Paris, chez Béchet, Juillet 1818.
8vo [197 x 127 mm] of (1) l. of title, 27 pp., (1) p. Bound in green velvet, tin filet on the borders, large tin pattern with leaves in the center of the covers, doublures and endpaper in silk white paper, mottled edges. Contemporary romantic binding.
Extremely rare first edition of this work through which Constant takes a stand on the judiciary and highly media-staged case “Wilfrid Regnault”. C. P. Courtney, A bibliography of editions of the writings of Benjamin Constant, I, 30.
“Printers declaration, 18 July, 1 000 copies, dépôt légal, 18-20 July, 1 000 copies.” (C. P. Courtney).
Wilfrid Regnault, suspected of having participated in the September slaughters under the Revolution, is accused with murder of a servant from Amfreville in Normandy. The royalist mayor of the town, Bénigne Porte de Blosseville, and the representative of the public prosecutor’s department push the investigations against him. He is sentenced to death on August 29th, 1817. According to Benjamin Constant, the reputation of the convicted man has determined the sentence of the circuit court of Eure. In 1818, the author will publish two letters directed to Mr. Odillon-Barrot, Wilfrid Regnault’s lawyer, in which he methodically and with talent takes down the judicial plot of which his client is victim.
The present report follows the legal proceedings against the marquis de Blosseville who had published on September 7th 1817, in the Journal des Débats an article containing libelous remarks, taking up again the rumor of bad reputation of the sentenced man. For Benjamin Constant, the matter at issue was to know if a person sentenced to death had the right to defend his honor.
A precious copy offered by the author to Jean-Claude Beugnot, bearing this autographed ex dono on the title page: “M. Beugnot de la part de l’auteur”. Jacques-Claude Beugnot (1761-1835) had many governmental responsibilities under the French Revolution. He was alternately a prefect, a minister, then a deputy. According to Alfred François Nettment (Histoire de la littérature française sous la restauration), he used to frequently go to Mme de Staël’s salon where he mixed with Benjamin Constant, the Comte de Ségur or even M. de Talleyrand. He was distinguishable by his personality of “spicy, serious, joyful and informative talker, [who] takes any tone with success, following the chance of the conversation.” According to Benjamin Constant’s Journal intime, the latter would also have promised him the Legion of Honor and the Mémoires de Jacques-Claude Beugnot give proof of some political discussions they did have.
A beautiful and precious copy dedicated to the author and preserved in its elegant contemporary green velvet binding.
Localization of the copies: only 3 French institutions seem to own this rare first edition.