Archive for the ‘book history’ Category

From a remarkable sequence, shortly after the intermission, in Abel Gance’s Napoléon (1927):


Apocryphal? Yes and no. There seems to have been such a character, but he only admitted to soaking the papers and throwing them into the Seine after-hours. But a 1908 biography of Josephine has this to say:

If there was the slightest evidence against an ex-noble, he or she was doomed, and among the Beauharnais papers, if not in Josephine’s personal correspondence, there can hardly fail to have been something which might be twisted so as to compromise her. According to a common story, Josephine was one of the people saved by the erratic humanitarian La Bussiere, who preserved a number of prisoners’ lives, destroying their dossiers by the simple method of chewing them up. Josephine herself appears to have believed this story, for she made a point of attending a benefit to La Bussiere at the Porte Saint-Martin Theatre in 1803 and of contributing to a fund on his behalf.

Philip W. Sergeant, The Empress Josephine; Napoleon’s Enchantress. London: Hutchinson & Co., 1908.

For obvious reasons, our archives are conspicuously bereft of direct evidence touching upon the history of bibliophagy. The practice is nonetheless an ancient one, with a diversity of motivations: for an obscure Christian sect of uncertain provenance, it was a means of bodily union with the divine Word. See Eigil Zu Tage-Ravn on “the ecstasy of the scroll eaters.”


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