Histoire admirable et veritable d’une fille champestre du pays d’Anjou laquelle a esté quatre ans sans user d’aucune nourriture

Paris, Michel de Roigny, 1587.


FIRST EDITION. 8vo.  pp. 28. A-C4, D2. Roman letter. Charming woodcut printer’s device on title of printing press and workshop, small woodcut initial and typographical head-piece. Light age yellowing. A very good copy, in C19th half dark green cloth over marbled boards, title gilt in long on spine.

Extremely rare and most interesting pamphlet concerning an account of a young girl who had not eaten for four years, including stories of other prodigies and ‘monsters’ and their political and religious interpretation; of particular interest as they were also recounted by other contemporary French writers such as Montaigne and Béroalde de Verville. The main story told here by Pascal Robin is of a 12-year-old girl who abhorred all food, and could not swallow solid food; even when she received communion, the priest had to put water in her mouth. For four years she lived only on water, and, at very long intervals, a little bread soaked in water. He describes in detail his visit to see her. Interestingly Béroalde de Verville. also wrote a short account of visiting the same family in ‘Le palais des curieux’ published in 1612. His tale of the same visit was also filled with picturesque detail and the same the same desire to question the family and relatives, but he came to a more naturalistic conclusion. Comparatively Pascal Robin’s version of this story, gives ample detail on the case (including the name of the daughter – Mathurine Riverain – and the fact that she died of plague at the same time as other members of his family in 1584); it confirms that many people of both religions had visited the girl, and gives another, more pious, version of the event that caused the fast; the rapture felt by the girl at her first communion, which disgusted her of all terrestrial food. He seeks natural explanations from scholarly literature (in this case Melanchthon and Joubert), but then concludes, as one would expect, that it is indeed a supernatural case, and a divine warning in favour of Catholics. He also suggests that exorcism might have been efficacious.

In the the context of his explanation he also includes stories of other prodigies, one of which is an account of a baby that was born with two bodies, a phenomenon that was also discussed by Montaigne. Michel de Montaigne wrote of this remarkable case, one that he had examined himself: a monstrous child with two bodies (Siamese Twins). After having carefully described the child, he confesses that he is tempted to speculate on the meaning of such a marvel, which leads him to think, by analogy, of the France of his time: a single body, certainly, but cruelly torn between two religious factions – an image that transforms the child into a cypher for the political turmoil and religious distress of his time. Montaigne immediately rejects this hypothesis, and delegates to doctors the task of finding a purely natural explanation. Pascal Robin, on the other hand, gives the story a completely different interpretation, both and political and religious. Knowing that the parents of the child were a priest and his concubine, he gives an interpretation, using the biblical metaphor of the Church as the bride of Jesus. He uses the child as a metaphor for the impossibility of the reconciliation of the two churches in France. something that was being attempted by Henry III. The bastard child of a Catholic Priest (the true church) and a whore, could only survive conjoined in this monstrous form for a short period before dying,(which indeed the child did).

An extremely rare and most interesting pamphlet.

Brunet II p. 165. USTC 66337


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