October 22

“You owe nothing to books; but books will give you, in the future, a lasting glory.” So wrote Erasmus of Rotterdam to Jean Grolier, Knight, Lord Viscount of Aguisy, who died this day in 1565. The truth of the statement by the great humanist has been borne out in the four hundred years since Grolier’s death, during which time the Knight has been honored as one of the most eminent of bibliophiles and his high standards have inspired countless admirers of books. Even more important, his motto, Io Grolierii et amicorum has been an example to not only collect books but to share them with friends.

Born to a wealthy family of Lyons in 1479, Grolier had both the interest and the funds to become a serious collector. Through his books he immersed himself in the literary society of his period. While serving as French ambassador in Italy from 1510 to 1535 he became friendly with many of the Italian printers, notably Aldus Manutius at Venice, continuing the relationship at the Casa Aldo with Francesco and Federico d’Asola, who were responsible for the establishment following the death of Aldus in 1515.

A letter written by Grolier to Francesco d’Asola, accompanying a book which he wished to have set in the Aldine types, expresses both the absorption of the bibliophile with the technical details of bookmaking and his intimate knowledge of them.

“You will care with all diligence, O most beloved Francesco,” he wrote, “that this work, when it leaves your printing-shop to pass into the hands of learned men, may be as correct as it is possible to render it. I heartily beg and beseech this of you. The book, too, should be decent and elegant; and to this will contribute the choice of the paper, the excellence of the type—which should have been but little used—and the widths of the margins. To speak more exactly, I should wish it were set up with the same type with which you printed your Poliziano. And if this decency and elegance shall increase your expenses, I will refund you entirely. Lastly, I should wish that nothing be added to the original or taken from it.”

When Grolier died, his library of 3,000 volumes remained with his family until 1675 and was then dispersed. These books, distinguished above all for their magnificent bindings, are now in many of the great libraries of the world, including that of the Grolier Club in New York. The warm relationship of Jean Grolier with the Aldine printers has been memorialized in the fine painting commissioned from the French artist François Flameng in 1889, titled “Grolier in the House of Aldus.” It now hangs in the foyer of the Club, which with its splendid collection of books relating to the printer’s art, fully exemplifies Grolier’s motto, “and friends.”

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