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Authors: Gerard de Nerval

The Salt Smugglers

BOOK: The Salt Smugglers
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Frontispiece of
Événement des plus rares, ou L'histoire du Sr abbé Cte de Buquoy : singulièrement son évasion du Fort-l'Évêque et de la Bastille, l'allemand à côté, revue et augmentée (Deuxième éd. avec plusieurs de ses ouvrages, vers et proses, et particulièrement la Game des femmes) - Et se vend chez Jean de la Franchise, rue de la Réforme, à l'Espérance (Bonnefoy) - 1719
I fear it was quite foolhardy on my part to have promised you a few details concerning a curious figure who lived toward the end of the reign of Louis XIV.
I know that contributors to the
are required to observe a virtually military precision, and I am accordingly determined to honor my commitment to the fullest of my capabilities; — but unfortunately my resolve has been somewhat sidetracked by unforeseen circumstances.
Only a month ago, I happened to be passing through Frankfurt. — I had two days to kill, but being already acquainted with the place, — there was little for me to do but wander through its principal streets which, as so happened, were cluttered with the stalls of merchants who had come to town for the fair. The Roemerplatz in particular boasted a lavish array of merchandise; and nearby, the fur market flaunted its endless procession of pelts from outer Siberia or the banks of the Caspian Sea, — an extraordinary display whose more familiar curiosities included polar bear, blue fox, and ermine. Somewhat further along, Bohemian glassware was set out on cedar planks in a dazzling rainbow of colors, — all bejeweled, festooned, and inlaid with gold, like bouquets of flowers plucked from an unimaginable paradise.
In one of the backwaters of this bazaar, a more modest series of stalls had been set up in front of a row of dimly lit shops, — specialized in haberdashery, shoe repair, or miscellaneous items of clothing. These stalls belonged to the booksellers who had traveled here from various parts of Germany and whose best-selling items seemed to be almanacs, illustrated broadsheets, and lithographs: the
(People's Almanac) with its woodcuts, — picturing the popular uprisings in Frankfurt and Baden, Hecker the revolutionary, the principal members of the German National Assembly, political ditties, lithographs of Robert Blum and of the heroes of the Hungarian War, — these are what seized the eyes and
of the crowd. Beneath all this freshly printed merchandise lay rows of old tomes primarily notable for their low prices, — and I was astonished by the number of French books I came across.
The reason is simple: being a sovereign city-state, Frankfurt for many years provided a place of asylum for Protestant refugees, — and, like its sister cities in the Netherlands, it housed many printing establishments set up in order to publish the daring works of French philosophers and other malcontents of Europe, — and to this day, some of these firms still do a more or less thriving business as publishers of pirated editions which continue to flout the law.
It is virtually impossible for a Parisian to resist the urge to leaf through the ancient tomes arrayed in the bookseller's stalls. This part of the Frankfurt fair reminded me of the Paris quais, — memories charged
with emotion and enchantment. I bought a few old books, — thus purchasing the right to browse through the others at my leisure. As I sifted through the piles, I came across a volume, printed half in French, half in German, and bearing the following title which I have since verified in Brunet's
Bookseller's Manual:
« Incident of the rarest sort, or History of the
abbé count de Bucquoy, Esq.
, specifically his escapes from Fort-l'Évêque and from the Bastille, with several works in verse and prose, most notably the whole
of women,
Jean de la France, Bookseller
, rue de la Réforme, à l'Espérance, à Bonnefoy. — 1719. »
The book dealer wanted to charge me one florin and six kreutzers (pronounced
). The price struck me as a bit steep for this kind of fair, so I contented myself with browsing through the volume, — which I was allowed to do for free, given my previous purchases. The narrative of the abbé de Bucquoy's escapes from prison was quite riveting, but I said to myself: I'll be able to find the book in Paris, either in some library or in one of the thousands of collections containing every imaginable memoir relating to the history of France. All I did was take down the exact title of the volume, and then proceeded on to the
on the banks of the Mein, leafing though the
as I strolled along.
When I returned to Paris, I found the literary scene prey to a state of indescribable terror. As a result of the Riancey amendment that had been introduced into the laws regulating the press, newspapers were henceforth prohibited from publishing what the Assembly referred to as the
, or
serial novel
. I came across many writers of no political persuasion whatsoever who were in utter despair over this legal turn of events which had so cruelly robbed them of their livelihoods.
I myself, who am no novelist at all, was alarmed at the vagueness of interpretation invited by these two oddly coupled words:
serial novel
. I had agreed some time ago to deliver to you a piece of literary work similar to those I had previously managed to place in various magazines and newspapers; and when you held me to my promise, I therefore came up with the title
The Abbé de Bucquoy,
convinced I would easily find the necessary documents in Paris which would allow me to speak of this character in an historical rather than in a novelistic fashion, — for let's at least get our terms clear.
The twin scientific and literary appeal of this account of the life and writings of the abbé de Bucquoy decided you to accept this project of mine, — which is part of a larger series of studies, some of which I have already published.
But this is what happened after the
announced the imminent publication of my abbé de Bucquoy. — I had ascertained that the book indeed existed in France, for I had seen it listed not only in Brunet's manual but also in Quérard's
La France littéraire
. — I was positive I would easily be able to locate this volume (admittedly described as rare) either in some public library, or in some private collection, or via some rare book dealer.
Besides, having browsed through the book, — having even come across another narrative of the adventures of the abbé de Bucquoy in the witty and eccentric letters of Madame Dunoyer, — I was confident I would be able to paint his portrait and write his biography in a manner that would be beyond all legal reproach.
BOOK: The Salt Smugglers
3.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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