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Guillaume de la Perrière's
Macé Bonhomme, 1553


This work is reproduced from Glasgow University Library: SM689

The Morosophie was published some 16 years after La Perrière composed his first emblem book, and its paradoxical title, playing on the opposed concepts of wisdom and folly in Greek, reflects the approach of a more mature and sophisticated writer than the La Perrière of the earlier Theatre des bons engins. In his preface La Perrière stresses the ingenuity and wit that are required to produce a bilingual emblem book in which each 4-line Latin verse is translated into an equivalently succinct 4-line French verse without loss of sense, and places his work in a more classically inspired context than his earlier straightforwardly moralising Theatre, citing Homer in a nutshell as his inspiration for such brevity. Although primarily a vernacular writer, La Perrière composed the Morosophie verses in Latin initially, and then translated them into French. Unlike other early bilingual Latin/French emblem books by French writers which were made available in alternative editions, either in French or in Latin, but not in both at the same time (Aneau’s Picta poesis / Imagination poetique or Coustau’s Pegma / Pegme), the Morosophie was published in one single bilingual version with Latin and French text printed on the same page, facing the woodcut illustration.

Guillaume de la Perrière (c.1503-c.1565)

Portrait of Guillaume de la Perrière (c.1503-c.1565)

Guillaume de la Perrière was a native of Toulouse who was much involved in the cultural life of that city. Between 1537 and 1552 he was responsible for recording the chronicles of Toulouse, and in 1535 as well as presenting an early manuscript version of his first emblem book to Marguerite de Navarre, he also designed commemorative gold coins that were struck to commemorate her visit. Not only was he friendly with other Toulouse literary figures such as the notorious anti-feminist, Gratien du Pont, but also with more nationally known figures such as Clément Marot. He was a keen advocate of the vernacular (and under his regime the Toulouse chronicles were for the first time written in French rather than Latin), and it is significant that his purely French Theatre was clearly much more popular in market terms than his Latin/French second emblem book, the Morosophie, which ran to only two editions. As well as the Theatre and Morosophie he also produced two other collections of verses that could also be considered to be emblem books, the Cent considerations d’amour (1543) and the Considerations des quatre mondes (1552), both published in Lyons like his Morosophie and later editions of the Theatre.

Publication History

(for more information see BFEB F.376-377)

The Morosophie was printed by Macé Bonhomme in Lyons for two Toulouse booksellers, Jean Perrin and Jean Mounier (to whom the privilege was granted), and some copies of the work bear only Bonhomme’s name on the title page, whereas others include also the name of Jean Mounier. We do not know who supplied the distinctively styled woodblocks for the illustrations (which - like those of the earlier Janot editions of the Theatre - were not re-used subsequently for other works printed by Macé Bonhomme) but several of the decorative frames encasing the figures bear the initials of Perrin and Mounier, so these at least were clearly supplied to Bonhomme by the two Toulouse booksellers for use in printing this work. Bonhomme must have received these frames (several of which bear the date 1551) well in advance, since he used them for his 1552 edition of La Perrière’s Considerations des quatre mondes. It is not evident whether he ever did return these frames to Perrin and Mounier, since we find them again being used by Bonhomme in his editions of Coustau’s Pegma/Pegme in 1555 and 1560, but with the identifying initials of Perrin and Mounier carefully removed. Unlike the commercially successful Theatre which ran through many editions, the Morosophie was published in only two (closely related) editions, with only minor textual differences, both dating from 1552. This text is from the first edition.

Guillaume de la Perrière’s Morosophie, Lyons, Macé Bonhomme, 1553

In this emblem book composed much later than his Theatre, La Perrière is still as preoccupied with symmetry of layout as he was in the earlier work. As in the Theatre each of the 100 emblems of the Morosophie occupies two facing pages, with the woodcut figure encased in a decorative frame occupying one page, and the accompanying 4-line Latin and French verses occupying the facing page, again encased in a (different) decorative frame. Again as in the Theatre no titles are included.

GUL: SM689: B8v-C1r. Actual page height: 160mm.
GUL: SM689: B8v-C1r. Actual page height: 160mm.

In other respects, however, the work is very different from the Theatre. Paralleling the eruditely witty title, the verses contain far more classical allusions than did those of the much more straightforward Theatre. The woodcut figures are also more complex, often containing more than one layer of representation, relating simultaneously both to the image described and to the meaning attributed to it in the verse. The French verses replicate as closely as possible the content of the original Latin verses, but inevitably some details are lost in the process of condensing 4 lines of Latin into 4 lines of French. Not surprisingly it is often some of the more obscure classical allusions that are cut out in the French verses.

Select Secondary Bibliography

Alison Adams, Stephen Rawles, Alison Saunders, A Bibliography of French Emblem Books, 2 vols (Geneva: Droz, 1999-2002): entries F.364-381 cover editions of La Perrière; this edition is entered as F.376 [LINK TO BIBLIOG DESCRIP]

Guillaume de la Perrière, Le théâtre des bons engins; La morosophie, with introduction by Alison Saunders (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1993)

Greta Dexter, ‘La Morosophie de La Perrière’, Lettres romanes, 30.1, (1976), pp.64-75

Irene Bergal, ‘Word and picture: Erasmus’s Parabolae in La Perrière’s Morosophie’, BHR 47.1 (1985), pp.113-23

Stephen Rawles, ‘Les deux éditions de la Morosophie de Guillaume de la Perrière’, in L’humanisme à Toulouse (1480-1596). Actes du colloque international de Toulouse, mai 2004, réunis par Nathalie Dauvois (Paris: Champion, 2006), pp. 109-121

Page written by Alison Saunders.


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