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Follow the bookworm: a French copy of John Dryden’s Don Sebastian

Don Sebastian, title page

By Chloé Favriou|

The Université Rennes 2 special collection library holds a large number of books written in English. However, not all would necessarily be referred to as rare, as some books exist in many copies throughout the English-speaking world. But, it is unusual to come across such a large collection—about 2,000 books—in a French provincial city. One book, a copy of John Dryden’s Don Sebastian (shelfmark: [600305-]600309) from the Albert Feuillerat collection, was included in the exhibition “Rareté et livres rares du XVIe au XXIe siècle” in April 2018. It was showcased alongside books such as the Works of Ben Jonson printed in 1692 (shelfmark: 690) and The new London domestic cookery adapted to the use of private families printed in 1835 (shelfmark: 600887).

This edition of Don Sebastian was printed in 1690 in London for John Hindsmarch. There are around forty existing copies, including one in St Andrews (shelfmark: r17 PR3415.S7C90). However, what makes Rennes 2’s copy unique is the fact that it was later bound with three other plays by Beaumont and Fletcher in a bound-with. John Henry Deburgh, the Earl of Clarincarde, compiled this collection in 1783 as is evidenced by a hand-written date inside the binding.  In the process of assembling the volume, many plays were trimmed on the top part of the book and therefore some of the type was cut off. On the bottom, where the plays were not trimmed, we can clearly see the different ensembles. Don Sebastian is bound at the end of the collection and has notable features of its own.

Bookworms, detail
Evidence of bookworms.

The copy was damaged prior to being bound in the bound-with, whereas the other plays appear to be in a good state. We can follow the path of a bookworm through its pages, as it goes almost from the title page to the last leaf. The three other plays were not damaged this way and the path of the bookworm stops near the endpaper. A handwritten note on the binding indicates that the bound-with was created as a gift from his father. This dedication signals a thoughtful attention in making the book. It might have been created with a Jacobean playwright theme according to the Earl’s interests, or the addition of John Dryden was made in order to salvage a damaged copy of a favoured play. In contrast, the copy in St Andrews was indeed bound with other works of John Dryden.

written marginalia
A gift from father to son.

This edition of Dryden can be found in multiple libraries throughout the English-speaking world, but Rennes 2’s copy is absolutely unique both in its current physical aspects and its place of conservation. The bound-with was incorporated into the University’s collections in 1953 as a result of a donation by Albert Feuillerat. Feuillerat was a professor of English literature in Rennes and in the United States. When he passed away in 1952, he bequeathed his personal collection of 2,287 books to the University, which holds treasures yet to be studied.  More than two-thirds of the collection are books printed during the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, which are in some instances unique copies in France. It is interesting to note that up until the mid-twentieth century, English literature studies in France was not a prominent scholarly subject. Albert Feuillerat not only was a precursor in his academic career in France but he was also a passionate bibliophile who contributed to an incredible academic book collection outside of the Anglophone world.

 

bookplate of earl
The Earl’s bookplate

In the specific case of Don Sebastian’s edition, it is rather unusual to encounter a copy that was acquired in a provincial French city when English literature was not studied to the extent that it is today. It is also a personalised copy bearing the mark of its owner. It is in itself a very interesting book in the journey that brought it to Rennes and its current state.

 

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Chloé Favriou graduated with a master’s degree from Rennes 2 in July 2018. Her research focused on the French religious wars through print in England from 1558 to 1575. She was a member of the USTC team of volunteers in the summer of 2018.