Dictionnaire Historique et Critique
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Dictionnaire Historique et Critique (English: Historical and Critical Dictionary) is a biographical dictionary written by Pierre Bayle (1647–1706), a Huguenot who lived and published in Holland after fleeing his native France due to religious persecution. The dictionary was first published in 1697, and enlarged in the second edition of 1702. An English translation was first published in 1709. The overwhelming majority of the entries are devoted to individual people, whether historical or mythical, but some articles treat religious beliefs and philosophies. Many of the more controversial ideas in the book were hidden away in the voluminous footnotes, or slipped into articles on seemingly uncontroversial topics.
The rigor and skeptical approach used in the Dictionary influenced many thinkers of the Enlightenment, including Denis Diderot and the other French Encyclopédistes, David Hume, and George Berkeley. Bayle delighted in pointing out contradictions between theological tenets and the supposedly self-evident dictates of reason. Bayle used the evidence of the irrationality of Christianity to emphasize that the basis of Christianity is faith in God and divine revelation. But at the same time Bayle sought to promote religious tolerance, and argued strongly against inflexible and authoritarian application of religious articles of faith. This led to a bitter argument with his fellow French Protestant Pierre Jurieu.
"What can be more obscene than 'Bayle's Dictionary' was asked at the 19th century British obscenity trial Regina v. Hicklin, indicating the controversiality of some of the content of Bayle's project.
The first to criticize the dictionary were the Walloon church, summarizing their stance in the Acts of the Consistory of the Walloon Church of Rotterdam, concerning the Sieur Bayle's Historical and Critical Dictionary in 1697.
In his éclaircissements (eclarations), published as an appendix to the second edition of his Dictionnaire historique et critique in 1702, Pierre Bayle defends himself against accusations by the Walloon church. This collection of justificative remarks, almost forty pages in folio, constitutes a corpus which is integral to the thought of Bayle.
Use of footnotes to evade censorship
The dictionary follows each brief entry with a footnote (often five or six times the length of the main text) in which saints, historical figures, and other topics are used as examples for philosophical digression. The separate footnotes are designed to contradict each other, and only when multiple footnotes are read together is Bayle's core argument for Fideistic skepticism revealed. This technique was used in part to evade the harsh censorship of 17th century France.
And in a "footnote to an article about the courtesan Ariosta, Pierre Bayle quotes another author's musings about the absurdity of the institution of marriage, or rather the singular power of the Latin liturgical formula “ego conjugo vos”" (A Wicked Company).
- Note (typography)
- Atheism in the Age of the Enlightenment
- Pierre Bayle on atheism