LE SAVANT DE SOCIÉTÉ, ouvrage dédié à la jeunesse. Premier Partie [-deuxième Partie] ... Recueil tiré des Manuscripts de Madame de B ***. Nouvelle Édition, augmentée et ornée de plusieurs jolies gravures. A Paris, Chez Michelet, Imprimeur-Libraire, rue Montmartre, no. 224, entre la rue Mandar et la rue Ticquetonne. X -
1802. Two volumes, 8vo; pp. 234; 212; with two engraved plates in vol I (one as frontispiece and retaining original tissue guard, both signed ‘Bovinet’), and six plates on three folding leaves in vol II including two ‘planches’ of musical score; some light foxing and soiling, otherwise clean and crisp; An attractive copy of this scarce work for the young adults of post-Revolutionary France, apparently the work of Madame de B***, and containing a wealth of charming games, recreations and forfeits, many drawn from pre-Revolutionary days, to while away the hours amongst polite society, and judging from the two amorous engravings included, to perhaps set the scene to allow for some discreet flirtation. Indeed as the two engravings by Bovinet suggest, ‘Voyage a Cythere’ and ‘Le Baiser à la Capuchine’, many of these games revolved around love and chance, with the forfeits frequently involving trying to steal a kiss!
The first volume contains ‘la description exacte de tous les jeux innocens qui se pratiquent en société; suivie des pénitences qui s’y ordonnent, avec la manière la plus agréable de les jouet et de les remplir’. Volume II provides a selection of more cerebral amusements, and contains ‘a new method of writing secret letters’, together with chapters on ‘des calculs sympatiques et magiques’, as well as on various word games, such as anagrams, acrostiches, charades and puns, with plate 6 illustrating a letter written ‘en rebus’, using pictures to represent words, and the author also including a description of Johannes Trithemius ‘Ave-Maria-Cipher’, through which one can hide information within a Latin praise of God.
These appealing volumes, concerned with such innocent and pleasant pastimes, clearly reflect the more confident and secure society at the turn of the century, under Bonaparte’s Consulship. Described as a ‘new edition’, Michelet appears to have first published the work in 1801 (seemingly just one volume, held at Oxford, Cambridge and Stanford), though the publisher may in fact be guilty of plagiarism, Vincent Haegele in his article of May 2013 on the website of the Bibliothèque de la Ville de Compiègne, noting that Barbier implies that the work may well be a direct ‘theft’ from Huvier des Fontenelles, of his ‘Soirées amusantes’ of 1788 . Of Huvier’s new edition of 1790, Barbier notes: ‘L’auteur prépare une nouvelle édition, dans laquelle il révélera les vols qui lui ont été faits par le Savant de Société, et autres érudits de ces derniers temps’ (Barbier 6563), suggesting that even at that time Fontenelles’ had fallen prey to imitators. With the passing of time, Michelet may well have felt more confident to issue the work as his own. We have been unable to compare the present work with the Fontenelle, the British Library copy having been destroyed.
According to the verso of the half-titles, both volumes were available for separate purchase. Gumunchian 5110 (and now the Morgan copy) list an 1809 edition of one volume, with an additional engraved plate. For this 1802 edition, OCLC locates two copies at the BnF and Brigham Young; see Monglond, La France révolutionnaire et impériale, V, 519 (for 1809 edition).
Condition: a most attractive copy, bound in near contemporary olive calf backed marbled boards, spines ruled and lettered in gilt, all edges marbled, both retaining the original green silk markers, tail of spine of Vol. I very lightly worn with small nick, some very light rubbing and bumping to extremities; from the library of the Chateau de Mello, stamped in gilt at tail of spines.