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Parlementaire Learning: Libraries

Among the valuable kinds of information available in the inventaires après décès in the Minutier des Notaires at the Archives Nationales, none are more precious for our purposes than the inventories of private libraries. One hundred ninety-four of these have been studied by Roger Doucet.[12]


The earliest date from the last decade of the fifteenth century and the last few were notarized in 1560. (The explosive vogue for collecting began in the 1520s.) More than half, 109, belonged to lawyers and royal officers, including twenty présidents and conseillers and thirty-five practicing lawyers at the Palais or the Châtelet. If clerics from robe families are added, the proportion becomes even greater. Only ten were libraries of grands seigneurs ; the sixteen Paris merchants among the collectors include a grocer, an innkeeper, and several in the wholesale cloth trades, as well as a bookseller affiliated with the university of Paris.

Hommes de loi who figure elsewhere in our study include Philippe Pot (309 books), Adrien Du Drac (358 books), Guillaume Bourgoing (280 books), and président Pierre Lizet (513 books and 25 manuscripts). Lizet's library is typical in that three-fourths of the contents are law books, almost equally divided between civil and customary law, but unusual in its lack of contemporary authors and in the presence of a number of texts by scientific authors such as Galen and Hippocrates, some books on alchemy, and the Cosmographie of Anneas Sylvius Piccolomini (Pope Plus II).

In every case, the predominance of law books reinforces the overwhelmingly professional bent of parlementaire mentalité ; in some cases there is little else: 42 of the 55 books belonging to the lawyer Cousinet, 55 of the 58 books belonging to the lawyer Berruyer. About two-thirds of even the unusually comprehensive collection of 783 books belonging to Jean Le Feron were legal books of one kind or another: textbooks, collection of parlementaire arrêts and royal ordinances, regional coutumes ; the standard works of Roman and canon law together with the most influential commentaries and glosses (Le Feron's library contained about 50 of these), and the works of major "modern" jurists like Andrea Alciato, Barthélemy Chasseneuz, Guy Pape, and especially Budé. We are not surprised to find Jean Gerson and copies of the Pragmatic Sanction at hand for these ardent Gallicans, and only occasional copies of the Concordat of Bologna (we look at the rest of his collection later in the chapter).

The nonprofessional categories regularly found, in approximately this (descending numerical) order, were religious books: Bibles and manuals of devotion; works by the ancients: Cicero, Vergil, Seneca, Plutarch, Aristotle in Latin, and a few Greeks appearing toward midcentury (usually Aesop, Thucydides, and Xenophon); popular fiction like the Amadis de Gaule (but fewer works by Rabelais than we might expect); fifteenth-century Italian works by Pico, Valla, Poliziano, Castiglione, Machiavelli; history and chronicles by Froissart, Monstrelet, and especially Commynes; utilitarian scientific or technical works of astronomy, navigation, mathematics, and descrip-


tions of the new world, and a few architectural books by Vitruvius or Alberti as well. Among contemporary authors, only Erasmus and Budé figure to any extent in the first half of the century. In general, the collections reflect parlementaire adherence to two conservative traditions—Roman law and piety. A century later Guy Patin's prescription would show a broader and more "modern" taste in two respects, that is, including more books by recent authors and ones more in conformity with our own tastes: Rabelais, Montaigne, Bodin, and Charron.[13]

Doucet notes that the robe collectors were not really bibliophiles and that their books were surpassed in monetary value by the plate, jewels, and wine in their estates. I cannot agree with his conclusion, however, that the parlementaires acquired their books only because they were désireux de manifester leur luxe , for the very reason that they were not very "valuable," only very useful.[14]

Two individual collections are worth some particular comment because each contained a number of items not regularly found in parlementaire circles. One was that of Jean Le Feron, containing 783 volumes inventoried in March 1548 at the time of his wife's death. His religious books included two copies of Saint Augustine's City of God , others by the Latin fathers, and works of Luther and Melanchthon. Among the ancient and medieval philosophical authors were Boethius, Cassiodorus, William of Occam, John of Salisbury, and Otto of Freising. Spanish and Italian texts also figured in the history section, along with more than 20 chroniques and louanges of the kings of France. Ulrich von Hutton and Sebastian Brandt added a German note to his foreign group, which was richer in Greek writers as well. Contemporaries like Du Bellay and Guillaume Postel were also listed.[15]

Pierre de L'Estoile's motley collection is distinguished by its extraordinary range, some would say lack of discrimination. His phenomenal curiosity led him to acquire items merely because they were scandalous or much discussed. He enjoyed documenting the evils of the times and expatiated at length in the Mémoires-Journaux on works of which he disapproved. From the historian's viewpoint, his collection of League pamphlets and other ephemera is priceless.

Volume 4 of the Brunet edition of the Mémoires-Journaux is a printed version of Pierre's scrapbook, "Les Belles Figures et Drolleries de la Ligue."


The original has marginal comments in Pierre's own hand. Many pages in the other ten volumes also contain what he called his vanités, fadèzes , or bagatelles . Topical ephemera were indeed the principal object of his curiosity and became a virtual obsession in his later years, which he often felt obliged to justify by drawing a moral. In volumes 8-10 (1602-10) human folly and/or the degenerate nature of the times in a wide range of miscellaneous works take the place of the follies and evils of the League, which had dominated earlier volumes. They serve the same didactic purpose and also seem to have given him a melancholy satisfaction:

[October 26, 1609] Today I bought the fourth part of the Chroniques des frères mineurs , in two volumes, newly published in 4º, by the widow of G. Chaudière. This book is not only stupid and superstitious but also impious in that it revives the memory of our furies and impieties that were passed off as religion, which the king has suppressed by his edicts of pacification. If it is as entertaining as the first part, which I have (as I understand from others, having just leafed through it myself), I'll copy out some extracts as soon as I have time to rid myself of melancholy, instead of an herb bouillon. The two volumes, bound in parchment, cost me 100 sous.[16]

The voluminous quantity of broadsides and pamphlets had caused him to create a personal cataloging system:

[July 19, 1608] Today I made two packages of bagatelles that I picked up between the first of this year through the last day of June. The first contained forty-five different items, that I labeled with four "As," beginning my fourth alphabet; the second contained forty-three, labeled BBBB.

[November 15, 1608] I have given Master Abraham [L'Estoile's binder] a package, labeled DDDD, of bagatelles picked up between the first of October and St. Martin's [November 12] of this year, most of them trash and lies printed at the last [Frankfurt] fair. There are forty-one of them. I gave Abraham a ten-sou piece for his work, which included stitching into my large Register a Latin poem . . . and a letter of Fra Paolo in Italian.[17]

An entry of two days later shows how the magpie collector, the scholar, and the moraliste -critic coexisted in this Parisian robin :

Today M. Dupuy showed me, in his study, theses printed in Rome by Brother Thomasso Caraffa, dedicated to the present pope [Paul V] with the magnificent (or rather, blasphemous) eulogies and titles bestowed on him that the pope himself has suppressed, whether from shame or from fear


that it would make the heretics laugh. Only M. Gillot [one of the authors of the Satyre Ménippée ; see chapter 14] owns one, which was sent to him from Rome (this is the one Dupuy showed me, according to a memorandum in Italian Dupuy brought me on July 30 of this year, as is noted for that day in this Register). The portrait of His Holiness enthroned is a frontispiece . . . surrounded by diadems, crowns, and many mottoes and titles [devises ] so boastful and arrogant that a president of the court [de Thou] asked, "What can one say of all this, except, 'It is Antichrist.'"[18]

Both his curiosities and the intellectual exchanges they inspired were extended to include almanacs, tombeaux (epitaphs), funeral orations, a few portraits, and a large number of coins. In one of his scrapbooks, a bound folio loaned to the friend of a friend in June 1608, among the items Pierre describes as "most interesting" are a play-by-play account of the famous duel between Jarnac and La Chastagneraye, the marriage negotiations of François d'Alençon and Queen Elizabeth, and Jacques Faye's remonstrances on the Trent decrees. This sort of mélange is duplicated hundreds of times. Whether we judge these to be expressions of a mindless mania or of a catholic taste, it is only fair to note that L'Estoile felt an obligation to document the follies of the time and that they provided constant exercise for his critical faculties:

[September 10, 1608] Today I finished reading Vignier's Histoire de l'Église , which I began last August 16. Having studied it and read it carefully from beginning to end, I'm confirmed in the opinion I've always held of the falsity of the pope's claim to primacy, as a frivolous tradition and abuse of the Roman Church. This is a good book, and very useful for bringing out the truth, [the author] makes no claims on his own, he does it by producing sound and irrefutable evidence from century to century.[19]

Predictably, L'Estoile kept close track of the Frankfurt fair every year. In 1608 he acquired the catalog on October 25, "very thin on good books but with abundant trash, invectives, and injuries (of all factions) even more than before. One can say, as of everything else in these times, toujours de pis en pis ." He did a good deal of buying and selling himself, sometimes with commercial booksellers, but often with individual acquaintances. In September 1608 he sold a bunch of duplicates—la plupart bagatelles —for 30 francs, which he put aside to invest in others. Understandably, he was


interested in visiting other libraries. In October 1607 with two friends he spent an afternoon visiting the royal library where, "among other notable and rare items," were a large Ptolemy and a Hebrew Bible (handwritten and illuminated), both excellent and "truly royal." There were also many Greek manuscripts, from the hand of a leading scribe, "with magnificent and exquisite bindings, which in many cases were worth more than the contents." In 1609 he visited an aged monk of St-Germain, who had a library "quite large and beautiful, for a monk," among whose treasures was a Bible edited by François Vatable (a leading Hebrew scholar) that the monk found the best of any, although the author was considered a heretic by "our masters," and a presentation copy of de Thou's Histoire universelle . In the course of these years Pierre became something of a curiosity himself. In September 1608 the English ambassador came to see his study and his books, "about which he claimed to be very curious, nevertheless, in my opinion, he had little knowledge of books," making some pretentious observations showing that he did not know which were rarest. One of the infrequent glimpses of Pierre's sensitivity, which is not at the same time an expression of bitterness, occurs at the end of this episode: "I gave a toy herring, so beautifully made one would think it alive, to his son, very little, but whose face promised great and good things."[20]

Although bagatelles take up more space in the Mémoires-Journaux , Pierre's library included a very respectable collection of serious books, especially "modern" ones, that is, published in the sixteenth century, from Erasmus and Budé in the early decades to Jacques-Auguste de Thou's history at the end, which L'Estoile acquired volume by volume as each came out. Many citations from his relatively few classics reflect close reading and thoughtful analysis.[21]

L'Estoile's serious specialty, intellectually and bibliographically, was the literature of religious controversy, from the church fathers (texts and scholarly studies) through the polemical literature on the differences between the Greek and Latin churches; from Luther, Melanchthon, and Calvin to Crespin's martyrology and works of Mornay and La Noue on the Protestant side; and, on the other, from volumes on the claims of the papacy, the Trent decrees, and the weighty histories of Bellarmine and Mariana to scurrilous


pornographic broadsides (especially numerous). It also included the writings of James I and Buchanan in the early 1600s.

His collection of writings on the struggle then raging between Venice and the papacy might well be the most complete in existence. Rare are the pages in volumes 7-10 that do not contain some allusion to the quarrel, most often in the form of works read and/or purchased. He remarks on May 19, 1607, that he has just acquired four new tracts circulated at the Frankfurt fair "concerning the matter of the pope and the Venetians, which I pick up wherever I can find any." The following month he buys a recueil newly published in Italy, which contained nineteen tracts, "for and against, which is not even a tenth of what has been printed. I have more than twice as many already, that I pick up everywhere I can. To date, I have fifty-three in all, which I have put in order and turned over to M. Abraham, for binding." His admiration for Paolo Sarpi is unbounded:

A person of holy and blameless life, in addition to his doctrine, and moreover, very zealous for the glory of God and the restoration and reformation of the church, for which he daily works, gathering every possible thing written on the subject. I promised [the friend who showed him a request from Sarpi for help in locating two rare tracts] that I would help by listing and copying everything I could find in my study.[22]

Key items in this collection are the works of Leschassier, which make explicit the coincidence of the Venetian with the Gallican cause. Opposition between the papal-ligueur and the Venetian-Gallican positions is Pierre's most dominant interest in current events and the main focus of his collection. It also provides the chief linkage between his intellectual values and those that are personal.

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