“DE LA BIBLIOTEQUE [SIC] DE MON FRERE L’EMPEREUR NAPOLEON”: THE MÉMOIRES OF CARDINAL DE RETZ AND JOLI, 1777-1779, FIVE VOLUMES FROM THE LIBRARY OF MARIE-ANTOINETTE, AND A RARE ASSOCIATION VOLUME FROM THE LIBRARY OF NAPOLEON BONAPARTE, INSCRIBED BY HIS BROTHER JOSEPH TO NAPOLEON’S LONGTIME TRUSTED FRIEND AND SECRETARY, BARON MÉNEVAL
(MARIE ANTOINETTE) (NAPOLEON BONAPARTE) GONDI, Jean François Paul de, Cardinal de Retz. Mémoires du Cardinal de Retz. [Volumes I, III-VI]. Geneve: Farbry & Barillot, 1777. WITH [Volume II] Geneve: Fabry & Barillot, 1779. WITH: JOLI, Guy. Mémoires de Guy Joli… et Mémoires de Madame la Duchesse de Nemours. [Two Volumes]. Geneva: Fabry & Barillot, 1777. Six volumes altogether. Small octavo (4 by 6-3/4 inches), contemporary full brown polished calf gilt, elaborately gilt decorated spines, armorial coat of arms, marbled endpapers (I, III-VI), contemporary full mottled calf, elaborately gilt-decorated spine, raised bands, marbled endpapers (II), custom wrappers. Housed in a magnificent custom full crushed morocco presentation gilt box. $38,000.
Rare 1777-79 editions of the four-volume Mémoires of Cardinal de Retz and the 1771 two-volume Mémoires de Guy Joli and Madame la Duchesse de Nemours, possessing an exceedingly rare provenance in association with two of the most legendary figures in French history— Marie-Antoinette and Napoleon Bonaparte. Five volumes (I, III-VI) are from the library of Marie-Antoinette, bound in contemporary calf gilt and displaying her distinctive gilt-tooled armorial coat of arms on the boards, along with her gilt-stamped crowned cipher “CT” on the spines. Volume II, bound in contemporary mottled calf gilt, contains a lengthy gift inscription on the front free endpaper by Joseph Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon Bonaparte—“de la biblioteque [sic] de mon frere l’ Empereur Napoleon” (from the library of my brother the Emperor Napoleon)— to Baron Claude Francois Méneval, Napoleon’s trusted private secretary and his “only really close friend and confidant.”
Cardinal de Retz played a central role in the deadly politics of the Frondist era in France (1648-52), when a rebellion arose against Anne of Austria (regent for her son, Louis XIV) and her minister Cardinal Mazarin. "His Mémoires, composed circa 1675-79…, cover his youth, his political career during the Fronde, his conflict with the crown, and the beginning of his exile after he lost his battle to Mazarin. They stop abruptly in 1656, during a papal conclave in Rome. Part of an important tradition of aristocratic political and personal memoirs in 17th-century France, they… provide an advance psychological analysis of the secret motivations of his public acts" (Stefanovska in Lyons & Wise, Chance, 184, 183n). This classic political history and autobiography clearly reveals "the influence not only of Machiavelli and of Montaigne but of Hobbes, Naudé and Pascal (Lyons & Wise, 13, 191). Hume would quote Retz in his "Idea for a Perfect Commonwealth" and the Cardinal's Mémoires resonated with America's Founding Fathers— in particular James Madison.
This exceptional six-volume set, containing the four-volume Mémoires du Cardinal de Retz and the two-volume Mémoires de Guy Joli… et Mémoires de Madame La Duchesse de Nemours, possesses a provenance of extraordinary rarity. Five volumes (I, III-VI) are from Marie-Antoinette's library at Petit Trianon, her private estate attached to Versailles, which was presented to her by Louis XVI at the beginning of his reign. These volumes are beautifully bound in contemporary calf and each is emblazoned on both boards with her gilt armorial coat of arms, the spines displaying her distinctive gilt-stamped cipher containing the initials "C[hateau] T[rianon]." "Trianon remains the symbol of her taste and the favored scene of her legend… No one was allowed to enter the estate of Trianon without a special invitation from the Queen" (Lever, Marie Antoinette, 133-4).
Volume II of the Mémoires du Cardinal de Retz is distinguished by another most extraordinary association. The inscription, by Joseph N. Bonaparte, the older brother of Napoleon, presents the volume to Baron Claude Francois Méneval, who was Joseph's secretary for two years before becoming Napoleon's most trusted "private secretary and confidential agent, familiar with his daily thoughts and acts, during his most active years of achievement— from April 1802 until St. Helena in 1815" (Introduction, Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte I:13). Throughout these years Méneval was "Napoleon's only really close friend and confidant" (Schom, Napoleon Bonaparte, 488). On St. Helena, Napoleon said of Méneval: "He was gentle, reserved, zealous, very private, able to work at any time whatsoever. He never gave me anything less than satisfaction and pleasantness, and I loved him dearly." In 1821 Napoleon bequeathed him 100,000 francs (Petiteau, Elites et mobilités, 288). Joseph writes of his great respect for Baron Méneval, and notes proudly that this volume is "de la biblioteque [sic] de ma frère l'Empereur Napoleon" (from the library of my brother the Emperor Napoleon).
Marie-Antoinette and Napoleon surely found in Retz a kindred soul, for he "led an extraordinary life marked by concurrent love affairs, conspiracy, and revolt…, imprisonment and a spectacular escape from jail, years of exile and flight…" (Stefanovska). Specific interest in the Cardinal is confirmed by a May 1809 letter from Napoleon to the librarian Barbier who had forwarded to the Emperor a number of works which he found useless. Among those specifically requested as replacements was the Mémoires of Retz. Later, while in exile on St. Helena, Napoleon emphasized his familiarity with the work, calling it the writing "of a grand seigneur [but] read like those of a Figaro. It is impossible to be more shameless" (Gourgaud, Talks of Napoleon at St. Helena, 262).
Joseph Bonaparte was a seminal figure in his brother's rise to power, accompanying Napoleon in his Italian campaign in 1796 and joining in the French expedition for the recovery of Corsica. In 1802 it was Joseph who was approached by Robert Livingston, the American minister in Paris, contact which ultimately led to the Louisiana Purchase, a decision he would unsuccessfully protest. In 1806 Joseph was made King of Naples and in 1808, King of Spain. "After Napoleon was finally sent to the island of St. Helena, Joseph fled to the United States under the name of Count of Survilliers" and lived in America for 17 years, traveling to England in 1832 and returning to America between 1837 and 1839— the period in which he dates his inscription (Rodriguez, Louisiana Purchase, 41-2).
Joseph's inscription in Volume II, in French, signed by him and dated, London March 19, 1838, reads in part: "Ce volume… partie de la biblioteque [sic] de mon frère l'Empereur Napoleon… je l'envoie [unclear word] a Baron Meneval… de mon estime et de mon amitié" [This volume, from the library of my brother the Emperor Napoleon… I present to Baron Meneval, with my esteem and my friendship].
Mémoires du Cardinal de Retz first appeared in a three-volume edition in 1717, published in Nancy, Joli Mémoires first published in 1718. With woodcut-engraved vignettes to title pages (I-IV); woodcut engraved head- and tailpieces. Text in French. Graesse VI:94. See Mahaffey, 86. Marie-Antoinette formed two libraries, one at at the Tuileries and one at the Petit Trianon. Volumes in her library at Petit Trianon (Volumes I, III-VI of this copy) are identified by a gilt-stamped cipher with the initials 'C[hateau] T[rianon]' surmounted by a crown (Olivier 2508, fer 15) at the spine end, sometimes also on the upper board (Fletcher, 74). Volumes I, III-VI with inkstamps to title pages stating from "Bibliotheque du premiere consul." Volume II with unidentified armorial bookplate, occasional lightly penciled marginalia, and small ink mark to margin (p. 387). Trace of bookplate removal (I).
Interiors quite fresh with only light scattered foxing, tiny bit of loss to corner not affecting text (II:83), a few minor marginal paper flaws, faint occasional marginal dampstaining in one volume (IV) only, light edge-wear. An exceptional association set in extremely good condition with a most rare provenance.