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News from France/Chapter 2



THE sixteenth century had scarcely died," says Sainte-Beuve, "when Naudé came into the world. It is difficult to imagine what this strong, prolific epoch must have appeared to those who sprang from it, to those who inherited its wealth, and to whom it must have seemed, in very truth, the greatest and the last. . . . Such a wealth of discoveries coming in such rapid succession: cannon, printing, clocks, a new continent, the starry heaven yielding up the secrets of its wonderful system to the observation of a Tycho Brahe and to the telescope of a Galileo,—that was the wealth which Naudé, young and hungering after all knowledge, first beheld, and then, with Bacon, glorified. One loves to hear him proclaiming 'the delights of our last century.' . . . The result of all this effervescence on the calm, judicious, and critical minds of the one which followed—imbibing it, as they did, through their reading—was, naturally, a strong tendency to doubt,—at least, to moral and philosophical doubt; and this it was that the sixteenth century at its close engendered. All had been said, thought, dreamed; ideas and researches had been expressed in every manner of style. What, therefore, remained to be done?"

Hence we find at the beginning of the seventeenth century in France a school in a transition stage, "half believing and half sceptical, half literary and half savant; which has been forgotten," says Labitte, in his Precursory Writers of the Age of Louis XIV, "because it grazed all parties without belonging to any one of them, and because, while it has written much, it has left nothing in relief, nothing that can be called monumental." The writers of this school, however, though disdained and eclipsed by their great successors of the era of Louis XIV, were the pioneers who at a difficult period "bridged over the transition stage between two epochs of art," and their place in literature is not a mean one.

There were two distinct groups of writers belonging to the period. First, there were the writers of the court, "heedless, concerning themselves but little with religion, and busying themselves more with a good dinner, or with a well turned madrigal, than with the problem of human destiny." The second group was made up of the philosophical spirits of deep learning, men who lived obscurely in the silence of the libraries, a small circle of critical thinkers, "the last of the Gaulois," says Labitte, "who, while living in the seventeenth century, belonged in many respects to the sixteenth."

Foremost in this second group stands Gabriel Naudé, who, in spite of his intense love for books, was no mere bookworm. "A moralizing sceptic wearing the mask of an erudite" is what Sainte-Beuve calls him. Naudé was born in Paris in February, 1600. We are told that his parents were honest people, probably small shopkeepers, who, early recognizing his bookish tendencies, made all efforts to give their son an education.

Too much influenced by the writings of Charron and Montaigne to study theology, as he was advised, he chose the profession of medicine, beginning with his studies his lifelong friendship with Guy Patin, a fellow student. Gaining some fame when only twenty years old by a treatise on libels, he attracted the attention of President de Mesmes, who appointed him his librarian—a post which he resigned in 1626 to continue his medical studies at Padua.

Returning to Paris two years later, he was chosen by the medical faculty to deliver a panegyric on the medical school, a task which brought him much glory. He had already written his amusing treatise against the Rosicrucians (1623), as a little distraction in the midst of his more important work, and had produced his first really ambitious book, his Apology for Great Men falsely accused of Magic (1625).The subject of the latter, strange as it seems to-day, was a burning one at a time when the greatest minds among the ancients were not free from the reproach of magic. It is in this work that we first notice markedly the frequent use of quotation, the wealth of classical allusion, the seeking in history for political comparisons, which became most characteristic of Naudé's writings.

With the Apology he began to acquire a broader reputation, and to increase his circle of friends. He had a little country house at Gentilly, and there he gathered about him the most philosophical and critical spirits of the age, in those réunions that have since become famous. Gassendi, whose Exercitationes against Aristotle had made him distinguished, and the caustic Guy Patin were perhaps the most remarkable among the frequenters of Naude's hearth at Gentilly.

It was when he was only twenty-six years old, and still librarian to President de Mesmes, that he wrote, in gratitude to his patron, the book which of all his creations must have been the dearest to Gabriel Naudé's heart,—the Avis pour Dresser une Bibliothèque, first published in 1627; a second edition appeared in 1644, and others in 1646 and 1668. In 1661 John Evelyn translated it into English under the title, Instructions concerning Erecting of a Library, and in 1703 it was rendered into Latin. In this little book is embodied Naudé's great passion, the prime affection of his life. "What he succeeded after many years in putting into execution under Cardinal Mazarin," says SainteBeuve, "he planned while young under President de Mesmes. It was the prelude of his great institution, his great masterpiece, his great creation."

Late in 1630 Naudé, wishing to travel, gained an introduction to the papal nuncio, Cardinal de Bagni, and accompanied him on his return to Rome as his librarian and secretary. Three years later he took the degree of M.D. at Padua, and was made Physician to Louis XIII, an honorary title only.

On the death of his patron, Naudé remained in Rome as librarian to Cardinal Barberini. His twelve years' sojourn in Rome, while placing him in the midst of a society which knew how to value his abilities, and increasing his remarkable insight into the workings of the human mind, had an injurious effect upon Naudé's character. "Forced to bend at every instant his doubting spirit and his philosophical mind, in a country where there was no medium between faith and incredulity, . . . Naudé was constrained to habituate himself to an hypocrisy of opinions unbefitting his character," writes Labitte.

Of the many works produced at Rome, for the most part written for particular occasions or to gratify a benefactor, only one is read to-day to any extent, and that has left a sad blot on the author's memory: it is his Political Considerations upon Coups d'État (1639), with its justification of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day.[1] Despising the masses, believing that monarchy should be absolute, and that the end justifies the means, Naudé expressed in this book detestable theories which it is hard to forgive, even if we accept his statement in the preface that the edition was limited to twelve copies, the book being printed "out of obedience, for the satisfaction of the Cardinal de Bagni, who reads with pleasure only from the printed book,"—a ment which has given rise to a famous bibliographical quarrel. It was during his stay in Rome, that Naudé entered upon the wearying controversy over the authorship of De Imitatione Christi, and it was while there that he espoused the cause of Campanella.

But it is not for all these things that we love to remember Gabriel Naudé. The real work of his life was to come. Recalled to Paris by Cardinal Richelieu to become his librarian, he hastened to accept the post, and on the death of the great Cardinal he received the same office from his successor. This was in 1642, and the next ten years must have been the happiest of Naudé's life. "Gormandizer of books" that he was, we can imagine the relish with which he rummaged the little old bookstores of Paris. His intimate friend, Vittorio dé Rossi, from whom we have many a choice bit of seventeenth century gossip, writes to the papal nuncio in Germany that if he should see "our Naudé" coming out of a bookseller's shop he would be convulsed with laughter at the figure the book-hunter cut, covered with cobwebs and dust, from which it would seem that nothing ever could free him.

Loving books keenly himself, and determined that his library should surpass that of his great predecessor, Mazarin shared the zeal of his librarian. His generals abroad were charged to be on the lookout for choice volumes, and rulers and envoys knew that the gift of a rare book or an ancient manuscript was a powerful ally in gaining the favour of the great Cardinal.

Much has been said of Naudé's system of buying books. His plan was to take them in the gross by weight, not stopping to examine volume by volume. He disposed of the duplicates afterwards, often buying them for his own library, which was of considerable size and value. Rossi, describing his descent upon a bookshop, says that often, seeing a large accumulation of books, he would demand the price of the lot, sometimes insisting on measuring the pile by the yard; that, after much dickering, he would usually get his own way, and often find that he had bought valuable books for less than he would have paid for pears or lemons. The poor shopkeepers usually suffered by these bargains, but Naudé never seems to have had any compunction on that score.

The famous three hundred and fifty folio volumes of manuscripts of Loménie de Brienne, bound by Le Gascon in flesh-coloured morocco, though obtained by questionable means, made a wonderful foundation for the manuscript collection, while the purchase of the library of the bibliophile, Canon Descordes, provided six thousand well chosen printed books, largely on history and theology, already catalogued by Naudé.

In September, 1643, the books were ready for removal to the newly purchased Hôtel Tubeuf, about to be made famous by the treasures that Mazarin collected there. At the end of October the moving was completed, and every detail of the furnishing had been provided for. Naudé's manuscript accounts, still preserved in the library, show that even twine and a broom had been remembered. Twelve thousand printed volumes and four hundred manuscripts were ready for use. The doors were thrown open, and on every Thursday, from eight till eleven and from two until five, the people were admitted freely to this the first public library in France. "It shall be open to all the world without excluding a living human soul," is Naudé's cry.

The only earlier public libraries in Europe were the Bodleian at Oxford, opened in 1603, the Angélique at Rome (1604), and the Ambrosian at Milan (1609).

The collection grew rapidly, and the resources of Paris being exhausted, Mazarin despatched Naudé on his famous journeys through France, to Italy,—where the shops, according to Rossi, seemed devastated after he had passed as though by a whirlwind,—to Germany, and to England. Naudé undertook with joy the fatigues and perils of the way, for were they not to bring more renown to this "well-beloved daughter" of his heart?

Before very long the number of volumes was increased to forty thousand, many of them in elaborate bindings and bearing the arms of the Cardinal. It had been found necessary to give the library more room, and during the changes Naudé, mindful of the natural timidity of many men of letters, and their unusedness to the surrounding splendour, had prevailed upon Mazarin to build a modest door which should admit them directly to the library, and was about to place over it an invitation in letters of gold, which should be plain to the most humble and embarrassed scholar.[2]

But the troubles of the Fronde began. Mazarin was forced to leave Paris, Parliament seized his possessions, and the sale of the books and manuscripts was threatened. It was at this point that the friendly Tubeuf attempted to save the library by seizing it himself as surety for what Cardinal Mazarin owed him, and Naudé was called upon to deliver to him the keys. Nothing can exceed the simple pathos of Naudé's description of that sad task, a translation of which is given here. The small quarto of four pages, without a title, as it originally appeared, is extremely rare to-day.[3]

The reprieve was short, for eleven months later Parliament put a price on Mazarin's head, and ordered the sale of the library. Picture poor Naudé's distress! Only one resource was left him, to bend his pride and pray to the Parliament, which he despised and hated, in behalf of this, "the work of his hands, the miracle of his life, his daughter." The eloquent appeal appeared in both French and English in 1652, and was translated into German two years later.[4] But the sale continued, and when Naudé realized that he must yield to the inevitable, he went about saving what he could from the disaster, buying the books on medicine himself, though he could ill afford to do so.

When the civil wars were over and Mazarin returned in triumph to Paris, one of his first cares was the reconstruction of the library.

Naudé, meantime, unwilling to witness further the dispersion of his beloved collection, had fled from Paris and accepted the post of librarian to Queen Christina of Sweden. But nothing could keep him in Stockholm when he heard of Mazarin's determination, and he set out joyfully for Paris. The climate of Sweden, however, had been injurious to his health, already undermined by grief, it is said, and he could not endure the journey. He died at Abbeville on July 29, 1653; and one writer asserts that shortly before his death he received the Sacrament. His loss was felt throughout the literary world, and he was deeply mourned by his friends. "I weep for him day and night," wrote Guy Patin in his Letters. Père Louis Jacob, another friend, gathered together the eulogies pronounced upon him in a volume commonly called Tumulus Naudaei, a witness to the warm affection and admiration which he inspired.

Naudé never married. His passion for books seems to have filled his heart to the exclusion of all others. "I cannot make up my mind to marry," we find him saying in Naudaeana et Patiniana; "that manner of life is too thorny and difficult for a man who loves study." His tastes were simple and modest, except in the matter of buying books, and his habits abstemious. "Naudé lived a true philosopher," writes Cottelet, "having no ambitions other than to serve his master. His sobriety has become a proverb, and he showed himself deeply attached to Mazarin, who, in recompense for all his services, granted him only two small benefices, bringing a revenue of twelve hundred livres." Of his personal appearance we can judge through the portraits which have fortunately come down to us. "His expressive countenance affords the best index of his ardent mind," says Dr. Dibdin.

The chief literary production of the latter part of Naudé's life —his greatest work, indeed—is his famous defence of his master against the attacks made upon him in the Mazarinades—the Judgment of all that has been written against Cardinal Mazarin, better known under the name of Mascurat. The quaint humour, the strong criticisms, and the frankness and ease of manner which characterize it show the author in a new light, and go far to make us forget the views of the Coups d'État.

By his will the medical books which Naudé had bought at the sale of the collection were returned to Cardinal Mazarin, who purchased the rest of Naudé's library, so that nearly all his books are now in the Mazarin Library, many of them bearing the signature of the first librarian.

When it was known that the work of reconstruction had begun, Queen Christina returned all the manuscripts which she had bought, and others followed her example. In 1660 a large proportion of the losses had been recovered. The following year saw the death of the Cardinal, whose will provided for the founding of the Collège de Quatre Nations (commonly known by Mazarin's name), to which the library should be attached, but nearly thirty years elapsed before the books were moved to their new home. The library was under the direcftion of the Sorbonne from 1688 to 1791; but since the Revolution it has been controlled by the state. Among its celebrated administrators may be mentioned MM. Petit-Radel, de Sacy, and Sainte-Beuve. For more than twenty years, until his resignation a few months since, the Mazarin's librarian has been the eminent bibliophile, M. Alfred Franklin, to whose history of the library we are indebted for most of the facts mentioned here. It is he who writes of Naudé as "above all the creator of our beautiful and beloved Mazarin Library."

It is fitting that one of the halls of the Mazarin Library to-day bears the name of Gabriel Naudé, name dear to librarians, and his bust in marble has been placed in the midst of the collection to which he devoted so much loving care.

The following tribute is paid to Naudé by M. Albert de la Fizelière in his edition of Rymaille sur les plus célèbres Bibliolières de Paris en 1649:

"As long as there are in France men devoted to literature and to a discriminating love of books, Gabriel Naudé will remain the type of the model librarian. It is true that there were bibliophiles and bibliographers before his day, but the science of books had not been coördinated. He was the first to set a proper standard for it, and, thanks to his encyclopaedic knowledge, he was able to make it take its place beside the science and letters of the seventeenth century on their lofty eminence."

One wonders when, in his short and busy life, Naudé found time to write so many books. Including the works which he edited, nearly one hundred pieces have been attributed to him, the subjects showing the scope and variety of his learning.


New York, September 1, 1906

  1. See Apologie pour Gabriel Naudé, by Charles Nodier (in his Mélanges tirés d'une petite Bibliothèque, Paris, 1829, chap. 24).
  2. See pp. 69, 70.
  3. See Surrender of Cardinal Mazarin's Library, pp. 41–55.
  4. See News from France, pp. 61-75.