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.

Bayle against the Brexit Blues

Feeling hemmed in by narrow frontiers? Harassed by the ‘natives’ for being interested in the world outside? Feeling cut off from Europe, not to speak of bleak political circumstances and ominous financial predictions?

You are in urgent need of a slice of intellectual life from the 17th and 18th centuries – and Pierre Bayle can bring you a big slice of the Republic of Letters. You will find all you can comfortably handle in the 15 volumes of the Correspondance de Pierre Bayle published by the Voltaire Foundation.

Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury.

In the 22,500 unusually erudite notes of this edition, discover Bayle’s international network of some 16,500 contacts (ideal for crowd-funding and name-dropping), his reference library of some 40,000 books (excellent for scholarly articles and cocktail conversation), his close relations with influential British politicians such as William Trumbull, the third earl of Shaftesbury, the duke of Sunderland, James Vernon – and even with the notorious Antoine de Guiscard, shortly before his attempt to assassinate Robert Harley. Discover with horror Shaftesbury’s feeble arguments against the “infestation” [sic] of our fair Isles by hordes of Huguenot refugees Letter 1751]! Accompany Fatio de Duillier on his travels between London and Cambridge to visit Newton [Letter 1300,
n.5]. Follow the two fellows named Alexander Cunningham [Letter 1359, n.1], who both wander around Europe and visit Leibniz, and see if you can tell them apart.

Was Bayle a sceptical historian of philosophy who kept out of mischief by never adopting a definitive position himself ? Was he a covert Epicurean atheist, denouncing religious fanaticism and bigotry ? Or was he a sincere believer with a very modern form of fragile faith? You must read between the lines and make up your own mind! Immerse yourself in the 15 volumes of his correspondence and gain an insight into the real goings-on at the heart of the Republic of Letters, precursor of a much-maligned modern Europe.

Antony McKenna

The Représentation aux Etats de l’Empire: a new addition to the Œuvres complètes de Voltaire

In the autumn of 1744, amidst the turmoil of the War of the Austrian Succession, an anonymous, rather lengthy pamphlet entitled Représentation aux Etats de l’Empire appeared in print. It addressed the members of the Reichstag (the Imperial Diet) and urged them to take sides with Charles VII, Holy Roman Emperor, against Maria Theresa, Archduchess of Austria and Queen of Hungary and Bohemia. The Représentation circulated widely across Europe, and copies can still be found in Germany, Sweden, Slovakia, and the Netherlands, as well as in France. However, the sudden death of Charles VII on 20 January 1745 rendered the project expounded in the Représentation utterly impracticable, thus dooming the pamphlet to be quickly forgotten.

Page 1 of Représentation aux Etats de l’Empire, 1744 (image Gallica).

Page 1 of Représentation aux Etats de l’Empire, 1744 (image Gallica).

The Représentation briefly resurfaced in 1887, when Jacques-Victor-Albert, duc de Broglie, republished the pamphlet in the first issue of the Revue d’histoire diplomatique. De Broglie identified the author of the pamphlet as none other than Voltaire, and made the further claim that the latter had produced the text at the request of the marquis d’Argenson, then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Nevertheless, probably because de Broglie provided very little evidence to support his argument for Voltaire’s authorship, the Représentation again failed to garner long-lasting attention and, to the best of my knowledge, no further mentions of it were made in Voltairean scholarship.

Nicolas-Charles-Joseph Trublet.

Nicolas-Charles-Joseph Trublet.

In July 2015, however, I made a discovery that was to shed new light on this question. As I was working in the Archivio di Stato di Firenze, I found 170 letters from Nicolas-Charles-Joseph Trublet to Luigi Lorenzi, French Resident Minister to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Many of these letters provide insights into Voltaire’s activities in the 1740s. A letter dated 1 March 1743, in particular, the main subject of which is Voltaire’s comédie-ballet La Princesse de Navarre, proceeds explicitly to mention Voltaire as the author of the Représentation aux Etats de l’Empire.

After unearthing this document, I decided to investigate further. Off I went to Paris, and after a few days of research at the Archives du Ministère des Affaires Etrangères, the papers of Malbran de Lanoue (French ambassador to the Imperial Diet from 1738 to 1749) yielded a manuscript of the Représentation aux Etats de l’Empire. This manuscript is not in Voltaire’s hand, nor in that of any of his known secretaries. However, it bears several corrections which are in his hand. Furthermore, a marginal note on the front page reads: ‘cet écrit est du poète Voltaire’.

Study of this manuscript soon revealed significant similarities with other Voltairean texts, notably the Histoire de la Guerre de 1741, the Précis du siècle de Louis XV and the Mémoires pour servir à la vie de Monsieur de Voltaire. It also showed, however, remarkable differences from the text of the 1744 print edition that de Broglie had republished in the Revue d’histoire diplomatique in 1887. Another manuscript which I found amongst de Lanoue’s papers – the ‘Remarques de M. de Bussy sur l’écrit intitulé Représentations [sic] aux Etats de l’Empire de M. de Voltaire de novembre 1744’ – revealed that the manuscript of the Représentation had in fact been sent to diplomat François de Bussy for revision, before it was sent to press in 1744.

A manuscript with corrections in Voltaire’s hand, a marginal note unequivocally asserting Voltaire’s authorship, several textual similarities with other Voltairean works, an endorsement from Trublet… There seems to be sufficient evidence to include the Représentation aux Etats de l’Empire in the Œuvres complètes de Voltaire! [1]

– Ruggero Sciuto

[1] A critical edition of the Représentation aux Etats de l’Empire will be published in the forthcoming volume 29 of the Voltaire Foundation’s Œuvres completes de Voltaire, alongside Janet Godden and James Hanrahan’s edition of the Précis du siècle de Louis XV. In a brief introduction, I shall provide further evidence of Voltaire’s authorship and details on the pamphlet’s complex publication history. I shall also discuss the relationship between the Représentation and other diplomatic despatches that Voltaire penned on behalf of the marquis d’Argenson in the mid-1740s – e.g. the Lettre du Roi à la Czarine pour le projet de paix of May 1745, the Manifeste du Roi de France en faveur du prince Charles Edouard of December 1745 and, most importantly, the Représentations aux Etats-Généraux de Hollande (all three texts are already available in the Œuvres complètes). Finally, I shall consider François de Bussy’s interventionist approach in preparing Voltaire’s manuscript for publication, which further complicates the crucial question of authorship.