4to (194 x 135 mm).  pages. Woodcut printer’s device on title (Renouard 491), initials, type ornament head- and tailpieces. A wide-margined copy (washed, residual discoloration, paper flaw obscuring a couple of words on N4v). 19th-century green morocco, covers gilt-panelled, spine gold-tooled and -lettered, turn-ins gilt, gilt edges, by Chambolle-Duru (joints and extremities rubbed). Provenance: Hector de Backer, bookplate (sale, Part 1, Paris 1926, lot 409); Jean-Paul Barbier-Mueller, bookplate.***
Only Edition of a large collection of verse anagrams, acrostics, and short verses by a Flemish poet of the French court, whose graceful word-games on the names of the royal family, members of the court, aristocratic friends, and a few ordinary nobodies are presented in descending hierarchical order.
As remarked by his sole biographer, Henri Helbig, the poetry of the little-known Alexandre Sylvain [Van den Bussche] is “much more intelligible to the modern reader than most other French poetry of the period” (p. 18, transl). Although a contemporary of Ronsard, his style was relatively uninfluenced by the classicizing innovations of the Pléiäde. He excelled in verbal challenges, as is evident from these acrostic poems and anagrams. Providing a snapshot of the court of Henri III, around 55 personages are the subjects of acrostic poems (a few appearing more than once), each followed by several anagrams. The King (Henri de Vallois), the Queen (Loise de Lorraine), his mother (Catherine de Medici), sister (Marguerite de Valois), and other members of the royal family are followed by more obscure male courtiers like Jacques de Matignon, African de Haussonville, or Antoine du Mesnil Simon, and numerous ladies, as well as a couple of children. The last 6 pages contain only anagrams, in French, Italian and Spanish. Naturally the collection was well-received, and not only among the pleased subjects of the verses; one of the anagrams of the king (Roi es de nul hay: The king is hated by none) was reputedly known throughout Europe (Helbig, p. 24), rather ironically in light of Henri III’s assassination by a crazed Dominican 13 years later.
Such “lightweight” poems, composed largely to curry favor (or protection), were considered unimportant by their author: Van den Bussche did not reprint them with his collected verse, published in 1581 in the Epitomes de cent histoires tragicques, with the exception of one poem, an “anagrammatisme” to Madeleine de La Fin, the woman he loved (E3v). Two other heart-rending poems in this collection describe the death in her arms of her husband François de Seneret, Seigneur du Chaussin, who was shot (by arquebuse) in 1573 by three other nobles (cf. Aubert de La Faige, Les Fiefs du Bourbonnais, 1896, p. 142).
Of Van den Bussche few biographical details are documented, and only the outlines of his life can be gleaned from his works. A self-described Belgian, his place of birth is uncertain. In the royal privilege of this edition he is described as “in the suite and service” of the King, but his precise role is lost to history. From remarks in the preliminary verses of this edition, by the Poitevin poet Pierre de May, it appears that Van den Bussche had traveled widely and was a gifted linguist. In his own dedication to the Cardinal of Ferrara (Luigi II d’Este, patron of music and letters, and a cousin of the Valois), dated 10 May 1554, the poet alludes to time spent in the employ of the latter’s father, the deeply mourned Duke of Ferrara; this would be Ercole II d’Este, who died in 1559. After first appearing at the French court in the early 1570s, and publishing a work of military arithmetic (under his Flemish name), Van den Bussche was imprisoned for an unknown period, possibly three years, probably for speaking out against Charles IX after the terrible events of the St. Bartholomew. By 1575 he was released and publishing collections of poetry. It has been suggested that he may have composed these poems in prison, but evidence is lacking.
In the early 1570s, when he first appeared at the French court and in print, Van den Bussche had embraced a lyrical French rendering of his name, Sylvain (snubbing the prosaic “Dubois”), always adding his country of origin. This has created confusion in some library catalogues (see: OCLC), where his works appear under both names without cross-referencing.
3 US copies located. Bibliotheca Belgica B 164; Brunet I: 1420 & Supplément I: 188; Cioranesco 21593; H. Helbig, Alexandre Sylvain de Flandre, sa Vie et ses Oeuvres (Liège 1861), pp. 24-25 and passim. Item #4217