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Des Enfants devenus célèbres par leurs études ou par leurs écrits. Traité historique

Paris, A. Dezallier, 1688





In-12 (157 x 88mm). Headpiece with the effigy of Guillaume de Lamoignon (1617-1677), father of the Advocate General, and initial letter with the arms of Lamoignon, all copper engraved

COLLATION : π2 A-X12 Y8 Z2

ILLUSTRATION : portrait of Chrétien de Lamoignon, dedicatee of the work, engraved by Antoine Trouvain

18TH CENTURY BINDING SIGNED BY MOUILLIÉ (label). Apple green morocco, triple gilt fillet border with fleurons at the corners, flat spine gilt, gilt edges

PROVENANCE : Prince Sigismond Radziwill (1822-1892 ; Paris, 1866, n° 1665) -- Édouard Rahir (ex-libris ; Paris, 1938, VI, n° 1642)

Adrien Baillet was born in 1649, the year of Descartes’ death near Beauvais, in a peasant environment. Thanks to his studies, he was first a country priest then librarian to one of the most prestigious parliamentary families, the Lamoignons. In the service of Chrétien-François Ier de Lamoignon (1644-1709) in 1682, he wrote in his own hand the thirty-three folio volumes making up the Borgesian catalog of the family library. For nearly twenty-six years that the Jansenist Baillet was the Lamoignon’s librarian, he would only go out once a week, and spent all the rest of the time in studies. He spoke with famous writers and the ecclesiastics of Lamoignon’s circle : Molière, Racine, Regnard and Boileau who would dedicate his sixth Épître to the parliamentarian.

"Baillet only slept five hours a night, most often fully dressed, only ate one meal, didn’t drink wine, never warmed himself except in company ; as soon as he was alone, he put out the fire, both out of mortification and to be less distracted from study". (Louis-Gabriel Michaud, Biographie universelle ancienne et moderne, 1843).

It was while compiling the catalog of the Lamoignon library that Baillet composed his main works : Jugemens des sçavans sur les principaux ouvrages des auteurs (1685), Des Enfants devenus célèbres par leurs études ou par leurs écrits (1688), Auteurs déguisez sous des noms étrangers (1690) and especially, his most famous work, La Vie de M. Descartes (1691), the first modern biography devoted to a philosopher.

If Baillet was librarian for the father, he was also tutor for the son, Chrétien de Lamoignon (1676-1729). It was therefore to his twelve-year old pupil that he dedicated Des Enfants devenus célèbres par leurs études ou par leurs écrits, like so many instructive examples for the young man. Des Enfants devenus célèbres was initially to serve as a preliminary treatise to a great collection - Recueil des auteurs françois déguisez which would never see the day (a partial edition was printed in 1690). The treatise of Enfants devenus célèbres was finally published separately because of the very original subject it developed. The formulation of the title already means in itself, a new look brought to the childhood of that time. The title does not speak of childhood but of “children” in an individualization of each and every one. Baillet’s treatise does not study famous men either but children who have become famous men. His look is prospective in any case, from a narrative point of view (since obviously the choice of these children is made according to a celebrity known a postiori). Finally, the second part of the title defines the means and causes of this celebrity : “by their studies or by their writings”. The treatise has a didactic aim. One century before Émile, and in a pattern apparently similar to other “lives” (Vies des hommes illustres by Pétrarque, Vies de saints or Vies des meilleurs peintres by Vasari for example), Baillet reinvented the genre of “lives” in considering fame - or success – compared to childhood.

According to Baillet, the main condition to appear in his “enumeration” was "not to have passed the age of twenty" (preface). Thus, side by side are historical figures (Alexander the Great, Caesar), writers and philosophers (Marc Aurèle, Baïf, La Boétie, Budé, Hobbes), historians (Grotius, Spelman), scientists (Pascal, Ringerberg), mystics (Ignacious of Loyola, Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Melanchton), borrowed from Antiquity, the Middle-Ages or the modern era. We note that Pascal, almost a contemporary of Baillet and his elder in Jansenism, is above all considered as an early mathematics genius, and not as the later author of Pensées (1670) :

“to finish what Mr. Pascal the younger did on Mathematics under the age of twenty, we will add that he was just nineteen when he invented the Arithmetic Machine that is kept in the King’s Cabinet and a few other persons of consideration. It is a machine of an admirable invention ; it has been estimated as one of the most extraordinary things that have yet been seen” (p. 311).

The pages devoted to the young Saint Augustine, lazy and seized with the “passion of gambling”, are no less passionate. Finally, Baillet reserves a section for young women who have more “vivacity of mind and penetration than the boys” but whose education is, according to him, unfortunately neglected.

The prestigious Mortimer L. Schiff collection preserved four copies bound by Mouillié. Three of these bindings had exactly the same decoration as ours, except that their morocco was red and not green.

BIBLIOGRAPHY : Jean-Robert Armogathe, "Descartes, philosophe des Lumières, ou l'effet Baillet", in Mélanges de littérature française offerts à M. Shackleton, Oxford, 1988 -- Dictionnaire de Port Royal, Paris, 1994, p. 137 -- Seymour de Ricci, French signed bindings in the Mortimer L. Schiff Collection, New York, 1935, II, nos 128-132