Gabriel Naudé  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Gabriel Naudé (2 February 1600 – 10 July 1653) was a French librarian and libertine scholar. He was a prolific writer who produced works on many subjects including politics, religion, history and the supernatural. An influential work on library science was the 1627 book Advice on Establishing a Library. Naudé was later able to put into practice all the ideas he put forth in Advice, when he was given the opportunity to build and maintain the library of Cardinal Jules Mazarin.

Naudé is a precursor of Pierre Bayle and Fontenelle.



Naudé was born in Paris in early 1600 to a family of modest means. His father was a lowly official and his mother was a young illiterate woman. He was described by his teachers as tenacious and passionate about his education. Naudé entered college at a young age where he studied philosophy and grammar. Later he studied medicine at Paris and Padua (where he attended Cesare Cremonini's lessons), and became physician to Louis XIII.

At the age of twenty, Naudé published his first book Le Marfore ou Discours Contre les Lisbelles. The work would bring him to the attention of Henri de Mesme, President of the Paris Parlement. Mesme offered Naudé the job of librarian to his personal collection. Mesmes had a large library for the period (about 8,000 volumes) and it was open to scholars who had the appropriate references. Naudé's service in Mesme's library would give him experience which he would use later to write the book Advice on Establishing a Library. Naudé wrote Advice for Mesme as a guide for building and maintaining his library. In 1629 he became librarian to Cardinal Jean-François de Bagni at Rome, and on Bagni's death in 1641 librarian to Cardinal Francesco Barberini.

At the desire of Cardinal Richelieu he began a controversy with the Benedictines, denying Jean Gerson's authorship of De Imitatione Christi. Richelieu intended to make Naudé his librarian, and on his death Naudé accepted a similar offer from Cardinal Mazarin. For the next ten years he devoted himself to bringing together from all parts of Europe the noble assemblage of books known as the Bibliothèque Mazarine. Mazarin had brought with him to Paris a collection numbering over 5,000 volumes. Like Naudé, he believed in an open library to be used by the public for the public good. In 1642 he purchased a building to house his library and he instructed Naudé to build up the finest collection possible.

The fastest way was to absorb entire libraries into the collection, advice that Naudé included in his book. Naudé plundered second hand book sellers, and Mazarin instructed his ambassadors, government officials and generals to collect books for him. Naudé was able to travel Europe, and during one trip that lasted several months he collected over 14,000 volumes. By 1648 the library had built up to an estimated at 40,000 volumes. It was open on a regular basis and had built up a sizable number (almost 100) of regular patrons, and several staff members to keep it functioning properly. It became the first in France to be open for all, without references.

Mazarin's library was sold by the parlement of Paris during the troubles of the Fronde, and Queen Christina invited Naudé to Stockholm. He was not happy in Sweden, and on Mazarin's appeal that he should re-form his scattered library Naudé returned at once. But his health was broken, and he died on the journey at Abbeville on 10 July 1653.

The friend of Gui Patin, of Pierre Gassendi and all the liberal thinkers of his time, Naudé was no mere bookworm; his books show traces of the critical spirit which made him a worthy colleague of the humorists and scholars who prepared the way for the better known writers of the siècle de Louis XIV.


Including works edited by him, a list of ninety-two pieces is given in the Naudaeana. The chief are:

  • Le Marfore, ou discours contre les libelles (Paris, 1620), very rare, reprinted 1868;
  • Instruction à la France sur la vérité de l'histoire des Frères de la Roze-Croix (1623, 1624), displaying their impostures;
  • Apologie pour tous les grands personages faussement soupçonnez de magie (1625, 1652, 1669, 1712), Pythagoras, Socrates, Thomas Aquinas and Solomon are among those defended;
  • Advis pour dresser une bibliothèque (1627, 1644, 1676; translated by John Evelyn, 1661), full of sound and liberal views on librarianship and considered as a founding stone of library science;
  • Addition à l'histoire de Louys XI (1630), this includes an account of the origin of printing;
  • Bibliographia politica (Venice, 1633, etc.; in French, 1642);
  • De studio liberali syntagma (1632, 1654), a practical treatise found in most collections of directions for studies;
  • De studio militari syntagma (1637), esteemed in its day;
  • Considérations politiques sur les coups d'êtat. A disciple of Machiavelli, he considered that politics must be rendered "autonomous from morality, sovereign in relation to religion"

A Bibliotheca Pontificia was completed and seen into print by Louis Jacob.

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