An important 18th-century French provenance

What prompted Malesherbes' interest in the forestry works of Duhamel du Monceau?

The Lindley Library holds a set of Duhamel du Monceau’s works on forestry: the Traité des arbres et arbustes (1755), and its more technical successors, La physique des arbres (1758), Des semis et plantations des arbres (1760), De l’exploitation des bois (1764), and Du transport, de la conservation et de la force des bois (1767). The Lindley Library copies of these works are bound uniformly, with gilt shelf numbers, and all but one of them bear a pasted paper label on the front pastedown: Bibliotheca Lamoniana.

This identifies them as having formerly been the property of Chrétien Guillaume de Lamoignon de Malesherbes (1721-1794), known to history generally as Malesherbes. Between 1750 and 1763, Malesherbes was effectively the official censor of publications in France, and it was in large part thanks to his interventions that the great Encyclopédie, compiled by Diderot and d’Alembert, succeeded in getting published.

In 1763 he was promoted to the rank of President of the Cour des Aides, but continued his work overseeing the press. Did he buy these works of Duhamel’s because of a personal interest in forestry? He had a family estate, which had a famous avenue. Or were they the copies submitted to him in his role as censor?

Malesherbes retired in 1776, and was briefly called back into a ministerial role in 1787. But in 1792 he came out of retirement once again, when Louis XVI was put on trial for treason, and he helped to conduct his former master’s defence. The result was probably a foregone conclusion: Louis went to his death in January 1793. And before the end of the year Malesherbes was also arrested, along with his family, on charges of treason for his role as the King’s defender; he was guillotined in April 1794.

After his death, it is recorded, his library was broken up and sold in lots to English buyers; the Duhamel volumes would obviously have formed a lot, or the basis of a lot.

 


 

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