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Les Femmes savantes

Paris, Pierre Promé, 1673








Second state “in all points similar to that of 1672” (Guibert).
“Baron de Ruble owned a unique copy dated 1672” (Tchemerzine).
12mo (150 x 88mm)
Fleurons, headpiece and engraved initials
COLLATION : π2 A8 B4 C8 D4 E8 F4 G8 H2 : 48 leaves
18TH CENTURY BINDING. Marbled calf, gilt supra-libris stamped on the upper side, gilt dos à nerfs, red edges. Box
PROVENANCE : Jean Mauduit known as “Larive”, “La Rive” or “de La Rive” (supra-libris and ex-libris)

Small marginal tear on the last leaf. Cap and corners lightly rubbed

Jean Mauduit, known as Larive (1747-1827) was one of the most brilliant French actors of the Enlightenment. He began his career as a double to the famous tragedian Henri Louis Le Kain (1729-1778). At the time of his death, he had held leading roles at the Comédie Française for over ten years, with an ever-increasing success. When Jean Mauduit was a teenager with an untamable temperament, his grocer father from La Rochelle, sent him to Santo-Domingo. He escaped from the island, reached Paris and went knocking audaciously on Le Kain's door. Alexandre Grimod de La Reynière, a gourmet and contemporary critic of Larive, relates these words exchanged between the apprentice-actor and the great tragedian :

"I dared, on my return from Santo Domingo go find the famous Le Kain. Filled with everything that his talent had inspired me, I told him that I was American (not wanting to be recognized, in the case where he would not favorably judge my abilities), I dared to add that a noble emulation carried me ; that I had conceived being his double at the Comédie Française ; that I expected from him a sincere avowal of my physical and moral abilities : what I thought I could assure him of, was that if he found in me no marked fault, I would succeed in being his double or would die trying. Le Kain smiled maliciously, and the intention of his smile was engraved in my memory ; it is perhaps this memory that has most strengthened my emulation".

Le Kain advised him to get some practice in the provinces. Jean Mauduit took the pseudonym of Larive (in memory of the locality of his paternal home "La petite rive"). In Lyon, Mademoiselle Clairon – twenty years his elder – who was performing there, undertook to make him a great tragedian. On December 3, 1770, the Sieur of Larive began at the Comédie Française with the role of Zamore in Voltaire's Alzire. This beginning was not a happy one. The performance that had started with applause ended in whistles. Larive left for Brussels and remained there for four years despite Mademoiselle Clairon's entreaties.

He did not return to Paris until 1775 where he attempted a second debut, performing in Iphigénie en Tauride. The reception he got from the public was so favorable to him that the members of the Comédie looked upon him for Le Kain's double. Never did the surprise equal that of the Master when he found in Larive the supposed American to whom he had formerly granted an audition :

"enchanted with my happy start, added Larive, I invited him one day to dinner ; at the end of the meal, I made conversation on the temerity of beginners and on their confidence ; I asked him if he remembered a young American who had consulted him and who had confessed to him his pretention of becoming his double ; after having thought for a moment, Le Kain said to me : Ah ! I remember, I had never seen anything crazier than that young man ; he had in his head all the hotness of his country ; he had to, he said, either die or be my double ; and, since he isn't, I don't doubt that he is dead. Forgive me, I replied clinking glasses with him, he kept his word to you ; as that crazy American is myself" (words recounted by Grimod de La Reynière).

The archives of the Comédie Française preserve the manuscript inventory of Larive's roles as a double, entitled Rôles auxquels M. Delarive doit se tenir prêt, qui sont de l’emploi de M. Le Kain et qu’il a tous joués (Roles to which Mr Delarive must be ready, which are the employment of Mr. Le Kain and all of which he has played). The repertoire contains close to ninety roles to know simultaneously by heart ! The tragedy category makes up most of it, especially Corneille's plays (Pierre and Thomas), Racine and Voltaire. The principal comic plays are by Molière : Le Tartuffe, Les Fourberies de Scapin, Le Médecin malgré lui, Les Précieuses ridicules. A second manuscript inventory, that of Le Kain, indicates the roles that he held "in the lead", and those that he had Larive hold "as a double". The older Le Kain got and saw his health decline, the more he was forced to give up leading roles. A letter dated November 15, 1776, establishes a passing of the torch between the two actors : "I feel my friend, that it is soon time to retire and to leave you the kingdom to govern ; may you put a little more order into your little states than it was ever possible for me to do". These inventories are very incomplete and not dated but Le Kain had himself systematically "doubled" for Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme and Le Malade imaginaire. Finally, the important Inventaire des Registres, also preserved at the archives of the Comédie Française, show that Les Femmes savantes was performed eighty-five times at the Comédie Française, between 1771 and 1789, that is, several times a year while Larive was a member there. The cast is not mentioned, but, according to the site of the Comédie Française, Larive held the role of the young lover Clitandre.

After Le Kain died in 1778, Larive was given possession of the roles of the great artist and occupied the first rank of the tragic stage until the Revolution. On April 24, 1778, he played the part of Alceste in Le Misanthrope. Larive enjoyed the glory of being the principal actor of the Comédie Française for ten years :

"his reputation became immense. There was talk only of Larive ; every young actor endeavored to imitate Larive : even his greatest flaws, in the eyes of the masses became admirable beauties. Larive saw big, seized the whole role well, was always noble and energetic ; his developments were easy and of good effect ; his gestures always varied, natural and expressive. Never perhaps had one seen such a handsome man on stage ; a perfectly drawn head, beautiful teeth, bulging eyes, a big voice, full, round and sonorous, whose modulations were infinite, and which, admirable in the medium, became terrible in the outbursts ; all the physical advantages, in one word, were the prerogative of this actor. Enriched with his natural gift, and endowed with this happy irritability of nerves that produce all kinds of enthusiasm, he was the actor par excellence in essentially heroic roles, in those of a chivalrous genre especially. Another peculiar reality characterized him ; no one acted with such naturalness and energy, insulting contempt, bitter irony and all that can be called tragic bravado ; the harshness of the tone that he placed there, and the intimate feeling that he seemed to have of his strength and authority, almost invariably crushed his interlocutors. Whatever several journalists, who had undoubtedly not seen him at the time of his great success, may have said, this actor will leave a fine name in the history of theater. We will always cite four great tragedians : Baron for noblesse, naturalness and decency ; Le Kain for depth, energy and the sublimity of the pathos ; Larive for brilliance, enthusiasm, heroism and training ; and Talma, in a less extended circle, for the energy of concentrated feelings, the terrible game of physiognomy and the perfection of pantomime” (Grimod de la Reynière).

Larive left the Comédie Française in 1789. In 1793, he was incarcerated and just escaped the guillotine, having been accused of giving shelter to Lafayette. On his release he left on a tour in the provinces, which was to be a new triumph. It was said that Le Kain, when crossing the Styx, had left his genius on “Larive”. In 1800, he attempted a return in Paris but the glory of Talma was at its peak, and Larive's art now belonged to another era. He thenceforth enjoyed a retirement full of honors and devoted himself to the construction of his property at Montlignon.

From Stendhal to Louis Jouvet

In 1804, the newspapers spoke again of Larive and gave luster to this glory of the Ancien Régime. The former member of the Comédie Française had published Réflexions sur l’art théâtral (1801) as well as Cours de déclamation divided into twelve sessions (1804). The Journal des Débats and the Courrier des spectacles announced that at the Hotel Choiseul on n° 3 rue Neuve-Grange-Batelière, the tragedian had started giving classes in declamation. On August 21, 1804, Larive gave the first of twelve lessons promised to Stendhal and Pierre Daru. Calculating what it cost them (one louis of 24 francs for a half hour), they must surely have hoped it to be of great value. But as Larive couldn't bear the jokes of the two cousins, the lessons ceased after three months.

One hundred fifty years after Stendhal, Louis Jouvet referred to Larive in his classes at the Conservatory, notably for the work of the actors' entering the stage : if the actor knew how to "attack" a stage, he would know how to play it, all his work naturally arising from this first moment. To succeed at this entrance, Jouvet put into place a breathing technique inspired by Larive's Cours de déclamation : the actor must use his voice as a medium by working in a semi-tone according to the inflections of the role, then leave room for the natural, once possession of the role is taken on stage : "I'm thinking of Larive's treatise and his comments on Phèdre : "at this moment, tears should come naturally to the actor".

The characteristics of this copy indicate that Larive took ownership of it either at the time of his glory or at his golden retirement, rather than during his first missteps. It is a first edition that was already quite rare one hundred years after its publication. The binding in 18th century marbled calf and the engraved and pasted down ex-libris indicate the likely existence of a library of selected works that we know nothing of today. Larive would probably not have created an ex-libris for just a few volumes, and a young penniless actor at the start of his career would probably not have owned such a first edition. This unique provenance is all the more extraordinary, as it is one of Molière's great comedies, the last to be published before his death. It is witness not only to Larive himself, but also to the bond between the tutelary figure of the Comédie Française and one of its most eminent interpreters under the Ancien Régime. The custodian-archivists of the Comédie Française confirm the uniqueness of such a copy of a pre-revolutionary actor.

REFERENCES : Guibert, I, p. 347 (”sur le plan purement littéraire cette pièce est une des plus parfaite”) -- Tchemerzine IV, p. 799 -- Le Petit, p. 309 -- site de la Comédie Française : ?id=386 -- Registres de pièces représentées à la Comédie française, de la saison 1770-1771 à la saison 1788-1789, bibliothèque de la Comédie Française -- Alexandre Grimod de La Reynière, Revue des Comédiens, ou critique raisonnée de tous les acteurs, danseurs et mîmes de la capitale, Paris, 1808 -- Martine de Rougemont, La Vie théâtrale en France au XVIIIe s., Paris, 1988 -- Maurice Lever, Théâtre et Lumières : les spectacles de Paris au XVIIIe s., Paris, 2001 -- Jean-Jacques Olivier, Henri-Louis Le Kain, de la Comédie-Française, Paris, 1907 -- Mémoires de Henri Louis Lekain, Colnet, Debray et Mongie, Paris, 1801 -- Paul Arbeiet, Le Tragédien Larive et son élève Stendhal, 28 juillet 1928