Estienne, Charles

Title De re hortensi...
Paris, R. Estienne, 1535
Gent, Universiteitsbibliothek, Bib. Hist 000021/3
Subject Gardens
Transcribed version of the text


     Charles Estienne (1504?-1564) was the third son of the celebrated printer Henri I Estienne (c. 1470-1520). After a trip to Germany and Italy, and before starting on a career as a doctor (May, 1542), he devoted himself to an editorial project, at first sight eclectic, given as much up to agricultural technology, ways to dress, the diversity of ships, as to the variety of precious vases. This initiative, which brought him a certain reputation, was carried out in contrast to the work of Lazare de Baïf, which was devoted to spreading knowledge of Greco-Latin material culture.
The De re hortensi (1535), written by Charles Estienne and intended for his nephews, is the first installment of a series of eight pedagogical monographs written in Latin, without illustrations and published in Lyons and Paris from 1535 to 1547. This collection of school texts, written according to the classical agronomists, presents the vocabulary, expressions and Latin turns of phrase to use when speaking about various “subjects” of activities in the country: the vegetable garden, the flower garden, the orchard and its nursery, the copse, the fountain and the hedge, the vineyard and vine-growing, the field to be plowed, the pasture, the pond and the marsh. Published soon after the first edition in France of the Libri de re rustica (1533) which is a compilation of the writings of Latin agronomists (Cato the Elder, Varron, Columella, Palladius), these booklets on the economy and the labors of the fields contain the most profitable extracts of the books of the scriptores rei rusticae (writers on agriculture) by sparing young people the necessity of reading them entirely. Gathered together and published by Estienne under the title Prædium rusticum in 1554, they are a preliminary draft of La Maison rustique (1564).
The summary on gardens printed by Robert Estienne in 1535 was immediately successful ; it was republished in 1536, completed in November, 1539, then reprinted and translated into Italian in 1545. This booklet of 99 pages presents the theory of gardening and the names of common garden plants to pupils who wish to acquire the copia verborum. To accomplish this, Estienne developed an archeological and educational method consisting of making the vernacular lexicon of the gardening things correspond with a Latin lexical subject matter organized into a hierarchy of sections of exempla.
The 1535 edition is split up into twelve parts of very unequal length. The chapter on the hortus (p.1) essentially describes the hortus instructus (accomplished garden) in specifying the role of the practical garden. The second section is devoted to layout and maintenance techniques, plowing, planting and watering. Following that, the various fencings and garden walls (p. 10) are presented in a rather brief text, placed rather astonishingly at the same level as the preceding division. Estienne continues with the chapter on grasses which sprout spontaneously on old walls and among garden hedges (p. 11). Then he brings up the subject of quickset hedges, with various trees and thorny shrubs, high or low, composed of stiff or twining branches (p. 17). The following two divisions deal with circulation (p. 21) and walkways, and with the woody and herbaceous plants which cover them (p. 23). The following account deals with various parcels, beds and squares (areae), divided into hotbeds and beds (pulvini) (p. 39). Then these various garden plots are distributed according to a ranking of the plants grown: the plot of plants grown to make wreaths (p. 40), the plot of fragrant plants (p. 50), the vegetable garden (p. 54), subdivided into a bed of lettuces (p. 60) and of condiments (p. 72) and lastly the plot devoted to edible plants (p. 76), with on the one hand the “fruit” bed (p. 77) (mainly cucurbitaceae) and on the other hand the bed of root vegetables (p. 84).
This thematic distribution provoked a few comments. Although wreaths have medicinal uses, there is no differentiated “garden of medicinal plants”. At the same time, let us note that plants in the fragrant garden are both medicinal and braided into wreaths for pleasure. It is also noticeable that the kitchen garden is limited to lettuce and condiments. It is also necessary to emphasize that the make-believe world of the garden at work in the De re hortensi commingles happily with that of decorations and luxurious goods. The “attired” garden (pp. 8 and 10) by Charles Etienne is in fact made up of lots and walkways “Herbae vetustis”, for they are arrayed with plant material that is similar to the fabrics and clothing of the De re vestiaria by Lazare de Baïf that he published in 1536. In the same way, the idea of establishing a single category for the plants making up flower wreaths, which are also described in De re vestiaria, offers an artistic connection between the universe of clothing and that of the garden.
These peculiarities are only partially linked to gardening conventions of that period, for they are mainly the consequences of a system dealing with the lexical data which structured the plan of all the educational abridged versions published by Charles Estienne. Thus, in order to facilitate learning, the areæ of De re hortensi make up lists of things to memorize by visualizing them; in this they are similar to the different vasa presented in De vasculis (1536). The characteristics of these loci are therefore determined more by the decision to select striking criteria easy to picture mentally than by observing the layouts of real gardens. The various lots described by Charles Estienne apparently form artificial symbolic memorials, useful for learning Latin quotations on the plants and horticultural practices by heart. This opuscule, which is not fully a treatise on agronomy, was therefore aimed at a young public becoming trained in the art of discourse.

Laurent Paya (Centre d’études supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours
/Artopos, Jardin et Paysage, Montpellier) – 2013

Critical bibliography

H. Cazes, “Charles Estienne”, C. Nativel (ed.), Centuriæ Latinæ II. Cent une figures humanistes de la Renaissance aux Lumières, Geneva, Droz, 2006, pp. 313-318.

H. Cazes, “Jardins, vergers et maisons-bibliothèques: le grand enfermement du livre imprimé ?”, Voix plurielles, 5-1, 2008.

E. Lau, Charles Estienne: Biographie und Bibliographie, Leipzig, Wertheim Bechstein, 1930.

C. Liaroutzos, Le pays et la mémoire. Pratiques et représentations de l’espace français chez Gilles Corrozet et Charles Estienne, Paris, H. Champion, 1998.

C. Liaroutzos, “Charles Estienne et ses ‘practiciens’ ”, M. Furno (ed.), Qui écrit ? Figures de l’auteur et poids des co-élaborateurs du texte (XVe-XVIIe s.), Lyon, PENS, collection IHL, 2009, pp. 114-126.

J.-C. Margolin, “Science, humanisme et société: le cas de Charles Estienne”, Parcours et Rencontres, Mélanges de langue, d’histoire et de littérature françaises offerts à Eneas Balmas, Paris, Klincksieck, 1993, 1, pp. 423-431.

A. Moss, Printed Commonplace-Books and the Structuring of Renaissance Thought, Oxford UP, 1996.

L. Paya, Les parterres des jardins à compartiments en France et dans le monde (1450-1650): entre figures de pensée et ornements de verdure. Doctoral thesis under the direction of Y. Pauwels, Tours, Centre d’Études Supérieures de la Renaissance, 2012.

F. Schreiber, The Estiennes: an annotated catalogue of 300 outstanding books from their 16th & 17th century publishing houses, Hanes Foundation, Rare Book Collection, University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1982, pp. 113-115.