Series two of the Saint-Sulpice collection consists primarily of funeral orations and sermons for great personages: monarchs, nobles, bishops, abbesses, intellectuals. It’s all very grand, very elevated. The engraved vignettes and head-pieces can be truly lovely, as the armorial title vignette from Paul de Godet des Marais’ funeral oration shows.
Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 2 v. 34 no. 30, title vignette.
The endless oraisons funèbres can, however, also be something of a bore. My intellectual interests tend towards the ephemeral and the popular (or at least the personal), so officialdom isn’t really my bailiwick. That’s not to say that Saint-Sulpice isn’t interesting! Only that coming across something that doesn’t fit the mold is especially gratifying and can produce some interesting surprises.
Not long ago, for example, in doing peer review I came across a memoire of a legal case (novel!) involving a certain aristocratic nun (typical!), Marie-Thérese Brunet (Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 2 v. 6 no. 14). For this bound volume of funeral sermons, though, the case itself was anything but run-of-the-mill: a cruel servant had tormented and poisoned Brunet’s pet monkey (whoa… oh dear). The court pondered the ramifications of this breach of decorum: “Problême: une religieuse fortement attachée à son singe, qu’une fille a eu la cruauté d’assommer, combien perd-t-elle d’honneur? combien perd-t-elle de plaisir?“ That was certainly the first time “Animal welfare” and “Monkeys as pets” have come up as subject headings for this project, at least on my watch. I did a double-take upon first seeing the word “singe!”
"Voicy Mandrin, le chef d'une troupe brigande ..."
More recently, in working through another Saint-Sulpice volume (Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 2 v. 34) I struck a little vein of historical lore. Tucked between an éloge for scientist Paul-Jacques Malouin and the sermon for bishop Paul de Godet des Marais (seen above), there were three brief works on Louis Mandrin, chef des contrebandiers. As has so often happened to me in working on the CLIR project, I had stumbled upon something famous but utterly new to me. A Google search of Louis Mandrin reveals a rich popular legacy in song and image and film.
It turns out that Mandrin (1725-1755) the brigand and smuggler is the Robin Hood of France, having led a revolt against the fermiers généraux*—the immensely rich and roundly hated tax collectors. Eventually, he was captured and sentenced to death, as the first of our pamphlets documents (Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 2 v. 34 no. 27, see below). His struggle against the ancien régime earned him followers not only in the populace but also among the likes of Voltaire. The website www.mandrin.org (in French) is a thorough and beautiful resource on Mandrin’s life and legacy.
Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 2 v. 34 no. 27, detail.
The second Mandrin pamphlet is an oraison funèbre, styled like the funeral sermons that were common at the time—precisely the oraisons funèbres that populate most of this collection. In place of a Bible verse, there is a line from the Roman poet Claudian, and the “sermon” unfolds in two parts, the first devoted to his family background, the second to his works. The anonymous author praises Mandrin’s accomplishments and mocks those from whom he stole. He rescued the rich the lethal, corrupting gold that brings all the vices that accompany luxury.
Ingrats, vous ne compreniez pas les avantages inestimables de cet échange. Pour de l’or il vous donnoit des vertus. [p. 3]
Ingrates, you don’t understand the inestimable advantages of this exchange. For gold he gives you virtue.
Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 2 v. 34 no. 28.
This work may be satirical. The pamphlet concludes with a song (see below)—an element, of course, lacking in orations for kings and bishops. The ballad must have already been in circulation since the caption title promises that it has been updated with an account of his death. The description of Mandrin’s brutality attest, at the very least, to a legacy that was not entirely positive.
Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 2 v. 34 no. 28, p. 7.
*The notion of “tax farming” and, from there, the very meaning of “farming” itself have proven to be one of my favorite mind-bending discoveries during this project. I highly recommend checking the Oxford English Dictionary’s entry for farm and farmer.