Baron d'Holbach  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Atheism in the Age of the Enlightenment

Paul-Henri Thiry, baron d'Holbach (b. 1723 - d. 1789) was a German-French author, philosopher and encyclopedist, best-known for his book The System of Nature. He was born Paul Heinrich Dietrich in Edesheim, Germany but lived and worked mainly in Paris. He is most famous as being one of the first self-described atheists in Europe.


D'Holbach's salon

D'Holbach's Coterie

Although he spent much of his time at his country estate at Grandval, d'Holbach used his wealth to maintain one of the more notable and lavish Parisian salons, which soon became an important meeting place for the contributors to the Encyclopédie. Meetings were held regularly twice a week, on Sundays and Thursdays, in d'Holbach's home in rue Royale, butte Saint-Roche between approximately 1750 - 1780. Visitors to the salon were exclusively males, and the tone of discussion high-brow, often extending to topics more extensive than those of other salons. This, along with the excellent food, expensive wine, and a library of over 3000 volumes, attracted many notable visitors. Among the regulars in attendance at the salon—the coterie holbachique -- were the following: Diderot, Grimm, Condillac, Condorcet, D'Alembert, Marmontel, Turgot, La Condamine, Raynal, Helvétius, Galiani, Morellet, Naigeon and, for a time, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The salon was also visited by prominent British intellectuals, amongst them Adam Smith, David Hume, John Wilkes, Horace Walpole and Edward Gibbon.

D'Holbach was known for his generosity, often providing financial support discreetly or anonymously to his friends, amongst them Diderot. It is thought that the virtuous atheist Wolmar in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse is based on d'Holbach.

Holbach died in Paris on 21 January 1789, a few months prior to the French Revolution. His authorship of his various anti-religious works did not become widely known until the early 19th century.



Secondary literature


  • David Holohan (Translator), Christianity Unveiled by Baron d'Holbach: A Controversy in Documents, (Hodgson Press, 2008).
  • Max Pearson Cushing, Baron d'Holbach: a study of eighteenth-century radicalism in France (New York, 1914).
  • Alan Charles Kors, D'Holbach's Coterie: An Enlightenment in Paris (Princeton University Press, 1976).
  • Alan Charles Kors, "The Atheism of D'Holbach and Naigeon," Atheism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992).
  • John Lough, "Helvétius and d'Holbach", Modern Language Review, Vol. 33, No. 3. (Jul., 1938).
  • T. C. Newland, "D'Holbach, Religion, and the 'Encyclopédie'", Modern Language Review, Vol. 69, No. 3, (Jul., 1974), pp. 523–533.
  • Virgil W. Topazio, D'Holbach's Moral Philosophy: Its Background and Development (Geneva: Institut et Musée Voltaire, 1956).
  • Everett C. Ladd, Jr., "Helvétius and d'Holbach," Journal of the History of Ideas (1962) 23(2): 221-238.
  • Virgil V. Topazio, "Diderot's Supposed Contribution to D'Holbach's Works", in Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, LXIX, 1, 1954, pp. 173–188.
  • S. G. Tallentyre (pseud. for Evelyn Beatrice Hall), The Friends of Voltaire (1907).
  • W. H. Wickwar, Baron d'Holbach: A Prelude to the French Revolution (1935)
  • G. V. Plekhanov, Essays in the History of Materialism (trans. 1934)
  • John Lough, Essays on the Encyclopédie of Diderot and D'Alembert (London : Oxford University Press, 1968)


  • René Hubert, D'Holbach et ses amis (Paris: André Delpeuch, 1928).
  • Paul Naville, D'Holbach et la philosophie scientifique au XVIIIe siècle. Rev. ed. Paris, 1967
  • J. Vercruysse, Bibliographie descriptive des écrits du baron d'Holbach (Paris, 1971).
  • A. Sandrier, Le style philosophique du baron d'Holbach, Honoré Champion (Paris, 2004).

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