Valentin Dufour, 1874

d'après l'édition de 1484.
Valentin Dufour, Dufour
The authority
Valentin Dufour, Authority

Kurtz writes about this reproduction:

The text and the same figures of the "Dance Macabre" of 1485 were reproduced by Dufour in a book entitled "La Danse Macabre composée par Maistre Jehan Gerson 1425". The text and the woodcuts are available in several editions by Dufour.3 The text follows the manuscripts B. N. fr. 25550 and B. N. lat. 14904. He has followed the punctuation of Le Roux de Lincy et Tisserand who had the Marchant edition of 1485 at their disposal.

(Léonard Paul Kurtz, The Dance of Death and the Macabre Spirit in European Literature, page 43)

Kurtz' synopsis is fine, but one already senses the contradictions: Dufour has reproduced the text and figures from Guy Marchant's printed book from 1485, but the text follows two manuscripts, BNF Lat 14904.htm and BNF Fr. 25550. So which text is it then, that Dufour reproduces? Guy Marchant's? Or the two manuscripts? And how can he take the punctuation from Lincy and Tisserand if it isn't the same text?

And if he himself has (re)created the text, how can he write »d'après l'édition de 1484« (to the left) and »Fac-simile de l'édition de 1484«? And why does he write "1484", and not 1485?

And what about the images? If he had to copy the punctuation from Lincy and Tisserand, because he himself didn't have the Marchant edition of 1485 at his disposal, where did he get the images from then?

This quote by Kurtz shows how one can use an extraordinarily amount of time trying to make sense of Dufour. Let me quote Dufour himself:

Longtemps on a ignoré de qui étaient ces vers. M. P. Lacroix (bibliophile Jacob)(1), le premier, a signalé Gerson comme en étant l'auteur.

Deux manuscrits provenant de l'ancienne abbaye de Saint-Victor ne permettent guère d'en douter; ils sont à la Bibliothèque nationale.

Le premier, au milieu de traités et de sermons en latin de Gerson, contient la Dance macabre prout habetur apud Sanctum Innocentem(2).

Le second, parmi des traités en français, renferme les vers sur la Dance Macabre : «Dictamina choree macabre prout sunt apud Innocentes parisius(3)


(1) Exclamation des os Sainct-lnnocent, Bibliophile, 15 mai 1862. London.
(2) Bibl. nat., dép. des manuscrits (L. 14,904).
(3) Bibl. nat., dép. des ms (F, 25,550).

(Valentin Dufour, La dance macabre des Saints Innocents de Paris, page 86)

Ms latin 14904. The heading only says, "La dance macabre".
Ms Latin 14904

Dufour starts by saying that "one has long ignored" what Paul Lacroix wrote about Gerson as the author of La Danse Macabre. This is not correct, for Lincy and Tisserand quoted Lacroix for this (page 289) and used him to argue that Marchant's books represent the danse from the mural of St. Innocents.

The reprint starts with this handsome frontispice, where the text is attribute to J. Gerson.
Valentin Dufour, Dufour

In contrast Dufour himself does a poor job of quoting Lacroix. According to Dufour two of the manuscripts from the Abbey of Saint-Victor themselves testify that the text they pass on is the one from the cemetery in St. Innocents of Paris: Respectively: »prout habetur apud Sanctum Innocentem« and »Dictamina choree macabre prout sunt apud Innocentes parisius«.

Here starts the first of the time-consuming wild-goose chases that Dufour will send you out on. The fact is that there is no such text on these two manuscripts (one of them can be seen to the right).

The (often repeated) claim that the two manuscripts claim to describe the dance from St. Innocents does in fact not come from the manuscripts themselves, but from the abbey's catalogue. Lacroix had been careful to state this, but this information is not to be found in Dufour's quote. This wild-goose gets its own page: Saint-Victor's Abbey of Paris.

Back to Dufour. In contrast to what Kurtz writes, Dufour uses one more manuscript, namely the Lille Ms. 139:

Hœnel cite une Dance macabre, parmi les œuvres de Gerson , imprimées par Colart Mansion, de Bruges. Ce volume provient de la Bibliothèque des Dominicains de Lille : c'est incontestablement la meilleure leçon de la Dance macabre(1).


(1) Catalogue des manuscrits, 1830. Bibliothèque de Lille (F, 1).

(Valentin Dufour, La dance macabre des Saints Innocents de Paris, page 87)

Half-title preceding the plates: La Dance Macabre composée par maistre Jehan Gerson
Valentin Dufour, La Dance Macabre

Dufour tells that Gustav Friedrich Haenel has mentioned yet another manuscript. This is "incontestably the best reading of la Dance macabre", and the footnote refers to a catalogue from 1830.

Here begins the next wild-goose for if we look in Catalogi librorum manuscriptorum, qui in bibliothecis Galliae, Helvetiae, the mention is very short: »After the printed works of Gerson by Colard Mansion of Bruges, are found these mss.;(1) sermo Alberti archiepisc. Coloniae; la danse Macabre. en vers; la vision de Philibert l'Hermite«.

That is all. Haenel doesn't write anything about the "incontestably best reading". The words are Dufour's own: In later versions Dufour varies them a bit. In Les heures gothiques he writes, »incontestablement la meilleure leçon du texte«, and in an introduction from 1891: »incontestablement la meilleure leçon de ces vers«. Furthermore the book has number E.1 and not F.1, so it's a good thing we didn't go all the way to Lille to look it up.

Another thing that Haenel doesn't write is "parmi" (i.e. among) — that La Danse Macabre was to be found »parmi les œuvres de Gerson«. This word was added by Dufour, because he wants to point at Jean Gerson as the author of La Danse Macabre (picture to the right).

The truth is, as we just saw, that a manuscript containing different texts has been bound together with a printed book of Gersons works: »After the printed works of Gerson […]«. According to Haenel (just quoted) the manuscript also contains a sermon by Albertus, archbishop of Cologne, and "the Visions of Philibert the Hermit". This means that La Danse Macabre is "parmi" two works that have nothing to do with Gerson.(2)

Back to Dufour and his three manuscripts. He sums it up like this:

NOTA. — Les manuscrits des œuvres de Gerson sont désignés par les lettres suivantes :

  1. Bibliothèque de l'abbaye de Saint-Victor de Paris, aujourd'hui au département des manuscrits, Bibl nat. fonds latin 14904.
  2. Idem., Ibid., fonds français 25550.
  3. Bibliothèque des Frères prêcheurs de Lille, aujourd'hui à la Bibliothèque publique de cette ville.

Pour la ponctuation on a suivi la publication de MM. Leroux de Lincy et Tisserand, les Historiens de Paris (Paris, imp. imp., 1857), qui ont eu l'original à leur disposition.

(Valentin Dufour, La dance macabre des Saints Innocents de Paris. My layout, see the original page to the right)

La dance macabre
Diverse, Dance macabre

One can hardly read the text differently than Kurtz did: That Dufour has combined three manuscripts and added punctuation from Lincy and Tisserand, who "had had the originals at their disposition". By "originals" Dufour presumably refers to the printed 1485- and 1486-editions, for Tisserand doesn't anywhere mention anything about manuscripts.

Once again something doesn't smell right, for Lincy and Tisserand were privileged by having the backing of the Imperial senator and prefect to get their hands on the 1485-version fra Grenoble. That's why they "had the originals at their disposal". But how could Dufour be able to produce a »Fac-simile de l'édition de 1484«, if he hadn't seen this version? Of course this could explain why he writes "1484" instead of 1485.(3)

But the fact is that the text is the same one that Tisserand has copied from Silvestre, although Dufour shortens it by only including those dancers that appeared in the 1485-version, i.e. without the four musicians and the 10 new men, like for instance legate and duke. Dufour criticizes Tisserand for having mixed up the original figures with the later additions. Dufour has in his own words "respected the thoughts of Gerson".

Fourteen footnotes
Valentin Dufour, Footnotes

Dufour's text is here, along with a list of the changes he has made compared to Tisserand and Silvestre:

But if Dufour has copied the entire text — instead of just the punctuation — from Tisserand / Silvestre, what then about the three manuscripts? It doesn't appear that they have been used for anything else but the fourteen footnotes (picture to the right).

Some of these footnotes just serve to spread further confusion. In the beginning, the authority says: »Saige est celui qui bien si mire«. Footnote 2 explains: "Saige est celui qui bien se mire. (Mss. A. B.) Cilz est eureus qui bien sy mire. (Ms. C)". So apparently one is wise according to manuscript A and B, but happy according to C. But the fact is that all three manuscripts say almost the same: A: »Cil est eureus qui bien se mire«, B: »Cilz est eureux qui bien si mire« C: »Cilz est heureux qui bien sy mire«. In fact it's A and B that write "eureus" without h, like Dufour does.

There are a number of these cases where the three manuscripts say almost the same, no matter what Dufour implies. Footnote 12 is about the penultimate verse, which begins: »Bon y fait penser soir et main«. Dufour writes in this footnote that »Ce huitain manque dans le ms. de Lille C«. When the verse is lacking in C one could be lead to assume it was included in A and B, but the fact is that this verse is absent from all the old manuscripts — it was added by Marchant in 1485/86.

One can sense Dufour's dilemma: He admits that he has not had access to the "originals", i.e. the printed books, and if he had also mentioned that this verse is not included in the A and B manuscripts either, his readers might rightly have wondered, where on earth he had found the verse then.

The last footnote is about the end of the poem. Dufour tells (correctly) that A ends: »Explicit la Dance macabre et à Dieu grâces«, and B ends »Explicit. Deo gratias«. But he also claims that C ends: »Explicit expliceat. Ludere scriptor eat«.

In fact, the dance of death in C doesn't have any explicit at all. We don't find one before the very end of the manuscript — after seven pages of the three living and the three dead, two pages with poems by Pierre d'Ailly and ten pagesr of the Visions of Philibert the Hermit. It is only then that we find the very popular explicit: »Explicit expliceat. Ludere scriptor eat« ("It ends. Let it end. Let the scribe go and play.").


The following year, in 1875, Dufour published »Recherches sur la dance macabre peinte en 1425 au cimetière des Innocents ... Fac-simile de l'Édition de 1484«. In fact it's a bit uncertain which of these two books came first because the half-title says "1873", and the article that makes up half of the book was published back in 1873 in Le bibliophile français: gazette illustrée des amateurs de livres, volume 7. The two books contradict each other flatly on several points, e.g.: what year the painting was destroyed. But the title still says that Marchant's book is from 1484.

Dufour's books have been reprinted a number of times. As Kurtz writes, »available in several editions«, but it wasn't before 1891 that he changed "1484" to 1485.

Links and resources

Further Information

Footnotes: (1) (2) (3)

It is rather unexpected that Haenel writes in English, but the book is a copy of another book published a few years earlier, in 1828, by sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872).

On a sidenote, Haenel's synopsis is rather odd. There are more than these three texts in the manuscript, e.g.: a version of the three living and the three dead.

Dufour would naturally have known all this, if he had looked into the manuscript that he claims to work with.

1484/1485 . . .: This error is in fact rather odd: In Dufour's 1874-version it says "l'édition de 1484" on no less than 4 different title-pages, frontpages and half-titles. In contrast the text itself three times state, correctly, that the first edition is from 1485: »28 septembre 1485« (page 89), »Guyot Marchant, en 1485, reproduisait la peinture« (page 90) and »l'édition princeps de la Dance macabre de 1485« (page 112).

In the 1875-edition it still says 1484 on the frontpage: »Fac-simile de l'Édition de 1484« .