Eloge des paysans. Aux paysans. Louis COQUELET.
Eloge des paysans. Aux paysans.
Eloge des paysans. Aux paysans.

Eloge des paysans. Aux paysans. Paris: [Antoine de Heuqueville for] Pierre Morisset, 1731.

12mo (141 x 75 mm). [12], 81, [1] pp. Woodcut title ornament, headpieces by Vincent Le Sueur (signed Vi L S) and initials. 18th-century calf, smooth spine gold-tooled, red morocco lettering-piece, edges red-stained (wear to extremities, covers rubbed). ***

First Edition of a social satire of the privileged classes. The preface is signed “Guy-Mathurin D...,” one of the pseudonyms of Louis Coquelet (1676-1754), author of several anonymous “Eloges” and other so-called burlesques. Under the guise of a panegyric of the peasantry, the author caricatures les grands, comparing the careworn lives of ambitious military heros, judges, philosophers, poets, grammarians, and rich bourgeois, to the healthy existence and carefree simplicity of those who work the land.

At the time the peasant class was of course ruthlessly exploited by the Church and the nobility and mired in hopeless poverty. In the preface Coquelet places his ironic spoof within a literary tradition of paradoxical eulogies (such as Erasmus’ Praise of Folly), asserting that “praise of contemptible things sharpens the wit” (louer des choses méprisables éguise l’esprit). Coquelet’s descriptions of the futility of glory, folly of ambition, and corrupting influence of wealth are familiar tropes, but that is not the only reason that his satire now elicits few laughs. It appears too earnest, as the modern reader cannot but read it as a forerunner of the exaltation of pastoral life so solemnly preached a generation later by Rousseau, and later by his romantic followers.

Classical figures and seventeenth-century poets (including Malherbe, Desportes, Maynard and Racan) are cited throughout. A separate section is devoted to a cruel portrait of ladies, who “leave their faces on the dressing-table” at night, and whose elaborate dresses, intended to show feminine curves, hide ugly skeletons. This is contrasted with the freshness of peasant girls (whose harsh lives would have dimmed that freshness fast). An evocation of the peasants’ abodes, “in grottos filled with rocaille and shells,” their houses draped with ivy and surrounded by flowers (53-54) mirrors artistic tastes of the 1730s, the height of the rococo.

The book was printed by Antoine de Heuqueville, although only the bookseller Pierre Morisset’s name appears in the imprint. I have had a copy of Coquelet’s Eloge de la Méchante Femme, printed in the same year by de Heuqueville, in which the last leaf bears an offset image from a damp sheet of the present work’s title-page. The last page contains an announcement of other “Eloges” (Eloge du Mensonge and Réponse à l’Eloge du Mensonge) for sale by the same bookseller. The present edition includes the printing permission, granted on 15 November 1730. Another 1731 edition (or a different issue of this edition) bears the imprint “La Haye: N. Multeau.”

I locate one copy of this Morisset edition, at the London Library. OCLC lists copies of the The Hague edition or issue at Columbia University and the BnF. Barbier, Ouvrages anonymes II:84 (”Paris et La Haye”); Conlon 31:387. Item #2985

Price: $1,600.00

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