Dampierre: Par G.E.J. M.A.L., 1797. Two octavo volumes, measuring 9.25 x 6 inches: , vi, 495, ; , 361, . Contemporary tree calf, boards ruled in gilt, red morocco spine labels lettered in gilt, spines ruled and compartments gilt-tooled, marbled endpapers, silk ribbon markers. Complete with final blank in Volume II, several pages unopened. Early ownership signatures of J. Montagnac-Dulin to half-titles, with blindstamp monogram “JM” to margin of title in Volume I. Stain to base of Volume I text block, occasionally visible at foot of pages; chip to lower margin of leaf G5 in Volume II; signature V in Volume II misbound (all leaves present). Lightest shelfwear, tiny chip to lower spine label on Volume II.
A true rarity: a complete set of the privately printed dual-language edition of Robinson Crusoe translated and printed by pioneering woman of letters, Guyonne de Montmorency-Laval, Duchesse de Luynes (1755-1830), during the French Revolution. The wife of the 6th Duc de Luynes, the Duchesse served as Dame du Palais to Marie Antoinette from 1774 to 1789. She was known for her “masculine” manners, unconventional dress, intellectual curiosity, and command of English literature; in Paris, she and her husband hosted a literary salon in the rue du Bac. During the Revolution, the couple retired to their chateau at Dampierre, where the Duchesse set up a printing press. From 1795 to 1803, she published seventeen titles, overseeing all aspects of the printing herself. Madame de Récamier writes about a visit to the Ballanche printing house, where her older friend impressed the workmen by nimbly composing a page of text on the spot (Souvenirs et correspondence). Among the titles published at Dampierre was this abridged (but still massive) edition of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, printed with the Duchesse’s own interlinear translation in French, an educational experiment designed to help her young son Charles learn English independently. The Duchesse’s translation of Robinson Crusoe was intended to be informative, rather than elegant; she used numbers to flag words where the original English order could not be maintained in French. In her opening “avertissement,” she writes: “Les peines, que je me suis donnes seront amplement payées, si elles servent à applaner les difficultes que les eléves éprouvent dans l’etude de toutes les langues; je dis toutes, parce que cette méthode peut s’appliquer à toutes.” (“The pains that I have taken will be amply repaid if they serve to alleviate the difficulties that the pupils experience in the study of all languages; I say all, because this method can be applied to all.”) The Duchesse would return to this pedagogical technique in 1800, producing a dual-language edition of the life of Jonathan Swift; she would later devote decades of editorial and financial support, behind the scenes, to a French edition of The Spectator after Napoleon’s crackdown on private printing put an end to her press at Dampierre. For more on the Duchesse du Luynes, see the Musée Condé de Chantilly: https://www.bibliotheque-conde.fr/expositions/histoire-de-ledition/imprimeries-privees-francaises-xve-xixe-siecles/. W.T. Lowndes, in The Bibliographer’s Manual of English Literature, reports (“it is said”) a total edition of 25 copies of the Dampierre Robinson Crusoe. We locate seven institutional holdings worldwide: Bibliotheque Nationale de France, British Library, McGill, McMaster, Chicago, Dartmouth, and Indiana. A near-fine copy of an ambitious pedagogical and literary experiment, the work of an unconventional printer, translator, and educator whose work deserves further study.