Here’s how the First Great Crusade began in the early years of 1000 C E: with a Bull from the Pope, quoted here: “I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ’s heralds to publish this everywhere and to all people of whatever rank, foot-soldiers and knights, poor and rich, to carry aid promptly to those Christians and to destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends. I say this to those who are present, it is meant also for those who are absent. Moreover, Christ commands it.” So wrote Pope Urban II in 1095. The medieval Crusades that followed the orders of the Pope were a polarizing event in history still not understood by the “modern” world, but has been made into a great myth, and the revitalization of this great story through the ages, its retelling solidifies the power of the Crusades in historical mythical memory.
E. sends me two huge old books: two volumes of the “History of the Crusades Illustrated in One Hundred Grand Compositions by Gustave Dore,” written by Joseph François Michaud, and published by George Barrie, Philadelphia, in 1890. Michaud WROTE the book in 1811 in Paris. The value of the two volumes is one thing ($1,000), but the real story is WHY the history of the Crusades as Michaud told it was revived firstly, in Paris, in an edition illustrated by Dore in 1875, and then in Philadelphia in 1890.
Often books are reprinted at a certain time because the climate of the time is resonant with the book. This is the case with E.’s History of the Crusades.
What happened in the First Crusade? The Franks (the French) took Jerusalem by storm on July 15, 1095, and massacred most of the population that had been Muslim, Jewish, and Christian since 634 CE. The French Crusaders had been on the warpath for almost three years at that time to no avail, but the defeat of Jerusalem established an alien colony for them. The Franks took territory from the Turks, too. Was this the world’s first example of colonialism, or the exercise of medieval beliefs of recapturing of a mythical land for a “superior” power under God?
Why was Michaud writing this book about this mythical Crusade in 1811? He was a Royalist, supporting the Bourbons during the French revolution, having edited pro-crown journals for which he was arrested and sentenced to death by the French Military Council; after a prison stay, he shied away from journalism, and began his History of the Crusades. Under a Pope and a King, the Franks had prevailed THEN in the 11th century. Michaud was fascinated by this period of the medieval Crusades, wrote upon it extensively, argued about its importance with intellectuals of the time, and journeyed to Syria and Egypt 1830-1831 to research for a further book on the Crusades; he died in 1832.
The book was reprinted, lavishly illustrated, in Paris in 1875. Why 1875? France needed a memory of its noble past under King and Pope, having trudged through the Franco-Prussian War 1870-1871, the fall of Napoleon III in 1870, after which France was rebuilt by the government of the Third Republic. Colonialism was a RIGHT: France had taken territory in Indochina, Madagascar, Polynesia, and West Africa. And the Prussians had taken the French Territories of Alsace and Lorraine in reparation from the Franco-Prussian War. Conquest all around … And of course, the reprinting of the book in Philadelphia of 1890 was significant, as the US saw itself as the next great superpower, with might and right on its side. And so did the American ultra-rich and ultra conservative industrialists.
Thus, the themes Michaud had written about, which supported his beliefs in the glories of the Crusades, The History of the Crusades in 1811 re-echoed significant themes in its re-publication in France of 1875 and America in 1890 when it was revived. These themes are the monarchy vs. republic, religious right vs the OTHER, the Holy Army, the conquest of territory in the name of ‘superior power,’ echoed in the revitalization of this one book. And history repeats itself, thematically, as well as literally.
E. asks what makes an old book valuable. I am not an expert, but I can identify some factors: a tight binding, unmarked pages, bright engravings, tissue over the engravings, very little foxing caused by damp and acid burn, marbled end pages, gilt titles and raised bands on a leather spine. Those are the material aspects; there’s the symbolic aspect as well!
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press Life section.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.