In his book The French Revolution (1837), Thomas Carlyle termed the period 1789–95 ‘the Age of Pamphlets’. In August 1789 the National Assembly declared that ‘all citizens can speak, write and print freely’ and the whole system of state censorship began to break down. A mania to produce and read pamphlets and periodicals swept across France. The number of printing establishments in Paris tripled in the Revolutionary period, with 55 new shops in the years 1789–90 alone. With deregulation, book publishing virtually collapsed but the output of journals, newspapers, almanacs and pamphlets was enormous. The pamphlets ranged from treatises on finance, proposals for new systems of public administration, and scholarly and philosophical essays to political denunciations, eulogies and ‘Les Cris de Paris’. Many of the pamphlets that deluged the country were anonymous, libellous, seditious and pornographic.
Before long, there was a backlash. Laws in 1793 turned political journalism and pamphleteering into dangerous professions and the Terror brought printing presses to a halt. As Benjamin Constant later wrote, ‘pamphlets, and handbills, and especially newspapers, are produced quickly, you can buy them for little, and because their effect is immediate, they are believed to be more dangerous’. After 1794 there was a revival of book publishing, but the production of journals and pamphlets declined. Nevertheless, throughout the Directory (1795–99) and the Consulate (1799–1804) the publication of pamphlets generally exceeded output in the pre-Revolutionary period.
In 1963 the Library purchased a collection of about 11 000 pamphlets published during the French Revolution from the bookseller Martinus Nijhoff of The Hague. The collection had been assembled by a private collector, but his name was not divulged. In the same year the Library acquired from Nijhoff a collection of 390 pamphlets relating to the French colonies during the Revolution.
A smaller collection of pamphlets was bought from the London booksellers, Stevens and Brown, in 1964. Microcards and microfiche of French pamphlets held in US libraries were produced by Falls City Microforms and later the OmniSys Corporation and were acquired continuously from 1961 to 2000.
The Nijhoff Collection of about 11 000 pamphlets, tracts, reports, addresses and speeches, published in France between 1787 and 1799, consists of 2590 anonymous pamphlets, 4230 pamphlets by named authors, 392 documents on the trial of Louis XVI (procès du Roi), 3659 legislative documents and 180 other items. They include a large number of lively, controversial and satirical works, which give a vivid documentary impression of the Revolutionary period.
In July 1789 the Third Estate of the Estates-General, together with a number of clergy and nobles, formed the National Constituent Assembly. It drafted a constitution, which was accepted by Louis XVI in 1791. The Legislative Assembly first met in October 1791. Divided among constitutional monarchists, liberal republicans and revolutionaries, it descended into chaos within a year. The pamphlets published in 1789–91 cover a broad spectrum of French thought, opinion and policy. The authors range from ministers such as Jacques Necker and Charles Calonne, to defenders of the Ancien Régime (Jean Maury), monarchists (Pierre Malouet) and philosophers (Marquis de Condorcet). There are many works of the Comte de Mirabeau, and of other presidents and members of the Assembly such as Comte Boissy d’Anglas, Pierre Dupont de Nemours, l’Abbé Henri Grégoire, Alexandre de Lameth, Duc de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, Jean Lanjuinais, Charles-François Lebrun, Jean-Joseph Mounier, Jacques Thouret and François Tronchet.
The National Convention first met in September 1792, following the suspension of Louis XVI, the invasion of France by Prussian and Austrian forces and the disintegration of the Legislative Assembly. The Convention and its committees, which were in existence for three years, assumed both legislative and executive powers. Many of the pamphlets in the collection document this turbulent period and the fierce debates among the various political clubs and personal factions. They include writings by leading Girondists such as Jacques Brissot, Jean Marie Roland and Pierre Vergniaud and Jacobins such as Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac, Camille Desmoulins, Jean-Baptiste Lindet, Maximilien Robespierre and Louis Saint-Just. Other members of the Convention represented in the collection include the archivist Armand-Gaston Camus, the soldier Edmond Dubois-Crancé and the journalist Jean Paul Marat.
A strength of the collection is the number of pamphlets dating from the final phase of the Revolution, the Directory (1795–99). They include works by Directeurs such as Lazare Carnot, Étienne-François Le Tourneur, Philippe-Antoine Merlin de Douai, Jean-François Reubell, l’Abbé Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès and Jean-Baptiste Treillhard. Among the other writers are Lucien Bonaparte, Edmund Burke and Charles de Talleyrand-Périgord.
The 392 documents relating to the trial of Louis XVI in 1792–93 largely consist of opinions and observations of deputies to the National Convention. There are also some inventories and descriptions of documents discovered in the course of the proceedings against the King. The 3659 legislative documents comprise of laws passed by the National Assembly and decrees of the National Convention.
Many of the pamphlets on the French Revolution and the colonies relate to the island of Saint Domingue (western Haiti), the richest of the French colonies. In particular, they deal with the emancipation of the slaves by the commissioners Léger-Félicité Sonthonax and Étienne Polverel in 1793. Other pamphlets refer to Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana and Mauritius, as well as more general subjects such as the colonial empire, merchant navy, trade, sugar trade, race relations and Franco–American relations.
The Library holds about 20 000 microform copies of pamphlets published in France between about 1785 and 1805. About 5500 pamphlets were republished on microcards between 1961 and 1974 by Falls City Microfilms. They consisted particularly of works held in the Talleyrand Collection in the New York Public Library and the Melvin Collection in the University of Kansas Library. Other pamphlets were held by the Library of Congress, the University of Kentucky Library and a number of private libraries.
In addition, 14 997 microfiche of French pamphlets produced by the OmniSys Corporation in Needham, Massachusetts, are held in the Library. The fiche do not indicate where the original pamphlets are held.
The principal collection of French Revolutionary pamphlets is held in the Rare Books Collection at RB 944.04 C993 and RBq 944.04 C993. The pamphlets occupy 224 boxes, the procès du Roi documents are in seven boxes and the laws and decrees are in 36 boxes. All of the pamphlets have been individually catalogued. A three-volume summary listing of the pamphlets is available.
The pamphlets on the French Revolution and the colonies are also in the Rare Books Collection at RB 944.04 REV and RBq 944.04 REV. They are housed in 19 boxes. All have been individually catalogued.
The microcards and microfiche of French Revolutionary pamphlets are held in the Microform Collection at Mc 10. The microcards are arranged alphabetically by author. They have been catalogued individually and they are also described in the bibliography compiled by Laurence S. Thompson and published in 1974. The microfiche are arranged numerically. They have not been catalogued, but annual listings of the fiche produced between 1985 and 2000 (numbers 8776–14917) are available in the Newspapers and Microforms Reading Room.
Darnton, Robert and Roche, Daniel (eds), Revolution in Print: The Press in France 1775–1800, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1989.
Hayden, Horace E., French Revolutionary Pamphlets: A Check List of the Talleyrand and Other Collections, New York Public Library, New York, 1945.
Hesse, Carla, Publishing and Cultural Politics in Revolutionary Paris, 1789–1810, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1991.
Saricks, Ambrose, A Bibliography of the Frank E. Melvin Collection of Pamphlets on the French Revolution in the University of Kansas Libraries, University of Kansas Libraries, Lawrence, 1960.
Thompson, Laurence S., A Bibliography of French Revolutionary Pamphlets on Microfiche, Whitston Publishing Company, Troy, N.Y., 1974.