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  • Les Marguerites françoises; ou, Thresor des fleurs du bien dire
  • Neil Kenny
François Desrues : Les Marguerites françoises; ou, Thresor des fleurs du bien dire. Fac-similé de l’édition de T. Reinsart, Rouen , 1609, d’après l’exemplaire conservé à la médiathèque Jean Lévy (Lille) . Préface et bibliographie de Charles-Olivier Stiker-Metral .( Mémoire des Lettres). Presses universitaires de Reims, 2003. xxi + 556 pp. Pb €24.00.

Little known today, unpublished since the seventeenth century, the Marguerites françoises was once a best-seller, going to at least seventeen editions in Rouen alone, which made it the sixth most frequently reprinted book in that urban printing hub between 1600 and 1669 (reports Charles-Olivier Stiker-Metral, drawing on the research of Jean-Dominique Mellot (p. 5)). The Marguerites had an intense but short-lived shelf-life between 1598, the probable date of the first edition, and 1637, the date of the last. The 1609 edition has been chosen here for reproduction because Desrues did not make any further additions thereafter. The compilation's aim and contents were described on the title-page: 'Contenant la maniere de traicter & discourir parfaitement sur diuers subiets, tant d'amour, qu'autres. Recueillies des plus beaux & rares discours de ce temps, & mises par ordre Alphabetic'. It was an aid to eloquence, listing things that it might be good to say or write on different topics (love and many others) in different situations (when writing a letter, giving a present, and so on). The book is an alphabetical sequence of mostly one-word headings ('Absence', 'Accidens', 'Accuser', 'Adieux', 'Affections', 'Afflictions', and so on), under each of which are listed several discrete marguerites, each of them a sentence long, many of them moralizing, a few witty ('Son inconstance vne fois la separa de moy, & ma fermeté l'en tiendra pour iamais separee'). In his Préface, Stiker-Metral aptly presents the work as promoting what Marc Fumaroli has called the courtly language which flourished especially in aristocratic circles under Henri IV and around Marguerite de Valois, and which reached mannerist extremes with the 'style Nervèze'. Citing explicit and amusing parodies of the Marguerites which then appeared in the fictions of Sorel and Furetière, Stiker-Metral also charts the rapidity with which this famous compilation came to seem quaint, ridiculous, and ineffective, a beached whale in the Malherbian revolution. Stiker-Metral points out that vernacular compilations like the Marguerites both continued and transformed the Latin commonplace-book tradition, and he points out (though perhaps could have done so more emphatically) that the absence of attributions of any of the sayings to named authors, ancient or modern, signals the mondain departure from that humanist tradition: 'Desrues semble en effet avoir puisé les phrases qu'il cite dans des textes de toutes sortes, mais il en efface l'origine' (pp. 12–13). This statement opens up a research project in itself, for the work of identifying ancient or modern 'sources' and so being able to investigate the extent to which Desrues changed them remains to be done, it seems, as does [End Page 270] that of pursuing in similar detail Ann Moss's observation, not considered by Stiker-Metral, that Desrues drew upon the Tresor de vertu (1560), a commonplace-book geared more to morals than to rhetoric. Stiker-Metral lists in his bibliography the French translation of Moss's study (Les Recueils de lieux communs, 2002), but it may have appeared too late for him to take detailed account of her illuminating comments on the Marguerites (pp. 433–35). As for Desrues himself, who was also the author of an antiquarian history of French cities, Stiker-Metral's thorough investigation of available biographical evidence concludes that we have little certain knowledge about him. But we do now have in convenient form a volume that is important to the history of manners, mentalities, and language.

Neil Kenny
University of Cambridge


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