French Revolutionary pamphlets finally all catalogued
The Library's collection of 12,000 contemporary French Revolutionary pamphlets are fully catalogued
25 May 2010
At last, nearly 50 years since their acquisition, the Library's collection of some 12,000 contemporary French Revolutionary pamphlets has now been fully catalogued. When they were first acquired in 1962 access was mainly through the lists supplied by the bookseller so public knowledge of this impressive collection was limited. The first attempt at cataloguing them was in 1993/94 through the Australia's Book Heritage Project funded by the Centre for Bibliographical and Textual Studies at Monash University. 4000 records were added to the national bibliographical database but they were basic descriptive records, lacking subject headings or much information. Lack of resources prevented further cataloguing until 1999 when full catalogue records were created. Again lack of resources called a halt to the project. It was resumed again sporadically around 2006 and in 2009 two members of the Retro Conversion Team were dedicated full time to going through the boxes methodically and also any other small bundles of Revolutionary pamphlets in the Rare Books collections. The project was finally completed in February 2010. Each of the pamphlets has been given a full record with subject headings, notes, and where it exists, a link to the digitised version on the Bibliothèque nationale de France’s website. Not a few of these pamphlets had no record anywhere else (not only on Libraries Australia but on WorldCat as well). Despite their age, the pamphlets are in very good condition, being made of rag or cotton-based paper and printed by the letterpress process. They consist of proclamations, bills, speeches, reports, ordinances, tracts, satires, even songs related to the revolution, the Convention, the meetings of the various assemblies, and topics such as the currency, education, pensions, trial of Louis XVI and what to do with the royal family, as well as the Revolution as experienced by France’s colonies. There is no comparable collection of original revolutionary pamphlets in any other Australian library or in the Southern Hemisphere.
One of the most appealing things about the collection, which enhances its importance, is the vivid picture of the times which emerges. The revolutionaries had to start from scratch and think about such things as a new education system open to all, not just the “Messieurs” as they believed that without a properly educated populace you could not have an informed public to vote; money (the country was nearly bankrupt and they raised money by sequestering the lands of the nobles and the churches and melting church bells to mint coins); the army and police (which were corrupt with people siphoning off supplies for their own use, there was much talk of improving public morality which was considered low). There are eye witness accounts of people defending chateaux from attack and looting, people being arrested on various charges during the Terror, the attack on the Tuilieries and accounts of military victories. There are many voices, from the famous (or infamous) such as Robespierre and Danton, Louis and his brothers, to the not so well known, all with something to say, from the idealistic almost proto-hippy to the practical or even an early case of media cynicism where someone refuses to comment on the guilt or innocence of the king because all he knows is what he read in the newspapers and he has grave doubts about that. And let’s not forget good old vituperation where Assembly members weigh into each other with gusto, attack corrupt officials, the king or the English (always a popular target). Curiously, though a number of pamphlets discuss Oliver Cromwell, the revolutionaries did not think much of him or his works. They believed that he merely substituted one form of tyranny with another. An example of the catalogue record of one of these pamphlets is Description de la fête du pacte fédératif, du 14 juillet, fixée par la ville avec le réglement de la police