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A Visionary’s Book

I GIVE the singular title of a work, which is looked upon as the most extravagant production that has ever been published. It has given birth to a great number of dissertations concerning its subject, its meaning, and its author. The last alone seems to have been discovered, who confesses he neither knew how to write or read, but acknowledges himself to have been guided by the inspirations of God and the Angels.

“Les Oeuvres de Bernard de Bluet d’Arberes, Comte de Permission, Chevalier des Ligues des XIII Cantons Suisses; et le dit Comte de Permission vous avertit qu’il ne sçait ny lire ny écrire, et n’y a jamais apris; mais par l’inspiration de Dieu et conduite des Anges et pour la bonté et misericorde de Dieu; et le tout sera dedié a hault et puissant Henry de Bourbon, Roi de France, grand Empereur Théodore premier fils de l’Eglise, Monarque des Gaules, le premier du Monde, par la grace, bonté, et misericorde de Dieu, le premier jour de Mai l’an 1600.”

Among the great number of writers who have attempted to discover the sense of the Enigmas, and the foolish and extravagant Visions with which this work is loaded, there have been some who imagined that they perceived many remarkable events, which were predicted in this book. Others have led their imagination to behold it in another point of view; and there have been even chymists, who have pretended to say, that the great secret of the Philosophical Stone was there concealed under mysterious phrases.

“If it is difficult”—says De Bure—“to give a just idea of this extravagant work, it is, however, more easy to inform the reader of its rarity. It has been long known amongst the literary connoisseurs; and it is certain, that nothing is more difficult than to find a compleat copy. Some curious collectors have endeavoured, by sacrificing a great number of copies, to join its separate parts; but they have always found their endeavours frustrated. This mysterious work seems to have a mysterious conclusion.
“This rare volume consists—according to the most compleat copy extant—of one hundred and three fugitive and separate pieces, which the author caused, himself, to have printed, and which he distributed, himself, in streets, and houses, to those persons who made him some pecuniary presents, as he himself informs us, by the acknowledgments which he makes in some of his pieces; where he puts not only the name and the quality of those to whom he presented them, but also the sums which he received from each individual.”

The Abbé Ladvocat has given the following succinct account of this man—“He knew the art of gaining his livelihood, by distributing his extravagancies to whoever he found was willing to purchase them. They contain orations, sentences, but more frequently prophecies. Many have ill-spent their time in explaining the mysteries of his work; and, as is usual in these cases, every one found what he sought: but the truth is, they are visions which came from a head less ridiculous than those of the persons who received them with respect, and recompensed them with their money, unless they were guided to act thus by the benevolence of Charity.”

After what has been laid before the reader, will it be believed, that a compleat collection of the Comte de Permission’s absurdities would fetch a very high price among a certain class of Literati? It happens, however, that his leaves, which resemble in their design those of the Roman Sybils, are as difficult to be found. There are men who display a rich fund of Erudition, only by studying Catalogues; and feel themselves as much enchanted by the rarity of an execrable book, as some by the rarity of fine writing!

Editor’s Notes

The works of the ‘Comte de Permission’ are still commanding high prices: a collection of 78 of his 103 books is currently advertised with an asking price in excess of £16,000. I’ve been unable to find any extracts from his works on-line…