Valentine’s Day from Vassar

By Jamie Cumby

Today, Preserving the World’s Rarest Books invites you to be our Valentine for a discussion of Jean Bouchet’s Les angoisses et remeds d’amours (the agonies and remedies of love).  This collection of romance poems first appeared in Paris in 1501 (USTC 94750), followed by Bouchet’s authorized version in Poitiers in 1536 (USTC 27624).  This text went into five subsequent editions in Poitiers, Lyon, and Rouen in the sixteenth century.  Two of these came from the Rouen printer-bookseller Abraham Cousturier.  Cousturier produced three editions in the span of four years: one in 1599, in 1600, and in 1602. We have identified only one surviving copy of the 1600 edition, currently held in Vassar College’s Special Collections library.

Vassar College title page of Les angoisses et remeds d’amours
Vassar College Library, PQ1605.B75 A6 1600. USTC 75815.

Vassar’s copy comes from the library of Mabel L. Rossbach, donated to the college following her death in 1967. Mrs. Rossbach built a varied collection of 970 books, chosen for their literary and intellectual merits, as well as for more bibliographic considerations like bindings and provenance.  Among more popular choices for twentieth-century American collectors, like a Kelmscott Chaucer and a Doves Press Bible, her collection includes a number of examples of early modern French romance literature.  She may well have developed a taste for the genre while studying at the Sorbonne.  This copy was very likely bought while she was in France, as its previous owner, A. Renaud, died shortly before she came to Paris.  Renaud, a bibliophile from Lyon, was probably responsible for commissioning this copy’s nineteenth-century binding (see image at top), executed by the prestigious Thibaron-Joly workshop in Paris (1874-1885). You can browse many Thibaron-Joly bindings on the British Library’s Database of Bookbindings.

Mrs. Rossbach's bookplate from Vassar College
Mabel Rossbach’s bookplate

Bouchet’s Angoisses is a series of poems exploring the pitfalls of love, with the author as the counsellor for several lovers whose romantic adventures have gone terribly wrong.  They recount stories of betrayal, estrangement and treachery, while drawing on classical works like the Metamorphoses. Bouchet lightens a dark mood with a comic remedium to the lovers’ woes delivered by Pallas, who pauses to defend the author from Cupid’s arrows.

Abraham Cousturier, who printed this edition, specialized in vernacular literature.  The vast majority of his imprints are of poetry and drama, though he dabbled in schoolbooks with one translated edition of Cato’s Distichs (USTC 95390). To accompany the Angoisses, Cousturier added a second work to his edition: a French translation of the Historia de duobus amantibus, or ‘The tale of two lovers, Euralius and Lucretia.’  This fifteenth-century romance novel by Pope Pius II appeared in some seventy printed editions between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  Where the Angoisses is despairing, the Histoire d’Eurial & Lucresse is a lively tale of a passion reciprocated, though Lucretia is married.

Packaging different texts together in this way was a common practice among early modern publishers but one that paid little attention to authorial preferences.  During his lifetime, Bouchet, who was a practicing lawyer as well as a court poet, raged against this practice as a corruption of his texts.  However, Cousturier’s edition would have been far less offensive to Bouchet than the case that launched his original complaint.  In 1503, Antoine Vérard published one of Bouchet’s poems along with other texts from miscellaneous sources, all under the name of the more famous author Sebastian Brant (USTC 26021)!

The 1599, 1600, and 1602 editions of the Angoisses were small and inexpensive duodecimos, a book format for which a printer laid out twelve pages of text on each side of a single sheet.  When editions of the same text come from a press in rapid succession, it is an indicator that copies were selling quickly.  But, because he used a small format, Cousturier needed to compose only ten sheets’ worth of type for each edition of 120 leaves per copy.

This rare surviving copy of French language romance poetry tells us some interesting things about its consumption, then and now.  It was first issued in an inexpensive format from a relatively small provincial press and packaged along with a known bestseller.  It was popular enough to require two new editions in a very short period of time, one of which was nearly read to death.  In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it enjoyed a second life as an item of interest for later bibliophiles with a taste for sixteenth-century French poetry.  Now, we can enjoy it as a piece of literature, a piece of printing history, and a story about readership.


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Jamie Cumby is a PhD student at the University of St Andrews.  She is currently a Senior Editor on Preserving the World’s Rarest Books, and has been affiliated with the USTC project since beginning her PhD in 2014.  Her ongoing work explores the development of the publishing industry in Lyon before the Wars of Religion, with special attention to the Compagnie des libraires.  She is also St Andrews’ contributor to the Material Evidence in Incunabula database. You can follow her on Twitter at @JECumby.

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