Tag Archives: manuscripts

Sertor’s Conclave dell’anno 1774 revisited

The cataloging workflow works in mysterious ways.

Earlier this year, when Benedict XVI’s resignation triggered a papal conclave, I took the opportunity to write a post about Gaetano Sertor’s Conclave dell’anno 1774, two copies of which I had recently cataloged.  That very week, elsewhere in Collection Services, a manuscript of the libretto (Case MS V 461 .7743) landed on someone else’s desk.  The flurry of research by Alan and Jessica revealed nuances about the work’s history and publication that were necessary to distinguish its incarnations in our collection, which actually number five: the manuscript, an authentic edition, two counterfeit editions, and a French edition.

In the Bibliografia universale del teatro drammatico italiano, Salvioli and Salvioli attribute the work not to Sertor — who went to prison for its content — but to Prince Sigismondo Chigi.  They also go into detail about the distinguishing characteristics of the counterfeit editions.  The pictures below show our three Italian editions: Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775 (BLC 14); Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775c (BLC136); Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775b.  The French edition (F 46 .655 v. 23 no. 16), cataloged in January, is in our collection of Dutch pamphlets, also cataloged as part of the CLIR project.

Second counterfeit: Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775 (BLC 14); first counterfeit: Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775c (BLC136); authentic edition: Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775b


In contemporary wrappers. Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775 (BLC 14), Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775c (BLC136), Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775b.

From China to Paris: a 1693 account of one woman’s journey

We recently completed cataloging the Saint-Sulpice Collection at the Newberry Library, which contains about 2,500 pamphlets and manuscripts chiefly in French that are nearly all biographical. These items, dating from the 16th to early 19th centuries, were collected and eventually bound into volumes by the Sulpician priests of Paris and used as educational models to teach their seminarians rhetorical writing skills.

While it is unsurprising that the Sulpicians would collect biographical pamphlets on kings and saints, the Saint-Sulpice Collection also contains pamphlets on both the notorious, such as infamous poisoners, and obscure. One such example of the latter is an anonymous manuscript letter regarding the past travails of a Chinese woman in Paris identified only as Ina (Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 1 v. 40 pt. 1 no. 8).

Lettre de Mademoiselle *** a Made. *** contenant l'histoire de la Chinoise (Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 1 v. 40 pt. 1 no. 8)

According to the letter, Ina was born in Beijing to a noble family and married a man at a young age of similar noble birth. During a journey down the coast to Nanjing with her husband and young son, she and her party were attacked by Dutch pirates. While her husband was killed during the skirmish, Ina, her son, and a number of servants were captured and taken on board. Although most of her possessions were taken from her, she was treated well for a time.

However, subsequent captains and crew mistreated her during many years of life at sea. Eventually, her son and all of her servants died of a fever. During a port stop in Paris, Ina was paraded around the city, where both the ship’s crew and the citizens of Paris stared at and jostled her now tattered traditional Chinese clothing. The crew abandoned her in Paris without money or possessions.

While Ina and her Chinese culture are exoticized throughout the text, some moments of human compassion are apparent, such as the moment when a nun finds Ina alone and destitute on a Parisian street and offers her shelter. The anonymous correspondent offers these reflections:

Compren[n]ez, s’il vous plait, dans quel désespoir vne femme qui est née auec du bien, qui a esté touiours heur[eu]se, et qui a de la naissance, se trouue réduite, au milieu de la rüe, pendans la nuit, au coeur de l[']hiuer, dans une des plus grandes villes du monde, sans argent, sans connoissances, sans pouuoir dire un seul mot de la langue, du païs à six milles lieuës du sien, et sans pouuoir demander du secours au vray Dieu qu’elle n’auoit pas encore le bonheur de connoistre.

[Understand, if you will, the despair of a high-born, wealthy woman, who was always happy, and now finds herself reduced to nothing, out in the street at night in the middle of winter in one of the largest cities in the world, without money and friends, without knowing a single word of the language in a country six thousand leagues from her own, and without the ability to ask help from the true God whom she has not yet had the good fortune of knowing.] (p. [16])

The letter appears to have been sent to or originated from the convent of the Augustines de la Miséricorde de Jésus in the Saint-Marcel quarter of Paris in 1693. Presumably, the nun who discovered Ina in the streets of Paris or one of her fellow sisters is the author of the letter.

Lettre de Mademoiselle *** a Made. *** contenant l'histoire de la Chinoise (Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 1 v. 40 pt. 1 no. 8)

Ina became an object of fascination to many prominent members of Parisian society, as they tried to discern where she was from based on her appearance and language, which they could not identify for some time. Eventually, Ina joined the other sisters in the convent as a nun. I have been unsuccessful in finding any other documents to corroborate Ina’s story or to attest to her existence at all. But this manuscript is a fascinating document that reveals Western attitudes toward the East in late 17th-century France.

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.

Interesting finds in the Brown Libretto Collection

This past week while working on the Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection (BLC) I came across four items that stood out from the usual fare of 18th century librettos and oratorios.  The first item, BLC 320 (Case ML50.2.R84 H37 1771), is a bound-with volume containing the libretto of Metastasio‘s Il Ruggiero, based on Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, printed in Vienna in 1771, and a poem by Metastasio, La deliziosa imperial residenza di Schönbrunn, printed in Vienna, 1776. For a bound-with the volume is fairly straight-forward, both pieces were published separately and bound together at some point by an owner.  Both works were printed by the same printer, and include some lovely engraved head-pieces and initials, as well as an added, engraved title page for Il Ruggiero.  What stood out to me about this item, however, was the inclusion of manuscript pages, bound at the end of La deliziosa and numerous provenance notations throughout.  Both works include a former owner’s signature on their title pages indicating that the volume was given to the owner, count Giuseppe Goretti dei Flammini by Metastasio himself (‘Donato a me conte Giuse. Goretto Flammini dal celebre de amico autore’ BLC 320 no. 1; ‘Dono dell’immortale autore a me co. Goretti Flammini’ BLC 320 no. 2).

BLC 320 no. 1 - Il Ruggiero title page inscription

BLC 320 no. 2 - La deliziosa imperial residenza di Schönbrunn title page inscription

There is also an armorial bookplate in the front of the volume with the name Teodro F. Tausch and motto: Robur, et fides. On the rear flyleaf of the volume other owners have inscribed Firenze (on the recto) in one hand,  Padre Clemente all’illmo. (on the verso) in another hand, and in a third hand, on the verso, Luigi Cipriani di Stia mano propria a di 1816.  If all of this fun provenance material wasn’t enough the manuscript pages bound in at the end are even more interesting!

Armorial bookplate: Teodoro F. Tausch.

Rear flyleaf verso inscriptions

The 14 extant manuscript pages (at some point a large chunk of them were cut out) contain dedications to Goretti and Metastaiso, a memorial poem on Gaetano Sertor, author of the satirical opera Conclave dell’anno MDCCLXXIV, and a letter from Metastasio to Goretti.

Metastasio letter to Goretti - recto

Metastasio letter to Goretti - verso


BLC 322 (Case ML50.2.F387  S23 1690) is a libretto for Bernardo Sabadini‘s opera Il faovre de gli dei printed in Parma in 1690.  Despite its unassuming size (22 cm.) I was pleasantly surprised to discover 12 large, folded plates with both woodblock and copper plate engravings of various scenes throughout the opera, illustrated by the scene designer, Domenico Mauro.


The last two items that I selected are not libretti, but rather descriptions of two Italian festivals that took place in the early 17th century. BLC 329 (Case GT4252.A53 V35 1609), Relatione delle feste carnevalesche fatte nella citta d’Ancona, il presente anno 1609, provides a detailed description of the theatrical, musical, poetic and other festive elements of the carnevale celebration in Ancona in 1609.

BLC 329 - Relatione delle feste carnevalesche fatte nella citta d'Ancona, il presente anno 1609.

The author describes the various pastoral, comic, historical dramas, and mock battles that were enacted during the celebration.  Also included are the texts of several poems and various songs.  As I was reviewing the contents of this work for this post I noticed what appeared to be some sort of a list of rules for the ‘cavallieri’.  After consulting with Shawn, who is much better versed in Italian carnevale customs than I am, I found out these rules were for knights taking part in the jousting tournament and included rules for scoring points during the jousts.

BLC 239 - Rules for jousting

BLC 329 tail-piece

BLC 330 (Case PQ4632.S62  B28 1619), Battaglia tra tessitori, e tintori, describes a mock-battle, between the weavers and dyers, enacted on the river Arno in Florence 1619.

BLC 330 - Battaglia tra tessitori, e tintori.

The first part of this text describes the story behind the mythico-heroic battle: both kings Tinta, of the tintori, and Tessi, of the tessitori, are in love with queen Barulla and must compete for the honor of marrying her. The author sets the scene of the battle as it was laid out on the Arno:

“Imagine then, to see your beautiful Arno changed into the Tyrrhenian sea and the island … see the famous Sicily, and the burning Mount Etna that rises above … the armatas of king Tessi and that of king Tinta landing on the island as the Myrmidons and Mamluks …”

The remainder of the volume is a poem in 22 cantos on the battle to win the hand of queen Barulla.

Each of the four items I selected for this post are valuable to scholars in a variety of fields, for a variety of reasons, and only represent a small glimpse of the treasures in the Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection.

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.

New year, new collection

Engraving from Saint-Sulpice Collection (not yet cataloged)

We recently started to catalog the Saint-Sulpice Collection, the fourth and final collection that we will process as part of our French pamphlet cataloging project.  The Newberry Library purchased this collection, comprised of more than 2,500 pamphlets, in 2003.  Compiled and conserved by the Sulpicians of Paris in their seminary library over the course of nearly 200 years, the items in the collection date from the early 16th to the early 19th centuries.

Funeral oration from Saint-Sulpice Collection (not yet cataloged)

Comprised almost entirely of biographical materials, the collection includes funeral orations, epitaphs, death notices, commemorative verses, and éloges, collected as tools for teaching oratory, rhetoric, and other valuable skills to seminarians.  Around 1830, the individual pamphlets were bound into 124 volumes with distinctive green vellum spines and red spine labels.  The pamphlets are arranged in alphabetical order by the name of the person described, ranging from princes and statesmen to nuns and abbesses to intellectuals and orators.  Well represented are celebrated orators of the 17th century, such as Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, Esprit Fléchier, Louis Maimbourg, Jules Mascaron, and Claude-François Ménestrier.  Equally notable are first editions of short works by Guillaume Budé, Molière, and Blaise Pascal.

Volumes from Saint-Sulpice Collection (not yet cataloged)

While most of the pamphlets are in French and published in Paris or provincial locations in France, several are also in Latin, Italian, or German, and published in other European cities.  Notable among these is a funeral oration for Tycho Brahe.

Perhaps the most fascinating characteristics of the Saint-Sulpice Collection have to do with its provenance.  It is brimming with manuscript material, whether full manuscripts (original texts or copied from published works) or detailed manuscript annotations on published works.  Some controversies and events were meticulously researched.  For example, a series of annotated pamphlets on the decision of the Faculty of Theology of the Sorbonne to ban Sister María de Agreda’s Mystical City of Godpresents a contemporary and uncommonly rich account of the publishing history of a controversial religious work.  The Saint-Sulpice Collection is sure to enrich many avenues of scholarship in religious studies, literary history, and the history of publishing.

Printed and manuscript material from Saint-Sulpice Collection (not yet cataloged)

Paleography Institute Brown Bag Lunch

Last week, the CLIR project staff met with students visiting the Newberry for  the Mellon Summer Institute in French Paleography.   The French Paleography course, directed this year by Marc Smith (École nationale des chartes, Paris)  is one of several Institutes funded by a major grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The summer institutes provide intensive practical training in reading late medieval, Renaissance, and early modern manuscripts in European vernacular hands: English, French, Italian and Spanish.

Even though most of the material we are cataloging through our project is published material rather than manuscripts, we knew that some of the researchers would be interested in our work and the material. Additionally, we do have some manuscript material in the collections and some of the pamphlets are annotated.

For the session, we put together a slide show of some of the (not yet cataloged) manuscripts and annotated items  from the French Revolution Collection (FRC), Saint-Sulpice Collection and Collection of publishers’ prospectuses, catalogs, and other materials.