Libraries in Paris

In chapter seven of Rabelais's novel Pantagruel, Gargantua writes a letter to his son Pantagruel, in which he speaks of the current age in which "all the disciplines have been restored, languages revived […] the world is full of learned men, fine teachers, amples librairies”. Paris had very many libraries, and some had considerable treasures. There was no college that did not possess its own library.

The world is full of learned men, fine teachers, ample libraries…". Rabelais, Pantagruel, Chapter VIII.

The largest ones were open to humanists and scholars. This was the case with the library of the Sorbonne, which had several thousand volumes (and hundreds of manuscripts). Many libraries were located just outside the city walls, such as those belonging to the churches in Saint-Germain-des-Prés (southwest of the walls), or in Saint-Victor to the east. The royal library at Fontainebleau, which was set up in 1544, included manuscripts and Greek editions connected with the duties of the royal readers, or as we say, Regis Professors.

All of these riches were turned to good account by men of letters, who trawled the libraries in search of new and unknown texts. A few printing shops tried to get their hands on such texts in order to publish them before the competition.

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