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Rare Books

Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08540
Curator of Rare Books

The rare book collection of French literature at Princeton, which numbers over 5000 volumes, includes many obscure and major literary figures. The 18th and 19th centuries are represented by large holdings of such writers as Balzac, Baudelaire, Chateaubriand, France, Rousseau, and Voltaire. Balzac and Chateaubriand are especially strong areas. Several editions of Balzac's Comédie Humaine (two Paris, 1842 editions), as well as collections of his letters and other works are available. Essays, histories, and novels, including Génie du Christianisme (13 editions, the first five from 1802) highlight a noteworthy collection of about 300 works by Chateaubriand.

Montaigne and Rabelais are also well represented. Rabelais' works include the first edition of his Ouevres (Paris, 1553) as well as a Paris, 1558 edition. Also available are the earliest editions of his Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-64) published in facsimile in Paris in 1925. One of Princeton's most significant and extensive holdings in the area of French literature is that of Montaigne's essays and letters. Of special interest is a first edition (Bordeaux, 1580) of his essays, among many second, third and later editions.

In 1974, 168 volumes were added to the Library, a bequest of Edward B. Meyer '21. They supplemented the already outstanding collection of 19th-century French literature. Many of the new acquisitions are handsomely bound and are of great interest to bibliophiles and literary historians alike. Many first editions as well as inscribed copies. For particulars see: Léon-Francois Hoffmann, "The Meyer Bequest" in the Princeton University Library Chronicle XXXVI, 2 (Winter, 1975) pp. 150-56. [full text].  [Listing at time of accession.]

Balzac, Honorè de (1799-1850)

An exhibition of Balzac materials was held at Princeton during the winter of 1949-50. Though the catalogue lists only about 25 books, they are all of significance.  See: An Exhibition of Early Editions of the Works of Honorè de Balzac 1799-1850. (Princeton, 1950). [(ExB) 0639.739 no. 4]. [full text] .

Chinard Collection

For details on the 500 volumes acquired in 1963 from the library of Professor Gilbert Chinard -- including many Utopian novels, imaginary voyages, and Franco-Americana -- see the Princeton University Library Chronicle XXVII, 3 (Spring, 1966) p. 192 [ full text]. Also see entry for CHINARD in this Guide.

France: 1940-1942 (H.C. Rice Collection)

In 1942, Howard C. Rice published a 200-page booklet entitled France: 1940-1942: A Collection of Documents and Bibliography. The material was organized into a number of sections, such as the defeat of 1940, the Vichy regime, the Free French, French colonial possessions, etc. Many of the documents published were drawn from Rice's own collection of pamphlets, broadsides, news releases, clandestine tracts, and publications of Free French organizations. This collection was given to the Library and prepared for public use in 1985-86. An inventory of the sorted collection was made by John Henneman in June 1986 and a copy of it is in the Collections File as well as in Box 1 of the collection. Call number for the collection is (Ex) DC397.F72 1940. See John Henneman's article on the collection in the Princeton University Library Chronicle XLIX, 2 (Winter, 1988) pp. 173-181 [ full text]

Books from Tsarskoe-Selo

In 1938, the Library purchased from New York bookseller Maurice Sloog "more than 600 volumes of early nineteenth century fiction ... from the Imperial Library at Tsarskoe-Selo. Most of the books have the stamp of the Imperial Library, and some bear the bookplate of Alexander III. Another plate with the words "Bibliothèque de Tsarkoe-Selo" indicates that the books came from that section of the private library of Nicholas II which was housed in the Alexander Palace." Further particulars given in the following article, here quoted above: Albert E. McVitty, Jr. '32 "Books from Tsarskoe-Selo, Nineteenth Century French Novels, Bearing Imperial Bookplates, Now at Princeton" in the Princeton Alumni Weekly XXXVIII, 27 (April 15, 1938), pp. 1-2.

Livres philosophiques

In early 1986, the Princeton University Library began systematically to collect over 700 titles that had been identified by Prof. Robert Darnton as "forgotten best-sellers" of eighteenth-century France. These 700+ are so-called "livres philosophiques", books carrying ideas of the philosophes which questioned the authority of the state, the church, and established society. Such books were sometimes satirical, sometimes fictional in guise, sometimes purported to be "true confessions", or "true reports" of inside official matters. Currently, the Library has about 300 of the 700+ listed titles. Particulars concerning the over-all list, current holdings, and recent acquisitions can be obtained from the Curator of Rare Books. Some details about "livres philosophiques" and the Library's collecting can be read in Robert Darnton, "Literary History and the Library" in the Princeton University Library Chronicle (Winter, 1987) issue [ full text] and in his book Edition et Sédition [(F) PQ265 .D37]. For further particulars on the collecting history of these books, see Robert Darnton, "Collecting and Researching in the History of Books" in the Princeton University Library Chronicle (Autumn, 2005) issue [ full text] with an afterword by Stephen Ferguson.

Also see Robert Darnton's two volume 1995 publication: The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France (New York: W.W. Norton) [(Ex) PQ265 .D37 1995] and its companion volume The Corpus of Clandestine Literature in France, 1769-1789 [(Ex) PQ265 .D367 1995]. This latter volume lists the 720 clandestine books for which Prof. Darnton has gathered evidence of use. The volume also contains detailed analysis on these books regarding demand, confiscation, regional distribution, etc. Of the 74 "Best-Sellers" listed on pp. 191-197, Princeton has 56 (or 75%) in first or otherwise early editions. Of the 18 that Princeton does not have in 18th century editions, the Library has nine in reprint or microform. As of June 1995, then, the Library lacks texts of only nine of the total 74.

Other authors

For articles on such figures as Balzac, Hugo, Montaigne, Napoleon I, Rabelais, Rousseau, and Voltaire see the indexes to the Chronicle. Also, listings of outstanding purchases or gifts in French literature are found in the various issues of the Chronicle. As a point of departure, refer to the Princeton University Library Chronicle XXVIII, 3 (Spring, 1967) p. 194 [ full text] ; XXXIX, 1 (Autumn, 1977) p. 48 [ full text] and the books under the heading "Continental History and Literature" or "Continental Books" in the various listings of Recent Acquisitions appearing in the Princeton University Library Chronicle XXXII, 3 (Spring, 1971) p. 177-80 [ full text]; XXXIV, 1 (Autumn, 1972) p. 79-80 [ full text]; XXXIV, 3 (Spring, 1973) p. 184-186 [full text]. Also, every Autumn issue of the Princeton University Library Chronicle between 1974 and 2011 (except 1976) has listed books under these headings in the section titled Recent Acquisitions. See file "French Materials at Princeton" in the Collections File for bibliographies and lists relevant to this subject. See also Stephen Ferguson's article on Barbeu-Dubourg's Carte chronologique in the Winter 1991 Chronicle [ full text]. This article explains a time-line device described but not illustrated in the Encyclopédie.

In 1994, the Library received the legacy of Samuel Pogue, '41, consisting of over 100 sixteenth century French imprints relating chiefly to music. A copy of the list of these books is in the Collections File under the name: Pogue.

Also see the wonderfully detailed catalogue of the exhibition Americans in Paris curated by Howard C. Rice (Princeton, May 4 to June 30, 1956) [(ExB) 0639.739. no. 21]. [full text] .