Cromohs 2012 - C. Zanier, Overcoming the barrier of the Alps.Silk and intellectual legacy of Mathieu Bonafous between Lyon and Turin

Overcoming the barrier of the Alps.
Silk and intellectual legacy of Mathieu Bonafous between Lyon and Turin[1]

Claudio Zanier
Department of History, University of Pisa
École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris
Claudio Zanier, “Overcoming the barrier of the Alps. Silk and intellectual legacy of Mathieu Bonafous between Lyon and Turin”, Cromohs, 17 (2017): 1-14


This essay deals with the role played by Matthieu Bonafous (Lyon 1793-Paris 1852), Director for decades of the Turin (Piedmont) Botanical Gardens, in fostering agronomical research at a European level particularly with regard to sericulture, and in tracing down his former Library and Archive. Bonafous' family had been active since early eighteenth century as forwarding agents for huge quantities of Italian silk products collected in Turin and sent via Alpine roads to Lyon and elsewhere. Bonafous’ father was instrumental in planning and building a cartable road through the Alps that eased transit between Italy and France. A few years after his sudden demise in 1852 the whole library of Matthieu Bonafous, including thousands of  rare and precious books and scores of  folders of his personal research archive, were donated by his brothers to Lyon, constituting for several years a specialised and much appreciated section of the town's public library. In the early twentieth century an unfortunate reorganization of Lyon's Municipal Library dispersed the whole “Donation Bonafous” within the mass of  Lyon's Library books. The catalogue of the “Donation” disappeared too. A painstaking research undertaken since the early 1980s has begun bringing to light some of the main elements of the Bonafous’ Archive. A few samples of his research papers are here illustrated.

1. A mutual dependence

For nearly two centuries, between the second half of the sixteen hundreds and the first decades of the eighteen hundreds, the main manufacturing activity in Lyons – the production of high-quality silk fabrics – and the most dynamic production activities in the Piedmont – the making of superior silk yarns – were closely connected and interdependent.[2]

Lyonnaise manufacturers of the most highly prized silk fabrics depended almost exclusively on organzine yarns imported from the Piedmont (used for the warp of their fabrics), which no other silk-producing area in the world was able to match in terms of quality until around the 1830s. The Piedmont, in turn, found its most important, steadiest and most reliable customers in Lyons, their prized market for a product that guaranteed full time employment to thousands of workers in dozens of silk twisting mills. These mills were large factories which, ever since their inception at the end of the sixteen hundreds, had assumed decidedly industrial characteristics and systematically used hydraulic power.[3]

During the period of time in question – from 1660-70s to 1830-40s – the basic trend of the exports of Piedmontese thrown silk to Lyons showed steady growth, eventually taking on great financial importance. But the Lyons silk manufacturers did not limit themselves to buying the special twisted silk from the Piedmont. The Lyons market was also the destination of other Piedmontese silk and, above all, due to monopolistic regulations that dated back to the fifteen hundreds, all silk goods destined for French mills, no matter where these were located, were obliged to pass through the Lyons customs. A substantial and growing part of these silks, especially those produced in the lower Po valley, outside the Piedmont, although not intended for use in Lyons itself, also took the Turin-Lyons route, including the portion that ultimately ended up in the hands of non-French manufacturers, through re-export. It is not an exaggeration to say that in the seventeen hundreds, the ‘silk road’ between Turin and Lyons was one of the principal trade routes in European manufacturing in terms of economic value.
Even in the form of skeins of raw silk (meaning the bundles of silk threads drawn from the cocoons by reeling), silk had an extremely high unit value in comparison to other goods. This value increased greatly for high quality silk yarn, which was then thrown (twisted) into organzine. The cost of transport, even over long distances, therefore had a very modest effect on the overall cost of silk yarn on the market (in the first years of the 1300s, merchants had traveled to China from the Mediterranean, on foot, to buy high quality raw silk, realizing very high profit margins). For this reason, the actual routes followed by silk merchants from Turin to Lyons had a relatively minimal effect on the final price on arrival: what mattered most in this overall trade was the speed and punctuality of consignment, the uniformity of the net weight of the bales, the vulnerability of the same to unfavorable weather conditions and eventual accidents and the absence not only of theft, but of possible manipulation or alteration of the goods during the journey.
The suppliers were numerous, and many of them did not reside in Turin, or even in the Piedmont. Similarly, there were many buyers in Lyons, including local final users and merchants who distributed the product in the rest of France and abroad. This soon led to the emergence of shippers, intermediaries who specialized in guaranteeing orderly, regular and safe transport, becoming an essential part of the silk trade over time and contributing to its steady growth in quantitative terms.
There were numerous routes leading from the Savoy-ruled Piedmont to Lyons, including the direct seagoing route (from Nice) and the indirect one (Ligurian ports) and several roads that crossed the Alps. Although all of these enjoyed particular popularity for shorter or longer periods during the time span under consideration, the principal route between Turin, the main collection point for silk produced in the Piedmont and the Po valley, and Lyons, was the shortest one, over the Moncenisio, by way of St. Jean de Maurienne and Chambéry, where a considerable quantity of goods were diverted to Geneva.
The Savoy rulers endeavored to guarantee absolute security, combating banditry along this, as well as other roads, but it was the shippers who organized, managed and provided commercial guarantees for the goods transported. This task required a high degree of professionalism in order to earn the unquestioning trust of highly demanding clients, but thanks to the steady flow of goods and the constant increases in volume and value, it also provided opportunities for considerable profit.

2. The Bonafous business dynasty

Although the story of this crucial aspect of the relations between the two sides of the Alps remains largely untold,[4] we do know that during the 1700s, the Bonafous family, originally from Lyons but already with a foothold on the Savoy side,[5] became an important force in international shipping circles. Under various company names, among which Bonafous, Bourg et Cie (founded in 1760), Bonafous frères and Messageries Royales d’Italie, formed in the 1840s, the family divided its efforts between various branches of descendants and also allied itself with others temporarily, rapidly assuming a leading role in managing the flow of silk goods between the Piedmont and Lyons.

Along with silk – which remained the main product in terms of both volume and value – and various other items exchanged between the two destinations, a postal service was added, contributing to the formation of a genuine conglomerate in the transport sector, including exclusive licenses and privileges, but always based on the ability to fully satisfy the pressing needs of the demanding mercantile clientele. For these reasons, although they never relinquished their operative base in Lyons, the Bonafous clan thought it essential, from the second half of the 1700s onward, to transfer part of the family to Turin, setting up their headquarters and taking up residence there until the mid-eighteen hundreds, shortly before the company was dissolved in 1864.[6]

This was the path followed by Matthieu, born in Lyons in 1793. In 1812 he moved to Turin, where his mother’s father[7] and an uncle already lived, and remained there, acquiring Savoy citizenship, for the rest of his life, despite maintaining strong ties with his city of origin and his frequent and prolonged participation in French scientific and cultural circles, in both Lyons and Paris. Some of his brothers resided in Turin on a more constant basis, being more directly involved in the daily workings of the company.[8]

3. The transformation of the trade routes

The prominent role played by the Bonafous family on the ‘silk road’ between Turin and Lyons did not depend solely on their ability to manage the trade in question, and other related businesses (including the opening, in 1819, of two other important offices: in Genoa, for the seagoing routes, and in Milan, to expedite the collection of silk yarn produced in the lower Po valley).[9] It was also strengthened, to the point of becoming a quasi-monopoly, due to their ability to participate, with significant investments and with sufficient entrepreneurial initiative, in the process of modernization of the tortuous mountain route across the Alps, undertaken first by the Savoy monarchs and later by Napoleon.

Traditionally, along the Moncenisio route, through the narrow Maurienne valley towards Chambéry, the goods were loaded onto pack animals, but in the most difficult tracts they were often transported, at least in part, by porters. For much of the male population of that poor and climatically miserable valley, renting mules and carrying bales had for centuries been an irreplaceable source of additional income – for many, indeed, the only source – that had increased steadily with the expansion of the precious silk trade.
It was, however, a technical bottleneck in the route, which had become an increasingly intolerable nuisance. It reduced the reliability of the transport, due to the inevitable problems caused by inclement weather and the scarcity of porters and pack animals during the peak periods, as well as keeping the overall times unacceptably long; over two weeks. It also forced each lot to be broken down into loads that could be divided among the various porters, with all the inconveniences this comported, including the impossibility of adequately controlling delicate and valuable goods by the shippers’ employees and by the Bonafous themselves.
It thus became vital, for both the Savoy government and the Lyonnaise customers, to take an active part in the preliminary phase of the European transport revolution that involved, along with the construction of navigable canals, the transformation of the old trails into roads that could be used year round. The task took many years of work, considerable financial investment and the overcoming of resistance on the part of local populations, but the total travel times were eventually cut almost by half. In the end, the route was transformed from its constricted medieval form into a road that answered the needs of the times and the volume of traffic, with the new construction of long stretches of modern roadways designed to accommodate a continual flow of wagons and coaches.
The Bonafous family were among both the major beneficiaries and the sponsors of this radical transformation, vigorously backing all the successive improvements and, above all, the new and more massive construction projects of the Napoleonic period. Matthieu’s father, Franklin Bonafous – who had led the company after his father’s death, in 1770 – stood out particularly in terms of providing concrete support for Napoleon’s initiatives in the sector. After Marengo, Franklin Bonafous, who was recognized as having made a pivotal contribution towards eliminating the barrier of the Alps (faire disparaître la barrière des Alpes), was offered as a reward the prestigious post of Prefect of Genoa. He declined the honor, however, and instead dedicated all his efforts to developing the family firm (for which he had obtained the privilege of the postal service). In fact, beginning in 1801, he introduced special vehicles (sedans) designed and realized to meet the specific requirements of that route.
From that point on, the company grew steadily, becoming so irreplaceable that it remained unscathed despite the brusque political upheaval caused by the return of the Savoy monarchy, from whom the Bonafous instead obtained additional concessions.

4. Matthieu Bonafous (1793-1852): intellectual development

Matthieu Bonafous was born into a family that guaranteed him enviable social standing, solid financial resources, influential and cosmopolitan connections and time-tested skills in the rational management of a business. Of the five siblings (four boys and a girl), he was the only one who had the privilege of following, with dedication and success, a scientific career, although without entirely neglecting the interests of the company, of which he was part owner,[10] and remaining strongly attached to his family (none of the brothers married or had children)[11] and its tradition of systematic philanthropic interventions.

He studied in Lyons, Chambéry and Paris, following a course of study that led to a degree in Medicine, which for him, as for many of his contemporaries, was actually focused on natural sciences and was a necessary prerequisite for full participation in the process of scientific innovation being applied to agronomy and related disciplines. At the Sorbonne and particularly at the Collège de France, he was a spectator and then participant in the heated debate between the school of thought headed by Lamarck and Geoffroy de Saint Hilaire versus the supporters of Cuvier. Other professors included prominent figures like Giovan Battista Balbis,[12] who introduced him to the most advanced knowledge of the time in Botany, allowing him contact with the dynamic and stimulating world of experimentation and botanical gardens, Michele Buniva,[13] a leading scholar in the field of plant parasites, and, above all, J. B. Huzard.[14]

Huzard, a pioneer of modern veterinary science, opened vast intellectual horizons for Matthieu, putting the treasures of his naturalist’s library at his disposal and introducing him to circles where cutting-edge research was being conducted, facilitating his relations with personages of great importance in the political and cultural spheres, such as Jean Antoine Chaptal (with whom Matthieu developed an intense relationship)[15] and stimulating his experimental investigations by putting him in contact with agronomic research outside European contexts.

Bonafous maintained personal contact with Huzard and his family, who had a prestigious publishing-printing business responsible for classic volumes such as the Annales de l’Agriculture Française and dozens of fundamental texts in the new applied sciences, particularly agronomy.[16] Matthieu thus formed excellent contacts with the publishing world, and more in general with archivists, librarians and bibliophiles, sectors in which he later developed his most important scientific and intellectual activities.

After the death of J. B. Huzard in 1839, the family was forced to put his precious collection of books and manuscripts[17] up for auction. Matthieu was one of the principal bidders at the auction, which was held in Paris in 1842, buying some of the rarest and most important lots of a unique collection with which he was well acquainted, having enjoyed access to it for long periods during his studies. He thus prevented its dispersal, and also returned some precious volumes to the Huzard family, which they had been unable to retain possession of.[18]

5. Research and experimentation

Matthieu Bonafous’ scientific interests – he had been Director of the Crocetta Experimental Botanical Gardens of the Turin Academy of Agriculture since 1823 – led him to investigate those sectors which, in his opinion, were most in need or held the greatest promise of rapid advancement in production, largely in the areas governed by the Savoys. He carried out in-depth studies on corn – his Histoire du maïswas very well received internationally and was translated in many languages[19] – and other crops with industrial development possibilities, such as beetroots and coleseed, as well as new strains of rice. But he also systematically devoted his efforts to the introduction of new races of domestic animals (pigs, sheep and goats), regarding which he promoted and conducted numerous experiments firsthand.

Some of the latter were linked to the philanthropic activities of the Bonafous family in the Maurienne region. The area had suffered much from the termination of the old pack transport system, and many families had been reduced to poverty. There was little room for expanding traditional farming activities, as yields per hectare were very low. Bonafous, together with Dr. Mottard, established an experimental station in St. Jean de Maurienne, whose activities included the acclimatization and promotion of more productive food crops and the techniques used to cultivate them, as well as the raising of more profitable races of sheep and goats and the introduction of more valuable timber species in the local woods.[20]

Along with experimenting with plants for industrial use and animals for the food sector, he was also interested in agriculture and animal husbandry for mountainous areas, which were being rapidly depopulated throughout Europe. He played an active role in various attempts – sometimes with good results – to import domestic animals from remote locations around the globe, adapted to harsh climatic conditions, that would yield products with valuable characteristics. This was the case with Icelandic goats, merinos sheep, so-called Tibetan goats (actually from the Kashmir), and alpacas and llamas from the Andes.

6. Experimentation and innovation in the silk sector

But the areas in which he focused his intellectual energies most were those linked to the silk production cycle, reflecting his family’s long-established link with that product. Matthieu Bonafous wrote numerous texts about the cultivation of mulberry trees and the raising of silkworms, in which he presented the standard teachings of classic writers, updated with the addition of modern botanical and entomological research, but showing great respect and admiration even for the older ones, considered obsolete by many, such as Monsignor Vida and Olivier de Serres, Boissier de Sauvages and Dandolo.[21] He paid close attention to the introduction of steam in the vats where the cocoons were soaked and its long and controversial industrial application in the 1820s and early ‘30s, following the initial, overoptimistic enthusiasm. It was his annotations that yielded valuable statistical data on the initial diffusion of the new system, after 1810, among the great silk mills of the Piedmont, and concrete information on the continual introduction of experimental improvements made by technical experts from the Piedmont and Lombardy on the method originally presented to the public and the authorities by Gensoul in 1807, in Turin.[22]

His research was always focused on innovation and the possibility of improving production cycles. To this end, and with an activism that some of his contemporaries considered excessive, he devoted his efforts to developing and spreading new varieties of mulberry trees, which grew more rapidly and/or produced greater quantities of leaves, such as the Chinese variety known as the Philippine mulberry, or new, accelerated techniques of cultivating the tree. Similarly, he was a passionate supporter of the efforts of Camille Beauvais, who had for years combined special techniques for the accelerated cultivation of Chinese varieties of silkworms, using the rational aeration system proposed by the chemist D’Arcet, for the acclimatization of these silkworms outside the traditional European silkworm-raising territories. Although Beauvais’ research found no practical application, there is no doubt that the experimental studies, among them the particularly rigorous ones conducted by Matthieu himself, made an important contribution to our knowledge of the life cycle of the silkworm and the correlations – in terms of production yields – with variations in temperature and humidity of the silkworm raising rooms, as well as with the frequency of feeding and other variables. The best silkworm-raising manuals of the mid-1800s, from Loselier de Longchamps to Freschi, evidence a clear debt to the series of experiments conducted in the 1820s and 30s, and particularly to the work of Bonafous.

7. Interest in the Far East

Although he never renounced the scientific skepticism and pragmatism with which he took on every investigation, Matthieu Bonafous was strongly attracted – as was a good part of continental Europe – by the exceptional production capacities of Chinese intensive agriculture, and especially of its silk sector. Far from the lyrical admiration expressed by Beauvais, Bonafous instead set himself the task of verifying, in his areas of particular interest, the real situation and the eventual possibility of transferring to Europe plants, animals and practices and techniques utilized in China and other parts of the Far East.
This is the motivation, certainly influenced by the analogous and equally enthusiastic scientific and intellectual curiosity of J. B. Huzard, behind the experiments parallel to those of Beauvais, alluded to above, as well as a long series of promotional activities and experiments, ranging from the introduction of Chinese pigs (which had already been tried with success in Great Britain, replacing the less productive native European races) and various types of mulberry trees, to raising ‘wild’ silkworms in the open, on trees of the beech or oak family or on castor leaves, in addition to systematic attempts to cultivate a race of Chinese silkworms with bright white cocoons in Europe, beginning in the late 1820s. In this last endeavor, Bonafous operated in close and productive collaboration with other prominent Italian agronomists, like Ridolfi in Tuscany and Gera in the Veneto region, as he had cooperated in the past with Moretti, in Pavia, on innovative aspects of mulberry tree cultivation.[23]

It is likely that his roots in the business world, based on his activities in the family firm, were the source of his excellent relations with the newly emergent and highly dynamic figures of the world of international nurseries, who provided an essential vehicle, in Bonafous’ view, for the diffusion and adoption of agronomic innovations. For example, he had a constant exchange with the Burdin company, in Chambery, one of the major sector operators in Europe and the Mediterranean basin and a leader in the propagation of the varieties of mulberry proposed by Bonafous, especially the Philippine mulberry;[24] but dozens of names of nurseries specializing in agricultural crops appear in his papers or are directly cited in his works.

8. Translations of Chinese and Japanese agronomic texts

His interest in China and the Far East also led Matthieu Bonafous to engage in another branch of inquiry, related to the re-editing of classic volumes on silkworm cultivation that he worked on – by Vida[25] and Olivier de Serres[26] – which consisted of the translation of Chinese and Japanese texts for comparative purposes, with the addition of extensive notes describing his experiments based on the indications contained in thoe texts.

The manuscripts of the Donation Bonafous to the Bibliothèque Municipale in Lyons show how active Matthieu Bonafous was in the task of translating (officially sponsored by the French government and published in 1837) some Chinese texts on silkworm cultivation in the collection of the Bibliothèque Royale in Paris. These also manifest a heretofore unsuspected deference on the part of the translator, Stanislas Julien, a professor of Chinese at the Collége de France, with regard to Matthieu. In concomitance with the highly informative French text, Bonafous published a very successful Italian version, amplified by experimental notes that were highly appreciated by experts all over Europe, referring to practical tests conducted in his silkworm raising facility in Alpignano.[27] Due to their scientific value, Bonafous’ notes, at first contained only in the Italian version, were later included in all the translations of Julien’s French text.[28]

An additional translation was planned in collaboration with Julien – this time funded entirely by Bonafous – involving a Chinese text on rice cultivation, for which Julien had provided Bonafous with several sample translations.[29] However, the project was never completed, though we do not know if for financial or for other reasons.

A better fate was reserved for the French translation of a Japanese text on silkworm cultivation, curated, annotated and edited by Bonafous and translated by J. Hoffmann, which was issued in 1848 by Bocca in Turin and by Madame veuve Bouchard-Huzard’s printing establishment in Paris, reviving the old friendship with the Huzard family. The Japanese text, known as Yo-san-fi-rok in the phonetic transliteration of the time,[30] was one of only a handful of works that had been translated from Japanese into a western language[31] until then. This at a moment when there was a growing interest in the land of the rising sun, coupled with increasing pressure on the insular island nation to open its doors to some kind of trade with the West. Very few Europeans had even visited Japan. In fact, the text was part of a collection amassed by Dr. Siebold, a German physician who had practiced at the Dutch trading post there – the only European settlement permitted in Japan after 1640, strictly limited to the small islet of Deshima, off the port of Nagasaki – and had smuggled the texts back to Europe and used them as the basis for his monumental opus, Beschreibung, the most important work on Japan after that of his countryman, Kaempfer, which dated back to the start of the 1700s.[32]

Given the general dearth of information, the Yo-san-fi-rok, apart from the great interest it stirred up among silkworm cultivators, had an important cultural value, and Bonafous spared no expense in reproducing about fifty of the 75 original illustrations included in the volume, using the most advanced lithographic techniques available. The text thus offered – for the first time in a printed work – the illustrations of the work from which it was drawn, without the usual adaptations to restrictive European esthetic canons and the models of exoticism in fashion at the time, which had been the rule on the rare occasions in which translations, for example from the Chinese, were accompanied by illustrations.
But it was not just the technical aspects of the volume that received meticulous care. Bonafous followed Hoffmann’s translation step by step, making continual notes, as shown in the manuscript of the final draft, found by this author in the archives of the Bibliothèque Municipale in Lyons, and modifying all the expressions that did not adequately reflect the terminology used in European silkworm cultivation manuals – terms with which Hoffmann was not familiar – in order to resolve any possible ambiguities for European readers. After the translation had been completed, Matthieu went to see Siebold in person, in Leyden, in order to discuss some unresolved points with him and Hoffmann, but above all to learn more from Siebold’s texts, as well as the others to be found in the Dutch collections of oriental works – at the time indubitably the most complete on Japan – about the general conditions of life in that country, its agriculture and its recent history.
The results of his studies were summed up in the brief but efficient preface to the translation and the numerous footnotes that Bonafous added to the text. The last illustration in the volume, which was not taken from the original Japanese edition, is a map of Japan, drawn up and updated based on the indications provided to Bonafous by Siebold himself.[33]

The text of the Yosan-fi-rokwas published in a rich format, in a limited edition of three hundred copies, and received a series of flattering reviews in the leading publications of the time, agronomic and general. But the innovative quality of the initiative was only appreciated in part. A few decades later, when the crisis sparked by the silkworm disease – pebrine – forced European silkworm cultivators to turn to Japan in the hope of finding silkworm seed free of infestation that would save the hard-hit silk industry, the volume was reprinted, sometimes in unauthorized editions of inferior quality. The copy of the original first edition preserved at the Lyons Municipal Library bears a handwritten dedication by Matthieu Bonafous “à la Bibliothèque de sa ville natale” [TN: To the library of the town of his birth], underscoring the strong ties he still had with his native city.
It should be added that after the Yo-san-fi-rok operation had been successfully concluded, Bonafous stayed in contact with Hoffmann, for the translation of some Chinese and Japanese texts on the cultivation of rice (perhaps an attempt to revive the old project with the Chinese scholar, Julien, which had never gotten off the ground). A letter from Hoffman to Bonafous, dated August 1850, indicates that the project had been started, but Bonafous’ unexpected demise, in March 1852, put a premature end to the collaboration.[34]

9. The most ambitious goal: the Silk Library

At the start of the 1850s, Matthieu Bonafous was a prominent figure in the world of modern European agronomy. His research and the experimentation he had fostered, such as the projects he supervised at the Crocetta Experimental Botanical Gardens, or on his own property, were followed with interest all over Europe, and while polemics and adverse opinions were not always absent, his work made a significant contribution to the rapid development of applied agronomic science. His papers appeared in the leading scientific journals, and references to his experiments were frequent in the sections of daily publications that dealt with agriculture and silkworm cultivation. He was a member of dozens of prestigious institutes and academies and had been named a corresponding member of the Institut de France, an honor that was not bestowed lightly at the time.
The fragments of his correspondence that we have been able to identify thus far testify to a web of intense scientific and intellectual relationships that literally spanned the entire globe.[35] The prevailing subject of these exchanges were the experiments intended to accelerate production rhythms or shorten life cycles of plants and animals, increase yields and reduce the times needed to introduce plants into production, in an explicit attempt to adapt the agricultural sector to the increased speed of production fostered by the industrial revolution, or to “industrialize” the agricultural and zootechnical sectors. This sector is one whose long-term sustainability and whose burden on the global ecological equilibrium is today being called into question, and justifiably so, but at the time it was indubitably at the cutting edge of applied research.
But it was not only agronomic research that interested Bonafous. As shown by his involvement in the reissue of classical works and translation of Asian agronomic texts, the study and collection of specialized texts and their dissemination to his contemporaries, organized and annotated, reflected his participation in the movement for the “diffusion of useful knowledge”, which formed a bridge between the traditions of the Enlightenment and the applied scientific approach typical of positivism.[36] In Bonafous’ view, experimental research, rigorously determined by the application of modern empirical principles, could not be separated from the equally rigorous knowledge of the historical background in which it had developed and the environments and cultural contexts of its places of origin. In this sense, it is evident that Bonafous placed a high value on the historical and cultural knowledge of his colleagues in the area of applied science, as well as on their absence of prejudice in analyzing different cultures.

These attitudes are reflected– and here, once again, one can perceive the influence of Huzard’s style of research and personal life – in his history of corn, the translations of oriental texts and, above all, the work that was intended to crown one of the lines of research he was most interested in: the history of silk cultivation and production, its evolution and the scholars who had studied it.
In fact, during 1851 he had nearly completed a work he was quite proud of and which had required many years of intellectual dedication and considerable financial investment: the Biblioteca Serica[Silk Library], an annotated bibliographic collection of all the works ever published in the western world on silk cultivation and production, from the late Middle Ages onward. For this project, Bonafous had already collected and organized, in preparation for printing, eleven volumes of bibliographic references, annotated and in chronological order. It was a vast and unprecedented opus, which would never be attempted by anyone again, up to the present day. In its compilation, Bonafous had personally searched through public and private libraries and archives during his many journeys in Italy and Europe, as well as engaging in a direct and indirect network of correspondence (one of his most trusted intermediaries was Mme. Huzard) with scholars, librarians and bibliophiles from all over the world.[37] Periodicals had already announced the imminent publication of this opus when Bonafous’ death put an abrupt end to this project as well.

10. His heirs and the transfer of his papers and library to Lyons

There was great dismay at the death of Matthieu Bonafous in the cultural and scientific circles he had frequented, as evidenced by the number and quality of commemorative biographies dedicated to him in subsequent years by eminent international academics, issued by important publishing houses,[38] but there was no one, unfortunately, who was able to take up and complete the works Bonafous had left unfinished. It appears that Matthieu Bonafous had neither students or assistants up to his level, and his personal relations with other agronomists in Turin must have been in decline for some time, perhaps partly because of his protracted absences from the Savoy capital, to the point that a touch of hostility can be perceived in the initial reports of those who replaced him at the head of the Botanical Gardens of the Academy of Agriculture.[39] Also, his brothers had focused all their attention on the family company and the charitable and philanthropic activities the family had continued to support. The company had begun to feel the pressure of competition from more modern means of transport, as well as the deregulation that had stripped Lyons of its ancient privilege of serving as a central locus of distribution for all the silk sold in France and the progressive shifting of the production of Italian silk to Lombardy. Last but not least, new shipping companies had sprung up, with far superior resources and vaster horizons.[40] The family produced no other figures like Franklin Bonafous, who had been able to keep the company apace of new developments in the transport and production sectors, and there was likely little interest in investing the sums that Matthieu had surely set aside to complete the publishing process needed to issue the volumes of the Biblioteca Serica. It is unclear whether the decision of the Bonafous family, in 1859, seven years after Matthieu’s death, to transfer his personal library from Turin and donate it to the city of Lyons was motivated by the coolness of his successors in Turin or by a desire to ingratiate themselves with the authorities in Lyons, at a moment when the company’s remaining business activities were being integrated with those of French entrepreneurs.
Despite the considerable value – even in strictly financial terms – of the donation, which included no obligation on the part of the receiver and was even accompanied by a substantial contribution for the adequate conservation of the collection, and despite the high standing of its former proprietor, the reception of the city of Lyons was tepid at best, perhaps as a result of the sudden cooling in relations between France and the Piedmont during that tumultuous year. In the decades that followed, however, the Bibliothèque Bonafous was considered one of the city’s cultural high points, although the memory of Matthieu wa gradually fading. One of the pearls of that treasure-trove occasionally cited was the Biblioteca Serica, whose volumes were still handwritten and which hardly anyone had the desire or opportunity to consult, in a city that was moving away from its ancient glory as the European capital of silk.
The library, which included over 6,000 books and pamphlets, in addition to an unspecified number of items classified as manuscripts, remained in a separate section of one of the public libraries of Lyons for over half a century before finding its home, in 1912, in the city’s central Bibliothèque Municipale. At the time of its incorporation, or probably a few years later – as part of one of those notorious operations of presumed rationalization and re-ordering of the archives that have so frequently provoked irreparable damage to the priceless collections of libraries and archives the world over – it was decided to no longer maintain the specificity of the Bibliothèque Bonafous, and its contents, both printed and handwritten, were dispersed among the hundreds of thousands of volumes of the municipal library, without even preserving a copy of the catalogue.[41] The Bibliothèque Bonafous, which had already been largely forgotten, along with the memory of its original proprietor, thus vanished entirely from the sight of both scholars and the general public. And so when, more than twenty years ago, thanks to some studies on the history of European agronomy and, more specifically, on the most prominent figures in the silk industry, there was a renewed interest in the personage and role played by Matthieu Bonafous, there was no longer the slightest visible trace, in the places where he had mainly conducted his activities – Lyons and Turin in primis – that allowed one to locate or identify the instruments he had used: neither library nor archives, since the records of the donation made to the city of Lyons and of its contents could no longer be found. Bonafous’ books and papers, donated in 1859 and scattered some sixty years later, slowly began to re-emerge thanks to the laborious efforts of individual scholars. Recently, the Bibliothèque Municipale has taken an interest in the question, publishing a brief work on Bonafous and on the importance of the books donated in 1859.[42]

In the paragraphs below the reader will find an initial attempt to reconstruct the itinerary of these two collections (library and archives) and, in particular, a few examples of the contents of some of the folders that have been positively identified as belonging to the personal archives that Matthieu Bonafous used for his work.

11. The library and archive of Matthieu Bonafous and the "Donation Bonafous" collection at the Bibliothèque Municipale in Lyons.

I. The donation.

The donation of Matthieu Bonafous’ Biblioteca was finalized with its official acceptance by the Lyons City Council, which deliberated on the matter during its meeting of April 29, 1859.[43] The letter with which his heirs announced the donation was dated February 9 of the same year, after which the condition, set by the beneficiary, regarding the payment of any eventual customs duties required by the Savoy kingdom regarding the transfer of the material from Turin to Lyons had been satisfied, given that the French customs offices had exempted the transfer from any and all duty.

As of the date of the acceptance of the donation by the Lyons City Council, the Biblioteca had already arrived in the city, accompanied by an oil portrait of Matthieu Bonafous, executed by Bonnefond and offered by Alphonse Bonafous to the Palais des Arts.[44] Alphonse also offered to pay all the expenses for the construction of twelve large closet-bookcases to house the volumes, pamphlets and manuscripts of the Biblioteca. It seems that even the room in which the bookcases were placed (and where Matthieu’s portrait was hung) was restored at Alphonse’s expense.[45] It was in these bookcases that the Bibliothèque Bonafous remained, as a special section with its own separate catalogue, in the Bibliothèque du Palas des Arts in Lyons, in the Palais-St. Pierre branch,[46] until its incorporation into the Bibliothèque Municipale in 1912[47] and the subsequent unfortunate decision to mingle the contents of the Bibliothèque Bonafous with the rest of the volumes of the Bibliothèque Municipale. It is also worth mentioning that the year after Matthieu Bonafous’ Biblioteca arrived in Lyons, his brother Alphonse, along with his sister Aline, continuing in the tradition of philanthropic initiatives that had for generations characterized the family, and Matthieu’s activities in particular, inserted in his will a trust fund of 22,000 francs to the benefit of the city of Lyons, whose yield of 1,000 francs per annum was to be destined as a dowry for a needy girl from the parish of St. Pierre. The sum was in fact disbursed each year, from 1873 (Alphonse died in 1869) until 1930, when 1,000 francs, due to the progressive devaluation, had lost most of their considerable initial value.[48]

II. The "manuscripts"

As mentioned above, the 1859 donation was not composed solely of the books and pamphlets of Matthieu Bonafous’ personal library, but also included a large number of unspecified manuscripts, which we can now identify with confidence as belonging to his reference archives. When the Bibliothèque Bonafous was incorporated into the rest of the Lyons Bibliothèque Municipale – presumably a few years after 1912 – the "papers" included in the donation, meaning everything other than printed and bound volumes, such as books and pamphlets, were all classified as manuscripts.
This classification was applied indiscriminately to true manuscripts and to all the other papers, loose or gathered in folders, which Matthieu Bonafous had used as archives and sources for his work: letters, notes, scribble pads, newspaper clippings, rough drafts, reviews, folders containing copies of texts, printed sheets and scraps, sketches and images, loose and arranged in albums, handwritten statistical summaries, handwritten texts sent him for review and so on. These papers, seemingly disconnected but in fact forming a coherent body that clearly reflected Bonafous’ interests and intellectual curiosities, had been kept, when Matthieu was alive, in capacious folders whose contents were considered homogenous by their user, and had been an integral part of the donation made by Alphonse Bonafous and Aline Bonafous Bouniols to the city of Lyons in 1859. As such, they had been stored in the bookcases that Alphonse had commissioned for the room destined to house the Bibliothèque Bonafous in the Palais St.-Pierre, then the seat of the Bibliothèque du Palas des Arts of Lyons. To date, it has been impossible to find either the original catalogue of the Bibliothèque Bonafous of the Palais des Arts, or an eventual list of the transfer of the material, so we cannot be sure of the number of folders originally transferred from Turin to Lyons, or whether there were other papers, loose or otherwise collected, that accompanied them.
In the second decade of the twentieth century, when the Donation was incorporated into the Bibliothèque Municipale, each folder was catalogued as a single ‘manuscript’, with its own number and without any consideration of its contents, perhaps as a first step in the dismemberment of the same, which would have been an even more disastrous and irreparable event, but which doesn’t appear to have ever taken place, fortunately, except in a few isolated cases.[49] The result is that folders containing a single item (for example, a precious copy of Palladio’s Agricoltura, from the early fifteenth century) and others containing thousands of scraps of paper with Bonafous’ notes each have a single reference number.

In the current card catalogue of manuscripts in the “Ancient collections” section of the Bibliothèque Municipale, all the manuscripts owned by the library that have been catalogued to date have been assigned a progressive number indicating their location, alongside which there is a short title, sometimes with a date, and possibly also the name of the original collection from which they were acquired (usually the name of the person who donated it or the library from which it came).
In the case of the folders of the former Bibliothèque Bonafous, we have found that the indications that should identify them – “Don. Bonafous” or something similar – is not always present on the cards in the catalogue, even when the notation appears on the original folder, and so the progressive ordering of the folders from the Matthieu Bonafous archive was accomplished by us, basically by comparing the titles in the catalogue with Bonafous’ research interests.
We also found that the titles in the card catalogue only partially or inaccurately reproduce the titles that sometimes appear on the outside of the folders themselves, and that they do not always correspond – not infrequently, they are completely lacking – to the contents of the folder. This, in our opinion, is due to a hurried and superficial application of the title, certainly accomplished after Matthieu’s death. It should be added that some of the folders, although they were part of the original donation of manuscripts in 1859, contain ‘manuscripts’ that originally belonged to J. B. Huzard, which Bonafous had bought at auction in 1842, as is the case for the collection of Chinese prints on wild silkworms in Ms 6060, mentioned several times above.[50] We also noted that in some cases, these folders are now catalogued, erroneously, as originating from a “Huzard sale”, rather than from the Bonafous donation. The note apparently refers to the abovementioned posthumous auction of Huzard’s books, where Bonafous acquired them, prior to their donation to the Bibliothèque Municipale by Matthieu’s heirs. The error was probably caused by the notation “vente Huzard”, written by hand on some of the manuscripts, possibly by Bonafous himself.

12. Matthieu Bonafous’ library and archives and the “Donation Bonafous”

This complex inquiry required a meticulous search for evidence – a fit subject for the plot of one of Georges Simenon’s mysteries – that resulted in the rediscovery, after almost a century of persistent obscurity, of about sixty of the folders originally included in the donation made by the Bonafous family in 1859.
The proportion of the original “Bonafous Archives” represented by these folders is unknown and cannot, at the present state of things, even be estimated. In addition to eventual loose papers included in the donation, whose fate remains a mystery, there are folders that have yet to be found, others whose contents have been removed and/or reordered and, above all, all the papers which, for one reason or another, were not included in the donation to be transferred to Lyons. Similarly, we cannot be sure of what proportion of the volumes in Bonafous’ library were included in the donation.[51] In fact, other boxes containing " Bonafous papers" were found in Turin a few years back, but it was not possible to examine them in order to determine whether they came from Matthieu’s studio or were the property of one of his brothers or pertained to the company’s activities. Moreover, it is altogether possible that additional papers are in other, as yet unidentified locations. But despite all these limitations, the partial examination of the printed volumes and a sampling of the so-called ‘manuscripts’ provide incontrovertible proof of the collection’s enormous scientific, cultural and material value.

13. The “manuscripts” of the Donation Bonafous

It is not our intention to go into detail, in this paper, regarding the printed works, a job that would require a long and in-depth analysis of the overall collection and of numerous single volumes and specialized collections. Suffice it to say that they include many interesting rarities from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a number of probably one of a kind works, including some incunabulums, precious special editions and collections of specialized periodicals of the time, which are certainly not easy to come by today.
We shall instead devote our attention, though not in any way exhaustively, to the papers included in the archive, because they indubitably constitute the nucleus of Matthieu Bonafous’ great cultural legacy, proof of the depth and originality of his intellectual pursuits and, at the same time, a valuable source for researchers investigating the development of technical and scientific thought and its broader context, including a wealth of unpublished information on crucial aspects of the economic history of the regions of the Piedmont and Lyons. It is to be hoped – and there are some encouraging signs in this sense – that in the not too distant future we shall be able to conduct a systematic survey and examination of the Bonafous archive at the Lyons Bibliothèque Municipale, and perhaps even publish the most important parts, or the completed works that have never been published, thus contributing to the renewed elimination of the ‘barrier of the Alps’ that the forgetfulness and ignorance of many has re-erected.

14. Manuscripts from the Donation Bonafous to the Bibliothèque Municipale of Lyons. Some examples.

As an example, we present below the contents of four of the original folders of Matthieu Bonafous’ library and archive, now classified as ‘manuscripts’.

A) Ms 6060 – Recueil de dessins chinois [Collection of Chinese drawings] [52]

The folder contains 26 color drawings,[53] by one or more Chinese artists and datable to 1740 or the years immediately preceding, representing all the stages of silkworm cultivation in a semi-natural state, meaning in the open, on trees, but under close human control and involving a particular type of silkworm (a "wild silkworm " in modern terminology). This type of silkworm cultivation was practiced fairly extensively in southern China, and yielded a sort of wild silk, similar to today’s Indian "tussur", with good product quality and of a certain commercial value, though still considerably inferior to that produced by the far more common domestic silkworm, Bombyx Mori. The drawings had been commissioned, and perhaps also directed during their execution, by the Jesuit missionary Pierre d’Incarville (1706-1757), who had been able to reach the regions in question, almost certainly without the permission or knowledge of the authorities in Peking, and, during his visits, observe the entire cycle of cultivation practices firsthand. D’Incarville was thus able to add his technical explanations and comments below each illustration. The drawings and comments had subsequently served as a basis for the compilation of a tome on wild silkworms, published in France many years after d’Incarville’s death,[54] which, however, contained no images and described the steps of the cultivation of the wild silk-producing Lepidoptera, noted with scrupulous accuracy by the missionary and diligently illustrated by his Chinese collaborators, in a very fragmentary and confused manner. That genus of Lepidoptera and the methods of its cultivation were then known to Europeans only vaguely and indirectly, as for many centuries they had received mostly anecdotal and largely inaccurate accounts about silkworms raised in nature. It was thought, for example, that these cultivations involved extremely low costs, and that employing these methods thus led to enormous profits. This generated intense interest in the subject, but the exact geographical location was something of a mirage: in past centuries, it was thought to have been the Italian region of Calabria – where nothing of the kind had ever existed[55] – and later somewhere in the Middle East. Then it became Armenia’s turn, but with the extension of geographical knowledge, the location was shifted increasingly eastward, to areas with a more tropical climate. Finally, concrete indications pointed to India, where, true enough, similar cultivations did exist, in areas very difficult to reach and whose production was of little value. But the news that it was also practiced in China, the home country of sericulture, had rekindled the hopes of Europeans eager to exploit and perhaps even transfer these cultivations westward. The drawings and technical comments by Father d’Incarville were thus the first accurate scientific description of the life cycle of a silk-producing Lepidoptera other than the common silkworm, Bombyx Mori, whose varieties were quite familiar to Europeans of the Mediterranean basin, where it had been cultivated for centuries, but most importantly, of the concrete procedures of cultivation of that particular species of Lepidoptera, which did not feed on mulberry leaves, the only source of nutriment for Bombyx Mori. In this sense, the collection of drawings was one of the numerous instances of "industrial spying" that Europeans attempted in Asia, and particularly in China, in all those sectors where there was an important gap in technology or production to the disadvantage of European manufacturers, especially with regard to textiles and porcelain.
When d’Incarville’s illustrated report reached Europe, it stirred great interest, also because, for many decades afterward, there were no other detailed, firsthand accounts of the kind on that or other silk-producing Lepidoptera, which were known to be cultivated, although in a reduced and sporadic manner, in a vast area stretching from northeastern India to southern China and Japan. These generated, especially in the 1800s and often in a completely unreasonable manner, speculations of economic profit on the part of Europeans who planned to acclimate the wild silkworms to European conditions on a vast scale, or raise them in plantations they controlled in the colonies. There was also great interest in wild silk-producing Lepidoptera in scientific circles, especially among entomologists, who had already conducted pioneering research in silkworm anatomy and physiology, in the past, as exemplified by the earlier works of Aldrovandi, Malpighi and Leeuwenhoek.
The itinerary followed by d’Incarville’s report in Europe reflects the twin interests it stimulated: one focused on production potential and the other was more specifically entomological. However, unlike many Chinese albums or illustrated texts showing production cycles of interest to Europeans, his drawings were never reprinted for public use.
We know from an account by Abbot Pierre-Augustin Boissier de Sauvages, author of a groundbreaking scientific text on silkworm cultivation that may well be considered seminal for the modern scientific sericulture works by Verri e di Dandolo, that d’Incarville’s illustrated manuscript was introduced to France by Mairan in 1749.[56] Later, another prominent specialist in the silk sector, Paulet,[57] also indicated that the album of drawings had attracted much attention among experts in the field. Still later, as mentioned above, a reworked account of the "discovery", but devoid of the fundamental images and comments, was included in the volume Mémoires concernant l’Histoire.des Chinois, compiled by the missionary father Pierre Cibot, which appeared in 1777. The collection of Chinese drawings commissioned by Father d’Incarville was then in the possession of a Parisian printer, Delatour, but it must have been made available for consultation, because Paulet had seen it, and it was well known in French scientific circles. In fact, in 1810, after Delatour’s death, it was purchased by one of the most prominent naturalists of the time, J. B. Huzard.
We have already alluded to the role played by J. B. Huzard in the creation of modern veterinary science and of the very close relationship Matthieu Bonafous had with the scientist and his family. Bonafous had no doubt seen and examined d’Incarville’s album at Huzard’s and was well aware of its considerable scientific value. In fact, when, after Huzard’s death in 1842, his library was sold at auction, Bonafous bought d’Incarville’s album of drawings, at a time when experimentation on silkworms and possible innovations from the Far East, and particularly from China, were the focus of his attention and his scientific, editorial and promotional efforts.
We know nothing of the manuscript from Bonafous’ colleagues and collaborators during the ten years in which it remained in Turin prior to Matthieu’s unexpected demise in 1852, but it is interesting to note how, during that period, there was a resurgence of interest in wild Chinese silkworms, and that Piedmontese missionaries in China played a leading role in finding, collecting and sending back to Turin various samples of silk-producing Lepidoptera, which were studied by scientists who shared their findings with colleagues throughout Europe. The books, manuscripts and drawings – including the collection in question – owned by Bonafous, then the Director of the Experimental Botanical Gardens of the Turin Academy of Agriculture and the leading expert in the sector in the Savoy realm, were certainly a key element in these important investigations, although the specifics of the interactions between the activities of the missionaries and the concrete economic and scientific interests in their countries of origin have not as yet been studied in detail.[58]

B) Ms 6041 Yo-san-fi-rok

C) MS 6046 Promenade en Hollande

As mentioned above, we identified two folders dealing with the process of the translation and publishing of a volume on Japanese sericulture edited by Matthieu Bonafous, the Yôsan Hiroku, by Kamigaki (Uegaki) Morikuni, which appeared in French in 1848 under the title of Yo-san-fi-rok. L’art d’élever les vers à soie aux Japon.
The first of the two folders – Ms 6041 – contains the text (final draft, ready for printing) of the translation of the Yôsan Hiroku executed by the German translator J. Hoffmann,[59] with notes and corrections made by Bonafous. The second – MS 6046 – contains a long travelogue of the journey from Paris to Leyden, which Bonafous made in 1847 in order to meet with both Hoffmann and Siebold[60] and discuss the final editing of the volume, particularly the historical introduction that Bonafous intended to write himself. The two texts permit the reader to follow the selection process in detail (some brief sections of the original Japanese work were not included in the translated version),[61] as well as Bonafous’ verification of Hoffmann’s translation and the adding of the relative notes. The writing of the introduction, done after the trip, was heavily influenced by the contacts and discussions Bonafous had in Holland, as well as the texts and primary sources he was able to consult there during his stay. A map of Japan was added to the illustrations in the volume, which Bonafous had drawn up based on updated cartography supplied him by Siebold.[62] Japanese myths and legends on the origins of sericulture were reviewed, thanks to the knowledge of his hosts in Holland and the information he was able to glean from the literature, resulting in the comparative approach with which these topics are addressed in his introduction: "ce livre, enfin, avec ses mythes, ses légendes jetés à travers d’utiles préceptes, éclairera les esprit curieux d’étudier l’origine, les phases et les progrès d’une industrie associée à la marche active de notre civilisation".[63] It is also possible to follow the process of reproduction of the illustrations. In the original edition, which appeared in 1802/3, the Japanese volume contained 75 illustrations, 49 of which were reproduced in the French edition. The ones omitted were, in Bonafous’ opinion, not pertinent to Japanese techniques of silkworm cultivation.
Of particular interest – and an innovation for those times – was the meticulous care taken by Bonafous to remain as faithful as possible to the original images. To this end, during his stay in Holland he contacted a lithographer who worked for the Dutch royal family and employed extremely innovative methods, and commissioned some reproductions of the illustrations in the Japanese text, which Bonafous was quite satisfied with.[64] The manuscript also contains three specimens relative to the final realization of the illustrations: an original page from the Japanese text containing one of the illustrations,[65] a preliminary lithographic proof of the same and the final version, which was included in the French translation as plate n. 46.[66] A comparison of the three images shows the extreme care taken to reproduce the original exactly, down to the smallest detail. This is particularly true for all the technical details in the images. The only departures from the original – and minimal ones at that – are some changes in the faces and hands of the personages shown, where the European artist was evidently unable to resist the temptation to westernize the features, such as, for example, the shape of the noses.
With reference to the manuscript Ms 6046, entitled Promenade en Hollande, which contains 349 sheets, we should note that, in addition to accounts describing the discussions with Hoffmann and Siebold, it also contains numerous references to Bonafous’ visits to Dutch collections of Oriental texts, particularly to the personal library of the former Governor-general of the Dutch Indies, in whose employ Siebold had been, as well as an extensive series of notes and observations, sometimes running to several pages in length, on various aspects of life in Holland, as well as, during his return journey, in Belgium. In fact, his journey lasted for over two months in all[67] and allowed Bonafous, as he himself underscored, to satisfy his curiosity on many topics and to visit places he had long wished to see, meeting with people whom he had corresponded with for years but had never spoken to in person. His comments on the countryside he traveled through and the crops grown there are of great interest, although Bonafous often laments the fact that the trains, though very comfortable and fast, severely limited the possibility of accurately observing the natural environments he passed through, which could be far more satisfactorily surveyed on foot or on horseback, stopping frequently to discuss and analyze the unique nature of each locale, as was standard practice for serious agronomists and scholars of rural economics at the time, including Bonafous himself.[68] His observations naturally focus on the companies or agencies where agronomic experiments were being conducted, as well as meetings and discussions with colleagues from other scientific circles, but the place of honor is reserved for experiments in silk cultivation and processing, which continued to be conducted in those areas in an entrepreneurial context, despite the adverse climatic conditions. Bonafous, who had long sponsored these attempts and whose applied research had often been aimed at identifying and selecting varieties of mulberry trees which could be shorn of their leaves without suffering permanent damage in relatively harsh climates, was eager to see the results of such experiments firsthand and discuss the findings with those in charge.

D) Ms 5371 Soies de Turin [Silks of Turin]/ 1841-48

This folder contains the records of the shipments of bales of silk from Turin to Lyons, London and Milan made by the companies run by the Bonafous family[69] and the estimates of the total international trade in silk from Turin during the eight years in question, a compendium of detailed statistical data that appears to be the only one of its kind. Its importance for an economic history of the silk trade between Lyons and Turin is indubitably exceptional. The folder contains no note or explanation by Bonafous that indicates the reason for its presence among the papers in his archive, nor any indication of how or for what purpose he intended to utilize them. We must therefore assume that Bonafous had taken the material in question from the company’s records in order to complete some study which was never made public, but perhaps the answer lies in other papers in the collection that have not yet been examined.
The data in the papers of this folder were entered by employees of the Bonafous company, sometimes on partially pre-printed forms and also on large summary sheets, both compiled on a monthly basis. The numbers were probably copied from the company’s daily ledgers, as well as those of some affiliated companies, while the more comprehensive summaries presented an overview of the entire European market, which the company obtained from other sources (which are not cited). It is likely that the pre-printed forms – of which the folder contains a number still blank – were destined to be distributed, either to important clients, as was standard practice among the larger agents, which provided their clients with similar forms showing the market prices for the goods they handled on their behalf, or, perhaps, to the Piedmontese authorities for statistical purposes.
Each year is subdivided into monthly packets, generally containing two distinct main items, as well as occasional other sheets. The two principal items are described in detail below:
a) a large sheet (ca. 35 x 25 cm), entirely written by hand, headed as follows "Note des Balles de Ville expédiées en [Record of bales shipped in] (month and year) "
The sheet is then usually subdivided in four columns. If we take as an example the monthly sheets for the calendar year 1841, the first two columns are usually headed Bonafous frères, the third Mestrallet fils and the fourth Bonafous Père et Fils. Occasionally, when there is insufficient space in the first two columns headed Bonafous frères, a fifth column, also headed Bonafous frères, is added under the fourth. The names of the individual companies vary over time, in line with the official changes in company names, but all in all, the subdivision in proportion to each remains similar, with Bonafous frères accounting for the lion’s share of the trade during the entire period in question.[70] Under each heading, down the column, there are the dates of each day of the month and, next to them, three names and three figures, indicating the three destinations and the number of the bales shipped to each one: France, Milan and Londres. In the case of Bonafous frères the shipments are often made daily and there are a high number of names, so the space taken up by the entries is far greater than that taken up by the other two (or more) companies.[71]
b) A smaller piece of paper, about half the size of an A/4 sheet, on light blue paper with a printed heading. The heading varies over time, though it always refers to the same company. For example, for October 1841, the heading is as follows: "Stabilimento di Forgoni celeri e Condotte / dalla Francia per l’Italia e viceversa / Servizio generale di trasporti / Fratelli Bonafous", followed by the addresses of the four offices, in Milan, Turin, Genoa and Lyons.[72] Later (from 1842 on) the words Messageries Générales d’Italie are added, and, from 1845 on, this is changed to Messageries Royales d’Italie. Also printed are the indications of Exports (for the month in question), expressed in 12-ounce pounds, subdivided by destination (Lyons, London, Switzerland and Germany, Vienna on domestic consumption, Russia. This last destination is divided into two itineraries, one of which is always via Lübeck). Some of the final destinations are further subdivided, sometimes running to the back of the page: for example, Vienna on domestic consumption is subdivided by origin (Milan and Bergamo, Brescia, Venice and Vicenza, Udine).
The quantities, which are obviously entered in pen and ink, are also subdivided, into three categories of goods: raw silk, thrown silk, and waste silk, divided into two sub-sorts: strazza and cascami.
In some years, the monthly reports also include another printed sheet, indicating the amounts of silk yarn submitted to industrial drying in Lyons.
The monthly summaries contain a wealth of information, the most interesting aspect of which is the number of details and their temporal distribution, practically uninterrupted and comparable enough to permit the compilation of statistical indices of considerable historical value.
In any case, there is no doubt that one of the most interesting things about the papers collected in this folder is that we can identify, day by day, the participants in the transport of raw and thrown (or twisted) silk between Turin and Lyons and Turin and Milan, along with the amounts shipped. It should be noted, in this regard, that initial calculations, comparing the total quantities indicated in the monthly summaries for the total European figures with the amounts transported by the Bonafous companies, show that the family group enjoyed a market share of fully 30-35%. These calculations should no doubt be verified in a more ample statistical context, with reliable and consistent data for the longest period possible, but it nevertheless appears that the companies in question played a leading role in the sector, and confirms the idea that for many years, Matthieu Bonafous enjoyed a privileged position in terms of market view.

Essential bibliography

  • Annuaire administratif de Lyons et du Département du Rhône, Lyons 1875. Aurélie Blanc,"Aux origines de la soie", Gryphe. Revue de la Bibliothèque de Lyons, 13, Mars 2006, pp. 11-18.
  • Pierre-Augustin Boissier de Sauvages, Mémoires sur l’éducation des vers a soie, Nismes, Gaude, 1763.
  • Matthieu Bonafous, De l’éducation des vers à soie d’après la méthode du Comte Dandolo, Lyons, Barret, 1821.
  • Matthieu Bonafous, De la culture des mûriers, Lyons, Barret,1821.
  • Matthieu Bonafous, Histoire naturelle, agricole et économique du maïs, Paris, Huzard, 1836.
  • Matthieu Bonafous, "Del ricino considerato sotto tutti i rapporti", Annali della R. Accademia d’Agricoltura di Torino, vol. IV, 1851.
  • W. J. Boot, "Japanese studies in the Netherlands, Historical Background" in Japanese Studies in Europe, Tokyo, The Japan Foundation, 1985.
  • Luigi Bulferetti, "Gli itinerari Torino-Lione nel secolo XVIII, dal trasporto someggiato al trasporto su carro" , Annali di ricerche e studi di geografia, XVII, 1961.
  • P. A. Cap, Matthieu Bonafous, Lyons, Dumoulin, 1854.
  • Catalogue générale des manuscrits des Bibliothèques de France, T. XXXI, Paris 1898.
  • Giuseppe Chicco, La seta in Piemonte. 1650-1850, Milano, Angeli, 1995.
  • Patrizia Chierici,"Da Torino tutt’intorno: le "fabbriche da seta" dell’antico regime", in Bracco, G. (a cura di), Torino sul filo della seta, Torino, Archivio Storico della Città di Torino, 1992, pp.177-202.
  • Patrizia Chierici, Laura Palmucci, "L’architettura delle "fabbriche magnifiche", in Id. (a cura di), Le fabbriche magnifiche. La seta in Provincia di Cuneo tra Seicento e Ottocento, Cuneo, L’Arciere, 1993, pp. 113-140.
  • Cibot, (ed.), "Mémoire sur les vers à soie sauvages" in Mémoires concernant l’Histoire, les Sciences,les Arts, les Moeurs, les Usages etc. des Chinois, par les missionnaires de Pékin, Nyon, Paris, 1777.
  • Giovanni Battista Delponte, "Stato dell’Orto agrario sperimentale, nuove colture in esso introdotte e proposte di miglioramento. Relazione (1852)", Annali della reale Accademia di Agricoltura di Torino, VI, 1859.
  • Giovanni Battista Delponte, "Cenno intorno ad alcune innovazioni e nuove piantagioni fatte nell’orto sperimentale dell’Accademia (1853)", Annali della reale Accademia di Agricoltura di Torino, VII, 1859.
  • Charles Marie Despine, "Eloge Historique du chevalierMatthieu Bonafous", Annali dell’ Accademia di Agricoltura di Torino, voll. VI-VII, 1859.
  • "Engelbert Kaempfer, Philipp Franz von Siebold. Gedenkschrift," Mitteilungen der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Natur-und Völkerkunde Ostasiens, Supplementband XXVIII, 1966,Tokyo.
  • J. Forest, Eloge historique de M. Bonafous, Lyons 1860.
  • Hide Inada Ikehara, Bibliography of Translations from the Japanese into Western Languages, Tokyo, Sophia University, 1971.
  • "Jardin expérimental d’agriculture crée à Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne par M. le chevalier Bonafous", Annali della Reale Società d’Agricoltura di Torino, II, 1842.
  • Stanislas Julien, Résumé des principaux traités chinois sur la culture des mûriers et l’éducation des vers à soie. Traduit par Stanislas Julien, Publié par ordre du Ministre des travaux publics de l’agriculture et du commerce, Paris, Imprimerie Royale, MDCCCXXXVII.
  • Stanislas Julien, Dell’arte di coltivare i gelsi e di governare i bachi da seta secondo il metodo chinese. Sunto di libri chinesi tradotto in francese da Stanislao Julien membro del Real Istituto di Francia. Versione italiana con note e sperimenti del cavaliere Matteo Bonafous. Direttore dell’Orto Agrario di Torino, Torino 1837.
  • Louis Hombre-Firmas, "Le chevalier de Bonafous.", Biographie des membres de la Société Impériale et centrale d’agriculture, Paris 1865.
  • Engelbert Kaempfer, The History of Japan, 2 vols., London 1727.
  • Kamigaki (Uegaki) Morikuni, "Yôsan Hiroku", in Nihon nôsho zenshû, vol. 35, Tokyo, Nôsan gyoson bunka kyôkai, 1981.
  • Maria Carla Lamberti, Splendori e miserie di Francesco Bal. 1766-1836, Torino 1994.
  • Maria Carla Lamberti (a cura di), Vita di Francesco Bal scritta da lui medesimo, Mialano,Angeli, 1994.
  • P. Leblanc, Catalogue des livres, dessins et estampes de la bibliothèque de feu de M.J.-B. Huzard, Paris, Mme Ve Bouchard-Huzard, 1842.
  • Alessandro Mellano, Aurelio Toselli, "Palazzo e “fabbrica”: il setificio di Caraglio", in L. Molà, R.C., Mueller, C., Zanier, La seta in Italia dal Medioevo al Seicento. Dal baco al drappo, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venezia, Marsilio,2000, pp.123-150.
  • P. Neveux, E. Dacier, Richesses des Bibliothèques provinciales de France, Paris 1932.
  • Nuovissima Guida del Viaggiatore in Italia, Milano, Ronchi, 1856.
  • Jean Paulet, L’art du fabriquant d’étoffes de soie, Nimes 1773, 2 vols.
  • François Rozier, Cours complet d’agriculture théorique, pratique, économique..., Paris, Serpente, 1781-1800, X + II vols.
  • Giulio Cesare Scaligero, Exotericarum Exercitationum, Paris 1557.
  • Olivier De Serres, La cueillette de la soye, par la nourriture des vers qui la font. Echantillò du Thêatre d’agriculture d’Olivier de Serres, Seigneur du Pradel; edition annotée par Matthieu Bonafous, Paris, Mme Ve Bouchard-Huzard, MDCCCXLIII.
  • Philipp Franz von Siebold, Nippon, Archiv zu Beschreibung von Japan, Leyden, 18 voll., 1832-1858.
  • Roberto Tolaini, La diffusione delle pratiche della sericoltura estremo orientale in Europa nella prima metà del XIX secolo: l’opera di Matthieu Bonafous (1793-1852), Tesi di Laurea, Dipartimento di Storia Moderna e Contemporanea, Università di Pisa, Pisa 1988
  • Roberto Tolaini, "Agronomi e vivaisti nella prima metà dell’800: M. Bonafous e il Gelso delle Filippine", Società e Storia, 49, 1990.
  • Roberto Tolaini, "Cambiamenti tecnologici nell’industria serica: la trattura nella prima metà dell’Ottocento. Casi eproblemi", Società e Storia, 64, 1994.
  • Marco Girolamo Vida, Le ver à soie, poeme de Marc-Jérome Vida, traduit en vers français, avec le texte latin en regard, par Matthieu Bonafous, de l’Institut de France, Paris, Bouchard-Huzard, 1840.
  • Yo-san-fi-rok, L’art d’élever les vers à soie aux Japon par Ouekaki-Morikouni, annoté et publié par Matthieu Bonafous, membre-correspondant de l’Institut; avec cinquante planches gravées d’après les dessins originaux. Ouvrage traduit du texte Japonais par le docteur J. Hoffmann interprète de S. M. le Roy des Pays-Bas, Paris-Turin, MDCCCXLVIII.
  • Claudio Zanier, "La sericoltura europea di fronte alla sfida asiatica: laricerca di tecniche e pratiche estremo-orientali (1825-1850)", Società e Storia, 39,1988.
  • Claudio Zanier, "Lasericoltura dell’Europa mediterranea dalla supremazia mondiale al tracollo: un capitolo della competizione economica tra Asia orientale ed Europa", Quaderni Storici, 73,1, 1990.
  • Claudio Zanier, "The European quest for East-Asian sericultural techniques. Matthieu Bonafous and the translation of Yôsan Hiroku C in 1848" in Id., Where the Roads Met. East and West in the Silk Production Processes (17th to 19th Century), Kyoto, Italian School of East Asian Studies, 1994, pp. 71-94.
  • Antonio Zanon, Dell’agricoltura, delle arti e del commercio, Venezia 1763-1767, 7 voll.



[1] The research for this study was conducted mainly at the Bibliothèque Municipale in Lyons, with the indispensable contribution of Roberto Tolaini, who had delved into the documents regarding Matthieu Bonafus during the preparation of his baccalaureate thesis. My sincere thanks also go to the staff of the Bibliothèque Municipale of Lyons, for their courtesy, competence and cooperation, and particularly to M. Guinard, of the Fonds Anciens division. The study was completed in 2003, but it was not possible to publish it at the time; it is now published with some minor updates.

[2] See in particular Giuseppe Chicco, La seta in Piemonte. 1650-1850, Milan, Angeli, 1995.

[3] Other than the volume by Chicco cited in the previous footnote, see also P. Chierici, "Da Torno tutt’intorno: le “fabbriche da seta” dell’antico regime", in G. Bracco (ed. by), Torino sul filo della seta, Turin, Historical Archives of the City of Turin, 1992, pp. 177-202; P. Chierici, L. Palmucci, "L’architettura delle “fabbriche magnifiche”" , in Id. (ed. by), Le fabbriche magnifiche. La seta in Provincia di Cuneo tra Seicento e Ottocento, Cuneo, L’Arciere, 1993, pp. 113-140; A. Mellano, A. Toselli, "Palazzo e “fabbrica”: il setificio di Caraglio", in L. Molà, R. C. Mueller, C. Zanier, La seta in Italia dal Medioevo al Seicento. Dal baco al drappo, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venezia, Marsilio, 2000, pp.123-150.

[4] The fundamental reference on this remains the essay by L. Bulferetti, “Gli itinerari Torino-Lione nel secolo XVIII, dal trasporto someggiato al trasporto su carro”, in Annali di ricerche e studi di geografia, XVII, 1961.

[5] Matthieu’s grandfather, perhaps for religious reasons (the Bonafous family, formerly Huguenots, later converted to Catholicism, moved first to Barcellonette and then to Carmagnola, becoming involved in the wadding business, which was made in the Alpine valleys and then transported to Lyons.

[6] In the mid-eighteen hundreds, when the railways were beginning to furnish a competitive alternative, the destinations served by the Fratelli Bonafous company from Turin included: Aix-les-Bains, Arona, Bologna, Chambery, Cremona, Lyons, Lodi, Mantua, Milan, Novara, Paris, Parma, Piacenza, Rome, Senigallia, Vercelli and Verona. See Nuovissima Guida del Viaggiatore in Italia, Milan, Ronchi, 1856. A few decades prior to this time, their network extended as far as London, Brussels, Amsterdam and Strasbourg.

[7] Matthieu Verne, for whom Bonafous was named, was an expert agronomist and had been close friends with Abbot François Rozier, who was responsible for the renowned Cours complet d’agriculture, in 12 volumes, published starting in 1781 with contributions from the most prominent French agronomists and natural scientists of the time.

[8]A note, undated, indicates his Turin address as n. 13 Via Bogino.

[9] Stabilimento di Forgoni celeri e Condotte / dalla Francia per l’Italia e viceversa / Servizio generale di trasporti / Fratelli Bonafous. (TN: Rapid coach transport from France to Italy and vice-versa, General transport services) as specified in the heading of the company stationery from the 1840s, found in folder Ms 5371 of the Bibliothèque Municipale in Lyons, which also indicates the four main offices: Milan, Turin, Genoa and Lyons. For more on the contents of folder Ms 5371, see the conclusions at the end of this paper.

[10] After Franklin’s death, in 1812, Matthieu became director of the Turin office. A few years later, his younger brother Leon joined him, allowing Matthieu to dedicate more time to his studies. When Leon died, in 1835, his place was taken by Alphonse (who, like his sister Aline, was the child of Franklin’s second wife). The company management also included, in various roles, some of his father’s uncles, as well as Emile Bouniols, Aline’s husband, who headed the Lyons office from 1841 to 1851.

[11] Aline, who married Emile Bouniols in Lyons, also died childless.

[12] G.B. Balbis (1765-1831), a native of the Piedmont who had been exiled in 1793 for opposing the Savoys, was active politically, besides being director of the Turin Botanical Gardens during Napoleon’s time. Exiled once again when the Savoys returned to the throne, he was appointed director of the Lyons Botanical Gardens in 1821. He taught Botany at the University of Lyons and founded the Société Linneenne. His open friendship with Balbis may be the reason for a certain coldness with which the Savoy authorities always treated Matthieu, though they never failed to show him the respect due to a member of an important family who, in addition to his financial standing, was also a prominent international scientist.

[13] M. Buniva (1762-1834), a native of the Piedmont. Very active during the Napoleonic period, when he dedicated himself particularly to promoting vaccination and its techniques, the modernization of animal husbandry and public sanitation. He also suffered greatly when the Savoys returned. His teachings were instrumental to the training of numerous Italian naturalists and entomologists of the first half of the century.

[14] Jean-Baptiste Huzard (1755-1839) was one of the first and most brilliant students of Claude Bourgelat, who founded the first school of veterinary science in France, in 1763, the Veterinary School of Alfort. Subsequently, Huzard became a member of the Institut de France and Inspector General of the French Veterinary Schools, a post he retained, thanks to his indisputable scientific merit, even after Napoleon’s fall. He made a fundamental contribution to the establishment of a modern and rational veterinary jurisprudence. For more on Huzard, see Notice historique sur J.-B. Huzard, Paris, Dupont (1840), reproduced in Louis Hombre-Firmas, Biographie des membres de la Société Impériale et centrale d’agriculture, Paris 1865.

[15] J.A. Chaptal (1756-1832), a prominent theoretical chemist and author of numerous publications, dedicated himself with success to innovative industrial applications in the sector, founding and directing important industrial plants, such as the first production facility to make sulfuric acid and the public explosives factories. He was Minister of the Interior under Napoleon (1800-1804), overseeing the establishment of the Chambers of Commerce and the Vocational Schools. Following his death, Matthieu Bonafous took on the responsibility of his nephews’ education, as they had been left in difficult financial straits, following their progress and assisting them as needed for many years. One of them, Victor Chaptal, was a member of Hebért’s scientific expedition to China in 1837, carrying out a series of studies on domestic and wild silkworms on behalf of Bonafous, traces of which can be found in Bonafous’ manuscripts at the Lyons Municipal Library.

[16] J. B. Huzard’s wife owned a prominent publishing house, which in 1823 was passed on to their daughter, who married L. Bouchard (1784-1841), and then to her grandson, J. B. L. Bouchard, known as Bouchard-Huzard (1824-1873). The publisher specialized in technical-scientific works in the field of agronomy and other disciplines, under the following company names: Huzard, Mme Veuve Huzard-Bouchard, Bouchard-Huzard.

[17] Before the auction, a catalogue of the library’s contents was published, edited by P. Leblanc (Catalogue des livres, dessins et estampes de la bibliothèque de feu de M. J. B. Huzard, Paris, Mme Ve Bouchard-Huzard, 1842).

[18] J. B. Huzard had systematically collected all the works – printed and handwritten – produced by the members of the Institut, from the time of its founding in 1795, which had not been published in the official acts. The 280 volumes of the collection, including a great number of unpublished works whose authors had later become prominent members of the international scientific community, were acquired by Bonafous for a considerable sum and donated to Louis Bouchard-Huzard.

[19] Matthieu Bonafous, Histoire naturelle, agricole et économique du maïs, Paris, Huzard, 1836. In addition to the Italian edition, curated by Ignazio Lomeni, the text was immediately translated in Dutch and Arabic as well.

[20] “Jardin expérimental d’agriculture crée à Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne par M. le chevalier Bonafous”, Annali della Reale Società d’Agricoltura di Torino, II, 1842.

[21] De l’éducation des vers à soie d’après la méthode du Comte Dandolo, Lyons, Barret, 1821. The volume was reprinted twice (1824 and 1827) and was translated into Russian (St. Petersburg 1828), in concomitance with systematic attempts by the Russian government to expand silkworm cultivation in its southernmost regions and in Georgia. Also successful was De la culture des mûriers, Lyons, Barret, 1821, reprinted twice in just a few years.

[22] See R. Tolaini, “Cambiamenti tecnologici nell’industria serica: la trattura nella prima metà dell’Ottocento. Casi e problemi”, Società e Storia, 64, 1994. The system was based on central heating (using a steam boiler) of the vats in which the cocoons were soaked before being drawn, which had previously been heated singly or in pairs, using wood-fired ovens, and did not involve, then or for a considerable time afterward, any mechanized movements, as many erroneously insist on reporting. Gensoul had conducted the preliminary experiments in Languedoc in 1805, but the true scientific and practical test of his system was carried out in Turin in 1807, in the presence of the members of the Academy of Sciences and the leading local silk mill operators. The experiment was considered a great success, but the subsequent industrial applications, in France, the Piedmont and Lombardy, in the decade from 1810 to 1820, yielded disappointing results, both economically and in terms of product quality. Steam-heated throwing did not become truly competitive with the best wood-fired systems until the mid-1830s, after a long series of innovative improvements, and only replaced individual heating in industrial practice after 1850.

[23] Regarding the entire issue of innovations in silk processing derived from Asiatic techniques, with ample reference to the role played by M. Bonafous, I humbly suggest that interested readers consult: C. Zanier, “La sericoltura europea di fronte alla sfida asiatica: la ricerca di tecniche e pratiche estremo-orientali (1825-1850)”[European sericulture and the challenge of the Orient: the search for techniques and practices in the Far East], Società e Storia,39,1988, and to the more general paper by the same author: C. Zanier, “La sericoltura dell’Europa mediterranea dalla supremazia mondiale al tracollo: un capitolo della competizione economica tra Asia orientale ed Europa” [Mediterranean sericulture from world supremacy to decline: a chapter in the economic competition between Europe and the Far East], Quaderni Storici, 73,1, 1990.

[24] R. Tolaini, “Agronomi e vivaisti nella prima metà dell’800: M. Bonafous e il Gelso delle Filippine” [Agronomists and nursery operators in the first half of the 1800s: M. Bonafous and the Philippine mulberry], Società e Storia, 49, 1990.

[25] Le ver à soie, poème de Marc-Jérome Vida, traduit en vers français, avec le texte latin en regard, par Matthieu Bonafous, de l’Institut de France, Paris, Bouchard-Huzard, 1840 (a second edition was issued in 1844). The volume by the renowned humanist –De Bombyce – had first appeared in Latin, in 1527, and had been widely celebrated among both men of letters and silkworm experts, giving rise to numerous translations and subsequent reprints. Bonafous attempted to combine the work’s formal elegance with a rigorous adherence to its factual content, adding an extensive body of technical and scientific notations.

[26] La cueillette de la soye, par la nourriture des vers qui la font. Echantillò du Thêatre d’agriculture d’Olivier de Serres, Seigneur du Pradel; édition annotée par Matthieu Bonafous, Paris, Mme Ve Bouchard-Huzard, MDCCCXLIII. This work, by O. de Serres, which first appeared in 1599, under pressure from the French court, which had embarked on an ambitious plan to massively expand silkworm cultivation in north-central France, as an introduction to the Thêatre d’agriculture, which was issued the following year, can justifiably be considered the most complete and rational European manual of mulberry and silkworm cultivation of its time. Unlike Vida’s poème, which retained its popularity, the Cueillette was suppressed with vigor, especially after the Edict of Nantes, because its author was of the Huguenot faith. Bonafous’ scrupulously annotated reissue was part of a later rediscovery of Olivier de Serres by French agronomists.

[27] The management of the silkworm cultivation facility in Alpignano was partly assigned to an employee of the Turin office of the family company, held in high esteem by Matthieu: Francesco Bal. In the last years of the eighteenth century, Bal had been the director of the modern, “Piedmont-style” silk mills established in Reggio Calabria, whose fascinating story has been described in two volumes by Maria Carla Lamberti (M.C. Lamberti, Splendori e miserie di Francesco Bal. 1766-1836, Turin 1994, and Vita di Francesco Bal scritta da lui medesimo, ed. by M.C. Lamberti, Milan, Angeli, 1994). By Francesco Bal we also have, among Bonafous’ papers in Lyons, a manuscript entitled Catechismo [for silk] per il Regno di Napoli, which Matthieu forwarded to Minister Medici, in Naples, in 1817, but which, to our knowledge, was never published.

[28] Résumé des principaux traités chinois sur la culture des mûriers et l’éducation des vers à soie. Traduit par Stanislas Julien, Publié par ordre du Ministre des travaux publics de l’agriculture et du commerce, Paris, Imprimerie Royale, MDCCCXXXVII. The Italian edition, with the addition of Bonafous’ notes (not present in the French edition), was published in the same year, under the title of Dell’arte di coltivare i gelsi e di governare i bachi da seta secondo il metodo chinese. Sunto di libri chinesi tradotto in francese da Stanislao Julien membro del Real Istituto di Francia. Versione italiana con note e sperimenti del cavaliere Matteo Bonafous. Direttore dell’Orto Agrario di Torino, Turin 1837.

[29] Bonafous had collected a substantial body of material on rice cultivation in China, including a Recueil de 24 peintures chinoises sur la culture du riz, which are now in folder Ms 6700 of the Lyons Municipal Library.

[30]Yo-san-fi-rok, L’art d’élever les vers à soie aux Japon par Ouekaki-Morikouni, annoté et publié par Matthieu Bonafous, membre-correspondant de l’Institut; avec cinquante planches gravées d’après les dessins originaux. Ouvrage traduit du texte Japonais par le docteur J. Hoffmann interprète de S. M. le Roy des Pays-Bas, Paris-Turin, MDCCCXLVIII. The original text, Yôsan Hiroku, by Kamigaki (Uegaki) Morikuni, had been published in the third year of the Kyôwa period (1802-1803) and is reprinted in vol. 35 of a collection of classic Japanese texts on agriculture (Nihon nôsho zenshû, Tokyo, Nôsan gyoson bunka kyôkai, 1981).

[31] According to Hide Ikehara Inada (Bibliography of Translations from the Japanese into Western Languages, Tokyo, Sophia University, 1971), who, however, also includes in the numbering the Japanese dictionaries published since the second half of the 1500s by western missionaries, the volume curated by Bonafous was only the 18th Japanese work translated into a Western language up to 1848.

[32] Philipp Franz von Siebold, Nippon, Archiv zu Beschreibung von Japan, Leyden, 18 vols., 1832-1858. Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716), a German naturalist and physician, traveled widely in Asia. At the time, Japan was off limits to all Europeans, apart from a handful of Dutch traders allowed to live on the islet of Deshima, in Nagasaki bay. Presented as a Dutchman, Kaempfer spent two years in Deshima (1690-1692) and was also granted the exceptional privilege, due to his recognized medical knowledge, of visiting the capital. Kaempfer wrote his history of Japan in German, but the first edition appeared in English, posthumously, in 1727 (The History of Japan) and was immediately translated into Flemish (Amsterdam 1729) and French (La Haye 1729), with numerous reprints and new editions throughout Europe. Due to the ongoing hermetic closure of Japan to foreign visitors, almost all subsequent references to Japan in western literature until the mid-nineteenth century, when Siebold’s volumes were published, were based on Kaempfer’s work, although the English version, which appeared in 1727, has been severely criticized by contemporary historians, giving rise to numerous revisions.

[33] For more on the elaborate process of editing carried out by Bonafous summarized above, see: C. Zanier, "The European quest for East-Asian sericultural techniques. Matthieu Bonafous and the translation of Yôsan Hiroku in 1848" in Id., Where the Roads Met. East and West in the Silk Production Processes (17th to 19th Century), Kyoto, Italian School of East Asian Studies, 1994, pp. 71-94.

[34] Matthieu Bonafous died in Paris, where he was conducting some research, on March 23, 1852, following a very brief illness.

[35] As an example, there is a letter of 21 pages, written in a very cramped hand by Benjamin Huger, one of the leading planters and experimenters of South Carolina, dealing in particular with tests on varieties of rice, to be compared with the results obtained in the Piedmont. The missive bears no date, but was written in the late 1830s or shortly thereafter, and is included in folder MS 5376. For the positive identification of its author I am indebted to Ben Marsh, of Stirling University.

[36] He had been a member, since 1818, and an active collaborator of the Société d’Encouragement pour l’Industrie Nationale, whose Bulletin collected and presented the most advanced experimental findings and technical-practical improvements in the manufacturing sector.

[37] An example of this is MS 6031, which contains a manuscript of 47 pages, in Spanish, by Tomas de Otero, deputy secretary of the Sociedad economica de Valencia, entitled Instruction sobre la cria del gusano de la seda conforme a las observaciones mas recientes, with an introductory letter signed by the Catalan bibliophile and man of letters Vicente Salvà, who addresses himself to “madame” (almost certainly Mme. Huzard) and sends her Otero’s manuscript, to be forwarded to that “gentleman from Turin who wishes to have everything that is known in Spanish on silkworms”.

[38] Exceptionally illuminating, due to the quantity and quality of the biographical and bibliographical information it contains, is the historic elegy by Charles Marie Despine, read at the February 5, 1853 meeting of the Royal Academy of Agriculture of Turin but published several years later (“Eloge historique du chevalier Matthieu Bonafous”, Annali dell’Accademia di Agricoltura di Turin, voll. VI-VII, 1859), as well as the commemoration published in 1865 by Louis Hombre-Firmas in volume I of his Biographie des membres de la Société Impériale et centrale d’agriculture,(“Le chevalier de Bonafous”), Paris 1865. Two commemorative works on Bonafous were also published in Lyons: P. A. Cap, Matthieu Bonafous, Dumoulin, Lyons 1854 and J. Forest, Eloge historique de M. Bonafous, Lyons 1860. L. Bouchard-Huzard, the publisher and nephew of J.-B. Huzard mentioned above, read the commemoration at the 15 May 1853 meeting of the Société Impériale d’horticulture de Paris et centrale de France. An ample summary of his life and works can also be found in R. Tolaini, La diffusione delle pratiche della sericoltura estremo orientale in Europa nella prima metà del XIX secolo: l’opera di Matthieu Bonafous (1793-1852), Thesis, Department of Modern and Contemporary History, University of Pisa, Pisa 1988.

[39] See G. B. Delponte, “Stato dell’Orto agrario sperimentale, nuove colture in esso introdotte e proposte di miglioramento. Relazione (1852)”, Annali della reale Accademia di Agricoltura di Torino, VI, 1859, and, by the same author, “Cenno intorno ad alcune innovazioni e nuove piantagioni fatte nell’orto sperimentale dell’Accademia (1853)”, Ibid., VII, 1859.

[40] The last of the brothers, Alphonse, merged his company with his largest competitor, the French Imperial Messaggeries, in 1858, and retired permanently from the business world in 1864.

[41] At first it seemed possible, through a systematic examination of an old inventory list of the volumes in the Bibliothèque Municipale, to identify the volumes that comprised the former Bonafous library, as they were marked (Don. Bonafous) after the title. However, some test cases showed that not all the volumes that we know to have been donated were so identified in the list, and that the great majority of the pamphlets were probably not included. In addition, all the “manuscripts” were also excluded. For the latter, Ms 6086 gives us an overview of the contents of Bonafous’ personal library as of 1826, although at the time it was still of relatively modest size.

[42] See: Aurélie Blanc, “Aux origins de la soie”, Gryphe. Revue de la Bibliothèque de Lyons, 13, Mars 2006, pp. 11-18, in which, however, the emphasis is almost exclusively on the value and rarity of a certain number of volumes in the donation, with only a passing note on the manuscripts in Bonafous’ archive, which are instead the principal sources used as references for this paper.

[43] Archives Municipales, Lyons, 1217WP97, Conseil Municipal de la Ville de Lyons / Régistre de Rapports et Délibérations de l’année 1859 / Séance du 29 Avril 1859 / “Bibliothèque Bonafous. Acceptation par la Ville de cette bibliothèque offerte par les héritiers de Mr Mathieu Bonafous” (pp. 264 – 265). The City Council’s ’acceptance of the donation was preceded by a Report on the procedures of the donation of the Biblioteca, as requested by the government of the District of Rhone(ibid., p. 263).

[44] This is very likely the portrait reprinted by Blanc, op. cit., p. 11. We know of at least one other donation made by the Bonafous family to the Palais des Arts: in 1824 Matthieu had offered the museum a bust of the painter Pecheux, but it seems that the Curator had refused the gift, considering the work of insufficient quality. The bust was almost certainly of the Lyonnaise artist Laurent Pecheux, who had worked for a long period in Turin, where he died 1821. There is, however, no indication of the sculptor’s name. See: Archives Municipales, Lyons, 78WP3, Inventaire / Lettres reçues: recueil 1790-1860. The letter from Matthieu Bonafous, which accompanied the bust, is dated May 29, 1824.

[45] Annuaire du Département du Rhône, Lyons 1860, pp. 270-271 (Bibliothèque du Palais des Arts), in which the Biblioteca is called the Biliothèque sericicole de Matthieu Bonafous, due to the importance and number of precious texts and manuscripts on sericulture included in the collection. The cost underwritten by Alphonse was of 10,000 francs, an important sum, which probably also covered the cost of the twelve bookcases. The same information is contained in the Annuaire administratif de Lyons et du Département du Rhône, Lyons 1875, p. 337.

[46] The Bibliothéque of Palais des Arts had been founded in 1831, with at its core the precious nucleus of books donated to the Académie de Lyons in 1763 by Pierre Adamoli, a businessman whose ancestors had migrated to Lyons from Varese (Lombardy) and transferred in 1825 to the former Benedictine abbey (Palais St. Pierre). See Catalogue générale des manuscrits des Bibliothèques de France, T. XXXI, Paris 1898, pp. 1-3.

[47] P. Neveux, E. Dacier, Richesses des Bibliothèques provinciales de France, Paris 1932, p. 3.

[48] Archives Municipales, Lyons, Q3, Legs/Bonafous.

[49] A number of papers relating to the activities of the family business, Bonafous, Bourg et Cie, in 1786, are listed as a book and is in the former owners’ catalogue under M. Bonafous. Apart from the odd classification – as a book rather than a manuscript – it could consist of a group of papers that were among the material in the donation but were not originally included in the folders, or that were subsequently removed from one of the folders. This is the only instance of this kind found thus far.

[50] Among the manuscripts formerly belonging to Huzard, there is (Ms 6032) a thick folder (193 sheets plus a few letters) containing a rough draft of the entries regarding silkworms, prepared in 1790 by Armand Charles Firmas-Périés and sent to Abbot Henri Alexandre Tessier for inclusion in his Encyclopédie Méthodique. Agriculture, which he had written and published regularly since 1787. Tessier was one of the founders (in 1798) of the Annales de l’Agriculture Française and was a longtime collaborator of J. B. Huzard.

[51] As mentioned above, one of the “manuscripts”, Ms 6086, includes a catalogue of Matthieu’s personal library, compiled in 1826. This is of limited value in determining how much of Bonafous’ library, as of his death in 1852, was included in the donation, made in 1859, because a large number of the most valuable volumes that can be found in Lyons today are not listed, as he had acquired them after 1826, as is the case, for example, for the works he acquired at the auction of J.B. Huzard’s library. We did, however, find that some volumes of a non-agronomic nature (literary, philosophical, religious or of a general historical nature), that were listed in the 1826 catalogue are not present in the current catalogues of the Bibliotèque Municipale of Lyons, which would lead one to believe that a pre-donation selection may have been made in Turin. What happened to the remaining part of Matthieu’s books we do not, for now, know.

[52] The spine of the binding recites as follows: “Bibliothèque du Palais des Arts / Vers a soye sauvages / Mss Chinois” , while the first inside page contains this notation: “Vers-à-soye sauvages / et / travail de la soye / Recueil précieux / 25 feuilles”

[53] While the indication of “25 feuilles”, instead of the 26 effectively actually contained, as noted above, is in all likelihood due to the presence of two drawings (nos. 6 and 7) whose subject is nearly identical, it is more difficult to explain the note on the margin of the page that precedes the first image: “Vers a soye 33 feuillets” which would seem to indicate that the images were originally more numerous.

[54] "Mémoire sur les vers à soie sauvages" in: Mémoires concernant l’Histoire, les Sciences, les Arts, les Moeurs, les Usages etc. des Chinois, par les missionnaires de Pékin, Nyon, Paris 1777, Vol. II, pp. 575-597. The "Mémoire" was reproduced in part as an appendix to the volume translated from the Chinese by S. Julien, published in 1837.

[55] The practice was cited in passing by Giulio Cesare Scaligero (Giulio Bordoni, 1484-1558) in his Exotericarum Exercitationum (Paris, 1557, Ex.158, 9), without giving any sources or details, and was not otherwise documented in any way as far as is known, nor is it mentioned by any of the authors who wrote in informed fashion about sericulture in Calabria. The affirmation by Scaligero, a polemic and sometimes wildly inaccurate writer, was ridiculed by Antonio Zanon in his lengthy treatise on the history of sericulture (Dell’agricoltura, delle arti e del commercio, t. II, Venezia 1763, p. 10 ), but has been nevertheless cited as fact on several occasions, with superficiality and without verification, up to the present time.

[56]Pierre-Augustin Boissier de Sauvages, Mémoirs sur l’éducation des vers à soie, Nismes, Gaude, 1763. The notation can be found in the appendix, entitled Catalogue des auteurs qui ont écrit sur les vers à soie. The Mairan to whom Boissier de Sauvages refers should be the scientist Jean-Jacques Dortous de Mairan (1678-1771), physicist and mathematician, whose correspondence with Jesuit missionaries in China was published. We have no evidence of a personal visit to China by Mairan himself, and it is likely that Boissier de Sauvages’ note refers to a possible role played by Mairan in bringing d’Incarville’s manuscript to France.

[57] [Jean] Paulet, L’art du fabriquant d’étoffes de soie, Nimes 1773, 2 vols.

[58] A copy of Instruction pour l’envoi de l’Inde en Europe d’oeufs du Bombyx Cynthia, can also be found in the archives of the Academy of Agriculture of Turin. The short manuscript, signed M. Bonafous, has no date or addressee, but is without doubt a result of the explorations described herein. To Bombyx Cynthia, a silk-producing Lepidoptera that is a parasite of the castor tree, Bonafous dedicated one of his last works: "Del ricino considerato sotto tutti i rapporti", published in the Annali della R. Accademia d’Agricoltura di Turin(vol. IV, 1851) and other specialized journals in Italy and France.

[59] Johann J. Hoffmann (1805-1878). After a chance meeting with his countryman, Siebold, who had recently returned to Europe from Japan, he was employed by the latter and immediately gave evidence of his extraordinary linguistic capacities, an area in which Siebold was instead sorely lacking, despite his long stay in Japan. Although he had never set foot in the Far East, Hoffmann rapidly learned the rudiments of Chinese and Japanese, with the assistance of a young Chinese teacher, and was shortly able to translate many of the texts that Siebold had brought back from Japan by himself. He was later appointed personal interpreter to the King of Holland and made a decisive contribution to the birth of European Japanology. For a brief bio-bibliographic synthesis, see W. J. Boot, "Japanese studies in the Netherlands, Historical Background" in Japanese Studies in Europe, Tokyo, The Japan Foundation, 1985.

[60] Philip Franz von Siebold (1796-1866), a German physician, was in the service of the Governor-general of the Dutch Indies, on whose behalf, pretending to be Dutch, because the Japanese did not allow any other Europeans to set foot on their territory, he took up residence on the artificial island of Deshima, offshore of Nagasaki, where he remained for many years. He was in contact with Japanese intellectuals and functionaries who wished to counter the isolationist policies imposed by the Shoguns since 1640, founded a school of Western medicine and collected a large number of texts and documents on Japan, dealing with both general history and culture and naturalistic topics. Upon his return to Europe, he settled in Leyden, where for a long period he availed himself of the translations of J. Hoffmann, making an important contribution to the development of Oriental studies in Holland and the rest of Europe, thanks to his extensive contacts in the scientific community. For more on the man and his works, see “Engelbert Kaempfer, Philipp Franz von Siebold. Gedenkschrift”, Mitteilungen der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Natur- und Völkerkunde Ostasiens, Supplementband XXVIII, 1966,Tokyo.

[61] Among the sections excluded there was the short preface to the volume, written by the Confucian scholar Sakurai Atsutada (1745-1803). The preface had been translated by Hoffmann (with an error in the transliteration of the name) – Avant propos du Prof. Sakurawi Toksiu – but Bonafous decided not to include it, along with the few introductory pages by the author, which had also been translated by Hoffmann.

[62] The “construction” of the translated text and images is analyzed in detail in: C. Zanier, "The European quest" cit.

[63] Yo-san-fi-rok, op. cit., p. 24, Introduction by M. Bonafous.

[64] “Mr Hoffmann nous conduisit chez Mr Mieling lithographe du Roi, où nous fîmes lithographier sous nos yeux toute une page en caractères Japonais de l’ouvrage que nous nous proposons de publier. L’opération fut faite en moins d’un quart d’heure”, Bibliothèque Municipale, Lyons, Ms 6046, cit., f. 172.

[65] We can assume that Bonafous had received the original page of the Japanese text from Siebold (directly or through Hoffmann), or that he was in possession of the entire text, perhaps having purchased it from Siebold.

[66] The three successive versions of the illustration have been reproduced on pages 91-93 of C. Zanier, "The European quest" cit.

[67] Bonafous left Paris, by railway, on September 7, 1847, and returned to the French capital on November 15 of the same year.

[68] See the manuscript containing 27 handwritten sheets by Matthieu Bonafous – Excursion dans quelques vallées du Piedmont et au Mont Viso (contained in Ms 5374) – which describe the journey Bonafous and Buniva made on horseback in June 1831, dedicated to the rural agriculture and landscape of the high valleys of northern Piedmont and visits to some local silk mills. Another travel journal (August/September 1831) describes the route from Turin to Zurich and is included in Ms 5379.

[69] While there is no doubt as to the first two other companies listed, as both contain the Bonafous name and together usually account for over 80% of the shipments, the connection with the other two (one of which appears only after 1846) is not clear. It is possible that they were affiliates, as the volumes involved were minor, but we shall have to investigate further to be certain.

[70] After 1846 the summaries also include Tachis, Levi e Comp.

[71] In January 1841, for example, out of a total of 580 bales shipped (434 of which to Lyons), 406 (70%) were handled by Bonafous freres, 110 (19%) by Mestrallet and 64 (11%) by Bonafous Père et Fils. The regularity of the monthly flows it also worth noting: they appear little influenced by the winter weather, thanks to the noticeable improvement in road quality. In fact, in May 1841 the total number of bales shipped was 651, against 580 in January.

[72] "In Milano Contrada del Morone N. 1167 / In Turin Contrada d’Angennes N. 37 / In Genova Contrada Nuovissima N. 739 / In Lione Contrada Nuova N. 17"


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