Recently added to the catalogue is a charming introduction to the German language for soldiers stationed at the Citadelle of Strasbourg. Published in 1731, this anonymous work, entitled L’art de bien parler allemand : qui comprend tout ce qui est necessaire pour apprendre facilement & en peu de tems cette langue, à l’usage de messieurs les cadets gentils hommes de la Citadelle de Strasbourg, stands at 7001.d.230. It is clearly a very rare item –we have been able to locate no other copies in the United Kingdom or the United States, and only one in Germany, in the Badische Landesbibliothek Karlsruhe. The catalogue collectif de France gives a further three locations. The Cambridge copy contains a few manuscript notes, and the contemporary ownership inscription of a young soldier, “Liercour, cadet”, on the back cover.
The work begins with a brief general introduction to grammar, which is followed by German phonetics, German grammar, declination, regular and irregular verbs etc. The main section contains extensive topical bi-lingual word lists and glossaries. Terms for food and drink, with descriptions of the separate parts of the meal – starters, main courses, desserts – are explained in detail, and are clearly aimed at a sophisticated French audience. The word lists which follow cover parts of the human body, illnesses, clothing, politics, history, fortification and nature. A special section is of course devoted to war and military vocabulary, ranging from “pressing a soldier into service” to “fighting battles” and “standing guard”.
At the end of the volume there is a delightful sequence of dialogues. These start with introductions and conversations during a meal, and then progress quite quickly to subjects closer to the heart of a young soldier: gambling, discussing the menu, organising the bill in a restaurant, and flattering a young princess. These Strasbourg cadets obviously moved in elevated circles. Only in the last dialogue is there a return to military reality and a range of military commands are given.
If you want the German expression which equates to “fermez le bassinet”, “remettez le chien en son repos” and “en joue”, this is the book for you – “schliesset die Pfann”, “stellet den Hahnen in die Ruhe” and “schlagt an”. As English equivalents, we would suggest “shut the pan”, “rest your firelock” and “aim”, but both French and German versions sound rather more colourful. These are all phrases from the standard terminology of musketry, each position illustrated as part of “Art militaire, Exercice” in the first volume of plates accompanying the Encyclopédie, Recueil de planches sur les sciences, les arts libéraux et les science méchaniques, avec leur explication (7900.a.30-41), from which our images are taken.