Lumières de Descartes. La première diffusion de la philosophie cartésienne dans le Royaume de Naples

Agatopisto Cromaziano, nom de plume de Appiano Buonafede, écrit dans son œuvre De l’histoire et de la nature de toute philosophie (Della istoria e della indole di ogni filosofia, 1788) que le ‘rétablissement philosophique cartésienne’ avait été un vrai obstacle épistémologique qui avait limité la diffusion de la science de Newton; en effet, pour Buonafede, la philosophie de Descartes était en Italie un mélange de quelques notions cartésiennes (les idées claires, les principes évidents) avec la philosophie de Galileo Galilei. Mais cette présentation de la philosophie de Renato (comme Giambattista Vico appelait Descartes) était fausse ou pour mieux dire elle voulait présenter une histoire de la philosophie italienne toute indépendante de la pensée de Descartes.

Giuseppe Valletta

Giuseppe Valletta (1636-1714), fondateur de l’Accademia degli investiganti.

Paolo Mattia Doria, Giambattista Vico et Giovanni Battista De Benedictis, entre autres, ont décrit Descartes comme un philosophe corrompu et épicurien, mais c’était seulement le premier impact d’une nouvelle philosophie sur une philosophie qui était en difficulté aprés la condamnation de Galilée. D’ailleurs, le rapprochement de Descartes et de l’atomisme antique est courant à l’époque, par exemple Pierre Bayle dans son Dictionnaire historique et critique, dans l’article ‘Démocrite’ écrit que ‘c’est encore Democrite qui a fourni aux Pyrrhoniens tout ce qu’ils ont dit contre le témoignage des sens; car outre qu’il avait accoutumé de dire que la Vérité était cachée au fond d’un puits, il soutenait qu’il n’y avait rien de réel que les atomes et le vide, et que tout le reste ne consistait qu’en opinion. C’est ce que les Cartésiens disent aujourd’hui touchant les qualités corporelles, la couleur, l’odeur, le son, le saveur, le chaud, le froid; ce ne sont, disent-ils, que des modifications de l’âme.’ Et comme pour Pierre Bayle, on peut se demander si Giuseppe Valletta, auteur d’une Lettre apologétique de défense de la philosophie moderne et de ses spécialistes (Lettera in difesa della moderna filosofia e de’ coltivatori di essa, 1791), a l’intention d’attirer l’attention sur les éléments de la physique atomiste – et pour Valletta la philosophie atomiste de Démocrite avait un origine Mosaïque – qu’on a cherché di christianiser en soulignant sur la foi chrétienne de Descartes, en opposition des théories impies, telles que le refus de l’immortalité de l’âme et l’éternité du monde, que Valletta assignait à la philosophie aristotélicienne.

Tommaso Cornelio

Tommaso Cornelio (1614-1684).

Mais pour bien comprendre la première diffusion de la pensée de Descartes, avant tout chose il faut souligner que c’est le philosophe Tommaso Cornelio qui, les derniers mois de l’année 1649, a fait connaître a Naples beaucoup des œuvres des philosophes étrangers, pas seulement Descartes, mais aussi Francis Bacon et Pierre Gassendi et d’autres encore. Et à Naples les textes de Descartes sont étudié dans le cadre d’une querelle anti-péripatéticien et anti-scholastique, qui explore d’un point de vue critique la philosophie de la nature de la Renaissance, en se référant sans intermédiaire aux théories de Kepler, de Galilée, Gassendi, Bacon et Descartes, mais aussi à des auctoritates anciennes tels que Démocrite et Lucrèce, Platon, Pythagore et Epicure. Mais il faut encore souligner que pour gagner contre l’opposition des aristotéliciens dans le Royaume de Naples, la philosophie de Descartes et de ses companions doit démontrer sa supériorité dans la médécine.

Tommaso Cornelio, Progymnasmata physica

Tommaso Cornelio, Progymnasmata physica (Venetiis, F. Barba, 1663).

En effet les questions epistémologiques et scientifiques soulevées par la médecine engagent Tommaso Cornelio et ses amis de l’Accademia degli investiganti,  Leonardo Di Capua et Sebastiano Bartoli, et font gagner à l’Accademia une visibilité européenne dans l’an 1656, lorsque à Naples éclate une épidemie de peste. [Insert near here IMAGE Largo_Mercatello]Cette pandémie marque un moment dramatique dans l’histoire de la ville: la médecine des savants fait l’expérience de son impuissance, tandis que la propagation devient irrésistible à cause de la paresse des autorités compétentes et l’ignorance des savants qui insistaient pour suivre les théories de Galien, contaminées avec des infiltrations astrologiques.

Largo Mercatello durante la peste a Napoli

Largo Mercatello durante la peste a Napoli, 1656, par Micco Spadaro (Domenico Gargiulo) (c.1609-1610 – c.1675).

Et alors, Descartes n’est qu’un auteur, un philosophe, un savant, mais il se transforme en un symbole de la nouvelle philosophie, une nouvelle science que ne veut pas jurer sur les doctrines des anciens (nullius jurare in verba magistri) mais interroger la nature des choses. C’est la libertas philosophandi qui est le but des partisans de la philosophie cartésienne, c’est à dire de la philosophie moderne, et Giulia Belgioioso a suivi le parcours de Descartes à Naples en démontrant que ce n’est pas seulement la philosophie ou les œuvres de René Descartes mais aussi l’image différente du philosophe (La variata immagine di Descartes. Gli itinerari della metafisica tra Parigi e Napoli) qui est un emblème de la nouvelle science de la nature et, après l’épidémie du 1656, un modèle idéal pour les nouvelles recherches qui ont l’ambition de défaire l’émerveillement. Ettore Lojacono (Immagini di René Descartes nella cultura napoletana dal 1644 al 1755) écrit que cette ambition mêle la tradition aristotélicienne avec la pensée de Bacon et Descartes, selon lequel l’émerveillement est un motif de réflexion mais aussi le signe d’un état d’ignorance qui est dû surtout aux préjugés d’Aristote.

Leonardo Di Capua

Leonardo Di Capua (1617-1696).

Gaetano Tremigliozzi et Giacinto Gimma, dans une petite œuvre écrite pour défendre Carlo Musitano et la médecine moderne contre la médecine de Galien (Nuova Staffetta da Parnaso circa gli affari della Medicina pubblicata dal sig. Gaetano Tremigliozzi e dirizzata all’illustrissima Accademia degli Spensierati di Rossano, in Francfort, 1700) rapprochent Descartes et Hippocrate tels que partisans de la science médicale face aux partisans de Galien; modernité philosophique n’est pas seulement suivre la philosophie cartésienne ou baconienne mais, comme beaucoup des Novateurs, adopter une stratégie rhétorique qui a pour but d’isoler le philosophe péripatéticien et le médecin sectateur de Galien, en utilisant l’héritage de la philosophie de Démocrite, Epicure et Hippocrate.

Parere del signor Lionardo di Capoa divisato in otto ragionamenti

Parere del signor Lionardo di Capoa divisato in otto ragionamenti (Naples, 1689), page de titre.

Les premières lumières de Descartes dans l’Italie du Sud étaient lumières d’un physician proche à la révolution scientifique mais elles sont surtout les lumières d’un philosophe qui n’est pas encore devenu le philosophe du Cogito. Et il faut attendre l’an 1755 pour la première traduction de Fortunato Bartolomeo De Felice du Discours de la méthode (Dissertazione del sig. Renato Des Cartes sul metodo di ben condurre la sua ragione e di cercare la verità nelle scienze), traduction presque inconnue et sur laquelle a attiré l’attention Ettore Lojacono, et encore dans cette traduction la métaphysique de Descartes n’a pas la première place, face à la querelle sur l’âme des bêtes: à savoir, la diffusion de la philosophie de Descartes dans le Royaume de Naples a été surtout une réflexion sur la science et la médécine de la modernité.

Fabio A. Sulpizio

From the mundane to the philosophical: topic-modelling Voltaire and Rousseau’s correspondence

Voltaire and Rousseau’s correspondence are two fascinating collections which have perhaps not received the amount of attention than they could have due to the nature of these texts. Written over five decades, these letters cover a wide range of topics, from the mundanity of everyday concerns to more elaborate subjects. Getting an overall picture of these correspondences is challenging for the simple reader. This is unfortunate since these correspondences not only constitute a window into the private lives of Voltaire and Rousseau, or show an unfiltered expression of their respective thoughts, but they are also an example of the eclecticism professed by the philosophes. Fortunately modern computational techniques can truly help in providing an overview of the content of these letters and hopefully recapture – in a somewhat organized fashion – this very eclecticism of the Lumières. Thanks to the collaboration between the Voltaire Foundation and the ARTFL Project, I will be briefly discussing how topic-modeling can be used to draw an overall picture of these correspondences, and show a couple of examples of the model built from the Voltaire letters.

The ARTFL Project has long been engaged in exploring 18th-century discourses using digital tools, and the thematic opacity of correspondences is an ideal use-case for topic-modelling. This particular algorithm was designed to generate clusters of closely related words (or topics) by analyzing all word co-occurrences in any given corpus. Because these topics are extracted from their source texts, they are understood to describe the contents of the corpus analyzed. We recently released a topic-modelling browser – called TopoLogic – which was designed to explore such clusters of co-occurring words, and ran a preliminary experiment against the French Revolutionary Collection, the results of which can be seen here. When we built the topic models for Voltaire and Rousseau’s correspondences, we made sure to use the same parameters for both collections such that 40 topics (or discourses) were generated from each set of letters. We also only used those letters written by Voltaire on one side, and Rousseau on the other, hoping that we could perhaps make some comparisons between both models.

Let’s start with the Voltaire model, from which you can see the first 20 topics below:

As a first view into the topic model, the browser gives us the top 10 words for each topic, as well as their overall prevalence in the letters by Voltaire. From there we can further explore any topic, such as 16, which seems to map to Voltaire’s idea of the philosophe fighting against religious intolerance. By clicking on the topic however, we get an overview of how the topic is distributed in time, most important words in the topic, correlated topics, as well as documents where the topic is prominent (see figure below).

Let’s focus on several sections of this overview. We note below that the terms of philosophe and philosophie are weighted far more heavily than any other term, suggesting perhaps that all other words in this cluster may just constitute different characteristics of the philosophe in Voltaire’s eyes: religious concerns (prêtre, jésuite, religion, tolérance), attributes (honnête, sage), means of expression (article, livre).

All of these observations can of course be verified by exploring letters that feature topic 16 in a prominent way, which the browser does list. We can also see how the philosophe discourse evolves over the more than sixty years of Voltaire’s letters. Unsurprisingly, as his public involvement in religious affairs increases, the prevalence of such terms discussing his idea of the philosophe rises as well in his letters.

Among the discourses which tend to follow the same trend over time (see figure below), the cluster of terms related to justice (topic 5) stands out, once again showing that his public involvement is mirrored in his private correspondence. While these aspects are nothing really new, they provide for the prospective reader an easy way to find those letters that do discuss these topics.

Another interesting aspect of topic-modeling is that we can also examine the discursive make-up of any of Voltaire’s letters, and see if there are any other letters that share the same themes. Let’s examine Voltaire’s famous letter to Rousseau in which he mocks the citoyen de Genève’s position on the impact of literature in the second discourse (see figure below): ‘Les Lettres nourissent l’âme, la rectifient, la consolent’.

When we look at topical representation of this letter in the browser, we can note that the model found a number of different topics within this letter, which when combined do provide an overview of its contents. In it, Voltaire discusses – with much irony – his own experience as a writer (topic 33), which includes his role as historiographe du roi (topic 36), as well as the many controversies he was involved in (topic 10). He sarcastically laments the fact that he cannot afford to live with savages in a distant land (topic 25) because his health requires him to be treated by a doctor (topic 26 and 35). And as a whole, he defends the role of literature as a positive good for man (topic 0). Of course, one could argue that this topical structure is approximate, prone to discussion, and this is certainly true. However, this approximation is now available for all 15,000 letters, which then allows the computer to compare and group letters by this very topical structure. In this same document view, we can see documents which share a similar mixture of topics, such as a letter to Ivan Shuvalov from 1757 where Voltaire discusses his writing of history while displaying a very keen concern for the perception and impact of his writing, or another to D’Alembert where he complains about his bad health while stressing the importance of writing about useful things (‘il y avait cent choses utiles à dire qu’on n’a point dittes encore’).

One last aspect of the topic model is to examine the individual uses of words and the different contexts in which they are used. If we look at the uses of écrivain in the correspondences (see figure below), we can see how that its uses span across different types of discourses related to reason, the writing of history, or the public role of the writer. Looking at the actual word associations, we also note potentially interesting patterns. In the case of words that share similar topic distributions (used with a similar mix of discourses), a group of terms related to ignorance seems to dominate: fausseté, mensonge, ignorance, vérité, erreur, fable… This may allude to a sense of mission in Voltaire’s writings: to correct inaccuracies, to dispel lies, to reestablish the truth in the face of ignorance. Looking this time at words that tend to co-occur with écrivain, we get a very different picture, with terms that relate more to the activity of writing and the product of that writing. These two views on word associations do not contradict one another, but suggest different ways of thinking of the role of the écrivain as depicted in Voltaire’s letters.

To finish, let’s take a look at the topic model of Rousseau’s correspondence, and in particular how we can relate it to that of Voltaire. A quick overview of the first 20 topics in Rousseau’s letters reveals a similar – yet distinct – picture of the topical composition of his correspondence (see figure below).

Using the browser, we could track down Rousseau’s response to Voltaire’s criticism of the second discourse, and see if other letters discuss similar themes. This is all within the scope of this browser. For the sake of brevity however, and to show how topic models can be used to run comparative experiments, we wanted to focus on Rousseau’s usage of the word écrivain in order to see if and how it differed from what was suggested in the Voltaire model. As we can see below, Rousseau tends to use the term in similar contexts: the écrivain is invoked first and foremost as a conveyor of truth. But looking more closely at word associations, a distinctive pattern does emerge: such terms as lâche, haine, hypocrite, acharnement, or jalousie highlight a well-known trait of Rousseau, his paranoia in the face of his success as a writer. Clicking on any these words in the browser would allow a researcher to track down the individual uses of these terms as they relate to écrivain, and find those letters to discuss his persecution complex.

To conclude, we are well aware that any analysis provided here is purely built on the patterns derived from the topic models, and as such, remain unproven until verified by a close reading of the letters themselves. However, we hope to have shown how using a tool such as topic modeling can potentially provide new insights into the correspondences of Voltaire and Rousseau, or at the very least offer better guidance to scholars working on these two incredibly rich collections.

Clovis Gladstone

This article was first published in the Café Lumières blog in June 2020.

Clovis Gladstone’s Rousseau et le matérialisme appeared in Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment 2020:8.

 

Free thinking in secret

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

The execution of Anne Du Bourg at the Place de Grève

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

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

Clandestine manuscripts at the Mazarine library

Clandestine manuscripts at the Mazarine library.

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

Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle by Nicolas de Largillière

Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle by Nicolas de Largillière.

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

Jacques-André Naigeon by Fragonard

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

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

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

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

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

– Antony McKenna

120 Days: an itinerary

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

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

Manuscript of Les Cent vingt journées de Sodome.

Manuscript of Les Cent vingt journées de Sodome.

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

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

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

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

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

– Josie Dyster, Research Assistant, Voltaire Foundation, Oxford

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

Introducing Tout d’Holbach

Have you ever used Tout Voltaire or the ARTFL Encyclopédie and thought: ‘Wow! This is so helpful!’? Have you ever planned on giving a Zoom talk on pandemics in Diderot and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie and realised that all you had to do to get your primary sources was to search the database for ‘peste’, ‘pestilent.*’, ‘épidémi.*’, nothing more? Or maybe you wanted to write an article on Voltaire and dodos? You looked up ‘dodo’ in Tout Voltaire, and it only took you about three seconds to realise that you had pushed your quest for originality a bit too far. Have you ever wished that something like Tout Voltaire existed also for other authors? Well, if you work on d’Holbach, we’ve got good news for you!

The ARTFL Project at the University of Chicago and the Voltaire Foundation are very pleased to announce the release of Tout d’Holbach, a database that brings together fully searchable transcriptions of the vast majority of d’Holbach’s works. (If at this point you cannot be bothered to read more and wish to start experimenting with the database right away, here is the link: https://artfl-project.uchicago.edu/tout-d-holbach.)

At the moment, Tout d’Holbach only includes d’Holbach’s original writings, defined as those considered to be ‘œuvres originales publiées isolément’ (‘original works published separately’) in Jeroom Vercruysse’s fundamental Bibliographie descriptive des imprimés du baron d’Holbach (1971; new ed. 2017) (The Essai sur les préjugés and the Tableau des saints are not there yet, but they will be soon! We promise!). Moving forward, full transcriptions of d’Holbach’s translations and editions, respectively marked as Ds and Fs in Vercruysse’s bibliography, will be added, making the database more worthy of its high-sounding name.  At the same time, we are also thinking about making Tout d’Holbach a bit less ‘d’Holbach’: adding to the database texts whose attribution to the Baron is highly controversial will put us, we hope, in a position to better understand the real contours of d’Holbach’s textual corpus, thus answering a question that has occupied scholars’ minds for more than two centuries.

Thanks to the generosity of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Voltaire Foundation is currently working on a born-digital critical edition of d’Holbach’s writings: Digital d’Holbach. Unlike Digital d’Holbach, Tout d’Holbach is not a critical edition: none of the texts is annotated, and the transcriptions, while broadly accurate, may contain occasional typos. Tout d’Holbach is a research tool, and one, we hope, that will prove invaluable to researchers collaborating on Digital d’Holbach as well as to scholars working on the European Enlightenment more broadly.

So, here is the link again for those of you who haven’t yet given in to temptation and already clicked on it: https://artfl-project.uchicago.edu/tout-d-holbach.

P.S. If you have some time to spare while you #stayathome and would like to contribute to the project by checking the transcription of a section of one of d’Holbach’s works, or if you would like to know more about Digital d’Holbach, please email Ruggero Sciuto at ruggero.sciuto@voltaire.ox.ac.uk.

– Ruggero Sciuto and Clovis Gladstone

International Women’s Day: ten books by eighteenth-century women you may not have read

Through no fault of their own, many brilliant eighteenth-century women have fallen into obscurity, either because their work was little-valued in their own time or because, although they were popular among their contemporaries, subsequent scholarship has done little to shine a light on their œuvre. It is therefore sometimes a little difficult to know where to start when seeking to diversify our reading habits, and we risk missing out on some brilliant and crucial works. In celebration of International Women’s Day, here are ten books by women you may not have read.

Isabelle de Charrière

Isabelle Agneta van Tuyll van Serooskerken (Belle de Zuylen), the future Madame de Charrière, by Maurice Quentin La Tour (1766).

Lettres de Mistriss Henley publiées par son amie, Isabelle de Charrière (1784)
This epistolary, written by Dutch/Swiss Enlightenment writer Isabelle de Charrière, explores the tensions between reason and sensibility. This series of poignant letters tell the story of a young woman struggling with a cold, stern husband and the seeming impossibility of happiness within a marriage.

An Essay on the Art of Ingeniously Tormenting, Jane Collier (1753)
The first work of English novelist Jane Collier, An Essay on the Art of Ingeniously Tormenting is a satirical conduct book, and includes advice for ‘teasing and mortifying’ a wide range of society, including lovers, parents, servants, and spouses. Other works of Collier’s include The Cry, written with Sarah Fielding, and a recently discovered commonplace-book.

Les Conversations d’Emilie, Louise d’Epinay (1774)
A response to Rousseauian ideas on education, this text represents a key moment in the development of 18th-century pedagogical thought. It takes the form of a conversation between a mother and her daughter, and emphasises the importance of not only the moral formation of girls, but also a well-rounded scientific and classical education.
For a critical edition of Les Conversations d’Emilie, edited by Rosena Davison, see here.

Die Honigmonathe, Caroline Auguste Fischer (1802)
This epistolary, written by German novelist Caroline Auguste Fischer, was published anonymously in response to Wilhelmine Karoline von Wobeser’s 1795 bestseller Elisa, oder das Weib wie es seyn sollte, which glorified the ideal of a selfless, obedient wife, and was much-praised by Fischer’s ex-husband. It tells the story of two close friends: Julie, who is trapped in a marriage of convenience with an increasingly selfish and unstable husband, and Wilhelmine, an ‘Amazon’ who frequently condemns the institution of marriage and seeks to rescue her friend from this unfortunate fate.

Madame de Graffigny

Presumed portrait of Madame de Graffigny, by Louis Toqué.

Lettres d’une Péruvienne, Françoise de Graffigny (1747)
One of Graffigny’s most successful works, Lettres d’une Péruvienne is told from the perspective of Zilia, a young Incan princess who is taken from her home by Spanish conquistadors and eventually finds herself living in France. Zilia is an engaging narrator, and her outsider insight into and critique of eighteenth-century Paris, as well as her suspenseful life of displacement, love, and independence, make for a highly engaging read.
For a critical edition of the Lettres d’une Péruvienne, edited by Jonathan Mallinson, see here. Graffigny’s fascinating correspondence is also well worth a read!

The Female Quixote; or, The Adventures of Arabella, Charlotte Lennox (1752)
This satirical novel tells the story of the life and loves of Arabella, an English noblewoman with a lively imagination, strong sensibility, and a love of French romance novels. After the death of her father, her expectation that life will imitate literature gets her into no end of trouble, and her adventures are at points laugh-out-loud funny, even for a twenty-first-century reader.

Histoire du Marquis de Cressy, Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni (1758)
Although less well-known now, the work of French actress and novelist Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni reached a wide audience in her own time; she is even mentioned in the correspondence of Goethe. L’Histoire du Marquis de Cressy is not, as the title suggests, focussed on the life of the rakish Marquis, but instead on the tragic consequences that his deceptive and libertine behaviour has on the women in his life.

Geschichte des Fräuleins von Sternheim, Sophie von La Roche (1771)
The first known German-language novel to be written by a woman, this epistolary tells the story of the virtuous Sophie von Sternheim, daughter of a colonel and an English aristocrat, and her experiences in the English court. After the death of her parents she faces interfering relatives, unwelcome suitors, and royal scandals, but she stays true to her values and in the end gets the happy ending she always wished for.

Florentin, Dorothea von Schlegel (1801)
Dorothea von Schlegel, daughter of Moses Mendelssohn, wife of Friedrich von Schlegel, and aunt to Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, published Florentin in 1801. The novel follows the travels of Florentin, an Italian aristocrat, and through his relationships and the relationships of those around him explores issues of desire, gender, and marriage.

Phillis Wheatley

Phillis Wheatley, frontispiece to Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (London, 1773).

Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, Phillis Wheatley (1773)
Phillis Wheatley was kidnapped from West Africa and sold into slavery at a young age. She was subsequently bought by the Wheatley family, a merchant family from Boston, who named her after the ship on which she was forcibly brought to America, The Phillis. This collection of thirty-nine poems is rich and varied, as well as being a deeply important part of American history; it was the first ever work to be published by an African-American.

Of course, this is a very limited (and subjective!) list of suggestions. If you’d like to expand on any of the works listed here, or have other works you’d like to suggest, please comment below or contact us about writing a blog post – we’re always looking for more contributors!

– Josie Dyster, Research Assistant, Voltaire Foundation, Oxford

The triumph of truth

In my work on the digital Voltaire iconography database, I frequently stumble across portraits of Voltaire which are particularly unexpected, funny, or have an interesting story to them. Sir Joshua Reynolds’ The Triumph of Truth, which hangs in Marischal College, Aberdeen, is a personal favourite.

The Triumph of Truth is a portrait of James Beattie (1735–1803), a Scottish poet, philosopher, and Professor of Moral Philosophy. The book under his left arm, entitled ‘Truth’, and the title of the painting both refer to the Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, which Beattie published in 1770. It was well received, earning Beattie both a royal pension and an honorary doctorate in law from the University of Oxford.

James Beattie, by Joshua Reynolds

Dr James Beattie (1735-1803), by Sir Joshua Reynolds. (University of Aberdeen)

Although Beattie is rather splendid in his new doctoral robes, what draws our eye is the glowing Angel of Truth striking down three grotesque, dishevelled figures in the background. It is a powerful image and strong statement; Beattie’s thought becomes a superhuman, heavenly force, striking down the enemies of truth and faith. But who are these three villains? Beattie claimed they represented Prejudice, Scepticism, and Folly – and yet, the central figure of the three seems too familiar to be mere allegory. His chin and arms may be a little strong, but his sharp eyes and wry smirk hint at his true identity. On 22 February 1774 Reynolds wrote to Beattie, explaining:

‘there is only a figure covering his face with his hands which they may call Hume, or anybody else; it is true it has a tolerable broad back. As for Voltaire, I intended he should be one of the group.’

It is, then, Voltaire who is being struck down by the angel. This comes as no real surprise; Beattie’s Essay on Truth was heavily critical of both Hume and Voltaire, writing of Voltaire:

‘He has dwindled from a genius of no common magnitude into a paltry book-maker; and now thinks he does great and terrible things, by retailing the crude and long exploded notions of the freethinkers of the last age […] as nothing but the monstrous maw of an illiterate infidel can either digest or endure.’

Beattie was criticised during his career for ad hominem attacks of his opponents; Reynolds’ rather unflattering depictions of Voltaire and Hume with his ‘broad back’ are extensions of that. Beattie’s most unflattering portrait of Voltaire, however, is not to be found on canvas, but in a manuscript.

In the late 1760s, Beattie wrote The Castle of Scepticism, a prose allegory against Voltaire and Hume. Although not published in Beattie’s lifetime, it was circulated privately among British men and women of letters. It is a dream narrative; Beattie falls asleep while reading ‘one of the volumes of Mr Hume’s excellent Essays’ and enters a place known as The Land of Truth. Here he meets a series of increasingly silly and arrogant characters (among them ‘the Earl of Sneer’ and ‘lord viscount Bigwords’, who can be identified as the Earl of Shaftesbury and Viscount Bolingbroke respectively), who sacrifice Common Sense at the Temples of Ignorance, Self-Conceit, Fashion, Licentiousness, Ambition, and Hypothesis, and blindly follow the ‘Great Oracle’ (Hume) and ‘the Orator’ (Voltaire).

Beattie’s Voltaire is ‘a lean little old man, with his face screwed into a strange sarcastic grin’. He does not make the best first impression:

‘“Sir,” replied he, his eye glistening with inexpressible rage and disdain, “my name is Voltaire – you must have heard of me, I suppose; blockhead as you are, you must have heard of the greatest genius that ever appeared upon earth.”’

Despite this overwhelming braggadocio, Beattie’s Voltaire is surrounded by an army of followers, clamouring to hear what he has to say. He recites Candide to the waiting crowd:

‘Here he began a very tedious tale, where it seemed hard to determine, whether obscenity or blasphemy, whether absurd fiction or bad composition, was most prevalent. The audience laughed often, and the speaker almost continually.’

Beattie, unimpressed, soon leaves Voltaire and continues his journey; despite being waylaid by various unsavoury types, not least of all a blunderbuss-wielding Thomas Hobbes, he eventually makes it back to the waking world unscathed.

Beattie’s portrait of Voltaire is, much like Reynolds’, exaggerated and grotesque – yet it is all the more recognisable for it, even (or perhaps particularly) to Voltaire’s supporters. Beattie’s condemnation of Voltaire as an arrogant man, laughing at his own jokes, although critical, may still draw a smile from those who enjoy his work; a keen reader of Candide can certainly imagine a playful author chuckling to himself as he heaps increasingly implausible miseries upon his characters. His lean frame, glistening eyes and sarcastic grin are also instantly recognisable to both supporters and critics; even in his youth, Voltaire describes himself as ‘maigre, long, sec et décharné’ (summer 1716, D37), while Bernstorff’s impression of an older Voltaire is almost identical to Beattie’s: ‘La vivacité de ses yeux et son souris [sic] malin m’ont frappé’ (24 April 1755, D6253).

These same features – bright eyes, wry smile, a biting sense of humour – seem to crop up again in both written and visual portraits of Voltaire, not just in the flattering, even reverent works of the likes of La Tour and Pigalle, but in the satirising depictions of critics like Reynolds, Beattie, and Gillray. It is this that makes Beattie and Reynolds’ depictions of Voltaire, like many critical portraits of Voltaire, so interesting and so familiar; these recurring traits of intelligence, sarcasm, and sharp wit, acknowledged by Voltairophiles and Voltairophobes alike, begin to hint at a consistent thread of character and of physiognomy which can be identified across the depth and breadth of his iconography.

Josie Dyster, Research Assistant, Voltaire Foundation, Oxford

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

Over her dead body: tears and laughter in L’Ingénu’s final scene

Engraving by Monnet and Vidal

Engraving by Monnet and Vidal, in Romans et contes de M. de Voltaire, 3 vol. (Bouillon, 1778), vol.2. (BnF/Gallica)

‘One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.’ Bloggers and other would-be beaux esprits routinely reach for Oscar Wilde when confronted with depictions of uncomfortable sentimentality, but we risk coming away empty-handed. With Nell’s death never actually depicted in The Old Curiosity Shop, Wilde’s quip seems less a skewering of Dickens’s prose and more a celebration of his own. Nevertheless Wilde – in linking pathos, humour and self-consciousness – may be on to something that can help when we come to the puzzle of Mlle de Saint-Yves’s death in L’Ingénu.

The early chapters of L’Ingénu have a forthright ‘gauloiserie’ about them, such as the bawdy allusions to the hero’s penis, anticlerical digs, and depictions of earthy rural folk. In stark contrast stands the heroine’s death. When Mlle de Saint-Yves eventually dies after several pages on her deathbed, her demise provokes widespread despair as well as a kind of madness in the hero: ‘Lorsque le moment fatal fut arrivé, tous les assistants jetèrent des larmes et des cris. L’Ingénu perdit l’usage de ses sens.’[1] As Roger Pearson asked in his splendid biography Voltaire Almighty (2005), should we take this sentimentality at face value? Is Voltaire not taking a swipe at the protracted deaths of Richardson’s Clarissa and, in particular, Rousseau’s Julie? This is in part doubtlessly true, for L’Ingénu was composed around the same time as the critical Lettre de Monsieur de Voltaire au docteur Jean-Jacques Pansophe and Lettre de M. de Voltaire à M. Hume (1766-1767).

Voltaire treats his readers to more than just Mlle de Saint-Yves’s death. He presents a series of lugubrious scenes, in one of which the Ingénu entirely displaces his godmother as an object of fascination:

‘Le morne et terrible silence de l’Ingénu, ses yeux sombres, ses lèvres tremblantes, les frémissements de son corps, portaient dans l’âme de tous ceux qui le regardaient ce mélange de compassion et d’effroi qui enchaîne toutes les puissances de l’âme, qui exclut tout discours, et qui ne se manifeste que par des mots entrecoupés. L’hôtesse et sa famille étaient accourues ; on tremblait de son désespoir, on le gardait à vue, on observait tous ses mouvements. Déjà le corps glacé de la belle Saint-Yves avait été porté dans une salle basse, loin des yeux de son amant, qui semblait la chercher encore, quoiqu’il ne fût plus en état de rien voir.’

Mlle de Saint-Yves’s body comes back into view, only to be ignored; her corpse is displayed by the front door while two priests distractedly recite prayers; some passers-by lazily sprinkle holy water while others blithely walk on; and Père de La Chaise averts his eyes from the casket. The characters’ reactions proceed/decline (take your pick) from profound grief to indifference and then to rejection. Where does this leave the readers? Are we meant to weep, breeze along, or even laugh? Must one have a heart of stone to read the death of Mlle de Saint-Yves without laughing?

One way into thinking about those final pages of L’Ingénu might be suggested by the moment in chapter 18 when the heroine arrives at the Bastille:

‘Confuse et charmée, idolâtre de l’Ingénu, et se haïssant elle-même, elle arrive enfin à la porte de
… cet affreux château, palais de la vengeance,
Qui renferme souvent le crime et l’innocence.
Quand il fallut descendre du carrosse, les forces lui manquèrent; on l’aida; elle entra, le cœur palpitant, les yeux humides, le front consterné.’

Just as Wilde celebrates his own writing, so does Voltaire, who quotes here from the fourth canto of La Henriade. By moving into the literary realm, Voltaire asks his readers to be more conscious about the way fiction sets us up for particular response. Fiction, as Rita Felski so persuasively argues, can provoke and unsettle us in unexpected ways: ‘We can be taken hold of, possessed, invaded by a text in a way that we cannot fully control or explain and in a manner that fails to jibe with public postures of ironic dispassion or disciplinary detachment.’[2] And L’Ingénu does just that, inviting its readers to commiserate, weep and even laugh over the death of its heroine.

– Thomas Wynn

[1] For an English translation of this and following quotations, please see p.159-60.

[2] Rita Felski, ‘After suspicion’, Profession (2009), p.28-35 (p.33).

Writing the imagination

Jean Honoré Fragonard’s drawing L’inspiration de l’artiste (ca. 1761-1773) shows us the artist in the act of conceiving an artwork. Before embarking on the material process of creation, he shuts his eyes to the outside world and unleashes the power of his imagination. Various fantastic figures, both sublime and grotesque, emerge from an amorphous background and gradually take shape. Whereas the artist is overwhelmed by his inner fancies and seems plunged into a state of ecstasy, the spectator of the image witnesses how the empirical world gradually gives way to the imagination. It seems as if we were observing the moment just before the eclipse of reality, and that a second later the emerging fantasies might continue to swallow up the island of sensory perception in the centre of the stage. Instead of seeing only the finished picture, we are made to see the very process of imagination that produces it.

L’inspiration de l’artiste, by Jean-Honoré Fragonard.

L’inspiration de l’artiste (ca. 1761-1773), by Jean-Honoré Fragonard.

I would argue that this scene can help us to reconsider other eighteenth-century reflections on the imagination. Fragonard’s drawing is not only a product of the imagination, it simultaneously strives to stage the power of the imagination itself. The mode of representation and the represented object are made to converge. The imagination is used as a tool to explore its own workings.

Self-reflexive moves of this kind can also take place in texts that are engaged in one way or another with the imagination. A writer can explicitly say something about the imagination, but he or she also always does something with the imagination, be it explicitly by using a fictional mode of representation, or implicitly through the metaphorical underpinnings of his or her thought. Even though these two dimensions – theory and practice of the imagination – may be present to different degrees, they are usually inseparable. Diderot’s Le Rêve de d’Alembert is a case in point. The interlocutors of this dialogue repeatedly make statements concerning the imagination, but at the same time the reader becomes involved in an imaginative process: a flow of collective associations, stunning analogies and metaphors, fantastical creatures.

The eighteenth century has often been described as the crucial turning-point in the history of the imagination, as the pivotal moment in which an inferior faculty becomes an anthropological force of fundamental importance. It is also the period that puts into question the Cartesian idea that there is a purely rational standpoint beyond the imagination (the cogito). My recent book Die Kraft der Figuren (The Power of Figures) reassesses this process by focusing on the interaction between theoretical claims and practices of writing. This approach turns out to be most productive in the case of authors who explicitly take into account the power of the imagination as a part of their own writing, such as Shaftesbury, Condillac and Diderot, who are at the centre of the study.

One could say that the desk of these philosophers, like that of Fragonard’s inspired artist, is placed in the midst of the imagination, and not opposed to it. Shaftesbury, Condillac and Diderot conceive the imagination as a process they are always already involved in. As Fragonard teaches us, though, this also entails the risk of coming into touch with the imagination’s dangerous side, represented by the dark hybrid creature in the lower left-hand corner of the drawing…

– Manuel Mühlbacher

The phenomenon of the ‘amateur’

The September volume in the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series, L’amateur à l’époque des Lumières, studies the phenomenon of amateurship in several disciplines and cultural backgrounds. It aims to articulate sociological, rhetorical and poetical perspectives, as the term ‘amateur’ is considered to refer to a social type or role, to a discursive figure and to a creator at the same time. In this blog post, Enrico Mattioda explores how the very definition of the word amateur sparked confusion, controversy, and clashes throughout the 18th century.

The amateur has been the subject of new interest in recent years, not only in the German sphere, where attention to this theme has never been lacking, but also in France, thanks in part to Charlotte Guichard’s studies in the discipline of fine arts. The eighteen essays included in the present volume, edited by Justine de Reyniès and Bénédicte Peslier Peralez, are the result of contributions made by distinguished experts in the field, and all offer a vision of the phenomenon in Europe as never seen before. The book does not claim to solve all the problems related to the amateur; rather, its importance lies in its ability both to challenge the notion itself and to offer different arguments and perspectives.

L’amateur à l’époque des Lumières is the September 2019 volume of the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series.

The investigation of the figure of the amateur is not limited to the classical fields of the arts and sciences. Instead, a vision of the concept of amateur is expanded, extended into other human activities ranging from literature to journalism, from sociabilité to coups d’œil, and continuing into the subject of women who express themselves in music or literary judgements.

The impetus to extend the concept of amateur to other human activities may perhaps be located in the limitations to be found in Alexander Rosenbaum’s book, Der Amateur als Künstler, published in 2010. From a personal point of view, I do not agree with Rosenbaum’s anti-historical approach, which seeks to define amateurs starting from the Italian Renaissance and trivializes the concept of sprezzatura developed by Baldessar Castiglione. It should be remembered that in the 15th and 16th centuries, the distinction between professional and amateur was not recognized in Italy: it was only in 1620, when the Accademia di San Luca in Rome received permission from Pope Urban VIII to establish who was an art professor and who was not, that the distinction between the fields began to be defined. Historical dictionaries indicate that the first attestation of the word ‘amateur’ was seen from 1682 onwards; my own research pushes the date to 1660, but certainly not any earlier.

These considerations lead us to a more general problem. For too long it has been claimed that there are synonymous terms to define the phenomenon within the various European countries; instead, we must accept the fact that these terms are false linguistic friends and do not cover the same semantic field. Confusion already reigned in the 18th century: the entry amateur in the Encyclopédie linked the French word to the Italian word ‘virtuoso’; Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his Dictionnaire de musique stated, instead, that the French word is a translation of the Italian word ‘dilettante’. These are two very different concepts, and neither of them grasped the great semantic difference imposed in France with the creation of the amateurs honoraires within the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, wherein these amateurs honoraires came to establish the taste in the artistic field and to dominate the art market. In 1757 the Encyclopédie initiated a violent backlash, which then continued with direct clashes between Caylus and Diderot and with a series of art dictionaries published by the amateurs.

This controversy surrounding the definition was immediately acknowledged in Germany, where we first see the use of ‘Dilettant’ starting in 1759. The term held negative connotations in all fields except music, where the Italian word was used to mark a clear distinction with respect to the previous ‘Liebhaber’. From the French controversy, the critique of amateurism developed in Germany. The new negative concept of the dilettante was established. No longer was it the amateur who limited himself to the knowledge of an art-form or who presented himself in private and non-profit spheres; it was now the bourgeois amateur who worked in an art-form and presented himself in public without knowing the rules of the art itself and without precise know-how. While we can find a fundamental document in the notes written by Goethe and Schiller in 1799 for an article that was never finished, entitled Über den Dilettantismus, in France the controversy had already come to a close in 1788 with the publication of Amateur, an entry by Claude-Henry Watelet for the Encyclopédie Pancoucke. Here Watelet proposed two alternative solutions: to open the category of amateurs to the female world and to sociabilité, or, in the opposite direction, to withdraw from society and ensconce oneself in a utopia of solitary refuge in classical values. The following year, the French Revolution would bring an end to the amateur Ancien Régime.

The strongest merit to be found in L’amateur à l’époque des Lumières is in the volume’s drawing of attention to this cultural and social phenomenon – one which was fundamental to the culture of the eighteenth century – through its presentation of the different achievements of the amateur and its suggestions of updated readings of the various fields of knowledge and social sciences.

– Enrico Mattioda, Université de Turin

Enrico Mattioda is a contributor to the September volume in the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series, L’amateur à l’époque des Lumières.

This post is reblogged from Liverpool University Press.