Writing in books: the library of François-Louis Jamet

Published: September 27, 2012

From Gerald Cloud, Head Librarian

For scholars and historians of the book, reader reception is one of the most difficult things to measure when evaluating how original or early owners responded to and interacted with the books they possessed.  Frequently, one can draw some conclusions about a reader’s response to a book from examining a list of titles of books owned by a particular person.  For example, one learns a great deal about the taste and sensibilities of book collector and New York attorney John Quinn (1870-1924) from reading the sale catalog of his personal library.  An important patron of the arts, Quinn collected books by English, American, and Irish authors, including Oscar Wilde.  Below is Quinn’s copy of Wilde’s Poems, London, 1882, autographed by Wilde:

Incidentally, the book sold at the Quinn sale (lot number 11058) in 1924 for $40.00, and Mr. Clark acquired it from A.S.W. Rosenbach for a ten percent commission.

The personal library of David Foster Wallace held by the Harry Ransom Center, Univeristy of Texas, Austin, and the Clark’s online database of books from Oscar Wilde’s Tite Street Library (beta site here) are two resource that offer an entry point into the libraries of authors who left marks in their books.  Although Wallace and Wilde both expressed their response to the books they read through marginalia and annontations, they cannot hold a candle to the erudite bibliophile François-Louis Jamet (1710-1778).

Jamet was a renowned enlightenment era book collector, a compulsive annotator, and a critic of contemporary intellectual, political, and religious thought in pre-revolutionary France.  The Clark recently acquired 17 volumes from Jamet’s library, the Claude Lebédel collection, and each volume contains marginalia, commentary, notes, extra-illustrations, and in a few cases the books have nearly as much manuscript material as they do printed text.

CAPTION: Shown here is the frontispiece to a volume of 20 different texts compiled and extensively annotated by Jamet, in which he comments on philosophy, religion, literature, medicine, natural history and more.

Most of Jamet’s personal library ended up in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, although some volumes remain in private hands.  The Lebédel collection ranges from an anti-Calvinist text of 1572, to two profusely illustrated adaptations of Aesop’s Fables (1678) and Ovid’s Metamorphoses (1679) by Isaac de Benserade, bound together by Jamet in 1766, to the prize volume of the collection, a clandestine edition of Voltaire’s Dictionnaire Philosophique, printed in Nancy, 1765, in which nearly every page is covered with Jamet’s remarks.

Jamet has added his own entries to Voltaire’s Dictionnaire, documenting his sources with citations from other texts, as well as identifying the correct location and printer of this edition in a manuscript note of the title page.

The scholarly richness of the collection is superb and will provide researchers with a multitude of entry points for understanding the thought, reading practices, and intellectual life of pre-revolutionary France.

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