p e i r e s c c a l e n d a r
his death in 1637, Peiresc's celebrated library, which contained ancient
manuscripts as well as his personal papers, was placed on offer in Aix
and later in Paris. With the assistance of his librarian, Gabriel
Naudé, Cardinal Mazarin purchased many of the ancient manuscripts,
and shortly thereafter, Pierre Dupuy sorted, arranged, and catalogued Peiresc's
private manuscripts. Unfortunately, we have no record of the exact
size, nature, or contents of the numerous bundles of Peiresc letters that
existed at his death.
At first blush this may seem neither unusual nor important. But the absence of a catalogue of Peiresc's correspondence --or at least brief mention of 10,000-14,000 letters-- is unusually out of character for the famous and otherwise fastidious Brothers Dupuy. The absence of an early catalogue of Peiresc's letters is important because the resulting uncertainty brought great confusion, speculation, and indeed, the stuff of legend.
Peiresc's correspondence has always been considered valuable--certainly Peiresc and Gassendi thought so. In his highly regarded biography of Peiresc, Gassendi dwelled on the importance of Peiresc's letters and went on to insist that they did 'in every way deserve to be published.' It is likely that the Brothers Dupuy would not disagree. Close friends with both Gassendi and Peiresc, Jacques and Pierre directed the daily operations of the Bibliothèque du Roi and were consummate --if not compulsive-- cataloguers. Pierre Dupuy not only catalogued but physically reorganized Peiresc's personal papers --the equivalent of ‘82 volumes.' Cataloguing Peiresc's letters would have been much easier. Before his death Peiresc personally arranged them into alphabetized bundles. But there is no catalogue. This absence soon gave rise to a tradition of uncertainty and speculation.
Indeed, during the next two centuries a legend was born-- formed in the gaps found in Peiresc's extant correspondence-- and it soon grew to heroic proportions. Because no known catalogue of the Peiresc letters existed prior to 1739, it has long been feared that many letters were lost in the century following Peiresc's death. There is good reason for concern. A striking disparity exists in the number of letters written by Peiresc and the much smaller number of extant letters sent to him. How is this difference explained? Since the beginning of the eighteenth century, fingers of blame have been directed at a distant heir of Peiresc, notably one Suzanne de Fabri. By various accounts, rather than burn cedar or aloe to avert the winter cold, Suzanne set Peiresc's letters to use in kindling fires, or by other accounts, to make nests for silkworms, or more playfully still, by transforming them into ‘paper twists'-- ‘butterflies'.
Although the 'Suzanne Legend' has proved more multi-faceted than the story of Newton's dog Diamond, its sparkle would not last forever. Serious analysis of the discrepancy, however, would not be undertaken until some fifty years ago. In many ways Francis Gravit's The Peiresc Papers (1950) continues to be a model study of the dispersal of a manuscript collection. In his careful analysis Gravit argued that the legendary discrepancy found in Peiresc's extant letters was not the result of fire or paper butterflies but archival reclassification, that in fact, a major portion of the 'long-lost letters' were never really lost at all. Simply put, ten volumes of autograph letters sent to Peiresc-- never mentioned in early catalogues --had in fact been safely stored in the Bibliothèque Nationale since the 18th century. While the existence of the volumes was undeniable-- classified as BN Paris, f.fr. 9535-9544-- their provenance had been lost. Granting it was ‘obscure,' Gravit gave the volumes a history. The volumes were once owned by Boulliau. They came to the BN with his papers no later than 1782.
It should now be clear that the Boulliau and Peiresc papers share a common history-- which perhaps begins to explain my long-standing interest in Peiresc manuscripts, particularly his letters. Central to the fate of both manuscript collections is a remarkable manuscript that I have called the ‘Long Inventaire' (BN Paris, f.fr. 13051). The initial portion of this manuscript (folios 1-59) is nothing less than a manuscript list of the 'primal' Archive Boulliau as it apparently existed at Boulliau's death. This first portion of the manuscript is divided alphabetically into separate entries labeled 'pieces'. It is a simple list composed largely of printed items, manuscripts extracts, and copies-- although there are several tantalizing descriptions original autographs.. The most important entry appears in a short, separate section that follows the initial catalogue. On folio 59v we read:
Letters to M. Peiresc from various illustrious persons from 1600-1650 [sic]. The others are M. Boulliau's, written by him or addressed to him from Rome, Poland, Venice, Constantinople concerning the sciences, affairs of state, which are from the most illustrious persons of realm, as seen in the summaries. There are others from various persons collected by M. Boulliau concerning astronomy and different subjects. Twenty packets of letters to M. Peiresc from various persons; Twenty two packets of [letters of] M. Boulliau that he has written, received, or collected; Four large packets of mixed letters; Three volumes of bound letters-- two of astronomy by the better astronomers, two others of M. Matharel, Resident of the King at Venice during 1648-1651; one volume of letters of le P. Dupuy, Chartreuse at Rome from 1641-1653; another of letters of Prince Leopold of Tuscany with his responses from 1657-1660-- another volume from those of his friends--another of letters of Portner with his responses from 1652-1657.
The 'Long Inventaire' and other recently uncovered manuscript clues clearly indicate that Boulliau was in possession of at least ten volumes of autograph letters sent to Peiresc. The precise history of these volumes is far from known. What seems clear is that in 1820 the Boulliau Acquisition (obtained by the Bibliothèque Nationale sometime before 1782) was part of what was then known as the ancien supplément. It was in that year that the Boulliau Acquisition, like other papers in the ancien supplément, was further subdivided into the suppléments grec, latin, et français. From 1820-1862 the ten volumes of Peiresc letters (998-1007) continued to be included in the original sequence of Boulliau volumes. By one account the original 'Boulliau papers' were then catalogued as supplément 980-1007bis, with the Peiresc volumes listed near the end as 998-1007.
But the critical change occurred in 1862 when the Peiresc volumes were separated from the initial Boulliau Acquisition. Reclassification was the ultimate source of the initial confusion about the apparent loss and actual provenance of the Peiresc volumes. The Collection Boulliau (f.fr. 13019 - 13059) gained its present identity when the Peiresc volumes (f.fr. 9535 - 9544) were removed (1862).
For several decades, motivated by this shared archival history, I have attempted to obtain and manage all available information concerning the history, provenance, identity, and location of Peiresc manuscripts. Given the size and complexity of Peiresc's epistolary remains, the paucity of published information on their history, and the general absence of appropriately detailed manuscript locations, I began to develop a working calendar of all known letters, copies, drafts, and published versions of letters to and from Peiresc. The result is an electronic text containing detailed information on all known Peiresc letters. Letter entries are arranged in calendar format (chronologically) and contain (where possible) date, sender, sender city, recipient, recipient city, date variants (when not New Style), incipit, and finally, all known particulars of regarding the archival location(s) and format(s) (original, draft, copy, published versions). I have also carefully researched manuscript sale catalogues and noted, wherever possible, letters sent but otherwise presumed lost or unlocated.
The electronic working calendar described above is easily searched. However incomplete, it represents a strategic plan and tactical means for mapping Peiresc's original correspondence network, locating extant letters, and perhaps most importantly (given known patterns of exchange) identifying potential archives and libraries to search for letters otherwise unknown or mistakenly presumed lost. At present the calendar contains some 5,000 letters for the years 1598-1637. It includes all known printed letters; substantial numbers of letters known sent but presumed lost; and finally, of course, extant manuscript letters that remain unpublished.
a more detailed sketch of the relationship between the Archive Boulliau
and the 'Boulliau Collection' of Peiresc letters, see 'Between Erudition
and Science: The Archive and Correspondence Network of Ismaël
Boulliau,' Chapter 4, Archives of the Scientific Revolution: the
formation and exchange of ideas in seventeenth- century Europe, ed.
M. Hunter, Boydell & Brewer (UK) April 1998.