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On Researching the Life, Death, and Literary Remains of __ Nobody


 

In my  library I have the complete print run in two volumes of the first American periodical on book collecting:  The Philobiblion: A Monthly Bibliographical Journal Containing Critical Notices of, and Extracts from Rare, Curious, and Valuable Books.  It is probably the last American periodical where the long s was used in the printing of a magazine.  My set was formerly owned by the Nebraska newspaper publisher and journalist Francis Moul.

The New York City bookman George P. Philes (1828-1913) published The Philobiblion in monthly issues from December 1861 to December 1863.  In addition to critical notices and extracts, The Philobiblion  contained literary essays, notes and queries, priced catalogues of books, as well as miscellaneous items.  The miscellaneous items included anything that Philes thought would be of interest to his readers.  On one occasion Philes was browsing the 1826 edition of the Dictionaire Hiſtorique ou Biographie Univerſelle Claſſique  and came upon a listing of a young poet named Nobody who was the author of a piece of erotic verse.

 

Translation

Nobody (C***), a young poet, born in the environs of Beauvais in 1766; he is only known as the author of a piece of erotic verse, entitled Le Messe de Gnide, Paris, year 2 of the Republic (1793), in 24mo of 35 pages.  He killed himself with a pistol shot in 1787, at Paris.

Philes thought this listing might be of interest to his readers, so he wrote all that he knew about the life, death, and literary remains of Nobody in the November 1862 issue of The Philobiblion.

What Philes told his readers about the life, death, and literary remains of Nobody in the November 1862 issue of The Philobiblion wasn’t very much.  But then along came that most splendid thing that Horace Walpole called serendipity.  An attentive reader of The Philobiblion just happened to be attending the sale of the library of a French Count in Paris in January 1863.  And one of the items up for sale was a 1797 Geneva edition of La Messe de Gnide!

Comte H. De Ch*** was Comte Henry De Chaponay (1811-1878),  a member of the French Bibliophiles. 

The 1797 edition of La Messe de Gnide  was item number 457 of the sale.  

Translation

457. La Messe de Gnide, posthumous work by C. Nobody (Labaume, followed by fragments of Vépres de Gnide, by the same, and of the Vigil of Venus). Geneva, 1797, in-24, mar. R. tr. Golden. Copy of Pixerécourt

The attentive reader, who shall be known from here on in as H,  took stock of the situation.  When he first read about Nobody’s erotic verse in The Philobiblion, he surmised that the erotic verse was so bad that the author didn’t want to put his name to it.  Yet, one of the former owners of this book of erotic verse was the famous French dramatist Rene-Charles Guilbert de Pixérécourt (1773-1844).  H thought the price of 23 francs was too high, but then L. Potier was one of the most prominent booksellers in Paris, and nobody at the sale batted an eye at the price.  All in all, H began to believe that Nobody was the pseudonym a notable author used for this piece of erotic verse.   H decided to do a  little research to prove his theory that Nobody was somebody of importance.  Potier gave him a starting point by including the name Labaume in the catalogue listing of La Messe de Gnide.

H was a bookman who knew his way around books. He used the same reference book that Philes referred to in the original Nobody article, the Dictionaire Hiſtorique ou Biographie Univerſelle Claſſique.  And under the name Labaume, H was referred to three other names in the Dictionaire: Achards, Baume, and Griffet.  

Under Achards, H found Éléazar Francois des Archards de La Baume, a French missionary who died in 1741.

Under Baume, H found Antoine Melchior de la Baume a French statesman who died in 1794.

And under Griffet, H found Antoine Gilbert Griffet De La Baume, who died in 1805, and his brother Charles, who died in 1800.  Antoine translated a number of English and German books, and even wrote a comedy in verse.  Charles  was a literary man as well.  But neither brother was identified in the Dictionaire as the author of La Messe de Gnide, or as Nobody, for that matter.

H then decided to look the brothers up in a different reference book, the Nouvelle Biographie Générale.

H noted that this reference book spelt the surname of the brothers as Beaume.  But it didn’t matter to H because Nobody was finally somebody!   The Nouvelle Biographie Générale attributed La Messe de Gnide to Antoine Gilbert Griffet de Labeaume (1756-1805).

Completely satisfied with his research,  H submitted all he had learned about Nobody to the editor of The Philobiblion, signing his name as H at the bottom of the article.   And under Miscellaneous Items, Philes published the article in the February 1863 issue of The Philobiblion.

Today, the Literary Remains of Antoine Gilbert Griffet de Labaume, AKA Nobody, namely La Messe de Gnide, can be printed on demand.  Down thru the years the work has been reprinted in French several times, most notably in Brussels in 1881.  The Belgian artist, Félicien Rops( 1833-1898)  created an erotic frontispiece for the 1881 edition.

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