- Imprimerie et pouvoir: Politique, livre et langue à Toulouse de 1475 à 1617 by Pierre Escudé
For the reader who seeks to understand the Renaissance history of Toulouse from the inside out, Imprimerie et pouvoir, with its focus on the book industry in that city, serves admirably. Looking at Toulouse through the lens of the book industry, Pierre Escudé treats his audience to a detailed and informed récit, one that explains with remarkable detail how the late fifteenth-century literary and political capital of Occitania became a somnolent ville de province by the early seventeenth century.
After a short introduction, the work proceeds chronologically, dividing the political and publishing history of Toulouse into three chapters; there is no concluding chapter. Escudé divides his period of study into four large blocks: 1475–1532, the beginnings; 1532– 1562, the period Escudé describes as incandescent humanism (48); 1562–1596, the Wars of Religion; and 1596–1620, the period when power was re-balanced. Though the subtitle suggests that the early period will be covered, in many ways Escudé gives the origins of printing in Toulouse short shrift, though, according to Jean-François Courouau, we know of 135 incunables that were printed in Toulouse (Courouau §2), the vast majority in Latin, although one was in Occitan (§45).
The second chapter is the longest, an analysis of each of Escudé’s four blocks of time in terms of which books went to press, who was involved in their production, thoughts behind choice of a printer, and public demand for print material. The kinds of books produced evolved over time, from an early emphasis on religion (40% of works published between 1500–1531) to an important place for political works (51% of works published between 1562– 1596). Works of literary interest maintained a stable position, representing between 21% and 30% of total production over the entire period covered, here 1500–1610 (see chart, 153). Equally interesting is the chart prepared by Escudé that shows language of publication. We see the decline of Latin, replaced by French [End Page 115] (these two languages represent, moreover, an average of 94% of total book production), with Occitan works averaging roughly 6% of total production overall (see 177). These statistics hide many of the political and religious stresses of the period, as Toulouse moved from its position as second city of the realm with an important university and semi-independent parliament to a second-class city that looked to Paris for intellectual and political leadership. As Escudé describes the book industry in the later period, “Toulouse se spécialise dans une littérature toulousaine: toutes les autres oeuvres … seraient imprimées ailleurs” (220).
The third chapter attempts to shine light on the linguistic side of Renaissance Toulousain publishing and, by extension, on the question of linguistic choice. In a period where language use represented a political and religious statement as much as a practical one, “la langue occitane change de fonction et confirme enfin son statut de langue littéraire” (193). Escudé observes further that at the same time that French replaces Occitan at the Jeux floraux, Occitan expands in other domains (198). He tries to argue that Gascon authors such as Pey de Garros established an independent Gascon language (216), hoping that Gascon and, by extension, Occitan would find support from Henry of Navarre, Henry IV of France. While Henry might have encouraged linguistic diversity, his untimely death ended hopes that there would be royal support for Occitan or Gascon.
I think this book is important, even as it offers, on occasion, what may be a rehash of material presented elsewhere (see Escudé’s discussion of illustrated books, heavily dependent on work by Priscilla Fournier). Among my criticisms, Imprimerie et pouvoir is not an easy read; the author is clearly writing for a learnèd audience, familiar with a good deal of Occitan literary and political history. At times, Escudé seems to ignore the entire medieval period— see the words...