When Guillebert de Mets arrived in Paris shortly before 1407 at the age of approximately seventeen, he experienced the city, its social mixture of prostitutes, artisans, and rich bourgeois. He saw the sights, visiting churches, major landmarks and even the houses of some of the grands bourgeois, and walked the streets. As someone familiar with Paris's flourishing book trade, he knew of such figures as Christine de Pizan, Jean Gerson, and Jean de Montreuil among others. His Description de la ville de Paris 1434, preserved in Brussels, Bibliothèque royale, MS 9559-64, thus provides a wealth of information about early fifteenth-century Paris. Until the publication of Evelyn Mullally's edition, however, the Description was known to modern scholars primarily from Paris et ses historiens aux XIVe et XVe siècles, published in 1867 by Le Roux de Lincy and L. Tisserand. Mullally's work is thus a timely and welcome addition to resources for fifteenth-century studies. Focusing primarily on the figure of Guillebert, his text, his sources and his authorial intent, she takes into account recent research on medieval Paris, as well as changes to the city that have occurred since 1867, and provides a detailed bibliography and index as well as extensive notes. The addition of a facing English translation makes this fascinating work available to a much wider audience.
Mullally's introduction to the Description provides an excellent framework for and the necessary background through which to view Guillebert's work. In the first section, she examines the three main descriptions of medieval Paris: in addition to Guillebert's Description, these include Jean de Jandun's 1323 Tractatus de laudibus Parisius, and a 1451 description composed by Antonio d'Asti. Mullally explores the conventions of the genre, and places all three descriptions within the context of the history of Paris in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The second section focuses on Guillebert himself. Born in 1390 in the Flemish town of Geraardsbergen, Guillebert likely studied in Paris, and probably trained as a copyist there. He led a "varied career as a professional copyist, a translator, a compiler, an innkeeper and a book agent for the duke of Burgundy" (17).
In composing the Description Guillebert was influenced by the works of his near contemporaries. Mullally notes that the foundation myth he offers for the city of Paris comes from a digression Raoul de Presles makes in his French translation of St. Augustine's City of God, a work that Guillebert copied for Guy Guilbaut ca. 1420-1434 (Brussels, Bibliothèque royale, MSS 9005-06, vol. 2). Jean de Montreuil's A toute la Chevalerie serves as a second source for this historical portion of the Description. The street order of the topographical section of the work, interestingly, is clearly inspired by the order of the names as given in a poem known as the London Dit, a text itself likely inspired by Guillot of Paris's Dit des rues de Paris. This last section of the Description is Guillebert's own, and describes the Paris of 1407, much as he saw it as a young man of seventeen.
Mullally's detailed accounting of the various editions of Guillebert's text makes an excellent case for her timely re-edition of the work, and for her focus on the author, his sources and his intent. Details of Guillebert's manuscripts follow, including a thorough description of Brussels, Bibliothèque royale MS 9559-64, which contains his Description, as well as Christine de Pizan's L'Epistre d'Othea, and the Débat sur le Roman de la Rose, among other works. Mullally describes Guillebert's script, the bâtarde flamande typical of the court of Burgundy, as well as the décor, his punctuation, and furnishes the particulars of the binding and its history. She also offers an in-depth analysis of his language, which, as she notes, "is of particular interest because he is both the author and scribe of the work and he also gives it its date" (28). Born in Flanders yet working in and out of Paris in French, Guillebert's phonology is full of Wallonisms. Flemish influence is also present in his choice of some unusual vocabulary. To close her discussion of the manuscript, Mullally considers the question of patronage. Guillebert's connections were Burgundian, yet the tenor of the contents of the manuscript suggest that it may have been written for a member of the French royal family. Ultimately, however, it came into the possession of Philip the Good, and is listed in the 1467-1469 inventory of his library.
The final section of the introduction is devoted to a look at the last part of Guillebert's text, his description of Paris in 1407. Mullally builds on Guillebert's description of the city, providing background information about the administration of medieval Paris, the University of Paris, and various churches. She points out changes to landmarks between Guillebert's Paris and modern Paris. She also highlights a number of the artworks Guillebert describes which have since been lost, and for which he is the only source. Her short history of street names is particularly useful; she also explains the logic behind Guillebert's listing of streets: he arranges his list in the order which "one would follow to visit them all on foot" (39). Mullally also offers a historical perspective on the five grands bourgeois Guillebert describes, giving relevant biographical detail when possible, and emphasizing the importance of Guillebert's account for an understanding of daily life in a bourgeois household. The inclusion of a map of fifteenth-century Paris showing the major landmarks is particularly valuable, although probably not sufficient for someone wishing to follow the path of Guillebert's street names. For modern locations of these streets, Mullally suggests that readers refer to the 1380 map of Paris published by the CNRS (Leuridan and Mallet), and to a current map of Paris with indexed street names. The volume would have been enriched by the inclusion of a more detailed map (perhaps in a fold-out version) of medieval Paris including street names and references to Guillebert's text. That said, such a choice would likely have added significantly to the volume's cost.
Mullally's presentation of Guillebert's text is clear and cogent and editorial choices are plainly indicated. For the sake of cross-reference, she has kept Le Roux de Lincy and Tisserand's numbering of Guillebert's rubricated headings and has provided a table of contents to them. Folio references included within Guillebert's text facilitate direct comparison of the edition with the manuscript itself. Corrections to Guillebert's text are well-documented in the notes. For corrections, Mullally occasionally references Guillebert's source material, notably Raoul de Presles's transcription of the City of God. It would have been helpful to have the full citation for Raoul's manuscripts referenced in the notes or the bibliography. In fact, a list of all manuscripts cited would be a valuable addition to the bibliography, and is something to consider for a subsequent edition. The facing English-language translation is both elegant and readable and permits easy comparison with Guillebert's text. Use of the modern version of place names in the translation is particularly helpful to those unfamiliar with the fifteenth-century names. Abundant notes both clarify points of language and provide further information about persons, landmarks, and historical events.
In view of the clear importance of Guillebert's text to so many disciplines (historical, literary, cultural, architectural, artistic), Mullally's edition and translation of Guillebert's Description de la ville de Paris 1434 is an excellent and welcome addition to resources on fifteenth-century Paris. Her careful and extensive introduction and wealth of explanatory notes draw out the nuances and significance of Guillebert's text, his references to historical events and to the literary world, and his descriptions of daily life and of the topography of medieval Paris. There is much here to please both the interested amateur and the specialist reader. As a final note, Mullally's small but handsome volume is just the right size to take along for a walk through modern Paris. With the help of the additional maps suggested by Mullally, one can follow the path Guillebert describes and see the medieval city as through Guillebert's eyes.