Jacques-Charles-Louis Clinchamps de Malfilâtre
Narcisse dans l'île de Vénus. Poème en quatre chants.
Paris 1795. Octavo (18.5 x 11 cm). Printed on vellum. Elegantly bound in red morocco by Charles Capé (1806-1867). Spine gilt in compartments, triple-line rules to boards and elaborate turn-ins gilt, green morocco doublures, marbled free endpapers, all edges gilt. Minor horizontal fold to each leaf, staining to page 121. 19 x 12.5 cms.
One of only two known copies printed on vellum of this rare satirical poem, this copy potentially linked to an important pre-1812 Moscow library. Of the known copies of Narcisse dans l'île de Vénus, one is in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. The second is the present copy, which was owned by the celebrated French bookseller and collector Charles Chardin, and was sold when part of his library was auctioned by Leigh and Sotheby in London in 1819 and sold again in the sale of the Hochart library. A copy that may be described as being printed on vellum ('p. vél') is recorded in the 1805 library catalogue of Count Boutourlin, one of the greatest of Russian collectors and head of the Imperial Russian Library. Bouroulin's magnificent personal library was destroyed in the Moscow fire of 1812, and it was believed that the Malfilâtre was lost with it. The timing of this volume's appearance in 1819 is, however, suggestive. This copy has mild grey stains at the tops of the leaves, always corresponding to points where the vellum has naturally curled, leaving a space open between the pages. It is plausible that these could have been caused by soot falling onto the top edge and only penetrating the book where the leaves were separated. Many of the leaves show evidence of having been folded in half, and other pages show signs of water damage and possible cleaning, prior to its being rebound by Capé in the 1830s or 1840s, leaving no trace of a previous binding. A likely conclusion is that the book was either looted from the fire or discovered in the ruins of the library, and subsequently sold in Paris. As Chardin was one of the most prominent French booksellers of the period it makes sense that the volume would have found its way into his hands. It is, of course, not possible to state definitevely that this is the same copy, but given the rarity of vellum printings of Narcisse, this appealing association cannot be completely discounted.
Literature: Praet, Joseph Basile Bernard van. Catalogue des livre imprimés sur vélin de la Bibliothèque du roi, vol 4. Paris, De Bure frères, 1822.