Monday, 4 July 2011

Mis Betsy Tatless: Paris or Munich?

It is possible that the entries in my Bibliography of Eliza Haywood for the French translation of Ab.67 The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless are going to have to be as extensively revised as those for the French translation(s) of Ab.60 The Female Spectator. (Regarding which, Ab.60.11 and Ab.60.13 have been corrected and Ab.60.11A and Ab.60.11B have been added.)

As you can see, thanks to the Internet Archive, the following entry in Book-Prices Current 28 (1914), 240, lists a copy of L’Etourdie, ou Histoire de Mis Betsy Tatless with a Munich imprint, dated 1754. According to BPC, this copy sold at Sotheby on 11 December 1913 to Carrington for £3.00.

However, a bit more digging reveals that, what appears to be the same set, sold a year earlier (on 28 April 1912) to Harrison for £12.00—four times the price! According to the record in Book Auction Records 10 (1913), 334, the imprint was Paris not Munich, though BPC and BAR agree on the date. Unfortunately, the set has since disappeared so it is not clear which auction record is correct.

The only other authority is George Frisbie Whicher who records this set in an addendum to his bibliography of Haywood as a Paris printing, but Whicher was an American scholar, who wasn't much interested in translations, so it is unlikely that he either examined the set (which was in London) or sought extra information about it. That is, Whicher's evidence appears to be of no value. (See Whicher, The Life and Romances of Mrs. Eliza Haywood (1915), 185, No.21[ix].)

In my Bibliography I list this lost Barry set under Ab.67.11, the Paris edition of 1754 (on Whicher's authority, not having seen either auction record). I also record a "La Haye" edition of 1754 and Berlin editions of 1755 and 1756, among others. The Paris edition is quite common, but the other three are genuinely rare (there being only two, four and five copies known). So it is certainly possible that the lost Barry set had a Munich imprint (as Ab.67.13 and Ab.67.14 had a Berlin imprint) but—on the basis of surviving copies—it seems more likely that it was a Paris edition.

Some weight is given to this presumption from what we know of the du Barry collection. This particular copy was bound in red morocco for Madame du Barry (1743–93), mistress of Louis XV, with her arms stamped in gold on the covers. We are particularly well-informed concerning Madame du Barry's book collecting. Andrew Lang writes [Andrew Lang, The Library (London: Macmillan and Co., 1881), 116–18]:

Among the most interesting bibliophiles of the eighteenth century is Madame Du Barry. In 1771, this notorious beauty could scarcely read or write. She had rooms, however, in the Chateau de Versailles, thanks to the kindness of a monarch who admired those native qualities which education may polish, but which it can never confer.

At Versailles, Madame Du Barry heard of the literary genius of Madame de Pompadour. The Pompadour was a person of taste. Her large library of some four thousand works of the lightest sort of light literature was bound by Biziaux. Mr. Toovey possesses the Brantome of this dame galante. Madame herself had published etchings by her own fair hands; and to hear of these things excited the emulation of Madame Du Barry. She might not be clever, but she could have a library like another, if libraries were in fashion.

One day Madame Du Barry astonished the Court by announcing that her collection of books would presently arrive at Versailles. Meantime she took counsel with a bookseller, who bought up examples of all the cheap 'remainders,' as they are called in the trade, that he could lay his hands upon. The whole assortment, about one thousand volumes in all, was hastily bound in rose morocco, elegantly gilt, and stamped with the arms of the noble house of Du Barry.

The bill which Madame Du Barry owed her enterprising agent is still in existence. The thousand volumes cost about three francs each; the binding (extremely cheap) came to nearly as much. The amusing thing is that the bookseller, in the catalogue which he sent with the improvised library, marked the books which Madame Du Barry possessed before her large order was so punctually executed. There were two Memoires de Du Barry, an old newspaper, two or three plays, and L'Historie Amoureuse de Pierre le Long.

Louis XV. observed with pride that, though Madame Pompadour had possessed a larger library, that of Madame Du Barry was the better selected. Thanks to her new collection, the lady learned to read with fluency, but she never overcame the difficulties of spelling.

If the du Barry collection was put together in a hurry, in Paris, it seems more likely that the bookseller concerned would have obtained a Parisian edition than one from Munich.

As for "The bill which Madame Du Barry owed her enterprising agent" being "still in existence"—I can only hope that this is still the case one hundred and thirty years later. If it is, it may be possible to resolve the question: (known) Paris edition or (otherwise unknown) Munich edition?

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