“Portez Arme! ... Bon Citoyen ... Liberté France Egalité ...” A Swiss-American(?) Book and its Owners: L’Homme Moral ou L’Homme Considéré Tant dans l’Etat pure Nature, que dans la Société. Par P. C. Levesque.
An unusually annotated 1775 book owned by the well-to-do de la Reusselli family, Swiss clock and watch makers
With thematic slogans of the French Revolution, in the hands of de la Reussille family, a serious book like L’Homme Moral, ou L’Homme Considéré, became an Etch a Sketch. Except on this magic screen, no scribble was ever erased.
This 1775 book, published in Amsterdam, belonged to the fairly well-to-do de la Reusselli family, clock and watch makers, in the village of Tramelan, near Berne, Switzerland. The book was signed by various members of the family, including David Auguste (1746–1845), Charles Philippe (1784–1863), Charles Ferdinant, Henri-Louis and Frederic Louis; even Sophie added her signature to the others. The pages of the book contain several mentions of and a dedication to Marie Madeleine de la Reussille (1732–?), who may have been a revered mother, aunt or grandmother in the family.
At one point in time a serious reader –perhaps the paterfamilias– David Auguste, annotated the book, jotting comparisons between the truths in the book and the realities of governance and morals in the cantons of Switzerland, specifically the situation in Berne. Sometimes in agreement with the author, sometimes not. As a counterpoint to the author’s conviction of the potential evil government under vicious men, on page 19, the reader points out that the republic of Berne suffered under the empire of harsh demagoguery of lawyers, not necessarily vicious men.
There is one definitive statement about the ownership of the book in the table of contents, where Charles Philippe declares this is my book, “Ce livre appartien a moi Charles Philippe.” There are several rousing calls to arms, “Portez Arme!” likely penned by Charles Philippe, a soldier who tasted war in a regiment under Napoleon and survived the Russian campaigns. To practice his hand and stiffen his resolve, Charles Philippe repeated the phrase “Bon Citoyen.” More cryptically he wrote, “Citoyen, je vous fais.” The lines criss-cross each other, as though written in the dark.
The book also served as an autograph book. It may have accompanied Charles Philippe to war. Unrelated names, possibly of comrades in arms, were collected in the endpapers at the back of the book: Bonnus, Chontron, Dieufais, Ginont, Kranie, and Lawfell. Below the last name, the phrase “Je me prosterne a tes pies.” [I prostrate myself at your feet.]
An enigmatic signature appears on page 49, “Pierre Chatelain.” Above the signature, as though deciphering the hidden meaning of the script a different hand wrote out, “pierchatelin.” Today, Pierre Chatelain remains the trademark of luxury Swiss watches. The name of another watchmaker appears on page 90, “Albert : Devoigne Horloger, 4 janvier 1789.” Reflecting on the results of the scribbling, with a piquant phrase, on page 71, a writer noted: “Ce livre est bientot sign a tous les feuilletes.” [This book will soon have all its sheets signed.]
The family also covered the endpapers of the book with drawings of a houses, a mill, a large bonneted, woman in profile and so forth. Further, a profusion of sums, doodles and crossed out phrases occur throughout the book, reinforcing the impression that it may have also served as a scratch pad.
It is worth noting, part of the de la Reussille family ended up in Monmouth, New Jersey. At least one member of the Swiss family, Leon de la Reussille, continued the watchmaking tradition with his shop in Red Bank, New Jersey. Perhaps this memory book traveled to America with him.
Description: “Portez Arme! ... Bon Citoyen ... Liberté France Egalité ...” A Swiss-American(?) Book and its Owners: L’Homme Moral ou L’Homme Considéré Tant dans l’Etat pure Nature, que dans la Société. Par P. C. Levesque.
Amsterdam: P. Ch. Levesque. [nd., 1775]. Presumably, a pirated edition. [1-3], 163, [1, (blank], [2, (TOC), [2, (blank)]pp. Collates. Signed in fours. Contemporary papered and unlettered binding. Extensively annotated and repurposed. Binding worn; joints starting; paper loss at base of backstrip; ffep with small oblong paper loss or removal; old inert dampstains; various small paper defects, 02 with long closed tear; binding shaken.
Notes: For this 1775 year, OCLC records many editions with various lengths in pagination. All editions from this year appear scarce in American institutions. See OCLC 44610144 for the most substantive holdings. This present copy with 163-pages is the shortest in length. Many editions record a page count of 279pp., 311pp., 318pp. or 321pp. There do not seem to be any copies in America that conform to our edition. Those outside of America we locate include OCLC:470476825 (Danish National Bibliotek); 836927585: Sommerpalais (Germany); 223665598: University of Toronto; 937251815: National Library of Sweden.