Books and Bookmen, by Andrew Lang

Lady Book-Lovers

The biographer of Mrs. Aphra Behn refutes the vulgar error that “a Dutchman cannot love.” Whether or not a lady can love books is a question that may not be so readily settled. Mr. Ernest Quentin Bauchart has contributed to the discussion of this problem by publishing a bibliography, in two quarto volumes, of books which have been in the libraries of famous beauties of old, queens and princesses of France. There can be no doubt that these ladies were possessors of exquisite printed books and manuscripts wonderfully bound, but it remains uncertain whether the owners, as a rule, were bibliophiles; whether their hearts were with their treasures. Incredible as it may seem to us now, literature was highly respected in the past, and was even fashionable. Poets were in favour at court, and Fashion decided that the great must possess books, and not only books, but books produced in the utmost perfection of art, and bound with all the skill at the disposal of Clovis Eve, and Padeloup, and Duseuil. Therefore, as Fashion gave her commands, we cannot hastily affirm that the ladies who obeyed were really book-lovers. In our more polite age, Fashion has decreed that ladies shall smoke, and bet, and romp, but it would be premature to assert that all ladies who do their duty in these matters are born romps, or have an unaffected liking for cigarettes. History, however, maintains that many of the renowned dames whose books are now the most treasured of literary relics were actually inclined to study as well as to pleasure, like Marguerite de Valois and the Comtesse de Verrue, and even Madame de Pompadour. Probably books and arts were more to this lady’s liking than the diversions by which she beguiled the tedium of Louis XV.; and many a time she would rather have been quiet with her plays and novels than engaged in conscientiously conducted but distasteful revels.

Like a true Frenchman, M. Bauchart has only written about French lady book-lovers, or about women who, like Mary Stuart, were more than half French. Nor would it be easy for an English author to name, outside the ranks of crowned heads, like Elizabeth, any Englishwomen of distinction who had a passion for the material side of literature, for binding, and first editions, and large paper, and engravings in early “states.” The practical sex, when studious, is like the same sex when fond of equestrian exercise. “A lady says, ‘My heyes, he’s an ‘orse, and he must go,’” according to Leech’s groom. In the same way, a studious girl or matron says, “This is a book,” and reads it, if read she does, without caring about the date, or the state, or the publisher’s name, or even very often about the author’s. I remember, before the publication of a novel now celebrated, seeing a privately printed vellum-bound copy on large paper in the hands of a literary lady. She was holding it over the fire, and had already made the vellum covers curl wide open like the shells of an afflicted oyster.

When I asked what the volume was, she explained that “It is a book which a poor man has written, and he’s had it printed to see whether some one won’t be kind enough to publish it.” I ventured, perhaps pedantically, to point out that the poor man could not be so very poor, or he would not have made so costly an experiment on Dutch paper. But the lady said she did not know how that might be, and she went on toasting the experiment. In all this there is a fine contempt for everything but the spiritual aspect of literature; there is an aversion to the mere coquetry and display of morocco and red letters, and the toys which amuse the minds of men. Where ladies have caught “the Bibliomania,” I fancy they have taken this pretty fever from the other sex. But it must be owned that the books they have possessed, being rarer and more romantic, are even more highly prized by amateurs than examples from the libraries of Grolier, and Longepierre, and D’Hoym. M. Bauchart’s book is a complete guide to the collector of these expensive relics. He begins his dream of fair women who have owned books with the pearl of the Valois, Marguerite d’Angouleme, the sister of Francis I. The remains of her library are chiefly devotional manuscripts. Indeed, it is to be noted that all these ladies, however frivolous, possessed the most devout and pious books, and whole collections of prayers copied out by the pen, and decorated with miniatures. Marguerite’s library was bound in morocco, stamped with a crowned M in interlacs sown with daisies, or, at least, with conventional flowers which may have been meant for daisies. If one could choose, perhaps the most desirable of the specimens extant is ‘Le Premier Livre du Prince des Poetes, Homere,’ in Salel’s translation. For this translation Ronsard writes a prologue, addressed to the manes of Salel, in which he complains that he is ridiculed for his poetry. He draws a characteristic picture of Homer and Salel in Elysium, among the learned lovers:

qui parmi les fleurs devisent

Au giron de leur dame.

Marguerite’s manuscript copy of the First Book of the Iliad is a small quarto, adorned with daisies, fleurs delis, and the crowned M. It is in the Duc d’Aumale’s collection at Chantilly. The books of Diane de Poitiers are more numerous and more famous. When first a widow she stamped her volumes with a laurel springing from a tomb, and the motto, “Sola vivit in illo.” But when she consoled herself with Henri II. she suppressed the tomb, and made the motto meaningless. Her crescent shone not only on her books, but on the palace walls of France, in the Louvre, Fontainebleau, and Anet, and her initial D. is inextricably interlaced with the H. of her royal lover. Indeed, Henri added the D to his own cypher, and this must have been so embarrassing for his wife Catherine, that people have good-naturedly tried to read the curves of the D’s as C’s. The D’s, and the crescents, and the bows of his Diana are impressed even on the covers of Henri’s Book of Hours. Catherine’s own cypher is a double C enlaced with an H, or double K’s (Katherine) combined in the same manner. These, unlike the D.H., are surmounted with a crown — the one advantage which the wife possessed over the favourite. Among Diane’s books are various treatises on medicines and on surgery, and plenty of poetry and Italian novels. Among the books exhibited at the British Museum in glass cases is Diane’s copy of Bembo’s ‘History of Venice.’ An American collector, Mr. Barlow, of New York, is happy enough to possess her ‘Singularitez de la France Antarctique’ (Antwerp, 1558).

Catherine de Medicis got splendid books on the same terms as foreign pirates procure English novels — she stole them. The Marshal Strozzi, dying in the French service, left a noble collection, on which Catherine laid her hands. Brantome says that Strozzi’s son often expressed to him a candid opinion about this transaction. What with her own collection and what with the Marshal’s, Catherine possessed about four thousand volumes. On her death they were in peril of being seized by her creditors, but her almoner carried them to his own house, and De Thou had them placed in the royal library. Unluckily it was thought wiser to strip the books of the coats with Catherine’s compromising device, lest her creditors should single them out, and take them away in their pockets. Hence, books with her arms and cypher are exceedingly rare. At the sale of the collections of the Duchesse de Berry, a Book of Hours of Catherine’s was sold for 2,400 pounds.

Mary Stuart of Scotland was one of the lady book-lovers whose taste was more than a mere following of the fashion. Some of her books, like one of Marie Antoinette’s, were the companions of her captivity, and still bear the sad complaints which she entrusted to these last friends of fallen royalty. Her note-book, in which she wrote her Latin prose exercises when a girl, still survives, bound in red morocco, with the arms of France. In a Book of Hours, now the property of the Czar, may be partly deciphered the quatrains which she composed in her sorrowful years, but many of them are mutilated by the binder’s shears. The Queen used the volume as a kind of album: it contains the signatures of the “Countess of Schrewsbury” (as M. Bauchart has it), of Walsingham, of the Earl of Sussex, and of Charles Howard, Earl of Nottingham. There is also the signature, “Your most infortunat, ARBELLA SEYMOUR;” and “Fr. Bacon.”

This remarkable manuscript was purchased in Paris, during the Revolution, by Peter Dubrowsky, who carried it to Russia. Another Book of Hours of the Queen’s bears this inscription, in a sixteenth-century hand: “Ce sont les Heures de Marie Setuart Renne. Marguerite de Blacuod de Rosay.” In De Blacuod it is not very easy to recognise “Blackwood.” Marguerite was probably the daughter of Adam Blackwood, who wrote a volume on Mary Stuart’s sufferings (Edinburgh, 1587).

The famous Marguerite de Valois, the wife of Henri IV., had certainly a noble library, and many beautifully bound books stamped with daisies are attributed to her collections. They bear the motto, “Expectata non eludet,” which appears to refer, first to the daisy (“Margarita”), which is punctual in the spring, or rather is “the constellated flower that never sets,” and next, to the lady, who will “keep tryst.” But is the lady Marguerite de Valois? Though the books have been sold at very high prices as relics of the leman of La Mole, it seems impossible to demonstrate that they were ever on her shelves, that they were bound by Clovis Eve from her own design. “No mention is made of them in any contemporary document, and the judicious are reduced to conjectures.” Yet they form a most important collection, systematically bound, science and philosophy in citron morocco, the poets in green, and history and theology in red. In any case it is absurd to explain “Expectata non eludet” as a reference to the lily of the royal arms, which appears on the centre of the daisy-pied volumes. The motto, in that case, would run, “Expectata (lilia) non eludent.” As it stands, the feminine adjective, “expectata,” in the singular, must apply either to the lady who owned the volumes, or to the “Margarita,” her emblem, or to both. Yet the ungrammatical rendering is that which M. Bauchart suggests. Many of the books, Marguerite’s or not, were sold at prices over 100 pounds in London, in 1884 and 1883. The Macrobius, and Theocritus, and Homer are in the Cracherode collection at the British Museum. The daisy crowned Ronsard went for 430 pounds at the Beckford sale. These prices will probably never be reached again.

If Anne of Austria, the mother of Louis XIV., was a bibliophile, she may be suspected of acting on the motive, “Love me, love my books.” About her affection for Cardinal Mazarin there seems to be no doubt: the Cardinal had a famous library, and his royal friend probably imitated his tastes. In her time, and on her volumes, the originality and taste of the skilled binder, Le Gascon, begin to declare themselves. The fashionable passion for lace, to which La Fontaine made such sacrifices, affected the art of book decorations, and Le Gascon’s beautiful patterns of gold points and dots are copies of the productions of Venice. The Queen–Mother’s books include many devotional treatises, for, whatever other fashions might come and go, piety was always constant before the Revolution. Anne of Austria seems to have been particularly fond of the lives and works of Saint Theresa, and Saint Francois de Sales, and John of the Cross. But she was not unread in the old French poets, such as Coquillart; she condescended to Ariosto; she had that dubious character, Theophile de Viaud, beautifully bound; she owned the Rabelais of 1553; and, what is particularly interesting, M. de Lignerolles possesses her copy of ‘L’Eschole des Femmes, Comedie par J. B. P. Moliere. Paris: Guillaume de Luynes, 1663.’ In 12 [degree sign], red morocco, gilt edges, and the Queen’s arms on the covers. This relic is especially valuable when we remember that ‘L’Ecole des Femmes’ and Arnolphe’s sermon to Agnes, and his comic threats of future punishment first made envy take the form of religious persecution. The devout Queen–Mother was often appealed to by the enemies of Moliere, yet Anne of Austria had not only seen his comedy, but possessed this beautiful example of the first edition. M. Paul Lacroix supposes that this copy was offered to the Queen–Mother by Moliere himself. The frontispiece (Arnolphe preaching to Agnes) is thought to be a portrait of Moliere, but in the reproduction in M. Louis Lacour’s edition it is not easy to see any resemblance. Apparently Anne did not share the views, even in her later years, of the converted Prince de Conty, for several comedies and novels remain stamped with her arms and device.

The learned Marquise de Rambouillet, the parent of all the ‘Precieuses,’ must have owned a good library, but nothing is chronicled save her celebrated book of prayers and meditations, written out and decorated by Jarry. It is bound in red morocco, double with green, and covered with V’s in gold. The Marquise composed the prayers for her own use, and Jarry was so much struck with their beauty that he asked leave to introduce them into the Book of Hours which he had to copy, “for the prayers are often so silly,” said he, “that I am ashamed to write them out.”

Here is an example of the devotions which Jarry admired, a prayer to Saint Louis. It was published in ‘Miscellanies Bibliographiques’ by M. Prosper Blanchemain.

PRIERE A SAINT-LOUIS,
ROY DE FRANCE.

Grand Roy, bien que votre couronne ayt este des plus esclatantes de la Terre, celle que vous portez dans le ciel est incomparablement plus precieuse. L’une estoit perissable l’autre est immortelle et ces lys dont la blancheur se pouvoit ternir, sont maintenant incorruptibles. Vostre obeissance envers vostre mere; vostre justice envers vos sujets; et vos guerres contre les infideles, vous ont acquis la veneration de tous les peuples; et la France doit a vos travaux et a vostre piete l’inestimable tresor de la sanglante et glorieuse couronne du Sauveur du monde. Priez-le incomparable Saint qu’il donne une paix perpetuelle au Royaume dont vous avez porte le sceptre; qu’il le preserve d’heresie; qu’il y face toujours regner saintement vostre illustre Sang; et que tous ceux qui ont l’honneur d’en descendre soient pour jamais fideles a son Eglise.

The daughter of the Marquise, the fair Julie, heroine of that “long courting” by M. de Montausier, survives in those records as the possessor of ‘La Guirlande de Julie,’ the manuscript book of poems by eminent hands. But this manuscript seems to have been all the library of Julie; therein she could constantly read of her own perfections. To be sure she had also ‘L’Histoire de Gustave Adolphe,’ a hero for whom, like Major Dugald Dalgetty, she cherished a supreme devotion. In the ‘Guirlande’ Chapelain’s verses turn on the pleasing fancy that the Protestant Lion of the North, changed into a flower (like Paul Limayrac in M. Banville’s ode), requests Julie to take pity on his altered estate:

Sois pitoyable a ma langueur;

Et si je n’ay place en ton coeur

Que je l’aye au moins sur ta teste.

These verses were reckoned consummate.

The ‘Guirlande’ is still, with happier fate than attends most books, in the hands of the successors of the Duc and Duchesse de Montausier.

Like Julie, Madame de Maintenon was a precieuse, but she never had time to form a regular library. Her books, however, were bound by Duseuil, a binder immortal in the verse of Pope; or it might be more correct to say that Madame de Maintenon’s own books are seldom distinguishable from those of her favourite foundation, St. Cyr. The most interesting is a copy of the first edition of ‘Esther,’ in quarto (1689), bound in red morocco, and bearing, in Racine’s hand, ‘A Madame la Marquise de Maintenon, offert avec respect — RACINE.”

Doubtless Racine had the book bound before he presented it. “People are discontented,” writes his son Louis, “if you offer them a book in a simple marbled paper cover.” I could wish that this worthy custom were restored, for the sake of the art of binding, and also because amateur poets would be more chary of their presentation copies. It is, no doubt, wise to turn these gifts with their sides against the inner walls of bookcases, to be bulwarks against the damp, but the trouble of acknowledging worthless presents from strangers is considerable. 20

Another interesting example of Madame de Maintenon’s collections is Dacier’s ‘Remarques Critiques sur les OEuvres d’Horace,’ bearing the arms of Louis XIV., but with his wife’s signature on the fly-leaf (1681).

Of Madame de Montespan, ousted from the royal favour by Madame de Maintenon, who “married into the family where she had been governess,” there survives one bookish relic of interest. This is ‘OEuvres Diverses par un auteur de sept ans,’ in quarto, red morocco, printed on vellum, and with the arms of the mother of the little Duc du Maine (1678). When Madame de Maintenon was still playing mother to the children of the king and of Madame de Montespan, she printed those “works” of her eldest pupil.

These ladies were only bibliophiles by accident, and were devoted, in the first place, to pleasure, piety, or ambition. With the Comtesse de Verrue, whose epitaph will be found on an earlier page, we come to a genuine and even fanatical collector. Madame de Verrue (1670–1736) got every kind of diversion out of life, and when she ceased to be young and fair, she turned to the joys of “shopping.” In early years, “pleine de coeur, elle le donna sans comptes.” In later life, she purchased, or obtained on credit, everything that caught her fancy, also sans comptes. “My aunt,” says the Duc de Luynes, “was always buying, and never baulked her fancy.” Pictures, books, coins, jewels, engravings, gems (over 8,000), tapestries, and furniture were all alike precious to Madame de Verrue. Her snuff-boxes defied computation; she had them in gold, in tortoise-shell, in porcelain, in lacquer, and in jasper, and she enjoyed the delicate fragrance of sixty different sorts of snuff. Without applauding the smoking of cigarettes in drawing-rooms, we may admit that it is less repulsive than steady applications to tobacco in Madame de Verrue’s favourite manner.

The Countess had a noble library, for old tastes survived in her commodious heart, and new tastes she anticipated. She possessed ‘The Romance of the Rose,’ and ‘Villon,’ in editions of Galliot du Pre (1529–1533) undeterred by the satire of Boileau. She had examples of the ‘Pleiade,’ though they were not again admired in France till 1830. She was also in the most modern fashion of today, for she had the beautiful quarto of La Fontaine’s ‘Contes,’ and Bouchier’s illustrated Moliere (large paper). And, what I envy her more, she had Perrault’s ‘Fairy Tales,’ in blue morocco — the blue rose of the folklorist who is also a book-hunter. It must also be confessed that Madame de Verrue had a large number of books such as are usually kept under lock and key, books which her heirs did not care to expose at the sale of her library. Once I myself (moi chetif) owned a novel in blue morocco, which had been in the collection of Madame de Verrue. In her old age this exemplary woman invented a peculiarly comfortable arm-chair, which, like her novels, was covered with citron and violet morocco; the nails were of silver. If Madame de Verrue has met the Baroness Bernstein, their conversation in the Elysian Fields must be of the most gallant and interesting description.

Another literary lady of pleasure, Madame de Pompadour, can only be spoken of with modified approval. Her great fault was that she did not check the decadence of taste and sense in the art of bookbinding. In her time came in the habit of binding books (if binding it can be called) with flat backs, without the nerves and sinews that are of the very essence of book-covers. Without these no binding can be permanent, none can secure the lasting existence of a volume. It is very deeply to be deplored that by far the most accomplished living English artist in bookbinding has reverted to this old and most dangerous heresy. The most original and graceful tooling is of much less real value than permanence, and a book bound with a flat back, without nerfs, might practically as well not be bound at all. The practice was the herald of the French and may open the way for the English Revolution. Of what avail were the ingenious mosaics of Derome to stem the tide of change, when the books whose sides they adorned were not really BOUND at all? Madame de Pompadour’s books were of all sorts, from the inevitable works of devotions to devotions of another sort, and the ‘Hours’ of Erycina Ridens. One of her treasures had singular fortunes, a copy of ‘Daphnis and Chloe,’ with the Regent’s illustrations, and those of Cochin and Eisen (Paris, quarto, 1757, red morocco). The covers are adorned with billing and cooing doves, with the arrows of Eros, with burning hearts, and sheep and shepherds. Eighteen years ago this volume was bought for 10 francs in a village in Hungary. A bookseller gave 8 pounds for it in Paris. M. Bauchart paid for it 150 pounds; and as it has left his shelves, probably he too made no bad bargain. Madame de Pompadour’s ‘Apology for Herodotus’ (La Haye, 1735) has also its legend. It belonged to M. Paillet, who coveted a glorified copy of the ‘Pastissier Francois,’ in M. Bauchart’s collection. M Paillet swopped it, with a number of others, for the ‘Pastissier:’

J’avais ‘L’Apologie

Pour Herodote,’ en reliure ancienne, amour

De livre provenant de chez la Pompadour

Il me le soutira! 21

Of Marie Antoinette, with whom our lady book-lovers of the old regime must close, there survive many books. She had a library in the Tuileries, as well as at le petit Trianon. Of all her great and varied collections, none is now so valued as her little book of prayers, which was her consolation in the worst of all her evil days, in the Temple and the Conciergerie. The book is ‘Office de la Divine Providence’ (Paris, 1757, green morocco). On the fly-leaf the Queen wrote, some hours before her death, these touching lines: “Ce 16 Octobre, a 4 h. 0.5 du matin. Mon Dieu! ayez pitie de moi! Mes yeux n’ont plus de larmes pour prier pour vous, mes pauvres enfants. Adieu, adieu! — MARIE ANTOINETTE.”

There can be no sadder relic of a greater sorrow, and the last consolation of the Queen did not escape the French popular genius for cruelty and insult. The arms on the covers of the prayer-book have been cut out by some fanatic of Equality and Fraternity.

20 Country papers, please copy. Poets at a distance will kindly accept this intimation.

21 Bibliotheque d’un Bibliophile. Lille, 1885.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 22:03