(Paris: Levavasseur, 1830). 197 x 127 mm. (7 3/4 x 5"). Two volumes. FIRST EDITION.
Appealing rose-colored morocco by Fletcher Battershall (stamp-signed on front turn-in with his distinctive bat device), covers with mitered frame of double gilt rules, topiary cornerpieces, raised bands, spine compartments framed in gilt with leaf cornerpieces, gilt titling, turn-ins with gilt rules and leaves at corners, top edges gilt. Front pastedowns with large wood-engraved bookplate of the binder. Vicaire I, 181. A dozen leaves spotted (four of these noticeably so), scarcely perceptible uniform fading to spines, but IN FINE CONDITION, the text otherwise clean, bright, and fresh, and the bindings with lustrous leather, glittering gilt, and virtually no wear.
This is a pleasing copy of an early work in Balzac's celebrated multi-volume "Comédie Humaine," offered here in excellent amateur bindings by scholar, collector, connoisseur, and binder Fletcher W. Battershall. A lawyer by trade, Battershall (1866-1929) was the author of "Book-Binding for Bibliophiles" (1905) and several articles on bookbinding. He was perhaps a pupil of Louis Kinder, head binder at the Roycroft Shop, as Kinder dedicated his own book, "Formulas for Bookbinders," to Battershall in admiration of the latter's "love for and unceasing labors in the study of artistic bookbinding." Generally considered to be the father of social realism, Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) was one of Europe's greatest novelists. His "Comédie Humaine" was a collection of interlinked narratives depicting French society from 1815-48 (encompassing the Restoration and the July Monarchy), the collection embracing 95 finished and 48 unfinished works. "New World Encyclopedia" tells us that "even in its unfinished state, it represents an immense literary endeavor, larger in scope and length than possibly any other literary work undertaken in recent history, and comparable perhaps only to" William Faulkner's series of novels and stories set in the American South. The present Balzac work was part of what is called the "physiologie genre," a group of books produced in Paris in the 1820s, 1830s, and early 1840s. According to "Oxford Companion to French Literature," these works comprised "a precious source for the study of the society, politics, and culture of this period," with "the most notable [of these] being Brillat-Savarin's 'Physiologie du Goût' (1826) and Balzac's 'Physiologie du Mariage' (1830). . . . Underlying all the Physiologies was the sense that modern city life had become both infinitely interesting and mysterious, as well as decidedly ridiculous and bathetic." Balzac was no expert on marriage, and his self-help advice here seems to us somewhere beyond unsound. Husbands are advised to keep their wives weak and submissive by discouraging sunshine and physical exercise in favor of lounging and frequent baths. Should the wife continue in ruddy good health, leeches might be employed to reduce her to the desired languorous state. Despite the dubious applicability of its text to modern life, the book is nevertheless sought after, whether attractively bound or not. (ST12140b)