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A Bibliomaniac of the Boulevards 1

Max Sander's article Bibliomania, freely available from Northwestern University School of Law Scholarly Commons, yielded the gripping tale of the murderous monk/ bookseller Don Vincente (see recent jots) . He talks of other crazed collectors including the English bibliomaniac Richard Heber who filled 8 houses with books, but for all his acquisitiveness was a discerning collector. The sale of his books took 184 days. The following collector, Boulard, was very much of a quantity man and may have accumulated more books than any individual in the history of the world - 800,000 by some accounts and half that by others… the sale of his books took 248 days.150,000 were sold as scrap. Sander writes:

The most amusing [case] has to do with the Frenchman, Antoine Marie Henri Boulard, who lived in Paris from 1754 to 1825. Here also, as in the Affaire Libri, we have a youthful prodigy of erudition and zeal for learning, for Boulard was gifted enough to be able to take over his father's law office when he was only eighteen. In 1803 he was elected a member of the Corps Legislatif, published works on history and linguistics, and since he was a rich man, established a school for teaching drawing to poor children. His passion for wild book buying made him turn over his office to his son and from then on, no longer hampered by the demands of a profession, he devoted all of his time to book buying. Quality did not matter to him, only quantity. He bought books by units of measure, by the cubic foot, and by the yard; strolling up and down as he bought books, he always carried a stick with a measuring scale carved upon it. He had his tailor make him a special coat with many pockets, each a specific size for various books-octavo, quarto and folio. When he went home in the evening, the tall man loaded with books looked like a walking tower, according to a contemporary writer. In a very short time his house was crammed with books from the attic to the cellar, so that his poor wife had to find some way to keep him from buying still more. She persuaded him to start a catalogue, and for some time this expedient worked.


If, for a while, tired of writing, he went for a walk, he carefully avoided the streets where the bookshops were. But if we try to escape the way of temptation, the devil brings it to us. One fine morning he met a boy pushing a hand-barrow loaded with books. What was he doing with them? Boulard asked. The boy answered that he was a clerk at a grocer's and the books were to be used for making paper-bags. Boulard followed the clerk, bought the books and barrow from the grocer, and that was the end of his catalogue. He was again in the grip of his passion. From then on, he did not come home for days; he had to make up for lost time. His wife suspected some love affair, perhaps with a tenant in one of her husband's houses, and sent the maid after him to spy. The girl reported that her employer remained for hours in one house, always the same one. Madame Boulard hurried there. to wrest her poor husband from the claws of some bad woman. She found no tenants, not to mention tenantesses; the house, however, was stuffed from top to bottom with books.

On a cold day in April, 1825, he came home, so loaded down with books that he was streaming with perspiration. Instead of changing his clothes, he went ahead with the storing of his books; some days later he died of pneumonia. Five of his houses were found crammed with books. There were eight hundred thousand of them, and most were of the big folio format he cherished most. One hundred and fifty thousand were sold to grocers for paper- bags. Those remaining were catalogued from 1828 until 1833. There were five volumes of catalogues, and the books were sold at auction.

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