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Monthly Archives: July 2011

Historical Remarks on the Castle of the Bastille

The Bastille: “a place even the innocent must be afraid of.”[1] Parisians whispered of the prison’s rat-infested dungeons, torture machines, bread-and-water rations, and secret murder-rooms from which no prisoner ever emerged.

The Bastille embodied the French monarchy’s despotic rule, and as such, it was the first institutional casualty of the French Revolution. On today’s date in 1789, a mob of insurgents stormed the Bastille, liberated the few prisoners that remained, and massacred the guards, prison directors, and other staff.

Fear and Rumors

Illustration of the Bastille, from the 1789 English editionAlthough the Bastille could only hold around 50 prisoners, the rumors and mystery that surrounded it caused the prison to loom large in French culture. Rebellious subjects, religious dissenters, journalists, common criminals and those who simply incurred the king’s displeasure were all confined there. No one really knew what happened in the Bastille; prisoners were forced to take an oath of secrecy, promising never to divulge anything they saw or heard while inside the walls.

In 1715, Constantin de Renneville, a spy who was imprisoned in the Bastille for eleven years, was the first to break the oath. Writing from the safety of England, Renneville published a dramaticized chronicle of his sufferings entitled L’inquisition Françoise, ou, l’histoire de la Bastille.

Following Renneville’s example, former Bastille inmates published tell-all pamphlets at sporadic intervals throughout the eighteenth century. These tales fueled the fear and speculation surrounding the prison. Were the pamphlets simply the sensationalized stories of a few unfortunates? Or did they tell of typical experiences at the Bastille? No one knew.

Bringing the Bastille to Light

Title page for the 1780 English editionIn 1774, a different type of pamphlet was published: Remarques historiques et anecdotes sur le château de la Bastille. The anonymous author described the Bastille in “seemingly objective terms, systematically and with exact figures (including a ground plan), and presenting individual cases only in an appendix.”[2]

Like earlier anti-Bastille pamphlets, Remarques historiques was soon translated, becoming Historical Remarks on the Castle of the Bastille in English. For the first time, Europe saw, in relatively matter-of-fact terms, the treatment to which state prisoners were subject.

All the towers are closed below by strong double doors, with large bolts let into enormous locks. The dungeons under the towers are filled with a mud which exhales the most offensive scent. They are the resort of toads, newts, rats, and spiders. In a corner of each is a camp bed, formed of iron bars, soldered into the wall, with some planks laid upon them. In these are put prisoners whom they wish to intimidate, and a little straw is given them for their bed. Two doors, each seven inches thick, one over the other, close these dark dens: each has two great bolts, and as many locks. … There are five ranks of chambers. The most dreadful next to the dungeons, are those in which are iron cages or dungeons. Of these there are three. These cages are formed of beams lined with strong iron plates. They are six feet by eight.[3]

Ground plan of the Bastille, from the 1780 English editionTorture chambers and murder rooms fail to appear in this description of the prison, and the author notes that “It sometimes happens that prisoners die in the Bastille by secret means; but the instances are rare.”[4] Historical Remarks also includes precise descriptions of the prisoners’ furnishings, provisions, health care, and communication with the outside world.

Revolution

Remarques historiques was quickly banned in France, but not before it had an effect. The precise details in the pamphlet injected a dose of reason into sensationalist anti-Bastille journalism and galvanized the underground press into a more radical and intense criticism of the government.

Title page for the 1789 English editionIn the rest of Europe, the pamphlet gained acceptance as a true and accurate depiction of the Bastille. English editions of the pamphlet came out in 1780 and 1784, and a new translation was issued after the storming of the Bastille in 1789. The English criminologist and reformer John Howard endorsed it as “the best account of this celebrated structure ever published” and included content from the pamphlet in his survey of European penitentiaries.[5]

The revolutionaries that conquered the Bastille in 1789 paraded through the streets of Paris with keys, weapons, and the heads of prison guards and officials on pikes. Demolition of the hated structure began that very night, and within six months, the prison had disappeared. Today, only the foundations remain.

Read More

Historical Remarks on the Castle of the Bastille. London: Printed for T. Cadell and N. Conant.
1780 Edition
| 1784 Edition | 1789 Edition

Hans-Jürgen Lüsenbrink and Rolf Reichardt. The Bastille: A History of a Symbol of Despotism and Freedom. (Durham, NC, 1997). DC167.5 .L8713 1997

Christopher Prendergast. The Fourteenth of July. (London, 2008). DC167 .P74 2008


[1] Extract from a letter, 15 July 1789, quoted in Lüsenbrink and Reichardt, The Bastille: A History of a Symbol of Despotism and Freedom (Durham, NC, 1997), 13.
[2]
Lüsenbrink and Reichardt, 18.
[3]
Historical Remarks (1780), 5-6.
[4]
Historical Remarks (1789), 55.
[5]
Historical Remarks (1789), title page.

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Descartes…L’Homme the Journey to Print

Title page from L'Homme

René Descartes (1596-1650) was a French thinker of the empiricist thinker. Descartes was born in la Haye, in Touraine. He was the son of a provincial governor, Joachim Descartes, and his wife Jeanne Brochard.  After a short career of practicing law he went to fight under Maurice of Nassau, in the rebellion against the Spanish. In 1619, he had a series of visions that compelled him to devote his life to science. Shortly thereafter, he moved to the protestant Dutch republic where his teachings and experiments would be more accepted. While there he corresponded and tutored a number of pupils that followed and studied his Cartesian teachings and his traité des passions, the study of emotions.

 

L'Homme cover with acid specklingThe copy in the collection is bound in calf skin, a common binding of the 17th and 18th centuries. The speckling technique used on it was created by sprinkling acid over the leather and then wiping it clean after a period of time. This technique has created problems in some specimens in today’s world as the acid continues to erode the boards. The printer of this text, Jacques Le Gras, was the original publisher. Shortly afterward, the text was moved to a different printing house and released in a larger run from the printers Charles Angot and Théodore Girard.

The book itself is best described in the Heirs of Hippocrates (1974) text, “This first French edition is the original text as composed by Descartes and is edited by his good friend, Claude Clerselier (1614-1684). This edition also contains the first printing of his treatise ‘De la formation du foetus,’ completed just before his death. The fine woodcuts in this edition were partly based on Descartes’ drawings from the manuscript and partly prepared by the co-editors, Louis de la Forge (1632-1666?) and Gerard van Gutschoven (fl. 1660) … Descartes was prepared to publish this book in 1633 but decided to withhold it when he learned of Galileo’s condemnation by the Church. As a result, the first edition was not published until 1662 [in Latin], twelve years after Descartes’ death … It is sometimes called the first book on physiology, and that could be argued, but there is no doubt that the Cartesian philosophy exerted a tremendous effect on the evolution of medicine.”

Eye with muscle purportedly drawn by DescartesDescartes decision to withhold this text from the public may have spared him from the kind of persecution Galileo endured upon the publication of his Dialogs, 1632. However, Descartes did not escape allegations that his beliefs were atheistic and pelagianistic, which is the idea that people, can avoid sin without God’s grace. These accusations started in the 1640s when the rector at the university at Utrecht began making these charges. These denunciations regarding his atheistic thoughts become more heated as scholars from Leiden, a university town, became involved.  At one point in the summer of 1647, Descartes returned to France for the second time in that decade, where he contemplated staying to escape these charges. He did return to the Dutch republic, but by the end of the decade he had traveled to Stockholm to tutor Christina of Sweden. The arrangement for tutoring her was extremely strenuous, she required sessions before dawn in the brisk air of the Swedish winter. By February 1650, he had fallen ill and ultimately died from pneumonia.

Image from L'Homme drawn by an illustrator other than Descartes.The journey to publish L’homme was led by Claude Clerselier, a staunch Catholic, who came into the ownership of Descartes’ papers via his brother-in-law, the French ambassador to Sweden. Clerselier edited this text and considerable correspondence, which helped shape Descartes’ image in the following years. The quality of the 1664 French edition made Clerselier the understood guardian of Descartes’ body of manuscripts. The book itself is interesting because Descartes’ essay is the smallest portion of the over four hundred page text. The accompanying essays, forwards and remarks make up the majority of the pages. Clerselier’s remarks include, among other things, a reasoning of the illustrations included, of which many were provided by Florentius Shuyl and Clerselier himself. One image of particular interest was drawn by Descartes. Clerselier kept the original drawing, an eye held by muscle, to prove it was Descartes work. However, there is a notable difference in the artistic styles between the eye and some of the other pieces, particularly in their background detail.  The additional contributions to the text include Louis de La Forge’s remarks that expand on the Descartes text and attempt to clarify the conceptual leaps Descartes makes in L’Homme.

This exceptional text was purchased in the spring of 2010 by University of Missouri Ellis Library Special Collections and Rare Books, through a donation by Mr. Richard Toft.

 

Bibliographic Information:

L’homme

A Paris: Chez Iacques Le Gras, au Palais, à l’entrée de la Gallerie des Prisonniers, MDCLXIV, [1664]

QP29 .D44 1664

 

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Posted in New Books, Rare Book Collection, Special Collections

Russian Maps Digital Exhibit!!!!

Russian Map Banner

 

Mapping the Past: Rare Russian Maps from Special Collections has been created as a digital highlight of books and maps on the website of the Special Collections and Rare Books department.  This virtual exhibit describes the cartographic trade and the exploration of the Russian empire from the 16th through the 18th centuries. The display was originally mounted as a physical exhibit in the Ellis Library colonnade at the University of Missouri in April 2011.

 

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