In Rousseau's Own Hand:
His Book, His Notes, and Botany


The exhibition “In Rousseau's Own Hand—His Book, His Notes, and Botany” features Dominique Chabrey's 1678 Omnium Stirpium Sciagraphia et Icones, a book verified in 2006 as having once belonged to famous 18th century French philosopher and writer, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Within are his signature on the title page and hundreds of annotations in his handwriting. Rousseau was an enthusiastic student of botany and at one time his library contained a great number of botanical works. Worldwide there are only eight botanical books verified as having belonged to him—two in the United States (one at Harvard and one at the Lloyd); three in the United Kingdom; one in France; and two in private collections. This discovery added important new knowledge about Rousseau and his study of botany as well as the dissemination of his library. The 1678 Chabrey was known to have belonged to Rousseau at the time of his death, but its whereabouts was unknown until early in 2006 when the volume was brought down from Lloyd's stacks, examined, and investigated.

In the exhibit with the Chabrey are several books known to have been in Rousseau's library and used by him in his study of botany. Rousseau expert Takuya Kobayashi, who verified that the Chabrey had been owned by Rousseau, commented during his visit to the Lloyd that nowhere else had he had an opportunity to research a book owned by Rousseau and at the same time examine so many other titles important to the context of Rousseau's botanical studies. For example, Jean Bauhin's 1650-51 three-volume Historia Plantarum Universalis that Chabrey edited and abridged for his Omnium Stirpium is exhibited, along with other books owned and used by Rousseau, such as Carolus Linnaeus' famous Species Plantarum in which he established the system of plant nomenclature in use today. In addition, several botanical works written by Rousseau are on display, including the 1805 edition of La Botanique de J. J. Rousseau with plates by the famous botanical illustrator Pierre Joseph Redouté and Rousseau's Letters on the Elements of Botany: Addressed to a Lady.

This exhibit does not claim to be an authoritative interpretation on this aspect of Rousseau's life, but merely to shed light on it.  Even if not all agree with this interpretation, hopefully the exhibit serves to enhance the world of scholarly debate.

Certain quotations of translations of Rousseau's writing and correspondence were taken from A. Cook, Compilation, translation, and annotation of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Botanical Writings, in The Collected Writings of Rousseau. Vol. 8. Ed. C. Kelly. Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of England, 2000, (hereafter referred to as CW).

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