Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Gournay's Gift: A Special Presentation Copy of the 1595 Essais of Montaigne

Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Gournay's Gift: A Special Presentation Copy of the 1595 Essais of Montaigne

Article excerpt

An important but hitherto unnoticed copy of Montaigne's 1595 Essais, now in the Russell Library at Maynooth University (NUIM), derives from the press of Abel L' Angeber, the essayist's first Parisian printer. The volume offers many points of significant interest, some unique to this particular copy, others rare to any copy of this edition, all deserving close attention. Its exact provenance is unknown, but there were strong French links between Maynooth and France from the earliest days of the College's foundation in 1795, when a number of the members of staff were of French origin.1 This Gallic presence is felt in the pre-1850 library collections, although the volume is not recorded in the oldest College library catalogue, dating from 1822. The College library benefited from benefactions rather than from independent funds of its own, and one likely provenance is a scholar priest with connections to the College, perhaps a member of the College staff. However, an old non-Maynooth ink shelfmark on the flyleaf of the volume, Q.b.2, might indicate that the book had at some point been in a smaller institution such as a convent. Another old shelfmark, W-2/a-5, in red pencil, is a pre-1936 Maynooth usage. Thus an accession date at any point between the mid-1850s and 1930 seems most probable. The volume's current binding, although not its original one, also helps with an approximate date. It has been re-bound in modest half-sheep stained black, with marbled papers on the boards in blue and brown "Spanish" pattern, fashionable in Britain and Ireland in the second half of the nineteenth century.2 The pastedowns, endpapers and edges are likewise marbled. These features together point to a re-binding date of 1850-1900. The volume has been cropped during re-binding.

Three hands have annotated the 1595 Maynooth. One particularly important hand will be commented upon later. Of the other two, the older one is sixteenth or early seventeenth century. The earliest hand is confined to some ink underlinings, notably in the first chapter of the first book, together with marginalia noting keywords. The underlinings are more numerous than the marginalia, each of which is surrounded by a box and scored through, sometimes so heavily scored through that the comments are illegible. The same hand may be responsible for further scattered ink underlinings at various points in the volume and for the partial underlining of the titles of five chapters in the "Table des chapitres." The second hand is later. It comprises a series of eighteenth-century pencil marginalia, extending throughout the book. The marginalia are mainly translations of French words and phrases into English; occasionally a source is identified and more rarely a comment is offered on Montaigne's ideas.

The Maynooth Montaigne has, however, far more than this to offer. We may begin with the prelims, comparing them with the description given in Sayce and Maskell's Descriptive Bibliography of the 1595 L'Angelier Montaigne. In the Maynooth copy, the title page and, on the reverse, the "privilege" signed by Rambouillet are present. Sayce and Maskell class this title page as the first issue of 1595 from L'Angelier's print shop (Figure 1).3 The Maynooth copy is then missing the preface (sigs. à iir-? iiv) - the so-called "long preface" by Mlle de Gournay, Montaigne's adopted daughter ("fille d'alliance"); this is a significant omission, as we shall see. Following the title page in the Maynooth copy comes the "Table des chapitres" (sigs. ï iijr-[? ivr]), mounted on stubs. Then follows an "Au Lecteur" (sig. [? vr] ) remounted in the middle of a blank page of laid paper. The type ornaments and layout identify this as the "Au Lecteur" of the 1617 edition (Figure 2). On the reverse of this leaf (sig. [? vv]) is a portrait of Montaigne by Thomas de Leu (Figure 3), mounted in the middle of the page. This too is from the 1617 edition and can be identified as such by the quatrain underneath the portrait which, in w. …

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