Tag Archives: annotations

Les temps sont bien changés! Heresy, satire, and immolation

While there were an enormous number of duplicates within the French Revolution Collection (FRC), there also quite a few duplicates with items either unrelated to FRC or cataloged before the advent of the CLIR project.  For those, we are not only adding holdings records, we are also recataloging to bring the bibliographic records up to CLIR standard.

The Newberry already holds a copies of the anticlerical satire Relation véritable et remarquable du grand voyage du pape en paradis and its continuation, Relation véritable et remarquable du grand voyage du pape en enfer, by Joseph Fiévée.  These send-ups lambaste Pope Pius VI personally and decry the church as a whole.  At the pearly gates, for example, Saint Peter doesn’t recognize his successor, who he finds too richly dressed, and when Pius tries to enter the gate he’s too overfed to fit; the removal of some masonry is suggested as a remedy.

Case FRC 18623 and 18624

Most  charming — and, of course, useful — about these pamphlets are the manuscript annotations on one of the duplicates of Paradis.

Il n’y a pas cent ans qu’en France un pamphlet de ce genre eût fait brûler solemnellement son auteur. Le siècle passé foutait[?] plusieurs exemples de gens grilles à bien meilleur compte. Témoins entre autres Geoffroy Vallés et Simon Marin, que au fond, n’etoient que des fous, des illuminés déraisonnants de la meilleure foi du monde, et plus dignés du Petites-maisons que du feu. Les temps sont bien changés!

Only one hundred years ago in France a pamphlet like this would have had the author burned at the stake.  The past century has spat out many examples of people grilled for better reasons.  Take for example, among others, Geoffroy Vallée and Simon Marin, who at bottom were nothing but madmen,  raving lunatics of the best faith in the world, and better suited to asylums than to fire.  The times certainly have changed!


Case FRC 18624


Lutozzo Nasi and Antonio de’ Pazzi, circa 1556

The Newberry Library’s copy of Luigi Alamanni‘s comedy La Flora, published in 1556 and recently cataloged as part of the Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection (BLC), bears contemporary inscriptions in two hands.

Case ML50.2.F61 A43 1556 : La Flora, comedia di Luigi Alamanni, con gl’intermedii di Andrea Lori.

The inscription at the foot of the page is clear enough, and is still clearer and in slightly fuller form the end of the dedicatory letter: “Questa comedia è di Ant.o de Pazzi [romanized from Greek:] kai ton phyōn” (This comedy belongs to Antonio de’ Pazzi [...]).

Case ML50.2.F61 A43 1556, dedicatory letter: "Questa comedia è di Ant.o de Pazzi"

Returning to the title page, the fainter writing at mid-page is in a different hand and partially worn away.  It is also a bit curious.  The portion I can make out with the naked eye reads: “Di Lutozzo Nasi non è vero” (of Lutozzo Nasi, is it not?).

Case ML50.2.F61 A43 1556, title page: "Di Lutozzo Nasi non è vero"

The Pazzi and Nasi were prominent Florentine families (the former infamous for the fifteenth-century conspiracy that often bears their name).  I dare not hazard a guess as to which Lutozzo and which Antonio ours might be.  Any thoughts?  (Also most welcome: any thoughts on the Greek!)



not-so-revolutionary diagnostics

For your consideration: a handbill (Case FRC 27552) describing the medical training and expertise of physician Antoine-François Maillet.

Case FRC 27552

Dr. Maillet lists a copious repertoire of maladies he is capable of treating and, at the end, invites prospective patients to send him urine samples for diagnosis.  It would seem he was peripatetic (or perhaps just prudent), since the printed text leaves his domicile blank.  In the Newberry’s copy, “Il est logé chez” is completed in manuscript with “Bonnet a Riom”– presumably Saint-Bonnet-près-Riom.

Case FRC 27552

Uroscopy, a diagnostic method practiced since antiquity, was still in use at the turn of the 20th century, as this doctor’s test case shows.  For every 500 pamphlets in FRC with the Library of Congress Subject Heading of, say, “Taxation–France–Early Works to 1800,” there will  be one with completely novel subject matter.  This pamphlet was the first “Urine–Diagnostic use–France–Early works to 1800 ” that I’ve come across in two years.  It is rivaled in novelty only, perhaps, by the subject heading  “Uterus–Religious aspects–Drama–Early works to 1800 ” that came up for two oratorios in the Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection.

“Excusez l’état crasseux de ce mandement,” or, More ridicule from the margins

Last summer I wrote about a 1797 pamphlet covered in manuscript annotations taking the writer to task on issues of church and state.  Something similar from the dawn of the Revolution has just worked its way through the workflow.   Mandement de Monseigneur l’évêque de Périgueux, qui ordonne des prières publiques dans tout son diocese pendant la tenue des États généraux du royaume (Case folio FRC 26783) bears an apology on the cover:  “Excusez l’état crasseux de ce mandement.  Je le tiens d’un curé indecrassable”  (Excuse the execrable state of this mandement.  I think it’s written by an inexecrable prelate).

Case folio FRC 26783

The anonymous former reader/owner of the mandement has filled it with angry comments and rhetorical questions, numbered for your convenience.  Some of his concerns are spiritual, but just as often they are financial–after all, the Estates-General of 1789 were convened to address the realm’s dire financial problems.

Here are a few examples of the reader’s annotations.

"10. That's all well and good: but the deficit?" "11 But the deficit?" "12 So fathers are more pious than sons? Aeneas gives us an example of the contrary."

“15 A great vicar of Périgueux and secretary to the bishop died in 1777 with a fortune of more than 200000 that he earned trafficking in contraband tobacco”

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.

Mini-collections within the BLC

The Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection (BLC) comprises many smaller collections.  In the process of cataloging, we’ve come to recognize the bookplates of Pietro Gerini (d. 1939) and Pietro Buoninsegno (fl. 1802-1814), for instance, as dozens of their libretti found their way into Howard Mayer Brown’s hands.  There are less formal groupings as well, such as the many early-18th-century oratorios performed at the Oratorio di San Filippo Neri in Bologna, many of which were published by Costantino Pisarri.

Two interesting collections-within-the-collection of this sort are now making their way through the workflow.  The first consists of dozens libretti performed in at the Regio Ducal Teatro in Milan from 1698 through at least the 1750s, organized chronologically (BLC 712-760).

There’s no indication in the pieces themselves who might’ve put together this collection, but it is prodigious in scope and will serve scholars well.


The second mini-collection is pithier.  The ten libretti BLC 632-641 (titles and call numbers below) were used as the basis for new productions in Florence, mostly at the Teatro del Cocomero.  That is to say: they are full to the brim with alterations.  Many of these are made directly in the text, changing title page information and cast lists or altering text and stage instructions.  Some of the changes are so extensive, however, that they burst from the page, with slips of handwritten text pasted in or entire sheaves of alterations sewn up into a messy, wonderful package.  The most jam-packed of these is Case ML50.2.E33 L35 1724 (BLC 636) La Mariane.  The printed libretto was for a production at the Teatro di S. Angelo in 1724; the new production was at the Teatro del Cocomero in 1726.

Changes to the title page of La Mariane. Case ML50.2.E33 L35 1724 (BLC 636)

The cast, of course, changed.

Changes to the cast list of La Mariane. Case ML50.2.E33 L35 1724 (BLC 636)

Many of the additions and alterations are pasted in, like the folded slip on the left in the image below.  On the right is a leaf that has been inserted.

Insertions pasted down and sewn into La Mariane. Case ML50.2.E33 L35 1724 (BLC 636)

Indeed, in BLC 636, there is a veritable pile of loose sheets which have been inserted and then the whole package sew together–not for use, but to keep everything in one place.

La Mariane -- more loose sheets, some folded. Case ML50.2.E33 L35 1724 (BLC 636)

I can’t wait for someone to work on this little collection and reveal all of its secrets.   Someone has!  William C. Holmes’ Opera Observed: Views of a Florentine Impresario in the Early Eighteenth Century.  The third appendix is dedicated to these annotated libretti (plus one or two more).  From this desk in Collection Services, it is easy to forget that, although the BLC has not been fully cataloged, it has been available — and mined by scholars — for decades.

“Bella assai”: notes from the opera, Rome 1720

The Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection (BLC) has yielded another gem — a snapshot of the 1720 opera season in Rome through the eyes of two opera-goers.  The first libretto is Tito Sempronio Gracco, performed at the Teatro Capranica (Case ML50.2.T585 S33 1720, BLC 431).  Throughout the work, someone has made marginal comments, mostly complimentary: “non dispiace” (not displeasing);

"Non dispiace." Tito Sempronio Gracco, p. 24. Case ML50.2.T585 S33 1720 (BLC 431)

“bella assai” (rather beautiful);

"Bella assai." Tito Sempronio Gracco, p. 55. Case ML50.2.T585 S33 1720 (BLC 431)

“bella, bellissima, non puo essere meglio” (beautiful, most beautiful, couldn’t be better).

"Bella, bellissima, non puo essere meglio." Tito Sempronio Gracco, p. 56. Case ML50.2.T585 S33 1720 (BLC 431)


These charming comments could very well be about the text and not the performance, but that seems less likely in light of the second annotated libretto.  In Tito Manlio (Case ML50.2.T583 N67 1720), performed the same year at the Teatro della Pace, the same commenter (same hand and similar descriptions) is joined by another, who seems more focused on the music.  While they never comment on the same passage, they do seem to be in a conversation of sorts.

On p. 43, Listener 1 comments on Tito’s “bellissimo recitativo” (beautiful recitative). Just above, alongside Lucio’s aria, Listener 2 comments (in Neapolitan) “O che portiento” (Oh what a marvel)*.

"O che portiento." Tito Manlio, p. 43. Case ML50.2.T583 N67 1720 (BLC 451)

Listener 2 proves to be the more trenchant of the two.  On p. 56, again commenting on a passage by Lucio, he writes “E di questa che ne dite ò ò ò” (And what do you say about this, ho ho ho).  Is Listener 1′s “Bonissima” (very very good) a reply, or simply a comment on the following aria by Manlio?

"E di questa che ne dite ò ò ò." Tito Manlio, p. 56. Case ML50.2.T583 N67 1720 (BLC 451)

Chiming in again regarding the last scene, Listener 2 writes, “Quanto spiccan’ in q[ues]t’aria m[ise]r Lucio, e miser Decio capitan de’ Mamalucchi à à à à à” (How they over-articulate in this aria, Mister Lucio and Mister Decio, captain of the Mamelucos, ha ha ha ha ha).

"Quanto spiccan' in quest'aria miser Lucio, e Miser Decio, capitan de' Mamalucchi à à à à à." Tito Manlio, p. 70. Case ML50.2.T583 N67 1720 (BLC 451)

Almost all the notes by our wry second commenter pertain to Lucio, sung in this performance by Gaetano Fracassini from Verona.   It’s also interesting to note that one of the marginal comments (“mediocre,” p. 49) regards an aria that has a replacement a the end of the libretto; I wonder which version was really performed?

*Italianists: I’m reading that “chi” as “che,” since I can’t make sense of “who” in this context.  Thoughts?


reduce reuse recycle

Hidden within the folio materials of the French Revolutionary Collection is an assemblage of administrativa.  The bifolios with blank back pages make excellent file folders, and Case folio FRC is rife with examples of this reuse.

Case folio FRC suppl. 105, unfolded


Thus, the mild-mannered arrets and decrets that look like this on one side…

Case folio FRC suppl. 105 to 106 no. 5, front

look like this on the other….

Case folio FRC suppl. 105 to 106 no. 5, back

I imagine that these exemplars survived precisely because they were reused in this way, and that, once their secondary function had run its course, some enterprising bureaucrat saw that the recycled file folders could be reassembled as a collection of primary documents.  Among the loose ends of the FRC collection were two bundles of bifolios of just this type, except that all duplicate copies of the same law.  Interesting side-bars to this fascinating collection.

“Lecteur, prenez-garde,” or, Some duplicates do more than duplicate

As cataloging of the French Revolutionary Collection winds down, there are loose ends to gather up.  One such strand is to re-search the pamphlets flagged long ago as duplicates, so the non-duplicates can be cataloged.  In the batch that I searched, the number of titles already present in our catalog was surprisingly low, given how many pamphlets this project has churned through in two and a half years.

Not all duplicates are created equal, however, as librarians know.  A piece may be bibliographically identical but have unique value as an artifact.

FRC pamphlets set aside as duplicates, in the process of being rechecked



From my box of pamphlets, one such duplication-negating artifact emerged: a copy of the Décret de pacification proclamé par le Concile national de France  (duplicate of Case FRC suppl. 73 no. 8), filled to the brim with manuscript commentary.  For whatever reason, I opened to page 10 where my first glance landed on these words written at the foot of the page:

La religion chrétienne n’est point incompatible avec un gouvernement libre, il en existe des preuves; mais il est des gouvernements qui travaillent à la détruire et il ne couriant[?] point à ceux qui en sont ministres d’y [?] coopérer.

(The Christian religion is in no way compatible with a free government, the proof exists ; but it is the governments that works to destroy it [the church] and it is not up to those who are her ministers to cooperate.)

Annotations are fun. Annotations that enter into a dialogue with (rather than simply glossing) the text are interesting. Annotations that read like an articulate election-year blog comment are arresting. This pamphlet arrested me with a mixture of solace and sorrow that there is nothing new under the sun.

Every page of this gem is crowded with marginal notes responding to specific points in the text.  The annotator has even written his own caveat lector beside the caption title (photo below).

"Reader, beware" -- marginalia on duplicate of FRC suppl. 73 no. 8

Lecteur, prenez-garde—vous allez bien entendre la voix de Jacob, mais les mains que vous touchez sont les mains d’Ésaü, dont le Seigneur a dit : j’ai chéri Jacob et j’ai haï Esaü : vox quidem vox Jacob, manus autem sunt manus Esaü. Souvenez-vous toujours que vous devez vous défier des faux pasteurs qui se couvrent de la peau des brébis, mais qui ont la méchanceté des loups-ravissants.

(Reader, beware : you are going to hear the voice of Jacob but touch the hands of Esau, of whom the Lord said: I cherished Jacob and I hated Esaü / vox quidem vox Jacob, manus autem sunt manus Esaü. Remember always that you must defy the false pastors who dress in sheep’s clothing, but have the maliciousness of ravaging wolves.)

He’s speaking here of the French “constitutional clergy,” priests and bishops whose election had been taken out of the hands of the Catholic church.   The Concile national of 1797  reaffirmed this civil religion, and French reconciliation with the Holy See would have to wait for the Concordat of 1801.  Meanwhile, the one-sided “pacification”  presented in this 1797 pamphlet was not a reconciliation that the Catholic Church or French Catholics could live with, and it was roundly condemned in ways big and small… from the pope’s bully pulpit (as it were) and from the voices and pens of individuals like our anonymous commenter.