1902 Encyclopedia > Libraries > Libraries - Modern World - France

(Part 4)


French libraries (other than those in private hands) belong either to the state, to the departments, to the communes, or to learned societies, educational establishments, and other public institutions; the libraries of judicial or administrative bodies are not considered to be owned by them, but to be state property. Besides the unrivalled library accommodation of the capital, France possesses a remarkable assemblage of provincial libraries. The communal and school libraries also form striking features of the French free library system.

Five and twenty years ago (see Tableau statsitque des bibliotheques publiques, 1857). There were in the departments,- exclusive of those not literally free, and of all parisian libraries, - 340 public libraries containing 3,734,260 volumes and 44,436 MSS. In 1857 there were only 32 provincial libraries which owned more than 30,000 volumes each; there are now 54 which are of that extent and upwards. In paris there are nowo 16 containing over 30,000 volumes each.

Libraries of Paris. – The Bibliotheque National (still the most extensive library in theworld) has had an advantage over all others in the length of time during which its contents have been accumulating, and in the great zeal shown for it by several kings and other eminent men. Enthusiastic writers find the original of this library in the MS. collections of Charlemagne and Charles the Bald, but these were dispersed in course of time, and the few precious relics of them which the national library now possesses have been acquired at a much later date. Of the library which St Louis formed in the 13th century (in imitation of what he had seen in the East) nothing has fallen into the possession of the Bibliotheque Nationale, but much has remained of the royal collections made by kings of the later dynasties. The real foundation of the institution formerly known as Bibliotheque du Roi) may be said to date from the reign of King John, the Black Prince captive, who had a considerable taste for books, and bequeathed his "royal library" of MSS. to his successor Charles V. Charles V. organized his library in a very effective manner, removing it from the Palais de la Cite to the Louvre, where it was arranged on desks in a large hall of three stories, and placed under the management of the first librarian and cataloguer, Claude Mallet, the king’s valet-de-chambre. His catalogue was a mere shelf-list, entitled Inventaire des Livres du Roy nostre Seineur esvans au chastel dy Louvre; it is still extant, as well as the futher inventories mad eby Jean Blanchet in 1380, and by Jean le Begue in 1411 and 1424. Charles V. was very liberal in his patronage of literature, and many of the early monuments of the French language are due to his having employed Nicholas Oresme, Raoul de Presle, and other scholars to make translations from ancient texts. Charles VI. added some hundreds of MSS. to the royal library, which, however, was sold to the regent, duke of Bedford, after a valuation had been established by the inventory of 1424. The regent transferred it to England, and it was finally dispersed at his death in 1435. Charles VII. and Louis XI did little to repair the loss of the precious Louvre library, but the news of the invention of printing served as a stimulus to the creation of another one, of which the first librarian was Laurent Paulmier. The famous miniasturist jean Foucquet of Tours was named the king’s enlumineur, and although Louis XI. neglected to avail himself of many precious opportunities that occurred in his reign, still the new library developed gradually with the help of confiscation. Charles VIII enriched it with many fine MSS. executed by his order, and also with most of the books that had formed the library of the kings of Aragon, seized by him at Naples. Louis XII., on coming to the throne, incorporated the Bibliotheque du Roi with the fine Orleans library at Blois, which he had inherited. The Blois library, thus augmented, and further enriched by plunder from the palaces of Pavia, and by the purchase of the famous Gruthuyse collection, was described at the time as one of the four marvels of France. Francis I. removed it to Fontainebleau in 1534, enlarged by the addition of his private library. He was the first to set the fashion of fine artistic bindings, which was still more cultivated by Henry II., and which has never died out in France. During the librarianship of Amyot (the translator of Plutarch) the library was transferred from Fontainebleau to Paris, not without the loss of several books coveted by powerful thieves. Henry IV. removed it to the College de Clermont, but in 1604 another change was made, and in 1622 it was installed in the Rue de la Harpe. Under the librarianship of J.A. de Thou it acquired the library of Catherine de’ Medici, and the glorious Bible of Charles the Bald. In 1617 a decree was passed that two copies of every new publication should be deposited in the library, but this was not rigidly enforced till Louis XVI.’s time. The first catalogue worthy of the name was finished in 1622, and contains a description of some 6000 volumes, chiefly MSS. Many additions were made during Louis XIII.’s reign, notably that of the Dupuy collection, but a new era dawned for the Bibliotheque du Roi under the patronage of Louis XIV. The enlightened activity of Colbert, one of the greatest of collectors, so enriched the library that it became necessary for want of space to make another removal. It was therefore in 1666 installed in the Rue Vivien (now Vivienne) not far from its present habitat. The department of engraving and medals were now created, and before long rose to nearly equal importance with that of books. Marolles’s prints, Foucquet’s books, and many from the Mazarin library were added to the collection, and is short, the Bibliotheque du Roi had its future-pre-eminence undoubtedly secured. Nic. Clement made a catalogue in 1684 according to an arrangement which has been followed ever since (that is in twenty-three classes, each one designated by a letter of the alphabet,), with an alphabetical index to it. After Colbert’s death Louvois emulated his predecessor’s labors, and employed Mabillon, Thevenot, and others to procure fresh accessions from all parts of the world. A new catalogue was compiled in 1688 in eight volumes by several distinguished scholars. The Abbe Louvois, the minister’s son, became head of the library in 1691, and opened it to all students – a privilege which although soon withdrawn was afterwards restored. Towards the end of Louis XIV’s reign it contained over 70,000 volumes. Under the management of the Abbe Bignon numerous additions were made in all departments, and the library was removed to its present home in the Rue Richelieu. Among the more important acquisitions were 6000 MSS. from the private library of the Colbert family, Bishop Huet’s forfeited collection, and a large number of Oriental books imported by missionaries from the further East, and by special agents from the Levant. Between 1739 and 1753 a catalogne in eleven volumes was printed, which enabled the administration to discover and to sell its duplicates. In Louis XVI.’s reign the sale of the La Valliere library furnished a valuable increase both in MSS. and printed books. A few years before the Revolution broke out the latter department container over 300,000 volumes and opuscules. The Revolution was serviceable to the library, now called the Bibliotheque nationale, by increasing it with the forfeited collection of the émigrés, as well as of the suppressed religious communities. In the midst of the difficulties of placing and cataloguing these numerous acquisitions, the name of Van Praet appears as an administrator of the first order. Napoleon increased the amount of the Government grant; and by the strict enforcement of the law concerning new publications, as well as by the acquisition of several special collections, the Bibliotheuqe made considerable progress during his reign towards realizing his idea that it should be universal in character. At the beginning of this century the recorded numbers were 250,000 printed volumes, 83,000 MSS., and 1,500,000 engravings. After Napoleon’s downfall the MSS, which he had transferred from Berlin, Hanover, Florence, Venice, Rome, the Hague, and other places had to be returned to their proper owners. The Maccarthy sale in 1817 brought a rich store of MSS. and incunabula. From that time onwards to the present, under the enlightened administration of MM. Tachereau and Delisle, the accessions have been very extensive.

The official estimate of the number of volumes in the Department des Imprimes now reaches the extraordinary total of about 2,290,000 but the contents have not been actually counted since 1791, and a the above enumerates pieces of which many are included in one volume, perhaps something like 1,827,000 is nearer the proper number. The annual additions are about 45,000. The reserve (consisting of articles of the highest importance) extends to more than 50,000 volumes. The collection of books on French history is in itself an enormous library, amounting to 440,000 volumes. The maps and charts, said to number 300,000, are included in this department. the Department des MSS comprehended, in 1876, 91,700 volumes. The Department des Medailles possessed, in 1873, 143,000 coins, medals, engraved stones, &c., and since that date has acquired many important accessions. More than 2,200,000 engraving are in the Department des Estampes, where 20,000 pieces are annually received under the copyright law. The annual vote for purchases and binding is 200,000 francs.

Admittance to the Salle de Travail is obtained by a bulletin personnel, which is procurable without difficulty. This, the reading-room for students, was built in 1868, and affords accommodation for 344 readers. There are but few books of reference, and readers are only allowed five books a day. the Salle publique contain 40,000 books, which are freely available to the public. Plans are now under consideration for an enlargement of the Bibliotheque, and a sum of 3,700,000 francs is to be devoted to that purposes.

The Bibliotheque Nationale does not possess a general catalogue at the disposal of readers; the MS. catalogues of the various classes of the printed books are for official use only. Besides the old catalogue of 1739-53, there is the very eleaborate Catalogue de l’Histoire de France (1855-79, 11 vols. 4to), with a lithographed supplement; the indexes will appear shortly. The third volume of the Catalogue des Sciences Medicales is now in the press, and that devoted to English history is nearly finished in manuscript. The vellum books have been described by Van Praet (1822-23, 6 vols. 8v0, and supplement, 1877). The MSS. are much better provided for. The printed catalogues of these commence with that of Anicet melot, 1739-44, 4 vols. folio, continued in a way by the Notices et Extraits des MSS. du Bibl. Du Roi, 1787-1875. The work of M. oaulin Paris, Les MSS. Francois; leur histroire et celle des texts allemands, angois, italiens, et espagnols (1836-48, 7 vols. 8vo), is well known. Catalogues of the Italian, Spanish, Belgian, Pali, Sanskrit, Ethiopian, and Chinese MSS. have also appeared between 1807 and 1844. The first and second volumes in 4to of a new Catalogue des MSS. Francais have been printed, and two volumes of the Inventaire of M. Delisle, besides five parts of his Inventoaire des MSS. Latins (1863-71). The authorities have also brought out a Catalogue des Manuscrits Hebreux et Samaritains (1866, 4to), besides those of MSS. Syriaques et Sabeens (1874- 4 to) MSS. Ethiopiens (1877), and MSS Espagnols (1879).

Paris is much better provided than London or any other city in the world with great public libraries. Besides the Bibliotheque Nationale there are four libraries, each over 120,000 volumes (with others less extensive), to which the public have free access, the Bibliotheque de l’Arsenal being the largest of them. the collection of the Marquis de Paulmy d’Argenson was the basis of this library, which also acquired a portion of the books of the Duc de la Valliere in 1781. It is peculiarly rich in romances, the drama, and French poetry, and possesses 80,000 volumes on French history alone. It is freely open, but there are not many readers. – The Bibliotheque Mazarine was founded by the great cardinal, who in 1643 placed about 12,000 volumes at the disposal of the public. The books were chiefly brought together through the exertions of Gabriel Naude, who tells us that in 1648 they amounted to 40,000 volumes. After the death of Mazarin, his magnificent library was bequeathed to the college bearing his name; it remained under the direction of the Sorbonne from m1688 to 1791, since which time it has been subject to the control of the state. It is rich in incunabula and theology, including the works of Protestant divines, and is annually visited by over 12,000 readers. – The Bibliotheque Sainte Genevieve was founded in 1624, at the abbey of that name, by cardinal Francois de la Rochefoucauld. Other persons also gave books, and in 1687 the library is said to have contained 20,000 printed volumes and 400 MSS. In 1710 C.M. Le tellier bequeathed his collection, and in the Almanach Royal of the same year an announcement appeared that the library would be open to students during certain hours every day. Louis, Duc d’Orleans, the son of the Regent, took up his abode here, and in 1730 the library was considerably enlarged by him. It was opened to the public in 1790, and at the time of the Revolution there were 80,000 printed volumes and 2000 MSS; there are now 120,000 volumes and 2392 MSS. The reading-room is open in the evening , and is much frequented, especially by students. The library contains a good collection of incunabula, many of which have been described by Diblin, a number of rare Italian and Spanish chronicles, and a very complete series of periodicals from the 17th century to the empire. – The Biblitheque de l’Universite (or the Sorbonne) was formerly restricted to the use of the members of the five faculties of Paris, but the public has been freely admitted during the last thirty years. – The Bibliotheque de l’Institut having been plundered during the revolution, the old town library was transferred to it. Persons not members are admitted upon the recommendation (which lasts twelve months) of any academician. – The Bibliotheque de la Ville, founded in the 18th century, and reorganized at the time of the Revolution, was destroyed in 1871. It has since been entirely re-established in the Hotel Carnavalet, which contains the historical museum of the city, and comprehends 60,000 volumes of books and 40,000 engravings, entirely relating to the history and description of Paris. The other public libraries are under the authority of the minister of public instruction, but the Bibliotheque de la Ville is under the control of the prefect of the Seine. The municipal libraries in Paris are 20 in number, with 70,000 volumes; there are besides 440 school libraries, with 44,120 books.

Of other libraries in Paris, not included in our tables, we may name the Bibliotheque de la Prefercture de Police (10,000 volumes, with curious MSS relating to the Revolution), Bibliotheque du Tribunal de premiere instance (28,000 volumes), Biliotheque de I’Ecole Polytechnique (30,000 volumes) Bibliotheque de l’Ecole Normale (26,000 volumes, which acquired the library of Georges Cuvier in 1833), Bibliotheque des Invalides (28,000 volumes, a good collection on history and military affairs), Bibliotheque de l’Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts (15,000 volumes, 12,000 drawings, 100,000 prints and photographs) Bibliotheque du Conservatore de Musqiue (30,000 volumes, one of the finest collections of musical literature in the world), Bibliotheque des Archives nationals (founded by Danon in 1808, containing 25,000 volumes on paleography, history, and jurisprudence, - as this is the record office of France, the archives are very extensive), Bibliotheque dy Luxembourg (25,000 volumes), Bibliotheque du Lycee Louis le Grand (30,000 volumes), Bibliotheque du Ministre de l’Interieur (17,000 volume, including Parisian and provincial history and documents).

Besides the various collections belonging to learned and scientific societies, educational institutions, and other bodies, outside Paris. Over 215 French provincial towns possess public libraries, which range in number of volumes from 2000 or 3000 to 190,000, as at Bordeaux. Most of them were founded at the end of the last or the beginning of the present century, but some are earlier. The library at Lyons was established by Francis I. in 1530, that at Nantes dates from 1588, La Rochelle from 1604, Abbeville, Besancon, and and Troyes from the latter part of the same century, and Orelans from the beginning of the 17th century. The large majority were formed by confiscation at the time of the revolution. In February 1790 the Assemblee nationale abolished the different religious communicaties, and in September of the same year the provincial tribunals and parliaments met with the same fate. The books (said to number to or 12 millions) of these corporations were declared national property, a committee was appointed to consider what should be done with them, and a general catalogue of all the
sequestered effects ordered to be drawn up. In consequence of the recommendations of the committee, the Convention Nationale (January 27, 1794) decreed the establishment and augmentation of public libraries. The orders of the Convention were not carefully executed, and pitiable stories are told of valuable works sold by the yard as they lay upon the ground, of precious manuscripts and printed rarities left to rot in the open air or burnt for fuel. As the government became more settled, the libraries (when not destroyed) of condemned persons were restored to their representatives. A very large number of books still remained, however, and it is to them that the town libraries of France chiefly owe their riches. Theology, law, history, and the severer literature of the 17th and 18th centuries consequently predominate, although for many years more modern requirements have been mainly considered in the acquisition of books. Many collections of local and provincial literature have been formed, as at Angers, Auxerre, Chaumont, Grenoble, La Rochelle, Lille, Marseilles, Orleans, Toulouse, Tours, and Versailles. Some of the libraries are very extensive. Douai and Troyes have 100,000 volumes each; Lyons and Rouen over120,000; Besancon, 130,000; Aix and Nantes, 150,000; Grenoble, 170,000; and Bordeaux, 190,000 volumes. All have catalogues, mostly alphabetical; a few of them are in print. The Catalogue general des MSS. des bibliotheques publiques des departments is a noble undertaking on the part of the French Government. The first volume came out in 1849, and the latest, the sixth, in 1879; the treasures of eighteen libraries have now been catalogued (about 9650 MSS), and there remains over 45,000 MSS to be described. Besides this, Angers, Amiens, Auxerre, Caen, Carpentras, Charters, Orleans, and Tours possess separate printed catalogues of their MSS. The chambers annually vote large sums for books, which are distributed to the town libraries by the minister of public instruction. The sums granted by the different municipalities for their libraries vary in amount; for instance, Grenoble (170,000 volumes and eight persons employed) gives 26,314 francs, Bordeaux 9190,000 volumes and eight persons) 21,350 francs, and Nantes (150,000 volumes and four personal) 13,600 francs.

Popular libraries of every description, including military and workmen’s libraries, owe much to the "Societe’ Franklin pour la propagation des bibliotheques populaires," which founded in 1862, has since been of immense service in originating and helping those institution. Between 1868 and 1878 the Societe had spent 550,000 francs on these purposes. It issues a Catalogue Populaire of a good selection of recommended books, and publishes a journal of its proceedings.

School libraries had an organized existence in France as far back as 1831, and by 1848 the books which had been distributed by the state amounted in value to 2 millions of francs; two years later, however, no trace of books or libraries could be found. In 1860 the question was again taken up, and in 1862 the minister of public instruction ordered that in every primary school a library should the Gvoernment annually granted 120,000 francs, a sum which was raised to 200,000 francs in 1878; for their share of the expenses the departments contributed in 1875 as much as 170,000 francs. As an instance of the rapidity with which the school libraries have increased, it may be stated that Haute-Marne, which only possessed 44 of them in 1866, the years later had 548; in 1877 there were about 17,764 bibliotheques scolaires possessing 1,716,904 works, and there are now over 20,000 of them in France. The libraries, which are intended not only for the use of school children but also for their parents and other adults, are regulated by a commission sitting at the ministry of public instruction.

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