Lettres philosophiques 4D – coming soon to libraries near you!

Letters concerning the English nation

Title page of 1733 edition. (Taylor Institution, Arch.8o.E.1733)

Lettres philosophiques! Lettres philosophiques!’, I hear you cry. And I bring you glad tidings: the time has almost come and your thirst will soon be quenched; volume 6B of the Œuvres complètes de Voltaire will be released in a matter of months.

The cherry on the cake of our 200-volume edition, vol.6B has been a somewhat tough row to hoe, and for good reason. One of Voltaire’s most iconic texts, the Lettres philosophiques also had a terribly complicated publication history: originally appearing in English in 1733, they were only published in French the following year, simultaneously in London and Rouen. No sooner had they been released than the letter about Locke and the nature of the soul, significantly reworked by the author himself, began to circulate clandestinely (ask Antony McKenna and Gianluca Mori, whose great edition of the ‘Lettre sur M. Locke’ only appeared a few months ago!). Met with more than a bit of resistance by the French authorities, the Lettres soon stopped being printed under their original title, and were merged into the Mélanges de littérature, d’histoire et de philosophie first, and, after Voltaire’s death, into the big potpourri that is the Kehl Dictionnaire philosophique.

Lettres philosophiques

Title page of 1734 Jore edition. (British Library, 8465.aa.3.(1.) DRT)

As they moved from one edition to another, from one miscellany to the next, the individual ‘letters’ underwent several changes. And we are not talking about occasional, minor corrections; we are talking about entire ‘letters’ being suppressed, combined with others, or replaced by brand new content. An example? The Jore edition of 1734, the one that we still read today, contained no fewer than four chapters on Newton; by 1756, however, ‘Sur le système de l’attraction’ and ‘Sur l’optique de M. Newton’ were entirely suppressed, and the first half of letter 17 (‘Sur l’infini et la chronologie’) met with the same, tragic destiny. In their place stood ‘De Newton’, a much shorter text in which gravitation and optics were mostly passed over in silence, pre-eminence being rather given to some not particularly laudatory anecdotes: the great Newton – Voltaire writes, possibly gesturing to his own niece, Marie-Louise Denis, who, at the time, also happened to be his lover – would have never risen to fame had it not been for ‘[sa] jolie nièce’ [Catherine Barton]. After all, in 1756 the Eléments de la philosophie de Newton also underwent major cuts, and all elements conspire to suggest that, by the mid-50s, Voltaire’s infatuation with the British mathematician had significantly lost momentum.

Gaining a better understanding of how the Lettres philosophiques may have changed over the forty-odd years between their publication and Voltaire’s death – looking at them in four dimensions, if you like – may cast much-needed light also on the history of other texts. Take, for instance, the Traité sur la tolerance. The impression that one gets from reading the letters that Voltaire sent and received between 1762 and 1763 is that this work was written almost impromptu in the months immediately following the execution of Jean Calas. But is that really the case? To a certain extent, yes. But it is also true that an early version of what would later become chapters 7, 8, 12, and 13 of the Traité could already be found in a rewriting of Letter 13, dating from about 1750: ‘Que les philosophes ne peuvent jamais nuire’. After all, as shown by Gianluigi Goggi, Catherine Volpilhac-Auger, and Olivier Ferret in a wonderful collection of essays published in 2007, Voltaire was an undisputed master of réécriture.[1]

Simple variant readings printed at the bottom of a page of a critical edition are usually sufficient to give the reader a sense of how a text evolved over time. But with the Lettres philosophiques we soon realised that things had to be scaled up a little. Alongside the canonical 25 letters, each with its own variants, vol.6B will therefore contain twenty substantial rewritings as texts in their own right, all furnished with footnotes and (guess what?!) variants! Any overlaps and repetitions between ‘letters’ and variants, or even between variants and substantial rewritings, will be highlighted in grey, and footnotes will guide readers and help them to navigate these somewhat intimidating waters. But might there be other, even better ways of editing a text with such a complex history? Well, that’s one of the questions that we are addressing, as we begin to work on Digital Voltaire.

– Ruggero Sciuto

[1] Copier/coller: écriture et réécriture chez Voltaire. Actes du colloque international (Pise, 30 juin – 2 juillet 2005) (Pisa, 2007).

Lockdown leisures: how the eighteenth-century Parisian lady would have kept herself busy

Madame de Pompadour at her Tambour Frame

François-Hubert Drouais, Madame de Pompadour at her Tambour Frame, 1763-1764. (The National Gallery, London)

Removed from the ceremony and allegory of much court portraiture, Madame de Pompadour at her Tambour Frame by François-Hubert Drouais depicts a more intimate and naturalistic moment in the Marquise’s day. The painting was begun in April 1763 and completed in May 1764, a month after Madame de Pompadour’s death. As the sitter’s head, shoulders, and right forearm are rendered on a smaller rectangular canvas which has been inserted into the larger work, this section was likely sketched from life, with the body and background added later in the artist’s studio – not an uncommon practice for important clients. Around the room are scattered objects related to a variety of pursuits enjoyed by the cultured (and fashionable) royal favourite: the tambour embroidery she works at, a bookcase filled with books, and, resting against the elaborate table with Sèvres porcelain plaques, a folio of drawings or engravings and a mandolin.

Although these last two items are no doubt a nod to the Marquise’s strong interests in the arts and her patronage of artists and musicians, the mandolin was in any case immensely popular in Paris in the second half of the eighteenth century. The Neapolitan instrument became a fashionable pastime, especially amongst ladies. Indeed, one of the earliest published tutorials was marketed especially to women: Giovanni Battista Gervasio’s Méthode très facile Pour apprendre à jouer de la Mandoline à quatre Cordes Instrument fait pour les Dames [‘Very Easy Method to Learn How to Play the Four String Mandolin Instrument Made for Ladies’] (Paris, 1767). The mandolin of the mid-eighteenth century differed from earlier versions, which more closely resembled a lute, was tuned in fourths, and had its strings plucked with the player’s fingers. By contrast, the newer instrument was plucked with a plectrum (made of a hen, ostrich, or even raven feather), and was tuned in fifths like a violin. This meant that the repertoire could also be played on the violin – a more popular instrument for the professional musician – and publications could therefore interest a wider market. Publications like Gabriele Leone’s Méthode Raisonnée Pour passer du Violon à la Mandoline (1768) also taught the violinist how to transfer their technique to the mandolin.

Illustrations from the frontispiece of Gabriele Leone’s Méthode

Illustrations from the frontispiece of Gabriele Leone’s Méthode, showing the correct playing position for ladies on the left. Engraved by Mme Vendôme.

Despite the instrument’s southern Italian roots, the repertoire of the mandolin was most fully developed and widely printed in France. Paris was the epicentre of music publishing in the eighteenth century, and composers working there developed a distinct musical style for the mandolin, lighter and more melodic than anything heard previously (a wonderful playlist is available to listen to here). In the period 1761 to 1783, around eighty-five volumes of music for mandolin were published in Paris (a complete list can be found in Appendix III of The Early Mandolin by James Tyler and Paul Sparks, which also offers a comprehensive history of the instrument). With many free options for sheet music and original facsimiles of the eighteenth-century méthodes available online, as well as nineteenth-century versions of the instrument often easy to purchase, if you have been looking for a new pastime to stay occupied it may be the mandolin’s time for a revival. If not, you may simply enjoy listening to some beguiling music by eighteenth-century composers like Gabriele Leone, Giovanni Fouchetti or Pietro Denis.

– Natasha Shoory

Natasha is a first-year PhD student in History at Durham University, fully funded by the Durham Doctoral Studentship.

Countering Islamophobia in the early eighteenth century

The most widespread European attitude towards Islam and the Muslim world in the eighteenth century was one of hostility. Islam was of course the main challenger to Christianity, and in the early part of the century the Ottoman Empire was still an ever-present threat in the Mediterranean. So it was an object of both fear and suspicion. But in some quarters there was less hostility. The toleration of religious minorities in the Ottoman Empire was contrasted favourably with the religious persecution in many European countries, with the Catholics often being singled out as much more intolerant than the Muslims. Irreligious thinkers sometimes used this to attack all Churches.

Several people who had direct experience of the Muslim world also gave a more nuanced opinion, admitting, like Thévenot, that the ‘Turks’ had some good qualities. There was even a small group of writers who went much further and actively tried to counter European prejudices against Muslims. One of these was the Frenchman Jacques Philippe Laugier de Tassy, who had a long career in the French Ministry of the Marine, beginning in 1699. We do not know much about him. In 1717 he was appointed Chancellor at the French consulate in Algiers. In 1720 we find him ‘Commissaire de la Marine’ (in fact consul) in Amsterdam, where he stayed until his death in 1748. He seems to have been highly respected, apparently earned the confidence of the Dutch, and received several honours.

A view of the city and harbour of Algiers. By Gerard van Keulen, ca. 1690.

A view of the city and harbour of Algiers. By Gerard van Keulen, ca. 1690.

In 1725 he published in Amsterdam a Histoire du Royaume d’Alger, apparently, according to his own account, to satisfy curiosity about that country. As one would expect, he gave an account of its history and government, together with a description of the inhabitants, their customs, religion and so on – all based on his own observations and generally quite fair-minded and impartial. This in itself is quite surprising. For not only was he a career diplomat (even if that did not mean the same in the early eighteenth century as it does today) but, in addition, Algiers was the most hated of the North African states. It lived by piracy, attacking European shipping in the Mediterranean and abducting and ransoming their passengers. Its government and army, usually said to be composed of the dregs of the Ottoman Empire, were seen as particularly violent, aggressive and intractable. Travellers and diplomats much preferred the Tunisians.

But Laugier went further than simple description. He says openly in the Preface to his work that he has written it to counter European prejudices against the Muslims, which, he says, are so terrible ‘qu’ils n’ont point d’expressions assez fortes pour faire voir le mépris et l’horreur qu’ils en ont’. For him, European prejudices prevent them from judging Muslims by objective standards.

He even writes: ‘je suis persuadé que si ces mêmes personnes pouvaient converser sans le savoir avec des Mahométans qui n’eussent point le turban et qui fussent habillés à la manière des chrétiens, ils trouveraient dans eux ce qu’on trouve dans les autres peuples.  Mais s’ils avaient le Turban, cela suffirait pour les faire opinionâtrer dans leurs préventions.’

The slave market in Algiers

The slave market in Algiers: Mannier Hoe de Gevange Kristen Slaven tot Algiers Verkoft Werden, 1684, by Jan Luyken.

He issues a plea to judge others by objective standards, to recognise the good and bad in them. He says he has no great sympathy for the Muslims but he underlines their fair treatment of Christians, who are free to practice their religion. He particularly attacks the Trinitarian Monks who went to ransom the Christian captives, generally referred to as slaves, and wrote works of propaganda full of lurid accounts of the terrible ill-treatment and suffering of the Christians, particular in Algiers. Perhaps this reflects a Protestant sensibility, due to Laugier’s years in Amsterdam, but that is speculation. In any case, his work was quite widely read, translated into English, and used as a source of information by Montesquieu. But it doesn’t seem to have had much effect on Europeans’ attitudes to the Muslim world. Hostility to the Turks increased over the century, as the threat they posed lessened, and anti-Muslim prejudice today is as strong as ever. But a voice like Laugier’s, calling for a fairer judgement, perhaps still has something to say to us today.

– Ann Thomson

Digitizing the Enlightenment

As country after country has gone into COVID-19 lockdown, we have all had to learn to communicate, network, teach, study and relate online in ways unimaginable a few short years – or even months – ago. This phenomenon is just the latest stage in the information-technology revolution and part and parcel of the ongoing development of an increasingly digital society. This revolution has touched almost every aspect of our lives, from how we work, study, shop, relax and even make and maintain personal relationships. But it is also transforming scholarship and the way we conduct and communicate academic research. Thus, it is perhaps apt, and with consummate good timing, that Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment has chosen to subject tag our new volume as ‘History of Scholarship (Principally of Social Sciences and Humanities)’. Yet this is certainly not how we and our collaborators envisaged our project at the outset, nor can any single tag capture the content of our volume and its collaborative agenda in its entirety.

The Digitizing Enlightenment workshop logo

The Digitizing Enlightenment workshop logo, designed by Evan Casey for the Voltaire Foundation, featured on the cover of Digitizing Enlightenment.

Ironically, as we write, Digitizing Enlightenment is also a living movement – or at least a loose network of scholars who meet annually in pursuit of a common agenda. That agenda was born in a series of conversations that took place from 2010, culminating in Dan Edelstein’s post-panel suggestion at the American Historical Association conference at Montreal in April 2014 that we should hold periodic meetings between like-minded digital projects relating to the Enlightenment. The aim of these meetings would be to establish common conventions and digital standards, with a view to linking our resources and realising the enormous and still largely untapped potential of Linked Open Data. Those present for Dan’s suggestion – Simon Burrows, Jeff Ravel, Sean Takats and Dan himself – have all provided chapters for our book, but much of the energy behind Digitizing Enlightenment since has come from Glenn Roe, who Simon had first encountered a month earlier in Australia, where they had both recently taken up academic positions.

It was this fortuitous coincidence, underpinned by the fertile combination of Simon’s professorial establishment funds and Glenn’s energy, together with their mutual contact books, that led to Western Sydney University hosting the first Digitizing Enlightenment symposium in July 2016. Among the projects discussed there, and in our book, were large-scale treatments of Enlightenment correspondences, theatre attendance records, and textual corpora including the mid-eighteenth century Encyclopédie; bibliometric projects were presented on the production and dissemination of literature; together with presentations on mapping and data visualization growing out of these projects. The symposium was so well received that it has been an annual event ever since. It was held at Radboud University in Nijmegen (2017), Oxford (2018), Edinburgh (2019). In 2020, but for COVID-19, it would have been held in Montpellier.

It was not entirely by chance that such a project coalesced around the guiding notion of the ‘Enlightenment’. For the long eighteenth century has been blessed by a number of high-profile and long-established digital projects. These include ground-breaking commercial datasets such as Gale-Cengage’s Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO), which features in several of our chapters, semi-commercial projects such as the Electronic Enlightenment and large academic consortiums such as the Franco-American ARTFL project. This made the Enlightenment a natural laboratory for exploring the possibilities and achievements of the Digital Humanities for transforming scholarship on a single historical era. Further, as our book emphases, our discussions built on a long tradition of digital innovation in eighteenth-century studies that can be traced back at least as far as the twin Livre et société dans la France du XVIIIe siècle volumes produced by a team led by François Furet in 1965 and 1970. It might further be added that our over-arching subject material lends itself to digital-historical analysis; the Enlightenment might after all be viewed as the long-run culmination of the intellectual turmoil and – as several contributors point out – information overload unleashed by a previous technological and communications revolution.

Digitizing Enlightenment is the July volume in the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series

Digitizing Enlightenment is the July volume in the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series.

With this in mind, then, we offer up Digitizing Enlightenment: Digital Humanities and the Transformation of Eighteenth-Century Studies as rather more than a contribution to the history of scholarship. Certainly, we have offered a sample of Digital Humanities c. 2016-2020, as it relates to the technologies available and their application to Enlightenment studies broadly construed. In addition, the first half of the book offers detailed accounts of the origins and development of key Enlightenment digital projects up until that point, accompanied by valuable and sometimes disarming insights on the dangers and delights of digital research from foremost practitioners in the field. These chapters, as well as some later contributions, are helping to reshape some dominant meta-narratives of the Enlightenment, not least by hinting simultaneously at the enduring aristocratic leadership of the French Enlightenment and the extent to which Enlightenment literary production and consumption was infused with religious content. However, our contributors also showcase other ways that Digital Humanities scholarship is in the process of changing the field through the transparency, methodological rigour, and collaborative imperatives that are necessary concomitants of this new kind of research. Finally, the book offers a collaborative roadmap for future digital research – at a moment where, as our final contributor, Sean Takats points out, the Enlightenment is fast losing its privileged position as the most richly digitized century of the modern era. As a corollary, we hope that our volume may be as useful to scholars of other periods as for Enlightenment scholars themselves.

– Simon Burrows (Western Sydney University) and Glenn Roe (Sorbonne University)

Simon Burrows and Glenn Roe are the editors of the July volume in the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series, Digitizing Enlightenment: Digital Humanities and the Transformation of Eighteenth-Century Studies, which is the first book length survey of the impact of digital humanities on our understanding of a key historical period and paradigm.

This post is reblogged from Liverpool University Press.

120 Days: an itinerary

The ‘Things That Matter’ summer school, developed in collaboration with the Universities of Durham, Groningen, and Uppsala, took place on the week beginning 15th June. Due to current circumstances, the course took place online, and I was fortunate enough to be in attendance. Morning sessions focused on the tensions between material objects and their digitisation, the opportunities represented by new and developing technologies and techniques, and what might risk being missed when researchers focus solely on digital sources – a series of questions which appear more relevant that ever in this new age of social distancing and limited travel.

Afternoon sessions were focused on group projects, for which we are asked to trace, examine, and analyse the itineraries of our chosen historical objects. The course participants came from a wide range of disciplines, areas, and indeed countries, which was reflected in the rich and diverse range of objects chosen. My team consisted of myself, Daria Segal (PhD candidate, University of Iceland), and Meggy Lennaerts (Master’s candidate, University of Groningen), and our chosen object was the Marquis de Sade’s infamous Les Cent vingt journées de Sodome manuscript, a literary and historical object which has had a long, varied, and at times scandalous journey.

Manuscript of Les Cent vingt journées de Sodome.

Manuscript of Les Cent vingt journées de Sodome.

The study of the itinerary of the Sodome manuscript seemed to us to be particularly pertinent and timely, especially given its relatively recent declaration as a national treasure. Furthermore, while its travels are well told in editions of the text, the journey of the manuscript is often absorbed as part of the history of the text itself, rather than viewed as the itinerary of a separate, material object in its own right. Of course, the limited study of the materiality of the manuscript is likely largely due to the fact that it has always been in private hands, but its unique form, the author’s intensely emotional and physical relationship to the manuscript, the circumstances under which it was created, and the visceral nature of its contents, mean that a study of the materiality of the manuscript and its itinerary feels fitting, if not essential.

The manuscript began its life in the Bastille, and was written on tightly rolled, tissue-thin paper in miniscule handwriting, in just thirty-seven days. It was left behind when Sade was transferred from the Bastille to Charenton on 3rd July 1789; Sade spent the rest of his life believing it lost. It was not, however, lost; the story goes that it was rescued by a man named Arnoux de Saint-Maximin, although there appears to be little record of why, or indeed who he was, and then sold or given to the Marquis de Villeneuve-Trans. It remained in the Villeneuve-Trans family for three generations, where it was likely seen by very few people; it is mentioned in Henry Ashbee’s 1877 Index Librorum Prohibitorum but as a rumour, rather than a text he had seen first-hand.

In the late 19th or early 20th century, the manuscript was sold to German sexologist Iwan Bloch, who had already published a biography of Sade, and who saw in Sade’s work, and particularly in Sodome, a great source for the study of sexual perversion. Bloch had the manuscript transcribed, and published it in 1904 under the pseudonym Eugène Dühren. After Bloch’s death in 1922, the manuscript’s location is unknown, but it resurfaces again in 1929, when it is bought by Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, a direct descendant of Sade’s. The Noailles were influential patrons of the arts, their circle including, among others, Salvador Dalí, Balthus, and Man Ray, who photographed the manuscript. Under the auspices of the Noailles family, Maurice Heine was allowed to produce a second, more accurate transcription of the manuscript, which was published in the 1930s.

In 1982, the manuscript passed from the Noailles’ daughter, Nathalie de Noailles, to Swiss collector of erotica Gérard Nordmann, although not without scandal; the manuscript had allegedly been stolen from the Noailles family before being sold to Nordmann, although a Swiss court ruled that Nordmann had purchased the manuscript legally and in good faith. After Nordmann’s death in 2004, the manuscript was sold to Gérard Lhéritier, French manuscript dealer and founder of the firm Aristophil, who exhibited it in the Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits. In 2015, however, an investigation was opened against Lhéritier, due to a suspected pyramid scheme fraud. The manuscript, along with others in Aristophil’s collection, was seized by French authorities, and is still being held to this day.

The itinerary of the manuscript of Les Cent vingt journées de Sodome is a rich and complex one, and makes for a fascinating study in its own right. But even a brief examination of the itinerary of the manuscript throws up enriching angles for the study of the text, its reception, and influence, especially as the text only existed in manuscript form for the first hundred years of its life. As our study of the manuscript’s itinerary develops, so too, hopefully, will our understanding of the itinerary of the text and the ideas within. This project, and the ‘Things That Matter’ course, has furnished me with a renewed appreciation of tensions between the material and the digital and the rich potential of emerging software, which can only be of benefit to my other ongoing research, particularly as regards the iconography of Voltaire.

– Josie Dyster, Research Assistant, Voltaire Foundation, Oxford

(Josie is a research assistant in the Digital Enlightenment. She is currently building on existing research by Professor Samuel Taylor (St Andrews) to create a digital Voltaire iconography database.)