SERRES, Olivier de Le Théâtre d’agriculture et Mesnage des champs […] Ici est représenté tout ce qui est requis et nécessaire pour bien Dresser, Gouverner, Enrichir et Embellir, la maison rustique.


The first great French treatise on agronomy

First complete edition of the first great French treatise on agronomy dedicated to King Henry IV. Copy bound in 17th century gilt vellum, with illuminated frontispiece.

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Paris, Abr. Saugrain, 1603.

4to [246 x 178 mm] in (16) pp. including the engraved frontispiece, 907 pp., (1) bl. p., (26), (2) bl. pp. Overlapping gilt vellum, double fillet and geometric patterns on the covers with fleurs-de-lis and fleurons at the corners, spine ribbed, gilt edges, ruled blank leaves bound at the beginning and the end of the volume. A few restorations on the vellum. Old binding from the middle of the 17th century.

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First final edition of the first great French treatise on agronomy. Tchemerzine, V, 817. “It is the first complete edition, it is enlarged with many additions in many books. This second edition, which is also very beautiful, is at least as rare as the one of the 1600.” (Thiebaud, 840).

Very rare edition”.

“This very famous book was reprinted many times during the 17th century and copiously looted and copied during the 18th century, by Liger and others… The first edition is the most beautiful among all and the only one in folio size. It presents though the disadvantage of not being as complete as the following ones, since Olivier de Serres brought many additions to his work in the 1603 edition.” (Thiébaud).

It is the first great French treatise of agronomy.”

“Serres’ prose, in the footsteps of Montaigne and Saint François de Sales, is clear and beautiful. The title of Théâtre d’Agriculture, composed of two groups of usual words happily and unexpectedly combined together denotes a high command of language. More than twenty successive editions testify of its success.” En français dans le texte, n° 79. Olivier de Serres, lord of Pradel (1539-1619) is a farmer nobleman, attached to his land. He can peacefully settle there from 1573 and since then he multiplies his efforts to turn it into a model farm, practicing corn and mulberry tree farming, bringing water thanks to irrigation pipes, cropping the potatoes in the soil of the Vivarais, even using artificial meadows. He was called in Paris by Henri IV. In order to encourage the silk industry, he published in 1599, at the king’s request, a treatise on The silk crop. It was a treatise on the silkworm farm, appropriate for promoting the king’s desire of spreading this successful field, not only to answer the needs of his people but also exports. It was already a chapter in his work in 1600; but this addition could only be published in the second edition of 1603, which was preceded by an unattached piece. A year later, in 1600, his Théâtre d’agriculture et ménage des champs, in which he records with a delightful simplicity the results of 40 years of research and practice, brought him a glory that will only vanish at the end of the 17th century, because of the vogue, at the time of La Maison rustique by Ch. Estienne and Liébault. It arrived at a decisive moment in the French economy, when the rural life was taking off, the pillage and devastation, following the war, were allowing a renewal of instruments and methods of farming unchanged since the Middle-ages. The action of Olivier de Serres, firstly isolated, became a symbol of the economy recovery that Henry IV tried to create.There is no need to be an agronomic technician nor a historian to find pleasure reading Olivier de Serres: his books, like his action, rightly marks the moment when France becomes quiet again, when it finds a lively, malicious sense, the deep joy of being natural.The work is dedicated to Henry IV who immediately understood how much this book could be a work of pacification of the minds and economic recovery, that is the reason why the king did not spare his praises. Often the expression is clever and subtle; he calls the gardener “the goldsmith of the soil”.

During several months, Henry IV had some passage read to him, after every diner, during half an hour, and he had, before 1675, around twenty editions.

Olivier de Serres did the country a favor, including in Théâtre d’agriculture, everything a long practice and a large erudition could have teach him on the first of the arts. The Théâtre d’agriculture et mesnage des champs d’Olivier de Serres, printed in Paris in 1600 by Jamet Mestayer, in undoubfully the most beautiful edition published during the author’s lifetime; but it is the more incomplete, due to the many additions he made to the second edition, “revised and enlarged by the author. Here is presented everything necessary to govern, enrich, embellish his rustic house.” Paris, Saugrain, 1603, 4to, of 907 pages of text and 21 leaves for the preliminary pieces and table. It is said, at the end, that the first impression was ended the last day of July; and in the folio there is the 1st f July. Therefore there are a lot of additions, among others the second silk crop, which is the fifteenth chapter of the fifth book.”

The work is illustrated with a beautiful copper-engraved title by Mallery, here illuminated, with a portrait of Henry IV, and with 15 woodcuts of beds in the text; between the pp. 554-555, folding plate out of pagination representing the « Corps du iardin medecinal carré. »

Beautiful and precious copy bound in 17th century gilt vellum, with the illuminated frontispiece.

Provenance: « Constant dans l’inconstance…- C. Blyenburch 1656 » (handwritten ex-libris on one of the endpapers) ; « Fuit Jan Rietmaier anno 1675 in Febriwari… » (handwritten ex-libris facing the title); « J. F Schmidt [1755] » (ex-libris in margin of the title); ex-libris G. I. H. Mingardi V. D. M. » (ex-libris printed and pasted on the back of the title).

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SERRES, Olivier de