Account of 17th-c. Russia from a 'cabinet de lecture'

[COLLINS, Samuel]

Relation curieuse de l'estat present de la Russie

Publication: A Paris, chez Louis Billaine…, 1679.

[COLLINS, Samuel], Relation curieuse de l’estat present de la Russie

Great (if often negative) early account of pre-petrine Russia, here in an unusual, uncut copy of the first French edition, from a private lending library with the label detailing its lending conditions. Includes the famous illustrated chapter on mushrooms – among many other remarks and anecdotes.

Read More


In stock

Our Notes & References

First edition in French of Collins’s celebrated ‘The Present State of Russia’, “a very entertaining account of life in the Russian court” (original DNB) and the author’s only book, published in English a few years before this translation, in 1671.

A charming, wide-margined example, entirely uncut and from an anonymous ‘cabinet de lecture’, a private lending library with its letterpress “Conditions proposées à Messieurs les Abonnés pour la Lecture” pasted to the front free endpaper, witness to the book’s previous life in one of these early French subscription libraries, about which little is known.

As Jean-Louis Pailhès writes: “Les cabinets de lecture qui s’ouvrent un peu partout en France dans la deuxième moitié du XVIIIe siècle restent aujourd’hui encore fort mal connus. La dispersion et la pauvreté des sources, sinon leur absence, en sont sans doute responsables. Fort heureusement, des catalogues ont été conservés; mais souvent quelques lignes dans une gazette ou une brève mention dans un almanac constituent les seuls témoignages de leur existence, et cela est bien insuffisant pour se former une idée précise de leur fonctionnement, de leur rôle et de leur importance” (‘En Marge des bibliothèques: l’apparition des cabinets de lecture’, Histoire des bibliothèques françaises: les bibliothèques sous l’Ancien Régime, p. 415).

The information contained on the label here is thus significant, such as the penalties for any damage to or writing in books (in the margins, on the endpapers, or the cover, whether in pencil or ink).

Collins (1619–1670) accepted a position as physician to Tsar Alexei, the father of Peter the Great, in 1660; the present work contains his observations on life at the Romanov court and views on all aspects of Russian life. He discusses the Russian Church, describing a wedding, a funeral, and the festivals and traditions of the Orthodox year, such the use of icons in devotion, the giving of Easter eggs, and the predilection of the Russians for celebratory drinking. There are chapters, too, on the Tsar’s monopoly of the trade in Siberian furs and caviar from Astrakhan, along with descriptions of Moscow, Siberia, and the steppe. He also details the Russian judiciary, complete with exile and torture, and Russian dress, pastimes, and food.

Famously, a number of the illustrations (engravings in the English edition, here reproduced as woodcuts in text) are of mushrooms. This edition adds many charming, rather large figurative woodcut tail-pieces.

The full title reads ‘Relation curieuse de l’estat present de la Russie. Traduite d’un auteur anglois qui a esté neuf ans à la Cour du Grand Czar. Avec l’histoire des revolutions arrivées sous l’Usurpation de Boris, & l’Imposture de Demetrius, derniers Empereurs de Moscovie’.

The royal privilege printed here at the end of the prelims gives the publisher as Claude Barbin, and the present copy has a cancel title for Billaine (d.1681). The translator was Antoine des Barres, who appears also to have silently left out and added elements of his own to, as well as reordering, the text.


‘Ex libris C[om]te [d’]Huc’ (?) (early ink inscription to title).


Cat. Russica C-880. Cf. also for the original English edition: Cox I, 190 (“very entertaining account”); Cross, ‘In the Lands of the Romanovs’ A6; Cross, A. G. “British Knowledge of Russian Culture (1698-1801)”. Canadian-American Slavic Studies, 13, No. 4 (Winter 1979), pp. 412-35.

Loewenson, Leo. “The Works of Robert Boyle and ‘The Present State of Russia’ by Samuel Collins (1671)”. The Slavonic and East European Review, vol. 33, no. 81, 1955, pp. 470–85.

Shokarev S. “Samuel Kollins. Nyneshnee sostoianie Rossii. Rossiia v tsarstvovanie Alekseia Mikhailovicha glazami inostrantsev”. Utverzhdenie dinastii, Moskva, Fond Dubrova, 1997.

Whittaker, Russia Engages the World, NYPL, p. 18-19.

Item number



Physical Description

Large 12mo (19.7 × 11.3 cm). pp. [10], 420, with woodcut illustrations in the text and many large woodcut tail-pieces.


Entirely uncut in (near?) contemporary vellum-backed boards, flat spine with red morocco lettering-piece, ms. ink number at foot of spine.


Binding a bit rubbed and stained, spine label chipped, short tear to upper board from the vellum under the paper; a3 and a4 transposed, a couple of closed tears incl. one horizontal across a leaf, another leaf with tear in blank margin, the odd mark or stain, occasional light browning or marginal dust-soiling; overall a very attractive example with wide margins, in its original condition exempt of restoration.

Request More Information/Shipping Quote

    do you have a question about this item?

    If you would like more information on this item, or if you have a similar item you would like to know more about, please contact us via the short form here.