Feb 14, 2023 Book of the Week — Apologie du Silence en Amour
Silence, then, becomes the companion of lovers…
Apologie du Silence en Amour
V. L. P.
Paris: de l’imprimerie de P. Moreau, 1646
GT2650 V56 1646
Whether single or with a significant other, Valentine’s Day is a time to reflect on one constant of the human condition: the desire to connect with others and form meaningful relationships. The ways in which we form these relationships have certainly evolved over time — from complicated and modest courtships to complicated and casual hook-ups. From long-winded love letters to emoji-filled direct messages.
For relationships developed during the seventeenth century, courtship was seen as a necessary step in finding a suitable spouse. The process typically involved the intervention and support of the respective families, who arranged chaperoned meetings that allowed the couples to get to know each other better. However, these outings were bound to strict societal norms that governed their interactions. Physical contact was generally discouraged, and any romantic gestures were expected to be modest and chaste.
In Paris, long known as the city of love, poets and philosophers alike mused on the nature of love and its role in society. In one treatise, titled Apologie du Silence en Amour, Pierre Moreau (1600-1648) argued that true love was a quiet, inward feeling that should not be expressed through words or actions — for the more one tries to express their love, the less genuine and authentic it becomes. Instead, he believed that true love was best demonstrated through silence and a deep understanding of the beloved.
Addressed to a female audience and dedicated to Claire Charlotte Eugénie d’Ailly, comtesse de Chaulnes (1606-81), this almost painfully intimate plea finds in silence sincerity, affection, safety for secrets, freedom from regret, balm for self-consciousness and a check on unwelcome advances. As our innermost sentiments can rarely be expressed in words, “the rhetoric of the false gallants of our time… offends the ear instead of winning the heart.”
Silence, then, becomes the companion of lovers.
Little is known about the Comtesse de Chaulnes, Claire Charlotte Eugenie d’Ailly. Married to Honoré d’Albert (1581-1649), a French nobleman during the reign of King Louis XIII, the comtesse was likely involved in the court at Versailles. As a noblewoman, Claire Charlotte Eugenie d’Ailly would have had a privileged upbringing and would have been educated in the arts, literature, and politics of the time. She would have been expected to participate in the social and cultural life of the court, and may have been involved in various political and cultural circles. Her husband was known for his accomplishments in the fields of military, literature, and politics. He served as a military officer and was involved in several important battles, including the Battle of Leuze. He was also a patron of the arts and was associated with the French literary salons of the time. Perhaps this relationship to the arts is what prompted Moreau to dedicate his work to the comtesse.
Despite its philosophical underpinnings, Apologie du Silence en Amour was more than just a treatise on love. It was also a work of art, beautifully typeset and illustrated with ornate designs and images. A gifted calligrapher whose engraved devotionals were much in demand, Pierre Moreau turned to typography in the early 1640s, creating a large number of splendid script types. The skill and beauty of his books secured him the post of Royal Printer in Ordinary in 1642, despite not being a member of the guild. He issued nearly three dozen books, wrote several works on the art of writing, and designed six typefaces in a style imitating handwriting. All this before he was finally harassed out of the trade, abandoning both his presses and his fonts. His print shop and foundry continued to operate in Paris after his death in 1648, run by various directors until it finally closed in 1792.
Many of Moreau’s elegant books are now fugitive. Apologie was likely an authorial commission and issued in small numbers. The University of Utah’s Rare Books copy is bound in nineteenth-century gilt-ruled half-morocco and blue marbled boards, with gilt spine and top edge gilt, and includes a purple silk marker.
Whether we are romantic poets, philosophical thinkers, or just people in love, we can all find something to admire in Moreau’s beautiful and thought-provoking work.