Free thinking in secret

We all have secret thoughts which are occasionally betrayed by an unexpected gesture, an uncontrolled facial expression, a peculiar lapsus… which express at an awkward moment precisely what we wanted, or were supposed, to hide. All the secret services of all political regimes rely on that kind of clue to detect clandestine dissidents. But even if we are not all revolutionary rebels or terrorists, the simple conventions of everyday sociability make us very conscious of the necessity of self-censorship and the constraints bearing on the public sphere and even on mundane conversation. When we perceive signs of divergence in others, we judge them according to circumstances and quickly make a feasible interpretation – which may remain secret…

The execution of Anne Du Bourg at the Place de Grève

The execution of Anne Du Bourg at the Place de Grève.

It does not seem to me to be totally extravagant to imagine the birth and spread of free thought in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries on the same model. We know that there existed in France a strict system of censorship, that the punishments inflicted on free thinkers were drastic and that the Bastille, the Vincennes dungeon and the place de Grève (where executions were carried out) were well-known to careless or reckless writers and booksellers. In this context, can we not expect free thought to have found expression in subtle and ambiguous texts addressed to an élite of intellectual accomplices? Isn’t it obvious that texts of that period should be read “between the lines” if one is to discover the undercover coherence and the true intention of the author?

Clandestine manuscripts at the Mazarine library

Clandestine manuscripts at the Mazarine library.

The proceedings of the conference organised at the Mazarine library on The Secret Thoughts of Academicians: Fontenelle and his fellow-members – published in the latest number of the periodical La Lettre clandestine (Paris, Garnier: no 28, 2020)  – assume a positive answer to that question.

Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle by Nicolas de Largillière

Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle by Nicolas de Largillière.

There were indeed many  Academicians who secretly contributed to the spread of free thought: Fontenelle, Lévesque de Pouilly and his brother Lévesque de Burigny, Fréret, Terrasson, the abbé de Saint-Pierre, Voltaire, Montesquieu, D’Alembert, Mirabaud, Naigeon are here studied in depth, as are the conditions of censorship and the circulation of clandestine manuscripts among specialised booksellers and the critical judgement on them offered by Louis Racine, the cardinal de Bernis and by the journalists of the Society of Jesus. A good number of clandestine manuscripts – and in particular those that belonged to the family of Mme Du Châtelet, identified by Maria Susana Seguin – are now kept at the Mazarine Library in Paris.

Jacques-André Naigeon by Fragonard

Jacques-André Naigeon by Fragonard. (Getty Images / The Bridgeman Art Library)

Rather than resume too briefly the many articles published here, I would like to offer a short reflection – based on recent research by Gianluca Mori – on the approach to reading and interpretation that they suggest and on the coherence of the history of free thought of which they give us a glimpse. The historian Oskar Kristeller used to claim that the reputation of Italian scholars of the 16th and 17th centuries as unbelievers and atheists was a false retrospective view of the Paduan professors imposed by French scholars whose historical vision was distorted by their interest in the 18th-century Enlightenment. Despite research published by Jean-Pierre Cavaillé, this thesis – which excludes any covert intention on the part of Cremonini and Pomponazzi in particular – was maintained by the American scholar Richard Popkin in his works on La Mothe Le Vayer, and has more recently been theorised by the Cambridge professor Quentin Skinner.

Nicolas Fréret, Lettre de Thrasybule à Leucippe (Mazarine: ms. 1193-4)

Nicolas Fréret, Lettre de Thrasybule à Leucippe (Mazarine: ms. 1193-4)

However, it obviously imposes very narrow limits on any enquiry concerning authors of the modern period (16th-18th century): since these authors publicly declare their orthodox opinions, tainted by skepticism and fideism, it becomes impossible to suspect them of entertaining heterodox convictions or of being the authors of anti-Christian writings. To my mind, this prejudice is blown apart as we read the articles devoted to Fontenelle and his colleagues: the modern period is marked by the abyss between public and private life, between professions of faith and philosophical convictions. As is demonstrated by the research of Jean-Pierre Cavaillé on “libertinism”, of Alain Mothu on Bonaventure des Périers and of Gianluca Mori on Guy Patin, and as is made manifest by Molière’s comedies and Pierre Bayle’s published works, the Academicians were heirs to a long tradition of dis/simulation. The cat is now out of the bag.

– Antony McKenna

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.

Virtue in crisis: Enlightenment perspectives

With frightening speed, COVID-19 has brought about a global crisis. In western democracies the phenomenon was first tracked and measured from a distance, then discovered to be not just ‘their’ problem, but ‘ours’ too. In the process, common behaviours were subjected to new scrutiny; with the virus, moral sentiment proliferated. Formerly anodyne acts were proclaimed to be vices, twinned with equal and opposite virtues. Politicians devised lists of what may and may not be done, and other lists, of what should and should not be done. These lists concerning ‘should’ and ‘should not’ are in fact a plea for civic virtue: if the majority are sufficiently virtuous, the nation will be healed. Striking a utilitarian note, certain commentators began to argue that the good of some must now be sacrificed for the good of all, and current lives, for future prosperity.

Thanks to the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Virtue and Truth prevent Human Pride from resisting the efforts of Nature to allow children to live a happy life

Thanks to the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Virtue and Truth prevent Human Pride from resisting the efforts of Nature to allow children to live a happy life. Engraving by G. Vidal after Ch. Monnet. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

In the Enlightenment era, natural disasters, contagions, and wars also fed debates about civic (and other) virtues. Then as now, these were embedded in larger discussions of morality, the common good, and the relation between individual citizens and the polity. For instance, we may recall an exchange that took place between Rousseau and Voltaire, following the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Voltaire wrote a poem expressing rage against Optimists who might still argue, with Alexander Pope, that ‘partial evil’ is ‘universal good’. In the case of the Lisbon earthquake, ‘partial evil’ would consist in many thousands of deaths. Yet according to Voltaire’s Optimists (whom he addresses as ‘wretched mathematicians of human suffering’), universal good would be sustained by those very deaths. After all, children could inherit their parents’ wealth, stone masons find employment, and animals feast on rotting corpses. In a letter to Voltaire, Rousseau objected that the disastrous effect of the earthquake was not tied to some unfathomable cosmic riddle. It was, rather, the consequence of the European tendency to live in large cities, where so many are exposed at once to a single danger; and neither God nor nature, but humanity was responsible for this. More generally, as in his celebrated Second Discourse, Rousseau argues that, as it pursues what (other) philosophes see as progress, civilisation reaps what it sows.

If we can hear echoes of such debates in contemporary life, it is because we are, in important respects, heirs of the Enlightenment. Many of us think about virtue and the common good in an entirely secular way; our moral duties are owed, we feel, not to God, but to our fellow citizens. It makes sense to describe this as a ‘post-Enlightenment’ view. After all, it counted as a bold step when, towards the end of the seventeenth century, Pierre Bayle wrote that a society of atheists might be capable of virtue.

But by the mid-eighteenth century, secularisation, linked by the historian Paul Hazard to a ‘crisis of the European mind’, had gained extensive ground. In France, atheistic thinkers suggested that virtuous behaviour should be understood as whatever contributes to the common good in this, the only life we have. Diderot and the materialist coterie of the baron d’Holbach, for instance, tended towards this view. But Voltaire and Rousseau, who abhorred atheism, were secularisers, too; for they rejected ecclesiastical explanations of the Lisbon earthquake (or anything else). In brief, secularisation in France was in the first instance a case of pushing back against the mundane influence of the Church and its theology. We should be wary, however, of casting a few major writers as the isolated prophets of secular modernity. If there was a crisis of the European mind, it was caused by a nexus of cultural, social and historical forces which far exceeded the ‘Republic of Letters’.

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, March 2020

James Fowler is the co-editor of the March volume in the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series, Enlightenment Virtue, 1680-1794, in which contributors analyse complex and shifting relations between religious and civic virtue during the Age of Enlightenment.

During the Revolution, various factions laid claim to civic virtue. Speaking for the Montagnards, Robespierre asserted, not only that virtue was the essence of the (French) Republic, but that Terror could be an ‘Emanation of virtue’. He also echoed those, including Rousseau, who (had) admired the ‘male’ virtues of Sparta, or other ancient republics. Despite women’s participation in the Revolution, the virtues prescribed by the Terror were gendered ones; indeed, what was virtue in a man might be vice in a woman. The Moniteur universel of 17 November 1793 held up three recently executed women as examples of vice: Marie Antoinette; ‘la femme Roland’ (married to the Girondin Jean Roland); and Olympe de Gouges (author of a Declaration of the Rights of Woman). The former queen was a ‘bad mother’ and ‘debauched wife’; as for the others, they had in different ways ‘forgotten the virtues of their sex’. For a brief period, at least, it must have seemed that the state did not distinguish between private, public, and gendered virtue, nor between unvirtuous thoughts and crimes against the nation. Public executions became, as never before, virtue’s instrument.

In moments of national crisis, we tend to inquire, earnestly and urgently, what should count as civic virtue. If only half-consciously, we may turn to notions of the common good, especially utilitarian ones, which we have inherited from the Enlightenment era. Certainly, that period is an excellent place to start if we wish to put the current debate into historical perspective.

– Dr James Fowler, Visiting Senior Research Fellow at King’s College, London

This post is reblogged from Liverpool University Press.

The ‘Rights of Man’: Our debt to the Enlightenment?

Barely a week passes without some news story, from somewhere around the globe, involving human rights – most often, sadly, a story of their violation. But how far back does the story of human rights itself go? How deeply rooted in history is the idea that human beings have rights that they can assert against state and other forms of power?

The Enlightenment and the rights of man is the November 2019 volume of the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series.

This is not a question a single book can answer. But Vincenzo Ferrone’s new book The Enlightenment and the Rights of Man goes further than most. It tells the story how, in Western Europe, the notion of the rights of human beings grew and took root, from beginnings in the seventeenth century to the late eighteenth-century Enlightenment.

The starting point is natural law theory. This itself has foundations in antiquity and medieval thought. But it was in the seventeenth century, with figures such as Grotius and Pufendorf, that it was elaborated into a fully worked-out body of thought. The rights of individuals were in fact not one of its primary concerns. But in allowing for a source of law that lay beyond the limits of existing or ‘positive’ law, it made room for an idea of individual rights that pre-dated and could claim priority over the law of the state. It was this idea that later thinkers such as Locke, Barbeyrac, Rousseau, and Filangieri could take up and develop. What was needed, finally, was for talented popularizers such as Voltaire, Diderot, Mirabeau, and Schiller to spread the gospel of the rights of man to public opinion at large – which, as Ferrone shows, they did with gusto, and with considerable success. Through their efforts, the rights of man were entrenched in public discourse, becoming a political cause in the process.

This of course is not to say that the political programme of the rights of man has ever been universally accepted. On the contrary, it has been contested, and has suffered numerous setbacks. Ferrone indeed closes his book with the story of one such defeat.

It concerns the short-lived order of the Illuminati, an offshoot of freemasonry. Committed to radical political aims, it was founded in 1776 and banned in 1784. The fear of its influence, exaggerated for propagandistic purposes by its enemies, led to repressive measures in a number of jurisdictions, both Catholic and Protestant. The excesses of the French Revolution after 1792 did the rest to discredit claims to individual human rights in large parts of Europe. The revival of the idea, in the political struggles of the nineteenth century, lies beyond the scope of the book.

For Ferrone himself the cause of human rights, as formulated in and by the Enlightenment, is far from spent. In a time when many have queried the legacy of the Enlightenment, he delivers a passionate defence of its central claims. But whatever side of the argument you are on, you will find in his book a narrative that gives ample food for thought. The case for the illumination provided by intellectual history is rarely made as forcefully as it is here.

– Kevin Hilliard


L’édition Kehl de Voltaire, une aventure éditoriale et littéraire au tournant des Lumières (2ème partie)

La richesse extraordinaire de l’histoire de l’édition de Kehl provient de l’alliance entre deux projets, l’un éditorial et l’autre idéologique. La combinaison inédite de ces enjeux, portés par des hommes aussi différents que Decroix, Ruault, Beaumarchais et Condorcet, présente un cas exemplaire de ce qu’ont pu être les Lumières. Non pas un idéal uniforme partagé par un groupe d’individus décidés à affronter un ennemi commun, mais bien plutôt, comme le rappelle T. Todorov, une «multiplicité redoutable» d’individus et d’idées, dont le débat et la confrontation font émerger «un esprit commun des Lumières» (T. Todorov, «L’esprit des Lumières», dans Lumières! Un héritage pour demain, Paris, 2006). Mon ouvrage a donc pour ambition de retrouver la «position» exacte de ces éditeurs au sein de la société des Lumières (pour reprendre le mot de Beuchot dans sa Préface générale aux Œuvres complètes de Voltaire), de reconstituer les étapes de leur travail et d’en analyser les enjeux.

L’archive des premiers éditeurs posthumes de Voltaire permet aussi de lire au quotidien, pendant la décennie qui va de 1779 à 1789, le vécu personnel, intellectuel et sensible, des auteurs de l’édition dite «de Kehl», du nom de cette bourgade allemande dans laquelle Beaumarchais a implanté l’imprimerie de sa Société Littéraire Typographique. Pour Beaumarchais, Condorcet et leurs deux principaux collaborateurs, Nicolas Ruault et Jacques Decroix, la relation à Voltaire est à la fois affective, philosophique et politique. Dans leur correspondance, au détour des informations techniques sur l’avancement du travail éditorial, ils racontent l’histoire de leur relation à l’œuvre du patriarche, détaillent les raisons de leur admiration, dialoguent avec ses idées, réagissent à la lecture des volumes qu’ils sont en train de constituer et aux aléas de l’entreprise dans laquelle ils se sont engagés.

Apothéose de Voltaire

Apothéose de Voltaire, dédiée a sa Majesté le roi de Prusse (1782), par R.G Dardel et P.F. Legrand. Image Gallica/BnF.

À elle seule, la correspondance de Ruault permet de suivre la trajectoire d’un intellectuel attentif aux petits et aux grands événements qui marquent la décennie pendant laquelle se joue le premier destin posthume de Voltaire. Il compose une fresque vivante de la vie parisienne, et en livre un témoignage vivant et attentif, marqué par une sensibilité pour la nouveauté, dans le domaine esthétique, social et politique. Il a conscience de la singularité et de l’historicité de sa condition et de son individualité. Son engagement intellectuel est à la fois le produit du hasard et d’un déterminisme culturel, qu’il présente ainsi: «Je suis tout dévoué à la bonne cause, soyez-en bien persuadé. C’est une passion que j’ai eue dès qu’un charitable philosophe m’a ouvert les yeux à la lumière, dans ma province de Normandie, et dans mon adolescence, six semaines après ma première communion. Je l’ai conservée, cette noble passion, et tel que vous me connaissez j’ai fait des adeptes; d’abord trois frères cadets, dont deux sont prêtres et disent hautement et bassement la messe dans leur église cathédrale et paroissiale. Dans leur intérieur, ils sont pénétrés, pour cette belle et très utile cérémonie de tout le respect qu’elle mérite. J’en connais beaucoup d’autres qui ont les mêmes sentiments et qui se gardent bien de s’en vanter» (Ruault à Decroix, 21 avril 1784).

Jouant comme Voltaire du registre biblique, il définit son engagement au service de la cause philosophique: «Je ne me lasserai jamais, mon cher philosophe, de travailler, même obscurément, pour la propagande philosophique. Si le bon et grand esprit m’avait départi plus de talent, je n’aurais pas été fâché d’être au nombre des Apôtres; mais le sort veut que je sois réduit à être leur très humble serviteur. Je m’en console facilement. On dit que l’obscurité est heureuse; je n’en sais rien encore. Apparemment on est heureux sans le savoir, et qu’il en est de ce bonheur-là comme de la santé dont on ne fait cas que quand on l’a perdue» (Ruault à Decroix, 8 juin 1786).

Volumes de la correspondance de Voltaire dans l’édition in-12 de 1785

Volumes de la correspondance de Voltaire dans l’édition in-12 de 1785.

Ces archives exceptionnelles, éparpillées dans des collections publiques et privées, en Europe et au-delà, rassemblées pour la première fois, nous invitent à pénétrer dans l’atelier des éditeurs. Decroix use d’ailleurs d’une métaphore culinaire pour définir ce travail: «On peut au besoin déguiser un peu les ragoûts. C’est l’art des cuisiniers; et comme nous avons entrepris de donner un fort bon repas à l’Europe et au monde entier, il ne faut pas en négliger les entremets» (Decroix à Nicolas Ruault, 8 octobre 1784).

Decroix est l’un des premiers lecteurs de la Correspondance qu’ils sont en train d’éditer: «Que cette correspondance générale est un excellent cours de morale et de philosophie! Que les malheureux y trouvent de consolation en y voyant les tourments et les persécutions répandus sur toute la vie d’un grand homme, le courage et la résignation avec lesquels il supporte les événements de la vie et l’heureuse conviction du néant des choses humaines dont on y est frappé presque à chaque page. Je sens mes chagrins allégés en tenant le livre, mais le taedium vitae revient quand je le quitte» (Decroix à Ruault, 23 janvier 1789).

Beaumarchais, dans une lettre au prince Youssoupov datée de 1791, évoque une rencontre à Paris, qu’il date du 1er avril 1778, rencontre au cours de laquelle Voltaire lui aurait confié la mission d’éditer ses œuvres complètes: «Ce fruit de mon attachement pour l’écrivain de notre siècle a coupé ma fortune en deux: mais malgré le gouvernement, le clergé, tous les parlements, et des dangers de toute espèce, j’ai tenu parole à l’Europe en rendant gloire ouvertement à l’étonnant vieillard qui m’avait dit presque en mourant, en me serrant dans ses bras décharnés: Mon Beaumarchais, je n’espère qu’en vous: vous seul en aurez le courage! Je l’ai eu seul, mon prince. Voltaire est glorifié: je ne regrette point mes pertes; et les 15 mille francs de votre impératrice sont, ma foi, la moindre de toutes» (Beaumarchais au Prince Youssoupov, 12 novembre 1791).

Voltaire assis, par J.A. Houdon.

Voltaire assis, par J.A. Houdon.

Le discours des éditeurs est empreint d’une sensibilité politique marquée par une forte dimension affective et personnelle, en prise avec les événements. Leur expérience exceptionnelle en a fait des «gens à aventures extraordinaires» (Ruault à son frère, 25 avril 1785). Animés par une énergie caractéristique des Lumières combattantes de la dernière décennie, les éditeurs de Voltaire ont eu conscience de braver une hydre, un monstre institutionnel, l’«Infâme» puissant et violent que Voltaire avait identifié comme la cible de son combat. Témoins et acteurs de leur temps, ils ont perçu avec une lucidité et une sensibilité remarquables l’enjeu du rapport de force qui s’est noué autour de l’édition des Œuvres complètes de Voltaire pendant cette décennie qui précède la Révolution française.

La perfection recherchée par les éditeurs ne sera jamais atteinte. Nicolas Ruault concluait philosophiquement: «Vous garderez cela pour l’édition que l’on fera sans doute à Paris dans le 19e siècle qui n’est pas loin d’ici. Je crois que ce 19e vaudra mieux que le 18e; que le 20e vaudra mieux encore que le 19e; et ainsi des autres, usque ad finem, s’il y a une fin à ce qui est, à ce qui sera etc . Pour moi je crois à l’éternité de l’esprit et de la matière, sous quelque forme qu’ils se montrent» (Nicolas Ruault à Jacques Joseph Marie Decroix, 23 mai 1786). De quoi nous faire réfléchir à l’heure où s’achève la nouvelle édition des Œuvres complètes de Voltaire réalisée à Oxford, sous l’égide de la Voltaire Foundation.

– Linda Gil

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


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.


Digitization of the Enlightenment and Manifold Scholarship

Last month, Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment released the first volume in the long history of the series that is devoted to the application of digital humanities methods to the study of eighteenth-century intellectual life, Networks of Enlightenment, edited by Chloe Edmondson and Dan Edelstein. To accompany this important and innovative book, we are pleased to be releasing our first-ever digital companion to an OUSE book through the Manifold Scholarship platform.

The digital companion site to Networks of Enlightenment 1 is hosted on the Liverpool University Press Digital Collaboration Hub, constructed on the Manifold Scholarship publishing platform. Funded by the Mellon Foundation, Manifold Scholarship is described as “the intuitive, collaborative, open-source platform for scholarly publishing you’ve been waiting for”. In their own words, the platform allows “for a much more expansive archive of primary sources, such as field notes, moving images, audio, interactive data and maps, photographs, interviews, and archival material” and “asks that an author think creatively about the broad set of materials that are collected in the process of researching and writing a book”.2 Liverpool University Press is participating in Manifold’s pilot program – this companion site is a pilot for the OUSE series as well.

The book at the center of this pilot for OUSENetworks of Enlightenment, focuses on the use of metadata to identify and represent social networks, such as those formed by correspondences, by academy affiliations or by the words in a text. As part of this work several contributors to the volume, using data visualization tools developed at Stanford’s Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis, created 40 data visualizations to demonstrate the structure and density of these network relationships. The visualizations are, in fact, crucial to understanding the arguments presented in this book.

Yet these figures, principally due to their complexity as images, can only be approximately reproduced in the medium of the print book; Manifold allows these figures to be rendered as they ought to be – online, in high-resolution and in full color. This supplemental platform thus opens up the possibilities when it comes to publishing digital humanities scholarship, in this volume and in the future. We hope in the coming years to continue this utilization of Manifold to offer our authors, and readers, scholarship that is innovative in method, in findings and in its format.

We are launching this companion site on July 16th, during the XVth International Congress on the Enlightenment which is being held during the same week in Edinburgh, Scotland, under the auspices of the International Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. Today’s digital-focused day consists of the Voltaire Foundation-sponsored day-long workshop “Digitizing Enlightenment IV”, and will culminate in McEwan Hall at the formal launch (and drinks reception) for the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment ONLINE, the digital collection which will make available the entirety of the OUSE/SVEC backlist by the end of 2020. Both events will be an exploration (and a celebration) of the efforts already made thus far to consider how scholarship can be enhanced by digital methods, now and in the future.

– Gregory S. Brown (General Editor, Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, and Professor of History, University of Nevada, Las Vegas) and Nicole Batten (doctoral student, Department of History, University of Nevada, Las Vegas)

1 The site, it is important to note, is not a full-text digital edition. The text consists of the full text of the book’s Introduction and Table of Contents, and brief summaries of the nine body chapters of the book.

2 We would like to thank in particular Terence Smyre, Digital Projects Editor of University of Minnesota Press for his help in the assembly of this site. The assembly of the site also had support from the College of Liberal Arts at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, which provided support for our time on this project.

This post is reblogged from Liverpool University Press.

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.

The Voltaire Foundation blog: a collaborative resource for all 18th-century enthusiasts

The Voltaire Foundation blog recently marked its sixth anniversary, having clocked up some 250 posts since it was launched in April 2013 with the help of our former colleague Claire Trévien.

In its six years’ existence so far the VF blog has attracted dozens of collaborators from a great variety of countries and backgrounds, from seasoned academics and authors to budding scholars. Thanks to all who have contributed, we have managed to build up a resource which beautifully reflects the extraordinary scope and vitality of eighteenth-century scholarship.

As the Siècle des Lumières offers endlessly fertile ground for thinking about our past, present and future, we have have cast our minds back to its trail blazers, reflected on the lessons it holds for our monde comme il va (or comme il ne va pas, as the case may be), drawn parallels, identified points of convergence, measured progress, and tackled the technical, the musical, the quirky, the intimate and the unexpected, among many other areas.

Our blog is also a way of charting significant milestones in the life of our own institution, notably the completion of groundbreaking subseries such as the Essai sur les mœurs and the Questions sur l’Encyclopédie, or the correspondences of Madame de Graffigny and Pierre Bayle. It also allows us to celebrate valued partnerships and long-standing friendships with other institutions such as the CELLF in Paris, the Musée Voltaire in Geneva, or the National Library of Russia in St Petersburg.

Looking ahead to the future, we are increasingly turning our attention to the revolutionary potential offered by digital humanities as a whole, and our Voltaire Lab in particular.

Current events are a constant reminder that reflection on the Enlightenment values that have shaped our world is more needed than ever. We would like to express our gratitude and appreciation to all contributors, and invite everyone to share this collaborative resource as widely as possible, and to get in touch with their own suggestions.

– Georges Pilard

PS: Watch this space for a piece about insect sex in the 18th century coming up soon, a subject once again not completely unrelated to modern concerns!


The age of lightness

Le petit-maître et la dame en l’air, engraving, c.1780 (source: Bibliothèque Nationale de France).

France is a light-hearted nation… This classical common belief is echoed repeatedly throughout the eighteenth century and bears witness to the deep axiological, scientific and ethical upheavals which this volume explores. By analysing the importance of, and issues at stake in, these transformations, the articles gathered within tell the story of another age of Enlightenment: the story of an age of lightness.

Lightness is at the crux of how the French eighteenth century represents itself both in contrast with previous centuries and through parallels between European nations.

The notion of lightness therefore constitutes an essential paradigm of the historiography that developed immediately after the French Revolution. The intellectual heirs of the eighteenth century do not only find in this period an age of reason, progress, Enlightenment and citizens’ rights; they also feel, at times, contempt, at other times, nostalgia for the alleged lightness of its mores, the futility of its taste or the frivolity of its childish ways. Between the industrious bourgeoisie of the nineteenth century exploiting the voluptuous representations of fêtes galantes and the fascination of our own twenty-first century for the delightful frivolity of Marie-Antoinette’s era, the eighteenth century in its lightness has never lost its charm. Yet, crucially, it also challenges the progressive narrative of the history of reason and usefulness in the definition of the very values on which our community is built.

(Attr. to James Gillray), Politeness, c.1779, hand-coloured engraving (source: the Trustees of the British Museum).

It is therefore particularly revealing to analyse the concepts and values associated to the notion of lightness in the eighteenth century. Such an approach yields breakthroughs in understanding why, and to what extent, this idea of lightness has been related to the French national character in general as well as, more particularly, to its eighteenth century.

Le Siècle de la légèreté: émergences d’un paradigme du XVIIIe siècle français offers an interdisciplinary perspective that bridges multiple fields of study related to the question of lightness. The fifteen chapters deal with paintings, morals, sciences, political history, literature and technology as well as economics. Together, these articles reveal the complexity of the notion of lightness in the eighteenth century by proposing not only new and original analyses of well-known sources (Hogarth, Fontenelle or Voltaire) but also discoveries of texts and objects less often studied (such as La Morlière, le Père Castel, Octave Uzanne, carriages or perfumes).

Richard Newton, British servants with Honesty and Fidelity against French servants with Perfidy & Impudence (detail), 1795, hand-coloured etching (source: Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection).

The critical and historiographical approach taken by this collection challenges preconceived notions and other prejudices, and unveils the national, diplomatic and at times existential concerns which contributed to the construction of the representations of eighteenth-century France. Far from proposing yet another traditional thematic approach, this volume offers the analysis of an endogenous and problematic paradigm around which multiple visions of humanity and of the world are articulated; it aims to offer a contribution to the renewal of eighteenth-century studies. Whilst it transforms how we look at a key moment in the construction of modernity, it also lays bare the sources of the fascination exerted by the French eighteenth century.

– Jean-Alexandre Perras (Institut d’études avancées de Paris) and Marine Ganofsky (University of St Andrews)

The above post is reblogged from Liverpool University Press. Marine Ganofsky and Jean-Alexandre Perras are co-editors of ‘Le Siècle de la légèreté: émergences d’un paradigme du XVIIIe siècle français’, the April volume of Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment.