Thursday, July 14, 2011

Looking at French Revolution Pamphlets on Bastille Day

Observations de quelques patriots sur la nécessité de conserver les monuments de la literature et des arts. Paris, [1793]. Pamphlet #556, French Revolution Pamphlet Collection
On July 14, the French celebrate Bastille Day. The Bastille was a medieval fortress and prison located in the center of Paris, which during the French Revolution represented royal authority. The storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789 is held as a symbol of the uprising of the modern nation of France and the reconciliation of all French citizens. Festivities, including fireworks and parades, are held all over France on Bastille Day.

In honor of Bastille Day, Sandy Stelts, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts, is showcasing our collection of French Revolution Pamphlets:

The pamphlet pictured above is a plea by several moderates who call themselves the sons of Renouard (the printer), of Chardin (the painter), and of Charlemagne, in which they argue strongly for the preservation of France’s heritage. For a time the Republic called for the destruction of landmarks of the past, most notably the cathedral of Notre Dame. Collections of paintings and furniture were sold off, and religious objects were melted down for their gold and silver in order to raise funds for warfare. As one among a number of protests, this pamphlet is interesting as it cites the losses in past conflicts when great manuscripts and books were destroyed or mutilated and collections scattered. The plea is made that such collections are a part of the national patrimony and far more than symbols of tyranny and repression.

Rare Books and Manuscripts’ collection of 720 French Revolution pamphlets, ranging from 1789 to 1796, includes both private and government publications that deal with virtually all aspects of the Revolution, but there is a particular emphasis on political and military issues, financial matters, the position of the clergy, and legal and social conditions throughout France. Among the authors represented are many major Revolutionary figures, including Lucien Bonaparte, Danton, Lafayette, Marat, Mirabeau, Robespierre, and Talleyrand. The collection represents only a few of the almost overwhelming number of pamphlets and books that appeared when the events were current and that were part of an enormous production of paper and ideas—including polemics, cruel edicts, new constitutions, pleas for sobriety, demands for justice, excoriations of the past, and justifications for legal murder.

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