Digital d’Holbach

Grâce à un don de la Mellon Foundation, la Voltaire Foundation a entamé une édition numérique des œuvres complètes du baron d’Holbach, l’un des penseurs clés des Lumières radicales françaises.

Le baron d’Holbach, par Louis Carmontelle.

‘Vivre heureux’ et ‘faire des heureux’. Ce sont là, d’après le baron d’Holbach, les deux seuls objectifs que tout être humain doit poursuivre dans la vie. Comment les atteindre? Il suffit de suivre la nature et de se tenir fermement au ‘flambeau de la raison’. Sauf que… sauf que des ‘fantômes effrayants’, engendrés par la superstition, viennent souvent nous détourner de la ‘voie du vrai bonheur’. Et quand on est soi-même malheureux, il est bien difficile de s’occuper du bonheur des autres. Il faut donc saper les fondements de toute religion, démasquer les ‘imposteurs’ qui nous rendent malheureux, et ramener ‘les esprits égarés à la raison’.

Une telle entreprise, d’Holbach le répète à plusieurs reprises, n’est pas sans risque, car présenter la ‘vérité’ aux êtres humains, comme le dit Diderot, c’est ‘introduire un rayon de lumière dans un nid de hiboux’. Néanmoins, dès le début des années 1760, le baron saisit la plume et commence à bombarder ‘l’édifice ruineux de la religion’. Pendant presque quinze ans les attaques se succèdent sans interruption. Ce sont des traités de morale et de politique, des dictionnaires de jargon théologique, des livres qui prêchent le matérialisme et le déterminisme. Tous ces textes paraissent de façon soit anonyme, soit pseudonyme. Seul un petit nombre de gens de lettres, y compris – fait remarquable! – quelques hommes d’église, savent qui se cache derrière le Système de la nature et Le Bon SensFait encore plus remarquable, ils gardent tous le secret, et lorsque d’Holbach meurt au mois de janvier 1789, il est enterré dans l’église Saint-Roch à Paris, à coté de Diderot.

Depuis lors, des chercheurs se sont essayés à définir les limites du corpus des œuvres du baron d’Holbach, tâche ardue, bien sûr, étant donnée la fâcheuse (mais compréhensible) habitude du baron de ne rien signer. D’ailleurs, un autre facteur vient compliquer la situation: c’est que d’Holbach ne travaillait pas isolément. En effet, on sait par diverses sources que Diderot et Naigeon se donnaient tous deux beaucoup de peine pour blanchir les ‘chiffons sales’ du baron avant l’impression. D’ailleurs, on ne saurait dissocier le baron de la société de gens de lettres qui se réunissait chez lui, sa ‘coterie’ ou ‘boulangerie’: comme il l’écrit lui-même dans l’une de ses lettres, son existence au sein de la république des lettres était une ‘existence collective’.

Grâce à un don généreux accordé à la Voltaire Foundation par la Mellon Foundation, nous travaillons depuis quelques mois à un projet d’édition numérique des œuvres complètes du baron d’Holbach (si tant est que l’on puisse parler d’œuvres ‘complètes’ pour un corpus aux contours aussi difficiles à délimiter). Ce projet nous aidera à jeter quelque lumière sur des ouvrages longtemps oubliés par les chercheurs, et nous permettra de mieux comprendre la genèse et l’évolution de la pensée de l’un des plus importants philosophes du dix-huitième siècle.

Image BnF/Gallica.

Nous avons décidé d’entamer notre édition par les Lettres à Eugénie, un traité sous forme de lettres qui s’adresse aux femmes en tant qu’agents fondamentaux de changement social et culturel. Parallèlement, nous travaillons également à une édition de la correspondance du baron, dont un catalogue est désormais disponible sur le site internet d’Early Modern Letters Online (j’y reviendrai ultérieurement dans un nouvel article de blog). Nous invitons tous ceux et celles qui veulent en savoir plus à venir nous rejoindre à Edimbourg, le lundi 15 juillet à 16h15 (panel 88, voir ici, p.24)!

– Dr Ruggero Sciuto, Hertford College/Voltaire Foundation, Université d’Oxford

Networks of Enlightenment: new approaches, new perspectives

While many ‘great men and women’ stand out in eighteenth-century Europe, what is notable about the Enlightenment is the prominence of its ‘great groups’, or, as we like to call them, networks. Many individuals owe their participation in the Enlightenment to their membership in intellectual groups and institutions: the philosophes, the salons, the academies… the list goes on. And these networks were, in turn, central to their participants’ identity. What’s more, the leading figures of the Enlightenment were not only members of these groups or networks, but they were often the central nodes of networks that were integral to the Enlightenment: from Voltaire’s or Catherine the Great’s correspondence networks to Julie de Lespinasse’s salon, mediated and unmediated communication were essential to making the Enlightenment possible.

Networks of Enlightenment, edited by Chloe Edmondson and Dan Edelstein, is the June 2019 volume of the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series.

Networks of Enlightenment: Digital Approaches to the Republic of Letters presents a series of case studies of correspondence networks, social networks, and knowledge networks throughout Europe, with a particular focus on France. Authors examine anew some of the pre-eminent networks of the Enlightenment, drawing on digital methods and Social Network Analysis (SNA) to pioneer historically driven methods for thinking about networks in early-modern societies.

Although scholars have long zeroed in on the importance of social groups and networks in the Enlightenment, from networks of publishers and booksellers to provincial academies, the salons, and correspondence networks, technological innovations have only recently made it possible to study these networks from new perspectives. Data-driven approaches provide a more comprehensive and granular understanding of the many different types of networks that formed the intellectual and cultural infrastructure of the Enlightenment throughout Europe. The digitization of correspondence collections has been essential for data-driven scholarly projects, allowing scholars to study these networks at both the micro and macro levels, and to explore the worlds of the philosophes and the ‘nodes’ in their networks in rich detail. Indeed, it was thanks to metadata produced in large part by the Electronic Enlightenment Project at Oxford University that many authors in this volume first developed and applied methods for historical data analysis in a project reconstructing ‘The French Enlightenment Network.’

Working from historical data to study networks is not without its challenges, and one of the core concerns of this volume is how to responsibly study historical networks in the absence of complete data. At the most fundamental level, a social network is a system of actors (nodes) and the ties between them (edges). Social Network Analysis can be applied to virtually any type of network, and an SNA study relies on both information about the nodes and the relational ties between them. Reconstructing complete historical networks, however, is not only difficult and messy, but near impossible in most cases due to the quality of historic sources. Often, we do not know if someone was truly not ‘in’ the network, or if his or her membership was simply not recorded. The mathematical and statistical metrics typically used for SNA studies, which rely on complete or representative samples, would thus produce results that would distort reality when applied to historical data. As such, the adoption of SNA methods by historians requires creativity to tailor SNA methods to the object of inquiry, the data available, and the research questions at hand.

The authors of the essays in this volume do precisely that: they elegantly combine traditional humanistic inquiry with innovative digital methods to offer fresh perspectives on important networks and issues of the Republic of Letters. At this intersection of Enlightenment historiography, data capture, and social network analysis, the essays in this volume take advantage of new data sources, configurations, and modes of analysis to deepen our understanding of how Enlightenment sociability worked, who it included, and what it meant for participants.

Authors not only examine various types of networks, but they also use the term ‘network’ in very different ways. While part I of the volume concerns ‘correspondence networks’ with case studies of Voltaire, Catherine the Great, Francesco Algarotti, and Jacques Pérard, part II focuses on ‘social networks’, or who interacted with whom in milieus of sociability. These studies include Julie de Lespinasse’s salon, Gustav Philip Creutz’s Parisian networks, and Casanova’s theater network. Finally, part III examines ‘knowledge networks’ from two very different approaches: the first, by examining the role of the academies in the Republic of Letters, and second, the knowledge networks present in Johnson’s Dictionary.

This volume emerged out of a conference held at Stanford University in 2016, and it seems fitting that the first volume in the series Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment dedicated to digital approaches to eighteenth-century studies would originate in the heart of Silicon Valley. This conference, which brought together an international group of scholars, demonstrated the exciting possibilities that can ensue when technological advancements are leveraged in the service of the humanities. Networks of Enlightenment: Digital Approaches to the Republic of Letters is very much the culmination of many years of figuring out how best to accomplish that, through interdisciplinary collaboration and experimentation on projects that preceded and gave rise to the ones contained in this volume.

– Chloe Summers Edmondson, Stanford University

The above post is reblogged from Liverpool University Press. Chloe Edmondson is co-editor of the June Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment volume Networks of Enlightenment: Digital Approaches to the Republic of Letters, which provides exciting new perspectives on the European networks that made up the Republic of Letters.

Christophe Paillard

L’équipe de la Voltaire Foundation a eu la grande tristesse d’apprendre le décès de notre collègue et ami Christophe Paillard, voltairiste passionné et spécialiste de Jean-Louis Wagnière.

Christophe publia son premier article pour la Voltaire Foundation avec Christiane Mervaud en 2006, ‘Le supplice de Tantale: Decroix et l’inventaire des ouvrages marginés de Voltaire à Saint-Pétersbourg par Jean-Louis Wagnière’ dans la collection des SVEC (2006:06). Deux ans plus tard, il rejoignit l’équipe des collaborateurs de l’édition critique des Questions sur l’Encyclopédie au sein des Œuvres complètes de Voltaire, et il annota plus de 40 articles de cet ouvrage entre 2008 et 2013. En 2008 parut sa monographie Jean-Louis Wagnière, secrétaire de Voltaire, et l’année suivante il devint membre du Conseil scientifique des OCV.

Il joua un rôle crucial dans les éditions de deux textes importants, les Dialogues d’Evhémère (OCV, t.80C) en 2009 et L’A, B, C (t.65A) en 2011. Il signa les éditions de plusieurs autres courts textes: De la chimère du souverain bien (t.45B, 2010), l’Eloge de l’hypocrisie (t.60C, 2013), Tout en Dieu (t.70B, 2016), et un appendice à l’Essai sur les mœurs, sur les notes et remarques de Wagnière portant sur ce texte (t.27, 2016). Tout récemment, Christophe a collaboré à l’entreprise collective du Commentaire historique sur les œuvres de l’auteur de La Henriade, où il a préparé en particulier un dossier qui recense les révisions posthumes apportées par Wagnière à ce texte (t.78B-78C, 2018).

Ses derniers travaux pour les OCV, l’édition de notes marginales de Voltaire sur deux exemplaires retrouvés à Tsarskoïe Selo, préparée avec sa femme Irina Zaïtseva, paraîtront cet été dans le Supplément au Corpus des notes marginales (t.145).

Toute l’équipe de la Voltaire Foundation adresse ses sincères condoléances à l’épouse et à la fille de Christophe Paillard.

Voltaire as philosophical historian and historian of modernity

Whether from modern scholars or his contemporaries, most criticism of Voltaire’s history books boils down to one thing: Voltaire was not an academic historian. In his defence, he never claimed to be one, and his histories are all the more interesting for it. Voltaire’s histories have received renewed scholarly interest in recent years, and the Voltaire Foundation’s ‘Voltaire: historian of modernity’ research project began in 2015 with the aim of improving our understanding of Voltaire’s practice and influence as a contemporary historian of the early modern period and includes the set of critical editions of Voltaire’s ‘modern history’ texts. This year heralds the completion of the Siècle de Louis XIV,  Essai sur les mœurs et l’esprit des nations, and Annales de l’Empire depuis Charlemagne multi-volume editions with the Précis du siècle de Louis XV following early next year.

The University library at Göttingen, painted by Johann Christian Eberlein (1800).

Detractors such as August Ludwig Schlözer in the Göttingen School of academic history accused Voltaire of being less concerned with historical facts and rigorous scholarship than he was with narrative and readability (Annales de l’Empire, Introduction, Œuvres complètes de Voltaire, vol.44A, p.16). His authorial voice and his distinctive style were dominant, as was his constant insistence on philosophical readings of history, attempting to extract moral lessons from the past at every turn. Naturally, Voltaire’s defenders view precisely these characteristics as advantages of his approach.[1] Pierre Rousseau, editor of the Journal encyclopédique, praised the Annales de l’Empire in 1754 for its ‘philosophical spirit’ and the ‘character of the author’ (vol.44A, p.29).

Furthermore, Voltaire’s presentism and philosophical bent constituted a deliberate move away from traditional histories, most notably Bossuet’s overtly Christian Discours sur l’histoire universelle (1681) and those emanating from academic schools of history such as Göttingen. (For a direct comparison between Voltaire and Bossuet’s styles, see our article ‘Essai sur les mœurs: What Voltaire did differently’.) Voltaire leaned towards what we would today term popular history, writing a series of accessible, enjoyable books that delivered a wealth of historical knowledge and philosophical reasoning in an appealing package.

Admittedly, he did so with a generous helping of editorialising, but it helps if we understand the context from which these books were born. In the famed querelle of the Ancients and the Moderns, Voltaire was firmly on the side of the Moderns. This influenced the shape and purpose of his historical writings: he was a historian of modernity who placed far more emphasis on recent years than on antiquity. Voltaire’s presentist approach is evident in his flagship Siècle de Louis XIV, which helped secure him the title of Royal Historiographer in 1745, and his universal history, the Essai sur les mœurs, which devotes far more pages to recent episodes than it does to the great events of ancient history, such as the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. In the section of his 1744 Conseils à un journaliste entitled ‘Sur l’histoire’, Voltaire defends his presentism:

‘Foster above all in the young more taste for the history of recent times, which is for us a matter of necessity, rather than ancient history, which is merely a matter of curiosity.’

[‘Inspirez surtout aux jeunes gens plus de goût pour l’histoire des temps récents, qui est pour nous de nécessité, que pour l’ancienne, qui n’est que de curiosité.’ (vol.20A, p.482)]

As well as a historian of modernity, Voltaire was also a philosophical historian, meaning that his histories were part and parcel of his philosophical enterprise, namely the promotion of reason and tolerance. Voltaire accordingly invented this discipline of philosophical history for himself in La Philosophie de l’histoire (vol.59). These two disciplines were symbiotic: as a history of societies closer to his own, Voltaire believed that modern history had more instructive value from a philosophical standpoint, especially to young people. Even when writing about the distant past, as he does in the early chapters of the Essai and the Annales, Voltaire is always looking forward by asking the reader the question of ‘what can we, in the present, learn from all this?’

We have a series of short introductory articles for readers wishing to explore the Annales de l’Empire in more depth:

We have a similar series of introductory articles for the momentous work of universal history, the Essai sur les mœurs et l’esprit des nations:

Samuel Bailey

 

[1] For a defence of Voltaire’s historical methodology, see Pierre Force, ‘Voltaire and the Necessity of Modern History’, Modern Intellectual History, 6:3 (2009), 457–84.