The quotable Voltaire

The Quotable Voltaire: a compilation of wit, wisdom, quips and quotations by and about Voltaire, edited and presented by Garry Apgar and Edward Langille (Bucknell University Press, 2021).

The popularity of quotations, especially of famous people, reflects the human thirst for wisdom and for the pithy encapsulation of a clever thought. Insightful observations economically expressed – proverbs, maxims, adages, truisms, quips, etc. – have been around forever. Whether they be anonymous or credited to eminent statesmen, poets or pop stars, quotes help us cope with the mysteries and challenges of life. They supply food for thought at dinner parties and epigrams for books.

Few have served up as many bons mots as Voltaire. ‘The perfect is the enemy of the good’ is a current favourite with the governing class in Washington. ‘All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds’, ‘We must cultivate our garden’, and ‘Pour encourager les autres’ are all familiar expressions in English as well as in French. And how can we forget ‘If God did not exist, He would have to be invented’? Or again the oft-quoted cynical line that ‘God is on the side of the big battalions’. The list of Voltaire’s aperçus is a long one. For Nicholas Cronk, Voltaire was ‘a master of the one-liner’. His witty aphorisms, – shrewd, cynical, or spiteful – surpass in sheer quantity the sayings of any other writer we can think of.

David Levine, pen-and-ink caricature of Voltaire. Illustration for John Weightman’s review of two works about Voltaire in the New York Review of Books, 18 June 1970. © Matthew and Eve Levine.

But Voltaire is famous not just for his witticisms. He may in fact be even more famous for things he never wrote or said, the most notorious and long-lived being: ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ This sentence, while faithful to Voltaire’s liberal principles, sprang from the pen of an English woman of letters around the turn of the last century. Writing under the alias ‘S. G. Tallentyre’, Evelyn Beatrice Hall offered a summary of Voltaire’s reaction to news that an atheistic tract by Helvétius had been condemned by the Church: ‘“What a fuss about an omelette!” he had exclaimed … How abominably unjust to persecute a man for such an airy trifle as that! “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” was his attitude now.’

Hall’s qualifying phrase, ‘his attitude now’, was overlooked by almost all who read her book, and her stirring paraphrase, immediately ascribed to Voltaire, was later carved in stone inside the lobby of the Tribune Tower, home of the Chicago Tribune, when it was inaugurated in 1925. In June 1934 Reader’s Digest passed the bogus quote on to its vast national readership. In 1938 it was further fixed in the public mind by the Hollywood film Jezebel, starring Bette Davis, in which a dinner guest declared, ‘I think it was Voltaire who said, “I disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.’ Writers, journalists, and politicians have since sown the misquotation further afield.

Voltaire had opinions on virtually everything, from Aristotle, friendship, and luxury to testes and Zoroaster, though, it must be added that they were not always polite or what we would now regard as politically correct. He was, at times, malicious, and often obscene.

The Best of All Possible Worlds: Voltaire’s romances and tales (1929), with an introduction by US labour lawyer Clarence Darrow. Dust jacket designed by Art Young, showing Voltaire dropping a splash of light on a benighted world. Private collection.

The 1300 or so quotations that appear in this book show both the positive and negative facets of Voltaire’s character. The Quotable Voltaire is unique in terms of its bilingual format, substance, and the trouble that has been taken to ensure accuracy. We offer parallel versions in French and English for each quotation (except those originally written in English) so that the translation may be compared with the original French. This extends to the inclusion of a handful of quotations commonly misattributed to Voltaire. In compiling The Quotable Voltaire we have relied chiefly on the Œuvres complètes de Voltaire, the first critical edition of the whole of Voltaire’s works, newly completed, in 200 volumes. All entries are fully documented, with dates of publication and page numbers for every source we cite.

The second half of the dictionary presents a three-part section of comments on Voltaire, his life and accomplishments, by Voltaire himself, by his contemporaries, and by personalities as diverse as Goethe, Charles de Gaulle, Ray Bradbury, Mae West, and even the heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson. Underscored is Voltaire’s pre-eminent position in Anglo-American culture, especially from the 1930s onward, when, progressively, he became the poster-boy of the American Left, or Right, depending on one’s point of view!

Finally, and interestingly, the book is richly illustrated, some images (including the book’s cover) having never been previously published.

Garry Apgar and Edward Langille

Reframing Rousseau

What can Enlightenment philosophes – especially Rousseau, arguably the most difficult of them all – have to tell us about modern life that we don’t already know?

Le Lévite d’Ephraïm: la douleur du Lévite (c.1806), by Jean-Pierre Saint-Ours of Geneva, 1752-1809 (MAH Musée d’art et d’histoire, Ville de Genève).

We are a team of scholars from different academic areas, each of whom offers a unique vantage point in understanding Rousseau’s texts. This constellation of approaches – grounded in an appreciation of the shared background of feminist critique promoted by the contributors to our volume Reframing Rousseau’s Lévite d’Ephraïm: The Hebrew Bible, hospitality and modern identity – provides the density that allows Rousseau’s nuanced writings to be read in their full complexity.

This book focuses on a relatively unfamiliar work of Rousseau’s: Le Lévite d’Ephraïm, a prose-poem in which Rousseau elaborates on a little-known Hebrew biblical text to interrogate many of the accepted, conventional views on issues ranging from the role of sacred texts; to Rousseau’s self-construction through the representation of guilt and remorse; to the role of hospitality in structuring both individual self-representation and social cohesion; to the place of violence in establishing national and communal self-identity. In each of these spheres, Rousseau reveals a particularly modern perspective in trying to honor both personal and social needs, and in privileging both the individual viewpoint and the political structure.

In keeping with Rousseau’s own multifocal writings as reflected in our own authors’ distinct voices, each contributor here provides a more detailed description of the sections in this book.

Reframing Rousseau’s Lévite d’Ephraïm: The Hebrew Bible, hospitality and modern identity (Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment May 2021).

In focusing on Rousseau’s rewriting of one narrative in the Hebrew biblical text, the first chapter interrogates the uses to which Enlightenment thinkers put the ancient – to many, still sacred – understanding of the biblical text. Why do 18th-century thinkers feel the need to refer to biblical texts at all? What new ways of reading do they create to construct a world view that differs markedly both from ancient and classical philosophical and political thought? This section foregrounds the ‘strange’ reliance Rousseau places on an ancient text to propose a modern critique of the conventional way of understanding the world.

Although Rousseau named Le Lévite d’Ephraïm the ‘most cherished’ of his works, it has drawn far less scholarly attention than most of his other works. Taking the author at his word, the second chapter of the volume explores the paradox behind Rousseau’s valorization of the most disturbing of his writings and his contention that it provided proof of his gentle nature. This chapter identifies links between Le Lévite d’Ephraïm and Rousseau’s autobiographical works and writings on language and society. Rousseau’s rewriting of this Biblical narrative reflects his vision of language, human nature and the fragility of community bonds while offering unique insight into Rousseau’s understanding of human psychology, manipulation of language, and the dynamics of scapegoating and civil unrest.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Line engraving. Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

Chapter three looks to how Rousseau incorporates the metatext of hospitality into his œuvre, utilizing the social and textual themes of misguided and absent hospitality. It seems that Rousseau’s personal circumstances intensified his conviction that the subversion of hospitality by the host (individual, group, or nation), ineluctably leads to moral catastrophe. Inter alia, this presentation addresses the issue of failed hospitality as it relates to the marginalization of individuals and to the eventual alienation of the group. In the end, society creates its own strangers, and by mistreating them, prefigures its own demise. Le Lévite constitutes a plea for society to restore its moral compass. While much of Rousseau’s work, including the Confessions and Emile, provides insight into the context of his interpretation of faulty hospitality, it is Le Lévite d’Ephraïm that offers a view from a different vantage point of the developing political philosophy explored more fully in the Contrat social.

The book’s final chapter focuses on Rousseau’s view of how nationalism can intersect with violence. Do these two movements inevitably presuppose each other? What determines the notion of ‘belonging’ to a nation? Concomitantly, Rousseau treats the inverse implication of these questions: what is the status of the stranger, of the person who doesn’t belong? Rousseau’s choice of an abstruse biblical text through which to examine this complicated issue highlights Rousseau’s understanding of the complexities of texts, and of others, as we try to interpret these all to get at their essences.

The Afterword of this volume explores some of the current implications of the questions raised, both implicitly and explicitly, by the text of Le Lévite d’Ephraïm. How do Rousseau’s writings – particularly Le Lévite d’Ephraïm – speak to a 21st-century world fractured by demonization and alienation? This section of the book outlines the ways in which strangeness and nationalism can be utilized to unite the world of variegated individuals and communities that form the complicated texture of our lives.

In Reframing Rousseau’s Lévite d’Ephraim, Abrams, Morgenstern and Sullivan offer us a new look at Rousseau’s writing on political and cultural issues that continue to be salient in contemporary times. The authors look forward to expanding this conversation with the responses and reactions from the readers of this book.

Barbara Abrams, Mira Morgenstern, and Karen Sullivan
(Suffolk University Boston, City College / City University of New York, Queens College / City University of New York)

Reframing Rousseau’s Lévite d’Ephraïm: The Hebrew Bible, hospitality and modern identity is part of the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series, published in collaboration with the Voltaire Foundation, University of Oxford.

A version of this blog first appeared in the Liverpool University Press blog in May 2021.

Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, a Voltaire fan?

Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Voyage à l’Isle de France (Amsterdam, 1773) (Bibliothèque nationale de France).

Bernardin de Saint-Pierre returned to France in 1771 following an unhappy posting to Mauritius. In Paris he made new acquaintances, D’Alembert, Julie de Lespinasse, Condorcet and, most significantly in the eyes of posterity, he befriended Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This intimacy has ossified critical opinion as it was D’Alembert who aided the publication of his first book, the Voyage à l’île de France (1773) by a printer whom Voltaire termed ‘l’enchanteur Merlin’. Drafted in part in the Indian Ocean, the work was published anonymously with a permission tacite as it criticized French colonial practices. In it Bernardin claimed that his travel writing was innovative as Voltaire, D’Alembert, Buffon and Rousseau had not provided a model. He demonstrated his extensive reading by asserting: ‘Je sais bon gré à M. de Voltaire d’avoir traité de barbares ceux qui éventrent un chien vivant pour nous montrer les veines lactées’ (a reference to the article ‘Bêtes’ in the Dictionnaire philosophique).

Like Voltaire, Bernardin was educated by the Jesuits. He too liked citing Latin authors, particularly Virgil, and also frequently quoted from memory. He stated that D’Alembert had suggested that he compose histories and claimed that he had read Voltaire’s historical writings. He shared the patriarch’s alarm at d’Holbach’s Système de la nature and wrote against it. Despite a staunch belief in God, Bernardin was anticlerical and loathed superstition. Like Voltaire, he mocked fears about a comet in 1773, telling Mme Necker: ‘On attend ici la comette pour demain; il y a des églises dont les confessionaux ne désemplissent pas; le peuple est fort inquiet de sçavoir si la terre sera brûlée ou noyée’ (Electronic Enlightenment, BSP_0244). He too was intrigued  by the possibility of ‘éléphants’ (i.e. mammoths) in Siberia. The Revolution saw him produce short works advocating tolerance and social harmony.

Invitation à la Concorde, pour la Fête de la Confédération, du 14 juillet 1792 (Gazette Drouot).

His Invitation à la concorde (1792) appeared in print and as a poster. It proclaims that discord will destroy France but Catholics, Protestants and Jews will thrive ‘autour de l’autel de la patrie’ where ‘chaque religion deviendra citoyenne’. He composed contes in a manner reminiscent of Voltaire. The Café de Surate (1792), depicting often religious prejudices, may have been inspired by a chapter in Zadig, ‘Le Souper’. He read his fictional Voyage en Silésie, with its message of reconciling quarrelsome multinational travellers, in his capacity as professeur de morale républicaine to instituteurs at the Ecole normale in 1795. In the foreword to the first printed edition, he asserted that ‘Mon but était d’inspirer aux hommes, qui sont les mêmes quant au fond, de la tolérance pour les opinions diverses.’

Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Voyage en Silésie (Paris, 1807) (Bibliothèque nationale de France).

Bernardin returned to a controversy treated by Voltaire in Lettre XI of the Lettres philosophiques, inoculation. In the Harmonies de la nature (begun in the 1790s), he writes: ‘On a longtemps agité la question, si l’inoculation était utile. J’observerai ici que Jean-Jacques n’a pas osé la décider dans son Emile.’ While acknowledging risks, Bernardin is decisive: ‘Il me semble […] que pour détruire tant d’intérêts particuliers qui s’opposent à l’intérêt général on devrait faire inoculer à la fois tous les enfants […] l’inoculation contribuerait à resserrer entre eux les liens de la fraternité.’ Despite his antipathy to the scientific establishment and, unlike Voltaire, opposed to Newtonian ideas of attraction, Bernardin is generally in favour of scientific advances.

Voltaire loved publishing texts anonymously or with fictional authors. Bernardin, after the Voyage, demanded his name on the title page. Yet, in a text not printed in his lifetime which I am editing for his Œuvres complètes (Garnier), the Fragment sur la théorie de l’univers, he too adopted a ludic pretence. The narrator, a ship’s pilote, recounts Bernardin’s views to a passenger without naming him. All he will reveal is that: ‘Le système dont je vais vous entretenir est d’un Français.’ Subsequently he speaks of ‘l’auteur de la nouvelle théorie’, ‘mon auteur’, ‘Notre auteur’.

Simon Davies, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre: colonial traveller, Enlightenment reformer, celebrity writer, Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment (Liverpool University Press, 2021).

Bernardin often omits the sources of his references. In a manuscript that I am also editing for his Œuvres complètes, he writes ‘Un de nos poètes a dit: “Dieu mit la fièvre en nos climats et le remède en Amérique.” C’est une pensée de bel esprit.’ The line had appeared in a poem to Frederick the Great (OCV, t.32A, p.412) and in the Questions sur l’Encyclopédie (OCV, t.41, p.394). Bernardin probably found it in the latter as it is mentioned in the Harmonies de la nature.

While Bernardin sympathised with ‘l’infortuné Jean-Jacques’ and knew that his public renown benefited from that association, he believed that sociability was natural. He thought that reform was needed, hence his acceptance of appointments at the Jardin du roi (where he championed initiatives), the Ecole normale and the Institut. He disliked Voltaire’s relations with crowned heads (although he had met Catherine the Great, praised her in his Voyage ‘porté par tout le vent des philosophes qui étaient dans sa faveur’), but was far more sociable than his clichéd reputation. To label him as simply a disciple of Rousseau is misleading. He owed as much to Voltaire as to Rousseau and he supplies an even-handed comparison in his Parallèle de Voltaire et de Jean-Jacques Rousseau. His celebrity in the Ancien Régime and the Revolution and the accessibility of his correspondence in Electronic Enlightenment make him an excellent point of reference for questions still raised about the role and impact of the so-called philosophes in scholarly publications and recently at the Enlightenment Workshops in Oxford. In sum, Bernardin reacted to the challenges of his age and responded in his own distinctive fashion.

– Simon Davies

Il faut des romans aux peuples corrompus: le romanesque républicain dans la Suisse des Lumières

En 1753, Voltaire, à la suite de différents événements désagréables, quitte le royaume de Prusse où il avait été appelé par le roi Frédéric II. Voltaire est alors âgé de 59 ans, il a déjà une vie riche derrière lui, ponctuée de multiples expériences, de beaucoup de publications et de très nombreuses rencontres. Il hésite sur la direction à prendre. Il sait qu’il n’est pas le bienvenu en France où il sera surveillé et censuré. Il devra vivre loin de Paris ce qui ne l’enchante guère. L’Angleterre est un séjour exotique, et si l’île offre de nombreux avantages, elle n’est pas dominée par la culture française. Pire, les hostilités se font de plus en plus précises entre la France et l’Angleterre, les deux nations cherchant à étendre leur commerce et leur domination coloniale. Voltaire a alors l’idée de se tourner vers un petit pays à la fois indépendant, mais suffisamment proche des grands centres de culture: la Suisse et ses satellites, dont Genève. Voltaire décide de se fixer d’abord à Lausanne et ensuite dans la cité de Calvin. Grâce à l’intermédiaire de Jean-Robert Tronchin, Voltaire loue une propriété à Saint-Jean qui deviendra les ‘Délices’.

‘Les Délices’, dessinée par F. Philipesenn et gravée par G. Charton (1775-1853) (BGE, Centre d’iconographie genevoise).

A Lausanne, avec sa cathédrale gothique et son château où siègent les baillis bernois, c’est grâce à l’intervention de Georges François de Giez, jeune banquier, qu’il peut louer la propriété de Montriond à l’entrée de la ville (voir François Jacob, Voltaire, Paris, 2015, p.193). ‘Les Délices seront pour l’été, Montriond pour l’hiver’ (Voltaire à Clavel de Brenles, 10 février [1755], D6150).

Voltaire adhère ou feint d’adhérer à l’image idyllique que les visiteurs européens diffusent de la Suisse. Il loue, dans l’Epître de l’auteur, en arrivant dans sa terre près du lac de Genève, en mars 1755, ses mœurs républicaines, la douceur de son climat, la beauté du Lac Léman que l’on peut contempler depuis les coteaux lausannois:

‘On n’y méprise point les travaux nécessaires;
Les états sont égaux, et les hommes sont frères.
Liberté, liberté, ton trône est en ces lieux.
La Grèce où tu naquis, t’a pour jamais perdue.’

Mais contrairement à d’autres visiteurs européens, Voltaire ne se contente pas d’admirer l’austérité des mœurs suisses. Il souhaite répandre la passion du théâtre. Il dirige différentes pièces au théâtre de Mon-Repos. La noblesse lausannoise y accourt soit pour jouer sur scène soit pour assister aux représentations en public averti. La famille Constant s’illustre dans cette activité, David Louis Constant d’Hermenches deviendra l’âme des activités théâtrales de Lausanne après le départ de Voltaire pour Genève.

Voltaire applaudit ces succès qu’il s’empresse de rapporter à ses amis parisiens, plaçant les Lausannois sur un pied d’égalité avec les Français: ‘On ne se douterait pas, monsieur, qu’un théâtre établi à Lausanne, des acteurs peut-être supérieurs aux comédiens de Paris, enfin une pièce nouvelle, des spectateurs pleins d’esprit, de connaissances et de lumières, en un mot tous les soins qu’entraînent de tels plaisirs, m’ont empêché de vous écrire plus tôt’ (à Jean Lévesque de Burigny, 20 mars [1757], D7207). Les Parisiens font semblant d’être dupes.

Pourtant des voix s’élèvent pour dénoncer la pratique de la comédie, amusement qui nous paraît aujourd’hui bien innocent, et les arguments des détracteurs sont puisés dans la tradition républicaine. On se rappelle que Platon dans La République dénonce les artistes et les arts en général. Cette accusation vaut certes pour les beaux-arts, mais en Suisse elle touche également le théâtre, car sa pratique par les gens de la bonne société démontre leur oisiveté et leur luxe. Or les auteurs républicains, d’Aristote à Machiavel et de Platon à Rousseau n’eurent de cesse de condamner leurs effets socialement pernicieux et moralement corrupteurs.

Dans l’Aristide ou le Citoyen, journal lausannois paru de 1766 à 1767, un étranger de marque, le Prince Louis-Eugène de Wurtemberg, reproche à la comédie de ‘flatter le goût général’ et non de le ‘redresser’. Quant au général vaudois Warnery, celui-ci écrit que ‘le luxe, la délicatesse et la dépravation des mœurs ont fait des progrès en Suisse avec la Poésie’ (Remarques sur l’Essai général de tactique de Guibert, Varsovie, 1782, p.59-60).

Aristide ou le citoyen (Lausanne, Grasset, 1766) (Réseau vaudois des bibliothèques).

Au dix-huitième siècle, dans les républiques helvétiques, ces arguments sont très répandus. Les spectacles avaient été interdits à Genève par une ordonnance datant de 1617 (cette interdiction avait été renouvelée en 1732 et en 1739). Le théâtre se voyait reprocher de détourner l’intérêt des individus des affaires de la cité. Dans la Lettre à D’Alembert sur les spectacles (1758), J.-J. Rousseau s’inquiète également de l’arrivée des spectacles à Genève. Il oppose à l’intérieur des salles de théâtre, où chacun s’amuse individuellement en imagination, l’activité sociale des cercles de Genève où les hommes peuvent se retrouver pour discuter, écouter des conférences, boire et se divertir. Pour Rousseau, les cercles sont le terreau de la vie citoyenne, l’antichambre d’où partent les compagnies bourgeoises qui défilent en ville et en assurent la sécurité aux temps troublés. Pour Voltaire au contraire, le théâtre aide à policer les mœurs, il ‘dégrossit’ les rustres suisses. De plus, le théâtre est une activité où les deux sexes se mêlent, ce qui pour Voltaire est un gage de galanterie et de politesse. Pour Rousseau ce mélange corrupteur des deux sexes, qui ‘dénature’ proprement leurs qualités intrinsèques est signe d’une décadence civique et morale. Une société ‘molle et efféminée’ ne pourra résister efficacement aux envahisseurs étrangers. Curieusement, Voltaire et Rousseau se retrouvent sur le terrain de la culture: Voltaire souhaite que le théâtre transforme les Lausannois et les Genevois en Français alors que Rousseau lutte contre cette altération culturelle par crainte d’une détérioration de patriotisme.

J. J. Rousseau citoyen de Genève, à Mr. D’Alembert (Amsterdam, 1758).

Déplacé à Genève, aux Délices, dès 1755, Voltaire se rapproche de ses éditeurs Gabriel et Philibert Cramer, mais aussi d’une scène plus brillante et d’un public dont la réputation européenne est excellente.

Là il se retrouve toutefois confronté aux mêmes contrariétés qu’à Lausanne. L’idéologie républicaine est très forte parmi les bourgeois, en particulier dans le groupe de ceux qui s’opposent aux décisions des Conseils restreints dominés par un ensemble de vieilles familles. Cependant là aussi, Voltaire croit au rôle civilisateur du théâtre, les bons spectacles poliront le reste de sauvagerie que les Genevois conservent. D’où l’intrigante remarque de l’article ‘Genève’ de l’Encyclopédie, rédigé par D’Alembert, mais soufflé par Voltaire: associer ‘à la sagesse de Lacédémone la politesse d’Athènes’. Les travaux de Rahul Markovits qui documentent les réactions genevoises à l’introduction des théâtres dans la ville – constructions éphémères accompagnant l’arrivée des médiateurs français lors de chaque grande crise politique et sociale – montrent que toutes les couches de la société étaient séduites par les spectacles. Les chefs du parti bourgeois (communément appelés Représentants, à cause des ‘pétitions’ qu’ils adressaient aux Conseils restreints assurant le gouvernement) ont beau dénoncer l’effet pernicieux provoqué par les spectacles, le peuple en général s’y rendait malgré tout.

Dans la Lettre à D’Alembert sur les spectacles, les idées de J.-J. Rousseau reflètent ou sont similaires à celles des Représentants de Genève, dont un des chefs de file est Jacques-François Deluc. Horloger dans la cité de Calvin, De Luc cultive les valeurs républicaines. Il pense que la ‘pureté’ des mœurs genevoises est le résultat des ‘Lois’ et des ‘usages’ d’un petit Etat dont les habitants n’ont pas été ‘dégradés’ par les rapports d’argent et la bassesse qui règne dans les grandes villes, où le fort opprime le faible. Les Remarques sur le paragraphe de l’article Genève, dans l’Encyclopédie, qui traite de la comédie et des comédiens datent du 26 avril 1758 et ont été écrites en parallèle à la Lettre à D’Alembert. Pour Rousseau, la comédie induit la diffusion des mœurs de Paris dans les villes rurales ou à la campagne, ce qui se heurte cependant à l’incapacité anthropologique des individus à adopter d’autres mœurs et d’autres manières de sentir: ‘Les habitants de Paris qui croient aller à la campagne, n’y vont point; ils portent Paris avec eux’ (La Nouvelle Héloïse in Œuvres complètes, Paris, 1961, p.602).

Jacques-Francois De Luc (1698-1780), attribué à Robert Gardelle (1682-1766) (Bibliothèque de Genève).

Le déisme représente un autre point de divergence entre Voltaire et les bourgeois, citoyens de Genève. C’est sans doute le point de divergence le plus important et celui qui oblige Voltaire à quitter la ‘parvulissime’ république, comme il l’appelle, pour Ferney. On l’oublie facilement, mais la Lettre à D’Alembert est aussi une défense de la sincérité des pasteurs de Genève accusés de socinianisme dans l’article ‘Genève’ de l’Encyclopédie. Par la suite cependant, Rousseau se distancie de l’opinion des pasteurs genevois: les Lettres écrites de la montagne (1764) portent trace de ces tensions. Mais dès La Nouvelle Héloïse, Rousseau tentait de concilier ses doutes sur la nature de la foi chrétienne dans une grande synthèse embrassant le monde rural, la mystique, la vertu civique et l’utopie. Il peut paraître étrange que Rousseau, critique violent du théâtre, s’abandonne à l’écriture et à la publication d’un vaste roman dès son installation à l’Ermitage en 1756, alors qu’il souhaitait consacrer son temps à ses institutions politiques et à d’autres ouvrages qu’il considérait sérieux. Mais si l’aspect social du théâtre le rebute, il conçoit la littérature épistolaire comme une grande communion dialogique où les différents points de vue coexistent et se tolèrent. Plus qu’une intrigue avec des personnages ridicules, le roman permet de construire progressivement une psychologie, de montrer des personnages dynamiques qui évoluent avec leurs doutes et leurs fêlures. Cette leçon littéraire de Rousseau, les Suisses – qui jusqu’alors s’étaient méfiés de la littérature fictionnelle, car mensongère et non-vertueuse – la retiennent et l’enrichissent.

Le roman Confidence philosophique (1ère édition en 1771) du pasteur Jacob Vernes offre un espace littéraire où contre-attaquer les thèses de Voltaire sur la religion et les mondanités. Dans ce roman épistolaire à thèse, Jacob Vernes, pourtant ami de l’auteur de Candide, fait du Voltaire à rebours. Il use des mêmes armes rhétoriques que les philosophes et il tourne en ironie les critiques contre la religion exposant le grand vide ontologique qu’elles laissent. La correspondance qui continua entre les deux hommes ne laisse pas penser que Voltaire ait pris ombrage des procédés narratologiques du pasteur genevois. Cependant ceux-ci illustrent de nouveau les tensions politiques et religieuses qui existeront toujours entre Voltaire et les élites suisses et genevoises. Là où Voltaire critique la religion au nom de la liberté en dénonçant la superstition, les seconds défendent le protestantisme en insistant sur son cadre moral et sa philosophie pratique réconfortante. D’un point de vue politique, là où Voltaire valorise la force législatrice et culturelle d’un grand roi, capable de guider son pays dans une direction nouvelle et progressiste, les élites suisses défendent l’austérité républicaine, mais aussi l’esprit de simplicité et d’égalité qui doit présider aux décisions collectives.

L’apport de mon livre, Rêves de citoyens, dans cette querelle à la fois esthétique, littéraire, politique et religieuse est d’avoir mis en évidence que les Suisses, sans délaisser le théâtre, vont utiliser d’autres médias fictionnels pour exprimer leurs idéaux républicains. La Nouvelle Héloïse est le détonateur qui amorce une série de récits sentimentaux qui explorent les facettes d’un idéal-type républicain (au sens wébérien), c’est-à-dire une utopie. Si à l’époque des Lumières, les écrivains suisses délaissent le genre de l’utopie littéraire, ils trempent leur plume romanesque dans un utopisme assumé. Grâce aux travaux de Bronislaw Baczko, nous savons que le dix-huitième siècle est une époque ‘chaude’ de l’imaginaire utopique. L’esprit de réformes, radical ou non, s’empare des sociétés d’Ancien Régime. En rédigeant La Nouvelle Héloïse, Jean-Jacques Rousseau se dote d’un espace littéraire qui offre à son imaginaire républicain une riche gamme de possibilités. Ainsi Rousseau reconstruit grâce à la lettre sur le Valais les sources idéales d’un républicanisme supposé naturel comme il représente dans la microsociété de Clarens, animée par Julie, les diverses interrogations qui assaillent quotidiennement citoyens et citoyennes. Quel cadre offrir à la morale politique et religieuse? Comment exploiter un domaine qui assure à la fois une certaine aisance familiale, qui permette que les terres soient bien cultivées et qui fournisse aux environs des emplois nécessaires à la préservation des individus dans les campagnes en leur évitant de rejoindre les villes corruptrices? Comment former l’esprit des citoyens pour que ceux-ci soient sensibles aux inégalités sociales et au respect des formes démocratiques? De même, comment rendre l’homme suffisamment sensible pour que dans le ‘tableau de la nature’ il perçoive et respecte l’œuvre du créateur? Ces questions, que les personnages du roman de Rousseau discutent longuement, avec des opinions contradictoires, sont reprises par les romans sentimentaux helvétiques, qui les explorent à leur tour. Il n’y a pas d’opposition frontale dans ces textes à la pratique du théâtre; au contraire dans le roman fleuve (en 7 volumes!) de Samuel Constant de Rebecque, Laure ou lettres de quelques femmes de suisse, les personnages s’amusent à monter et à jouer une pièce; cependant la tonalité du discours romanesque reflète un éthos républicain équivalent à celui qu’Albrecht von Haller peint dans Les Alpes ou que Jean-Jacques Rousseau, avec ses Montagnons du Jura, dessine dans la Lettre à D’Alembert.

Dans la deuxième moitié du dix-huitième siècle, le roman sentimental chemine avec l’utopie littéraire, il exploite, par exemple, la narration en tableaux, comme Louis-Sébastien Mercier dans L’An 2440. Rêve s’il en fut jamais (1771) et dans Le Tableau de Paris (1772). Comme les utopistes, les romanciers sentimentaux font l’éloge de la simplicité, de la transparence et de la vertu civique. Dans l’utopie, la religion naturelle fusionne avec la sensibilité: l’homme est bon par nature et de sages lois peuvent le rendre meilleur; la tonalité est la même dans les romans sentimentaux. Dans les textes utopiques, malgré leur communisme à la fois social et économique, les femmes allaitent et les législateurs valorisent leur supposée pudeur naturelle pour mieux leur assigner un rôle inférieur. Rares sont les femmes qui participent au gouvernement dans les sociétés utopiques. Dès La Nouvelle Héloïse, Julie se plaint que Saint-Preux adresse les ‘réflexions graves et judicieuses’ à Milord Edouard et qu’il l’entretienne de sujets plus légers comme l’opéra ou les femmes françaises, mais elle se cantonne elle-même dans un rôle secondaire: ‘J’avoue que la politique n’est guère du ressort des femmes’ (p.305).

Animés par un éthos républicain classique, les romans sentimentaux helvétiques investissent un espace littéraire similaire à celui occupé par les utopies en France. Cette perspective romanesque permet également de représenter des citoyens en action, ce qui concilie les exigences patriarcales héritées du protestantisme avec les courants civiques et intellectuels des Lumières. Quant au théâtre, si celui-ci connaît un succès croissant, à Lausanne comme à Genève, ses effets de propagande et son impérialisme français sont observés avec suspicion. Les caractéristiques nuisibles du théâtre nourrissent la création d’une identité républicaine que les romans sentimentaux contribuent à définir et à élaborer.

Helder Mendes Baiao

For action! A bibliography of d’Holbach studies

Paul-Henri Thiry, baron d’Holbach, by Louis Carmontelle.

Following the release of Tout d’Holbach in March 2020, the Voltaire Foundation is continuing to produce research tools that we hope will prove beneficial to anyone out there working on the Radical Enlightenment and d’Holbach more specifically. The latest arrival, we are happy to announce, is a selected bibliography of mostly 20th- and 21st-century scholarly publications on the Baron d’Holbach and his works. Counting almost 200 entries and intended primarily as a tool for anyone working on the Digital d’Holbach project, this bibliography includes links to online resources, where available, and hopes to grow larger in the next few months thanks to the support of the many colleagues worldwide who share our interest in the works of the Baron. Should you wish your new publications to be featured in the bibliography, or to report any mistakes or omissions, please contact Ruggero Sciuto. Thanks in advance for your help!

Looking forward, the Voltaire Foundation also hopes to release a full list of pre-1789 editions of d’Holbach’s publications with hyperlinks to digitised copies on Googlebooks, HathiTrust, or Gallica, as well as a searchable catalogue of d’Holbach’s library, which was famously dispersed at an auction in 1789. Stay tuned!

P.S. for the Diderot fans among us: Prof Caroline Warman (Jesus College, Oxford) will present her latest book on Diderot’s Eléments de physiologie at 5 pm UK time on 18 June 2021. For more on this event and a registration link please click here.

Ruggero Sciuto

Left: Alan Charles Kors, D’Holbach’s coterie: an Enlightenment in Paris (Princeton, 1976); centre: Alain Sandrier, Le Style philosophique du baron d’Holbach (Paris, 2004); right: Mladen Kozul, Les Lumières imaginaires: Holbach et la traduction (Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment 2016:05).

‘What can we know?’ – The prize questions of the French academies as media of knowledge reflection

Discours qui a remporté le prix à l’Académie de Dijon en l’année 1750 (Bibliothèque nationale de France).

‘Is the wisdom that stems from temper as reliable as that stemming from reason?’ (‘Si la sagesse qui vient du tempérament est aussi sûre que celle qui vient de la raison’, Académie des Jeux Floraux, 1725), ‘How much are the sciences indebted to poetry and literature?’ (‘Combien les sciences sont redevables aux belles-lettres’, Académie des Jeux Floraux, 1753), ‘Is the multiplicity of scholarly works in all genres more useful or more harmful to the progress of science and literature?’ (‘Si la multiplicité des ouvrages en tout genre est plus utile que nuisible aux progrès des sciences et des belles-lettres’, Académie de Pau, 1754), ‘What does the philosophical spirit consist in?’ (‘En quoi consiste l’esprit philosophique?’, Académie française, 1755) and, of course, Rousseau’s revelation: ‘Has the restoration of the sciences and arts contributed to the purification of morals? (‘Si le rétablissement des sciences et des arts a contribué à épurer les mœurs’, Académie de Dijon, 1750) – those questions are just a few examples taken from the prize contests of the French academies. They clearly indicate that the self-reflective turn of knowledge, most famously articulated in the first Kantian question: ‘What can I know?’ not only arose at the end of the 18th century in the sublime work of a (German) professor of philosophy, but already in the 1730s in a very popular medium of the enlightened republic of letters.

The academic prize questions in France and beyond should indeed be considered a popular medium as, at the time, they attracted more and more participants from virtually all strata of society and, especially, authors of average intellectual backgrounds. The competitors were typically members of the lower clergy, of the parlements or the artes faculties of the universities, as well as lawyers and physicians. But even artisans and peasants picked up their quill pens. When the concours was abolished by the Convention nationale in 1793, that meritocratic institution of the French academies had mobilized altogether more than 12,000 participants. This was above all due to the fact that the contests, judged on the basis of strict anonymity, were open to the general public without any restrictions regarding social rank, gender, money, or institutional membership, or, to quote the regulations of the concours at the Académie française: ‘All sorts of persons, of whatever nature they may be, will be invited to take part in this prize contest (‘Toute sorte de personnes de quelque qualité qu’elles soient, seront reçues à prétendre à ce prix’).

Recueil de plusieurs pièces d’éloquence et de poésie (Paris, 1696).

This self-reflective turn is particularly striking when one considers the historical evolution of the prize questions at the French academies. The genre seemed hardly predestined for such epistemological investigations. Established in 1670 at the Académie française in the disciplines of poésie and éloquence the concours académique was first of all the medium of the panegyric on Louis XIV and a forum for the discussion of traditional theological and moral topics. It was only in the course of the eighteenth century, in the wake of the second wave of academy foundations after the 1720s, that new fields of knowledge were explored and that the range of subjects treated in the prize competitions started to increase. This was mainly due to the new disciplines of the concours académique, the scientific prize questions (established at the Académie royale des sciences in 1720, five years after the Académie de Bordeaux) and the historical contests held at the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres since 1734. What is more, with the prix des sciences the new empirical knowledge of nature found its way into a genre that had originally been established for cultivating the tradition of poetry and eloquence and hence the knowledge of the textual tradition.

Programme for the ‘prix de morale’ of the Dijon Academy of sciences 1743.

In the course of the 18th century the rhetorical prize questions, which remained one of the pillars of the genre, also underwent an important change, both regarding the modes of argumentation and the subjects proposed. Under the influence of Enlightenment discourse the contests, notably at the provincial academies, dealt more and more with the new philosophical topics of the time, in particular with the changing role of the arts and sciences and the epistemic status of rhetorical knowledge in relation to the observational insights of the flourishing natural sciences. Hence, since the 1730s, the questions set aimed explicitly at launching a debate on the contemporary development of knowledge in the republic of letters. This led to what one can call self-reflection of knowledge; self-reflection based, amongst other things, on the emerging specialisation of knowledge and further stimulated by the appearance of the Encyclopédie in the 1750s. This tendency was also very present, of course, in the philosophical competitions of the Berlin Academy of Sciences starting in 1747 with a question on Leibniz’s theory of monads. What is particularly interesting (and charming) about the French contests, however, is the fact that here the philosophical insights resulted from a deepened reflection on classical rhetorical topics such as ‘Is it of more use to study men or books?’ (‘Est-il plus utile d’étudier les hommes que les livres?’, Académie de Dijon, 1757).

Discours qui a remporté le prix en l’année 1755 (Académie française).

The rhetorical prize questions thus became a textual medium in which the crucial epistemic transformations within the republic of letters since the 17th century were reflected. They mirrored the changes that accompanied the shift towards written communication and towards the periodical production and accumulation of factual knowledge. What is more, several of the prizewinning essays put forward a fundamental critique of the claim to universal knowledge asserted by the exact sciences. This critique of science and of its belief in method argues, as does the Jesuit Father Guénard in his discourse on the esprit philosophique (Académie française, 1755), that reason unaware of its own limitations becomes dogmatic and finally turns into the opposite of what it set out for.

The recognition of the boundaries of technical rationality and of the ‘dialectic of enlightenment’ are phenomena uncovered in the 20th century, but they are also contemporary to the age of the ‘Lumières’ itself, one can argue, and developed in the plain public light of its most popular medium.

Martin Urmann, Collaborative Research Center Episteme in Motion, Freie Universität Berlin

This blog first appeared in Café Lumières: 18th-century research in dialogue, October 2020.

Mapping a polycentric Republic of Letters in eighteenth-century Mexico

Map of Mexico or New Spain (1708), by Herman Moll. (Wikimedia Commons)

The viceroyalty of New Spain – whose territory largely corresponded to that of present-day Mexico – was, during the eighteenth century, the most important intellectual hub in Latin America and a place of extraordinary scholarly endeavors. During this period Mexico’s viceregal society saw the publication of its first regularly issued newspapers (for example the Gazeta de México), its first biobibliography of Mexico’s written production (Bibliotheca Mexicana), its first scientific periodicals (such as the Diario literario de México), and one of the first – if not the first – science fiction works of the region (Un viaje novohispano a la luna). Despite these achievements the literary production and intellectual life of eighteenth-century Mexico has been overlooked. Why? Perhaps one of the reasons lies in the need for scholarship on this era to go beyond the analysis of the traditional models and genres of the Hispanic Golden Age studied by specialists of the early modern period. Given that literatura was an umbrella term that, during the eighteenth century, extended to almost the entire universe of writing, I think that the literary production of this time in Mexico is best approached as the product of the complex historical, scientific, philosophical, and religious inquiry that marked the era. Viceregal scholars, the practitioners of this literature, were polymaths that notably held a wide array of scholarly interests.

Front pages of the first issues of Mercurio volante (1772-1773), a scientific periodical edited by José Ignacio Bartolache (left), and of Gazeta de literatura de México (1788-1795).

My study Polemics, literature, and knowledge in eighteenth-century Mexico: A New World for the Republic of Letters aims to fill this critical void by analyzing how eighteenth-century Mexican writers sought to establish their local literary republic’s place within the global community of learning. These individuals formed scholarly networks, engaged in the historical exploration of the past and present, and configured new epistemological approaches to literary production inspired by enlightened ideas. Polemics of different kinds, as suggested in the title of my study, played a crucial role in the formation of scholarly circles. One of the first of such controversies was related to the lack of recognition by European scholars of the intellectual capacities of those born in the Americas. In order to debunk existing prejudices and to be considered part of the res publica literaria, Mexican scholars were eager to showcase their intellectual attainments to Europe. For these scholars, the Republic of Letters was polycentric, with one of its centers located precisely in viceregal Mexico.

Many literary works of this era not only utilized scholarly polemics as unique points of departure, but also gave rise to new controversies. Beyond Mexican scholars’ efforts to defend the intellectual capacities of fellow inhabitants of the New World, these writers, especially during the last quarter of the eighteenth century, were involved in internal, epistemological battles related to the practice of knowledge. My book not only highlights the efforts of scholars in eighteenth-century Mexico to construct a polycentric Republic of Letters in order to receive recognition from their European peers, but also demonstrates the extent to which the intellectual realm was dynamic within the viceroyalty.

Elementa recentioris philosophiae, by Juan Benito Díaz de Gamarra (Mexici, 1774) (Bodleian Library)

As such literary debates on knowledge attest, several intellectual circles coexisted in the viceroyalty that, due to their different characteristics, grew increasingly distant over time. In the works of some Mexican authors there existed two chronologically distinct Republics of Letters, that from the pre-Columbian era and that which emerged after the Spanish conquest. In the late eighteenth century, however, several publications attested to the simultaneous existence of at least two distinctive groups of scholars, one that was old and pertaining to scholasticism – the philosophical-educational system traditionally ruling the world of scholars – and another that was new, or modern, and influenced by enlightened ideas. In other words, the seemingly stable idea of the Republic of Letters in the mid-eighteenth century was to fall apart in the following decades, when Enlightenment-inspired criticism, opposition to ancient authorities, and philosophical and scientific development concerned with social realities put into play innovative approaches to knowledge and the practice of religion in the viceroyalty.

With Polemics, literature, and knowledge in eighteenth-century Mexico: A New World for the Republic of Letters, I invite those scholars devoted to the study of eighteenth-century cultures to engage in an examination of a less-explored scholarly territory and its networks, and to think about how it was heterogeneously constructed by many-sided polemics and debates manifested through a broad range of literary works.

– José Francisco Robles, University of Washington

Polemics, literature, and knowledge in eighteenth-century Mexico is part of the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series, published in collaboration with the Voltaire Foundation, University of Oxford.

This blog first appeared in the Liverpool University Press blog in April 2021.

Martin Folkes and Voltaire

John Smith, Martin Folkes after Jonathan Richardson Senior, mezzotint, 1719 (1718), 340 x 249 mm paper size, © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Qui sera sera, ‘Who or What will be, will be’ is the opening phrase that Martin Folkes (1690-1754) chose as his personal motto and inscribed in his travel diaries of his Grand Tour in the 1730s. Folkes was Sir Isaac Newton’s protégé, an antiquary, freethinker, mathematician, numismatist and astronomer and the only simultaneous president of the Royal Society and of the Society of Antiquaries. Due to his Grand Tour and a subsequent voyage to France in 1739, Folkes became a member of the Académie royale des sciences, participant in French salon culture and a correspondent of one of its doyennes, Madame Marie Thérèse Rodet Geoffrin.

Folkes also had a wide circle of friends, including Voltaire with whom he corresponded. On 10 October 1739 Voltaire wrote to Folkes from Paris in reference to his Réponse aux objections principales qu’on a faites en France contre la philosophie de Newton, a tract he wrote in support of his Eléments de la philosophie de Newton (1738). Voltaire conceived of the Eléments as a ‘machine de guerre directed against the Cartesian establishment, which he believed was holding France back from the modern light of scientific truth’. Voltaire and Emilie Du Châtelet engaged in a campaign on behalf of Newtonianism, putting in their sights ‘an imagined monolith called French Academic Cartesianism as the enemy against which they in the name of Newtonianism were fighting’, the main artillery of their battle being Voltaire’s Eléments de la philosophie de Newton. Voltaire’s letter was written in a fit of pique (Voltaire, Correspondence, D2088):

Portret van Marie-Thérèse Rodet Geoffrin, anonymous, engraved by veuve Delpech (Naudet), between 1818 and 1842, 273 x 180 mm paper size, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

“Sir, I Do my self the honour to send you this little answer I was oblig’d to write against our antineutonian cavillers.

“I am but a man blind of one eye expostulating with stark blind people who deny, there is such Thing as a sun.

“I’ll be very happy if this conflict with ignorant philosophers may ingratiate my self with a such a true philosopher as you are.”

In 1743, upon his election to the Royal Society, three years before he was elected to the Académie française, Voltaire wrote to Folkes, again in some frustration with his continued fight for Newtonianism and against those irritatingly persistent Cartesian vortices. Voltaire also reminded Folkes of his visit to England fifteen years earlier and his acquaintance with Charles Lennox, the 2nd Duke of Richmond, James Jurin, scientist and physician, and ‘Mr Turner’, who was Shallet Turner, Regius professor of modern history and modern languages at Cambridge. For all his support of Newton, and his comments about Newton’s funeral and monument in Westminster Abbey, Newton and Voltaire had not met before Sir Isaac died in March 1727. During his stay in England from May 1726 until the autumn of 1728, Voltaire did, however, meet Newton’s niece Catherine Barton Conduitt, who told him the apple story, a story that Folkes also related, and Voltaire related twice in his writings.

William Hogarth (attributed to), Examining a watch; two men seated at a table, the older (Martin Folkes) looking through his eyeglasses at a watch, a paper headed ‘Votes of the Commons’ (?) on the table. Pen and brown (?) ink and wash, over graphite, c. 1 (British Museum).

The correspondence between Voltaire and Folkes, Newtonian to Newtonian, suggests a long acquaintance, though the letters were not frequent, as was also the case with Voltaire’s correspondence with other English philosophers. Was Voltaire introduced to Folkes before the 1730s, perhaps during Voltaire’s visit to London in 1726-28? It is possible. Lennox and Jurin were close friends of Folkes. As Norma Perry showed, Voltaire lived at the White Wig (known also as the White Peruke) on Maiden Lane, and was said to have dined at the Bedford Head Tavern, one of the places in the 1720s in which Folkes attended Masonic meetings as a Deputy Grand Master. As J. B. Shank has indicated, ‘given his other activities, it is also likely that Voltaire frequented the coffeehouses of London even if no firm evidence survives confirming that he did’.

Nicolas de Largillière (1656–1746), Voltaire, oil on canvas, c.1718-24, Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris (detail).

And at one of the coffee-houses, called Button’s, which was near Covent Garden Piazza on Russell Street, we may have some firmer evidence that Voltaire met Folkes. A sketch attributed to Hogarth c.1720 at Button’s depicts Martin Folkes examining a watch (he was a known collector of watches) with an unknown gentleman sitting beside him, handing him an obscure object, perhaps a knife to pry the watch open, a coin, or another timepiece. (For a discussion of this sketch, see note below.) In 1786, Samuel Ireland did an aquatint of Hogarth’s work, where he identifies the figures as Martin Folkes and playwright, author, and journalist Joseph Addison. Folkes’s physiognomy is readily discernible, but the latter identification is impossible, as Addison died in 1719.

The sketch of the unknown man sitting with Folkes does, however, have similarity to an oil portrait (and its copy) of the young Voltaire painted by Nicolas de Largillière done immediately before Voltaire’s visit to England. I had the great pleasure of examining the original drawing in the British Museum’s Print Room with Nicholas Cronk. With the proviso that likeness is not proof, the sketch and Largillière’s portrait both portray a heart-shaped face with defined cheekbones, straight eyebrows, a dimpled chin, and pronounced nose, with the same facial proportions. The artist was also known for his character studies, in which he skilfully delineated the salient features of the figure.

Closeup and reverse of the anonymous figure in the Hogarthian sketch.

The Hogarthian sketch also shows a young man of very slender body, a physiognomy borne out by Voltaire’s acquaintances when he was in London. As Ballantyne remarked, Voltaire ‘seems undoubtedly to have been in a sickly state of body during the whole period of his residence in England’; in a letter to Nicolas-Claude Thiriot of February 1729 (D344), Voltaire proclaimed: ‘j’y ai été très mal. J’y suis arrivé très faible.’ At the Palladian mansion of Eastbury in Dorset Voltaire had met Edward Young, the author of Night thoughts, who wrote the famous description of him after a discussion of Milton’s Paradise Lost: ‘You are so witty, profligate and thin, At once we think thee Milton, Death and Sin’.

As Voltaire did not speak English when he came to England, he spent a large portion of his time with the London Huguenot refugee community, with whom Folkes was well acquainted through the mathematician Abraham de Moivre, his childhood tutor, and he natural philosopher and clergyman John Theophilus Desaguliers, both of whom he also knew from his work in The Royal Society. Folkes also spoke fluent French and was intimately familiar with French natural philosophy. As Voltaire wished to publish his La Henriade, he also sought out Huguenot printers, who ultimately published it. Voltaire had presented a copy of his Essay upon the Civil Wars of France (1727) to Sir Hans Sloane, inscribing it in his own handwriting, indicating they had been acquainted; Folkes and Sloane, of course, knew each other intimately, serving together in The Royal Society. The evidence suggests that Voltaire and Folkes may have met in London and if so, Folkes would have been pleased that the relatively unknown young man he encountered in the 1720s had so distinguished himself to be admitted to The Royal Society two decades later. Whatever the case may be, the sketch presents an intriguing picture of eighteenth-century coffee-house life, and Folkes as an intriguing figure in intellectual history.

Cover of Anna Marie Roos, Martin Folkes (1690-1754): Newtonian, antiquary, connoisseur (Oxford, April 2021).

If you’d like to read more about Folkes, see my recently published book with Oxford University Press: Martin Folkes (1690-1754): Newtonian, antiquary, connoisseur. The portrait on the cover is by William Hogarth, presented by Folkes to The Royal Society in 1742.

Note on the Button’s sketch:

This drawing is part of a set of four owned by engraver and prints dealer Samuel Ireland, described in his Graphic illustrations of Hogarth (1794-1799) as a series of characters in Button’s coffee-house. Although Ireland is known for spurious attributions of characters portrayed in Hogarth’s works, Lawrence Binyon thought ‘the most plausible of Ireland’s identifications is that of Martin Folkes’, due to its similarity with the later Hogarth oil portrait; Binyon also firmly considered the drawings by Hogarth (Lawrence Binyon, Catalogue of drawings by British artists and artists of foreign origin working in Great Britain preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, 4 vols, London, 1898-1907, vol.2, p.321). In the catalogue raisonné of Hogarth’s drawings, A. P. Oppé also mentions Ireland’s problematic attributions, but Hogarth is still identified by him as the artist due to the ‘careful, sensitive treatment of the faces’ and the clumsy bodies typical of Hogarth’s other works done at the time. He does note, however, that the drawing style and use of media are different from Hogarth’s early drawing style (A. P. Oppé, The Drawings of William Hogarth, New York, 1948, p.30-31). On the other hand Sheila O’Connell, retired assistant keeper of Prints and Drawings, British Museum, believes the set of drawings suspicious because of the Hogarthomania of the later eighteenth century (email of 15 August 2020). See also Sheila O’Connell, ‘Appendix: Hogarthomania and the collecting of Hogarth’, in David Bindman, ed., Hogarth and his times: serious comedy (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1997), p.58-61, on p.59. However, if the drawing is not by Hogarth, that does not mean it is not Folkes and Voltaire sketched by a contemporary. My thanks to Sheila O’Connell and Elizabeth Einberg for discussing the drawing with me.

Anna Marie Roos

Theatre and colonialism: the show goes on

The cover image of Colonialism and slavery in performance: theatre and the eighteenth-century French Caribbean shows a black and white detail from a wonderful color map of Le Cap, from the collection of the John Carter Brown Library, which can be viewed in exquisitely high detail here. I encourage strolling through the city! The theatre, pictured on the cover of the volume, occupies a rectangular corner lot below the government complex gardens, with its shorter face spilling onto the Place de la Fontaine Montarcher, and its longer face allowing for dramatic arrivals along the end of the broad cours of the Rue Espagnole. Theatre was literally at the heart of the Saint-Domingue’s cultural capital, a haven of spectacle that, as the essays in our collection show in so many ways, was adopted and adapted in the Caribbean slave colonies, to lasting effect.

Place et Fontaine Montarcher. (Manioc – Bibliothèque numérique caraïbe)

As editors of this volume, Karine Benac-Giroux and I are delighted to share this collection of essays with scholarly communities around the world. We feel that this is a particularly opportune time to look back at how popular entertainment shaped perceptions and identities in the transatlantic French empire, and the ways in which the legacy of these eighteenth-century cultural practices has continued to inform the artistic production and historical understanding of the modern Francophone Caribbean. By presenting these essays in English, we also hope that they can help to extend the growing body of research around slavery and culture across early modern European colonial empires.

Over the course of the time that this volume was in preparation the world has been rocked by a number of epoch-defining events. The international wave of protests set off by the killing of George Floyd in 2020 has shone a bright light on the continued structural disadvantages imposed on descendants of African slaves in America and abroad. These events unfolded during a worldwide public-health crisis that has, amongst other depredations, forced the closing of almost all live performance venues. While we join the world in our outrage and mourning over these trials, we also recognize the rare timeliness of essays on eighteenth-century studies and theatre, to reflect on the cultural and representational apparatus of a slave-labor driven political empire that was an important contributor to the mentalities and practices that continue to shape the lives of Black people around the world. Performance, in the eighteenth century as today, retains a unique ability to reflect and mold our social perception; each of these essays confirms this power, offering a range of critical tools and past examples to underscore the long history that led up to this point, and how we might seize on these same representational tools to forge a more equitable future.

Map of Saint-Domingue (Hispaniola), by Nicolas de Fer (1646-1720). (John Carter Brown Library)

Here is a quick summary of the volume’s contents. The volume is divided into three parts. The first looks at the cultures of performance in France’s most profitable eighteenth-century colony, Saint-Domingue. Before the Haitian revolution made this colony into the New World’s first Black Republic, Saint-Domingue’s economy was driven by slave labor at the island’s sugar plantations. Life in Saint-Domingue may have lacked much of the refinement of life in Paris, but in addition to importing unspeakably brutal labor practices, the colonists also brought a semblance of French theatrical life to the Caribbean. Travelling companies from Europe could profitably tour the colony with popular works from France, where the reigning théâtromanie made playhouses an important site for the negotiation of national values, tastes, and identity, all functions that theatre at once retained and modified in colonial Saint-Domingue. Logan Connors’ exploration of military-themed entertainment played in the colony reflects the increasing importance of an armed presence necessary for the commercial success of the slave-driven plantation economy, just as Julia Prest’s close reading of blackface performance illuminates the ways in which theatre helped to metabolize the conflicting moral valence of the racialized other under the ancien régime. In her exploration of the changes made to a successful pantomime spectacle when it was brought to Saint-Domingue by a traveling company of actors from France, Béatrice Ferrier’s research shines a light on the preferences of local audiences, while Bernard Camier details the emergence of a Creole theatrical culture articulated around the sophisticated use of the island’s homegrown idiom, notably in the works of the author and composer Clément, whose adaptation of Rousseau’s smash hit Le Devin du village provides a compelling case study for the emergence of a new identity – not French, but in dialogue with France – in Saint-Domingue.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Le Devin du village.

In turn, Sean Anderson turns his focus on the dance performances of enslaved people, detailing how increasing colonial efforts at regulating this cultural expression were nevertheless unable to suppress this vital embodied expression of community and identity among slaves. Laurence Marie rounds out this section, and provides a transition into the next part of the book, with an attentive reading of the theatrical notices in the Saint-Domingue newspaper, Les Affiches américaines, analyzing how this publication reflected and promoted the unique theatrical culture in the Atlantic colonies, both within the Caribbean space and before the curious public in continental France.

The second part of the book turns its focus to how Atlantic slavery was represented on Europe’s stages, beginning with Catherine Ramond’s review of the theme of slavery in eighteenth-century French theatre, where the topic received largely comic treatment until the early days of the revolution. My own article, on the representation of slaves in Revolution-era theatre focuses on linguistic caricature (the infamous ‘baragouin’ of Black characters on the French stage), is followed by Pierre Saint-Amand’s penetrating analysis of an explicitly abolitionist play, La Liberté générale, written following the declaration of universal emancipation by the Convention nationale in 1794, a scathing denunciation of the machinations of the colonial planter class in Paris.

La Liberté générale. (Bibliothèque nationale de France)

The view then moves to a larger European stage, with Fredrik Thomasson’s chronicle of slave-plays in Stockholm, triggered by the Swedish crown’s takeover of the slave island of Saint-Barthélémy, ceded by France in 1784, making Sweden a slave-holding colonial power for the first time in its history. While the Haitian Revolution is now recognized as a signal realization of the French Revolution’s ostensible goals of liberty and equality, it was nevertheless experienced as a deep trauma for the French nation, a trauma that Pascale Pellerin situates in the cultural context surrounding Napoleon’s Egypt expedition through her reading of two plays written by Népomucène Lemercier during this campaign, whose focus on North African slavery comes to stand in for the anxieties of a diminished France following the loss of Saint-Domingue.

The final section pivots to look at the inheritance of this eighteenth-century theatrical culture in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Laurent Dubois and Kaiama Glover’s collaborative contribution probes the porous borders of history and fiction through the intellectual relationship between Jean Fouchard, the pioneering mid-century historian of Saint-Domingue’s eighteenth-century theatre culture, and Marie Vieux-Chauvet, whose novel La Danse sur le volcan (1957) draws on Fouchard’s research to fill in the story of the mixed-race performer Minette, the colony’s most celebrated actress. Following this, Emily Sahakian turns her attention to two contemporary Guadeloupian artists, LénaBlou and Gilbert Laumord, whose respective artistic practice enters into dialogue with the experience of the enslaved people – their ancestors – whose voices are muted in eighteenth-century stage culture, but whose testimony lives on through the Caribbean dance and music traditions that form the basis of these artists’ work.

Colonialism and slavery in performance, Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, March 2021.

The final two essays look at contemporary creations in Martinique, beginning with Karine Bénac-Giroux’s reflections on Histoires de valets, her Creole-feminist adaptation of Louis de Boissy’s La Surprise de la haine, performed by Martinican college students in Schoelcher in 2017, in which she stages a literal confrontation between eighteenth-century theatre and the lives of contemporary French citizens, descendants of slaves, who live in France’s overseas departments. Nadia Chonville closes our collection with an analysis of gender construction in a Daniely Francisque’s 2018 play Ladjablès, illustrating how the stage remains as important a site for exploring the contours of a French-Caribbean identity that is forever marked by the legacy of ancien régime slavery.

Jeffrey M. Leichman, Louisiana State University

Jeffrey M. Leichman and Karine Bénac-Giroux are co-editors of the March volume in the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series, Colonialism and slavery in performance: theatre and the eighteenth-century French Caribbean.

A version of this blog first appeared in the Liverpool University Press blog, March 2021.

Enfin Moland vint ou comment reprendre le flambeau

La première partie de cette notice, ‘Moland avant Voltaire’, peut se lire ici.

2. Moland et Voltaire

Portrait de Louis Moland dans H. Carnoy, Dictionnaire biographique des hommes du Nord, I. Les contemporains (Paris, 1894), p.134. (artiste inconnu)

Commençons par dire qu’en l’état présent de nos connaissances nous ne savons rien de concret concernant la genèse de l’édition des Œuvres complètes de Voltaire, ni si Moland lui-même en était l’initiateur. Le prospectus initial, qui annonce une édition d’environ quarante-cinq volumes in-8o cavalier, attire surtout l’attention du lecteur sur le fait que ‘Ceux qui voulaient placer les Œuvres de Voltaire à côté des belles éditions de nos grands écrivains, qui se multiplient de toutes parts, ne trouvaient aucune édition qui pût les satisfaire. C’est cette lacune que nous entreprenons de combler.’ D’une part, il se peut que les Garnier aient tout simplement subodoré un créneau béant dans un marché lucratif; d’autre part – cas de figure peut-être plus probable – il se peut que Moland ait plaidé la cause d’une édition selon ses propres critères d’excellence qui pût en effet profiter des résultats des recherches entreprises – sur une période d’une quarantaine d’années – depuis l’époque de l’édition Beuchot. Ce même prospectus pourrait très bien porter la trace de sa propre plume: ‘Publiée sous la direction de M. Louis Moland, la nouvelle édition de Voltaire [présentée en tête du prospectus comme étant ‘conforme pour le texte à l’édition de Beuchot’] sera la plus complète de toutes, celle qui présentera un plus remarquable ensemble de notices, de commentaires et de travaux accessoires: études biographiques et bibliographiques, table générale analytique, enfin ce que les lecteurs sont accoutumés de trouver dans nos grandes éditions modernes. Le nom de l’éditeur si considéré des Œuvres de Molière, de La Fontaine, de Racine, de Rabelais, etc., suffit à garantir que notre édition ne laissera rien à désirer sous le rapport littéraire.’

Le nom de Beuchot dans ce contexte, comme inspirateur, n’a rien d’étonnant: de toutes les éditions de Voltaire, parues depuis la grande édition de Kehl, il n’y avait que la sienne qui pût satisfaire un critique comme Moland dont les préférences éditoriales étaient évidemment panoramiques. Si pour les uns, intellectuellement ou culturellement peu exigeants, les 72 volumes de Beuchot étaient un capharnaüm indigeste, pour d’autres – dont évidemment Moland – ils constituaient un véritable coffre aux trésors. Son édition à lui sera donc, qu’il l’ait dit ouvertement ou non, un hommage à un éditeur dont il admirait l’engagement indéfectible, et qu’il tenait à mettre à jour de la manière la plus efficace possible. L’édition de base sera donc celle de Beuchot, complétée de diverses manières par un Moland que l’on peut qualifier de disciple.

Voltaire. (estampe: Gallica, BnF)

A comparer les deux, nous ne discernons que peu d’innovations du côté de celui qui reprend un flambeau si brillamment porté en 1828-1833, car même si Moland arrive à ajouter au dossier Voltaire de nombreuses pièces inédites aussi importantes qu’éclairantes, même s’il arrive à ajouter par-ci par-là (au niveau des variantes et des notes) des compléments d’information essentiels, même s’il arrive à rédiger lui-même des introductions liminaires à une multitude de textes de toutes sortes, il ne s’écartera nullement de la marche de son modèle. Bref, il ne fait que l’actualiser de manière intelligente tout en y mettant son sceau personnel.

Comment illustrer cette affirmation? Elle se recommande à nous, comme un phénomène incontournable, dès le premier tome chez l’un comme chez l’autre. Dans sa Préface générale (t.1, p.[i]-xxxviii), Beuchot, conscient du fait que son édition à lui est infiniment plus scientifique que celles qui l’ont précédée, en conclut qu’elle sera donc infiniment plus utile qu’elles. Il s’applique donc, à l’exclusion de toute autre considération, à la situer comme l’apogée d’une longue lignée d’éditions de toutes sortes (dont évidemment il nous propose l’historique circonstanciée) et non point à nous proposer une explication raisonnée des dispositions internes de la sienne. Il nous propose comme qui dirait une explication éclatée: ‘comme j’ai mis, en tête de chaque division ou de chaque ouvrage ou opuscule, des préfaces ou notes, dans lesquelles je donne les explications que j’ai jugées nécessaires, je n’ai point à en parler ici’ (t.1, p.xxxi-xxxii). Les raison de son classement des parties intégrantes des Œuvres complètes ne sont donc pas immédiatement évidents. Moland, par contre, dans sa propre Préface générale (t.1, p.[i]-vii) tient d’emblée à donner, comme entrée en matière, ‘quelques explications sur le plan et sur l’économie de cette nouvelle édition […], tel est l’objet de cette préface’ (t.1, p.[i]). Dans dix paragraphes qui se tiennent, il définit et justifie ce qu’on peut appeler l’architecture interne de l’édition, laquelle n’est à tout prendre qu’un véhicule à proposer (quoique grossièrement) une présentation chronologique de la production voltairienne … aveu que fait Moland, de manière à éviter la controverse, en écrivant dans son Introduction au théâtre de Voltaire (t.2, p.[i]): ‘La présente édition commence, conformément à un usage traditionnel, par le théâtre. Cet usage ne tient aucunement, comme on l’a dit, à l’espèce de préséance qu’on accordait à la poésie sur la prose. Mais c’est qu’il est bon que, dans la suite des œuvres complètes, l’auteur apparaisse successivement tel qu’il s’est montré à ses contemporains, et que l’on assiste autant que possible au développement graduel de son esprit. […] Sous quel aspect se révèle d’abord Voltaire? Il se révèle d’abord comme poète dramatique et comme poète épique’ (p.[i]). D’où, par la suite, apparemment selon les avatars successifs de son personnage (mais en même temps selon une échelle de valeurs esthétiques bien connue, propre à ne pas froisser les tenants de l’école néo-classique), son classement ‘logique’ (Préface générale, p.ii-iii) en tant qu’historien, philosophe, romancier, nouvelliste et conteur, pour aboutir enfin à l’auteur des pamphlets qu’il nommait lui-même ses ‘élucubrations’, ‘petits pâtés chauds’, ‘rogatons’ ou ‘fromages’. C’est ainsi que Moland, à la différence de Beuchot, se met immédiatement au diapason de son lecteur qui est avide de comprendre quel est le ‘fil d’Ariane’ qui doit le mener à une meilleure compréhension de l’auteur et non moins à cette confiance indispensable qui doit s’instaurer entre éditeur et lecteur.

Or si, toutefois, j’ai plus haut caractérisé Moland de disciple de Beuchot, c’est que je m’intéresse tout particulièrement à certaines innovations vraiment révolutionnaires, faites par ce dernier, qui devaient être entérinées de tout cœur par ce premier. Comment, en effet, en tant que membre de l’équipe éditoriale que je suis, recruté il y a bien longtemps par Theodore Besterman pour aider à échafauder une édition à la fois synchronique et diachronique, présentée comme inédite, pouvais-je rester insensible devant une telle approche, évidemment inattendue, chez un éditeur du XIXe siècle? La présentation de textes de manière chronologique n’était en aucune façon pour Beuchot terra incognita. En vérité il s’y aventura délibérément quand il jugeait le procédé utile et éclairant. S’intéressant depuis longtemps aux éditions modernes de Voltaire (voir sa Préface générale, t.1, p.[i]-xxxviii), il n’ignorait pas que, dans l’édition Dalibon (1824-1832), Jean Clogenson avait décidé de classer toutes les lettres de Voltaire (LXVIII-XCV) de façon chronologique, ‘sans distinction des personnes à qui ou par qui elles sont écrites, c’est-à-dire sans les subdivisions de correspondances particulières établies dans les éditions de Kehl, et conservées depuis’ (t.1, p.xxvi et xxxi). Disposition qu’il adopta lui-même quelques années plus tard dans sa propre édition (LI-LXX).

Theodore Deodatus Nathaniel Besterman (1904-1976). (Studio Harcourt, Paris)

Mais Beuchot ne s’arrêta pas là. Il décida d’extrapoler cette méthodologie vers une multitude d’autres écrits qu’il intitule Mélanges (XXXVII-L). Si, dans sa Préface du volume 37, il annonce tout simplement la publication de cette masse par ordre chronologique, ce n’est que dans sa Préface générale qu’il s’en était expliqué: les sections discrètes, intitulées dans les éditions de Kehl et leurs imitations Mélanges historiques, Politique et Législation, Philosophie, Physique Dialogues, Facéties, Mélanges littéraires, devaient être classées ‘sous le titre de Mélanges, dans l’ordre chronologique, sans distinction de genre ni de matière’. Et de se justifier: ‘La classification que j’ai adoptée fait suivre au lecteur la marche de l’esprit de Voltaire. En commençant l’édition, je craignais d’être obligé de justifier longuement cette disposition; cela est superflu aujourd’hui, qu’elle a eu la sanction d’un grand nombre de personnes’ (t.1, p.xxxi). Non pas contre toute attente, Moland reprit le flambeau: ‘L’ordre chronologique donne seul une idée juste des travaux de cette existence extraordinaire, de leur multiplicité et de leur variété. […] C’est en mettant chaque œuvre à sa date qu’on permet au lecteur de se rendre compte à peu près de la marche suivie par le chef des philosophes, de voir ses prudents détours, ses diversions habiles, de deviner sa tactique […]. L’intérêt de certains morceaux augmente ainsi par juxtaposition et par contraste’ (t.1, p.iii). La seule différence que l’on puisse remarquer entre les deux érudits, ce sont des différences d’opinion sur la date de composition de tel ou tel écrit, car l’ordre de leurs tables chronologiques de la totalité des écrits de Voltaire (Beuchot, t.70, p.498-519; Moland, t.1, p.525-42), reflète l’ordre de leur publication de part et d’autre. Mais c’est l’existence même de ces tables qui autorise une question capitale: serait-on, par voie de conséquence, en droit de soupçonner qu’ils auraient pu découvrir, bien avant William Barber et Owen Taylor, les vertus d’une édition des Œuvres complètes entièrement chronologique?

L’Inspiration de l’artiste (c.1761-1773), par Jean-Honoré Fragonard. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

M’étant penché sur les travaux de Moland, j’admire sa constante fidélité à une conception très ardue de son rôle d’éditeur et d’érudit. Mais il y a un autre aspect de son portrait qui séduit sur le plan humain: c’est sa générosité d’esprit. Déjà le 13 juillet 1863, Sainte-Beuve lui reconnaissait la même qualité. Répétons-en l’essentiel: ‘M. Moland est […] le contraire de ces critiques dédaigneux qui incorporent et s’approprient sur le sujet qu’ils traitent tout ce qu’ils rencontrent et évitent de nommer leurs devanciers [et] dont le premier soin est de lever après eux l’échelle par laquelle ils sont montés’ (Nouveaux Lundis, t.5, p.274-75). En rendant constamment hommage aux efforts et aux découvertes de ses devanciers et de ses contemporains, qu’il nomme chaque fois sans faute, il prouve à l’évidence, quant à moi, qu’il était conscient du fait que le monument à Voltaire qu’il érigeait en 52 volumes était le fruit d’un travail collaboratif. En quoi n’est-il pas notre semblable et notre frère? Car, arrivés enfin au terme de tous les efforts consentis depuis cinquante ans pour donner vie à cette édition qui concrétise le rêve de Theodore Besterman, il me semble que, dignes successeurs de Moland, nous avons tous à notre tour érigé un monument, non seulement à l’érudition la plus pointue, mais aussi aux ressources inépuisables du travail en équipe qui a été bien mené et bien encadré.

John Renwick, Professeur émérite, University of Edinburgh