Françoise de Graffigny, gouvernante et observatrice de l’éducation des femmes

Mme de Graffigny

Françoise de Graffigny by Pierre-Augustin Clavareau. Lunéville, musée du château des Lumières. Photo: T. Franz, Conseil départemental 54.

Pour marquer la Journée internationale des femmes nous nous tournons vers Françoise de Graffigny (1695-1758), femme de lettres dont le talent était reconnu dans toute l’Europe. Sa Correspondance montre son indépendance, son dévouement à sa pratique de romancière et de dramaturge, son esprit critique, son langage franc et réaliste.

Fille d’un militaire attaché à la cour de Lorraine, et admise au cercle qui entourait la duchesse Elisabeth-Charlotte et ses enfants, elle n’étudiait ni le latin ni l’orthographe, mais elle chantait, dansait, jouait de la vielle, brodait, plaisait par sa façon de parler et de raconter, et montait sur les planches dans les comédies de la cour. Veuve à l’âge de 30 ans, et ayant perdu trois enfants en bas âge, elle s’occupa de l’éducation d’au moins une des ses jeunes parentes, Anne-Catherine de Ligniville. Elle aida la marquise de Grandville lorsque celle-ci donna naissance à un enfant en 1735, et elle avait plusieurs filleules pour qui elle gardait de l’affection.

La Correspondance de Mme de Graffigny.

La Correspondance de Mme de Graffigny, 15 vol. (Oxford, 1985-2016).

Après avoir quitté la Lorraine, elle s’installa à Paris en octobre 1739 comme dame de compagnie de la duchesse de Richelieu, et après la mort de celle-ci, devint en 1740 dame de compagnie de la princesse de Ligne. Elle se lia d’amitié avec plusieurs gouvernantes des enfants Richelieu, notamment Mme Copineau, pour qui elle trouva un emploi de gouvernante à la cour de Vienne. Plus tard, reconnue comme un auteur célèbre et un modèle de sagesse, Graffigny composa des lettres édifiantes qu’elle envoya aux archiduchesses Marie-Anne et Marie-Elisabeth de Habsbourg-Lorraine, et à Marie-Thérèse de Cobenzl.

Graffigny critique l’éducation traditionnelle des femmes françaises dans son roman Lettres d’une Péruvienne (éditions de 1747 et 1752), et elle examine ailleurs dans son œuvre le rôle de la gouvernante, sa situation ambiguë entre dame et servante, et les inconvénients de son état: dépendance financière et sociale, soumission aux caprices des maîtres, la tâche (poignante pour Graffigny) de soigner les enfants d’autrui. Dans Cénie (1750), la pièce sentimentale qu’elle appela d’abord ‘La Gouvernante’, Orphise, la gouvernante vertueuse de l’héroïne Cénie, découvre dans une scène qui fit pleurer tous les spectateurs qu’elle est la mère biologique de sa pupille. En 1749, Graffigny écrit à Devaux: ‘J’ai encore un peu retouché “La Gouvernante” ce matin, et tout en corrigeant les phrases, j’ai pleuré moi-même.’

La Fille d'Aristide, title pages.

Two variant title pages of the original edition of La Fille d’Aristide (Paris, 1759).

Dans une autre pièce datant de la même époque, ‘La Brioche’, forme primitive de La Fille d’Aristide (1758), elle dépeint la gouvernante Lisette, qui dépasse les autres personnages de la pièce par son esprit, son sens de l’honneur et sa générosité; bénéficiaire d’une éducation exceptionnelle, elle gère les affaires du maître Géronte, arrange le mariage de sa fille et assure la fortune de son fils. Lisette explique ses ‘sentiments’ ainsi:

‘Je les dois tous aux bontés de ma défunte maîtresse; elle les étendit jusqu’à donner à une pauvre orpheline la même éducation qu’à sa propre fille.’

Mme de Graffigny manuscript.

Portion of ‘La Brioche’ manuscript (Yale University, Beinecke Library, Graffigny Papers, vol.79, p.17).

Comme Cénie et Orphise, Lisette est une étrangère au sein de la famille; à la fin elle refuse le mariage et reste maîtresse de sa vie. Ce personnage roturier, considéré trop osé par les amis de Graffigny, est remplacé par la fille adoptive Théonise dans La Fille d’Aristide.

Pendant toute sa vie, Graffigny compta parmi ses amies des femmes indépendantes, très différentes les unes des autres par leur niveau d’éducation et leur rang social. Elles participaient aux débats de l’époque, jugeaient les personnages avec lucidité, et ajoutaient sans doute du poids aux observations relatives à l’éducation des femmes et à l’exploration honnête des sentiments qui marquent l’œuvre de Graffigny. On trouve un excellent exemple de cette force de personnalité dans sa protégée Anne-Catherine de Ligniville, qui fit un effort extraordinaire pour rendre possible son mariage d’amour avec Helvétius, et qui prit la défense de son mari en 1758 lors de la condamnation de son livre De l’Esprit.

– Dorothy P. Arthur

The Scottish Enlightenment four stages theory: a (re-)introduction

There are few paradigms more tightly connected with the Scottish Enlightenment than the four stages theory. Yet it arguably remains one of the least understood.

John Millar

James Tassie, Medallion of John Millar (1767). Courtesy of the University of Glasgow Archive Services, University collection, GB 248 UP3/26/1.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, a whole host of famous Scottish thinkers – Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, William Robertson, Henry Home (Lord Kames) and John Millar – attempted to explain a range of social phenomena according to a single, universal narrative of the history of progress. The spirit of the paradigm was that the fundamental distinguishing components of societies lay not in accidents of climate, religion or race, but rather in the social, psychological, legal and cultural effects of the history of property and sustenance relations. While French thinkers such as Anne Robert Jacques Turgot used three stages to achieve similar analyses, the Scots preferred four:

  1. Hunting, where property only extended to what one could carry on one person (savagery),
  2. Pastoralism, where shepherding witnessed the development of animal property (barbarism),
  3. Agriculture, where society became settled and landed property became pivotal in the production of sustenance (civilisation),
  4. Commercial society, defined by contemporary Europe.

The paradigm has, for good reason, been widely identified as a pioneering step in the development of various disciplines of the modern social sciences. At the same time, in taking the commercial society of eighteenth-century Britain as the pinnacle of the history of liberty, postcolonial scholars have, with validity, critiqued it as a blatant example of Eurocentric world historical narration.

John Millar, the protégé of Adam Smith and Regius professor of civil law at the University of Glasgow for nearly four decades at the end of the eighteenth century, is often cited as the most systematic articulator of the four stages theory. Attention has been paid particularly to his reflections on the history of family and gender, which constitute the great bulk of his stadial theory-infused magnus opus, the Origin of the Distinction of Ranks.

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I began research for my book John Millar and the Scottish Enlightenment: family life and world history with the intention of revealing how Millar managed his oft-celebrated cohesion. In fact, I was quickly confronted with lacunae, gaps and contradictions with Millar’s stadial analysis. Digging deeper, I realised that these arose from his difficulties in overcoming a complex intellectual web of competing analytical frameworks using evidence and existing scholarship that defied any easy organisation. Moreover, it became clear that his intention was much less to innovate any coherent science of stage-based analysis than to set out his convictions about politics, the family and the nature of authority.

Too often, Millar’s lack of full coherence in his use of stadial analysis has been attributed to intellectual underperformance. In my book, I take a different approach, viewing Millar as a guide to the history of knowledge underpinning the pursuit of stadial history, with a particular focus on gender and the family. Millar used the stadial model as only one of several intersecting paradigms. His deployment and innovation of classic natural law structures, such as the history of household authority relations and the tripartite division of marriage struggle, reveals the importance of his professional setting as a professor of law in Glasgow. Additionally, in his retention of religion as a critical means for explaining differences in marriage practices, we see that even Millar had doubts about stadial analysis as a fully convincing alternative to paradigms such as sacred history.

The deeper we probe into Miller’s complex work, the more we discover his Enlightenment spirit of speculative curiosity. His legacy to modern disciplines of sociology and anthropology [1] lies not so much in the rigidity of his conviction in any single analytical framework, but rather his thirst for cross-cultural comparison and analysis. His extended discussion of topics ranging from matriarchal familial forms and the Amazon legend to national character and polygamy was not intended to tie up loose threads in stadial analysis, but rather to be an ambitious attempt at historicising all dimensions of authority.

– Nicholas B. Miller, University of Lisbon

[1] William Lehmann, John Millar of Glasgow 1735-1801: his life and thought and his contributions to sociological analysis (Cambridge, 1960).

 

Exploring an abandoned 18th-century encyclopedia: an academic detective story

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Eighteenth-century Paris was a vibrant centre of scholarly activity, publishing, and consumption. As the number of printed works multiplied, the demand for condensed up-to-date summaries of all fields of knowledge increased. In my book The Maurists’ unfinished encyclopedia I tell the story of a hitherto unknown encyclopedic project that was being developed in Paris at the same time as Diderot and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie. While the latter became a controversial but successful bestseller – often considered to be the medium of Enlightenment thought par excellence – the former never reached the public. The compilers were Benedictine monks of the Congregation of Saint-Maur, also known as Maurists. After ten years of work, they abandoned their encyclopedic enterprise. Decades later, after the French Revolution and the dissolution of all religious orders, the surviving manuscript found its way to the new national library, the Bibliothèque nationale de France. For the next 160 years, though, it escaped the attention of researchers.

Uncovering the history of the Maurist encyclopedia became something of an academic detective story. I first laid my hands on the manuscript in 2009 after coming across, two years earlier, a curious piece of information that eventually led me to the BnF. It was a congregational report briefly noting that two monks in the Parisian abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés had worked on a ‘dictionnaire universel des arts méchaniques et libéraux, des métiers et de toutes les sciences qui y ont quelque rapport’.[1] Their names were Dom Antoine-Joseph Pernety and Dom François de Brézillac, and the report was dated 1747. This was the same year in which Denis Diderot and Jean D’Alembert became editors of the embryonic Encyclopédie. Moreover, the monks’ abbey was located just a few hundred meters from the Café Procope, the favorite meeting place of the encyclopédistes. In other words, two large-scale encyclopedias were initiated at the same time, in the very same quarter in Paris, but only one of them would make it to the printing press and into the history books.

The Left Bank of Paris in the mid-eighteenth century: the location of the abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés (1) and the Café Procope (2).

The Left Bank of Paris in the mid-eighteenth century: the location of the abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés (1) and the Café Procope (2).

There was no record of a Maurist encyclopedia ever being published and I had not found a single mention of the project in earlier research on the Congregation. Therefore I initially suspected that the work had been abandoned at an early phase and had thus been too short-lived to produce any text. Two years later, when I traced down the surviving material at the BnF, I quickly revised my assumption. The collection amounted to six volumes in-folio. Clearly, this project had been in progress for quite some time before the writers put down their quills. So, what had happened? What kind of encyclopedia had these monks been making? And how had their vision compared to the contemporary work of Diderot and D’Alembert?

It took me four years following up on many clues to answer these questions.

The Maurist manuscript was uncharted territory. The collection had no title page or explanatory preface. There were no signatures stating the names of the compilers or any information on their number. The handwriting, however, suggested contributions from more than two individuals. Furthermore, some textual parts were elegantly rewritten while others were merely scribbled drafts. Indications of missing pieces cropped up here and there. One volume contained what seemed to be a discarded early version of the project; another consisted only of ‘working lists’, such as inventories of literature and illustrations. Then (as if things were not complicated enough), I discovered that the whole manuscript had been rearranged at the BnF in the mid-nineteenth century. I also learned that as much as a third of the original material could have been lost. Thus, what I held in my hands was not a finished manuscript preserved in its original state, but rather the incomplete remains of a dictionary abandoned in the making, later ordered and altered by uninitiated hands.

A page from the Maurists’ unfinished encyclopedia, showing a collage of articles rearranged by the conservators at the BnF in the mid-nineteenth century.

A page from the Maurists’ unfinished encyclopedia, showing a collage of articles rearranged by the conservators at the BnF in the mid-nineteenth century.

The Maurists’ unfinished encyclopedia is just as much about overcoming the methodological challenges of studying incomplete, unfinished texts as it is a history of an unrealized scholarly enterprise. By combining clues from handwriting analysis, codicological examination, extensive textual comparisons and archival work, I demonstrate that the Maurist enterprise began life in 1743 as an augmented translation of a foreign lexicon – a mathematical lexicon by the German philosopher Christian Wolff. Due to competition with the embryonic Encyclopédie in 1746, the conditions for the monks’ work changed and the scope of their project expanded. Like the encyclopédistes, the Maurists devoted great attention to the mechanical arts and they planned for a great number of illustrations. By excluding religion, politics and ethics, the monks created a secular, non-confrontational reference work that focused entirely on the productive and useful arts, crafts and sciences. In this respect, Diderot and d’Alembert were not alone in their encyclopedic innovations and secular Enlightenment endeavors, although they certainly were the most successful.

Abandoned in the mid-1750s – in the midst of the controversy surrounding the Encyclopédie – the Maurist enterprise may have made little difference to its contemporaries, but it does, however, make a difference for our present understanding of mid-eighteenth-century encyclopedism in France, the perceived novelty of the Encyclopédie, as well as the intellectual activities of the Congregation of Saint-Maur.

– Linn Holmberg

[1] Edmond Martène, Histoire de la Congrégation de Saint-Maur, ed. Gaston Charvin, 10 vol. (Paris, 1928–1954), vol.9 (1943), p.342.

Pierre Bayle est mort. Vive la République des Lettres!

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Enfant du Carla (aujourd’hui Carla-Bayle) dans le Midi-Pyrénées, fils et frère de pasteurs réformés, exilé peu avant la révocation de l’édit de Nantes, Pierre Bayle passa une grande partie de sa vie à Rotterdam, d’où il communiquait avec les philosophes et savants de toute l’Europe. Créateur d’un des premiers périodiques de critique littéraire, historique, philosophique et théologique, les Nouvelles de la république des lettres, il a défini une nouvelle conception de la liberté de conscience fondée sur le rationalisme moral. Dans son œuvre majeure, le Dictionnaire historique et critique, il recueille mille détails sur les événements historiques et cherche à démontrer, dans les articles philosophiques, que la religion chrétienne est incompatible avec une argumentation rationnelle. Dans ses toutes dernières œuvres, la Continuation des pensées diverses et la Réponse aux questions d’un Provincial, il diffuse une version du spinozisme qui marquera tous les philosophes des Lumières. Bayle se représentait comme un simple citoyen de la République des Lettres et en est arrivé à incarner cet ‘Etat extrêmement libre’ où l’on ne reconnaît ‘que l’empire de la vérité et de la raison’. Il mourut, à l’âge de 59 ans, le 28 décembre 1706 vers 9 heures du matin, quasiment la plume à la main.

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Lettre de Pierre Bayle à Hervé-Simon de Valhébert, écrite à Rotterdam le 22 octobre 1705.

Ce qui le marque au départ comme un marginal – l’éloignement du Carla des centres de la vie culturelle et la pauvreté de sa famille – nourrit une passion qui fait de lui un érudit aux lectures infinies, un lecteur critique hors pair, qui enregistre soigneusement, dans des recueils alphabétiques, toutes ses lectures et qui se plaît à affronter les récits, les interprétations et les systèmes philosophiques. Avec l’intelligence comme seule arme, il prend du recul par rapport aux controverses religieuses et aux débats philosophiques de son temps; il excelle à disséquer les systèmes philosophiques pour démontrer leurs conséquences absurdes: c’est un recul critique et souvent ironique qui fait de lui non pas un pyrrhonien mais un témoin privilégié de la crise qui marque son époque. Jacques Basnage décrit parfaitement sa passion philosophique:

‘Comme il s’était accoutumé à combattre les erreurs du vulgaire, il avait porté plus loin ce même esprit et un des plaisirs les plus doux qu’il goûtait était de faire sentir à une infinité de gens que les opinions qu’ils regardaient comme évidentes ne laissaient pas d’être environnées de difficultés insurmontables’ (Jacques Basnage au duc de Noailles, le 3 janvier 1707: Lettre 1743, Volume XIV).

Notre édition critique de sa vaste correspondance, qui comporte quinze volumes et près de de 1800 lettres échangées avec un très large cercle d’interlocuteurs, est désormais achevée. Le Volume XIV paraîtra en février 2017 et le Volume XV, comportant la bibliographie générale et l’index général des noms de personnes, paraîtra en été 2017.

*

Pierre Bayle is dead. Long live the Republic of Letters!

Born in Le Carla, a tiny village near Foix in the South of France, Pierre Bayle came from a family of Protestant ministers, and was exiled shortly before the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Consequently, he spent most of his life in Rotterdam, from where he corresponded with philosophers and scholars throughout Europe. He launched one of the first literary and philosophical periodicals, the Nouvelles de la république des lettres and defined a new conception of religious tolerance based on moral rationalism.

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His most famous work, the monumental Dictionnaire historique et critique, contains detailed historical articles and others concerning philosophers, in which he sought to demonstrate that Christian doctrine is incompatible with rational argument. In his last works, the Continuation des pensées diverses and the Réponse aux questions d’un Provincial, he defined a version of Spinozism which greatly influenced Enlightenment philosophers. In his unassuming way, Bayle thought of himself as a simple citizen of the Republic of Letters and came to incarnate that ‘extremely free State’ in which no other law is recognised but ‘the rule of truth and right reason’. Bayle died at the age of 59 on the 28th December 1706 at about 9 a.m., virtually pen in hand.

The critical edition of his extensive correspondence, containing fifteen volumes and nearly 1800 letters exchanged with his vast network of friends and associates, is now complete. Volume XIV has just published (February 2017), and volume XV, containing the general index and bibliography, will publish in the summer of 2017.

– Antony McKenna

 

La fermentation des Lumières: Le Neveu de Rameau de Diderot

Étrange destin d’un texte: Le Neveu de Rameau est l’une des œuvres les plus fascinantes du dix-huitième siècle français, et pourtant elle n’a été lue que bien des années après sa conception en 1761 et son achèvement, vers 1774, lorsque Goethe a publié, en 1805, la traduction allemande d’une copie manuscrite, que Schiller lui avait communiquée. C’est d’abord dans une « retraduction » que l’œuvre a été communiquée aux lecteurs français, avant qu’enfin un voyageur en rapporte une version plus authentique de Russie et qu’enfin, à la toute fin du dix-neuvième siècle, le manuscrit autographe ne soit découvert dans la boîte d’un bouquiniste, sur les quais de la Seine.

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Denis Diderot 1713-1784, par Charles Mazelin (1958). Image WikiTimbres.

Immédiatement, l’œuvre de Diderot a fasciné les plus grands, après Goethe et Schiller, Balzac, Hoffmann, Hegel, Barbey d’Aurevilly, et, plus tard, Aragon, Thomas Bernhardt, Jean Starobinski ou Michel Foucault. Aujourd’hui encore, alors que les interprétations se sont incroyablement multipliées, elle résiste et offre aux lecteurs une séduisante énigme. Philosophes ou littéraires, bien des critiques ont tenté de la réduire sans y parvenir. On la proposait jadis aux étudiants débutants, qui n’y comprenaient pas grand chose. Mais ce premier contact avec Diderot pouvait être déterminant: ce fut le cas pour moi. Je traduisais alors sagement Horace, sans faire le rapprochement avec ce texte, que son auteur nous propose comme une « satire », la seconde d’une série, dont la première, composée en 1773, s’intitule Satire première sur les caractères et les mots de caractère, de profession etc., mais qui s’est arrêtée là.

Comme le philosophe, qui nous raconte sa rencontre avec Jean-François Rameau, nous ne savons quelle réaction adopter devant un personnage amusant, totalement amoral, qui ruine toutes nos certitudes. Les questions qu’il nous adresse n’appartiennent pas seulement à son époque. Ne sommes-nous pas, comme Diderot, confrontés tous les jours aux contradictions entre nos désirs et les exigences de la vie en société, entre les principes généraux de la morale et les lois établies, entre nos exigences d’universalité ou notre pensée de l’homme en général et l’infinie particularité des individus.

Au moment précis où la pensée des Lumières atteint son apogée, elle se trouve confrontée à une critique profonde, qui la mine et la nourrit au plus profond: Rousseau, dès la Lettre à d’Alembert, Voltaire, avec Le Fanatisme ou Mahomet le prophète, Diderot, avec Le Neveu de Rameau, ont instillé bien avant Sade les ferments d’une crise magnifique. Le dialogue entre « moi » et Rameau s’émancipe des règles de la rhétorique et de la dialectique des « entretiens » idéologiques si fréquents aux dix-septième et dix-huitième siècles. Il adopte la marche libre d’une conversation dont les protagonistes ne s’entendront jamais qu’à demi: « Rira bien qui rira le dernier ». Tels sont les derniers mots prononcés par Rameau.

Il est significatif que ce soit la poésie qui vienne ici donner naissance aux idées. Car Le Neveu de Rameau est un texte de la plus haute poésie, dans le sens où on l’entend au delà de toute question de « genre ». Avec lui, comme avec Rabelais, Horace ou La Fontaine, la satire se porte à la hauteur de ces œuvres inépuisables qui remettent en question l’ensemble des représentations du monde qui se sont élaborées dans une société. Avec ce personnage, Diderot met en scène un groupe social, celui de cette « Bohême littéraire », ces « Rousseau du ruisseau » dont parle Robert Darnton. Ces parasites, tigres et fauves au service des puissants et de l’ordre établi, poux ou tiques si on les rapporte à leur véritable importance comme écrivains, révélés par le cynisme de Rameau, donnent une image de l’immense chaîne des dépendances qui unit les faibles aux puissants et ceux-ci à quiconque est plus fort qu’eux ou leur paraît tel. Cette cohorte venimeuse figurerait très bien aujourd’hui celle des hôtes habituels de plateaux de télévision.

‘Dans le café de la Régence, au Palais-Royal, Diderot rencontre Jean-François Rameau’. Dubouchet, graveur; Hirsch, dessinateur (1875). Image BnF.

‘Dans le café de la Régence, au Palais-Royal, Diderot rencontre Jean-François Rameau’. Dubouchet, graveur; Hirsch, dessinateur (1875). Image BnF.

Le neveu est-il un comédien génial mais sans emploi? Un musicien raté? Un Diogène trop conséquent? Ce qui est sûr, c’est que son talent est d’imiter non seulement des personnages, mais des situations et des œuvres d’art, singerie de l’art qui désigne sans cesse l’œuvre absente mais la fait surgir dans l’écriture de Diderot. Une quinzaine de pantomimes, décrites par le narrateur, estomaqué, puis subjugué souvent et parfois ému, indigné mais toujours incroyablement amusé, emportent l’écriture de Diderot au delà de toute figuration vers une étonnante musique: « Que ne lui vis-je pas faire? Il pleurait, il riait, il soupirait il regardait, ou attendri, ou tranquille, ou furieux; c’était une femme qui se pâme de douleur; c’était un malheureux livré à tout son désespoir; un temple qui s’élève; des oiseaux qui se taisent au soleil couchant; des eaux ou qui murmurent dans un lieu solitaire et frais, ou qui descendent en torrent du haut des montagnes; un orage; une tempête, la plainte de ceux qui vont périr, mêlée au sifflement des vents, au fracas du tonnerre; c’était la nuit, avec ses ténèbres; c’était l’ombre et le silence, car le silence même se peint par des sons. » En plein dix-huitième siècle rationaliste, Le Neveu de Rameau ouvre ainsi à l’imaginaire les portes de la littérature.

– Pierre Frantz

Leibniz: before and after Pangloss

Writing in 1751, Voltaire celebrated and yearned for the vibrancy of the previous decades when Europe had seemingly experienced an intellectual renaissance. This golden age, the ‘Age of Louis XIV’, as he came to term it in his eponymous historical work (the Siècle de Louis XIV), had surpassed all previous centuries in terms of the various discoveries and institutions it had helped foster in the sciences and the arts. These, unlike political matters, would stand the test of time and forever attest to the capacities of human reason.

During this period, Voltaire wrote, ‘the human mind made the greatest progress’ [1], ‘[acquiring] throughout Europe greater lights than in all the ages that preceded it’, mainly through the tireless and often anonymous labours of several geniuses who, spread across Europe, ‘[had] enlightened and comforted the world during the wars that spread desolation through it’. This ‘Republic of Letters’ had gradually imposed itself throughout Europe, oblivious to the religious and political schisms that had torn it apart: ‘The arts and sciences, all of them thus received mutual assistance from each other, and the academies helped to form this republic […] the truly learned of every denomination have strengthened the band of this great society of geniuses, which is universally diffused, and everywhere independent’.

Even though this network’s influence had considerably waned in Voltaire’s time, it had subsisted over the years bringing comfort to mankind over the ‘evils which ambition and politics scatter through the world’.

G. W. Leibniz, copy of a portrait by an unknown artist, originally produced for Johann Bernoulli 1711 (Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Bibliothek)

G. W. Leibniz, copy of a portrait by an unknown artist, originally produced for Johann Bernoulli 1711 (Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Bibliothek)

Ironically enough for the future author of Candide (1759) and creator of the infamous character Dr Pangloss, it was none other than the German thinker Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), ‘perhaps a man of the most universal learning in Europe’, who had animated the universal network of communication that underpinned the intellectual revolution that had taken place decades earlier. Indeed, through Leibniz’s intervention, ‘there never was a more universal correspondence kept between philosophers than at this period’.

Already as a young man, steadily expanding his network of correspondents, Leibniz prided himself on having entered into literary commerce with many of the most learned scholars in Europe. In a letter of August 1671 to Peter Lambeck, historian and librarian at the Imperial Court in Vienna, he highlights the wide geographical distribution of his network, listing the most notable names according to country – Athanasius Kircher and Francesco de Lana in Italy, Otto von Guericke and Hermann Conring in Germany, the royal librarian Pierre de Carcavi, Louis Ferrand, and others in France, Henry Oldenburg and John Wallis in England, Johann Georg Graevius and Lambert van Velthuysen in the Low Countries, and so on.

Leibniz chose his correspondents purposefully. By establishing an epistolary commerce with the secretary of the Royal Society, Henry Oldenburg, in 1670, at an early stage in his career, Leibniz sought entry into the leading scientific institution of his day. Moreover, he was successful in this enterprise, producing within a year a new physical hypothesis dealing with many of the concerns of the London virtuosi at the time.

In the case of Antoine Arnauld, he sought to subject his philosophical ideas to the scrutiny and criticism of one of France’s most astute thinkers who was also a leading Catholic theologian. Since Leibniz was, alongside his various other projects, seeking to bring about Christian reconciliation, he was additionally able to test the acceptability of his irenic theses to the Roman Catholic Church through his discourse with Arnauld.

As with Arnauld, Leibniz first met the scholar Simon Foucher during his momentous stay in Paris from 1672 to 1676. He valued the sagacity Foucher had displayed in his opposition to Malebranche’s philosophy and used the medium of their correspondence to air some of his own fundamental metaphysical ideas. Foucher for his part kept Leibniz, now living in provincial Hanover, abreast of intellectual news from Paris and in particular of members of his French circle of friends – scholars such as the churchman Pierre Daniel Huet, the editor of the Journal des savants, Jean Gallois, and Melchisédech Thévenot, an important figure in the foundation of the Académie royale des Sciences.

Already in his new physical hypothesis, Leibniz had declared the improvement of the human condition to be ‘the sole aim of philosophy’. His groundbreaking work in diverse fields such as mathematics (where alongside Newton he was the inventor of the calculus), logic, engineering, geology, and the biological sciences, and his promotion of the need for scientific academies in Berlin, Dresden, Vienna, and St Petersburg in which theoretical investigations could be combined with practical considerations, all fall within the overall compass of improving life. The Berlin Academy bears to this day the Leibnizian motto ‘Theoria cum praxi’.

Title page of Essais de Theodicée, Amsterdam, 1710

Title page of Essais de Theodicée, Amsterdam, 1710

While Voltaire’s scathing criticism of his philosophy, particularly the doctrine put forward in the Théodicée that this is ‘the best of all possible worlds’, appeared difficult to answer against the backdrop of natural disasters such as the Lisbon earthquake (1755), much of Leibniz’s scientific and technological thought has been of tremendous prescience and significance – although sometimes only identified as such comparatively recently. His work on a calculating machine based on the binary system anticipated our modern day computers, his ideas on insurance and fiscal policy were designed to ensure a greater degree of protection and justice for the population, mathematical papers on determinants and combinatorics were years ahead of their time. And as his extensive surviving papers and letters are steadily edited in the critical Academy Edition, more wonders of this nature are expected.

– Audrey Borowski and Philip Beeley

[1] All quotations are from the Siècle de Louis XIV, chapter 34, ‘Des Beaux-Arts en Europe du temps de Louis XIV’. Translations are from The Works of M. de Voltaire. Translated from the French, by T. Smollett, T. Francklin and others, 36 vol. (London, 1761-1765), vol.9 (1761), p.152-62.

Chance discoveries in French and Italian archives

Le président de Brosses

Le président de Brosses, buste par J. B. Lemoyne. Cliché © Bibliothèque municipale de Dijon.

Chance plays as much of a part in the discovery of new material as it does in history itself. This is certainly the case with the epistolary exchanges of two figures who were at the centre of the Republic of Letters, the president de Brosses and the abbé marquis Niccolini. Had it not been that one of my students happened to be a descendant of president de Brosses, this edition of his correspondence might never have seen the light of day.

In 1982-1984, when I was a Visiting Professor at the University of Paris X Nanterre, Alec de Brosses came to see me about undertaking a Master’s thesis based on his family’s papers. At the start of his work on the president’s relations with the British geographer Alexander Dalrymple, Alec de Brosses had also photocopied for me letters written to the president by a friend, the abate Antonio Niccolini. Because their content covered travel, literature, politics, diplomacy, antiquity, philosophy and religion, these letters were, in themselves, well worthy of publication, but where were the president’s own letters to his Florentine friend? He had kept only a few copies.

L’abbé marquis Antonio Niccolini, gravure de Domenico Campiglia. © Bibliothèque nationale de France.

L’abbé marquis Antonio Niccolini, gravure de Domenico Campiglia. © Bibliothèque nationale de France.

The Niccolini family still lived in Florence, and locating the president’s letters would become a matter of enlisting their support. During my period in Paris, I had met Emanuela Kretzulesco, the author of an excellent book on the dream of Polyphilus. Through Princess Kretzulesco, I had an introduction to the remarkable Marchesa Gilberte Serlupi Crescenzi in Florence, to whom I explained my quest. She knew the Niccolini family, and I was soon admitted to their extensive family archives. The lady of the house, who knew the archives well, soon found the president’s letters. She and I photocopied them together at a neighbouring café. I now had both sides of a truly fascinating and extensive correspondence that spanned over thirty years from 1740 to 1770. I could envisage editing and publishing them with my collaborator from the University of Pisa, Mireille Gille, whom I had met at the Florence ISECS Congress of 1979, and who was herself an expert on the form of the eighteenth-century letter.

The process would be a lengthy one and there were a number of amusing incidents over the following years. In Florence, where some other privately held papers were then in restauro, Mireille Gille and I were allowed to work on them at the restorer’s workshop to the sound of loud rock music. With a deep sigh, the restorer told me that Britain was a great country because there, archive restoration was treated as an academic discipline in which one could get a degree.

Fac-similé d’une lettre de l’abbé Niccolini au président de Brosses (lettre du 7 décembre 1746).

Fac-similé d’une lettre de l’abbé Niccolini au président de Brosses (lettre du 7 décembre 1746).

On another occasion, I was extremely fortunate to have Alec de Brosses with me because the archives were in a cubby-hole high up on the wall of a room, almost by the ceiling. Unlike me, he was able to leap up and pass the papers down. All these efforts and incidents were not in vain, and Mireille Gille and I are very pleased that the Correspondance du président de Brosses et de l’abbé marquis Niccolini is now available to the public, with an extensive introduction and notes. We are left with a great sense of gratitude to all those who helped us to produce an edition of a truly enriching correspondence.

– John Rogister

Fac-similé d’une lettre du président de Brosses à l’abbé Niccolini (lettre du 12 septembre 1761).

Fac-similé d’une lettre du président de Brosses à l’abbé Niccolini (lettre du 12 septembre 1761).