Meet the Suassos – tracing a family tree among Voltaire’s London patrons

One of the pleasures of exploring the recently completed Œuvres complètes de Voltaire is occasionally stumbling across hidden treasures which can enrich our understanding of the writer’s life and work. One such treasure, found in volume 6A, is the list of 342 subscribers who supported the publication of his epic poem, La Henriade, in London in 1728. It provides a fascinating insight into his connections and networks in the English capital and beyond. The list is printed in what could first appear to be a rather haphazard fashion, and certainly not in anything so easy to navigate as alphabetical order by name. Yet as one begins to delve into the identities behind the names, it becomes clear that certain family groups and other social and professional relationships are hidden in the ordering of the list.

René Pomeau has already illuminated some of these milieux and networks.[1] He identifies the Mendes d’Acosta family of bankers; a literary contingent that includes Horace Walpole, Congreve and Swift; an intellectual group, with Samuel Molyneux, Anthony Collins, Rev’d Dean Berkeley and Newton’s nephew John Conduitt; Anglicans and Quakers; some names plausibly from London’s Huguenot community; families belonging to the British aristocracy; and finally a number of ambassadors or other diplomats from Protestant European states (Denmark, Brunswick, Sweden, Holland, and Prussia).

But a list of subscribers should not be confused with a list of everyone known to Voltaire in England at the time. Just as those creating online petitions today exhort signatories to share the petition with their friends and family, so it appears to have been with literary subscriptions in the eighteenth century. Beyond the obvious names and the famous ones, then, many wider circles emerge from the list, often grouped together, but sometimes surprisingly not.

Detail from page nine of the list of subscribers to La Henriade (London, 1728), including the elusive Suassos.

As we worked to prepare this volume for publication, the names ‘Honourable Baron Swasso’, ‘Honourable Lady Swasso’ (p.9) and ‘Alvaro Lopes Swasso, Esq.’ (p.10) at first resisted identification. But family connections, in this case unearthed by Norma Perry, turned out to be the answer. The first two names appear in the list of subscribers just ahead of a group from the Mendes Dacosta family, mentioned above as one identified by René Pomeau: Anthony Moses Dacosta and his wife Catherine (‘Mrs Catherine D’acosta’). This couple (also cousins) were members of a large family who had emigrated to London to escape anti-Semitic persecution in Portugal in the seventeenth century, and had become naturalised and prosperous in their new home city. Another cousin, Anthony Jacob Dacosta, was a banker who had speculated badly and ended up bankrupt, ultimately fleeing to France at the end of 1725.

One of Anthony Jacob’s enraged creditors was none other than Voltaire himself, who, upon trying to present him with letters of credit in the summer of 1726, was apparently furious to find that his man had lost all his money and fled the country. Perry suggests that Voltaire may have encountered Anthony Moses while searching for Anthony Jacob. The ensuing interview went unexpectedly well given the circumstances: Voltaire appears to have subsequently been on friendly terms with Anthony Moses and his immediate family. Perry also proposes that Voltaire may have attended social gatherings at their main residence, Cromwell House; he certainly noted a witty exchange with Catherine in his notebook of the period: ‘Madame Acosta dit en ma présence à un abbé qui voulait la faire chrétienne, votre dieu, est-il né juif? Oui. A-t-il vécu juif? Oui. Est-il mort juif? Oui. Eh bien soyez donc juif.’ (Madame Acosta said in my presence to a cleric hoping to convert her to Christianity, Was your God born Jewish? Yes. Did he die Jewish? Yes. Well then, become Jewish. [Translation source])

Portrait of Alvaro Lopes Suasso by Catherine da Costa (1718, Joods Historisch Museum).

But, to return to our Suassos, the proximity of the Mendes Dacosta family to the baron and Lady ‘Swasso’ in the list was the clue which led us to their identity. Anthony Moses and Catherine’s daughter, Leonor Rachel, was married to the Dutch-Jewish baron Antonio Lopes Suasso, and was thus the ‘Lady Swasso’ of the subscribers. And Alvaro Lopes Suasso, who appears further down in the list on page ten, was Antonio’s brother. The Suassos were an eminent banking family in the Netherlands, fervent supporters of the House of Orange. Like Voltaire himself, Alvaro later became a member of the Royal Society, which Voltaire compares to the French Academy in the Lettres sur les Anglais, and our old friend Catherine da Costa, a talented miniaturist, painted his portrait, as well as (probably) that of her Suasso grandchildren (‘[Two young children holding an orange]’, gouache on ivory, ex Sothebys, 16 March 1999).

We can also identify Anthony Moses’ younger brother, Joseph. He subscribed for two books for himself, suggesting an even keener interest in either the work or the author than his brother had. Even Catherine’s brothers, Anthony and James ‘Mendoz’ (Mendes) put themselves down for a copy each. Directly below them, we find a certain ‘Abr. Telles, Esq’, who seems on initial research to have further Dutch-Jewish connections – perhaps another family friend, though we have not yet managed to pin down a specific relationship. And he had already subscribed to at least one other book alongside assorted Suassos and da Costas, a 1725 Vocabulary in Six Languages (which lists its subscribers in alphabetical order).

Details from pages five and nine of the list of subscribers to R. J. Andrée, A Vocabulary in Six Languages (London, 1725). Present in the list is Abraham Telles, along with several members of the da Costa and Suasso families.

Voltaire may have known other members of the family too, but it must be the case that some were approached to subscribe not by the author himself, but by other relations acting as intermediaries. Even this small section of the list of subscribers, then, which might at first glance appear an arid document devoid of interest, is testament to the influence of family connections in literary patronage of the period, and to the effectiveness of networks in a world before social media. These lists are rich sources of information and we can guarantee that there will be more stories to tell about this one in particular.

– Alison Oliver and Gillian Pink

[1] In ‘Voltaire en Angleterre. Les enseignements d’une liste de souscription’, Littératures III 4 (January 1955), p.67-76 (repr. Revue Voltaire 1, 2001, p.93-100).

Sur les traces de Voltaire à la bibliothèque de l’Arsenal

Seconde partie

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Repères pour l’identification des provenances

L’identification systématique des provenances des œuvres de Voltaire dans la collection de Paulmy reste à mener à bien. Nous mentionnerons les plus facilement reconnaissables.

Dos des ouvrages en reliure courante de la bibliothèque du comte d’Argenson (Ars. Réserve 8-H-2243 [1]).

Pour reconstituer la bibliothèque voltairienne du comte d’Argenson, il faut repérer les volumes recouverts de veau brun moucheté, dont le dos, orné aux entre-nerfs de fleurettes en pointillé (ou de fleurons plus étroits pour les pièces avec un dos long) et d’un fer armorié en pied,[1] porte des pièces de titre et de tomaison rouges.

À défaut d’une liste complète, voici quelques exemples qui viennent en complément des exemplaires truffés déjà cités, tous reliés à l’identique:

•       8-BL-13067: Œdipe, Paris, veuve Ribou, 1730

•       8-BL-13070: Hérode et Mariamne, Paris, veuve Ribou, 1730

•       8-BL-34139: Zadig, [Paris, Laurent-François I Prault; Nancy, Antoine Leseure,] 1748

•       8-H-7369: Le Siècle de Louis XIV, Metz, Bouchard le Jeune, 1753

•       8-H-2304 (1-2): Histoire de la guerre de mil sept cent quarante-et-un, Amsterdam [i. e. Paris], s. n., 1755

•       8-BL-34150: Candide, Genève, Cramer, 1759

•       8-BL-13092: Tancrède, Paris, L.-F. Prault, 1761

Armes de la marquise de Voyer.

La bibliothèque du comte d’Argenson n’est pas la seule source familiale de la collection de Paulmy. On trouve par exemple sous la cote Ars. 8-BL-34055, un exemplaire composite des œuvres en 57 volumes reliés uniformément de veau écaille: ils portent, collé au contreplat de chaque volume, l’ex-libris armorié gravé de Marie-Jeanne-Constance de Mailly d’Haucourt, marquise de Voyer (1734-1783), l’épouse du marquis de Voyer, cousin de Paulmy. L’exemplaire est probablement entré après la mort Mme de Voyer dans la bibliothèque du marquis qui avait pris en charge quelque temps son jeune cousin devenu orphelin.

Les exemplaires passés par la collection du duc de La Vallière avant d’arriver dans celle du marquis de Paulmy sont facilement identifiables: ils ont reçu au bas du feuillet en regard de la page de titre la mention ‘Catalogue de Nyon’ (du nom du libraire qui rédigea le catalogue de la vente) suivi de leur numéro de lot. Outre le manuscrit de Candide évoqué plus haut, on signalera le Tancrède sur papier de Hollande de la marquise de Pompadour, dédicataire de la pièce, somptueusement relié à ses armes. Il figurait au catalogue de sa vente en 1765, et se trouve décrit à celui de la dernière vente La Vallière, dont Paulmy a fait l’acquisition en 1786.

Reliure et référence du catalogue de la vente La Vallière de Tancrède, 1761 (Ars. Réserve 8-BL-13093).

Au fil des explorations en magasin, on relève d’autres marques sur des exemplaires entrés à l’Arsenal après la mort de Paulmy, avec la bibliothèque du comte d’Artois (on trouve ses armes au dos d’un exemplaire de l’édition de Kehl [Ars. 4-BL-5308]), ou à la faveur des confiscations révolutionnaires. Citons à titre d’exemple le monogramme ‘DLZ’ entouré d’une branche d’olivier, dont le possesseur reste à identifier: on le remarque au dos d’un exemplaire composite des Œuvres en 19 volumes (Ars. 8-BL-34054) ainsi que sur un exemplaire sans doute isolé à tort du Siècle de Louis XIV (Genève, 1771), (Ars. 8-H-7373).

Les commentaires du marquis de Paulmy
Détail du monogramme DLZ au dos de Ars. 8-BL-34054.

Il semblerait enfin intéressant d’étudier de plus près l’appréciation que le marquis de Paulmy lui-même portait sur l’œuvre de Voltaire. Nous avons déjà évoqué le manuscrit de l’Histoire de la guerre dernière (Ars. Ms-4773) auquel a été ajouté un petit cahier de commentaires du marquis. En dehors des ouvrages eux-mêmes sur lesquels Paulmy n’hésitait pas à rédiger une note bibliographique ou critique, nous disposons également du catalogue manuscrit de sa bibliothèque. Voici ce qu’on peut lire de la main de Paulmy en tête de l’Histoire de Charles XII, 1731 (Ars. 8-H-16823):

‘Quoique cet ouvrage soit compris dans les œuvres de Voltaire il est bon cependant de le conserver parmi les histoires de Suède.

‘On a dit très bien que Voltaire était le Quinte Curce de l’Alexandre du Nord, même élégance de style, même art d’attacher son lecteur, même air de roman, même suspicion bien fondée de bévues et d’erreurs, et le parallèle ne manque de justesse qu’en ce que tout bien considéré, Charles 12 ne vaut pas Alexandre, ni Quinte Curce Voltaire.’

Note autographe du marquis de Paulmy sur Histoire de Charles XII, 1731 (Ars. 8-H-16823). Provenance comte d’Argenson d’après la reliure (la marque du catalogue de Nyon a été apposée par erreur sur cet exemplaire).

Plus ou moins détaillées, elles peuvent aussi simplement renvoyer au catalogue de la bibliothèque du marquis. Inversement, il arrive que Paulmy renvoie son lecteur de son catalogue vers le volume lui-même pour prendre connaissance de son commentaire. En regard de la notice de La Ligue, ou Henri Le Grand, 1724, référencée au Catalogue des belles-lettres, section ‘Poètes françois commençant à Voltaire continuant jusqu’à présent’ sous la cote ‘1998’ (Ars. Ms-6287, f. 391), Paulmy a fait noter par son secrétaire: ‘Premières éditions de l’Henriade: voyez ma note sur le volume’. On identifie sans ambiguïté dans les collections de l’Arsenal l’exemplaire grâce au numéro ‘1998’ porté à l’encre sur la garde (Ars. 8-BL-34078). Voici le texte de la note:

‘Si ce n’est pas tout à fait icy la 1ere edition de la Henriade, c’est au moins la 1ère complette. Le poëme s’est bien perfectionné depuis par les variantes mêmes de l’auteur. On sait que Voltaire commença ce Poëme en 1717 [corrigé à l’encre noire en 1713] etant à la Bastille. L’auteur de la Bib. Janseniste cite une édon de 1713 dont il cite quelques vers qui se trouvent également dans celle-cy et même dans les suivantes. Si les sentimens de Voltaire ont parus suspects il y a 50 ans, les accusations sont bien augmentées depuis ce temps.’

Un peu plus bas, sous le numéro ‘2001’, est répertoriée l’édition parisienne de 1770: ‘La Henriade (de M. de Voltaire) nouvelle édition. Paris, Duchesne, Saillant, Nyon, 1770, 2 vol. in 8°. V. écaille. Fig. d’Eisen’ avec ce commentaire:

‘Cette édition est véritablement plus complète qu’aucune des précédentes. Outre quelques vers d’augmentation + les variantes, les notes et les estampes y ajoutent un très grand mérite. C’est M. de Marmontel qui en a été l’éditeur. Le poème de la Henriade est entièrement contenu dans le 1er vol. Le 2d contient grand nombre de dissertations, l’Essay sur la poésie épiq. Le Temple du goût, le Poëme de Fontenoy, le Desastre de Lisbonne et l’Essay sur la loy naturelle.’

Le relevé de ces notes pour l’ensemble des œuvres de Voltaire (pour autant que le volume du catalogue manuscrit correspondant ait été conservé) serait un petit chantier sans doute instructif à mener.

Détail d’un médaillon de la corniche en plâtre peint de l’actuel ‘Petit salon’ de la bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, qui était au xixe siècle une salle de lecture.

Les œuvres de Voltaire imprimées de son vivant et conservées sur les rayonnages de la bibliothèque de l’Arsenal représentent près de 800 notices au Catalogue général de la BnF. En 2005, à la faveur de la conversion rétrospective des anciens catalogues manuscrits de l’Arsenal, elles sont venues se fondre ou s’ajouter à celles, également informatisées, décrites aux deux tomes mythiques du Catalogue général des livres imprimés de la Bibliothèque nationale: Auteurs, des œuvres de Voltaire, publiés en 1978 sous la direction de Marie-Laure Chastang et Hélène Frémont. Sans rivaliser en nombre avec les collections voltairiennes des autres départements de la BnF, (notamment celles Georges Bengesco et d’Adrien Beuchot conservées à la Réserve des livres rares), la collection de l’Arsenal n’en reste pas moins remarquable par la diversité et la singularité des sources qui l’ont alimentée. Par certains de ses exemplaires enrichis, mais aussi par les divers indices qu’elle donne à déchiffrer de la réception, par les lecteurs de son temps, des livres de l’écrivain le plus édité du xviiie siècle, elle se présente comme un ensemble particulièrement stimulant dont l’exploration reste à poursuivre.

– Nadine Férey-Pfalzgraf, Conservatrice du fonds ancien de la Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal (BnF)

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[1] Fer n° 8c dans la liste des fers recensés par Martine Lefèvre: ‘D’azur à deux léopards d’or : reliures exécutées pour la famille d’Argenson au XVIIIe siècle’, Revue de la Bibliothèque nationale de France, 12, 2002, p. 56–63.

Sur les traces de Voltaire à la bibliothèque de l’Arsenal

Première partie

La Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal est depuis 1934 rattachée à la Bibliothèque nationale de France, dont elle est aujourd’hui l’un des départements au centre de Paris.  Le cœur de ses collections anciennes est constitué de la bibliothèque d’Antoine-René de Voyer d’Argenson, marquis de Paulmy (1722-1787), installée dans l’hôtel du grand-maître de l’artillerie depuis 1757 et qu’elle n’a plus quitté depuis.

La bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Paris. Photo: Vincent Desjardins.

Fils de René-Louis de Voyer, deuxième marquis d’Argenson (1694-1757), ministre des affaires étrangères de 1744 à 1747, Paulmy est aussi le neveu de Marc-Pierre de Voyer, comte d’Argenson (1696-1764), qui exerça les  fonctions de lieutenant général de police de Paris (en 1720 puis de 1722 à 1724) et de secrétaire d’Etat à la guerre (de 1743 à 1757). Proche de son oncle, qu’il seconda puis remplaça brièvement après sa disgrâce, le marquis de Paulmy poursuivit quelques années une carrière d’ambassadeur qu’il abandonna définitivement en 1768 pour consacrer l’essentiel de son temps et de sa fortune à enrichir sa bibliothèque, ainsi qu’à des travaux bibliographiques et littéraires.[1]

Les longues relations de Voltaire avec la famille d’Argenson ont permis que se retrouvent à l’Arsenal quelques documents importants le concernant. S’ils sont loin d’être inconnus des spécialistes de Voltaire qui les ont signalés dans les éditions des Œuvres complètes ou dans différents travaux, il n’est pas inintéressant de les présenter en tant qu’ensemble, si l’on peut employer ce terme pour des documents d’origines aussi diverses.

Voltaire et la famille d’Argenson

Les plus anciens documents concernant Voltaire conservés par la bibliothèque de l’Arsenal figurent dans les Archives de la Bastille, confiées à la bibliothèque peu après la démolition de la prison en 1789. On y trouve le dossier de prisonnier du jeune Arouet, détenu à la Bastille de mai 1717 à avril 1718 pour des vers injurieux envers le Régent, comprenant son interrogatoire (Ms-10633 fols 455r et suiv.), signé du lieutenant général de police Marc-René de Voyer de Paulmy, premier marquis d’Argenson (1652-1721), grand-père du marquis de Paulmy et une lettre (Ms-10633 fol. 460) de son amie de Hollande, Olympe Dunoyer (D14), qu’il devait porter sur lui au moment de son arrestation. Comme un clin d’œil de l’histoire, ces témoins  de la jeunesse de Voltaire voisinent aujourd’hui avec ses œuvres, réunies dans la collection du marquis de Paulmy, petit-fils du marquis d’Argenson.

Salle de lecture de la bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Paris.

S’il ne semble pas que Voltaire et Paulmy aient entretenu une véritable correspondance, on sait cependant qu’ils se sont rencontrés pendant l’été 1755.[2] Il arrive aussi que Voltaire évoque Paulmy auprès de ses correspondants, leur demandant de le saluer de sa part, ou prenant de ses nouvelles par l’intermédiaire de son voisin à l’Arsenal, Nicolas Claude Thieriot.[3]

Les liens de Voltaire sont plus documentés avec les frères d’Argenson, qui sont de la même génération que lui. Avant de croiser leur père, le lieutenant général de police, à la Bastille, Voltaire fut en effet leur condisciple au collège Louis-le-Grand. Les relations amicales et plus ou moins intéressées de Voltaire avec ‘la Bête’ et ‘la Chèvre’[4] ont fait l’objet de plusieurs études auxquelles on pourra se reporter.[5] Elles expliquent en partie la présence dans la collection de l’Arsenal de quelques pièces significatives ayant trait à Voltaire et à son œuvre: des manuscrits, mais  aussi des ouvrages imprimés portant des corrections manuscrites, auxquels ont parfois été jointes les lettres de l’écrivain qui accompagnaient l’envoi du volume.

L’œuvre de Voltaire à l’Arsenal: exemplaires remarquables


Ms-2755: Supplément aux œuvres de théâtrede M. de Voltaire (Samson, Eriphile, Adélaïde du Guesclin, Les Frères ennemis)

Relié aux armes du marquis d’Argenson. C’est à ces copies que le marquis d’Argenson se réfère dans ses Notices sur les œuvres de théâtre (Ms-3448 à 3455)[6] pour rendre compte de pièces de Voltaire qui n’avaient pas encore été imprimées à l’époque. Le recueil est également signalé avec sa provenance par le marquis de Paulmy dans le catalogue de sa bibliothèque (Ms-6287, fol. 391).

Ms-4773: Histoire de la guerre dernière, 1752:[7] ce manuscrit, œuvre de Voltaire historiographe du Roi, fut envoyé au comte d’Argenson, ministre de la guerre. Les remarques du marquis de Paulmy ont été reliées en tête du manuscrit. Le texte en fut publié à Paris sans l’assentiment de Voltaire en 1755 à partir d’une autre copie, et l’édition fut tout d’abord interdite par le directeur de la Librairie.

Candide ou l’optismime [sic], Plat supérieur, premier feuillet, référence au catalogue de la vente La Vallière de 1784 (Ars. Ms-3160).

Ms-3160: Candide ou l’optismime [sic]: la bibliothèque de l’Arsenal conserve la seule version manuscrite complète du conte, de la main de Wagnière, avec des annotations de Voltaire, mais c’est au duc de La Vallière et non aux d’Argenson que Voltaire fit parvenir ces feuillets, quelques mois avant de donner son conte à imprimer à Cramer en 1759.Sa reliure modeste et le peu d’intérêt qu’on portait à l’époque aux manuscrits d’auteurs explique sans doute qu’il n’ait pas été retenu par le libraire Guillaume Debure pour figurer au catalogue de la première partie de la vente posthume de la collection du duc en 1783. Aussi est-il passé dans celle du marquis de Paulmy, lorsqu’il fit l’acquisition en bloc en 1786 de la dernière partie de la bibliothèque de La Vallière. Pourtant décrit au catalogue des manuscrits de la bibliothèque de l’Arsenal dès 1887, ce manuscrit n’a véritablement été étudié par les spécialistes de Voltaire qu’à partir de 1957.[8]

Enfin, un lot important de 500 lettres de Voltaire à divers correspondants est venu enrichir la collection au XIXe siècle. (Ms-7567-7571),[9] suivi de plusieurs lettres de Grimm à Wagnière au sujet de la  vente de la bibliothèque de Voltaire (Ms-9312),[10] preuve de la considération que les bibliothécaires de l’époque accordaient au lien de l’Arsenal avec Voltaire. 

Ouvrages imprimés

Le premier volume gardant trace d’un envoi de Voltaire au comte d’Argenson est un exemplaire des Elémens de la philosophie de Newton, 1738 (Réserve 8-S-6556). Le volume a probablement été envoyé relié.

On identifie d’autres ouvrages envoyés par Voltaire grâce aux corrections qu’ils comportent:

Ex-libris gravé du marquis d’Argenson, ex-dono et feuillet corrigé dans son exemplaire des Œ38, t. 1-4 (Ars. Réserve 8-BL-34043).

 4 volumes de l’édition Ledet / Desbordes, 1738-1739 (Œ38), sur grand papier, envoyés au marquis d’Argenson (Ars. Réserve 8-BL-34043 [1-4]); le premier tome  porte un ‘ex-dono authoris’ et est enrichi d’une lettre de Voltaire au marquis d’Argenson (Bruxelles, 21 mai 1740. D2210): ‘Les fautes des éditeurs se trouvoient en fort grand nombre avec les miennes. J’ay corrigé tout ce que j’ai pû…’

Un autre exemplaire de cette édition, également corrigé, fut envoyé au duc de La Vallière (Ars. Réserve 8-BL-34042): il est entré dans la collection de Paulmy par l’achat en bloc de 1786 déjà évoqué. Le décor de sa reliure ne ressemble pas à ceux que le duc faisait réaliser pour sa bibliothèque; il a probablement reçu l’exemplaire déjà relié. Les corrections qu’il porte ne sont guère différentes de celles qui figurent sur les volumes du marquis d’Argenson, au point qu’on a parfois confondu les deux exemplaires.

Un troisième exemplaire de cette même édition (Ars. 8-BL-34041), lui aussi sur grand papier, est sans correction, si ce n’est que la table de l’Essai sur la poésie épique est barrée et accompagnée de cette remarque manuscrite: ‘Fautive d’un bout à l’autre, mais on peut s’en passer’. Il est relié en maroquin citron et porte les armes de la famille d’Argenson au dos. Sans doute l’exemplaire a-t-il appartenu au comte d’Argenson, sans avoir été envoyé par l’auteur.   

Premier des 14 feuillets insérés dans l’exemplaire des Œ40, t. 4, (Ars. 8-BL-34045 [4]).

Terminons ce petit panorama des éditions des Œuvres en signalant l’exemplaire (Ars. 8-BL-34045 [1-4]) (édition d’Amsterdam [Rouen], 1740  ou Œ40), relié de maroquin rouge et portant au dos les armes du comte d’Argenson, qui ne semble pas, jusqu’ici, avoir retenu l’attention. Il contient, comme les exemplaires de La Vallière et du marquis d’Argenson, de nombreuses corrections, mais surtout, il est enrichi, au tome IV, de 14 feuillets manuscrits insérés entre les pages 136 et 137, qui comprennent quatre textes imprimés postérieurement: Sur l’histoire (texte pour lequel OCV 28B ne cite aucun manuscrit), Sur les contradictions du monde (plus complet que BnF Ms NAF 2778, fols 199-200, cité par OCV 28B), Du déisme, et Du fanatisme.

A côté de ces exemplaires corrigés, la collection de Paulmy se distingue par quelques éditions d’œuvres isolées de Voltaire, qui ont appartenu au comte d’Argenson et auxquelles sont joints des lettres du philosophe, ou des commentaires de personnalités proches du ministre. Le tableau ci-dessous permet de les présenter synthétiquement.

Tableau contenant éditions d’œuvres isolées de Voltaire qui ont appartenu au comte d’Argenson.

Les envois de Voltaire au comte d’Argenson semblent cesser en 1756, leur correspondance en 1757:[11] cette même année, le comte tombe en disgrâce et est exilé au château des Ormes, où il meurt en 1764. Aléas de la conservation? À moins qu’il ne faille en déduire que Voltaire n’a entretenu ses relations avec le comte que tant qu’il pouvait lui être utile à la Cour?

Nadine Férey-Pfalzgraf, Conservatrice du fonds ancien de la Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal (BnF)

Lettre de Voltaire au comte d’Argenson (D6827) reliée dans les Poèmes sur la religion naturelle et sur la destruction de Lisbonne, 1756. (Ars. Réserve 8-BL-34107).

La seconde partie de ce blog sera mise en ligne le jeudi prochain (01/09/2022).

[1] Pour une présentation plus détaillée du bibliophile et de sa bibliothèque, voir Martine Lefèvre, ‘La bibliothèque du marquis de Paulmy’, in Histoire des bibliothèques françaises, 2. Les Bibliothèques sous l’Ancien Régime (1530-1789), Paris, Promodis – Ed. du Cercle de la librairie, 1988, pp. 303‑315 et Eve Netchine, ‘Le marquis de Paulmy et la construction d’une bibliothèque comme œuvre’, in La famille d’Argenson et les arts, Rennes, Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2019, p. 855.

[2] Lettre de Voltaire à Jean Robert Tronchin, 12 juillet 1755 (D6337).

[3] D8634 par exemple.

[4] Lettre de Voltaire à M. de Cideville, 9 février 1757 (D7152).

[5] Voir notamment:

– Didier Masseau, ‘Argenson, Marc-Pierre de Voyer, comte d’’ et ‘Argenson, René-Louis de Voyer, marquis d’’ in Inventaire Voltaire, Paris: Gallimard (coll. ‘Quarto’), 1995, pp. 88-89.

– Yves Combeau, Le comte d’Argenson (1696-1764): ministre de Louis XV, Paris, Ecole des chartes (coll. ‘Mémoires et documents de l’École des chartes’, ISSN 1158-6060; 55), 1999, pp. 10-11.

– Andrew Jainchill, ‘An unpublished letter from the marquis d’Argenson to Voltaire (1 May 1739, D1998a)’, Revue Voltaire, XIV, 2014, pp. 199‑213, qui donne la liste des 103 lettres échangées entre Voltaire et le marquis.

– Jean-Denis d’Argenson, ‘Voltaire et les frères d’Argenson’, in: Journées d’histoire du château des Ormes, 2017, pp. 21‑52.

[6] René-Louis de Voyer marquis d’Argenson, Notices sur les œuvres de théâtre, publ. par H. Lagrave, Genève: Institut et musée Voltaire les Délices (coll. « Studies on Voltaire and the eighteenth century », 42-43), 1966. 2 vol.

[7] Le manuscrit fut édité par Jacques Maurens, chez Garnier en 1971 puis dans les OCV 29C, 2020.

[8] Ira O. Wade, ‘A manuscript of Voltaire’s Candide’, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 101, 1, 1957, pp. 93-106.

[9] Ce lot semble avoir été acquis à la vente de la collection d’autographes d’A.-P. Dubrunfaut de 1884.

[10] Publiées dans Jean-Louis Wagnière ou Les deux morts de Voltaire, présentation et notes de Christophe Paillard; préface de Michel Delon, Saint-Malo: Éd. Cristel, 2005.

[11] La dernière lettre conservée du comte d’Argenson à Voltaire (6 janvier 1757) relate l’attentat de Damiens (D7114).

Robert Darnton and Zhang Chi: a conversation

Robert Darnton is Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor, Emeritus and University Librarian, Emeritus at Harvard University. He is well known as a leader in the field of cultural history and history of books. Darnton’s works have profoundly changed historians’ understanding of the world of print and communication in eighteenth-century France. On 17 March 2022, he will give a lecture in the Weston Library, Oxford. Please keep an eye on our website for further information.

From 13-22 October 2019, being invited by Zhang Chi (associate professor in the History Department of Zhejiang University, China), Darnton visited Zhejiang University and gave three lectures. Our conversation began with a discussion of Darnton’s recollections of his academic career after nearly half a century of research of the archives of the Société typographique de Neuchâtel.

Zhang Chi: You’ve been into the history of books ever since the 1970s. I suppose it was better to say that it selected you, than that you chose it. We all are familiar with that story: you got in touch with the library in Neuchâtel to get materials on Brissot, and then there were 50,000 letters. You dug into it the way a journalist would do with a murder case. As an American, why did you choose to study French history? What were things like in the field of the history of books when you first got in?

Robert Darnton: First, I would like to express my gratitude for the opportunity to address Chinese readers. During my recent visit to Zhejiang University I was greatly impressed not only by the hospitality I received but also by my hosts’ knowledge of Western history. I realized, too, how much I had to learn about the East. I hope this dialogue will contribute at least in a small way to communication between our two sides of the globe. I have grouped the questions together and omitted a few of them to make my answers more coherent.

As I get older, I have an increasing appreciation of contingency. An epidemic unexpectedly breaks out in a remote city, and the world economy collapses. Events like the American invasion of Iraq have disastrous, unintended consequences. Individuals change the course of history – for better (Nelson Mandela) or worse (Donald Trump). History was not supposed to happen that way, according to the Annales School. When I took a deep dive into Annales history in the early 1970s, I absorbed a view of history as long-term structural change uncovered by statistics – ‘histoire sérielle’, as François Furet called it. Furet introduced me to the historians working with him on Livre et société in 1972. Rather than concentrating on great books by famous writers, they used statistical analysis to detect century-long trends. The Enlightenment appeared implicitly as part of a shift away from religious and toward secular subjects across many decades and on a gigantic scale. A new discipline, histoire du livre, promised to reveal general patterns of culture – profound tendencies comparable to what the Annalistes had discovered in studying economic, demographic, and social history.

It was a compelling project, and I thought I had something to contribute to it, because I had been working in the archives of the Société typographique de Neuchâtel since 1965. I had been doing histoire du livre without knowing it, before the term existed. My research fitted in with that of the Furet group, because it concerned the kind of literature excluded from their sources: illegal books, which I could count and map, showing their diffusion throughout France during the two decades before the Revolution. The history of books has changed enormously since the 1970s, and looking back at it, one factor in my own experience confirms my sense of contingency. I strayed into the archives of the STN by following up a footnote, not to study book history but rather to write a biography of Jacques-Pierre Brissot, who published his works in Neuchâtel. When I abandoned the biography and took up the history of books, I chose a fork in the road, and soon there was no going back. Of course, other factors influenced my decision. It was not a matter of chance.

In answering your question, I want to suggest something that I think has shaped many historians’ careers: opportunities that arise unexpectedly, options taken or rejected, unforeseen consequences, and fortuna. It was good fortune to come of age in the United States during the 1950s, when scholarships were plentiful, and to begin a career in the 1960s, when jobs were easily available. In fact, I have been downright lucky. Unlike my father, who fought in World War I and was killed in World War II, I never had to join the army. As to why I as an American should have been interested in France, a question I am often asked, my answer is that France is interesting, inexhaustably interesting, not only in itself (the cafés, the vineyards, the cathedals) but for its relevance to general questions: How do ideas ‘take’ in a social order? What is public opinion? Why do revolutions occur? Those questions bring me to others that you ask.

Zhang Chi: In What is history?, Edward Carr thought it good for history and sociology to learn from each other. While you belonged to another generation, who were concerned with the conversation between history and anthropology. Many years ago, over 20 years if I remember what you said right, you conducted a joint seminar on history and anthropology together with Clifford Geertz at Princeton University. In addition you have prefaced The Interpretation of cultures. Would you like to talk about this seminar? Why would you think history should be in conversation with anthropology? And on the other hand, what would other disciplines, anthropology, for instance, learn from history?

Robert Darnton: Like many historians, I have found inspiration in anthropology, sociology, and other academic disciplines. Yet I would like to point out a misconception about interdisciplinarity. Speaking for myself, at least, I don’t believe in rummaging around in the social sciences in order to come up with tools. With the exceptions of economics and demography, I don’t think social-science methods can be used to engineer historical research. In place of methodological prescriptions, I would invoke two remarks by historians I admire. Marc Bloch said (I am speaking from memory and may get the words slightly wrong): ‘The historian is like the ogre of the fairy tale; where he smells man, he finds his prey.’ And my friend and colleague, the late Carl Schorske, used to say: ‘Man is a meaning-making animal.’

I think the need for meaning is as fundamental for humans as food and drink. By that I don’t mean to imply that ordinary people think like philosophers. As Lévi-Strauss demonstrated, they express ideas and feelings by combining concrete things in their thoughts. Some things in certain cultures are peculiarly good to think with (the French says it better: ‘choses bonnes à penser’). Anthropologists have come up with famous examples – Mary Douglas’s pangolin, Victor Turner’s milk tree, and E. E. Evans-Pritchard’s witchcraft-substance. The power of such thinkable things consists in the way they are woven into rituals and fit into general patterns of culture. Anthropology can help a historian understand cultural patterns, but it does not provide instruments that will unlock symbolic systems. There is nothing instrumental or mechanical about it. It is exegetic, interpretive, hermeneutical, but it is not arbitrary. Symbolic worlds really exist. In fact, they constitute reality. However, historians, like anthropologists, can get them wrong – and fail to get them adequately right, just as we do when we cannot make ourselves understood in a foreign language. In the seminar I taught with Clifford Geertz, we tried to help the students understand that the interpretation of culture requires rigor, evidence, and conceptual clarity. We had no tool kit to offer, but we were able to orient discussions around a basic problem: what made life meaningful for other people in other times and places.

I fear that I am sounding avuncular, a danger that increases with age. Perhaps it would be better if I gave an example of a sociological concept that I recently found helpful. In The Presentation of Self in everyday life, the sociologist Erving Goffman argues that interpersonal relations can be understood as a form of theatricality. We assume roles and act in conformity with implicit scripts. When I first read the book, I took away from it little more than the notion of role playing, a fairly obvious thought that Goffman works over with a great deal of wit. In rereading it, I understood a more challenging idea: when we assume the roles of audience and actors – for example, in placing an order with a waiter for a meal or in registering with an official to get a driver’s license – we define a situation; we accept a mutual understanding of what is going on. While reading reports of incidents in Paris during the so-called prerevolution of 1787-1788, I found a surprising tendency for contemporary observers to use theatrical metaphors. The Assembly of Notables, for example, was described as a ‘troupe de comédiens’. As I accumulated information, I realized the constant references to acting in roles was a way of construing events – what Goffman calls ‘defining the situation’ or determining ‘what is going on’. As the Parisians understood it, the fundamental situation in 1787-1788 was a struggle against despotism. Yet as historians have traditionally understood it, the prerevolution was an aristocratic revolt. The disparity between the contemporary and the historical views opened up a possibility of rethinking events and of seeing how they figured in the creation of a collective consciousness. That is the subject of the book I am now trying to write.

Zhang Chi: In studying the history of books, you focus on books themselves: how were they made, subscribed, and sold? But you didn’t seem to be concerned with the way people understood them, and the impact such understanding cast on their actions. Is that true? If so, your researches would be different from your friend Roger Chartier’s history of reading. We can know what people read, if there are necessary materials, but it’s hard to know what they think. I think that would be the problem with the history of reading. Would you have divergence with Charter on certain problems? How do you understand the history of reading?

Robert Darnton: I certainly agree that the history of books should include the history of reading, and I have attempted in a few essays to understand the way the French read books two and a half centuries ago. The problem I kept running into was the paucity of sources. Fortunately I found enough evidence to understand how readers responded to the works of Rousseau, but I did not come across documentation about the response to other authors. Of course, we can study marginalia, commonplace books, reviews, and a few other sources. But we do not have enough material to construct a rigorous history of reading – nothing like what we can demonstrate in studying the production and diffusion of books. We are reduced to aperçus. They can be important, suggesting, for example, that silent reading existed in antiquity and that conventions about the spacing of words and punctuation arose during the Middle Ages. I am persuaded by the insights of Roger Chartier and other historians, but I do not think they have produced a history of reading.

I have also followed Roger Chartier in taking inspiration from the works of Michel de Certeau and Richard Hoggarth. They emphasize the active role of readers in construing texts – even to the extent of finding meanings that were not intended by the authors. In this view, readers exert independent power, and readings vary accordingly. However, that raises a problem: if readers behave as poachers, acccording to de Certeau’s famous remark, the poaching, taken as a whole, could look like anarchy, endlessly varied individual experiences, and it would be impossible to perceive general tendencies. One way out of this dilemma could be to fall back on the notion of ‘interpretive communities’ developed by literary theorists such as Stanley Fish. That can be helpful, but how can those communities be detected and described? Where is the evidence of their activities? Like many literary scholars, I have become wary of theory as a way to understand the history of literature.

Despite these difficulties, I think it would be a mistake to ignore the impact of a few important books such as Uncle Tom’s cabin and The Sorrows of young Werther. Rousseau’s works had a profound effect on the reading public in France, even after 1789 when they appealed to émigrés as well as revolutionaries. The Wertherfieber certainly deserves a place in the social history of Germany. In casting about for ways of coping with the difficulties, I have recently been impressed by the insights of the sociologist Gustave Tarde and the historian Benedict Anderson. They relate reading to the formation of collective consciousness. Although, as they acknowledge, individuals read books in different ways, readers as a whole share a sense of participation in the same general activity. Anderson goes so far as to interpret this collective experience as a decisive factor in the development of nationalism in colonial societies. I think that the reading public under the Ancien Régime, varied as it was, developed a general awareness of participating in literary culture. The eighteenth century was a time when writers were celebrated as public personages, when the ‘sacre de l’écrivain’ took hold, and when the intellectual as a social type first emerged. That, too, is the subject of a book I hope to write.

Couronnement de Voltaire sur le Théâtre Français, le 30 mars 1778 (engraving by Charles-Etienne Gaucherl Wikimedia Commons).

Zhang Chi: Compared with the history of books you were concerned with, what kind of breakthrough would the history of communication bring into the understanding and interpretation of history?

Robert Darnton: The connection between reading and collective consciousness has implications for the attempt to understand the relation of the Enlightenment to the Revolution. I think it is clear, for example, that Voltaire mobilized public indignation about abuses in the Church and the judiciary during the Calas Affair. He did not simply ridicule religious orthodoxy as he had done in his early career; he damaged the authority of priests and parlementary magistrates by occupying a higher moral ground. It was the shifting, not just the sapping of moral authority that made the Enlightenment a force. Empowered by that realignment and driven by that ethical energy, the revolutionaries set out to create a new world.

Utopian fervor can spread through the social order like wildfire. Historians have shown how it drove millenarian movements, especially during the Reformation, and I think that something similar took place in the French Revolution. The common people in the Sections of Paris were seized by the energy and vision of radicals who had absorbed the ideas of the Enlightenment during difficult careers in the lower ranks of literature and the law. Pierre Manuel, as I have tried to show in The Devil in the Holy Water, typifies Sectional radicals of this kind. Thanks to the power of the press, men of the same stripe – Brissot, Carra, Marat, Danton, Desmoulins – rose to power at the national level. When I first developed this argument, which identified radicalism with the milieu known as Grub Street, I over-stated the case. But I did not mean to reduce revolutionary energy to the frustrations of hack writers. Instead, I intended to demonstrate the importance of obscure intermediaries in the process of ideological mobilization.

A poster of 1793 displaying the Phrygian bonnet.

Non-print media were crucial to this process. Few sans-culottes read books, even if they were literate. They listened to speeches, sang songs, marched in processions, and ate off plates decorated with Phrygian bonnets and crowing roosters. Newspapers and pamphlets belonged to a general stream of sounds and images that swept through Paris. The same was true before 1789. In Poetry and the police I tried to reconstruct the course of that stream in the context of the political crisis of 1749-1750, a time when the Maurepas ministry was overthrown and when contemporaries attributed its downfall to ‘songs’. That observation was a short-hand way of describing the mixed messages that passed through all the media of the time and that actually shaped events. Chamfort made the point with a witticism: ‘France is an absolute monarchy tempered by songs.’ So, yes indeed, I do believe that the history of books should be situated within the study of other media and of communication in general.

Zhang Chi: In The Cambridge Companion to the French Enlightenment (2014) French scholar Antoine Lilti asked: ‘Is it possible to write a social history of the Enlightenment? What connections should be drawn between the works, ideas and authors that brought great changes to the intellectual and political landscape in France during the long eighteenth century – commonly called the Enlightenment – and the social changes that occurred during this period?’ What would be your answer to this question? Half a century has passed since you first published The High Enlightenment and the low-life of literature in Pre-revolutionary France. In your opinion, what kind of progress have we made in understanding Enlightenment as a social phenomenon generally? Digitization changed a lot about historical researches. What do you think about its implication?

Robert Darnton: I think Antoine Lilti has partly answered his question by his own work on the salons and the nature of celebrity. Both of his books successfully relate the Enlightenment to social life in Paris during the eighteenth century. Yet they do not constitute a social history of the Enlightenment, a large enterprise that would require broader research. One problem, of course, is how to conceive of the Enlightenment itself. I am not a great believer in definitions, because they tend to reify a subject – that is, to treat it as a thing-in-itself, which, once identified, can be traced through history as if it were a radioactive substance in the blood stream. Antoine Lilti is conscious of this danger and therefore emphasizes the games and worldly amusements of the salons along with the performances in them by the philosophes. He puts Rousseau’s influence into a social context by showing how it was carried on the wave of a new phenomenon, the fascination with celebrities, which included a few philosophes but usually featured non-intellectuals like Cagliostro and the cardinal de Rohan. The more we know about the social context of the Enlightenment, the better we can appreciate it as a historical phenomenon. By situating the Enlightenment socially, however, we may raise the danger of blunting the sharpness of the philosophes’ ideas, of underestimating their cutting edge.

That problem did not seem urgent to the generation that set the course of Enlightenment studies immediately after World War II. Although I myself did not intend to become a historian of the Enlightenment, I got to know the leading scholars of that generation thanks to my tutor at Oxford, Robert Shackleton, the expert on Montesquieu. He introduced me to Franco Venturi, the historian of intellectuals and the reform movement in Italy. Later I became a close friend of Roland Mortier and met other specialists like René Pomeau, Ralph Leigh, and Ira Wade. They did not find the Enlightenment problematic, although they disagreed in describing aspects of it. Its leaders could be identified, its ideas analyzed. It was a field of study, with its own reviews, organizations, and congresses. Above all, as they understood it, it challenged orthodox ideas. It took the Church as its principal target, and it fomented reform of all kinds, social and political. This militant Enlightenment suited a generation that had fought fascism in World War II and opposed totalitarianism during the Cold War.

The current generation has other concerns. Without presuming to characterize it as a whole, I would mention two factors that have shaped its scholarship: globalization and digitization. The attempt to see everything globally can appear as a fad, yet it is an appropriate response to the interconnectedness of the world today. The International Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, which was devoted primarily to the famous philosophes (above all Voltaire) at the time of its founding by Theodore Besterman, now includes 37 national societies, which cover most of the globe. Their members want to investigate Enlightenment thought as it affected people in Rio de Janeiro, Tunis, and (yes!) Beijing – and they want to know how those people developed ideas of their own. One line of inquiry that corresponds to the interests of this generation deals directly with connectedness. Enlightenment scholars have studied correspondence networks, showing how intellectuals communicated through the mail and how their exchanges created a common sense of participation in an international Republic of Letters. The correspondence of Samuel Formey, the secretary of the Berlin Academy of Sciences, is astonishing. He wrote and received dozens of letters every day from nearly every part of the Western world.

That brings me to the second subject, digitization. If Formey’s correspondence were digitized, it would be a map of the Republic of Letters. (There have been attempts to do so, but I think they have foundered.) We now have nearly complete editions of the correspondence of Voltaire, Rousseau, Franklin, and Jefferson, and they have been digitized. Taken together, they already constitute such a map; and they have been combined with digital versions of many other writers in a gigantic data base, the Electronic Enlightenment administered from Oxford. The digitization of texts such as ARTFL’s version of Diderot’s Encyclopédie raises endless possibilities for word-searching, context-scrutinizing, and discourse analysis. I won’t mention other examples of big data, which, I gather, are familiar in China. But I would like to conclude by suggesting one direction that might be taken by future scholarship.

The Enlightenment can be understood as a campaign to spread light. Most of its ideas had been developed before the eighteenth century. What gave the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ its peculiar character was the diffusion of ideas, followed up by engagement in putting them into practice. Leaders like Voltaire, Franklin, and Formey consciously manipulated the media of their day. Their strategies could be studied and compared so that we could see them at work, enlisting allies, attacking enemies, empowering reforms, and transforming public opinion. Research of this kind is already taking place and could lead to something like a social history of the Enlightenment. If I were to choose one example of a book that shows the way, I would cite Forging Rousseau: print, commerce and cultural manipulation in the late Enlightenment by the late and much regretted Raymond Birn. It gives a deeply researched and superbly written account of how Rousseau became embedded in the collective imagination of the French.

From a letter by Voltaire to d’Alembert, 28 September 1763 (D11433; Gallica images).

Although I haven’t come close to answering all your questions, I had better stop here at the point where globalization and digitization converge. It should be clear at this point that scholarship cannot be contained within national, disciplinary, or political boundaries. I am sending my replies to you from a place of confinement at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic and at a moment when the destructive forces of nationalism and bigotry seem more threatening than ever. Yet we still hear the call of Voltaire: Ecrasons l’infâme.

Another version of this interview has been published in Historiography Bimonthly (2021, No. 1). Thanks for the authorization from its editors. Especially thanks to Jiao Bing, editor from Historical Research.

What else makes a critical edition?

Material constraints in publishing can sometimes have the beneficial effect of focusing attention anew on the importance of the intellectual content of the book. As has happened so many times over the years in bringing out the Œuvres complètes de Voltaire, a volume has turned out to be too big to fit comfortably into a single binding, and so it has been split into A and B volumes. The Introduction to Voltaire’s Siècle de Louis XIV will therefore be published in two parts: volume 11A contains the introduction proper, a prose study by Diego Venturino of the history, intricacies and import of this landmark historical work, with contributions from Nicholas Cronk and Jean-Alexandre Perras. And 11B will have… everything else. ‘But what else could be needed?’ a reader might be forgiven for asking. ‘Quite a lot’, the answer turns out to be.

The most straightforward content in 11B is probably the sequence of appendices presenting various texts that surround and shed light on the Siècle but are not part of the text itself: an unpublished manuscript; open letters published by Voltaire in periodicals; and finally forewords and prefaces from printings not chosen as the base text of our edition. These are presented as short critical editions in their own right.

By far the longest component, however, is the list of manuscripts and editions of Voltaire’s text. While a one-hundred-page section of painstaking bibliographical description might look dry and off-putting (see example above), it is a vital complement to both the introduction in volume 11A and the text itself, and fulfils several functions. It contains the detail of the history of the text: its prehistory, in manuscript state, and its print evolution. The latter tracks when Voltaire introduced changes into his work, whether by making corrections, adding new material, or rearranging it. The list shows which editions follow the latest changes made and, equally, which merely reproduce older versions of the text, thus revealing the relative significance of the different printings in the author’s lifetime. Various mysteries are explained: the edition bearing ‘Dresden’ on its title page (see example on the left) was actually printed in Leipzig, whereas the ones proclaiming Leipzig as their place of publication in fact were produced in Paris… Another, dated 1753, is in fact found to have appeared at the beginning of December 1752, all of which is elucidated and confirmed by Voltaire’s active and passive correspondence, as well as by some of the appendices. Each full description can be linked, via its siglum – a shorthand identification – to the textual variants given in the volumes of text, so that a reader, wanting to know more about the circumstances surrounding the different readings, can find the relevant information.

Finally, the list of editions serves as a reference tool for anyone in the world who comes across an eighteenth-century printing of the Siècle, since the detailed technical description allows one to identify copies, sometimes via small tell-tale signs, like a printing error, or a typographical ornament, which can serve to differentiate between two or more otherwise very similar editions. Connected to the list of manuscripts and editions is a dossier of illustrations, as well as a list of eighteenth-century translations of the text.

While most of the variant readings of Voltaire’s text are printed at the bottom of the page in the Œuvres complètes, a few are simply too long to fit. A digital edition would avoid this seemingly arbitrary distinction between variants based on length, but in a print edition, it makes most sense to give these longer variants their own space. Amongst volume 11B’s appendices are therefore an early list of marshals of France from the 1751 edition, before it was vastly expanded, and the early versions of chapter 24, which examines the period between the death of Louis XIV and the war of the Austrian Succession. This chapter has strong links to other works by Voltaire, namely the Précis du siècle de Louis XV, and an early version of part of the same, the Histoire de la guerre de 1741. Looking at how he modified and reused his material here is both illustrative of his working methods and also at the centre of a very real problem in editing Voltaire’s works: how to present material that moves between different titles over the course of the author’s lifetime.

Even after the author’s death, the text acquired accretions of various kinds. In the first posthumous edition of Voltaire’s works, one of his editors, Condorcet, added over a hundred footnotes. While obviously not part of the text, they do shed light on different aspects of it. For example, Condorcet wrote:

“When the first edition of the Siècle de Louis XIV became public, Fontenelle was still alive. People sought to set him against Mr de Voltaire. ‘How am I treated in this work?’ Fontenelle asked one of his friends. ‘Sir,’ he replied, ‘Mr de Voltaire begins by saying that you are the only man alive for whom he has set aside his resolve to speak only of the dead.’ ‘I do not want to know any more,’ Fontenelle declared; ‘whatever else he may have added, I must be content.’”


“Since in what follows, there will often be references to this monetary operation [inflation], and since Mr de Voltaire has not discussed its effects in any of his works, we may be forgiven for entering into a few details here…”

Or else,

“These [relief maps of Vauban’s Citadel of Lille] have since been moved to the Invalides.”

These are the main ingredients that make up this atypical volume of Voltaire’s complete works. A chance effect of page extent and the physical properties of bookbinding has resulted in a book that the scholarly community didn’t know it needed in quite the same way as a volume containing Voltaire’s text or an introductory essay; nevertheless, it would not be surprising if the tools and supplements that it contains, all part of what makes a critical edition, ultimately mean that quite a lot of readers end up calling it up from their libraries’ stacks.

– Gillian Pink

Publish, possibly perish, but live life to the full

The Age of the Enlightenment was awash with print and the number of authors, male and female, with at least one publication to their name grew by leaps and bounds across the eighteenth century. Becoming a published author, however, was not always easy. The reading public wanted to be entertained as well as informed, and dry works of science and scholarship were not to their taste. Mathematicians, natural philosophers, and even antiquarians who wanted to place an erudite tome in the public domain had to either find a patron to finance the cost of publication or put their hands in their own pockets. Members of the eighteenth-century Republic of Letters were proud of their independence but seldom rich. As a result, many published little of substance. Those who did often exhausted their inheritance and faced bankruptcy. The Montpellier naturalist and agronomist, Pierre-Joseph Amoreux (1741-1824), a savant of limited means with an itch to write, struggled throughout his life to get his words of wisdom into print. His lengthy autobiography, left on his death in manuscript form, is an extraordinary window into the trials and tribulations of the enlightened scientist as author. Edited and introduced by myself for the first time under the title From Provincial savant to Parisian naturalist: the recollections of Pierre-Joseph Amoreux (1741-1824), it is essential reading for anyone working on the history of the book in the long eighteenth century.

Amoreux had his first introduction to vanity publishing in 1784 when he sought to find a printer for his Traité de l’olivier. Rather than negotiate with a local Montpellier publisher or send his manuscript to Paris, he decided to try his luck in Avignon, which had a thriving commercial press. Avignon was part of the Papal States and its printer-booksellers, largely free from the censorship restrictions that their French counterparts endured, purportedly offered good terms.

Faculté de Médecine de Montpellier Entrée.

Faculté de Médecine de Montpellier, entrance.

The experience was not a happy one. Amoreux’s initial investigations led him to believe that an Avignon house would charge him 30 livres per folio sheet of sixteen pages: 24 livres to cover the cost, plus 6 livres profit. This, however, turned out not to be the case. A medical friend in the city, Jean-Claude Pancin, who acted as go-between, approached two printers of repute. Both refused to take the book on such a small return. Balthazard-Jean Niel (1724-c.1789) demanded 40 livres a folio and a further 30 for 300 flyers, and could not be shifted. Pancin dismissed him as ‘une espèce de juif’, a stinging insult in a town with a sizeable ghettoised Jewish minority. The terms of Jean-Louis Chambeau (c.1716-1780) were better, but he still wanted a premium of 28 sous per folio on the grounds that typesetting the manuscript required three different fonts. Moreover, it proved impossible to close the deal because Chambeau’s compositor objected to the state of the manuscript: Amoreux had sent his friend a manuscript peppered with ‘petits billets sous forme d’additions attachées au texte.’

The Montpellier naturalist had no choice but to see if he could get an acceptable quote from a publisher in his home town. This he must have done, for the 365-page book was eventually published by a printer called Guiot and distributed through the bookshop of the widow Gontier. Assuming Guiot charged 30 livres per sheet, the publication would have cost Amoreux nearly 700 livres. This would have made a considerable hole in his purse. At this date Amoreux’s only income came from his post as a medical librarian, worth 500 livres per annum. Had he not been a bachelor still living at home with his parents, he would never have been able to publish his first substantial book. And had he not managed to do so, he might well have thrown in the towel and published next to nothing, like so many of his contemporaries in the Republic of Letters.

Le parvis et la façade de Notre-Dame de Paris

Notre-Dame de Paris in the 18th century, by Jean-Bapstiste Scotin (1678-?). Public domain.

Amoreux’s autobiography, however, is more than a study of the angst of the scientific author. Starting in 1800, Amoreux made continual visits to the capital to taste its intellectual delights. His Souvenirs provide a detailed account of his stays in Paris. With Amoreux, the reader will walk the city from end to end, cross its bridges old and new, visit its museums and bookshops, revel in the sights and sounds of the Champs Elysées on Bastille Day, and catch a glimpse of Napoleon through the crowd. On the way to listen to the lectures of Cuvier or some other intellectual giant, he or she will even drop into the Paris morgue. No other account of early nineteenth-century Paris catches so fully the multi-faceted nature of the vibrant post-Revolutionary city, whose cast of characters ranges from bankers to barrow-boys. If Amoreux had had the literary talent, he could have left a work which would have stood comparison with Joyce’s Ulysses. Nobody interested in Napoleon’s Paris as the cultural centre of Europe should miss the opportunity to accompany the Montpellier naturalist on his travels.

– Laurence Brockliss

The science of parchment and paper: discovery and conservation

Over the past year, a battle has been waged between the House of Lords and the House of Commons as to whether public Acts should continue to be printed on parchment. On the one hand, parchment is used at a substantial cost compared to paper; on the other, it is more durable and maintains tradition, including keeping in business the last parchment and vellum maker in the UK. But what is the distinction between vellum and parchment? At the Bodleian Library on 14 February, a large group gathered to attend a joint venture between the local ‘Café scientifique’ and the Bodleian to find out more about ‘Science and the love of books’ in all their animal, vegetable and mineral glory from Bodleian conservator Andrew Honey. One of the things that we learned was that vellum is a type of parchment, the latter referring generally to all animal skin used as a writing support. But confusingly, while ‘vellum’ literally refers to parchment made of calf-skin, it has, in certain circles, come to acquire the connotation of ‘high-quality parchment’. Which is why it is safer to refer to parchment tout court to avoid speaking at cross-purposes about vellum.

Honey talked the audience through the process of transforming animal skin into parchment, complete with (sometimes somewhat grisly) photos and videos from the Conservation department’s successful attempt to do so from scratch, the results of which were present for viewing and handling. It was interesting to learn that a practical understanding of the material is enabling the team to work out the size of calves in the twelfth century thanks to a close examination of the pages of a large Bible, the pages of which retain clues to anatomical features such as the ilium, the sacrum, the caudal vertebrae and sometimes the first and second thoracic vertebrae. In the seventeenth century, it was still used by ‘ordinary’ people for binding books instead of calf or morocco leather, as attested for example by this travel diary by William Campion, dated 1658. By the eighteenth century, parchment had mostly been replaced by paper for writing and printing, though Alexis Hagadorn gives a detailed account of parchment-making in eighteenth-century France.

‘Observations of Wm Campion In His Travels 1658’, Voltaire Foundation collection.

When it came to paper, we were in more familiar eighteenth-century territory. The process described, and which can be viewed in this 1976 film made at Hayle Mill, would have been familiar to the writers of the 1765 Encyclopédie article ‘Papier’ which, in addition to explaining the techniques used to make the European ‘Papier de linge’ (cloth-based paper), also describes other types of paper from around the globe. What the author, Louis de Jaucourt, would not have known, however, was the neat chemical transformation that takes place as the wet paper dries in its mould, whereby the hydrogen bonds between the fibres and the water are slowly replaced by hydrogen bonds between the fibres themselves, thus giving the paper its structure.

Paper is flexible, foldable – and, just as crucially, scalable. Paper can give us the folio volumes of the Encyclopédie as well as small duodecimo (or even smaller) books which are portable and easily hidden. As Voltaire wrote to D’Alembert on 5 April [1766]: ‘Je voudrais bien savoir quel mal peut faire un livre qui coûte cent écus. Jamais vingt volumes in-folio ne feront de révolution; ce sont les petits livres portatifs à trente sous qui sont à craindre. Si l’évangile avait coûté douze cents sesterces, jamais la religion chrétienne ne se serait établie’ (I’d like to know what harm can be done by a book that costs a hundred crowns. Twenty folio volumes will never bring about a revolution; it is the small, portable books costing thirty pennies that are to be feared. If the gospels had cost twelve hundred sesterces, the Christian religion would never have caught on).

It sounds as though a conservator’s life is never dull. Something new always comes to light when an object needs to be disassembled for repair, even if that discovery is the distressing mess of animal-based glue that reveals a hasty nineteenth- or twentieth-century repair done on the cheap. The prime candidates for restoration work are items that are both badly damaged but also in high demand by readers. Digitisation is possible, and also a solution increasingly adopted by the Bodleian but, happily for us readers, conservators are aware that there will always be cases when, in order to answer research questions, scholars need to see and handle the original document, when nothing but an examination of the object, in all its sometimes messy physicality, will do.

Gillian Pink

Poetry in the digital age: the Digital Miscellanies Index and eighteenth-century culture

For most of us, reading for pleasure usually means getting stuck into some fiction or non-fiction. Poetry is a less common diversion, but we still have an appetite for poems to dip into, to find solace in, to memorise and share. And we can choose from an array of collections that promote poetry as an everyday companion, a form of therapy, and a tradition of national interest. For readers looking for peace of mind, The Emergency Poet: An Anti-Stress Poetry Anthology offers comfort, while the popular twin collections of Poems That Make Grown Men (or Women) Cry present a cult of sensibility for the modern age.

It was in the eighteenth century that poetry collections like these became a staple of literary publishing in Britain. The tradition of printed collections of English poetry stretches back to the sixteenth century, with Songes and Sonettes (1557), an edition of short lyric poems compiled by the publisher Richard Tottel, generally regarded as the foundation of English Renaissance poetry and the most important early printed collection of English verse. But it was not until the eighteenth century that collections of poems by several hands, with prose as a secondary feature, became one of the most common forms in which British readers encountered poetry. Like their modern counterparts, eighteenth-century editors and publishers sought to gain a foothold in a crowded market by targeting specific audiences and promoting the benefits of reading poetry. Some produced didactic collections for young people (Poems for Young Ladies); others pitched their collections to lovers in need of poetic inspiration (The Lover’s Manual); and many more set their sights on a local audience (The Oxford Sausage).

Poems for Young Ladies

Poems for Young Ladies (1767), edited by the poet Oliver Goldsmith.

Collections like these shaped the ways in which poetry was written and read throughout the eighteenth century. Yet until recently relatively little was known about their contents. Thanks to the Digital Miscellanies Index (DMI), this is no longer the case. The DMI provides a searchable record of the contents of over 1,600 collections of poems by several hands published over the course of the eighteenth century. These books are sometimes referred to as anthologies, as most poetry collections are today. But the word anthology, derived from the Greek for ‘a gathering of flowers’, has connotations that sit uneasily with many eighteenth-century poetry collections. Few collections produced in this period claimed to present the best of English poetry, a rationale often seen as characteristic of anthologies (collections that cull the flowers of the poetic tradition). As a result, several scholars, myself included, prefer the term miscellany. Derived from the Latin miscellanea, meaning a ‘hotchpotch’ of foodstuffs, it captures the dominant characteristic of most eighteenth-century collections: variety. A typical miscellany offers a varied feast of poems to entertain readers with varied tastes and personalities.

The DMI was launched in 2013, following three years of development and data collection carried out by a team based at the University of Oxford. Led by Abigail Williams and Jennifer Batt, the project was funded by the Leverhulme Trust. In 2014, another Leverhulme grant set in motion the second phase of the project. One of the aims of this phase, to be completed in 2017, is to harness the data now accessible via the DMI to shed new light on how miscellanies evolved, how they packaged and popularised poetry, and on the habits of their readers. At the same time, we are working with the Bodleian’s Digital Libraries team to develop the DMI into a more flexible and wide-ranging resource, and last month we celebrated a milestone on this road. The thirty-strong audience at Lines of Connection, a conference I co-organised as part of the project, were among the first to see the DMI’s new search interface, which replaces the beta site created in 2013.

The Book of Fun

The Book of Fun (1759), a miscellany dominated by seventeenth-century verse.

The new search platform is much more than a digital facelift for the DMI. It provides access to a database undergoing expansion: the latest version includes new records for miscellanies published between 1680 and 1699, and future updates will extend the DMI ’s coverage further back to Tottel’s foundational Songes and Sonettes. The redeveloped interface also enables users to explore the data in new ways. Keyword and phrase searching is quicker and more extensive with the new basic search function. There is also the option to filter the records using a number of facets, which display and rank the data in ways that suggest key trends and lines of enquiry. For instance, clicking on ‘Poem’ under ‘Content Type’, then selecting the ‘Related People’ facet, reveals a list of almost one hundred of the most prominent authors in the database, ranked according to the number of poems attributed to them. At the top of the list is John Dryden, with around 1,500 poems; the highest ranked French author is Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux, with over 120 poems in English translation (the DMI does not record appearances of poems in foreign languages). Although these figures should not be seen as straightforward indications of popularity, they remind us that many of the most widely read poets of the eighteenth century were those who had been active in the late seventeenth century. In his imitation of Horace’s epistle to Augustus (written 1737), Alexander Pope observed that the verse of his seventeenth-century predecessors was scattered ‘Like twinkling stars the Miscellanies o’er’. The DMI has made it possible to see these stars, and the sky around them, more clearly.

– Carly Watson

Un espace virtuel avant la lettre: la presse littéraire du dix-huitième siècle

Au dix-huitième siècle se développe un nouveau genre d’écrire, le journal, et notamment un périodique spécifique: le journal littéraire. Cette expression, forgée au dix-neuvième siècle, réunit l’ensemble des périodiques dont l’actualité est constituée des ouvrages publiés, consacrés à l’activité de critique des textes et des arts, et qui donnent une place inédite aux lecteurs. Ces journaux vont bouleverser la pratique de la lecture en introduisant le concept de périodicité mais surtout ils vont modifier profondément le rapport à soi et à l’autre.

Pages du Journal des dames, février 1763

Pages du Journal des dames, février 1763 (collection privée)

La périodicité de ces journaux (entre une semaine et un mois) fait naître le sentiment d’actualité, de contemporanéité, d’instantanéité. A l’instar de l’internet d’aujourd’hui, qui nous donne l’impression de vivre les choses, de les savoir en même temps qu’elles arrivent, les lecteurs du dix-huitième siècle se sentent pris dans un tourbillon de nouvelles littéraires et intellectuelles. Dans la mesure où la lecture s’effectue un peu partout, dans les salons, les cafés, chez soi, seul ou en public, la relation à l’espace est elle aussi modifiée. On peut discuter des nouvelles ou au contraire en profiter pour soi. Les distances se rétrécissent grâce à la plus grande rapidité de distribution du courrier et des journaux (les routes et les postes se modernisent), mais aussi parce qu’on est au courant de l’actualité en Europe et même au-delà, comme si la Prusse, l’Angleterre, voire la Chine ou l’Inde étaient plus proches qu’on ne l’avait cru.

Pages du Journal des dames, février 1759

Pages du Journal des dames, février 1759 (collection privée)

Pages du Journal des dames, février 1759

Pages du Journal des dames, février 1759 (collection privée)

Enfin, le journal littéraire facilite les échanges. Il publie des lettres de lecteurs, des correspondances entre savants, des débats et des querelles donnant ainsi l’illusion d’une place publique dessinée dans les pages du périodique. Ces modifications ne touchent qu’une mince partie de la population, la couche socialement aisée et éduquée mais elles vont mettre en branle tout un processus qui s’élargira au reste de la population progressivement.

Mon livre, Le Journal littéraire en France au dix-huitième siècle: émergence d’une culture virtuelle, se concentre sur la formation d’un espace virtuel de communication, sur ses caractéristiques et spécifiquement sur les conséquences de cet espace. Il met en évidence les possibilités de création littéraire et de renouvellement du discours critique par le biais de l’acte de lecture et montre que l’écriture n’est finalement qu’une autre façon de lire.

The salon of the Duke of Orleans

‘The salon of the Duke of Orléans (sitting); he is with his son (standing)’ (Wikimedia commons)

En proposant une autre expérience de l’espace et du temps, qui favorise l’échange et le dialogue, les périodiques littéraires développent, à l’insu de leurs rédacteurs et contre leur gré, l’esprit critique et l’individualité des lecteurs. ‘Chacun y est tout ensemble souverain et justiciable de chacun’ [1] comme disait Bayle. La vérité n’est plus l’apanage des grands, des philosophes et des savants puisqu’on a vu qu’ils pouvaient se tromper, que leur parole pouvait être relativisée. Bien plus qu’un simple apport d’informations, le périodique littéraire, grâce à ses spécificités, renouvelle le rapport au savoir en proposant une vérité relative, valable jusqu’à la preuve du contraire. Il encourage l’expression personnelle des lecteurs, leur pratique du texte, du temps, de l’espace et les plonge finalement dans une expérience d’eux-mêmes.

– Suzanne Dumouchel

[1] Pierre Bayle, Dictionnaire historique et critique, article ‘Catius’, 1720 (3e. éd.).

L’Autoédition: phénomène récent depuis le XVIIIe siècle


Saury, Des moyens que la saine médecine peut employer pour multiplier un sexe plutôt que l’autre (Paris, l’auteur, 1779)

L’automne dernier, les auteures à succès Arlette Cousture et Marie Laberge ont semé l’émoi dans la communauté du livre au Québec en décidant de tourner le dos à leurs éditeurs et de publier à leur compte, directement sur leur site internet personnel. Pour les libraires, il s’agissait ni plus ni moins qu’une véritable ‘trahison’ de la part de ces deux romancières.

Cette récente controverse ainsi que l’omniprésence des médias numériques qui chamboulent depuis quelques années les circuits habituels de l’édition nous amènent à nous questionner sur les rôles culturels, professionnels et commerciaux que jouent les auteurs, les éditeurs et les libraires dans la société. Si ce débat refait particulièrement surface alors qu’un nombre croissant d’auteurs s’autoéditent un peu partout dans le monde, il n’est pourtant pas nouveau!

Déjà en 1759, Malesherbes, alors Directeur de la librairie, déclare que, contrairement à la loi qui dicte alors que seuls les libraires ont le droit en France de vendre des livres, ‘Ce sont les auteurs, qui, suivant le droit naturel, devraient tirer tout le profit de leurs ouvrages, en ayant la faculté de les vendre eux-mêmes.’ D’ailleurs, comme le demande Arlette Cousture dans une entrevue accordée à Radio-Canada, pourquoi devrait-il être honteux pour un auteur de vouloir maximiser les revenus de l’écriture, de garder la mainmise sur l’édition et la diffusion de ses œuvres?

Felton-bookcoverAu XVIIIe siècle, dans la foulée du procès qui oppose la communauté des libraires de Paris et Luneau de Boisjermain, accusé de vendre ses propres livres en 1768, Diderot se demande également: ‘N’est-il pas bien étrange que j’aie travaillé trente ans pour les associés de l’Encyclopédie; que ma vie soit passée, qu’il leur reste deux millions, et que je n’aie pas un sol?’

Dans mon livre Maîtres de leurs ouvrages: l’édition à compte d’auteur à Paris au XVIIIe siècle, on découvre que ce sont des centaines d’auteurs qui, déjà au siècle des lumières, ‘s’autoéditent’. Profitant particulièrement de la nouvelle loi qui permet aux auteurs de vendre leurs ouvrages en toute liberté dès 1777, un nombre jusqu’ici insoupçonné d’écrivains de toutes sortes publient à leurs dépens de façon à conserver les droits de leurs œuvres et de les vendre directement aux lecteurs, ‘À Paris, Chez l’Auteur’. Malgré tous les risques et les défis qu’une telle entreprise comporte alors, le jeu n’en valait-il pas la chandelle?

La Beaumelle title page

La Beaumelle, Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de Madame de Maintenon (Amsterdam, l’auteur, 1755).

Dans une lettre qu’il adresse à son frère, Laurent Angliviel de La Beaumelle, qui édite quelques ouvrages à son compte, écrit: ‘Mon édition de Maintenon m’a endetté jusqu’aux oreilles; je n’ai pas le sou […] mais si Maintenon réussit, je ne serai point mal. […] Vous me grondez d’avoir fait imprimer à mes dépens: jusqu’ici je m’en suis bien trouvé, & qui m’auroit payé mon manuscrit? on ne m’en auroit pas donné 400 L.’

–Marie-Claude Felton