Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

ancient texts May 5, 2011

Filed under: Grace Beguiling - Petrarch — Shawn L. Bird @ 11:56 pm
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Francesco Petrarca loved old texts.  He travelled throughout Europe gathering the literature of ancient Greece and Rome.  He’d hire copyists, or he’d copy them out himself.  At his death, he had the largest library in Christendom.

There is a famous historical biography of Petrarca written by Abbé de Sade in the 18th century.  It is quoted liberally in the exhibits at the Musée Petrarque at Fontaine de Vaucluse, so I asked the curator whether they had an English translation.  They did not and she didn’t know whether there ever had been. However, by the time we got back to our apartment in Avignon, there was an email from her.  She’d double checked with the museum’s librarian.  There had been a translation made in 1776 in England by Susannah Dobson.  I laughed at that.  What were the chances I’d ever see a two hundred year old book?

The concept was absurd, but of course I looked on the internet, and shock of shocks there was a 2 volume set listed on eBay…

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Now that same two volume set is sitting in my kitchen.  Two beautiful books.  Two leather bound books that came off the press in 1776.


That’s 235 years ago.  Thats 133 years older than the city I live in.

I feel so remarkably awed to have these books in my possession.  Petrarch collected ancient books, and I have collected ancient books about him.

I guess ideally I’d speak fluent Italian and Latin, and I’d be able to read all Petrarch’s own words whichever  language he’d used, but unfortunately I can’t, so I have to rely on translations.  Since I can’t find any copies of Abbé de Sade’s Memoires sur la Vie de François Pétrarque listed on the internet, Susannah Dobson’s translation will do for now.

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PS.  The provanance of the books is interesting as well.  They have book plates in them:

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Sir John Mordaunt was a rather famous military man in his time, and now his books are at my house. Wild.  He lived in Walton Hall in Warwickshire (as you can see on his book plate).  These books used to sit on the library shelves in Walton Hall. The house was rebuilt in the 19th century. Presumeably these books were in the Mordaunt library until the home was sold to become a girls’ school in the last century.  Imagine.  My books used to live in this house.  Crazy, eh?

Oh- and there’s a Harry Potter connection as well, since in the 15th century Walton Hall was the home of the Lestrange family…  😉


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