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Bibliothèque Bleue, Verte Erin: Some Aspects of Popular Printed Literature in France and Ireland in the 18th and 19th Centuries

Bibliothèque Bleue et Verte Erin : quelques aspects de la littérature populaire en France et en Irlande aux dix-huitième et dix-neuvième siècles
Niall Ó Ciosáin
p. 55-69

Résumé

Cet article esquisse quelques éléments d’une comparaison entre les littératures populaires imprimées en France et en Irlande aux XVIIIe et XIXe siècles. Un axe de comparaison possible consiste à rapprocher les historiographies des deux pays. On a commencé par adopter une approche quantitative et globale du corpus des textes en circulation, montrant des différences de contenu et aussi de réception. Les œuvres de piété du Moyen-Age, si répandues en France, étaient inexistantes en Irlande, à cause de la conquête anglaise protestante des XVIe et XVIIe siècles. Cette discontinuité créa aussi des contextes de réception différents dans les deux pays, par exemple pour les romans de chevalerie, et le cas irlandais conduit à remettre en cause l’image que donne l’historiographie française de ces textes comme porteurs de quiétisme politique.
L’autre axe de comparaison est l’étude d’un texte, l’almanach, que l’on retrouve dans les deux pays. Bien que certains traits fondamentaux soient communs, certains types de textes, l’almanach politique par exemple, ou l’almanach en langue régionale, existaient en France et non  en Irlande, tandis qu’un certain style d’almanach littéraire très répandu en Irlande, dans lequel le contenu éditorial résultait des contributions envoyées par les lecteurs, était rare en France. On pourrait aussi avancer l’hypothèse selon laquelle la culture populaire imprimée irlandaise était plus textuelle et moins visuelle que la française.

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Texte intégral

  • 1  Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrink, 'Littératures  populaires et imprimés de large circulation en Europe. Persp (...)

1The colloquium for which this paper was written was held in Troyes, the main centre of cheap and popular publishing in France between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries, and home of the celebrated Bibliothèque Bleue. As the theme of the colloquium was the history of the book in Ireland, it seemed appropriate to undertake a comparison of cheap publishing in the two countries. Such comparative studies have been urged by historians in the field for two decades or more, but their number remains small. In a recent programmatic article, Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrink noted that most research had been conducted in national contexts, but that comparative approaches were potentially very rich because so many textual genres and themes were shared between different national cultures, both within Europe and outside.1 Obviously, a comprehensive comparison between France and Ireland over three centuries would be an enormous undertaking. What I intend to do in this article is first to sketch out the historiography of the subject in the two countries since the 1960s - voluminous in France, much less so in Ireland - and then look briefly at one of the standard genres, the annual almanac, during the nineteenth century. While the focus will be primarily on Ireland and France, examples from Britain will also be referred to.

  • 2  Robert Mandrou, De la Culture Populaire aux 17e et 18e siècles: La Bibliothèque Bleue de Troyes  P (...)

2The contemporary historiography on popular printing in France can be said to have begun in the mid-1960s, with the appearance of works by Robert Mandrou and Geneviève Bollème. These writers were dealing with a relatively unfamiliar area, and their first concern was with establishing the outlines of a corpus of texts, and then to characterise that corpus as a whole. In De la Culture populaire, published in 1964, Mandrou examined some 450 titles, mainly held in the municipal library in Troyes. In an article published the following year, Bollème, who was a student of Mandrou and who had examined the holdings of three libraries in Paris (including the Bibliothèque Nationale), counted 461 titles. Ten years later, a full bibliography of the Troyes publications, based on a wide range of holdings, both public and private, was established by Alfred Morin. This listed over 1300 editions, but the number of titles is not given. This catalogue was the basis of a long article by Henri-Jean Martin, who had sponsored the publication of the catalogue.2

3In terms of interpretation, Mandrou and Martin attempted to characterise the Bibliothèque Bleue in its entirety. (Bollème took a different approach, as we shall see below). As Mandrou described his method:

  • 3 Mandrou, 17.

... à partir des quatre cent cinquante titres qui constituent le reliquat troyen, analyser la thématique générale de cette littérature, en tant que support d'une tradition, orale et écrite à la fois ; sans surévaluer l'importance du témoignage, c'est, avec prudence, par un inventaire systématique des contenus, établir quelles étaient les coordonnées essentielles de cette mentalité "reçue".3

4"Systématique" in the 1960s meant quantitative, and the library holdings of the Bibliothèque Bleue had the added advantage of being amenable to elementary statistical treatment. Both Mandrou and Martin divided their material into a number of broad categories and sub-categories, and calculated the percentages of titles and editions in them.

  • 4 Mandrou, 166.

5Mandrou's conclusions were that the Bibliothèque Bleue embodied a world view which emphasised the magical and the supernatural, and promoted social conformity through the romances of chivalry, whose heroes were a warrior aristocracy. He also suggested that the relative slowness with which the range of available titles changed meant that it was a force for cultural stasis. These elements were not visible in each of the texts, however, and what Mandrou was struck by most of all was the level of incoherence in the corpus of texts as a whole. “Ces incohérences internes, qui nous paraissent irréductibles, font partie de cette vision du monde, que la Bibliothèque Bleue a diffusée”.4

  • 5  MargaretSpufford, Small books and Pleasant histories: Popular fiction and its readership in sevent (...)

6These early treatments of the Bibliothèque Bleue were paralleled in England by the work of Margaret Spufford, who was also concerned to establish a corpus of titles and to characterise that corpus as a whole. She took a collection of chapbooks made by the diarist Samuel Pepys between 1660 and 1690, which is preserved in Cambridge, and which amounts to 193 titles, all published in London. These books were then analysed following the broad categories used by their seventeenth-century publishers. Spufford also established a quantitative classification, following Mandrou's categories and adding 45 almanacs for the purposes of comparison with the French material. Her findings broadly echoed those of Mandrou - this was a body of literature that was marked by continuity of availability, incoherence or “mental jumble”, and which had (with some exceptions, notably religious books) little to do with the everyday lives of its presumed readers.5

  • 6  J.R.R.Adams, The Printed Word and the Common Man: Popular Culture in Ulster 1700-1900 Belfast, 198 (...)

7The first substantial work on popular literature in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Ireland, J.R.R. Adams' The Printed Word and the Common Man, analysed publishing and reading in Ulster from a similar initial orientation. It concentrated almost entirely on printing in a single city, in this case Belfast (though books published in towns such as Newry and Strabane are included). Adams surveyed not just surviving holdings but the entire cheap printed output of Belfast in the eighteenth century, using publishers' advertisements as well as surviving copies, and established a definitive corpus of titles. His approach to the nineteenth century was necessarily more selective, concentrating on the output of particular printers, notably Simms and McIntyre. The earlier titles were grouped under a series of headings, including “traditional religious”, “traditional secular” (with romances of chivalry prominent), “non-fiction” (including criminal biography), children's literature, novels and songs. While not applying a statistical treatment, Adams' aim, like that of Mandrou and Spufford, was to characterise the body of published material as a whole. As the use of the term ''traditional" suggests, Adams, like Mandrou and Spufford, was struck by the continued presence of older texts; he also emphasised the variety of texts available to popular readers; and in an Ulster context, he suggested that this cheap literature was bought by both Protestant and Catholic readers.6

  • 7  James W.Phillipps, Printing and Bookselling in Dublin 1670-1800: abibliographical inquiry Dublin 1 (...)

8Adams' survey, together with the shorter discussions of popular literature published in Dublin in books by Pollard and Phillipps and other sources, suggest a few broad initial comparative conclusions.7 The first is that many elements of the cheap printed literature in eighteenth-century Ireland and France were similar. There was the same central role occupied by “universal” texts such as catechisms, which all churches produced in massive numbers, and annual almanacs, which offered practical advice and astrological prediction.

  • 8  Roger Chartier (ed.) Figures de la Gueuserie Paris 1982, introduction (tr. as 'The literature of r (...)
  • 9  NiallÓ Ciosáin, Print and Popular Culture in Ireland, 1750-1850 Basingstoke 1997,  ch.5, ’Criminal (...)

9There is also a similar dominance of devotional literature, and a strong presence of such genres as chivalric romance and criminal biography. A number of the most popular texts are in fact the same in the two countries: Valentine and Orson, a chivalric romance, and Robinson Crusoe (in an abridged form) are among the most frequently reprinted books in both. Other texts are similar in inspiration and chronology. In the realm of criminal biography, for example, similar patterns emerge. In both countries, relatively factual pamphlets and broadsides relating to particular figures were reworked into more literary and stereotypical forms. In France the classic case was Guilleri, a bandit in Poitou at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Chartier has shown how the criminal figure presented in a series of short contemporary pamphlets was transformed, over a few decades, into a bandit-hero who followed many of the conventions of the literature of roguery.8 The Irish equivalent was Redmond O'Hanlon, an outlaw in Co. Armagh in the 1670s. The early pamphlets, which presented a negative picture of O'Hanlon, were used as the source of a conventional literary portrait of an outlaw which appeared in the 1730s and was still being printed and sold in the late nineteenth century. In the case of the other major criminal figure of the Irish literature, the parallel with France is more precisely chronological - the life of James Freney was first published in 1754, exactly one year before the first publication of that of a similar figure in France, Louis Mandrin.9

10Of course, this is not simply a Franco-Irish phenomenon, but part of a western European body of popular literature. Whatever influences ran between Ireland and France undoubtedly passed through London, given for example Dublin's role as a reprint centre for London books in the eighteenth century. Valentine and Orson and Robinson Crusoe were standard titles in Britain, and there were strong parallels between the British criminal literature and the French. Louis-Dominique Cartouche, for example, was active at the same time, around 1720, in Paris, and with the same organisational forms, as Jack Sheppard and Jonathan Wild in London, all three of whom became standard figures in cheap literature.

  • 10 See Mandrou, 104.

11There were some broad similarities in overall content in Ireland and France, therefore, but there were equally some marked differences. The range of texts available in Ireland is smaller than in France, and some French genres have no equivalent in Ireland. This is true, for example, of the Misères, in which the apprentices and workers of particular trades lament their lot, which do not appear at all in Ireland. Within broader genres, there were also some significant differences of emphasis. Books of devotion in the Bibliothèque Bleue could be divided in two broad classes according to chronology. On the one hand, there were older texts of medieval origin, such as descriptions of death and the last judgment, and particularly lives of saints, often those with particular thaumaturgic power, such as St. Hubert or St. Roch10; on the other, post-Reformation texts which were more likely to focus on individual devotional and social behaviour. Irish popular literature does not have many representatives of the first kind. Of course, one would not expect to find medieval devotional works being read by Protestant readers in Ireland. Among Catholics, their relative scarcity is probably due to the disruption in the organisation of the Catholic Church during the seventeenth century in particular.

  • 11 Ó Ciosáin, Print and PopularCulture, ch.10, ’The  ideology of status in Ireland’.

12Alongside such similarities and differences in the types of books which were produced, there are also comparisons to be made between the context of reception in the two countries. One such difference, perhaps the most striking, calls into question Mandrou's view of popular literature as politically quiescent. This emerges from his consideration of the romance of chivalry in particular, a genre which emphasises the close connection between aristocratic descent, military valour and fitness to rule. In Ireland, however, the political implications of such an emphasis are quite different. The majority of the Irish aristocracy had been ousted and replaced in the wars of the seventeenth century; many of their successors were not of aristocratic origin, but received land in return for military service. In this situation, a literature which emphasises lineage can be read more convincingly as supporting the ousted landowners, and consequently subversive of the political and social structures rather than supportive of them.11

  • 12  Michelde Certeau, DominiqueJulia, JacquesRevel, 'La beauté du mort : Le concept de "culture popula (...)

13Such a consideration calls attention to the fact that the focus of Mandrou and the other earlier writers was predominantly on the content and style of the books themselves, and less on their readers and reception. Indeed criticisms of Mandrou along these lines emerge during the 1970s and early 1980s, from Michel de Certeau, Jean-Luc Marais and Roger Chartier among others.12 These writers pointed out, for example, that the readership of the Bibliothèque Bleue was not exclusively a peasant one during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: rather the readership evolved over time, initially consisting of “petits notables” and urban artisans in the seventeenth century, better-off readers in rural areas by the early eighteenth century, and peasants in the later eighteenth century. These different readerships overlapped in time, and the readers of the Bibliothèque Bleue were probably not exclusively peasant until the nineteenth century. Moreover, different texts were read by different sections within these different groups of readers, so that the incoherence which was emphasised by Mandrou was at least partly the result of analysing together texts which were not in practice read together. Finally, Mandrou's fundamental approach, dividing the entire corpus into separate categories, was criticised for its rigidity and anachronism. Distinguishing between religion, magic and science, for example, reflected the beliefs of the twentieth century and not those of the early modern period; in any case, even if such divisions were sustainable, it would be possible to assign a single text to more than one of these categories.

  • 13 Adams: The Printed Word,  23, 47, 173. In fact, Adams noted these difficulties, but did not entirel (...)

14In Ireland, a similar criticism, that of focusing on the texts more than the readers, could also be made of Adams' work. At the production end, he deals entirely with books printed in Ulster (particularly in Belfast) which are taken to be equivalent to books read in Ulster. In the eighteenth century, however, Belfast was not the major commercial and industrial centre it later became, and many Ulster people would have been part of trade and distribution patterns centred on Dublin, and consequently bought books from there also. This would be particularly true of Catholic readers, as only one cheap Catholic book was published in Belfast during the eighteenth century. This calls into question Adams' conclusions about the popular print culture in Ulster being a shared one across religous and ethnic lines.13

  • 14  G. Bollème, 'Littérature populaire', 76
  • 15  G. Bollème, Les Almanachs populaires aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles (1969)
  • 16  Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrink (ed.), Histoires Curieuses et Véritables de Cartouche et Mandrin. Paris 1984 (...)

15Alongside the early studies in France which analysed the Bibliothèque Bleue as a whole, a parallel approach developed which focused instead on a smaller number of texts, usually a single genre or even sub-genre - that is, a group of texts which was seen as a unit by contemporaries, or a group consisting of an original text which inspired imitations and answers, and which can be assumed to be directed at the same type of reader. This approach was pioneered by Geneviève Bollème, whose initial 1965 sketch of the overall corpus was cautious about any strict division into genres, which she found useful but arbitrary.14 Instead, she recommended looking at the ways in which the different genres were interrelated. She followed this with a study of popular almanacs in 1969.15 In the early 1980s, a similar approach was taken by a series of volumes under the general editorship of Daniel Roche which reprinted texts from the Bibliothèque Bleue. Each volume took a group of texts relating to topics such as crime, death or cookery, and was prefaced by an extensive introduction. These volumes were able to trace in more detail the transformations of texts over time, the way in which some were abridged from originals which were much longer and more expensive, for example, or the way in which a work which was successful in its Bibliothèque Bleue incarnation inspired the production of other similar works. These forms of selection, transformation and presentation of texts, made by printers who specialised in the area, often contained strong indications of the reading habits of their purchasers.16

16I attempted a similar treatment of Irish popular literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in 1997, looking at four genres, romance, crime, history and religious song. One feature which was common to most of the texts which circulated in Ireland was suitability for being read or recited aloud - the romances and the criminal literature was episodic in structure, the most frequently printed historical text was a verse play, and the most frequently printed book in the Irish language was a collection of religious songs. While this and other features of this popular print literature can give good indications of the styles of reading used by its purchasers, I nevertheless ended by suggesting that such an approach, which has texts as its point of departure, needed to be supplemented by studies which take readers as their point of departure.

  • 17  For example, Guglielmo Cavallo and Roger Chartier (eds.),  A History of Reading in the West, Cambr (...)
  • 18  Robert Darnton, 'First steps towards a history of reading' Australian Journal of French Studies XX (...)

17In this I was merely echoing what had become a motif of book history in the previous fifteen years or so, that is, the necessity of a history of reading. During the 1980s, a series of articles suggested, even in their titles, the creation of such a subject, speaking of “First steps towards a history of reading”, “A preface to the history of audiences” and of moving “Du livre au lire”. Since that time, a series of studies and collective volumes has begun to fill in the outlines of the area.17 In Ireland the main contribution so far has been The Experience of Reading, a collection of papers given at a conference in Dublin in 1997.18

  • 19  Breandán Mac Suibhne and David Dickson (eds.), The Outer edge of Ulster.  A memoir of social life (...)

18The subject is still in its infancy in Ireland, however, particularly as regards popular audiences, and it remains to be developed, whether following the methods used elsewhere or evolving some methods of its own. Some sources which have been used in the French and English historiography, such as probate inventories for example, do not exist to any extent in Ireland. (Inventories have their drawbacks, in any case. They can be informative about book ownership, but not directly about the act of reading; in any case, cheap printed books are rarely of sufficient value to be listed separately in the inventories.) Diaries and memoirs are much more promising, and are being edited and published regularly. One notable recently published memoir is that of Hugh Dorrian, a Derry schoolteacher, who grew up in Fanad in Co. Donegal in the middle of the nineteenth century. It contains lengthy descriptions of popular rural reading practices in the 1840s.19

  • 20  Tomás Ó Cillín, Artúraíocht 'Tír an Áir' (n.d., c.1926); Joseph Szoverffy, 'Rí Naomh Seoirse: Chap (...)
  • 21  Brian Earls, 'A note on Seanchas Amhlaoidh Uí Loinsigh' Béaloideas LII (1984), 9-34.

19Given that cheap printed books were frequently read aloud, one method which has potential in the Irish context is to investigate the traces of those books in oral narrative. Here Ireland has a unique, if relatively late, archive in the form of a state body, the Irish Folklore Commission, which has been collecting systematically since the 1920s. In French folklore scholarship, the influence of printed books has been taken to be minimal, at least as far as the conte, the elaborate tale told by a specialised narrator, is concerned. However, a printed influence is more likely in simpler genres such as the historical legend. Discerning such influence can be a challenging task, however. In some cases, the printed original is very clear indeed, with characters retaining the same names for example. This is the case with two examples of chivalric romance deriving from cheap printed originals which were collected in the 1920s and 1930s. One in Mayo told part of Don Belianis of Greece, the other in Kerry told part of The Seven Champions of Christendom.20 In other cases, the tendency of oral narration towards the concrete, and its stripping away of any unnecessary detail, means that the transformations can be sweeping, as in the case of a version of a story by William Carleton which was told by the Co. Clare storyteller Amhlaoimh Ó Loinsigh in the 1930s and brilliantly analysed in a 1984 article by Brian Earls.21 The challenges represented by such an analysis are substantial. The historian needs to have a detailed knowledge of cheap printed literature which circulated over a century or more, a similar knowledge of the oral archives, and a sophisticated understanding of the dynamics of oral narration. In some respects, there is a self-fulfilling prophecy involved - the amount of oral material with a printed source found in such an investigation will be proportionate to the researcher's initial conception of the amount of transformation that the texts can undergo.

  • 22 Bollème, Les Almanachs populaires; Bernard Capp, Astrology and the Popular Press: English Almanacs (...)

20I would like here to draw attention to another possible approach, taking a case of a cheap and popular form of book where much of the content was supplied by the readers themselves. In Ireland, we find this in what might be an unexpected place, that is, in the annual almanacs, many of which in the nineteenth century contained puzzles and verses contributed by their readers. This feature was of course tangential to the overall purpose of an almanac, which was to supply a calendar and other information relating to the current year. The annual almanac had been one of the fundamental forms of printed literature, whether learned or popular, in Western Europe since the seventeenth century. Although the calendar was the single indispensable feature, the sheer variety of the different almanacs makes it difficult to generalise about them. They included everything from expensively bound books containing comprehensive lists of state and court officials to single sheets intended for mounting on a wall.22

  • 23  Francesco Maiello, Storia del Calendario: La misurazione del tempo, 1450-1800, Torino 1994, 131-14 (...)

21In the seventeenth century, most almanacs were astrological, predicting the year's events from the positions of the stars or the moon. As astrology became less scientifically respectable in the eighteenth century, popular almanacs tended to supplement or even replace it with more historical and practical content. In France and England, the calendars were often organised around significant events in the formation of the state.23 By the nineteenth century, the content of almanacs was extremely varied, and the calendar was followed by one or more of the following: astrology and predictions, scientific information, natural history, entertaining stories and anecdotes and, as wider sections of the population came into regular contact with states and more integrated into a money economy, lists of state institutions and lists of fairs and markets throughout the year.

22In nineteenth century Ireland, one remarkable feature of many of the cheaper almanacs was a section containing puzzles contributed by readers. Some of these were mathematical, the rest were riddles in verse. The standard formula for the verses was “enigmas, rebuses and charades” - an enigma is a straighforward riddle, while rebuses and charades divide the answer into parts, usually syllables, and give a series of clues to these parts. These sections of the almanac were often quite substantial. Detailed answers to the mathematical questions could take up 20 or 30 pages, while, to take one example, the Lady's and Farmer's Almanac for 1846 contained 9 enigmas, 42 charades and 43 rebuses. All of these puzzles were supplied by the readers, and answers were given in the following year's almanac. Lists were also included of all those who sent in correct answers, many of whom were contributors themselves. This practice originated in early eighteenth-century England, specifically in the Ladies' Diary which first appeared in 1704. It was soon imitated in Ireland, the first almanac to do so being Knapp's Almanac in 1718. In the nineteenth century, a wide range of almanacs contained these puzzles. The list includes Grant's Almanac, Nugent's Almanac, The Belfast Almanac, The Annual Literary and Mathematical Asylum, The New Ladies' Diary, The Lady's and Farmer's Almanac, and most famous, Old Moore's Almanac. In mid-century there were two competing Old Moores, one printed by Nugent, the other by Warren, both of which were still being produced at the end of the century. They circulated widely - Nugent's Old Moore's in 1853 claimed a circulation of 276,000, and even allowing for a certain exaggeration, the figure is impressive. By comparison, the English Moore's Almanac, which was aimed at a much larger market, had a print run of over half a million in the 1830s.

23As an example, we can take a rebus submitted by the young James Clarence Mangan to the New Ladies' Almanac of 1818. Mangan's publishing career began in almanacs, and of the first 52 items in his bibliography, all but one were published in the New Ladies' or in Grant's Almanac.

  • 24 National Library of Ireland,  Ms 7954, p.548ff. This is a volume of notes for a history of Irish al (...)

24Since most of the puzzles and answers are supplied by named readers, the almanacs therefore can give us a certain amount of information on these readers, or at least on the more active ones, those who were contributors as well. In the first place, geographical distribution. Nugent's Moore's Almanac for 1854, for example, listed contributors in 26 counties: in every county in Ireland except Cork, Clare, Mayo, Donegal, Derry and Antrim, with the highest concentration in south Ulster and north Leinster, in counties Cavan, Monaghan, and Meath. This spread is found in most almanacs I have examined, and it indicates that the space within which they operated was national rather than regional. The second type of information is about occupation. The mathematical puzzles are almost always supplied by schoolteachers and land surveyors, who were clearly using the almanac as a forum to market their skills. The teachers often gave the addresses of their schools, making it clear that free advertising was one reason to supply puzzles. The occupations of those who supplied verse puzzles are more diverse. A list of the most frequent contributors to the different almanacs in the middle decades of the nineteenth century includes teachers, an auctioneer and shopkeeper, a farmer and land surveyor, an extensive farmer and grazier, a tailor, a mill worker, a pedlar, and two shoemakers.24

  • 25  Maureen PerkinS, Visions of the Future. Almanacs, time and cultural change 1775-1870, Oxford 1996, (...)

25Third, gender. As the titles of some almanacs (Ladies' Diary, New Ladies' Almanac, Lady's and Farmer's Almanac) suggest, the almanac was partly a woman's genre. In nineteenth-century England, almanacs were sold disproportionately by women, although they were edited and printed mainly by men. In Ireland, about one tenth of the puzzles and answers, both mathematical and literary, were submitted by women, although this is complicated by the fact that some male contributors are known to have used female pseudonyms.25 Finally, as regards the cultural background of the contributors, many of the verse puzzles offer a valuable insight into an educated, semi-literary milieu. However, the material would need a much finer analysis than is possible in this paper.

  • 26  Charles Nisard, Histoire des livres populaires ou de la littérature de colportage (2nd ed., Paris (...)

26To return to our overall theme, what can we say about the similarities and differences between Irish almanacs and French (and British) almanacs in the nineteenth century? As regards mathematical and verse puzzles, no French almanac I have seen contains this type of material in contributions by readers, but my research on French material has been rudimentary so far. Although the practice is not mentioned by the historians of the subject, Charles Nisard in the 1850s and Geneviève Bollème in the 1960s, an exhaustive bibliography published in 1896 contains a half-dozen almanacs with enigmas and rebuses, mostly from the late eighteenth century. My impression, however, is that they were not contributed by readers.26

  • 27 Nisard, Vol.1, 51; Perkins, ch.2, 'The birth of the statistical almanac and the assault on supersti (...)

27As regards the genre more broadly (since only some Irish almanacs featured these puzzles), the fundamentals are the same in the different countries, as one would expect in such a “universal” type of text - calendars, commercial information, sometimes predictions. There are, however, two types of almanac which were produced in both Britain and France and which are not found in Ireland. The first of these is the explicitly ideological almanac, devoted either to an “attack on superstition” or to the “improvement” of society, and published by religious and other organisations. In France, 800,000 copies of an almanac produced by the St. Vincent de Paul Society were sold in 1851, while in England, the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge produced the British Almanac from 1828 onwards. In Ireland, the concept of sponsored “improving” publication existed, and a series of organisations during the nineteenth century aimed at replacing “superstitious” or “seditious” popular literature, but they did not produce almanacs as part of this enterprise. The reason for this is not clear to me. (The most explicitly ideological almanac in France is obviously missing in Britain and Ireland - this was the revolutionary almanac, devoted to spreading the use of the new revolutionary calendar and a more “rational” organisation of  time.)27

  • 28  Colette Barbé, ‘Les Almanachs du XIXe siècle’, Ethnologie Française XV (1985),  80-90; Patrick Joy (...)

28The second type of almanac which is not found in Ireland is that produced in a non-official or local language. In southern France, almanacs in Provençal were produced by Félibrige movement, and used as means of organisation and as a forum for new literature in the language. The best known was the Almanac Provençau, first published in 1855. In northern England, the dialect almanac was an extremely popular form in the second half of the nineteenth century, particularly in Yorkshire, with titles such as Barnsla Foaks' Annual an Pogmoor Olmenac, first published in 1840, and the Halifax Illuminated Clock Almanac, begun in1865, which sold 80,000 copies annually in the 1880s. In the celtic language areas, there were almanacs in Welsh and in Scottish Gaelic, and almanacs in Gaelic were also published in Canada. In Ireland, by contrast, despite the large number of speakers of Irish before the Famine of the 1840s, no almanac in Irish was published in the nineteenth century. This of course is simply one aspect of the more general weakness of Irish-language print culture compared to those of Welsh, Gaelic or Breton. It is remarkable, for example, that there was even a Welsh-language almanac produced in Dublin in 1805, but no Irish-language one during the whole century.28

  • 29 For an example, see Almanach des Connaissances Utiles 1839.
  • 30 The contrast is even stronger with Spanish or Italian Catholicism: Michael P. Carroll,  Irish Pilgr (...)

29One final difference between French and Irish almanacs is worth mentioning. Judging from those I have seen, visual illustrations were very common in nineteenth-century French almanacs, with some containing an image every 3 or 4 pages, whereas there are almost none in Ireland. Moreover, in some French examples, a “rebus” is a pictorial puzzle, rather than a verse as it is in the Irish texts.29 As with the case of language, this seems to me to reflect a fundamental difference in popular print culture. French texts of all kinds (and indeed English ones also) have more illustrations than Irish ones. Single sheet printed images also seem to be more common and important in France, with Épinal as the centre of production. By contrast, there were no printers in Ireland who dealt predominantly in images, let alone a whole town. This may well be explicable in terms of production, of the economics of the print trade. However, I think it also reflects different expectations on the part of readers and purchasers, as Irish popular culture was in some respects much less visual than French. In the domain of popular religion, for example, Irish Catholicism is much less visually oriented than French. Pilgrimages in the latter are often centred on miraculous pictures, images or statues, whereas by contrast there is no significant image cult in Ireland, and pilgrimages are to natural features such as wells, mountains, and caves, or to ancient monastic sites.30

30This brief sketch has attempted to show how a traditional and apparently immutable type of text such as the almanac was adapted to local conditions. It could become an explicit political or cultural statement, a forum for advertising mathematical or technical skill,  it could support a national network of amateur poets,  it could preserve a magical and astrological perception of time or a more abstract and rational one,  all within the same structure and the same annual appearance. It is this combination of unity and diversity which makes comparative studies of the almanac potentially so rich. Taken together with other genres, the comparative study of popular printed literature between different national spaces promises to be revealing about the wider popular cultures of the various countries and regions of Europe.

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Notes

1  Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrink, 'Littératures  populaires et imprimés de large circulation en Europe. Perspectives d'analyse comparatisites et interculturelles', Dix-huitième Siècle no.30 (1998), 143-153; see also PeterBurke, 'The Bibliothèque Bleue in comparative perspective' in La Bibliothèque Bleue nel Seicento (1981), 59-64.

2  Robert Mandrou, De la Culture Populaire aux 17e et 18e siècles: La Bibliothèque Bleue de Troyes  Paris 1964; GenevièveBolleme, 'Littérature populaire et de colportage au 18e siècle' in François Furet (ed.), Livre et Societé dans la France du 18e siècle Paris 1965, .61-92; AlfredMorin, Catalogue Descriptif de la Bibliothèque Bleue de Troyes, Geneva 1974; Henri-JeanMartin, 'Culture écrite et culture orale, culture savante et culture populaire dans la France d'Ancien Régime', Journal des Savants (1975) p.225-282, tr. as 'Literature for the masses in the Ancien Régime: the Bibliothèque Bleue' Publishing History III (1978), 70-102.

3 Mandrou, 17.

4 Mandrou, 166.

5  MargaretSpufford, Small books and Pleasant histories: Popular fiction and its readership in seventeenth-century England, Cambridge 1981, 129-155, 258, 249.

6  J.R.R.Adams, The Printed Word and the Common Man: Popular Culture in Ulster 1700-1900 Belfast, 1987.

7  James W.Phillipps, Printing and Bookselling in Dublin 1670-1800: abibliographical inquiry Dublin 1996, (orig.  1952),73-75; M.Pollard, Dublin's Trade in Books 1550-1800, Oxford 1989,  219-221.

8  Roger Chartier (ed.) Figures de la Gueuserie Paris 1982, introduction (tr. as 'The literature of roguery in the Bibliothèque Bleue' in Chartier, The Cultural Uses of Print in Early Modern France, Princeton 1987, 265-342).

9  NiallÓ Ciosáin, Print and Popular Culture in Ireland, 1750-1850 Basingstoke 1997,  ch.5, ’Criminal  biography’.

10 See Mandrou, 104.

11 Ó Ciosáin, Print and PopularCulture, ch.10, ’The  ideology of status in Ireland’.

12  Michelde Certeau, DominiqueJulia, JacquesRevel, 'La beauté du mort : Le concept de "culture populaire"'' in Politique aujourd'hui XII (1970) 3-23, repr. in Certeau: La Culture au pluriel, Paris 1974, 55-94, and tr. as 'The Beauty of the Dead: Nisard' in M. de Certeau: Heterologies: Discourse on the Other, Manchester 1986,  119-136 ; Jean-LucMarais, 'Litterature et culture "populaires" aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles. Réponses et questions', Annales de Bretagne et des Pays de l'Ouestt.87 (1980), 65-105; RogerChartier, ‘Livres bleus et lectures populaires’ in Chartier and Henri-Jean Martin (eds.),  Histoire de l'édition française Vol.2: Le livre triomphant, 1660-1830, Paris 1984, 498-511, tr. as 'The Bibliothèque Bleue and popular reading' in Chartier: The Cultural Uses of Print, 240-264.

13 Adams: The Printed Word,  23, 47, 173. In fact, Adams noted these difficulties, but did not entirely resolve them: ibid., 23, 47.

14  G. Bollème, 'Littérature populaire', 76

15  G. Bollème, Les Almanachs populaires aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles (1969)

16  Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrink (ed.), Histoires Curieuses et Véritables de Cartouche et Mandrin. Paris 1984; Chartier Roger (ed.), Figures de la gueuserie Paris 1982; Geneviève Bollème and Lise Andriès (eds.), Les Contes Bleus Paris 1983; Jean-Louis Flandrin, Paul and Mary Hyman (eds.), Le cuisinier François, Paris 1983); Arlette Farge (ed.), Le Miroir des femmes, Paris 1982; Robert Favre (ed.), La Fin dernière, Paris 1984. A similar collection of romances was edited a year earlier by Lise Andriès, Moyen Age et colportage. Robert le Diable et autres récits, Paris, 1981.

17  For example, Guglielmo Cavallo and Roger Chartier (eds.),  A History of Reading in the West, Cambridge 1999.

18  Robert Darnton, 'First steps towards a history of reading' Australian Journal of French Studies XXIII (1986), 5-30; Jonathan Rose, 'Re-reading the English Common Reader: a preface to the history of audiences' Journal of the History of Ideas LIII (1992), 47-70; Roger Chartier, Frenchness in the history of the book: from the history of publishing to the history of reading, Worcester,  Mass.  1988; ibid, 'Du livre au lire' in Chartier (ed.),  Pratiques de la Lecture. Toulouse 1985,  62-88; Simon Eliot, 'What are we to do about the history of reading?', The Author CV (1994), 69-70; Bernadette Cunningham and Máire Kennedy (eds), The Experience of Reading:  Irish historical perspectives, Dublin, 1999.

19  Breandán Mac Suibhne and David Dickson (eds.), The Outer edge of Ulster.  A memoir of social life in nineteenth-century Donegal, Dublin, 2000.

20  Tomás Ó Cillín, Artúraíocht 'Tír an Áir' (n.d., c.1926); Joseph Szoverffy, 'Rí Naomh Seoirse: Chapbook and Hedge Schools' ÉigseIX (1958), 114-128.

21  Brian Earls, 'A note on Seanchas Amhlaoidh Uí Loinsigh' Béaloideas LII (1984), 9-34.

22 Bollème, Les Almanachs populaires; Bernard Capp, Astrology and the Popular Press: English Almanacs 1500-1800, London 1979; Marco Cuaz, 'Almanacchi e "cultura media" nell'Italia del settecento' Studi Storici 2 (1984), 353-361.

23  Francesco Maiello, Storia del Calendario: La misurazione del tempo, 1450-1800, Torino 1994, 131-147; Linda Colley, Britons. Forging the Nation, 1707-1837, London 1992,  ch.1, ’Protestants’ .

24 National Library of Ireland,  Ms 7954, p.548ff. This is a volume of notes for a history of Irish almanacs, written by PJ McCall,  who was an editor of almanacs in the late nineteenth century.

25  Maureen PerkinS, Visions of the Future. Almanacs, time and cultural change 1775-1870, Oxford 1996, 39-45; Séamus Ó Casaide,  ‘An Irish scribe and the almanacs’ Irish Book Lover Jan-Feb 1939,  80-5.

26  Charles Nisard, Histoire des livres populaires ou de la littérature de colportage (2nd ed., Paris 1864), Vol.1, 1-121; Bollème, Les Almanachs populaires; John Grand-Carteret, Les Almanachs français. Bibliographie-iconographie (1600-1895), Paris 1896 lists 3,633 separate publications.

27 Nisard, Vol.1, 51; Perkins, ch.2, 'The birth of the statistical almanac and the assault on superstition'; Lise Andriès, 'Almanacs: revolutionising a traditional genre' in Robert Darnton and Daniel Roche (eds.), Revolution in Print. The press in France 1775-1800, New York 1989, 203-222; Irish publishers of 'improving' popular literature are discussed in Ó Ciosáin, Print and Popular Culture, ch.8, ‘Improving and practical literature’.

28  Colette Barbé, ‘Les Almanachs du XIXe siècle’, Ethnologie Française XV (1985),  80-90; Patrick Joyce, Visions of the People.  Industrial England and the question of  class 1848-1914, Cambridge 1991,  259-265; Perkins, Visions of the Future, 149-157; for Welsh almanacs, see Peter Lord, Words with Pictures: Welsh images and images of Wales in the popular press 1640-1860, Aberystwyth 1995; the only Irish-language almanac I know of was printed in Dublin in 1724, see Nicholas Williams, I bPrionta i Leabhar: na Protastúin agus prós na Gaeilge 1567-1724, Dublin 1986, 125-7.

29 For an example, see Almanach des Connaissances Utiles 1839.

30 The contrast is even stronger with Spanish or Italian Catholicism: Michael P. Carroll,  Irish Pilgrimage.  Holy wells and popular Catholic devotion, Baltimore 1999, 49-52; William Christian, Apparitions in Late Medieval and Renaissance Spain, Princeton 1981,  10-26.

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Niall Ó Ciosáin, « Bibliothèque Bleue, Verte Erin: Some Aspects of Popular Printed Literature in France and Ireland in the 18th and 19th Centuries »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Vol. III - n°1 | 2005, 55-69.

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Niall Ó Ciosáin, « Bibliothèque Bleue, Verte Erin: Some Aspects of Popular Printed Literature in France and Ireland in the 18th and 19th Centuries »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. III - n°1 | 2005, mis en ligne le 23 novembre 2009, consulté le 29 novembre 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/2519 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/lisa.2519

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Niall Ó Ciosáin

Dr. (Galway, Ireland)
Niall Ó Ciosain is a lecturer in the Department of History, National University of Ireland, Galway. He is the author of Print and Popular Culture in Ireland, 1750-1850  (Macmillan 1997), and articles on the history of the book, popular culture and popular memory in Ireland.

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