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Raymond Birn

The Profits of Ideas: Privilèges en librairie in Eighteenth-Century France

Eighteenth-Century Studies, 4 (2), Winter, 1970-1971, 131-168



Colbert’s Program

The Patricate

Natural Rights

Malesherbes’ Tenure

Diderot’s Turn

Ruling of 30 August 1777

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ON 30 AUGUST 1777 - fifteen months after the fall of Turgot and three months into Necker’s first ministry - six royal arrêts overturned the fundamental commercial principles upon which the French book trade had rested for a century.  The first four of these orders suppressed certain provincial communities of sellers and printers, the so-called chambres syndicales, while creating others; revised criteria for accepting master libraires and imprimeurs; established two public sales annually for the disposition of literary property; and ruled on the conduct and discipline of the journeyman printers. [1]  The Sixth arrêt, recognizing how a clique of favored publishers had monopolized the industry by extending over many generations exclusive rights of reproduction, the privileges en librairie, thus reducing less favored colleagues to the recourse of counterfeit editions, now legitimized these editions, provided that owners presented their volumes to a royal inspector or official of the community to be stamped. [2]

But the Fifth arrêt of 30 August was the most significant of all.  For the first time legislation distinguished between the nature of literary property in the hands of an author and in the hands of a publisher.  The privilege, granted to the writer for his labor or to the publisher for his investment, was newly defined.  The arrêt stated that hereafter no first edition could be published in France without either a royal privilege or permission awarded by the keeper of the seals.  Previous legislation had required this of all titles, classics as well as new books.

I wish to express my gratitude to the Fulbright Commission for its financial support in 1968-69, when I conducted the research for this article.  A shorter and somewhat different version was read at the annual meeting of the Society for French Historical Studies, held in Washington, D.C. on 20 March 1970.

1. Bibliothêque Nationale. Fonds Francais 22180, Nrs. 81, 82, 87, 91. 30 August 1777.  See also Isambert, Jourdan, and Decrusy eds., Receuil general des anciennes lois franfaises (Paris, 1922-30), XXIII, 108-28.

2. F. Fr. 22180, Nr. 84. 30 August 1777.


Yet what was most original about the new ruling was the distinction it made between a privilege possessed by authors or their heirs on the one hand, and publishers on the other.  When owned by the first group, the nature of the privilege was perpetual as well as exclusive.  Retaining it, the writer and his descendants might negotiate freely with a printer and participate in any way deemed desirable and through as many editions as were necessary to effect the distribution and sale of the book in question.  All other parties were restrained from publishing the work.  However, once a publisher purchased the manuscript from its author and assumed responsibility for the edition himself, the royal privilege accompanying the transfer would be valid for a minimum of ten years or the lifetime of the work’s author.  As soon as the publisher’s privilege expired, the work would enter the public domain.  A publisher might renew his privilege only if he had the text of his edition increased by at least one-fourth.  It was assumed that “anciennes éditions non-augmentées” would fall into the public domain whether or not an old privilège protected them.  All publishers were commanded to declare an inventory of privilèges en librairie in their possession so that new determinations on the limits of their validity could be made.  The spirit of the ruling was expressed in language intended to assuage publishers for a sudden loss of property which they held to be as real as a piece of land or a marriageable daughter: “Sa Majesté a pensé qu’un Règlement qui restreindroit le droit exclusif des Libraires au temps qui sera porté dans le Privilège seroit leur avantage, parce qu’une jouissance limitée, mais certaine, est préférable a une jouissance indéfinie, mais illusoire.” [3]


Colbert’s Program

The difficulty was that few holders of privileges en librairie in 1777 - or for the past century for that matter - considered their possessions to be illusions.  They were based, it was believed, upon sound theory and concrete example.  Colbert had established the precedent early in the reign of Louis XIV, when, to maintain economic and ideological controls over the librairie, he linked a policy on privileges to two other aspects of his program, censorship, and the limitation and careful surveillance of presses in France.

Authority over censorship, of course, he inherited from predecessors. [4]  When he established a royal board of examiners for theological

3 F. Fr. 22180, Nr. 80. 30 August 1777. Amendments. F. Fr. 22180, Nr. 175. 30 July 1778.

4. No comprehensive study of censorship under the Ancien Régime exists.  Aspects of the problem have been studied, however, either as specialized monographs or as a part of more general works on the book trade and its administration.  In the former category are J.-P. Belin, Le Commerce des livres prohibés à Paris de 1750 et 1789 (Paris, 1913); Albert [Bachman, Censorship in France from 1715-1750: Voltaire’s Opposition (New York, 1934); and Nicole Herrmann-Mascard, La Censure des livres à Paris à la fin de l’Ancien Regimé (1750-1789) (Paris, 1968).  In the latter are Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin, L’ Apparition du livre (Paris, 1958), pp. 371-75 ; David T. Pottinger, The French Book Trade in the Ancien Régime, 1500-1791 (Cambridge, Mass., 1958), pp. 54-81; Madeleine Ventre, L’Imprimerie et la librairie en Languedoc au dernier siècle de l’Ancien Régime (1700-1789) (Paris and The Hague, 1958), pp. 75-215; Pierre Grosclaude, Malesherbes: témoin et interprète de son temps (Paris, 1961), pp. 63-208, 665-82; and Henri-Jean Martin, Livre, pouvoirs et société à Paris au XVIIe siècle (1598-1701) (Geneva, 1969) I, 440-71; II, 695-98, 764-74.]

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works, Richelieu had made it clear that the Crown no longer intended to share responsibility for censorship with the University and Parlement of Paris.  But the crisis over Jansenism and then the Fronde crippled the effectiveness of royal controls, and it was only with the arrival of Colbert and La Reynie that the monarchy found itself in a position to thrust the full force of its authority behind a comprehensive program of preventive and repressive censorship.  Reading copy in manuscript, the chancellor’s committee of examiners was to decide upon the appropriateness of all works intended for publication in France.  The Community of Sellers and Printers of Paris, founded in 1618, was to cooperate with the examiners and police in investigating the contents of books entering from abroad.  Furthermore, by initiating descents and accompanying royal agents on their raids, the officers of the Paris community were associated closely with the regime in making certain that all provincial sellers and printers were adhering to the regulations.  An arrêt du Conseil sanctioning this last responsibility did much to convert a favored group of libraires from the capital into an auxiliary spy network that would harass the publishers of the country for generations to come. [5]

But a far more serious element in the Colbertian program, since for many it meant disappearance altogether, was the policy of limiting the number of presses in France so that no idle ones would be left to submit to the temptation of prohibited works or counterfeit editions.  Reversing a trend of two centuries, which had seen the imprimerie bloom under the benevolent care of the Crown - not merely in Paris,

5. F. Fr. 22071, Nr. 108. 11 September 1665.  As may be expected, preventive and repressive censorship was a constant preoccupation of the Crown from the reign of Louis XIV until the revolution, and literally hundreds of royal arrêts were promulgated on the subject.  Two comprehensive rulings attempted to coalesce the specific legislation of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.  The first was issued in 1686 (F. Fr. 22061, Nr. 121. “Edit du Roy pour le règlement des imprimeurs et libraires de Paris, avec les autoritez des anciennes ordonnances, statuts, arrests & règlements” Paris, 1687).  Ostensibly intended for the book trade of Paris, it really applied to the entire realm.  The second ruling was issued in 1723 (Isambert, Jourdan, and Decrusy, Recueil général, XXI, 216-31. “Règlement du Conseil pour la librairie & l’imprimerie de Paris. 24 février 1723”).  In 1744 it officially was made applicable for the entire realm (Claude Saugrain, Code de la librairie et de l’imprimerie. Paris, 1744).


but also in Lyon, Rouen, Toulouse, and Troyes - the regime of Louis XIV placed such restrictions upon the number and size of shops in the capital and provincial towns, that the smallest ones, those most prone to illegal practices, were forced out of existence.  To cite the most celebrated example: in 1666, Paris had 217 presses in 79 shops.  In 1701, 195 presses existed in 51 shops.  The community was told to get this number down to 36 shops, and only one master bookseller would be admitted each year. [6]  Reductions became common policy throughout most of the eighteenth century.  The royal survey of 1701 counted 410 master printers in the provinces; one taken in 1764 counted 254. [7]  In essence, Colbert’s program for the book trade, enacted in a period of economic recession, would have made good sense had it kept France ideologically safe and a limited number of favored printers and sellers occupied and grateful to the government.

Something went wrong, however.  The censorship controls broke down.  Too many French readers desired books printed in the freer climes of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Leyden; and too many French authors were willing to send their manuscripts to be published there.  After the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, Calvinist exiles in Holland such as the Desbordes and Huguetan families took ironic vengeance upon Louis XIV by printing and exporting to their former homeland books which, for reasons of state, religion, or public morality, could not be printed in France.  And to compound the problem, the scholarly abbé Bignon, who administered the French librairie in the chancellor’s name during the first two decades of the eighteenth century, often looked the other way when the volumes from Holland arrived.  This double standard in the book trade, so beneficial to Dutch commerce, lasted until the death of Louis XIV. [8]  After 1715, the influx and popularity of the Dutch edition, as well as the development of foreign

6. Martin, Livre, pouvoirs et société, I, 319-26; II, 678-83, 699, 704.  The crisis of recession which helps to explain Colbert’s retrenchment policies from the economic angle has been a fruitful topic for revisionist historians rightly wishing to deglamorize the Sun King’s reign.  Roland Mousnier brilliantly analyzed the background of the crise and the royal response in Les XVIe et XVIIe siècles (“Histoire générale des civilisations”), IV (Paris, 1954), 145-56, 249-56, 297-301; and Robert Mandrou, La France aux XVIIe et XVIlle siècles (Paris, 1967), pp. 113-23, offers a more recent analysis.  Martin related the Paris book trade almost too neatly to the general economic conditions described by his teacher, Mousnier, in an article anticipating the latter’s book, “L’Edition parisienne au XVIIe siècle. Quelques aspects économiques,” Annales. Economies, Sociétés, Civilisations (1952), pp. 303-18.

7. Paul Chauvet, Les Ouvriers du livre en France: des origines à la Revolution (Paris, 1959), p. 213.  An arrêt du Conseil for 1704 called for a reduction of master printers in France to 278 (F. Fr. 22065, Nr. 63. 21 July 1704), and a ruling for 1739 called for a reduction to 250 (F. Fr. 22067, Nr. 206. 31 March 1739).

8. Martin, Livre, pouvoirs et société, II, 739-53.


publishing centers for books for French consumption in Geneva, Neuchâtel, Brussels, Liège, Bouillon, and, above all, Avignon, forced the regime to re-examine its traditional restrictions upon domestic production.  Malesherbes, chief royal administrator for the book trade at mid-century, gives a hint of what occurred: “II s’est trouvé des circonstances où on n’a pas osé autoriser publiquement un livre, & où cependant on a senti qu’il ne serait pas possible de le déendre.  C’est ce qui a donné lieu aux premieres permissions tacites.” [9]  In 1718, the officers of the Paris community listed the initial permissions tacites in a register misleadingly labelled “Des Livres d’impression étrangère présentez pour la permission de débiter.” [10]  These formed a category of books wholly outside the purview of customary regulations.  Some were printed abroad and imported; most were published in France.  No privilège protected the publisher from other editions.  The censor who examined the volume applying for a permission tacite remained anonymous.  Sporadically awarded before 1750, the permission tacite became more commonplace in the Enlightenment.  La Pucelle, De l’Esprit des lois, Le Siècle de Louis XIV, the last ten volumes of the Encyclopédie, and all the periodical literature except the three official journals, were among the recipients of permissions tacites.  They lowered the price of intellectual liberation.  Moreover, without them, the librairie in France would have sunk lower than it did into the quagmire of monopoly.

As it stood, Colbert’s privilege system conspired with the policy of reducing the number of presses to create, by the beginning of the eighteenth century, a book trade thoroughly dominated by a handful of Paris libraires-imprimeurs, who dictated contracts with authors while rendering colleagues in the capital and provinces submissive and economically impotent.  These favored publishers, customarily the officers of the Paris Community of Sellers and Printers, formed a patriciate closely associated with the regime - registering privilèges and permits, as imprimeurs du Roi dividing monopolies over the publication of government documents, and, above all, obtaining exclusive privileges for as many books as possible, old titles and new ones, classics, and best sellers. [11]

9. C.-G. Lamoignon de Malesherbes, Mémoires sur la librairie et sur la liberté de la presse (Paris, 1809), p. 249.

10. F. Fr. 21990.

11. As the foremost economic consideration of French publishers of the Ancien Regimé, the privilège en librairie has not escaped the attention of scholars.  During the second half of the nineteenth century the historiography of the privilèges was marred by the fact that those who approached the subject did so to justify personal positions in the then current debate over perpetual copyright.  For example, Edouard Laboulaye and Georges [Guiffrey defended the principle of perpetual copyright by stressing the need for re­establishing continuity with tradition - that is, with their interpretation of pre-1777 tradition.  They stressed the principle that under the Ancien Régime an author and his heirs might retain a privilege ad infinitum, and that, until 1777, publishers justifiably might expect identical protection.  By employing historical precedent to defend the ambitions of publishers of their own day, however, Laboulaye and Guiffrey neglected to mention that before 1777 the author and his heirs were prohibited from exploiting the privilège.  Only a libraire or imprimeur could engage in the commerce of books, and the Paris Community of Sellers and Printers urged members of the guild to insist upon an author’s surrender of his privilège before undertaking publication of his manuscript.  In the overwhelming number of cases this intra-community collusion seems to have worked, and it was not until 1769 that an author overtly challenged publishers’ practice by finding a printer who would undertake his work without insisting upon purchase of the privilège as well, and then locating several libraires who would distribute and sell it.  Though the logic of Laboulaye and Guiffrey was shaky, the documents reprinted in their volume, La Propriété littéraire au XVIIIe siècle.  Recueil de pièces et de documents. Publié par le Comite de l’Association pour la défense de la propriété littéraire et artistique (Paris, 1859), are very valuable.  In 1881, M.-F. Malapert took the opposite tack, defending the limited temporal notion of copyright in his Histoire abrégée de la legislation sur la propriété littéraire avant 1789 (Paris, 1881).  The most dispassionate account of the privilèges was Henri Falk’s law thesis, Les Privilèges de librairie sous P Ancien Régime (Paris, 1906).  But Falk’s near complete dependence upon juridical sources makes his work outdated today.  He made little use of the registers of privilèges and permissions compiled by the Paris Community of Sellers and Printers and therefore failed to see how the use of permissions tacites could cut into the system established by royal arrêts.  Falk also misunderstood Diderot’s role in the theoretical controversy surrounding the privilèges, and he appears not to have comprehended the significance of the La Fontaine affaire of 1761.  In his Histoire économique de l’imprimerie, Vol. I: L’Imprimerie sous l’Ancien Régime, 1439-1789 (Paris, 1905), pp. 85-92, Paul Mellottee gave a brief summary of the privilèges.  So did Francois Olivier-Martin in L’Organisation corporative de la France d’Ancien Régime (Paris, 1938), pp. 44-57.  Recent scholarship has attempted to analyze the effects of the privilège system upon the provincial book trade, or to integrate the system into the larger socio-economic picture of Old Regime France.  Two excellent examples of the former type of research are Mlle. Ventre’s L’Imprimerie et la librairie en Languedoc, pp. 86-111; and Jacqueline Roubert’s “La Situation de l’imprimerie lyonnaise à la fin du XVIIe siecle,” in Cinq Etudes lyonnaises, I (“Histoire et civilisation du livre,” Geneva, 1966), 77-111; The most significant example of the latter type of research, limited as it is to the seventeenth century, is H.-J. Martin’s Livre, pouvoirs et société, I, 51-57, 440-60; II, 690-95, 732-39, 757-68.  A recent law thesis, Marie-Claude Dock’s Etude sur le droit d’auteur (Paris, 1965), employs an historical framework, but is impressionistic and often inaccurate.  The only important study in English, Pottinger’s French Book Trade in the Ancien Régime, falls short in its treatment of the privilèges largely because the author did not have direct access to the sources and had to depend heavily upon Laboulaye and Guiffrey, Malapert, and Falk.  Thus, Pottinger tends to repeat errors or create new ones.  For example, I cannot see upon what he bases his contention that the arrêt of 1777 on privilèges was a “dead letter” (p. 134).  Pottinger concludes his chapter on the “Administration of the Book Trade” with the following (p. 169): “That the publishers and printers worked so valiantly and so loyally to solve their problems in the light of what economic knowledge they had calls for our highest admiration for them as citizens and as businessmen.”  Needless to say, and as I hope this article proves, such adulation ought to be severely qualified.]

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The earliest privilèges en librairie dated back to the first decades of the sixteenth century and were granted either to authors or publishers.  The original intent was to allow the principal investor in an edition the opportunity to recover his money and earn a profit within a fixed period of time - five to ten years customarily.  After this period the


book in question was to become free copy.  The University, Parlement of Paris, Court of Châtelet, and king shared in the issuance of privilèges.  In the second half of the sixteenth century, however, the Crown assumed exclusive authority to award them.  The wars of religion activated the press as never before, and royal advisors sought to convert a commercial favor of the king’s into a means of censorship control.  In 1566 royal privileges for all first editions became obligatory.  Enforcing such an ordinance outside Paris was of course extremely difficult, but by 1600 officials in the chancellor’s office were reading manuscripts haphazardly and distributing privilèges regularly.  What was most significant, however, was the fact that commencing in the 1630s the chancellor was renewing privileges of libraires and imprimeurs.  This meant that the regime was favoring certain publishers over the others by assuring them monopolies for periods of time long beyond the customary decade.  Moreover, books already in the public domain were removed from it, and privilèges for them were granted to fortunate publishers.  Customarily these works were classics and patristic texts.  For the next half century provincial publishers would refuse to recognize these grants.  Finally, the Crown granted privilèges généraux to a single publisher or group of them, guaranteeing the recipient exclusive rights over a generic category of books for a stipulated period.  The most celebrated corporation to receive a privilège général was the Paris-based Compagnie des usages, an association of the largest publishers in the capital, who during much of the seventeenth century held exclusive title to liturgical works reformed by the Council of Trent.  Of course, authors gained privilèges as well, but the costs of producing and distributing a book at private expense had become prohibitive.  Writers therefore tended to sell their privileges to publishers for a fixed sum, relinquishing the right to benefit from subsequent profits.  The principle of royalties does not seem to have existed.  If a publisher and author might have hit upon an arrangement of sharing profits while the author retained his priviège, it seems safe to assume that the Paris Community of Sellers and Printers would have rendered such an agreement void.  In any event, early in the seventeenth century lines of economic conflict were drawn: authors, the smaller publishers of Paris, virtually all those in the provinces, doctors of the University, and parlementaires of the capital opposed the course of the privilège system.  The Crown and its protected clique in Paris favored it.  Until the middle of the next century the major contestants in the struggle for economic control over the book trade in France would be the favored and nonfavored


publishers.  The issues at hand would involve the exclusive privilèges for popular editions of classical texts, automatic renewals of privileges, and the privilèges généraux.

When Louis XIV assumed control of the government in 1661, however, no settled privilege policy, governed by royal ordinance, existed.  A General Ruling on the librairie in 1649 had recognized the principle of exclusive privileges for classics, but Parlement refused to register that part of the document.  Chancellor Séguier abided by it nevertheless and awarded privileges and renewals to the Paris houses in which the regime had placed its confidence.  Most frequently these houses were directed by imprimeurs du Roi - the Billaine, Cramoisy, and Sonnius firms for example.  In the 1650s, however, nonfavored publishers openly challenged the Parisians’ claims to monopoly, printing classics and religious texts, protected or not.  Once the absolutism of Louis XIV hardened, however, changes began to evolve; and the monarchy considered itself more obliged than ever to protect the economic interests of those survivors of Colbert’s retrenchment policies who were entrusted with the responsibility for keeping the French book trade ideologically pure - namely the officers of the Paris community and the imprimeurs du Roi.  An ordinance of 1665, restricting privilège renewals to books whose text had been significantly altered or increased, remained unenforced. [12]  By 1670 the regime had cowed into silence the Parlement and University, two institutions reactionary enough to have insisted upon the medieval idea of the unlimited free trade in books as a social and intellectual necessity. [13]  The chancellor’s office issued privilèges and continuations of them at a record clip.  One outrageous, but by no means exceptional, example of royal generosity was the privilège prolongation awarded in 1675 to Pierre Le Petit, a favored publisher, to compensate for losses he had sustained in a warehouse fire.  He was given continuations valid for fifty years for his editions and translations of the works of Arnauld

12 Martin, Livre,pouvoirs et société, I, 51-57, 331-61, 423-29, 440-60; II, 555-96, 678-95.  The essential documents on the evolution of the privilège system from the sixteenth through mid-seventeenth centuries are as follows: Chevillier, L’Origine de l’imprimerie de Paris (Paris, 1695), p. 395 - an enumeration of the first privileges; Isambert, Jourdan, and Decrusy, Recueil général, XIV, 210-11 - the Edict of Moulin (February 1566) obliging royal privilèges for all first editions; F. Fr. 22071, Nr. 69. 19 July 1618. Art. XXXIII - the article in the royal patent letters establishing the Paris Community of Sellers and Printers, which prohibited renewals of privilèges without a corresponding augmentation of the text; F. Fr. 22061, Nr. 93. December 1649.  Art. XXVI - the controversial article in the General Ruling over the librairie which recognized exclusive privileges for classics; F. Fr. 22071, Nr. 107. 27 February 1665 - the last royal arrêt until the mid-eighteenth century that made any genuine attempt to slow down the contraction of the public domain.

13. Charles Jourdain, Histoire de l’Universite de Paris aux XVIIe et XVIIe siècles (Paris, 1888), I, 332.


d’Andilly and Louis of Granada, for “des offices de l’Église, de la Messe & de la Semaine sainte en Latin & en Francois, que pour le Vieux et du Nouveau Testament,” [14] for certain translations of the Books of Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, and, finally, for the translated writings of St. John Chrysostom and Gregory the Great. [15]

Such a policy presaged disaster for publishers in the country, accustomed to assume that translated classics and patristic texts belonged to the public domain, and all that was needed, in order to make an edition of one of them, was censorship approval from a local procureur du Roi.  In the last years of the seventeenth century, Lyon and Rouen publishers in particular, with the blessing of local judges anxious to stimulate industry of any sort in a period of recession, continued their timeworn practices, to the dismay of Parisians who were obtaining exclusive privilèges for the very same books undertaken by the provincials.  The latter were not even applying to the capital for sealed permits for the books they intended to print, as the latest general ruling, that of 1686, obliged them to do. [16]  Soon this conflict of interests resulted in a state of war between the publishers of Paris and their colleagues.  Once the government threw the full weight of its police power behind the Parisians, executing a brutal series of raids upon the community of Lyon in 1692, 1694, and 1699, the game was up. [17]  In 1701 royal patent letters specifically forbade local judges from issuing publication permits for anything except brochures and pamphlets which had passed censorship scrutiny.  Only the keeper of the seals might grant permissions for books. [18]  In a circular letter sixty Lyon sellers and printers requested that the ruling be rescinded.  They pointed out how impossible it was for them to negotiate with authors over the transfer of privilèges, since Paris was the undisputed center of French intellectual life, the residence of all writers of merit.  The Lyonnais stated that virtually their entire livelihood depended upon re-editions of the classics.  They were convinced, however, that once they requested permits from the chancellor for previously

14. Most likely this-was Nicolas Fontaine’s Histoire du Vieux & Nouveau Testament (Paris, 1670) - the so-called “Bible de Royaumont.”

15. F. Fr. 22074, Nr. 37. 3 August 1675.

16. F. Fr. 22061, Nr. 121. Art. LXVI. See Roubert, “La Situation de l’imprimerie lyonnaise,” pp. 86-87.

17. F. Fr. 22074, Nr. 66. 30 August 1692. F. Fr. 22074, Nr. 68. [1694]. F. Fr. 22074, Nr. 70. 20 June 1699.  The second seizure, instigated at the request of André Pralard of Paris, uncovered an incredible bonanza hidden in the Jacobin and Cordelier convents of Lyon: 275 different titles, printed either without permission or in defiance of privileges held by Parisians - in all a total of 21,454 items!  See also Roubert, “La Situation de l’imprimerie lyonnaise,” pp. 89-96.

18. F. Fr. 22071, Nr. 195. 2 October 1701.


published books, these surely would be denied; for Parisians, gaining wind of their intentions, would get to the Administration first and acquire exclusive privilèges for the works in question.  Every day, complained the Lyonnais, the patriciate of the capital was swallowing up more books once in the public domain.  The provincials requested the restoration of all classics and withdrawal of the recent patent letter. [19]  The regime remained silent.  In 1704, however, it showed where its allegiance lay by issuing a new arrêt reducing the number of print shops in the provincial towns to their lowest total yet - Lyon and Rouen to twelve, Bordeaux and Toulouse to ten apiece. [20]

The Patricate

Between 1704 and 1725, the non-privileged publishers of France sank into the silence of bitterness and resignation, while the patriciate of the capital consolidated its triumphs of the previous three decades with a rigorous pursuit of privilèges and prolongations of them.  Its members divided monopolies among themselves, traded in them, and even offered them as dowries with their daughters.  The provincial press fell into such desperate straits that as early as 1706, Chancellor Pontchartrain was forced to display an element of uncharacteristic generosity by restoring to the public domain certain popular works of piety, the catalogue for which, it must be added, was to be drawn up by officers of the Paris community. [21]  But even in their moment of victory, the Parisians were not of a mind to enjoy it.  Printers and sellers fought one another for the commanding voice in the chambre syndicale. [22]  Master printers struggled with their journeymen, going so far as to hire “scab” labor, the so-called alloués, foreigners and ill-trained provincials drawn to Paris, seeking irregular employment at cut rates of pay. [23]  Most characteristic of all were the struggles among the favored masters themselves over the bounty in privilèges made available by royal generosity.

One of the most publicized cases involved two members of the patriciate, Jean-Baptiste II Coignard and Jacques Mariette.  It had become fairly common for the chancellor’s office to tempt a Parisian with privilège prolongations for works that sold well if only the

19. F. Fr. 22071, Nr. 196. “A nosseigneurs des Requestes de l’Hôtel”[1702].

20 F. Fr. 22065, Nr. 63. 21 July 1704.

21. F. Fr. 22071, Nr. 223. 30 January 1706.

22. Mellottee, Histoire economique, I, 196-99.

23. Chauvet, Les Ouvriers du livre, pp. 150-55.  The General Ruling of 1723 officially authorized use of the alloués.


publisher would undertake the re-edition of a costly venture whose profit was not guaranteed.  In 1707, such an opportunity was presented to Coignard, imprimeur du Roi et de l’Académie francaise.  Six years earlier Coignard had obtained a twelve-year privilege for several works, including the immensely successful Dictionnaire of Moréri.  In hopes of publishing a new edition of the Moréri, Coignard decided to share the priviège for it with Mariette.  Nothing immediate came of the partnership.  But then the chancellor’s office proposed an eighteen-year continuation of the priviège for the Moréri provided that Coignard undertake publication of the out of print Antiquitates Constantinopolitana of Père Anselme.  Coignard proceeded to inform Mariette that by virtue of the partnership in the Moréri, the two were to share expenses for the Anselme.  Mariette did not see it that way, maintaining that the two enterprises were wholly independent of each other.  He invoked a long abused arrêt of 1665 stating the necessity of considerable augmentations of text before a priviège prolongation would be granted, and added that both he and Coignard possessed sufficient new material to merit a legitimate continuation of the Moréri.  But greed alone had motivated Coignard, Mariette wrote, since the imprimeur du Roi failed to mention that in addition to the Moréri, he had managed to wangle fifty additional prolongations of privièges in his possession - if only he would undertake the Anselme. [24]  In the long run Mariette obtained satisfaction. I can find no subsequent re-edition of the Anselme, and in 1712 a new edition of Moréri appeared with Mariette cited as publisher. [25]  According to one source, admittedly exaggerated, the profits accruing from it were enormous, if not exorbitant. [26]

Eight years later, however, a grave crisis struck the Paris community, forcing its officers to take a stand, at least temporarily, against the priviège system recently evolved.  This time the issue concerned a priviège obtained by the rector of the University of Paris for all editions which the Sorbonne might determine as:

necessaires pour ses Classes, avec des Notes ou sans Notes, & specialement une suite d’Auteurs Grecs & Latins, avec des Notes & des Index... [to be printed] autant de fois que leur bon semblera & de les faire vendre &

24. The memoir of Coignard is F. Fr. 22072, Nr. 14. [1710] “Au Roy & a nosseigneurs de son Conseil.”  The memoir of Mariette is F. Fr. 22072, Nr. 16. [1710] “Au Roy & nosseigneurs de son Conseil.”

25. Catalogue générales des livres imprimes de la Bibliothèque Nationale. Vol. 119, 529-30.

26. [Jacques-Pierre Blondel], “Mémoire sur les vexations qu’exercent les libraires & les imprimeurs de Paris” (Paris [1725]), p. 4.


débiter par tout notre Royaume pendant le temps de cinquante années consécutives.

Though the award categorically denied prejudice against publishers holding privileges for editions contemplated by the University, it nevertheless prohibited libraires and imprimeurs of the capital from printing the same works that the Sorbonne might undertake.  The rector looked for a publisher with whom he might entrust the vast concession.  He did not have to go far.  His brother, Lambert Coffin, had recently resigned his professorship to take up a new profession - that of libraire. [28]  The issue bore the earmarks of a put-up job, and the Parisians found themselves duped at a game in which they themselves had acquired great skill.  They cried that the grant to the University was a privilèges général, now out of fashion, [29] and that the advancement of scholarship would all but cease.  Editors, they claimed, would be willing to undertake only University-sponsored ventures.  Conveniently forgetting their own relentless hunt for privilèges, the Parisians added that the free market in classical texts and indexes was now ruined, and compounding self-interest with hypocrisy, the patriciate suddenly displayed concern for brethren in the country, “dont la plupart ne subsistent que pour l’Impression & le Débit des Feuilles de Classes & des livres à l’usage des Etudians.”  Once the provincial universities imitated Paris, the patriciate added, the publishers of the country would be destroyed. [30]

Important as this affair was in itself, it also must be seen as an effort on the part of the University to regain a degree of influence over an area in which it once had played such a preponderant role.  Prior to printing, the librairie had been within the domain of its authority.  In the sixteenth century, however, its controls over censorship had whittled away, and in the seventeenth century its position on the free trade in books had become a dead letter.  In the view of the doctors, a

27. F. Fr. 22072, Nr. 33. 8 August 1720.

28. F. Fr. 22072, Nr. 34. [1720] “Memoire pour le sieur Lambert Coffin, ancien professeur en Universite.”  Lambert Coffin had to pay dearly for his windfall.  His former colleagues deeply resented his commercial ambitions, maintaining that the profession of libraire, at one time linked closely to the academy, “n’est pas aujourd’hui sur l’ancien pied… & que comme elle n’a rien d’incompatible avec l’Art d’un Relieur, elle n’a aussi rien de compatible avec la Profession noble & libérale de Maistre de l’Université.”  The binders, incidentally, had been driven out of the community in 1686.

29. Late in the seventeenth century authors had been prohibited from obtaining privilèges généraux.  F. Fr. 22071, Nr. 136. 18 February 1673; F. Fr. 22071, Nr. 138. 4 June 1674; F. Fr. 22173, Nr. 46. 13 May 1686.  I can find nothing in the registers, however, that prohibited publishers from obtaining them.

30. F. Fr. 22072, Nr. 35. “Mémoire pour les libraires & imprimeurs de Paris opposans à l’enregistrement d’un privilèges généraux surpris par M. Coffin, recteur de l’Université” (1720).


once noble profession had fallen prey to the state and crafty businessmen. [31]  Worst of all, in 1703 a royal order opened the academic community itself to all master libraires and imprimeurs, not merely the two dozen favored ones sanctioned by medieval tradition. [32]  After all the humiliations perhaps now the opportunity arose for a bit of vengeance, and Rector Coffin decided to make the most of circumstances.

But the Parisians were too firmly entrenched.  They launched a counter-attack against the university, and in 1721 the officers of the chambre syndicale obtained major concessions from the Royal Council.  Most significant was the fact that the volumes which the university intended to undertake were not to be protected by a privilège after all.  They rather would obtain special permissions simples.  This meant that commercial publishers would be allowed to print subsequent versions of the university editions as freely as they wished.  They merely would have to acquire their own permissions.  Only published lecture notes would keep their exclusive character. [33]  The Parisians thus could breathe more easily, but at the price of principle.  For a moment they had to reverse their position on privilèges and were forced to acknowledge additions to the public domain.  The storm passed, and they soon returned to customary habits of obtaining privilèges and protecting them.  The Sorbonne affair of 1720-21 was to be considered an anomaly.  They might renew their course again.

Indeed, they had to.  The sudden aggressiveness of the Sorbonne perhaps was symptomatic of the deep social and economic crisis which arose in France in the wake of the collapse of John Law’s System.  Groups had to take their chances.  Now it was the turn of the officers of the Paris community.  They emerged determined more than ever to seek in legislation a means of assuring retention of gains which recently had come under attack.  They pieced together a comprehensive set of recommendations for the librairie of the capital.  The Royal Council approved their proposals, but a now recalcitrant Parlement withheld registration.  In 1723 the Parisians tried again.  Once more the Royal Council approved, and this time Parlement was

31. Jourdain, Histoire de l’Université, II, 28-29, 176-78. Olivier-Martin, L’Organisation corporative, pp. 55-60.

32. F. Fr. 21748, Nr. 62. 6 October 1703.  Formerly, membership had been restricted to twenty-four masters, a custom dating back to the fourteenth century.  In 1725 the University saved some face by obtaining the right to examine all candidates for masterships in the book trade, ostensibly to determine literacy in Latin and Greek.  Obviously the examination was nothing more than a formal gesture.

33. F. Fr. 22072, Nr. 38. 13 September 1721.


ignored altogether.  In 1744 the “Reglement du Conseil” became known as the “code de la librairie” and was applied formally to the entire kingdom. [34]  Though the revisions of 1777 were to alter completely its treatment of the privilèges, it remained the fundamental document governing the book trade for the remainder of the Ancien Régime. [35]

Divided into sixteen chapters and 123 articles, the ruling covered the administration and composition of the community, censorship procedures, the policing of published works, the rights of authors, the role of itinerant peddlers (the colporteurs), the auxiliary trades, and finally the privilèges and permits.  Curiously enough, the ruling failed to define privilèges per se, or state criteria for their prolongation.  But Article 103 assumed that all books printed in France must be sanctioned by either a permission de sceau or privilege exclusif, and Article 109 defined as counterfeit editions books printed in defiance of privilèges or prolongations of them.  The very ambiguity of that section of the ruling on privilèges would permit the Parisians the greatest leeway of interpretation.  Basically, their position was that books not already protected by privilèges might conceivably become so; and that privileges upon expiration were automatically renewable.  Of course, not a word mentioned the permissions tacites.  Article 5 of the ruling was clear in stating who might engage in the commerce of books: only printers, sellers, and registered colporteurs.


Natural Rights

The patriciate countered provincial protests against the ruling by having drawn up in 1725 a theoretical argument justifying the legislation.  No longer did the Parisians intend to depend solely upon historical precedent or economic necessity, as had been traditional with them.  Nor would they pay much attention to the contradictory elements in seventeenth century arrêst on the privilèges. T hey would appeal rather to a fundamental idea on property which had its source, so they believed, in Natural Rights themselves.  They called upon a parlementary lawyer, Louis d’Héricourt, to prepare their brief, which they submitted to Keeper of the Seals Fleuriau d’Armenonville early in 1726. [36]

34. F. Fr. 22062, Nr. 85. 24 March 1744. Saugrain, Code de la librairie et de l’imprimerie (Paris, 1744).

35. Isambert, Jourdan, Decrusy, Recueil général, XXI, 216-31.

36. By no means was d’Héricourt’s argument wholly original.  As early as 1694, a memoir of the Paris community had likened privilèges to real property (F. Fr. 22071, Nr. 177).  To the rhetorical question of whether a libraire might will a privilège renewal to his heir, the Parisians had responded: “Est-ce un crime de se conférer un droit legitimement acquis ?”  They went on to liken those contesting their claim to jealous neighbors who would deny a landlord the right to bequeath a well on his property simply because they, the neighbors, had not possessed the industry to construct their own.


To their bewilderment d’Armenonville became furious when he read it.  He forced the resignations of the syndic and adjunct of the community, and the printer of the Mérnoire had to flee Paris to avoid imprisonment. [37]

What was so outrageous about the argument which now threatened the alliance molded by Colbert half a century earlier?  Essentially, d’Héricourt and the Parisians defined the royal privilege in so restrictive a way that it became no more than the confirmation of an anterior right - and that right was property: “Il est certain,” wrote the jurist, “selon les principes que l’on vient d’établir, que ce ne soot point les Privilèges que le Roi accorde aux Libraires qui les rendent proprietaires des Ouvrages qu’ils impriment, mais uniquement l’acquisition du Manuscrit, dont l’auteur leur transmet la propriété, au moyen du prix qu’il en recoit.”  By what right is a manuscript the property of an author, d’Héricourt asked rhetorically?  His reply was an extension of Locke’s : “C’est le fruit d’un travail qui lui est personnel, dont it doit avoir la liberté de disposer à son gré, pour se procurer, outre l’honneur qu’il en espère, un profit qui lui fournisse ses besoins.”  Of course, d’Héricourt neglected to mention that the Ruling of 1723 prohibited all who were neither libraires nor imprimeurs from engaging in the commerce of books, so that authors had no other choice than to transfer ownership of the product of their toil.  To d’Héricourt, once the manuscript changed hands, the new owner obtained full and outright possession: “[Il] doit demeurer perpétuellement propriétaire du Texte de cet Ouvrage, lui & ses descendans, comme d’une terre ou d’une maison qu’il auroit acquise, parce que l’acquisition d’un héritage ne differe en rien par la nature de l’acquisition de celle d’un manuscrit.”  Therefore, a privilège, strictly speaking, could have no temporal limits.  It simply acknowledged a right of property.  “Le Roi, n’ayant aucun droit sur les Ouvrages des Auteurs, ne peut les transmettre à personne sans le consentement de ceux qui s’en trouvent les légitimes propriétaires.”  Once a manuscript passed censorship and the publishers acquired a royal privilège over it, the king “se trouve dans une heureuse impuissance d’ôer les Privilèges qu’il a

37. F. Fr. 22072, Nr. 62. “A Monseigneur le Garde des Sceaux” (Paris, 1726).  A handwritten note attached to the Bibliothêque Nationale’s copy of the memoir, signed Boudie (Boudier de Villemert ?) noted:

Ce mémoire a tellement irrité le Garde des Sceaux qu’il en insulta le sindic Mariette & son confrère adjoint Ganeau, qu’ils luy donnèrent leur démission, & à leur place furent nommés par arrest du Conseil Brunet sindic, Prudhomme & Saugrain adjoints.

In 1764 the librairie official Francois Marin noted that the printer of the memoir, Vincent, had had to flee Paris (F. Fr. 22183. March, 1764).


accordés a un libraire propriétaire d’un Manuscrit, pour en gratifier un autre qui n’y a aucun droit.” [38]

Franklin Ford has noted how early eighteenth century Robe theoreticians adapted to French circumstances certain of the justifying principles for the Glorious Revolution.  Customarily it was the contractual theory of the state that intrigued them. [39]  D’Héricourt, however, was dipping into two other areas dear to the men of 1688, the labor theory of property and the inviolability of commercial contracts.  The merging of these concepts would serve the self-interest of the privilège monopolists of the French book trade for another half century.  Nevertheless, the year 1726 marks a watershed in another way.  No longer would the Administration react with automatic sympathy to the wishes of the Paris patriciate.  As a matter of fact, that very year the government tolerated the circulation of Jacques Blondel’s “Mémoire sur les vexations qu’exercent les libraires & les imprimeurs de Paris,” a denunciation of the habits of the officers of the Paris community, who, according to Blondel, abused writers and non-favored publishers alike, and whose books were justly notorious for their high price and low quality. [40]

Still, between 1726 and 1750, the regime made no concerted effort to revise the privilège system.  Only once between these dates did it seem genuinely threatened.  This was in 1739. Two Paris sellers, Jean-François Josse and Charles-Marie Delespine protested that the comte d’Argenson, who held administrative responsibility over the librairie in the name of Chancellor d’Aguesseau, had turned down their request for privilège continuations for stocks the pair recently had purchased.  Josse and Delespine maintained to d’Aguesseau that they had made their investment with the understanding that they would have no difficulty obtaining their prolongations.  They repeated

38. F. Fr. 22072, Nr. 62.  The memoir was reprinted, with slight variants, in the Oeuvres posthumes de Maitre Louis d’Héricourt, Avocat au Parlement (Paris, 1759), III. Mémoire V. En forme de Requeste à Monseigneur le Garde des Sceaux.  Question: “S’il seroit juste & équitable d’accorder aux Libraires de Province la permission d’imprimer les Livres qui appartiennent aux Libraires de Paris, par l’acquisition qu’ils ont faite des Manuscrits des Auteurs,” pp. 54-71.  See also John Locke, The Second Treatise on Government, ed. Peter Laslett (New York, 1965), pp. 327-44.

39. Franklin L. Ford, Robe and Sword: The Regrouping of the French Aristocracy After Louis XIV (New York, 1965), p. 224.  See also Denis Richet, “Autour des Origines idéologiques lointaines de la Revolution francaise. Elites et despotismes,” Annales. Economies, Societes, Civilisations (1969), 1-23.

40. [Blondel], “Mémoire sur les vexations.” In his Journal et mémoires sur la Régence et sur le regne de Louis XV, ed. de Lescure (Paris, 1863-68), III, 176 and 310, Matthieu Marais notes that Blondel’s memoir was thought to have been the work of disgruntled journeyman printers.  The memoir has been edited by Lucien Faucou and published under its original title by the Moniteur du Bibliophile (Paris, 1879).


d’Héricourt’s argument that privilèges protected real property and therefore were indissoluble without consent of the owners.  That fears of a new royal policy lay behind their plea appears evident from their remarks: “[Si] Sa Majesté jugeroit apropos aujourd’huy de retrancher toutes les continuations des Privilèges, ce retranchement ne pouroit équitablement tomber que sur les Privilèges qui se sont accordes postérieurement à ce nouveau Règlement, & non sur les suppliants.” [41]  But no change in policy occurred.  Maboul soon replaced d’Argenson as director, and the patriciate could breathe more easily.  The year 1739 brought a further reduction in the number of provincial presses, and five years later the Ruling of 1723 officially became applicable for the entire land.


Malesherbes’ Tenure

It was in 1750, the date traditionally viewed as the turning point in the intellectual life of prerevolutionary France, that the book trade entered a new era.  The guiding spirit of this transition was Malesherbes, son of Chancellor Lamoignon, who at twenty-seven became chief of the royal bureau de la librairie.  During Malesherbes’ thirteen-year stint the department expanded in size and scope, and the director assumed the awesome responsibility of deciding most of the ideological ground rules for dissemination of the Enlightenment in France. [42]  Hostile towards Colbert’s program for the book trade on both economic and intellectual grounds, determined to protect writers and his censors from reactionary forces at Court, in the Church, and in Parlement, Malesherbes epitomized courage, delicacy, and skill in the handling of his assignment.  He despised the privilège system; his sympathies lay with authors and nonfavored publishers.  In his Mémoires sur la librairie, composed in 1758-59, he accused members of the Paris patriciate of having closed masterships to all but members of their own families.  As a consequence, “les fils des libraires, sûrs de leur fortune par ce monopole odieux, propriétaires

41 F. Fr. 22072, Nr. 98. April, 1740.

42 Indigestible as it is, Pierre Grosclaude’s monumental Malesherbes: témoin et interprète de son temps remains the definitive biography of this remarkable man.  Grosclaude devotes a considerable amount of his work (pp. 63-208, 665-81) to Malesherbes and the librairie, but spends only two pages (pp. 180-82) on the privilèges.  A recent book, Edward P. Shaw, Problems and Policies of Malesherbes as Directeur de la librairie in France (1750-1763) (Albany, 1966), says more.  But this strange work, ignoring all save the documents in the Anisson Collection of the Bibliotheque Nationale, is extremely impressionistic and narrowly focused.  Shaw appears to confuse the permissions tacites and the simple police tolérances.  The latter customarily were not recorded in any register and often were issued orally.


d’ailleurs du privilège exclusif de la plupart des livres qui s’impriment, jouissent de leur maîtrise sans soin & sans travail, comme on jouit d’une terre qui rapporte un gros revenu.” [43]  Clearly this was an ironic twist of the Parisians’ celebrated argument.  Yet Malesherbes found it difficult to attack the patriciate frontally.  After all, often its officers shared his libertarian views and wished as much as he to spread the gospel of the new ideas.  Was not the syndic Le Breton one of the partners in the Encyclopedic, the publication of which Malesherbes pledged himself to protect at all costs ?

The oblique way Malesherbes chose to attack the privileges and numbing orthodoxy was via the permissions tacites.  We know of course that the permissions tacites were employed to circumvent censorship.  One may hypothesize that they were used to circumvent the privilège system as well.  In the first place, as is revealed by Robert Estivals’ compilation of the data preserved in the registers of the Paris Community of Sellers and Printers, the average annual number of privilèges, continuations, and permissions de sceau sought and authorized under Malesherbes did not increase materially from previous decades, and in fact, never did attain the averages for the last years of Louis XIV’s reign. [44]  The permissions tacites, however, tell a far different story.  Beyond the pale as far as regulations on censorship and privilege were concerned, they nonetheless were recorded - too sloppily, too haphazardly to meet the standards of the quantifier of modern voter statistics perhaps, but as well as the historian working in the murky shadows of the Ancien Régime can hope for.  For the period 1724-46, that is before Malesherbes’ assumption of the directorship over the librairie, the average number of permissions tacites requested per annum came to twenty-five; the average number authorized, fourteen.  These figures represented approximately 72 percent of the number of privilèges and permissions de sceau requested and 61 percent of the number authorized.  For the period 1751-63, the era of Malesherbes, the average annual number of permissions tacites requested came to 135; the average annual number authorized, 79.  These figures represented 38 percent of the number of privilèges and permissions de sceau requested and 40 percent of those authorized, or, put another way, nearly 28 percent of the total requests and 29 percent of the total authorizations.  For Malesherbes’

43 Malesherbes, Mémoires sur la librairie, p. 172.

44 Robert Estivals, La Statistique bibliographique de la France sous la monarchie au XVIIe slècle (Paris and The Hague, 1965), p. 247.  See also Francois Furet, “La `Librairie’ du royaume au 18’ siècle,” in Livre et société dans la France du XVIIIe siècle (Paris and The Hague, 1965), pp. 3-32.  See Table of Annual Averages, opposite, p. 149.


AND PRODUCTION, 1701-87/9 (1716-23 excepted)

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period, between two and three of every ten books approved by governmental authorities in France were done so in contravention of the existing regulations on censorship and privilege (79 of 336 per annum).  In succeeding years the number was to rise. [45]

45. In “La `Librairie’ du Royaume,” p. 9, Furet hypothesizes that until the 1750s the regime may well have tolerated a significant number of books without sanctioning them via a permission - either expresse or tacite.  In subsequent years these clandestine authorizations became known generically as simples tolerances.  They might stem from virtually any source in the government or at Court interested in protecting a book otherwise considered dangerous.  At the present stage of research on the librairie it is as impossible to weigh the influence of these books upon the general state of production as it is impossible to weigh the influence of illicit books upon it.  The importance of both [underground categories will come to light not by way of register statistics but as a result of careful studies of individual publishing houses and their surviving account books.  To my knowledge no one has yet attempted to track down such sources in France, but the work in progress of Robert Darnton, on the Société typographique de Neuchâtel, a Swiss house possessing a vigorous exchange trade with French counterparts, undoubtedly will result in the model we need.]

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Malesherbes himself boasted that he was attacking privilèges in direct fashion by prohibiting continuations of them. [46]  The absence of a regular series of protests on the part of the Paris patriciate - hardly a group willing to accept challenges to its property in silence - leads one to believe that the director was chest puffing without cause.  On one celebrated occasion, however, he did nullify a claim to a continuation, holding it to have expired, and he persuaded the Royal Council to issue an arrêt recognizing a publication permit he subsequently awarded for what the Paris community claimed was a protected work. [47]  The affair was bathed in sentiment.  The privilège in question concerned the Fables of La Fontaine which the author had surrendered to a publisher in his lifetime.  The beneficiaries of Malesherbes’ generosity were La Fontaine’s maiden granddaughters, discovered wallowing in poverty.  The director found the latest prolongation of the original privilege to be valid no longer, and he offered the demoiselles a permit to publish an edition which was to be sold on a subscription basis for their profit.  The Paris patriciate accused Malesherbes of abusing his authority by declaring a privilège invalid and then awarding a new one arbitrarily.  But the director retorted that the original privilege had expired and he was merely sanctioning a permission to which anyone was entitled for a work in the public domain. [48]  Ever since 1723 the patriciate had tried to prevent the chancellor’s office from awarding permissions de sceau.  On the occasion when a nonfavored publisher might apply for one, the officers of the community would attempt to prove that the book in question already was protected by a privilège, or they quickly would seek to obtain one.  This time, however, the council ordered them to register the permission granted the La Fontaine sisters, which eventually was done. [49]

46. F. Fr. 22146, Nr. 87. 14 February 1760. Malesherbes to Semonville.

47. F. Fr. 22178, Nr. 16. 14 September 1761.

48. F. Fr. 21832, Nr. 195. 2 November 1761. Malesherbes to St. Priest.

49. F. Fr. 22073, Nr. 57. 12 October 1761.  Extract of the Registers of the Community of libraires and imprimeurs of Paris.  Though Malesherbes refused to consider the permission awarded the La Fontaine sisters to be a privilège exclusif, the Paris Community of Sellers and Printers saw it as one.  Mlle. Dock, in her Etude sur le droit d’auteur, p. 120, believes that the edict of 14 September 1761 established a hierarchy of literary ownership that first recognized rights of privileged publishers, then of authors and their heirs, and finally of nonprivileged publishers.  Therefore, in the case whereby a privilège expired, the [director of the book trade might re-award it to the most appropriate party.  I cannot accept this view, for in his letter to Saint Priest cited above (F. Fr. 21832, Nr. 195), Malesherbes wrote: “… J’ai fait donner non un privilège mais une permission simple pour les Fables de La Fontaine aux petites flues de La Fontaine qui meurent de faim.”  I would judge this permission simple to have been the equivalent of a permission de sceau.  The category, permission simple, not necessitating approval with a special seal, came into being only after the arrets of 1777.  The permits awarded to the Sorbonne back in 1721 were done so in an exceptional instance.]

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The following year the patriciate took another whipping.  Back in November 1760 the Lyon printer Jean-Marie Barret had obtained assurance of permissions de sceau for several works, including the popular de Beuil edition of the Imitation de Jesus-Christ. [50]  True to pattern, the chambre syndicale of Paris refused to register the permit, stating that the libraire Desprez owned the privilège exclusif for the Imitation.   And, as a matter of fact, in July 1761 Desprez gained a six-year continuation of his privilege. [51]  Barret appealed directly to royal justice and in March 1762 won his case.  An arrêt confirmed his permit, and he obtained 300 livres in damages. [52]

Immediately Desprez initiated a countersuit, to which Barret replied with exceptional vigor.  He attacked d’Héricourt’s theory of literary property with the assumption that a book, like any other item of commerce, might be freely reproduced once it was placed on the market:

Un livre n’appartient à son auteur ou au libraire à qui il l’a remis, qu’autant qu’il est dans son cabinet; mais aussitôt qu’il est mis au jour, il appartient au Public, & des Tors il est loisible à tous libraires de l’imprimer autant de fois qu’il leur plaira, en prenant les permissions requises à moins que pour des raisons particulières il n’ait plu à Sa Majeste d’en accorder à quelqu’un un Privilège exclusif.

Conveniently Barret was wedding the medieval notion of free copy to the absolutist doctrine of the royal grace.  It was indisputably the privilège itself, and not the anterior contract between author and publisher, which assured rights of exclusive jouissance: Il suit de là que la propriété qui confere un Privilège nait du Privilège même & non de la chose.” [53]  The Barret-Desprez case did not produce immediate repercussions in the book trade.  The leading houses of Paris continued to envisage privilèges and prolongations as royal acknowledg‑

50. F. Fr. 21999. 13 November 1760. “Registre des privilèges et permissions simples de la librairie, 1760-1763,” p. 28.  In this instance also the term permission simple means permission de sceau.

51. F. Fr. 21999. 16 July 1761.

52. F. Fr. 22073, Nrs. 61-62. 15 March 1762.  The language of the arrêt called Barret’s permission a privilège, an inaccuracy by no means uncommon.

53. F. Fr. 22073, 64. [September, 1762] “Réplique pour Jean-Marie Barret …à la requete présentée ... par le sieur Desprez, imprimeur-libraire à Paris.”


ments of property rights.  In December 1762, however, a declaration of the king strictly limited all privilèges for inventions to fifteen years and prohibited unauthorized cession of the licenses to anyone except the inventors’ heirs. [54]  Subsequent arguments by the disestablished publishers responding to the claims of the patriciate would link privilèges en librairie to these primitive patents.


Diderot’s Turn

In October 1763, as a consequence of Chancellor Lamoignon’s disgrace, Malesherbes had to resign his directorship.  In hopes of convincing his successor, Sartine, of the solidity of their claims to privileges en librairie, the officers of the Paris community asked one of their patriarchs, H.-L. Guérin, to prepare a report on the trade.  Guérin went further than any other predecessor in defending the practice of literary monopoly.  He even delineated the categories of books which had to be protected. These included translations of Holy Scripture and classics, all original texts with scholarly commentaries appended, and of course all new works.  Those books which might remain in the public domain, but for which a permission de sceau was nonetheless obligatory, were ABC’s, livres d’heures, college textbooks, and classical texts in their original language and without commentaries.  Guérin recognized privilège prolongations as a right – “une consequence du droit acquis aux proprietaires des livres”- and as an economic necessity; he believed that the Parisians needed some form of protection against the practices of their un­scrupulous colleagues in the provinces, who “contrefont avec im­punite les livres qui ont le plus de debit.”55

But Guerin’s report was simply prologue.  The patriciate next prepared a set of “Représentations” which, it was hoped, would prove to the new royal administrators of the librairie that historical precedent, logic, and moral rectitude were all arguing for acceptance of its claims to literary property.  Unlike the occasion in 1726, the Parisians bypassed the judiciary in seeking an individual to prepare their brief.  Instead they selected a man of letters, an author, who by laying claim to his rights, they believed, would validate their own.  Le Breton, syndic for the community, had a master rhetorician at his disposal - Diderot.  Perhaps it is the greatest irony in the entire history of the privilèges in the eighteenth century that the writer’s writer of the Enlightenment - himself abused and underpaid by publishers, on the eve of the worst betrayal of all, Le Breton’s doctoring of the page

54. F. Fr. 22073, Nr. 72. 24 December 1762.

55. Bibliothèque Nationale. Salle de R6serve. F. 718.  “Réflexions sur quelques articles du règlement général de la librairie & de l’imprimérie” (November, 1763).


proofs for the last volumes of the Encyclopédie - should find himself apologizing for men he despised.  Jacques Proust, to whom we are indebted for dating correctly at last Diderot’s so-called “Lettre historique et politique sur le commerce de la librairie,” [56] makes a valiant attempt to rise above the dilemma by positing the theory that when first commissioned by Le Breton to compose the “Lettre,” Diderot intended it to be a “Mémoire sur la liberté de la presse.” [57]  True, in a letter in 1769, Diderot refers to his essay in these terms. [58]  And in the piece itself, Diderot notes how useful it would be both for trade and for letters if permissions tacites could be multiplied “a l’infini.”  But he fully intends these permissions to be as exclusive commercially as privilèges. [59]  He defended the patriciate’s claims as vigorously as had d’Héricourt.  To give Diderot his due, however, it appears most likely that when he spoke up in favor of protecting the literary property of publishers, he had the rights of authors primarily in mind.  In one place he is quite explicit :

Si je laissais à mes enfants le privilège de mes ouvrages, qui oserait les en spoiler?  Si forcé par leurs besoins ou par les miens d’aliéner ce privilège, je substituais un autre propriétaire à ma place, qui pourrait, sans ébranler tous les principes de la justice, lui contester sa propriété?... Je le répéte, l’auteur est maître de son ouvrage, ou personne dans la société n’est maître de son bien.  Le libraire le possède comme it est possédé par l’auteur. [60]

Modifying and suppressing whenever he judged the language too vigorous, Le Breton presented Diderot’s memoir to Sartine as the “Représentations” of the Paris community in March 1764.  The new director then passed them on to Joseph d’Hémery, inspector in charge of policing books in the capital.  In his turn d’Hémery requested a report on the representations from François Marin, recently appointed to the new post of secretary general for the librairie.  Fortunately we still possess the manuscript copy of the representations along with Marin’s notes. [61]  No document reveals so accurately how much the

56. Thé Assézat-Tourneaux edition of the OEuvres completes de Diderot (Paris, 1876), XVIII, 7-75, gave the date of composition of the “Lettre” as 1767.  Professor Proust’s “Présentation” to Sur la liberté de la presse (Paris, 1964) - the latter being an edition of part of Diderot’s original manuscript, now in the Bibliothèque Nationale (F. Fr. 24932) - estimates 1763 as the date of composition.  Professor Proust notes as well that Diderot’s “Lettre” formed the basis for the “Représentations” of the Paris patriciate, which Le Breton sent to Sartine on 8 March 1764 (F. Fr. 22183).

57. Proust, “Présentation,” pp. 7-37.

58. Denis Diderot, Correspondance, ed. Georges Roth (Paris, 1963), IX, 198-99.

59. Sur la liberté de la presse, p. 88.

60. Ibid., p. 42.

61. F. Fr. 22183. “Representations & observations en forme de mémoire sur l’état ancien & actuel de la librairie & particulièrement sur la propriété des privilèges, &c., [présentées à M. de Sartine par les Syndic & Adjoints, & en marge les observations que M. Marin a faites sur chaque article, d’après les notes instructives que je [d’Hémery] lui ai remises par ordre du magistrat” (March, 1764).]

HHC: [bracketed] displayed on page 154 of original.


alliance forged by Colbert between the Administration and the great libraires had come unstuck.  Marin rejected the analogy made by the patriciate between literary property and real estate.  In his view, once the Parisians turned privièges into simple guarantees of anterior rights, the royal prerogative to distribute a grace would be destroyed: “On verroit les seuls libraires propriétaires des privilèges causer la ruine de leurs confrères de Paris & des Provinces, & composer une petite république indépendante de toute autorite.” [62]  In essence, of course, this already had become a historical fact.  What alternative did Marin now propose?  Drawing upon the arguments once presented by the Lyon libraire Barret, he likened privilèges en librairie to privilèges en commerce, both being at the disposal of the Crown:

les privilèges ne sont que des grâces passagères, bien différentes de la possession d’une maison, d’une terre.  Les libraires ne sont que des marchands qui achétent une marchandise. Es obtiennent un privilège, pour la fabriquer & pour la vendre exclusivement pendant un certain nombre d’années.  Le Roi devient le maître ensuite de transmettre le même droit ou à l’auteur, ou au même libraire, ou à un autre, selon les raisons qu’il peut avoir pour se déterminer dans ses grâces. [63]

Marin went on to illustrate the individual abuses generated by the Parisians’ interpretation of the privilège system.  He blamed it for the high price and low quality of Paris editions.  He sympathized with the nonfavored publishers, forced by circumstance into making counterfeit editions.  He accused members of the patriciate itself of having helped finance many of the Avignon enterprises, because of the certain profit accruing from them. [64]  But of all the elements in his written dialogue with the Parisians, none proved more dangerous to their cause than the distinction Marin made between the solid rights possessed by authors as a result of their creativity and the temporary title possessed by publishers as a result of their investment.  Though a writer merited very special royal protection, Marin concluded, under present circumstances, “[il] meurt à l’hôpital couvert de stériles lauriers,” while the libraire profits from the privilège. [65]

But what could a writer do with his privilège in 1764?  He might keep it if he could afford to pay a printer of the community for the costs of

62. Ibid., p. 1.

63. Ibid., pp. 37-38.

64. Ibid., pp. 56, 97, 101.

65. Ibid., p. 85.


publication, should that same printer be willing to risk professional disgrace by taking the job without a transfer of the privilège.  Once in possession of the printed volumes, the author himself could neither sell nor distribute them.  Nor could he contract with a sympathetic libraire to do so, for the Paris patriciate interpreted the 1723/44 ruling as prohibiting this.  Prior to 1764 there had been instances whereby writers tried to have privilèges restored after a publisher had enjoyed them over a time, [66] and one, Crébillon pere, had actually succeeded. [67]  Marin himself favored such a technique, which would allow the writer a second chance of negotiating with the publisher. [68]  Other librairie officials, however, understood that this would contradict the spirit of policy foreseen by them.  The task at hand was to try and open up more free trade in books, not perpetuate monopoly in the hands of another group, however worthy and mistreated it might be.  In short, the interests of authors and disestablished publishers were not necessarily compatible.

D’Hémery, Marin’s superior, understood this.  In August 1764, he sent a memorandum to Sartine in which he complained that, in the view of obtaining and selling as many privièges as possible for a single successful work, authors were defrauding the public by offering different publishers manuscripts of that work with the most minor distinctions - a new title, chapters switched about, a new preface or introduction.  To d’Hémery the proprietorship mentality was stimulating the greed of authors and publishers alike.  Rather than restore privilèges to authors when they expired in the hands of publishers, d’Hémery proposed that writers be encouraged to hold on to their privilèges in the first place.  This meant of course relaxing the restrictions prohibiting their participation in sale and distribution.  But, in the face of the still considerable influence of the Paris community, d’Hémery held little hope for a revolution in policies.  He resigned himself to attack individual abuses, hoping that “l’on peut remédier a ceux qui sont importants & fermer la route aux nouveaux.”[69]

66. For example, F. Fr. 22072, Nr. 60. “Mémoire pour la veuve de Pierre Ribou, libraire a Paris, contre Florent Carson [Carton] seigneur d’Ancour [Dancourt]” (1725).

67. F. Fr. 22073, Nr. 4. 15 May 1752.

68. F. Fr. 22183. “Représentations,” p. 85.  “II seroit bien flatteur, bien honorable pour le ministere, de le tirer de la misère en lui donnant le renouvellement du privilège apres l’expiration de celui qui auroit été accorde au libraire.”

69. F. Fr. 22073, Nr. 83 bis.  “Mémoire sur les abus qui se sont introduits dans la librairie à. l’occasion des privilèges” [August, 1764].  D’Hémery wished to place authors and publishers on an equal footing regarding the use of privilèges, but in each case he desired surrender to the public domain on the date of expiration.  In contrast, Marin and Sartine considered privilèges in the hands of authors as sacrosanct.  Since the Ruling of [1723/44 made them useless as well, it might be said that the secrétaire-général and directeur were begging the real question.  In her Etude sur le droit d’auteur (p. 122), Mlle. Dock mistakenly identifies d’Hémery as the author of the marginal comments to the “Représentations.”


But the inspector underestimated Sartine’s own commitment to change.  The director was as sympathetic to the interests of authors as Malesherbes had been.  In 1764 he rejected d’Hémery’s proposal permitting authors to engage in the commerce of books - because, like François Marin, he still thought in terms of the restoration of privilèges to writers upon expiration in publishers’ hands. [70]  But making little progress in this regard, he came around to accept d’Hémery’s position six years later.  The occasion which offered him a chance to act was a case concerning a wealthy, crabby, and courageous author named Luneau de Boisjermain, who was to achieve some distinction in the struggle for consumers’ rights by suing unsuccessfully the publishers of the Encyclopédia for having tripled the number of volumes and original price agreed to by subscribers. [71] Despite the policies of the patriciate discouraging publishers from accepting a manuscript without a transfer of its privilège, Luneau had managed to have printed, at his own expense, three of his books - the Nouvelle Manière d’enseigner la géographic., Cours d’histoire universelle, and Commentaires sur Racine - all the while retaining possession of his privilèges.  In 1769 he located five small Paris libraires willing to challenge existing regulations by distributing his books to colleagues in the provinces.  But the officers of the Paris community learned too quickly what was occurring and seized Luneau’s books before he could have them sent off.  They pressed charges, accusing him of having willfully contravened the prohibitions they interpreted to be present in the Ruling of 1723/44.  This Luneau did not deny, but instead appealed directly to Sartine.  The director (who also was lieutenant of police for Paris) sympathized with the author but did not believe himself empowered to effect a new policy.  He therefore chose an oblique route, declaring for Luneau on the technicality that the syndic and adjuncts had conducted their raids without correct police approval.  Luneau’s books were restored to him, he received 300 livres in damages from the community, and presumably completed his transaction. [72]  Diderot applauded the verdict, writing: “Les Libraires en corps formèrent contre M. Luneau des prétentions

70. F. Fr. 22073, Nr. 83 bis.

71. John Lough, “Luneau de Boisjermain v. the Publishers of the Encyclopédie,” Studies on Voltaire and the 18th Century (Geneva, 1963), XXIII, 115-77.

72. F. Fr. 22069, Nr. 10. 17 February 1770.


revoltantes pour tout homme de lettres.  Je le dis, je l’écrivis.  Je le dirais, je l’écrirais encore.” [73]

Favorable to authors, Sartine tried to help the nonprivilèged publishers by enlarging upon Malesherbes’ policy regarding the permissions tacites.  The few regional studies made thus far emphasize the apparent decadence of the provincial edition in the eighteenth century.  Admittedly, most of these studies have been based largely upon government documents rather than the account books of the publishers themselves.  Therefore they tend to concentrate upon accepted norms of publishing and trade - those which concerned the universe of privilèges, permissions de sceau, and permissions tacites.  A royal arrêt occasionally might punish a provincial publisher caught with an illicit edition, but official documents fail to take the measure of the extent of clandestine publishing or distribution.  Without a doubt the underground industry played a role in the country, but it remains an open question whether it did so to the point of brightening significantly the patches of economic gloom thus far revealed to us.  In Languedoc the only libraires and imprimeurs to know a modicum of regular prosperity were the small minority holding monopolies over the official publications of the intendancy, bishoprics, or universities.  The Avignon industry and the privilège system collaborated to keep most publishers in difficult circumstances.  Toulouse was especially hard hit, and the smaller towns squabbled with one another over the issue of whose shops were to be sacrificed in the reductions of 1739 and 1759. [74]  In the northeast, at least until 1766 when Lorraine was incorporated into France, the privilège system and the industry of the duchy took advantage of the nascent trade of Metz, Toul, and Verdun.  Prior to 1697, the three cities had accounted for 268 books of over fifty pages length; the duchy, 261.  During the eighteenth century 349 editions were published in the three towns, 1215 in Lorraine. [75]  Rouen’s printers and sellers went without work regularly, [76] and Sartine’s inspector for Lyon estimated that in 1763 only thirty of the city’s fifty-one presses were functioning. [77]  Sartine and his succes‑

73. M. Tourneux, “Un Factum inconnu de Diderot: ‘Au Public & aux magistrats,’ Bulletin du Bibliophile (1901), 361.

74. Ventre, L’Imprimerie et la librairie en Languedoc, pp. 237-44.

75. Albert Ronsin, “L’Industrie et le commerce du livre en Lorraine au XVIIIe siècle,” Bulletin de la Société lorraine des Etudes locales dans l’enseignement public. Nouv. Série, nrs. 22-23 (October-December, 1963; January-March, 1964), 23-53.

76. J. Querinort, “L’Imprimerie rouennaise au XVIIIe siècle,” unpublished thesis, University of Rennes (1967).  Chauvet, Les Ouvriers du livre, pp. 235-40, 297-98.

77. F. Fr. 22128, Nr. 99. 24 December 1763. Bourgelat to Sartine. Louis Trénard, “Commerce et culture: le livre à Lyon au XVIIIe siècle,” Albums du Crocodile (July-August, 1953), 44 pp.


sors attempted to reverse this trend by making more permissions tacites available than ever before.  From 1764-77, for every ten books authorized via a privilège or permission de sceau, 6.1 were authorized via a permission tacite.  This came to 38 percent of the total number of authorizations. [78]  How many of these permissions tacites were awarded for books printed in France and not imported from abroad?  At the moment we simply do not know.  One estimate holds that from 1768-77 approximately 10-15 percent of the permissions tacites requested were for books printed abroad. [79]  But these percentages are far from certain, and we do not know how well they jibe with actual authorizations.  Furthermore, it is not yet possible to determine the percentage of nonprivileged publishers obtaining permissions tacites.  Further study of the registers may provide estimates.  At any rate, the regional evaluations suggest that amelioration of their lot was not the rule.  What can be asserted, however, is that the privilège system was slipping badly after 1764, and whoever found himself economically capable might, with the connivance of the regime, cause it to slip yet more.


Ruling of 30 August 1777

From 1774-76, the nonfavored bookmen were in a position to hope that the privilege system, if not the communities themselves, might crumble beneath the hammer blows of Turgot.  On the eve of Louis XV’s death the Lyonnais had reasserted their role as spokesmen for the disadvantaged libraires-imprimeurs by requesting the abolition of privilège prolongations as well as privilèges for books which in their first edition had been originally printed outside France. [80]  But their proposals went unanswered.  Other disappointments followed.  When Turgot forced through the suppression of the majority of jurandes, maîtrises, and corporations, he passed over those which had been established by the government; and the Community of Sellers and Printers of Paris, founded in 1618, fit this category.  Certainly, if they believed themselves to be threatened, the Parisians did not show it.  In 1771, 1773, and 1775 they had the police descend upon Lyon in search of counterfeit editions, the last raid being the most thorough and least productive of the century: “Magasins, appartements, les lieux les plus secrets, tout est visité & fureté….,” but not a single in‑

78. See Table of Annual Averages, p. 149.

79. Nicole Herrmann-Mascard, La Censure des livres à Paris, p. 116.

89. F. Fr. 22073, Nr. 42. “Au Roi & nosseigneurs de son Conseil” [March, 1774].


criminating book was found. [81]  The Lyonnais instigated legal action against their colleagues of Paris and even after Turgot’s fall refused to back down.  Inspired by the reform movement, yet hoping that the backlash following 12 May 1776 would miss those who had not benefited from the program of the former controller-general, the Lyonnais in October drew up a memoir intended for the Royal Council, not merely in their own name, but also in that of the communities of Rouen, Toulouse, Marseille, and Nîmes, the most thorough cahier de doléances ever composed by the publishers of the country, and summing up a century of pain, frustration, and mistreatment.

The concrete aims stated in the memoir of the provincials were similar to those given by the Lyonnais two years earlier: to secure in legislation the abolition of automatic prolongations of privilèges and to place into the public domain all once-published books, including those which originally had been printed abroad.  The influence of the Enlightenment penetrates deeply into the memoir.  Turning d’Héricourt upside-down, the provincials found the claims of the Parisians to their privilèges to be as much an affront to the Laws of Nature as to the king’s prerogative.  In sketching the historical development of the system the provincials stated that to survive they had been forced to undertake counterfeit editions, many of which were unintentional, since the Parisians had steadfastly refused to reveal the names of protected titles.  Depending in this way upon illicit trade, the provincials admitted living in the shadow of “une tolérance incertaine & variable, qui tantôt ferme les yeux & tantôt les ouvre pour lancer les prohibitions” - the most frustrating of predicaments. [82]

In responding to the definitions of property rights upon which the Parisians had built their case for half a century, the provincials leaned heavily upon the counterarguments presented by their colleague Barret back in 1762. [83]  They acknowledged that a property transfer took place once an author sold his manuscript to a publisher.  And when the publisher converted the manuscript into an edition, the volumes in his stocks most certainly represented his property as well: “Cette propriété peut à tous égards être comparée a celle d’une maison, d’une terre, & de tout autre effet légitimement acquis.”  But

81. F. Fr. 22073, Nr. 144. “Mémoire a consulter.  Pour les libraires & imprimeurs de Lyon, Rouen, Toulouse, Marseille & Nismes.  Concernant les privilèges de librairie & continuations d’iceux” (Lyon, 15 October 1776), pp. 19-22.

82. Ibid., pp. 1-3, 10-29.

83. Ibid., pp. 28-29.


the provincials were referring to individual volumes, not to the contents therein.  Once he sold a single one of his volumes to the public, the publisher relinquished all rights to that book and could place no limit upon what the purchaser might do with his copy.  He could not prevent the purchaser from transcribing or multiplying the volume.  A book, according to the provincials, was simply a piece of merchandise, an article of commerce.  Again, the implications of the 1762 ruling on inventions came in handy.  When an inventor sold his product to the public, “il lui communique en même temps le droit, non pas de s’emparer de l’original, mais très certainement de l’imiter ou copier, si l’objet lui est utile ou agreable.”  What then was a privilège?  Not a royal acknowledgment of the “droit exclusif naturel” claimed by the Parisians, but the king’s reward, granted over a restricted period of time, for the industriousness of the inventor, creativity of the author, or financial risk of the publisher.  The sovereign awards to inventors “la faculté exclusive de vendre à ses sujets, pendant un temps limité, la participation & la jouissance de leurs inventions.”  In the same way he rewards authors and publishers with privilèges: “La faculté d’imprimer & de vendre exclusivement un livre rendu public nâit du Privilège seul & non à l’acquisition de la possession du Manuscrit, puisque l’Auteur lui-même n’a ce droit par aucun titre, s’il ne l’obtient du Gouvernement.” [84]

From this it can be seen that, while recognizing that they suffered common persecution with authors, the provincial publishers were of no mind to admit to writers special claims of proprietorship for having created a manuscript.  The provincials wished instead to remind authors how the latter were being victimized into selling manuscripts at low prices and how unjust it was for them to be prohibited from printing and selling their own books if they so chose.  Writers simply were urged to join the disestablished publishers in the struggle against perpetuation of privilèges.  Once the great Paris houses no longer monopolized the trade, once their profits became more modest, they would seek out authors and not try to dominate them. [85]

The provincials concluded their memoir with an analysis of the current state of the book trade.  Their main point was that the privilège system kept prices high and editions scarce.  The Parisians, they wrote, were only interested in pot-boilers.  They hoarded their privilèges for out-of-print, but desperately needed works, thus preventing others

84. F. Fr. 22073, Nr. 144, pp. 30-36.

85. Ibid., pp. 37-50.


from undertaking these books.  Therefore, while provincial publishers were prohibited from making an edition of the out-of-print Dictionnaire de Commerce of Savary, because the work was protected by a privilège, a Geneva house, not recognizing the monopoly, printed a successful contrefaçon.  Conversely, if a work were in demand, the house holding the privilège could not hope to serve the market adequately.  The memoir ended by noting how relations between the capital and country were at an all-time low.  Only restoration of the provincial trade could resolve the crisis.  Privilèges would have to be limited in time, the continuations stopped altogether.  The consequence, predicted the provincials, would be the abandonment of native counterfeit editions and the reopening of “des liaisons d’intérêt mutuel” between Paris and the rest of the nation. [86]

The Crown’s reaction to the pleas of the provincials was the Ruling of 30 August 1777.  (Interestingly enough, in a decision three years earlier, the House of Lords had ruled against perpetual copyright in England.) [87]  No longer would the Paris patriciate confidently enjoy privilèges over generations, and the provincial publishers even saw their contrefaçons to that date recognized and legitimized.  By no means did this mean, however, that the dominance of the Paris community over the French book trade had been eradicated.  The ruling did nothing about the extraordinary police powers enjoyed by the patriciate for a century, and six years later the chambre syndicale of the capital would be entrusted with rights of inspection over all books imported into France from abroad.  If a genuine victory was still going to be denied the disestablished publishers, the same cannot be said for authors.  In the first place, the state underscored the indefinite tenure of privilèges in their hands and in the hands of their heirs.  Moreover, by permitting authors to use their privilèges at last, that is to participate in the sale and distribution of books without surrendering their

86. Ibid., pp. 51-85.

87. There are differences as well as parallels between England and France in the struggle over free trade in books.  The 1774 ruling in England did not establish a distinction between the rights of authors and publishers.  It simply enforced a law of 1710 which had fallen into disuse, and held that no copyright could extend beyond twenty-eight years.  English jurisprudence seemed never to make as much of an issue as did the French over the so-called moral rights of an author to his manuscript.  Instead it stressed the moral necessity of communicating the contents of the manuscript to the public.  As the Whig lawyer, Lord Camden, put it: “Knowledge has no value or use to the solitary owner; to be enjoyed it must be communicated.  Scire tuum nihil est, nisi to scire hoc sciat alter; glory is the reward of science, and those who deserve it scorn all meaner views.”  See Frank Arthur Mumby, Publishing and Bookselling: A History from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (London, 1954), p. 191.  See also Marjorie Plant, The English Book Trade: An Economic History of the Making and Sale of Books (London, 1939), pp. 117-120; and A. S. Collins, Authorship in the Days of Johnson (New York, 1929).


rights over them, the Fifth arrêt of 30 August struck out at the exclusive character of the merchant-printer communities.  After 1777, an author might at least count on finding a publisher who would serve as his agent and nothing more.  He might contract with the publisher, share costs and profits, and, retaining his privilège, hope to do the same for a second edition or more.  And the publisher, discovering that a non-renewable privilege no longer possessed the glitter of yore, would now be more likely to swallow pride and be willing to engage in such a commercial venture.

But not immediately.  The initial response of the Parisians to the Ruling of 30 August was to try and have it amended or repealed.  Their pamphleteers and lawyers denounced it.  One, abbé Pluquet, predicted that a crisis of overproduction for previously fast-selling works would result, and publishers would be reluctant to undertake new editions or old, rare ones - thus incurring grievous damage upon the trade. [88]  The journalist Linguet, bundle of contradictions that he was (he had been one of Luneau de Boisjermain’s defense counsels back in 1770), repeated an argument he had made three years earlier, [89] namely that privilèges en librairie were irrevocable in nature, that they were notarial acts recognizing the rights of citizens to their civil possessions.  Like Pluquet, Linguet stated his belief that authors would be the ones to pay the price for the ruling, once they discovered how much publishers were hesitating to contract with them under the new arrangements. [90]  The direct reaction of the Parisians ranged from high melodrama - a march upon Fontainebleau by the widows of libraires, dressed in full mourning [91] - to the hiring of avocats au Parlement and au Conseil du Roi to present theoretical briefs in hopes of amendment or repea1 [.92]  Linguet reported that publishers in the capital were refusing to present to officers of the librairie the status of privilèges in their hands, and that one officer of the community, de

88. F. Fr. 22063, Nr. 68. 15 November 1777. [Abbé Pluquet], “Lettre à un ami sur les arrêts du Conseil du 30 aôut 1777, concernant la librairie et l’imprimerie,” in Laboulaye and Guiffrey, La Propriété littéraire, pp. 277-358.

89. Bibliotheque Nationale. Salle de Réserve. F. 718 [S. N. H. Linguet], “Mémoire sur les propriétés & privileges exclusifs de la librairie présentée en 1774.” 22 pp.

90. Annales politiques, civiles et littéraires du dix-huitième siècle (December 1777), Vol. III, Nr. 17, 9-57.

91. [J.-B.-A. Suard], Discours impartiel sur les affaires actuelles de la librairie (1777), p. 6.

92. “Requête au Roi & consultations pour la librairie & l’imprimerie de Paris, au sujet des deux arrêts du 30 aôut 1777,” in Laboulaye and Guiffrey, La Propriété littéraire, pp. 159-98. “Consultation des avocats au Parlement pour le corps de la librairie & imprimerie de Paris” (23 December 1777), in ibid., pp. 199-209. “Consultation des avocats au Conseil du Roi pour le corps de la librairie et imprimerie de Paris” (9 January 1778), in ibid., pp. 211-20.


Bure, had been thrown into the Bastille for refusing to apply the Royal Seal of legitimacy to the contrefaçons presented to him. [93]

The courts and police were extremely reluctant to enforce the ruling right away, and it was not sent to Parlement for registration.  Thus the inevitable hassles ensued.  In September 1777, police inspector Lenoir decided in four separate instances that raids conducted by the Paris community against sellers and printers in Lyon back in 1770, 1771, and 1773 were justified, and those caught with counterfeit editions were as guilty now as they had been prior to the existence of the Sixth arrêt of 30 August.  The ruling was not retroactive. [94]  Then, in a friendly suit instituted to test the Fifth arrêt, the Court of Châtelet ruled as valid a privilège transfer effected prior to 30 August, between the author Paucton and the Paris publisher, veuve Dessaint - victor in Lenoir’s decisions - despite the fact that according to the terms of the transaction, the privilège was to be permanent in the hands of the widow. [95]

Was the Ruling of 30 August enforced at all?  Pottinger calls it a dead letter. [96]  But evidence to the contrary does exist.  A register probably drawn up in 1778 would free for the public domain a list of 325 titles “owned” by the Paris firms of Delalain, Knappen, and Durand, as soon as the old privilèges expired. [97]  And two other registers, - one “des Permissions Simples pour les ouvrages classiques” (1778-89), the other a “Répertoire alphabétique des livres publies de 1778 à 1788, avec l’indication du chiffre de tirage” - included requests of publishers for permission to print the newly liberated books. [98]  In June 1778, the rights of authors to keep their privilèges while distributing their books to retailing agents were confirmed. [99]  Writers

93. Annales politiques (15 February, 1778), Vol. III, Nr. 20, 239.

94. F. Fr. 22070, Nr. 53; F. Fr. 22180, Nr. 112; F. Fr. 22180, Nr. 113; F. Fr. 22180, Nr. 114. 27 September 1777. Judgments of Police Inspector Lenoir.

95. See Falk, Les Privilèges de librairie, pp. 136-38.  The Chatelet decision was made on 11 August 1778 and confirmed by the Parlement of Paris on 10 February 1779.

96. Pottinger, The French Book Trade, p. 134.

97. F. Fr. 21832, Nr. 2. “Tableau des ouvrages jugés communs ou qui le deviendront à l‘expiration des privilèges dont ils sont revêtus, en execution de l’article XI de de l’arrêt du Conseil du 30 août 1777 portant règlement sur la durée des privilèges en librairie.”

98. F. Fr. 22018, 22019. Estivals, La Statistique bibliographique, p. 88.

99. F. Fr. 22180, Nr. 175. 30 June 1778. D’Hémery had recommended this in his memoir to Sartine back in 1764 (F. Fr. 22073, Nr. 83 bis).  The clarifying amendment stated that

tout Auteur qui aura obtenu en son nom le Privilège de son Ouvrage non-seulement aura le droit de le faire vendre chez lui, mais it pourra encore, autant de fois qu’il le voudra, faire imprimer, pour son compte, son Ouvrage par tel Imprimeur & le faire vendre aussi par tel Libraire qu’il aura choisi, sans que les traités ou conventions qu’il fera pour imprimer ou débiter une édition de son Ouvrage puissent être réputés cession de son Privilège.

The amendment was in part the result of a request for clarification stated in a séance of the Académie française in February 1778.  Certain members of the Académie, led by Suard, appear to have been active lobbyists for the 30 August Ruling.  See Laboulaye and Guiffrey, La Propriété littéraire, pp. 625-28.


of course obtained and held on to privilèges whenever they could.  Mme. Herrmann-Mascard estimates that they secured 78 percent of the total in 1778 and 81 percent in 1783, as compared to 40-50 percent for the 1770-76 period. [100]  What is most interesting would be to know just how many writers actually retained their privilèges through distribution; at present we cannot make such a determination.  Perhaps a comparison between the actual privilège registers for 1778-89 and writer-publisher contracts preserved in the Minutier Central of the Archives Nationales would be of help.  Certainly the dépouillement would be an arduous task.

In order to discourage direct judicial appeals, the arrêts of 30 August 1777 were not issued as patent letters and were not sent to Parlement for registration.  But the recourse of the Parisians to the courts as a channel of protest, and most especially Parlement’s review of the Paucton-Dessaint case, made a general inquiry inevitable.  In 1779 the Parlement of Paris discussed the arrêts on at least four distinct occasions  The government requested avocat-général Seguier to present its case to the body.  This proved to be the last major theoretical analysis of the privilèges en librairie under the Ancien Regime. [101]  It was a long-winded, extremely redundant report, and one can more than suspect that Seguier was arguing with half a heart.  For the sympathies of the majority of parlementaires, hostile to the Royal Council, now lay with the patriciate. [102]  The avocat- général admitted that in their definition of privilèges as property, the Parisians had a better juridical argument than their opponents.  But Seguier also admitted that the issue at hand was a practical one, the health of the nation’s book trade, and therefore principle had to yield to expediency: “Si le droit naturel milite en faveur de la propriété, l’avantage national exige qu’on facilite le commerce en détruisant les entraves dont it est plus ou moins embarrassé.” [103]  In delineating a rationale between the two types of privilèges enunciated by the Ruling of 1777 - a permanent one in the hands of an author, a temporary one in the hands of a publisher - Seguier again had to resort to the brute facts of the situation as opposed to principle or consistency.  He found that as long as the law had forced authors to yield their privilèges to publishers, men of letters did not receive fair financial compensation for their manu‑

100. Herrmann-Mascard, La Censure des livres a Paris, p. 71.  The registers employed by Mme. Herrmann-Mascard are F. Fr. 21997-22003.

101. Archives Nationales. Sér. X1B 8973.  Reprinted in Laboulaye and Guiffrey, La Propriety litteraire, pp. 481-596.

102. A.N. Sér. X1B 8972. 23 April 1779.  “Welt d’un des Messieurs de Parlement [Duval d’Epremesnil].”  Reprinted in Laboulaye and Guiffrey, La Propriete litteraire, pp. 468-78.

103. A.N. Ser. X1B 8973. Laboulaye and Guiffrey, La Propriété littéraire, p. 577.


scripts.  Therefore, it was necessary to encourage them to keep the privilèges if they so desired.  The avocat-général wriggled on the horns of his dilemma, believing in the genuine character of literary property at the same time as he felt himself obliged by his office to defend the royal grace.  Thus he attempted to define the privilège as an act of royal justice for an author, and as an act of royal liberality for a publisher.  Recognizing at length the impossibility of reconciling principle with duty, Seguier rather desperately concluded by admitting that ce qui est bon dans un temps n’a plus le même avantage dans un autre, & la multiplicité des abus appelle une nouvelle législation.” [104]

Assuming that the arrêts of 30 August were at least partially enforced, a pair of essential questions remain: were they responsible for any noteworthy economic changes in the book trade?  Did the disestablished publishers recover significantly as a result of the legislation against monopoly?  In an article which will appear shortly, Robert Darnton hypothesizes that the great Paris houses, particularly that of Charles-Joseph Panckoucke, maintained their commanding presence down to the revolution.  On the other hand, he believes that provincial dealers and foreign publishers enjoyed a brief renewal of prosperity until 1783 - not as a result of the 1777 Ruling, however, but because of Turgot’s repeal of tariffs on book imports in 1775. [105]  Both of these judgments may well prove to be true, though the registration statistics for privilèges, permissions de sceau, and permissions tacites compiled by Estivals suggest that the industry as a whole suffered jarring effects from 1778-83.  According to Estivals’ figures, from 1764-77, the average annual number of privilèges and permissions de sceau requested and authorized had come to 431 and 285 respectively.  From 1778-83, the corresponding figures dipped to 313 and 224.  From 1784-88, the recovery was made - the figures reading 422 and 282. [106]  The permissions tacites appear to tell an even more disastrous story: from 1764-77, the average annual number requested and authorized had come to 354 and 207.  From 1778-83, the corresponding figures fell to 212 and 125.  Then, as with the privilèges and permissions de sceau, recovery occurred swiftly.  The figures for 1784-87 read 358 and 220. [107]  In graph form the apparent crisis in production appears even more dramatic.108

104. Ibid., p. 596.

105. Robert Darnton, “Reading, Writing, and Publishing in Eighteenth-Century France,” Daedalus.

106. Estivals, La Statistique bibliographique, pp. 247-48.[See Table of Annual Averages, p. 149

107. Estivals, 288. See Table of Annual Averages, p. 149.

108. Estivals, p. 296. Furet, “La `Librairie’ du Royaume,” p. 8.


As a message of homage to his teacher, Estivals proudly notes that his statistics for 1778-83 appear to confirm the compliance of yet another industry to Labrousse’s curve of recession. [109]  A certain amount of evidence on the other side, however, must modify his findings.  In the first place, the registers after 1778 had to be affected by the fact that privilège continuations, previously recorded as new privilèges, simply ceased to exist.  Furthermore, in the wake of the reform of 1777, an entirely new category of permissions, the permissions simples, came into being; and the registers for privileges or permissions tacites failed to account for books falling under this rubric.  Next, another category of publications for which the registers do not adequately account - the periodical press - blossomed forth in the late seventies. [110]  A permission tacite register recorded a new journal only once; but the periodical brought continuous activity to its publisher as long as it lasted.  Estivals’ own computation of works

109. See especially his article, “La Production des livres dans les derrieres années de 1’Ancien Régime,” Actes du 90e Congrès National des Sociétés Savantes. Nice, 1965.  Section d’histoire modern et contemporaine. Vol. II (Paris, 1966), 11-54.  Depending upon the register F. Fr. 22019, the “Répertoire alphabetique des livres publiés de 1778 à 1788, avec l’indication du chiffre de tirage,  Estivals attempts to reach conclusions concerning total production.  He admits that the register is not comprehensive, however.  One solid virtue of this article is its hypothesis regarding the effects of two taxes instituted by Terray in 1771.  The first was a tax of 20 sous per ream on white paper (F. Fr. 22082, Nr. 90. 1-2 March 1771), increased in August but then moderated in October 1771 (F. Fr. 22082, Nr. 98. 16 October 1771).  The second was a tax of sixty livres per quintal on imported books (F. Fr. 22081, Nr. 190. 11 September 1771), reduced in 1773 (F. Fr. 22179, Nr. 274. 17 October 1773) and finally abolished altogether by Turgot in 1775 (F. Fr. 22179, Nr. 362. 23 April 1775).  Both Estivals and Darnton see the tax on paper as being a perpetual thorn in the side of Paris publishers after 1771.  Estivals’ statistics on privilèges and permissions de sceau, and on depositions into the Bibliothèque du Roi do imply a noticeable decline in production for 1773, 1774, and 1776; and, as the following table, which is derived from La Statistique bibliographique, does suggest (seep. 287), legally imported books, all of which entered via the permission tacite, appear to have been affected markedly by the customs duty of 11 September 1771 and its subsequent modifications.


Permissions Tacites


Permissions Tacites


























110. In La Statistique bibliographique, Estivals is not unaware of the mushrooming periodical press. He writes (p. 343): “… Ils passent de 6 en 1772, à 5 en 1773, 8 en 1774, 30 en 1775, 36 en 1776, 72 en 1777, 87 en 1778, 118 en 1779, 97 en 1780, 103 en 1781, 59 en 1782, 71 en 1783, 56 en 1784, 103 en 1785, 284 en 1786.”  Gabriel Bonno’s “Liste chronologique des périodiques de langue française du XVIIIe siècle,  Modern Language Quarterly (1944), 19-25, cites thirty-three new periodicals established or sold in France between 1777 and 1784.  Seventeen had lives exceeding one year, seven exceeding five years.


that appeared in the years 1778-83, derived from depositions into the Bibliothèque du Roi and citations in the weekly catalogue, the Journal de la librairie, casts a large shadow upon the validity of his registration statistics.  Average annual entries into the Bibliothèque du Roi for 1751-63, 1764-77, and 1778-83 read as follows: Titles-218, 315, 422. Volumes-294, 434, 541. [111]  The Journal de la librairie, which initiated its record keeping in 1763, presents even greater difficulties.  For the period 1764-77, its annual average of livres de privilèges came to 397; for 1778-83, it was 416; for 1784-89, it was 761. [112]  Adding Estivals’ statistics, the Journal de la librairie listed the appearance of more livres de privilèges for 1778-83 than the registers themselves recorded, permissions tacites included (2494 to 2300)! [113]  The preceding shows clearly how far we still are from estimating the total economic effects of the arrêts of 1777, if indeed there were any.  It is probable that a brief genuine slump did occur in the industry from late 1771 through 1774, and possibly through 1776, Terray’s paper tax hurting the Parisians and his import tax hurting the provincials.  After 1777, however, the registers of the Paris community no longer are valid indices of prosperity or poverty.  Before going any further, we must place better controls over the data we have.

On the other hand, no doubt exists whatsoever as to the deterioration in relations between the provincial publishers and their colleagues in Paris after 12 June 1783.  On that date Foreign Minister Vergennes sent an order to the farmers general requiring transportation of all imported books from the port of entry to the capital, where the chambre syndicale of Paris would inspect the contents of the packages from abroad.  Only after approval by the chambre would reshipment be permitted, and the provincial importer had to pay all transportation costs to and from Paris.  Dealers from Lyon and Lille protested vigorously.  To them Vergennes’ order was a vindictive act, inspired most likely by the Parisians.  The Lillois preferred to have their shipments rot in a customs house at the port of entry rather than send them on to Paris, while the Lyonnais pointed out the absurdity of sending imports from Geneva to Paris prior to reshipment to the provinces or Spain.  Needless to say, the order of 12 June was instrumental in injuring the carrying trade of the provincials and contributed enormously to their difficulties in re-establishing an economic base after a century of discrimination.  It is highly unlikely that they participated significantly in the burst of productivity in the French book

111. Estivals, La Statistique bibliographique, p. 356.  See Table of Annual Averages, p. 149.

112. Estivals, p. 366. See Table of Annual Averages, p. 149.

113. Estivals, pp. 309, 366.


trade from 1784 until the revolution.  On the contrary, it was the Parisians - very likely those whose monopolies were the objects of the arrêt of 1777 - who were the chief profiteers.114

But if the provincials failed to recover, the lot of writers improved.  From 1777 on their social and economic dependence upon patrons and publishers must have declined.  And they were an inspired lot.  Beaumarchais led the dramatists in their protests against the traditional monopoly of the Comédie francaise during the 1780s, though it took the revolutionary legislation of 1791 to award playwrights the liberty of representing their pieces wherever they pleased. [115]  Concerning authors of nondramatic works, however, the Convention’s press law of 1793, while no longer recognizing the term privilège en librairie of course, retained the spirit of the Fifth arrêt of 1777.  There were two departures in detail.  An author’s heirs might enjoy his rights for only ten years after his death, at which moment the book in question had to enter the public domain.  And if an author had ceded rights to a publisher, the latter likewise could enjoy them for ten years after the author’s death. [116]

In conclusion, it appears that the evolution of the privilège system, with its climax in 1777, offers a lesson in administrative history.  In one instance at least, the Ancien Régime saw how imperative it was to adapt an institution to social needs.  When the government finally acted, it did so painfully and indecisively as far as the disestablished publishers of France were concerned; and ultimately it succumbed to old pressures.  Concerning writers, however, the results proved different.  It was the decadent, crumbling monarchy that recognized the proprietary claims of authors to the product of their genius or their folly - to such an extent that revolutionaries, while repudiating the past by word, by deed might link it to the future.

University of Oregon.

114. F. Fr. 21833, Nr. 68. “Mémoire pour les Sieurs Piestre & Cormon, libraires à Lyon.”  F. Fr. 21833, Nr. 70. “Mémoire présenté à M. le Procureur Général du Parlement de Flandre par les Sousignés Sindic & Adjoints de la Chambre Sindicale de Lille, tant en leur nom, qu’au nom de tous leurs confrères de la Flandre, Hainaut, Cambrésis, Artois & Boulonois formant l’arrondissement soumis à la ditte Chambre Sindicale.”  F. Fr. 21833, Nr. 96. 2 August 1783. Syndic Perisse le Duc of Lyon to directeur de la librairie Le Camus de Néville.  F. Fr. 21833, Nr. 129. “Observations sur la Décadence & la Ruine d’une des Branches les plus florissantes du Commerce du Royaume, c’est-à-dire de la Librairie, particulièrement de celle de la Ville de Lyon.”  Darnton offers convincing evidence and conclusions regarding the motives behind and consequences of the order of 12 June 1783 in “Reading, Writing, and Publishing.”  As this goes to press, a new study on the provincial book trade has been announced: Julien Brancolini and Marie-Therese Bouyssy, “La Vie provinciale du livre à la fin de l’Ancien Régime,” in Livre et société dans la France du XVIIIe slècle,II (Paris, 1970), 11-51.

115. Dock, Etude sur le droit d’ auteur, pp. 143-54.

116. Ibid., pp. 155-57.