Or, twenty-one years of history in five photos:
A journey through title pages.
Sometime during the midst of this internship, I realized that if I ever were to return to school for a Ph.D. in a field other than philosophy, it would be one in which I researched book title pages as a socio-political battleground in consideration of the highly envalued* medium of print.
*Do note that I liberally confuse** puns.
**With “confuse” bearing the definitions:
a : to make indistinct : blur
b : to mix indiscriminately : jumble***
***Or, edumacated unmalaprops.
Okay, moving on…
A perfect example of a political battleground can be seen in the following sequence of images from five books I worked with during my internship.
Unassuming in appearance, the first text illuminates the location and nature of the text for which this series was published.
(My French is minimal, but it roughly reads: “Notes and excerpts from manuscripts of the King’s Library. Prepared by the Committee by His Majesty for the Royal Academy of Letters and High Arts”.) The publication year is 1787.
The museum did not have all the texts in the series; however, it can be assumed that the series was intended to be a regular publication highlighting the holdings of the “King’s Library.”
Or, as it should perhaps be called, the “National Library”?
One Revolution later, the sixth book of the series, pictured above, displays some marked changes from its earlier counterpart. First and foremost is the changed language, in addition to the lack of adornment. Published in “An IX” (Year 9, or 1802) of the French Revolution, the text bears all the austerity and minimalism that one might expect of a cultural institution straddling an apolitical fence. Given, however, that its contents were considered to contain the national treasures of The People, the King’s Library was renamed the National Library, and the holdings were expanded with other texts seized from private holdings.
The next volume in the series owned by the library is the eighth tome, published in 1810:
Flaunting a flashy image-laden device and “Imperial” language, it’s obvious another regime change has occurred. Vive Napoleon!
Firmly enthroned in France, by 1813 Napoleon was waging to conquer the world. The imagery of the title page is indicative of the larger changes occurring– the device is larger, fancier, and overt in its imagery. It was around this time that Napoleon was taking on the Russian Empire.
Volume ten, published in 1818, reveals the outcomes of Napoleon’s choices. The imprint device is now emblazoned with fleurs-de-lis rather than an eagle, and the Library is once again le Roi’s.
ANOTHER revolution? Vive la Restoration! Vive le Roi! That’ll teach ambitious European leaders to undergo a land war in Russia.
Unfortunately, this is where the museum’s collection of books in this series ends. Had the original owner kept collecting them, we would see another change in the 1831 version, with France undergoing yet another revolution.
It is this type of historical evidence that I find fanscinating. Can you imagine the lives the the printers, the members of Academie, or just Pierre Everyman living through that span of years (I mean, we all know how Jean Wealthyman fared)?