In 1963 the Library purchased 1194 French plays published between 1700 and 1840 from the firm of Martinus Nijhoff of The Hague. They had possibly been assembled by three private collectors, as the 70 volumes were in three series, each with uniform binding: Recueil dramatique (776 plays), Répertoire dramatique (103 plays) and Magasin théâtral (315 plays).
In 1976 the Library bought 1053 French plays of the same period from the bookseller Chris Kohler of Dorking, England. In assembling the collection, Kohler ensured that there was no duplication with the Nijhoff collection. A further 210 plays were purchased from Kohler in 1977.
The two collections contain 2457 plays published in France between 1701 and 1840. They include tragedies, comedies, historical dramas, vaudevilles, comic operas and operas. There are a small number of French translations of English and German plays, particularly works of Shakespeare.
The collections include eighteenth-century editions of major playwrights of the previous century, such as Edme Boursault, Pierre Corneille, Thomas Corneille, Molière, Jean Racine and Jean-François Regnard.
Among the more prolific eighteenth-century dramatists represented in the collection are François Arnaud, Pierre-Augustin Beaumarchais, Pierre-Laurent Belloy, Marie-Joseph Chénier, Charles Collé, Florent Dancourt, Philippe Destouches, Jean-François Ducis, Charles-Simon Favart, Jean-Pierre Florian, Jean-François de La Harpe, Pierre de Marivaux, Jean-François Marmontel, Louis-Sébastien Mercier, René-Charles Pixerécourt, Bernard-Joseph Saurin, Michel-Jean Sedaine and Voltaire. Most of these writers followed Molière in writing comedies of manners and intrigue, which were less likely to be subjected to censorship than were tragedies. Tragedians of the eighteenth century relied heavily on the models of Corneille and Racine. In the later years of the century Ducis introduced Shakespearian tragedies to French audiences. Chénier, who drew on subjects from French national history, was the outstanding tragedian of the Revolutionary period.
Nineteenth-century writers whose plays are held include Jacques Ancelot, Marguerite Ancelot, Jean-François Collin d’Harleville, Casimir Delavigne, Alexandre Dumas, Alexandre Duval, Charles-Guillaume Étienne, François-Benoît Hoffmann, Joseph-Étienne Jouy, Charles-Paul de Kock, Népomucène Lemercier, Benoît Marsollier des Vivetières, Louis-Benoît Picard, Charles Pigault-Lebrun, Eugène Scribe, Emmanuel Théaulon de Lambert and Charles Voirin. The most influential of these dramatists was probably Scribe, whose comedies and vaudevilles were characterised by complicated plots, artifice and action.
The French plays have been kept together as formed collections within the Rare Books Collection. The Nijhoff Collection is shelved at RB 842.008 REC (55 volumes), RB 842.008 REP (five volumes) and RB 842.708 MAG (10 volumes). The plays in the first two series have been individually catalogued, but the Magasin théâtral plays have not been catalogued. They are listed on pages 163–9 of the Library’s bibliography of French plays, edited by Ivan Page and published in 1973.
The Kohler Collection is shelved in the Rare Books Collection at RBq MISC 324 and RBq MISC 325. The plays have been individually catalogued.
The Clifford, Pelli and De Vesci collections also have good holdings of French plays of the 1700–1840 period.
Kohler, C.C., French Drama 1700–1840: A Catalogue of 1007 Original Plays, C.C. Kohler, Dorking, 1976.
Page, Ivan (ed.), French Plays 1701–1840 in the National Library of Australia: A Bibliography, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 1973.