Small 8vo (137 x 85 mm).  leaves, 211,  pages. Printed in very small, clear types. Additional engraved title, 4 engraved plates, two signed CM in[v] (Claude Mellan). Typographical head-and tail-piece ornaments. Occasional light foxing, old crease in a few leaves, overall a fine copy. Later blind-tooled black goatskin, sides with double rule border and large fleurons at corners, small fleurons in spine compartments, title gilt-lettered in second compartment, gilt edges, marbled endpapers (corners worn, joints and extremities scuffed). Provenance: Maurice Lafargue, lithographed bookplate dated 1918. ***
Desmarest’s verse translation of the Imitatio Christi, printed on the private press of the Chateau of Cardinal Richelieu.
Jean Desmarets, later Sieur de Saint Sorlin, was one of the most prolific and versatile French writers of the seventeenth century. A polymath, versed in the arts, religion, philosophy and theology, he was the first chancellor of the Académie française, and a member of the inner circle of Cardinal Richelieu, who appreciated his vast culture and obtained for him important charges. After the Cardinal’s death, Desmarets retired to the home of his patron’s great-nephew Armand Jean de Vignerot du Plessis, Duc de Richelieu (1629-1715). He disappeared from the Paris scene for ten years, and reappeared revivified by religion. This verse translation of the Imitatio Christi was one of the first works that he published after his return to public engagement, and he spent his remaining years writing religious poems and anti-Jansenist polemics, in a state of religious exaltation taken by some contemporaries for insanity.
It was certainly thanks to the Duke that Desmaret’s Imitatio was printed at the Richelieu chateau. The mystery of the chateau press of Jean Armand du Plessis, Duc de Richelieu, known as Cardinal Richelieu, chief minister to Louis XIII and the most powerful non-monarch in France for 20 years, has never been satisfactorily resolved. The Cardinal seems to have decided in around 1640 to have a press installed in the magnificent chateau, or “utopian city,” that he had had built on the site of his father’s chateau (near Chinon, Indre-et-Loire), but no works are known to have been printed there until 11 years after his death in 1642. The present edition and a couple of other works and translations by Desmarets de Saint Sorlin were the only editions to mention the Chateau in their imprints, but a few later editions, including a Bible published by Sebastian Martin in 1656 (Delaveau & Hillard 1043), were printed in the same very fine small type used here. The types were later used in several reprints of works of Desmarets de Saint Sorlin, ca. 1678 and 1679, issued anonymously; all with a woodcut device imitating the Elzevir globe on the title-pages (see Nodier, and the Newberry Library catalogue description of a collection of these pamphlets, in a binding bearing the monogram of the Duc de Richelieu, call number VAULT Case BL624 .D47 1679).
The publishing history of this edition is complex. This is the second edition, last issue. Desmarest’s version was first printed, in July 1654, in a duodecimo edition with the imprint of Pierre Le Petit and H. Le Gras in Paris (Delaveau & Sordet 295). That edition included an engraved title and an engraving at the head of each of the four Books, of which two by Claude Mellan. In October 1654 the first issue of the present second edition appeared, printed in very small types in small octavo format (Delaveau & Sordet 296). The letterpress title of the first issue bears the same Le Petit and Le Gras imprint, but with the additional note that it had been printed at the chasteau de Richelieu. Two further issues appeared in 1654 (Delaveau & Sordet 297 and 298, with variant titles and imprints, neither mentioning the Richelieu origin). The same “Richelieu” sheets were reissued by the Paris publisher Florentin Lambert in 1661, with the same four engravings as the July 1654 edition (Delaveau & Sordet 340). Finally, the Richelieu sheets were reissued by Estienne Loyson in 1662 (the present issue, Delaveau & Sordet 346), with the original engraved title of the first edition, from which the imprint was deleted, and the four engraved plates from that edition. It is the only one of the 5 issues to contain these plates.
The engraved title is set within an impressive interlacing wreath incorporating repeated crosses and thorns. The two Mellan engravings (Inventaire du fonds français XVIIe s. v. 17, no. 122 & 125) show a seated woman receiving the Holy Spirit, and an angel showing the Cross to a kneeling man; the others, unsigned (and inferior), show Christ appearing to a kneeling man, and a scene of Mass. These four plates appeared in a different order in each of the three editions in which they were included.
All Château de Richelieu imprints are rare. The Newberry Library has several, including this edition (?first issue). I locate one other copy of the edition in the US, at Berkeley (this issue) and 3 other copies of this issue overall (BnF, Bib. Ste Geneviève, and British Library). The other issues or states are equally rare, as is the first 1654 edition.
M. Delaveau & Y. Sordet, eds., Edition et diffusion de l'Imitation de Jésus-Christ (2011), no. 346; A. de Backer, Essai Bibliographique sur le livre De Imitatione Christi (1864), 2774. On the Richelieu press see C. Nodier, Mélanges tirées d'une petite bibliothèque, pp. 173-177; Brunet 2: 634; Peignot, Répertoire de bibliographies spéciales (1810), p. 71. Item #4289