Would you survive four radical political changes? Venetians in the early 19th century tried

If you think that you live in a rapidly changing society, consider the people who lived during the revolutionary and Napoleonic period.

Napoleon I as king of Italy by Andrea Appiani

Napoleon I as king of Italy by Andrea Appiani. (Wikimedia commons)

In 1797 the French army led by general Bonaparte brought about the end of the thousand-year-old Republic of Venice. It was a shock for the Venetians, yet they did not know what awaited them. The democratic period inaugurated by the French lasted only a few months, as Bonaparte ceded Venice and its mainland to the Habsburgs. But the Austrians didn’t stay long either. In 1805, after Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz, Austria was forced to hand over Venice and its mainland to the Kingdom of Italy, created in 1805 by Bonaparte with himself as king, as Napoleon I. In 1813, after Napoleon’s many defeats, the Venetian mainland was occupied by Austrian troops, while Venice surrendered after a six-month siege. In 1815 the Congress of Vienna sanctioned the return of the Habsburgs, who ruled Venice until 1866. So, if you had been born in Venice in 1770 or 1780, you would have lived under five different regimes!

Il mondo nuovo

Il mondo nuovo (Edizioni Ca’ Foscari, 2019).

What were the effects of these rapid political changes on society? What happened to the ruling classes of Venice and the mainland? Did they maintain their position or did other people rise to prominence? These questions led to my research which is summarized in a book entitled Il mondo nuovo. L’élite veneta fra rivoluzione e restaurazione (1797-1815) (The New World. The Venetian elite between revolution and restoration).

The ‘new world’ in Italian has a double meaning, as it refers not only to the post-1789 era, but also to a precinematic device called ‘mondo nuovo’ (or ‘niovo’ in the Venetian language), a mechanical peep-show, also called panopticon, that could entertain people by illustrating for example what happened during the French Revolution. You can see the device, which was part of the entertainment in Venice’s carnival, in this illustration by Gaetano Zompini (1700-1778), printmaker and engraver. It also features in Giandomenico Tiepolo’s murals at the family villa in Zianigo and was the subject of a decorative porcelain piece by the Frankenthal factory.

Engraving of a panopticon by Gaetano Zompini

Engraving of a panopticon by Gaetano Zompini. (Wikimedia commons)

What will you find in this book? The first section describes the composition of the various governing and administrative bodies during the different political phases. The second section analyses the redefinition of noble status, the connection between kinship and politics (some cases are studied through social network analysis), as well as the informal power of social relations. The latter point is developed through the analysis of the networks of relations of key figures such as Giuseppe Rangoni, head of a Venetian Masonic lodge, and Giovanni Scopoli, director general of public education of the Kingdom of Italy. The last part of the book is focused on moments of crisis and transition phases. It explains how complicated it was being re-employed in such unstable contexts. It was mainly the ‘experts’ who succeeded, while the more ‘politicised’ public officials were purged.

This was the case of Giovanni Battista Sanfermo, judge at the Court of Appeal of Venice and member of a Venetian family who had rallied to the Napoleonic regime. His father, former ambassador of the Republic of Venice, was a councillor of state. In the spring of 1814, during the Austrian siege of Venice, general Seras (1765-1815), an Italian in Napoleon’s service, invited the Venetians to grow vegetables on public land to meet food supplies. Giovanni Battista decided to grow potatoes, earning the nickname ‘Count of Potatoes’. The Venetian people interpreted his act as an attempt to extend the siege, and thus their sufferings: Sanfermo became the symbol of all oppressive aspects of Napoleonic rule, so he had to be punished.

Ponte Santa Caterina, Venice

Ponte Santa Caterina, Venice.

On 19 May 1814 on the bridge of Santa Caterina a straw dummy bearing the motto: ‘death to the potato farmer’, was exposed on a stage. The dummy, which represented Giovanni Battista, had a potato stuck in his mouth and in each of his ears, a potato crown on his head and another potato basket at his feet. Crowds of people rushed there, shouting: ‘death to the potato farmer!’ Once darkness fell, lanterns were turned on and a mock trial was held, ending with a death sentence. Then the dummy was hit with around fifty gunshots, set on fire and dragged along the calle (street) of Santa Caterina. In the meantime, the crowd continued to insult this effigy of Sanfermo. But far from being frightened by this popular outburst, the real Sanfermo continued to walk peacefully along Venetian calli.

Countess Lucia Memmo Mocenigo by Angelika Kauffmann

Countess Lucia Memmo Mocenigo (1770-1854) by Angelika Kauffmann. (Wikimedia commons)

In conclusion, how could you enter the elite? Being noble was not fundamental, but still useful; being rich (especially being a landowner) was important, as well as having skills. As the Venetian noblewoman Lucia Memmo wrote to her son: ‘You should consider that public offices are given to people of every class.’ Hence, he had to study. My book gives more information about Lucia and her husband, Alvise Mocenigo, who built a self-sufficient agricultural-manufacturing town called ‘Alvisopoli’ (‘the town of Alvise’, in Veneto) and much more.

Valentina Dal Cin (Italian Institute for Historical Studies, Naples, and Ca’ Foscari University, Venice)

A free pdf of Il mondo nuovo is available here.

The history of the book that never was: Voltaire’s Histoire de la guerre de 1741

Louis XV in 1748, by Maurice Quentin de La Tour

Louis XV in 1748, by Maurice Quentin de La Tour (1704-1788). (Musée du Louvre, Wikimedia commons)

‘Je doute qu’il y ait à présent un homme dans l’Europe aussi bien au fait que moi de l’histoire de la dernière guerre’, wrote Voltaire in June 1752 about what he describes a few lines later as the ‘plus difficile de mes ouvrages’ (D4907, to the duc de Richelieu). The work was never published by him, however, so what went wrong? Voltaire sometimes delayed publication of his work until the time was ripe, or after a water-testing first draft that found the water chilly, but he rarely abandoned an entire book-length work. Yet this was the sad fate of the Histoire de la guerre de 1741 (War of the Austrian Succession), now entering Voltaire’s complete works for the first time (OCV, vol.29C). Circumstances were against him all along, so that the time, the place and the loved one never did come together.

In 1745 the ‘loved one’ was Louis XV – ‘le bien aimé’. Louis’s personal presence during the Flanders campaigns of 1744 and 1745 showed him at his best, and so he is portrayed by Voltaire, writing as newly appointed historiographe de France in what became the relevant chapters of the Histoire de la guerre de 1741. The first thing to go wrong was the time. Had an honourable peace for France been agreed at the end of 1745, as there was every reason to hope once the succession question had been resolved, the time would have been ripe for Voltaire, still living in Versailles, to have put down his pen and published his account of the ‘campagnes du Roi’, of which a manuscript had been sent to the king in 1746.

Stanislas Leszczynski by Jean Girardet

Stanislas Leszczynski (1677-1766) by Jean Girardet (1709-1778), court painter in Lunéville.

The war dragged on, however, until 1748, by which time Voltaire, disillusioned by life at Versailles, was on a protracted visit to King Stanislas Lesczynski at Lunéville where he still was when Mme Du Châtelet died in 1749. This catastrophe induced Voltaire to accept a long-standing invitation from Frederick II to stay in Potsdam. Here the Guerre de 1741 was eventually completed, but Voltaire never returned to live in Paris or Versailles, the sources of his inspiration and material and the natural springboard for his history.

Voltaire was evidently keen to test the waters in Paris with a revised version of the first part, up to the battle of Fontenoy, but his principal adviser, the comte d’Argental, warned him – ‘sans être obligé d’entrer dans les détails’ – on no account to publish it without approval (see D4843; 19 March 1752).

Although the war was no doubt still a sore subject with the king, d’Argental’s oblique hint shows that Voltaire was already aware of the justified criticisms that he had unduly flattered his friends, in particular by exaggerating the part played at Fontenoy by his friend and hero the duc de Richelieu and consequently downplaying that of the true victor, the maréchal de Saxe. Voltaire had been carried away, one might almost say that he had replaced one loved one with another.

Plan of the battle of Fontenoy, 11 May 1745, by Jean de Beaurain

Plan of the battle of Fontenoy, 11 May 1745, by Jean de Beaurain (1696-1771). (Bibliothèque nationale, public domain)

Maurice de Saxe by Maurice Quentin de La Tour

Maurice de Saxe (1696-1750), by Maurice Quentin de La Tour (1748). (Public domain)

Voltaire evidently cut his losses. From his base in Potsdam he had another string to his bow – publication of the full manuscript by Conrad Walther in Dresden. The idea had been mentioned in March (see D4841) but in August Voltaire was nervous, telling Walther that he would want a small printing in anticipation of an early second edition, as happened with the Siècle de Louis XIV on which Walther was then engaged (D4994). This unpromising request would explain why the work was not printed by Walther, if indeed the final manuscript was ever sent, but it is hard to account for Voltaire’s unease other than fear of mockery about the flattery of his friends.

So when three years later in 1755 the manuscript of the first part of the Guerre was ‘stolen’ and published under Voltaire’s name with an Amsterdam title-page, had he jumped or was he pushed? His disclaimers were not seriously believed either then or now. More interesting, and curious, is the fact that Voltaire did not proceed to publish his own authorised edition, nor did he take steps to publish the complete text to 1748 as promised to Walther. Once more he bided his time, but for what?

Histoire de la guerre de mil sept cent quarante et un

Histoire de la guerre de mil sept cent quarante et un, title page of part 1 (Amsterdam [Paris], 1755). (Bibliothèque nationale de France)

By late 1755 Voltaire was already in the process of preparing the edition of his complete works of 1756, where he was joining the Siècle de Louis XIV to the end of what became the Essai sur les mœurs […] depuis Charlemagne jusqu’à nos jours. What better solution than to tack on as well the early chapters of an abbreviated Guerre de 1741? The decisive nail in the coffin of the Guerre de 1741 may well have been the reversal of alliances in 1755 which transposed Austria, the adversary of 1745, into France’s new ally. At a stroke the Guerre was relegated to the status of a redundant curiosity. Voltaire had missed the boat.

The Collection complète des œuvres de Voltaire of 1756 contains truncated versions of the text up to the battle of Fontenoy. Subsequent editions were augmented by further pared-down chapters until the whole was subsumed into the Précis du siècle de Louis XV in 1768 (OCV, vols. 29A and 29B).

Thus it was that the Histoire de la guerre de 1741 was never published as a complete text in Voltaire’s lifetime. Nineteenth-century editors of his complete works, starting from Beuchot, found the strands of the Guerre and Précis hard to unravel. This is understandable but they undoubtedly missed a trick. (The OCV edition is able to use shading to highlight the passages from the Guerre that are carried forward into the Précis.)

The Guerre de 1741 is fully deserving of its place in Voltaire’s complete works. It is more than a historical narrative; it is a picture of Voltaire at work and revealing of the pains he took. It also shows that for the ci-devant historiographer writing about his own time was not as easy as all that – not easy at all in fact.

Janet Godden

‘Pour encourager les autres’: Admiral Byng, Voltaire, and the 1756 battle of Minorca

20 May 2020 marks the 264th anniversary of the naval battle of Minorca in 1756. This battle’s immortalisation by Voltaire has forever fixed the execution of British Admiral John Byng as a symbolic lieu de mémoire in our collective European memorial heritage. The battle’s greatest legacy is arguably Voltaire’s iconic phrase from Candide (1759): ‘pour encourager les autres’.

Events of 20 May 1756: the battle of Minorca

duc de Richelieu

Portrait présumé du duc de Richelieu, by Louis Toqué (c. 1753). (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tours)

The naval battle of Minorca on 20 May 1756 saw France and Britain clash over possession of the island. This battle took place on the eve of the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) and is considered its first naval conflict. With a significant garrison stationed at the Fort St Philip fortress in Port-Mahon, Minorca was a strategic base for Britain. While the British navy was distracted by far-flung conflicts in the Atlantic and in North America, France, from the Toulon naval base, prepared a surprise expedition to attack Minorca. Under the duc de Richelieu, 15,000 French troops landed on Minorca on 19 April.

In response, the British dispatched a poorly equipped Admiral Byng to relieve the besieged British garrison. Byng, fearing that he was shorthanded for such an encounter, arrived off Port-Mahon on 19 May with thirteen ships. He faced a French fleet of twelve ships commanded by Marquis de La Galissonière. French naval reports state that Byng’s ships bore down on the French fleet at an angle, so that his six leading ships were exposed to fire from the French, who then slipped away unscathed. Byng subsequently failed both to land the soldiers he had on board, and to renew action against the French. After holding a council of war, he sailed back to Gibraltar, leaving the fort to its fate.

Prise de Port-Mahon sur l'île de Minorque, le 29 juin 1756

Prise de Port-Mahon sur l’île de Minorque, le 29 juin 1756, by Jean-Baptiste Martin le jeune.

Minorca surrendered in June, thus giving the French significant advantage in the Mediterranean. British Admiral Byng was summoned back to Britain, tried by court-martial, and condemned to death. He was shot on 14 March 1757 at Portsmouth.

Minorca: the scenic backdrop for naval battle

For modern readers, Minorca (Menorca) is an idyllic Spanish island, part of a trio of Balearic islands (with Majorca and Ibiza) in the western Mediterranean sea. Its megalithic stone monuments speak to a very ancient history, while as a biosphere reserve Minorca battles nowadays to protect its environment. The eighteenth century typified the island’s history of serial invasions: Minorca was initially captured by the British in 1708, during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). A new naval base was established in the deep natural harbour at Port-Mahon (nowadays Mahon, or Mao) and the influence of eighteenth-century Britain is still in evidence today in a wealth of indelible cultural signs.

The Execution of Admiral Byng

The shooting of Admiral Byng on board the Monarque

The shooting of Admiral Byng on board the Monarque, 1757. (National Portrait Gallery, London)

In the wake of the battle of Minorca, the execution of the British Admiral Byng proved deeply polemical and politicised. Public opinion was initially furious with Byng’s failure and flurries of pamphlets charged him with cowardice. The extreme severity of the court’s penalty for Byng’s failure to win the battle was primarily due to a recent amendment of the Articles of War which imposed death for the officer of any rank who did not do his utmost against the enemy either in battle or pursuit. Byng was deemed not to have done his utmost, but the court acquitted him of cowardice and in fact recommended mercy. A deeply entrenched antagonism between prime minister William Pitt the Elder and King George II complicated matters: a final pardon was ultimately refused by the king.

Admiral Byng

Admiral Byng, 1757. (National Portrait Gallery, London)

Today, Byng’s descendants continue to petition the British government for a posthumous pardon. Ironically, after Byng’s trial, public clamour then rose against the ministry of the marine who had failed to provision Byng’s ships adequately and who were emphatically accused of casting the blame for their own failures onto a scapegoat, Byng.

Divided loyalties

In historical terms, it is not unusual to find that Irishmen held prominent positions on both sides: the Irish comte de Lally was one of the French king’s chief military advisors, while the defence of the British garrison was led by the Protestant Irish Lieutenant-Governor of Minorca, Lord Blakeney. Voltaire similarly enjoyed close affiliations to both sides: Richelieu was a long-standing personal friend, and he befriended both the young John Byng and his father, First Lord of the Admiralty Viscount Torrington, while in exile in England in 1726-1728. There is an uncanny symmetry in Voltaire’s attempt to save Byng from execution and his later vociferous campaign for Lally’s exoneration and posthumous rehabilitation, following a parallel accusation of treason after Lally’s defeat at Pondicherry, India (Fragments sur l’Inde, OCV, vol.75B). Even though Voltaire made personal profit out of a financial gamble on French success at Minorca, he felt deep sympathy for Byng, and carefully transcribed Richelieu’s own testimony that his enemy was not at fault during the battle and supplied it to England for the admiral’s defence.

Voltaire’s textual re-enactments

While Minorca was the sole naval battle that the French would win during the Seven Years’ War, Voltaire’s historical account in his Précis du siècle de Louis XV (OCV, vol.29B) homes in on the adroit French multi-pronged land attack on the myriad British defences around the Port-Mahon fortress. In an account of the battle in the Précis (vol.29B, p.171-76), it is clear that Voltaire greatly admires the military tactics of his friend Richelieu. Rather impudently, Voltaire had penned a premature ode to Richelieu’s success, ‘Depuis plus de quarante années’, which circulated before the fall of Port-Mahon (OCV, vol.45A, p.383-89).

Voltaire is so deeply implicated in Minorcan events that when the British prime minister’s brother Thomas Pitt visited him, he was keen to intervene directly in the British row by providing a transcription of Richelieu’s bird’s-eye-view version of events. Textually, the historian Voltaire includes a conspicuously self-important metatextual reference to this particular diplomatic intervention: ‘En vain le maréchal de Richelieu, qui du haut d’un terre-plein, avait vu toute la bataille, et qui en pouvait juger, envoya à l’auteur de cette histoire une déclaration qui justifiait l’amiral Bing’ (vol.29B, p.175). The episode also ends with a reference to Byng sending evidential documentation to Voltaire, which makes the history incredibly immediate by again placing the writer front and centre in his own historiographical text: ‘avant d’être frappé, il envoya son mémoire justificatif à l’auteur’ (p.176). Not only does this emphasise authorial involvement and importance, but it attempts once more to underscore Byng’s innocence by citing the Englishman’s enemy, Richelieu. Moreover, the Précis is overtly critical of a king who could have pardoned Byng, but failed to do so. Thus, in life, Voltaire campaigns for exoneration, and though his writings, he campaigns for Byng’s posthumous pardon.

While the historical account in the Précis concludes on an emotive note regretting the execution of Byng, the infamous version in Candide offers a more deeply critical and reductively satirical version. That 1759 conte philosophique stages the moment of execution on Byng’s ship off Portsmouth without naming names. In this way, Voltaire focuses the spotlight on the timeless absurdity of executing an admiral who loses in battle. In an uncharacteristically decisive move, Candide darkly refuses to set foot in Voltaire’s beloved England, as he ponders pseudo-logically: ‘mais, dit Candide, l’amiral français était aussi loin de l’amiral anglais que celui-ci l’était de l’autre’. His interlocutors’ response is less a criticism of the execution itself than a broader indictment of the immense and miserable follies of war and of mankind: ‘il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres’.

– Síofra Pierse, Associate Professor, UCD Dublin

Strategy and revolution: the last words of the Jesuit China Mission?

On the eve of the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), Voltaire published L’Orphelin de la Chine and the Essai sur les mœurs, marking what is generally seen as the high point of sinophilia in Enlightenment France. In the latter work, Voltaire presents China as a nation ruled with stability and continuity by an absolute but enlightened monarch and a rational and secular civil service, impartially trained and selected through the famous imperial examination system. Voltaire was, of course, drawing on a narrative that had largely been created by the Jesuits since Matteo Ricci had settled in China 150 years earlier.

The general view continues that, after Voltaire, sinophilia turned to sinophobia. Europe’s industrial and economic progress was contrasted with China’s perceived stagnation. The political stability and continuity that sinophiles had cited as evidence of the superiority of China’s political economy became problematic, as it was seen also to show that China could not now progress. Accordingly, China’s influence faded and left very little mark on France in the twenty years leading up to the Revolution.

The Mandate of Heaven–Strategy, Revolution, and the First European Translation of Sunzi’s Art of War (1772)

In The Mandate of Heaven – Strategy, Revolution, and the First European Translation of Sunzi’s Art of War (1772), published this month by Brill, I argue that China, as presented by the Jesuits, had a significant impact over those two decades. This can be traced through the movements, work and writings of three men. The first is a French missionary, Joseph-Marie Amiot (1718–1793), who arrived in Beijing in 1751 to join the French Jesuit mission there. Four years later, just as Voltaire’s works were being published, two young Chinese, Louis Ko (1732–1780) and Étienne Yang (1733–1787), arrived in France to complete their education and training as Jesuits. (There was a third, Louis Zheng, but he soon disappears from sight.)

The Seven Years’ War, which formally broke out in 1756, radically affected all three of these men. In 1762, emboldened by the military, political and financial defeat of France and her Catholic allies at the hands of Britain and Prussia, the French Parlement brought a successful action to expel the Jesuits from France. Louis XV was forced to confirm this decision in 1764. Ko and Yang were stranded in France but taken under the wing of the minister Henri Bertin (1720–1792). Bertin arranged for their return to China, but not before he had organised for them to tour France to see the country’s manufacturing and economic strength. When they left in 1766, they took with them a set of questions about China’s economy, prepared by Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot (1727–1781). Perhaps because of this exchange, François Quesnay (1694–1774), leader of the “physiocratic” movement of political economists, published an article in the physiocrat journal Éphémérides du citoyen entitled “Le Despotisme de la Chine” (1767). Quesnay went much further than Voltaire had in suggesting that China was a model for Europe, in the phrase of Lewis Maverick, who translated this work into English in 1946.

Joseph Amiot

A revolutionary? Joseph Amiot in Alfred Hamy, Galerie illustrée de la Compagnie de Jésus, 1893.

Ko, Yang and Amiot became correspondents of Bertin for the next thirty years. Amiot’s correspondence began in 1766 when the abolition of the Jesuits had thrown the French mission in Beijing into chaos and dismay. Amiot, by then one of its senior members, decided he needed to demonstrate to the French government that the Jesuits, the China mission and he himself were still of strategic value to France. Accordingly he translated “Sun Tzu’s Art of War” (孫子兵法 Sunzi bingfa) and other Chinese military materials, and sent them to Bertin. In his dedicatory letter, Amiot made clear his intent:

“A Frenchman, transplanted for the past 15 years in the capital of the Chinese empire, offers as homage to your Excellency a segment of his literary works. This tribute, owed to you by virtue of your taste for all that concerns the Sciences and the Arts, would not, perhaps, be unworthy of you if it were offered by anyone other than a Jesuit. It is a note, a compilation, or a type of translation of what has been written, least badly, in this extremity of Asia, on the military art … China is a vast field in which you constantly encounter some new resource that is no less suitable for the political utility of an enlightened statesman than for the sterile curiosity of the idle philosopher.”

Amiot’s work was published in 1772, and one of its readers was a veteran of the Seven Years’ War, Paul-Gédéon Joly de Maizeroy (1719–1780), himself a translator of classical military theory. In 1771, Maizeroy published his translation of the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI’s Taktika. In the course of this Maizeroy took the word στρατηγíα from the Greek and created the French word stratégie. For Maizeroy, “strategy” was the all-embracing process by which political objectives are translated into action using military means. This was a significant development, but just as important is the fact that for Maizeroy, the object of strategy is not fighting but winning. By 1777, Maizeroy had synthesised classical European and Chinese traditions in a formulation that strongly echoes the Sunzi:

“The science of war […] is the art of managing the lives of men and of achieving victory. The latter does not mean only winning in combat. It is winning by reducing to nothing the plans of the enemy, obliging him to abandon an advantageous position, or to retire, without one’s being obliged to take the risk of combat itself.”

A survey of European history and military thought from 1600 to 1945 would show just how radical this idea was at the time, but it can be seen as a pivotal idea in the asymmetrical warfare that has characterised the past 74 years. It also explains why the ideas of the Sunzi have been so influential outside the military world. Today, Maizeroy and Amiot are largely forgotten, but strategy is a common part of the civilian vocabulary, and even in civilian life “Sun Tzu” is the best-known exponent of the idea of it.

There is one more piece to this story. Amiot acknowledged in his letter to Bertin that he was not sending a literal translation (although he contradicts this elsewhere). What he does not say, however, is that he has very significantly altered the closing words of the final chapter of the Sunzi. In Amiot’s version, this chapter deals with “divide and rule” as a fundamental approach to strategy, and he suggests that two of the great figures of Chinese history were masters of it. These two men were, respectively, subjects of the Xia and Shang dynasties, but were instrumental in their overthrow. As Yuri Pines writes in his article “To Rebel is Justified? The Image of Zhouxin and the Legitimacy of Rebellion in the Chinese Political Tradition (2008), these stories exemplify the Chinese notion of “legitimate rebellion”, which arises when a ruler has lost the “mandate of heaven” (天命 tianming). The original text makes passing reference to these men, whereas Amiot writes of them,

“Is there a single one of our books that does not praise these two great men? Has history ever called them traitors of their nation, or rebels against their sovereigns? Far from it; they are always mentioned with the greatest respect. They are, according to historians, heroes, virtuous rulers, saintly figures.”

This then is how one should describe those who rebel against an unjust ruler. And, for good measure, Amiot on four occasions tells his readers that the Xia dynasty was overthrown in 1766 BCE. How strange that he was writing in 1766 CE.

Was Amiot trying to suggest that Louis XV had lost the “mandate of heaven” and could now be overthrown? Certainly, the missionary was downcast by Louis’s decision to suppress his beloved Society of Jesus. Regardless of his motive, however, his work was picked up by a group of radical soldiers who were part of the Physiocratic circle and who published État actuel de l’art et de la science militaire à la Chine in 1773. This was on the face of it a review of Amiot’s work, but the authors used the introduction as an opportunity to take Quesnay’s thinking from 1767 to a new level and called explicitly for a revolution in Europe to establish a government and political economy like those of China. “Fortunately,” they conclude, “everything tells us that this great revolution is not far off!”

I do not go so far as to suggest that Amiot set out to invoke a revolution in France, but he made two important connections. Firstly, as he introduced Chinese classical military thought to Europe, he influenced the emerging idea of strategy, and connected strategy to revolution. Secondly, he connected the longstanding ideal of the Chinese state with the doctrine of justified rebellion. In Amiot’s Sunzi the Chinese saint is a rebel who uses strategy to overthrow a tyrannical sovereign and establish enlightened rule.

– Adam Parr

John V’s Lisbon: the new Rome

“All the new coins will show my effigy and name on one side, as some of the old kings in these reigns used to mint as well as almost all the Princes of Europe right now […]” 1

This quote comes from a new law issued by the Portuguese monarch, John V, in April 1722. By then the Portuguese king had been on the throne for fifteen years and, piece by piece, his magnificent plan for his country was coming together. Not only was the aforementioned law intended to reform the coinage in order to provide his subjects with more adequate coins for transactions, but it also formed part of a bigger plan of promotion of the Braganza monarch among the great powers in Europe. What better way for disseminating his image than in a coin that everyone would see?

D. Rodrigo Anes de Sa Almeida and Meneses

Image portrays D. Rodrigo Anes de Sa Almeida and Meneses (1676-1733), 3rd Marquis of Fontes. It does not yet mention the title of 1st Marquis of Abrantes, which would be conferred on him by John V on 12 August 1718. (Biblioteca nacional de Portugal)

Likely inspired by the marchis of Abrantes (one of his closest counsellors and a well-known collector of coins and medals), and also by his father-in-law, the Habsburg Emperor Leopold I, who used medals to publicize his successes, John V quickly understood the impact of coins and medals as a vehicle to promote himself. He was seduced by the idea of placing himself on the face of the coins in the fashion of ancient emperors and old kings. He also endorsed reform at the House of the Mint in Lisbon, hiring foreign minters and acquiring new machinery in order to produce better coins and medals to fulfil his plans.

The Portuguese numismatic tradition was usually aniconic; John V’s change was a transcendent one and further illustrated just how important the use of images was for his grandiloquent plans. Underpinning these choices was the need to promote a strong and renovated image of the king before his peers, as he was, at that particular moment, challenging Pope Innocent XIII’s influence in the role Portugal played within the European arena. The king was adamant: Portugal must be seen and considered to be among the most powerful realms – Spain, France and the Holy Roman Empire – so he planned to use the influence of Rome, through the obtaining of privileges from the Pope, in order to support and reinforce his beliefs and his agenda.

By 1722 John V was in his prime. Among other things, he had defeated the Turks with his ships in the Battle of Matapan, he had already been granted the patriarchal title for the former Royal Chapel in Lisbon, he had obtained the holy bands for his first-born like the other powerful monarchs around him, and he had lured several top-notch artists and musicians to Lisbon in order to meet his most extravagant desires about his new and brilliant court. Of course there were still many things to accomplish in order to pursue the glory that John V was expecting to achieve, but strong roots were already settled, and the years to come would be bursting with grandiose commissions in art, architecture and music.

This book deals with John V’s dream of turning Lisbon into a new capital, taking Rome as its model. It is not only concerned with the king’s fascination with the Papal City, but also explores how John V’s plan for his country and court involved many aspects, from art, architecture and music to ceremonies, images and of course politics. The volume does not pretend to be exhaustive, but rather presents a noteworthy sample of the most recent and refreshing research around a theme widely studied within Portuguese historiography but not so well known outside Portugal. Politics and the arts in Lisbon and Rome explores the obsession of John V with Rome from very different angles, tackling classical political history, musicology and art history, and ultimately aims to bring to life a fascinating period in the relations between Rome and Portugal. It also puts into perspective the achievements of a magnificent, and sometimes extravagant, king.

– Pilar Diez del Corral Corredoira, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (Madrid)

Pilar Diez del Corral Corredoira is the editor of the October volume in the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment seriesPolitics and the arts in Lisbon and Rome, a cross-disciplinary study of the Golden Age of Portugal in the eighteenth century, which explores new perspectives on John V of Portugal and his cultural endeavours with Rome.

This post is reblogged from Liverpool University Press.

1. “Todas estas moedas da nova fabrica teraõ de huma parte o meu retrato, e nome, como usaraõ alguns dos Reys antigos destes Reynos, e praticaõ presentemente quasi todos os Principes da Europa”, António Caetano de Sousa, História Genealogica da Casa real portuguesa (vol. IV), Lisboa occidental: Na officina de Joseph Antonio da Sylva, 1735, p. 408.

Anarchists and terrorists at Geneva and Waterford in the 1780s

On the 1st of July 1782, in the early hours of the morning, most of the leaders of the popular government at Geneva fled their city by boat, landing on the Neuchâtel shore of Lake Geneva, then governed by Prussia. The action shocked the abandoned inhabitants of the small republic, who had been preparing to face invading troops from France, Savoy and Bern. Republican patriotism was rife in the city, and the populace was ready for death in the name of liberty. How did this come to pass?

Geneva had long been a city divided into warring factions. A commercial town at the centre of ancient trade routes, and the Rome for Protestants, Geneva was famous not only for the piety of its inhabitants but also for the production of watches and fine smith-work. As in so many small states across Europe, a number of rich families emerged to dominate the ruling councils of the city, whose male members served also as leading magistrates. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries they built splendid houses in the upper town, away from the artisans of the lower town. Often having additional property beyond the city walls, and extensive investments in French commerce, accusations were levelled that such families were forming a patrician class, ruling for themselves rather than the public good.

Source: BnF, Gallica.

The group of Genevans making such a claim became known in the 1750s as the représentants, because they repeatedly made representations or complaints to the General Council of all citizens and bourgeois that morality was collapsing, and that the ruin of the city was imminent because of the influence of France over the chief magistrates, themselves corrupted by a lust for luxury and lucre. Divisions became acute between représentants and magistrates in the early 1760s, and especially after the représentants recruited Geneva’s most famous son, the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, to their cause. Rousseau, characteristically, was so independently minded that his Lettres écrites de la montagne satisfied few of the représentants, but he was presented by their enemies as demagogue in chief, whose works were designed to put an end to government and religion. Just as at Paris, Rousseau’s Contrat social and Émile had been burned at Geneva in 1762. As soon as his Lettres began to circulate in the city in December 1764, arguments were being made that Rousseau’s deadly doctrines would bring anarchy to Geneva.

The magisterial party at Geneva, called négatifs in the 1760s and constitutionnaires in the 1770s and after, reached a compromise with the représentants by agreeing to constitutional reforms in 1767. By the early 1780s, however, the représentants were demanding further change, and once more were branded as Rousseauists, advocates of an ideology that, if brought to power, would see an end to civil order and possibly civil war. For the magistrates, precisely this happened on 5 April 1782 when the people rebelled. The représentants had not fomented revolution but they took control of the city, imprisoned several magistrates, and initiated projects intended to create a new constitution and greatly increase equality at Geneva. One of the reasons the représentants had not wanted to take power by popular revolution was that they knew they risked the wrath of France. France’s foreign minister, Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes, was close to numerous magistrates, and of the view that a popular republic on the borders of France could not be stomached. Vergennes was cunning, and he put together a combined invading force that included Geneva’s traditional ally among the cantons, Bern, and Geneva’s traditional foe, Savoy. By the end of June, twelve thousand troops had reached the walls of the city, erected bulwarks for their cannons and mortars, and prepared for siege. The besieged were branded anarchists and terrorists, who had put an end to the legitimate government of the city state and replaced it with a wild democracy in which neither property nor life was safe.

Plan de l’attaque de Genève (source: Bibliothèque de Genève).

Within the city, since the April revolution the people of Geneva had rebuilt the walls and put gunpowder in the cathedral of St Pierre and in the houses of deposed magistrates. Their goal was not victory. Everyone knew that they could never stand against France, and especially against a France supported by the most powerful canton in addition to Savoy. Rather, the people considered themselves to be preparing for martyrdom. The intention of the inhabitants was to send a message to the wider world. Through their deaths and the accompanying destruction of the city of Geneva, which would be set aflame as soon as the invaders used mortars, they would reveal the extent to which both Protestantism and republicanism were in danger in the 1780s. Someone in another part of Europe might listen and take action against the forces of oppression and corruption; the Genevan martyrs would then not have died in vain.

Entrée des troupes suisses et françoises dans Genève (source: Bibliothèque de Genève).

In fact, many people within the city awoke on the morning of the 1st of July to find that the invading troops were already inside the walls. The représentants who remained in the city had opened the gates and surrendered as soon as their friends had left by boat. Resistance became futile and Geneva was saved. The price, many contemporaries felt, was that Geneva was no longer independent, having become a French protectorate. As a theatre was built within the city in order to entertain the invaders, many also embraced the view that Geneva was no longer a bastion of Calvinist morality. Republicans and Calvinists who remained at Geneva tended to be particularly despondent about the future in the early 1780s.

What happened to the now exiled représentants who had fled to Neuchâtel? This is where the story becomes interesting and remains little-known. The représentants had strong links with Britain, in part because the politician Charles Stanhope, known as Lord Mahon, had lived at Geneva in the 1760s and considered himself to be a représentant. Stanhope put the représentants in touch with William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne between 1761 and 1784, who became prime minister soon after the Genevan revolution was crushed, on the 4th of July 1782. Shelburne was facing crisis at home because Britain had been defeated in war by the new North American republics, who were fighting against Britain alongside France, the Dutch Republic and Spain. Peace negotiations had commenced and many felt that Britain, like Geneva, was another Protestant state on the edge of collapse.

A young lawyer called François d’Ivernois, who was one of the editors of the Geneva edition of Rousseau’s collected works, travelled to London to meet Shelburne and Stanhope. The représentants had a plan. They promised the British government that the industrious half of Geneva, hating the restored magistrates and French dominion, were willing to leave the city, taking their wealth and manufacturing skills to another place, where they might enjoy peace and liberty. A community of watchmakers could be established, bringing prosperity to a New Geneva on foreign soil. Shelburne and his friends embraced the project. Lands were offered to the Genevans in England, but the preferred location became Ireland because of the quality of the ports, but also because Ireland was deemed ripe for improvement. Rebellious tendencies in Ireland, in the midst of the volunteer movement demanding economic and political reform, might be assuaged by the creation of New Geneva.

The location that was ultimately chosen was a substantial tract of land at the confluence of the ‘Three Sisters’ rivers – the Barrow, Nore and Suir, just outside Waterford. Funds were granted to the Genevans to the level of £50,000 and a city was mapped out. Land was purchased, buildings were erected and around a hundred families made the move from Geneva to Ireland. Most of the leaders of the April revolution at Geneva in 1782 took an oath of allegiance to George III and became Irish subjects of the crown in 1783. Then things began to go wrong. The first disaster was Shelburne’s fall from power, accused by members of parliament and the country of signing up to an ignominious peace. The ongoing crisis in Britain and in Ireland meant that his successors were less interested in New Geneva. This meant that the complaints of the Genevans who had made the journey, that funds to help them were not being released, that no further buildings were being erected and that life in Waterford was as poor and as miserable as it had been at Geneva, fell on deaf ears. The Genevans, seeing conspiracy everywhere, expressed the view that their enemies in France and in the old city also had friends at Westminster and at Court, who were promoting their view that they were dangerous extremists who would bring terror and anarchy to Ireland, just as they had in Geneva. By 1785, just as the buildings were finished, the Genevans gave up. They were convinced that the Protestant noblemen responsible for the project in Ireland were taking the funds for themselves and would never allow New Geneva to become a reality.

The final chapter of the story is more bizarre still. The buildings of New Geneva were turned into a barracks for regiments serving in Ireland or en route for foreign climes. In 1798 New Geneva, now called Geneva Barracks, became a prison for United Irish rebels against the British crown. It became infamous for the dreadful conditions suffered by the prisoners and the executions that occurred within its walls. Ballads such as Carole Malone’s ‘The Croppy Boy’ restated contemporary assertions that rebels were illegitimately massacred at Geneva in Ireland. Although New Geneva was constructed as an asylum for exiled republicans, it became a place for the imprisonment and extermination of Irish republicans. Like the Genevans before them, they too were accused of being anarchists and terrorists.

– Richard Whatmore

Richard Whatmore’s ‘Terrorists, Anarchists and Republicans. The Genevans and the Irish in time of revolution’ will be published by Princeton University Press in August 2019.


Maria Theresa: the Habsburg empress revisited

Maria Theresa, by Jean-Étienne Liotard, 1762.

Maria Theresa, by Jean-Étienne Liotard, 1762.

On 26 February 2018, Tobias Heinrich (Kent) and Avi Lifschitz (Oxford) convened a study day at Queen’s College (Oxford) to mark the tercentenary of the birth of Maria Theresa, empress of the Habsburg Empire from 1740 to 1780. Leading scholars came together from across Europe for a day of interdisciplinary talks and discussion about the enduring ‘myth’ of Maria Theresa. These talks provided a fascinating window into the life and rule of this formidable empress, covering a range of topics including the representation of Maria Theresa from her own time into the present day, her correspondence with her daughter Marie Antoinette, her succession to the throne as a woman, her social and political networks, and the Catholic Enlightenment.

In the first session, Werner Telesko (Austrian Academy of Sciences) presented a paper entitled ‘Maria Theresa: the making of a myth. Old questions and new insights’. Telesko highlighted the way in which the proliferation of idealized portraits, etchings and symbols, standardized the idealized representations of the empress in the eighteenth century as empress, mother, and widow. Telesko demonstrated how the myth of the empress continued thereafter to be adapted to suit contemporary needs, Maria Theresa becoming the ultimate embodiment of ‘being Austrian’ in the national memory. Catriona Seth (All Souls College, Oxford) presented her work, ‘A well-tempered correspondence? The letters of Marie Antoinette and Maria Theresa’. Seth revealed the way in which Maria Theresa deployed her daughters in her imperial ambitions through marriages abroad, managing these royal alliances through correspondence. She kept careful tabs on the one who made the most prestigious marriage, treating Marie Antoinette as a dependent in need of counsel even after she was crowned queen of France. Maria Theresa dictated with whom her daughter was allowed to maintain correspondences, implored her above all to produce an heir to the throne (demanding constant updates of her daughter’s reproductive status), and urged her to heed the advice of the Austrian ambassador Mercy, Maria Theresa’s eyes and ears in France.

Letter by Marie-Antoinette to her mother Maria Theresa, 9 July 1770.

Letter by Marie-Antoinette to her mother Maria Theresa, 9 July 1770.

In the second session, William O’Reilly (Trinity Hall, Cambridge) gave his paper, ‘“All the king’s men”: Maria Theresa and the Holy Crown of St Stephan’, a fascinating reflection on the problem of female succession and the history of the legal gymnastics involved in answering the question: is the heir a child, or a woman? O’Reilly underscored how Maria Theresa came to be seen as a man in the person of a woman in order to rationalize her succession to the throne, forming her royal image in imitation of Queen Mary I. Thomas Wallnig (University of Vienna) concluded the second session with a provocative paper entitled ‘After 2017: is new research on Maria Theresa possible?’. Wallnig answered his own question, at least in the beginning, in the negative, paying homage to the substantial scholarship on Maria Theresa that has been completed to date. Proposing to move beyond biography, correspondence, and her family, Wallnig ultimately turned to the promise of digital humanities and network analysis for reframing the questions, opening up new avenues for historical inquiry and making room for future innovative studies of the empress.

The study day concluded with a keynote lecture by leading eighteenth-century historian Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger (University of Münster), ‘Maria Theresa and the Catholic Enlightenment’. Stollberg-Rilinger began her talk highlighting Maria Theresa’s vexed relationship with the Enlightenment. Maria Theresa viewed the philosophes as having ‘ni foi, ni lois, ni honnêteté’. She was in favour of upholding the authority of tradition and disliked the philosophes’ entitlement to think on their own. Yet what emerged through Stollberg-Rilinger’s analysis of Maria Theresa’s policies regarding the Church was in fact a woman fully confident in her capacity to think for herself. Stollberg-Rilinger demonstrated how Maria Theresa cracked down on the Church when the problem of exorcists became a major issue in the public sphere, asserting her sovereign rule over the Church as she claimed the authority to settle religious matters. In claiming the power of decision-making and the power to define what was faith versus charlatanism, Maria Theresa asserted her divine right to rule as sovereign, even over the Church.

Kaiserin Maria Theresia im Kreise ihrer Kinder, by Heinrich Füger, 1776.

Kaiserin Maria Theresia im Kreise ihrer Kinder, by Heinrich Füger, 1776.

Wallnig is right to point out that a figure as prominent as Maria Theresa has been studied exhaustively, with countless studies dedicated to her alone. The eighteenth century is full of such figures – rulers, philosophes, political theorists, artists, writers, and countless others – that continue to captivate us dix-huitiémistes and inspire our work. Yet while Wallnig asked what more we can possibly do on Maria Theresa in the twenty-first century, I found myself leaving Queen’s College thinking about what Maria Theresa can teach us about why eighteenth-century studies matter today. One might ask, how could an afternoon of talks dedicated to a single person answer that question?

Yet in that afternoon, we thought about how we can leverage twenty-first-century technology to find openings in well-trodden fields, and make new discoveries and contributions to eighteenth-century scholarship. We considered the role of media in the construction of glorified images of political figures, and the appropriation of historical figures to serve contemporary purposes. We thought about the problem of women and power through the lens of the letters between a mother and a daughter: not only how a woman acquires and holds onto power, but more strikingly the negotiation of identity as a woman in power, negotiating the political and the personal, the identity of empress versus mother. We grappled with how to justify the right of a woman to rule, and what to do when a title is intended for a man: Rex versus Regina. And lastly, in what proved particularly prescient, we wrestled with the question of where power lies – with the Church or with the State – and who has the power to define faith versus charlatanism, what we could transpose to our current political moment as fact versus fiction.

– Chloe Edmondson (Stanford)

Classic and modern clash in Italy

Giambattista Vico

Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), by Giuseppe Fusitani (1836).

In recent years, groups of Italian students protesting against governmental cuts to education funding and the rise of university fees have gained some popularity in the international media due to their highly original form of opposition. They made padded shields shaped as book covers, and used them as a symbol of literary and cultural resistance to the draconian cuts imposed by Italy’s successive governments.

The canon of works chosen for this very unique form of public protest – ranging from Plato’s Republic to Machiavelli’s The Prince to Marquez’s One hundred years of solitude – has raised immediate attention. With only a couple of exceptions, all the selected ‘book shields’ can be considered canonic books, ancient and modern classics, works whose value has matured over time. Professor Luca Serianni from La Sapienza University in Rome commented that it looked like a second-hand canon, closer to the reading matter of students rioting in the late sixties and seventies. In other words, a canon inherited from today’s students’ parents.

The image of protesters resisting undesired changes in public education policies by raising classical books as shields is a powerful image of Italy’s approach to tradition, change and permanence in culture and education. Italian culture is characterized by a perceived continuity of tradition, both the Greco-Roman classical and that of the so-called modern classics. The metaphor of these book shields further confirms that there is a complex connection between literary canon, tradition and resistance.

Giacomo Leopardi

Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837). Drawing by Luigi Lolli, engraving by Gaetano Guadagnini (1830).

Other European philosophical traditions were born instead out of a rupture with the past. Descartes’ ideas can be viewed as an example of modern thought grounded in a fracture with tradition – as Hegel said, Descartes is one of those who ‘restarted philosophy from zero’. Descartes’ thought is grounded in doubting the philosophical foundation of various fields of knowledge, particularly the humanities. Additionally, Descartes doubted that the study of classical sources, rhetoric and history adds anything to human knowledge. Giambattista Vico’s enquiry started from a critique of Descartes’ viewpoint: Vico’s speculation claims that there is a modern, ‘scientific’ method of studying the humanities. Vico’s legacy consists in a new way (a New science) to look at the ancient world and classical authorities, which, in Vico’s view, should preserve their legacy and guarantee their survival in an increasingly scientific world.

A century later, Italy’s continuity with classicism is again endangered in the field of literature with the so-called classic-romantic quarrel, which is also in some respects a quarrel between tradition and modernity. In this context, Giacomo Leopardi, with his 1818 Discourse on Romantic poetry, embodies an attempt to resist the rise of modernity and to preserve continuity with the innocence of origins, guaranteed by the traditional forms of poetry.

I start from this position in my book Rebuilding post-Revolutionary Italy: Leopardi and Vico’s ‘New science’, in which I identify continuity between these two moments and figures. Vico and Leopardi, almost a century apart, renegotiated Italy’s role, identity, and tradition in a modern world and raised the authority of established classics as a shield in an attempt to resist or to negotiate change. In a time that had witnessed large-scale historical transformation with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, within a community that had ‘grown old in Revolutions’, as Pietro Colletta, a reader of Vico, put it in 1815, Italy cultivated its own, distinctive approach to modernity.

– Martina Piperno

Le Portugal de Voltaire: un royaume sans lumières


Honoré Daumier, jésuite cherchant à détériorer la statue de Voltaire. Lithographie parue dans Le Charivari du 22 septembre 1869.

Voltaire a très tôt développé une piètre opinion de la culture portugaise et de ses élites. Ses idées s’étant formées au contact des Lettres persanes de Montesquieu et des Lettres juives du Marquis d’Argens, le Portugal lui apparaissait peuplé d’individus vains et orgueilleux, et la cour portugaise lui semblait un endroit triste et de peu d’agréments (voir la lettre au marquis d’Argenson du 16 avril 1739). La toute-puissance de l’Inquisition, qui dans Candide persécute les innocents suite au terrible tremblement de terre survenu à Lisbonne en 1755, entérine un jugement déjà sévère. Si Voltaire applaudit à l’expulsion des Jésuites du royaume en 1759, orchestrée par le très puissant premier ministre le Marquis de Pombal, il ne révisera plus son opinion sur la monarchie lusitanienne. C’est qu’en 1761 le père Malagrida est brûlé par l’Inquisition après avoir publié un écrit (Juízo da verdadeira causa do Terramoto) où il lie le tremblement de terre à la colère divine dirigée contre les vices de la capitale. Si Voltaire ironise sur les idées du jésuite, il critique néanmoins très sérieusement les liens que Lisbonne entretient avec Rome.

Il est indéniable que le tribunal de l’Inquisition était très puissant au Portugal, et que l’ultramontanisme avait laissé des traces dans la théologie et la philosophie. Ce dernier courant de pensée se manifesta très fortement pendant le règne de Jean V, le prédécesseur de Joseph Ier, roi sous lequel gouverna le Marquis de Pombal. Cependant, comme en France malgré la censure, les Lumières (Luzes en portugais) se diffusèrent au Portugal. Un des meilleurs représentants de ce courant de pensée est Louis Antonio Verney, qui s’est illustré par ses travaux en pédagogie où il prend le contre-pied des Jésuites. Dans Le Précis du siècle de Louis XV, Voltaire fait de l’Inquisition le thème principal de sa critique de ‘l’obscurantisme portugais’. Ce cadre de pensée va être utilisé par les historiens libéraux du dix-neuvième siècle – en particulier Alexandre Herculano dans son Histoire de l’Inquisition (1854-1859) – pour dénoncer le retard économique et scientifique pris par le Portugal dans de nombreux domaines. L’idée de cette critique est que la peur, voire la paranoïa, distillée dans les esprits par l’Inquisition conduisit les Portugais vers une sorte de timidité, voire de crainte mentale, qui serait à l’origine de l’immobilisme de la nation. Au vingtième siècle, cette critique sera réutilisée pour expliquer la facilité avec laquelle l’Etat Nouveau d’Antonio de Oliveira Salazar a impressionné les consciences, grâce notamment à l’exploitation d’une police politique de sinistre mémoire. (Antonio Tabucchi a fort bien décrit le climat de suspicion et de crainte qui régnait alors dans son beau roman Pereira prétend.)

Au dix-huitième siècle, cependant, nombreux sont ceux, parmi les jeunes notamment, qui apprécient la pensée de Voltaire et qui font circuler ses productions sous le manteau. António Ferreira de Brito s’est d’ailleurs demandé si l’œuvre du philosophe aurait été pareillement appréciée si elle n’avait pas été aussi censurée.

Certains traits, à la fois politiques et religieux, des ‘Lumières portugaises’ expliquent la réception tronquée de Voltaire. Si la puissance des jésuites posait problème au Marquis de Pombal il n’est pas pour autant devenu un amateur de Voltaire et ceci pour au moins deux raisons. Le fait est que le catholicisme portugais connaissait un renouveau avec la philosophie du pape Benoît XIV, mais surtout, pour le puissant premier ministre, la critique du pouvoir politique était poussée trop loin chez Voltaire. De ce fait, et Louis Antonio Verney partageait cette opinion, l’impiété de Voltaire paraissait trop corrosive, d’où le nombre important de ses œuvres qui furent condamnées et qui le restèrent durant de nombreuses décennies. L’une des répercussions fâcheuses des invasions françaises que le pays subit en 1807 et 1809 fut que le libéralisme en sortit durablement discrédité, phénomène qui assura la pérennité de la monarchie pendant le dix-neuvième siècle. L’hostilité des pouvoirs politiques envers les critiques anti-absolutistes de Voltaire, alliée à la puissance de frappe de l’Inquisition et à la ‘terreur psychologique’ exercée par ce tribunal, a conditionné la réception de Voltaire au Portugal.

Si, parmi les ecclésiastiques très nombreux sont ceux qui dénoncent le déisme voire le matérialisme de l’auteur travestis sous son rationalisme[1], dans d’autres cercles de lecteurs on observe des hésitations, voire des condamnations explicites, qui traduisent un malaise certain devant les écrits voltairiens.


‘La ville de Lisbon dans son état avant le tremblement de novembre 1755’, par J. Couse; entre 1755 et 1760 (image Wikicommons).

Les textes les plus sulfureux du patriarche de Ferney, comme le Dictionnaire philosophique, seront brûlés par le bourreau en place publique. D’ailleurs, fait frappant qui illustre l’attitude anti-libérale du dix-neuvième siècle et l’hostilité fasciste du vingtième siècle, cet ouvrage ne paraîtra en traduction portugaise qu’en 1966. On assiste d’ailleurs au même phénomène en ce qui concerne les romans. Candide est traduit en 1835 avec le titre curieux de Cândido ou o optimismo ou o philósofo enforcado em Lisboa pelos Inquisidores, e apparecendo depois em Constantinópla nas Galés;[2] or malgré l’accent placé sur l’Inquisition le texte est édulcoré et les critiques anti-absolutistes atténuées. Il en va de même pour la traduction de Zadig faite en 1815, totalement purgée des éléments les plus critiques, et globalement remaniée. S’il est important de se souvenir que les critères de traduction d’alors étaient bien moins rigoureux que les nôtres, la comparaison qui peut être faite avec la traduction de Zadig de Filinto Elísio de 1778 (mais publiée en 1819) montre que la censure sur la pensée de Voltaire est restée constante.

Ces quelques exemples illustrent donc une réception complexe, avec d’un côté un intérêt évident de la part des lecteurs pour les œuvres de Voltaire, et de l’autre une méfiance, voire une peur, envers la radicalité la plus rationaliste. A cette forme de réception intellectuelle s’ajoutent encore les barrières politique et religieuse qui non seulement dénaturèrent l’œuvre de Voltaire mais qui de plus en restreignirent très fortement l’accès, et ceci même pour les textes majeurs, jusqu’à la deuxième moitié du vingtième siècle. La traduction du théâtre voltairien connut cependant une diffusion rapide dès la chute du Marquis de Pombal, à partir des années 1780. José Anastácio da Cunha fait publier une traduction de Mahomet en 1785[3], pièce qu’il avait fait jouer en privé dans la décennie 1770. Ainsi, il semblerait que le théâtre de Voltaire soit passé plus facilement entre les mailles de l’Inquisition. Une étude fouillée à ce sujet reste à entreprendre.

– Helder Mendes Baiao

[1] La traduction dès 1775, de l’opuscule apocryphe Repentir ou Confession publique de Monsieur de Voltaire (1771) illustre le procès d’impiété fait à Voltaire.

[2] ‘Candide ou l’optimisme ou le philosophe pendu à Lisbonne par les Inquisiteurs, et qui réapparaît ensuite à Constantinople aux galères’.

[3] José Anastácio da Cunha, Tradução do ‘Mofama’ de Mr. de Voltaire, in Obra literária, (Oporto, 2006), t.2, p.211-99.

Catherine II et Friedrich Melchior Grimm : les clés d’une correspondance cryptique

Catherine II, par Fiodor Rokotov, 1763.

Catherine II, par Fiodor Rokotov, 1763.

On comprendrait difficilement l’intense relation d’échanges et de transferts culturels qui s’est établie entre l’Europe occidentale et la Russie dans le dernier tiers du XVIIIe siècle sans étudier la correspondance, entre 1764 et 1796, de Catherine II, Impératrice de Toutes les Russies, et de son principal agent d’influence, Friedrich Melchior Grimm, natif de Ratisbonne établi à Paris qui fut longtemps le directeur de la Correspondance littéraire destinée aux têtes couronnées du continent. Cette correspondance ne comporte pas moins de « 430 lettres », ce chiffre étant cependant « donné à titre approximatif parce que les limites entre les lettres ne sont pas toujours très nettes », les épistoliers pouvant inclure dans une énorme « pancarte » plusieurs lettres écrites à des dates successives. Elle n’était jusqu’alors connue que par les éditions données par Iakov Karlovitch Grot dans le Recueil de la Société impériale russe d’histoire en 1878 (lettres de Catherine II à Grimm, t. 23) et 1885 (lettres de Grimm à Catherine II, t. 44). Quelque utiles qu’aient pu être ces éditions à des générations de chercheurs, force est de reconnaître qu’elles ont fait leur temps. Outre le fait que la séparation des correspondance active et passive en deux volumes rendait difficile de suivre le fil de l’échange, Grot ignorait plusieurs manuscrits, commit certaines erreurs et retrancha des lettres certains passages qu’il jugeait malséants.

Aussi attendait-on avec impatience l’édition de cette correspondance par Sergueï Karp, directeur de recherche à l’Institut d’histoire universelle de l’Académie des sciences de Russie, qui travaille depuis longtemps sur Voltaire, Diderot, Grimm et leurs relations avec la Russie. Il a fait paraître en juillet 2016 le premier volume d’une édition qui devrait en comporter au moins cinq autres[1]. Il couvre les années 1763-1778 qui virent Grimm passer du statut de simple commissionnaire à celui de principal agent de l’Impératrice. Faute de disposer de ce volume au format papier, on pourra le consulter au format électronique sur le site de l’éditeur moscovite.

Force est d’évoquer la qualité, la richesse et l’importance de l’échange épistolaire. Plus qu’un agent de premier plan, Catherine II a trouvé en Grimm un ami et un confident avec lequel elle pouvait plaisanter en toute liberté. Ne lui a-t-elle pas écrit : « avec vous je jase mais n’écris jamais […] je prefere de m’amusér et de laisser aller ma main », ou, mieux encore, « je n’ai jamais écrit à personne comme vous»? Si cette correspondance est en ce sens familière ou « privée », elle est aussi « artistique » et « politique » pour reprendre le titre de l’édition. Catherine II n’était pas une simple collectionneuse mais une collectionneuse de collections; c’est à Grimm qu’elle confia le soin d’acquérir les bibliothèques de Diderot, de Galiani et de Voltaire, les loges du Vatican, pour ne donner que ces quelques exemples de cette frénésie d’acquisitions, de sorte qu’il n’est pas exagéré d’écrire que la Russie est redevable à l’Impératrice de la richesse de certaines de ses plus grandes institutions culturelles, comme la Bibliothèque nationale de Russie et le Musée de l’Ermitage.

Friedrich Melchior Grimm, gravure de Lecerf, dessin de Carmontelle, 1769.

Friedrich Melchior Grimm, gravure de Lecerf, dessin de Carmontelle, 1769.

On soulignera tout particulièrement la qualité des notes éditoriales de S. Karp. Elles sont requises pour éclairer la lecture de ces lettres qui, « dans la plupart des cas[,] sont strictement personnelles et volontairement obscures : c’est ainsi que Catherine a voulu les protéger contre la curiosité des tierces personnes ». S’adressant en 1801 à l’empereur Alexandre Ier, petit-fils de Catherine II, peu après son avènement, Grimm ne constatait-il pas « qu’il s’était établi entre l’immortelle et son pauvre correspondant, une espèce de dictionnaire qui a besoin d’une clef pour ne pas rester énigmatique »? Telle est cette clé que S. Karp offre au lecteur en faisant la lumière sur ce qui était destiné à rester obscur.

On s’attachera à l’« Introduction » pour au moins deux raisons : la première, due à l’éditeur général, consiste dans une étude précise de l’évolution du rôle joué par Grimm qui a su se rendre indispensable à l’Impératrice ; la seconde, œuvre de G. Dulac et de C. Scharf, étudie avec finesse les particularités de son maniement du français et de l’allemand. Surprenant est, en ce qui concerne la première de ces langues, le paradoxe d’une souveraine qui recourt tout à la fois à des néologismes éloquents et à des tournures archaïsantes, que l’Impératrice a parfois héritées de son institutrice huguenote, Mme Cardel, parfois du théâtre de la Foire et parfois aussi de la plume de Voltaire, qu’elle considérait comme son « maître » dans le domaine des belles-lettres. On sait en revanche qu’elle ne possédait que des rudiments d’anglais et qu’elle maîtrisait mal le russe.

S. Karp décrit admirablement l’arrière-plan de cette Correspondance. Suite au coup d’État par lequel son mari Pierre III fut renversé en 1762, Catherine II éprouva le besoin de justifier idéologiquement son règne tant au plan intérieur que sur la scène internationale, en sollicitant la plume des philosophes français qui façonnaient l’opinion publique. Grimm fut incontestablement le principal intermédiaire entre l’Impératrice et la scène philosophique occidentale. Mais contre l’opinion qui consiste à croire que les philosophes furent naïvement manipulés par une souveraine machiavélique, S. Karp considère fort justement, d’une part, que Catherine II a bien été la fille des Lumières, mettant en œuvre de nombreuses réformes qui ont permis une modernisation sans précédent de la Russie, et que, si instrumentalisation il y a eu, elle fut réciproque, les philosophes jouissant de l’actif soutien de cette puissante cour et ayant « utilisé l’exemple russe comme argument rhétorique pour critiquer les pratiques de la monarchie française » dont ils dénonçaient le despotisme.

Frappant est le contraste de la Correspondance de Catherine II avec Voltaire, d’une part, et Grimm, d’autre part. Alors que la première est soigneusement relue et revue, empreinte de formalisme, la seconde est spontanée, souvent écrite à la diable et emplie de facéties. S. Karp montre clairement que leur liberté de ton « abolissait fictivement la distance sociale » qui les séparait. Il fait également justice de l’interprétation, notamment accréditée par Grot, consistant à dénoncer les « flatteries » obséquieuses dont les lettres de Grimm seraient farcies. Il remarque fort justement que « l’humour respectueux » des lettres de Grimm ne s’apparente pas à de la flatterie et que les « formes outrées de la politesse restaient traditionnelles au XVIIIe siècle, comme une composante obligatoire du dialogue entre un souveraine et un simple mortel » (à preuve, les lettres de Diderot ou de Voltaire). Catherine II ne se laissait pas prendre à ces éloges obligés, elle qui se moquait d’elle-même et de ses obligations de souveraine. Ce qui prime dans les lettres de Grimm, c’est leur humour : « ses plaisanteries et ses sarcasmes contribuaient largement à créer cette atmosphère de complicité et de gaieté dans laquelle purent se développer leurs relations ».

Tout spécialiste du siècle des Lumières en général, et de Voltaire en particulier, devra désormais se référer à l’édition des lettres de l’Impératrice et de Grimm qu’on ne nommera désormais plus que « l’édition Karp » et dont on attend avec impatience l’achèvement tant elle contribue à renouveler notre compréhension du dernier tiers du XVIIIe siècle.

– Christophe Paillard

[1] Catherine II de Russie. Friedrich Melchior Grimm. Une correspondance privée, artistique et politique au siècle des Lumières. Tome I. 1764-1778, édition critique par Sergueï Karp, avec la collaboration de Georges Dulac, Christoph Frank, Sergueï Iskioul, Gérard Kahn, Ulla Kölving, Nadezda Plavinskaia, Vladislav Rjéoutski et Claus Scharf, Centre international d’étude du XVIIIe siècle, Ferney-Voltaire, et Monuments de la pensée historique, Moscou, 2016, lxxxiv p., 341 p. et 3 p. non paginées, 26 illustrations.