It is an ordinary thing for a book lover to look for the first edition of a book he fell in love with – to come as close as possible to the text and its author, I guess. To my delight it was eventually listed on Ebay.fr the other day. To my grievance, the professional bookseller was asking 3,000 euros for it. Despite a full morroco binding (a modern pastiche, a perfect imitation of a 17th century binding) and a very nice condition, it was an excessive price. The book itself is rare, indeed, and might have reached this quoted value hadn’t it been reprinted several times in the 18th and 19th centuries. The good copies of the first edition usually cost a few hundred euros, up to a thousand - not a “fort-expensive” book. Anyway, the description on Ebay.fr was of much interest. The bookseller quoted Nodier telling the story of the inscription Premier Volume (Volume the first) on the “frontispiece”, eventually scraped off by the author. But the picture of the title page he joined to the description showed no inscription nor any mark of scrapping. Yet, it was the 1667 first edition. To begin with, let us say that Nodier called “frontispiece” what is, in fact, the title page – he said Se donnent au Palais was written at the bottom of the frontispiece also and it appears on the title page. Then, as far as Volume the First is concerned, I could only figure out two explanations : whether D’Aceilly had teared off the title pages of the first copies to replace them with some new ones (without the disastrous mention) or Nodier built up the whole story. Contacted, the bookseller confessed he had no explanation and that Nodier was not always fully reliable. That did not satisfy me, so I went... on the internet. The Google miracle operated once again. How could you locate a book in a public library, let’s say in America or Australia, in a pre-google world ? I have no idea, but what took years for Nodier took me 0.55 second on the internet. The copy of 1667 I came across has been digitalized for the openlibrary.org website, with the funds of the University of Ottawa. And guess what ? The title-page is not fully identical to the one of the Ebay.fr copy, it reads PREMIER VOLUME, printed in capital and italic letters, just below the main title ! So it was true. How come, then, the mention disappeared from the title-page of the Ebay copy ? The bookseller mentioned that the book had been recently washed and totally rebound. Would, or could, a binder erase such an historical indication ? No, certainly. Furthermore, Google also indicated another copy (poor Nodier !) which title page was not reading Premier Volume. No doubt about it, the title page was twice printed. What about the book itself, then ? Nodier said it did not sell because of this mistake and the Et se donnent au Palais (Given at Le Palais) – but he was not there, after all. How could he know ? He gave no sources and the book was reprinted as soon as 1671 as Nouveau Recueil de Diverses Poésies du Chevalier D’Aceilly, though there was nothing “ nouveau (new) ” about it (Paris, Michel Brunet, 1 vol. in-12). Who would reprint a book that did not sell ? Other bibliographers give another explanation regarding the rarity of the first edition, such as David Clément : “D’Aceilly did not want his bookseller to sell his book. He would just give it away to his friends (...) No wonder these little poems have become so rare. ” But Clément is wrong. Had he read these poems, he would have known. D’Aceilly (or his bookseller) had the situation clarified in the very first epigrams (the first one is signed S.M.A, another mystery) :
To the authour, of his saying his poems were for free
At Le Palais, D’Aceilly, your book is given,
Every one has to wonder how could this be,
In times like these, everything is for a fee,
Bookseller asks 30 sols for what you’ve written,
– and get them -, do we call it a sale ? - nay !
This is no bargain, it’s a gift I say.
On the same topic, Dialogue between
a Gascon* and a bookseller
The Gascon : Is it you the very kind D’Aceilly appointed to give his poems ?
The bookseller : Yes, Monsieur , I will give them to anyone giving me some good money.
(*an inhabitant of the South-West of France. We are told not to trust the word of a Gascon.)
The term of “given” (donner) is ambiguous in French as it might be used for a drama, for instance – given at such or such theatre. But isn’t it puzzling that these poems, printed before the preface of the author (and after the title page) should comment the title page of the same edition ? How could that be ? Were these verses added afterwards ? And why didn’t D’Aceilly evoke these problems in his preface ? Some of these questions might be answered if we remember that booksellers of the time had three ways to sell a book. The first one was to sell loose pages the buyer had to carry to a binder. The second one was with a temporary binding and the last one with a full leather binding. It was easy to replace the frontispieces in the first formula, as well as adding some pages containing the aforementioned epigrams. This could also be applied to the second case – additional pages would be given to the buyer who would pass them unto his binder. But this could not have happened with the bound copies – if there ever were any. So many possibilities for a sole little book ! What would be the ultimate copy, the rarest of this fort-rare book, then ? Bibliophilists need to know. Would it be a bound copy featuring Premier Volume and no additional epigrams ? Or a copy in its temporary binding, with no frontispiece ? Not even Google could find such copies.