French Revolutionary Pamphlets
Usteri Collection, Zentralbibliothek, Zürich
Compared to other historical events, the French Revolution provides an unusual richness of printed source material. In order to give substance and enduring effect to their epoch-making efforts, the revolutionaries documented all their actions, their controversial opinions, political debates and legislative initiatives in thousands of pamphlets, songs and periodicals.
In the last ten years, international research on the French Revolution has increasingly emphasized the public character of this press revolution. The little-known Usteri Collection of the Zentralbibliothek, Zürich, has been recorded on microfiche. This means that a virtually complete library of about 6,500 revolutionary pamphlets, containing some 200.000 pages, can now be made available to researchers. In a later stage this project will be enlarged with 43 revolutionary pamphlets.
The collection is named after its founder, the Swiss politician, writer and physician, Paulus Usteri (1768-1831). His enthusiasm for the revolution caused Usteri to become an avid collector of original revolutionary literature. He requested various contacts, including Konrad Engelbert Oelsner and Johann Gottfried Ebel (his correspondents in Paris), to supply him with books, pamphlets, affiches and songs.
Usteri collected pamphlets systematically. His purpose was to prepare translations for publication in the various German journals which, together with his friend Ludwig Ferdinand Huber, he had edited since the end of the Jacobine rule.
The journals in question had extremely melodious names, such as Friedens-Präliminarien, Beyträge zur Geschichte der französischen Revolution, Klio. Eine Monatschrift für die französische Zeitgeschichte, as well as Humaniora. They were published in Leipzig, from 1793 until 1797.
Thus, the collection is a fundamental source of information on the reception accorded to the revolution by contemporary German society. As the Usteri Collection is essentially a private library, it shows us what kind of interest the revolution generated outside France.
The Usteri Collection is the third richest anthology of revolutionary pamphlets in the world, surpassed only by the collections of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and of the British Library in London.
The pamphlets are mostly originals (in French) which were published between 1788 and 1796. There are also a few manuscripts which were published at earlier or later dates (up to 1798). Revolutionary manuscripts in German, which mainly originated from Strasbourg (the main propaganda centre), form a small but significant part of the collection. Additionally, the collection focuses on the following topics (in chronological order): The political pamphlet literature of the French Pre-revolution, the cahiers de doléances, convocations of the Estates-General, events in Paris and the provinces, the National Assembly, constitutional debates, the civil constitution of the Clergy, foreign policy, fiscal reform, the sale of the biens nationaux, organization of the army, debates on colonialism and slavery, the counter-revolution, the trial of Louis XVI, the National Convention, and the Directory.
Although some pamphlets are anonymous, most give the author's name or were ascribed to a given author at a later date. The collection covers the entire political spectrum, ranging from liberal conservative ideologies to radical Jacobine doctrines. In conclusion, the pamphlet literature of the Usteri Collection is an important and irreplaceable source for historians, linguists and sociologists.
Dr. Erich Pelzer