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A Bibliomaniac of the Boulevards 2

Jules Bollly (merci)

The five volume  auction catalogue of Boulard's vast collection showed up in auction at Christies New York in 2005. It made $5750. It does not appear to have ever left the book trade - possibly book dealers are almost the only collectors for them - and the exact same set is now on sale online at $20000. Christie's catalogue entry is below. It should be noted that Boulard was also a distinguished translator - the French Wikipedia list many of his works (they put the size of his book collection at a mere 500,000.) He translated works from English (including much Dr. Johnson) Italian, German and Latin and also translated from French into German. During the revolutionary period publisher's note him as 'Citoyen Boulard.' Lawrence S. Thompson in his Notes on Bibliokleptomania, without much evidence, writes that Boulard "...had 'itchy fingers' whenever he saw a volume that could not be bought and excited the acquisitive instincts in him." Another interesting note of Thompson's is that '…when the collection was auctioned off in 1828-1833, it played havoc with the Paris market.' One wonders how long it took to recover and if such a thing could happen again in these less resilient times (for books) - if another Boulard style estate emerged out of Los Angeles or London with half a million good books the effect could be seismic…especially if, as happens, yet another collection emerged shortly after.   Nodier (that man again - note his mention of underbidding) gives this eyewitness account of the perils of bibliomania:

Boulard was once a scrupulous and fastidious bibliophile, before he amassed in his six-story house 600,000 volumes of every possible format, piled like the stones in Cyclopean walls! I remember that I was going about with him one day among these insecure obelisks (which had not been stabilised by our modern architectural science), when I chanced to ask with some curiosity after a certain item — a unique copy -which I had let go to him in a celebrated sale. M. Boulard looked at me fixedly, with that gracious and humorous air of good-fellowship which was characteristic of him, and, rapping with his gold-headed cane on one of the huge stacks (rudis indigestaque moles) , then on a second and third, said, "It's there — or there — or there." I shuddered to think that the unfortunate booklet might perhaps have disappeared for all time beneath 18,000 folios; but my concern did not make me forget my own safety. The gigantic stacks, their uncertain equilibrium shaken by the tappings of M. Boulard's cane, were swaying threateningly on their bases, the summits vibrating like the pinnacles of a Gothic cathedral at the sound of the bells or the impact of a storm. Dragging M. Boulard with me, I fled before Ossa could collapse upon Pelion. Even today, when I think how near I came to receiving the whole series of the Hollandist publications on my head from a height of twenty feet, I cannot recall the danger I was in without pious horror. It would be an abuse of the word to apply the name "library" to menacing mountains of books which have to be attacked with a miner's pick and held in place by stanchions!

Christies catalogue entry NY 2005:

BOULARD, Antoine-Marie-Henri (1754-1826) -- Catalogue des livres de la bibliothèque... Paris: Gaudefroy & Bleuet et al., 19 May 1828-1833.

Five volumes in three, 8o (199 x 123 mm). Early 20th-century half dark-red morocco (light rubbing to edges).

The extraordinary sale catalogue of an extraordinary library, and according to Hofer the largest library ever formed by an individual. At his death, he owned more than 300,000 volumes "of unequal value, but including veritable curiosities" (DBF). The dealers who organized the auction were faced with an almost impossible task; many volumes were simply discarded; "we are told that a hundred and fifty thousand volumes were set aside as not worth listing separately and were sold in bundles of thirty and forty books... Four volumes (of the Boulard Catalogue) contain French books, and a fifth contains books in other languages. The fact that the first volume lists some thirty thousand volumes of theology, law and science gives an idea of the collection" (Taylor). Richard Heber bought all the historical books. The five sales contained 17,000 lots, but many of these consisted of up to ten or twelve titles, all individually listed. The sales were catalogued by: L.F.A. Gaudefroy, J.A. Bleuet and J.F. Boisverd. The dispersal took 248 days. "Boulard's library was intended to be sold in 5 parts; part 5 sold a few months after part 1, beginning in November 1828, part 2 was sold in 1829, and part 3 in 1830; part 3 combines the losts originally intended to form parts 3 and 4 of the sale, and although a catalogue labeled 'part 4' was issued in 1833 it is in fact a supplement to the main series" (North). Boulard, Notaire au Châtelet, had a considerable reputation as author and collector under the Ancien Régime, but, for all his wealth, was not victimized during the Revolution, becoming "maire" of the XIth Arrondissement, and deputy under Napoleon. He was the literary executor of La Harpe, and made numerous translations from the English and German, being an excellent linguist.

This is the end of Jot's excursion into this not so gentle madness. The last word is with the amazing Charles Nodier (who may, or may not, have  killed a man for outbidding him at auction during one of his trips to Spain.)

The bibliophile appreciates the book; the bibliomaniac weighs or measures it. The bibliophile works with a magnifying glass, the bibliomaniac with a measuring-stick.
Some are known to compute the growth of their libraries in square metres. The harmless, deliciously enjoyable fever of the bibliophile becomes, in the bibliomaniac, an acute malady bordering on delirium. Once it has reached that fatal stage of paroxysm it loses all contact with the intelligence and resembles any other mania.

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