The Salt SmugglersGerard de Nerval
Table of Contents
TO THE DIRECTOR OF THE «NATIONAL»
OBLIGATORY DIGRESSION JOURNEY TO VERSAILLES THE TALKING SEAL. — VISIT TO THE ...
THE STORY OF A SEAL
ANOTHER OBLIGATORY DIGRESSION LITERARY CONGENIALITY REPLY TO THE «CORSAIRE» ...
HARLEQUIN MASKS. — HAMLET THE YELLOW DWARF. — THEATER LICENSES
DEPARTURE FOR COMPIÈGNE THE ARCHIVES AND THE LIBRARY THE LIFE OF ANGÉLIQUE DE ...
HISTORY OF THE GREAT AUNT OF THE ABBÉ DE BUCQUOY
INTERRUPTION. — RESPONSE TO M. AUGUSTE BERNARD, OF THE NATIONAL PRINTING HOUSE, ...
CONTINTUATION OF THE HISTORY OF THE GREAT AUNT OF THE ABBÉ DE BUCQUOY
COMMENTARY. — FRENCH LEGEND CONTINUATION OF THE HISTORY OF ANGÉLIQUE LONGUEVAL
THE DEPARTURE. — THE SILVER CHEST ARRIVAL AT CHARENTON. — DESCENT OF THE RHÔNE. ...
REFLECTIONS. — MEMORIES OF THE LEAGUE. — THE SYLVANECTS AND THE FRANKS. — THE LEAGUE
CONTINUATION OF THE HISTORY OF THE GREAT AUNT OF THE ABBÉ DE BUCQUOY
THE MONK GOUSSENCOURT. — DEATH OF LA CORBINIÈRE. — WALTER SCOTT DIALOGUE. — A ...
LETTER WRITTEN TO HER COUSIN THE CELESTINE MONK, FOUR YEARS AFTER HER RETURN ...
POST-SCRIPTUM. — THE RUINS COUNTRY WALKS. — THE ABBEY OF CHALIS ERMENONVILLE. ...
THE CASTLE OF ERMENONVILLE THE ILLUMINATI. — THE KING OF PRUSSIA GABRIELLE AND ...
To the Director of the National
CONTINUATION AND CONCLUSION OF THE FOREWORD. — SAINT-MÉDARD THE ARCHIVES. — THE ...
THE HISTORY OF THE ABBÉ DE BUCQUOY
IV. THE TOWER OF THE CORNER
V. FURTHER ESCAPE PLANS
VI. THE FINAL ESCAPE ATTEMPTS OF THE ABBÉ DE BUCQUOY
Frontispiece of Événement des plus rares, ou L’histoire du Sr abbé Cte de Buquoy : singulièrement son évasion du Fort-l’Évêque et de la Bastille, l’allemand à côté, revue et augmentée (Deuxième éd. avec plusieurs de ses ouvrages, vers et proses, et particulièrement la Game des femmes) - Et se vend chez Jean de la Franchise, rue de la Réforme, à l’Espérance (Bonnefoy) - 1719
TO THE DIRECTOR OF THE «NATIONAL»
I fear it was quite foolhardy on my part to have promised you a few details concerning a curious figure who lived toward the end of the reign of Louis XIV.
I know that contributors to the National are required to observe a virtually military precision, and I am accordingly determined to honor my commitment to the fullest of my capabilities; — but unfortunately my resolve has been somewhat sidetracked by unforeseen circumstances.
Only a month ago, I happened to be passing through Frankfurt. — I had two days to kill, but being already acquainted with the place, — there was little for me to do but wander through its principal streets which, as so happened, were cluttered with the stalls of merchants who had come to town for the fair. The Roemerplatz in particular boasted a lavish array of merchandise; and nearby, the fur market flaunted its endless procession of pelts from outer Siberia or the banks of the Caspian Sea, — an extraordinary display whose more familiar curiosities included polar bear, blue fox, and ermine. Somewhat further along, Bohemian glassware was set out on cedar planks in a dazzling rainbow of colors, — all bejeweled, festooned, and inlaid with gold, like bouquets of flowers plucked from an unimaginable paradise.
In one of the backwaters of this bazaar, a more modest series of stalls had been set up in front of a row of dimly lit shops, — specialized in haberdashery, shoe repair, or miscellaneous items of clothing. These stalls belonged to the booksellers who had traveled here from various parts of Germany and whose best-selling items seemed to be almanacs, illustrated broadsheets, and lithographs: the Volks-Kalender (People’s Almanac) with its woodcuts, — picturing the popular uprisings in Frankfurt and Baden, Hecker the revolutionary, the principal members of the German National Assembly, political ditties, lithographs of Robert Blum and of the heroes of the Hungarian War, — these are what seized the eyes and kreutzers of the crowd. Beneath all this freshly printed merchandise lay rows of old tomes primarily notable for their low prices, — and I was astonished by the number of French books I came across.
The reason is simple: being a sovereign city-state, Frankfurt for many years provided a place of asylum for Protestant refugees, — and, like its sister cities in the Netherlands, it housed many printing establishments set up in order to publish the daring works of French philosophers and other malcontents of Europe, — and to this day, some of these firms still do a more or less thriving business as publishers of pirated editions which continue to flout the law.
It is virtually impossible for a Parisian to resist the urge to leaf through the ancient tomes arrayed in the bookseller’s stalls. This part of the Frankfurt fair reminded me of the Paris quais, — memories charged with emotion and enchantment. I bought a few old books, — thus purchasing the right to browse through the others at my leisure. As I sifted through the piles, I came across a volume, printed half in French, half in German, and bearing the following title which I have since verified in Brunet’s Bookseller’s Manual:
« Incident of the rarest sort, or History of the abbé count de Bucquoy, Esq., specifically his escapes from Fort-l’Évêque and from the Bastille, with several works in verse and prose, most notably the whole gamut of women, Jean de la France, Bookseller, rue de la Réforme, à l’Espérance, à Bonnefoy. — 1719. »
The book dealer wanted to charge me one florin and six kreutzers (pronounced crushes). The price struck me as a bit steep for this kind of fair, so I contented myself with browsing through the volume, — which I was allowed to do for free, given my previous purchases. The narrative of the abbé de Bucquoy’s escapes from prison was quite riveting, but I said to myself: I’ll be able to find the book in Paris, either in some library or in one of the thousands of collections containing every imaginable memoir relating to the history of France. All I did was take down the exact title of the volume, and then proceeded on to the Meinlust on the banks of the Mein, leafing though the Volks-Kalender as I strolled along.
When I returned to Paris, I found the literary scene prey to a state of indescribable terror. As a result of the Riancey amendment that had been introduced into the laws regulating the press, newspapers were henceforth prohibited from publishing what the Assembly referred to as the feuilleton-roman, or serial novel. I came across many writers of no political persuasion whatsoever who were in utter despair over this legal turn of events which had so cruelly robbed them of their livelihoods.
I myself, who am no novelist at all, was alarmed at the vagueness of interpretation invited by these two oddly coupled words: serial novel. I had agreed some time ago to deliver to you a piece of literary work similar to those I had previously managed to place in various magazines and newspapers; and when you held me to my promise, I therefore came up with the title The Abbé de Bucquoy, convinced I would easily find the necessary documents in Paris which would allow me to speak of this character in an historical rather than in a novelistic fashion, — for let’s at least get our terms clear.
The twin scientific and literary appeal of this account of the life and writings of the abbé de Bucquoy decided you to accept this project of mine, — which is part of a larger series of studies, some of which I have already published.
But this is what happened after the National announced the imminent publication of my abbé de Bucquoy. — I had ascertained that the book indeed existed in F
rance, for I had seen it listed not only in Brunet’s manual but also in Quérard’s La France littéraire. — I was positive I would easily be able to locate this volume (admittedly described as rare) either in some public library, or in some private collection, or via some rare book dealer.
Besides, having browsed through the book, — having even come across another narrative of the adventures of the abbé de Bucquoy in the witty and eccentric letters of Madame Dunoyer, — I was confident I would be able to paint his portrait and write his biography in a manner that would be beyond all legal reproach.
But these days I’m beginning to get somewhat frightened about the penalties that threaten to befall any newspaper in violation of the slightest letter of the new law. A fine of fifty francs per copy seized, — this is enough to drive even the most stalwart into retreat. For newspapers with a circulation of a mere twenty-five thousand, — and there are several of these, — the fines would amount to over a million francs. One can therefore understand how a broad interpretation of the law might enable the government to squash any opposition by entirely legal means. Out-and-out censorship would be far preferable. Back in the days of the Ancien Régime, the approbation of a censor, — a censor, moreover, whom one was allowed to hand pick, — was all that was needed to ensure the safe publication of one’s ideas, and the liberty one enjoyed was at times astonishing. I have read books officially approved by Louis and Phélippeaux which would without the slightest doubt be banned today.
As chance would have it, I had occasion to experience government censorship first-hand in Vienna. Finding myself in somewhat straitened circumstances after a series of unanticipated travel expenditures, and unable to surmount the difficulties involved in having money transferred to me from France, I hit upon the simple expedient of writing for the local newspapers. They paid one hundred fifty francs per page (which came out to sixteen short columns). I wrote two series of articles; but first they had to be submitted to the censor for approval.
I let a few days go by. There was no word of anything. — So I had no choice but to go pay a private visit to M. Pilat, the director of the bureau of censorship, and to explain that I had been kept waiting far too long for the visa of approval. He was extremely courteous toward me, — unlike his virtual homonym, M. Pilat was certainly not going to wash his hands of the injustice to which I had alerted him. I mentioned that I was furthermore being deprived of access to French newspapers, seeing as how the local coffee houses only received the Journal des Débats and La Quotidienne. M. Pilat said to me: « You happen to be standing in the freest spot of the Empire (i.e. the bureau of censorship); you can come here every day and read whatsoever you please, including Le National or Le Charivari. »
It is only among Germanic functionaries that one encounters this degree of decorous wit and magnanimity; the only drawback is that their very mannerliness makes one all the more willing to endure the arbitrariness of their decisions.
I have never had the same luck with the French system of censorship, — at least as it is applied to the theater, — and I doubt that if book or newspaper censorship were reintroduced we would have anything to boast about. Given our national character, there is always the tendency to exert force simply because one possesses it, or to abuse power simply because one happens to exercise it. — What to expect of a situation that so seriously endangers the interests and even the security of non-political writers?
I was recently mentioning my plight to a scholar whom it would be fruitless to designate as anything other than a bibliophile. He said to me: « Don’t base your history of the abbé de Bucquoy on the incidents recounted in Madame Dunoyer’s Lettres galantes. The title of this book alone is enough to disqualify it from serious consideration; wait until the Bibliothèque Nationale reopens (it was currently in recess), and you’re sure to find the book you read in Frankfurt. »
I paid no attention to the malicious smile that was no doubt playing on the bibliophile’s pinched lips, — and when the first of October came around, I was among the first in line to get into the Bibliothèque Nationale.
M. D*** is a gentleman of immense erudition and courtesy. He had his assistants undertake a search, but they came back empty-handed after half an hour. He consulted Brunet and Quérard, discovered that both in fact listed the book, and asked me to come back in three days; — they had not been able to locate it. « Perhaps, said M. D*** to me with his legendary patience, — perhaps the book has been catalogued among the novels. »
I trembled: « Among the novels? ... but it’s a work of history! ... it should be in the collection of Memoirs relating to the century of Louis XIV. The book specifically deals with the history of the Bastille; it provides details about the Camisard uprising, the expulsion of the Protestants, and the famous league of Salt Smugglers in the Lorraine, whom Mandrin later recruited into the rebel troops who managed to fight off the regular army and to capture such towns as Beaune and Dijon! ...
— I know, said M. D***, but given the vagaries of classification over time, errors often creep into our catalogue system. The mistakes can only be mended if and when a reader happens to request a particular work. The only person here who could solve your problem is M. R***... Unfortunately, this is not his week. »
I waited for M. R***’s week. — The following Monday I was lucky enough to meet an acquaintance of his in the reading room who offered to introduce me. M. R*** gave me a very polite welcome and said to me: « I am delighted to have had the chance to make your acquaintance; all I ask is that you grant me several more days. You see, this week I belong to the general reading public. Next week I shall be entirely at your service. »
Since I had been formally introduced to M. R***, I was no longer a member of the general reading public! I had become a private acquaintance, — and therefore had no right to impinge on his official time.
This was entirely as things should be, — but you have to admire my stroke of bad luck! ... There was really nothing or nobody else I could blame.
The bunglings of the Bibliothèque Nationale have often been commented upon. They derive in part from the shortage of personnel and in part from ancient traditions that continue to exercise their hold. The most accurate criticism that has been leveled at the place is that too much of the time and energy of its highly qualified and underpaid staff is devoted to dealing with the six hundred readers who come there every day in search of books they could just as easily find on the open shelves of any private lending library, — a state of affairs that does considerable harm not just to the aforesaid lending libraries, but to publishers and authors as well, for it would seem that nobody wants to pay for their reading matter anymore.
It has also been quite rightly observed that this establishment, which is without equal in the world, should not function as a place where people come just to keep warm, — and whose patrons, for the most, pose a very real threat to the existence and conservation of its collections. All the idlers, retirees, widowers, unemployed job-seekers, schoolchildren copying their homework, ancient eccentrics, — like poor old Carnaval who used to turn up wearing flowers in his hat and sporting red, pale blue or apple green suits, — all these certainly deserve consideration, but wouldn’t it make more sense to open other libraries especially for them? ...
There used to be nineteen editions of Don Quixote in the department of printed books. Not a single edition has remained intact. Now that libraries no longer lend out novels, the general reading public invariably requests travel literature, comedies, humorous stories in the vein of M. Thiers and M. Capefigue, and the Registry of Addresses.
Gradually, over the course of time, an edition loses one of its volumes, a bibliographical curiosity disappears, thanks to the all-too-liberal policy by which readers are not even required to give their names.
The Republic of Letters, unlike other institutions, needs to be imbued with certain standards of aristocracy, — for no one would ever call into question the membership of the republics of science or talent.
The celebrated library of Alexandria was open to established scholars or to poets whose work had been recognized for its merits ... But the hospitality extended by the library was total, and its readers received free board and lodging for the entire duration of their stay.
And while we are on the subject, — allow a traveler who has walked among its ruins and listened to the whisper of the past to defend the memory of the illustrious caliph Omar against the widely held assumption that it was he who burned down the library of Alexandria. Omar never set foot in Alexandria, — despite the claims of many scholars. He never even issued orders concerning the library to his lieutenant Amrou. — The library of Alexandria and the Serapeon or almshouse attached to it were burned to the ground in the fourth century by Christians, — who also went on to slaughter the renowned Pythagorean philosopher Hypatia as she was making her way down the street. — To be sure, these excesses can not be solely imputed to the Christian religion, — but at least the unfortunate Arabs should no longer have to stand accused of ignorance, for the wonders of Greek philosophy, medicine, and science were preserved thanks to their translations and thanks to their own scholarship, — all of which directed a continuous beam of light through the obstinate fog of the feudal era.
Pardon these digressions, — I shall keep you abreast of my travels in search of the abbé de Bucquoy. — This eccentric and ever-so-slippery figure cannot hope to elude my painstaking investigation for very long.
The staff at the Bibliothèque Nationale couldn’t be more helpful. No serious scholar could complain about its current modus operandi; — but should a novelist or serial writer show his face, « all hell breaks loose in the stacks». A bibliographer, a man dealing in a standard field of knowledge, knows exactly what books to request. A fantaisiste writer, a writer who runs the risk of perpetrating a serial novel, upsets the natural course of things and bothers everybody in sight for the sake of some half-baked idea that has happened to pop into his mind.