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Botanical Text Owned by Jean-Jacques Rousseau Found and Exhibited at Lloyd Library

The Lloyd Library and Museum in Cincinnati, OH, is presenting an exhibit titled “In Rousseau’s Own Hand: His Book, His Notes, and Botany” from March 10 to May 31, 2007. The exhibit showcases a botanical text recently discovered at the Lloyd as having been owned and annotated by the 18th century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau.1 A copy of Dominique Chabrey’s 1678 Omnium Stirpium Sciagraphia et Icones (roughly translated, Diagrams and Illustrations of All Plants), containing Rousseau’s signature and hundreds of his handwritten annotations, was recently uncovered in the Lloyd stacks and verified as having once belonged to the famous utopian philosopher. The discovery of the book has provided insight into both Rousseau’s botanical knowledge and the distribution of his literary collection.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau is renowned as one of the great philosophers of Europe’s Enlightenment period. He wrote several influential philosophical works, including Discourse on the Sciences and Arts (1750), Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1755), and his political classic, The Social Contract (1762).2 Rousseau is known to have been an ardent student of botany, and his library once contained a great number of botanical works.1 Scholars were aware that a 1678 edition of Chabrey belonged to Rousseau at the time of his death, but its whereabouts was unknown until the volume was discovered in the Lloyd’s stacks in early 2006. Rousseau scholar Takuya Kobayashi investigated and verified the book’s authenticity.

“The discovery and verification of a book once owned and inscribed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau is remarkably significant,” said Maggie Heran, director of the Lloyd Library and Museum (e-mail, February 27, 2007). “Rousseau expert Takuya Kobayashi commented that with this discovery there are now 8 botanical books worldwide verified as having been Rousseau’s. In the United States, only Harvard and the Lloyd hold botanical books from Rousseau’s library. The importance of having this book at the Lloyd is that it is the only place where one can study a botanical book owned by Rousseau and investigate many other books known to have been in his library. Kobayashi found this context invaluable during his visit to the Lloyd.”

In addition to the two books at Harvard University and the Lloyd Library, three botanical texts recognized as having belonged to Rousseau are located in the United Kingdom, one is in France, and two are found in private collections.1

Dominique Chabrey was a Swiss physician and botanist. He edited and published a huge volume of work by earlier botanists Jean Bauhin and Johann Heinrich Cherler, which included descriptions and woodcut illustrations of numerous European plants, titled Historia Plantarum Universalis.3,4 Chabrey’s Omnium Stirpium Sciagraphia et Icones is considered an abridged version of Historia Plantarum Universalis. In addition to the 1678 Chabrey, the Lloyd exhibit features several other botanical books known to have been in Rousseau’s library at the time of his death, although not his personal copies.1 The exhibit will also display botanical works written by Rousseau, including the 1805 edition of La Botanique and Letters on the Elements of Botany: Addressed to a Lady.

  1. Lloyd library and museum to exhibit book once owned by Jean-Jacques Rousseau [press release]. Cincinnati, OH: Lloyd Library and Museum; February 12, 2007.

  2. Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy Web site. Available at: Accessed February 20, 2007.

  3. Chabree D. International League of Antiquarian Booksellers Web site. Available at: book1093_4204.html. Accessed February 20, 2007.

  4. Array of Botanical Images by James L. Reveal. University of Maryland Web site. Available at: edu/emeritus/reveal/pbio/FindIT/chab. html. Accessed February 20, 2007.