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CHODERLOS DE LACLOS, Pierre-Ambroise-François

Les Liaisons dangereuses, ou Lettres recueillies dans une société, et publiées pour l'instruction de quelques autres

Paris, Amsterdam, Durand neveu, 1782

EXCEPTIONAL AND RARE COPY WITH AN IMPORTANT PROVENANCE OF THE FIRST EDITION, FIRST ISSUE OF THE LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, THAT OF ACHILLE-NICOLAS NERVET, FAMOUS BIBLIOPHILE OF THE 18TH CENTURY.

NERVET HAD THIS COPY BOUND, APPENDED AN AUTOGRAPH NOTE ON AN END PAPER, AND MARKED THE PASTEDOWN OF THE BINDING FOUR TIMES WITH HIS GILT EX-LIBRIS : “À MONSIEUR NERVET”.

THE FIRST EDITION OF THE LIAISONS DANGEREUSES IS ONLY FOUND IN ANONYMOUS AND BANAL COPIES

FIRST EDITION

4 parts in 2 12mo volumes (168 x 95mm)

COLLATION : (I) : A-K12 L4, including 248 pp. (including half-title, title,notice and preface) ; (II) : A8 B-K12 L6, including 242 pp. (including half-title and title), without the last l. blank, like the J. A. Bonna copy ; (III) : A-I12 K8, including 231 pp, (including ghalf-title and title) ; [A4] B-L12 M6, including 257 pp. ((including ghalf-title and title), with the errata leaf and without the last l. blank, like the J. A. Bonna copy.

EDITION : type A of the Max Brun classification. The epigraph of Jean-Jacques Rousseau appears on each title page bordered by two lines with curved ends. The copy is complete with the errata, none of the ten errors of which is corrected, with the exception of the error on p. 110 of volume I (faché for fachée, and whose “e” has been manually scratched). With the error on p. 155 of the first volume : Madame de Merteuil. P. 6 of v. I, second line, bears the error of the truncated word “personna-” which is corrected in the second edition to “person”. The headpiece of p. 9 (v. I) is that of the first edition : rectangular with 6 shell patterns and 4 rectangles of 20 crosses. Note that type B marks the characteristics of a second and new edition of the Liaisons and not a second state of the first edition

CONTEMPORARY BINDING. Glazed calfskin, gilt décor with a triple fillet border with rosettes at the angles, ornamented and gilt spine, roulette on the leading edge with at the top of each pastedown, the gilt ex-libris appended four times : “A. MONSIEUR. NERVET RED EDGES”

CHARMING AUTOGRAPH ANNOTATION BY ACHILLE-NICOLAS NERVET, on the back of the first end paper in brown ink :

Nta [Nota] we know that this very well-known Novel, which we cannot stop Reading once we have started it, and that however reserved women would not dare admit having done, is by Mr. Choderlos de Laclos, Captain of the Royal Artillery Corps. He was born in Amiens in 1741.

The written form of this note is in all respects similar to that signed by Nervet, appearing on the copy of a Charron from 1608 belonging to the collection of Philippe Desan (cf. https://montaignestudies.uchicago.edu/h/lib/charron/traicte/1608.shtml)

PROVENANCE : Achille-Nicolas Nervet, lawyer in Parliament, tax collector for Land Tax in Evreux

Binding skillfully repaired

"There is no woman who does not abuse the empire that she knew how to take !" (Letter VI).

Pierre Choderlos de Laclos was a brilliant artillery officer and poet whohad already been published, and champing at the bit in the provincial garrisons for lack of being able to show his worth in the Colonies or in America. He had undertaken to do a book which would be out of the ordinary, which made a lot of noise and would still resonate on the earth after he had left it. He took as an epigraph that of La Nouvelle Héloïse : "I saw the morals of my time and I published its letters." Three years before the Mariage de Figaro, this political lampoon of a revolutionary spirit and strongly Jansenist – much more than simply erotic, conceived above all as a political satire of a court nobility considered depraved by this right hand of the Duc d’Orléans, was, according to the Comte de Tilly page to Marie-Antoinette, a prodigious sensation with the public.

"It was at about this time that a book was published that made a prodigious sensation with the public, and created more havoc in many minds than the most lascivious paintings or the obscenest productions. A book that every woman had confessed to having read when every man should have disapproved it and which deserved to be set on fire by the hand of the public executer, although it is worthy, in its kind, of occupying a classic place in the best libraries. I believe I have named Les Liaisons dangereuses. I speak of this work today as I did not think then ; for I have myself to reproach for having been its passionate admirer, and especially to have lent it in its novelty, to two or three women, who would hide to read it more than they hid accomplishing all that it teaches " (Comte de Tilly, Mémoires, 1828, pp. 318 and ; 319)

This bitter and rafined novel distinguishes itself from the romantic literature of its time as much by its inspiration as by the exceptional merits of its style. This book, which “if it burns, can burn only like ice” (Baudelaire), was a sort of best-seller of the 18th century. Bachaumont wrote on April 29, 1782, in his Mémoires secrets, a few days after publication of the book : "The fashionable book today… is a novel called Les Liaisons Dangereuses,, in four small volumes"

The two thousand copies of the first edition were immediately sold, and at least sixteen different editions appeared under the date of 1782. This devouring of the book by a public so eager to read it, like the absence of any present copy constituted previously by the author, clearly explains the inexistence of a remarkable copy of the first edition of the Liaisons dangereuses. The only notable exception to this rule is the anonymous copies of the collections of Pierre Berès (half-binding in calf, Cat. IV, 2006, n° 74, €35,000), Jean Viardot (full speckled tan calf, cat. 2016, n° 60, €61.290) and Pierre Bergé (full calf, cat. I, 2015, n° 46, €57,960), all three bound in four volumes. They bear no marks of first possession nor contemporary reading, and, to top it all, were not comprised by an identified amateur.

Achille-Nicolas Nervet belonged to a dynasty of doctors and lawyers from Evreux who, during the 18th century moved into high finance. The Dictionnaire historique by Moreri dedicates a longue note to the Nervet family (Paris, 1759, v. VII, pp. 974-975). It is said by the “currently living” author. If Nervet isn’t, strictly speaking, a general farmer, his fortune is sufficiently established for him to be, one of the sureties in 1774 of Jean Roux Monclar, one of the two main contractors of the famous saltworks of Arc-et-Senans of Nicolas Ledoux. (cf. le Dictionnaire de la ferme générale : https://dicofg.hypotheses.org/1432).

The Nervet provenance is barely identified and little known. Achille-Nicolas shares the unique practice of inscribing his name on the pastedown of the volume with the great bibliophile Girardot de Préfond. Nervet however goes further and gilts his letters on each of the pastedowns and not just the first. There have been no Nervet sales and his name has not yet entered into the pantheon of great bibliophiles. There is however proof of the existence of a large probably family-owned library. The first Nervet of importance mentioned by Moreri was the priest Jean Nervet (died in 1525), a native of Evreux, confessor of Louis XI and his “state and private councilor” : “Nervet had done his studies with distinction at the University of Paris, & was a man of letters. He loved and cultivated the sciences with ardor (…) He was one of the first protectors of Cheradamus, professor of Greek and Hebrew languages” (Moreri). Then in the 17th century came Michel Nervet (1663-1729) a doctor practicing Greek and Hebrew “from one of the oldest families of Evreux in whom the love of studies is hereditary”. His brother Jean Nervet (born in 1658) was a famous lawyer, specialist in the customs of Normandy “for which he was consulted from all sides”. He had married the daughter of one of the Queen’s Masters of Requests. One of his sons was Achille Nervet, also a lawyer, born on September 9, 1691, married to Marie Madeleine de Peverel de Bemecourt. He was the father of our Achille-Nicolas Nervet who married Marie-Agnès des Hayes. With him died the Nervet line.

In the 19th century, a Norman scholar, probably a distant nephew of Nervet, Robert Avril de Burey, devoted a short study to “Achille-Nicolas Nervet (…) his Marque de Bibliothèque” (cf. infra) :

“Achille-Nicolas Nervet was undoubtedly a staunch bibliophile and it is said that as much in Evreux as in his château of Breuil, he had put together a fine collection of richly bound books (…) the books of the Nervet library have become almost impossible to find currently outside of the private book cases of a few families in the country whose ancestors were allied with Nervet, and who collected them in the succession from the last representative of the name”.

The old library was therefore divided up among the Norman nephews. No auction catalogue has any trace of these books. However, Achille-Nicolas Nervet was undoubtedly a true bibliophile. Some of his books are sometimes found on the market or in large collections.

The two most disturbing cases, for these copies bear the mark of a bibliophilic taste for fine books, are the curious bindings kept in the Cabinet des livres of the Duc d’Aumale in Chantilly. Numbers 41 and 44 of the catalogue of the 2002 exhibition, a Pétrone of 1694 and the Proverbes of Charles de Bouvelles printed in 1557, belong indeed either to the group of La Vieuville lace binding, or to that of the “Gallic antiques (antiquités gauloises)” (cf. P. Ract-Madoux and I. de Conihout, Reliures françaises du XVIIe siècle. Chefs-d’œuvres du Musée Condé, Paris, 2002, pp. 95 and 104). They both bear the mark of Nervet’s gilt letters, a sign that they passed through Evreux before later circulating on the book markets of the 19th century. They put Achille-Nicolas Nervet in one of the most prestigious lineages of bibliophiles.

The Montainist library of Philippe Desan provides further information on the practice of the collection specific to Achille-Nicolas Nervet. It contains a Traicté de Sagesse par Pierre Charron (Paris, 1608), bound in “glacé blond calf”, which bears not only the ex-libris in the gilt letters of Nervet, but also an autograph note signed by Nervet, beginning with the same “Nta” (for Nota) as that of our Liaisons dangereuses note in which the collector summarizes his impression of reading (cf. https://montaignestudies.uchicago.edu/h/lib/charron/traicte/1608.shtml).

Bookstore catalogs also allow us to find other Nervet books. We will only mention two here. The one from the Librairie historique Fabrice Teissèdre which proposed a copy of the Ouvrage de Pénélope ou Machiavel en médecine by La Mettrie (Berlin, 1748-1750) bound in three volumes of blond calf with the ex-libris in gilt letters on each pastedown. (https://ilab.org/sites/default/files/catalogs/files/3286_catalogue_20rares_20et_20curieux.pdf). A Traité de la couleur de la peau by Claude-Nicolas Lecat (Amsterdam, 1765) can be found at an Argentinian bookseller’s. The Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire des insectes by Réaumur (Paris, 1734) has the same ex-libris and the same handwriting for the Note (cf. https://www.milestone-books.de/pages/books/003256/rene-antoine-ferchault-de-reaumur/memoires-pour-servir-a-lhistoire-des-insectes). The three books mentioned here are all in first editions.

Achille-Nicolas Nervet was a man of the Enlightenment. He read La Mettrie, Réaumur, Le Cat, Helvétius… the list of contemporary books would surely take a long time to put together. This copy of the Liaisons dangereuses is now part of it. But Nervet was also interested in the book object as shown by these pretty specimens of binding of the 18th century which would be passed on to the Duc d’Aumale. This extinct library must have even contained old manuscripts. In dismantled part of a Nervet binding, the University of Rochester found the precious fragment of a manuscript of the Irish theologian Richard Fitz Ralph (1300-1360 ; cf. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/738215).

REFERENCES : Max Brun, Le Livre et l'estampe, 1963, pp. 32-47 -- En Français dans le texte 174 -- Robert Avril de Burey, “Achille-Nicolas Nervet, Conseiller Receveur des Tailles, en l’Élection d’Évreux et sa Marque de Bibliothèque”, Archives de la Société Française des Collectionneurs d’Ex-Libris 3, no. 10 (1896), pp. 145–47 -- Bibliothèque nationale de France, exp. Lumières !, cat. nº 142 -- V. de Diesbach, Six Siècles de Littérature française. XVIIIe siècle. Bibliothèque Jean Bonna, n° 81, pp. 89-90