Jacques-Auguste de Thou (1553-1617), a French historian and politician who lived during the tumultuous reigns of Henry III and Henry IV, assembled one of the greatest libraries of his time. Open to all scholars who wished to use it, the library contained close to 13,000 volumes at the time of his death. Thou’s library later became the property of Jean-Jacques Charron, marquis de Ménars (1643-1718) before being sold off in 1789. Some of his books are now in Penn’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
Thou’s books are distinctive. The bindings, usually with his coat of arms and gadfly device, have a pleasing elegance and simplicity. When the first of his books in our collection was identified by Alison Warner, I was interested to read that his armorial binding showed both his coat of arms and the arms of his wife, Marie Barbançon. Although it isn’t uncommon for the arms of both spouses to be shown together, I do always like when the patriarch isn’t the only one getting all the heraldic recognition. (However, I draw the line at some Spanish coats of arms where no branch of the family, no matter how distant or long-defunct, goes unacknowledged.) Thou’s armorial bindings also contain a monogram which combines the initials “I A” of his given names (Iacques-Auguste) with the M of his wife’s first name.
After Marie died in 1601, Thou married Gasparde de La Chastre—and changed the bindings on subsequent additions to his library. Here, his arms are impaled on Gasparde’s. Marie’s M in the monogram has been replaced with a G. I wish I knew who or what the driving force was behind the change—or if, indeed, there were any driving force at all. It was probably just a routine decision made by Thou or his librarians, but I do sometimes wonder whether Gasparde herself insisted on the change? Or, perhaps, did Thou feel something akin to modern end-of-relationship tattoo-regret?
Jacques-Auguste de Thou made another appearance in our collection recently, this time not as the former owner of one of our books, but instead as an aside in a bibliographic inscription bound in an edition of Quintilian’s Declamationum Liber. The writer of this inscription is debunking an account by the prolific, but unreliable historian Antoine Varillas about the supposed discovery in a fishmonger’s shop by Poggio Bracciolini of the only known copy of a Quintilian manuscript–moments before its destruction! Rare manuscripts, our anonymous writer states, even those that are the sole surviving copies of otherwise lost texts, may be found and used in several European libraries. Their loss–or destruction by a fishmonger–would rival or perhaps exceed the loss of the Quintilian. For example, he writes, M. de Thou was able to borrow such a manuscript from the Imperial Library in Vienna—and he didn’t return it for twenty years despite numerous requests from librarians there. In a fantastic analysis of this text on our Flickr site, BobSimon2011 concludes: “If librarians have a pantheon, perhaps M. de Thou would be the god of late fees.”