[DELAPLANCHE, Césaire]. ~ La Clef des Coeurs. Ou Production lyrique. [France, 1808, but the contents dating from 1788].
Manuscript on paper, 4to (225 × 170 mm), pp. viii, plus full-page watercolour frontispiece, 1-232, 247-714 including table of contents at end, 7 leaves (pp. 233-246) neatly cut out at an early date (stubs visible and corresponding entry in the index deleted, see note). In French, in a fine hand in black ink with red headings. Contemporary red straight grained morocco, gilt, sides with ruled and leafy borders and floral cornerpieces, panelled spine, compartments with bird & urn and flowertub tools within lozenges, dark green morocco label, gilt edges, inner gilt dentelles, bright blue endpapers. One very pretty feather bookmark loosely inserted. Very slightly rubbed and discoloured, but still fine.
A DELIGHTFUL BOOK, CERTAINLY ONE OF THE MOST CHARMING FRENCH MANUSCRIPTS WE HAVE ENCOUNTERED, A COLLECTION OF FAMILY SONGS AND ENTERTAINMENTS COMPOSED OVER A PERIOD OF 20 YEARS to 1808, memorialising a deep and sentimental friendship between two families with young daughters. The compiler, Césaire Delaplanche and his wife Marie Adelaïde (Adèle), produced three daughters: Virginie, Heloïse and Pauline and father Césaire encouraged them to mark family occasions in song, a tradition which lasted at least the 20 years charted by the manuscript. The hundreds of original songs here were composed by the girls (presumably with their father’s help) for birthdays, New Year celebrations, feast days, weddings, visits, reunions and suppers and for recording gifts (an embroidered purse and tobacco case are mentioned), in honour of tutors, or in memory of deceased relations and friends. Each verse is transcribed in full, headed with the name of the popular tune to which they were sung: Femmes, voulez-vous éprouver?, Femme Sensible Entendre-tu le ramage, Pauvre Jaques, Sous les auspices de l’Hymen, to name but a few.
The story told by the manuscript is not without sadness. The death of the Delaplanche girls’ mother in 1805 drew the remaining family closer to their friends M. and Mme Loiseau and their daughter Julie. Indeed the book seems to be largely a homage to the kindness of the Loiseaus to the bereaved Delaplanches around that time, beautifully expressed in the allegorical frontispiece. Three young girls, Amitié, Estime and Reconnaissance (corresponding to Virginie, Heloïse and Pauline Delaplanche) offer a red book, La Clef des coeurs, to a bird (Loiseau) perched in a tree, who accepts it and takes the girls to a marble pavilion, the Temple du Bonheur & de la Vertu.
The verses are simple, sentimental and affecting, extolling the virtues of familial love and respect and reflecting the proverbial strength of filial respect in French society. One particular entertaiment, Hommage à la Reconnaisance. Ou Combat entre l’amitié & l’amour filiale, is emblematic of the manuscript as a whole, in expressing the gentle tension between friendship and family love. The songs are in no way pious, and the relative absence of religious imagery is striking. In fact, the impingement of the outside world on this subtle family drama is only lightly felt, and then only in ghosts of the French Imperial presence. The orderliness of the manuscript is disturbed in two places, tellingly. Seven leaves are cut out after p. 232, with the Index indicating that these contained a Chanson en l’honneur de l’Empereur (the Index entry itself is erased at an early date), while two further leaves (pp. 433-436) are on different paper, clearly substitutions, which bear another version of a chanson dedicated to Napoleon.
The implied narrative of the collection is brought to a close in 1808 with the engagement of Julie, the Loiseau daughter to a M. Dupézard. The two are married in October, accompanied by family songs and verses, in which the young groom is expected to participate (several of the last songs are his), and the manuscript closes with a valedictory poem by Césaire Delaplanche: ‘Il est fini mes bons amis...’