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A collection of approximately 8000 volumes purchased between 1982 and 1985 from the library of Ralph Alexander Leigh (1915-1987), Professor of French at Cambridge University and editor of the Correspondance complète de Rousseau (1965-1998). The collection concentrates on French literature, philosophy and history of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with special emphasis on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, his circle and his critics.

The controversial nature and popularity of Rousseau's writings meant that many of his works were issued with false imprints and also widely pirated or reissued, thereby creating many interesting problems for the bibliographer. To aid his research, Leigh therefore acquired multiple editions and variant states of all Rousseau's published works and correspondence. The collection contains, for example, the first edition of the Contrat social in two issues (Dufour 132 A & B), including one extremely rare copy which has both the cancellans of leaf X1 (suppressing the note on civil marriage) and the original leaf which it was intended to replace.

Around 250 works acquired from Dr Robert Wokler (1942-2006) have also been added to the Leigh collection. These books, by or relating to Rousseau and Diderot, have enhanced the collection with many new editions and variant states. Among these are two volumes of plates from Rousseau's works, compiled by Emmanuel Martin (son-in-law of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre), which includes portraits of Rousseau's contemporaries and an original watercolour by Monsiau.

Many of the books have interesting provenances, which are recorded either in the online catalogue or in the provenance card index. The Wokler books are generally in very fine bindings. Leigh's books - which were acquired primarily as working copies - are usually less fine, but are generally in contemporary bindings, with some books still in paper covers or boards as issued by the publishers.

Papers and correspondence by or about Rousseau collected by Ralph Leigh are held in the Manuscripts Department as MS Add.8847.

A letter of 18 March 1766 from Rousseau to his publisher in England, Pierre Guy, was presented to the Library in 2011 by Ann Wochiler, from the library of her brother Robert Wokler. (MS Add.9962)

References and further reading:

  • Leigh, R.A., Unsolved problems in the bibliography of J.-J. Rousseau. Cambridge, 1990. (B151.ROU.22; Cam.b.990.9)
  • Hobson, M., Leigh, J.T.A., & Wokler, R. Rousseau & the eighteenth century; Essays in memory of R.A. Leigh. Oxford, 1992. (739:37.c.95.562; Cam.c.992.12)
  • Leigh, R.A. ed,. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1712-1778: catalogue of an exhibition at Cambridge University Library July-September 1978. [Cambridge], 1978. (Cam.d.978.7; Leigh.d.4.157)
  • Dufour, T., Recherches bibliographiques sur les oeuvres imprimées de J.J. Rousseau. Paris, 1925. (859.c.245-) 
  • McEachern, J.-A.E., Bibliography of the writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau to 1800. Vol. 1 La nouvelle Héloise; v.2 Emile. Oxford, 1989-1993. (B151.ROU.2- )