Half-sheet 8vo (149 x 94 mm). 8, 147,  pages. Shoulder notes. Title woodcut of a marching band of putti, one woodcut illustration (p. 50) of a man riding a donkey backwards; woodcut head- and tailpieces and initials, approbation with xylographic signature. Scattered pale foxing, a few leaves discolored, some offsetting and show-through. Bound for the booksellers Debure ca. 1765 by Plumet (or Fétil) in red morocco, sides gold-paneled, smooth spine gold-tooled with title lettered longitudinally, edges gilt over marbling. Provenance: Paris, Jesuit College (Collège de Clermont), largely effaced 18th-century inscription on title (Collegi Parisiensis Societa[tis] Jesu), sale 19 March 1764, lot 752, 14 livres 10 sols, to: the booksellers Debure, probably Guillaume-François Debure le jeune, who commissioned the binding and sold the book to: Paul Girardot de Préfond (1722-ca. 1800), letterpress book label and engraved armorial (cut round, without the crowned frame), letterpress shelf label “No. IX,” from his second library, manuscript catalogue no. 13 [see below]; acquired largely en bloc by: Justin, Comte de MacCarthy-Reagh (1744-1811), posthumous sale, Paris, 27 January 1817, vol. I, lot 692; Jacques-Charles Brunet (1780-1867), posthumous sale, Paris, 20 April 1868, lot 49; Édouard Moura (1863-1931), bookplate with his “Les Eclusettes” library label, sale, Paris, 3 December 1923, lot 760 (”superbe exemplaire”); Jacques Vieillard, armorial bookplate, sale, Paris 12 March 1929, lot 269, manuscript annotation on front free endleaf noting the sale (2204 / mars 29). ***
First edition of a singular treatise on the origins of the wildest popular festival rituals, an early work of historical anthropology or folklore. A notoriously rare book, it has long been an object of bibliophilic convoitise. This fine copy has a distinguished pedigree.
This was the only published work by Claude Noirot (b. 1570), of whom little is known beyond his self-description on the title as “iuge en la mairie de Lengres” (judge in the Mayor’s office of Langres). An erudite exploration of the origins of festival transgressions, laced with classical citations, his treatise is also a singular source of information on popular customs then still current in France, including the annual rebellion against social norms embodied in Carnival. Noirot delves into the use of masks and grotesque disguises (mommerie), the deafening rituals of the charivari, the parading of wife-beaten men riding backwards on asses, the phallus as protective object, cross-dressing and gender-bending, all technically proscribed by the Church. Ecclesiastical authorities were however forced to tolerate the periodic releases of social pressure and ritual actings-out that occurred during Carnival, which had its own abbeys, confraternities, officers and rules.
Contents: The first two chapters treat the origins and types of masks and disguises, uses and materials of phallic processional sculptures and amulets, the earliest forms of comedy, masks in the Bacchanalia, and the origins of the word “masque.” Like his contemporary Jean Savaron, whose much shorter Traité contre les masques was published a year earlier, Noirot invented etymological theories to buttress his disapproval of masks, arguing that the Latin word larva (mask or ghost) was related to the word lamia, a kind of vampire or witch. The third chapter, on aspects of carnival’s “license to deride” (Davis, p. 66), contains more information on contemporary France, describing mocking rituals and public shaming, including the dangerous practice of throwing shamed individuals in the air (an act called “berner” in French [p. 48]), and backwards ass-riding, used originally to ridicule hen-pecked husbands, but which came to be used for a multitude of mockeries. Chapter four is devoted to the charivari, its various applications, origins and etymology.
In chapter five Noirot’s moralizing intent comes to the fore, as he describes the reprobation of the church and secular authorities against these popular festivities. He devotes much of this chapter to the horrors of breaking gender norms. The importance of dress in pre-modern life is highlighted here in striking fashion. Not only festival masking, but cosmetics for women, seductive movements and “effeminate” dancing, wearing clothes of the opposite sex (an integral element of carnivalesque fun), and above all the “feminization” of men are denounced at fascinated and appalled length and with ample patristic and classical citations. Women too are expected to wear the dress of their station: a matron should dress soberly and a prostitute should wear flashy bright colors; indeed, if the former should dress like the latter, sexual “attacks on her honor” are permissible.
The concluding section, with running title “Articles de masques,” contains an extract from the Arrêts d’amour (by Martial d’Auvergne), containing rules for masqueraders, intended to protect them both from jealous husbands and from inadvertent revelations of their identity, and to establish temporal and behavioral limits to their own activity, which consisted of entering homes and accosting married women. The work ends with extracts from Seneca on Epicurus, from which the author concludes that “Epicurus was not of the Bacchanalian party.”
Remarks: Noirot reflected the attitudes of his social class and of established authority toward popular festivals. “In the eyes of would-be reformers and abolitionists there were always demonic elements at work in festivals” (Clark, p. 21). Modern social historians now understand the function of festive “mis-rule” as more than a mere social safety valve, and instead as a way to perpetuate community values (and sometimes to criticize the political order). For example, the charivari, a very widespread custom in France, described by Noirot in chapter 4 as “a tribute that the followers and clercs of the jours gras [Shrovetide or Carnival] raise on those who during the previous year had engaged in second marriages” (p. 72), was a particular form of trick or treat. More than just remarriages, it targeted marriages of couples deemed unsuitable. Groups of mainly young men would gather outside the newlyweds’ house making a racket with pots and pans, whistles, bottles, horns, etc., until they were paid off to go away, whether in money or drink. Natalie Zemon Davis and Jean Claude Margolin, in their fascinating studies of the charivari, describe such popular participatory performances as ceremonial reinforcements of a socially accepted balance. The charivari cast opprobrium on perfectly licit marriages that nonetheless transgressed popular conceptions of what was appropriate: very old men marrying younger women, older women with younger men, unsuitable marriages imposed by families for blatantly economic reasons, etc. The charivari came to be extended to other “affronts to the sense of order and justice of the neighborhood,” and the ceremony could include quasi-theatrical reenactments, by members of the “troupe,” of thefts or other crimes committed during the year (Davis, p. 66). These were jokes with serious foundations, and they were conservative rather than revolutionary.
The idea of reestablishing balance helps clarify other festival jokes and hazings as well: Noirot describes the Carnival custom of obliging men who were dominated by their wives to ride around town backwards on donkeys, although often their neighbors filled in for them (pp. 50-51), but similar public shamings were also meted out to adulterous husbands or even to those who didn’t satisfy their wives in bed (pp. 52-53; clearly there were few secrets in small villages); these poor souls were seated in the public square wearing dunce caps, forced to spend a day listening to their neighbors’ whistles and mockery. The same caps were worn by those who had squandered their or others’ inheritance (p. 54). (Noirot describes ancient examples of the shaming of adulterous women, which were much worse and more lasting, and often involved cutting their hair.) Finally the donkey ride was also used, inversely, for men who beat their wives, especially during the month of May, a special month for women since Antiquity, and fines were levied on the husbands, payable as refreshments for the “trouppe ioyeuse,” (”car le fisque ny participe en rien” [p. 64], i.e., the official tax authorities did not participate in these festivities...).
Provenance and binding: This copy was one of thousands of books from the library of the Jesuit College of Paris (the Collège de Clermont) that were sold in 1764 upon the dissolution of the order. Like many of the lots in the sale, it was bought by the powerful Debure bookselling firm, who had it bound by one their usual binders, Plumet or Fétil (who seem to have shared some tools: see Aguirre, 2021 article). The present binding belongs to a group of bindings, labeled A by Erick Aguirre, all of which use the same fleuron tool and have similar internal roulettes. These and other bindings studied by M. Aguirre were veritable “booksellers’ bindings,” commissioned by the Debures for the sale of the rare books which they had chosen for their top customers (Girardot de Préfond, Louis-Jean Gaignat, the Duc de la Vallière, the Comte de Lauraguais...), who bought them ready-bound.
After commissioning the pretty binding from Plumet (or Fétil), the Debures sold it, for 60 livres, to Paul Girardot de Préfond. A timber merchant who was allegedly advised by his physician to create a library as a remedy for depression, Girardot de Préfond was one of the most passionate and discerning of French bibliophiles. Constantly obliged to sell books in order to buy more, he had sold a first collection, catalogued by Debure, in 1757, to the Duc de La Vallière. Following the sale he had immediately embarked on a second collection, most of which is recorded in a manuscript catalogue held by the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and digitized on their Gallica site. This copy appears there as no. 13, where the cost is recorded in the margin as 60 livres. (These price notes were added later, probably by Debure, as were other marginal notes, in this case “m.c.,” for MacCarthy-Reagh.) In order to pay his debts, at some point between mid-1777 and mid-1779, Girardot de Préfond sold most of this second library to the Irish-French collector the comte MacCarthy-Reagh. (Between and after these sales Préfond also continually sold individual books and bought back copies that he had previously owned.) The copy is described in MacCarthy-Reagh’s posthumous 1817 catalogue (which also included 825 books printed on vellum and 9 Grolier bindings). Jacques-Charles Brunet, possibly the most influential and wide-reaching of all bibliographers, was a later owner, as were Édouard Moura, a Bordeaux poet and bibliophile — or bibliomaniac, as stated in the quatrain on his bookplate (a French translation of verses in Occitane, from Pierre Goudelin, Le ramelet moundi de tres flouretos, 1638), and his fellow Bordelais, Jacques Vieillard.
I locate no institutional copies outside France. The text was reprinted in the 1830s, with corrections, annotations and a preface by Constant Leber, who remarked on the frequency of printer’s errors in this 1609 edition, mostly of punctuation.
USTC 6808194; Brunet IV: 94 (”livre singulier, rare et recherché,” citing this copy). Cf. Natalie Zemon Davis, “The Reasons of Misrule: Youth Groups and Charivaris in Sixteenth-Century France,” Past & Present, no. 50 (1971): 41–75; Martine Grinberg, “Carnaval et société urbaine à la fin du XVe siècle,” and J.C. Margolin, “Charivari et mariage ridicule au temps de la Renaissance,” in Les Fêtes de la Renaissance (Paris, 1975) III: 547-553 and 577-601; Stuart Clark, Thinking with Demons: The Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe (Oxford 1997). Cf. Erick Aguirre, “Les collections de Paul Girardot de Préfond,” Bulletin du Bibliophile 2020, no. 2: 265-309; Aguirre, “Le manuscrit codé du cabinet particuler de Guillaume-François Debure le jeune, Bulletin du Bibliophile 2021, no. 2: 305-343 (this copy designated no. A5, pp. 316-317). Our thanks to M. Aguirre for his corrections and assistance with the provenance. Item #4152