L’édition Kehl de Voltaire, une aventure éditoriale et littéraire au tournant des Lumières (1ère partie)

Strasbourg

Strasbourg, sa citadelle et le fort de Kehl avec tous les ouvrages qui ont été construits pendant la paix, par Du Chaffat capitaine et ingénieur de la Rep. d’Ulm et J. G. Ringlin. 1735. Image BnF/Gallica.

C’est en face de Strasbourg, sur la frontière franco-allemande, une forteresse construite par Vauban en 1683, située sur les rives du Rhin, que Beaumarchais fit installer, en 1780, une imprimerie où furent confectionnés les volumes de la grande édition de Kehl des œuvres complètes de Voltaire. Quarante presses, deux cents employés, dix ans furent nécessaires pour réaliser cette édition monumentale, que Beaumarchais voulait «le plus beau monument littéraire et typographique de ce siècle».

Le libraire Panckoucke est à l’origine de cette histoire éditoriale. En 1777, son intérêt commercial croise l’ambition de Voltaire de revenir à Paris après vingt-huit ans d’exil. Entre Ferney et Paris, les derniers mois du patriarche se passent à réviser ses écrits. Après sa mort, Panckoucke récupère les manuscrits de Voltaire et tente de réaliser l’édition. Trop d’obstacles matériels, économiques, politiques se dressent face à son entreprise. Il cède son projet à Beaumarchais en février 1779. L’édition de Voltaire fait alors l’objet d’une transaction inédite : les manuscrits et droits d’impression sont revendus pour une somme globale de cent mille écus. C’est la première fois dans l’histoire que l’œuvre d’un écrivain acquiert un tel prix, tout en étant interdite. Portant sur la vente des manuscrits et des droits d’édition, le contrat détaille par une série de clauses les conditions de la transaction et de l’association.

Beaumarchais, par Jean-Marc Nattier (vers 1755).

Beaumarchais, par Jean-Marc Nattier (vers 1755).

Beaumarchais se lance dans cette entreprise en disciple fervent de Voltaire: «Ce ne sera qu’en lisant cette édition complète, qui se prépare avec tant de soin, qu’on connaîtra tout entier cet homme qui fut véritablement extraordinaire en toute chose», annonce l’un des avis publiés dans la presse. Lui aussi, comme Panckoucke, est confronté à des obstacles sans nombre. Il met toute son énergie, son talent de polémiste et d’écrivain au service de son combat. Face aux risques de censure, il donne à ses plaidoyers la forme de comédies: «Vous avez offert de n’imprimer les œuvres d’aucun auteur vivant. Bene sit; de ne vous jamais prévaloir sur des terres du prince en Alsace. Bene sit; de ne pas ajouter un mot aux œuvres du grand homme qui puisse choquer les opinions ou les mœurs très austères de notre siècle timoré. Bene sit mais nous ne châtrerons point notre auteur, crainte que tous les lecteurs de l’Europe qui le désirent tout entier ne disent à leur tour en le voyant ainsi mutilé: Ah che schiagura d’aver lo senza coglioni! Et quels sots pédants étaient ses tristes éditeurs!»

L’enquête que je mène dans mon ouvrage s’appuie sur des archives en grande partie inédites et s’attache à restituer cette histoire du livre dans tous ses aspects: enjeux typographiques et commerciaux, épistémologie et pensée du livre, innovations éditoriales, enjeux politiques de la transmission du patrimoine voltairien à la veille de la Révolution française, censure théologique et parlementaire.

Condorcet, portrait anonyme.

Condorcet, portrait anonyme.

Frédéric II, admirateur de Voltaire, avait perçu l’enjeu de la transmission de l’œuvre de Voltaire: «Les écrits de Virgile, d’Horace et de Cicéron ont vu détruire le Capitole, Rome même; ils subsistent, on les traduit dans toutes les langues, et ils resteront tant qu’il y aura dans le monde des hommes qui pensent, qui lisent et qui aiment à s’instruire. Les ouvrages de Voltaire auront la même destinée; je lui fais tous les matins ma prière, je lui dis: Divin Voltaire, ora pro nobis!» (Frédéric II à D’Alembert, 22 juin 1780).

C’est Condorcet, disciple et compagnon de route de Voltaire pendant ses dernières années, qui est chargé de sélectionner, de classer, d’établir, d’annoter les écrits de son maître. En marge, il fournit un commentaire qui s’apparente davantage à un dialogue vivant, tourné vers l’avenir, qu’à un simple commentaire critique. Dans l’Avertissement général, au tome 1, il jette un regard rétrospectif sur son travail: «Permettra-t-on aux rédacteurs de placer ici une remarque qui les a frappés ? Personne n’admirait plus sincèrement qu’eux M. de Voltaire: personne n’avait plus lu ses ouvrages; cependant en revoyant dans la nouvelle édition ces mêmes ouvrages distribués avec ordre, et de manière qu’on puisse en saisir l’ensemble, M. de Voltaire s’est encore agrandi à leurs yeux, et ils ont appris que jusque-là ils ne l’avaient pas connu tout entier».

Page de titre du t.1 de l’édition de Kehl de 1785.

Page de titre du t.1 de l’édition de Kehl de 1785.

L’édition de Kehl présente en effet un cas particulier dans la bibliographie des éditions voltairiennes: elle fonde une nouvelle tradition éditoriale, mettant en œuvre une série d’innovations économiques et commerciales, littéraires, intellectuelles et éditoriales. L’enjeu est une nouvelle définition de l’idée d’œuvre et d’auteur. C’est la première édition posthume des Œuvres complètes de Voltaire, la première à faire l’objet d’une souscription. Elle inaugure également la publication de la correspondance, conçue comme un corpus à part entière. Complétée par une Vie de Voltaire, elle est pensée comme un ensemble complet, visant à présenter l’intégralité d’une trajectoire humaine et littéraire. Le corpus doit être définitif, grâce à un effort d’exhaustivité, de classement et de répartition. Il doit préparer l’avenir, et fonder la postérité littéraire, philosophique et politique de Voltaire. Il introduit une nouvelle réception de l’œuvre, par la classification, par le commentaire et l’annotation, écrits dans les marges, et par l’illustration, qui propose une nouvelle scansion des textes.

Visant à la fois la continuation, la synthèse et le dépassement du corpus tel qu’il se constitue progressivement du vivant de Voltaire, le projet s’élabore grâce à la volonté conjointe de l’auteur et de ses éditeurs, avant de prendre la forme d’un manifeste pour les temps nouveaux. (à suivre / to be continued)

– Linda Gil

Linda Gil est Maître de conférence à l’université de Montpellier Paul-Valéry et membre de l’Institut de recherche sur la Renaissance, l’âge Classique et les Lumières, IRCL, UMR 5186 du CNRS.

 

Eighteenth-century studies, Besterman and Voltaire

Edinburgh castle.

Edinburgh welcomed dix-huitiémistes this year for the fifteenth ISECS congress. The Voltaire Foundation’s newest staff member, who joined in April 2019, experienced ISECS for the first time and was impressed by the strong ties in the research community. Meeting many of the OCV authors at the book stand was also a very welcoming and enlightening experience.

In July 2017, 50 years after the idea of the OCV was formed, the Voltaire Foundation published a blogpost summarising its first 25 years. Now, as we approach the end of the print edition, only a little later than hoped (does Achilles ever catch the tortoise?), it is time to look at the next 25 years, from 1993-1994 to 2018-2019, where the dominant theme has been scholarly collaboration.

The Voltaire Foundation at 99 Banbury Road, Oxford.

In 1993 the Voltaire Foundation bought a large Victorian house at 99 Banbury Road, giving much more space than the cramped modern offices it had previously occupied near the city centre. The first OCV volumes published from 99 were by key colleagues who are still being published in OCV, including Christiane Mervaud, with her edition of the Dictionnaire philosophique (vol.35-36) and her introduction to the Questions sur l’Encyclopédie (vol.37, 2018), Henri Duranton (vol.21, Essai sur les mœurs, 2018), Ralph Nablow (Le Dimanche and Lettre de Monsieur de La Visclède, vol.77A, 2014), John Renwick (Annales de l’Empire, vol.44, publication in 2019), and David Williams (Corpus des notes marginales: complément, vol.145, 2019). The ISECS conference of this period took place in Münster, Germany, in 1995.

Two members of staff who transferred to 99 are also still publishing in OCV: Janet Godden (vol.29, Précis du siècle de Louis XV, 2019) and Martin Smith (vol.146, 2020). The earliest members of staff to join the VF at the new premises and who are still at 99 working on OCV were Pippa Faucheux (1998) and Nicholas Cronk. The latter joined the editorial board and became Director of the edition in 2000.

News Bulletin for the 1999 ISECS congress in Dublin.

International collaboration continued in other ways. By the time of the ISECS congress in Dublin in 1999, the general editor of OCV was Haydn Mason, soon joined by Nicholas Cronk (current general editor) who took sole responsibility for the series on Haydn’s retirement in 2001.

In 2002 regular annual Besterman lectures were instituted, bringing eminent scholars from the UK and other European countries and the USA to talk on a vast range of subjects related to eighteenth-century studies, from Jesuits in China to the French Revolution, from problems of editing to the progress of plagiarism, from the late Renaissance to digital culture, and many other topics.

In the same year the British Academy commenced its longstanding, ongoing and valuable support for OCV. At the same time, another event of great importance for international collaboration was the signing of the contract to complete the publication of the Corpus des notes marginales, originally a project of the Russian State Library in St Petersburg, and to incorporate it into OCV.

2003 brought the next ISECS congress, in Los Angeles, the first in the USA since Yale in 1975.

In 2005 the OCV in-house team began to expand with Paul Gibbard, who is still contributing from Australia, as author in vol.144 (2018). Our current research editors joined the team from 2006 to 2010, enabling the high-calibre work on the edition to be continued at increased pace and scale. In 2006 the first of the new Corpus des notes marginales volumes (no.6, vol.141) was published, and enhanced re-issues of the first five volumes appeared between 2008 and 2012.

Coffee with M. de Voltaire.

In 2007 the Voltaire Foundation initiated a process whereby a younger scholar is introduced to an established Voltaire scholar to collaborate on the critical edition of a particular text. The first of these partnerships was between Tom Wynn and Haydn Mason, for the Poème sur la loi naturelle in vol.32B. Many more successful collaborations followed.

In the same year important progress was made on the major multi-volume editions within the Complete works: the first of eight volumes of the Questions sur l’Encyclopédie appeared (vol.38), the work of a large team of collaborators, and the Voltaire Foundation also received a five-year AHRC award to support the publication of the nine-volume Essai sur les mœurs project. The first Essai volume would be published in 2009. 2007 was also the year of the twelfth ISECS conference, in Montpellier.

At this time, the Voltaire Foundation also declared a completion date for the OCV of 2019-2020, which would be achieved by publishing six volumes a year, making the edition a roughly fifty-year project, like the Oxford English Dictionary.

In 2009 the Voltaire Foundation continued its support of younger researchers by introducing another newer scholar to a well-established name, in this case Renaud Bret-Vitoz (then in Tunisia, now Professor at the Sorbonne) with Basil Guy (Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley), who co-signed the edition of L’Orphelin de la Chine (vol.45A).

Supporting post-doctoral work on Voltaire, the VF was pleased to welcome Antonio Gurrado, who was awarded a Marie Curie Fellowship for two years to work in Oxford on Voltaire’s religious works of 1776 (vol.79B, published in 2014). By 2010 all the current team of in-house OCV research editors (Gillian Pink, Alison Oliver and Georges Pilard) were working at 99 Banbury Road.

News Bulletin for the July 2011 ISECS congress in Graz, Austria.

Also in 2010, the Fondation Wiener-Anspach, which fosters academic exchanges between the Université Libre de Bruxelles and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, provided support for the collaborative research project that was the Essai sur les mœurs edition. The OCV also received the Prix Hervé Deluen from the Académie française ‘in recognition of the fifty-year OCV project publishing the complete and critical works of Voltaire for the first time, so changing the image of Voltaire’.

The following year, 2011, eighteenth-century scholars of the world gathered at Graz for the thirteenth ISECS congress.

In 2013 the Voltaire Foundation began a collaborative blog and benefitted from the first of two MHRA one-year research associateships supporting new scholars: Nick Treuherz, working on vol.83 (published in 2015), followed by Helder Mendes Baiao, working on vol.60A (published in 2015). In 2014 a three-year Leverhulme research grant provided support for the preparation of the introductions to Voltaire’s historical works (Essai sur les mœurs, Siècle de Louis XIV and Précis du siècle de Louis XV, all published in 2019). The following year brought support from the Château de Versailles research centre for the first volume of Siècle de Louis XIV, and Nicholas Cronk received AHRC research support for his work on vol.6 (Lettres sur les Anglais).

The Voltaire Foundation’s stand welcoming dix-huitiémistes at the fifteenth ISECS congress in 2019.

Since the fourteenth ISECS conference, in Rotterdam in 2015, the last few years have seen the fruition of various collaborative projects. In 2016, unidentified texts published for the first time in the Kehl edition appeared in vol.34. In 2017 LVMH started supporting one volume per year (vol.20C, vol.65B and vol.21). In 2017 the Voltaire Foundation’s new website went live, replacing one dating from before 2002! This improvement was instigated by Alice Breathe, who is still contributing from Switzerland. In 2018 Christiane Mervaud’s introduction completed the eight-volume set of Questions sur l’Encyclopédie, and 2019 saw the completion of the eight-volume set of Essai sur les mœurs, the seven-volume set of Siècle de Louis XIV and the ten-volume set of the marginalia.

Theodore Besterman.

Theodore Besterman.

More than fifty years after Theodore Besterman held the first Congress in Geneva, he would probably be moderately pleased with the progress that has been made…

– Clare Fletcher et al.

Imperial letters don’t burn

“Burn my letters so that they will not be printed in my lifetime” – Catherine the Great wrote these words to one of her most trusted correspondents, Friedrich Melchior Grimm, in 1787. Note the caveat – Catherine did not really want her letters to be destroyed. What she sought was control over who read her letters, when, and how. My book, The Epistolary Art of Catherine the Great, explores how Catherine skilfully designed every aspect of her correspondence to shape her image and to regulate how it reached different readers.

Portrait of Catherine II in front of a Mirror, Vigilius Ericksen, 1762-64. (The Hermitage Museum)

A German princess who married the heir to the Russian imperial throne, Catherine overthrew her husband in 1762 and subsequently ruled the empire successfully for thirty-four years. A prolific writer and author of some two dozen plays, a history of Russia, a series of remarkable memoirs, and much more, Catherine also produced several thousand letters by which she sought to win over supporters, manage her empire, and leave behind for posterity a legacy as a great ruler and appealing individual.

We’re very familiar today with the perils associated with email security for public figures – suffice it to think of the scandals surrounding Hillary Clinton’s emails and those of her staff in 2016. Catherine had similar concerns: receiving letters from the empress of Russia was so exciting that some readers could not resist leaking them to the press. Very few of the empress’s correspondents could get away with such indiscretions without a scolding – even Voltaire was allowed to publicise his elaborate exchange with the empress only within well-defined limits. Even more than that, the responses to Catherine’s letters could be truly outlandish: one was even the occasion for a séance at the Prussian court in 1791.

Yet Catherine’s choices regarding the publicity of her letters can also look quite bewilderingly different from twenty-first-century norms. Some of Catherine’s letters were indeed private, such as her love notes to her possible secret husband and most loyal deputy, Grigory Potemkin. But often they were not: writing to the salon hostess Marie-Thérèse Geoffrin, for instance, Catherine was actually addressing the select group of elite intellectuals, socialites, and political figures who gathered in Geoffrin’s home. The hostess might allow her guests to read the latest letter, or she would read it aloud; nonetheless, she and her guests knew better than to make copies or to publish what they heard. Rather, these privileged readers and listeners were meant to think positively about the empress when they read her witty, friendly letters, and they were to influence public and government opinion on her behalf. At the same time, Catherine firmly believed that, if she could win over elite readers in her own day, the best readers of future generations would agree with their enlightened views.

The Epistolary art of Catherine the Great is the August 2019 volume of the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series.

More sneakily, Catherine decided to make use of widespread government surveillance of correspondences for her own benefit. As Jay Caplan has explored in Postal Culture in Europe, the rapid expansion of the postal service in early-modern Europe coincided with the development of sophisticated “Black Chambers” or cabinets noirs to spy on letters in transit. Naturally enough, ordinary citizens were of less interest to governments than those close to power, and so Catherine could rely on the governments of the territories her letters passed through to give in to temptation. So, when she wrote to a celebrity like Voltaire about Russian military successes, she was actually writing past the philosophe to inform the nosy French government that Russia had the resources and the military strength to be a major power in Europe.

Digital approaches to Catherine’s correspondence can help us to better visualise Catherine’s efforts to make herself present across Europe through her letters. That said, only close reading of rhetorical strategies can uncover how Catherine formulated in her letters the image she hoped to transmit to today’s readers. My study draws on both approaches to analyse for the first time the full range of Catherine’s correspondences and to argue for their status as a literary masterpiece of eighteenth-century epistolary writing.

– Kelsey Rubin-Detlev, University of Southern California

Kelsey Rubin-Detlev is the author of The Epistolary art of Catherine the Great, the first book to analyse Catherine the Great as an outstanding Enlightenment letter-writer, and the August volume of the Oxford University Studes in the Enlightenment series, published in collaboration with the Voltaire Foundation, University of Oxford.

This post is reblogged from Liverpool University Press.

Baron d’Holbach brought back to the motherland by a ‘joyous sett’

Ruggero Sciuto, Baron d’Holbach (on the screen), Nicholas Cronk

Ruggero Sciuto, Baron d’Holbach (on the screen), Nicholas Cronk.

He was ‘the most learned nobleman’ in Paris according to Laurence Sterne, ‘un des hommes de son temps les plus instruits, sachant plusieurs des langues de l’Europe’ for the abbé Morellet, ‘le vrai cosmopolite’ in Diderot’s words: there is no doubt that Baron d’Holbach won the affection and the esteem of those who met him.

Two hundred and thirty years after his death, Paul-Henri Thiry d’Holbach (1723-1789) continues to be a challenging figure of the European Enlightenment. Not only was he a materialistic philosopher, a champion of anticlericalism, the author of the monumental Système de la nature known as ‘the Bible of atheists’, an idéologue, a populariser of the natural sciences and a prolific contributor to the Encyclopédie, but he also played a fundamental role as a producer and circulator of clandestine literature and as the centre of a wide intellectual network. All over Europe he was known as the ‘maître d’hôtel de la philosophie’ (in the words of the abbé Galiani), and as ‘the great protector of wits, and the Sçavans who are no wits’ (in those of Sterne). D’Holbach’s house in the rue Royale in Paris hosted one of the most influential and cosmopolitan literary circles of the eighteenth century. According to David Hume, it was ‘a common receptacle for all men of letters and ingenuity’, and it was dubbed ‘the joyous sett’ by Sterne: this is where philosophers, men of letters, statesmen, and churchmen from all over Europe met to engage in free philosophical discussions and be introduced to Parisian society.

Alan Charles Kors lectures on d’Holbach’s skepticism

Alan Charles Kors lectures on d’Holbach’s skepticism.

German by origin (he was born in the village of Edesheim in the Palatinate), Dutch through his academic training (he studied in Leiden), French by adoption, and cosmopolitan by choice, d’Holbach spoke several languages and translated scientific works from the German and philosophical and irreligious works from the English.

For three days, 9-11 May 2019, the Institute of Advanced Studies of Göttingen at the Lichtenberg-Kolleg hosted ‘The Great Protector of Wits. D’Holbach 1789-2019’, the first international conference entirely dedicated to Baron d’Holbach, organised by Dr Laura Nicolì and Prof. Franziska Meier. Our own ‘joyous sett’ of Enlightenment scholars gathered to discuss the Baron’s works, as well as his figure and his legacy. Speakers engaged with the complexity of d’Holbach’s intellectual agenda, with d’Holbach the philosopher and the philosophe, but also the encyclopédiste and the scientist, the strategist and the ‘metteur en scène’, the translator and the creator of ‘fictions d’autorité’, the clandestine author and the centre of intellectual networks, the pessimistic skeptic and the inspirer of a revolutionary consciousness.

Charlotte-Suzanne and Paul-Henri Thiry d’Holbach, by Louis Carmontelle, 1766.

Thanks to the participants’ contributions and through the ensuing debate, there emerged a more nuanced, multifaceted understanding of d’Holbach than is typically conveyed by the secondary literature.

Left: Gerhardt Stenger, Emilio Mazza, Alain Sandrier. Right: Iryna Mykhailova and Tony La Vopa.

For everyone present, this conference on one of the most important yet neglected figures of the eighteenth century amounted to full immersion in a true microcosm of the European Enlightenment!

– Laura Nicolì

The Göttingen ‘joyous sett’

The Göttingen ‘joyous sett’: ‘Beaucoup de disputes, jamais de querelles’ (Morellet on the salon in the rue Royale).