“One grows weary of everything, apart from knowing.”
— René-Louis Doyon
The name of René-Louis Doyon, alias ‘the Mandarin’, is all but forgotten, and yet this obscure literary figure played an important and influential role in the French literature and publishing of the early and mid-twentieth century. Born in 1885, he died in 1966, and as such was the exact contemporary of Paul Marteau, his erstwhile friend, collaborator and benefactor.
Writer, journalist, publisher, bookseller, bibliophile and literary gadfly, Doyon’s career spanned the first half of the twentieth-century literary scene in France, where he exerted an uneven but definite influence. Throughout the course of his variegated editorial career, Doyon published a prodigious amount of works, by himself or others, including novels, literary and artistic criticism, biographies, social histories, memoirs, as well as a significant amount of prefaces and introductions. In addition to republishing editions of the classics, Doyon was instrumental in promoting younger and unknown authors. His literary flair is demonstrated when one considers that his back catalogue was eventually bought out by the publisher Robert Denoël, and that he was the first to discover and publish the writings of both Marcel Jouhandeau and a young André Malraux. Yet Doyon’s career, and indeed, life, was both marked and marred by his combative personality and a taste for polemics and literary feuds that would ultimately alienate him from the cultural establishment.
Perhaps the most succinct portrait of the man is that left by Éric Dussert, who says that, “René-Louis Doyon was an extravagant man of letters; failed publisher, mordant but erudite critic, he leaves behind an often messy body of work whose convoluted style is unforgettable. […] The case of René-Louis Doyon is exemplary of the paradox of those failures who work like maniacs, sometimes with talent, but without ever bending fate.”
In 1920, Doyon founded a literary journal called La Connaissance [Knowledge], also the name of his bookshop as well as his publishing outfit. This journal became more simply known as the Livrets du Mandarin from 1923, and was irregularly published until 1963. Although Doyon’s journal ostensibly focused on literature, the arts and current affairs, he also included a number of articles dealing with more metaphysical subjects, notably some articles by Paul Marteau, to which we shall return.
In effect, Doyon and Marteau were close for a time, La Connaissance was allegedly financed by Paul Marteau, according to François Gibault, biographer of Louis-Ferdinand Céline (cited in G. Beuchet, ‘Paul Marteau, auteur et éditeur de l’Ancien Tarot de Marseille (1930),’ in Thierry Depaulis (ed.), Actes du Colloque ‘Papiers, Images, Collections,’ 28, 29, 30 avril 2000, Le Vieux Papier n° 358 (October 2000), pp. 33-34), and Marteau began to write a series of articles on esotericism for Doyon’s journal from 1921, although the planned series came to a premature end at the end of the same year after only three articles had been published. Marteau would also contribute an essay on the esotericism of the hermetic novel Le Comte de Gabalis to Doyon’s edition of that work, also published in 1921. Later, when Doyon’s professional and financial decline was fully underway, from the mid 1930s, Marteau would have aided him until they fell out, for reasons unknown, but not difficult to guess.
Both men would later go on to become acquainted with the controversial author Céline after the war, Doyon eventually selling his inscribed copy of a rare edition of Voyage au bout de la Nuit to Marteau. If, in 1935, Doyon could dedicate his study of J.-K. Huysmans, Ombres dans la Cathédrale, to “my friend Paul Marteau,” relations between the two men had soured by the mid-fifties, as is made evident from Doyon’s letter to Jean Paulhan on the 28 of March 1956, when he writes, “There is no one, not even Marteau (that spoilt child), who has not betrayed me with brutality. I am used to it.” Indeed, Doyon’s memoirs, published in 1953, contain but one brief and impersonal reference to his former friend: “Paul Marteau wrote on esotericism, whose arcana were familiar to him and of which he cultivated the bitterest specialities with the learned Caslant.” (Mémoire d’homme: souvenirs irréguliers d’un écrivain qui ne l’est pas moins, La Connaissance, p. 104.)
Doyon’s interest and knowledge of “occult matters,” as his friend Jean Paulhan put it, is attested by his noteworthy edition of Le Comte de Gabalis by by Montfaucon de Villars, with an extensive introduction and accompanying essays (including the one by Paul Marteau). This was the first of a planned series of esoteric texts, followed by a text by Jean-Baptiste Willermoz, a prominent 18th-century Freemason and Martinist, Les Sommeils, in 1926, obtained through his friendship with one of the latter’s descendants. His 1942 biography of Montfaucon de Villars included an intriguing aside on the occultist author, Grillot de Givry, author of the well-known book Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy, and whose untimely death, according to Doyon, was to be classified as a “mystagogic assassination” for having revealed occult secrets. Doyon also published a pamphlet on the mysterious secret society “Les Veilleurs” [The Watchers], to which belonged Schwaller de Lubicz and the poet Oscar Milosz, whom Doyon knew well and had published, showing his inside knowledge of the esoteric circles of the time (Livrets du Mandarin, n° 3 January 1960), as well as an in-depth biography and study of Joséphin Péladan (La Douloureuse aventure de Péladan, La Connaissance, 1946). Doyon further published an anthology of texts concerning the Compagnonnage and the mysticism of the trades-based initiations (La Pierre, ses fastes et les hommes, Denoël, 1939). On a lighter note, it is also worth noting a booklet on the popular folk legend of the beast of the Gévaudan which terrorised rural France in the mid-eighteenth century, Le Loup du Gévaudan. Variétés sur la légende, La Connaissance, 1936.
Doyon’s knowledge of cards and the Tarot is amply demonstrated by the three very interesting articles he penned on the subject, the first two for the Gazette Dunlop in 1937, and the third, some 25 years later, for his own Livrets du Mandarin. The obscurity of certain references show that Doyon engaged in some serious research and reflection on the subject before committing his thoughts to paper, although as we shall later see, his references were sometimes garbled. (For instance, neither the Grand nor the Petit Albert grimoires deal with cartomancy, nor are they concerned with games.) Be that as it may, the wit and erudition of these articles make them worth presenting to a wider audience.
The first article, La Petite Histoire des Cartes à Jouer [A Little History of Playing Cards], deals with the design, engraving and printing processes of card-making, and even taxation, in minute detail and with great erudition. The second article, Les Jeux de Cartes en France (Types et Varietés) [Card Games in France (Types and Varieties)], describes the types of cards used for both cartomancy and those used for playing, such as the Tarot Nouveau, as well as a number of other regional games, one of which, Aluette, we shall post in the next instalment.
Finally, Doyon’s 1962 article Petite Histoire des Cartes : Casse-tête et prophétisme [A Little History of Cards: Puzzles and Prophecy], taking up some of the observations of the earlier pieces, proceeds to analyse the very idea of the analogical correspondences of the Tarot, pre-empting the type of argument advanced by Umberto Eco in his writings (e.g. L’idea deforme and Foucault’s Pendulum), and historical analyses which foreshadow those employed by later generations of historians.
Doyon died in 1966 in the utmost misery, a victim of his own uncompromising values and prickly personality. A selection of portraits and obituaries are available (in French) at the end of the following article. Aside from his published volume of memoirs, the only comprehensive overview of the life and works of René-Louis Doyon is the article Les chemins sinueux d’un étrange mandarin by Éric Dussert, first published in Le Matricule des Anges n°38, March 2002. Further reflections on Doyon’s single-minded and single-handed publishing efforts may be found in another article by Dussert here.
We present this brief excerpt from the second of his articles on playing cards, an overview of the various decks used for cartomancy. In it, one will find what is possibly the sole mention of the intriguing article Paul Marteau published in the Arts et Métiers Graphiques journal, 15 years before the publication of his book, and which, for reasons unknown, was not included in the final edition of his work. The illustrations accompanying Doyon’s article all come from the Grimaud firm, as do most of the decks cited (links to which may be found below), thereby underscoring his cordial relationship with Marteau, and, presumably, access to his collection.
The journal in which this article was published, the Gazette Dunlop, was devoted to motoring, sports and tourism, and the issues often included a miscellany of thematic articles as well. This was due in no small part to the encyclopaedic and eclectic mind of its editor, Louis Baudry de Saunier, another eccentric gentleman to whom we cannot do justice here. The original article was published in the n° 202 issue of the Gazette Dunlop of June 1937, and may be read here.
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Card Games in France (Types and Varieties)
by The Mandarin (René-Louis Doyon)
The card decks destined to the various games played in Europe have always been and still are, more or less, of the same type.
Those destined for divination have much greater variety and their composition is mixed in with an occult science accessible only to initiates, as well as a lot of fantasy useful for impressing the anxious and gullible client. Their common father is the great and mysterious “Tarot” which comes from the Indias and which is generally labelled as Egyptian, as Bohemian, jealously guarded by the Egyptians, and yet known and put to work under the name of Ancient Tarot of Marseilles, with its recomposed colours and its orthodox arcana. Mr Paul Marteau has provided the outline of a very substantial study in Arts et Métiers Graphiques; to which those curious about symbols and mystic secrets may refer.
Is it known, for the other decks used by prophets and professional fortune-tellers, that their design and composition reach an entertaining realisation of images whose appearance and shuffling form the entire unexpected part of conjectural revelations? As we have the Grand and Petit Albert, attributed to the genius of the Dominican Albert the Great (and what has he not been attributed, since it is said that his name is to be found in that of the once ill-renowned Place Maubert – “Mauvais Albert” or “Evil Albert”?) We have the Grand and Petit Etteilla, from the 18th century, the work of an ingenious barber; the Tarot of Mlle Lenormand, official soothsayer of Napoleon and of Josephine, is still in use; the Sybil of the Salons, the Book of Destiny, the Little Cartomancer and the Ancient Destiny; a real palette, with impressive or comical images which occupy more space on the cardboard than on the tarotic image itself. That is not all: the Game of the Hand, with its very curious chiromantic diagrams, and the Astrological Tarot, with its celestial diagrams, that is what may yet be found commercially; with the means – for want of sure learning – on how to use them! What a choice! Only surprises and naïve ingeniousness here, and complicated to boot; a little learning and a lot of already outdated opportunism, for our age has become far too distracted or too preoccupied by science and business to seek out the secret and the why of the world by means other than the alembic, analysis and the scales; the most recent creations of these cards are almost a century old!
— The Mandarin (René-Louis Doyon)
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- Ancien Tarot de Marseille
- Grand Etteilla
- Petit Etteilla
- Grand Lenormand
- Petit Lenormand
- La Sybille des Salons
- Le Livre du Destin
- Le Petit Cartomancien
- Le Destin Antique
- Le Jeu de la Main
- Le Tarot Astrologique