A Literary Tour de France

          Two factors favored the book trade in Nîmes: silk and Protestants.  The manufacture of silk and other textiles had driven the great expansion of the local economy in the mid-eighteenth century, and the city’s numerous population of Protestants consumed large quantities of books—primarily Bibles and liturgical works but also Enlightenment tracts.  Protestantism, a religion of the book, probably provided fertile territory for the reception of philosophic ideas.  The correspondence of Nîmes’s booksellers indicates the way those cultural currents converged; but as in most provincial centers, only a few booksellers operated on a scale large enough to order regular supplies from foreign publishers like the STN.  Two of them, Michel Gaude and Buchet (the documents don’t give his first name), dominated the trade.  They illustrate different approaches to it, for Buchet took risks and overplayed his hand, while Gaude adhered to a conservative strategy that ultimately proved more profitable.    

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          First, consider Gaude, or “Gaude père et fils,” as the firm appeared in the trade almanacs.  Apparently Gaude fils, Michel’s younger son Jacques, handled its commercial correspondence—“par permission de mon père,” as he put it in 1772, when it began to order books from the STN and he was 27.  The business was reorganized as “Gaude père, fils et A. Gaude” in 1773, and a year later it acquired the legal title (“raison”) of “Gaude, père, fils & Cie.” The bookshop was located in the grande rue at the heart of the city.  Although the letters reveal nothing about its appearance and character, they suggest that it enjoyed a prosperous trade rooted in the Calvinist community, which may have composed as much as a third of Nîmes’s population in the 1770s.  The first order that appears in Gaude’s correspondence was for 105 copies of the Bible—that is, the radically Calvinist Genevan Bible augmented with a commentary by Jean-Frédéric Ostervald (a relative of one of the STN’s founders, Frédéric-Samuel Ostervald), which was forbidden in France.  Gaude continued for several years to order large numbers of the Bible along with Psalms and liturgical works, and the sparse, sober tone of his letters seem to have a Huguenot flavor—or at least they contrast with those from Catholic booksellers in the Midi such as Jean Mossy of Marseille, who was chatty and amusing. 

Gaude ran his business according to a strict professional ethos.  In one of his early letters to Samuel Fauche, the co-founder of the STN along with Ostervald and Jean-Elie Bertrand, he corrected mistakes that Fauche had made in settling their accounts, and the corrections included an error that Fauche had made to his own disadvantage.  In 1774 when the STN disagreed with his version of their accounts and even threatened to sue, Gaude refused to back down, citing “…notre probité que nous écoutons bien plus que toutes les menaces du monde.”  (November 5, 1774)  It turned out, as the STN later admitted, that he was in the right.  

          Keeping to the anonymous “nous” of commercial correspondence, Gaude, père, fils & Cie. made a few remarks about the human element in their business.  In a letter of October 18, 1774, they referred to the recent marriage of “notre sieur Gaude fils,” and a letter of August 22, 1781 mentioned “Sens, notre beau-frère”—presumably a reference to Nicholas Etienne Sens, an important bookseller in Toulouse, with whom they cooperated in ordering books.  Other letters contained remarks about buying a new house and setting up a new warehouse.  The firm and the family seemed to be expanding in the 1770s, although it is difficult to believe a contemporary report that their annual turnover amounted to 600,000 livres (see the Almanach général des marchands, négociants, armateurs et fabricants de la France (Paris, 1779) cited in the “full research background” section of this website.)  When Favarger arrived in Nîmes in early August 1778, local merchants confirmed his expectation that “MM. Gaude jouissent toujours d’un bon credit.”  He found them tough negotiators but preferred them to all the other booksellers in the city: “Je serais charmé de renouer avec eux.  Ce sont d’aimables gens.” 

This personal affinity may have been reinforced by a sense of solidarity among Protestants in hostile, Catholic territory.  Favarger was a good Calvinist, who traveled with a list of Protestant merchants and ministers to contact along his route.  On August 15, shortly after his arrival in Marseille, he could not transact any business, because shops were closed to celebrate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.  Judging from the tone of the letter he wrote to the STN at that time, he felt very much a foreigner: “Le canon des forts et des vaisseaux ronfle dans ce moment à merveille en l’honneur de la Vierge Marie.”  In Nîmes, by contrast, he was in familiar territory.  He went to hear Paul Rabaut, the leader of the Huguenot community, preach a sermon in “le désert”—that is, outdoors in the countryside, as Protestants were not permitted to worship in churches of their own.  By 1778, they were no longer persecuted, but they had vivid memories of the atrocities they had suffered after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, which deprived them of all civil rights and led to the Camisard uprising and civil war of 1702-1715.  During a revival of repressive measures from 1745-1753, Rabaut had been forced to go into hiding, a price on his head.  Ostervald knew him personally, and Rabaut, along with his son, Jean-Paul Rabaut de Saint-Etienne, who would become a prominent member of the National Assembly in 1789, promised Favarger to promote the sales of the STN’s Bibles and gave him additional addresses of Huguenot ministers who would furnish help and customers throughout the rest of his route. 

Of course, the Calvinists had no monopoly on morality.  In fact, one minister, Dubois of Tonneins, developed his own trade in illegal, Protestant books, ran up a debt of 700 livres, and then refused to pay, despite constant dunning by the STN.  Favarger finally collected the bill, but only after making a long detour to Tonneins and enlisting the support of a powerful local family, who in turn had been solicited by one of Ostervald’s contacts in Versailles. Recommendations, protections, family connections, and mutual aid within a network of merchants—those were the elements required for success in the provincial book trade.  The STN spelled them out in detail in the “instructions” written out at the beginning of Favarger’s diary (see the text posted on this website.)  But the most important element in the south of France was help from the Huguenot diaspora. 

          Protestant books formed the core of Gaude’s business.  The top four works in the list of books that he ordered most often were editions of the Psalms and the Bible along with Histoire du Vieux et du Nouveau Testament by Claude de Langes and Le Vrai Communiant by Daniel de Superville.  The other “best-sellers” that he acquired from the STN also included two Huguenot devotional works, Sermons nouveaux sur divers textes de l’Ecriture sainte by François-Jacques Durand and La Morale évangélique by Elie Bertrand, and Condorcet’s Réflexions d’un catholique sur les lois de France relatives aux protestants.  Enlightenment works supplemented the religious literature in most of Gaude’s orders.  He accompanied his first order for the Bible with a request for editions of Rousseau’s works and Raynal’s Histoire philosophique et politique des établissements et du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes, which sold very well in Nîmes.  He ordered a good deal of Voltaire, notably three, 48-volume sets of the complete works, Mercier’s Tableau de Paris, and Les Liaisons dangereuses.  He never asked for radical, atheistic tracts or for strongly forbidden literature of any kind, including political works and seditious libels.  Insofar as one can detect a pattern behind the highly diverse titles of his orders, it suggests a strong demand for Protestant literature supplemented by works from the moderate, Voltairean strain of the Enlightenment.

          Moderation and caution also characterized Gaude’s way of doing business, as far as one can tell from his letters to the STN.  He may have been more adventurous in his relations with his other suppliers, notably François Grasset, who dealt heavily in forbidden literature.  In July 1766, Joseph d’Hémery, the inspector of the book trade in Paris, was sent on a mission to investigate the trade in pirated books produced in Avignon and sold at the great trade fair in Beaucaire.  In a series of raids at the fair, he confiscated 47 bales of books.  They included two that had been sent to Gaude by Grasset and that contained a selection of erotic and anti-Catholic works such as Les Délices du cloître, Margot la ravaudeuse, and La Chandelle d’Arras (Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms. 22098, folios 103-110.)   That is the only time that Gaude’s name appeared in the archives of the police and the Parisian Chambre syndicale.  He had no trouble with the authorities in Nîmes, where on at least one occasion he received favorable treatment by the subdelegate of the intendant. 

Aside from the large number of religious works that Gaude requested, he restricted his orders to a few copies of a great many different books and always avoided risks.  He published books of his own, mainly serious, non-fictional works, all of them perfectly legal, such as La Science parfaite des notaires, Dictionnaire de physique and Histoire de l’Eglise gallicane. And he developed a large wholesale trade, taking advantage of the fair in nearby Beaucaire, which attracted publishers and booksellers throughout France and much of Europe.  Like the Swiss publisher-wholesalers, Gaude depended on exchanges: he traded a large portion the books that he produced for the equivalent value in works that he chose from the stock of other publishers, including many of the Swiss.  In this way, while increasing the variety of the literature available in his bookshop, he built up a set of alliances.  He favored his allies—for example, Bardin of Geneva, Heubach of Lausanne, Grasset of Lausanne, and the Société typographique de Berne—when he placed orders.  Typically, he would pay for half of the total value of an order in exchanges and half in negotiable notes (bills of exchange), which he redeemed faithfully in cash at their date of maturity.  Because the Swiss publishers also exchanged their editions among themselves, Gaude could procure virtually everything he wanted from the publishers he favored, and he could shift his orders to the suppliers who gave him the best terms without cutting himself off from the general body of available literature.    

The STN learned to appreciate Gaude’s strong bargaining position as soon as it began to negotiate over the terms of its sales and shipments.  Unwilling to take any risks, he insisted that it ship its illegal works (mostly Protestant books) through the safe but slow and expensive Turin-Nice route.  After several shipments, the STN offered to get his books to him through Lyon by smuggling them across the border at an “insurance” rate of 16 percent of their value.  Gaude bargained them down to 12 percent, but then the insurance system broke down, and the STN fell back on finding a reliable shipping agent to get its books past inspection in the Lyonnais Chambre syndicale.  In July 1773 it announced that it had solved the problem, and Gaude, who had recently requested 25 Bibles and 50 Psalms, doubled his order.  However, that shipment got stalled at the Swiss-French border and finally had to go via Turin.  Gaude complained about the delay, reiterated his refusal to assume any risks, and warned the STN that the French authorities treated Protestant books every bit as harshly as the most immoral, seditious, and irreligious works.  If it wanted to do business with him, he insisted, it would have to get its shipments safely through Lyon at its own expense.

In 1774, the STN finally found a trustworthy agent in Lyon, Gabriel Regnault, a bookseller who cleared its shipments through the Chambre syndicale and forwarded them to Nîmes.  Unfortunately, however, he failed to follow Gaude’s instructions about the safest route, and a shipment was confiscated in Villeneuve-les-Avignon, because it contained a dozen copies of the Psalms.  Gaude appealed to the intendant, who promised to get the other books in the bale released, but they remained in the hands of the French authorities for two years.  Meanwhile, the STN, impatient for payment as Gaude’s account continued to grow, wrote a note (“traite”) on him for 500 livres.  This was not standard behavior.  Normally a bookseller would send a note of his own to a supplier after a shipment arrived.  When the STN’s note was presented to him for acceptance, Gaude refused it; for he disagreed about the sum that he owed, and he was not eager to make a payment in cash at a time when specie was extremely scarce: “Les banqueroutes qui assaillissent Marseilles et bien d’autres ports de mer ont entièrement resserré les bourses…L’on ne peut compter encore de quelque temps sur un louis d’or en place.” (October 18, 1774)  The squabble continued until the STN apologized and Gaude sent it two notes for 375 livres each to settle his account. 

By the end of 1774, Gaude had done quite a lot of business with the STN: an account statement showed that from June 1772 to July 1773, his orders had come to a total of 2,367 livres.  He sent no orders at all in 1775.  They had another disagreement over accounts in 1776, when Gaude’s letters became decidedly frosty: “Il faut être juste, Messieurs, et ne pas vouloir tout pour soi.” (February 12, 1776)  Anxious to resume trade with an important client, the STN conceded that it had overcharged him (STN to Gaude, March 21, 1776, January 5, 1777, March 20, 1777), but it never won back his good will, not even when Favarger courted him in August 1778.  Having published an edition of the Dictionnaire de l’Académie française, which he had had printed by Pierre Beaume, one of the two printers in Nîmes, Gaude proposed a large-scale exchange for some of the STN’s books along with a purchase of others for cash.  Favarger noted that he was especially eager to get the works of Molière, Alexis Piron, and Claude-Joseph Dorat.  But the STN decided that he put too high a value on the Dictionnaire (Gaude exchanged books according to their prices rather than sheet-for-sheet, the preferred mode of the STN), and he observed that he could procure most of the STN’s works from other Swiss houses, because it exchanged frequently with them.  No exchanges, no sales—that was the main theme of Gaude’s letters in 1779 and 1780.  Despite continued correspondence through 1783, the STN never won him back as a regular customer.  Neither side would give ground in their off-and-on negotiations.  Gaude got the books he wanted from other Swiss suppliers, and long before he had ceased to send large orders, the STN had transferred most of its business to Buchet, the other important bookseller in Nîmes.