SERRES, Olivier de


SERRES, Olivier de Theatre d\'agriculture et mesnage des champs

Paris, par Iamet Metayer imprimeur ordinare du roy, 1600


FIRST EDITION. Folio. pp. [xvi], 1004, [xx]. 4, 4, A-6K4, 6L2, 6M4, 6N6.Roman letter side-notes in Italic. “Title engraved within an archway, with the figure of Henri IV seated above. The garden scene in the upper part of the title page illustrates a passage in Serres’s dedication to the king, leaf a2r.. The engraving is signed by Karel van Mallery. The text is divided into eight parts, each with a divisional title-page comprising a woodcut scene of agricultural occupations, .. within .. a four-part border, an explanatory title, and an ornament of a vase of flowers.. In addition the sixth ‘lieu’ contains sixteen woodcut designs for gardens .. of which ten are printed in a group as plates, recto and verso of leaves Eeee2-Ffff2, and one as a double-page cut on leaves Gggg2v-Gggg3r. .. Headpiece with Mettayer’s monogram, the French Royal arms, and figures of the virtues (not in Renouard), and a figured headpiece of the same design as Renouard 586 but without initials. Type ornament headpieces; grotesque and arabesque tailpieces. Initials in various styles, including blocks from several sets with figures. Roman letter, small italic marginalia.” Mortimer. Lord Hatton’’s autograph on engraved title, repeated above headpiece on next leaf. Engraved title, very expertly inlaid, very fractionally dusty, light age yellowing, the occasional marginal ink spot or mark. A very good, clean copy, with good margins in French mottled calf, circa 1650, spine with raised bands, gilt ruled in compartments richly gilt with central fleurons and scrolled and pointillé tools, gilt lettered title, all edges sprinkled red, Upper joint cracked, head and tail band, and lower corners worn.

First edition of the first great French work on agriculture of the modern era, of tremendous influence and continued interest; “the masterful summary of agricultural knowledge at that time”(Bitting). “Olivier de Serres (1569 -1619) was born to a well-to-do merchant family in the Languedoc, southern France… He was a protestant, studied law, participated in the civil war ravaging France.. then bought a mill and grounds at Pradel in 1575. In 1578 he moved to his estate to dedicate himself to agriculture as a gentleman-farmer. De Serres had read the Roman agriculturists and used some of their information but rejected and even ridiculed their superstitions. He did not mention Crescentio, de Herrera or any of his French predecessors. Open-minded, he relied primarily on his own experience, which he laid down in beautiful French, clear and precise, easy to read. The book was an immediate success, reprinted 19 times within a span of 75 years.” Jan C. Zadoks. ‘Crop Protection in Medieval Agriculture’

The book is divided into eight parts, where all agronomic and horticultural practices are expounded on, and includes a great number of innovations such as the methodical use of soil improvement, deep plowing, triennial rotation, or the cultivation of newly introduced plants (potato, cotton etc.). Serres devotes substantial sections to hunting, cookery, practical medicine, irrigation, forestry, viticulture, vegetable gardening, medicinal plants, fruit trees, silk cultivation, the management of servants. The author also discusses the duties of the mistress of the house and remedies for all manner of diseases suffered by men and animals. The work, somewhat forgotten after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685), when its influence diminished because of its Protestant roots, is, however, of continued celebrity, due in particular to the technological advances of the methods presented, which were only surpassed in the twentieth century. Henri IV also had taken a strong interest in the economic regeneration of France and the present work became, in effect, a manifesto for the King’s new policies. Serres became a royal counselor in 1599 and advised Henri IV on various agricultural and economic projects. The publication of the treatise fell within the political framework of a desire to revive agriculture in the first years of the reign. The work, in examining the issue of the culture of the mulberry and sericulture, also participated in the policy of silk manufacture that the king wanted to promote to combat the import of foreign silks. The Theatre d’Agriculture has also become a reference book on the history of gardens, in its descriptions of how to create the newly fashionable flower beds, inaugurated for the royal gardens.The third section also contains over a hundred pages of ‘science’ and practice on vine and wine. The last contains much information on bread, from the choice of grain, to many recipes for the manufacture and conservation of various types of bread. “The author has been called the father of French agriculture, but his work is more comprehensive, including the preparation and use of food and drinks, conserving with salt, vinegar, must , sugar, honey etc.” (Bitting).

Christopher Hatton, 1st Baron Hatton (1605 – 1670) was the nephew of the Elizabethan politician, Sir Christopher Hatton and a prominent Royalist during the reign of King Charles I of England. He was educated at Jesus College, Cambridge. and trained for the law at Gray’s Inn. He was comptroller of the king’s household from 1643 until 1646, and acted as joint commissioner for Charles at the conference of Uxbridge 1645. By August 1648 he had retired to France. He gives a graphic account of his life abroad in his letters to Sir Edward Nicholas and others. He always found comfortable quarters, and made himself very happy with his ‘books and fiddles’. He was a noted antiquarian and compiled, together with William Dugdale and others, the Book of Seals, a volume of 529 medieval charters. Cf. DNB. A very good copy of this monumental work; a most important and rare first edition.

Mortimer Fr. II 494. En Français dans le Texte 79. Simon, Bibliotheca Bacchica, II, 619. Vicaire, pp. 788-89. Brunet V 212. Bitting 430. Not in Oberlé.

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