In 1880, Paul Sébillot published his very first collection of folktales, Contes de la Haute-Bretagne, and immediately sent a signed copy to a fellow Breton, Théodore Hersart de la Villemarqué, author of the Barzaz-Breiz, whom he had never had the opportunity to meet before, but to whom he claimed to owe his vocation as a folk artist. This was the beginning of a correspondence which, according to Sébillot, would continue until the death of La Villemarqué in 1895. However, only 8 letters from Sébillot have been kept in the La Villemarqué archive: in them, Sébillot discusses oral literature, his numerous publication projects, his research on Gargantua, the young Society of Popular Traditions, for which he sought the support and collaboration of a La Villemarqué. For his part La Villemarque sought to attract his compatriot to the Archaeological Society of Finistère, a learned society of which he was President since 1876, and to the Association Bretonne, another society of which he was an influential member... If many points separate them, age, political opinions – Sébillot is a republican, La Villemarqué a legitimist – both show a real mutual esteem and Sébillot’s criticism of the Villemarqué method remains very measured. Although he refused to see him as a “master”, Sébillot nevertheless considered him as a precursor whose role had been decisive. Unfortunately, we only know the excerpts from the letters of La Villemarqué quoted by Sébillot himself in various articles. The whole contributes to shed light on the points of view and relationships of two important personalities in the development of interest in folk culture in France.
This edition was prepared with the kind permission of the La Villemarqué family. A previous version was published in « L’invention d’une science nouvelle: la littérature orale d’après la correspondance échangée entre La Villemarqué et Sébillot », Bulletin de la Société archéologique du Finistère, tome CXXVIII, 1999, pp. 293-305.