LE PASTISSIER FRANÇOIS
Où eſt enſeigné la maniere de
faire toute ſorte de Paſtiſſerie,
tres-utile à toute ſorte
Le moyen d'apreſter toutes ſortes d'oeufs
pour les jours maigres & autres,
en plus de ſoixante façons.
Chez Louys & Daniel Elzevier
A M DC LV.
But Nodier was far from being the gourmet that Dumas supposed him to be. He was merely a bookhunter devouring a rare 'find'; and the little book, he explained to Dumas, was one of those tiny volumes published in the seventeenth century by the house of the Elzeviers at Leyden and Amsterdam; and of all the many productions of that press, this was the most sought for by collectors.
Elzeviers, however, are no longer fashionable, in this country at least. The Cæsar might possibly bring five pounds if it came to the notice of an Elzevier specialist, but I doubt it. Only the Pastissier has retained its exalted price, probably on account of its notoriety. A copy, in modern calf binding, sold recently (1917) at Sotheby's for so much as £130; but Lord Vernon's copy, choicely bound by Capé, realised only £70 at the Sudbury sale in June 1918. However, it was a poor copy and much cut down.
Railway-trains, among other things, have killed Elzeviers. Nothing could be more convenient for saddle-bag or knapsack, or the restricted luggage which one could stow in the boot of a coach. But who makes a practice nowadays of putting books into his suit-case or gladstone-bag? Besides, before the advent of railways, there was not the same facility for distributing books, and one might travel many leagues and visit many villages without coming to a place where there would be a bookshop. In travelling nowadays one is continually in the presence of cheap books.
The fate of the little Pastissier was probably that of many popular books. There must have been thousands of copies of it printed. Dumas, in that delightful chapter of 'Mes Mémoires' which we have just quoted, makes Nodier say, 'Techener declares that there were five thousand five hundred copies issued, and I maintain that there were more than ten thousand printed'; and he goes on to declare that 'there are probably only ten examples of it left in Europe.' Willems, however, in his bibliography of the Elzeviers published in 1880, enumerates some thirty copies, and states that the highest price yet paid for the Pastissier was 10,000 francs. But that was for a quite exceptional copy. From 4,500 francs to 5,500 francs seems to have been the average value of the book in Willems' time, and, enthusiast as he is, he hesitates not to describe it as a 'bouquin insignifiant et médiocrement imprimé.'
Its scarcity at the present day is, perhaps, not surprising; for, from the very nature of its contents, its habitat must always have been the kitchen rather than the library. How long would such a tiny volume, with its 130 thin paper leaves, bear the rough and greasy handling of chefs and 'pastissiers'? Book-shelves are rare in kitchens, and the little book must have been continually moved from pillar to post. Besides, it is unlikely that copies for kitchen use would be strongly bound in morocco. The very printing and paper of the book sufficiently indicate the use to which its producers at least expected it to be put. So the little 'French pastrycook' gradually disappeared. Those for whose benefit it had been written would soon learn its secrets by heart and confide them verbally to their apprentices; and it would not be long ere the tattered and greasy booklet found its way into the dustbin.
Of all the rarae aves sought by book-collectors this little volume is perhaps the most widely known. That copies may still exist in this country is shown to be possible by the fact (recorded by Willems) that one was sold at an auction in Belfast. Another was found at Brighton, and occasionally one appears in the London salerooms, as we have shown. It requires little imagination to picture merchants and travellers, whose paths led through the Low Countries at that time, slipping copies into their pockets or holsters for use in the household across the water. Many a courtly exile during the Protectorate, glancing through the bookshops of Amsterdam, must have chanced upon the little volume as a gift for wife or daughter.
Numbers, also, must have found their way to France. Some years ago our book-hunter happened to stay at an ancient hostel in Rouen. From the outside the building was everything that could possibly be desired by bibliophile or antiquary. It was situated in one of those quaint narrow back streets that lead towards the Place Henri Quatre; and the courtyard was so small as scarcely to allow a baker's cart to turn round in it. Like many of the houses in this ancient town, its crookedness was such that it seemed impossible for it to remain standing much longer. Misgivings arose within him as he ascended the staircase, which seemed to sway as he avoided the broken treads. But the sight of the bedroom he was to occupy, furnished with such furniture and such a bed, all spotlessly clean and polished, sent him into the seventh heaven of delight. Here he could read and write undisturbed for as long as he chose to stay. Surely pleasant surprises must be in store for one in every way in such surroundings as these!
It was not long before he got one.
'Will Monsieur require anything to be cooked for him to-night?' inquired the trim hostess.
It was rather late and our bookman was disinclined to seek a restaurant. Besides, he was anxious to explore his lodging before it got too dark. An omelette would be delicious, provided she could make one properly.
'Eggs, perhaps, and tea, with bread and butter'—could she turn the eggs into an omelette?
'Why certainly,' with a merry laugh, 'of course—I can prepare eggs in more than sixty ways.'
To say that our book-hunter started would be to put it mildly. A certain title-page instantly rose before his eyes. There was only one way in which anybody could possibly learn to cook eggs in sixty different ways, and that was by studying the 'Pastissier François.' Without the slightest doubt the hostess possessed a copy, and he was at last to look upon the tiny volume that he had sought for so long. But as she seemed so proud of her achievement, could she be induced to part with the precious tome? These and many other kindred thoughts passed rapidly through his mind as he repeated slowly 'en plus de soixante façons?'
She laughed again. Ah yes, but she couldn't repeat them d'abord, she would have to refer to her book.
He had difficulty in controlling his voice sufficiently to inquire what her book was.
Oh, it was just a little book which her mother had given her, a little book of la cuisine. Could he see it? Why certainly, but it could not possibly interest monsieur, it was only a common little book, and dirty.
Ah, as usual it would be soiled,