M. Froeschlé-Chopard, Regards sur les bibliothèques religieuses d’Ancien Régime (Joseph Bergin)
Francia-Recensio 2015/3 Frühe Neuzeit –
Revolution – Empire (1500–1815)
Marie-Hélène Froeschlé-Chopard, Regards sur les
bibliothèques religieuses d’Ancien Régime, Paris (Honoré
Champion) 2014, 351 p. (Histoire du livre et des bibliothèques,
11), ISBN 978-2-7453-2652-2, EUR 75,00.
rezensiert von/compte rendu rédigé par
The thirteen previously-published articles which make up this volume represent a parcours de recherche that spans over several busy decades, and whose methods and objectives their author sketches out clearly in the introduction. From Henri-Jean Martin to Roger Chartier and beyond, the French historians of the book, who elicited so much admiration outside of France, remained closely tied to the history of ideas, even when that history focussed on the production and diffusion of books at, or soon after, the moment of publication. Its practitioners did, of course, use libraries and their catalogues to track such diffusion and the use (or readings) of books, but were less interested in the afterlife of those books and the libraries that housed them. It was not until the late 1980s that historians of the book began to take a closer interest in libraries for their own sake, not least because the bicentenary of the French Revolution reminded them that huge numbers of ecclesiastical libraries were broken up and dispersed in the early 1790s. Since then, the research conducted by Froeschlé-Chopard and others on the pre-revolutionary ecclesiastical libraries of religious orders in France has opened up new and sometimes unexpected perspectives that earlier approaches could not provide on the circulation and (dis-)continuity of ideas, and in particular on the degree to which the holdings of the libraries, as evidenced by their surviving catalogues, reflected the infiltration of new ideas, activities or objectives. The main source for such research, library catalogues, obviously have to be handled with care and a realisation of how formalised (even archaic) and unresponsive to intellectual changes their schemata could be. The volume under review is divided into three parts, the first analysing the catalogues of the librarians, the second the inventories of 1791, while the third is devoted to the theme of »ideal«libraries as evidenced in the Jesuits’ »Mémoires de Trévoux«and the Jansenist »Nouvelles ecclésiastiques«.
The value of library catalogues for the houses of religious orders is as a measure of their concerns and activities, whether internal or external, and how much or little they changed over time. In Counter-Reformation Catholicism, teaching, preaching, catechism were perhaps the most important of those activities, while controversy with, and the conversion of Protestants especially in Southern France, often gave way in the eighteenth century to refutations of enlightenment or anti-clerical ideas. Alternatively, some religious communities withdrew from the intellectual battlefields of the day, preferring to cultivate a more inward-looking spirituality based on their own traditions. Geography mattered here almost as much as the traditions of the orders under investigation, since different regions of France attracted orders that were either of Gallican or »Roman«sensibility. And the Saint-Malo/Geneva line dividing (male) literate from non-literate France is also evident from the researches conducted by Mme Froeschlé-Chopard. The »demotic«Capuchins, who were more prepared than other orders to settle in small towns and bourgs, had more limited library holdings than their urban counterparts among the other orders.
Not all orders were, by definition, involved in the same activities, and this collection of studies ranges widely. For example, a chapter is devoted to the Visitation nuns, whose twenty-two convents examined here had relatively few books beyond those of spirituality. The most intellectual of the male orders, such as the Maurists, Oratorians, or Minims represent the opposite end of the spectrum, especially when they themselves were also philo-Jansenist in their theology and pastorale. Of course, such libraries also acquired anti-Jansenist books so that their users would be capable of combating ideas of which they disapproved; libraries thus reflect activities as much as affiliations, theological or otherwise. The writing of apologetics as much as of preaching and teaching was at work here, too. A fascinating chapter is devoted to the library of a prominent individual rather than of a religious order – the uncompromisingly Jansenist bishop of Montpellier, Colbert de Croissy (1697–1738), with a view to determining how far the contents of Colbert’s extensive library itself corresponded to his well-known Jansenism. Such a correspondence does indeed exist, but it seems less interesting than the fact that Colbert kept himself fully informed – and documented – on the successive religious polemics of his age. The chapters on the libraries of the Oratorians and the Maurists can also be usefully measured against the »ideal«Jansenist library as advertised by the Jansenist »Nouvelles ecclésiastiques«. The ideal library in question remained heavily theological in character, in opposition to the Jesuits’ »Mémoires de Trévoux«, which were increasingly concerned with publications in the field of the sciences and arts. The disappearance of the Jesuits from France after the 1760s means that a powerful intellectual player – and its libraries – are inevitably missing from the picture provided by the catalogues and inventories of the years down to 1791.
Despite the superficially heterogeneous character of this volume, its successive chapters illuminate a whole series of topics about why or when religious orders obtained different types of books – the Bible and books of biblical exegesis being a case in point – or discontinued their interest in them. It would, nevertheless, have been useful for the book to end with a concluding chapter, however provisional its contents might be. The publisher could also have improved the clarity of some of the graphs – especially the pie-charts, whose keys are often difficult to read. Nevertheless, this volume will serve as a report on how religious history can make positive use of mostly neglected sources, as well as a helpful guide for scholars seeking to acquire the tradecraft that such research requires.
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