8vo (163 x 91 mm). , 3, , 528, 30, 3,  pages. Partly double column. Woodcut and type-ornament head- and tailpieces. Faint marginal discoloration. Contemporary red morocco, sides with triple thick and thin ruled border, spine in six gold-tooled compartments, title lettered in second compartment, gilt medallion with monogram of the Ecole Royale Militaire in lower compartment, gilt edges, Brokatpapier endleaves with semis of gold stars and dots, corners bumped. Provenance: modern etched bookplate with initials AK. ***
Only Edition of a complete course of religious instruction for the pupils of the Ecole Royale Militaire, founded in 1751 by Louis XV as a military academy for the sons of noble families, including those who had sunk into poverty. The book, of which only one other copy is recorded, was printed and bound for the school. At first two hundred and eventually five hundred teenagers, from all over France, were admitted on the basis of an exam taken at the end of primary school. The huge expenses entailed by the construction of a magnificent palace to house the school, designed by the architext Ange-Jacques Gabriel, were covered by a national lottery and by taxes on playing cards. A single cohort graduated before the project ran out of money, and, although the buildings had been completed, in 1787 the academy closed its doors. Pillaged during the Revolution, it would not open again for the same purpose for another century.
The first part of the book, which was approved by (and possibly written by) Christophe de Beaumont, the Archbishop of Paris, consists of a primer of the Christian religion. It opens with the Archbishop’s rules for the administration of religion in the school. From 6 am masses to near-daily catechisms and energetic prayer sessions to prepare for confession, the young future officers were reminded regularly that their duties to God were as important as those to the King. The meticulous scheduling of each day and other casual details testify to the complete control of their lives by the authorities of the academy, whose premises they seem never to have left, not even on Christmas. An allusion to visits by the [religious] Directors to students in prison and in the infirmary are further reminders to the modern reader of the harsh conditions of young people’s lives when children were viewed as small-sized adults.
Including a table of moveable feasts from 1775 to 1793 and a calendar of Saints’ days, this section provides the basics of religion, from the Ten Commandments to instructions on communion, on how to conduct oneself at Mass and the ritual itself, on examining one’s conscience and preparing for confession, and so on. While most could apply equally to any student, including the repeated exhortations to contemplate one’s sins (clearly a central concern to these teachers of adolescents), a few paragraphs address the special circumstances of soldiers. These include prayers to be recited before battle or after victory, instructions on providing absolution to the dying in the absence of an available priest (requiring memorization of a rather long passage), and, finally, a prayer for a good death. The second and longer part, printed in two columns, contains the Offices for Sundays and feast days throughout the year, partly in Latin.
OCLC locates a single copy, at the BnF. Item #4067