Wednesday, December 10, 2008

At Large in the Library: Nicolas de Bonnefons

The oldest book in the collection of the Garden Library of the New Orleans Town Gardeners, a special research space housed in the Southeastern Architectural Archive, is by Nicolas de Bonnefons, the valet du chambre of King Louis XIV (1638-1715). He first published his Le Jardinier François in Paris in 1651. It was a vastly popular book and numerous editions appeared through the early eighteenth century. British diarist John Evelyn translated the work in 1658 and referred to it as "the first and best [. . .] that introduced the use of the olitoire [i.e. kitchen] garden."

The Garden Library's 1664 copy was the gift of Marion Leverick Miller, Marjorie Leverick Moran, and Elaine Leverick Collenberg. Published in Rouen as a small duodecimo, it was an affordable version intended for a growing bourgeois female readership. It is dedicated and prefaced "To the Ladies." The printer for this edition was also a woman, Catherine Housset (d. 1681?), who was the widow of Louis II Costé (1585?-1635) and operated this regional dynasty's printing establishment at the "Trois Croix couronnés" on the Rue Écuyère until the fourth quarter of the seventeenth century. The family was noted for its vernacular production of almanacs, romances, and dialogues. The front endpapers include a series of gift inscriptions, as one owner passed it to a friend, who passed it on, and so on, the earliest owner's mark from 1685.

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