D’Éon vs Rousseau: Gender, slavery and the unique self

Chevalier d'Eon

Portrait of Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont by Thomas Stewart (1792), at the National Portrait Gallery.

Virtually everything about the Chevalier d’Éon’s life was extraordinary. D’Éon had a decorated career as a dragoon, diplomat, spy for the French king and rumoured double agent, not to mention being a prolific author, proto-feminist, freemason, international celebrity and exceptional fencer.[1] However, far more remarkable than all of this is the fact that, aged forty-nine, the Chevalier began a new life as a woman. After rumours began to circulate in 1770, d’Éon, who was living in England at the time, was subsequently taken to court, declared a woman and required to adopt female dress for the last thirty-two years of their life. Upon death, the body was examined and described as ‘unambiguously male’.[2] The reasons for d’Éon’s acceptance of a female identity instead of proving otherwise have been guessed at but never fully explained. Suggestions have ranged from the purely practical, such as the avoidance of assassination, to the deeply personal, such as the hypothesis that d’Éon was an example of a transgender individual avant la lettre.[3]

In around 1785, d’Éon wrote The Maiden of Tonnerre as an attempt to justify their decisions and lifestyle.[4] The intention was for this work to be translated into English and published, but the translation was not completed and the work remained unpublished until 2001. No French edition is currently available. The Maiden of Tonnerre contains a collection of semi-truths, letters, historical fiction and outright fibs claiming to be autobiographical, all tailored to maintain d’Éon’s self-image as a woman who lived as a man for the first forty-nine years of her life. Given this authorial intent, the literary persona of the Chevalière d’Éon, as portrayed in The Maiden of Tonnerre, will accordingly be referred to as ‘she/her’, while the real-life Chevalier d’Éon will continue to be referred to using the gender-neutral pronouns ‘they/their’.

Due to its hybrid nature, The Maiden of Tonnerre is something of a trans-genre text, existing at the crossroads of several literary genres just as its author existed at the crossroads of traditional sex and gender identities. In this work, the Chevalière outlines a conception of gender that is radically different from the stringent gender roles that are so often cited as typical of the late eighteenth century, attesting to a deep-seated psychological component to her embodied situation:

‘I had two personalities. My mind tended toward tranquillity, solitude, and study. Prudence told me that this was the wisest and simplest way to shield myself, but my heart loved the clash of weapons and the display of all the military drills. Unable to consult either man or woman, I consulted God and the Devil and, so as not to fall into the water, I jumped into the fire.’ (p.7)

D’Éon locates stereotypical eighteenth-century masculine and feminine gender roles as central to her anguish. Her hybrid psychological gender identity made up of ‘two personalities’ cannot bring itself to conform to the rigid gender roles society expects of a woman. The real-life d’Éon is likely to have encountered these gender roles as expressed in the famed writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, of whom they were an avid follower. However, as will become clear, the two authors vehemently disagreed on key issues surrounding gender.

Engravings of the Chevalier and Chevalière d’Éon

Engravings of the Chevalier and Chevalière d’Éon by Jean-Baptiste Bradel (c. 1780) which demonstrate a very different interpretation of gender ambiguity, namely that d’Éon is presented as two different people.

To exemplify this, we might recall Rousseau’s declarations in Émile that the ideal woman is ‘modeste en apparence’ and that ‘la femme est faite pour plaire et pour être subjuguée’.[5] Every time the Chevalière is reprimanded by others, it is for violating this strict Rousseauian conception of femininity, whether it be by wearing her dragoon uniform in public or initially refusing to wear dresses when ordered to by the king (p.28-32). It is telling that d’Éon associates her modest, traditionally feminine side with her ‘mind’, while her traditionally masculine military side is associated with her ‘heart’. Not only does d’Éon mingle gender roles, she completely inverts them, reversing the accepted eighteenth-century dichotomy of ‘à l’homme le rationnel, à la femme la sensibilité’.[6]

Indeed, ‘man’ and ‘woman’, ‘god’ and ‘devil’, ‘water’ and ‘fire’ all refer to binary logic founded on the principle of ‘either/or’, which, as d’Éon makes clear, offers no consolation to her unique gendered condition. This claim to singularity resembles Rousseau’s very own conception of the unique self as put forward in his autobiography, the Confessions.[7] It is d’Éon’s singularly non-conforming ‘style of life’ and ‘personality’ that causes her to resent the assimilation imposed upon her when the ladies of the court ‘have [her] play all the roles necessary to teach [her] how to behave at all times like an important noblewoman’ (p.17). This coerced assimilation is comparable to how transgender people are often compelled to ‘pass’ (either fully masculinise or fully feminise their appearance) to minimise their visibility by conforming to modern social custom. Likewise, d’Éon describes these predetermined roles as ‘chains’ and ‘shackles’ and likens the conformity they demand to ‘slavery’, desperately pleading, ‘Just leave me as I am’ (p.74, 62). In using this lexis, d’Éon draws upon yet another Rousseauian concept: the opposition between free will and slavery laid out in Du Contrat social. Thus, d’Éon appropriates two key notions found in Rousseau’s autobiographical and political writings to argue against Jean-Jacques (and much of eighteenth-century French society) on the topic of predetermined, fixed gender roles.

The translated edition of d’Éon’s ‘autobiography’

The translated edition of d’Éon’s ‘autobiography’, The Maiden of Tonnerre: The Vicissitudes of the Chevalier and the Chevalière d’Éon, by Roland A. Champagne, Nina Ekstein and Gary Kates (London, 2001).

The Chevalière instead affirms that, as a unique individual, she should be left to interpret gender in her own unique way. D’Éon consequently lives as a woman but performs some aspects of masculinity rather than aligning herself neatly with one or the other. So, if the one concrete conclusion we arrive at is the apparent lack of any concrete conclusion, then it is worth emphasising how d’Éon’s primary concern is pointing out the flaws in neat binary logic that operates with categories like man or woman, real or fake, body or mind and sex or gender. D’Éon’s text reminds us that the Enlightenment should be viewed as an ongoing project rather than an arrogant quest for definitive answers, and, in the absence of sufficient understanding of a phenomenon, it is vital to avoid pre-emptively passing judgement.

This sentiment of not rushing to conclusions when faced with something we do not fully understand is as relevant today as it was in the late eighteenth century. Transgender academics such as Stephen Whittle, Susan Stryker and Eli Clare continue to argue against the compulsion to pathologise trans bodies as undesirably defective. Furthermore, trans individuals are increasingly questioning whether the deeply held self-understandings they have can be entirely due to nurture and environment, denouncing the ‘diarrhoea of theories’ used to conveniently explain away their identity.[8] As The Maiden of Tonnerre makes abundantly clear, these ideas about gender identity are not some passing fad that sprung up in the 1990s. They have, in fact, been around for centuries, and remarkably similar arguments are made, and ignored, in each instance. Now, as before, without stable facts to work with, we must refrain from hastily jumping to conclusions: we begin to question what we think we know, recalling a humbler side to the Enlightenment that is often forgotten.

– Sam Bailey

[1] For a biography of d’Éon, see Gary Kates, Monsieur d’Éon is a Woman: a tale of political intrigue and sexual masquerade (London, 2001).

[2] Roland A. Champagne, Nina Ekstein and Gary Kates trans. and eds., The Maiden of Tonnerre: The Vicissitudes of the Chevalier and the Chevalière d’Éon (London, 2001), p. xvi. All page numbers in our blog post refer to this edition.

[3] These and many other theories are explored in The Chevalier d’Éon and his Worlds: Gender, Espionage and Politics in the Eighteenth Century, eds. Simon Burrows, Jonathan Conlin, Russell Goulbourne, Valerie Mainz (London, 2010).

[4] Tonnerre is d’Éon’s place of birth. The title is an adaptation of la pucelle d’Orléans, Joan of Arc’s French nickname.

[5] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Œuvres complètes de J.-J. Rousseau, vol. 2 (Paris, 1852), p. 659, p. 632.

[6] Raymond Trousson, ‘Préface’, in Romans de femmes du XVIIe siècle, ed. Trousson (Paris, 1996), pp. I-XXXIII (p. XV).

[7] For more on this, see Anna Clarke, ‘The Chevalier d’Éon, Rousseau, and New Ideas of Gender, Sex and the Self in the Late Eighteenth Century’, in The Chevalier d’Éon, eds. Burrows et al, pp. 187-200.

[8] Stephen Whittle, ‘Foreword’, in The Transgender Studies Reader, ed. Whittle and Stryker (London, 2006), pp. i-xvi (p. xiii).

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Natalia Elaguina décorée

Madame Natalia Elaguina a été décorée de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres au grade de chevalier le 18 novembre dernier au Consulat général de France à Saint-Pétersbourg. L’équipe de la Voltaire Foundation lui adresse toutes ses félicitations.

De gauche à droite: Hughes de Chavagnac, Consul général de France à Saint-Pétersbourg; Natalia Elaguina; Pascal Liévaux, du ministère de la Culture et de la Communication

Natalia Elaguina est conservatrice en chef du département des manuscrits occidentaux à la Bibliothèque nationale de Russie à Saint-Pétersbourg. Elle est directrice de publication du Corpus des notes marginales de Voltaire, vaste projet éditorial entamé en 1979 et poursuivi en collaboration avec la Voltaire Foundation depuis une dizaine d’années, et pour lequel elle a joué un rôle déterminant. Il recense les notes et les traces non-verbales laissées par Voltaire en marge des ouvrages de sa bibliothèque personnelle, conservée à Saint-Pétersbourg depuis la mort de l’écrivain. Les neuf volumes du Corpus recensent les traces de lecture sur 1687 ouvrages, dont certains sont copieusement annotés. En plus de la reproduction en quasi-facsimilé de tous ces marginalia et ces traces, chaque volume contient des centaines de notes des éditeurs qui expliquent les liens entre les lectures et les annotations de Voltaire, d’une part, et son œuvre, de l’autre. Les cinq premiers volumes ont fait l’objet d’une première publication à Berlin-Est avant que toute la collection soit intégrée aux Œuvres complètes de Voltaire d’Oxford en 2006. Mme Elaguina a raconté l’histoire fascinante de ce projet dans un article publié dans la Revue Voltaire. Nous avons collaboré ensemble aux volumes 6 (2006), 7 (2008), 8 (2012), et le neuvième et ultime volume, actuellement en cours de préparation, paraîtra au printemps prochain.

Un grand merci, et encore bravo Natalia!

– Nicholas Cronk, Janet Godden, Georges Pilard, Gillian Pink

Lines on the Birthday of Dr Swift

Jonathan Swift, by Charles Jervas, 1710.

Jonathan Swift, by Charles Jervas, 1710.

It is my birthday this week. People have already started celebrating. Because for the last 350 years I have been vexing the world, they still gather to talk about me, to talk about my books. They write books about my books. One of my younger fellow-countrymen once said that he was writing ‘To keep the critics busy for three hundred years’. This is what I have done.

I have played a number of tricks on my readers, of course. They have read my texts, not always sure whether they were serious or ironical, thinking that they were parodies but not always sure parodies of what. Sometimes it seems simple. My ‘Meditation upon a Broom Stick’ was sometimes referred to as being ‘According to The Style and Manner of the Honourable Robert Boyle’s Meditations’. It mocks Boyle’s famous meditations, or it mocks perhaps the infatuation of Lady Berkeley for Boyle’s meditations. It tells us that a broom-stick is a tree turned upside-down, the Branches on the Earth, and the Root in the Air, the perfect companion to Man, this topsy-turvy Creature (his Animal Faculties perpetually mounted on his Rational; his Head where his Heels should be, groveling on the Earth). The joke may also be on the reader, who, like the Yahoos in Gulliver’s Travels, fails to recognise his own picture.

Sometimes the jokes are more complex. I remember when poor Partridge, the astrologer, was being particularly irritating with his views on the relation between Church and State. I created the persona of Bickerstaff, parodied the form of the prediction, to attack him of course but also to dismiss the practice of almanacs. He tried to fight back but couldn’t; I predicted his death and confirmed it. He stood defeated. The problem is of course that, when I wanted to be serious, no one was quite sure whether I was, or not. For instance, I was determined to correct, improve and ascertain the English tongue; but some people argued that I could not possibly be putting forward such a project, having made fun of projectors throughout my writings.

Most of the time they could see that I was indulging in irony, but then they were ensnared, and could not dismiss my writings as simple fun. Because I force my readers to consider all the implications of my literary schemes. Take my modest proposal to Prevent the Children of poor People in Ireland, from being a Burden to their Parents or Country; and for making them beneficial to the Publick. It’s a wonderful plan, one that, as my new persona tried to explain, is based on scientific evidence, as communicated by a very knowing American of my Acquaintance: a young healthy Child, well nursed, is, at a Year old, a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome Food. The children of needy people could therefore be sold to the Persons of Quality and Fortune, through the Kingdom, to provide delicious nourishment. I computed that Dublin would take off, annually, about Twenty Thousand Carcasses; and the rest of the Kingdom the remaining Eighty Thousand. Had it been implemented, this scheme could have solved the problems of Ireland, reduced the numbers of Papists, brought money to the poorer part of the population, improved the activity in taverns, etc. Of course, I had nothing to gain by this scheme, for I had no Children, by which I could propose to get a single Penny; and my supposed wife, Esther Johnson, being past Child-bearing.

In A Tale of a Tub, I changed my voice again, adopting the persona of a modern to attack the moderns. This is one of my favourite devices, I am the enemy within. I use the other’s speech and I turn it inside out. No one quite knows, of course, with the Tale, what’s happening. It is a political tale. It is a religious tale. It is a tale about learning, which takes a stand in the battle of the books, which I also described, as it was happening, in St. James’s Library. It is an encyclopaedic text, with its myriad references, including to fictional texts, and perhaps the shortest encyclopaedia ever. There was even room for a digression in praise of digressions.

The King of Brobdingnag and Gulliver, by James Gillray, 1803.

The King of Brobdingnag and Gulliver, by James Gillray, 1803.

But then everybody’s favourite is Gulliver. The book of course is called Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World and penned by Lemuel Gulliver, who has perhaps become even more famous than me. Isn’t it odd that this book, which my friend Alexander thought I had made as bitter a pill for the public as possible, has also become one of the most widely read of children’s books? Of course children tend to read only the first two books, probably like Samuel Johnson who, apparently, said: ‘When once you have thought of big men and little men, it is very easy to do the rest.’ They watch the cartoon by Dave and Max Fleischer (1939) or the more mediocre recent film versions, they read countless adaptations. And as I write, the novelist Jonathan Coe is publishing a book for children whose model is Gulliver’s Travels: The Broken Mirror. My book of course is a bitter satire, a mirror in which we see everyone’s face reflected but our own. Perhaps this is why it still is so successful. Political factions among the little men, Gulliver’s fascination for war, the illusions of modern science which have taken hold of the projectors, not to mention Gulliver’s desire to negate his human passions and to become the model of rationality embodied by Houyhnhnms, all point in one direction: the stables, where man’s dreams and aspirations end up, where Gulliver is left to converse with his horses.

Gulliver Taking His Final Leave of the Land of the Houyhnhnms, by Sawrey Gilpin, 1769.

Gulliver Taking His Final Leave of the Land of the Houyhnhnms, by Sawrey Gilpin, 1769.

I have written so much more—poetry of course, I have preached sermons as Dean of St Patrick, in Dublin, I have published political tracts, I have engaged in fake and real correspondences. There is not a single literary endeavour where I haven’t left my mark. And I have often used these writings to engage with the condition of the Irish, to remind the London government of their unfair policies towards Ireland (remember ‘the Wood’s halfpence’?). But I believe that people in Ireland have continued to see me as the great defender of Irish liberties, as one of the shapers of Irish identity. I was hoping this might be the case, when I wrote my own obituary in verse:

He gave what little Wealth he had
To build a House for Fools and Mad:
And shew’d by one satyric Touch,
No Nation wanted it so much:
That Kingdom he hath left his Debtor,
I wish it soon may have a Better.

– Alexis Tadié

Voltaire Lab: new digital research tools and resources

As part of our efforts to establish the Voltaire Lab as a virtual research centre, we are pleased to announce a major update of the TOUT Voltaire database and search interface, expanding links between the ARTFL Encyclopédie Project and several new research databases made available for the first time. Working in close collaboration with the ARTFL Project at the University of Chicago – one of the oldest and better known North American centres for digital humanities research – we have rebuilt the TOUT Voltaire database under PhiloLogic4, ARTFL’s next-generation search and corpus analysis engine.

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New Search interface for TOUT Voltaire

PhiloLogic4 is a powerful research tool, allowing users to browse Voltaire’s works dynamically by date or title, along with further faceted browsing using the ‘title’, ‘year’ and ‘genre’, combined with word and phrase searching. Word searches are greatly improved for flexibility and ease of display and now include four primary result reports:

  • Concordance, or search terms in their context
  • KWIC, or line-by-line occurrences of the search term
  • Collocation, or terms that co-occur most with the search term
  • Time Series, which displays search term frequency over time

The new search interface will allow users to formulate complex queries with relatively little effort, following lines of enquiry in a dynamic fashion that moves from ‘distant reading’ scales of exploration to more fine-grained close textual analysis.

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TOUT Voltaire search results

Also in collaboration with ARTFL, we have just released the Autumn Edition 2017 of the ARTFL Encyclopédie, a flagship digital humanities project that for the past almost twenty years has made available online the full text of Diderot and d’Alembert’s great philosophical dictionary. This new release offers many new features, functionalities and improvements. The powerful new faceted search and browse capabilities offered by PhiloLogic4 allow users better to leverage the organisational structure of the Encyclopédie – classes of knowledge, authors, headwords, volumes, and the like. Further it gives them the possibility of exploring the interesting alternatives offered by algorithmically or machine-generated classes. The collocation search generates word-clouds or word lists that are clickable to obtain concordances for any of the words immediately. Further improvements include new author attributions, various text corrections, and better cross-referencing functionality.

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New ARTFL Encyclopédie interface

This release also contains a beautiful new set of high-resolution plate images. Clickable thumbnail versions lead to larger images that can be viewed in much greater detail than was previously possible.

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New high resolution plate images, ‘Imprimerie en taille douce’

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Close up of plate image

Thanks to the Voltaire Foundation, full biographies of the encyclopédistes are directly accessible from within the ARTFL Encyclopédie simply by clicking on the name of the author of any given article. This information is drawn directly from Frank and Serena Kafker’s The Encyclopedists as Individuals: A Biographical Dictionary of the Authors of the Encyclopédie (SVEC 257, 1988) – still the standard reference for biographical information on the Encyclopédie’s 139 contributors. Our hope is that this first experiment will demonstrate the value of linking digital resources openly in ways that can add value to existing projects and, at the same time, increase the visibility of the excellent works contained in the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment back catalogue.

Finally, we have begun the work of establishing new research collections that will form the basis of the Voltaire Lab’s textual corpus. For example, working with files provided by Electronic Enlightenment, we have combined all of Voltaire’s correspondence with TOUT Voltaire. This new resource, which we are for the moment calling ‘TV2’, contains over 22,000 individual documents and more than 13 million words, making it one of the largest single-author databases available for research. Due to copyright restrictions in the correspondence files we cannot make the full dataset publicly available, however we are keen to allow researchers access to this important resource on a case-by-case basis. Students and scholars who wish to access the PhiloLogic4 build of TV2 should contact me here.

Glenn Roe

Exploring Parisian archives thanks to the BSECS/Besterman Centre for the Enlightenment Travel Award

Tabitha Baker is a 3rd-year PhD student at the University of Warwick and V&A Museum. Her thesis is entitled ‘The Embroidery Trade in Eighteenth-Century France’ and is an AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Partnership project supervised jointly by Professor Giorgio Riello (Warwick) and Professor Lesley Miller (V&A).

On a visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in 1903, Beatrix Potter was shown an elaborately embroidered French velvet coat from the 1780s. Inspired by the sparkling embroidery which had retained its brilliance for over a century, an illustration of the coat was to appear on page 12 of her children’s story, The Tailor of Gloucester. The coat was later displayed in 1987-88 as part of the Beatrix Potter exhibition at the Tate Gallery, and remains a stunning example of eighteenth-century court dress. Eighteenth-century French embroidered clothing in the collections of the V&A and museums around the world is displayed for its technical excellence and beauty. Yet these objects are also the products of a deeply hierarchical and complex luxury trade, the socio-economic intricacies of which have been little studied to date.

Coat

Ensemble (coat), France, 1780s. 1611&A-1900. © Victoria and Albert Museum.

My research examines the relationship between the consumption and professional production of fashionable embroidery for clothing and furnishings in eighteenth-century France (c.1660-1791), with a particular focus on Paris and Lyon. By using archival sources alongside surviving embroidered objects from museums in the UK, France and the US, I investigate how embroidery techniques changed over time, how the trade functioned in different cities, and the nature of the professional embroiderers’ clientele.

Embroidery was a well-established trade in France by the time the ‘Beatrix Potter’ coat was produced, readily supplying the luxury clothing and furnishings market in the major cities of France and elsewhere in Europe. Due to their dealings with elite customers who were in a position to command long cycles of credit, it was not uncommon for professional embroiderers who ran large workshops to find themselves in precarious financial situations and succumb to bankruptcy.

The BSECS/Besterman Centre for the Enlightenment Travel Award enabled me to go to France in June 2017 to undertake detailed research on the bankruptcy records of the professional embroiderers of eighteenth-century Paris. At the Archives de Paris, I discovered more about their customers, orders, prices and delivery timeframes. This led me to analyse more fully the working practices of professional embroiderers during this period, including how long it took to produce and deliver to the client different types of embroidery, and how the cost of producing embroidery varied over the course of the eighteenth century.

Waistcoat, France, 1730s

Waistcoat, France, 1730-1739. 252-1906. © Victoria and Albert Museum.

An item such as this waistcoat (left), elaborately embroidered in coloured silk and silver threads and which can be seen today at the V&A, is one example of the fashion for luxuriously embroidered clothing at the royal court and the types of commissions taken on by the professional embroiderers of Paris. The order books that I have been working on at the Archives de Paris suggest that embroidery in gold and silver, popular amongst members of the French nobility, could have cost anything between 800 and 2500 livres to purchase, and such orders were placed with embroiderers at the top end of the occupational hierarchy, usually embroiderers to the king and court.

Due to their economic and social standing, customers of this calibre were able to purchase expensive luxury products such as these waistcoats on a long credit cycle, meaning that products would not be paid for in full until months or even years after the receipt of the product. Embroiderers who supplied the wealthy nobility were therefore caught up in a credit cycle, and were often owed great sums by their clients, as can be seen in many of the bankruptcy files.

Thanks to the generosity of BSECS and the Besterman Centre for the Enlightenment, my findings from this period of research have enabled me to make significant progress on my examination of the structure of the professional embroidery trade and how the embroiderers’ occupation reacted to a fluctuating consumer market. A close analysis of how embroidery was consumed in France during the eighteenth century, and the effects this consumption had on the structure of the French embroidery trade, will, I hope, contribute to a greater understanding of the relationship between elite consumption and the French luxury trades.

– Tabitha Baker

Le discours radical en Grande-Bretagne (1768-1789): réformisme anglais ou sortilège à la française?

Tous les 4 novembre, la Revolution Society, une société patriotique de Londres, célèbre la ‘Glorieuse Révolution’ anglaise de 1688, porteuse de liberté religieuse et politique. En 1789, le pasteur Richard Price modifie cette célébration purement anglaise en incorporant à son sermon un éloge vibrant de la Révolution française, couronnement selon lui de la Révolution américaine de 1776 et annonciatrice de paix universelle. Ce sermon mémorable constitue la première prise de parole publique en faveur de la Révolution française en Angleterre et y provoque une immense controverse.

Regardons un instant la caricature de William Dent, brillante illustration du réquisitoire d’Edmund Burke contre le fameux dîner mais que Dent applique à une autre célébration, celle du 14 juillet 1791 à Londres. Quatre hommes dansent autour d’un chaudron, tels les sorcières de Macbeth. Leurs paroles, calquées sur le texte de Shakespeare, annoncent la subversion des institutions et des valeurs. Ils attendent avec impatience de niveler les conditions sociales, mais aussi de s’enrichir grâce au trafic des assignats:

‘Around! around in Chaotic Dance,
We step to tune of free-made France;
And when the Hurly-burly’s done,
And all Ranks confounded in One;
Oh! how we will Sing and Caper,
If Cash we can make with Paper.’

‘Revolution Anniversary or, Patriotic Incantations’, print by William Dent (1791). ©The Trustees of the British Museum.

La monarchie et les corps constitués sont distillés dans ‘l’esprit français’ (à la fois alcool et idéologie enivrante), la couronne renversée annonce la chute de la monarchie britannique. La caricature croque la fine fleur de l’opposition ‘radicale’. On reconnaît Joseph Priestley à son habit de pasteur ainsi que Charles James Fox, bedonnant et hirsute, tribun whig et éternel ennemi du premier ministre Pitt. Un autre pasteur, Joseph Towers, et le dramaturge Richard Brinsley Sheridan les accompagnent: pas des sans-culottes donc, mais un aristocrate, des bourgeois, des hommes de lettres. Priestley tient à la main le pamphlet de Tom Paine sur les droits de l’homme, tandis que les tableaux renvoient à des épisodes traumatiques de l’histoire anglaise, au ‘fanatisme’ et au ‘républicanisme’. Si la caricature renvoie au contexte de la Révolution française, elle est aussi une dissection visuelle du discours radical qui se répand depuis la fin des années 1760 et se fonde à la fois sur les droits de l’homme et sur l’histoire anglaise.

Les radicaux dénoncent l’influence exorbitante de la Couronne et de l’exécutif, le caractère oligarchique et non-représentatif des Communes, la corruption endémique. Ce réformisme parfois modéré explose sous le coup de la Révolution française, d’un nouveau ‘jacobinisme’ anglais et de la réaction conservatrice.

Dans mon livre Le Discours radical en Grande-Bretagne, 1768-1789, j’examine les points communs et les différences entre les divers tenants du ‘radicalisme’ pour montrer que l’unité de ce discours, réformateur et soi-disant loyal mais aux accents parfois révolutionnaires, tient au recours à la tradition historique anglaise combiné à l’appel aux droits de l’homme et à un universalisme des Lumières.

– Rémy Duthille

Fake views: an unusual false attribution

While looking for a pamphlet entitled Lettre de M. de B… à Monsieur de Voltaire I came across a Lettre de M. de Voltaire au peuple d’Angleterre, sur les écarts qu’il a fait paraître, au sujet des balladins français. I have located only four copies in library catalogues. The copy in the Taylorian Library used to belong to Theodore Besterman, who describes it in Some eighteenth-century Voltaire editions unknown to Bengesco (SVEC 111, 1973, no.352). Besterman swiftly dismisses the work in a note stating: ‘As a preface to this pamphlet is printed a letter from Voltaire to Garrick, oddly dated from Coppet, 29 November 1755, and no more authentic than the rest.’ But the work has some interest.

A first consideration with such publications is to assess whether the imprint is genuine: ‘A Londres: Chés J. Robinson, au Lion d’Or, dans Ludgate-Street. M.DCC.LV.’ The pamphlet was certainly printed in England, as is proved by the presence of a press-figure on p.2. The firm of J. Robinson was principally associated with religious publications, and some medical and scientific works, but also history and there was, in 1744, Stage policy detected; or some select pieces of theatrical secret history laid open: in a letter to a certain manager on his imaginary justification of his late conduct. By an impartial hand. So perhaps the imprint is genuine.

The word ‘baladin’ (in its modern spelling) is defined in the Robert dictionary: ‘Vx. Danseur de ballets; bouffon de comédie, comédien ambulant.’ It is not much used in modern French but was certainly well known in the eighteenth century. According to F. Noël’s Philologie française (Paris, 1831), ‘Les balladins étaient des danseurs qui vinrent d’Italie en France dans le 16e siècle.’ What appears to be the sole example of its use in Voltaire’s works is found in the Questions sur l’Encyclopédie, article ‘Anciens et modernes’: ‘Molière, dans ses bonnes pièces, est aussi supérieur au pur, mais froid Térence, et au farceur Aristophane, qu’au baladin Dancourt’ (OCV, vol.38, p.346). He uses the word in a letter to Marie-Louise Denis in 1744 (D3015): ‘Je me sens un peu honteux à mon âge de quitter ma filosofie et ma solitude pour être baladin des rois’; and to Tronchin and Richelieu in 1764. The ‘Lettre à M. Garrick’ in this pamphlet mentions ‘le genre balladin’. There is no evidence of any correspondence between Voltaire and Garrick before the mid-1760s.

Garrick by Gainsborough.

The anonymous writer has fluent French, is familiar with Voltaire’s work and makes some effort to imitate his style, with varying degrees of success, but he is probably English. The spelling is sometimes strange (‘tandîque’, ‘Etâts’, ‘interrêt’, ‘rivâle’); older verb endings are used (‘vous voyés’); ‘ce’ is often fused with the word that follows it (‘ceque’). The use of the word ‘Quixotisme’ in the ‘Lettre à M. Garrick’ surprises. It is not used anywhere by Voltaire, and indeed the word seems to be unknown in France, not recorded by either Littré or Robert. The only other example I have found in French is in a letter written by Joseph Conrad to Jean Masbrenier on 14 January 1913. In this letter Conrad is clearly translating from his own English. The word is therefore an anglicism. The real French term ‘donquichottisme’ is recorded in 1789, while ‘Quixotism’ is recorded in English from 1664.

The writer shows some knowledge of Voltaire’s private life in the ‘Extrait d’une lettre envoyée de Genève à Londres’ which introduces the pamphlet, and uses it well to give a spurious authenticity to the work. The letter is dated ‘Ornex, 30 novembre 1755’ and its writer claims that Voltaire was with them, visiting ‘le P. Vionnet’ ‘son bon ami, et son frère en Apollon, comme il l’appelle’. I have found no evidence to back up either of these claims, though Voltaire was at Les Délices at the time and so could have visited. Georges Vionnet taught rhetoric at the Collège de la Trinité in Lyon, and wrote some plays. Only one letter from Voltaire to Georges Vionnet is known, and refers to their plays: ‘J’ai l’honneur, mon révérend père, de vous marquer une très faible reconnaissance d’un fort beau présent [Vionnet’s Xerxès]. Vos manufactures de Lyon valent mieux que les nôtres; mais j’offre ce que j’ai [Voltaire’s Sémiramis]. Il me paraît que vous êtes un plus grand ennemi de Crébillon que moi. Vous avez fait plus de tort à son Xerxès, que je n’en ai fait à sa Sémiramis. Vous et moi, nous combattons contre lui. Il y a longtemps que je suis sous les étendards de votre société. Vous n’avez guère de plus mince soldat; mais aussi il n’y en a point de plus fidèle. Vous augmentez encore en moi cet attachement, par les sentiments particuliers que vous m’inspirez pour vous, et avec lesquels j’ai l’honneur d’être, etc.’ (14 December [1749], D4074). But Georges Vionnet died in December 1754. His brother Barthélemy also taught at the college, was also a playwright, and was still alive in 1762, but there is no evidence that Voltaire had contact with him.

The supposed addressee of the letter is unnamed. The Histoire tragique arrivée à l’encontre des danseurs françois ascribed to him, and which allegedly prompted Voltaire’s Lettre, does not appear to have survived, if it ever existed.

The ‘Extrait d’une lettre’ recounts how Voltaire amusingly defended his love of the English. The writer claims that the next morning (!) Voltaire’s ‘valet de chambre’ brought the Lettre au peuple d’Angleterre, and he has made a copy, which he encloses.

The 1763 Covent Garden riot.

The occasion for the pamphlet was a riot at the Drury Lane Theatre in November 1755. Riots were not unusual in theatreland. There had been one in 1737 when footmen were denied their usual free seats in the gallery. There was one in 1763 over increased ticket prices.

The 1755 riot was different, being political, and developed over several days. David Garrick had engaged the Frenchman Jean-Georges Noverre to produce a spectacular ballet.

Jean-Georges Noverre.

Noverre was an innovative and admired balletmaster who created some 150 ballets, of which none have come down to us, but his influence on ballet has been great. In 1754 his Fêtes chinoises had enchanted Paris, and Garrick asked for an even richer version for his London audience. Unfortunately for the production, tensions with France were growing – it was the eve of the Seven Years’ War – and a section of the audience was hostile. The Journal étranger of December 1755 (part 2) gives a detailed account of hostilities in the theatre. On the first performance (8 November), even in the King’s presence, there were whistles, jeers and shouts of ‘No French dancers!’ On 12 November the performance was interrupted by fighting between the nobility and the ‘parterre’. On the 14th the nobility were absent and the ‘peuple furieux’ drowned out the music. On the 15th, again in the absence of nobility, there was a full riot by the ‘Blagards’, which was put down by the militia. Garrick’s assistant promised there would be no further performances. On the 17th the nobility demanded the Fêtes chinoises. Some people repeated the cry for no French dancers. Garrick was summoned. He was unable to satisfy the rival parties but after much argument it was agreed to put on the ballet on the 18th. On that day the opposing sides were present in numbers, the nobility well armed. Total war in which the nobility were unable to overcome the rebels. The theatre was badly damaged; Garrick’s house in Southampton Street was attacked, with all the windows broken, and there was a risk it would be set on fire.

Garrick’s house in Southampton Street, London.

The Journal étranger (p.235) concludes: ‘Il serait trop long d’entrer dans le détail des platitudes qui se sont débitées à Londres à cette occasion, comme chansons, pièces de vers, libelles, etc. On a poussé l’extravagance jusqu’à imprimer que les danseurs français étaient des officiers, et le Maître des ballets, le Prince Edouard.’ Reports also appeared in the Caledonian Mercury (27 November) and the Leeds intelligencer (2 December). A more colourful account is given in the footnote on p.41 of The Pin-basket to the children of Thespis by Anthony Pasquin [John Williams] (London, 1797).

A detailed examination of the whole affair is given in Hsin-yun Ou’s ‘The Chinese festival and the eighteenth-century London audience’ in The Wenshan Review of literature and culture, vol.2.1 (December 2008).

The scene is set and our anonymous writer, in the ‘Lettre à M. Garrick, pour servir d’Introduction’, starts off with a voltairean rhetorical question: ‘Est-il possible qu’un peuple qui passe dans toute l’Europe pour penser, se livre à des égarements aussi ridicules, que ceux où l’on m’écrit qu’il s’est jeté?’ and introduces the main text: ‘Je joins ici une lettre, dont l’objet roule uniquement à faire voir à cette sage nation, combien elle déroge à son honneur et à sa gloire, toutes les fois qu’elle s’abandonne à une passion marquée au coin de la haine et de la jalousie, pour des sujets aussi frivoles que celui du genre balladin.’

But is is perhaps in this introductory letter that there is a clue to the purpose of the deceit. Towards the end the writer clarifies what he means by ‘peuple’. It is not the common people: ‘La populace n’a ni yeux pour voir, ni oreilles pour entendre. […] C’est une machine informe et pesante, qui n’avance qu’autant qu’on lui donne de force. […] La populace eut vu jouer votre Ballet chinois avec des yeux aussi tranquilles que stupides, si quelque Mégère d’un souffle empesté, n’eût allumé le flambeau dont elle arma cette multitude insensée. C’est donc à ces personnes distinguées de la populace […] que j’adresse cette lettre; à ces personnes qui ont du bon-sens et de la raison, mais que le défaut d’expérience et le manque de réflection, empêchent d’en faire usage à propos; à ces personnes qui n’ayant ni les sentiments où est élevée la noblesse, ni l’ignorance où croupit la populace, tiennent justement le milieu entre le haut et le dernier rang d’une République. Ce sont ceux-là, que le mot de liberté, transporte, affole, enthousiaste; et qui donnant trop de feu à leurs passions, les consument au lieu de les nourrir, pour le soutien et pour l’éclat du corps républicain.’ An appeal to the middle classes for a political rebirth.

What are we to make of the expression ‘corps républicain’? It was not common in French at this time, but became so later in the century. But this is an Englishman writing. Is he appealing to the tradition of the Commonwealth men?

The Lettre de M. de Voltaire au peuple d’Angleterre itself contains a long satirical tirade in which the writer taunts the English with having abandoned their military glory in favour of defeating French dancers: ‘je demanderais aux Anglais, quels étaient leurs grands balladins du temps des Edouards, des Henris, des Elizabeth, des Cromwell? Quelle tache encore une fois pour ces grands princes, de n’avoir pas établi dans leurs états, des écoles de danse, d’escrime et de frisure!’ He thinks it fine to dispute the ‘gloire’ of Shakespeare and Molière, but not farce and ballet. He continues with a diatribe against the weakening of the nation who will not know the glory of arms and will despise battle and combat, and will have no ‘destinée’ but to go to the courts of princes to be diverted by leaps, dances, songs and farces. ‘Les Anglais ne sont point nés danseurs, ni friseurs, ni balladins. Ils ont l’esprit plus élevé; les grands objets font leur occupation: la liberté, la guerre, les sciences, les arts, les métiers, les manufactures et le commerce, voilà pourquoi est né un Anglais; et c’est une gloire pour eux de n’avoir jamais eu, et de n’avoir encore à présent ni friseur, ni danseur, ni balladin.’ The writer praises England, but condemns its concentration on trade and avidity for gold. He praises Louis XIV for forbidding his nobles to engage in commerce.

He writes too against the ‘Antigallicans’ who are hostile to the French, and who think: ‘il est bien cruel de voir notre argent que nous avons tant de peine à faire venir dans notre île, en sorte par la voye de tant d’étrangers, qui comme la fourmis, viennent ici faire leur provision, et vont ensuite la consumer ailleurs’. He argues forcefully that foreigners who earn money here also spend it here, supporting the economy. Here are interesting similarities with current arguments in Britain.

The letter ends in a mode of voltairean irony: ‘Mais silence …. je ne m’apperçois pas que pour un sujet aussi frivole que celui du Genre balladin, je me jette dans des réflexions profondes et à perte de vue. Que le peuple anglais s’obstine à écarter les danseurs français; qu’il nous apprenne qu’avec des batons il sait casser des lanternes; et qu’avec des cailloux il sait enfoncer des vitres; ne réformons personne, laissons le monde tel qu’il est, etc. etc.’

At a time when Europe and other parts of the world were moving towards war, the anonymous writer has used Voltaire’s prestige to support what is in effect a call to arms and moral regeneration, while avoiding simple jingoism.[1] Much emphasis is put on praise for England, but France is not disparaged. It is a clever piece of work and perhaps one of the ‘libelles’ referred to by the writer of the account in the Journal étranger. We unfortunately cannot know how widely the Lettre was read nor how much influence it had.

I have not found any clues to the identity of the writer. He was knowledgeable about Voltaire’s writings and some details of his private life. His French was good. He had strong views about the changes needed to make Britain powerful again. He admired France and Voltaire. At first blush one might think of Sir Everard Fawkener, who was a close friend and admirer of Voltaire and fluent in French. He had also been active in military matters, being from 1745 secretary to the duke of Cumberland, and diplomacy, having been made ambassador to the Sublime Porte in 1735. But this seems unlikely. The ageing Fawkener would by this time probably have been too troubled by his growing financial problems to be tempted to lead a campaign for national regeneration.[2] The Voltaire Foundation would be interested to receive suggestions of the writer’s identity.

– Martin Smith

[1] Voltaire’s celebrity was such that his name was falsely attached to many publications of different kinds, and for various purposes. For an account of this phenomenon see Nicholas Cronk, ‘The selfless author: Voltaire’s apocrypha’, Romanic Review 103.3-4 (2013), p.553-77.

[2] See Norma Perry, Sir Everard Fawkener, friend and correspondent of Voltaire, SVEC 133 (1975), ‘The last ten years’.