Artisanal labour and the ethics of craft

Scholars today are rewriting histories of the eighteenth century to be more ambitious in scale and inclusive in scope. As a discipline whose foundations have traditionally been located in the European Enlightenment, art history has long defined itself through exclusive canons of ‘artists’ and ‘art’ that have valorized certain individuals and objects at the expense of others. Recent directives to decolonize art history, as well as architectural history, demonstrate that these disciplines seek to credit those who labour as part of art- and knowledge-making processes.

Artisanal objects represent the material and archival evidence of someone’s work and, accordingly, histories of art and architecture double as histories of labour. Our volume Crafting Enlightenment: artisanal histories and transnational networks recognizes artisan-labourers and contextualizes their identities in order to acknowledge distinct processes of facture – be that artisanal labour standardized, precarious, oppressed, or coerced – and the working conditions under which eighteenth-century artisans operated. Our volume captures the diversity of artisans from a range of occupations – sculptors, manuscript illuminators, ornamental carvers, desk– and chair-makers, clockmakers, garden designers, ceramicists, architects, and jewellers – working in Europe, the Ottoman Empire, colonial America, viceregal Mexico, Mughal India, Qing dynasty China, and colonial Australia. The dialogues between historians of art, architecture, material culture, sociology, and technology featured in our book demonstrate how contested histories of colonialism, imperialism, and Enlightenment are also fundamentally artisanal histories.

Crafting Enlightenment: artisanal histories and transnational networks is the June 2021 volume of the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series.

The contributions in Crafting Enlightenment all argue for artisanal participation within the pluralities of Enlightenment thought, along multiple narratives of Enlightenment that existed across the eighteenth-century world. Instead of focusing exclusively on the Enlightenment’s European intellectual origins, we consider how artisans from the long eighteenth-century and the products of their labour responded to a multifaceted Enlightenment that meant very different things in different places, as historian Sebastian Conrad has argued. Our version of this transnational Enlightenment extends well beyond the eighteenth century, from seventeenth-century projects of state building to nineteenth-century consequences of imperialism and cross-cultural encounters. We hope our volume encourages readers to delve more deeply into the intertwined narratives between art objects and labour – like the artisans discussed, the objects themselves also represent critical moments of transnational exchange.

Crafting Enlightenment offers a timely reminder that artisans employed craftsmanship and labour to assert their own creativity across the eighteenth-century world. These important queries around pluralism and inclusive practices continue to resonate throughout the academy and governments via policy. In addition to identifying historical eighteenth-century actors who have been marginalized by history, scholars might further chart ambitious intellectual territory by tracking how the exploitation of labour and extraction of natural resources today continue to advance the problematic agenda of colonialism around the world. Public attention is now increasingly trained on the ways that local materials, outsourced labour, and working conditions determine our habits of consumption. Such ecologies of natural resources and labour, identified as such in the long eighteenth century, have allowed us to explore how transnational networks highlight discrepancies between certain privileged artisans who had access to imperial commissions and others who did not and remain uncredited for their work. These issues are as relevant today as they were in the long eighteenth century. Artisanal craftsmanship remains at the heart of social critique, demonstrating how the objects we make and use reflect our personal biases. The practices of contemporary craft – hand-woven textiles being one example – demonstrate how feminized labour, materiality, gender, and race have pulled these techniques towards ideological ends. Ethical questions prompted by artisanal production inflect ongoing debates in art and architecture, signalling how the structural limitations of Enlightenment thought have persisted in determining the production and reception of craft.

Lauren R. Cannady (University of Maryland, College Park) and Jennifer Ferng (University of Sydney)

Crafting Enlightenment: artisanal histories and transnational networks is part of the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series, published in collaboration with the Voltaire Foundation, University of Oxford.

A version of this blog first appeared in the Liverpool University Press blog in June 2021.

‘Quelque chose de piquant’ – Voltaire on marriage, adultery, society, and the Church in Questions sur l’Encyclopédie

Encyclopédie, vol.1, title page

Encyclopédie, vol.1, title page. (Public domain image)

The article ‘Adultère’ in the Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers was written by abbé Claude Yvon and François-Vincent Toussaint. Though both these writers faced persecution by the authorities for other writings, this article is on the face of it a dry, sober, moralistic and legalistic account of the crime of adultery: ‘Nous jugeons avec raison, et conformément au sentiment de toutes les nations, que l’adultère est, après l’homicide, le plus punissable de tous les crimes, parce qu’il est de tous les vols le plus cruel, et un outrage capable d’occasionner les meurtres et les excès les plus déplorables.’

Voltaire, in the Questions sur l’Encyclopédie (OCV, vol.38, p.101-18), takes a radically different tack.

Sganarelle ou le cocu imaginaire

Sganarelle ou le cocu imaginaire, by Molière. Drawing by Pierre Brissart, engraved by Jean Sauvé. (Wikimedia Commons)

He launches in medias res with a lapidary statement: ‘Nous ne devons point cette expression aux Grecs.’ He continues with an etymological roundup, during which he dismisses Hebrew as a ‘jargon du syriaque’, to finish with an accurate account of the Latin origin of ‘adultère’: ‘Adultère signifiait en latin, altération, adultération, une chose mise pour une autre, un crime de faux, fausses clefs, faux contrats, faux seing; adulteratio’, followed by a comic flourish: ‘De là celui qui se met dans le lit d’un autre fut nommé adulter, comme une fausse clef qui fouille dans la serrure d’autrui.’ The mild but louche erotic imagery recalls his interest in such matters, as evidenced in the Notebooks and some scandalous poetry freely attributed to him. Thus, in one short paragraph, Voltaire sets the tone of his article with a show of erudition, a slight on the origins of Christianity, and a lively witticism. This approach was suggested in a letter to Mme Du Deffand who had expressed a wish to see the work in hand: ‘voici trois feuilles qui me tombent sous la main. Faites-vous lire seulement les articles Adam et adultère. Notre premier père est toujours intéressant, et adultère est toujours quelque chose de piquant’ (25 April 1770, D16314 in his correspondence).

The light but erudite tone continues with a discussion of the way the meaning of ‘cocu’, deriving from the cuckoo that lays its egg in another’s nest, has transferred from the intruder to the intruded upon, and he cites a licentious verse by Scarron. (The account is not strictly accurate. Littré in his dictionary cites Antoine Du Verdier: ‘Non seulement ceux qui abusent des femmes d’autrui, mais aussi les maris abusés sont appelés cocus; de sorte que, ce nom étant actif et passif et commun à tous les deux, nous pouvons dire cocu cocuant et cocu cocué.’)

Portrait of a woman, by Robert Campin

Portrait of a woman, by Robert Campin (c.1430-1435). (National Gallery, London, public domain)

Voltaire turns to the cuckold’s notorious horns, ranging, with fanciful etymology and quotations from Molière, over Greek goats, male and female, to the ‘cornettes’ on women’s headgear in earlier centuries.

In the same light tone Voltaire takes a short digression on social language, how the term adultery is avoided: ‘On ne dit point, Madame la duchesse est en adultère avec monsieur le chevalier. Madame la marquise a un mauvais commerce avec monsieur l’abbé. On dit, Monsieur l’abbé est cette semaine l’amant de madame la marquise. Quand les dames parlent à leurs amies de leurs adultères, elles disent, J’avoue que j’ai du goût pour lui. Elles avouaient autrefois qu’elles sentaient quelque estime; mais depuis qu’une bourgeoise s’accusa à son confesseur d’avoir de l’estime pour un conseiller, et que le confesseur lui dit, Madame, combien de fois vous a-t-il estimée? les dames de qualité n’ont plus estimé personne, et ne vont plus guère à confesse.’ These last mischievous words look forward to the main point of the article.

His target is the Church in France. ‘Il y a quelques provinces en Europe où les filles font volontiers l’amour, et deviennent ensuite des épouses assez sages. C’est tout le contraire en France; on enferme les filles dans des couvents, où jusqu’à présent on leur a donné une éducation ridicule’, which makes them unfit for marriage, and ready for adultery.

Christine de Pisan presenting her book to Queen Isabeau of Bavaria

Christine de Pisan presenting her book to Queen Isabeau of Bavaria (miniature, c.1410-1414 by the Master of the Cité des Dames), each wearing an ‘escoffion’, or horned headpiece. (Wikimedia commons)

The crucial point, though, is the absence of divorce. The Church allows separation after adultery, but divorce is forbidden. In the section of ‘Adultère’ entitled ‘Mémoire d’un magistrat’ Voltaire gives a précis of a recent publication in favour of divorce: ‘Mon épouse est criminelle, et c’est moi qu’on punit’, and ‘Dieu me permet de me remarier, et l’évêque de Rome ne me le permet pas! […] Les lois civiles d’aujourd’hui, malheureusement fondées sur le droit canon, me privent des droits de l’humanité.’ In a letter to Francesco Albergati Capacelli, who wanted a divorce, Voltaire had written some ten years previously: ‘je ne sais rien de si ridicule que d’être obligé de vivre avec une femme avec laquelle on ne peut pas vivre’ (15 April 1760, D8854). But it was not always so, as he tells his readers in ‘Adultère’: ‘Le divorce a été en usage chez les catholiques sous tous les empereurs; il l’a été dans tous les Etats démembrés de l’empire romain. Les rois de France, qu’on appelle de la première race, ont presque tous répudié leurs femmes pour en prendre de nouvelles. Enfin il vint un Grégoire IX ennemi des empereurs et des rois, qui par un décret fit du mariage un joug insecouable; sa décrétale devint la loi de l’Europe.’

Le Christ et la femme adultère, by Nicolas Poussin

Le Christ et la femme adultère, by Nicolas Poussin. (Louvre, Paris, Wikimedia Commons)

Voltaire also condemns the unequal treatment of women in France by the Church and the law, the fact that their rights are far less than those of men: ‘Je demande si la chose est juste, et s’il n’est pas évident que ce sont les cocus qui ont fait les lois.’ In this context he chides the Church by citing the famous words of Jesus concerning the woman taken in adultery: ‘Que
 celui de vous qui est sans péché jette la première pierre.’

From the cover of playful erudition Voltaire casts his own finely honed stones at his frequent target, l’infâme.

Martin Smith

 

What do children do with books?

A key concept in childhood studies since the 1970s, children’s agency has recently returned to the heart of the reflections of a group of childhood historians. The conference Se soustraire à l’empire des grands. Enfance, jeunesse et agentivité (1500-1830) (Escaping the empire of the grown-ups: childhood, adolescence and agency, 1500-1830), organised by Sylvie Moret-Petrini at the Université de Lausanne, focused on the personal journals of children and adolescents. The aim was to tackle this source, often seen by historians as a surveillance and educational tool, or as ‘panoptiques de papier’ (paper panopticons), from a new angle and consider it as a space where young writers could reflect on their status as children and express forms of rebellion or indiscipline.

These reflections invite us to take a fresh look at another object that educators advised should be placed under the constant and close supervision of parents – the book. What kind of agency can be achieved in children’s and adolescents’ relationships with books, whether this was how they approached and absorbed texts, how they handled the book as a physical object, or the resources they drew from their reading to inform their present actions or future choices? This approach, as always, requires a cross-analysis of the rare traces that remain of the way children treated books and the mass of adult, pedagogical, parental, medical and literary discourse.

Gradus ad Parnassum

Becoming a poet and settling accounts in the margins: the Berkeleys’ Gradus ad Parnassum. (Centre culturel irlandais, Paris, fonds patrimonial, B 1010)

It is clear there was plenty of room for manoeuvre concerning ways of reading, places and times of reading, and the material uses of the book as a physical object. Those who enjoyed reading as a child recall their ability to fully immerse themselves into the imaginary world opened up by a text, like children who play at being a fairy or Robinson Crusoe. In adolescence, parents express the fear that certain books may cause their offspring to ‘emulate something unusual’ or to take up careers other than those they had envisioned for them. The ‘wild’ handling of books is documented by the volumes themselves, such as the practice of writing and drawing in the margins, either to pass the time or to convey messages to someone sitting nearby. We find examples in literature and art of children making castles out of books or using them as stepping stones, like the Cholmondeley children painted by Hogarth in 1732. However, beware of such overly euphoric representations of childish creativity. Alongside these noisy diversions, there were also quieter forms of agency, ‘weak uses’ of books such as interrupted or unengaged reading, or expressions of a dislike of reading (sometimes found in correspondence or in parents’ diaries), which were all ways of rejecting the pedagogical norms of consulting books as a means of self-improvement and learning.

Hogarth, The Cholmondeley family

Building paper worlds: Hogarth, The Cholmondeley family, 1732. (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

As is often the case, most traces of, or clues to, the agency of young readers are available to the historian only through writings originating from the adult world (theoretical discourse, pedagogical literature) or produced under close adult supervision (children’s journals). Even annotated books, which in principle offer the most spontaneous traces of children’s reading, have only been preserved and transmitted to us as a result of adult arbitration. The discourses undoubtedly refer less to childish practices and more to the preoccupations and concerns about juvenile behaviour projected by the adult world. But it doesn’t end there, of course. The figures of child readers represented in eighteenth-century children’s literature in particular pose a problem. What can literature teach the historian? Or, as Judith Lyon-Caen might say, what can history teach us about literature? There are two possible research avenues here.

The historian can first of all shed light on these literary figures through archives that document their reality in a more fragmentary and indirect way. The foolish vanity of the young Valentin, who waves his Telemachus under the nose of a gardener’s son to clearly mark the social divide between them, is certainly ridiculed in La Vanité punie, but the episode also highlights the fact that the child has grasped the social advantage that he can gain from his small possession – albeit he uses it inappropriately here – at a time when children were given beautiful books as gifts at New Year and in a society where owning a library was a powerful symbol of social distinction. Agency, as we know, is never disconnected from the socio-institutional contexts that are imposed on it at the very heart of practices.

Arnaud Berquin, L’Ami des enfants

Arnaud Berquin, L’Ami des enfants (London, 1782).

Similarly, in the short play Un bon cœur fait pardonner bien des étourderies (A good heart makes up for many careless mistakes) (published in L’Ami des enfants in 1782), Arnaud Berquin portrays a young man, Frédéric, who sells his watch and school books to give money to the poor. Police archives contain many files on peddlers convicted of acquiring books from schoolchildren in exchange for sweets or novels. Some had been unmasked as a result of the ex libris on the textbooks, as in Berquin’s play. The practice of selling on is therefore well documented, but it is presented in literature as a form of children’s agency rather than as the (female) street vendors’ agency as generally tackled by historians.

Livres d’école et littérature de jeunesse en France au XVIIIᵉ siècle

Livres d’école et littérature de jeunesse en France au XVIIIᵉ siècle is the February 2021 volume of the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series.

This example leads us on to the second research avenue. It reminds us not to present children’s agency as a given, an a priori, but rather as a construction, an ‘œuvre de re-connaissance et de re-présentation des enfants par les adultes’ (work of re-cognition and re-presentation of children by adults), to borrow Pascale Garnier’s expression. The focus on childhood in the eighteenth century led to the valorisation of youthful inventiveness, including in its negotiations with the rules, as long as it remained venial, expressed qualities associated with childhood (innocence, impulsiveness), and did not constitute a threat to the established order. Children’s literature thus presented a framework of acceptability for a number of uses of the book, regardless of the final judgement made on the protagonist. We still need to be able to document what was outside the scope of the representable, what the anecdotes left out, what the parents did not want to admit, what only serendipitous archives perhaps can tell us as historians.

Emmanuelle Chapron, Aix Marseille Université

A version of this notice first appeared in the Liverpool University Press blog in February 2021.

Livres d’école et littérature de jeunesse en France au XVIII siècle is part of the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series, published in collaboration with the Voltaire Foundation, University of Oxford.

The Literary and scientific stakes of transgender in eighteenth-century Italy and England: the case of Catterina Vizzani

The power of narrative prose to capture, represent, and inspire transgender lives bursts forth in the pages of the new anthology, Resilience, reminding us that identities remain invisible until they are featured in fictional enactments, documentaries, and life stories. At such moments, through narration, aesthetic and political spheres are collapsed, acquiring perspective-changing potential for readers who begin to imagine themselves and others in the participatory life of society, whether the intent of the narration is to be uplifting or condemning. By being present and performing their lives on the page, transgendered lives acquire agency, one of the purposes of a publication like Resilience, to name but one of the many LGBTQ+ publications that have rendered queer lives visible in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Giovanni Bianchi, Breve storia della vita di Catterina Vizzani

Giovanni Bianchi, Breve storia della vita di Catterina Vizzani, romana, che per ott’anni vestì abito da uomo in qualità di servidore la quale dopo varj casi essendo in fine stata uccisa fu trovata pulcella nella sezzione del suo cadavero (Venice, Simone Occhi, 1744), title page.

Resilience is relatively new and reminds us of one of the most important publications in North America addressing the LGBTQ+ community, Out, in circulation since 1992. Out represents all aspects of LGBTQ+ life, including discrimination and the life-threatening scenarios to which the diverse, non-CIS community is subjected on a daily basis, with violence against those identifying as transgendered extremely high. As of September 2020, Donald Padgett reports in Out, 30 transgender people have been killed in the United States and Puerto Rico this year, the highest annual death toll ever. Reading through their stories of death and burial, the terms ‘misgendered’ and ‘deadnamed’ emerge often. In death there is no peace and their gender classification is often erroneous, with the wrong pronouns and forms of address being used, and with no care taken even to assure accuracy in the person’s name, with birth names often used instead of the names transgender people have chosen for themselves.

Closely mirroring our own twenty-first century narrative trajectory and debate about gender and sexuality are parallel publications appearing in eighteenth-century Europe about the transgendered Catterina Vizzani/Giovanni Bordoni, whose life story was interwoven into a medical novella penned by a professor of anatomy from Rimini, Giovanni Bianchi (1693-1775). His 1744 novella, Brief history of the life of Catterina Vizzani, Roman woman, who for eight years wore a male servant’s clothing, who after various vicissitudes was in the end killed and found to be a virgin during the autopsy of her cadaver (Venice, 1744), constitutes the first recounting of early modern transgender identity in Italy, and even Europe, with the intent of memorializing transgendered life and normalizing it for readers.

Giovanni Bianchi, An Historical and physical dissertation on the case of Catherine Vizzani

Giovanni Bianchi, An Historical and physical dissertation on the case of Catherine Vizzani, translated by John Cleland, 1st edition (London, printed for W. Meyer, in May’s-Buildings, near St Martin’s Lane, 1751), title page.

From the time Catterina Vizzani, a young Roman woman, began wooing the woman she was attracted to, she did so dressed as a man. Fleeing Rome to avoid the wrath of her friend Margherita’s father, and a potential trial for sexual misdeeds, Catterina Vizzani became Giovanni Bordoni, transitioning and becoming a male in spirit, deed, and body, through what was the most complete physical change possible in the eighteenth century for a transgendered man: the permanent use of a dildo, considered a true body part by Vizzani/Bordoni, and also Bianchi. The novella was also published in England, thanks to its English-language reworking by none other than John Cleland, author of the erotic 1748 novel, Memoirs of a woman of pleasure, better known as Fanny Hill. As can be seen from the title pages on the right and below, Cleland made significant, sensationalizing changes to the title in both the 1751 and 1755 editions of the novella that he published.

Giovanni, like the transgender people who were killed for their sexuality in 2020 as documented by Out, would also die for his gender, and upon his death would be ‘misgendered’ and ‘deadnamed’ exactly like transgender people some 276 years later, for the story is based on the autopsy of the body that Bianchi performed and his desire to undo the misgendering and deadnaming for posterity. However, when Bianchi’s slim volume made its way into Cleland’s orbit, he immediately seized upon the possibility of exonerating himself after the legal debacle that had ensued following the publication of Fanny Hill.

Giovanni Bianchi, The True history and adventures of Catharine Vizzani

Giovanni Bianchi, The True history and adventures of Catharine Vizzani, translated by John Cleland, 2nd edn (London, printed for W. Reeve, Fleet Street, and C. Sympson, at the Bible-warehouse, Chancery Lane, 1755), frontispiece and title page.

The Brief History of Catterina Vizzani, whose title he would sensationalize, offered him with a golden opportunity to present himself as a writer concerned with the public good by warning girls who passed as men of the stigma that awaited them were they to continue in their ‘lewd’ (Cleland’s term) behaviour. Indeed, Cleland’s intentions in reworking the story are completely different from Bianchi’s. Cleland blames Catterina as depraved, likening her to so many ‘female husbands’, who passed as men and about whom Henry Fielding had already written ominously in in The Female Husband, published in 1746.

Meanwhile Bianchi normalizes Vizzani/Bordoni by showing them in human interaction, building their lives, planning a wedding, and making a new life. Cleland, as we have seen, uses Vizzani as a cautionary tale of social disintegration and ruin, which naturally resulted in the most dire of consequences for Catterina, whom he never can ‘transition’ to accepting as Giovanni Bordoni, all of which is explained in the set of ‘needful remarks by the English editor’ he added to Bianchi’s Brief history, in which he explicitly argues his case for Catterina as negative exemplum. Nothing could contrast more starkly with Bianchi, who demands respect for all lives, seeing his role as doctor as that of succouring and saving every living being so that they could live the most fulfilling lives possible with whomever they wanted.

Henry Fielding, The Female husband

Henry Fielding, The Female husband, or the surprising history of Mrs Mary, alias Mr George Hamilton (London, printed for M. Cooper at the Globe in Paternoster Row, 1746).

Despite Cleland’s divergent representation of Catterina Vizzani/Giovanni Bordoni in his ‘translation’ of Bianchi’s novella, the work, nonetheless has made a tremendous impact on the representation of LGBTQ+ sexualities in the eighteenth century. Considered a salient example of Sapphic love and exclusive lesbianism prior to our reading of Vizzani/Bordoni’s as transgender, despite Cleland’s spin, the work proves what we set out to establish at the opening of this blog: narration of LGBTQ+ lives renders them visible. It is hoped that the availability of Giovanni Bianchi’s text in a faithful English translation for the first time in my volume will finally restore to Catterina/Giovanni all of the visibility, dignity, and agency to LGBTQ+ lives that the Italian author intended.

Clorinda Donato, California State University, Long Beach

Clorinda Donato is the author of the October volume in the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series, The Life and legend of Catterina Vizzani: sexual identity, science and sensationalism in eighteenth-century Italy and England, published in collaboration with the Voltaire Foundation, University of Oxford. In this new volume Clorinda Donato analyses the medical, societal, and narrative transcultural stakes in the life story of the transgendered Catterina Vizzani, and the right to live free from social stigma and the resulting physical danger suffered by transgender people both yesterday and today.

This post is reblogged from Liverpool University Press.

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

Madame de Pompadour at her Tambour Frame

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

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

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

Illustrations from the frontispiece of Gabriele Leone’s Méthode

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

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

– Natasha Shoory

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

Quarantine and Enlightenment: ‘Following the science’ in eighteenth-century Europe

Danilo Samoilovich (Samoïlowitz), Mémoire sur la peste

Danilo Samoilovich (Samoïlowitz), Mémoire sur la peste (Paris, 1783), title page.

‘Nous étions au XVIIIe siècle, qui est celui des Sciences et des Arts’, proclaimed Danilo Samoilovich in his Mémoire sur la peste (Paris, 1783, p. xviii). Dedicated to Catherine the Great, it was an account of his experiences as a physician during the great plague of Moscow in 1770-1771. It was also a tribute – in the most ‘enlightened’ of all centuries – to ‘the enlightened doctors of Europe’ who had discovered that plague was contagious, and could only be caught by contact with infected persons or substances. As a result, and under the guidance of an enlightened ruler, quarantine lines had been erected around plague-stricken Moscow. They had contained the disease there, and protected St Petersburg from infection. Once a cordon sanitaire had been established, Samoilovich concluded, plague ‘could not cross the limits fixed for it by the government’.  Containment worked when backed by ruthless political action.

When I came across this passage while working on plague in the eighteenth century, I thought it might interest historians of the Enlightenment; and I was reminded of it again when I read the recent blog by Cindy Ermus on ‘Leadership matters…’ (3 April 2020) which focuses on the plague epidemic of Marseilles in 1720-1721. The Moscow example certainly shows that leadership mattered there, but the Marseilles plague is also relevant because it demonstrated that Samoilovich was wholly wrong to think that all the enlightened doctors of Europe agreed that plague was contagious and quarantine necessary. In the 1720s physicians in France were deeply divided between contagionists and anti-contagionists, many of the latter from the famous medical school of Montpellier, and several of those who worked in Marseilles were eager to air their disagreements in print. Consequently, when Gabriel-François Venel came to write the authoritative article on ‘Contagion’ in volume 4 of the Encyclopédie (first published in 1754), he was compelled to declare that there was no issue more uncertain and divisive ‘in medicine than the existence or non-existence of contagion’.

Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the plague year

Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the plague year (London, 1722).

It had been equally divisive in England in the 1720s in debates between advocates and critics of a new Quarantine Act, introduced by Walpole’s government to be implemented if plague arrived from Marseilles. There should be a military cordon sanitaire around London, and the infected and their contacts were to be moved from their homes and isolated elsewhere. Under public pressure the most intrusive parts of the Act had to be repealed, but that did not stop a major controversy in the public press between contagionists and their opponents, in which Daniel Defoe proved his stature as journalist as well as novelist by not only writing a journal of an earlier plague year, but seeing the virtues and vices of both sides. It had to be accepted, Defoe insisted, that ‘a public good’ sometimes justified ‘private mischief’. In a plague, something had to be done by government to prevent more death and disorder.

It was the presumption of contagion, therefore, rather than the proof of it which provided political authorities with what ‘scientific’ justification they had for action in eighteenth-century Europe. It seemed plausible enough, given the concentration of disease in identifiable households and neighbourhoods, and that was sufficient to justify elaborate and expensive efforts at containment, not only in France and Russia, but in Germany and Scandinavia where there were major epidemics in the first decades of the eighteenth century. Like their predecessors in the seventeenth century, rulers of empires, kingdoms and city states were all eager to show that they were doing more than their neighbours and doing it more successfully. As in the present pandemic, subjects and citizens were assumed to need reassurance that their rulers were more effective, and indeed more ‘enlightened’, than their rivals.

A plague doctor, in Jean-Jacques Manget, Traité de la peste

A plague doctor, in Jean-Jacques Manget, Traité de la peste (Geneva, 1721), frontispiece. (Google Books)

This is not to say that they did not have some reputable medical authorities on their side, of course. In the 1720s, for example, the advocates of contagion included a major authority on plague, Jean-Jacques Manget of Geneva, who published a short treatise expounding his case. It had as its frontispiece one of the earliest illustrations of the protective uniform worn by plague doctors, in France and elsewhere. With its mask complete with a beak for holding herbs, it was a powerful statement about infection. According to Manget, it was worn by some of the anti-contagionist physicians from Montpellier in Marseilles, and something very like it was recommended for the confirmed contagionist physicians in Moscow in 1771. Like quarantine, masks as ‘personal protection’ against contagion have a long history.

As long as plague remained a real and present threat to Europe, the presumption of contagion and all it implied remained powerful. Early in the nineteenth century Russia was erecting land and maritime quarantine stations in the Black Sea region in order to defend its empire from infection from further East. In western Europe, which had scarcely seen plague for half a century, some governments felt better able to relax their vigilance, partly at least because they were under pressure from commercial interests wanting less quarantine not more. Even so, the relaxation was a very slow process.

Bonaparte Visiting the Pesthouse in Jaffa, by Antoine-Jean Legros

Bonaparte Visiting the Pesthouse in Jaffa, by Antoine-Jean Legros (1804).

One significant marker of changing perspectives is the famous picture of 1804 showing Napoleon in a plague hospital in Jaffa in 1799. He is portrayed touching the plague bubo of a patient, a gesture probably copied from one of the Montpellier-trained physicians practising in Marseilles in 1720, who wanted to prove that contagion held no terrors. In 1804 it was no doubt intended to show the superiority of Western science, and that plague presented no threat at all, at least to Europeans. Bonaparte had nothing to learn from modern world leaders about the political utility and propaganda value of a grand gesture, preferably supported by a little modern science.

In present circumstances some politicians in the UK claim to have been ‘following the science’ in their policies against a pandemic. That has never been as easy as it sounds. The history of plague is full of disputes where the experts – physicians in this case – were deeply divided. Since nothing at all was known about how plague was transmitted, about its dependence on rats and fleas, for example, argument was inevitable. In the case of Corona, the scientists know vastly more about their target. But even then they cannot always be unanimous in their judgements on the balance of probabilities when it comes to interventions whose outcome depends upon the behaviour of crowds as well as individuals. Then all action is political, and when the experts are divided about appropriate action, as they must often be, the quality of political leadership matters all the more.

– Paul Slack

Voltaire’s Letters on the English and the story of smallpox

‘It is inadvertently affirmed in the Christian countries of Europe, that the English are fools and madmen. Fools, because they give their children the small-pox to prevent their catching it; and madmen, because they wantonly communicate a certain and dreadful distemper to their children, merely to prevent an uncertain evil.’

Letters concerning the English nation

Title page of Letters concerning the English nation, London, 1733.

Here is Voltaire explaining inoculation to the French, quoted here in the translation Letters concerning the English nation, first printed in London in 1733 (published in French as the Lettres philosophiques). Voltaire lived in London between 1726 and 1728, and it is then that he learned at first hand about the English practice of inoculation. He decided, perhaps surprisingly, to include a letter on the subject in his Letters on the English, a work begun in London and published a few years later when he was back in France.

Letter 11, ‘On Inoculation’, is on the surface a description of how the English have embraced a modern medical technique then regarded with huge suspicion in France. But at its heart, this is a morality tale about the tension between empirical evidence and superstition, and that makes the letter seem a whole lot more topical. In her recent blog post, Leadership matters in the first days and weeks of an outbreak: lessons from the Great Plague of Marseille, 300 years later, Cindy Ermus wrote graphically about the outbreak of plague in Marseille in 1720, drawing uncomfortable parallels between the management of the crisis then and now. Voltaire’s letter on inoculation similarly acquires unexpected resonance in the context of the present crisis.

Le célèbre docteur Ane voulant introduire la mode de l'inoculation

Le célèbre docteur Ane voulant introduire la mode de l’inoculation, à Paris (c. 1784-1785). (BnF/Gallica)

The practice that Voltaire is describing is now strictly called variolation, and involves inoculating with the smallpox virus; inoculation with cowpox, that is vaccination, was a safer method introduced by Edward Jenner and others from the 1760s. Variolation was practiced widely in China, from where it spread to the Ottoman Empire and then to Europe. The first European country to take up variolation was England, where the practice became common from the 1720s, precisely the time when Voltaire was living in London.

Voltaire would have seen at first hand that even in England, inoculation was still mistrusted, and he uses what we would now call evidence-based argument to show the brute statistics of death. Modern journalists are currently talking a lot about the economic damage caused by the present pandemic, and the challenge of weighing human life against the health of the economy. Voltaire is in his time perhaps unusual in understanding that there is a link between a health crisis and a country’s commercial interests: ‘A trading nation is always watchful over its own interests, and grasps at every discovery that may be of advantage to its commerce.’

Lady Montagu in Turkish dress, by Jean-Etienne Liotard

Lady Montagu in Turkish dress, by Jean-Etienne Liotard (c.1756).

The most human note in Voltaire’s letter on inoculation is when he talks of the courage of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, ‘a woman of as fine a genius, and endued with as great a strength of mind, as any of her sex in the British kingdoms’, who learned of inoculation in Constantinople (where her husband was British ambassador), and introduced the practice in England, with the active support of the Princess of Wales, Caroline of Anspach – ‘this Princess’, writes Voltaire, ‘born to encourage the whole circle of arts, and to do good to mankind’. The Letters on the English present a world of politics, science and literature that is predictably male-centred, and the letter on inoculation is a refreshing exception in presenting two remarkable female protagonists. And there have been journalists recently suggesting that many of the countries having most success in the fight against Covid-19 are those led by women…

Voltaire mentions in his letter the particularly severe epidemic that had swept Paris just a few years before he came to England: ‘Twenty thousand persons whom the small-pox swept away at Paris in 1723, would have been alive at this time’, he writes – no exaggeration, since modern historians put the figure at closer to 40,000 deaths. But what Voltaire does not say is that he experienced this epidemic at first hand. His close friend Génonville died of smallpox in September 1723, and in late October he went to stay with the président de Maisons at his house outside Paris, known nowadays as the château de Maisons-Laffitte (a beautiful baroque house designed by Mansart). From there he wrote to his friend the marquise de Bernières saying that ‘Paris is ravaged by this illness’ (30 October 1723), and listing their common friends who had died. Then Voltaire himself was diagnosed with smallpox, and he became dangerously ill, too ill to be moved. His friends feared for his life, a doctor was summoned from Paris (who apparently bled him copiously), and several weeks passed before he was out of danger. Finally, Voltaire was fit enough to leave the château de Maisons, and just as he left, a huge fire broke out, destroying a large part of the house: Voltaire’s visit to Maisons was not one his hosts quickly forgot.

Château de Maisons-Laffitte, by Jacques Rigaud

Château de Maisons-Laffitte, by Jacques Rigaud (1681-1754).

No sooner was Voltaire back in Paris than he got down to work. On the principle that you should never waste a good crisis, he wrote a poem addressed to Gervasi, the doctor who had, as he thought, saved him, and another poem to Mlle Lecouvreur, the great actress who had been present at Maisons when he was taken ill. He also wrote a letter to the baron de Breteuil (c. 5 December 1723), describing in fulsome detail the course of his illness; and then another anonymous letter appeared (c. 10 December 1723), apparently written to Voltaire by a fervent admirer, lauding the heroism of the poet, ‘truly the only poet’ in France, for having worked even during his illness. Voltaire could not have written a more glowing eulogy himself, and in fact that does seem to be what he did – forge a fan letter. These four pieces have long been known, but separately, and it was only when they were edited in the Oxford Complete Works of Voltaire (volume 3A, 2004, p.256-76) that we were able to understand for the first time that this amalgam of two prose letters and two poems was constructed deliberately as one single literary work, an epistle in prose and verse that Voltaire published in the Mercure de France in December 1723. The young ambitious poet had been out of the limelight for too long, and he was anxious to remind the literary world of the capital that he was back in Paris and in business – and his recovery from smallpox was a good story to tell.

What is interesting, to return to the Letters on the English, is that Voltaire does not tell that story here. This is a book written directly out of his experience of English life, but Voltaire never, ever, tells us everything. The Complete Works of Voltaire were begun in 1968, and the Voltaire Foundation plans to celebrate the completion of the 203 volumes at the end of 2020. When we chose the Letters on the English as the last major text to appear in the collection, we could not have known it would have this contemporary resonance. But Voltaire’s Enlightenment voice continues to resonate, powerfully, and often in ways we don’t expect.

– Nicholas Cronk

Leadership matters in the first days and weeks of an outbreak: lessons from the Great Plague of Marseille, 300 years later

It seems as though American society has all but ground to a halt: all sporting events postponed or canceled, Broadway shuttered, entire states closing schools and businesses, and issuing stay-at-home orders. While these tactics may seem extreme, the goal is to “flatten the curve”, or prevent local outbreaks of the COVID-19 from overwhelming our medical system and exacerbating a once localized crisis.

This year, we mark the tricentennial of an important event in the history of infectious disease, one that carries many lessons for us today as we assess the threat of the novel coronavirus in the United States, and debate the extent to which we must impose such social distancing and interrupt the daily routines of millions of Americans.

On May 25, 1720, a ship named the Grand Saint-Antoine, which had journeyed for nearly a year in the eastern Mediterranean, arrived back at the port of Marseille, France carrying bales of cotton, imported fine silks and other valuable goods destined for the foire de Beaucaire, one of the most important trade fairs in the Mediterranean. Unbeknownst to those on board and on land, it also carried the bacteria that causes plague. Within two years, as much as half the population of the port city had succumbed to the infection.

Eighteenth-century engraving of the Foire de Beaucaire. Musée de Nîmes.

Eighteenth-century engraving of the Foire de Beaucaire. Musée de Nîmes.

The Great Plague of Provence, or Great Plague of Marseille, brought southern France to its knees, and led much of the rest of the world to impose strict measures to prevent its spread. Understanding how the outbreak was mismanaged in its earliest days reveals that human actions and inactions can turn what begins as a local outbreak into a rampant pandemic. The key lesson for us today: we must demand more from our leaders than we have received to date, and they must prioritize containing the pandemic over everything, including economic well-being.

About two months prior to the arrival of the Grand Saint-Antoine in Marseille, a passenger died of what appeared to be bubonic plague days after boarding the vessel at Tripoli. Soon thereafter, another seven or eight men, including the ship’s surgeon, are said to have died on the route from Tripoli to Livorno, where Captain Jean-Baptiste Chataud made an emergency stop before heading back to Marseille. In this time, another three likely perished from plague.

Even so, local Italian doctors inspected the ship and declared the illness a case of pestilential fever rather than plague. As a result, authorities in Livorno allowed the ship to depart for Marseille with a patente nette, or certificate of health, that declared it free from infection, and the ship’s captain – who was reportedly in a hurry to get back to Provence in time for the trade fair – was more than happy to depart.

Upon the vessel’s arrival in Marseille, the ship endured an unusually short quarantine – only a few days, rather than the full term of about six weeks – despite the deaths that took place on board. Jean-Baptiste Estelle, the city’s premier échevin, or municipal magistrate, who owned part of the ship and a large portion of its cargo, had used his influence to arrange for the premature unloading of his shipment into the city’s warehouses – already infected with the bacteria, Yersinia pestis – so that they could be sold soon thereafter at the trade fair.

Dramatic scenes of suffering along Marseille’s Cours Belsunce during the Great Plague of Provence.

Dramatic scenes of suffering along Marseille’s Cours Belsunce during the Great Plague of Provence. Vue du Cours pendant la peste de 1720, by Michel Serre (1721). Musée des Beaux-Arts de Marseille.

Meanwhile, however, the signs of plague were becoming unmistakable as it claimed more victims. Several porters who had reportedly handled the ship’s merchandise fell ill and perished within two to three days. At this time, a local surgeon was called to inspect the bodies and determine the cause of death. Only then was the ship redirected to the quarantine station on the island of Jarre. But it was too late – plague had arrived in Marseille.

And yet, despite people purportedly “dropping like flies” according to one local eyewitness, rather than undertaking emergency measures to contain the plague, officials instead launched a major and elaborate campaign of misinformation. Local authorities hired doctors (for a large sum of money) to diagnose the local distemper as merely a malignant, pestilential fever, and thus, not plague. The reason? Money and feckless leadership. At stake was both the reputation of the city’s leaders, and more importantly, the livelihood of this ancient port city, which by the 18th century had become a major commercial capital.

Another representation of the plague in Marseille by Michel Serre. It depicts the city’s hôtel de ville with scenes of death and dying in the foreground.

Another representation of the plague in Marseille by Michel Serre. It depicts the city’s hôtel de ville with scenes of death and dying in the foreground. Vue de l’hôtel de Ville de Marseille pendant la peste (1721). Musée des Beaux-Arts de Marseille.

Amidst rumors throughout Europe, and fearing the consequences that a plague epidemic could have on Marseillais commerce, the city’s leaders and the Bureau of Health sent letters in July 1720 to the Regent in Paris, as well as to health officers in ports all over Europe, stating that local authorities had managed to contain the contagion. But they hadn’t. A full two months after the beginning of the outbreak, when plague in Provence could no longer be refuted, French authorities finally suspended all commerce out of Marseille, quarantined the city (and later the entire region), and put a number of measures in place to prevent the spread of the epidemic.

Unfortunately, however, thanks in part to the lies of local officials, it was too late. The epidemic had already begun to spread throughout the region of Provence, where it ultimately took as many as 126,000 lives.

In those first crucial weeks after the start of the outbreak, Marseillais authorities prioritized economic interests over public health. As a result, what began as a few dead aboard a ship became a virulent epidemic that raged in southeastern France for two years.

Such negligent misdeeds are all too familiar to us today. The first several weeks of the current health crisis saw the President of the United States, and his backers in the conservative media, refer to the novel coronavirus as a hoax, part of a conspiracy to destroy his presidency. Much like Marseille’s officials in 1720, the current administration claimed, incorrectly, that the virus has been contained. The president has also wrongly insisted that sick people should go to work, and that “anyone who needs a test gets a test.”

In an effort to downplay the pandemic, he ignored the advice of the CDC that the elderly avoid large crowds and long trips. And on March 11, his Oval Office speech – key parts of which his administration later scrambled to clarify – all but proved to the American people, and the world, that the president cannot be trusted to sensibly and effectively manage the current crisis.

Much as in 1720, the administration’s failure to act prudently in the earliest days of the coronavirus outbreak has resulted in an emergency that is now more difficult to predict, to track, and to contain.

Not for the first time, we are witnessing a breakdown of institutions that we would otherwise trust in times of crisis. Inept leadership and a campaign of misinformation helped turn yet another disease outbreak into a full-blown emergency.

In times of public health crises, and especially in those crucial early days of a new outbreak when concentrated, steadfast measures are essential, the quality of leadership matters.

– Cindy Ermus

Cindy Ermus is assistant professor of history at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and executive editor for the online journal, Age of Revolutions. She is currently completing a book on the Great Plague of Provence. Follow her on Twitter @CindyErmus.

A version of this article first appeared in The Washington Post under the title, “The danger of prioritizing politics and economics during the coronavirus outbreak: Three hundred years later, the lessons of the Great Plague of Provence are sounding an alarm.”

À la faveur de la nuit: rethinking night and pleasure in the Age of Enlightenment

Baudouin, Les Heures du jour: La nuit

Pierre-Antoine Baudouin, Les Heures du jour: La nuit, ca. 1778, gouache on paper, 25.9 x 20 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The protection afforded by the night to lovers is more than a recurrent theme in literature. It is a cliché: ageless, universal, obvious. There is no need to travel back in time to the century of Fragonard and Crébillon to read or hear about nights in white satin, strangers in the night, or pleasures that shake you all night long. Because the night belongs to lovers, apparently… from Hero and Leander to Romeo and Juliet, from the couple in La Nuit et le moment (1755) to the duo in It Happened One Night (1934).

Nevertheless, when eighteenth-century artists set their heroes’ dangerous liaisons under the cover of darkness, this signalled potentially far more than a mere awareness of the lovers’ need to hide. Beyond what is now a well-trodden cliché, their configuration of night as a propitious setting for libertine pleasures bears witness to the drastic socio-cultural changes that were transforming both the experience and the idea of night for a fast-growing number of people in early modern Europe. The indiscreet nocturnes imagined by Denon, Laclos, Nerciat or Latouche reveal that night was being reconceptualised from something ominous and debilitating into something protective and stimulating, even emancipating. Only once night-time had become free from fear was it ready to become fit for fun.

Ironically, that reconfiguration of night was the result of two parallel enlightenments. The first is metaphorical, intellectual, and we usually spell it with a capital ‘E’: it frees men and women from their metaphysical terrors. No longer do they see night as the realm of Satan, plagued by demons, nor do they experience it anymore as a blanket smothering the world at sunset. The other, second enlightenment is as material and literal as can be: the lighting up of darkness both indoors and outdoors banishes most of the actual dangers of night-time. A drunken reveller can make it home safely while bandits, no longer anonymous in the streetlight, recede into the shadows.

Moreau le Jeune, Le Souper fin

Moreau le Jeune, Le Souper fin, engraving for Rétif’s Monument du costume, 1789.

Thus, what had once been a time for sleep or domesticity became a time for leisure and sociability. It was at night that some of the most iconic pastimes of the eighteenth century were set: not just the libertine encounters like that of Point de lendemain, but also the petits soupers, the outings to the Opéra, the masked balls, the games of cards until the wee hours, the strolls on boulevards, the vauxhalls and other gaudily lit pleasure gardens. The darkness of night was the best background against which to display the brilliance of one’s wealth: gardens were lit with lampions and illuminated by fireworks; rococo interiors, with their silks and velvet, crystals and gild, were designed to reflect ad infinitum the smallest flicker of candlelight; and little by little, streets were lit too, finally allowing people to move from one place of entertainment to the next.

Of course, such changes were far from democratic. They initially benefited only a chosen few who had the good fortune to be educated (and therefore free of superstitious fears which, still to this day, can plague one’s experience of night) and wealthy enough to afford the lighting devices which alone could turn a blinding darkness into a livable space (for candlewax was not a cheap commodity). Outdoors, the spread of public lighting was not universal either. It concerned mostly affluent and urban neighbourhoods. Staying up at night, being able to light up its darkness, was one of the period’s most conspicuous signs of wealth. Still, in the eighteenth century, as education and technology progressed with unprecedented speed, they did transform the experience of night for an ever greater number of people. Crucially, they also transformed the very idea of it.

Night, after all, is a multi-faceted concept. It is first a natural and social phenomenon, a time of the day defined by sunset and curfew. It is also a metaphor for all things hidden, and that metaphor was changing too in the eighteenth century. On the one hand, it would refer less to ignorance (a limitation) and more to the unknown (a stimulus). In effect, the nocturnal was eroticised in the Enlightenment discourse: for curious minds, what dwells in obscurity became an object of desire more than of fear. On the other hand, through the early modern rise of notions such as privacy and intimacy demanding that all bodily truths be concealed from public scrutiny in the name of civilisation, night and darkness became metonymies for what one hides in them. Eroticism was nocturnalised: sex became ‘the fragment of night we all carry,’ as Michel Foucault put it in his History of sexuality. Thus, in the eighteenth century, the nocturnal and the erotic became more intrinsically connected than ever before and, probably, ever since.

Nowhere is this paradigmatic shift affecting night better captured than in the libertine fiction of the Age of Enlightenment. Libertines naturally felt an affinity with the night due to the freedom it granted them. What is specific about libertine fiction, however, is that its narrators take their readers behind closed doors and into the intimacy of eighteenth-century nights. From Vénus dans le cloître (1683) to Le Rideau levé (1786), this erotic literature illuminates why night deserves to be praised as the best accomplice of lovers. We read about night wrapping moments in seductive demi-jours, protecting couples from prying eyes, emboldening respectable ladies, making flesh-and-blood lovers look like mere sylphs who will vanish with the dawn, thereby creating the illusion that tonight’s moment of weakness will be without consequences tomorrow. Yet libertine authors also highlight the paradox that dissimulation is often the condition for revelation. In the secluded stillness of the night, dreams reveal one’s deepest desires while erotic initiations unveil an arcane art of love. The libertine association of night with mysteries soon to be revealed not only illustrates the common wisdom that what one treasures is worth hiding: more importantly, it is also an amplified and eroticised echo of the Age of Enlightenment’s perception that what is hidden is worth discovering.

The end of the eighteenth century confirmed what libertine authors had already understood: the nocturnal menace has not disappeared with the Enlightenment; it has been internalised. One should be wary of the devil inside that night awakens. Yet it would take a mind like Sade’s (or the Gothic imagination of Goya, Fuseli or Walpole) to reveal that the ‘Shadow’ of the self, far from being as playful and charming as a sylph, can be as horrifying as the nights of Silling in The 120 Days of Sodom.

Thus, we need libertine fiction to remind us that, between the pre-modern fears about night and our modern angst about human darkness, there was a time when the unknown was reconfigured as more exciting than any solid truth, when a craving for freedom turned the hours of darkness into a hedonist’s playground. With their free-thinking characters who tame the once daunting immensity of night into a space-time fit for revelries, libertine stories bring to life the positive effects of modern man’s emancipation from superstitions and traditions, as he refuses any boundary that may limit the enjoyment of his inalienable right to freedom and happiness. The libertine night epitomises the eighteenth century’s ‘invention’ and conquest of liberty. It shows us that the century which we remember as a siècle des Lumières and as a siècle de la volupté was bound to be also the siècle de la nuit.

– Marine Ganofsky

Animals and humans in the long eighteenth century: an intricate relationship

How does a scholarly book get started? In the majority of cases it is bound with the author or editor’s passion and deep-rooted (and often inexplicable) connection with his or her subject matter. For me, Animals and humans: sensibility and representation, 1650-1820 began nearly ten years ago, when I read Kathryn Shevelow’s eminently readable book For the love of animals, about the growth of the animal welfare movement in the eighteenth century. Our relationship with animals never ceases to fascinate, as we see from the Wellcome Collection’s current exhibition ‘Making nature: how we see animals’, and animal studies has recently flourished in the academic mainstream. Like Shevelow’s book, it crosses the boundaries between specialised academic study and deeply felt human experience.

My own beginning with this subject, though, occurred almost in infancy. An innate attraction to animals, these others with whom we co-exist on this planet, is shared by almost all small children and all human cultures in one way or another, and is represented throughout human history. And as we see in very small children, in this oldest relationship of the human species we still find a deep connection and resonance. In bringing together and editing this book, it was wonderfully liberating to be able to combine a lifelong passionate interest in animals with my own professional field of eighteenth-century literary and cultural studies.

Gainsborough, Girl with pigs (1782)

Thomas Gainsborough, Girl with pigs (1782), oil on canvas; Castle Howard Collection. © Castle Howard; reproduced by kind permission of the Howard family.

1650-1820 – the timeframe we cover in our study – is the period associated both with the growth of experimental science and the horrors of vivisection, and with the rise of modern humanitarianism. While the defence of animal rights itself goes back to classical times, in the eighteenth century it was directly linked to a growing awareness of universal human rights and a new definition of humanity based on the ability to feel rather than in the primacy of reason. Together with the abolitionist and feminist movements of the later eighteenth century, animal welfare came to resemble its modern self, with legislation first enacted in 1820.

Simon after Gainsborough, The Woodman

Peter Simon after Gainsborough, The Woodman (1791 [1787]), stipple engraving; Sudbury, Gainsborough House. © Gainsborough House.

But in this book we aim to explore more deeply the human relationship with animals in the long eighteenth century, in many different forms of expression. As shown by the different essays in this volume, this ancient relationship challenges not only the arbitrary divisions of Western cultural history (classicism and romanticism, for example), and not only disciplinary boundaries between poetry and science, art and animal husbandry, fiction and natural history, but also the basic assumptions of human self-perception, in which we do not see animals as objects of our ‘objective’ study, but rather as beings with whom we share a space and who demand a mutual response. A major thread of this book, then, is the re-evaluation of sentiment and sensibility, terms that in the eighteenth century referred to the primacy of emotion, and which were not solely the prerogative of humans. Through the lens of eighteenth-century European culture, contributors to this volume show how the animal presence, whether real or imagined, forces a different reading not only of texts but also of society: how humans are changed, and how we the readers are changed, in our encounters with the non-human other, in history, art, literature, natural science and economics. More deeply, we are reminded of the power and antiquity of this relationship.

– Katherine M. Quinsey