythology (For example, Case BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 1 v. 72 no. 17, on Semiramis or Case BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 1 v. 41 no. 12 and no. 13, on the Wandering Jew ) includes a decent amount of published correspondence examining or critiquing the way writers have unsuccessfully separated historical facts from legend (See Case BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 1 v. 55 no. 9 and no. 10, on Menes).

Since the collection is organized by subject, controversies over various matters are nearly always grouped together. This is convenient both for the researcher and the cataloger. The researcher gets to see the criticism and response next to each other without having to go looking for other resources, while the cataloger gets to copy and paste large swathes of information between records instead of going through the arduous process of typing everything out (cataloging being a physically demanding job, we catalogers are constantly on the lookout for ways to save those precious calories).

Case BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 1 v. 47 no. 1

Case BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 1 v. 47 no. 1

Despite the impression I may have given with my examples above, the vast majority of the collection is focused on French history.  Perhaps understandably, considering his relative uniqueness in French history, there is quite a collection of material related to Louis IX, France’s only canonized king. To be more specific, there’s quite a collection of material bickering over Louis IX’s “real” birthplace. It is commonly accepted both then and now that Louis IX was born in the Parisian suburb of Poissy , but in the early- to mid-18th century there was a concerted effort to re-brand Louis IX as originating in one of the many Beauvais-area towns known as Neuville. If the documents in this collection are any indication, there were definite political overtones to this disagreement, as scholars associated with religious institutions in the two towns competed over whose town would gain the prestige of being the “birthplace of Saint Louis”, and thus qualify for several tax exemptions.  While largely unknown today, at the time this dispute was significant enough to attract the attention of the founder of paleography and modern archeology, Bernard de Montfaucon.

Case BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 1 v. 47 no. 2

Case BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 1 v. 47 no. 2

The evidence brought forth in the dispute ranges from the way Louis IX signed his name (as “Louis de Poissy”), whether or not the city of his baptism was necessarily the same as that of his birth, the reliability of various historical records, and how the Latin oriundus should be interpreted. Montfaucon, who doubted that Louis IX was born in Poissy, argued for a conservative interpretation of the evidence, claiming that contemporary accounts of Louis IX as a “native” of Poissy were insufficient to prove that this was his birthplace.

Case BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 1 v. 47 no. 3

Case BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 1 v. 47 no. 3

The documents concerning this controversy in the Saint-Sulpice Collection are all by supporters of the traditional birthplace for Louis IX. Most of the documents are responses to letters received by the author criticizing their arguments in favor of Poissy, allowing the clever researcher to reconstruct both sides of this historical controversy.

Coming back to the Fatherland

Case folio FRC 10344 no. 127

The various governments instituted during the French Revolutionary period were marked by their attempts to create a more equitable legal system, free of the systemic hierarchical injustices and constant abuses of power that typified feudalism.  Complicated historical issues were brought to the forefront, and attempts were made to rectify longstanding injustices. One of the reforms that has, in retrospect, been one of the most influential was the way the new government decided to rectify centuries of persecution of French Protestants.  Protestantism was legalized, Protestants were allowed to marry, and in a move that would have long-lasting repercussions and would not be ultimately repealed until after World War II, the descendants of Huguenots who had fled and/or been expelled from France were granted full citizenship and the restitution of their property.

This law and later laws modifying it (found in the Newberry Library FRC collection with call nos. Case FRC folio 10344 no. 127 and Case FRC folio 10346 no. 64) was the first internationally recognized right of return, a principle that now exists in many nations, but perhaps the most well-known is Israel’s controversial Law of Return.  Although commonly in modern times as a method of maintaining “ethnic purity” (for example, China’s right of return law provides tax breaks and other tangible benefits for individuals of Han Chinese ancestry who choose to immigrate) and enforcing an outdated conception of jus sanguinis, the right of return in the context of the French Revolution is more appropriately put into a totally different context – that of reparations for historical injustices. The ethnic nationalism argument fails in this context because the Constituent Assembly also penned the Constitution of 1791 which established birthright citizenship.*

The discussion surrounding the wisdom of implementing a right of return demonstrates some parallels with the controversies surrounding the modern day issue of reparations for slavery in the United States. The government was facing staggering debt and yet they decided to implement a policy that required them to restore the estates, titles, or the equivalent value thereof to new immigrants, many of whom had not lived in France for generations. This move was not without its detractors, and several years of debate followed arguing various interpretations as to how restitution would be made (See, for example, Case FRC 12393 and Case FRC 12382).

These laws set a historical precedent, attempting to draft legislation not because it would benefit those in positions of power, or even because it would benefit the country as a whole (at least not in an immediately recognizable way, although countering possible brain drain from fleeing royalists was a possible motivation for the law) but because it was the Right Thing To Do. Unfortunately for those readers interested in claiming their free French citizenship (Not to be confused with the Free French), while the law was confirmed to still be active in 1889, concerns over descendants of Huguenots who had emigrated to Germany seeking shelter from prosecution for war crimes led to the end of this policy in 1945.


* Birthright citizenship was abolished in the 1804 Code civil, a decision highly derided by Napoleon, who argued that French education was more important to establishing national identity than parentage. See Christian Bruch’s “La Citoyenneté et la nationalité dans l’histoire”, available here.

The Loudun possessions in the Saint-Sulpice Collection

Today’s post is in some sense an extension of my previous post on criminal biographies in the Saint-Sulpice Collection (Brinvilliers: serial killer or devout but misunderstood?), as well as in some sense an expansion on my previous posts regarding the French Revolution and centralization in France.

As I alluded to in Yes, there’s something for everyone in the Saint-Sulpice Collection, I’m quite a fan of Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudon. Devils is a non-fiction novel concerning the events leading up to the trial and execution of Urbain Grandier. Grandier was a priest who was accused of making a pact with the devil and instigating the demonic possession of an entire convent of Ursulines. The fact that he was credited with publishing both a treatise that spoke out against the doctrine of clerical celibacy as well as an anonymous pamphlet that was highly critical of the Cardinal Richelieu was, of course, completely incidental. To contrast with the case of Brinvilliers, modern scholars generally dispute Grandier’s conviction and acknowledge that the entire affair was largely political in motivation. Richelieu used the supposed possessions to rid himself of an unwelcome critic within the church. The controversy also permitted Richelieu to have the fortifications of the traditionally Huguenot-sympathizing town razed.

Huxley uses the setting as a way of exploring his own views on ethics (heavily drawing on elements of Buddhist philosophy) as well as the justifications and causes behind claims of demonic possession in the early modern period. It’s a fantastic read, and Huxley’s research is outstandingly thorough (check out the extensive footnotes, almost exclusively to primary sources). Huxley explores all sides of the story, including an in-depth examination of Richelieu’s character and why he almost certainly would not have believed in the literal truth of a case of collective demonic possession.

So how does this all connect to the Saint-Sulpice Collection? Well, Case folio BX4060.A1 .S25 ser. 1 v. 32 presents Grandier’s ultimate conviction and sentencing, including the sentence passed on his infamous work advocating priestly marriage. This document presents both a primary source account of Grandier’s trial, but also an intriguing look at the way controversial subjects are treated – as the “hysteria” shown by the possessed nuns was frequently both public and sexually explicit. It also chronicles an important event in the chain of primary source documents that demonstrate the transition of France from a collection of feudal states into the centralized country it is today.

Grandier’s plight may be well reported now (including a 1971 film that somehow won a major award at the Venice Film Festival, despite being banned in Italy), but this project makes the original documents concerning the case available to a much wider audience, and strengthens the emotional impact for those already familiar with the situation.

* Unfortunately, because the pamphlet in question is at this moment in the conservation lab,  I was unable to take a photo in time for this post.


Brinvilliers: serial killer or devout but misunderstood?

Serial killers have, apparently, been a perpetual source of pop-culture fascination. Excitingly, we get to see some of that in the Saint-Sulpice Collection. Specifically, I hold in my hands a couple of descriptions of the trial of one Marie-Madeleine-Marguerite d’Aubray, marquise de Brinvilliers, more commonly known as Brinvilliers. Brinvilliers was a woman who, along with her lover, decided that she wasn’t going to share her inheritance and poisoned her father and two brothers. Caught attempting to flee to Belgium, Brinvilliers was tried, sentenced, and executed in classic ancien régime fashion. The story of Brinvilliers has since served as inspiration to such authors as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Alexandre Dumas, père and Robert Browning. The life and death of Brinvilliers has also been dramatized, most notably in an 1831 opera and in 2009 as a musical comedy. The trial of Brinvilliers also touched off a major scandal (the Affair of the poisons) that resulted in 36 deaths and charges of withcraft, and the ensuing controversy resulted in the dissolution of the special courts for trying crimes of poisoning and witchcraft (the Chambre ardente) after several paramours of Louis XIV were implicated.

Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 1 v. 11 no. 4 collective t.p.

What is perhaps most exciting about the documents about Brinvilliers in the Saint-Sulpice Collection is how they deviate from the popularly accepted historical narrative. The document in question (Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 1 v. 11 no. 4) collects a number of works on the trial and execution of Brinvilliers, but the primary work therein is actually an impassioned defense of the famed poisoner. The (understandably) anonymous author lays the blame for the entire scandal on Brinvillier’s sister in law and the prosecutor.

Interestingly for a libelle, the document goes into quite a bit of legal depth, examining the threshold of evidence required to secure a conviction. What results ends a total mishmash of legitimate criticisms of the legal proceedings (for example, confessions produced via torture) and fallacious ad hominem type arguments attacking the political, economic, and social standing of the witnesses for the prosecution. The defense of Brinvilliers herself mostly boils down to an argument from ignorance that someone of such breeding and social standing could possibly be guilty of such a crime. Special attention is paid to the supposed piety of Brinvilliers and the deceitful, jealous nature of her accusers.

Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 1 v. 11 no. 4

Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 1 v. 11 no. 4 added t.p.

The defense of Brinvilliers is followed by a description of the trial itself, including a line by line criticism of the depositions of each witness. Many of the criticisms brought up in the defense of Brinvilliers are echoed here, especially the fact that many of the witnesses for the opposition merely presented unconvincing hearsay. The author of this section suggests that it was Denis Godefroy who was responsible for the poisonings, and is especially critical of the use of the water cure to extract a confession from Brinvilliers, quoting criticism of the practice by an unnamed “fameux praticien en matiere criminelle.” The document finishes by suggesting that the fact that the extraordinary question was even necessary is proof of her innocence.

Seeing these documents serves to provide a sense of balance to the historical narrative by presenting the complexity of historical controversies in their own time. This document partially serves to demonstrate Foucault’s position that the victors of social struggles are the ones who ultimately control the historical narrative. The Saint-Sulpice Collection, and other primary-source collections like it, can go a long way in ensuring that underrepresented voices do not disappear from historical scholarship.

Organization (and the lack thereof) of revolutionary pamphlets

After cataloging over 8000 pamphlets in the French Revolution Collection, it starts to get pretty easy to find broad categories of pamphlets. One interesting aspect of this project has been the ability to track changes in government publications. As mentioned in some of my previous posts, by far the most common printer/publisher in the collection is the Imprimerie nationale and various permutations thereof (Imprimerie de la République, Imprimerie royale, Imprimerie nationale executive du Louvre, etc., as well as François-Jean Baudouin, who was the official printer of most of the legislative bodies from the latter part of the reign of Louis XVI through the First Empire). This allows the researcher (or the cataloger who sees these pamphlets daily over the course of several months) to easily track the changes in government publishing, and enables one to divine the relative time period (and under which government) the pamphlets were published.

Pamphlets published during the reign of Louis XVI are, in some ways, the most difficult to track. For the most part, they were published without any indication of publisher, printer, bookseller, etc. The majority of the pamphlets that do have some indication generally list an individual’s name, usually with the qualification “premier imprimeur ordinaire du roi” or similar. This method of assigning responsibility is consistent throughout the entire collection for pamphlets originally distributed by the central government and then re-published by provincial printers. A relatively small number of pamphlets do have a corporate name – the Imprimerie royale. This attribution is more common in quarto- or folio-sized pamphlets than it is in smaller formats.

The later into the revolutionary period these pamphlets get, the more organized the publication information seems to be. Those pamphlets published earlier in the Revolution are not significantly different than those published during the reign of Louis XVI – dates are frequently absent, although publisher names become more common for government publications.  The government publications in this collection appear to really start to become organized and consistent with the ratification of the Constitution of 1791. While pamphlets published by the Assemblée nationale législative still frequently lack publication dates, most pamphlets at least list a person or corporate body responsible for the printing, and there is generally a session date or some other relatively obvious indication of the date.

This trend towards standardization continues  throughout the period, with each subsequent body becoming more consistent in how government publications are presented.  Nearly every pamphlet published by the Convention nationale includes, at a minimum, either a corporate printer’s name or that of François-Jean Baudouin as well as a session date, publication date, or both. By the time of the Constitution of 1795 and the introduction of the Directoire, the

Colophon from Case FRC 11727

format was pretty much standard across all pamphlets published by the central government in Paris, and even provincial editions of works issued by the legislature all follow the same formula that includes all of the “important” publication information – place of publication, a printer’s name, the date of publication, and in most cases the session date when the content was originally presented. This format remained  after Napoleon’s coup d’état and even through the reign of Louis XVIII.

This trend – instituted explicitly by the government in various publications from the period (see Case FRC 18065, Case FRC 22860, and Case folio FRC 9831 no. 59 for examples) fits in with the larger narrative associated with Early Modern France – the increasing centralization of power and culture and the subservience of the local aristocracy to the government in Paris.