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PREFACE

 

 
Shortly after the French Revolution of 1830, a dozen young people, most of them destined to become celebrated in the world of Letters, in the Medical profession or the Law, had met one evening in one of the most brilliant restaurants of the old Palais-Royal. The remains of a gorgeous supper, and the quantity of empty bottles strewing the table bore ample witness to their healthy stomachs and their jollity.

They had reached the dessert stage, and during the popping of numerous champagne corks, the conversation had turned first to politics, and then to the thousand and one topics of the day. Books then came in for their turn.

After having discussed one after another the different works which had excited the admiration of their readers from the earliest times down to the present day, the conversation turned on erotic literature.

This proved a rich subject for discussion. So every known erotic book was talked about, from the Pastorales of Longus and the lustful cruelties of the Marquis de Sade, Martial's Epigrams and Juvenal's Satires down to Aretin's Sonnets, each in turn came in for attention.

After having compared the freedom of expression employed by Martial, Propertius, Juvenal, Terence and Horace, in short by all the Latin writers, with the restraint shown by the various French authors of erotic works, one of the party declared that he deemed it impossible to write a book of this character without calling a spade a spade. He agreed that La Fontaine's tales were an exception, and that besides, French poetry allowed of this kind of reticence, and that with the delicacy and cunning turn given to its phrases, had succeeded in giving itself an added charm; but that it would be impossible to produce anything really attractive and passionate in prose.

Thereupon, a young gentleman, who had apparently been listening to the conversation with a dreamy air, seemed to rouse a little on hearing the last words, and said;

"Gentlemen, if you will kindly agree to meet together here again in three days' time, I hope to be able to convince you that it is not difficult to produce a work of the highest taste without employing any of the vulgar expressions which we are accustomed to term "naïvetés" in our good old ancestors, such as Rabelais, the Chevalier de Brantôme, Bèroalde de Verville, Bonaventure des Periers, and so many others, for I am sure their wit would shine just as brightly if it had been cleared of the crude old words which besmirch our ancient language."

This proposal was loudly applauded, and three days later our young writer brought the manuscript of the book that we now present to our book-loving friends.

Each member of the dinner-party wanted to have a copy of it, and one of them allowed a foreign publisher to print a limited edition in 1833, in quarto size, the text lithographed in script in two columns to the page, with ten large illustrations very nicely done, attributed to Grévedon or Devéria.

This edition, now of extreme rarity, and of which many librarians have denied the existence, was followed by a second,—this time set up in type—dated: Venice, 1835.

The title is identical: Gamiani, ou Deux Nuits d'excès, par Alcide, Baron de M.... It is a small volume of 105 pages with some bad woodcuts copied from the lithographs of the original edition.

From that time forth, the story was known and the curiosity of the public awakened. Reprints appeared rapidly one after the other, in fact more than a dozen of them came out before 1870. J. Gay, a dealer in rare books, mentions in his Bibliographie des ouvrages relatifs à l'amour, that the most correct and best printed of these, was the Brussels edition of 1871. Seven engravings and frontispiece by Felicien Rops are generally found adorning this edition.

We possess on our library table these two most notable editions: the original autographed manuscript (lithographed) which is certainly the first that ever appeared, and the beautiful edition in-18 on hand-made paper, with its fine engravings in red and black, which undoubtedly issued from Poulet-Malassis' offices. As regards the text, there are trifling differences to be observed, probably due to slight errors in copying, but which do not affect the sense in the least.

Of these two versions, both quite authentic, we have chosen the earlier text (Brussels 1833), and in the present volume we offer our readers a word for word translation of that edition. Of course, we have corrected the typographical errors and suppressed a certain number of "embellishments" which had distorted the real intentions of the author; and we have thought it wise to complete our labours by inserting, as a foreword, an extract from the Mémoires de Céleste Mogador concerning the author of this book, as it appeared in the 1864 edition.

We shall not surprise our readers when we inform them that the authorship of Gamiani has always been attributed to the celebrated poet Alfred de Musset. His contemporaries were unanimous on this point, and we would observe, to any of the author's friends who might wish to discredit this assertion, that the private life of their favorite writer, especially in his twenty-fourth year, was anything but edifying, and it is quite sufficient to scan a faithful biography of the poet in his early years to understand and excuse such a youthful peccadillo. Besides it was simply the subject of a wager, an inconsequential trial of the wits, never intended to see the light of publicity.

The immortal author of the Les Nuits, in creating the character of Gamiani, could not have imagined that his work, born in the clouds of absinthe, would have been thus handed down to posterity; and this explains why so little care was bestowed on the composition of this sketch of literary prostitution, besides the loose style of the dialogue, and the lack of cohesion and of sequence in the scenes, especially in the last pages of the book.

But, in spite of the criticisms that have been made of its imperfect style, this erototragic phantasy deserved to be preserved and to survive the period of romantic extravaganza which had given it birth.

We have done our best to present it to collectors in a scrupulously fine print, worthy of taking the place which its illustrious origin deserves, among the literary, artistic and gallant curiosities of their libraries.

The Publisher.