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Even today scholars regard Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) as one of France's pre-eminent poets and so it is no surprise that I was excited to come across two of his rarest publications here in the State Library of New South Wales collections. One of these is the groundbreaking 1897 poem, Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira de hasard or A throw of the dice will never abolish chance. This ambitious work is full of esoteric symbolism and disjointed syntax written in free verse which breaks free from typographical conventions such as flush-left alignment and uniform type. As you can see from the image the text cascades across the open-face pages with some words and phrases were emphasized through a larger font size while others switch from Roman to italic type and back.
While a version was published in 1897 in the literary review Cosmopolis it was not until 1914, some 16 years after his death, that it was printed in a book form which approached Mallarmé's exacting vision for the typographical layout and format of the poem. Mallarmé worked on a deluxe edition, illustrated with lithographs by Odilon Redon, with the firm of Lahure but it was abandoned after his death. The proof sheets and prints were eventually sold by the publisher.
Upon seeing proofs for the poem in the projected Lahure edition, Paul Valery wrote:
It seemed to me that I was looking at the form and pattern of a thought, placed for the first time in finite space. Here space itself truly spoke, dreamed, and gave birth to temporal forms. Expectancy, doubt, consternation, all were visible things. . . . There amid murmurs, insinuations, visual thunder, a whole spiritual tempest carried page by page to the extremes of thought, to a point of ineffable rupture - there the marvel took place; there on the very paper some indescribable scintillation of final stars trembled infinitely pure in an inter-conscious void; and there on the same void with them, like some new form of matter arranged in systems or masses or trailing lines, coexisted the Word! I was struck dumb by this unprecedented arrangement. It was as if a new asterism had proffered itself in the heavens; as if a constellation had at last assumed a meaning. Was I not witnessing an event of universal importance, and was it not, in some measure, an ideal enactment of the Creation of Language that was being presented to me on this table at this last minute, by this individual, this rash explorer, this mild and simple man who was so unaffectedly noble and charming by nature?
This first edition of 1000 copies was printed at L'Imprimerie Sainte Catherine in Bruges on July 10, 1914. Of these ten 10 copies were printed on Montval paper and a further 90 copies were printed on Vélin d'Arches paper; both were bound in Japanese parchment paper wrappers.
The remaining 900 copies, of which this is an example, was printed and bound using ordinary paper. It was published by La Nouvelle Revue Française, which had been founded by André Gide, Jean Schlumberger and Jacques Copeau as a literary review in 1908. In 1911, Gaston Gallimard, became one of its principal partners and editors and he decided to publish 'A Throw of the Dice...'. This edition was prepared for publication by Mallarmé's son-in-law Edmond Bonniot, and includes some of the poet's last corrections and recommendations.
There are two copies of this book in the library (RHQ/1003 and TQ056711). The one pictured to the left was donated to the library as a part of the Randolph Hughes Collection of French and Pre-Raphaelite Literature. Loose inside the front cover, and alongside the Hughes' bookplate, is an interesting set of documents. These include an early C20th vintage print of an unidentified man, a published exegesis on Mallarmé and a newspaper clipping of Mallarme's obituary written by Henri Mondor.
The second rare publication is Pages, a collection of Mallarmé poems published in 1891. The main feature in the printing of this book is the copper etching in the original frontispiece. This was drawn by the impressionist, Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), who was a great friend of Mallarmé. The poet was introduced to Renoir by another famous impressionist Édouard Manet sometime around 1873. Mallarmé was a great defender of modern painting and published his thoughts on the subject in numerous articles. In gratitude of this support, Manet and Renoir illustrated some of his poems and painted portraits of him. This illustration of a young woman is quite rare as this publication had a very limited print run. This copy is listed in the frontispiece as being "No’ 73 of 275".
Mallarmé, S. (1914). Poème : Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira de hasard. Paris: Ed́itions de la Nouvelle revue française.
Mallarmé, S. (1891). Pages, Stéphane Mallarmé. Bruxelles: Edmond Deman
Mallarmé, S., & Weinfield, H. (1994). Collected poems / Stéphane Mallarmé ; translated, and with a commentary by Henry Weinfield. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Jeremy Glazier, Los Angeles Review of Books, Un Coup d’idées: A New Translation of Mallarmé’s “A Roll of the Dice.
Geoff Barker, Senior Curator, Research and Discovery, State Library of New South Wales, 2018