852 RARE: When the French Revolution was a Current Event

852 RARE: When the French Revolution was a Current Event

A recent Harvard Law School Library project—undertaken in preparation for the renovation and re-purposing of the Lewis building—resulted in a spreadsheet of hundreds of older titles for me to sift through, verify, and (often) catalog.  While the list is daunting it has led to a trove of fascinating books and pamphlets all of them are intriguing to anyone who appreciates primary materials.

I’ve particularly enjoyed working with copies of the French constitution in its various iterations, published in 1791, 1793, and 1795. Some are elegantly bound; others are still in their original paper wrappers.

A particularly lovely specimen of the former is this 1791 constitution, not even 10 cm (4 inches) tall, bound in green in morocco with marbled pastedowns, gold-tooled spines, and gilt edges. The frontispiece showing the King Louis XVI accepting the constitution, which established a constitutional monarchy.  Folded in towards the end of this pocket-size volume is a map of France.

An edition of the same constitution, printed in the provincial city of Le Puy in south central France, is in its original cheap (and wonderfully tactile) paper wrapper with the bookseller’s simple title and date (14 septiembre 1791) in manuscript and pages untrimmed.

Naturally events in France and its constitutions were of great interest beyond France, and a number of titles in the collection–such as these two–reflect that:

Detail of title page of London edition of the constitution published in Year I of the French republication calendar (1793).

 

Landau edition of the Year III constitution (1795), with manuscript note on title page: “5 Fructidor III” (i.e. 24. August 1795). Text is in French and German on facing pages.

 

 

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