A Literary Tour de France
Gille (peddler)

Among the many species of book dealers under the Ancien Régime, peddlers were the shadiest, most elusive, and hardest to get to know.  They show up often in the archives of the police but only for an instant—at best, for as long as an interrogation in the Bastille—and then they disappear.  The most obscure of them plied the streets of cities, hawking their wares from trays suspended by straps from their neck.  The most substantial, known as marchands forains (sometimes “foirins”), crisscrossed the country with a horse and wagon, setting up stands in market places and stopping by the occasional farm house or château.  Their itineraries varied.  Some followed regular routes.  Others might turn up anywhere, and many lacked what the police called a “domicile fixe”—that is, a stable home base.  When they wrote an address on a promissory note, it tended to be at an inn, where they would stop to settle their affairs once or twice a year.  They appear so fleetingly in the “floating population” of eighteenth-century France that when one of them shows up in several sources, his trail is worth following.  The peddler that I have encountered most often was the marchand forain who drew some of his stock from Malherbe in Loudun: Noël Gille, known as “La Pistole” (a pistole was a foreign coin or an expression for a sum of money worth 10 livres, but it also could denote a kind of incarceration in which a prisoner paid extra for better conditions.)

Spoiler: Highlight to view

Gille first surfaces in the archives of the police [Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms. fr. 22081, ff 357-368].  On July 23, 1774, Joseph d’Hémery, a veteran inspector of the Parisian book trade, found him selling books at a stall behind the Eglise de la Madeleine in Montargis, a minor provincial center 43 miles east of Orléans.  D’Hémery had been assigned to investigate suspicious activity at the fair of the Madeleine in Montargis, and he immediately fastened on Gille.  He examined 800-900 volumes displayed at the stall, discovered several forbidden works, and summoned four officers of the local constabulary to confiscate the books and to escort Gille to his residence in the home of his father-in-law, rue du Puits de l’Encan.  After combing through every armoire in the house, d’Hémery found some more books, none of much interest aside from a copy of Diderot’s Bijoux indiscrets.  He climbed to the second floor, where Gille and his wife, who collaborated in his business, occupied a small bedroom overlooking the street.  D’Hémery ordered both of them to empty their pockets and collected a few letters and receipts.  Then he demanded to see their account books and correspondence.  According to d’Hémery’s report on the interrogation that then took place, Gille replied “…qu’il ne savait pas écrire et que c’était sa femme ou son beau-frère cordonnier par état qui écrivaient pour lui, …qu’il n’avait aucuns papiers, pas même de plumes ni écritoires. »  That sounded suspicious, d’Hémery noted, but he also observed that Gille had difficulty in signing his name at the end of the interrogation, and in fact the signature looks primitive.  D’Hémery turned up enough letters from booksellers and suppliers to justify a full investigation.  He then sent Gille off to the local jail and retired to his inn for supper and sleep, having put in a productive day’s work.

          After studying the confiscated papers, d’Hémery arrived at the jail at nine o’clock the next morning in order to conduct a full-scale interrogation.  The record of it, carefully recorded by a scribe, reads like most interrogations: a dialogue of questions and answers, recorded in the past tense, which constituted a cat-and-mouse game.  In putting the questions, d’Hémery tried to trap Gille into revealing compromising information; and in answering them, Gille attempted to avoid self-incrimination.  The dialogue can be paraphrased as follows.

          Age?  Thirty.  Place of birth?  Montsurvent, near Coutances in Normandy, son of a shoe maker.  Residence?  At the house of his father-in-law, also a shoe maker, but Gille was almost always absent.  As a colporteur or marchand forain, he traveled from fair to fair and from market place to market place.  When did he begin to sell books?  At the age of twelve, hawking almanacs and popular prints.  Six or seven years later, he started selling ordinary books, following the example of his two brothers, who were peddlers.  One of them lost an arm in the war and collected a pension of one pistole a month: hence the nickname “La Pistole,” which young Noël inherited.  What was his residence during this time?  He had none.  He lived on the road and traveled everywhere—in Normandy, Ile-de-France, Champagne, Anjou—with a horse and cart.  What right did he have to be a bookseller?  “Il prend la qualité de libraire parce qu’il vend des livres.” 

          That was an insolent reply.  As Gille knew full well, one had to belong to a booksellers’ guild or at least to have an official license (brevet de libraire) in order to exercise the trade.  But d’Hémery let it pass in order to concentrate on the crucial question of Gille’s sources of supply.  Gille said that he acquired books in Paris and also from widow Machuel in Rouen, always avoiding everything illegal. Didn’t he have other suppliers?  Not at all.  Did he not recollect the name of a certain Adam?  Well…yes, there was an Adam who once had been a clerk of widow Machuel, but Gille had not heard from him for a year.  That was a lie!  In going through Gille’s papers, d’Hémery had found a letter from Adam written only a few weeks ago.  It must have come from his wife’s pocket, Gille replied rather feebly, because he knew nothing about it.  How could he explain that in the letter Adam had confidentially offered to supply him with immoral books?  Well…Gille had acquired a few copies of the Académie des dames [a work that today would be considered hard-core pornography].  To whom did he sell them?  “To village priests in the places where he traveled and also to various individuals.”  At this point, Gille’s defenses were crumbling, and the questions began to hit hard.  (The following paraphrase, in dialogue form, remains close to the original.)

D’Hémery: Don’t you do business with other booksellers whose names you are hiding from me?

Gille: No, except Buisson in Lyon.

D’Hémery: Why then have I found so many letters from booksellers in your papers?  This catalogue, for example, where does it come from?

Gille: Perhaps it’s from Benoît Duplain or from Benoît Ponthus Bruysset in Lyon.

D’Hémery: No: it’s certainly from a confidential contact, because at the top it says, “Keep my catalogue secret.”  Who is this supplier?

Gille: Maybe I knew some time ago, but I don’t remember any more.

D’Hémery: Do you mean to persist in affirming to me that you do not do any business with other booksellers, neither as their client, nor as their supplier?

Gille: I informed you about my relations in Paris, Rouen, and Lyon.  Aside from a few trips to Lille and Orléans, I limit my trade to that region.

D’Hémery: You are lying.  Your papers prove that you do business with Geneva, Bouillon, Bourges, Tournai, Liège, and other places as well.

Gille: I admit that I received some almanacs and the Bijoux indiscrets from the Société typographique de Bouillon.  As to the rest, I only deal with binders.

D’Hémery: What?  You have your books bound in Bourges and Fontainebleau, whereas you could have that done near your home, thereby saving on the transport costs?  Don’t you have other so-called binders?

Gille: No.

D’Hémery: Think hard.  At Orléans, for example?

Gille: I remember having had some Coutûmes de Montargis bound in Orléans.

D’Hémery: How do you explain this note where Letourmy, a bookseller in Orléans, asks you to send him bound copies of a work that looks very suspicious, since he indicates the title only by a few letters?

Gille: It’s only a matter of the Imitations des journées chrétiennes.

D’Hémery: And this other book that Letourmy says he requested from you in a separate note enclosed in his letter ?

Gille: It’s only an arithmetic book and the Journées chrétiennes.

D’Hémery: You are lying.  It’s not possible that someone would ask in a separate note anything other than a forbidden book.  And what are these works that Manoury orders by designating them as “three Ciel” and “four Christ” and referring to the separate note for an explanation?

Gille: I have no idea.

          D’Hémery knew very well that the reference was to two irreligious works, Le Ciel ouvert à tous les hommes and Histoire critique de Jésus Christ, and Gille knew that he knew.  But they continued to spar in this fashion until d’Hémery realized that he could not extract any more information.  Then he ended the interrogation, sent Gille back to his cell, and wrote a report to the lieutenant general of police in Paris:

     Noël Gille, qui fait la librairie sans titre et en courant d’un lieu à l’autre, a les relations les plus suspectes…La feue veuve Machuel et le sieur Ferrand à Rouen lui fournissent de longue main des livres prohibés et dangereux.  Il y a aussi un nommé Adam à Rouen qui lui fournit de toutes sortes de mauvais livres et qui me paraît un homme des plus dangereux aussi.  Noël Gille a des correspondances prouvées à Genève, à Orléans, á Bourges, etc., qui sont très suspectes….Son prétendu relieur à Bourges et surtout à Orléans ne sont que libraires et paraissent très suspects. 

     Je laisse à l’écart les contrefaçons.  Je ne parlerai plus [que] des livres contre les mœurs et la religion, qui sont un des grands objets du commerce de cet homme, pour lesquels il me paraît l’âme de toutes les manœuvres et de toutes les fraudes.  Je ne peux pas douter que cet homme se mêle des livres du temps qui ne respectent rien….

     J’ai fait parafer à Gille tous les papiers.  Je lui ai fait subir un interrogatoire qui peut être poussé bien loin.  Il a été si embarrassé [de] la lettre de son ami d’Orléans, qu’il prétend avoir oubliée lorsqu’elle est d’une date toute nouvelle, qu’il n’est pas possible de prendre le change.

     Vous verrez, Monsieur, que j’ai fait tout ce qui était possible.  Cet homme me paraît très intéressant.

          Gille spent two months in prison.  Once released, he went back to his horse, his cart, and his trade in forbidden books.  A year later, he appeared in the correspondence of the Société typographique de Neuchâtel, first as one of the peddlers supplied by Malherbe in Loudun, then as a customer of the STN who ordered supplies directly from Neuchâtel.  As Malherbe explained to the STN [see the essay on him in this website], peddlers dealt heavily in the illegal sector of the book trade, despite the risks, because that was where the profits were greatest.  To be sure, they often failed to pay their bills, and one had to be careful about accepting their promissory notes.  But Gille was married and had a “domicile fixe.”  He impressed Malherbe when he stopped by Loudun in August, 1775.  Malherbe then took soundings and received “un compte favorable” about his reliability. 

Three months later, when Gille asked him to procure supplies from the STN, Malherbe agreed to act as a middleman.  He requested the STN to send two invoices, one with its normal prices, which he would keep for himself, and one for those prices plus an additional five percent, which he would present for payment to Gille.  Gille probably detected the subterfuge, because he had tried to order directly from the STN a few weeks earlier.  It refused, having learned to beware of peddlers.  But under the assumption that Malherbe would act as a bill collector, it agreed to fill the order, which contained 21 titles.  All but two were highly illegal, and Gille wanted them in large numbers: 50 Système de la nature, 50 Système social, 50 Pucelle d’Orléans, 50 Bon sens, 24 Politique naturelle, 24 Oeuvres d’Helvétius, 26 Journal historique de la révolution opérée dans la constitution de la monarchie française par M. de Maupeou, 24 Compère Matthieu, 24 Parnasse libertin, 12 Questions sur l’Encyclopédie, 12 Maupeouana, 12 L’An deux mille quatre cent quarante, 12 Gazetier cuirassé, 12 De la nature, 12 Les Loisirs du chevalier d’Eon, 12 L’Evangile du jour, 12 Miracles de Jésus Christ, and 6 Espion chinois

          The shipment arrived safely.  Gille picked it up in April 1776.  He made a down payment in cash of 12 louis (288 livres) and drove off, leaving a positive impression behind.  “Le sieur Gille a passé ici trois à quatre jours, » Malherbe wrote to the STN on April 24, 1776.  « Il avait un chariot très chargé et un commis avec lui.  Il paraît bien assorti.  Il me paya une douzaine de louis et m’en prit pour 300 à 400 livres d’autres….Il paraît rangé. A moins que les prohibés qu’il débite beaucoup ne lui attirassent mauvaises affaires, je ne crois pas qu’il fasse perdre.» Four months later, Gille went bankrupt.

          In Gille’s case, bankruptcy took the form of suspending all payments on debts and depositing a balance sheet with a commercial court (juridiction consulaire) empowered to make an arrangement with his creditors. [The following account is based on the collection of bankruptcy papers in the Archives du Départment de la Seine (now Département de Paris), D.4B6, carton 59, dossier 3773.]  The balance sheet showed that Gille’s debits came to 28,874 livres and his credits to 37,097 livres, but the latter included 24,097 in debts owed to him, mainly by “mauvais débiteurs” who could not pay.  In the face of an unmanageable deficit, Gille went into hiding.  He engaged a certain Eustache Briant, “Portier des étangs du Roi à Versailles,” to argue his case in a memoir addressed to the court.  The memoir pleaded for a delay in the payment of Gille’s debts so that he could resume business and ultimately reimburse the creditors.  It also requested the court to issue an order (“lettre de cession”) that would prevent the creditors from having him thrown into debtors’ prison: “Les contraintes par corps l’ont fait frémir, ce qui l’a contraint avec le plus noir chagrin de quitter son commerce et d’abandonner sa femme et ses enfants, de chercher un asile assuré pour éviter l’emprisonnement de sa personne… » [Ibid., memoir dated August 14, 1776.]

          How desperate was Gille’s situation?  The information in the balance sheet indicates that he stood to lose everything he owned if the creditors had his assets confiscated.  He possessed a wagon, two horses, harnesses, and other equipment that he valued at 1,000 livres.  He estimated his stock of books to be worth 10,000 livres—not much compared with the holdings of established provincial booksellers.  And his wife’s possessions, “en lits garnis, gros meubles, linges, hardes, argenterie, glaces et autres objets,” came to an estimated 1,000 livres.  The couple—and apparently their children—made up a modest household with a few luxuries but no home of their own, as they boarded with Gille’s father-in-law.

          In listing Gile’s debtors, the balance sheet shows that he operated within a network of other peddlers and unofficial dealers who bought and sold books among themselves while retailing them to customers.  It mentions 27 debtors of whom 10 are described as “marchands forains.” The rest appear as “marchands libraires,” meaning booksellers with small shops, although they probably peddled a great deal as well.  None of them appear in the Almanach de la librairie; so most of them probably operated outside the legal restrictions on the book trade.  The peddlers are identified only vaguely.  Thus Morelle, who owed 725 livres, “marchand forain libraire en Normandie”; Pillait, who owed 933 livres, « de Lorraine » ; and two who may have been among the peddlers who supplied themselves with Malherbe and then disappeared without paying: André Le Planquer (probably one of many peddlers from the Planquais family in Coutances; he owed 836 livres) and François Quenelle (debt of 475 livres). 

          The balance sheet also gives glimpses of Gille’s customers, those who owed small sums for the books they purchased.  For example: Dantais, “seigneur de campagne en Artois”; Courtais, “curé de campagne en Boulonnais » ; and seven other country curates.  Although the evidence is spotty, priests and notables (wealthy bourgeois and some aristocrats) seemed to make up most of the clientele.  A notebook on debtors that was deposited with the balance sheet mentions de La Brûlerie, seigneur au Château de Joigny, for the purchase of Lettres et mémoires de Mme de Maintenon ; Dusailly, « maire de ville » living in Nemours, for Révolution romaine; Marian, conseiller in the Châtelet court of Melun, for Journal des audiences; a vicar in Châteaurenard for Apologie de la religion; and an attorney in Châteaurenard for a Dictionnaire de droit and a Parfait notaire. Were most of Gille’s customers professional men who wanted books that would be useful for their work?  The evidence is too thin to support general conclusions.  Gille may have extended credit only to members of the elite and sold books for cash to humbler folk who frequented fairs and markets.  Unsurprisingly, the papers he deposited with the commercial court do not mention any of the forbidden books that he received from the STN.  After his arrest in Montargis, he probably had learned not to preserve evidence of his activity in the illegal trade.

          Finally, the debits in the balance sheet reveal the names of his suppliers: several Parisian publishers and many provincial booksellers who dealt heavily in forbidden works.  He owed 4,000 livres to Machuel of Rouen, 742 livres to Henry of Lille, 336 livres to Boubers of Dunkerque, 750 livres to Blaisot of Versailles, 1,080 livres to Couret de Villeneuve of Orléans, and 1,085 livres to Malherbe.

          How Gille extricated himself from his burden of debt is impossible to say, but he certainly escaped.  He appeared in the Almanach de la librairie of 1781 as a “libraire” established in Montargis.  (It also mentions a “Noël Gille” in Aire, presumably Aire-sur-la-Lys in Flanders.)  And he reappeared in the papers of the STN.  In a letter dated July 30, 1779, he sent a large order, almost entirely for illegal “livres philosophiques,” offering to pay for them in cash or with a bill of exchange on a house in Paris.  At the time of his arrest, Gille had told d’Hémery that he could not write.  In fact, he was able to scribble this letter, but his handwriting and spelling were so primitive that it deserves to be quoted in full, for it demonstrates the mastery of the written word by a peddler of books:


jeresus lhoneur delavotre an dat du courant je vous suit tres oblige de voux ofe de credit que vous aves biens voulut mefaire mais entansions ne sent pons dajete des merchandise accredit pour an peier des jroenteres jeme beaucoup mieux a jete au contans pour le peu que jajete contant onmefai la remis de 12 a 15 pour sant de fasons que jevoi monbien efis de dime sit vous voulet trete avec moi vous pouve manvoier votre cathalo sur tout les livre [« filo » crossed out] philosophique duquelle je poures vous faires eun debis au condisions que vous meranderrer les marchandise fran de porre jusqualion voicit monnadres est ches monsieur pierre tair alions roulier faubour de resse a lions ala quelle persone vous pouve anvoier mes balle e tire anranbourcemans il vous an refuserapons pour vous surte vous pouve luiecrire sitvous voulet manvoier dans la premier ball les

3 dernier volume des ares emetiers 5 l. [i.e. Description des arts et métiers]

12 de monsieur da gesaut [probably Discours et œuvres mêlées de M. le chancelier d’Aguesseau]

6 lette a un genit [Lettres à Eugenie, ou préservatif contre les préjugés by d’Holbach]

4 œuvre de freret [Œuvres complètes de M. Fréret]

4 alvecus conplait [Œuvres complètes de M. Helvétius]

4 philosophique de lanatur [De la Philosophie de la nature by Delisle de Sales]

4 evangile dujourre [L’Evangile du jour by Voltaire]

4 citemme delanaturre [Système de la nature by d’Holbach]

6 bibes de volterre [La Bible enfin expliquée by Voltaire]

4 quequn sur la encyclopedie [Questions sur l’Encyclopédie by Voltaire]

6 dieu e les hommes [Dieu et les hommes by Voltaire]

4 an faires detrui [L’Enfer détruit ou examen raisonné du dogme de l’éternité des peines by d’Holbach]

4 polotique naturelle [La Politique naturelle by d’Holbach]

6 telogi portatif [Théologie portative by d’Holbach]

4 militerre philos. [Le Militaire philosophe by d’Holbach]

6 gatier curasier [Le Gazetier cuirassé by Théveneau de Morande]

4 academit des dames [L’Académie des dames translated by Nicolas Chorier from Joanis Meursii elegantiae latini sermonis]

4 teraise philosf [Thérèse philosophe attributed to the marquis d’Argens and others]

4 donbe portier des chatreu [Histoire de dom B*****, portier des Chartreux, attributed to J.-C. Gervaise de Latouche]

4 margot laravodeuse [Margot la ravaudeuse by C.-L. Fougeret de Montbron]

4 fille de joit [La fille de joie translated by Fougeret de Montbron from A Woman of Pleasure]

4 lett philosofic [Lettres philosophiques by Voltaire]

2 heuvre de janjacle rousau [Œuvres de J.-J. Rousseau]

Sit vous juge aprepau demepedier mademan je vous cert aublije demandanet avis evous oservere que cest au contant cit vous ne trouve pas la comodite a tire a vu sur le roulier vous pouve tire aus sur moi au je vous anverret une lette de change sur paris

Vous obligeres monsieur celui qui a lhoneur destre tres parfetmans votre serviteur noel gille

Demontargis le 30 juillet 1779

Vous manverret vouz propetus dant la bale

The best way to decipher this letter is to read it aloud and listen to the sounds evoked by the scribbling on the page.  The STN did not reply to it.  A clerk wrote on the back of it, “Commission non portée.”  But it is a valuable document.  Taken with the other material in his bankruptcy dossier, it shows that Gille sold a little of everything.  As occasions arose, he provided a curate with a breviary and a lawyer with a tract on jurisprudence.  But above all, he sold “livres philosophiques.”  The disparity between his spelling and the texts he peddled provides a measure of the culture among the distributors in the capillary sector of the book trade, where the “heuvre de janjacle rousau” jostled “tereaise philosf” on the carts of peddlers.

          How typical was Gille?  Impossible to say, considering the paucity of information about such obscure characters.  A considerable gap separated the impecunious street peddlers from the “marchands forains,” described as “roulant par la France” on horse-drawn carts.  Gille actually owned two horses, at least for a while in 1776.  Although he lived with his cobbler father-in-law, he had a home base.  His wife owned a mirror and some cutlery, and they may have had children (the references to the children are ambiguous). Yet Gille was always on the road and, as far as one can tell, nearly always in debt.  The precarious and marginal nature of his life made him resemble the other peddlers who show up in the police archives, owing to their trade in forbidden books.  Two examples:

Lelong: “A la campagne depuis un mois avec une charette et un cheval.  Demeure ordinairement à Meaux, où il a une espèce de magasin chez le nommé le Breton, aubergiste sur le grand marché….Lelong est gros et court, se carrant en marchant, les cheveux châtains et frisés en rond, un habit blanchâtre. [Note by Joseph d’Hémery, December 15, 1764, Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms. fr. 22096, fo. 493.]

Picaud : « Picaud a cinq pieds deux pouces, cheveux blonds, les yeux bleus, le visage plein, le nez un peu gros, les épaules larges, le col court, parlant le patois normand et un peu du nez, marchant lourdement….Picaud roule aussi du côté de Villers-Cotterets et de Soissons et demeure ordinairement à Charleville chez un faiseur de bas.  Il a un cheval et une voiture.  Il tient aussi beaucoup de fusils et de pistolets. » [Undated note addressed to d’Hémery by a spy, Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms. fr. 22099, ff. 43 and 45.]

          When they appear in the bankruptcy papers, the marchands forains are mentioned only in passing, but they have a common characteristic: they are always on the move, and in lieu of a “domicile fixe,” they often had “domiciles en l’air”—that is, addresses at inns, which they used on promissory notes to indicate where, in principle, they would produce cash on an appointed day for the books they had purchased.  To win over a supplier like Malherbe, they would make a down payment in coin, preferably a few gold louis, presented as cash on the barrel head (“espèces sonnantes et trébuchantes”); write a promissory note with the address of an inn; and disappear before it became due.  They also sold books among themselves and therefore ran up debts within their own circles.  The peddlers who owed money to Gille made up a long list of names attached to unstable addresses: François Quesnel, “aux Trois Rois” in Orléans, Joseph St. Denis, “chez M. Viardain, aubergiste, rue Ste. Croix à Provins en Brie”; Jean St. Denis, “chez Brouillez, aubergiste, au Dauphin à Clermont en Beauvaisis”; J. B. le Gendre, « chez Mme Hachette, à l’Ecu de France à Vertu près de Châlons-sur-Marne » ; Robert Planquais, « chez M. Mangin, aubergiste au Grand Turc à Melun » ; Jean Planquais, « chez M. Viardain à Provins » ; J. B. Thezard, « chez M. Viardain, rue Ste. Croix à Provins » ; Bigot, « chez M. Godard, au Lion d’or à Vernon sur Seine » ; Joseph Le Lièvre, « chez M. Perrin, aubergiste au Signe de la Croix à Sézanne en Brie » ; Guillaume Dubost, « aux Trois Rois, aux Andelis en Normandie» ; Michel Galonde, « chez M. Doucet aubergiste à la Croix Blanche à L’Aigle » ; and Pierre le Petit, « chez M. Maréchal, aubergiste au Grand Cerf à La Fere [sic] en Picardie. »  [Archives de la Seine, D.4B6 52/3233 and 5B6 1844]

  One final piece of evidence also warrants being quoted at length.  It is the memoir submitted to the commercial tribunal by Eustache Briant, the “Portier des étangs du Roi” who seems to have functioned as a scrivener in addition to his duties in Versailles [Archives du department de la Seine, D.4B6, carton 59, dossier 3773].  Its purpose was to win sympathy for Gille by describing the hard life of a “marchand forain.”  

     Le sieur Noël Gille, marchand foirin [sic] libraire, roulant par la France, de présent logé au Grand Montreuil près Versailles, vu les pertes, malheurs, maladies et frais qu’il a éprouvés et ainsi la difficulté qu’il a de faire rentrer les fonds qui lui sont bien et légitimement dûs, ce qui le met quant à présent hors d’état de s’acquitter envers la généralité de Messieurs les créanciers, c’est pourquoi il sera dressé deux états conformes de son actif, celui de son passif, des pertes, malheurs, maladies et frais qu’il a éprouvés pour être lesdits deux états déposés tant au greffe de Messieurs les juges consuls de Paris qu’en celui du Châtelet…

The memoir then listed the « misères » suffered by Gille :  First, poor health:

     Ledit sieur Gille a essuyé des maladies au nombre de six, lesquelles maladies l’ont réduit prêt de perdre la vie au point que une de ses maladies l’a retenu au lit pendant près de six mois…

Then commercial setbacks :

     Ledit sieur Gille ayant entrepris un commerce de marchand libraire roulant par la France ainsi qu’il est d’usage parmi les marchands foirins [sic], ce commerce ne peut se faire qu’avec des frais conséquents.  Attendu la pesanteur des marchandises et pour les transporter de ville en ville du royaume afin d’en avoir le débit, il lui était important d’avoir des voitures et des chevaux à son compte.  Il prit donc le parti d’acheter une voiture et des chevaux et chargea sa voiture de marchandise, et il se mit en route.  Il parcourut de ville en ville du royaume pour faire la vente de ces dites marchandises.  Il a été contraint de faire des voyages conséquents, n’ayant point le débit de ses marchandises, attendu que les marchands en gros les lui avaient vendues trop chères.  Il s’est vu donc contraint de voyager jour et nuit afin de ne manquer aucunes foires ni marchés.  C’est donc ce qu’il lui a occasionné les maladies détaillées en l’état ci-contre, ce qu’il lui a encore occasionné la perte de ses chevaux, joint aux soulagements qu’il leur faisait donner par les maréchaux, les retards que lui occasionnaient ses maladies, que les frais qu’il était contraint de faire dans les auberges, que pour payer les maréchaux….

Bad weather :

     Ledit Gille étant en route par les pluies et mauvais temps a eu des voitures rompues.  Il a fallu qu’il cherche à avoir des secours.  Il a été contraint en différentes fois de déballer et remballer les marchandises sur les routes et par les pluies.  Il a souffert des dommages conséquents.  Les pluies lui ont gâté une infinité de marchandises.  Il en a encore eu qui ont été gâtées dans les foires et marchés….

Extortionate suppliers :

     Les marchands en gros lui ont vendu leurs marchandises à des sommes exorbitantes, et pour en avoir la vente il a supporté des pertes, attendu la diminution du prix….

Poor horseflesh :

     Les maladies et pertes de chevaux qu’il a éprouvées lui ont fait un retard conséquent.  Son commerce a été interrompu ; et la vente manquée, il ne pouvait faire des fonds pour payer Messieurs ses créanciers, ce qui l’a contraint de faire des emprunts conséquents, de renouveler des billets, le tout à gros intérêt….

Prison :

     Ledit sieur Gille a eu le malheur d’être soupçonné de vendre des livres défendus, pourquoi l’on s’est emparé de sa personne et l’on l’a constitué prisonnier.  Il a resté dans les prisons pendant près de deux mois.  Ensuite l’on lui a donné sa liberté attendu sa justification….

The lamentations went on and on : disastrous delays in supplies, bloated shipping costs, ruinous charges for postage….Every aspect of the peddling business had gone wrong, none of it through any fault of Gille. 

Whether the court found that argument convincing seems unlikely.  Seven months later, it received a memo for another bankrupt peddler written by the same scrivener from the same address and in the same terms, almost word for word.  [Archives de la Seine, D.4B6, carton 62, dossier 3980, memoir dated March 18, 1777 for Claude René Sabine, « marchand forain libraire roulant par la France. »]  No source provides a clear view of book peddlers.  They appear only fleetingly—in police reports, bankruptcy papers, business correspondence, and, very rarely, in their own words, crudely scrawled across a sheet of paper.  Yet they were the agents who connected supply with demand in the remotest regions of the book trade.