Guide to the Research Collections

- Section -- II: -- THE HUMANITIES


The literature of France is collected comprehensively, with the exception of drama, which is collected exhaustively. The growth of the collections is indicated by the following:

1854 Astor Library3,101 volumes
1921 New York Public Library23,120

French belles-lettres have been a feature of the collections from the library's inception. In 1883, John Jacob Astor presented the Astor Library $15,000 for necessary additions in French literature. In 1884 the Lenox Library received the Felix Astoin collection of some 5,000 French works, which contained excellent editions of literary works and criticism, and was probably the most complete collection on French bibliography to be found in the United States at the time. The George Bancroft collection, which the Lenox Library secured in 1894, contained approximately 1,000 volumes of French and Italian literature.

The year 1928 was memorable for the gift by Edward S. Harkness, then a trustee of the Library, of a mid-fifteenth-century manuscript of Petit Artus de Bretaigne. The George Blumenthal collection of first editions and manuscript material of Anatole France, with printed works by Lamartine, Loti, Gide, Valéry, and other French authors in bindings by Gruel, came to the library in 1937. Francis M. Weld presented in 1948 a fine set of the works of Jean Antoine de Baïf and early editions of Molière, Montaigne, and Corneille. Notable holdings of works both by and about Montesquieu are available.5


In general, the resources in French literature in the Research Libraries may be described as a scholarly working collection, strong in bibliographies and critical works, with some rarities. Standard sets of periodicals and society publications are present, although some of the earlier journals of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are lacking. Holdings in French drama are exceptional; prompt-books in the Theatre Collection and scores and librettos in the Music Division augment the collections of monographs and periodicals.

Early periodical sets include L'Année littéraire (1754-61) and Mercure de France (1677-1820, incomplete). Of the 37 periodical titles in the Public Catalog, 11 are current from seven countries. These include Revue d'histoire littéraire de la France (1894- ) and Yale French Studies (1948- ). Almanacs include the Almanach des Muses (1765-1833) and the Almanach des Dames (1806-98, incomplete). Many of these were presented by Mrs. Henry Draper. The Almanach des spectacles de Paris (1752-1837), available in a complete run, is valuable for the study of French drama.

Critical texts are present in all languages, with many entries in the Public Catalog for articles in journals not usually indexed by the regularly available guides. There are numerous translations from French into English; in many cases there are more translations available for a work than there are editions in French. Only in the case of drama are there sizable numbers of translations from French into languages other than English.

To illustrate the nature of the resources in the various literary forms, individual authors have been singled out for analysis in the following sections. The representative author collections discussed are adequate for scholarly research.


Among the illustrated books in the Spencer Collection are a number of sixteenth-century editions of Roman de la Rose. In the Rare Book Division and in the Spencer Collection are copies of a 1490 translation into Spanish of Guillaume de Deguilleville's influential Pèlerinage de la vie humaine (ca. 1320); a verse translation attributed to Hoccleve, "Pilgrimage of the Soul" (ca. 1430) is among the manuscripts in the Spencer Collection. The Rare Book Division also holds a fine untrimmed copy of Les amours du bon vieux tems (1756), which contains the first printing in book form of Aucassin et Nicolette; the library also holds the first printed example of that text in Mercure de France (1752). Augmenting rare

-------------------------------------------- page 106
holdings are standard modern editions of Medieval texts, such as Classiques français du moyen age and the publications of the Société des anciens textes français. Poetry of the French Renaissance, especially the work of the Pléiade poets, is present in significant printings, in addition to the standard modern editions and critical texts.

As an indication of the relative strength of resources in modern French poetry, there are some 140 entries in the Public Catalog for works by and about Paul Valéry. Included are the first edition of La jeune Parque and several presentation copies in fine bindings from the Blumenthal collection. Illustrated editions are in the Spencer Collection.


The literary form headings for French drama in the Public Catalog permit a reasonably accurate estimate of the size of the holdings. These number some 22,000 titles, approximately 4,000 of which are translations from French into twenty other languages, translations into English predominating.

Collections of plays are a strong feature of the resources, including items such as the Répertoire du théâtre français (1821-25) and the Petite bibliothèque des théâtres (1783-91). The library also has the Fall City microcard edition of Three Centuries of French Drama.

Molière holdings are extensive. In addition to standard modern editions of his plays, numerous translations are available, including Arabic, Turkish, Greek, and Slavic. Pictorial documentation of gala productions of Les plaisirs de l'isle enchantée and Le malade imaginaire at Versailles for Louis XIV is available in the engravings issued in the Cabinet du Roi (1679-1743), which is in the Prints Division. There are some 600 entries in the Public Catalog for works by Molière, and some 500 entries for criticism of the playwright.

Augustin Eugène Scribe is represented by more than 900 entries for editions in French and translations into other languages (including Russian and Serbo-Croatian), prompt-books, adaptations, librettos and opera scores.


One of the treasures of the Spencer Collection is a chivalric romance in a manuscript from the mid-fifteenth century, Petit Artus de Bretaigne. On vellum and illuminated with thirty-two miniatures, the manuscript is believed to have been executed for Jacques d'Armagnac, duc de Nemours; it was presented to the library in 1928 by Edward S. Harkness.6 Other rarities and manuscripts lend interest to holdings largely distinguished for collected editions of works. The George Blumenthal collection brought to the library first editions and some manuscripts of Anatole France. The Manuscripts and Archives Division has letters of Paul Bourget, Alexandre Dumas, and Guy de Maupassant, and eleven autograph letters of Emile Zola dated 1867 to 1896, some addressed to his brother. In the Montague collection are a thirteen-page manuscript of chapter XV of Consuelo and two letters by George Sand, and a Rousseau letter dated 1730 addressed to M. de Tilles.

Although the Berg Collection does not collect French literature, there are items of interest in its holdings such as a Rousseau letter dated 1765 to M. Guy and Zola's Germinal in galley proofs dated 1885, with the author's manuscript corrections.

Voltaire, whose work of course extends beyond narrative fiction, is represented in the Public Catalog by approximately 650 entries for works by him and some 600 for critical works about him. Collected editions include the "Kehl edition" (1785-89), among 17 others. The library has a file of Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century (1955-) and the monumental 107-volume edition of correspondence edited by Theodore Besterman (1953-65). In the Berg Collection is a 1759 Candide, apparently a trial edition, antedating the first Cramer edition; and interesting association copies such as Leigh Hunt's copy of the Philosophical Dictionary (1843) with Hunt's manuscript notes, and Hawthorne's copy of several volumes of a collected edition. In the Rare Book Division is George Washington's copy of the translated Letters of Voltaire (1770). Among other items in this division is Le Ligue (1723), later expanded into the epic La Henriade. Adaptations of Voltaire include the libretto of the musical version of Candide for which Lillian Hellman wrote the book. The Manuscripts and Archives Division has two autograph notes of Voltaire. There is even a purported nineteenth-century communication from the hereafter in Mrs. Elizabeth Sweet's Voltaire in the Spirit World.

The Blumenthal collection provided the library with an almost complete set of first editions of Anatole France's works, many of them presentation copies of special issues in uniform bindings of red and pink morocco by Gruel. The gift also includes the printer's copy of L'Anneau d' améthyste (1898), and the page proofs of M. Bergeret à Paris (1900) and Le parti noir (1903), all with the author's manuscript additions and corrections. The Spencer Collection holds illustrated editions in fine bindings, most notably Thaïs with illustrations by Paul-Albert Laurens in a unique copy printed for Albert Bélinac. The binding is by Henri Marius-Michel with the artist's original watercolors and various states of the engravings bound in.

African authors writing in French are discussed in chapter 26 of this Guide. The library also has material on French literature in Haiti, Réunion, and other localities.

Provençal Literature

Daniel Haskell, in his 1921 bibliography of Provençal literature and language, described the library's resources as "a fairly good collection of books of either the old Provençal or the modern revival."7 The collecting policy has remained comprehensive since that time, making this description of the resources pertinent. There are currently some 400 separate titles. Of these 300 are poetry, approximately equally divided between old Provençal and modern. Drama numbers approximately 70 titles; there are 30 fiction titles. There are 20 periodicals in the field, with a

-------------------------------------------- page 107
notable run of Armana prouvençau (1855- ), the organ of the modern revival of interest in Provençal language and literature.

In 1916 and in the years following, Mrs. Thomas A. Janvier gave more than 500 works in Provençal, runs of periodicals, and other materials. In 1917 she presented a collection relating to Frédéric Mistral, part of which consisted of manuscripts ranging in date from 1895 to 1908. Among these are letters from Mistral to Mr. and Mrs. Janvier, and also from Felix Gras, Gaston Jourdanne, and Jules Ronjat. Subsequent purchases of manuscripts by Mistral include "Soulomi," "La terro d'Arle," "Lou bon viage," and "Lou cat que fai lume."

Among individual authors the greater number of works, some 240 entries in the Public Catalog, are by and about Frédéric Mistral. Theodore Aubanel is represented by about 30 original and critical titles. The troubadour poets Bertran de Born and Peire Vidal receive some 30 entries, including entries for journal articles and works of drama and fiction about them.

French-Canadian Literature

The holdings of French-Canadian literary works are not particularly strong. Most of the important critical works, bibliographies, and collected works of the best-known authors are present. The library receives eight French-Canadian literary periodicals; collections of earlier periodicals are not extensive. There are few first editions, and the overall coverage of authors is uneven. Occasionally there is a single representative work for an author who has published a number of titles, as in the case of Blanche Beauregard (Lamontagne). In other cases a substantial group omits certain works, making it unfeasible to use the collection for research in depth. There are translations for the major works in prose, such as Aubert de Gaspé's Les anciens Canadienes and Louis Hémon's Maria Chapdelaine. Translations occasionally outnumber the editions of the work in the original language.