De Penguern and other Breton song collectors
1° Jean-Marie de Penguern (1807 -1858)
Contrary to some assertions, Jean-Marie de Penguern (Breton: Yann-Vari Penwern) does have a handle to his name.
He was born on 26th June 1807 in Paris.
Like the hero of the song "Swallows"], he spent his younger days partly in Brittany, partly in Paris and studied law to become a solicitor, following in his father's footsteps who was magistrate in Morlaix in 1810, President of the Courts in Chateaulin, in 1813, then in Lannion from 1818 to 1843. He was sworn in as a lawyer in Rennes in 1832.
Like for La Villemarqué and many others, the Breton circles of the capital must have played an essential part in arousing his collecting passion. To proclaim their objection to the July monarchy rule and social order (see the song ""In Olden Times""), the Breton gentry got together in "salons" like those held by Auguste de Courcuff or the De Courcy brothers, to cultivate their specific Breton character. De Penguern should have frequented them between 1830 and 1840.
On 23rd May, De Penguern married Joséphine de Kerléan de Taulé. He was appointed as Justice of the Peace in Perros-Guirec in January 1840, but he resigned in July 1843 to settle in Lannion where he went back to his former lawyer calling. It was in this lapse of time that he devoted himself to his important collecting and researching work. He then was Judge and Deputy judge in Lannion in 1851, but he failed to become appointed as a State Prosecutor in Lannion and went in "exile" to the French speaking town Fougères in 1853. He fell seriously ill in 1855 (bone coxalgia) and died at
Gwitaole-bras Manor in Taulé, on 11th August 1856.
His searching and hunting was not limited to folk songs though he gathered a huge amount of them. He also was interested in coins and medals, furniture and plays in Breton language. He took part in excavations and archives research, thus building up a stock of notes of all sorts and a considerable correspondence.
And yet, this activity yielded only quite a few articles in Lannion local journals.
The de Salvandy and Fortoul inquiries
In the book "La Villemarqué, his life and his work", (published by Champion 1926), the son of the "Bard" explains why De Penguern never did publish, himself, his songs:
But we must first remind that, as a response to an educated audience's growing interest in folk songs, to which the "Barzhaz Breizh" published in 1839 very likely contributed a great deal, the Minister of Education in the Guizot government, Narcisse Achille de Salvandy, by ministerial order dated 21st May 1845, had created a "Commission for hymns and historical songs of France" to arrange the collecting of these pieces. This work was interrupted by the 1848 Revolution, and resumed under Napoleon III by his Minister Hippolyte Fortoul, pursuant to the decree of 13th December 1852 and detailed instructions were given by Jean-Jacques Ampère. In 1857 the inventory of the materials gathered during the Fortoul inquiry was made. The project was then in abeyance till 1876, when the manuscripts were deposited at the National Library. But the "General Collection of Folk Poetry" never was published (up to the present). As usual in such cases, critics of this remarkable undertaking were found who had objections to the methods and the rigid frame imposed on the collectors, arguing that it furthered moral censorship or amending of the lyrics and devotion of the past and privileged a public of scholars...
The de Penguern collection
J.M. de Penguern wrote to La Villemarqué in 1848:
"We too, were going to have our songs published... Emile Souvestre [1808 - 1854]... had allocated to Kerambrun and myself [by letter dated 7 July 1847], our own corner, Tréguier and surroundings [cantons of Perros-Guirec and Taulé].
During two years we have collected, translated, commented. We were ready when the revolution [of February 1848] smashed our tablets to pieces...
Yet we shall give our songs with or without the additions made by Souvestre. We will be probably thoughtless enough and publish them at our own expense...
But seven years later, he wrotr to the same La Villemarqué:
"...I did not want to give you any [of my manuscripts], because your Barzhaz Breizh ought to appear as a whole in the Minister's collection. I beg you to believe that I was moved to do so, not by childish vanity, but filial respect.
How could my poor country women put on a bold front, in their rags and tatters, in the face of those fine ladies of yours, in their scarlet, ermine furred attire?...
You have collected with unusual talent and good fortune testimonies of our poetical tradition, whereas I have focussed on our historical tradition...
I did not know that Souvestre had sent to M. Fortoul some of the songs I had submitted to him... Now, they were by no means carefully worked out...
If Souvestre indulged in infusing into these texts what he called his literary Breton,
if he had touched up or altered but a word, I would find it impossible to affix my signature on such work, thoroughly different from my own working methods... Please send me the pieces that are ascribed to me and I shall return them, as far as this ascription is admissible...I cannot refuse Mr Fortoul...what he wanted you to ask me for.
I shall put my pride aside, gather my best pieces,... a score of them, maybe more; I shall add some historical comments and send to the ministry this collection, a most weakish one, compared with yours..."
In spite of the emphasized compliments he makes La Villemarqué, it's easy to feel that he considers that the latter took the same liberties with his folk texts as Emile Souvestre with his own material.
Wher are the Penguern manuscripts?
And yet, with exception of a few individual texts published in local journals, the collection remained unpublished after his death in 1856. Part of it was bought by Mr de Cleuziou and Mr Luzel. Then Dr Halléquin became the only owner and deposited it at the National Library in 1878 (MS 89 with 95). Another part, owned by an abbot in Guingamp, also was bought by the National Library (Acquisitions 1891 - 1910 of the Manuscript department N°111-112). And last, Arthur de la Borderie and François Vallée also donated some documents for the benefit of the Rennes Town Library.
In 1983, The imprint "Dastum" published under the title "Dastum Penwern" some of these manuscripts: the second half of MS 90 and MS 91, whereby the collector's "random" spelling of the Breton language was scrupulously preserved, causing much trouble to the reader.
2° Other Song Collectors and Authors
You are listening to the tune "Katell gollet" (Kate the Lost)