LA PUCELLE d'ORLÉANS. Poeme Heroi-Comique.
[inscribed by Robert Burns] Premiere Edition. A Paris, 1755. Bound in early full calf with red leather spine label.
[La Pucelle d'Orléans was] certainly one of his [Voltaire's] more contentious works. An epic and scandalous satire concerning the life of the not-yet-canonised Joan of Arc ("the Maid of Orleans"), the poem was outlawed, burned and banned throughout a great portion of Europe during the 18th and the 19th centuries. Containing mockery and satirical commentary on the life and antics of its subject, the poem itself has variously been described as "bawdy" and "licentious" [Wiki].
Actually written ca. 1730, LA PUCELLE was not published (surreptitiously) until 1755 -- when as many as six editions may have come out, none with Voltaire's permission. This is one of those -- supposedly published "à Paris" but perhaps in Amsterdam. There was another 1755 edition with a title page that reads exactly as this copy (including "Premiere Edition"), but with different type and title page emblem. The 1755 edition usually recognized as the first (by "Monsieur V***") was published at Louvain -- Leuven, Belgium, though perhaps actually printed in Frankfurt. It was not until 1762 that a first authorized (and tamer) edition came out, with Voltaire then acknowledging authorship. This particular edition is complete in fourteen "chants" -- ending in "Fin"; this is the lowest number we have seen; others such as the Louvain one consisted of twenty, and by 1762 the number was up to twenty-one.
This copy is bound in early full calf with red leather spine label. Condition is very good (front free endpaper excised, "R.A. 1770" and "R.A. 1792" inked onto the front paste-down. (For other inked inscriptions, see below.)
Anytime one sees the words "bawdy" and "scandalous" and "licentious," one cannot help but think of Robert Burns, and sure enough, this was his copy -- which he gave to someone else with a signed inscription. On the title verso it reads, in Burns's distinctive hand, "To Mr. White | un petit gage d'amitié | [signed] Robt Burns". And on the title page itself is the signature "Wm. White".
The Burns Encyclopedia includes a page on Thomas White (1758-1825):
A Hexham, Northumberland man, who taught in Dumfries Academy for forty years... In White's family, there ran the tradition that Burns was a guest at White's house every Saturday [morning for breakfast]. He did much to promote Burns's work... Burns presented him with a copy of the 1793 Edinburgh Edition of his POEMS [now at Harvard], and with a copy of Voltaire's LA PUCELLE, which is still extant... On Burns's death, White produced in verse 'To the Memory of Robert Burns'...
Quoting also from an article on Thomas White in the Burns Chronicle of 1940:
Burns ... gifted to [Thomas] White his own copy of Voltaire's LA PUCELLE (Paris, 1755), inscribed on the reverse of the title-page: 'To Mr. White, un petit gage d'amitié, Robt. Burns'. This book was sold at auction in London in 1928 for the sum of £80.
But what neither the Burns Encyclopedia nor the Burns Chronicle notes is that the signature on the other side of the same leaf is "Wm. White" -- not Thomas White. Could William have been a son or grandson of Thomas, adding his signature years later? -- we leave this as an unexplained mystery. Item #15074