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French Special Collections: Highlights of the Taylorian collections


The material on this page is a slightly adapted version of captions supplied for an exhibition celebrating French Studies at Oxford and compiled by Mr David Thomas.

Highlights of the Taylorian Collections - Renaissance literature

 Roman de la Rose

At the Taylorian we have the seventh folio edition of the Roman de la rose (Arch.Fol.F.1500) published in c1505.  The work is by two authors Guillaume de Lorris (b.c.1210) and Jean Chopinel de Meung (d.1305).  Written between 1225 and 1280, the Roman de la rose enjoyed an immense success first in manuscript form and then in print.  The Bodleian collections have fine manuscript versions of this work.  Our edition was formerly in the library of the noted German collector, G. Kloss and was bought for the library in 1878.  If you have to read this work away from the library we suggest that you look at the website dedicated to Roman de la Rose which includes information about the Bodleian and other Oxford MSS as well as other Roman de la Rose MSS throughout the world.


We also have Les oeuvres [vol.3] of Pierre de Ronsard (1524-85) published in Paris in 1560 (ARCH.12o.F.1560).  The five volumes of Ronsard’s first collected works appeared in 1560 but only two or three complete sets are recorded.  This third volume contains eclogues, elegies and poems addressed to members of the court.  Du Bellay, whose Défense et illustration de la langue française had appeared eleven years earlier (a copy of this work is in the Douce Collection of the Bodleian (Douce B 613)) is also mentioned in this volume.  Du Bellay died the same year as this volume was published, 1560. Our copy was bought in 1988.  For other editions of Ronsard's work outside the Taylorian see the Gordon Collection at the University of Virginia Library.


Another great strength of the Taylorian special collections is in our holdings of works by and about Montaigne (1533-92).  Early editions of works by Montaigne are listed in the work by R.A. Sayce and D. Maskell A descriptive bibliography of Montaigne's Essais 1580-1700 (REF.F.27.MON). A fund in memory of R.A. Sayce allows the library to acquire works in his fields of interest.  We have recently (2013) received a very rich bequest (284 vols.) of early French editions (16-19 centuries) from Olive Sayce, widow of Richard Sayce, the scholar who put together this very rich collection which includes a very rich collection of early editions of Montaigne. Not all our holdings of Montaigne have a Sayce connection.  We have an early edition of his Essais published one year after his death from the bequest of Miss M.G. Skipworth (SKIPWORTH.A.25).


Braet, Herman  De la Rose: texte, image, fortune 2006 (Taylorian: PQ1528 D4 DEL 2006)

Langlois, Ernest Les manuscrits du Roman de la Rose 1910 (Taylorian: 31.M.5.C)

Highlights of the Taylorian collections - 17th century French Literature

Honoré d'Urfé

The 17th century holdings of the Taylor are very strong.  We have an example of an early novel by Honoré d'Urfé: L'Astrée [vols. 1, 3-5].  (Vet. Fr. I B. 128-31).  This pastoral novel which first came out in 1607 was completed after the author’s death by B. Baro. The contemporary binding of the Library set bears an unidentified heraldic stamp in blind.  It was bought by R. Heber at J. Bindley’s sale in 1818 and acquired by the Library in 1973. If you would like to read this work Eglal Henein of Tufts University has provided an online version.

Pierre Corneille

No account of 17th century French literature would be complete without mentioning our holdings of Pierre Corneille (1606-84).  We have the second part of three of the third collected edition of Corneille’s works, being largely a reprint of the 1648 edition (Vet. Fr. 1 A. 386).  Separate early editions of a number of Corneille plays are to be found in several Oxford college libraries.  This volume was acquired in 1973.

Jean de La Fontaine

Finally, we have the Fables nouvelles et autres poésies of Jean de La Fontaine (1621-95) (Vet. Fr. 1 B. 165) published in Paris in 1671.  The Fables were first published in 1668 but much augmented in later editions, this one containing eight hitherto unpublished fables including ‘Le coche et la mouche’.  It contains a reprinting of Adonis first published in 1669.  This edition is mentioned in Rochambeau's bibliography (9 p.1669-1671). 


Picot, Emile Bibliographie Cornélienne : ou, Description raisonnée de toutes les editions des oeuvres de Pierre Corneille  Paris: A. Fontaine, 1876 (REF.F.30.COR)

Rochambeau, Mis de  Bibliographie des oeuvres de La Fontaine  Paris: A. Rouquette, 1911 (REF.F.30. LAFO)


Highlights of the Taylorian French Collections - 18th century French Literature

The Taylorian has particular strengths in 18th century French literature and the Enlightenment and the Voltaire Room epitomizes this strength.


  We have a number of early works by Voltaire including Candide, ou l’Optimisme, traduit de l’allemand de Mr. le docteur Ralph. The first authorised (but anonymous) edition of Voltaire’s most enduring masterpiece appeared in Geneva in mid January 1769 (Arch 12 F.1759/299G) a fuller text, representing an earlier version and subsequently re-adopted by Voltaire, was published by the Oxford-born London bookseller, John Nourse, in May 1759 and fifteen further editions of the French text appeared within the year.  The Taylorian is the only library to hold every early edition.  This volume was bought in 1977.

We have a particular strength in 18th century French novels partly as a result of the acquisition of the Mylne collection which covers the second half of the eighteenth century before and after the revolution. 


We have a number of early editions of works by Rousseau including Lettres de deux amans, habitans d’une petite ville au pied des Alpes (VR.3.N.5.1761). (published in Amsterdam by M.M. Rey  6 vols). Rousseau’s incredibly successful novel (over 70 editions before 1800) combines the praise of passion and virtue with an attack on the social privileges of rank when the latter is not accompanied by corresponding worth. This set was bought in 1979.


We also have Les liaisons dangereuses, ou Lettres recueillies dans une société & publieés pour l'instruction de quelques autres published in Amsterdam and Paris in 1761 in 4 vols.  Laclos' epistolary psychological novel was immediately highly popular.  This edition, published in the year of the first edition, is in original wrappers and bears the signature of Lady Minto who was in France at that date. It was bought in 1988. 



Highlights of the Taylorian French Collections - 19th Century

Highlights of the Taylorian French Collections - Twentieth Century

Jean COCTEAU La voix humaine Paris, Parenthèse, 1957 Bernard BUFFET )b. 1928) Illustrator 20 dry-points. Printed by Lacourière. 150 copies Cocteau’s play for one actress was first performed in 1930, causing a sensation and establishing him as a playwright. It was subsequently made into a film with Anna Magnani. The printed text of this one-sided telephone conversation necessarily has numerous strategic blanks. Here it is presented as a livre manuscript, a particular form of the livre d’artiste avoiding the relative straitjacket of typography and making the whole production more personal. The illustrations are early Buffet but show his characteristic black lines.

Highlights of the Taylorian collections - Dictionaries

The Taylor Institution has an excellent collection of French dictionaries from all periods including some very early ones.  Many of these are located in the Rare Books Room.  Here can be found an early bilingual dictionary A dictionarie of the French and English tongues by Randle Cotgrave (?d.1634) (Arch. Fol. F. 1611). Cotgrave’s remarkable dictionary gives genders, grammatical rules, illustrative phrases, and explanations of the origins of expressions, being thus a valuable guide to contemporary usage.  This volume is numbered 5830 in the Short Title Catalogue and was bought in 1955.  Among its large collection of early dictionaries, kept in chronological order, the Library possesses a second copy of Cotgrave, part of the collection of literary works and herbals presented by the Misses Fry in 1955.  In 1626 Guillaume Quiquer published his standard French-Breton dictionary: Dictionnaire et colloques françois et Breton (Arch. 12  F. 1652) in Saint-Brieuc.  The Library copy bears the signature of Archbishop Juxon and the mention “Rennes en Bretagne 1654”.  This was also donated by the Misses Fry and demonstrates the range of the collection both in terms of time and language coverage.

Highlights of the Taylorian collections - Old newspapers

In the 17th century we see the beginnings of the French periodical press and we have an example of an early French newspaper:Le courier François apportant toutes les nouvelles véritables de ce qui s’est passé depuis l’enlèvement du roy, tant à Paris, qu’à S. Germainen Laye (116 F. 11). Published by the sons of Théophraste Renaudot, the Father of the French press, this periodical, perhaps the third to appear in France, was published to support the Parlement side in the Fronde just as, in England, Charles I was being executed.  The Library has three variant printings of it among its strong collection of Ancien Régime journals.


Hatin, Eugène Bibliographie historique et critique de la press périodique française Paris: Firmin-Didot frères, 1866 (REF.F.21)

Highlights of the Taylorian collections - Mazarinades