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Collections and Critiques

Many Pre-Revolutionary French Decrees on Display in Widener

On view in the front hall of Widener Library is a recently purchased collection of French administrative acts ranging from the beginning of the seventeenth century to the period of the Revolution. Most of the official pamphlets have been discovered in the archives of a family which served the government in high capacities through successive generations all during this epoch.

Chronologically the first is an Act establishing a mail service between France and England by the Calais and Dover route. This occurred in the regime of Loremie de Brienne, founder of the family which was to carry on the practice of filing away all important state documents in their vaults for 150 years.

Postal Acts

Efforts of Louis the Fourteenth's finance minister, Turgot, to build up an efficient national mail and freight transport service are shown in an "arrest" or decree, as well as many other Acts relating to the Postal Bureau.

A large part of the exhibition is devoted to legislation or more properly royal decrees, affecting in various ways French shipping. There is an Act of 1635 providing for the rounding up "of tramps, vagabonds, and able-bodied unemployed to serve in the French Navy." One in 1756 ordered the immediate sale of British ships and cargoes captured in the Seven Years War. Another legalizes the slave trade from Africa.

Maritime Matters

Two cabinets are full of Acts on maritime matters such as the Coastguards, expeditions against pirates, tariffs and duties, regulations for shipbuilding, ships' surgeons, officers' mess, recruiting, and situations for lighthouses and buoys.

There are no records later than 1789, when the last de Brienne, who was Louis the Sixteenth's Finance Minister, left the ministry, and most of the collection was thought to have been lost until recently.

Philip Hale Collection

Also on view in the front hall of the Library, is an exhibition of books belonging to the well-known Boston music-critic, Philip Hale, presented by his wife. Hale was well known as a book collector, and part of his collection of first editions of Walt Whitman and Herman Melville are shown here.

Of interest is a letter from Good-speeds' the Boston bookseller, crediting Hale with the revival of public interest in Melville's work, and specifically with the sale of 200 copies of "Moby Dick."

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